Darkness Within II by MollyandArthur



Summary: Sequel to Darkness Within. This story begins the night before Harry's fifth year at Hogwarts. Canon couples accurate to JKR. The romance between Harry and Ginny will develop slowly due to their ages. Please note rating and warnings.
Rating: R starstarstarstarstar
Categories: Pre-OotP, Post-OotP, Alternate Universe
Characters: None
Genres: None
Warnings: None
Challenges: None
Series: None
Published: 2017.07.30
Updated: 2018.06.04


Index

Chapter 1: Chapter 1 Serious Discussions
Chapter 2: Chapter 2 A Different Hogwarts
Chapter 3: Chapter 3 Thestrals and Snakes
Chapter 4: Chapter 4 Fears of Possession
Chapter 5: Chapter 5 Firewhisky
Chapter 6: Chapter 6 Drinking Games
Chapter 7: Chapter 7 Dreams and Letters
Chapter 8: Chapter 8 Decisions
Chapter 9: Chapter 9 Witch's Choice
Chapter 10: Chapter 10 Betrayed
Chapter 11: Chapter 11 O.W.L.s
Chapter 12: Chapter 12 Family's Consent
Chapter 13: Chapter 13 Department of Mysteries
Chapter 14: Chapter 14 Confessions
Chapter 15: Chapter 15 Horcruxes
Chapter 16: Chapter 16 Amortentia
Chapter 17: Chapter 17 The Prophecy
Chapter 18: Chapter 18 Dancing Lessons
Chapter 19: Chapter 19 O.W.L.s and Birthdays
Chapter 20: Chapter 20 Power
Chapter 21: Chapter 21 Making Plans
Chapter 22: Chapter 22 Conversations
Chapter 23: Chapter 23 Favorite Lady
Chapter 24: Chapter 24 Curfew and Compromise
Chapter 25: Chapter 25 The Headmaster's Office
Chapter 26: Chapter 26 The Astronomy Tower
Chapter 27: Chapter 27 Hogsmeade
Chapter 28: Chapter 28 Guests
Chapter 29: Chapter 29 Temptation
Chapter 30: Chapter 30 The Ones You Love
Chapter 31: Chapter 31 An Unexpected Letter
Chapter 32: Chapter 32 For a Price
Chapter 33: Chapter 33 Much to Discuss
Chapter 34: Chapter 34 Touched by Darkness
Chapter 35: Chapter 35 The Plan
Chapter 36: Chapter 36 Preparations
Chapter 37: Chapter 37 The Beginning


Chapter 1: Chapter 1 Serious Discussions

Author's Notes: Tremendous thanks to the brilliant Arnel for Beta reading this story!!! Some important notes to remember from the first book: Cedric survived the cemetery incident by Apparating to Hogsmeade. Remus is the live-in tutor at Longbottom Manor for Neville and his cousin, Anna. She is the granddaughter of Tom Riddle Jr. and hopes that no one is aware of that fact. Charlie has dreams about Anna. Ginny never dated Michael Corner. She was Neville's date for the Yule Ball and spent most of her evening dancing with Neville and Harry.


Chapter 1
Serious Discussions

Narcissa Malfoy slowly ascended the main staircase of her home in Wiltshire, her fingers lightly trailing the solid wood banister. Turning left, she made her way along the wide corridor towards her son’s bedroom. Weak light from the setting sun filtered in through the tall window at the end of the hall, casting shadows along the walls in a strange orange hue. She paused at the closed door, knocked briefly, and eased it open.

Draco glanced up as she crossed the threshold and entered his room. “Good evening, Mother,” he said politely, before adding the books he was holding to his almost full trunk. “I believe I have everything packed and ready for the train ride tomorrow.”

She nodded and smiled. “You’re always very responsible about remembering to pack what you need for Hogwarts each year. If you do find that you need anything else, just let me know, and I’ll send it along.”

“Thank you,” he responded. Draco waited, likely expecting her to wish him a good night and exit his room. Instead, she calmly peered around the room, noticing that everything was in its proper place, except the window, which was open. The warm August air rustled the drapes. She was about to walk over to close the window when she saw the empty perch and realized his eagle owl must be out hunting. Moving towards his desk, she turned the chair to face his bed and sat down gracefully.

“Draco,” Narcissa began, smoothing out the long skirt of her dark gown, before indicating the place in front of her. “Please have a seat. I want to discuss something with you.”

He sat on the side of his bed, giving her his full attention. His face was calm, but his grey eyes were alight with curiosity.

“With you about to begin your fifth year at Hogwarts, your father and I were discussing the subject of you becoming betrothed in the near future. I realize you are still rather young, but these things can take time.” She paused for effect. “I wanted to hear your thoughts on the matter.”

Draco’s eyes were wide with surprise, as he opened his mouth, closed it, and tried again. “Well, I, um, I’m rather fond of Pansy,” he stammered. “Pansy Parkinson, that is.” He flushed slightly, looking uncharacteristically vulnerable for a moment, before carefully schooling his features.

“Yes, Draco, I know you are fond of Pansy, and she is certainly a witch worth considering,” Narcissa stated clearly. “Having said that, though Pansy is from an old, pure-blood family, her grandfather made a series of rather unfortunate financial decisions many years ago. While the Parkinsons still have enough resources to be perfectly respectable, she may inherit very little indeed.”

“I was unaware of that,” he muttered quietly.

She smiled slightly. “There is no reason for you to have been aware of it. Pansy may not be fully knowledgeable of the situation either, and lack of money, by itself, is not cause enough to exclude her as a potential match. However, I would like you to at least think about other options. Surely there are many attractive young witches in the various Houses at Hogwarts.”

“Yes,” Draco admitted. “But once you exclude the Muggle-borns and half-bloods, there are fewer than you might think.”

His mother nodded thoughtfully for a moment and stared past him out the window, at the ever-darkening night sky. She chose her words with deliberate care. “Draco, most of your friends are only children, just as you are. I have no doubt that most of the parents wished for more children, but were unable to have them. The Sacred Twenty-Eight have been intermarrying for centuries to keep the bloodlines pure. As you well know, the Blacks, Malfoys, and Parkinsons are among the Sacred Twenty-Eight. Fertility problems have become all too common among many of the old pure-blood families.”

She shifted slightly in her chair. Having this conversation with her son was proving to be more awkward than she had anticipated. Sighing quietly, Narcissa finally turned to look at her son and pressed on. “Please, just examine your options. That is all I am asking of you. When you come home for Christmas, I hope you will be able to name one or two other witches for us to consider.”

Draco’s grey eyes were unsettled, and his hands were gripped together, fidgeting and flexing between his knees. Reaching out a hand to cover both of his, she met his gaze steadily. “If in the end, your choice is still Pansy, I will support you.”

He nodded quietly, and she knew her son well enough to be certain his mind was actively contemplating everything she had implied.

“Good night, Draco,” she said softly.

“Good night, Mother,” he replied. “Thank you for explaining…” his voice trailed off. “Thank you,” he stated firmly.

She smiled with satisfaction as she rose and left his room.

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Neville followed Anna into the compartment on the Hogwarts Express and peered over her shoulder at the only occupant.

“Hello,” Anna said. “May we join you?”

Startled, the girl glanced up, but nodded in agreement. She had very long blond hair, was wearing what appeared to be a necklace made of butterbeer caps, and was holding a magazine upside-down in front of her.

Neville and Anna stowed their trunks, as well as the cages for Mista and Trevor, in the luggage rack and sat down across from the girl.

“I’m Anna Henry, and this is my cousin, Neville Longbottom,” Anna explained. “We’re both fifth year Gryffindors.”

“I’m Luna Lovegood,” she replied dreamily. Her pale eyes resting upon each of them briefly before returning to her magazine.

The compartment door opened, and Ginny walked in smiling, followed by Harry. “Hi, Anna, Neville. I thought I saw you come in here. Is there space for us to sit with you? Oh, hi, Luna.”

Anna hugged Ginny, while Neville stood up to help Harry stow the trunks and Hedwig’s cage in the rack.

“How are you, Harry?” Neville asked, once they had all greeted one another and sat down.

“Fine, thanks,” he said. “Or, at least, I was a lot better once I joined the Weasleys at… um, their place.”

“We were so relieved about the outcome of the hearing,” Anna said quietly. “Remus was so upset about what happened, and Aunt Augusta has been fuming about the Ministry and the Daily Prophet all summer.”

“Yeah,” Neville agreed. “Gran finally cancelled her subscription a couple of weeks ago. She decided there was no point reading a newspaper so clearly in the pocket of the Ministry.”

“Your grandmother sounds very wise,” Luna stated serenely. “My father’s the editor of The Quibbler.” She indicated the magazine she was holding. “He has been disappointed by the lack of accurate news in the Daily Prophet for a long time.”

Harry smiled at her. “Well, I’m glad to know not everyone believes the rubbish they’re printing lately. What House are you in?”

“Ravenclaw,” Luna replied. “Wit beyond measure is man’s greatest treasure,” she continued in a singsong voice.

“Luna’s in my year,” Ginny added brightly, before turning to her. “Why are you holding the magazine upside-down?”

Luna glanced around at the others for a moment before answering. “I’m reading an article on ancient runes. By looking at them upside-down, they may reveal a spell to make your enemy’s ears turn into kumquats.”

Ginny blinked in surprise before scooting closer to Luna. “May I read it with you?”

“Well,” Luna murmured. “Yes, if you want to.” Her tentative smile disappeared behind the magazine along with Ginny’s, who was now sitting hip to hip with the other girl.

“Harry, do you want to see what my great-uncle Algie got me for my birthday?” Neville asked, as he reached in his schoolbag and pulled out the Mimbulus mimbletonia. “He brought it all the way from Assyria!”

“Neville!” Anna exclaimed.

The tone of her voice caused Luna and Ginny to look up in alarm, and Harry, who had been cautiously reaching towards the plant, backed away slightly.

“I wasn’t going to test the plant’s defensive mechanism again!” Neville promised. “Though it is amazing to witness.” He gazed happily at the plant.

“Oh, yes,” Anna retorted. “Amazing it certainly is! We were all in the garden room at the Manor when he demonstrated how well the Mimbulus mimbletonia can defend itself by poking it with a sharp quill.”

“What did it do?” Harry asked, curiously.

“It squirted out a slimy green liquid that smelled revolting and hit everything within several feet of it,” she explained, shuddering and wrinkling her nose as though she could still feel and smell it.

“First time I’ve ever been afraid of Anna,” Neville commented. “The look she gave me…” He shook his head and smirked slightly. “She pulled her wand, and I ducked. Of course, she just used cleaning spells to remove the Stinksap. Then, Gran told me to take the plant out to the greenhouse and stay there with it until it was time to dress for dinner. Remus and Tonks were laughing hysterically when I left. Tonks started shrieking with laughter the moment it happened, and Remus joined her a few seconds later.”

Anna’s lips twitched. “It was rather funny once it was over and the stench finally dissipated.”

“I didn’t know Tonks was over at the Manor,” Ginny exclaimed. “I would have sent a message with her.”

“She only came over the one time, and it was just last week,” Anna explained. “She was sharing a great deal of information with Aunt Augusta,” she nodded meaningfully. “I believe my aunt will be spending some time with your parents rather soon.”

Ginny’s eyes widened with understanding. “They will be so pleased to have her.”

“Also, their dog, Padfoot, will be able to visit the Manor and run around a bit,” Neville added.

Harry stared at Neville before exchanging a quick glance with Ginny. “Padfoot will enjoy having a bit more freedom.”

Neville nodded. “Once Remus explained the importance of the dog having more space, Gran was happy to agree to his visits. She is hesitant to do too much since she has the responsibility of the two of us, but she wants to help in any way she can. Gran has a lot of friends and acquaintances in important places as well, of course.”

“Best news I’ve heard in a while, mate,” Harry said fervently, still staring at Neville.

He grinned in response.

The compartment door slid open and the Seeker on the Ravenclaw Quidditch team, Cho Chang, came in. “Hi, Harry,” she said, glancing around at the others in the compartment.

“Oh…hi, Cho,” Harry said. “How is Cedric?”

Cho smiled briefly. “He’s doing really well considering. The Healers at St. Mungo’s were able to save his leg, but it will never heal completely.” She looked down for a moment, pressing her hands together, before meeting his eyes again. “Still, he’s walking quite well with a cane and has joined the group training to become Healers. Cedric didn’t know what he wanted to do after Hogwarts before, but now he says that becoming a Healer is his calling.”

Harry nodded. “I’m really glad things worked out as well as they did.”

“Cedric says…” she swallowed and took a breath before continuing. “Cedric says he wouldn’t be alive if he hadn’t Apparated away when he did. He thinks You-Know-Who would have had him killed.”

“I’m afraid he’s probably right,” Harry murmured, his eyes becoming suddenly unfocused. “Voldemort didn’t need Cedric, so he may very well have had him killed. Apparating away probably saved his life.”

Cho’s eyes were wide and unblinking. “I’m glad you think so, Harry. I’m glad you don’t think Cedric was a… a coward for, uh, for leaving you behind.”

“Not at all,” Harry said firmly, standing up. “It was the only thing he could do. I’m just glad he made it back to safety.” He reached out to give her arm a light comforting squeeze.

She nodded, suddenly blinking rapidly, as tears started to stream down her cheeks. “Thank you, Harry. I’m relieved you feel that way. I need to be getting back now.” Cho continued nodding as she backed out of the compartment and closed the door.

Everyone was silent for a time after she left. Ginny and Luna disappeared behind The Quibbler. Anna pulled out The Standard Book of Spells, Grade 5. Neville put his plant away before staring out the window. He took a few surreptitious glances at Harry and waited for the food trolley to come.

Pumpkin Pasties and Chocolate Frogs distracted them all until Ron and Hermione arrived. Everyone groaned upon hearing that the Slytherin prefects were Draco Malfoy and Pansy Parkinson.

“Who are the other prefects?” Harry asked.

“Ernie Macmillan and Hannah Abbott for Hufflepuff,” Ron said.

“Anthony Goldstein and Padma Patil are the Ravenclaw prefects,” Hermione added.

Ron began joking about the punishments he would like to dole out to certain Slytherins, particularly Crabbe and Goyle, causing everyone other than Hermione, who was determined to take the responsibility of prefect seriously, to laugh.

The group talked and joked good-naturedly for the rest of the journey to Hogsmeade. Hermione reminded them when it was time to change into their robes, and Harry helped Neville with the cages when they arrived at the station. They were all surprised to hear the brisk voice of Professor Grubbly-Plank instead of the gruff call of Hagrid when they arrived, but, other than that, the trip from Hogsmeade to Hogwarts was familiar and comforting.

xxxxxxxxxxxx

He kissed her tenderly, his hands moving from her silvery-blonde hair to gently caress her arms. Goosebumps appeared on her skin, as he pushed the short sleeves of her blouse up further. He massaged them until they disappeared; her skin warming under his touch. The feel of her in his arms was intoxicating to his senses. He groaned as he moved slowly from her lips down to her neck, kissing, licking, sucking at her delicate skin. She moaned softly, murmuring his name, stroking his back, the nape of his neck, encouraging him to do more. He needed little encouragement, and was soon unfastening the buttons of her blouse. He stared into her blue eyes, as he slowly undid each button and was entranced by the growing heat of her gaze. Pushing the blouse off her shoulders, he let it fall to the floor, before quickly unhooking her bra, easing it away from her body. His gaze briefly lowered to her perfectly enticing breasts, and his lips returned hungrily to hers. Tentatively cupping her breasts, he felt their weight in his hands, kneading them tenderly, seeking those sensitive places that would make her respond the way he wanted her to, the way he desperately needed her to. She bit her lip and whimpered, as her head fell back.

He picked her up, holding her securely in his arms, kissing her passionately as he carried her over to the bed. Lowering her to the center, he yanked off his shirt and covered her body with his. He was slow and careful, allowing her time to refuse if she wanted to, if she needed to. She didn’t refuse. She didn’t ask him to slow down. He continued to touch her, to feel her, his body trembling with need. His kisses became desperate as he pulled off the last of her clothes, the last of his clothes. His hands caressed her everywhere, making her gasp and moan. When he knew her need matched his, he entered her slowly, groaning at the immense pleasure coursing through his body. She whimpered and clung to him. He kissed her deeply, moving slowly within her for as long as he could. He desperately wanted her to find her release before he succumbed to his own.

His hands continued to stroke, to excite, as he moved more quickly, as he kissed her more intensely. Her shuddering release drove him to move faster, harder, until he joined her in the exquisite release. Languishing in the overwhelming satisfaction of his fulfillment, he was stunned by the sudden glowing light that assaulted his senses. He felt her sudden stiffening, her attempt to pull back, as his own body tried to resist the raw power flowing through them, between them, over them. They were helpless against it, immobilized by the intense power of the energy surrounding them.

They were strolling through the exotic, yet familiar, streets of Cairo, crowded with merchants, chatting with the vendors, purchasing trinkets for friends and family. They were lying on a nearly empty beach, enjoying the heat of the mid-summer sun, a mild breeze wafting off the ocean, tantalizing their skin. They were laughing, as they sat below a heavily blossoming pear tree in the orchard, enjoying a picnic in the warmth of late spring. She was shrieking with delight, clinging to him, as he maneuvered the broom and sped through the dark night, stars twinkling overhead. They were making love on the floor of an unfamiliar room with a fire roaring in the fireplace, nearly drowning out the sounds of the nearby ocean during a mild winter storm. He was kissing her tenderly, rubbing his hand over her slightly rounded abdomen, feeling a sense of wonder, satisfaction, and pride that he would have never thought possible. They were in a kitchen slicing a chocolate cake, whispering to each other and giggling as they fed each other small bites of the rich chocolate. She was smiling wistfully at a small, wooden crib in a nursery. They were singing along to a holiday song on the wireless, decorating a Christmas tree in the corner of a cozy room. They were chasing each other through a snowy field, throwing snowballs at one another. He was standing in an open doorway, watching her suckling a newborn infant as she hummed a lullaby.

He gasped sharply as his senses returned to the present, as the visions vanished. “Are you alright?” he asked, attempting to resist the overwhelming fatigue that assaulted his body. She nodded as her eyes met his, but they were wide and clearly frightened.

“Any idea what happened?” he murmured. She shook her head and began trembling, clinging to him, pressing her face to the side of his neck, gripping his red hair tightly with one hand.

“Not a Veela thing?” he suggested desperately. Her incredulous glare was response enough.

“Sorry,” he muttered, shaking his head slightly as though attempting to clear it. “Everything will be okay. I promise you. It will be okay.” He held her tightly to him and was shocked that he could still feel raw power flowing through them, between them, over them.

“We can’t tell anyone about this,” he quickly decided. “It must be our secret. I don’t know what happened, but I don’t think it would be safe to tell anyone.”

She let out a choked sob and held him tightly. “I love you,” he whispered, gently smoothing her silvery-blonde hair back behind her ear. He felt her breathing calm, as she gained control of her emotions. “Please keep this a secret.”

She nodded in agreement, and he sighed. “We will get through this. Whatever has happened will make us stronger, I know it.”

He held her securely, rubbing her back, and felt her gradually becoming calmer. Soon, she was sleeping peacefully in his arms, and he was staring out the window into the night sky, wondering what the hell had just happened.


Author’s Notes: Disclaimer — Part of this chapter comes from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

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Chapter 2: Chapter 2 A Different Hogwarts

Author's Notes: Tremendous thanks to Arnel for her beta work with this chapter!!!!!


Chapter 2
A Different Hogwarts

As they approached the stone steps to the Entrance Hall, Ginny glanced around to the others. “I wonder if Professor Grubbly-Plank will be teaching the Care of Magical Creatures lessons. Do you suppose Hagrid’s sick or something?”

“Dunno,” Ron muttered. “He’s always been here to take the first years across the lake. Odd he missed it this year.”

“Well, his cabin’s dark,” Harry observed, looking out across the grounds and towards the Forbidden Forest beyond. “I don’t think he’s actually at Hogwarts right now.”

Hermione nodded. “Let’s go on in and get seats,” she said, leading the way into the Great Hall.

“Hey, Seamus, Dean,” Neville called out, raising a hand in greeting and pausing to wait for them, as the others entered the Hall.

The boys smiled and walked over. Seamus had just reached them when he was shoved forcefully from behind and stumbled into Anna. They both ended up in a heap of tangled limbs on the hard stone floor.

“Bloody hell!” Seamus cursed, looking down at the girl under him and quickly shifting off her.

“Anna, are you alright?” Neville asked, kneeling to help her and Seamus. “You didn’t hit your head, did you?”

Anna winced as she sat up and shook her head slightly. “No, I’m fine. What happened?”

“Couple of Hufflepuff second years,” Dean gestured towards the two boys who were clearly being told off by their irate prefects, Ernie Macmillan and Hannah Abbott. “Barmpots playing tag in the Entrance Hall. Looks like your bleeding, mate,” he said with a slight grimace as he helped Seamus up off the floor.

Ernie hurried over to them just as Neville pulled Anna gently to her feet. “I’m sorry about them.” He jerked a thumb in the direction of the second years, who were still being berated by Hannah as she pushed them ahead of her into the Great Hall. “Do you want me to get Madam Pomfrey?”

“Nah, no need,” Seamus replied, looking down at the blood slowly dripping from his heavily scraped right forearm. “I’ll just wash up. You all go ahead in or you’ll miss the Sorting.”

Anna heard Professor McGonagall’s brisk voice nearby and realized the first years were indeed rapidly approaching. “Go on ahead, Neville. I’m going to wash up as well.” She smiled reassuringly at him and turned to follow Seamus towards the bathrooms.

Once he turned the corner, Seamus slowed down to wait for her. “Sorry about that, Anna. Are you really okay?”

She nodded. “You broke my fall quite effectively.”

He blushed. “I’m thinking you might have a couple of bruises though. Didn’t mean to grab you like that. It was just instinct I guess.”

He had grabbed her tightly around the waist with his left arm and managed to turn slightly as they fell so that his right arm hit the floor first.

“Come on,” she smiled, her cheeks slightly flushed. “Let me fix your arm.”

They went into the boys’ bathroom. Anna pulled out her wand and carefully pulled up the sleeve of his shirt before muttering a quick “Episkey” to heal his wound and “Tergeo” to remove the blood. “Reparo” mended the torn shirt.

“Thanks, Anna,” Seamus said, as they both washed their hands. “The Sorting’s probably started by now.”

“Yes,” she agreed. “I think I’d rather wait in here and slip into the Great Hall once the feast starts.”

“Sounds like a good plan,” he said, buttoning the cuff of his shirt. “So, how was your summer?”

“Good… a bit quiet,” she sighed. “Aunt Augusta wouldn’t let us leave the Manor, except once to go to Gringotts. She wouldn’t let us have anyone over either. Remus was away a lot more than usual, and tired and tense when he was at home.”

Seamus nodded slowly. “Me mam didn’t want me to come back to Hogwarts.”

“Why wouldn’t she want you to come back?” Anna asked quietly.

He shrugged awkwardly before replying. “The news in the Daily Prophet has been a bit concerning, you know?”

She nodded. “They’ve been reporting so many half-truths lately. Aunt Augusta finally cancelled her subscription because she was so tired of reading erroneous information.”

“You definitely think it’s false then, the bad stuff they’ve been printing about Harry and Dumbledore,” he inquired.

“Of course, it’s false!” Anna exclaimed. “I mean, everyone knows how brilliant and powerful Dumbledore is. I’m not saying he never makes mistakes, but he’s not wrong about this. We know Harry. He would never make up a story to gain attention. He hates being in the spotlight — well, except for Quidditch, of course.” She took a deep breath. “I’m quite sure Voldemort is back, horrifying as that is.” Her voice cracked slightly, and she pressed her lips together hard.

Seamus grabbed her hand, giving it a gentle squeeze. “You’re right, of course. Not fair for the newspaper to print rubbish about Harry and Dumbledore.”

She nodded and forced a smile. “Not fair at all.”

They began to talk about the better aspects of their summer holidays. Seamus had just finished telling her about an unfortunate yet highly amusing incident involving a pile of steaming manure and the vegetable garden at his parents’ house when they both noticed a slight rise in the noise level coming from the Great Hall.

“Ready to go sneak in?” he asked, holding out his hand.

She smiled and took his hand. They made their way quietly to the seats Neville and Dean had saved for them at the Gryffindor table.

“How did the Sorting go?” Anna asked as she sat down and fixed her plate.

“Well enough,” Neville replied. “The Sorting Hat gave a warning to the students though. It said Hogwarts was in danger, and the Houses needed to unite.”

“Well, that’s certainly comforting,” she muttered.

When the meal was over, the Headmaster rose to make the usual start-of-term notices, including welcoming back Professor Grubbly-Plank as the Care of Magical Creatures teacher and introducing the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Professor Umbridge. Anna was as startled as the rest of the student body when Professor Umbridge stood up to make a speech. She couldn’t remember anyone ever interrupting Professor Dumbledore previously. Umbridge’s sycophantic tone when referencing the Ministry of Magic combined with her redundancy, in emphasizing the need to stop progress for the sake of progress and the importance of preserving what ought to be preserved, was mind-numbing. By the end of the speech, Anna was having difficulty focusing, and Hermione were staring at the woman with barely concealed contempt.

Finally, the exhausted and thoroughly bored students were dismissed. Slowly ascending the stairs towards the Painting of the Fat Lady that guarded the entrance to their common room, Anna couldn’t help laughing when Neville told her the new password for Gryffindor was Mimbulus mimbletonia.

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Ginny grabbed Anna’s hand the moment she saw her enter the Gryffindor common room. “Please come upstairs. I need to talk to you!” she murmured, as she pulled her towards the stone spiral staircase leading to the dormitories.

Anna hissed in pain and pulled her hand out of Ginny’s grasp.

Ginny turned back questioningly and looked down at Anna’s left hand in surprise. “I’m sorry,” she said contritely, noticing the vivid red scar there. “Is that why you missed dinner?”

Anna nodded and continued walking up the stairs, following Ginny to the relative privacy of the dormitories.

“How often do you practice the blood ward?” Ginny whispered.

“Once or twice a month,” Anna responded quietly. “I usually practice on a weekend, but…Professor Umbridge…there’s something about her.”

“What do you mean? What happened in class today?” Ginny sat on the bed and looked up expectantly. “Everyone was talking at dinner about how Harry got into a shouting match with her and she gave him detention.”

Anna nodded and sighed. “Well, that’s certainly true, although in Harry’s defense, he didn’t start it.” She rubbed her forehead and sat down on the edge of her bed next to Ginny. “Hermione asked Professor Umbridge about the course aims, since they didn’t include any actual use of magic. Once she pointed it out, everyone realized that the professor doesn’t intend to teach us any real magic this year. Dean was upset as well, and questioned her on it, but she won’t be allowing us to practice any defensive spells in her class.”

“But, how will everyone pass their exams?” Ginny sputtered. “I mean the O.W.L. and N.E.W.T. exams always have a practical, don’t they?”

“Yes,” she agreed. “That’s what Parvati pointed out, but the professor didn’t seem impressed by that argument.”

Ginny shook her head in disbelief. “How could she not let us practice spells in class? That’s madness.” She leapt up and started pacing in front of the bed. “I mean Voldemort’s back. He’s back, and the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher is not going to let us do magic!”

“And that’s what caused the shouting match between Harry and Professor Umbridge,” Anna continued. “He insisted that Voldemort is back. Umbridge denied it and called him a liar. He started yelling at her, she assigned him detention, and then sent him to Professor McGonagall.”

Ginny sat back down on the bed. “What are we going to do?”

“I have no idea,” Anna murmured with a shrug. “I think I’d better start some homework though. It’s only the first day, and this year already feels like it will be even more fun than last year!”

Ginny stared at her for a moment and then burst out laughing. Anna quickly joined her, and was wiping a few tears from her cheeks by the time her giggles subsided.

The rest of the first week of school continued rather quietly for Ginny. As she watched her friends in fifth year struggle to keep up with their homework every night, she was glad she still had a year to go before facing her own O.W.L. year. Harry returned late to the dorm every night due to his detentions.

Listening to the gossip around Hogwarts, Ginny realized that most Gryffindors quickly decided that Professor Umbridge was a horrible teacher. She was also pleased to note that just about everyone in her House accepted the fact of Tom Riddle’s return, even though most spoke in hushed whispers about the danger from You-Know-Who. Unfortunately, Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff seemed to be about evenly split in their belief that Voldemort was back, though most acknowledged disappointment in their new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher.

Friday night, Ginny was happy to celebrate the end of the first week of school with the rest of the residents of Gryffindor Tower. Her brother, Ron, had joined the Quidditch team as the new Keeper, and Harry was finally, hopefully, finished with his week of detentions with Professor Umbridge. Fred and George had managed to obtain a large case of butterbeer, and everyone was relaxing as they enjoyed the relative freedom of their first weekend.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

“He did what?” Ginny seethed, staring at her brother in frustration.

Ron swallowed. “Percy sent me a letter congratulating me on being a prefect and encouraging me to… well, to not be friends with Harry any longer.”

“Give me the letter,” she demanded imperiously, holding out her hand. “I want to see exactly what that git wrote!”

“I tore it up and put it in the fire,” Ron admitted.

Ginny sighed angrily. “Well, that’s something, then.” She sat down, and pushed both hands through her hair before sitting up straight. “What else was in the letter?”

“Percy…” he began, looking from his sister to his twin brothers and finally to their friends. “Percy said some stuff about Mum and Dad. Basically, he wrote that they’re misguided and should choose their friends more wisely.” Ron paused as he rubbed his hands together for a moment. “He wrote that he would accept their apology when they realize how wrong they are about Harry and Dumbledore.”

“Bloody moron,” Fred exclaimed.

“More like a pompous arse,” George corrected.

Neville looked at Anna with a raised eyebrow, but remained quiet. He knew it was better to let the Weasleys vent their anger with each other about their older brother rather than join in the conversation. Judging by their silence, apparently, Harry and Hermione felt the same way. It was shaping up to be a horrible start to the school year. Harry had landed himself in detention with Professor Umbridge for the second week in a row. Hermione had started the confrontation in the Defense classroom, just as she had the first week, and Harry had joined in, clearly unable to restrain his temper.

Harry hid the truth of his detentions initially, but by mid-way through the second week, the scars forming on the back of his right hand had become apparent to his close friends. Neville had been horrified when he realized that “doing lines for detention” with Professor Umbridge meant using a blood quill to repeatedly cut a message into his skin. I must not tell lies was now clearly visible on the back of Harry’s hand. Ginny’s jaw had locked in silent fury when she saw the words. Anna had tried the “Episkey” spell to heal his hand, but the charm had no noticeable effect. The girls had decided that either the cumulative effect of the continual use of the blood quill or some Dark magic in the object itself made it difficult to heal his wound. Hermione prepared Murtlap Essence, which at least eased the pain, though it did not make the scar disappear.

Lessons were also being interrupted by Professor Umbridge in her new role as “High Inquisitor” of Hogwarts. She was observing many of their classes and taking copious notes, as well as questioning students about what they were learning. It quickly became evident that Professor Trelawney was one of her targets. The Divination Professor had been extremely uncomfortable during the observation and had made a rather wild and unspecified prediction that Professor Umbridge was in grave danger and might soon face mortal peril. Neville noticed a few of the students had looked momentarily hopeful before remembering that Professor Trelawney frequently predicted horrible events that never actually occurred. The other professors had not seemed intimidated by her presence in their classrooms, though all were clearly irritated by her questions and constant interruptions.

All in all, Neville was very pleased when they finally escaped from the castle for the first Hogsmeade weekend at the beginning of October. Hermione had invited a large group of students to meet at the Hog’s Head pub to discuss the creation of a defense club. She was determined that they practice defensive spells rather than just reading about them in their Defense Against the Dark Arts class. Many of the Gryffindors from fourth year to seventh year came to the pub, bought bottles of butterbeer, and settled in chairs around Harry. Several members of Hufflepuff House, including Ernie Macmillan, Justin Finch-Fletchley, Hannah Abbott, and Susan Bones arrived shortly thereafter and joined them at the bar to place their orders. A few Ravenclaws also arrived led by Cho Chang, Padma Patil, and Luna Lovegood. Once they were all gathered in the back corner of the pub, Hermione stood up.

“Thank you all for coming,” she began somewhat nervously. “We…well, we all know that we need to be learning more defensive magic than the rubbish we’re learning in class. I mean…well, we need to be practicing real spells, and…getting ready to…to defend ourselves properly.”

“Not to mention some of us are hoping to pass our Defense Against the Dark Arts N.E.W.T.,” mentioned Angelina Johnson.

“And, our O.W.L.,” added Susan Bones, before turning to look directly at Harry. “My Aunt Amelia said you can produce a corporeal Patronus.” She glanced around quickly and lowered her voice. “She’s concerned about the possibility of Dementors not always being under the control of the Ministry. Knowing how to produce a Patronus could be really important in defending ourselves from them. Would you try to teach us how to cast one?”

Harry nodded slowly. “Two Dementors came after me this past summer in my neighborhood.”

Several students gasped in alarm. Those who already knew about the incident nodded solemnly.

“I was able to conjure my stag Patronus and drive them away,” Harry continued, rubbing his chin. “I don’t know if that was an isolated incident, or if Dementors really could be roaming freely about sometime soon.” He took a drink from his bottle of butterbeer. “I can try to teach you all how to produce one. It’s advanced magic, though, not easy to learn, and it could take a while.”

“Harry, I think many of us would really like to learn to defend ourselves from Dementors,” Ginny said quietly. “I know I would.”

He focused intensely on her for a moment and then nodded.

“Harry knows a lot of other spells as well,” Ron stated as he glanced around at the assembled group. “Stuff he learned for the Triwizard Tournament last year.”

“Yeah,” Neville agreed. “Getting past the dragon, and all those creatures in the lake…” his voice trailed off as he thought about the maze. Everyone was quiet for a moment.

Hermione nodded. “So…are we all agreed that we want to take defense lessons from Harry?”

A murmur of general agreement was immediately followed by her asking how often the group should plan to meet.

“Once a week would be good,” Ernie suggested. “With You-Know-Who back, we’ve all got to learn to defend ourselves. I still don’t understand why the Ministry would give us such a useless teacher.”

“Well, we think Professor Umbridge may be trying to prevent us from learning defensive spells so that we can’t ever be used as a force against the Ministry,” Hermione explained.

“What?” several voices muttered in confusion.

“Some important members of the Ministry apparently believe that Dumbledore could use students to create a private army that would be loyal to him alone,” Harry said. “They would rather leave us defenseless and powerless than ever have to face us in a conflict.”

“Hard to imagine them being that paranoid,” Fred muttered. “So, we’ll meet once a week. We just need to avoid the Quidditch practice times.”

The other Quidditch players from each House nodded.

“We also need a place to meet,” George added.

“It would have to be a rather large space,” Ginny commented, glancing around. “There are a lot of us, and we’ll need room to move around to cast spells.”

The group was quiet for a moment.

“The library?” Katie Bell suggested with a shrug.

“Madam Pince wouldn’t like that,” Harry said smirking.

“We could use the Come and Go room,” Anna murmured.

“The what?” Hermione asked.

“The Come and Go room,” Anna repeated, focusing on Harry. “It’s on the seventh floor. I can show you the room and we can start meeting there.”

He nodded and smiled. “Alright, so…I guess we’ll spread the word about the first meeting soon.”

“Before we leave, we need everyone to write their name on this parchment,” Hermione said. “That way we know who is interested in being part of the defense club. And, I think we need to all agree not to tell anyone about this - especially Professor Umbridge.”

There were a few uneasy glances, particularly among the members of Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw, but soon everyone had agreed to keep the meetings a secret. One by one, they wrote their names on the parchment before exiting the Hog’s Head.


Author’s Notes: Disclaimer — Part of this chapter comes from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

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Chapter 3: Chapter 3 Thestrals and Snakes

Author's Notes: Special thank you to Arnel for her wonderful work as beta!!!


Chapter 3

Thestrals and Snakes

A loud, wailing sound echoed through the girls’ dormitories just as the stairs transformed into a smooth stone slide. Ron fell back awkwardly, landing on the floor with a soft grunt. Several girls took the slide down to the common room in rapid succession, giggling as they landed.

“Why aren’t boys allowed in the girls’ dormitories?” Ron sputtered in frustration as he scrambled to his feet. “Girls can come up to our rooms!”

Hermione stood up and checked on her book bag as she exited the slide. “It’s a rather old-fashioned rule, I’m afraid,” she said. “The founders felt that boys were less trustworthy than girls. Why were you trying to come up, anyway?”

“We wanted to show you the newest Educational Decree,” Ron explained, as he pointed to the notice board.

“What’s wrong?” Anna stood up from the stone slide.

“All student organizations have been disbanded,” Harry said quietly.

“Someone told Umbridge about our new Defense Club,” Ron added.

“No one told,” Hermione said. “Or, if they have, we will know when we see them. I put a jinx on the parchment everyone signed.”

“What kind of jinx?” Neville inquired.

“The kind that will make it quite obvious if someone betrayed us,” Hermione replied. “The person’s face will be covered in spots. Completely covered.”

Anna’s eyes widened in surprise, and Ginny giggled wickedly. “You can be a bit scary sometimes, in a brilliant sort of way.”

Hermione smiled in satisfaction, and the group made their way down to the Great Hall for breakfast. After quietly spreading the word to everyone that the Defense meetings were going to begin as planned, Harry set the first meeting for eight o’clock that evening.

The six friends arrived early in the seventh-floor corridor near the tapestry of Barnabas the Barmy so they could create the room they would need for the Defense club.

Harry turned to Anna expectantly. “How do we make the room appear?”

“Think very carefully and precisely about the kind of space we need. You need to concentrate clearly as you walk up and down the corridor three times,” Anna explained.

“I take it you’ve used this room before,” Hermione observed.

Anna nodded. “Our house-elf, Litty, told me about it a while ago. She knew I needed a private place sometimes here at Hogwarts.”

Neville put an arm around her and smiled down at his cousin. “Litty is always full of surprises,” he murmured.

Harry began carefully pacing along the empty stretch of wall. A door handle appeared suddenly, with the remainder of the door rapidly materializing. He pulled it open slowly to reveal a spacious room with bookcases along one wall and dozens of thick cushions on the floor.

“These cushions will come in handy when we practice Stunning,” Ron enthused.

“Look at all the books!” Hermione exclaimed as she walked along the bookcase and began quietly reading the titles.

“This place is perfect, Harry,” Ginny said with a grin.

A quiet knock was heard at the door, and students slowly made their way into the secret room, murmuring with delight.

“It’s bizarre,” Fred muttered to George. “Do you remember that time we hid in here to get away from Filch?”

George nodded as he looked about. “Yeah, but then it was just a broom cupboard.”

Once all the students had arrived, Harry locked the door, and everyone fell silent. Hermione led the group through the formality of naming Harry as their leader and suggested that the group come up with a discreet name so that members could refer to it safely.

“We could call it the Defense Association,” suggested Cho. “It can be the D.A. for short.”

“The D.A. sounds good, but let’s make it stand for Dumbledore’s Army,” Ginny said. “Isn’t that the Ministry’s worst fear?”

Nods and chuckles were heard throughout the room.

“That’s perfect, Ginny!” Harry exclaimed.

Hermione wrote Dumbledore’s Army across the top of the parchment with all their names and posted it to the wall. Over the next few weeks, Harry led the group as they practiced the Disarming Charm, the Impediment Jinx, and the Reductor Curse. He was a patient teacher, always offering encouragement and slight redirection where needed. The D.A. meetings were going well, with the only difficulty being trying to remain discreet as they passed the day and time of each meeting through the three Houses.

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One Sunday afternoon as they were finishing their Arithmancy homework, Hermione wondered aloud to Anna how difficult it might be to create something for each D.A. member to carry with them that would display the day and time of meetings. The pair spent a few hours in the library and came back to the common room with very satisfied expressions on their faces.

“What have you two been up to?” Ginny inquired.

Anna peered at Hermione expectantly. She grinned and nodded. The three girls rushed up to the dormitory so Hermione could explain the new D.A. Galleons to Ginny.

“So, Harry can set the meetings on his Galleon, and it will warm up and alert everyone at once when the next meeting will be?” Ginny confirmed.

Hermione nodded. “I think it should be a great help since D.A. meetings are held on different days and times each week to avoid Quidditch practice.”

“You were quite correct, Ginny,” Anna smirked. “Hermione’s brilliant!”

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Sirius stepped just out to the landing of the front door of Grimmauld Place. The sky had darkened considerably that afternoon as clouds gathered overhead. A brisk wind sent the rapidly falling sleet into his face as he Apparated to the side gate of Longbottom Manor. Remus saw him immediately and quickly tapped the gate with his wand to open it, beckoning his friend into the grounds, before resealing the gate.

“Glad you could make it,” he said, clapping him on the shoulder. The men began walking rapidly, shivering slightly as they hurried along the path towards the house. The sleet turned to snow when they were halfway to the house and was quickly accumulating on the frozen ground.

“It’s good to be out of the house, even in this weather,” Sirius commented. “Is Tonks here yet?”

Remus shook his head. “She should be arriving soon via the Floo from the Ministry. You were right on time for once,” he smirked as he opened the back door of the Manor. The warmth of the house welcomed them as they shrugged off their cloaks and hung them up before making their way to the garden room.

Augusta turned in her seat as the men entered. A blazing fire roared in the hearth behind her casting a gentle glow to the cream-colored walls. “Oh, good. Remus, Sirius come join us. Tonks, please pour two more glasses of Firewhisky. This weather makes it practically medicinal.”

“Beautiful women and Firewhisky,” Sirius sighed happily as he sat on the sofa. “Augusta, you truly know the way to a man’s heart.”

Tonks chuckled as she handed over the Firewhisky. “So, what’s the news from Minerva?”

“Well, as far as I know, the professors are still unaware of the kids’ secret Defense Against the Dark Arts group,” Sirius replied. “Also, Minerva confirmed that Harry’s owl, Hedwig, suffered a minor injury, so we can assume that at least some mail is being tampered with going in and out of Hogwarts.”

“You were lucky not to get caught by that Umbridge woman during your Floo call to Harry,” Remus commented.

“I know,” Sirius muttered as he took a swig of his drink. “I won’t be trying that again anytime soon.”

The Floo flared suddenly, and Arthur’s head appeared in the flames. “Hello, Augusta, Remus,” he called out, looking around the room.

“Arthur,” Remus answered quickly bending over the flames. “We’re here. Is everything alright?”

“Certainly, certainly,” Arthur replied. “Just wondered if it was a good time for me to pop over for a quick visit?”

“Yes, of course, Arthur,” Augusta said as she came over. “You’re always welcome.”

Tonks looked at Sirius with a raised eyebrow. He shrugged in silent agreement that something was going on, just as Arthur stepped through.

Glancing around, he greeted everyone and accepted the glass of Firewhisky Remus handed him before sitting down.

“What is it, Arthur?” Augusta asked quietly.

“Minerva just Floo called to inform me that Fred, George, and Harry have been given a lifelong Quidditch ban due to an altercation that occurred just after today’s match against Slytherin,” he said.

“What?” Sirius roared as he leapt from his seat and began pacing.

Arthur nodded grimly. “Minerva was being very careful about what she said, almost as though she was certain the Floo call was being monitored,” he took a sip of his drink. “It was clear to me that the ban was ordered by Dolores Umbridge and will not be rescinded anytime soon.”

“I’ve never even heard of anyone receiving a lifelong ban from Quidditch at Hogwarts,” Sirius grumbled. “What kind of altercation was it?”

“Apparently, Harry and George attacked the Slytherin Seeker, who happens to be Lucius Malfoy’s son, Draco, while they were still on the pitch,” Arthur explained. He rubbed his forehead. “Fred wasn’t actually involved since the Chasers were holding him back, but he was banned as well.”

Remus sighed. “Well, clearly two against one wasn’t particularly well done of them, but having spent time with Draco Malfoy, I have no doubt he must have said something truly despicable to provoke them,” he paused and emptied his glass. “How did Molly take the news?”

“She wasn’t home to hear it,” Arthur admitted. “Molly’s visiting her Aunt Muriel. She should be home…” he glanced at the old grandfather clock against the wall. “…in about an hour.”

“Well, we were about to have dinner,” Augusta announced. “Arthur, you must join us. Some good food will no doubt fortify you for the difficult conversation ahead.” She turned to Remus. “Will you please let Bitty know we have an extra guest?”

Remus nodded with a smile and opened the door to find Bitty and Litty in the hallway just a few feet away. They had no doubt heard Sirius’s outraged shout and come to investigate. He smirked as they both blushed slightly and hurried away to finish the dinner preparations.

Turning back into the garden room, he grinned as Augusta firmly told Arthur that he was perfectly well attired for a simple family dinner, and requested that he escort her into the dining room.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Anna smiled as she listened to Harry recount their meeting with Hagrid the previous night. He, Ron, and Hermione had snuck out of the castle to visit Hagrid in his house by the edge of the Forbidden Forest. Clearly, having their Care of Magical Creatures teacher back had lifted Harry’s spirits considerably.

“I wonder what he’s planning for lessons this week,” Ginny said softly as she gazed out the window at the heavily falling snow.

Hermione sighed loudly. “I tried to ask him, but he wouldn’t tell me. If that Umbridge woman makes trouble for Hagrid…”

“He’ll be fine,” Ron cut in. “We’ll just do our best to make him look good if Umbridge is there during our lessons. With luck, she’ll observe him talking about unicorns or something.”

“When are we ever that lucky?” Hermione muttered under her breath.

That Tuesday as they followed Hagrid into the Forbidden Forest, Anna had an uneasy feeling that the lesson would not be about unicorns.

“The creatures I’ll be showin’ you today prefer the dark and are pretty rare,” Hagrid explained as he led the class into the forest. He was carrying what appeared to be the back end of a cow and walking briskly among the dense trees.

“I reckon they’re the only trained ones in Britain,” he announced with obvious pride as he stopped abruptly and dropped the large bovine carcass on the frozen ground of the forest.

“Now, the smell o’ the meat will attract ‘em, but I’ll call as well,” Hagrid continued. He made an odd, shrieking cry that caused Anna to flinch. Looking around the class, she saw that everyone seemed to be on edge. Neville’s hand suddenly clasping hers was very welcome indeed.

Glancing at his face briefly, she followed Neville’s line of sight to the large winged horses that were slowly emerging from the darkness of the forest. They were the same skeletal beasts that pulled the carriages from the Hogsmeade Station to Hogwarts each year. Anna remembered being rather startled by the sight of them her first year, but, clearly, they were gentle animals. She watched one bend down and tear a chunk of meat from the carcass, raising her eyebrows in surprise that the horses ate meat instead of grass.

“Now, who can see ‘em?” Hagrid asked. “Put yer hands up if ya see ‘em.”

Anna raised her hand feeling confused. Why was Hagrid asking who could see them? They were very large animals. How could anyone miss seeing them? She glanced at Neville who was also raising his hand with a rather closed expression on his face. Looking around quickly, Anna realized that only one other student, a Slytherin, was raising his hand. Near him, Draco Malfoy had opened his mouth to speak, but suddenly closed it and stared at her. She felt her cheeks growing warm and let her arm fall to her side.

“What’s eating the cow?” Parvati suddenly demanded with a frightened expression on her face.

“Thestrals,” Hagrid announced, earning a soft “oh, of course!” from Hermione. “We have a whole herd of ‘em here at Hogwarts. Now, who knows why some o’ you can see them an’ others can’t?”

Hagrid called on Hermione, who was raising her hand enthusiastically. “Thestrals can only be seen by people who have seen death,” she explained.

Anna felt hollow, detached from her surroundings, as she gazed at the leathery black-winged creatures. They looked so innocent, so harmless, even though their skeletal appearance was somewhat disconcerting. Vaguely, she was aware of voices around her - the slow, deep voice of Hagrid and the higher, quicker ones of others - but her mind refused to focus on anything.

A sudden, firm squeeze of her hand, combined with a “hem, hem” brought her attention back to her present surroundings.

“I’m sorry, Professor,” she murmured. Her voice sounded oddly remote even to her own ears.

“It’s quite all right, dear,” said Professor Umbridge, patting her upper arm in what was surely supposed to be a comforting gesture. It left Anna feeling strangely unsettled. “I merely asked whom you saw die that allows you to see the Thestrals.”

“My grandmother,” she answered softly, blinking rapidly as she forced herself to focus, to regain control.

“And, you Mr. Longbottom?” the professor continued.

“It was my grandfather,” Neville said firmly.

“I see,” Professor Umbridge nodded. “And, what do you think of these animals?” She gestured vaguely towards the place where the Thestrals continued to eat.

“Well,” Neville swallowed loudly. “They’re very interesting animals.”

“Hmmm,” the professor said as she made a brief note on her clipboard.

Anna’s spine stiffened. “They’re more than interesting,” she commented clearly. “They are proof that even that which seems dark can be pure and beautiful. The way they move is mesmerizing and really rather graceful.”

Professor Umbridge pursed her lips and raised an eyebrow at them before turning to Hagrid and informing him that his inspection report would be ready in ten days.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Ginny had very mixed feelings about being named Seeker of the Gryffindor Quidditch team. Part of her was thrilled of course to have made the team, to finally be able to show her Quidditch skills. Objectively, she knew she was not even close to Harry in Seeking ability. She definitely had far more confidence as a Chaser, but the Seeker position was available, and she had been selected. Hopefully, she could prove her ability well enough this year to get a Chaser position next year, when positions would be open due to Angelina and Alicia finishing their seventh year.

Arriving early for the last D.A. meeting before the Christmas holidays, Ginny took a deep breath and approached Harry. “Hi, Harry,” she said, smiling awkwardly. “I wanted to let you know that Angelina held try-outs and…well, I…um…I was selected to be Seeker,” she ended in a rush.

Harry blinked and stared at her for a moment. She was about to turn away when he reached for her hand and clasped it securely. “Congratulations, Ginny,” he murmured. “I’m really happy for you.”

“Thanks, Harry,” she whispered. “I’m not even close to as good as you, but…”

“I’m sure you’ll do brilliantly,” he said. “Just don’t let Malfoy beat you to the Snitch!”

She laughed softly. “I’ll catch every Snitch, or die trying.”

His eyebrows raised in sudden alarm. “Don’t…”

“I’m joking, Harry,” Ginny assured him. “Fred said Oliver told you that before a game once, and…” her voice trailed off.

Harry nodded and chuckled. She suspected he was remembering the time Oliver Wood had used those words, and Harry had almost died in his determination to catch the Snitch.

The door opened and the rest of the D.A. came in for their last lesson before the Christmas holidays. They practiced all the spells they had been working on for the last several weeks, and Harry promised some new spells in the coming year, including the Patronus Charm. Ginny was determined to learn this spell, determined to learn how to defend herself from the Dementors. As the meeting ended, she was very pleased to note that Harry chose to walk beside her all the way back to Gryffindor tower.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Neville woke with a start. Rising quickly from his bed, he started walking blindly only to hit the wall. “Bugger!” he exclaimed grabbing the foot that had collided painfully with the wall as he realized he was not at home at Longbottom Manor, but at Hogwarts.

Looking around rapidly, he identified what, or rather who had caused him to wake. Harry was writhing and moaning in his sleep.

“Harry!” he exclaimed, rushing over to him, just as Ron jumped up and hurried to lean over Harry’s bed.

“Harry!” Ron shouted, trying to grab his flailing arms. “Harry, wake up!”

Seamus and Dean came over just as Harry leaned over the side of his bed and vomited on the floor.

“Your dad,” Harry gasped, reaching for Ron. “He’s been attacked…. Bitten!”

Neville grabbed Ron’s shoulder. “I’m going to get Professor McGonagall,” he said rapidly before running out the door. His mind raced as he moved quickly down the corridor to the quarters of the Head of Gryffindor House. Pounding on the door, he shouted. “Professor, we need help! Please, something’s wrong with Harry!”

The door opened suddenly, and Professor McGonagall hurried out securing her dressing gown as she rushed towards the painting of the Fat Lady. “What’s happened, Mr. Longbottom?” she demanded.

Neville shook his head as he kept pace with his Head of House. “I don’t know for sure,” he exclaimed. “It seemed like maybe Harry was just having a bad dream or was sick, but then he said Ron’s dad had been bitten…or something.”

They soon arrived at the dormitory of the fifth-year boys, and the professor leaned over Harry. “What is it, Potter? What’s happened?”

“Ron’s dad has been attacked by a snake,” Harry explained. “I was dreaming, but then it changed.” He looked around frantically at everyone in the room before focusing again on their Head of House. “It really happened, Professor! A huge snake attacked Mr. Weasley and there was blood everywhere!”

Neville looked from Harry’s earnest face to the professor’s horrified one before finally resting on the pure anguish of Ron.

He heard an angry inhalation from Harry just as Professor McGonagall spoke. “Potter, Weasley, put on dressing gowns. We’ve got to go see the Headmaster.”


Author’s Notes: Disclaimer — Part of this chapter comes from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

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Chapter 4: Chapter 4 Fears of Possession

Author's Notes: Thanks to the wonderful Arnel for her beta work on this chapter!


Chapter 4

Fears of Possession

Sitting up with a gasp, Ginny pulled her wand from beneath her pillow and pointed it at whoever had just touched her.

“Miss Weasley!” The voice was sharp and familiar.

She blinked a few times before lowering her wand. “Professor McGonagall…I…uh…”

“Never mind,” her Head of House said briskly. “Put on your dressing gown and follow me.”

Ginny scrambled out of her bed in Gryffindor Tower. Stepping into her slippers and yanking on her dressing gown, she hurried to keep up with the professor. In the common room, she saw Fred and George waiting impatiently, but had no opportunity to ask any questions. Their Head of House continued out of the portrait hole and moved swiftly along the dark, empty corridors.

“Professor, please,” George began. “What’s happened?”

The professor sighed without slowing her steps. “There isn’t much I can tell you, Mr. Weasley. Your father has apparently been injured,” she paused before the stone gargoyle that guarded the entrance to the Headmaster’s office and gave the password. “Mr. Potter somehow witnessed the event, and help has been summoned.”

Ginny whimpered as she imagined what kind of injury would be cause to rouse them out of their beds in the middle of the night. She felt Fred grab her arm, pulling her along up the spiral staircase. Stumbling into the Headmaster’s office, she caught sight of her brother, Ron, and Harry.

“What’s going on?” she asked, her eyes searching for an answer from Harry, who had apparently somehow witnessed what happened to her dad.

“I am sorry to have to tell you that your father has been injured,” the Headmaster explained calmly. “He is currently at St. Mungo’s Hospital. I am sending you all to Grimmauld Place by Portkey. Your mother will meet you there soon.”

Ginny felt oddly disconnected as she heard the professors talking. Fred grabbed her hand and put it on the blackened old teakettle that was their Portkey just as it began to glow. Her eyes locked briefly with Ron’s as the Portkey activated. She could see the panic in his face as they were yanked through space. The confusing whirl of wind and colored light was fortunately over quickly. She landed roughly on the cold, hard floor of the basement kitchen of Grimmauld Place.

Sirius gently lifted her up off the floor as he looked inquiringly at her brothers. “I was told Arthur has been injured,” he said.

George nodded. “We don’t really know any details,” he said, looking from Ron to Harry.

Fred cleared his throat. “Harry, the professor said you’d…well, sort of…witnessed it, or something?”

Ginny could see the fear in Harry’s eyes as he nodded quietly and seemed to be trying to gather his thoughts.

“I had this, well, I guess it was sort of a dream, but not really,” he tried to explain. Harry closed his eyes for a moment and rubbed his forehead. Slowly, painfully, he recounted seeing Dad attacked by a huge snake in the Ministry.

It was obvious to Ginny that he was leaving something out, or perhaps altering the retelling in some way. She struggled to breath normally, wondering if her father had bled to death, and Harry was too afraid to tell them. Her brothers seemed to be arguing with Sirius and she understood without hearing their words that they wanted to go directly to St. Mungo’s. Waiting for news to come about their father was physically painful. They all ended up sitting silently around the kitchen table drinking butterbeer and staring at one another. Ginny tried to catch Harry’s eyes, but he was focused morosely on his bottle of butterbeer. A brief note had come from Mum saying only that Dad was alive and she was going to the hospital. Ginny lost all track of time as the minutes and hours passed. She couldn’t think, wouldn’t think, about anything.

When the kitchen door finally swung open and Mum walked in, Ginny needed only a brief glimpse of her face to know that her father was okay. She barely heard the words coming out of her mother’s mouth that confirmed what she knew from one look at Mum’s tired smile. Rising swiftly from her chair, she caught her mother in a hug just as George wrapped his long arms around both of them.

xxxxxxxxxxxxx

Ginny woke from a restless sleep with a feeling of relief that she would soon be able to see her father in the hospital. She had to constantly remind herself that he was okay, that he was still alive after the vicious snake attack. The Weasley siblings and Harry ate breakfast rather quickly in the kitchen of Grimmauld Place and prepared for the journey to the hospital. They would be accompanied to St. Mungo’s not only by their mother, but also by Tonks and Mad-Eye Moody.

By the time, they arrived at the hospital, Ginny was fidgeting continually as she attempted to reign in her emotions. Her patience was not in good supply as she waited to see her father after his near-death experience. Entering the ward, she saw that her dad was one of only three patients in the “Creature-Induced Injuries” room. Seeing him propped up by several pillows and currently reading the Daily Prophet relieved her fears immensely.

“Hi, Dad,” she murmured just as her father was telling her mum that Bill had only recently left to go to work. Ginny leaned in carefully to give her father a gentle hug.

“I’m perfectly fine,” he said as he patted her back. “Once they can get these bandages off me, I’ll be able to come home.”

She leaned back and smiled, forcing away the tears that were threatening to gather in her eyes.

“Why can’t they get the bandages off now?” Fred asked.

Dad sighed. “I start bleeding rather badly every time they try to remove them,” he admitted. “But, don’t worry, I’m sure they’ll figure out a solution to the problem quite soon. In the meantime, I just have to drink a large amount of Blood-Replenishing Potion. Nasty stuff,” he added quietly with a slight shudder.

Ginny stared at her father forcing a confident smile as Mum continued the conversation. She wasn’t listening so she was unaware of what the twins had said to cause them all to be cast out into the hallway, but when George offered her an Extendable Ear, she accepted it.

The conversation between her parents, Tonks, and Moody was somewhat confusing until Mad-Eye suggested that Harry may have been possessed by Voldemort at the time of her father’s attack. She watched Harry yank out his Extendable Ear, his eyes widening with fear.

They left the hospital soon thereafter and spent a quiet day at home. Harry completely ignored any efforts she or Ron made towards talking about the situation. He seemed to be hiding in various rooms throughout the large house, moving at regular intervals and not even bothering to appear for meals. Ginny had tried to approach him several times, but he always managed to slip away. By the time Hermione arrived in the late afternoon of Christmas Eve, Ginny was determined to make him listen to reason or hex him if need be.

Fortunately, Hermione was equally prepared to do whatever it took to reach Harry, and they ended up having a confrontation in Ron’s room.

“Harry, we need to talk about what happened!” Hermione insisted.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” he snapped, leaping off the bed and pacing the room. “I don’t want to even think about it!”

“Why not?” Ginny demanded.

“Because I think Moody was right, and I may have been possessed by Voldemort!” Harry yelled, gripping his hair in both hands as he paused to glare at her.

“And, worrying about that, it didn’t dawn on you to talk to the one person in this house who’s actually been possessed by Voldemort,” Ginny said angrily.

Harry stared at her quietly for a moment before responding. “I should have asked you about it,” he murmured, rubbing his face tiredly. “I’m sorry. You’re right. That was stupid of me. It’s just…” He sighed. “You’re not that Ginny.”

She opened her mouth in shock before taking a deep breath and trying to respond calmly. “What do you mean, I’m not that Ginny?”

Harry shrugged in obvious bewilderment. “You’re not the same Ginny who was in the Chamber of Secrets. That was Ron’s little sister. I don’t think of you that way…” his voice trailed off.

Ginny’s hand pressed hard against her chest as she gazed at him, not sure how to respond or what to say. Trying to focus on the matter at hand, she formed a question. “Harry, do you think Voldemort was possessing you?”

“Yes…no…I don’t know,” Harry gasped. “It felt like I was the snake. It felt like I was attacking your father!” His body shook slightly at the admission, his hands fisting by his sides.

Ginny closed her eyes for a moment as she took a slow breath. Opening them, she looked directly at Harry. “Do you remember everything that has happened over the past few days?”

He nodded cautiously.

“Are there any big blank spots? Times when you don’t remember where you were, or what you were doing?” she asked.

Harry shook his head slowly.

“Tom hasn’t been possessing you,” Ginny said softly. “If he had, you would have big empty places in your memory. You would know that you were missing time, that something was wrong.”

“You’re sure?” he pleaded, taking a step towards her.

“I’m very sure, Harry,” she stated. “I hope the next time you have doubts about Voldemort, you’ll come to me.”

He nodded grimly, his clenched fists relaxing before reaching out to her and pulling her into a tight hug. Ginny was surprised, but held him securely, enjoying the feeling of being in his arms, of offering him comfort.

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Anna sat still in the small chair before the vanity while Litty slid a few more pins into her hair. The house-elf had managed an elegant twisted chignon low on the back of her head. She was now carefully putting on the vintage screw back earrings that had belonged to her grandmother, Katherine. The emeralds sparkled in the light as Anna turned her head to check her appearance.

“Now for the pendant, Miss Anna,” Litty said, slowly putting the heavy chain around her neck and securing the clasp. The emerald and white gold pendant rested on her chest just above the sweetheart neckline of her gown. The pieces of jewelry were not Anna’s favorite, but they complemented the dark green gown she wore quite nicely.

Standing up, she moved in front of the full-length mirror in her bedroom, looking at herself critically. “Well, Litty, what do you think?” Anna asked, as she turned on her heels in a quick circle, causing the full skirt of the dress to flare out and swirl around her.

“You look lovely, Miss Anna,” the little house-elf replied, a proud smile on her lips.

“Thank you for your help, Litty,” she said fondly as she applied a thin layer of gloss to her lips. Aunt Augusta had informed them the day they arrived home for the Christmas holidays that they would be attending the Christmas Eve ball at the Macmillan residence. Neither she nor her cousin, Neville, were looking forward to the formal event. Augusta had spent the past few days offering gentle reminders of the proper rules of etiquette.

A perfunctory knock heralded the arrival of her cousin into the room. “Are you ready, Anna?” Neville asked, quickly glancing at her before offering his arm. “You know how Gran gets when we’re not on time for things.”

She nodded, taking his arm, as they left the room and descended the stairs.

“You look beautiful, by the way,” he complimented.

“Thank you, Neville. You look quite dashing yourself,” Anna responded lightly. “How long do you think we will stay at the party?”

“A couple of hours, I imagine,” he replied with a sigh. “At least Ernie will be there. We can spend some of the evening talking with him.”

She nodded. Ernie was in Hufflepuff House at Hogwarts and the grandson of their hosts for the evening, John and Emily Macmillan.

“Oh, good. You’re right on time,” Augusta said as she surveyed her grandson and great niece. “You both look very well indeed. I knew that color green would look lovely on you, Anna.” Augusta herself was wearing a long flowing gown of deep red with a pearl choker. Neville was in pure black dress robes for the occasion. “Now remember what I said about staying together.”

Both teens nodded agreeably, and soon they were off.

The Macmillan residence was a stately manor with a grand entrance hall and an extraordinary ballroom. Anna’s grip on Neville’s arm tightened slightly as she took a calming breath and smiled politely. They followed Aunt Augusta towards their hosts, John and Emily. The adults greeted each other warmly with hugs and kisses on cheeks. John pointed out to his wife how much Neville had grown since they last saw him at a summer party a few years prior. Anna was introduced and welcomed formally to their home. She began to relax once the ladies had completed the obligatory admiration of each other’s gowns and jewelry, as well as commenting on the splendor of the house and the holiday decorations. The teens were able to slip away to the ballroom fairly quickly.

“Well, we survived the receiving line,” Neville murmured as he took two glasses of white wine from a passing tray and handed one to Anna.

“Most people enjoy fancy holiday parties like this,” Anna observed softly, taking a sip of her wine. Several small tables were arranged along the walls of the huge room for those who wanted to sit and talk. Waiters moved smoothly throughout the space with trays of hors d’oeuvres and drinks. Several couples were dancing in the middle of the room. There was soft laughter and the moderate hum of multiple conversations coming from every direction. “Everyone seems to be having a rather nice time.”

“Most adults enjoy formal parties,” he agreed glancing around. “Personally, I’d rather be at home. Do you see Ernie or anyone else our age here?”

Anna scanned the ballroom. “No. Do you want to go claim a table?”

Neville shook his head and smiled down at her. “Let’s dance for a while.” He swallowed the last of his wine and waited while she quickly finished hers. Depositing the empty glasses on a tray, he led her out to the dance floor.

Dancing with Neville was fun and relaxing. Since they had taken dancing lessons together for the past two summers with Madam Jones, they knew the steps and could maintain a conversation as they moved to the music. Neville murmured the names of those witches and wizards he recognized and what he knew of their families and occupations. Anna laughed as she listened to his commentary and occasionally asked a question or made an observation.

They were sitting at a table drinking wine and enjoying a few canapes when Ernie joined them. They soon entered a spirited, though softly spoken discussion about the many faults of Dolores Umbridge, the chances of each of the four teams winning the Inter-House Quidditch Cup, and the O.W.L. examinations they would be taking at the end of the school year.

As a waiter stopped at their table to clear away the empty glasses and plates, Ernie asked Anna to dance. Smiling, she agreed, and they were soon twirling about the ballroom. “So, what do you think of the old place?” he inquired.

“I think the ‘old place’ is perfectly lovely,” she replied with a giggle. “Did you grow up here?”

“No,” Ernie shook his head chuckling. “My mum and grandmother get along well enough, but they both need to be the mistress of their own homes. Mum and Dad live in a cottage here on the property. It’s a nice, rather large, place, and Mum never had to worry much about me making a mess as a kid or accidentally breaking some precious heirloom.”

Anna nodded in understanding. “The house I grew up in was smaller and less formal than this place, a bit smaller than Longbottom Manor as well.”

“Do you miss it?” he asked quietly. “It was in Virginia, right?”

She smiled slightly. “Yes, I miss it. Not so much the house exactly, although it was a lovely, sprawling place. I miss my grandmother,” she swallowed and took a shallow breath. “I miss the ocean, the smell of the salt air and the sound of the pounding waves. We used to walk along the beach collecting shells and sharks’ teeth and watch the dolphins leap in the air. My grandmother didn’t like to swim, but I would swim and float for hours,” Anna sighed as her voice trailed off. “I even miss the sweltering heat of an August afternoon and the sudden thunderstorms rolling in.”

Ernie smiled. “It sounds like you have a lot of great memories.”

The song ended. He was about to ask her if she wanted to continue dancing or get another glass of wine when someone tapped his shoulder.

“May I have the next dance with Miss Henry?” Draco Malfoy asked politely.

Ernie glanced at Anna as he slowly forced a smile. “Of course,” he agreed. “Neville Longbottom is her escort for the evening,” he informed him.

“Then I shall return Miss Henry to Mr. Longbottom when the dance is over,” Draco replied smoothly.

Ernie nodded curtly as he handed Anna over to Draco, turned, and walked away.

Draco took Anna firmly into his arms and began the dance. “Are you enjoying the party?”

“Yes,” she said with a slight nod. “It’s lovely. Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves.”

He spun her and pulled her back tightly against him. “Your gown is quite becoming,” he complimented looking down at her. “Your dressmaker should be commended on a job well done.”

“Thank you, Mr. Malfoy,” Anna murmured, suddenly feeling a bit too warm, as she resisted the urge to back away.

“Really, Anna,” he drawled. “You must call me Draco. We are well enough acquainted after all, though I would like to get to know you even better.”

She blinked and wondered if perhaps she had consumed a bit too much wine. Her mind raced to come up with an appropriate topic of conversation. “So…um, Draco,” she murmured. “Are you having a pleasant holiday at home?”

“I’m having an excellent holiday,” Draco admitted, pulling her even closer against him. “My mother feels the need to rather spoil me when I’m home,” he whispered against her ear. “Malfoy Manor is quite the most beautiful property in all of England. I would enjoy showing you around the grounds sometime.”

“Aunt Augusta doesn’t allow me to leave Longbottom Manor very often,” Anna replied.

“Quite understandable, of course,” Draco said, pleasantly. “As your guardian, it is her responsibility to safeguard your reputation and make decisions for you.”

Anna nodded uncertainly. She wished the dance would end. Dancing with Ernie had felt comfortable. The way Draco was looking at her and talking was quite different, and he was holding her too firmly.

“Your emerald pendant is quite exquisite,” he murmured. “I don’t believe I’ve ever seen anything so lovely against such beautifully white skin.”

The dance finally came to an end, and Anna tried to back away slightly. Draco’s grip did not relax, however. He held her tightly with his left arm. The forefinger of his right hand traced her skin around the pendant he had been admiring. A strange burning sensation followed the progress of his finger as he touched the skin of her chest. She gasped, and he released her suddenly.

“It really is a perfect emerald,” he commented. “May I escort you back to your cousin?” he inquired politely, offering his arm.

Anna squeezed her eyes shut for a second. “Yes, thank you,” she managed as she took his arm. She felt oddly unsteady walking back towards Neville.

“Mr. Longbottom,” Draco spoke formally as they approached. “I hope you are enjoying your evening. Anna,” he murmured, kissing her hand and bowing slightly. “Thank you for the dance.”

As he turned and walked away, Anna gripped Neville’s arm. “Do you think we can go home now?” she asked.

“Yes, we’ve been here almost three hours,” Neville replied. “Are you okay? I lost sight of you for a moment. Did Malfoy do something?”

“No, not really,” Anna said uncertainly. “I think I’m just tired.”

He nodded and led her to Aunt Augusta, who was talking to Emily Macmillan and another witch he did not recognize. After a quiet discussion, they thanked their hosts and left the party.


Author’s Notes: Disclaimer — Part of this chapter comes from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

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Chapter 5: Chapter 5 Firewhisky

Author's Notes: Huge thanks to Arnel who, among other things, taught me the correct spelling of Firewhisky!!!


Chapter 5

Firewhisky

Remus chuckled as he took another sip of his Firewhisky. He was glad Sirius had decided to drop by for a brief visit while Augusta and the children were at the Macmillan’s Christmas Eve party. These recent opportunities to reminisce with Sirius about the Marauder days were wonderful. They focused on tales that included James, and sometimes Lily, while purposely avoiding any mention of Peter. His old friend was an amusing storyteller and recounted some of their bawdier exploits with true relish. The fact that some of the stories were rather exaggerated did not lessen them in any way. Remus greatly appreciated that Sirius had become such a frequent visitor to Longbottom Manor. He knew that Augusta sincerely enjoyed his visits as well.

The Floo activated, and Anna stepped quickly from the fireplace, her hand covering the necklace at her throat.

“Hello, Remus. Sirius,” she murmured with a nod, walking purposefully across the room towards the door, apparently intending to leave the room. “Good night.”

“Wait a moment, Anna. You haven’t told us anything about the party,” Remus asserted as he set his glass on a nearby table.

She paused and seemed to take a deep breath before turning back to look at him. Her gaze was too carefully blank, setting his nerves on edge.

“How was it?” he inquired, with a slight frown.

“The party was lovely,” she replied, her smile too frozen to be completely genuine. “The Macmillan home is simply exquisite! The ballroom is huge and elegant, just as Aunt Augusta described. It was wonderful dancing with Neville and Ernie…” her voice trailed off as she bit her lip. One trembling hand still hovered over her chest in a strangely protective manner as she spoke. “I’m rather tired. I think I’ll go on up to bed.”

Remus exchanged a glance with Sirius, whose eyebrow was raised. Remus had, unfortunately, become accustomed enough with Anna’s attempts at faking a calm demeanor to recognize it easily, and truly she wasn’t even trying very hard now. Perhaps she was in fact too tired to maintain a fašade.

Standing up, he slowly approached her. “What happened, Anna?” he asked softly.

She closed her eyes and shook her head briefly. “Nothing really. I overreacted.”

Neville stepped out of the Floo and went directly to Anna, grabbing both her arms and turning her to face him. “Did Malfoy do something?” he demanded. “Ernie was just telling me he thought he saw Malfoy touching your neck.”

She nodded slightly. “My skin is still burning,” Anna whispered. Her eyes betrayed her confusion.

Augusta exited the Floo expertly and settled herself comfortably in a high back chair near the fire, accepting the glass of Firewhisky passed to her with a grateful nod.

“Neville, Anna,” she began.

The teens turned to her respectfully.

“You both handled yourselves perfectly well at the party. I’m quite proud of you,” Augusta continued. She focused her gaze intently on Anna. “Now, please sit down and explain to me exactly what occurred between you and the Malfoy boy.”

Anna pressed her lips together hard, standing rigidly for a moment, before sighing softly and sitting on the sofa with Neville. Remus pretended not to notice the glass of Firewhisky Sirius handed her. She took a slow sip of the amber liquid.

“Draco asked Ernie for permission to dance with me,” she explained. “Ernie agreed of course. I mean, Draco was being perfectly polite and correct, so Ernie had to agree. He couldn’t really have refused.” She absently took another sip of her drink. “Draco was holding me…a bit too tightly. He kept talking about wanting to get to know me better and show me the grounds of Malfoy Manor. It was…uncomfortable. He wasn’t doing anything wrong, but I felt…” she shuddered slightly. “I was relieved when the music stopped, but he didn’t let go of me. He was complimenting my emerald pendant, and…he sort of traced around it with his finger.” She mimicked the motion with her own finger touching the skin of her upper chest lightly and winced. “His touch was…rough. It almost felt like a carpet burn. I think I…gasped, perhaps, and he backed away. Then, he offered his arm like a perfect gentleman, and escorted me back to Neville.” Anna shook her head slightly, looking lost in thought as she drained the remainder of the Firewhisky from her glass. “I overreacted,” she murmured, setting the glass down as she stood and walked over to her aunt. “He was…um…forward, but he didn’t actually do anything terrible. I’m sorry. We shouldn’t have left the party so early.”

Augusta took her hand gently. “You don’t need to apologize. You did nothing wrong, and it was a reasonable time for us to leave anyway,” she said reassuringly. “We were at the party for three hours! A perfectly adequate amount of time for you young people to be out for your first formal holiday party. And, it does sound as though the Malfoy boy was not behaving completely correctly,” her lips pursed in disapproval. “Though apparently, there’s no harm done. Now off to bed with you both. Christmas morning always comes early.”

With murmured ‘good nights,’ the teens went off to bed, leaving the adults with their Firewhisky.

Remus sipped his drink and gazed into the burning embers of the fire. “Why did Anna say that her skin was still burning?” he suddenly asked, glancing from Sirius to Augusta.

“I must have missed that part,” Augusta replied slowly. “Though I did notice her wince when she was demonstrating Draco’s admiration of her necklace.”

“Well, I can’t imagine her chest was burning because she was enjoying his attentions,” Sirius drawled before taking a long swallow from his glass.

Remus narrowed his eyes at his old friend and was about to make a heated reply when Sirius set down his drink decisively.

“Is Anna a pure-blood?” he inquired, focusing on Augusta. “An heiress?”

“Yes,” she replied slowly. “I mean Anna is certainly a pure-blood, though her father was a Squib. All her grandparents were definitely magical. Katherine attended Hogwarts, of course, and the other three were all Healers. Her Gringotts account is not huge, but she has a respectable inheritance which she will have complete control over when she comes of age in the coming year.” She paused uncertainly. “What does that have to do with anything? What are you thinking, Sirius?”

He rubbed his chin quietly for a moment lost in thought. “I’m wondering if young Malfoy took a skin sample. It would explain the burning sensation she described.”

“Why would he want a skin sample?” Remus asked, frustration evident in his tone. “How could he even take a skin sample with his finger?”

“Anna mentioned that his touch was rough,” Sirius reasoned. “Draco could have slipped a thin layer of dragon hide over his finger, like a glove. He pressed just hard enough on her skin to pick up a sample. He probably chose her chest to ensure a clean, uncontaminated skin sample. I doubt anyone else touched her there this evening. Once he had the sample, Draco slipped the dragon hide sheath off and into his pocket.” He picked up his glass and drained the amber liquid. “He could have accomplished it quite subtly, without much danger of Anna noticing.”

Augusta swore softly, earning a quick grin from Sirius, though it faded rapidly.

“Just as hair is most useful for a Polyjuice Potion, skin is most useful for a Paternity Potion,” Sirius continued. “Though the name is a bit of a misnomer. It doesn’t truly show paternity. It works as more of a general indicator of family affiliation. It was once used rather commonly in pure-blood families to prove that an heir really was an heir. Of course, with cousins marrying cousins, and the potion results being rather indistinct, it’s not exactly a valuable indicator most of the time. However, if the Malfoy family is interested in Anna being a potential match for young Draco, I can well imagine Narcissa wanting to verify that she is indeed related to the Longbottom family.”

Augusta rubbed her head tiredly before looking up sharply. “Damn it! They’ll have taken a skin sample from my Frank for comparison.”

Sirius nodded grimly. “I’m sorry, Augusta. That would be the simplest solution and probably very easy for them. The Malfoy family has made several charitable donations to St. Mungo’s in recent years, and Narcissa is a regular visitor. If my suspicions are correct, she has likely already been to the Janus Thickey ward to get a sample from Frank.” He paused thoughtfully. “A simple inquiry with Gringotts will confirm the general health of Anna’s vault. The goblins won’t give specific information, of course, but they have always provided basic information to pure-blood families intent on cementing alliances with betrothal contracts.”

Remus could feel his body tensing, muscles flexing in mute frustration. His nails dug into the arm of his chair as a low growl escaped his lips.

“Easy there, Moony,” Sirius murmured. “Full moon’s not ‘til tomorrow.”

Lupin glared at his friend before turning his attention to the lady of the house. “Please tell me you would not even consider betrothing Anna to the Malfoy heir.”

Augusta huffed indignantly. “You should know me well enough by now to be certain that I would never betroth Anna to anyone against her will!”

Remus pinched the bridge of his nose and exhaled slowly. “I apologize, Augusta,” he said formally. “I know full well you would not do such a thing. I’m not myself tonight.”

“It’s quite alright,” she assured him, reaching over to pat his arm gently. “I’m not opposed to betrothal contracts. I had one, so did Frank and Alice, but I will not enter either of the children into that kind of understanding unless they choose it.”

The werewolf nodded in solemn agreement, rubbing his forehead tiredly. “We may be jumping to conclusions. It’s possible he was just touching her somewhat inappropriately to see what he could get away with. His hands could be rough from all the Quidditch practice at Hogwarts. Anna herself said she overreacted, which is perfectly understandable of course. She’s not used to being handled in such a way, thank Merlin,” he glanced at the others. “We may be imagining more sinister motivations than actually exist.”

“I certainly hope so,” Augusta replied. “In the meantime, let’s be careful what we say to the children. They don’t need to know about our suspicions yet.”

Sirius stood up with the bottle of Firewhisky in hand and carefully refilled their glasses. “Well,” he drawled. “Let’s drink to that, and hope for a complete lack of requests for a betrothal in the coming year.”

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“Order meeting tonight,” Ginny announced as she walked into the library of Grimmauld Place. “Mum just told me we are going to have an early tea. Then, she wants all of us to stay upstairs during the meeting.” She sank gracefully to the floor beside Ron and Harry, who were engaged in a game of Exploding Snap.

“Well,” Fred smirked from his spot on the sofa. “I’m sure we can find a way to obtain a bit of information.”

“Right you are,” George agreed, pulling out an Extendable Ear from his pocket and flashing a smile.

“She asked me to remind the two of you that she will be putting an Imperturbable Charm on the door during the meeting,” Ginny continued.

Her brothers scowled, while Hermione just sighed as she turned the page of her book.

“Any good news?” Harry asked.

She grinned and nodded. “Charlie’s coming in from Romania for the meeting and will be staying overnight,” she replied. “Mum also said that Professor Lupin and Augusta Longbottom are coming for the meeting, so Neville and Anna will be here this evening. We’re supposed to prepare our bedrooms for them to stay over because the meeting will probably run late.”

“Well, that is good news!” Harry smiled. “Merlin knows we have plenty of room in this old place.”

“We should plan some fun activities since we’re all going to be trapped upstairs all evening while the adults are in a meeting,” Hermione enthused.

Fred glanced at his twin and raised an eyebrow. George nodded and smirked.

“No need to plan a thing, Hermione,” George began.

“We’ve got this completely covered,” Fred agreed.

They leapt up from the sofa and left the room with cackling whispers and a definite spring in their steps.

“Why am I suddenly feeling a bit worried?” Hermione muttered as the door closed behind the twins.

“Because you feel the need to be correct and responsible most of the time,” Ginny quipped.

“Well, I am a prefect,” Hermione exclaimed. “And, so is Ron!”

“Hermione, I think we could all do with a bit of harmless fun,” Harry said. “Besides, you’re not prefects here.”

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Narcissa gave the potion a final stir and carefully siphoned off the required amount to the center of the parchment. It would take several minutes to set before she could read the results and compare it to the results from the skin sample she had obtained from Frank Longbottom the day before Christmas Eve. The Paternity Potion was not commonly known outside of the Sacred Twenty-Eight, and it was not a perfect test of fatherhood. However, the potion was reliable enough to suit her purposes.

Draco had come home for the Christmas holiday and supplied his mother with two extra names, Astoria Greengrass and Anna Henry. Narcissa knew the Greengrass family well and had been aware of Astoria since birth. Miss Henry was more of a mystery. She wanted to confirm that the girl was indeed related to the Longbottom family before seeking more information about her. Draco had clearly been quite taken with her at the Macmillan party. Narcissa had carefully observed them from a distance and noticed his obvious interest. The young lady appeared to be a calm, polite witch and certainly an accomplished dancer. She was not truly beautiful, but was pleasantly attractive and had the type of figure that would certainly appeal to any wizard.

Glancing over at the parchment, she saw that it was ready and set it on the table next to the one of Frank Longbottom. A slow smile spread across her face as she recognized that they were indeed a match. Miss Henry was definitely a Longbottom relative. She was reaching for the two parchments to add them to her files, when her hand froze.

“Oh, Merlin,” she whispered, glancing around the room fearfully even though she was quite alone.

Moving swiftly to her filed parchments of all the Paternity Potion tests she had ever completed, she thumbed through them until she reached the one labeled D.L. Her hands were shaking as she removed the precious parchment and set it next to Miss Henry’s. Her memory had not failed her, though it had been so long. She recognized the match immediately.

“How is this possible?” she murmured to herself. “Daughter, granddaughter… and does he even know? Does she know?”

Again, she glanced around the empty room fearfully. Her heart pounded painfully in her chest as she considered the possibilities and the opportunity. Her mind raced as she carefully labeled A.H. on the newest parchment and filed all three away. She needed time to think before making any kind of decision.

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“Eww, I can’t believe you had to dance with Draco Malfoy!” Ginny exclaimed. “He’s so vile.”

Anna nodded. “It was definitely an uncomfortable experience, but you know how it is at a polite society event. I couldn’t exactly refuse.”

“Why not?” Ron grimaced.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “As Anna just stated, Ronald, it was a formal occasion, and he requested the favor of a dance in the way a gentleman does. She couldn’t have really said ‘no,’ and neither could Ernie.”

“I think I’d have pleaded a sudden headache or something,” Harry murmured to Ron. Neville nodded in silent agreement.

The twins had been leading the group upstairs towards their bedroom. They stopped and turned dramatically just outside their door.

“My dear witches…” Fred began.

“And, gentle wizards…” George continued.

“We have prepared for you…”

“An evening of pure edification…”

“A true opportunity for you to learn…”

“Each other’s deepest and darkest secrets…”

“With the utilization of strong libation…”

“And, the willingness to participate in an activity of open inquiry…”

“We invite you to enter our humble abode…”

“Lift a glass…”

“And, bare your souls.”

The younger teens entered the room silently to find a wide-open space on the floor with a circle of eight glasses, each filled almost to the brim with an amber liquid. Two small bowls with slips of parchment were in the middle of the circle.

“What are we doing?” Ron asked, his brow wrinkled in confusion.

“It’s a drinking game, Ronald!” Hermione exclaimed.

“Right you are!” Fred praised as he clasped her hand and bowed over it.

“The Never Have I Ever Drinking Game,” George proclaimed.

“I don’t think this is a good idea,” Hermione protested.

“Stop thinking so much, Hermione,” Ginny giggled. “It’ll be brilliant!” She sat on the floor before one of the glasses and looked around expectantly.

One by one all the other teens joined her in a circle around the glasses on the floor.

“How do we play the game?” Harry inquired.

George quickly explained the rules to the group and said that he would go first to demonstrate. “We’ll start with this bowl. It has easier questions,” he announced with a smirk. He grabbed a small slip of parchment from the bowl and read.

“Never have I ever ridden a horse.”

“So, if I have ridden a horse, I must take a sip,” Anna confirmed.

“Yes,” Fred nodded. “Have you ridden a horse?”

“Um-hmm,” she nodded as she took a sip.

“I’m guessing you’ve had Firewhisky previously,” George mentioned with a smirk.

“A time or two,” she agreed.

The game continued with each of them in turn pulling a slip of parchment and reading the statement. The questions were all rather innocuous. They learned that Hermione was the only one who had ever eaten snails. Neville and Harry were the only two who had never traveled outside of Britain. Everyone had broken a bone at some point in their lives. Hermione and Harry were the only ones who had never danced in the rain. Anna and Hermione were the only two who had been surfing in the ocean. They had all played Wizards’ Chess. Only the Weasleys had ever milked a cow.

“That was the last question in this bowl,” Harry announced.

“Yes, indeed,” Fred exclaimed, reaching for the other bowl. “Now that we’ve all had a few drinks, we’re ready for the next set of questions. I’ll start!”

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The Order meeting finally ended. Charlie stood up and stretched. He wasn’t used to sitting that long. Most of the discussions had been about things he wouldn’t be involved in either, so his mind had wandered a bit. Since he lived and worked at the dragon reserve in Romania, his main task for the Order was recruitment and information gathering there. He had requested a transfer to one of the dragon reserves in Britain well over a year ago, and hoped there would be an opening soon. Bill was the only one in the family who knew about his plans to return home and the reason behind his decision, the young witch upstairs. Though now that a war was likely, he had even more motivation to move back to Britain as soon as possible. He had caught a brief glimpse of Anna when she arrived with her family, moments before the meeting was scheduled to begin. Unfortunately, Mum had hurried all the teens upstairs before he had a chance to even say hello.

“Thank you, Molly, for letting the children stay the night,” Augusta said as she hugged the witch. “Remus will be staying here, of course, and will bring them back to the Manor in the morning.”

“No trouble at all,” Mum assured her. “It’s almost midnight now. The girls are probably already asleep, and I’ll check on the boys and make sure they turn in soon.”

The Order members quickly departed, and Mum stifled a yawn as she finished cleaning the last of the dishes.

“Go on to bed, Mum,” Charlie suggested, kissing her cheek. “I’ll check on the boys before turning in.”

“I’ll join you, little brother,” Bill said. “I’m eager to hear about your latest adventures. We didn’t have much time to talk before the meeting started.”

“Thank you, boys,” Mum sighed tiredly before wishing them a good night.

Charlie and Bill headed up the stairs. “So, what do you think? Fred and George’s room first?” Charlie asked.

“Undoubtedly the best place to start,” Bill agreed. “You do realize they are probably up to something.”

Charlie grinned. “I certainly hope so! I’d be rather disappointed if they were all asleep already. Do you think they found a way around the Imperturbable Charm?”

“We’ll soon find out,” Bill replied, opening the door to the twins’ room after a single perfunctory knock.

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Chapter 6: Chapter 6 Drinking Games

Author's Notes: Special thanks goes out to Arnel for her beta work!


Chapter 6

Drinking Games

Charlie and Bill headed up the stairs. “So, what do you think? Fred and George’s room first?” Charlie asked.

“Undoubtedly the best place to start,” Bill agreed. “You do realize they are probably up to something.”

Charlie grinned. “I certainly hope so! I’d be rather disappointed if they were all asleep already. Do you think they found a way around the Imperturbable Charm?”

“We’ll soon find out,” Bill replied, opening the door to the twins’ room after a single perfunctory knock.

“Now that we’ve all had a few drinks, we’re ready for the next set of questions. I’ll start!” Fred exclaimed, pulling a slip of parchment from a bowl. “Never have I ever gone skinny dipping.”

Charlie’s eyes widened in surprise at the scene before him. All eight of the teens were sitting in a circle on the floor of Fred and George’s room. Each had a glass in their hand. His gaze settled on Anna just as she raised the drink to her lips and took a slow sip.

“Merlin, a drinking game!” Bill exclaimed as he shut the door behind them and placed a few charms on it.

Several flushed faces turned to look at him in shock.

“Hey, Bill, Charlie. You’re welcome to join us,” George muttered weakly. “We just got to the good questions.”

Bill groaned. “How much have you all had to drink?”

“Everyone’s still on their first glass,” Fred assured him. “We’re only taking sips.”

Bill sighed and exchanged a thoughtful glance with Charlie before facing the twins again. “Hand over the bottle.”

George passed the bottle of Ogden’s Old Firewhisky over to his oldest brother.

“Are you going to turn us in?” Hermione asked fearfully.

“No,” Bill replied, as Charlie conjured a couple of glasses for them. “We are going to supervise.”

Relieved sighs echoed around the circle as Bill poured Firewhisky in both glasses. Charlie drained half his in one long swallow as he moved to sit between the grinning twins. Bill quietly refilled it, and sat next to Charlie as everyone shifted slightly to expand the circle.

“So, Anna, am I allowed to ask where and when you went skinny dipping?” Bill inquired with a side long glance at Charlie.

“Had to be back in Virginia when you were a kid,” Neville supplied. “Right, Anna?” He looked at her expectantly.

She chewed her lower lip nervously for a few seconds. “Not exactly,” she admitted.

Neville’s eyes widened.

“Well, we have the stream right there on the Manor property,” Anna explained, a blush creeping over her cheeks. “I’m always careful to only do it when you and Remus are busy elsewhere, so it’s not like anyone has ever seen me.” She glanced around the group. “Surely, I’m not the only one whose been skinny dipping.”

“Course not,” Charlie murmured. “I’m sure most of us have at some point.” He lifted his glass and took a slow sip to indicate that he had. It turned out that all the Weasley brothers, except Ron, had been skinny dipping at The Burrow’s pond.

George read the next statement. “Never have I ever kissed someone on the mouth.”

Hermione took a quick sip of her Firewhisky, as did Bill, Charlie, and the twins. Ron was scowling slightly as he stared at his glass. Fortunately, no one brought up Viktor Krum or the Yule Ball.

Ginny grabbed the next bit of parchment. “Never have I ever smoked.”

Bill and the twins took a drink, causing Ginny to raise an eyebrow at them, looking almost as imperious as their mum at that moment.

“I smoked a water pipe in Egypt,” Bill admitted with a shrug. “They’re very common there, and it was helpful in my job to become friendly with the locals.”

“We smoked cigarettes with a few lads in the village once,” Fred said. “Seemed harmless enough, though I don’t think we’ll be doing it again.” George nodded in agreement.

“Never have I ever stolen or illicitly consumed liquor or potions,” Neville read.

Everyone took a sip of their Firewhisky, some avoiding eye contact, while others smirked silently.

“Guess we’re all guilty of that one after tonight,” Neville quipped.

Ron read the next statement. “Never have I ever sunbathed topless or in the nude.”

Hermione, Charlie, Bill, and Anna took a drink.

Ron huffed as he exclaimed, “Really, Hermione!”

“It’s quite common on certain beaches in the south of France, Ronald,” she sputtered. “And, obviously, it’s not so unusual since Bill, Charlie, and Anna have also sunbathed without being covered up!”

“Well, I just don’t think it sounds decent!” Ron asserted.

“Don’t knock it ‘til you try it, little brother,” Charlie quietly advised.

Harry reached his hand into the bowl and rolled his eyes before he read. “Never have I ever received a detention at Hogwarts.” He chuckled as he raised his glass in mock salute. “More than I can count.” He took a long swallow from his glass. Almost everyone in the circle joined him.

Hermione took the next slip of parchment. “Never have I ever had to cover up a love bite.” She blushed slightly, but did not take a sip of her Firewhisky.

As Bill, Charlie, and the twins took a drink from their glasses, Ginny leaned over to her and loudly whispered, “I bet you’re glad you didn’t have to drink that time.”

Hermione nodded as Anna giggled and read the next one. “Never have I ever gotten a tattoo or body piercing.”

Charlie was the only one who took a drink.

Bill smirked. “Really, little brother! Let’s see it then.”

Charlie stood up and shrugged off his shirt, revealing a tattoo of a dragon on his left shoulder blade.

“Is that a Hungarian Horntail?” Harry asked, standing up a bit unsteadily to get a closer look.

Charlie nodded and chuckled. “Yeah, the one you were up against in that first task of the Triwizard Tournament gave me my first scar.” Everyone’s attention was focused on him as he turned and pointed out the long slightly diagonal mark across his abdomen that disappeared beneath the waistline of his trousers. “It’s kind of a tradition on the reserve to get a tattoo of the first dragon that draws blood.”

As he looked up, his eyes locked with Anna’s. Her lips parted and a light blush suffused her cheeks. She slowly raised her glass and drained the remainder of her Firewhisky.

“Why’d you drink?” Neville asked. “You don’t have any tattoos or body piercings. Do you?” He blinked at her in confusion.

“Hmmm,” Anna mumbled, her glance shifting from Charlie to her cousin. “No, of course not. I…uh…that was the last one in the bowl.”

“The last what?” Ginny inquired peering into the bowl with a slight frown.

Charlie chuckled softly and yanked his shirt back over his head.

“The last question, and, it’s very late, so game’s over,” Bill stated, firmly. “Everyone drink a glass of water before you go to sleep, and, hopefully, you won’t be obviously hung over in the morning.” Pointing his wand at their glasses, he Vanished the remainder of the Firewhisky and filled each with water.

The teens quickly picked up their glasses and wished one another a good night. As they snuck off to their respective bedrooms, Bill and Charlie followed behind to make certain everyone made it okay. Charlie was rather impressed that the teens were all still capable of walking in a relatively straight line and, other than a few soft whispers and giggles, were being sensibly quiet.

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“Good morning, Severus,” Narcissa smiled as she offered him a seat in the small sitting room of her home in Wiltshire. “Thank you for responding so promptly to my letter.” She sank gracefully into an armchair and began to pour tea.

“I’m always delighted to accept an invitation to your lovely home,” Snape replied and accepted the cup of tea. He glanced around the well-furnished, but modestly proportioned room. This space was clearly for the lady of the house and decorated as such. “Will Lucius be joining us?”

“No, he has business at the Ministry this morning,” she stated. “I hope you have been enjoying a relaxing Christmas holiday.”

Severus nodded. They spoke of mundane topics for several minutes. While he had been a guest at Malfoy Manor on many occasions, he rarely met with Narcissa alone unless she wanted to discuss Draco’s education. Fortunately, he was a dedicated pupil and was generally successful in his classes at Hogwarts. Severus waited patiently for his hostess to introduce the purpose of this meeting.

“I was wondering what you might be able to tell me about Miss Anna Henry,” Narcissa paused. “Draco has mentioned her, and I am rather curious to hear your thoughts of her.”

Severus’s head cocked to the side slightly in thought. “Miss Henry is a Gryffindor,” he began slowly. At her answering nod, he continued. “She is a pure-blood, I believe, connected to the Longbottom family, and now resides with them, though her early childhood was spent in the States.” He paused. “Virginia, to be precise.”

Narcissa smiled. “I have never been to Longbottom Manor personally, but my mother attended a garden party there many years ago and described it favorably.”

“The Longbottom family is respectably well-off from what I understand and, of course, one of the Sacred Twenty-Eight,” Severus confirmed. “Miss Henry and her cousin, Neville Longbottom, have the benefit of a tutor during the summer holidays. While she does not require extra tuition, her cousin certainly needs the assistance.”

“So, she is a good student,” Narcissa inquired.

Severus nodded. “She is a capable young witch in a quiet sort of way. I’ve never heard my colleagues speak badly of her, academically or personally. She is intelligent, without apparently feeling a constant need to show off, and well-behaved in the classroom. I have no doubt she will do well on her O.W.L.s this year. I believe she will achieve an Outstanding in Potions.”

Narcissa took a sip of her tea and seemed to be considering his words. “Have you noticed…anything else…anything unusual about her?”

“Unusual?” Severus repeated. He took a sip of his own tea as he deliberated what, if anything more, he should say about the girl. He was still surprised by his inability to successfully use Legilimency on her. He had attempted on several occasions to gently probe the girl’s mind and had yet to succeed. Though Albus Dumbledore would never admit it, Severus rather suspected the Headmaster had also tried and failed to use Legilimency on Miss Henry. Deciding to share something Draco would also know, he cleared his throat. “I did hear that she proved herself to be highly resistant to the Imperius Curse when exposed to it in class last school year.”

“Draco mentioned Professor Moody casting the curse on his Defense Against the Dark Arts students,” Narcissa murmured, a slight frown on her lips. “Of course, we did not realize at the time it was actually young Barty Crouch using Polyjuice Potion.” She shifted slightly in her chair. “What would that mean about her? A young girl being so resistant to the Imperius Curse?”

Severus sighed as he set his tea cup on the nearby table. “Well, it is unusual to be sure. Generally speaking, only those who are very strong, very powerful magically, can ever resist the Imperius Curse. As to what it means or how she achieved it,” he paused and rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “I can only guess that something about the tragedies of her past plays a role in allowing her that level of self-control.”

“And, what do you know of her past?” Narcissa pressed.

“Not a great deal,” he admitted. “She is an orphan. Augusta Longbottom is her guardian. She was raised by her grandmother in Virginia until the woman’s death. Her father brought her to England, and she joined Hogwarts as a third-year student. It was an unusual circumstance, but not unheard of. Unfortunately, her father died soon after in a fatal accident of some kind.”

“The poor girl,” she said softly, staring out the window, clearly lost in thought.

Severus peered at his hostess carefully. “May I ask why you are so interested in Miss Henry?”

Narcissa seemed to consider a moment before responding. “We are examining options for a potential match for Draco. When I encouraged Draco to provide us with the names of a few witches he favored, he mentioned Miss Henry.”

“A betrothal? Between Draco and Anna Henry?” he responded. “I am somewhat surprised you are not focusing on members of Slytherin House.”

“The other two young ladies are of Slytherin House; however, house affiliation is only one of several factors to consider, and nothing has been decided yet,” Narcissa explained. “Such an important decision should not be made quickly or carelessly.”

“Indeed,” Severus replied, silently wondering what other factors Narcissa found important in the decision of a match for her son.

They conversed for a short while longer before he bowed over her hand and took his leave. The Malfoy family’s interest in the Gryffindor witch was curious, and rather unexpected; however, he was certainly not one to dwell on his students’ love lives.

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The owl from Gornuk arrived just as Augusta was about to enter the dining room for breakfast. Reading the missive from the goblin in charge of Anna’s Gringotts account, Augusta sighed and resigned herself to the conversation she had been avoiding since Christmas Eve night. Wordlessly, she handed the note to Remus as she entered the room.

The children were already at the table eating and talking about what they wanted to do on their last day home before returning to Hogwarts. Remus read the note, made eye contact with Augusta, and nodded. She waited until everyone was finished with their breakfasts before suggesting that they retire to the garden room for a talk.

Both children looked rather wary as they entered the room and sat beside one another on the sofa. Augusta and Remus sat in the armchairs facing them.

Augusta took a steadying breath before she began. “Anna, this is a letter from Gornuk. It arrived just before breakfast this morning.” She passed the letter to her great niece who opened it and leaned towards her cousin, so they could read it together.

“I don’t understand,” Anna said. “What does he mean that ‘an inquiry about my status has been made and responded to in the usual manner?’ My status regarding what exactly?”

“What Gornuk is telling us is that an established pure-blood family has made a request for basic information about your Gringotts account and financial circumstances,” Augusta explained. “By telling us that it was ‘responded to in the usual manner,’ we know that the family was informed that you will be coming of age this year and that you will gain complete control of your inheritance at that time. You are not rich by pure-blood standards, but you are respectably well-off financially.”

“So, that’s what the part about me being ‘a witch of respectable, independent means’ is all about,” Anna murmured.

“Yes,” Augusta confirmed. “Gringotts has long supplied this kind of information about pure-blood heirs and heiresses. It is part of the standard information gathering that occurs when a family is considering making an alliance.”

“Alliance?” she questioned.

“A marital alliance by means of a betrothal contract between a witch and a wizard. We don’t know definitively which family made the inquiry,” Augusta paused. “Based upon what happened at the Christmas Eve party at the Macmillan residence, I think we can fairly assume that it was the Malfoy family.”

“Absolutely not!” Neville exclaimed, standing up suddenly, his fists clenched at his sides. “There is no way in bloody hell Anna will ever be betrothed to Draco Malfoy!”

“Neville, please sit down and calm yourself,” Remus insisted quietly. “There is more we need to explain and discuss. Getting upset right now will not do anyone any good.” He glanced meaningfully towards Anna.

Neville looked at his cousin, noting her pale face and the way her hands twisted in her lap. He sat down and placed a hand over hers, squeezing gently. “It will be okay,” he assured her.

She nodded, but did not speak.

“Anna,” Remus continued. “When you all came home from the Macmillan’s Christmas Eve party, you indicated that your skin burned where Draco had touched you. Sirius wondered if it might be possible that Draco took a skin sample at that time to use in a Paternity Potion. The potion doesn’t really confirm parenthood, but it can confirm if family members are in fact related. If Sirius is correct, your skin sample was used to confirm that you are a member of the Longbottom family.”

“What would that prove?” Neville asked in confusion.

“It would help confirm that Anna is pure-blood, or at the very least, not Muggle-born,” Augusta explained. “Narcissa Malfoy was on the visitor’s log at St. Mungo’s just before Christmas Eve. She visited the Janus Thickey Ward, Neville.” She paused for a moment looking at her grandson. “I spoke with the Healer. She confirmed that Mrs. Malfoy spent some time with your father. There is little doubt in my mind, a skin sample was taken from Frank to compare it with Anna’s.”

“I’ve never heard of a Paternity Potion,” Anna murmured. “Is that how it works? Comparing two samples and looking for similarities?”

“That is my understanding of it,” her aunt confirmed. “The test is not specific enough to show exact relationships or to magically create an entire genealogy. However, the samples would confirm that you and Frank are related. Not that anyone who knew your grandmother could ever doubt it. You are looking more like Katherine as you get older.”

Anna nodded and tried to force a smile, but it didn’t quite reach her eyes. “So, what happens now?”

“Now, we wait,” she replied. “If our suspicions are correct and the Malfoy family is considering you as a potential match for Draco, they are likely exploring other options as well. It is perfectly possible that nothing will come of this, that another witch will become the focus.”

“Well, that’s certainly something to hope for!” Neville exclaimed.

Augusta nodded. “If the Malfoy family selects you, Anna, Narcissa Malfoy will send me a letter of interest in establishing a betrothal contract. If that happens, I will send you an owl at Hogwarts and inform you of the situation. I will also respond to Mrs. Malfoy that we are honored by their interest and that I will be discussing options with you in person this summer and making a decision at that time.”

“Why not just say no?” Neville asked.

“First, that would be incredibly rude,” she replied, frowning at her grandson. “Refusing to even take the time to consider a marital alliance with another member of the Sacred Twenty-Eight would not be wise, particularly with the social and political climate being what it is. Second, the fact is that multiple letters of interest may be arriving. It is better to politely thank each family and inform them that a decision will be made this summer. That way, we can delay for now and calmly consider what to do when we have more time. As a rule, it is far easier to decline offers with the news that another offer has been selected and a betrothal is imminent.”

“So,” Anna whispered. “If multiple offers are made, I have to select one of them.”

Neville opened his mouth and appeared about to stand again.

“No,” Augusta replied firmly, giving her grandson a brief quelling look. “We will never force you into a betrothal contract with anyone. Delaying a negative response simply gives us more time to handle this in the best way possible.”

Anna nodded, and Neville smiled reassuringly at her.

“With that being said,” Remus continued. “It would definitely be best not to encourage anyone’s regard at the present time.”

“Meaning?” Neville asked.

“Anna should probably refrain from dating anyone,” Remus explained. “As male Head of Longbottom House, Neville, you could even refuse to allow her to date or be alone with another boy.”

“Which is heavy-handed and not something I would ordinarily condone.” Augusta sighed loudly. “However, given the current situation, it might be for the best.”

Anna’s eyes were shifting frequently among them as she listened. “Am I in danger?”

“No, of course not,” Augusta assured her. “I will not enter you into a betrothal without your consent. This is a delicate situation, and I really should have anticipated it, but everything will be alright.”

Back to index


Chapter 7: Chapter 7 Dreams and Letters

Author's Notes: Thanks to Arnel for her work as beta for this story! The house described in the first section is based upon a real home on the water belonging to relatives. It truly is an awesome house for playing sardines!


Chapter 7

Dreams and Letters

Harry woke with a groan, and rubbed the scar on his forehead. Disappointment flooded through his mind. He had come so close to finally reaching the plain black door. His hand had been stretching out to push it open. He needed to see what was beyond that door. Dreaming about walking down that long corridor in the Ministry of Magic had been his nightly torment for weeks. What was in the Department of Mysteries? Why was it so important? What was the Order guarding down there?

Frustrated, he glanced around the quiet dormitory. The other fifth year Gryffindor boys were still sleeping. Soft snores emanated from a couple of beds, while an occasional muffled grumbling could be heard from others. Moonlight coming through the window illuminated the room well enough for Harry to grab his wand and glasses. Pulling on his dressing gown and slippers, he made his way silently out of the room and down the stairs.

The fire in the common room was blazing as though it had been recently stoked. Red-orange light danced over the logs and provided a welcoming heat to the pervading chill. Glancing around curiously, he saw the figure of a witch sitting in one of the armchairs facing the fire. Her legs were folded up close to her chest with her arms wrapped around them. A wand was held tightly in one of her fisted hands.

Not wanting to startle her, Harry cleared his throat as he approached. “Erm…hello.”

Her legs dropped swiftly to the floor as she turned in the chair and pointed her wand at him. “Harry?”

He stilled. “Yeah, Anna. Sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you.”

She nodded and lowered her wand. Her eyes were red-rimmed, and her face was pale.

Harry moved to the chair closest to her by the fire and settled into the soft cushions. “Bad dream?” he asked.

“Yes,” she murmured, wiping at her face self-consciously. “You?”

He shrugged. “More weird than bad. I just keep dreaming about walking down the corridor at the Ministry towards the Department of Mysteries. I really wish I knew what was in there.” He paused. “Do you want to talk about your dream? I’ve been told it helps to talk about them.”

“No, thanks,” Anna sighed. “I do appreciate the offer, but memories make the worst nightmares.” She chuckled softly, but there was no warmth in her laughter. “It’s not like I’m afraid of some fictional monster and can talk myself rationally out of my fears.”

Harry nodded, his mind wandering over some of the dark memories in his own past. They sat in silence for a time watching the flames licking at the wood in the fireplace.

“How are your lessons going with Professor Snape?” Anna inquired.

“Badly,” Harry admitted. “He keeps telling me to let go of all emotion, to remain focused, to discipline my mind. It doesn’t work! I can’t keep Snape out of my head. He tells me to resist him just before casting Legilimens.” He raked both hands through his dark hair in irritation. “Then, he pours into my mind searching through my thoughts, finding the most…embarrassing memories, and throws my failure into my face!”

“I’m sorry, Harry. That sounds awful,” Anna said quietly. “Has he offered you any suggestions for how to discipline your mind, for how to maintain focus?”

“No,” he replied bitterly. “Maybe Ron’s right, and Snape isn’t trying to teach me Occlumency at all.”

Anna chewed her bottom lip. “Surely he’s trying to teach you.” She sighed and almost seemed to be talking to herself rather than to him. “We all know Professor Snape is not the most encouraging or helpful of teachers. Even in Potions, he lectures, gives us the directions, and expects us to learn everything quickly and accurately. There’s never much tolerance of mistakes or room for a learning curve in his class.” She turned to Harry. “Hasn’t he given you any specific instruction?”

He shrugged and leaned towards her. “The first lesson he implied that since I can resist the Imperius Curse, I should be able to learn Occlumency. He said that the magical power and skills needed for both were similar.” Harry shook his head. “I don’t think they are though. With the Imperius Curse, I wasn’t comfortable with that calm, floating feeling it gave me. I didn’t want to obey. It seemed so stupid to do what I was being told, and so I was…defiant.”

“You tend to be good at defiant,” she smirked.

Harry chuckled. “Yeah, I guess I have my moments.” He leaned back again, relaxing into the chair. “Hang on, you resisted the Imperius Curse. How did you feel doing it?”

Anna stared into the flames, a thoughtful expression on her face. “My experience was…different. I know what you mean though about the…artificially relaxed sensation. It wasn’t real. When the professor cast the curse on me, I felt immediately that I was…experiencing an emotional state that wasn’t coming from me. It was…uncomfortable because I felt a lack of real awareness. I felt vulnerable, so I…retreated.” She turned her gaze to him.

He looked at her intently and attempted to understand her perspective of resisting the curse. “What do you mean by retreated?”

“In my mind, I retreated,” she explained. “I withdrew so that I couldn’t be affected by it, so I wouldn’t feel that…fake floating happiness. I retreated so far away that it couldn’t reach me.”

“You make it sound almost like a place in your mind,” Harry observed. “Like you retreated behind something.”

Anna nodded. “Exactly.” She leaned towards him. “I went to the house on the island. The house itself is…a sprawling old place, filled with staircases and small hidden lofts. It looks as though it’s had rooms added on multiple levels. Some of the staircases are only half — six or seven steps, leading to a single room jutting out from the main construction. None of the staircases will take you to all levels of the house, so you must go up or down a single level and then along a corridor until you find the next set of stairs. The house has so many dead ends, such a confusing layout, that you could easily get lost.” She smirked mischievously. “It would be the best house in the world for a game of sardines!”

He smiled at her enthusiasm and tried to imagine such a unique and extraordinary house. “Tell me about the island,” he requested.

Her expression became dreamy. “The island is covered by a dense forest with the house in the very center. Towering trees grow so closely together that all the branches are entwined, forming a solid canopy of dark green above. The forest floor is blanketed by a thick layer of fallen leaves and tangled vines. The entire space is in perpetual shadow. There are no paths leading through the forest, no way to navigate through the endless green and brown. Impenetrable fog surrounds the whole island. The kind of fog that swirls just above the ocean waters, churning restlessly, but never dissipating. Fog so thick even breathing feels heavy.” Her eyes were closed as she concluded the description, a look of utter contentment on her face.

“Is it your grandmother’s house you’re describing?” Harry asked softly. “Was that where you grew up in Virginia?”

“No,” Anna whispered, a gentle smile on her face. “Grandma’s house was not nearly so complex, nor so isolated. The island is a complete fiction, but it helps me hide things in my mind. Such a place has so many hiding spaces, so many safe spots to store memories. It is the perfect retreat, where nothing I want to remain hidden can ever be found.”

He swallowed. His mind raced as he considered possibilities. “Anna, if I promise not to tell anyone, will you answer a question for me?”

She stared into his eyes and nodded slowly.

“Do you practice Occlumency?” Harry asked.

“Yes,” she breathed.

“Will you help me?” he inquired.

She nodded. “I’ll try, Harry. I don’t know if my method will help you, but I will try.”

“Thank you,” he murmured. He smiled at her gratefully, feeling that at least now he had a chance.

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Neville gripped the Daily Prophet tightly in his fists, wrinkling the front page. His breakfast lay untouched on the plate before him as he absorbed the news. Ten Death Eaters had escaped from Azkaban, including those responsible for torturing his parents into madness. He glared at the pictures of the nine wizards and the single witch. An unfamiliar feeling of pure hatred boiling up inside of him as he stared at the photos of Bellatrix, Rodolphus, and Rabastan Lestrange.

He felt Anna’s arm come around his back as she shifted closer towards him. Her fingertips made slow circles between his shoulder blades. Closing his eyes, he tried to relax the sudden tension that had seized his muscles upon seeing the morning headline.

On his other side, Ginny leaned against his arm quietly reading the list of names, along with the descriptions of the crimes for which they had been sent to the wizarding prison. “Antonin Dolohov, convicted of the brutal murders of Gideon and Fabian Prewett. Ron, he’s the one who killed Mum’s brothers,” she whispered as she glanced at him across the table.

Her brother nodded grimly, not looking up from the paper in Hermione’s hands. Harry and Ron were sitting on either side of her, their heads almost close enough to touch as they poured over the contents on the front page.

“I can’t believe Fudge is trying to connect this to Sirius,” Harry hissed softly.

“They’ll do anything to deny the truth for as long as possible,” Hermione whispered. “Fudge refuses to admit that Voldemort’s back, so his only option is to blame someone, anyone else, for the mass breakout of prisoners.”

“So, what do we do about it?” Harry quietly demanded.

Neville almost smiled at the determined expression on his friend’s face. Most students at Hogwarts would always be content to leave serious problems to the adults, but not Harry. He had a strength of will and a firm sense of justice that would not allow him to ignore or avoid conflict. Even among the members of Gryffindor House, Harry stood out.

“We do what we can to resist in whatever way we can,” Hermione replied reasonably. “We continue with the D.A. meetings. We learn the Shield Charm and whatever else you have planned to teach us next.” She paused and pointed to the article in the Daily Prophet. “With this mass breakout of Death Eaters, it is more important than ever that we learn to defend ourselves and protect each other.”

Ron nodded solemnly. “We also need to support Hagrid in whatever way we can. It’s complete bollocks that he’s been put on probation by that evil toad. Fudge needs to learn that he cannot control Hogwarts, and the best way to do that is to make sure Umbridge fails.”

Hermione smiled approvingly at Ron, a wicked gleam in her eye. Neville could almost see the wheels turning in her mind.

“We remember to have some fun,” Ginny supplied. “Our uncles did not die for us to be living in fear and anger.”

“You’re right,” Anna agreed. “Though that may be the hardest of all to accomplish.”

“Well, a good place to start is to get the hell out of this castle for a while,” Neville decided. “I, for one, am thoroughly looking forward to the Hogsmeade trip next month. Let’s all go together and make a full day of it! We can visit as many shops as possible, buy out Honeydukes, and drown ourselves in butterbeer and pub food.”

“Well, if we had some Firewhisky, I’d drink to that,” Anna smirked.

Hermione tried to look disapproving for a brief moment before the friends all chuckled softly and headed to their first class of the day.

xxxxxxxxxxx

A clear, blue sky greeted the early risers on the first Saturday of February. Neville, Anna, and Ginny had gone to the Great Hall for an early breakfast with the intention of taking a walk around the lake before beginning their homework. They were almost finished eating when a tawny owl flew to the Gryffindor table. She settled between Neville and Anna with her two letters.

“Hello, Mista,” Anna cooed softly at her owl as she stroked the bird’s feathers and offered a bit of sausage. “Did Aunt Augusta send you with letters? Or, was it Remus?”

Neville carefully removed the letters, recognized Gran’s handwriting and set the letter addressed to Anna beside her plate. Noticing that the seal on his own letter was broken, he opened it and began to read.

My Dear Neville,

I hope you are well and enjoying your classes. I know this is a busy time in your academic career. I am writing to inform you that I have received two letters of interest regarding a possible betrothal agreement for your cousin, Anna. One letter was from the Malfoy family on behalf of Mr. Draco Malfoy. The other letter was from the Macmillan family on behalf of Mr. Ernest Macmillan. Naturally, I expressed our sincere appreciation to both families for their interest in our dear Anna. We will, of course, delay making any decisions on her behalf until this summer when we have more time to properly consider the options.

In the meantime, please remind your cousin that she is not permitted to date or have a boyfriend. If either young gentleman wishes to spend time with her, I trust that you will step into the duties of a responsible chaperone. Of course, as the male Head of the House of Longbottom, you may simply choose to decline permission for her to be in the company of either potential suitor. I do hope that you and Anna will remain focused on your studies and not allow this to distract you from preparing appropriately for your O.W.L. exams at the end of the school year.

With love,
Grandmother

Neville was torn between the conflicting desires of wanting to curse fluently and laugh loudly. Gran had obviously been concerned that the letter would be intercepted and read by others. Her words were stiff, pompous, and not at all like the usual letters he received from her. Unfortunately, he had no way of knowing whether her vigilance was necessary or not. The seal on his letter had been broken. That could have happened in flight, or Mista may have been intercepted.

“Does Mista look alright?” Neville quietly asked his cousin.

“Of course, she does,” Anna said brightly, before registering his expression. “Why wouldn’t she look alright?” She moved her hands gently all over her tawny owl. Mista patiently sat through the ministrations and received another bite of sausage for her cooperation. “What is it, Neville?” Anna murmured as her owl flew out of the Great Hall.

“You have a letter from Gran.” He tapped the letter next to her plate with one finger.

Her eyes widened under his steady gaze. Anna opened her letter and began to read, just as Harry, Ron, and Hermione sat down to breakfast.

Neville glanced up at the staff table and noticed Professor Umbridge sitting there eating her breakfast. She was focusing on the newspaper as she ate, looking around periodically at the students slowly assembling. He shifted his gaze to the Hufflepuff table and saw Ernie Macmillan eating while chatting with Justin Finch-Fletchley. As he looked beyond them to the Slytherin table, his eyes met the haughty gray orbs of Draco Malfoy, who smiled slowly.

“Oh, Merlin,” Anna whimpered, one hand rising to cover her mouth.

“What is it?” Ginny asked.

Neville grabbed Anna’s thigh under the table, squeezing it tightly. ‘Do it now’ he commanded himself. Releasing his grip, he stood and looked down at his cousin, willing himself to manage the domineering expression he needed. ‘Say it’ he thought viciously.

Forcing his voice to project without being obviously loud, he announced, “Anna, as the male Head of the House of Longbottom, I would like to remind you that you do not have permission to date, nor will I allow you to be alone with a wizard without my express approval. Do you understand?”

His cousin’s eyes were wide as she stared up at him.

Across the table, he saw Hermione’s face contort with indignation as she inhaled to speak. He almost sighed with relief when Ginny gave her a warning glance while shaking her head slightly.

“Yes, Neville,” Anna answered, her voice carrying, even though she swallowed nervously. “I understand.”

He nodded. “If you’re done with breakfast, please return to the common room.”

“Of course, Neville.” She stood immediately, grabbing the letters from the table. “I’m ready now.”

He took her arm and led her quickly out of the Great Hall.

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Glancing around, Ginny noted that half the Gryffindors as well as several Hufflepuffs had obviously heard the exchange. Pointed looks and whispered conversations followed the pair as they exited the Great Hall.

“What just happened?” Hermione hissed at Ginny, her eyes flashing with anger and confusion.

“Not here,” Ginny murmured. “We can talk about it upstairs after breakfast.”

They finished eating quickly and rose to leave the table. Ginny was not surprised to note that the twins were following them as they made their way back up to Gryffindor Tower. The common room was empty, so Ginny continued up the stairs to the boys’ dormitory.

When she opened the door, Ginny saw Neville standing in the middle of the room holding Anna tightly in his arms.

“Are you okay?” Ginny asked quietly as the others filed in behind her and closed the door.

Anna nodded as Neville released her. “Yes.” She rubbed her forehead. “I knew it was a strong possibility, but I’d convinced myself it wouldn’t really happen, you know.”

Ginny nodded sadly and walked over to her friend.

“How many?” George asked.

“Two,” Neville replied. “Thank Merlin there are two. If it was just Malfoy…”

“May I ask what is going on?” Hermione demanded in a slightly shrill voice.

“Gran received two letters of interest for a betrothal with Anna,” Neville explained. “One was on behalf of Draco Malfoy, the other was for Ernie Macmillan.”

“Betrothal,” Harry repeated. “Like for marriage?”

“Yes,” Neville nodded.

“That’s barbaric,” Hermione spat. “You can’t possibly force someone into a marriage, not in the twentieth century!”

“Betrothals are a perfectly legitimate and acceptable way of arranging a marriage in traditional pure-blood families,” Ginny stated calmly, raising an eyebrow as she spoke. “Anna has received two offers, and her family is considering their response.”

Hermione looked on the verge of tears as she addressed Neville. “What was the meaning of that display in the Great Hall? How could you talk that way to Anna?”

Neville sighed, as Fred stepped in to answer. “Your use of the word ‘display’ is perfect. It was a display. Neville was protecting Anna and making it clear that neither Ernie nor Malfoy would be permitted to date her, or try to seduce her, while the betrothals are under consideration.”

“I know you don’t understand this, Hermione,” Anna acknowledged softly. “Even in pure-blood families, betrothals are not as common now as they were fifty years ago.”

“Why is this happening now though?” Harry inquired. “I mean…”

Neville nodded as Harry’s voice trailed off. “There was an incident at the Macmillan’s Christmas Eve party between Anna and Draco Malfoy. We didn’t mention it before because we weren’t sure what happened really, or if anything would actually come of it.”

Neville explained how Draco had apparently taken a skin sample from Anna at the party. He told of Sirius’s suspicions regarding a Paternity Potion and of the information from St. Mungo’s and Gringotts confirming the possibility of an interest in establishing a betrothal contract.

“So then, the offer from Ernie,” Harry wondered.

“Word of betrothal offers can spread quickly.” Neville shrugged. “One offer can lead to more. To be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if another offer or two arrived soon.”

“But you can just refuse to be betrothed, can’t you?” Hermione demanded as she touched Anna’s shoulder.

Anna nodded. “Aunt Augusta and Neville have assured me that I won’t be entered into a betrothal contract without my agreement. I admit this whole thing is…”

“Creepy?” Ron offered.

Chuckles filled the air.

“That pretty well covers it,” Neville agreed. “But, it will be okay.”

Author’s Notes: Disclaimer — Part of this chapter comes from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

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Chapter 8: Chapter 8 Decisions

Author's Notes: Thank you to my wonderful beta, Arnel!


Chapter 8

Decisions

Charlie glanced down once more at the letter he had received from Bill last week. It was a frustratingly brief note. Bill wanted to meet with him on his next day off at the Weinschenke Altes Presshaus in Durnstein, Austria. His brother had assured him that no one was ill or injured, but offered no reason for the sudden meeting. Charlie had sent the owl off with his reply that he would meet him at noon on Monday. He wondered what the urgency was and hoped that it might be good news for a change. Looking longingly at his broom for a moment, he stuffed his wallet into the pocket of his blue jeans. Charlie much preferred to fly, but didn’t have the time this morning. Exhaling slowly, he focused on his destination and Apparated away from the dragon reserve in Romania.

After two Apparition jumps, Charlie arrived at his destination near the Danube River. The small town was as picturesque as he remembered, but his eagerness to talk to his brother distracted him from enjoying the scenic location. Finding the restaurant, he saw that Bill was already at a table in the corner with a glass of beer in his hand.

“Hey, Charlie.” Bill stood up and gave him a quick hug. “I’m glad you were able to come.”

“I could hardly ignore your note,” he replied with a smirk.

The waitress came over and gave him a beer. Clearly, his brother had told her to bring it over as soon as he arrived.

“So,” Charlie commented. “Not that it’s not great to see you, but what did you want to meet me about?”

Bill rubbed his chin. “You might want to take a long swallow of that beer before I tell you.”

He chuckled as he picked up his drink and took a long, deliberate swallow. “Okay, now what’s going on?”

“Augusta Longbottom received two letters of interest for a betrothal with Anna,” Bill declared.

Charlie stared at his brother in disbelief as he tried to process the information. His abdomen clenching as though it’d been struck and was preparing for another blow.

“The letters came from the Malfoy and Macmillan families,” Bill continued. “According to Sirius, there was a bit of an incident between Draco Malfoy and Anna at the Macmillan’s Christmas Eve party.”

His brother described the way the Malfoy boy had taken a skin sample from Anna in the guise of admiring the pendant she was wearing. He explained the likelihood that a Paternity Potion had been utilized to confirm Anna as a member of the Longbottom family. Charlie felt a rushing in his ears as his jaw clenched and his face burned. “He touched her chest!”

“Breath, little brother,” Bill murmured.

If anyone else had talked to him that way, Charlie would have taken a deep breath and decked them. Coming from his big brother, he took a slow breath and forced himself to try to relax.

“Please, tell me she slapped the little sh…,” he broke off as the waitress returned.

Bill ordered their meals as well as another round of drinks while Charlie polished off his first beer.

“Of course, she didn’t slap him,” his brother muttered. “She is a sixteen-year-old girl who was attending her first formal holiday party. I’m sure she was confused and perhaps a little scared. Anna didn’t even admit to what happened until she was back home.”

Charlie rubbed the back of his neck. “So, how did Augusta respond to the betrothal letters?”

“Apparently, she graciously thanked both families for their interest and indicated that a decision would be made this summer,” Bill replied. “Remus is convinced that Anna will not be coerced into a betrothal agreement, but…” he shrugged. “The fact is, as much as the four of them act like a family, Remus is the tutor. He’s not the one who will be making the decision. It’s all up to Augusta, well, and Neville of course.”

“Merlin,” Charlie sighed. “Is Neville the male Head of House?”

Bill nodded. “Quite a responsibility for a fifteen-year-old kid.” He emptied his beer just as their food was delivered. He nodded his thanks to the waitress. “Neville and Anna are rather close. I can’t really see him trying to force her into something she doesn’t want to do.”

“Surely Augusta Longbottom wouldn’t want an alliance with the Malfoy family,” Charlie muttered.

“I seriously doubt it,” his brother agreed. “The Macmillan family though…Augusta and Emily Macmillan have been friends for decades. Both families are respectable members of the Sacred Twenty-eight, well-off financially, with similar political views, and rather traditional beliefs. The Macmillan kid is a Hufflepuff prefect and friendly with Neville.” He sighed. “Charlie, I really think you need to accept the possibility that Anna could be betrothed to him soon.”

Charlie drained his glass and stared blankly at the table. His mind raced through a confusing whirl of possibilities, hopes, and dreams. He couldn’t lose her. Even the idea of it left him empty, hollow in a way he had never experienced. She wasn’t his yet, but he knew that she could be, that she would be, if he had the chance. He had to secure that chance. With the decision made, he felt calmer.

“Bill, please tell Mum and Dad I’m coming home this weekend,” Charlie requested.

“What are you going to do?” his brother inquired.

“I’m going to tell Mum and Dad the truth, that I’ve been interested in Anna since the World Cup, that I’m trying to secure a transfer to one of the dragon reserves in Britain.” He met his brother’s eyes and smiled. “Then, I’m going to ask Mum to compose a letter of interest for a betrothal with Anna.”

Bill raised an eyebrow and stared at his brother. “You do realize the Weasley family is not exactly traditional enough to have recently been involved in a betrothal agreement.”

Charlie nodded confidently. “Mum will manage. She was a Prewett after all.”

His brother chuckled. “I’ll let them know you’re coming home.”

As they started eating their goulash soup, bratwurst and sauerkraut, their conversation turned to other topics, including Bill’s girlfriend. Charlie grinned as he listened to the near reverence in his brother’s tone when he talked about Fleur Delacour.

xxxxxxxxxxx

“Ah, Severus,” Albus greeted his Potions Master. “Good of you to join me on this fine evening.”

Snape grimaced as he pulled his cloak more tightly around him. “The Astronomy Tower is perhaps not the most comfortable place to be meeting in February,” he replied, his tone as frigid as the air surrounding them.

The Headmaster chuckled. “The temperature is perhaps not the most hospitable, but the view of the stars more than makes up for any unpleasantness.”

A sigh escaped the other man’s lips. “I suppose there is a purpose in your request to meet me here.”

“Indeed,” Albus replied, turning his gaze away from the brilliance of the night sky. “How are the Occlumency lessons coming along with our young Harry?”

Severus leaned against the stone wall. “Surprisingly, Mr. Potter is showing definite improvement,” he replied.

Cocking his head, the Headmaster waited for more information.

“Mr. Potter is demonstrating that he can focus well enough to block my most mundane efforts to infiltrate his mind. I am unclear about the exact method he is utilizing, but some sort of thick fog seems to be protecting his most private memories. I have been unable to access any interesting or important thoughts these last few sessions,” Severus paused. “Whether he can hold out against me during a truly concerted effort remains to be seen.”

Albus smiled, his blue eyes twinkling in the moonlight. “I’m pleased to hear he has made such progress and appreciate that you have chosen to not yet make a truly concerted effort. You are an excellent teacher, Severus,” he declared. “I have long held confidence that you could rise to the occasion when called upon.”

The Potions Master sneered, but managed to contain himself somewhat. “Do you honestly believe Occlumency will be enough to keep the Dark Lord out of Potter’s mind? We both know that it was not truly Legilimency at work when the boy saw the snake attack Arthur Weasley.”

Nodding thoughtfully, the Headmaster sighed. “Occlumency may help,” he stated clearly. “The effort can only benefit Harry and appears to be causing him no harm. Every magical skill he can master will undoubtedly help him survive the trials ahead.” Shifting his gaze back to the constellations, he appeared lost in thought. “The connection between Voldemort and our young Harry seems to defy all logic. I am convinced he is not possessing the boy, but beyond that.” He shook his head slowly. “We must hope that your training is enough to protect him.”

Severus raised an eyebrow. “And, what of the situation here at Hogwarts?” he pressed. “Dolores Umbridge will not rest until she has driven you from this castle and taken over the school entirely.”

The Headmaster chuckled. “I’m aware of her aspirations, though I sincerely appreciate your warning.” He turned calmly to the other man. “I do hope that in the event I am forced to leave, you and Minerva will work together to maintain order and protect the students.”

He nodded grimly before turning on his heel and leaving the Astronomy Tower.

xxxxxxxxxxxxx

Lucius strolled into his bedroom to find his wife in the process of changing for dinner. They were to dine out with the Minister and a few of his other guests this evening. Dismissing the house-elf attending her, he approached Narcissa and caressed the bare skin of her shoulders.

“We have to be ready to leave in an hour, Lucius,” she quietly reminded him.

He kissed her neck and shoulders before finally claiming her lips. Narcissa melted under his touch, whimpering softly into his mouth as his hands continued to stroke her smooth skin.

Finally ending his gentle assault, he smirked. “Unfortunately, I know you require the full hour to prepare, and it would not due for us to be late. I hope we will be able to continue this after dinner.”

She smiled warmly, and he was pleased to see the heat of desire in her eyes. He knew his wife well, and appreciated how she could relax and allow her true emotions to show in the confines of their home. Narcissa was rarely anything but coldly aloof in public.

Helping her into her dress robes, he noticed a letter on her vanity table. “Is that a reply from Augusta Longbottom?”

“Yes,” she nodded. “Augusta replied very graciously and perfectly correctly to my letter. The decision regarding a betrothal will be made this summer.”

Lucius frowned. “I rather thought she would immediately accept such an opportunity. There isn’t a family in Britain to rival our wealth and position.”

His wife patted his cheek. “Not every family thinks of wealth and position as the primary motivations behind a betrothal agreement. Miss Henry is a pure-blood heiress at a time when precious few are available. I have no doubt Augusta will have multiple offers to consider. We can only hope that ours is the most appealing.” She sat on the small stool in front of her vanity and began to brush out her long hair.

He nodded thoughtfully as he watched her reflection in the mirror. “My dear, I am somewhat unclear about why you have chosen the Longbottom ward as the focus of our efforts for a betrothal for Draco. Surely, one of the other young ladies he mentioned, both of whom are members of Slytherin House, would be a better option.”

“Ordinarily, I would agree with you,” Narcissa replied. “However, I can assure you that an alliance between Draco and Miss Henry would be…” Her hand stilled as her voice lowered until it was barely a whisper. “It would be…uniquely advantageous.”

Lucius stared at his wife. He knew she was hiding something. She had been pensive ever since the Macmillan’s Christmas Eve gathering. He had not considered that it might be something truly important absorbing her thoughts until this moment. “Why would it be so advantageous? What do you know about Miss Henry?”

Narcissa set her brush on the vanity table and stood to face him, gazing into his eyes.

He felt the probing almost immediately and hastily tried to block her. His Occlumency skills had never been particularly strong, and this day was no exception.

Sighing, his wife broke eye contact. “I think it would be better for you to not ask too many questions.” She rubbed his arm gently and kissed his cheek. Her actions softened her words and the implied disappointment behind them.

“Well,” he murmured. “If a match between Draco and Miss Henry is so vital, perhaps we should be advising him to ensure that the betrothal takes place.”

“Hmmm…you are quite correct,” she agreed. “I will send a letter off to him tomorrow encouraging him to court her properly. Dates in Hogsmeade, walks around the lake, a token of his affection before they part at the end of the school year. I’m sure he will charm her as easily as you charmed me.” Narcissa smiled at him before glancing pointedly at the clock. “Now if you really expect me to be ready on time, you will leave me alone for the next twenty minutes.”

Lucius grinned. “As you wish, my love.” He left the bedroom and headed towards the drawing room for a drink. He couldn’t help but wonder why his wife was so fixated on the idea of a betrothal between their son and Miss Henry. He admitted to himself that it was futile to speculate. She would not share her reasoning with him until she was ready. One decision he was comfortable making was to send his own letter to his son encouraging him to do everything in his power to successfully seduce the young witch.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

On Valentine’s Day morning, Harry felt a wonderful sense of calm wash over him as he walked along the path into Hogsmeade with his friends. Escaping the castle for a few hours was a much-needed reprieve from the reality of fifth year at Hogwarts. His Occlumency lessons with Snape had been going much better in the last few weeks, and he was grateful he had somehow managed to avoid another detention with Umbridge. Still, the professors constantly reminded them of the importance of their O.W.L. year, and the homework was never-ending. He often worked until past midnight and was still not confident that he would pass all the courses he needed to be considered for Auror training after Hogwarts. At least the D.A. meetings were a bright spot in every week.

Ron and Ginny were unable to come into the village with them because the Gryffindor Quidditch Captain, Angelina Johnson, had ordered a full day training to prepare for the coming match against Hufflepuff. With the loss of the team’s Seeker and both Beaters, Angelina was determined to give her new players as much experience as possible. Harry fought off a feeling of jealousy as he saw Ron and Ginny in the distance, soaring on their brooms above the pitch. He missed the rushing wind and the intense speed he could achieve with his Firebolt when diving for the Snitch. He desperately wanted to be up in the air with them, and he felt a confusing desire to observe Ginny flying from a much closer position.

Their group of four had been joined by Ernie Macmillan. The Hufflepuff prefect had approached Neville and Anna just after dinner the night before and asked for permission to accompany their group. Neville had agreed, and so far, it hadn’t seemed too awkward. The possibility of Anna soon being betrothed to be married was still a foreign concept to Harry, but at least Ernie was a decent bloke. Harry knew he had a lot to learn about the wizarding world, particularly about the rules followed by much of pure-blood society. This situation was another example of how his Muggle upbringing had left him somewhat unprepared. Harry, Neville, and Ernie walked and talked with one another while Hermione and Anna went ahead discussing which shops they wanted to visit first.

“Let’s go into Honeydukes,” Anna suggested. “I promised to get some dark chocolate for Ginny.”

Hermione nodded. “I should probably pick up some chocolate frogs for Ron. I know he intended to get some.”

They entered the sweets shop and purchased a variety of candy treats and chocolates before moving on to the next store. It seemed that they visited every shop in the village over the next two hours, spending the longest period of time in Tomes and Scrolls.

“We need to get to the Three Broomsticks,” Hermione announced as they departed the bookstore.

The others nodded and followed her into the pub where they approached Luna Lovegood and Rita Skeeter at a small table in the back.

“What’s going on?” Harry sputtered as Hermione guided him to a chair directly across from the journalist. He blanched as he observed Neville, Anna, and Ernie make their way to an empty table nearby, leaving him alone with Hermione, Luna, and Rita.

“Harry, you have an opportunity to tell Rita Skeeter the truth about Voldemort and his Death Eaters. You can explain how he came back last year,” Hermione said earnestly. “The Daily Prophet has been publishing nothing but lies for months. They will never acknowledge that wizarding Britain is in any danger from Voldemort and his followers. You must warn people. They need to be told.” She took his hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. “Luna will make sure that the article is published accurately in her father’s publication, The Quibbler.”

He stared at his best friend with wide eyes and whispered frantically. “You…you just expect her to write the truth, to write what I say!” He gestured towards Rita Skeeter with a look of incredulity on his face.

“Of course,” Hermione replied calmly. “Unless she wants to write an insider’s view of the conditions in Azkaban, I firmly believe that Rita will report exactly what you say and that Luna’s father will publish it accurately.”

Harry blinked as he considered the hold that Hermione had over the intrepid reporter. In truth, he wasn’t certain that the threat of trial for being an illegal Animagus was enough to control the witch. Seeing the determined look on his best friend’s face, he sighed in resignation and decided to hope for the best.

Author’s Notes: Disclaimer — Part of this chapter comes from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

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Chapter 9: Chapter 9 Witch's Choice

Author's Notes: Just returned home from the Harry Potter festival in Staunton. Definitely a fun weekend away and some truly ingenious costumes! Tremendous thanks to my wonderful beta, Arnel, for her work with this chapter!


Chapter 9

Witch’s Choice

“Charlie, I do believe you have rendered your mother speechless. It’s not a particularly common event.” Dad smirked for a moment before sighing heavily. “Perhaps we should give her a minute to collect herself. Let’s go into the kitchen and put the kettle on. A cup of tea will be just the thing to have on hand when Molly recovers her voice.”

“Sorry, Dad,” Charlie murmured as he followed his father into the kitchen. He had arrived at The Burrow only minutes earlier. After hugging his parents, he had quickly informed them that he had a problem and needed their help. He had then asked his mother to write a betrothal letter on his behalf for Anna. Her response had been wide eyes and shocked silence.

“Son, please forgive this question, but I have to ask,” he rubbed the back of his neck. “Over the Christmas holidays, the night you and Anna were both at Grimmauld Place at the same time…well, I know a bottle of Firewhisky went missing that night. I know things…sometimes happen when alcohol is involved, things people don’t…intend.” He sat on one of the kitchen chairs and gestured for Charlie to have a seat as well. “But everyone seemed perfectly sober in the morning, so I didn’t think much of it…” his father shrugged and cleared his throat. “Charlie, were you and Anna together that night? Is she pregnant?”

Charlie’s eyes widened in shock. “No!” He rose from the chair swiftly. “Merlin, is that what you and Mum thought when I said I had a problem and needed help? You thought I knocked up Anna?”

“Yes,” Mum whispered from the doorway. Her lips were trembling slightly. She clearly had tears in her eyes.

Charlie slowly pulled his wand from his pocket and held it up. “I swear on my magic that I have never inappropriately touched Anna.” His wand glowed briefly before he set it on the table and approached his mother. “The truth is I’ve never touched her in any way.” He shook his head at his own foolishness. He had not explained himself well at all. Of course, his parents had been confused.

“Oh, Charlie,” she murmured as she hugged him tightly. “I shouldn’t have doubted you. I know you are an honorable man. It’s just…”

Easing back slightly he looked his mother directly in the eyes. “I’m sorry for how it sounded when I asked you to write the betrothal letter.”

Taking his mother’s arm gently, he led her over to a chair at the table and sat with his parents.

Blowing out a breath, Dad smiled as he poured a cup of tea for each of them. “All right, son. Please explain what is going on, and perhaps start at the beginning this time.”

Nodding, Charlie collected his thoughts. “The problem I was referring to earlier is that Bill told me about two betrothal letters Augusta Longbottom received for Anna. The letters are from the Malfoy and Macmillan families.”

“Remus informed me at the last Order meeting,” his father said. “Son, if you’re worried about Anna and trying to protect her, you don’t need to.” He leaned back in his chair and took a sip of tea. “No one’s going to force Anna into a betrothal with the Malfoy boy.”

His mother patted his hand reassuringly. “Betrothal agreements are different than they used to be. It’s not just the parents or guardians who have to sign, the couple must sign as well or the contract is not valid. Anna is an intelligent young witch. She certainly wouldn’t sign anything she is not comfortable with.”

“But, she is very innocent, and rather quick to try to please others when she can,” Charlie quietly argued. “If Augusta presses her to accept a betrothal with the Macmillan boy, the grandson of one of her oldest friends, don’t you think Anna might agree, even if she doesn’t really want to?”

His parents looked at each other in silent contemplation before Mum replied. “You may have a point, Charlie.” She stared into his eyes, her lips pressed together for a moment. “However, it is their family business. Why do you want to get involved? Why did you ask me to write a letter for you?”

He raked both hands through his hair. “Because she needs to know she has options, and because I’ve been planning on courting her for a long time now.” His voice was soft as he made the confession. While his actions were certainly pure when it came to Anna, his thoughts were not always so virtuous.

“How long, son?” Dad asked quietly.

Charlie swallowed uncomfortably, but managed to meet his father’s gaze. “I…uh…I had a…dream about Anna the night before the World Cup.” He felt himself flushing, but tried to ignore it. “I really believed at the time it was just a dream. Bill talked me down when I panicked.”

His father nodded slowly. “I had forgotten you and Bill left the house that night. Seemed rather late to go for a swim.”

“You knew we left The Burrow?” Charlie asked.

He was met with a slightly incredulous look. “I have seven children. Don’t you think I have Alarm Charms on the doors to notify me if one of you leaves the house at night?”

Charlie chuckled. “I guess that explains a few things.”

“So, when did you decide you wanted to court Anna?” Mum inquired.

He shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “Well, once I was back in Romania, I…uh…you see I was dating this girl at the time, and we were…close. Suddenly, being with her didn’t feel right. I wasn’t interested in…well…that is to say…”

“You no longer wanted to be intimate with her,” Dad guessed.

Charlie nodded. “I ended our relationship the day after I returned to Romania. Then, I put in transfer requests for the Welsh Green Sanctuary and the Hebridean Black Reserve so I could move back to Britain. Nicolas put in a good word for me, and both places have promised to offer me the next available position.”

“Oh, Charlie,” Mum set her tea cup down and smiled wistfully.

“They don’t get openings very often, Mum,” he reminded her. “That’s part of the reason I took the job in Romania in the first place. It’s so much larger, we have openings almost every year there. The reserves here have an opening maybe once every five years or so.” He shrugged. “Still, I figure time is on my side. Anna’s still in school. I’m bound to get a position at one of them in the next couple of years.”

Dad rubbed his chin. “Son, I’m not sure how to say this tactfully. As a matter of fact, I don’t think there is a way to say this well.” He sighed. “She might not be interested in you. It’s not just her age, but also your age difference. Seven years may not mean much when a couple are in their twenties or thirties. However, right now, she is a sixteen-year-old girl and you are a twenty-three-year-old man.”

Charlie laughed and felt himself relax at the slight frown Mum was sending Dad’s way. “Logically, I know you’re right. I understand that if she thinks of me at all, I’m probably just one of Ginny’s many older brothers. I can’t really explain it, but I know we are meant to be together. We just need the chance, the opportunity to get to know one another better. I planned to ask her out on a date this summer, figured with her being so close to seventeen by then, it would be okay to ask. I hoped she’d agree to be my girlfriend, and we could start exchanging letters.” His voice trailed off as he thought of the slow and careful courtship he had been planning. It couldn’t work that way now. The betrothal letters Augusta had received changed everything.

“A betrothal agreement is such a serious step,” Mum said. “The stigma of breaking a contract can be rather harsh in pure-blood society. Your father and I haven’t raised you children in that mindset.”

He nodded solemnly. “I know this is serious. If Anna agrees to the betrothal, I promise you that nothing will make me break it. I would never intentionally hurt her in any way.” He took a drink of tea. “Look, I understand my interest in her seems really sudden to you. I haven’t said anything because I was embarrassed about how my feelings for her would seem with our age difference.”

Charlie shrugged uncomfortably and his cheeks darkened. “I also didn’t want you to think that it’s just physical. I’m not going to lie and say I don’t want her in that way. I definitely do, but I also want to be her friend, her confidant. I want to make her laugh, to hold her when she’s upset, to be her husband and hopefully have children with her someday.”

His parents exchanged that long look that always seemed like a silent conversation was taking place.

“Well, then,” Mum said as she stood up. “I have an important letter to write.”

“Do you need help, dear?” Dad asked carefully.

She raised an eyebrow. “Of course, not! I was raised a Prewett. I can certainly manage to write a proper betrothal letter.”

xxxxxxxxxxx

Ginny rubbed her head in exhaustion as she attempted to finish her essay for Defense Against the Dark Arts. It had been a horrible week. The Quidditch match against Hufflepuff had been the beginning of the nightmare. Without the twins as Beaters, the team could neither score nor mount a proper defense. She knew the replacement Beaters, Kirke and Sloper, had tried. Unfortunately, they had virtually no experience and seemed to lack any natural talent. They were just as likely to send one of the Bludgers at their own teammates as at the opposition. One of them had even managed to strike Angelina with a bat.

Ron had continually failed to stop Hufflepuff from scoring. As annoyed as she often was with her brother, she felt nothing but sympathy for him. Ron was a decent Keeper when his head was truly in the game, but his lack of confidence was crippling. She was relieved when she finally managed to catch the Snitch and put an end to their misery. It was shocking that so much had gone so terribly wrong in a game that lasted less than thirty minutes. She had honestly been surprised they only lost by ten points.

The Quibbler had published the interview with Harry. Hermione and Luna were both very pleased with the article entitled ‘Harry Potter Speaks Out at Last: The Truth about He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and the Night I Saw Him Return.’ While it was wonderful to see the truth finally out and available to the public, Harry suffered another week of detentions and was banned from further Hogsmeade trips as punishment for giving the interview. Of course, Dolores Umbridge’s intense negative reaction to the article ensured that every student at Hogwarts read The Quibbler within days. Ginny forced a reassuring expression every night Harry returned from detention. She, Hermione, and Anna always had Murtlap essence ready for his hand. The message ‘I must not tell lies’ was visible on Harry’s hand all the time now. Ginny wondered and worried if the hateful message would be a scar he carried for the rest of his life.

In the meantime, Neville and Anna were feeling the strain of maintaining a carefully polite demeanor when dealing with her potential suitors. Neville had allowed Ernie to accompany their group to Hogsmeade and later given permission for Ernie and Anna to go for a walk to the greenhouses and to visit Hagrid together. It wasn’t until Malfoy approached him that morning expecting the same privileges that Neville realized his mistake. Knowing he would be showing a favoritism he was not supposed to display if he refused, he agreed to their walk around The Lake stipulating that he would be following from a distance.

The moment Neville and Anna returned to the common room, Anna kissed her cousin’s cheek and went up the stairs. Relieved to have an excuse to take a break, Ginny set down her quill and rapidly ascended the stairs.

Entering the fifth-year girls’ dormitory, she saw Anna lying flat on her back on the bed with one arm flung over her eyes. “Are you okay?” Ginny asked softly as she approached her friend.

“Mm-hmm,” Anna mumbled, lowering her arm and patting the bed beside her in invitation. “Just tired and cramping a little.” She held up the small bar of Honeydukes dark chocolate in her other hand. “Want one?”

“No, thanks,” Ginny smiled as she stretched out on the bed beside Anna. “Sorry, I didn’t realize you were having your monthly.”

Her friend sighed. “Monthly is a misnomer. It’s only been three weeks since the last one,” Anna complained and took another bite of the chocolate bar.

Ginny stifled a giggle. “So, how did the walk with Malfoy go?”

“Fine,” Anna admitted. “He was polite, asked a lot of ‘getting to know me’ type questions about my childhood in Virginia, Longbottom Manor, favorite things. Amazingly he didn’t sneer once, not even when I mentioned how much I enjoy my lessons with Remus.”

“Are you…um…becoming...interested in him?” Ginny inquired.

Anna laughed. “Definitely not. The fact that Draco is apparently capable of acting like a gentleman doesn’t change the basic facts.”

“Which are?”

She held up her hand and began ticking off fingers. “First, his behavior at the Macmillan party was completely unacceptable. I don’t care that his parents probably told him to do it, taking a skin sample off my chest was not okay. Second, he has been insulting one of my best friends for years because of her blood status. Honestly, I think he’s jealous that Hermione is the top student in our year. Third, he is generally not a nice person to anyone, and I am not one of those girls who finds ‘bad boys’ appealing. Fourth, he thinks entirely too highly of himself just because he is a rich pure-blood from an influential family. Some of his attitude may be a fašade. I realize he was raised to think that way, but some of it is his natural personality. I really think he believes he’s better than most people. Fifth, he’s a Slytherin prefect, and I don’t trust him.” Her voice had a cold finality by the end.

Ginny nodded soberly. “What about Ernie?”

Anna sighed and ate the last bite of her chocolate bar.

“If it’s too personal,” Ginny murmured. “Please don’t feel like you have to answer.”

Anna shook her head. “It’s not too personal. I just…I like Ernie. He’s kind, intelligent and funny. He’s a genuinely decent person and his grandmother is a good friend of Aunt Augusta.”

“But?”

“I’m not attracted to him,” Anna admitted. “I feel like he’s become more of a friend, but that’s all.” She groaned. “I don’t want to think about the stupid betrothal letters anymore.” She sat up. “Tell me about Harry.”

“What about him?” Ginny squeaked rolling up and hugging her knees to her chest.

“He’s been watching you when he thinks no one’s paying attention,” she explained.

Ginny bit her lip, a small smile on her face. “I thought he was, but then thought it might be just wishful thinking.”

“I do believe he has finally realized that you’re a girl,” Anna smirked.

Ginny laughed. “Over the Christmas holidays, Harry said something about not seeing me as just Ron’s little sister anymore. And, when he hugged me…” she sighed. “But, if he’s interested, why hasn’t he done anything about it?”

“Well, he is a fifteen-year-old boy,” she shrugged. “Harry may need more time to figure things out. He also might just not know how to start something.”

“So, I should just be patient,” Ginny muttered.

“That is one option,” Anna agreed. “Or, if the moment seems right, you could be the one to start something.”

Ginny raised an eyebrow at her friend incredulously. “Is that what you would do?”

“Definitely not,” Anna grinned. “You are much braver than I am, though, and far more certain of your feelings.”

“Ugh,” Ginny groaned, collapsing back on the bed as both girls dissolved into giggles.

xxxxxxxxxx

“You brought my sister?” Fred rolled his eyes.

Neville glanced around quickly wondering what the Weasley twins were up to this time.

Angelina raised an eyebrow as she pointed a finger at Fred’s chest. “You asked me to go find people to play the game. Then, you stipulated that I had to find an equal number of boys and girls, avoid prefects and anyone else who might turn us in, and oh by the way, I could only bring people who were good-looking and not gits.” She threw her arms up in exasperation. “How many people did you actually think would qualify and be in the common room?”

“Okay, simmer down,” Fred muttered, eyeing his sister warily as she fingered her wand. “Just a bit surprised, that’s all.”

“Uh, what kind of game are we playing?” Seamus peered around the seventh-year boys’ dormitory.

Neville was relieved that his roommate had asked so he didn’t have to. The beds had been shifted sideways against the walls leaving a clear space in the middle of the room. It looked remarkably like the set up a couple of months ago at Grimmauld Place.

“As a service to ourselves and others,” George began.

“During a ridiculously stressful year with the Toad,” his twin continued.

“We were planning a game of Spin the Bottle,” Lee Jordan concluded.

Seamus laughed. “Excellent!”

“Is this another drinking game?” Harry asked.

“Not exactly,” Katie admitted.

“Although, I think we should all take a shot, or three, from that bottle before we begin,” Alicia added, motioning towards the full bottle of Firewhisky in Fred’s hand.

“Wait a minute,” Lavender said. “Is this the game where we kiss whoever the bottle points to?”

“I do love half-bloods and Muggle-borns.” Fred smiled fondly. “Always so quick to understand the games we like to play.”

“I’m not sure we should be doing this,” Neville stated quietly with a glance towards Anna. This game seemed like a particularly bad idea given the current situation.

“What happens in this room, stays in this room,” George declared firmly. “Anyone who thinks they can’t abide by that should leave now.”

A few nervous glances passed around the room, but no one left.

“And, we’ll play by the rule of witch’s choice,” Angelina decided, with a reassuring look towards the younger girls in the group.

“That rather spoils the game, don’t you think?” Lee glanced around at the others for support.

Lavender raised her hand primly and smiled as though she was in class and had just been called upon. “What is witch’s choice?”

“It allows the witch to decide whether to have a kiss on the lips or on the cheek,” Alicia explained. “Given the age range and…uh…family relationships present, I think we should follow Angelina’s suggestion.”

Neville inwardly sighed in relief as everyone agreed and glasses were conjured so each player could have a couple of shots before beginning. The Firewhisky was quickly consumed, and the bottle was placed in the middle of the circle of students.

“I’ll start the game,” Fred announced, muttering a quick spell and tapping the bottle with his wand before spinning it. He grinned when the bottle pointed towards Katie. She bit her lip nervously for a moment before kissing him on the lips. They were both smiling when they parted.

Lee spun next and raised an eyebrow towards Angelina who kissed him thoroughly.

George smiled reassuringly at Lavender when the bottle stopped in front of her, and looked pleasantly surprised when she kissed him full on the mouth.

Angelina was the next to spin and looked up cheekily when she saw the bottle point to Seamus. “Are you ready, my lad?” she asked with a smile.

“I certainly hope so,” Seamus drawled.

They were still kissing when Alicia spun the bottle and peered at Neville uncertainly.

“I’ve never done this before,” he whispered when she was a foot away from him.

“No worries,” she murmured before pressing her lips gently to his.

The feeling was brilliant, though over before Neville was ready for it. He was sure his blush was deeper than hers when they parted.

Harry was the next one to spin the bottle. He swallowed audibly when it landed on Ginny and glanced nervously towards her brothers.

“Forge,” Fred said. “I think it’s time we turned our backs and hummed a happy tune.”

“Right you are, Gred,” his twin replied.

They both pointedly turned their backs and hummed loudly as Ginny slowly approached Harry. Neville could hear a few murmurings from the pair before their lips met. He turned away, suddenly feeling as though he were intruding on an intensely personal moment.

“Your spin, Anna,” Angelina announced.

“Okay,” his cousin murmured, spinning the bottle and sighing with relief as it landed on him.

Neville was slightly surprised that she kissed him on the lips instead of the cheek, but as she backed away, they were both trying and failing to suppress their laughter.

“What’s so funny?” Seamus asked.

“We are definitely cousins,” Anna giggled.

“Merlin,” Neville wondered aloud. “How do the pure-blood families who all marry their cousins manage to…uh…”

“Do it?” Fred asked with a grin.

Neville felt his cheeks burning as he nodded.

“Too many generations of doing what they’re told,” George replied, his eyebrows wiggling suggestively. He pulled out a second bottle of Firewhisky. “Let’s all have another round in celebration of cousins who do not wish to marry!”

Glasses were once again refilled and everyone drank before continuing the game.

Back to index


Chapter 10: Chapter 10 Betrayed

Author's Notes: Tremendous gratitude goes out to my beta, Arnel! I would also like to thank everyone who has been reading and reviewing! It was a wonderful surprise to see the Silver Trinket Award for this story!


Chapter 10

Betrayed

A tawny owl swooped into the Great Hall, its strong wings shifting gracefully as it descended towards the Gryffindor table.

“That’s Mista.” Ginny set her fork down and reached forward to stroke the neck of the familiar bird.

Most mail was delivered at breakfast, so she was surprised to see her friend’s owl arriving at the end of dinner. The Great Hall was slowly starting to empty as students finished their meals and headed towards the library or their common rooms.

“What are you doing here so late, my sweet girl?” Anna cooed at the bird as she removed the letter.

As Anna pushed her goblet of pumpkin juice towards Mista, the air was suddenly rent with the sound of a woman’s scream. Startled students dropped their utensils, rose from their seats, and headed towards the doors to the Entrance Hall. A few even pulled their wands as the sound was repeated. Ginny exchanged an alarmed glance with Anna and the two girls rose and joined the other students.

Ginny stopped abruptly as she reached the Entrance Hall. Professor Trelawney was swaying in the middle of a wide circle of students. She held her wand in one hand and an empty bottle in the other. Professor Umbridge advanced upon the frail witch with a look of malicious glee that infuriated Ginny. How could someone take such pleasure in the fear and humiliation of another?

Umbridge seemed like a predator circling its prey as she stalked around the broken figure of the Divination professor. Her words were condescending and heartless as she fired the teacher and ordered her to leave the castle. The broken sobs of the distraught witch were interrupted by the sudden appearance of the Headmaster.

“Professor McGonagall, would you please escort Sybill back upstairs to her quarters?” Professor Dumbledore requested.

Ginny was relieved that the Headmaster had stepped in and halted the vicious scene. She was not a Divination student and had never had much contact with Professor Trelawney, but no one deserved to be treated that way.

“Come on.” Neville gently took her arm. “Let’s go up to the common room.” He had his other arm wrapped protectively around Anna.

Ginny walked with them quietly up the stairs. The students were all understandably subdued after witnessing such an event between their professors. Around them, Ginny heard the murmured comments about the empty bottle of alcohol in Professor Trelawney’s hand. Many were curious about the centaur, Firenze, who would be taking over the role of Divination professor. Everyone seemed shocked by the extraordinary cruelty of their Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher.

Once in the common room of Gryffindor tower, they settled on a sofa near the fire.

“Do you think Hagrid will be next?” Neville asked.

Ginny shrugged and shook her head slightly. “I don’t know. That woman is so evil. Are we really certain she is not a Death Eater?”

Neville chuckled softly. “I’m not sure. I know what Remus would say though.” He looked at Anna and smiled.

She nodded. “He would say that the world is not made up of black and white, not just Death Eaters and those who are good. Many shades of gray exist between that are neither Death Eater, nor good.”

Ginny laughed. “That sounds like Professor Lupin. I wish he was here with us this year.”

“Don’t we all,” Neville replied. “Anna, was the letter Mista brought from Gran or Remus?”

“Oh, I don’t know.” Anna rifled through her pockets. “I’d forgotten all about it.” She opened the letter and began to read, her eyes widening as she covered her mouth with one hand.

“Anna,” Neville said.

She wordlessly handed the letter over to her cousin.

Ginny turned from one to the other as she tried to read the looks on their faces and desperately wondered what could possibly be in the letter to have them exchanging such astonished looks.

“I’m going to bed,” Anna murmured. She carefully removed the letter from his hand. “Good night, Ginny. Neville.”

He stood and engulfed her in a tight hug. His lips moved as he whispered in her ear. She seemed to be nodding in response to his words.

Ginny chewed her lip as she watched her friend ascend the stairs. “Is everything okay?”

Neville rubbed his forehead. “Gran sent word that she received two more betrothal letters.” He closed his eyes briefly before focusing on her. “Would you…would you be willing to go and see if she wants to talk about it at all?”

“Of course.” She tried to smile reassuringly as she patted his arm and left the common room.

Entering the fifth-year girls’ dormitory, she saw that Anna was changing into a nightgown. Ginny sat on the edge of her bed. “Neville told me there were two more. Do you want to talk about it?”

Her friend nodded as she held out the letter. Ginny took it and gasped as she saw the two family names, Zabini and Weasley. Reading the note a second time more carefully, she paused at the words Charles Weasley. A mix of emotions flooded her system as Ginny tried to process what she was seeing and understand what it meant.

“Will you tell me about Charlie?” Anna bit her lip. “I mean, I know I’ve met him a few times, but…will you tell me stories about him? Tell me what he’s like?”

Ginny nodded and tried to smile. Her thoughts were bouncing everywhere at once in her mind. How had she not noticed her brother’s interest in her friend? Charlie wouldn’t be doing this unless he was seriously interested in Anna. She tried to remember any moment when he could possibly have ever been alone with her and came up with nothing.

Anna’s hand squeezed hers. “Please, tell me about him. Anything at all.”

The girls lay down next to one another on Anna’s bed as she cast a Silencing Charm. Ginny began telling stories about Charlie. She talked about how protective he was of her when she was a small child. He had played games with her and taken her on long nature walks, often pretending to find evidence of several magical creatures along the way. Ginny giggled as she recounted Charlie and Bill teaching her how to swim in the pond by The Burrow. She spoke of his fascination with dragons and his determination to earn the O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s required to work on a dragon reserve. She praised his flying skills and Seeking ability, comparing him to Harry as a truly gifted Quidditch player. Smirking, she mentioned Charlie’s difficulty in learning how to Apparate and his dislike of that form of travel.

“Has he had many girlfriends?”

Ginny paused, not exactly wanting to admit what she had overheard from Bill and the twins. “Kind of,” she replied. “I know he only briefly dated a couple of girls at Hogwarts, but…honestly, I think he has had…well, several girlfriends since he moved to Romania.”

Anna smirked at her friend. “Are you trying to subtly inform me that he has sowed more than his share of wild oats?”

“I think he and Bill both have to tell the truth,” Ginny admitted with a slight blush. “I mean…I don’t believe they’ve been irresponsible or reckless, but…”

“They’re grown men living on their own with professional jobs and solid incomes.” Anna smiled. “It would be odd if they didn’t enjoy that. It’s nothing I would hold against him, Ginny.”

She nodded thoughtfully. “I probably shouldn’t be asking, but…are you considering accepting Charlie?”

“I truly don’t know,” her voice was whisper soft.

Ginny sat up. “I should go on to my own room.”

“Thank you, Ginny, for telling me about Charlie.”

“Anytime.” She walked down the stairs with a hopeful smile on her face.

xxxxxx

Ginny focused on a wonderful memory, something powerful just as Harry had explained. She closed her eyes for a moment allowing the happy emotions to pour over her and drown out the sounds of the others in the Room of Requirement. She focused so intently on her memory that she could almost feel Harry’s lips on hers, his hand in her hair, his breath on her cheek.

Opening her eyes, she rotated her wand. “Expecto Patronum!” A silver horse emerged from the tip of her wand and pranced around her.

“That’s brilliant, Ginny!” Harry exclaimed loudly. “What memory did you use?”

She flushed but forced herself to meet his eyes. “I was thinking of something rather pleasant that happened a few nights ago,” Ginny replied softly.

Harry blinked and then blushed. “Well, that’s…um…that’s really great.” He touched her arm with his fingertips briefly before he was called away by another member of the D.A.

Ginny glanced about the room and was proud of her fellow classmates. She observed Hermione’s shining otter swimming through the air, Ron’s Jack Russell Terrier leaping about, and Luna’s hare bounding all around them. Cho’s swan Patronus glided over as Seamus produced something rather hairy she was unable to identify. Most of the class was at least managing the occasional thin mist of silver.

“Dobby, what’s wrong?” Harry’s voice betrayed his concern at the house-elf’s sudden appearance. Patronuses rapidly dissolved throughout the Room of Requirement.

Ginny edged forward to hear what was going on and was met with Hermione’s wide, angry eyes. She seemed to be glancing rapidly around the room.

“Is it Umbridge? Is she coming?” Harry asked.

Dobby nodded, and tried to throw himself to the ground. The house-elf’s distress helped to reinforce the danger they were all in.

“EVERYONE RUN!!!!” Harry bellowed.

The D.A. members bolted for the door, grabbing at each other’s arms, and fleeing as quickly as they could. Ginny didn’t even realize who had her hand until she was led into the library. Hermione forced her quickly into a chair, shoving a book into her hands.

Her eyes searched the room frantically for Harry. He wasn’t with them, though several other D.A. members had also sought refuge in the library.

“Who was it?” Neville murmured to Hermione. “Who betrayed us?”

The witch seemed to be staring into space, and Ginny could almost imagine her seeing the list of members in her mind and comparing it to those who attended the meeting this evening.

“I don’t know with certainty yet,” Hermione continued to gaze into empty space. “I think perhaps it may have been Marietta Edgecombe.”

Neville nodded slowly. “She definitely wasn’t at the meeting tonight.”

“What will happen now?” Anna asked quietly.

“Well, if Marietta is the sneak we will all know,” Hermione replied viciously. “She won’t be able to hide it.”

xxxxxx

The news of the Headmaster’s escape from multiple Ministry employees, including a couple of Aurors, spread rapidly throughout the school the next day. Neville and the other fifth-years listened intently to Harry as he explained the details of the exchange between the Minister and Professor Dumbledore.

“So, we’re not in trouble?” Ernie asked.

Harry shook his head. “No, the Headmaster took full responsibility for Dumbledore’s Army and claimed the names on the list just showed who was invited to come to the first meeting. He made it sound like the first meeting was to see who was actually interested in joining the group.”

Hermione sighed in annoyance. “I hope Marietta carries the sign of her betrayal for a very long time.”

“Knowing your skill with a wand, I imagine she’ll be lucky to have clear skin before the train ride home,” Anna smirked.

“Well, I can’t imagine Dumbledore being gone for too long,” Ernie stated. “Once the Ministry admits the truth about You-Know-Who’s return, we’ll have our Headmaster back at Hogwarts.”

“Yeah,” Ron muttered. “I just wonder how long that will take. My dad reckons Fudge is a bit of a power-hungry idiot. I think the Minister would actually have to see You-Know-Who in the flesh to believe he’s back.”

“I just wish we weren’t stuck dealing with Umbridge in the meantime,” Neville commented. “She is rubbish enough as a teacher without having full control of Hogwarts.”

Ernie sniggered. “According to the Fat Friar, she doesn’t have full control of Hogwarts. The gargoyles won’t even let her into the Head’s office.”

“You’re kidding!” Hermione smiled with glee.

“The Fat Friar told me she had a bit of a temper tantrum right there in the corridor!”

“I just wonder what she’ll do now,” Harry said quietly.

“What do you mean?” Ron asked.

Harry looked around at the others. “Well, it’s like Neville said. She has almost complete control over Hogwarts. A person with that much power can be dangerous enough when they are calm. A person who is angry and spiteful with that much power…”

Anna nodded. “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, or I suppose in this case, women.”

“That sounds familiar. Who said it?” Harry looked curiously at Anna.

“Sorry,” she shrugged.

“It was Lord Acton, a Muggle politician,” Hermione supplied.

“Well, let’s hope things don’t get any worse,” Ron muttered.

xxxxxx

In the weeks that followed, life at Hogwarts became far more restrictive. The Inquisitorial Squad, led by Draco Malfoy and consisting only of students from Slytherin House, took points away from members of the other Houses for a large variety of infractions. They also had the responsibility of opening and reading all owl post. This not only significantly delayed the mail, but also made privacy a privilege of the past. The Floo Network was monitored, and students could not make Floo calls without the express permission of Professor Umbridge. Professor McGonagall had quietly spread the word among Gryffindor House that parents were being made aware of the situation.

Fred and George rebelled against the new regime to a startling degree, causing a level of mayhem previously unattained. It started with the pair releasing fireworks inside the castle which continually exploded for several hours one day. It ended with them creating a Portable Swamp in one of the corridors before Summoning their brooms and flying out of the castle.

The departure of the Weasley twins inspired many students to continue the rebellion they had started. Numerous pranks were occurring daily, most of them directed towards Professor Umbridge or a member of the Inquisitorial Squad. Interestingly, the other professors often ignored these antics or even quietly encouraged them.

Anna slipped silently from the castle early one Saturday morning just as the sun was rising. Making her way quickly to her favorite spot just inside the Forbidden Forest, she cut the palm of her hand with her wand and practiced the blood ward. The ritual was familiar and comforting. She placed her bleeding hand on each of the four tree trunks used to anchor her magic, murmuring as she moved her wand continually. The power rose, surrounding her in a protective cocoon.

Sinking to the forest floor, she took several slow, deep breathes. Aunt Augusta had encouraged them to not worry about the betrothal letters and to focus on their O.W.L.s. She assured them they would discuss the situation over the summer and decide then. Somehow that had seemed easier a couple of months ago. Now that the end of the school year was so near, Anna was feeling the stress of the coming decision. She was seriously considering refusing all four of the offers. Neville had promised her that he would support her. He had hinted that he would be very happy if she remained single and continued to live with him at Longbottom Manor after they finished school. The idea was certainly tempting.

Running her fingers through the sparse patches of grass surrounding her, she looked out at the lake. The dark water was easily visible through the trees this close to the edge of the forest.

Malfoy, Macmillan, Zabini, Weasley.

Ruling out Malfoy and Zabini was simple. She neither liked, nor trusted Malfoy and never would. The fact that he had been seeking her out regularly in recent months to spend time with her made no difference. While his behavior had been perfectly correct since the Macmillan Christmas Eve party, her feeling of uneasiness in his presence had not abated. Fortunately, Zabini had made no effort to spend time with her. She wondered if he was even aware of the letter his mother had sent to her aunt. Perhaps not, or perhaps he simply didn’t care.

Her thoughts turned to Ernie. While she did not believe Aunt Augusta would try to force her into an agreement, she strongly suspected that her aunt would be very pleased with that choice. Ernie was the grandson of one of her oldest friends. He was from a wealthy pure-blood family. It would be quite natural to form an alliance between the two families with a betrothal agreement. Ernie was kind, smart, and only a bit younger. She frowned. Would kissing him be like kissing Neville? Thinking about the complete lack of any romantic feelings she had experienced when kissing her cousin made her smile. She reflected on her feelings for Ernie. He felt like a friend, but that was all. He seemed to like her, but did he like her in that way? Anna wasn’t sure. He had been too much of a gentleman to try to kiss her.

Then, there was Charlie. In the case of the other three, Anna was certain that the parents were behind the offers. They were the type of traditional pure-blood families that approved of formal betrothals. The Weasley family was not. Charlie must have requested that the letter be sent. She recalled every interaction she had ever had with Charlie. There weren’t many. The couple of days at The Burrow and at the World Cup, the hour or so with the dragons after the first task of the Triwizard Tournament, and the night of the sleepover with Ginny at Grimmauld Place. They had never been alone. Closing her eyes, she groaned.

Anna stood up feeling suddenly restless. She canceled the ward quickly and began to walk towards the lake, almost bumping into Draco Malfoy.

“I’m sorry.”

“Anna, what are you doing out here?” he asked. “Were you in the forest?”

She swallowed. “I was taking a walk around the lake. It’s such a lovely morning!” She smiled nervously. “I thought I heard something, an animal in distress perhaps, but when I realized I was getting too close to the forest, I turned around.”

He cocked his head. “I don’t hear anything.”

“I don’t either anymore.”

Malfoy took a step closer to her. “This is actually quite fortuitous - us meeting this way.” He pushed a strand of hair behind her ear. She froze at his touch.

“I should get back to the castle.”

“Nonsense,” he took her hand gently. “You were going for a walk around the lake. I’ll come with you. There is nothing inappropriate about it. This will give us an opportunity to talk freely.”

She chewed her lip. They were at the far end of the lake, just about as far from Hogwarts as they could possibly be. “Of course,” she nodded. “Thank you, Mr. Mal…thank you, Draco.”

He smiled hearing her correct herself. He always seemed annoyed when she failed to call him by his given name. Tucking her hand on his arm, he led her slowly around the lake. As usual his conversation was perfectly polite, almost painfully correct. It set her nerves on edge so much that when her owl landed on her shoulder, she gasped.

Pulling away from Malfoy, she transferred her owl to her arm. “Mista, you startled me!”

“She’s a beautiful owl. Have you had her long?”

Anna smiled. “Yes, Aunt Augusta let me buy her just before third year. She is a lovely friend.”

“Your letters to your aunt and Remus Lupin have been very brief and dull of late,” Malfoy observed. “Why don’t you write a better letter to them now and send it off?”

She looked at him uncertainly. “We’re not allowed.”

“I’m the head of the Inquisitorial Squad. I will approve your letter sight unseen,” he promised.

“That’s very kind of you, but I don’t have…”

He opened his bag and pulled out a piece of parchment, quill, and ink. He set his bag flat on the grass creating a writing surface for her to use. “I’ll wait just over here,” he indicated a fallen log nearby. “Perhaps, Mista will even allow me to pet her. She truly is a beautiful owl.”

Malfoy walked over to the log and sat down. Her owl immediately flew over to perch on his knee, and he stroked her carefully.

Anna glanced at him uncertainly for a moment before picking up the quill and writing a long, detailed letter addressed to both Aunt Augusta and Remus. The lack of honest communication with them had been difficult, and she reveled in the ability to write a lengthy letter again. Finishing her letter, she called Mista to her and quickly sent her off.

She watched her owl fly for a minute before turning to Malfoy. He was standing now and slowly approaching her.

“Thank you,” Anna said. “That was truly very kind of you.”

He nodded. “You deserve the opportunity to send a proper letter to your family.”

He picked up his bag and offered his arm. She quietly took it, and they continued their walk towards the castle.

Author’s Note: Disclaimer — Part of this chapter comes from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

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Chapter 11: Chapter 11 O.W.L.s

Author's Notes: Thank you to my beta Arnel!


Chapter 11

O.W.L.s

Draco smirked as he entered his empty dormitory in the Slytherin dungeons. His walk around the lake that morning had been interrupted by the witch who consumed most of his free thoughts lately. In response to his mother’s request for a couple of alternatives to Pansy Parkinson as potential betrothal choices, he had come up with Astoria Greengrass and Anna Henry. Both were attractive witches connected to wealthy pure-blood families. Much to his surprise, his mother had quickly selected the Gryffindor. Draco was still unclear about the exact reasons behind the choice. When he had asked, his mother had simply replied that Anna would be an excellent match. He knew his mother well enough to know it was more than that. Both his parents had written letters in recent months encouraging him to pursue a relationship with her. His mother had advised him to court the witch and offered a few romantic suggestions. His father had bluntly told him to seduce the girl.

Draco was pleasantly surprised when he literally bumped into Anna that morning while walking around the lake. Neville had permitted him to spend time with Anna; however, they had never been alone together for any length of time until this morning. She seemed calmer than previously. He wondered if the lack of an audience or the surprise of their meeting was responsible. The sudden appearance of her owl had given him the idea to offer her something no other Gryffindor at Hogwarts currently enjoyed. He gave her the chance to write a letter and send it off immediately with her owl, Mista. As a member of Dolores Umbridge’s Inquisitorial Squad, he promised to allow her to send the letter sight unseen. He had kept his promise and was certain he had earned a measure of trust and respect in return.

Setting his school bag on his bed, he pulled out the quill Anna had used to write her letter home. He looked at it thoughtfully for a moment before pulling out a blank piece of parchment. Anna could apparently be somewhat na´ve. He was not truly disappointed by that fact. Sitting on his bed, he found himself wondering about the full extent of her innocence. Muttering the Duplication Spell, he placed the quill carefully on the parchment. Draco smiled with satisfaction as the words began to spread. He had not been certain of the spell’s validity, but clearly it had worked.

Picking up the parchment, he began to read an exact copy of the letter she had written.

Dear Aunt Augusta and Remus,

I have the opportunity to write and quickly send off a letter that won’t be read by others here at Hogwarts.

First, I want to assure you that Neville and I are both well and studying hard for our O.W.L. exams. Neville is understandably most concerned about Potions and History of Magic. I’m confident he’ll do quite well in Potions since Professor Snape won’t be administering the test. Hermione has been kind enough to share her notes to help us all study for History of Magic. Professor Binns is not a particularly effective teacher, though I don’t imagine it would be easy for him to be let go, since he is a ghost. My concerns, as I’m sure you can imagine, Remus, are about Astronomy and Arithmancy. I don’t know why I struggle so much in identifying the constellations in the night sky. I remember all the stories perfectly well regarding each one, but the stars seem to blur together for me rather than creating the outlines we’re supposed to see. Arithmancy is equally hit or miss. Hermione and I have been working together quite frequently on some of the more challenging concepts. I’m determined to pass both and not disappoint either of you.

We have truly tried not to worry about the betrothal letters, but it’s been rather complicated. Neville has separately allowed both Ernie and Draco to accompany us on various outings. Their behavior has been perfectly correct, but the stress of knowing about the decision to be made this summer has been occasionally overwhelming. I keep replaying the four names as a sort of litany running through my mind. I admit I’ve been entering the forest more often than required lately. The sense of calm that washes over me as I feel the power rise helps me relax. I know it’s a crutch and one that I should not be so dependent upon.


Draco frowned as he rapidly scanned the remainder of the letter. It contained the usual ‘miss you, love you, looking forward to seeing you soon’ type of drivel.

Returning his attention to the previous paragraph, he touched the word four with his finger. Who were the other two? He had personally read all of Anna’s and Neville’s letters, as well as any addressed to them for weeks. No mention had been made of two new offers. All four must have been reported to Anna and Neville prior to Dumbledore’s departure. Were they students? He had been watching carefully and was certain that no other student had approached Neville or made any attempt to court Anna. If they were students, they were not actually pursuing her. Of course, they might not be students. Two men he was completely unaware of could be interested in Anna. Recent Hogwarts graduates perhaps. He tried to recall who among the Sacred Twenty-Eight had a son complete school recently.

Scowling in frustration, he focused on the other odd section of the letter. Why was Anna going into the forest? What power was she talking about? She almost sounded guilty about it, as though she was aware she should not be doing it, but couldn’t stop herself. Of course, the fact that she was freely admitting it to her guardians hinted that whatever she was doing could not be too bad. He wished he had the opportunity to share the letter with his parents, particularly his mother and hear her thoughts. Staring at the letter once more, he knew full well he couldn’t risk keeping it. Picking it up, he quickly set the parchment on fire, letting it burn to ash as it fell to the floor.

xxxxxxxxx

Harry walked into the Gryffindor common room and sank happily into the soft cushions of the sofa next to Ginny.

She looked up from her book and smiled. “How was your lesson?”

He glanced around, pleased to observe that only his closest friends were near them. “Fine.”

Ginny raised her eyebrow questioningly, just as Hermione murmured. “Really, Harry. You always say everything is fine. Can’t you give us a bit more information than that?”

Ron chuckled as he looked up from the notes he was reading with Neville.

“The lesson actually went pretty well,” Harry admitted quietly. “Snape said that surprisingly I was making adequate progress in learning magic more advanced than that generally expected of a fifth-year student.”

“That actually sounds like a compliment,” Ron muttered. “From Snape.”

Harry nodded. “He made a point of reminding me that my connection to…Him…is rather unique. He warned me to not become cocky due to my ‘moderate success’ and to continue to be on my guard.”

“That sounds reasonable,” Hermione commented. “What about your dreams?”

“I told him they still happen, but are rare now instead of a nightly event. He seemed…I don’t know…understanding of that, I guess. Like he didn’t expect them to completely disappear,” Harry explained.

“That’s wonderful, Harry,” Anna said softly.

He smiled at her. The others didn’t know about their secret lessons, and he wasn’t about to tell them since it would ‘out’ Anna as an Occlumens.

“Time for you to work on your O.W.L. revisions, then,” Hermione announced. “Do you want to join Ron and Neville with the History of Magic notes, or Anna and me with Astronomy?”

Harry made a face at his best friend and leaned forward. “I’m going to be honest with you. I don’t think I have any chance at all of passing History of Magic, so I’m not going to waste any more time on it.”

Hermione narrowed her eyes and took in a deep breath just as Ginny patted him on the back. “Good decision, Harry. Most careers in the wizarding world don’t require an O.W.L. in History of Magic. Bill and Charlie both advised me not to worry about that class.”

He smiled at the lovely redhead beside him in relief. “What advice did your older brothers offer about preparing for the O.W.L.s?”

“Focus first on the tests you really need to pass for the career you most want,” Ginny explained. “Then, concentrate on the classes you believe you can definitely pass with a bit more revision.”

Harry nodded. “Professor McGonagall told me to become an Auror I need to do a bit better in Transfiguration and Potions.” He rubbed his forehead. “I think Divination is a lost cause, but I believe I can pass Astronomy.”

“Then, those are the three classes you should be focused on most during these last few weeks before exams,” Ginny smiled.

“How can you say that?” Hermione demanded. “Harry can’t just give up on two classes!”

Ron glanced at Neville, and they both carefully organized the notes in their hands. “Ginny’s right. Bill and Charlie both did well in school, and they have good careers. We can trust their advice. There’s no way I’ll pass History of Magic or Divination. Thank you for your notes, Hermione, but I really should focus on the other classes.” He held out the neat stack of notes to her with an apologetic smile plastered on his face.

Hermione huffed for a moment before taking them. “I suppose you feel the same way, Neville.”

He raked a hand through his hair. “Yeah, I’m really going to focus on Potions and Transfiguration. I want to make sure I pass them to please Gran and Remus. They won’t be upset about me failing History of Magic anyway.”

Anna rifled through her bag for a moment and pulled out her old Potions textbook. “The potions most likely to turn up on the O.W.L.s are starred. Be sure to read the notes written in the margins by each one.”

“You wrote in your Potions book!” Hermione exclaimed.

“Of course not! My grandmother wrote all the notes in that book the year before she died. She wanted to be certain she passed her knowledge on to me and that I wouldn’t forget her lessons.” Anna explained. She turned to the boys and held out the book. “Katherine was an expert at making potions. She received an Outstanding on her Potions N.E.W.T.”

The three boys moved to sit beside one another so they could all read the book together.

“Your grandmother really tried to teach you a lot before you came to Hogwarts,” Hermione observed.

“Yes, she did.” Anna smiled wistfully. “Would you like to continue with Astronomy or switch to Arithmancy?”

Hermione shoved her notes into her bag and stood up. “Let’s go over to the table to work on Arithmancy.”

Anna nodded as she rose to follow her dormmate.

xxxxxxxxxxx

Neville and Anna shouted themselves hoarse during the final Quidditch match of the year. Ron saved a remarkable number of goals allowing the Gryffindor team to be victorious over Ravenclaw when Ginny caught the Snitch from right under the opposing Seeker’s nose. Knowing that Gryffindor had managed to win the Quidditch Cup during this extremely challenging school year was a balm to the souls of every member of Gryffindor House.

The news from Harry and Hermione that Hagrid was keeping his half-brother, the giant, Grawp, in the Forbidden Forest, had been a shock to put it mildly. The fact that Hagrid expected his students to visit his brother and somehow teach the giant to speak English was ridiculous. Neville felt once again that this miserable school year simply needed to come to an end as quickly as possible.

The O.W.L. examinations began on a Monday with Charms. Written examinations were held in the morning with the practical portion in the afternoon. Transfiguration, Herbology, Defense Against the Dark Arts, and Ancient Runes rounded out the first week. The second week began with Potions, then Care of Magical Creatures, and Astronomy the following morning. Wednesday afternoon was Divination and Arithmancy with the Astronomy practical scheduled for that night.

Neville carefully filled out his star chart while double checking everything in the telescope. Periodically, he closed his eyes, recalling his lessons over the summer with Remus and Anna to verify his work, before moving on to the next section. He was so focused on his chart that he flinched at the sudden loud noise from the grounds far below them. Peering around he realized most of his classmates were focused on the area around Hagrid’s house.

“No!” Hermione cried.

Her outburst was met by a scolding from Professor Tofty, one of the testing administrators, but the students could not tear their eyes away from the dramatic scene playing out below them. Aurors, led by Professor Umbridge, were trying and failing to subdue Hagrid. Spells seemed to bounce off him as he roared with anger. The situation only intensified when Professor McGonagall attempted to intervene on her colleague’s behalf. Several of the fifth-year girls screamed in horror as they watched four Stunners strike his Head of House, causing the witch to land hard on her back, clearly unconscious. Most of the students were too horrified to focus on completing their star charts, and the exam soon ended.

The final O.W.L examination was History of Magic on Thursday afternoon. Neville was writing his responses as quickly as possible. He knew he wasn’t going to pass this one anyway. He simply wanted it all to finally be over. He set his quill down just as Harry screamed before collapsing on the floor of the Great Hall.

xxxxxxxx

Anna’s eyes shifted from Harry to Hermione and back again as she listened to their heated exchange. Harry had experienced a vision of some sort while taking the History of Magic examination. He saw his godfather in the Department of Mysteries at the Ministry being tortured by Voldemort. Harry was terrified for Sirius and determined to travel there and rescue him. Hermione was desperately trying to reason with him about the improbability of his godfather being at the Ministry with Voldemort. He wanted to take immediate action, while she was determined to force him to slow down and think before he acted. Ron was occasionally joining in on the conversation sometimes backing up Harry and other times seeming to agree with Hermione. Anna glanced at Neville with relief when Ginny and Luna suddenly appeared.

“Harry.” Ginny looked around uncertainly. “What’s going on?”

“Never mind,” he replied roughly.

She raised her eyebrow. “I only wondered if I could help.”

Harry raked both hands through his hair. “Well, you can’t. I don’t want you involved.”

“That’s rather rude,” Luna said serenely. “Unless you’re being protective of Ginny, and then, it’s quite gallant of you.”

Harry flushed and turned away.

Hermione grabbed his arm. “We need everyone’s help! This could be a trick of Voldemort’s. We have to check on Sirius before we just set out on a rescue mission to the Ministry!”

“How are we supposed to check up on Sirius?” Harry demanded.

“I don’t know! I guess…we’ll have to…break into Umbridge’s office and use her Floo connection to call Grimmauld Place.” Hermione looked slightly horrified by her own suggestion.

Everyone seemed to consider the idea briefly before assigning jobs to one another to make it work. Ron set off to distract Professor Umbridge. Ginny and Luna kept a lookout at one end of the corridor, while Anna and Neville were at the other end. Hermione went with Harry under his Invisibility Cloak into Umbridge’s office to use her Floo.

As the minutes slowly ticked away, Neville turned to Anna. “What do you think of all this?”

She shrugged and chewed her lip. “I don’t know. Harry’s connection to Voldemort…” She grimaced. “He wasn’t asleep in the exam, Neville. I was sitting diagonally behind him. It wasn’t a dream. Harry was awake the whole time until he fell to the floor!”

He took her hand. “You think it was a vision, like what a true Seer might have?”

“I’m not sure, but I’m afraid,” she admitted. “For Harry and for Sirius.”

Anna shrieked as arms grabbed her roughly from behind.

“What’re you doing here outside Professor Umbridge’s office?” Vincent Crabbe demanded.

“Let go of her,” Draco seethed at his friend, who immediately released her arms. “I’m sorry, Anna. Neville. I’ll need your wands. Professor Umbridge will be wanting to speak with you both in her office.”

He took their wands, stowing them in his pocket, before taking them to the Defense Professor’s office.

Walking into the room, Anna flinched at the sickeningly sweet dÚcor. Harry had not exaggerated about the lacy covers and doilies covering every piece of furniture and flat surface. Vases of dried and fresh flowers adorning all corners of the small room. The wall of decorative plates, each featuring a playful kitten, was particularly disconcerting when compared to the malice on the face of the woman who collected such innocent looking items.

“Well,” Professor Umbridge raised an eyebrow as Luna and Ginny were led into the room as well. “Mr. Potter, you do seem to have led a large number of students into trouble today. I wonder why they were so willing to risk punishment to assist you. Hmm,” she pursed her lips thoughtfully. “You were using my Floo. Who were you trying to call?”

Anna forced herself to remain calm as the interrogation continued. Harry was impressively self-controlled as he refused to answer the professor’s questions. She felt a moment of panic when Professor Snape was called upon to provide Veritaserum so that Professor Umbridge could question him under the influence of the truth serum. Fortunately, the Potions teacher denied having any more in his store cupboard. Harry even had the presence of mind to communicate a coded message about the danger Sirius was in before the man left.

Her moment of relief was short-lived as Professor Umbridge pulled her wand after pacing the office while mumbling to herself.

“Desperate times and difficult children…require forceful actions,” she announced, though she was apparently talking to herself rather than to any of them. “Regrettably, a breach of Ministry security cannot be ignored, regardless of the age of the perpetrator…a high level of response is expected in such situations.”

Anna glanced around at her classmates. For the first time, she truly doubted the sanity of their Defense Professor. As her eyes met Hermione’s, she realized she was not the only one who was afraid.

“The Cruciatus Curse can be highly effective,” Umbridge continued. “It will surely encourage you to make the right choice.” She smiled at Harry as she advanced upon him, her wand at the ready.

“No!” Hermione shrieked. “Please professor, you can’t. It’s illegal!” She glanced about the room desperately as if seeking inspiration. “The Minister would not expect so much from you. Mr. Fudge would never want you to break the law.”

Their professor sighed quietly. “Dear Cornelius.” A small smile lit her face. “What he does not know will not hurt him.”

Everyone seemed to hold their breath as Professor Umbridge circled Harry once before pointing her wand resolutely at him.

“I must do what is necessary,” she whispered. “Cruc-”

“Noooo!” Hermione screamed.

Anna was stunned as her friend spun a tale of a powerful weapon hidden outside the castle by the Headmaster. Hermione made it sound as though Professor Dumbledore had created a magical artefact that would take over the British wizarding world and enable him to become Minister. The performance was so obviously false that Anna was stunned when Umbridge fell for it and quickly led Harry and Hermione out of the office.

The others stood quietly looking at one another in various states of concern and disbelief.

“I’m taking Miss Henry to another room to question her,” Draco announced peering at his fellow Slytherins. “Guard everyone carefully until Professor Umbridge returns.”


Author’s Note: Disclaimer — Part of this chapter comes from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

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Chapter 12: Chapter 12 Family's Consent

Author's Notes: Tremendous thank you to Arnel for her beta work on this chapter! Trigger warning. Please note this story is rated R. This chapter is reminiscent of the first chapter in the original story.


Trigger warning. Please note this story is rated R.

Chapter 12

Family’s Consent

“I’m taking Miss Henry to another room to question her,” Draco announced peering at his fellow Slytherins. “Guard everyone carefully until Professor Umbridge returns.”

He pulled her out of the room quickly and down the long corridor to an empty classroom just around the corner. Closing the door behind them, he released his grip on her arm before pointing his wand at the heavy door and murmuring ‘Colloportus’.

The squelching sound of the door sealing caused Anna to take an involuntary step backwards.

Draco raised an eyebrow. “I just don’t want to be interrupted while we talk.” Stowing his wand in his pocket, he pulled out her wand along with Neville’s and set them on an old desk near the door. “Sorry I had to take your wands earlier.”

The sight of her wand relaxed her somewhat though she wished he had returned it to her.

“Anna, what weapon was Granger going on about?” he asked.

“I truly have no idea,” she replied with a bewildered shake of her head.

He stared at her for a moment as though trying to judge her sincerity. “I can’t really imagine Dumbledore creating a weapon to take over the wizarding world. He doesn’t have the ambition.”

She nodded. “I believe Professor Dumbledore has been offered the position of Minister for Magic a few times and has always declined.”

“So, why did she lie? What do you think Granger is doing?”

“I believe she was just…trying to distract Professor Umbridge. Draco, you do realize that woman was about to cast the Cruciatus Curse on Harry!”

He nodded, his expression closed. “She was upset.”

“She was unhinged!”

“Why were Harry and Hermione in Umbridge’s office?”

“Harry needed to make an urgent Floo call, and since communication out of Hogwarts has been nearly cut off, he didn’t have a lot of options.”

“Who was he trying to contact?”

“I can’t tell you that. It’s personal, a family matter.” She bit her lip. “I can assure you Harry is not trying to aid Dumbledore in taking over wizarding Britain, or create a weapon to attack the Ministry, or whatever other nonsense Umbridge believes.”

He raked a hand through his hair and paced the room briefly. Stopping to look at her, he approached her slowly. “Why were you in the Forbidden Forest the other day?”

“I…I told you. I thought I heard an animal in distress.”

“You don’t lie very convincingly,” he murmured. “Had you only been in the forest for a moment following the sounds of an animal, I would have seen you in the distance while I was walking. You were in the forest for quite a while. What were you doing?”

Anna clenched her hands together, trying to think of something to say.

“It’s not safe to be alone in the forest. You do realize it’s forbidden for a reason.” Draco added.

She nodded, biting her lip.

“You know every time you bite your lip, I’m very tempted to kiss you.” His voice was husky as his hand touched the side of her face, his thumb tracing her lips.

She flinched and backed up to the wall. It only put a couple of feet between them.

Draco allowed his hand to drop even as he took another step towards her. “Why were you in the forest?”

Anna swallowed. “I was practicing a spell, and I needed some privacy. I was only a short distance in. I wasn’t in any danger.”

He cocked his head. “Why did you need privacy? What kind of spell was it?”

“It’s...” she hesitated. “It’s perfectly harmless, a spell I learned a long time ago. It’s just not the kind of magic taught here at Hogwarts, that’s all.” She shrugged awkwardly.

“You mean like a folk ritual? Were you naked?” He smirked.

“Of course not!” she sputtered, her cheeks feeling hot.

“But, it was some type of folk magic…” his voice trailed off. “I suppose that is harmless enough.”

She nodded. “Shouldn’t we be returning to the others?”

“No,” he shook his head slightly. “We need to talk about the betrothal.”

Anna’s eyes widened. “There isn’t really anything for us to talk about. I mean, Aunt Augusta will discuss the situation with me when I go home.”

“Of course, we can talk about it,” he pressed. “This may be our only opportunity to discuss the betrothal privately before we all go home for the summer.”

“I just don’t know what there is to say,” she murmured.

“You can say you plan to accept a betrothal between us,” Draco said quietly.

“I can’t make you any promises. I’m sure you understand this process better than I, but my aunt was quite clear that the letters have to be carefully considered before we make a decision.”

“Who else have you received an offer from?” he asked. “I know about Ernie Macmillan, but I’m curious who the others are.”

Anna shook her head slowly. “I’m not sure I should say. Let’s go back to the others. Professor Umbridge may have already returned.”

“No.” He once again caressed the side of her face. “You need to promise me that you’ll accept a betrothal with me.”

“Draco, you must know I can’t do that,” she implored. “It’s not solely my decision to make. Augusta is my legal guardian, and Neville is my male Head of House. I can’t promise you anything.”

“They would surely listen to you and follow your wishes,” he argued. “My family is certainly the best of those who offered for you. We have more wealth and power than any other, even amongst the Sacred Twenty-Eight. You will never want for anything as my wife. I will shower you with jewels and fine clothes and anything else you desire.”

“I’m sure that’s true, but...”

“Then, say ‘yes.’ Agree to our betrothal right now!”

“I can’t, Draco!”

He gripped her shoulder. “Do you not understand how much I want you?” His lips were on hers before she had time to react. He held her firmly, his mouth pressing hard against hers demanding entrance. She opened her mouth to demand he stop, but realized her mistake when his tongue plunged into her mouth.

Forcing her hands up between them, she pushed hard against his chest. “Stop it, Draco!”

“Anna, I need you to agree to the betrothal!” he commanded.

She closed her eyes, breathing slowly. “Please, try to understand. I cannot agree to anything without my family’s consent. Surely, you understand the truth of that. Now, let’s return to the others.” Opening her eyes, she tried to force a calm smile only to see that Draco had removed his robe and tossed it aside. “What are you doing?”

His eyes pierced hers as he stepped closer and reached for her robe. “I’m guaranteeing your family’s consent.” His voice was soft and controlled as he rapidly unfastened the buttons.

She stood frozen, numb in disbelief as he eased her robe off her shoulders, and it fell to the floor behind her. Emerging from her stupor, Anna slapped his hands away from the front of her blouse which was already partway unbuttoned. “Don’t touch me!”

Draco pulled his wand from his trousers pocket and sent an Imperturbable Charm towards the door. “Don’t fight me, Anna. Your family will approve our betrothal when they understand that I’ve claimed you as my own.”

Replacing his wand, he moved her back against the wall and kissed her again, pushing her lips apart with his tongue. She felt his hands on her chest once more working at the buttons of her blouse. Reaching out desperately towards his trousers, she tried to find his pocket and retrieve his wand. Draco realized her intent quickly and grabbed both her hands pinning them to the wall. Panicking, she struggled to twist her body away from him, to free her arms from his strong grip. Turning her head to the side, she managed to break away slightly and scream.

He shook her, his fingers digging into the soft flesh of her arms. “No one can hear you. Don’t make me hurt you.” He gave her a stern, warning look before lowering his mouth to hers.

She bit down hard, grimacing at the sudden taste of blood.

“Damn it, Anna!” His eyes were hard, angry now, as a thin line of blood dripped from his lower lip. Grabbing her blouse, he tore it open, buttons popping as he shoved it off her shoulders and down her arms. The buttons at the wrists of her blouse were still fastened, so as the shirt descended her arms, her hands were effectively trapped in her own clothes.

Eyes widening in fear, she tugged helplessly to free herself from the tight cuffs. “Let me go! Please, Draco, don’t do this!”

Wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, he stared at her briefly before roughly yanking off her skirt and dropping it to the floor. He quickly removed his shirt and pressed himself against her. “You need to relax, Anna.”

A tear slid down her cheek. “I’m a virgin. Please…don’t hurt me. I’m begging you.”

He used his thumb to wipe the tear from her cheek. “It will be okay. The pain will only last a moment. Then, you’ll be mine. Our betrothal announcement will be the toast on everyone’s lips this summer.” His mouth crashed down on hers, hard and demanding. His hands went to her chest, stroking, squeezing, pinching.

Even as Anna continued to struggle against him, to try to free her hands from the restraining material of her blouse, she began to feel a welcome hollowness come over her mind. She was only vaguely aware of his hands settling on her hips, his fingers squeezing her bottom, his growing hardness pressing into her belly.

“You have such a beautiful body,” Draco murmured huskily, his breathing labored. He took a step away from her as he unfastened his trousers and pulled them down, his eyes continuing to survey her form hungrily.

Anna blinked, her vision clearing just as Draco stepped out of his trousers. She caught a glimpse of the tented fabric of his boxer shorts before he pressed himself against her. One knee pushed between her thighs trying to force them apart. The hollowness that had overwhelmed her minutes before vanished in a haze of fury laced with fear. Feeling carefully behind her back, she grabbed the left sleeve of her blouse tightly and yanked as hard as she could. The muscles of her right arm strained with the effort, and she grimaced at the burning pain shifting slowly down her left hand as she finally broke free. Forcing her hands between their bodies she pushed at his chest, pouring all her rage into her hands as she shoved with every bit of strength she possessed. He looked momentarily startled as his body flew backwards across the room and struck the far wall before dropping heavily to the floor.

Anna stretched her left hand out awkwardly towards her wand, moaning in relief as it flew towards her. She pointed her wand at Draco sending a large flat net of rope to completely cover his motionless body. Rushing to the door, she murmured “Alohomora” and “Finite Incantatem” before reaching out for the door knob. Anna growled in frustration as she realized her right hand was still stuck in the sleeve of her blouse. Sinking to her knees, she set her wand on the floor and yanked brutally on her sleeve, finally freeing herself entirely of the blouse. She tried to hold back her tears as she saw how red and raw her wrists looked resting against the pale white skin of her naked thighs. Rising from the floor, she hurried over to her school robe and yanked it on. Too impatient to manage the buttons, she used a Sticking Charm to close the front.

Anna was breathing hard now. Fear and fury seemed to be warring with one another in her system. Her gaze returned to Draco’s still form. A red haze seemed to cloud her vision as she walked slowly towards him. Straightening her arm, she pointed her wand, a flurry of spells passing through her mind. She wanted to hurt him. She wanted to hurt him so badly that he would never be able to hurt her again. Never again. Lowering her wand, she cocked her head for a moment trying to remember the correct conjuring spell. With a nod, she murmured the incantation and smiled as a serrated knife appeared on the floor in front of her. Picking up the knife, she focused on the young man before her, trying to see past the red haze that obscured her vision.

“Anna!”

She heard Neville’s booming voice echo down the corridor. The knife dropped from her hand with a reverberating clang. Her eyes widened as her vision cleared. She looked from the knife to Draco and back again in utter horror. Glancing around frantically, Anna grabbed Neville’s wand from the desk Draco had deposited it upon as they entered the room and hurried out the door only to fall hard as she tripped.

“Anna!” Neville yanked her up from the floor. “Are you hurt?”

She started to pull away, and then winced as she felt her left leg crumpling under her. “I think my ankle is broken.”

“Oh, no!” Ginny exclaimed.

“Malfoy broke your leg?” Ron yelled in shock.

“No,” Anna shook her head. “I broke it just now when I fell.”

“Where is Malfoy?” Neville asked.

“Back there,” Anna gestured awkwardly behind her. “He’s…uh…out cold.”

Ginny nodded. “We finally escaped the others. Do you have any idea where Harry and Hermione are?”

She shook her head. “I don’t know.”

“We should probably head towards the forest,” Luna mentioned calmly. “It’s really the only place where a weapon could possibly be hidden from Professor Umbridge as well as a school full of students.”

Ron raised an eyebrow. “You do realize there is no weapon, right Luna?”

“Of course, but Hermione had to lead the professor somewhere, didn’t she?”

“That does actually make sense,” Neville admitted. “Look, why don’t the rest of you head towards the forest while I take Anna to Madam Pomfrey.”

The teens glanced at each other and nodded quickly in agreement before hurrying off.

“No,” Anna argued, squeezing his hand. “Harry and Hermione might really be in danger from that woman. I can make it to the hospital wing. Go with them, Neville.”

“Are you sure?” he asked.

“Of course. Go on, now!” She pressed his wand into his hand and gave him a shaky smile.

“We’ll find them,” he promised as he ran off after the others.

Anna leaned against the wall for a moment, trying to catch her breath and calm down. She hadn’t even tried to heal herself, though a broken ankle was not exactly a simple injury. After trying the “Episkey” spell twice, she admitted to herself that she really did need to see Madam Pomfrey and began to slowly make her way to the hospital wing.

xxxxxxxx

Madam Pomfrey glanced around her empty hospital wing and sighed as she turned towards her office. This school year was certainly not the worst of her many years as matron, but it was admittedly one of the most frustrating. That woman!

Professor Umbridge was an absolute menace. As though it wasn’t bad enough she had forced Albus out of the castle, now Poppy also had to worry about Minerva and Hagrid. The thought of Minerva being struck by four Stunning Spells to the chest at her age. It was a cowardly attack, completely unprovoked, and now her friend was at St. Mungo’s. She had no idea where Hagrid was, but suspected he was hiding in the forest, or in the mountains nearby. He was a good and dependable colleague, even if he was rather rough around the edges. Who would be driven from Hogwarts next, she wondered bitterly?

Poppy was by nature a no-nonsense woman. She enjoyed the order of her well-stocked hospital. She appreciated having the magical knowledge to heal all manner of minor and even some major afflictions. She was discreet enough of teenagers to never ask too many questions. She was genuinely grateful for every month that passed without Harry Potter having to be brought into her hospital wing. Sighing again, she wondered how the boy was. Poppy was rather used to seeing him more often. Between Quidditch injuries and the Triwizard Tournament, he had been a bit of a fixture in here for years. Frowning she opened the door to her office, just as the hospital wing doors were pushed open.

“Miss Henry?” She approached the young witch with an appraising eye, noting the limp immediately.

The girl glanced quickly around the empty room. “May we speak in your office, please?” Her voice wavered slightly as she spoke.

“Certainly,” Poppy replied with a reassuring smile. She led the way to her office and closed the door quietly behind them. “How may I help you?”

“I need to use your Floo to make a call to Longbottom Manor,” Miss Henry said.

She shook her head. “I’m sorry, dear. Professor Umbridge has forbidden students Floo access except in emergency situations.” She hesitated. “May I ask why you are limping?”

The girl nodded slowly. “I think my left ankle is broken.” Her voice was void of emotion as she raised her wand to the front of her school robe and murmured “Finite.” The robe fell open.

Poppy forced herself to remain professionally detached even as she pressed one hand to her lips, a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach. Miss Henry removed the robe entirely, revealing that the only clothing underneath was a bra and knickers. Angry red marks were visible against her pale skin, on her arms, her hips, her thighs. Poppy noted the red, raw skin on both wrists, evidence she had been restrained and struggling to break free. “Who did this?”

“Draco Malfoy…in an old classroom along the corridor from Professor Umbridge’s office.” She pulled the robe back on, wrapping her arms around her middle protectively. “May I please speak to Aunt Augusta?”

Poppy nodded swiftly. “I’m going to lock you in this office. I need to alert a few staff members of this incident.”

The girl shook her head frantically. “Please, don’t tell anyone!”

“Miss Henry, we will be discreet. I promise you. We must secure the boy and the classroom where this occurred. When I return, I’ll also need to examine you.”

Anna nodded and sank to her knees before the fireplace.

Poppy hurried along the corridor. With Albus and Minerva both gone, she wondered who she should seek out. Hoping a professor was still near the Great Hall since the dinner hour had recently ended, she almost sighed in relief when she saw Pomona Sprout and Filius Flitwick.

“Oh, I’m glad you’re still here. I need your assistance.” She indicated for them to follow her to the Chamber off the Great Hall.

“What is it, Poppy?” Pomona asked.

“Miss Anna Henry came to the hospital wing a short time ago,” she explained. “I have not yet fully examined her, but it is clear she has been injured and…well, she may have been raped.”

Filius made an angry noise quite unlike anything she was used to hearing from him. “Who?”

“Draco Malfoy,” the matron replied. “She said it was an old classroom not too far from Professor Umbridge’s office. I need the room identified, if possible, and sealed. Also, Mr. Malfoy needs to be confined, and Severus will have to be informed about the situation.”

“I think we can investigate first, and inform Severus later,” Pomona announced with a glance towards Filius.

He nodded in obvious agreement.

“Well, I’ll leave you to it, then. I need to return to my patient.”

Returning to her office a few minutes later, Poppy saw the young Gryffindor sitting awkwardly before the fireplace. “Is Madam Longbottom on her way to Hogwarts?”

The girl shook her head. “No, I didn’t tell her. I started to. I told her everything that happened just before, but then…I stopped. Maybe she…doesn’t really need to know. Maybe…no one needs to know.” Her eyes were pleading as she looked up from the floor.

Poppy swallowed and tried to smile reassuringly. “Well, let’s not worry about that just yet. I need to examine you. Perhaps, we should start with your leg. How was it broken?”

The next hour passed slowly. Miss Henry seemed to be almost in shock. It turned out that Mr. Malfoy had nothing to do with her broken ankle. She had apparently tripped and fallen after getting away from the boy. The rest of her injuries were slowly identified and catalogued, once Poppy convinced the girl to allow a nude examination in the privacy of her office. Helping her into a pair of pajamas, she settled Miss Henry into a bed in the hospital wing and sat next to her, as she waited for the Potion for Dreamless Sleep to take effect.

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Chapter 13: Chapter 13 Department of Mysteries

Author's Notes: Thank you to everyone who has been reading and reviewing! We are veering off increasingly into AU territory. Tremendous thanks to Arnel for her work with this chapter!


Chapter 13

Department of Mysteries

Harry watched in horror as a jet of red light hit Ginny in the face. She sank to the floor, unconscious, her fiery hair covering her face. Hermione and Luna had already been struck down, their forms as still as Ginny’s. Ron was battling the tentacles of the brain he had Summoned from a tank. The feelers wrapped around his body, tightening like a constrictor trying to suffocate its prey. Neville was the only one left standing and fighting beside him in the Department of Mysteries.

Harry had been tricked, manipulated by Voldemort, into coming to the Ministry to retrieve the prophecy he had never known existed. As Neville continued to hurl Stunning Spells at the approaching Death Eaters, Harry realized he may have led his closest friends to their deaths. How could he have believed the false vision of Sirius being tortured by Voldemort? How could he have allowed his friends to accompany him on a mission to rescue his godfather who was clearly not even here? He had to somehow lead the Death Eaters away from his friends.

Lifting the prophecy above his head where it would be easily visible, Harry ran out of the room and down a series of steep stone steps. He felt a momentary sense of relief when he realized the five Death Eaters had followed him. Perhaps his friends could still escape, could still make it out of this mess alive.

“You’re all alone now, Potter,” Lucius Malfoy announced with a smirk. “You cannot escape from us. Hand over the prophecy.”

Backing up slowly, Harry stalled. “If you let my friends leave the Ministry, I’ll give you the prophecy.”

“Do you really feel you are in the best position to bargain with us?” Lucius drawled. Gesturing to one of the others, Harry was shocked to see Neville shoved forward down the last of the stone steps. He hit the floor hard with a stifled groan, but rolled over immediately and tried to sit up. “I do believe this is the Longbottom boy.”

“Longbottom? Well, isn’t that an interesting coincidence?” Bellatrix licked her top lip menacingly as she sauntered towards Neville. “I had the very great pleasure of meeting your parents many years ago.” She pouted thoughtfully. “I’m not sure they enjoyed our acquaintance as much as I did.”

“Stay away from him!” Harry ordered.

“Give us the prophecy,” Bellatrix demanded holding out her hand.

Neville wiped blood away from his mouth. “Don’t do it, Harry!”

“Crucio!” Bellatrix spat, pointing her wand and grinning viciously.

Harry flinched as Neville screamed, his body twitching as he fell over onto his side.

“That felt good,” Bellatrix purred. “Always nice to warm up with a small dose. Now, if you don’t hand over the prophecy, we’ll see how well your friend tolerates something a bit stronger.”

Harry held out the prophecy, his attention focused on his friend who still lay shaking on the ground. Malfoy stepped forward to take the sphere just as two jets of red light struck his torso. The combined power of the spells sent him careening into the air before he dropped to the ground, unconscious, several feet away. Peering up in shock, Harry saw Lupin, Moody, Tonks, and Kingsley. Their simultaneous attack with Stunning Spells had taken out two of the five Death Eaters. Only Bellatrix, Rookwood, and Dolohov were still standing.

Slipping the prophecy into his pocket, Harry dodged the spells flying rapidly throughout the room and crawled over to Neville. “Are you okay?”

“Yes,” he muttered thickly, spitting out a mouth-full of blood. “Don’t think I can walk.” One knee was twisted at an odd angle making Harry suspect that it was broken.

“And Ron?”

Neville grimaced. “Okay, I think. I almost had the brain completely off him when I was grabbed. Ron was still conscious.”

Harry watched the duels taking place around them. The Order members were certainly holding their own, but so were the remaining Death Eaters. It seemed that no one would fall quickly or easily. They were too evenly matched. Lupin and Tonks were fighting together to overcome Bellatrix, who was clearly the strongest duelist of the group.

An errant spell struck the floor a few feet away from them, leaving a deep gouge in the stone. “We need to move!” Harry grabbed Neville around the waist and started to hoist him backwards several feet.

“Look out!” Neville shouted, grabbing Harry and forcing him to the ground.

A jet of green light flew over his head as he collided heavily with the stone floor. The sound of glass smashing was quickly replaced by the image of a pearly-white figure a few feet in front of them. Harry tried to focus as he saw the woman’s mouth moving, but with the noise of the duels being fought around them, he only caught a few words of the raspy voice before it vanished.

“Bloody hell, Harry,” Neville groaned. “Did you hear it?”

He shook his head and glanced up just as Sirius and Dumbledore ran into the room and down the steps to join the fray. The relief of seeing his godfather and Headmaster was immediate and overwhelming. They were safe. His friends were going to be alright.

The tide of the battle seemed destined to shift immediately. Dumbledore joined Kingsley in his fight with Dolohov, while Sirius leapt onto the raised stone dais in the center of the floor, immediately capturing the attention of Bellatrix.

“Well, well, cousin,” she murmured. “Come to play?”

Sirius growled as he threw a curse at his cousin. The pair exchanged spell fire so rapidly Harry could not keep track of which spells were flying from each wand.

“Surely, you can do better than that!” his godfather yelled.

Bellatrix snarled as a spell flew from her wand, catching Sirius in the chest and sending him towards the stone archway with the veil. His head struck the thick stone pillar with a sickening crunch. Harry’s eyes widened in horror as he saw blood spatter to the stone floor. His godfather fell heavily to the ground, eyes open and glassy.

The witch cackled with glee before sprinting up the stone steps and out of the room.

“Nooooo!” Harry screamed.

“Sirius!” Tonks cried, running to her cousin and dropping by his side.

A fury Harry had never felt before consumed him. His godfather was dead. Sirius was dead. Bellatrix had killed him. Her own cousin. It was all Harry’s fault.

He ran through the corridors blindly. Anger fueled him, drove him. His godfather was dead because of him, because of her, because of Voldemort, because of hate, because of fear. He had to find her. He had to kill her. He had to make her suffer for what she had done.

Bellatrix was in the Atrium of the Ministry when Harry reached her. He shot a spell blindly in her direction to make her stop, to make her face him. She whipped around and laughed, a high-pitched giggle that only intensified his fury.

“Has little Harry come to play?” she smirked. “Oh, are you upset about poor dear Sirius?”

“Crucio!” he bellowed.

Bellatrix fell to the ground and screamed. His spell had hurt her, but not caused the pain it was meant to. She quickly regained her feet, though she peered at him with more caution.

“You have to really mean it when you cast an Unforgivable Spell, Harry,” she panted. “If you don’t truly mean to cause pain, if you won’t sincerely enjoy the suffering you are causing, it won’t work very well. Perhaps you need some tuition. Crucio!”

Harry dropped to the floor, rolling quickly out of the way before regaining his feet.

“Well, aren’t you the agile one!” Bellatrix smirked. “Of course, you can’t stand against me for long. Give me the prophecy, Harry.”

He laughed. Even to his own ears, he realized it was not a sane laugh. “Really? You’re still asking for the prophecy. You don’t know it’s gone?” He grinned through the pain exploding in his head. “The prophecy smashed! Voldemort’s going to be so angry! What do you think he’ll do?”

Bellatrix’s eyes widened in terror as her master appeared, his tall thin frame advancing slowly. Voldemort’s high cold voice echoed through the Atrium. “So, Harry, did you really smash the prophecy?”

“Master, I didn’t know,” the witch desperately explained, throwing herself to Voldemort’s feet. “I was fighting the Order members. I did not hear it.”

“Silence, Bella,” he ordered. “I will deal with you and the others later. For now, it is long past time to rid myself of a small problem. Avada Kedavra!

Harry stood quietly waiting for the spell to hit him. He did not attempt to move, did not even raise his wand to resist. It took a moment for Harry to realize that the spell had not hit him, that he was not dead. A statue had suddenly appeared before him, absorbing the spell meant to kill him.

“Dumbledore,” Voldemort murmured as he turned in search of his nemesis.

“Hello, Tom,” the Headmaster spoke quietly. “The Aurors are on their way. It was not wise for you to come here.”

“Not wise!” he yelled, sending a Killing Curse towards the Headmaster. He growled when the spell missed. “You are a tired old man. I will kill you and the boy. We can see how the Aurors handle that.”

The duel that followed astounded Harry. He had never seen silent, deadly spells cast so quickly or so accurately at an opponent. It was both thrilling and terrifying, the blinding speed, the unbridled power, the unparalleled sophistication of this fight. As suddenly as it began, it appeared to be over. Voldemort disappeared, leaving only empty space where he had stood moments before.

The unexpected pain was overwhelming. A burning fire had entered Harry’s body and taken over his mind. The throbbing, aching agony swept over every part of him, until only the stinging torment remained. He didn’t realize he was screaming until his voice subsided into a rasping howl. The torture of Voldemort entering his mind, possessing him entirely, and then leaving him was intolerable. Harry shuddered violently as he realized he was still alive and that Voldemort had fled.

The sound of several voices speaking at once reached Harry’s ears as Dumbledore lifted him to a standing position. The Atrium was filling with people, some were asking questions, others simply glanced around at the destruction.

Harry felt numb, completely detached, blissfully unaware and uncaring. He swayed to the side, unable to maintain his balance, indifferent to his surroundings. A strong arm tightened around him, holding him upright. Harry stared blankly, seeing nothing but his godfather falling, the blood on the stone. Sirius is dead. You killed him. It’s all your fault. An object was thrust into his hands. He stared down at it unblinkingly. It was a piece of a statue.

“Take this Portkey. I’ll see you soon.”

Harry nodded vaguely before disappearing in a swirl of colored light and empty sound.

xxxxxx

The Headmaster’s office looked the same as it had the last time he had been here, many months ago, before Dumbledore fled Hogwarts. Harry paced the room angrily, raking his fingers through his hair in frustration. Sirius was dead because of him; his friends were injured because of him. Gritting his teeth, he realized he didn’t even know for sure who had survived the fight. Were the girls okay? The last he had seen, Ginny, Hermione, and Luna were all unconscious. Were they all alive?

Harry tried to ignore the portraits of the previous Heads of Hogwarts as they woke and attempted to engage him in conversation. He didn’t want to talk, didn’t want to think about what had happened, and about how it had all been his fault.

When Dumbledore finally appeared, many of the portraits called out in welcome.

“Thank you,” he said softly. Turning to Harry, the Headmaster paused for a moment, as though organizing his thoughts, before speaking. “First, I must tell you that your classmates are all in the hospital wing under the care of Madam Pomfrey. I spoke to her briefly, and she has assured me that none of the injuries are life-threatening. Sirius is, of course, at St. Mungo’s as his injuries are rather more severe.”

Harry’s head snapped up in disbelief. “Sirius is alive?”

Dumbledore sat in the chair behind his desk. “You may have noticed Nymphadora Tonks intervening quite quickly on her cousin’s behalf. Just in the past decade Aurors have been required to learn emergency healing techniques for use in the field. They are rather effective, particularly when implemented as rapidly as Miss Tonks managed it this evening.”

“He’s alive,” Harry breathed.

“Yes,” the Headmaster assured him. “I will not pretend that the injuries Sirius suffered are not extremely grave. What I can tell you is that he is currently receiving the best care available while being guarded by Remus, Tonks, and Moody.”

He laughed, a pained, tortured sound as tears streamed down his cheeks. “I thought he was dead.”

Dumbledore sighed. “I’m so sorry that you had to go through this tonight. I know it does not make up for my mistakes, but I must confess the knowledge I have kept from you.”

“The prophecy,” Harry murmured.

“Yes, the prophecy,” the Headmaster nodded. “It was made shortly before your birth by Professor Trelawney and stored in the Department of Mysteries all this time. Voldemort knew of the prophecy. A Death Eater overheard a small portion of it the night it was made and repeated the words to him. Voldemort has been quite desperate to hear the prophecy in its entirety since he regained his body at the cemetery last year, though he has been unwilling to go to the Ministry himself. I should have warned you that he might try to lead you to the Department of Mysteries.”

“How did he do it, sir?” Harry asked, finally sinking into a chair. “The vision I had of Sirius being tortured. It was so real.”

Professor Dumbledore shrugged. “Please understand, Harry, I don’t have all the answers you seek.” He rubbed his forehead. “Professor Snape has been rather pleased by your progress in learning Occlumency these last few months. However, he informed me a while ago that the connection you share with Voldemort is not exactly Legilimency, and therefore, Occlumency may not be enough to completely protect you from his influence. Again, I should have informed you of the possibility of false images being forced into your mind.”

Harry nodded. Professor Snape had even admitted to him that the connection between Voldemort’s mind and his own did not follow the normal rules of Legilimency. Eye contact and proximity were clearly not required. “I did try to verify Sirius’s whereabouts. I spoke with Kreacher using the Floo in Umbridge’s office, and he told me Sirius was gone.”

“Kreacher lied. Since you are not his master, he was able to lie to you quite easily. I have no doubt Sirius will be having a very important conversation with his house-elf once he is released from St. Mungo’s. Hopefully, Remus will be present to keep things from…well, from becoming too volatile,” the Headmaster murmured.

Harry barely managed to contain a snort. He couldn’t imagine Sirius doing anything Kreacher wouldn’t thoroughly deserve. The image of the severed Black house-elf heads being displayed on a wall in Grimmauld Place came to mind. Closing his eyes, he forced himself to focus on the fact that Sirius was alive, that he would be able to see his godfather again.

“Sir,” he said. “The prophecy fell. It shattered, and I didn’t hear it.”

Professor Dumbledore stood and walked over to a cabinet. He removed a shallow stone basin, carved with runes along the edge. “This is a Pensieve. Since I was the one who heard the prophecy from Professor Trelawney so long ago, I can show you the memory.” Using his wand, he slowly pulled a thin, silvery thread from his mind and deposited it into the basin. A ghostly figure soon rose from the misty depths and spoke.

“The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches…born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies…and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not…and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives…the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies…”

Harry sat in stunned silence for a moment. “What does it mean, sir?”

“It means that the only person with a chance of defeating Voldemort is a boy born at the end of July sixteen years ago to parents who had defied him three times.”

“And that’s definitely me?”

“Honestly, it could have been you, or Neville Longbottom.” The Headmaster replied. “However, we know with certainty it is you because Voldemort marked you as his equal.” He gestured to the lightning bolt looking scar on Harry’s forehead.

He shook his head. “What’s the power? I don’t have any power. The way you and Voldemort dueled at the Ministry.” He shrugged helplessly. “How can I possibly defeat him?”

“You can, and you will,” Professor Dumbledore replied. “You have a capacity to love, a heart that is so open that Voldemort fled in pain when he tried to possess you this evening. If there is one thing in all of this I am absolutely certain of, it is that you have power he neither knows nor understands. That power will give you the opportunity to defeat him in the end.”

xxxxxxx

Molly Weasley rushed ahead of her husband into the Hospital Wing of Hogwarts. “Madam Pomfrey!” she called as she pushed open the doors and hurried into the room.

“They’re all going to be fine,” the matron said firmly. “Just give me a moment to finish administering these last few potions.”

Molly nodded, tears gathering in her eyes as she looked from one bed to the other at the teenagers. She wanted to yell at them and hug them at the same time.

Arthur came up behind her and pulled her firmly to him. She sighed and relaxed into his strong arms, allowing him to finally offer the comfort she so desperately needed. Now that she was here, now that she could see her children, she could breathe again.

Madam Pomfrey approached them just as Augusta Longbottom and Xenophilius Lovegood hurried in. “All of the children are healing nicely; however, I just gave them Dreamless Sleep, so you won’t be able to talk to them for a while. Ginny, Luna, and Neville will be released once they have had a good night’s sleep and a decent meal. Ron will be staying here for a few more days. He has some deep welts on his forearms, and I’m determined to minimize the scarring as much as possible. Hermione will also be staying with me for some time. I have started her on a strict regimen of potions to heal the curse Dolohov threw at her.”

Molly hissed involuntarily at the name of the man who had murdered her brothers during the first wizarding war.

“Hermione will recover,” the matron continued, reaching out to pat her arm. “She was quite lucky.”

Molly nodded, pressing her lips together hard as she tried to regain her composure.

“Arthur,” Madam Pomfrey touched his arm briefly. “I wonder if you would take Xenophilius to the kitchens for some tea. The children will not be awake for a while, and I’m sure you gentlemen could use some refreshments while you wait.”

Molly’s glance shifted briefly from the matron to her husband. What was going on?

“Of course,” Arthur agreed readily. “Xeno, let’s go for some tea. We’re just underfoot here anyway until the children wake up. I really enjoyed your article about Harry in The Quibbler.” He put his arm around the other man and steered him towards the doors. Xeno smiled enthusiastically and launched into a story about how he came to publish the article.

“What is it, Poppy?” Molly asked quietly.

Madam Pomfrey turned to her. “I was hoping you would sit with the children, Molly, while I speak with Madam Longbottom in my office.”

“Of course,” Molly agreed, fear gripping her as the matron led Augusta into her office. The door was closed firmly behind the two women.

Molly walked slowly between the row of beds, passing each sleeping child, touching a hand, smoothing a blanket as she went. Harry was not here yet. Undoubtedly, he was still with the Headmaster in his office. Hopefully, he would be joining them shortly. The last bed in the ward was curtained off. Molly realized it must be Anna’s. She had not gone with the others to the Ministry due to a previous injury, though she had alerted Augusta and Remus with a Floo call hours ago. Remus’s quick action had helped mobilize the Order members into sending a team quickly to the Department of Mysteries. Walking around the curtain, she smiled at the sleeping girl and took a step towards her bed to straighten her blanket properly. Adjusting the covers, Molly froze at the sight of the angry, red marks on the girl’s wrists.

Author’s Notes: Disclaimer — Part of this chapter comes from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

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Chapter 14: Chapter 14 Confessions

Author's Notes: Thank you to my beta, Arnel, for her work on this chapter! Thank you to everyone who has been reading and reviewing!


Chapter 14

Confessions

Poppy exited her office as the hospital wing doors opened. Seeing the Headmaster with his arm around Harry Potter, she hurried over to the boy.

“Harry, come over to this bed,” the matron directed, guiding him efficiently to the empty bed next to Ginny’s. With a wave of her wand, a curtain appeared, allowing her to examine the boy privately.

“I’m glad you’re back at Hogwarts, Albus,” Molly said quietly.

He smiled, though his eyes were void of their usual twinkle. “It’s good to be here, though I wish the circumstances of my return were rather different.”

She nodded. “Any word from St. Mungo’s?”

“Nothing yet, though I’m sure someone will come as soon as possible to update us on Sirius’s condition.”

“They’re all lucky to be alive,” Molly murmured.

“They are indeed.”

The curtain vanished, revealing a sleeping boy with messy black hair. Poppy slipped the bottle of Dreamless Sleep back into her pocket.

“Albus, if you could please come into my office for a moment…” she began.

The hospital wing doors opened once more. Tonks hurried in, followed by Mad-Eye Moody.

“The Healers say Sirius is stable,” she announced. “He’ll be there for a couple of weeks, and he’s on a dozen potions, but they believe he’s going to be okay. Remus is staying with him.”

Poppy smiled. “Thank goodness. I always had a soft spot for that boy.”

“Spoke to Kingsley just before coming here.” Moody smirked at Albus. “Word is you’re about to be reinstated as Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot. He’s laying the groundwork to push an acquittal for Sirius through as soon as possible.”

The Headmaster nodded. “I’ll contact Amelia Bones later today. It would certainly be wonderful to have Sirius formally cleared before he leaves St. Mungo’s.”

“It’s well past time for that boy to finally be exonerated.” Poppy sighed. “Tonks, please come into my office. I suppose you had better come along as well, Alastor.”

The Aurors exchanged pointed glances as they followed the matron and Headmaster.

As the door closed behind them, Molly went to Harry’s bedside. She smoothed his dark hair back from his forehead. In all honesty, Sirius was not her favorite person, but she was relieved to hear that he was going to be okay. He deserved to have more time with his godson, and perhaps having his name finally cleared would help Sirius focus more on his responsibilities as a godfather. Looking around the full hospital wing, she struggled with her emotions. Children should not be in such danger. How could this be happening again? Losing her brothers in the first war had nearly broken Molly. If she hadn’t had her husband and children to distract her and help her focus…

The office door opened. Tonks and Moody exited first, murmuring to each other in hushed tones as they left the room. The Headmaster followed them, looking older and more tired than Molly was used to seeing him. Augusta’s face was rigid as she walked quietly towards Anna’s bed, Poppy a few feet behind her.

Standing by the girl’s bed, Augusta took her hand gently in her own. “You’re sure?” she asked quietly.

Poppy nodded. “I’m very sure. I examined her quite thoroughly. She wouldn’t tell me anything about what happened, but I know he didn’t succeed.”

“Can’t you heal her, now?” Augusta murmured.

The matron shook her head. “I’m sorry. We need to wait. Tonks will be back soon, hopefully before Anna wakes. It’s important for an Auror to see the bruises first, before we heal them.”

“Why didn’t she tell me? She Floo called and told me everything else that happened yesterday evening, including Hermione leading Umbridge and Harry away.”

Poppy shrugged. “It’s not an easy thing to tell. Many girls, and women, feel embarrassed or guilty, even though they did nothing wrong. I truly think she intended to tell you. Perhaps when she was just about to, she couldn’t quite find a way to say the words.”

Augusta nodded and looked up. Her eyes met Molly’s across the room. Holding out her hand, she whispered, “I don’t know what to say to her when she wakes up.”

Molly blinked away her tears as she walked over, taking the older woman’s hand in her own. “Just remind her that she’s safe, that you love her.”

“I never thought such a thing could happen at Hogwarts,” Augusta murmured.

The three women waited together in silence, lost in their own thoughts as they watched over the children.

xxxxx

Tonks was furious. She looked carefully around the empty classroom moving her wand slowly as she gathered evidence. The blouse and skirt were near the wall. Buttons were missing, the cloth was slightly torn on both garments. Draco’s wand was on an old desk near the door. Moody performed the Reverse Spell, revealing that the last spell cast by Draco’s wand was an Imperturbable Charm.

Gritting her teeth, she continued to move slowly about the empty classroom.

“Check out this knife,” Moody said.

She walked over to her mentor waving her wand carefully above the short, serrated knife on the floor. “It’s conjured.”

“Correct,” he replied.

Tonks frowned.

They both moved to the large flat net of rope towards the back of the room.

“Ever seen anything like that?” she asked.

“Nope. Let’s go talk to Flitwick. He managed to remove it,” Moody said.

Sighing, she followed her partner to the Ravenclaw Head of House’s office. He was clearly waiting for them.

Once they were seated and had declined tea, Mad-Eye began to question the professor. “What did you first notice when you entered the classroom last night?”

“The first thing I noticed was Mr. Malfoy lying flat on his back under a net, hanging out of his pants. I mean that quite literally,” he spat.

“So, I take it he was not wearing trousers at the time,” Moody observed.

“No, he was not,” Flitwick stated. “The boy was undressed to his undergarments.”

“And the net?”

The Charms professor leaned forward. “Quite a wonderful piece of magic. I’ve never seen anything exactly like it before, although it is similar to the old hunting nets used by the ancient Picts to catch birds.”

“You were able to move it though,” Tonks said.

“Well, of course,” he admitted. “Though it took me a few tries to shift it over. Lovely bit of magic!”

“What did Mr. Malfoy say and do after you revived him?” Moody asked.

The professor gritted his teeth. “He complained about not having…uh…finished his task…not having claimed Miss Henry. The bloody…” He breathed deeply. “Mr. Malfoy expressed disappointment that someone, he wondered if it was Mr. Potter or Mr. Weasley, managed to interrupt him before he had the opportunity to cement his family’s alliance with Miss Henry.”

“Fucking git,” Tonks whispered.

“Quite,” her former professor agreed.

Moody snorted. “Did Mr. Malfoy express any concern for Miss Henry, any belief that she may have misinterpreted his intentions?”

“The only concern he expressed was that the betrothal might not take place, that he may have lost the young lady to another.” Flitwick explained. “He was concerned about the identities of those who had shown interest in a betrothal with Miss Henry.”

“Where is Mr. Malfoy now?”

“I turned him over to Professor Snape since he’s the Head of Slytherin House.”

Moody thanked the professor for his time and led them down the stairs back towards the hospital wing. “Your turn now,” he said gruffly. “Girl’s been through too much to face me. Better you question her alone.”

“Damn it, Moody,” Tonks spat. “My cousin attacked that girl. She’s just a kid, Remus’s student!”

“And what’s Remus to you now?” Mad-Eye inquired.

She scowled. “He’s my friend.”

“Mmm, hmm.”

“Oh, shut up!” Tonks muttered.

He smirked. “I’ll go see Severus and talk to the Malfoy boy.”

Pushing open the hospital wing doors, she walked quietly towards the last bed. Augusta, Molly, and Poppy were all waiting silently. They were tense, nervous because she was there to question the girl they all wanted to protect. Sometimes she hated being an Auror.

Closing her eyes briefly, she walked up to Anna and touched her hand lightly. “Are you awake?” Tonks half expected her to lie still and quiet, pretending to be asleep.

“Yes.”

“Can I get you anything, a cup of tea, perhaps?” Tonks asked quietly.

“No, thank you.”

“Please tell me what happened between you and Draco Malfoy yesterday evening.”

“No.”

The other women shifted uncomfortably beside them.

“Anna, I know this is difficult, but in order to press charges and secure a conviction, I need to know what happened.”

“What happens if I press charges?”

“We arrest Draco Malfoy,” Tonks explained. “He goes into a holding cell at the Ministry until the case goes before the Wizengamot.”

“And, what sort of evidence is necessary for conviction?”

“You would need to provide testimony about what he did to you. Professor Flitwick would be called to provide evidence since he found Mr. Malfoy and spoke with him last night. Madam Pomfrey would discuss the medical evidence,” she said.

“What kind of sentence would he receive?” Anna asked.

“It depends upon the findings. Attempted rape is usually one year.”

“And when the accused is underage, a minor?”

“It varies, but typically the sentence is reduced.” Tonks admitted.

“So, basically, if I tell everyone what happened, Draco might spend less than a year in Azkaban and would likely be let off with a slap on the wrist because he’s a minor.”

“I know it’s not a perfect system, but if you don’t press charges, he walks away from this like it never happened.”

Anna finally looked her in the eyes. “And, if I don’t press charges, I don’t have to testify, don’t have to see my name in the newspaper, don’t have to be questioned about whether or not I led him on in some way, don’t have to have my medical records made known to the Wizengamot.”

“You’re a pure-blood witch from a respectable family. Malfoy practically confessed to Professor Flitwick. He will be convicted if we press charges.”

“I’m not pressing charges,” Anna said quietly. “He’d spend one year in Azkaban at the most and probably a lot less. He’s a minor from a wealthy, pure-blood, influential family. He’d likely be let off with a warning, house arrest, or community service. I’m not willing to sacrifice my privacy for that.”

“Anna, please…”

She shook her head, pressing her lips together in a stubborn line. “Is everyone else okay?”

“Yes, dear,” Augusta softly reassured her. “Everyone is going to be fine. Sirius was the worst injured and is in St. Mungo’s, but he is expected to recover.”

“I’m glad,” she murmured. “May I have some bruise paste, please?”

“Of course,” Poppy forced a smile. “Go ahead and undress, and I’ll start applying it. We’ll wrap your wrists in bandages soaked with Murtlap essence as well.”

xxxxxx

Tonks and Moody walked into Sirius’s room at St. Mungo’s. One of the perks of being a convicted mass murderer and former inmate of Azkaban prison was a private room at the hospital. Remus glanced up tiredly from his chair and forced a smile. “He’s holding his own.”

“Course he is,” Moody growled. “Always was a tough kid. Go home to the Manor and get some sleep. You look like you need it.”

Remus stood and stretched. “Thank you. I’ll be back in a few hours.”

“Don’t come back ‘til morning. I’m not going into work until nine, and you two have things to discuss.” He gestured vaguely between Tonks and Remus before enlarging the chair Remus had vacated and relaxing into the cushions.

Tonks and Remus Apparated to the grounds of Longbottom Manor, walking along the path towards the house.

“How are the kids?” Remus asked.

“They’ll all be fine. Ron has some scarring on his arms. Poppy plans to keep him for a few more days. Hermione is going to have a slow recovery and will be taking a lot of potions for a while, but I think Poppy plans to release the others tomorrow.”

Remus rubbed his head tiredly. “I still can’t believe Harry ran after Bellatrix like that. He knows Sirius is going to make it, right?”

“Yeah, he knows. Poppy says he’s fine, and unlike when he says it, she actually means it.”

He chuckled.

“Remus, sit down,” Tonks said quietly indicating the stone bench under a nearby tree. “Augusta asked me to tell you about Anna.”

“What about her?” he murmured sinking onto the bench. “Anna mentioned she wasn’t with the others because she fell and hurt her ankle.”

She nodded. “That’s true.” Tonks sat beside him, straddling the bench so she was facing him. “Remus, let me just say this quickly, okay, and then you can ask questions.”

“Alright.”

“Draco Malfoy was part of the group that caught the kids using Professor Umbridge’s Floo. He separated Anna from the others and took her to an empty classroom. He…he tried to force himself on her. She stopped him. She won’t tell anyone exactly what happened, and she’s refusing to press charges.”

Remus stood up and walked over to the tree. He was breathing heavily and his hands appeared to be shaking. “Are you telling me that Draco tried to rape Anna?”

“Yes,” she whispered.

“Why isn’t she pressing charges?”

“She doesn’t want the publicity, doesn’t want everyone to know, but Augusta told me to tell you. Molly knows as well. She was in the hospital wing at the time. Anna didn’t seem to mind her hearing our conversation.”

“And the Malfoy boy?”

“He’s gone,” Tonks said. “Narcissa came to Hogwarts. She was both absolutely livid and quite frightened. For fuck’s sake, she was actually trembling. It was…odd.” Tonks bit her lip as she replayed the scene between mother and son in her mind. “First, she just asked him what he was thinking, and how could he do such a thing. She sounded completely appalled that he would try to force himself on the ‘pure-blood, underage heiress’ they were trying to secure a betrothal with. Narcissa seemed a bit relieved when I told her Anna was not pressing charges, but not as relieved as she should have been. She kept saying things like ‘do you realize what you’ve done?’ and ‘what if he finds out?’ and then, she told Draco to pack all his belongings. She said they were going to stay with friends in Finland.”

“They left the country?” Remus turned back to stare at her.

“Yeah,” she nodded. “I have a friend in the International Portkey Office. They left about an hour ago.”

“Who could she be afraid of? I mean…she wasn’t referring to Lucius, was she?”

“Mad-Eye told her Lucius was caught at the Ministry and was about to be sent to Azkaban. Narcissa was clearly upset by the news, but…” she shrugged. “I don’t know who Narcissa is afraid of, but I know who she should be afraid of.”

“Are you referring to me, because I fully admit, I’d like to rip the kid’s fucking head off,” Remus growled.

Tonks raised an eyebrow. She had rarely seen Remus look like the werewolf he was. He radiated power, anger, and strength. The mild-mannered tutor was gone, replaced by a man who had the potential to be extremely dangerous. “I was actually thinking of Charlie Weasley. I told you when the betrothal offer came in that Charlie must be very serious about her. We were in school together, and…he was fun, smart, easy-going, a great guy. He was also intense, driven, and passionate when he cared about something.”

Remus blew out a breath. He looked as though he was determined to regain control of his wilder instincts. “Tell me everything you know, please.”

“I don’t know much. Anna wouldn’t tell me anything.” She hesitated. “I’m curious though, do you think Anna is capable of wandless magic?”

He glanced over in surprise. “I’ve never seen her perform any wandless magic. She’s only sixteen. I mean I know some wizards can manage it. We’ve all seen Albus perform wandless magic, and…I suspect Harry wandlessly cast the Wand-Lighting Spell this past summer. Why are you asking?”

“Officially, there is no investigation since Anna refuses to press charges, but Mad-Eye and I already collected some evidence. Draco was clearly Stunned. He thinks one of the boys did it because he had her wand on a desk by the door, but none of the other boys entered that room.”

“She must have taken his wand.”

Tonks shook her head. “The last spell cast by Draco’s wand was the Imperturbable Charm on the door.”

Remus rubbed his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. “Anna must have been terrified. If a witch is scared enough…”

“She seems to have cast a pretty interesting version of an Incarcerous Spell as well. Flitwick was impressed. Took him a few tries to remove it. We think she also conjured a small, serrated knife.”

“Did she use it?” he inquired.

“Nope, Draco didn’t have a mark on him. According to Flitwick, his…uh…member was hanging out, so Mad-Eye thinks she may have been about to…cut it.” Tonks felt her cheeks becoming warm as she stumbled over the words.

“Draco was that close to…” Remus gestured awkwardly as she nodded. “Anna should have used the knife. He deserved it.”

xxxxx

As the days passed, Harry tried to shake himself out of the fog clouding his mind. An update from St. Mungo’s came almost daily. Sirius’s condition was slowly, but steadily improving. The Wizengamot was scheduled to meet in a few days. Harry had been assured that an acquittal was almost guaranteed. His godfather would soon be a free man. At least some good came of this mess, he thought bitterly. He felt guilty every time he visited Ron and Hermione in the hospital wing. His other classmates had been released fairly quickly by Madam Pomfrey, but Ron and Hermione were still undergoing treatment for the injuries sustained at the Ministry.

Then, there was the prophecy. The words kept floating through his mind. ‘Neither can live while the other survives. He will have power the Dark Lord knows not.’ Professor Dumbledore was convinced Harry’s power was love, but the Headmaster didn’t know. He wasn’t aware of what Harry had done.

Walking into the hospital wing, he stopped and grinned at the sight before him. Ron was helping Hermione tie her shoes, insisting that Madam Pomfrey didn’t want her to bend over too much yet. They were finally being released from the hospital wing.

“I’m perfectly capable of tying my own shoes, Ronald.”

“There’s nothing wrong with accepting a bit of help once in a while, Hermione.”

Neville and Ginny were both smirking. Luna was staring dreamily at something near the window. Anna looked as though she was trying to smile, but wasn’t quite managing it. Harry frowned. She’d been acting oddly since that night, but so was he, so he certainly shouldn’t be judging her.

“Let’s go for a walk,” Hermione suggested. “I want to be outside and feel the sun on my face.”

“We could go sit by the lake,” Ginny agreed.

They found an isolated spot and sprawled on the grass. Everyone was quiet for a while, enjoying the warmth of the June sun. The slight breeze causing ripples on the surface of the lake.

Harry looked around at his friends. He suddenly felt that he had to say it, had to confess to someone.

“There’s something I want to tell you all,” he began slowly.

Everyone turned to look at him.

“What is it, Harry?” Ginny asked.

“When I told you all about running after Bellatrix and about Voldemort appearing in the Ministry Atrium, I…I left something out.” He rubbed his hands on his jeans. “I was just…so angry. I thought Sirius was dead, and I wanted…I wanted to hurt Bellatrix. I wanted to kill her.”

“I think we can all understand that, Harry,” Neville said quietly. “The things she said about my parents. What she did to them all those years ago. I don’t mind admitting I think Azkaban is too good for someone like her.”

Harry locked his gaze on Neville. “I used the Cruciatus Curse on her.”

Hermione gasped beside him. He didn’t look her way but remained focused on Neville. If anyone would understand, if anyone could forgive him, it was Neville.

“Good.” Neville nodded. “She deserves to feel the kind of pain she inflicts on others.”

“No, it is not good. How can you say that?” Hermione demanded. “The use of an Unforgivable Curse is…well, it’s illegal to start with!”

“Did you enjoy it, Harry?” Anna asked quietly. “I mean…are you glad you did it?”

“Not really.” Harry shrugged. “I guess that’s why it didn’t work very well. I mean it did hurt her, but not like when she casts the spell. Bellatrix told me herself that I didn’t want to hurt her enough, didn’t enjoy the idea of causing her pain enough, but…I still did it. I cast an Unforgivable. I’ve never felt that way before, never….” He shook his head, gripping his knees tightly. “Do…Do you think I’m…like Voldemort? Sometimes I feel like there is this…darkness inside of me just waiting to come out.”

Ginny grabbed his hand tightly in her own, drawing his attention to her. “You are nothing like Tom Riddle. He is not capable of kindness, decency…of having true friends. You acted out of love for Sirius. I’m not saying using that spell was the right thing to do, but you were angry because you thought your godfather was dead. You had every reason to be furious.”

“Ginny’s right,” Anna agreed. “Voldemort hurts people just to hurt them. Just because he can and he likes it. He kills people for no reason at all. You were trying to hurt Bellatrix because she hurt you and almost killed someone you love. I’m not about to judge you for seeking revenge.”

There were murmurs of agreement from his friends, and Hermione reached over to pat his knee. Harry almost sighed with relief. Without thinking about it first, he pulled Ginny closer to him, enjoying the warmth of her pressed against his side.

“My turn to confess I guess,” Anna began softly. “I’m going to say this really fast.”

She took a deep breath and reached out for Neville’s hand. He looked at her curiously, but waited for her to continue.

“When Draco took me away to question me, he locked us in a classroom. First, he just asked me what was going on, but then, he tried to make me promise to become betrothed to him. I refused, and he…he…it happened so fast.” She blinked rapidly, her breathing becoming shallow.

“Oh, fuck,” Ron murmured under his breath. If Hermione heard him, for once she didn’t bother to correct his language.

“I fought back. I was so scared when he tore my clothes off, and Draco was undressing himself so calmly, like it was all normal or something. I lost it completely. I’m not even sure exactly how…but, I conjured a knife and…I wanted to hurt him. I wanted to cut it.” Anna wiped at her eyes with a shaking hand.

Harry flinched involuntarily at her words, realizing what she was saying and what she meant.

“Then, I heard you, Neville. I heard you calling for me. I dropped the knife and ran out the door. I can’t believe I tripped and broke my ankle. I really am ridiculously clumsy sometimes.” She tried to laugh.

Neville pulled her firmly into his arms. “Don’t you dare feel guilty, Anna. No one in their right mind would blame you for anything you did to him. You probably would have done the world a favor had you permanently ended any chances of him ever reproducing.”

“Where is Draco, now?” Ron asked.

“Finland. His mother took him away.”

“He’d better stay away,” Harry glowered darkly.

Back to index


Chapter 15: Chapter 15 Horcruxes

Author's Notes: Thank you, Arnel, for your beta work on this chapter, and thank you to everyone who has reviewed this story! I truly appreciate it!!!


Chapter 15

Horcruxes

The shot glass shattered in Charlie’s hand. Pieces embedding themselves into his palm as liquor and blood dripped onto the table beneath his clenched fist. Bill glanced around uneasily, wishing they weren’t in a Muggle bar. At least they were tucked away in a corner of the dimly-lit establishment.

“How is Anna doing, now?” Charlie asked quietly.

“From what Mum and Tonks have said, she’s managing. The kids will all be going home tomorrow on the Hogwarts Express. Knowing Remus and Augusta, I’m sure they’ll keep her and Neville close for a while,” Bill gestured towards the clenched fist resting on the table. “Are you planning on doing anything about your hand?”

“Hmm.” Charlie looked down at his bloody palm with a frown before quickly pulling out the glass shards and pressing a wadded-up napkin against his hand. “And Sirius? You said he’s at St. Mungo’s?”

He nodded. “Sirius cracked his skull in the fight, but he’s healing remarkably well. Remus thinks he’ll be released in a few days.”

Charlie picked up the bottle of Scotch they’d ordered when they arrived and took a long swallow. “Where’s Malfoy?”

“Lucius Malfoy is in Azkaban. Narcissa took Draco to Finland apparently.”

“Where in Finland? Helsinki? Tampere? Ostrobothnia?”

“I have no idea, and even if I did, I wouldn’t tell you,” Bill said softly.

Charlie took another swig from the bottle. “If anyone deserves an unfortunate accident, it’s that kid.”

“I’m not disagreeing with you, and if he ever shows up near Anna again, you’ll probably have a werewolf and a few others ready to help with that accident. But for now, you’re better off letting it go.”

Charlie set the bottle down with a sigh. “Do you think they’d let me see Anna?”

“Not now,” Bill murmured. “You were planning on coming the last week of July. Stick to that. Hopefully, you’ll be able to see her then, and before you ask, as far as I know there has been no discussion about the betrothal letters.” He took another sip of his drink as the waitress came with their food. The fact that she cleared the broken glass off the table without comment and quickly brought over another shot glass was mute testimony of the bar’s usual clientele.

They ate in silence for a few minutes, absently observing the other patrons in the crowded bar. “So, tell me about you and Fleur. You’ve been dating almost a year, right?”

“Yeah, it’ll be a year next month.” Bill relaxed for the first time since they sat down. “Actually, I wanted to tell you that I asked her to marry me a couple of weeks ago. She agreed, and we’re planning a wedding for next summer. I’d like you to be the best man.”

“Wow! Seriously?” Charlie grinned. “Congratulations! I’d be honored to stand up with you. Now we have something to drink to.”

xxxxx

“So, how does it feel?” Remus asked. “Walking out of St. Mungo’s a free man?”

Sirius laughed. “Positively brilliant! I’m still amazed the acquittal went through that fast. The Wizengamot is not exactly known for quick action to rectify past mistakes.”

“That’s the truth,” Tonks said. “Listen, if you’re not ready to return to Grimmauld Place yet, Mum would be happy to put you up for a few days.”

“Andromeda was wonderful to visit me yesterday, and I definitely want to spend more time with her soon, but I need to go home and deal with my house-elf.”

Remus and Tonks exchanged a concerned glance.

“Augusta wants you to visit Longbottom Manor. Why don’t we go directly there?” Remus suggested. A raised eyebrow was the only response. “I understand you being upset with Kreacher, but…”

“If you’re about to tell me not to chop off his head and mount it on the wall, save your breath,” his friend snapped viciously.

Silently the trio entered Grimmauld Place. Remus sighed in resignation when the house-elf responded immediately to his master’s summons. This was bound to become ugly.

“Master has come home. My poor Mistress. Having a blood traitor son. Blew you off the family tapestry for the shame of having such a son.”

“Enough!” Sirius roared, grabbing the elf around the neck. “Because of you, my godson and a bunch of other kids almost died. We all could have died at the Ministry, and for what? For the pure-blood nonsense my mother always spouted, for Voldemort and his followers.” He shook the elf viciously. “You do realize my brother, Regulus, the one you always liked, was killed by those Death Eater fools!”

Kreacher’s eyes widened alarmingly, and Remus was about to intervene when the house-elf spoke. “Master Regulus wasn’t killed by Death Eaters.”

“Well, if he wasn’t killed by them, he was killed by Voldemort himself!” Sirius spat, releasing the elf with a disgusted glare.

“Master knows nothing. Master is the nasty swine who broke his mother’s heart.”

“Right,” Sirius yelled. “Of course! I’m the horrible son of the family because I was Sorted into Gryffindor instead of Slytherin like every other Black. Well, I don’t know how you think I broke my mother’s heart since I assure you she didn’t have a heart! And, if you somehow know anything about who killed my brother and why, I order you to tell me now!”

Kreacher broke down into tragic sobs as he told of how Regulus had volunteered the house-elf’s services to the Dark Lord for a special mission. He divulged how he had been taken to a cave by the ocean to test the defenses surrounding a magical locket. As the story unfolded, Sirius’s face changed from one of anger to one of clear astonishment.

“Regulus told you to take him to the cave?” he asked.

The house-elf nodded miserably. “Master Regulus ordered me to leave with the locket and to destroy it. The Inferi were coming out of the lake and surrounding us. Kreacher could not escape with Master, could not help him.” Tears trickled down his face.

“My brother died trying to thwart Voldemort,” Sirius murmured. “What happened to the locket? Where is it?”

“Kreacher could not destroy it. Kreacher tried so many times, so many different ways, but it could not be broken.” He paused to glare at Sirius. “When Master and the blood traitor Weasleys were cleaning the drawing room, the locket was almost thrown out.”

Sirius frowned thoughtfully. “The locket we couldn’t open. I remember it. Was it actually thrown away, or is it still in the house?” He bent down and stared the elf in the eyes. “Kreacher, if you can find the locket, bring it to me. I will find a way to destroy it!” Sirius declared.

The house-elf looked startled but quickly left to do his master’s bidding.

“What do you think the locket is?” Remus asked.

Sirius shrugged. “Dark magic of some kind. If it was important to Voldemort and my brother was willing to die to destroy the thing, we need to learn what it is.”

xxxxx

Remus and Sirius strode into the Headmaster’s office at Hogwarts. He was sitting behind his desk with a messy array of parchment beside a pot of tea.

“Ah, welcome,” Albus greeted them. “Your timing is excellent as it offers me an excuse to put off this rather tedious paperwork for a bit longer. Would you like some tea?” He gestured towards the chairs before him.

“No, thank you,” Remus replied as they settled into the chairs. “I hope you received our message.”

“I did indeed. It sounded rather urgent. What is it you wished to show me?”

Sirius pulled the heavy gold pendant from his pocket. Numerous small green stones created an ornate S on the front of the large locket.

Albus’s eyes widened in surprise. “Was that Salazar Slytherin’s?”

“I don’t know,” Sirius admitted. “According to Kreacher, it was extremely important to Voldemort during the first wizarding war. My brother stole this locket from a cave and ordered our house-elf to destroy it. Kreacher was unable to do so.” He hesitated. “I can feel the evil in this thing. It’s almost pulsing like it’s alive.”

The Headmaster took the locket from his hand and examined it closely. “This makes three,” he murmured to himself. “How many more?”

“Three of what exactly?” Remus asked, leaning forward.

The older man’s head shot up. “I tend to forget how exceptional your hearing is.” His gaze was thoughtful. “I had a bit of an accident yesterday.” Albus held up his hand. It was blackened and shriveled up, looking disturbingly as though the flesh had been burned away.

“That looks like rather more than a simple accident,” Sirius observed quietly. “It has the appearance of a Dark spell. I certainly hope it wasn’t a fatal one.”

The Headmaster paused a moment too long.

“No!” Remus gasped. “How did it happen? Have you had it examined by an expert? Perhaps the Dark Magic can still be contained.”

“Calm yourself, please.” Albus smiled briefly at his former students and lowered his charred hand to his desk. “You are quite correct of course, Sirius. It was Dark magic. I succumbed to a very foolish temptation. My need for information outweighed all sense of reasonable precaution. I seem to be making a number of rather significant mistakes lately.” He stared at his hand for a moment. “The spell has been contained, but naturally the damage has been done and cannot be stopped from progressing.”

“How long do you have?” Sirius asked.

“A year,” he replied. “Perhaps a bit more, perhaps less. It is done now, and we must move forward.”

Albus examined the locket thoughtfully for a time before sighing in apparent resignation. “I have not told anyone what I am about to tell you, but I suddenly feel rather compelled to share this burden. Sirius, what do you believe this is?” He held up the locket. The sunlight from the window reflected off the object.

A muscle twitched in his jaw as the old Marauder considered vocalizing the insane thought that had entered his brain from the moment Kreacher handed him the cursed object. “I’m concerned that it may be a Horcrux.”

The Headmaster nodded solemnly. “I wondered if a member of the House of Black would have knowledge of such things.”

“What is a Horcrux?” Remus inquired.

“My understanding of it is limited.” Sirius admitted. “However, I believe it is an object that somehow holds a piece of a wizard’s soul, allowing him to achieve a type of immortality.”

Albus nodded. “That is correct. I am unfortunately quite certain that Voldemort has made multiple Horcruxes. Harry destroyed the first years ago, the diary that forced Miss Weasley to open the Chamber of Secrets. I destroyed another yesterday.” He held up a ring. “This belonged to Voldemort’s grandfather, a wizard by the name of Marvolo Gaunt. And, now you have brought me what I am certain is a third.”

Remus leapt from his chair to pace the room. “How is this possible? How are Horcruxes even made?”

“They are made from the act of murder, from tearing one’s soul, destroying the essence of one’s humanity,” the Headmaster explained. “Of course, for the wizard cruel enough and desperate enough to perform such an abomination, the soul is not truly valued, only immortality. Our problem is that Voldemort cannot actually die as long as a Horcrux exists.”

Sirius rubbed his eyes tiredly. “How are Horcruxes destroyed?”

“They are not easily defeated, but it can be done. Harry eliminated the power of the diary by driving a Basilisk fang into it. I was able to destroy the ring with Fiendfyre,” Albus paused thoughtfully as he attempted to pry open the locket. “Every Horcrux has measures of protection to make it difficult for them to be found and neutralized. I will need to spend some time working on how to exterminate the piece of Voldemort’s soul currently residing in this, particularly since I fear it will have to be opened first.”

Remus nodded. “If you need us to assist in any way, research perhaps, we would certainly like to help.”

“I will keep you informed of my progress,” Albus smiled. “Thank you for bringing this to me. I’m beginning to realize that while secrecy is of vital importance in our efforts, sharing information with a select few is perhaps even more valuable to our cause. I do ask that you refrain from mentioning the specifics of what we have discussed to anyone. We certainly don’t want Voldemort to learn that we are making strides towards his ultimate destruction.”

“Agreed,” Sirius replied. “At least for now, no one else needs to know about this. While I’m here, I wanted to inform you that I will be collecting Harry from his aunt’s house tomorrow morning.”

“Tomorrow! He’s only been home for a few days.”

“Nevertheless, I am moving him to Grimmauld Place tomorrow. He is my godson and now that I have finally been exonerated by the Wizengamot, I have full legal guardianship over Harry. He will live with me.”

“Sirius,” the Headmaster sighed. “Please understand, the blood wards protecting Harry at his aunt’s house cannot possibly hold with such a short stay. He must live there for a longer period of time, at least another week.”

He shook his head. “I won’t leave him there for another day. Harry has never said anything directly, but Fred and George told me some rather disturbing facts during their stay at Grimmauld Place over the Christmas holidays. My home is under a Fidelius Charm. Since it is secure enough for the Order to use as its Headquarters, I am confident it is secure enough for my godson.”

“What sort of disturbing facts?” Albus asked.

“The twins said that Harry’s bedroom had bars on the window when they went to rescue him just before his second year at Hogwarts. They had to remove all of his school supplies from a locked cupboard under the stairs of the house.” Sirius exhaled slowly. “Fred and George told me they didn’t really put it together in their minds at the time, but later they realized Harry was being severely neglected, perhaps even abused, by his relatives.”

The Headmaster shook his head. “I don’t believe that would be possible. Not with all of the wards and other protections surrounding the house.” He gestured towards half a dozen silver instruments on a shelf in his office. “I would have been alerted if Harry were harmed.”

Remus frowned. “These are all magical instruments, to detect magical problems. If Harry was deprived of food for a couple of days, or physically injured by a fist rather than a wand, would these actually alert you?”

Albus stared out the window. He appeared troubled by the possibility that Harry had been overtly mistreated by his relatives. “Please keep me informed of…anything I need to be informed of.”

xxxxxxx

“How are you, my dear?” Augusta asked as she walked into the garden room of Longbottom Manor.

“I’m fine, thank you,” Anna replied, closing her book to give her aunt her full attention as she sat up properly on the sofa. “Will Remus be starting our summer lessons soon?”

Augusta sat in the chair across from her. “Yes. He is rather preoccupied with Sirius at the moment, but I’m sure you’ll be starting lessons in another day or two. Harry may even be joining you and Neville periodically.”

“That would be great!” Neville piped up from his spot on the floor. “We normally don’t have the chance to see Harry over the summer.”

Augusta frowned. “What are you doing on the floor? I thought you’d be in the greenhouse.”

Neville moved to sit next to Anna on the sofa. “I think we should probably discuss the betrothal letters this morning.”

Augusta raised an eyebrow at her grandson. He really was growing up to be a wonderful young man, even when he was attempting to challenge her authority. “I have them here.” She handed the four letters over to the teenagers. “I’ve written a few responses to Narcissa Malfoy in the past week, but have burnt them all due to…well, unfortunate language shall we say.”

“At least we all agree that we are definitely rejecting the option of a betrothal agreement with the Malfoy family,” Neville proclaimed.

“Glad to hear it,” Remus remarked as he entered the room and settled into a wingback chair.

Augusta closed her eyes in exasperation. She had wanted to have a private conversation with Anna about the betrothals, yet somehow both of the men of the house were present for it. “Well, what are your thoughts about the other three?”

“I think we can all agree to a ‘no’ for Zabini, right, Anna?” Neville questioned.

She nodded.

“So, that leaves Ernie Macmillan and Charlie Weasley.” Augusta smiled. “They are both fine young men from good families. I’ve been told Ernie is a capable student, and of course, as the Macmillan heir he has excellent prospects. Charlie is well-established in his career and has already requested a transfer to one of the British dragon reserves.”

Anna sat still and nodded silently, her hands twisting in her lap as she chewed her bottom lip. Neville glanced towards her and then covered her hands with his own. “Let’s decline all of the betrothal offers.”

Augusta pressed her lips together and tried not to glare at her grandson. “That is far easier said than done. For a pure-blood witch to receive four offers and refuse them all? It would practically preclude her from making a proper match in the future.” She sighed. “I know this is difficult, especially after what the Malfoy boy tried to do.”

“Why are we not saying it?” Neville demanded. “He almost raped Anna because he thought he could! He thought he had the right! He thought it would force us into agreeing to a marriage between them! This is exactly where all of this pure-blood betrothal crap leads to!”

“Not every pure-blood tradition is abhorrent, Neville!” His grandmother insisted. “I was betrothed to marry your grandfather, and I loved him dearly until the day he died. Your parents were betrothed before their marriage. I assure you they were very happy! Anna has two excellent offers, and it would be very foolish indeed to not seriously consider accepting one of them.”

“How soon do I have to decide?” Anna asked.

Augusta examined the girl carefully. “We need to make a decision by the first of August to allow me enough time to write the proper responses to inform the families involved. I understand that this is very difficult, but I would like to sincerely encourage you to consider your options carefully.”

“What do you think I should do?”

“I would like to see you enter into a betrothal agreement with Ernie or Charlie. Either young man would be a wonderful choice. You could enter into a betrothal contract this summer and have the next two years to become better acquainted, in person if you choose Ernie or by letter if you choose Charlie. Typically, weddings take place the year after schooling is completed, so you have a great deal of time to develop the relationship.”

Anna nodded and stood up. “I think I’ll take a walk in the garden. Please, excuse me.”

“I’ll join you,” Neville said, taking her hand as they left the room.

Augusta rubbed her temples wearily. “Go ahead and say it, Remus. I know you must have an opinion.”

“I think you’re quite correct to encourage Anna to consider the offers. Dismissing them all out of anger or fear because of Draco Malfoy would be rather short-sighted.” He shifted in his chair. “Having said that, I can’t help but wonder if her father would approve of her being betrothed to marry at such a young age.”

“Andrew may have been a Squib, but he was raised by magical parents and had a great deal of respect for wizarding tradition.”

“And, what of her grandmother, Katherine? Didn’t she flee Britain to escape her own betrothal after finishing her education at Hogwarts?”

“My husband always thought that was the reason,” Augusta admitted. “Personally, I never believed it. Katherine was very fond of her fiancÚ. He was a couple of years older so they were unable to see each other much during the school year.” A small smile played at her lips. “I actually walked in on a rather private moment between the two during the Christmas holidays of her seventh year. They weren’t doing anything too scandalous, but it was abundantly obvious they were enjoying their time together.”

Remus frowned. “So why do you think Katherine left?”

“I honestly don’t know what happened. The note Katherine left for us was apologetic but revealed nothing. Other than a Christmas card, we didn’t hear from her for almost a year. At that point, she announced her recent marriage to an American Healer and a while later the birth of her daughter.” She sighed. “I regret that we didn’t communicate beyond a few letters each year and the occasional photograph as the children grew.”

“Sounds like a mystery that will never be solved,” Remus remarked as he stood up. “I’ll go find the children. Dueling practice may be a worthwhile stress reliever for our first lesson of the summer.”

Back to index


Chapter 16: Chapter 16 Amortentia

Author's Notes: With tremendous thanks to Arnel!


Chapter 16

Amortentia

Harry stumbled as he exited the Floo into Longbottom Manor.

Neville grabbed his arm and helped steady him. “How are you, Harry?”

“Well, thanks,” he said. “Just wish I could get the hang of magical transport.”

“You’re brilliant on a broom!”

“Yeah, but I have trouble with the Floo Network. I generally fall over when I have to take a Portkey.” Harry shook his head. “Yesterday, I Apparated for the first time with Sirius, Side-Along of course. I thought I was about to be squeezed to death. The pressure was unbelievable!”

“You did fine!” Sirius assured him as he brushed some soot off his clothes. At his godson’s raised eyebrow, he added. “Not vomiting after the first Apparition is a definite accomplishment.”

Remus chuckled. “It’s about the time I normally start lessons. Have you had breakfast?”

Harry nodded. “Kreacher made us breakfast this morning. He’s changed quite a bit.”

“That’s an understatement! The house is cleaner than it was when my mother was still alive,” Sirius added. “There are still several rooms that need to be completely cleared out, but it’s amazing the work a house-elf can accomplish when he’s cooperating.”

“Hi, Harry,” Anna entered the room and gave him a quick hug before turning to his godfather. “Hello, Sirius. I’m glad you were able to come today. Aunt Augusta is off on an errand, but she’ll be home in time for lunch.”

“Sounds great! So, what are you two working on today?” Sirius asked.

“I’d like to practice a potion,” Anna said.

Neville grimaced slightly. “Maybe we could each do what we want this morning. I really need to spend some time in the greenhouse.”

Remus nodded. “Alright, you can work separately on Potions and Herbology this morning. After lunch, we will work together on spell casting and dueling practice. Harry, which subject would you like to work on this morning?”

“I probably should work on Potions,” he admitted.

“Why don’t I make myself useful and go along with these two, and you can work with Neville in the greenhouse?” Sirius suggested.

The others readily agreed.

Anna led Harry and Sirius to the Potions Lab at Longbottom Manor. It was a small outbuilding close to the house with a main room for brewing, a storage cupboard, and a small bathroom. “So, what potion are we working on today?” Harry asked.

“I’m going to try to brew Amortentia,” Anna murmured.

Harry glanced at his godfather and watched his face morph from a smirk into a frown within seconds. “What’s that?”

She bit her lip. “It’s the most powerful love potion in the world. According to Advanced Potion-Making, it smells differently to each person according to what attracts them the most. The potion is only dangerous if one drinks it. Smelling the potion is perfectly safe.”

“Are you sure you should be brewing that potion, Anna?” Sirius’s gaze was fixed upon her.

“No, I’m not sure of much lately.” She set her book on the table and opened it to the page she had bookmarked earlier that morning. “But I only have about a month before I have to make one of the most important decisions of my life. Merlin knows I need all of the help I can get!” Anna’s voice cracked, and she fled to the storage cupboard to gather the supplies for the potion.

“She’s having a really hard time. Should one of us go and talk to Remus?” Harry whispered.

Sirius shook his head. “Draco took away her sense of power and her ability to control what was happening to her own body. If this helps her feel more empowered, she should absolutely do it. The best thing we can do is be quietly supportive.” He raked a hand through his hair. “Besides Amortentia is one of the potions studied for N.E.W.T.s.”

Anna returned from the storage cupboard with a wicker basket full of ingredients.

Harry turned his attention to the copy of Advanced Potion-Making on the table. “Doesn’t look as though your grandmother made any corrections to this potion.”

“No,” she agreed. “Just the notation about it often being part of the written portion of the N.E.W.T.s.”

Anna and Harry were soon following the rather complicated instructions from the text. Sirius looked on silently. The rose thorns and peppermint created a fresh, pleasant fragrance that permeated the room. Once the powdered moonstone and pearl dust were added, the potion took on the mother-of-pearl sheen described by the book. After a few more stirs, steam began to rise in spirals. The teens began to clean up their work stations as they waited the requisite thirty minutes for the potion to reach full potency.

A perfunctory knock sounded on the door, and Remus poked his head in. “Safe to come in? It’s almost time for lunch.”

“Yes, they just finished brewing Amortentia,” Sirius replied. “I think the potion is almost ready.”

“Isn’t that a love potion?” Neville asked.

Sirius nodded. “It is, and we’ll be disposing of it properly after you all have the opportunity to smell the fumes.”

“Why would we want to smell them?” Neville approached the cauldrons cautiously.

“Amortentia smells differently to each person, depending upon what attracts them most.” Remus glanced at Sirius as they all surrounded the potions.

Harry and Anna leaned over the spiraling steam. The scent was intoxicating, pulling him in, warming his blood. He closed his eyes as he tried to separate and identify the heady concoction.

“What do you smell, Harry?” Sirius murmured.

“Treacle tart…a broomstick handle…something flowery,” he leaned forward, inhaling slowly as he tried to specifically identify that last scent. It was making him feel sweaty, and he longed to put his entire face into that flowery something. With a sharp tug, his godfather pulled him away from the fumes. The heady scent remained in his nostrils but was less potent at this distance.

“Anna,” Remus said.

Harry glanced over to see that his friend was breathing deeply. Her eyes were closed, and she had a relaxed expression on her face.

“I smell…whiskey…and leather, perhaps? There’s a warm, outdoor scent. I can’t quite identify it, but it’s very…” she moaned softly.

Remus took her arm and pulled her away from the potion. “I think that’s enough, Anna. Did you want to smell it, Neville?”

“No, thanks. I’m not continuing with Potions anyways, and Harry and Anna both look a bit odd.”

Harry gave his friend a slightly disgruntled look as his godfather Vanished the Amortentia from the cauldrons. Glancing over at Anna, he had to admit she had a slightly flushed, dazed look about her.

“Anyways, Anna,” Neville continued. “One of the scents must have been chocolate. The only time you ever moan like that is when you’re eating good quality dark chocolate.”

xxxxxx

“Damn it, Sirius! Why’d you let her brew Amortentia of all things? The sixth grade Potions curriculum has plenty of other choices.”

Sirius gave his friend a side long glance. He’d expected something like this from the moment Remus told the teens to go ahead in and clean up for lunch. “It was her idea. I didn’t suggest it. Anna’s in a delicate place right now. If making that potion allowed her to feel like she has more knowledge, more control over her situation, I don’t think we should try to prevent that.”

“Really! And how exactly do you think that potion helped her,” Remus demanded.

“Anna has to make a rather life-altering decision in about a month. If she learned nothing else, at least, she definitely smelled something. At least the Malfoy boy didn’t take that away from her.” He rubbed his hand over his face. “Look, I know she’s important to you, but she’s not your daughter.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“It means we’re a couple of days away from the full moon, and since I was beginning to pick up on the scent of her arousal in there, I bloody well know you did, Moony!”

Remus growled. “Anna shouldn’t be in this situation! That Malfoy brat set this whole thing in motion with the first betrothal offer. If he’d just left her alone, I don’t think the other letters would have been sent.” He raked both hands through his hair. “I know she seems strong, but she’s scared, Sirius. I can smell the fear.” He closed his eyes. “And you were correct, her arousal was obvious in there. I’m not upset about that. She’s a healthy young woman. Her response was perfectly normal and appropriate. I just don’t want to see her hurt. I’m concerned that she’s emotionally closer than any of us realize to cracking.”

Sirius grabbed his friend’s shoulder. “If she cracks…let’s be realistic, when she cracks, we help her in every way possible. That’s all we can do. We can’t protect children from every horrible thing out there. I’m not saying we shouldn’t try, but in the end, we just can’t.”

“Merlin, they’ve reached a terrible age,” Remus muttered. “They’ll all be legally adults soon, Anna in just a few short months, but in some ways, they’re still so innocent.”

“Yeah, I’m guessing no one’s ever had The Talk with Neville,” Sirius chuckled. “I almost lost it back there when he mentioned that chocolate was the only thing that ever makes Anna moan. Perhaps you should mention that gap in his education to Augusta. I’m sure she’d be pleased to let you be the one to explain things to him.”

“You can laugh now, but do you honestly believe anyone’s ever had The Talk with Harry,” Remus retorted. “As his godfather, that’s definitely your responsibility.”

Sirius paled, then swore. “Let’s mention it to Augusta later. If both boys need to hear about the facts of life, we might as well team up and tell them together.”

Remus nodded. “Sounds like a reasonable plan.”

“I almost hate to mention it, but how much do you think Anna really knows,” Sirius said. “I mean obviously given what happened…” he blew out a loud breath. “I just wonder if she knows what it’s supposed to be like.”

“I’ll talk to Augusta later this evening.”

xxxxxxx

Tonks arrived at the Manor that afternoon in time for dueling practice. Between her job at the Ministry as an Auror and her work for the Order of the Phoenix she was rather busy. Over the past year, she had split her free time between her parents’ house, Grimmauld Place, The Burrow, and Longbottom Manor. This summer, she suspected she would spend most of her time at the Manor. The battle at the Department of Mysteries had convinced Sirius, Augusta, and Remus of the importance of daily dueling practice for the teens. While spells could certainly be exchanged in one of the empty rooms at Grimmauld Place, the extensive grounds surrounding Augusta’s home offered the perfect location for the kind of dueling practice Sirius was determined to offer Harry. Molly was not yet ready to allow her youngest two to participate, though since Arthur had not immediately denounced the plan when he heard it, Tonks suspected they may eventually join them.

“Alright,” Sirius began. “The rules are there will be no rules. Other than avoiding lethal spells of course. You need to fight like you would in a real battle. The Death Eaters don’t care that you’re still students. They will be fighting to win, and you need to fight the same way. Harry and Neville, you boys are up first.”

The boys squared off against each other, warily at first, but soon spells were speeding quickly through the air. By the time Harry managed to Stun Neville, he was breathing hard.

Remus murmured ‘Rennervate’ and helped Neville to his feet. “You did very well! Anna, your turn against Harry.”

She nodded and gripped her wand tightly. As with the previous duel, they started off slowly. Tonks wondered if they were trying to measure each other up, or if Harry might be feeling somewhat unwilling to throw curses at Anna. After a few volleys, the pace of the fight intensified quickly. Stunning Spells, Shield Charms, Leg-Locker Curses, Impediment Jinxes and Full Body-Bind Curses were cast with impressive speed and power.

“Stupefy!” Anna shouted.

Harry ducked to the side. “Flipendo!”

Anna fell backwards landing hard on the ground. “Expelliarmus!”

Her spell missed Harry by inches as he advanced on her purposefully. “Langlock!”

Tonks knew by the desperate, silent movements of the witch’s mouth that Harry had effectively silenced her.

“Expelliarmus!” Harry exclaimed, closing the distance between them to only a couple of feet as her wand flew out of her hand.

With a wild, terrified look in her eyes, Anna pushed both hands palm outward in what should have been a futile gesture. Harry flew backwards several feet before collapsing unconscious to the ground. Hand stretching out towards her wand, the instrument flew to her. She caught it and pointed it towards Harry, who was suddenly covered in a flat, round net of rope. Tears were rolling down the girl’s cheeks. She shook violently as she pointed her wand towards her mouth trying to undo the spell that had affixed her tongue to the roof of her mouth.

Everyone seemed to spring into action at the same time.

Remus and Neville rushed over to Anna, while Tonks hurried towards Sirius who was desperately trying to move the net that covered Harry, first with his wand and then with his bare hands.

“Finite Incantatem! Anna, you’re safe! Anna, look at me!” Remus demanded, grabbing the girl by the shoulders.

“Remus! Remus, I…oh, no, Harry!” she pulled away quickly and flicked her wand at Harry. She murmured a spell that was definitely not Latin. The net disappeared.

“Rennervate!” Sirius’s voice shook slightly as he waited for his godson to awake.

Fortunately, the spell worked almost instantly. Harry sat up with a confused expression on his face. “What happened?”

“I’m so sorry!” Anna whimpered. Tears continued to flow from her eyes. “I didn’t mean to. I couldn’t speak and my wand was gone, and I just…”

Sirius rapidly explained to Harry the events that had happened during his brief period of unconsciousness. Neville pulled Anna into his arms, holding her tightly. “It’s okay. Harry’s fine. He’s not mad at you. Everything’s okay, now.”

“It’s not okay,” she said, wiping the tears from her cheeks as she worked to regain her self-control. “I didn’t realize it was Harry. When he Disarmed me, I looked up, and I didn’t see Harry. I saw him. I thought I was back at Hogwarts.”

“Anna, that’s not unusual,” Tonks gently explained. “Traumatic events can cause people to experience flashbacks, moments when you think you’re back in the dangerous situation you survived. We learn about flashbacks as part of Auror training because it can even happen to one of us. Usually, they stop happening over time, but for a while, anything that might be a bit too close to what you experienced may trigger a flashback.”

She nodded. “I’m really sorry, Harry.”

“You did nothing wrong, and you won the duel.” He smirked slightly as he patted her back.

“Which leads us to a few things we should discuss,” Sirius began. “First, Harry you made a mistake that in a real duel could have led to your death. What was it?”

Harry thought for a moment. “I assumed she was harmless. I had her wand, so I thought the fight was over.”

“Generally, a captured wand does end a fight,” Remus continued. “But, even assuming your opponent is not capable of wandless magic, he or she may have a knife to throw at you, or they may attack you with their fists if they have no other weapons available.”

“So, I should have followed up the Disarming Charm with a Stunning Spell or Incarcerous Spell.” Harry rubbed his chin. “I’ll remember that next time.”

“It’s also not a bad idea in a real fight to break your opponent’s wand. Mad-Eye taught me that,” Tonks added. “Now I have a question for you, Anna. How many spells can you cast wandlessly?”

“I…I don’t know. I mean...” she frowned.

“You haven’t really thought about it, have you?” Tonks asked gently. “What you just did here, that’s how you escaped from Draco, isn’t it? You didn’t have a wand. He’d sealed and silenced the room, so you couldn’t scream for help, you couldn’t run away. You were scared and desperate, so you managed wandless magic.”

Anna stared off blankly for a moment, her face pale. “Yes, I suppose that’s what happened. I pushed him with both hands as hard as I could, and then I reached for my wand.”

“Have you ever knowingly performed any wandless magic?” Remus asked.

“No.” She shook her head. “But perhaps I should try.”

“You should definitely try, and we will work on it this summer,” Remus announced. “However, we are done for today. I think we should all go to the stream and cool off.”

xxxxxxxx

“How exactly did I get volunteered to have that particular conversation with Anna?” Tonks groused as she poured herself a generous Firewhisky and collapsed next to Remus on the sofa.

“You were here, and I’m an old widow,” Augusta replied, sipping her drink. “Better you than me, dear.”

Tonks snorted as she drained most of her glass in one swallow.

“Was it really that bad?” Remus inquired, concern evident by his tone. “You were up there even longer than we were.”

“No, it was fine,” she admitted. “I started off by telling Anna that you and Sirius were having ‘The Talk’ with Neville and Harry. Gave her the choice to either go join your conversation or chat with me.”

Remus choked on his drink. Tonks gave him a few firm pats on the back.

“Well, I think we’re all glad she decided to just talk to you,” Sirius smirked.

“Once she started talking, we had a pretty detailed discussion, which she definitely needed. Good call on that.”

“I’m rather surprised Katherine didn’t explain things to her,” Augusta mused. “I just assumed she would have since Anna was already thirteen when she came to live here.”

Tonks shrugged. “I asked her what her grandmother had told her. From what Anna said, puberty, basic anatomy, pregnancy, and childbirth were covered quite thoroughly. She just skipped most of the ‘how’ beyond the what must go where part and a firm warning to not let guys do that. Hermione loaned her a Muggle book on the subject, but it was also rather short on details. Didn’t even include any positions beyond the missionary one.”

Augusta cleared her throat. “And, that, my dear, is why I wanted you to have ‘The Talk’ with her. Thank you, Tonks, I sincerely appreciate it.” She stood up. “I think I’ll retire for the evening and let you young people chat. See you all in the morning.”

Tonks waited until the door closed behind the lady of the house to turn to the men. “Did I say too much?”

Sirius chuckled as he topped off all their drinks. “I have no doubt you gave Anna a proper and thorough education. I’m glad Augusta suggested we spend the night here tonight and get these conversations over with.”

“Well, the important thing is that she’s not afraid,” Remus murmured. “She deserves the chance to have a normal, healthy married life someday.”

Tonks took his hand in her own. “I truly don’t think she’s afraid, and she knows she can come and talk to me about absolutely anything.”

“Thank you for that.”

She smiled. “So, how’d your conversation with the boys go?”

“Rather brilliantly, if I do say so myself!” Sirius declared.

“They were definitely lacking some pertinent information, as well as suffering from some misinformation,” Remus admitted. “Although, I’m not sure that quite so many diagrams were truly necessary to their understanding.”

Sirius scoffed. “We were doing them, as well as the young ladies they will be with in the future, a tremendous favor by being so specific. I, for one, don’t want to have my godson leaving a witch frustrated and disappointed.”

“Yes, well, they are certainly not lacking in information,” Remus drawled. “I rather think you managed to mention a thing or two I was unaware of.”

“Glad I could be of service,” he waggled his eyebrows. “And, now I do believe I’ll leave you two alone. Good night, my dear cousin. Night, Moony.”

Back to index


Chapter 17: Chapter 17 The Prophecy

Author's Notes: With thanks to my beta, Arnel!


Chapter 17

The Prophecy

Ginny stepped out of the Floo into Longbottom Manor. Dad had finally convinced Mum to let her and Ron visit for the afternoon. Hermione had arrived at The Burrow just the night before and was eager to see her fellow Gryffindors. Harry had spent every day and a few nights at the Manor over the past week. Ginny wished they could spend the night, but Mum had insisted that Dad pick them up on his way home from work at the Ministry.

After a flurry of greetings, the six teens were quickly ensconced in the Garden Room.

“What have you all been doing here at the Manor every day?” Hermione asked eagerly. “I’m so jealous you’re having regular lessons with Professor Lupin.”

Harry smiled. “It’s been great! Remus and Sirius are here with us all the time conducting or supervising our lessons. Tonks drops by occasionally to help, especially when we are dueling or doing spell work. We have dueling, with a bit of charms and transfiguration practice for half the day, and work in the potions lab or in the greenhouse for the other half. Most days we have a bit of free time to go to the stream, fly, or take a walk around the grounds as well.”

“So, what are we doing this afternoon?” Ron inquired.

“They’ve given us the afternoon off,” Neville grinned. “We can do whatever we want. Of course, if we leave the house, Remus and Sirius will come with us.”

Hermione frowned. “I was rather hoping we would have lessons.”

“Yeah, well, I’m still sore from this morning,” Anna admitted. “We had a solid two hours of dueling practice just before lunch.”

“How does that work exactly?” Ginny asked.

“Usually we pair off and duel, but this morning, it was Sirius against the three of us with Remus monitoring, then they switched off.” Harry explained. “They switched off positions every twenty minutes or so, but we didn’t have a break all morning.”

“When practice is over, we discuss what went well, and what we need to work on,” Neville explained. “We’re definitely learning a lot, but it’s rather intense.”

“Doesn’t sound like much of a summer break?” Ron observed.

“Sirius is going to be pushing hard all summer.” Harry took a slow breath. “Listen, I’ve been waiting for us all to be together to talk. I need to tell you about the prophecy.”

Glances were exchanged throughout the room. “I thought it was destroyed in the Department of Mysteries and you weren’t able to hear it,” Ginny said.

Harry nodded. “That’s true. What I didn’t know at the time is that Professor Dumbledore would be able to tell me the prophecy. It was actually made by Professor Trelawney to the Headmaster before I was born.”

Everyone was silent for a moment as though no one was willing to ask the question racing through all their minds. “What does the prophecy say?” Hermione asked.

Harry closed his eyes in thought as he slowly recited. “The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches…born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies…and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not…and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives…the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies…”

Ron rubbed his forehead. “It really has to be you, then. I mean you’re the only one who can get rid of You-Know-Who.”

Harry nodded.

“And the marking you as his equal bit? Is that the scar?” Neville questioned.

“Yeah. Voldemort made the decision to come after my family. When he killed my parents and gave me this,” Harry pointed to the lightning-bolt shaped scar on his forehead, “I guess he made the prophecy start to become true.”

“It’s so vague though,” Hermione frowned. “I mean born as the seventh month dies obviously means an end of July birthday, and I suppose your parents were defying Voldemort because they refused to join him, but...”

“It could have been me, couldn’t it?” Neville interrupted. “I mean my birthday’s the day before yours. As Aurors, my parents were defying You-Know-Who.”

“Professor Dumbledore mentioned that it could have been you based on the description from the prophecy, but once Voldemort attacked me…” he shrugged.

Neville closed his eyes and hung his head, raking his hands through his hair in an agitated gesture.

“And the power that Voldemort knows not?” Anna asked. “Did the Headmaster explain that at all?”

“He said it was love. I’m not entirely sure what he meant by that, or how I’m supposed to use the power of love to destroy Riddle.”

“So, that’s why Sirius and Remus are training you this summer,” Ginny murmured. “They’re preparing you to be ready to face him. Again.”

Harry nodded. “I don’t think they really believe the dueling practice alone is going to help me destroy Voldemort, but until we understand how exactly I’m supposed to use the power he knows not…”

“Are the numbers important?” Ginny demanded looking from Harry to Hermione.

“What do you mean?” Anna questioned.

“The numbers. Thrice and seventh. Three and Seven. Those are powerful magical numbers!” Ginny insisted. “I understand that they helped to identify Harry, but could they mean more than that? I mean think about the reference to the seventh month. Why not just say July?”

“Well, it is a prophecy, told by Trelawney no less,” Ron muttered. “Born as the seventh month dies sounds more theatrical than just saying born at the end of July. I can see the old fraud flowering it up a bit for effect.”

“Yeah, but this is a real prophecy, not just her normal Divination class rubbish,” Neville argued.

Anna and Hermione, the only Arithmancy students of the group, stared at each other for a moment before Hermione spoke. “I need to do some research, but Ginny has a point. Three and Seven are powerful magical numbers. They’re vitally important numbers in the Muggle world as well.”

“What do you mean exactly?” Harry asked, his attention roaming among the three girls.

“Well, take three for example. It’s such an important number mathematically. Three is the noblest of all digits according to the Pythagorean school of thought. It’s the first odd prime number. Three is the rough approximation of pi. In Alchemy, the three primes, or tria prima, are salt, sulfur, and mercury,” Hermione explained.

“Three is a significant number in many religious and spiritual traditions as well,” Anna continued. “Many Muggles believe in the Holy Trinity which is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Triple Goddess of course is the Maiden, Mother, and Crone. In the Jewish mystical tradition of the Kabbalah, the soul consists of three parts. They are breath, spirit, and repose.”

“And the number seven?” Sirius asked. He and Remus were standing in the doorway with focused expressions on their faces.

“Seven celestial objects in the solar system are visible to the naked eye from Earth. Every seven years the Queen of the Fairies pays a tithe to Hell,” Ginny said.

“There are seven days in a week, seven colors in a rainbow, and seven notes in a standard musical scale,” Hermione added.

“The most common story of creation states that it was completed in seven days. There are seven Deadly sins. Honestly, we could go on for a long time.” Anna shrugged. “The question is whether the numbers three and seven are actually important in the prophecy. Do they influence the power he knows not in some way?”

“We have a rather extensive library at Grimmauld Place,” Sirius said. “If I bring some pertinent books…”

“I would love to do some research on the numbers!” Hermione exclaimed.

Sirius grinned. “Alright, then! You all need to go have some fun. How about we take the brooms and some games and snacks down by the stream?”

“Sounds great!” Ron agreed. “Do you think the house-elves have any pies in the kitchen?”

xxxxxx

Molly breathed a sigh of relief she wasn’t even aware of holding when the Floo activated and her husband came home, followed quickly by Ginny, Hermione, and Ron.

“You’re right on time,” she praised as she kissed her husband’s cheek. “I’ll have dinner on the table in just a moment!”

Molly tried to tune out the voice of the newest temporary member of her household as she finished preparing the meal and transferred it to the table. In truth, she did not really dislike Fleur Delacour. Obviously, the young woman was an intelligent and powerful witch to have been named the Triwizard Champion representing Beauxbatons. Molly just couldn’t understand the relationship between this tall, willowy blonde and her son, Bill.

He had announced his engagement only days before when he and Fleur had moved in, ostensibly to give the family an opportunity to become acquainted with the witch he intended to marry next summer. Molly had hoped for someone more down-to-earth for her oldest son than the graceful, elegant creature he brought home. She couldn’t deny that there was something powerful between them. She and Arthur had discussed the slightly odd magical connection that was sometimes visible when the two were together. Molly had suggested it had something to do with Veela magic, since the girl’s grandmother was a full Veela. Arthur disagreed, though he had not been able to explain the relationship between the two.

Molly waited until after dinner to talk to the girls. Bill and Fleur had conveniently gone for an evening stroll. She knew they would not be back for at least an hour. Arthur and Ron were playing a game of chess in the living room.

“How are Harry and Sirius?” she asked.

Hermione obliging went into a detailed analysis of how her best friend and his godfather were doing. Clearly, they were spending more time at Longbottom Manor than at Grimmauld Place. Harry seemed to be spending an inordinate amount of time on lessons rather than having the relaxing summer that Molly felt was more beneficial. Grudgingly, she admitted to herself that Sirius seemed to be doing a decent job as Harry’s guardian.

“And how are Anna and Neville?” Molly asked.

“Neville’s fine,” Ginny replied. “I think they’re having a pretty typical summer for the most part. They start dancing lessons again next week. Apparently, Harry will be joining them, so Anna will likely have quite the work-out while the boys will be able to take turns partnering her.”

Molly smiled. “Dancing lessons never hurt anyone. I remember teaching your father how to dance. He was rather light on his feet once he relaxed enough to actually move to the music.”

The girls both laughed.

“Anna asked about Charlie again,” Ginny volunteered. “We talked while the boys were having a splash fight in the stream. She didn’t make it seem like a confidential conversation, so I don’t think she’d mind me mentioning it.”

Hermione nodded. “If it was private, she would have asked to talk to you alone, instead of in front of me. Besides when the boys wandered over for snacks, she asked if Charlie liked swimming in the ocean.”

Ginny laughed. “I think she really misses the beach. Anna had the dreamiest expression on her face when she asked that.”

“Excuse me, ladies,” Arthur kissed his wife on the cheek. “Molly, I almost forgot to tell you. Augusta asked if we would allow Ron, Ginny, and Hermione to attend dancing lessons with Neville, Anna, and Harry. The lessons will be on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays for the next two weeks from one to three in the afternoon. She suggested they could arrive at noon to have lunch at the Manor, and I can collect them on my way home from work each evening.”

Molly frowned as she considered the invitation. The girls were staring at her with hopeful expressions on their faces. A few years ago, she would have agreed instantly to such a proposal.

“Augusta reminded me that a war is no excuse to delay the children’s education in proper wizarding social traditions,” Arthur said quietly. “The wards around the Manor are as secure as the wards here, Molly. If I didn’t believe the kids would be safe there, I would have already declined the invitation.”

She swallowed and forced a smile. “I’ll send Errol off with a letter accepting the invitation. Dancing lessons are certainly a wonderful idea, and it’s kind of Augusta to want to include all the teens.”

xxxxxx

Harry glanced around the room taking note of each occupant. Anna was reading one of the books Sirius had just brought back from the library at Grimmauld Place. Augusta was writing a letter at the small desk by the window. Neville and Remus were playing chess.

“Sirius, do you want to maybe go take a walk?” Harry suggested.

His godfather glanced up and smiled. “Sure, Harry. Let’s go check out the moon.”

They walked in silence for several minutes. Harry’s appreciation for the many twisting paths in the vast gardens of Longbottom Manor increased with every step.

“Anything in particular you wanted to discuss?” Sirius asked.

“Yeah, I was thinking about things after our conversation the other night,” Harry began. “Well, I…erm…” He felt his cheeks flaming and suddenly wondered if perhaps they should simply return to the house.

“Do you have a question about sex?” Sirius smirked.

“No!” Harry exclaimed. “I mean I think you covered all of that. It’s just…well…I’m not sure how to get started.”

“I thought I covered that rather well. It’s always best to start with kissing and a few gentle caresses to gauge the witch’s mood.”

“That’s not what I mean!” Harry groaned and raked one hand through his hair roughly. “How do I ask a girl out?”

“Oh, well, that’s easy. Just ask the witch to be your date to Hogsmeade.”

“I’m not sure I really want to wait that long,” he admitted.

Sirius stopped walking and grabbed his arm. “Explain.”

Harry sighed. “I want to ask Ginny to be my girlfriend, but I don’t know how to say it.”

“What is it with Potter men and witches with red hair?” His godfather grinned. “Just ask her.”

“That’s it? That’s your advice?”

“Well, you can jazz it up as much as you want with compliments on her beautiful hair, her lovely skin, whatever…but you just have to work up the courage to ask her to be your girlfriend.”

Harry shrugged helplessly. “I’m just not sure I’ll be able to get the words out.”

“The other alternative is to take her into your arms and kiss her,” Sirius said. “Just, you know, be careful not to be too demanding. It’s never okay to force a girl into doing anything.”

“I would never force myself on Ginny! I wouldn’t hurt her.”

“I know that. I just felt the need to say it.”

He nodded. “Anyways, I already kissed her.”

“You did!” Sirius sputtered. “When?”

“Fred and George started up a game of Spin the Bottle a few months ago at Hogwarts. Ron and Hermione were on prefect rounds, so they don’t know about it.”

“And?”

“It was brilliant,” Harry murmured. “I keep thinking about it and wondering how to do it again, but…”

Sirius laughed, a happy booming sound that echoed through the trees surrounding them. “Just ask her to be your girlfriend.”

“Right,” he nodded. “I’ll just ask her.”

His godfather continued chuckling most of the way back to the house.

xxxxxx

Remus leaned back in the chair and stared at the dying embers of the fire. He’d drunk too much Firewhisky. Logically, he knew he should set down the glass and go to bed. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the energy or motivation to move. Glancing over at Sirius in the wingback chair, he saw that his friend’s eyes were closed. They’d been reminiscing about the old days when James had finally succeeded in winning Lily’s affection. He missed them both so much it was almost painful. James would be so proud that his son was finally falling for a beautiful red-headed witch. Lily would be pleased with the girl’s fiery spirit and fierce loyalty to her friends.

The door opened, and Anna walked quietly into the room. She went directly to the decanter, poured herself a double shot of Firewhisky, and drained the contents in one long swallow. Her hands were still shaking as she refilled the glass.

“Anna,” he said.

She turned quickly, raising the wand that Remus had failed to notice was in her left hand. Her eyes darted from him to Sirius, and she lowered the wand.

“Anything you want to tell us,” Sirius drawled, sounding rather soberer than Remus expected considering the amount of alcohol he had recently consumed.

“I didn’t think anyone would still be awake,” Anna murmured. She raised the glass to her lips and slowly emptied it.

“What are you doing?” Remus asked. “You shouldn’t be drinking like that!”

“Sorry,” she muttered, not sounding apologetic in the least, as she set the empty glass on the table. “I’ll go back to bed.”

“Sit down!” Sirius ordered. “You can’t come down here, sneak four shots and then leave. Talk!”

Anna frowned, but sat cross-legged on the sofa.

Remus rubbed his forehead wishing he was sober. “Did you have a nightmare?”

“No,” she replied. “Not really. It was just weird.”

“Do you need a dose of Sleeping Draught?” Sirius asked.

Anna shook her head. “I’ve already taken it three times this week. Madam Pomfrey suggested it not be taken more than twice a week.”

“Why aren’t you in bed with Neville, then?” Remus asked.

“What?” Sirius stammered.

“It’s platonic,” he explained with a careless wave of his hand. “They’ve been sleeping together occasionally for years now. Believe me, Augusta wished they were actually up to something so they could be betrothed to one another, and she wouldn’t be dealing with the stress of multiple betrothal offers.”

“Moony, you’re way too informative when drunk,” Sirius declared before shifting his attention to the witch. “Why aren’t you in bed with your cousin?”

“He was with me last night, and Harry’s in his room tonight.” She exhaled slowly. “I don’t want to risk waking them both up. It’s bad enough that Neville knows about my frequent sleeping problems. I don’t want Harry to know, too.”

Remus sighed. “Drinking is not the best way to deal with problems, Anna.”

“Of course it’s not,” she murmured.

He grimaced realizing she was perfectly aware that he and Sirius were far from sober.

“Well, now that we’ve all established our mutual misuse of the genial beverage, why don’t you tell us about the weird dream you had?” Sirius suggested.

Anna pressed her fingertips against her closed eyelids. “It started off fine, quite wonderful in fact. I was at the beach Grandma used to always take me to back in Virginia. She wasn’t there though. It wasn’t a memory from my childhood.” She inhaled deeply as her hands lowered to her lap. “It was a hot day, and the water was pleasantly cool. The salty air was heavy before the wind picked up. A summer storm was coming, and the waves were rolling in. The water started pounding against the sand, so hard and fast. I was in the water up to my waist. The waves pushed me over several times. It was exciting, the wildness of it all, the raw power of the ocean! It took my breath away, and I was laughing.”

Her smile slowly faded. “Then, the dream changed. I was eating something, or at least it seemed like I was. I kept chewing, but I didn’t swallow. The things in my mouth were so hard, like pieces of glass or small stones. Eventually, I realized I was chewing on my teeth. They were all falling out.” She shifted on the sofa, drawing her legs up to her chest and wrapping her arms around them. “Even in the dream, I knew it wasn’t real, but it felt so…disgusting. I think I woke up just enough to tell myself to stop it. Then I started to see the fat people.” A shudder rippled through her form, and she shook her head slightly. “Not fat exactly, more like they kept swelling. I thought they would explode, but they never did. They just kept expanding, grotesquely. I couldn’t get them out of my mind. I was awake at that point, but every time I closed my eyes, I saw them. The image wouldn’t leave my mind. I just couldn’t handle it another second.”

Remus shifted uncomfortably. “I’m sorry, Anna. That does sound rather awful. Do you think you can sleep now?”

She nodded and finally gazed into his eyes. “It all seems so silly now that I’ve said it out loud. Teeth falling out and people swelling. I’m not sure why it upset me so much.” She stood up slowly. Her body was visibly more relaxed, a bit too relaxed. Remus realized she was at least slightly tipsy. “Good night.”

He and Sirius murmured ‘good night’ as she left the room.

“Fuck,” Remus murmured.

Sirius threw his glass into the fireplace.

There really was nothing else to say.

Author’s Notes: Disclaimer — Part of this chapter comes from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

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Chapter 18: Chapter 18 Dancing Lessons

Author's Notes: With thanks to my beta, Arnel!


Chapter 18

Dancing Lessons

Harry smiled confidently as he twirled Ginny around the room. Their dancing instructor, Madam Jones, was a remarkably energetic witch who had completed her education at Hogwarts a few years before Augusta Longbottom. The former Hufflepuff taught with a great deal of humor and an admirable amount of patience.

Their six two-hour lessons were scheduled over two weeks. Today marked the end of the first week’s lessons. At the beginning of their first dancing lesson on Monday, Madam Jones instructed them to pair off. Anna and Neville were already standing side-by-side, and he automatically took her hand. Harry grabbed Ginny’s hand without even looking at her. His heart pounded in his chest. Fortunately, she gave his hand a gentle squeeze which he took to mean she was willing to be his dancing partner.

For Anna and Neville, this marked their third summer of dancing lessons. It was quite clear they were comfortable with their teacher and one another. Monday’s lesson was somewhat awkward for the other teens.

Harry always seemed to pull Ginny closer to him as each dance progressed. Madam Jones continually reminded him to move back a few inches. Ginny was smirking by the third reminder and stifling giggles by the fifth.

Ron and Hermione were having a different problem. Ron had difficulty learning and following the steps. He was so focused on placing his feet in the correct positions that he had a slight scowl etched on his face. Hermione tried to take over and lead them a few times that first day. Madam Jones was quick to correct this as well, reminding her that the gentlemen should always lead.

Wednesday’s lesson had progressed more smoothly, and today Harry was truly enjoying himself. His feet moved correctly to the music. He maintained the appropriate space between himself and Ginny. He finally understood why dancing could be a fun activity, particularly since he was able to hold Ginny in his arms for well over an hour each day.

As Augusta came into the room to chat with their instructor at the end of the lesson, Harry steered Ginny quickly out of the room and around the corner towards the kitchen.

“Harry, what are you doing?” Ginny asked.

He pulled her gently towards him. Sirius’s advice was swirling around in his brain, but suddenly he couldn’t remember what he’d decided to say or do first.

“I…erm…I really like your hair, Ginny.” He swallowed and tried desperately to recall the words he’d practiced while lying in bed the previous night. “What I mean is, you’ve got the most beautiful hair. It always smells so wonderful, like flowers from a meadow.”

“Thank you, Harry.” A faint blush appeared on her cheeks. She seemed to breathe a little more quickly.

He stroked the side of her face with his thumb. “You have the softest skin,” he said. “Dancing with you this week, being allowed to hold you in my arms has been brilliant.”

She swallowed. “I’ve enjoyed it, too.”

“I…I want to kiss you. May I kiss you, Ginny?”

Harry leaned forward slowly waiting for her to respond. He stopped a few inches from her lips and finally met her bright brown eyes.

“Yes, Harry.” Her voice was barely even a whisper, but he heard her.

He pressed his lips gently to hers, feeling their warmth, feeling their softness. One hand threaded through the silky strands of her hair while the other tightened around her waist. Releasing her lips, he looked at her closed eyelids. Her eyelashes were dark against the paleness of her cheekbones.

“Gin,” he murmured, lowering his mouth to hers once more, pressing harder this time, turning his head slightly to find a better angle. She felt even better than he remembered. Their brief kiss so many months ago had been a hint of what could be. Harry felt a bit disoriented and didn’t care in the least. All that mattered was holding her, touching her, tasting her.

Ginny ended the kiss this time and stared into his eyes as she tried to catch her breath. She gripped the front of his shirt tightly.

“Will you be my girlfriend?”

“Of course, Harry.” Her lips curved into a smile. “I’d love to be your girlfriend.”

He knew he was grinning as he lowered his mouth to hers. He gently kissed her lips, her cheek, and the spot just below her ear. Ginny made the most wonderful whimpering sound as her hands moved up to his shoulders.

“Oi! What do you think you’re doing with my sister?”

Harry’s head snapped up at the sound of Ron’s voice. He tried to remember the perfect argument he had come up with last night for why Ron should be pleased about him dating his little sister. Unfortunately, his brain seemed to be working in slow motion. He couldn’t recall a single word of it.

“For goodness sake, Ronald, you should have seen this coming!” Hermione rolled her eyes. “Just be glad your friendship with Harry doesn’t have to change. Some girls don’t like their boyfriend’s friends and try to limit how much time they spend together.”

“Besides, you should be happy, Ron,” Neville commented. “Harry would never hurt Ginny. She’ll be safe with him.”

His words sobered Harry and probably prevented Ginny and Ron from making a further scene.

“Why don’t we have some tea in the garden room?” Anna suggested. “I’ll just go to the kitchens and ask Litty and Bitty to prepare something for us.” She paused to touch their arms as she passed them. “I’m very happy for you both.” She smirked.

xxxxx

Sirius frowned as he stared at the golden locket on the Headmaster’s desk. “You’re sure it has to be Harry?”

“Unless you know of another Parselmouth, I’m afraid we will have to ask Harry to open Slytherin’s Locket,” Albus replied. “I have spent these past weeks poring over every scrap of knowledge about the Founders and their personal relics. The Hogwarts’ library as well as the Headmaster’s own personal library concur that Salazar Slytherin routinely spelled objects to only respond to a Speaker. I believe Voldemort would have been quite pleased with that tradition.”

“Are you certain the locket must be opened before it can be destroyed?” Remus asked.

“I cannot be certain of anything regarding such magic.” The Headmaster shrugged. “What I can tell you is that I have tried to destroy it and have not been successful. You indicated that Kreacher also failed in his attempts. We must assume the Horcrux will continue to resist our efforts until the locket is opened.”

Sirius sighed. “I’ll go get Harry.”

Taking the Floo back to Longbottom Manor, he smiled as he spotted his godson enjoying a spirited game of Exploding Snap with Neville. Augusta was sipping her tea as she observed their antics. Anna was poring over one of the esoteric texts on Numerology and Arithmancy he had found in the library at Grimmauld Place.

“Harry,” he began. “I’m sorry to interrupt your game, but Professor Dumbledore is requesting I take you to Hogwarts.”

“Is everything okay?” He stood up.

Sirius forced a reassuring smile. “I believe so. The Headmaster simply needs your assistance with a small object. I’ll explain the situation once we arrive, but it shouldn’t require anything more than a few words on your part.”

Harry nodded. “I’m ready, then.”

“You have your wand?”

“Always.”

Exiting the Floo, Sirius turned to help his godson and was pleasantly surprised when the boy managed to land more gracefully than usual.

“Harry, my boy, I’m glad you were able to come for a visit this evening. I hope your summer break has been enjoyable.” The Headmaster’s eyes twinkled as he spoke.

“Yes, sir. I’ve had a wonderful summer!”

“Excellent!” Professor Dumbledore indicated the chairs in front of his desk and sat down in his own chair. “I’m afraid we have a small situation which I believe you will be able to handle rather well.” He stroked his long beard thoughtfully. “What I’m about to tell you should be revealed to as few people as possible. Voldemort must not have the opportunity to learn that we have discovered part of the means to bring about his ultimate downfall.”

Sirius was unsurprised to see the curious and hopeful expression on his godson’s face.

“You remember, of course, the diary that possessed Miss Weasley a few years ago,” Dumbledore began. “When you broke its power by stabbing it with a Basilisk fang, I became curious about the exact nature of such a powerful, and clearly Dark, magical object. My research eventually convinced me that the diary was, in fact, a Horcrux created by Voldemort decades ago.”

“What’s a Horcrux, sir?”

“It is the evilest concept ever entertained by wizards. A Horcrux is a form of immortality for the soul. To create one, a wizard must knowingly and deliberately set out to commit murder. That horrific act causes the soul of the murderer to temporarily be severed. He is then able to contain a piece of his soul in a specially prepared object.”

Harry’s eyes widened in confusion. “Why would anyone want to damage their soul like that?”

“The advantage of such separation is that if the wizard is ever killed, he will not truly die. The piece of his soul safely residing in the object allows him to continue to exist and affords him the time and opportunity to regain a body, to live once more. Naturally only a wizard who truly fears death would ever attempt such a vile act.”

“And that’s how Voldemort stayed alive all those years?”

Professor Dumbledore nodded. “I believe it is the only explanation for how he survived the events at Godric’s Hollow so long ago. The Killing Curse that left you with your scar and rebounded upon him should have killed him. The fact he continued to exist is evidence that Voldemort used magic of the darkest kind to preserve his life. A Horcrux would also explain how he managed to be reborn into a new body on the last night of the Triwizard Tournament.”

“But…the diary is destroyed, isn’t it?”

“Yes, Harry.” The Headmaster nodded gravely. “And, therein lies the true problem. We do not yet know how many Horcruxes Voldemort managed to make. They must all be found. Every piece of his soul must be obliterated before he can be defeated. Besides the diary, I have also found and destroyed this ring.” He pointed to the gold ring set with a black stone on his desk. “Sirius and Remus brought this locket to me not long ago. We believe it is a third Horcrux.” He held out Slytherin’s locket for Harry to examine.

“The S on it looks like a snake,” Harry murmured.

Sirius rested his hand lightly on his godson’s shoulder. “Albus believes the locket must be opened by a Parselmouth.”

“You want me to talk to the locket? What should I say?”

“I believe simply commanding it to open in Parseltongue will likely be enough.” Dumbledore walked over to the sword of Godric Gryffindor. “Once it is open, stabbing it with this blade should destroy it.”

“I thought Horcruxes were practically indestructible.” Remus frowned. “I understand that goblin-made weapons are extremely valuable, but they aren’t exactly rare.”

“You are quite correct. Most goblin-made swords would not be suitable for our purposes. However, Harry’s actions in the Chamber of Secrets caused Gryffindor’s sword to be the perfect weapon.”

“The Basilisk.” Remus stroked his chin.

The Headmaster nodded. “This blade is imbibed with Basilisk venom. One of the greatest strengths of goblin-made weapons is their natural ability to take in that which makes them stronger. The smallest cut from this could be quite deadly.”

“So, are we ready to do this now?” Sirius asked.

“I believe now is as good a time as any.” Dumbledore placed the locket in the middle of the stone floor of his office. “I should warn you the Horcrux may try to fight back. You may see false visions or hear sounds which aren’t real.” He picked up the sword and handed it carefully to Sirius.

“But…you never said you intended for me to do it!” Sirius glanced down at the golden locket.

“I believe you have an excellent opportunity to obtain a small measure of justice. Your brother made the ultimate sacrifice when he retrieved this Horcrux. Your house-elf has spent many years trying to break its power.” Albus glanced around the room. “Remus, it would be advisable for you to take a step back. Harry, if you would please command it to open.”

Sirius gripped the sword tightly in both hands. Remus and Dumbledore took a step back but held their wands at the ready.

Harry stared at the glittering green stones decorating the object. “Open,” he commanded.

“That was English, Harry. Please try again.” The Headmaster smiled calmly. “I realize it is not easy to speak Parseltongue when there is no true snake about; however, I’m confident you’ll succeed with a few more attempts.”

His godson nodded and took a few slow relaxing breathes. “Open,” he said. “I command you to open.”

Sirius barely had time to register the soft, sibilant sounds emanating from Harry’s mouth before the locket opened with a quiet click. Dark eyes looked out from inside the golden jewel and locked with his.

“I see your guilt…your fears.”

Sirius’s hands shook as he tried to lower the blade to the necklace.

“You failed to save your friends. They died because of you. Because of your poor suggestions…your poor choices.”

“Stab it, Sirius!” The Headmaster commanded. “Do it now!”

“Your bravery is weakness. The kind of bravery that allows others to suffer. Your attempt at vengeance is a coward’s way out.”

Two figures slowly emerged from the locket. Sirius stood paralyzed as the forms became his lost friends, James and Lily.

“How could you, Padfoot? How could you allow the Dursleys to raise our son? We trusted you.”

He shook his head in denial as he tried to focus on the sword in his grasp.

“Sirius, don’t listen to it!” Remus shouted. “The Horcrux is trying to distract you. Use the sword. Destroy it!”

“Our son suffered because of your foolishness. He was denied a proper childhood. You should suffer. You deserve to feel the pain and loneliness that he did. It’s all you fault. You failed. You’re a failure as a friend. As a brother. As a son. You failed everyone.”

“It’s lying!” Harry’s voice was loud and angry. “Sirius, listen to me! You were a wonderful friend to my parents! You are wonderful to me! I love you! None of it was your fault! Stab it! Destroy it!”

Gritting his teeth, he clutched the sword tightly and thrust it down into the locket. A piercing scream echoed about the room, drowning out his sobs as he collapsed to his knees. The clang of the blade striking the stone floor reverberated beneath him. A hand gripped his shoulder tightly as the sword was removed from his slack fingers.

“You did well.” The Headmaster’s voice was calm. “Three are now gone, and we are left with the task of discovering how many more are still out there.”

“How can we find out?” Remus inquired. “Voldemort could have made four, five, six. How are we ever going to discover the exact number?”

“I believe we will be able to learn the exact number, though I admit it may take some time.” He paused. “I wonder if I may borrow Harry for an hour or two while I visit an old friend.”

Sirius rubbed the wetness from his eyes and cheeks, finally standing and getting himself back under control. “What old friend?”

“You know him well.” Albus smiled. “I need to convince Professor Slughorn to return to Hogwarts. I am, as always, short a teacher. I believe the chance to teach young Harry may be enough of an inducement to lure him back to his old post.”

He nodded. “That would be fine, as long as Harry is willing to go.”

“I don’t mind,” Harry assured him. “He has to be better than Professor Umbridge.”

Sirius choked on his laughter as he glanced at the other men in the office. Remus was chuckling quietly.

Albus was smirking, his familiar blue eyes twinkling. “Thank you, Harry. I believe we all needed a moment of levity.”

Sirius picked up the broken locket. “May I take this to Grimmauld Place? I’d like to show it to Kreacher.”

Dumbledore nodded. “I’m sure that will be very helpful to Kreacher. He spent a great deal of time and effort trying to complete the last task Regulus gave him. I trust you will remind him not to speak of the locket.”

“I’ll remind him, and of course, I won’t tell him what it actually is, only that it’s now broken.” He slipped the necklace into his pocket. “I have already forbidden Kreacher to communicate in any way with anyone of the Lestrange family or the Malfoy family. He’s been doing much better since we knocked down the wall and removed my mother’s portrait.”

“I’m relieved that your relationship with your house-elf has improved so markedly. I admit I had some concerns. Shall I return Harry to Grimmauld Place after our visit or to Longbottom Manor?”

“Grimmauld Place, please.” He hugged his godson. “Are you okay? I know that was a bit rough.”

Harry smiled. “I’m fine, truly. I’ll see you in a couple hours.”

xxxxx

Augusta sipped her tea as she relaxed into the sofa. It was a perfect summer evening. Neville had gone off to the greenhouse to check on his plants. Remus, Sirius, and Harry were still off on their errand with Albus. Anna was slowly flipping through the pages of a book, making the occasional note on her parchment.

“Anna dear, I don’t mean to rush you, but I wanted to ask whether you have given any further thought to the betrothal letters.”

“Oh, well…yes.” She set her quill on the table and looked up from her place on the floor. “Actually, Ginny told me that Charlie will be arriving at The Burrow on the night of the twenty-eighth. I know we’re all going to be there on the thirty-first for the joint birthday celebration Molly’s planning for Harry and Neville, but…”

Neville closed the door behind him as he came in. “It should be a fun party! Harry and I are really looking forward to it!” He sat on the sofa next to her.

Augusta bit back an exasperated sigh. In such a large house with so few residents, it should not be so difficult to have a few minutes of private conversation with her great niece. “I’m sure it will be a lovely occasion. Molly is an excellent cook.” She patted her grandson’s knee before turning back to Anna. “You were saying, dear…”

“I was wondering if it might be possible to invite Charlie over to the Manor. The birthday celebration will be loud and exciting, but I’m not sure it will be very easy for us to talk. I was hoping to have some time to get to know him.”

“That’s an excellent idea! Why don’t we invite him to come over for tea on the afternoon of the twenty-ninth?”

“Who’s coming to tea?” Remus asked as he made his way into the garden room.

Augusta closed her eyes and rubbed her left temple.

“I was just asking Aunt Augusta if Charlie Weasley could come to the Manor for a visit.”

“Sounds reasonable.” Remus poured himself a Firewhisky. “Would you like one, Augusta?”

“Yes, Remus. A drink would be nice. Anna, if you write the letter now, I’ll look it over for you before you send it off.” She accepted her drink with an appreciative nod. “Charlie can come over for tea, and then the two of you can take a stroll through the garden.”

Anna moved to the small desk by the window and began writing on a fresh sheet of parchment.

Neville murmured. “I’m not sure she should be going off alone with him.”

“Why shouldn’t she?” Augusta whispered.

“Neville, I understand your concern, but do you really want your cousin to be afraid to be alone with a man in the garden of her own home?” Remus asked.

He grimaced. “No. I just…”

“None of us know Charlie well,” Augusta began, “but we know the Weasley family and…”

“Neville, you can come along,” Anna interrupted. “I really only want to spend a bit of time with him where it’s quiet. I don’t need to be alone with Charlie. If this is okay, Aunt Augusta, I’ll send it off with Mista before I go to bed?” She handed her the letter.

It was brief, but polite and perfectly appropriate. “That’s just fine, dear.”

Author’s Notes: Part of this chapter was borrowed heavily from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

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Chapter 19: Chapter 19 O.W.L.s and Birthdays

Author's Notes: A sincere thank you to everyone who is reading and reviewing! Special thanks to Arnel for helping me rewrite some of this chapter that definitely needed help!!!


Chapter 19

O.W.L.s and Birthdays

“What’s Professor Slughorn like?” Neville asked.

Harry shrugged. “He seems okay. I don’t think he’d pull out a blood quill for detention or anything like that.”

“That’s quite a glowing recommendation,” Anna smirked.

The boys laughed.

“I’m not sure what to say about Slughorn. He seems…” Harry rubbed the back of his neck. “…like a collector. He collects people. Even Dumbledore admitted he likes to bring students together into a sort of club. He wants to influence whoever he thinks will have power or an important job in the future. I don’t think he’s cruel or evil, but there’s something about him that makes me uncomfortable. I wish Remus would return as our Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher,” Harry said.

“Thank you, Harry, I would enjoy teaching at Hogwarts again. However, I don’t believe Horace Slughorn will be teaching Defense. He’s a Potions Master.”

“But Snape teaches Potions.” Harry paused uncertainly. “Is he leaving?”

“This is only a guess, but I believe old Slughorn will be teaching Potions, and you’ll probably have Snape as your new Defense professor,” Sirius said. “By the way, I do believe those are your O.W.L. results.”

Bitty was standing next to Gran with three letters in her hand.

“Thank you, Bitty.” Gran took the letters and held them out to the teens. “Well, don’t keep us waiting. We’re all eager for the results.”

They grabbed their letters, tearing them open quickly and staring at the enclosed parchments.

“An ‘Outstanding’ in Herbology,” Neville announced. “I did it!”

“Congratulations!” His grandmother smiled. “And your other scores?”

“Charms, Transfiguration, and Defense are ‘Exceeds Expectations,’ and I have ‘Acceptable’ in Care of Magical Creatures and Potions.”

“I’m very proud of you, Neville! Six O.W.L.s and four classes you can continue into N.E.W.T. level. That’s very well done indeed! Your parents would be so pleased.” Her smile trembled slightly with emotion as she took a sip of her tea.

“Come on, Harry. Hand it over.” Sirius demanded. “It can’t be that bad!”

Harry passed the letter to his godfather with a smile on his face.

Sirius glanced at the parchment briefly before handing it to Remus.

“Seven O.W.L.s with an ‘Outstanding’ in Defense. Excellent job!” His godfather grinned. “Do you know what classes you want to continue into N.E.W.T. level?”

Harry nodded. “If Professor Slughorn will accept me into Potions with ‘Exceeds Expectations,’ I’ll be taking that, Defense, Transfiguration, Charms, and Herbology.”

“Sounds like a good plan!” Remus smiled. “Anna?”

Her eyes were wide as she looked up. “I passed everything.”

“Ten O.W.L.s?” Neville exclaimed. “That’s brilliant, Anna!”

“Thank you,” she wrinkled her nose. “My only ‘Outstanding’ is in Potions. I have six ‘Exceeds Expectations’ and three scores of ‘Acceptable.’ I don’t mind admitting I’ll be happy to give up Arithmancy.”

“We all thought you and Hermione were crazy to even attempt that class,” Harry laughed.

“Still, I bet she managed an ‘Outstanding’ in it, as well as everything else!”

The boys chuckled.

“Alright, now that I have independent confirmation that you’re all brilliant, go outside. We’re working on nonverbal spell casting and wandless spells for the next hour,” Remus announced.

Groaning, the three teens headed out to the garden.

xxxx

Charlie glanced at the letter again, feeling a bit like a love-sick fool, which he supposed he was. Still it was his first letter from Anna. Hopefully, the first of many.

Ginny had handed it to him after giving him a ‘welcome home’ hug. “Mista brought this over. She’s Anna’s owl. It’s an invitation for tea tomorrow.”

He flipped the letter over and saw that the seal was unbroken.

“I didn’t read it.” Ginny arched an eyebrow. “Anna and I exchange letters almost daily. Mista is still here if you want to send a reply. I’ve almost finished my letter to her.”

“How is she?” he asked.

“Anna’s fine. We just finished two weeks of dancing lessons at the Manor. She, Neville, and Harry have daily lessons with Remus and Sirius. Even Tonks drops by occasionally to duel with them.”

Charlie blinked in surprise. “They’re dueling!”

“And getting better every day,” Ginny smiled. “Ron and Hermione are so jealous! To be perfectly honest, I am too.”

“Anything else new with you?”

She grinned. “Harry asked me to be his girlfriend.”

Charlie stared at her. “You’re serious? Wow! My baby sister has a boyfriend.” He paused. “Is there…um…anything I need to say to you, or to him?”

“No, Charlie.” Ginny kissed his cheek. “We’re good. Thank you for asking though.”

He nodded, still wondering when his little sister had managed to grow up.

“I’m sending my letter in just a minute,” she said. “Do you want me to add a note from you, or are you going to write your own letter?”

“I’ll write my own. Just give me a minute.”

He was still working on his response when Ginny handed him her letter to post with his. “Be careful with Mista,” she advised. “I’m going off to bed.”

Mista was a beautiful tawny owl with an air of intelligence and a haughty independence which caused Charlie to approach her rather more carefully than he would the average post owl. Talking to her softly and stroking her gently, he attached the letters before taking her outside. He almost sighed with relief as she disappeared into the starlit sky.

“Very well done.” Tonks walked towards him. “That owl has a bit of a mean streak with men. I think she was roughly intercepted a few too many times last year at Hogwarts.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.” Charlie hugged her. “It’s good to see you! How are you?”

“Good, considering…well…everything.”

He grimaced. “Yeah, I imagine things in the Auror office aren’t easy these days.”

“Scrimgeour is a better Minister than Fudge, but that’s not really saying much,” Tonks admitted. “I don’t know if you heard about the murders of Amelia Bones and Emmeline Vance.”

“Dad told me when I arrived. I’d met them, of course, but I didn’t know either of them well.”

“They were great witches. No nonsense women to be sure. The Death Eaters aren’t even trying to hide their activities anymore.” She rubbed her forehead tiredly. “The Dementors have become a terrible problem as well. They’re roaming all over the country attacking people, and now they’re breeding.”

“That’s disturbing on so many levels,” Charlie muttered.

Tonks chuckled. “It certainly is. I was supposed to give this to your dad.” She pulled out a small package. “Is he still awake?”

He shook his head. “Is it important, or can I give it to him in the morning?”

“Morning will be fine.” She handed him the package, and he tucked it in his pocket. “Let’s walk a bit.”

They walked in silence for several minutes, heading away from the house.

“Anything new with you?” he asked.

“Trying to seduce an older man. I think he’s finally weakening.” She winked.

He chuckled. “I wish you luck.”

“Look, full disclosure. I know about the betrothal letter and about your tea at the Manor tomorrow.”

Charlie nodded. “I heard you were a frequent visitor at the Longbottom’s. I was also told you were the investigating Auror after Anna was attacked.”

Tonks sat on the old stone bench. “Not much of an investigation when there’s no charges filed.”

“I’m not asking you to break a confidence or anything, but Bill wasn’t able to tell me much, and if there’s something I should know…”

“My first year in the Auror Department, we had a violent double murder. I’d never seen anything like that before. Threw up on the floor,” Tonks said. “Mad-Eye pulled me aside, talked me through it all. Bit of a bonding moment for us.” Her smirk was forced. “Anyways, he took me out to a pub and told me about a few of the rougher incidents during the first war. A couple of the Aurors had trouble for a while because of what they saw, or what they had to do. Nightmares, flashbacks. One even left the Auror Department.”

Charlie nodded. “We had an incident on the Reserve four years ago. One of the handlers was killed by a dragon. It wasn’t quick.” He winced. “There wasn’t much left to bury when it was over either. Some of the guys had a hard time for a while.” He paused. “Are you trying to tell me that Anna’s having flashbacks?”

“I’m trying to tell you that when well-trained adults experience something they can’t handle, it has an impact.”

“Anna will be okay,” he said. “I know she will.”

“I agree. She’s a survivor and a powerful witch. Just be careful with her, yeah?”

“I would never hurt her, Tonks.”

“I know.” She stood up and patted his arm. “I should be getting back. See you soon.” She started walking towards the Apparition Point.

“Thanks,” he called out.

She nodded as she turned to Apparate. “One more thing, Charlie. Don’t push her up against a wall.”

xxxx

As they strolled along the garden path, Charlie took Anna’s hand gently in his own. She glanced at him with a shy smile, but allowed him to hold her hand. A tightness in his gut he hadn’t even noticed eased with that smile.

He’d been surprised when he arrived at the Manor for tea to find everyone there. Augusta and Anna had welcomed him and led him to the garden room. Remus and Sirius had greeted him while hastily shoving some notes under a thick tome. Neville and Harry followed them into the room having apparently just finished working on something in the greenhouse. Charlie quickly realized the advantage of having so many people present was the lack of awkward lulls in the conversation.

Anna was too nervous to do more than respond when spoken to for several minutes. He wasn’t sure what to do or say to help her relax so he focused his attention on the others. As everyone was finishing their tea, she quietly suggested they go out to the garden. Neville and Harry led the way down the path, allowing a measure of privacy for them as they followed along.

“I didn’t get a chance before to congratulate you when they were talking about O.W.L. results. Ten is fantastic!” Charlie said.

“Thank you. I was hoping for more than the one ‘Outstanding’, but…” her voice trailed off, as she shrugged.

“Well, if it makes you feel any better, I also had ten O.W.L.s with just the one ‘Outstanding’ in Magical Creatures. Bill and Percy each achieved twelve O.W.L.s. I still don’t know how they did it,” he laughed.

Anna smiled. “Did you always know you wanted to work with dragons?”

“Pretty much.” Charlie nodded. “I don’t remember exactly how old I was when I decided, but I knew from a young age I wanted to be a Draconologist. Working at the Reserve in Romania has been a dream come true.”

She stopped walking and bit her lip as she looked up at him. “Aunt Augusta said you were trying to get a transfer to one of the reserves here in Britain.”

“I am. The Reserve in Romania is not a particularly good place to have a wife or raise a family. But even if we…” He took a breath trying to collect his thoughts. “The fact is, with the war starting again and Voldemort being such a threat, I want to be closer to my family. I can work at the Welsh Green Sanctuary or the Hebridean Black Sanctuary and still Apparate home almost every night. I’ve been away for five years, and I recently realized I’ve been away too long.”

Anna started walking slowly again. “What makes you say that?”

“Since I’ve been gone, Percy’s become estranged from the family. Bill fell in love and is now engaged to be married next summer. The twins quit Hogwarts and are starting a joke shop on Diagon Alley. My baby sister apparently grew up enough to have a boyfriend.”

She laughed. “You have to know Harry and Ginny are perfect for each other.”

He glanced ahead. Harry and Neville were too far away to hear their conversation. They were smiling as they chatted and turned around. Charlie realized it was because of Anna’s laughter.

“Yeah,” Charlie admitted. “He seems like a great guy.”

They walked in comfortable silence for a few minutes.

“Have you thought at all about what you want to do in the future?” he asked. “I mean as far as a career is concerned.”

“I’ve considered becoming a Healer, but it’s a rather demanding career choice. I enjoy making potions, but I’m not sure I’d want to do that all day every day. I guess I’m rather undecided.” She bit her lip.

He smiled. “You look very cute when you bite your lip like that.”

She stopped walking. The color drained from her cheeks and her hand began to tremble slightly in his. Charlie knew he had somehow screwed up, but he had no idea how. “Anna, whatever I did wrong, I’m very sorry.”

She blinked several times and her chest rose and fell rapidly as her breaths quickened.

“Anna, we’re in the garden of Longbottom Manor. You’re perfectly safe.” Charlie kept his voice very calm and steady.

She glanced around quickly. “Charlie…sorry…I’m fine.”

He looked at her carefully for a moment. “Do you want to talk about what just happened?”

“No,” she shook her head. “Tell me about the baby dragons on the Reserve.”

Charlie relayed every sweet sappy story he could think of regarding baby dragons and soon Anna was smiling again. She was still holding his hand when they returned to the Manor. He realized Neville and Harry had either not noticed the brief difficulty or had not reacted because it was brief. He wondered how many episodes Anna had experienced in the last month. At least his first official visit with the young woman he hoped to marry had ended well.

xxxx

Molly waited patiently until everyone had finally retired for the night. She chose to ignore the fact that Bill and Fleur were still out for an evening stroll. She could only hope her youngest children didn’t realize they were not just walking when they disappeared every evening.

“Charlie, how was your visit at Longbottom Manor?”

“I already told everyone at dinner that it went well, Mum.”

She nodded. “I know. It’s just…I feel as though there is something you’re concerned about, but don’t want to say.”

Charlie looked at her for a moment before setting his book aside. “I said something that upset Anna briefly, but other than that we had a nice conversation.”

“What did you say?” she asked.

“I don’t remember the exact wording, but something along the lines of ‘you look cute when you bite your lip.’ Anna started to panic. I talked her down pretty easily. She didn’t want to talk about it afterwards.”

Molly tried to contain her feelings of anger and resentment. The Malfoy family had been nothing but trouble to her family for years, even before the cursed diary was slipped in her daughter’s cauldron. Seeing that her son was watching her closely and waiting for a response, she sighed. “I don’t know why that would upset Anna, but then again she refused to tell anyone what actually happened. Honestly, I’m not sure I’d be willing to talk about it either. The bruises were so awful.”

“I didn’t know you had seen her injuries,” Charlie said quietly.

She stared at her son, her mind racing as she considered what she should say. Making up her mind, she nodded. “I was there with Augusta when Poppy applied the first treatment of bruise paste and Murtlap Essence. Anna had bruises on her upper arms, her hips, her breasts, and her bottom. The marks on her wrists were horrible. She was obviously restrained in some way, and she fought hard against those restraints. Poppy said it would take at least a few days for the marks to disappear even with the dual treatment of bruise paste and Murtlap Essence.” Molly paused and took her son’s hand. “The worst was the bruising of Anna’s upper thighs. It was obvious he pushed his knee against her closed thighs very hard trying to separate them.”

Charlie’s eyes were cold and hard as he attempted to keep his anger in check. His skin darkened as his muscles tensed. Molly had never seen her son in such a state of simmering fury.

“Why the fuck would anyone treat a woman like that?”

“I don’t know, son. There’s no excuse for what he did to her.”

He nodded. “I’m going out for a run. I’ll see you in the morning, Mum.”

xxxx

Ginny awoke on the morning of the thirty-first with a feeling of utter contentment. She would be seeing Harry in a few short hours. He would be arriving with Neville and Anna shortly after noon. They were to spend the entire day together. Mum had planned for an evening birthday dinner for Harry and Neville since their birthdays were only a day apart. Everyone would be at The Burrow, including the entire Weasley family, except for Percy of course.

Ron and Hermione had been talking for days about the activities they could enjoy before the actual dinner. Quidditch was of course at the top of Ron’s list. They had also discussed swimming in the pond, a game of sardines, and even dancing. Mum reminded them the dinner would last longer than usual since Neville and Harry would need time to open their presents and blow out the candles on their joint birthday cake. It was a clever creation depicting the golden snitch floating over a Mimbulus mimbletonia plant.

Fortunately, the morning passed quickly and soon the Floo activated. Remus came through first, followed by Tonks and Sirius. The teens came through next, with Augusta bringing up the rear. For several minutes, there was nothing but hugs, greetings, and random excited chatter.

Ron managed to maneuver everyone outside and was soon barking orders for a Quidditch game.

“I’m not playing, Ronald!” Hermione exclaimed after hearing that she was supposed to be a Chaser for one of the teams.

“Neither am I,” Anna said. “I’ll happily watch and cheer you all on, but that’s all.”

“How are we supposed to field full teams if you two refuse to play?” Ron demanded.

Harry glanced at Neville. “Since it is our birthday, I’m sure we can get Sirius, Remus, and Tonks to agree to play,” he said loudly. “Don’t you think, Neville?”

The adults quickly agreed to play, and though they didn’t have full teams, they certainly had enough participants to play a realistic Quidditch game.

Hermione and Anna cheered both sides enthusiastically. Everyone congratulated the winning team, which included Harry and Neville, when the match finally ended.

“Good catch, Harry.” Charlie smiled as he patted his rival Seeker on the back.

“You didn’t fall for my feints at all,” Harry observed.

“I’ve been around too long for that,” Charlie chuckled. “Still, you’re the fastest and most reckless flier I’ve seen in quite a while. You could probably make professional.”

Harry laughed.

“Let’s go to the pond,” Ginny suggested. “We’re all hot. It’s the perfect time for a swim.”

Harry took her hand as they walked to the pond. He kept squeezing her hand and giving her looks that made her heart race. Ginny knew a moment alone with Harry was not likely anytime soon, but she hoped for a few minutes later in the evening.

At the pond, everyone undressed to their undergarments. Tonks quickly transfigured the girls’ knickers and bras to look more like proper bikinis, and they were soon swimming and floating.

Ginny was not oblivious to the fact that Bill and Fleur disappeared behind a tree for an extended time. Nor did she fail to notice the way Charlie carefully maintained a respectable distance as he spoke with Anna. Ginny was trying to figure out how to sneak away with Harry for a few minutes when Sirius started a splash fight that quickly drew everyone in.

It was a thoroughly drenched, laughing group that made their way back to The Burrow for the birthday party. Mum was in her element. With two birthday boys to cook for, she’d prepared a feast that started with bowls of steaming split pea and ham soup, followed by a joint of beef and a huge bowl of Bubble and Squeak. Ginny made sure her brothers let her sit next to Harry who was sharing the head of the table with Neville. The two were a bit cramped together and kept bumping elbows. The other diners laughed when Neville growled at Harry for nearly putting his elbow in Neville’s plate one too many times.

When everyone was groaning with satisfaction, the boys opened their presents. Two clear themes were evident as the piles grew. Harry’s presents were mostly related to Defense and Quidditch, while Neville received Herbology books and gardening paraphernalia. Fred and George snuck off for a few minutes while Mum brought out the cake. Neville’s eyes were big as saucers at the sight of such an extraordinary cake. His sincere praise had Mum flushing with pleasure as she cut and served each piece. After Ron put down his fork following his fourth helping, George flicked his wand and began a truly awesome fireworks display. Harry scooted his chair close enough to Ginny’s so that he could put his arm around her. She laid her head on his shoulder and contentedly watched the brief display in his warm embrace.

As the last sparkling ember died away, Dad turned on the wireless to Ginny’s favorite station.

Harry turned to her, using the formal words they’d been taught in their dancing lessons. “Would you do me the honor of dancing with me?”

She smiled as she took his hand and stepped into his arms. For a time, she could believe they were alone dancing under a moonlit sky. Other couples slowly revolved around them. Whispered conversations, muted giggles, and other sounds filled the night.

Ginny noticed Charlie dancing with Anna only a few feet away. They were talking, and then, he lifted her into his arms, twirling her slowly. She laughed as he set her back on her feet. A bright light suddenly emerged from their bodies and began to swirl around them. Charlie and Anna were frozen in place, as still and silent as statues. The golden light seemed to solidify as it surrounded them, distorting them from view.

“Bill, look!” Fleur exclaimed.

Cursing under his breath, Bill drew his wand and hurried towards the couple.

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Chapter 20: Chapter 20 Power

Author's Notes: With gratitude to my beta, Arnel, and everyone who is reading and reviewing!


Chapter 20

Power

“Bill, look!” Fleur exclaimed.

Cursing under his breath, Bill drew his wand and hurried towards Charlie and Anna. He cast a diagnostic scan of the magic and read it quickly before flicking his wand again. He needed to know exactly what was happening. He needed to understand.

“Anna!” Neville’s eyes were wild. “What happened to her?”

“She’s okay,” Bill tersely responded and flicked his wand once more at the couple.

“Anna!” Neville stretched out his arm, trying to reach his cousin through the elongated sphere of golden light. A pulse of energy struck his hand, throwing him back several feet. He hit the ground hard, clearly unconscious.

Everyone was rapidly gathering around the pair, staring in trepidation at the semi-solid wall of light surrounding Charlie and Anna.

“Don’t touch them!” Fleur shouted out the warning as she knelt beside Neville trying to revive him. Bill spared a quick glance in their direction and was relieved when her second attempt worked.

“What’s going on? What’s happened to them?” Mum demanded.

“It’ll be okay, Molly.” Dad’s voice was purposefully calm. “Let’s not distract Bill. Albus is on his way.”

Bill tried to tune everyone out as he continued to work, casting one spell after another. His years at Gringotts had served him well. He knew a ridiculous number of spells and could usually identify the exact magic being utilized in any given space. He was vaguely aware of others near him, drawing their wands, waiting to see what would happen next.

The light vanished as suddenly as it had appeared, dispersing through the pores in their skin. Lowering his wand, Bill moved rapidly towards his brother, reaching out to help him as he began to sag. Charlie’s legs were buckling beneath him, muscle fatigue evident in his clumsy movements.

“Don’t touch her!” Charlie growled, his grip tightening around the limp form of Anna as he staggered slightly. Gritting his teeth, he straightened his legs.

Bill spread his arms and took a step back, trying to indicate to the others to keep their distance. “No one is trying to take Anna from you.” He forced himself to speak slowly, calmly. “We understand. You have her. Do you need help carrying her back to the house?”

“No!” Charlie snapped. He swept Anna up into his arms and held her tightly against him. His eyes held a feral look as they swept over the gathered crowd. Locking his jaw, he stalked towards The Burrow.

Bill looked around, noting the shocked stares as everyone followed Charlie’s progress to the house. Ginny slipped ahead and threw open the door before stepping out of the way. Charlie entered the house and moved directly to the living room, collapsing into the large armchair. He cradled Anna carefully in his arms. Her body was turned towards him, her face pressed against the side of his neck.

Wary glances swept the room as everyone cautiously approached the couple. The perplexed look on Albus Dumbledore’s face was perhaps the most disturbing to Bill.

“Charlie, dear,” Mum said. “Please put Anna on the sofa so we can examine her.”

His brother gave no indication he heard the request.

“Charlie, we need to examine Anna. She’s unconscious. We’re all very concerned about what just happened.” Mum’s voice was coaxing. She slowly reached a hand towards Anna and gently stroked the girl’s arm.

“Anna’s awake,” Charlie stated clearly. “And she stays with me.”

Bill looked more carefully at the still form on his brother’s lap. He observed the steady movement of her torso as she breathed, the slight tremble of her hand, fisted in the front of Charlie’s shirt. Raking a hand roughly through his hair, he closed his eyes. Fleur leaned against him, immediately centering his confused mind.

“Son, can you tell us what just happened?” Dad asked.

Charlie closed his eyes briefly before focusing on Dad. He seemed lost in thought for a moment, or was perhaps trying to organize the chaos of emotions and experiences in his mind before attempting an explanation. “We were dancing. It was such a great ending to the day. Anna looked so happy, so relaxed.” He cleared his throat. “I asked Anna if she was willing to enter into the betrothal agreement with me. She said ‘yes.’ I picked her up and twirled her around. She was laughing.” His gaze lowered to the witch in his arms. “Then the light appeared. I couldn’t move. It was like being hit with a Full-Body Bind. The power that surrounded us was…I don’t know how to describe it.” He dropped his head to Anna’s hair and pressed her to him more securely.

When Charlie finished speaking, Bill discovered he wasn’t the only one glancing about the room, noting the impotent frustration and mute anxiety of those around him. Ginny had taken a single step forward, concern writ on her face, while Harry laced her fingers with his own and attempted to give her a reassuring smile. Mum brushed a tear from her cheek as Dad embraced her. Neville shifted uneasily beside Remus, whose calm expression contrasted with his clenched fists. The only one of the group who didn’t seem disturbed by the story was Dumbledore. If truth be told, he seemed to be rather pleased.

“It is quite late,” Albus observed. “Perhaps since they both seem to be well for the moment, we should delay further conversation until the morning.”

Augusta nodded as she took a step forward. “Anna dear, I need you to say something. Please look at me.”

Charlie raised his head warily and eased his grip slightly on the girl in his arms. Anna turned her face towards her aunt. She looked frighteningly pale, but her eyes were clear.

“Anna, are you okay?” Augusta asked.

“Yes,” she whispered.

“Do you want to come home to the Manor?” her aunt inquired.

“No. I want to stay.” Anna’s voice cracked as she clung to Charlie and hid her face against his neck.

Charlie’s eyes glinted dangerously as he tightened his hold on her.

“They are clearly exhausted and overwrought,” Augusta observed. “Albus is correct. We should wait until morning to talk about this situation.”

As she withdrew to speak with Albus and his parents, Bill leaned forward. “Charlie, I’m going to cast a spell to widen and lengthen the chair, so you can both sleep here tonight.”

At Charlie’s nod, he flicked his wand.

“Bill, what are you doing?” Mum asked.

“Just making the chair more comfortable for sleeping. I’ll fix it in the morning.”

Mum gaped in shock. “They can’t sleep down here together like this!”

“It’s nearly midnight. They’re physically exhausted and magically drained.” Bill rubbed his forehead and sighed in exasperation. “Mum, are you really concerned Charlie’s even capable of rolling over and f…”

“Bill!” Fleur grabbed his arm. Her quelling look silencing him.

“Sorry,” he muttered. “We’re all tired. Let’s call it a night and discuss this in the morning.”

Dad wrapped an arm around Mum and nodded decisively. “Children! Off to bed now please!”

The teens slowly ascended the stairs, some casting concerned glances towards the still forms on the enlarged chair. Dad escorted their adult guests to the Floo, watched them depart, and closed the Network connection for the night.

xxxxx

“Bill, we must tell them!” Fleur insisted.

He rubbed his hands over his face. “I know! It’s just…if we say anything to Charlie and Anna, we’ll have to tell everyone. They’ll all know.”

“So, what if they do? I’m not ashamed. Are you?” One perfect eyebrow was raised in challenge.

“Of course, I’m not ashamed!” Bill grabbed her, pulling her into a tight embrace. “It’s just so personal. It’s no one’s business.”

She exhaled slowly, threading one hand through his hair. “We were lucky enough to be alone when this happened to us. We have had months to adjust to this bond. Charlie and Anna won’t have that luxury. They are afraid and overwhelmed. Your family and friends may not understand what occurred, but they all witnessed it. How can we not share what we know?”

“I just…I wish I understood more about it.” He gently kissed her forehead, her cheek and finally her lips, before setting his head to rest on her shoulder, sighing as he felt the reassuring warmth of her arms around him.

“You must have learned a great deal last night with all the diagnostic spells you were casting.”

Bill nodded. “The magic is extraordinary!” His eyes went diffuse for a moment; his lips parting with unformed questions. “I still have more questions than answers though.”

“Well, one thing is now clear,” Fleur declared. “This phenomenon happens in the Weasley family.”

“Are you blaming me for this?” He raised an eyebrow.

She smiled. “Two Weasleys have now experienced this…whatever it is, with two witches. Anna and I are not connected, so I think you Weasley men can fairly be blamed.”

Bill smirked as he pulled his fiancÚ onto his lap. “Oh, yes. You ladies are so innocent in all of this.”

“Of course, we are,” she replied. “Anna and I are both seven years younger than the Weasley men who have swept us off our feet.”

“Mm hmm,” he groaned as his mouth descended on hers. She melted against him, moaning as her lips moved with his.

The faint chiming of an alarm sounded through The Burrow. It was the alert of the Floo being opened. Bill sighed in resignation. “I suppose we have to go downstairs.”

“Look on the bright side. You can finally talk to your brother honestly about our relationship. I know you have wanted to.” She smiled brightly. “I’m eager to talk to Anna. We will be sisters-in-law and friends. We have a great deal in common.” Fleur stroked her fingertips down his arms as she stood up.

xxxx

Ginny and Hermione dressed rapidly and hurried down the stairs. They’d stayed up late the night before speculating about what had occurred between Charlie and Anna. When they arrived in the living room, they noticed the couple still sleeping and continued into the kitchen.

“Morning, Mum,” Ginny said. She noted the absence of most of her family.

“Good morning, girls. I don’t know when everyone will arrive. Will you help me set the table for breakfast?”

“Of course!” Hermione grabbed cutlery and napkins and quickly dispersed them, while Ginny set out teacups and juice glasses on the magically expanded table.

Dad came in and opened the Floo just as Harry, Ron, and Neville walked into the kitchen.

“Anna and Charlie are still asleep,” Neville said. “They’re okay, aren’t they?”

Dad nodded. “I’m sure they are, but let’s go check on them.” He patted Neville’s shoulder as they went into the living room.

Emerald green flames illuminated the room as the Floo flared. Augusta and Remus were the first to arrive, followed by Tonks, Sirius and Dumbledore.

Mum was quick to serve everyone a plate of eggs and sausage. Stacks of toast floated over at regular intervals. Pots of tea and carafes of pumpkin juice were already on the table. The twins sat in their normal places, followed by Bill and Fleur. Neville looked visibly relieved as he led Anna into the kitchen. She was trying to smooth the wrinkles out of her skirt while nodding in response to her cousin’s whispered words. Charlie and Dad were the last to join them. Dad went to his seat at the head of the table, while Charlie squeezed into the spot beside Anna. They accepted their breakfasts with murmurs of thanks.

Everyone was silent for several minutes as food quickly disappeared from the table. No one seemed prepared to be the first to speak about the events of the previous night.

“Charlie. Anna,” Dad began. “I know it may be difficult to talk about what happened last evening, but we are all here to help you and support you in whatever way we can.”

“Thanks, Dad,” Charlie said. “I honestly don’t know what else to say about it.”

“I’ve done a bit of research in my private library. From what I witnessed last night, I do believe some kind of magical bond occurred between you and Miss Henry.” Dumbledore announced. “I wonder if your findings concur with mine, Bill.”

He nodded and focused on Charlie as he spoke. “I cast a series of diagnostic spells last night to obtain a feel for the magic in the air. The light we witnessed was a product of the power of your magical core joining Anna’s. It caused a protective force that surrounded you both for several minutes. The magic was strong enough to literally repel Neville when he tried to approach you. By the time the energy receded, you were both drained, physically and magically. That’s why Anna briefly lost consciousness and why you had some difficulty summoning the strength to carry her back to the house. There’s no doubt in my mind that your magic bonded with Anna’s in a significant way.”

“What does that mean exactly?” Mum had a bewildered look on her face. “Surely, you don’t mean a soul bond? It’s just a legend, isn’t it?”

Dumbledore shrugged. “There is often some truth in everything we think of as being legend.”

“What’s a soul bond?” Harry asked.

“I’ve only ever heard of them as part of romantic fairy tales,” Ginny explained. “The wizard and witch are connected in a soul bond. They must be physically together for a period of time until the bond becomes permanent. Some legends say if the couple are separated for even a moment, they can fall ill and die. They can hear each other’s thoughts. Feel each other’s emotions. Their minds are so connected neither can really function on their own. The couple must be together all the time. In many of the stories, when one dies, the other soon perishes.”

Hermione’s eyes widened in shock. “That’s ridiculous!”

“Yes, it certainly is!” Fleur declared. She gave Bill a challenging look.

He groaned. “Charlie, what happened between you and Anna last night, happened to Fleur and me about a year ago.”

“What?” Mum shrieked. “Why didn’t you say anything?”

“Because it’s incredibly personal!” Bill exclaimed. “I wouldn’t be admitting to it now, but Charlie and Anna shouldn’t have to face this on their own!”

“Son, I understand that as an adult, you’re certainly not obligated to tell us everything that happens between you and Fleur.” Dad rubbed the back of his neck. “I’m confused about why this magical bonding is so personal, though. Nothing that happened between Charlie and Anna last night seemed particularly private.”

The expressions of the four became exceptionally closed. A slight blush suffused Anna’s cheeks as she reached for her tea cup.

“What are we missing?” Remus asked.

“My guess is we’re missing what Charlie and Anna actually experienced while surrounded by the light,” Sirius commented. “Several minutes are somewhat unaccounted for.”

Charlie slid an arm around Anna. “As Bill said, it’s personal.”

“And it’s not important to this discussion,” Fleur declared.

“What is important?” Dad inquired.

Bill smiled at his fiancÚ. “Power. It was such a subtle shift neither of us noticed initially.”

“I thought it was simply natural maturation of my magic until Bill asked me if I’d noticed any changes.” Fleur added.

“It’s not an overwhelming shift in my magic, but I can feel a noticeable difference. I have greater control, better focus. My spell work has become increasingly automatic,” Bill explained.

Fleur stroked his arm. “My ability to cast nonverbal spells has improved and I feel as though my reflexes are just slightly faster. As Bill explained, the changes are not dramatic, but you will likely pick up on some refinements in your magic.”

“What else can you tell us about the bond?” Anna asked.

Fleur looked at Bill thoughtfully. “The other benefit is I can feel Bill’s presence. I’m not certain exactly how, but I always know where Bill is in the house or at the bank. It is a vague pulling, I suppose, in his direction.”

Bill nodded. “My only guess is our magic tries to reach out to each other when we are near, but not together. It’s not an uncomfortable feeling and it only works when we’re in the same building. If Fleur went out to the orchard or the pond right now, I wouldn’t know where she was.”

“And the stuff from the legends?” Charlie asked.

“We can’t hear each other’s thoughts or feel each other’s emotions.” Bill shrugged. “Obviously, we aren’t together all the time. Fleur spent a few days last Christmas in France with her family while I was here. I’ve been to Germany a couple of times. We definitely prefer to be together as much as possible, but neither of us suffers physically or magically from being apart.”

A brief silence descended as everyone considered the situation.

“Why did these bonds form?” Remus wondered. “Magic is generally very cause and effect in practice. Spells must be cast. Potions must be brewed. What made this happen? And why Bill and Fleur? Why Charlie and Anna?”

Bill sighed. “Those are questions I don’t have the answers for. Fleur and I have been quietly researching this phenomenon for months. We haven’t been able to identify any other couples that have experienced this, currently or in the past. I know Fleur and I weren’t dabbling in any obscure branches of magic that accidentally caused our bond to form. We all saw Charlie and Anna dancing before they were bonded. Clearly, they didn’t do anything to cause this. I found no evidence of malicious spells or anything along those lines. Beyond that…Mum, Dad, I don’t suppose there are any old stories about events like this happening in the Weasley or Prewett families?”

“No, son,” Dad responded. “And, I’m assuming you all want this kept quiet, but perhaps…”

Molly nodded in accord. “I can speak with Muriel. She’s a font of knowledge, and not only about the Prewett family. I’ll be very careful about what I say.”

“Wait a minute!” George exclaimed. “Do you think this is just happening in our family?”

“Relax, little brother.” Bill smirked. “Even if this was somehow caused by our family traits, that doesn’t automatically mean it will happen again. I mean as far as we know it never happened previously.”

“Well, it sounds as though last night’s event will cause no harm and may indeed offer a few benefits.” Dumbledore cast his twinkling gaze towards Charlie and Anna. “I’ll be most curious to learn whether your experiences are similar to those of Bill and Fleur, or whether they will be different in some manner.”

“I agree with Albus,” Augusta said. “I’ll admit to being rather concerned last night, but you both seem perfectly well now.”

The smile on Anna’s face fell as she turned to Charlie. “What’s wrong?”

He stroked the side of her face gently with his fingertips. “You have two more years left at Hogwarts. You in Scotland…me in Romania.” Charlie shook his head. “We can’t do that. Bill and Fleur have spent days apart, not months on end.”

“You’re right,” Anna chewed her lip. “What are we going to do?”

“I’ll contact the Welsh Green and Hebridean Black Sanctuaries. They already have my transfer applications. Hopefully, one of them will have an opening. Soon.”

“And if they don’t?”

“We have a few weeks to consider our options,” Charlie replied.

Augusta cleared her throat. “Anna dear, I do believe you and Charlie are getting a bit ahead of yourselves. Let’s tackle one practical matter at a time. I’m thinking you have some news for me?”

She nodded and smiled. “Charlie and I would like to proceed with the betrothal agreement.”

“That’s wonderful news!” Augusta smiled. “I have the preliminary contract with me. Molly, if you would help me finalize the agreement, we can have it ready to be signed within the hour.”

“Oh, yes, of course! We’ll need to prepare a betrothal announcement for publication in the Daily Prophet, as well.” Turning from Augusta to Charlie and Anna, Mum hurried over to them. “I’m so happy for you both!” She reached them just as they stood up and quickly pulled them both into a fierce hug.

When she let go, the others in the room surged forward, each offering Charlie and Anna hugs and words of congratulation. Mum joined Augusta at the small desk in the corner of the kitchen, pouring over the necessary paperwork that would formalize the couple’s relationship. Bill smirked as Fleur tried to draw Anna into a conversation about wedding plans. Judging by the look on her face, Anna wasn’t half as interested in color schemes and fabric options as his fiancÚ.

Charlie exuded calm satisfaction as he watched his future wife. The possessive anger of the night before was completely absent, apparently a brief after-effect of their public bonding. Bill’s mind wandered as he considered their conversation about the bond. He understood more now about the magic involved, but so many questions remained unanswered. At least he and Fleur would have the opportunity to share their observations and experiences with Charlie and Anna. His thoughts were interrupted by Ron’s suggestion of a brief Quidditch game or swim in the pond. With a smile on his face, he followed the buoyant group out of the kitchen.

Back to index


Chapter 21: Chapter 21 Making Plans

Author's Notes: With thanks to my beta, Arnel.


Chapter 21

Making Plans

Albus knocked on the door of the hut and waited patiently.

“Just a tic, then!” Hagrid threw the door open. “Professor Dumbledore, sir! Come in, come in! I’ll put the kettle on.”

“Thank you, Hagrid.” He smiled as he patted Fang on the head. “I haven’t seen you in the last couple of weeks, so I decided to pay you a visit. I hope you are enjoying a pleasant summer.”

“Sure am! Just finished fixin’ up me hut better than ever. Grawp is havin’ some trouble settlin’ in like, what with the trouble in the forest,” Hagrid admitted. “He’ll be fine soon, though. I’m keepin’ him closer.”

Albus settled himself in a comfortable chair. “I’m sure he will. I must say I’m very proud of you, Hagrid, for bringing your brother here and working so hard these many months to help him feel comfortable.”

“Least I could do really,” he replied. “Me dad would’ve expected me to help out.”

“Indeed.” Albus stroked his beard. “I wonder if your brother would be more comfortable in a cave in the mountains. The Forbidden Forest is home to so many creatures.”

“True enough. And not so willin’ to share as they used to be.” Hagrid frowned.

He nodded. “Hagrid, I hope you will permit me to arrange a better home for your brother. I have a perfect location in mind. Will you allow me to prepare the space?”

“O’ course, sir!” Hagrid was beaming as he handed Albus a cup of tea.

“Excellent! I was hoping you would approve of the idea!” He took a sip of tea. “I wonder if you can help me with something. I have given it a great deal of thought and believe I’ve come up with the perfect solution, but I do value your opinion.”

“Certainly, sir!”

“I feel I’ve let you down, and let Grawp down,” Albus admitted. “As brothers, you’ve had precious little time together. Grawp requires more of your expertise so that he is comfortable living here. I also have a great need for your assistance within the Order. There are so many jobs I’m not willing to trust to anyone else.”

“I’ll do whatever you need me to!” He promised.

Albus clasped his hand. “Your trust and loyalty means so much, particularly in these troubled times with Voldemort gaining more influence by the day. Death Eaters and Dementors seem to be running rampant all over Britain.”

“How can I help, sir?” Hagrid asked.

“Well, I have an idea that will allow you ample time to fulfill your familial obligations, as well as allow me to send you off on frequent missions for the Order.” He sighed. “Hagrid, there are so many tasks I would assign to no one, but you. Unfortunately, I feel somewhat constrained by your teaching obligations. I wonder if you would be willing to take a sabbatical.”

“A what, sir?”

“A sabbatical. It is a period of leave, generally one year, during which a professor hones their skills by engaging in focused study of a particular topic of interest. You have a unique opportunity to learn from your brother and bring your expertise back to the school next year.”

Hagrid frowned. “But who would teach the classes while I’m gone?”

Albus smiled. “I do believe I’ll be able to convince Charlie Weasley to take the teaching post during your sabbatical.”

“I always liked Charlie,” Hagrid commented. “Great with animals!”

“He is indeed,” Albus nodded. “With Charlie covering your classes, you’ll have ample time to help your brother settle comfortably into his new home and to complete your duties as gamekeeper.” He paused. “And I won’t feel guilty asking you to go on regular assignments for the Order. I really need you to complete certain tasks for me, as well as to liaison with Madam Maxime occasionally during the coming school year.”

“Ya need me to…what?”

“During these troubled times, we must maintain good relations with the magical communities in Europe,” he explained. “I’m quite confident you are the perfect person for me to send to France to have meetings with the Headmistress of Beauxbatons in the coming year.”

“Yes, sir,” Hagrid swallowed. “Happy to do me duty to the Order!”

Albus took his time walking back to his office. His conversation with Hagrid had been productive. Recent events had him feeling rather more hopeful than he had since his foolish mistake with the ring. Glancing briefly at his withered hand, he frowned. No point dwelling on it. According to Severus, he had several more months to live. He meant to make the most of them.

Entering his office, he approached the majestic phoenix. “Fawkes, my old friend. I need you to deliver a letter to Nicolas Vasile at the Dragon Reserve in Romania and await his response.” He stroked the bird’s scarlet plumage thoughtfully. “Of course, first I must compose the letter.”

He had maintained a friendly correspondence with Nicolas ever since the debacle with the Chinese Fireball during the first task of the Triwizard Tournament. Albus had been appalled by the loss of so many dragon eggs and had wanted to reach out to the director of the Romanian Reserve to apologize. The Heads of each school had been kept in the dark about the specifics of the first task, which was planned by Ludo Bagman and Barty Crouch, Sr. Albus had insisted on knowing the details of the remaining tasks, not that his knowledge had prevented the disastrous conclusion of the tournament.

Nicolas had been quite gracious, blaming only the British Ministry and no one else for the loss of the eggs. The subsequent letters Albus exchanged with the director covered a variety of topics, one of which was Charlie Weasley. Nicolas was lavish in his praise of the young Draconologist, whose skill set was developing in unique ways. The director had expressed disappointment in Charlie’s request for a transfer to one of the small dragon reserves in Britain. Naturally, he had written a glowing recommendation for Charlie, while reminding him the transfer could take a few years since openings were rare.

Albus knew his letter would have to be highly persuasive to secure the year of absence he needed for Charlie to become his Care of Magical Creatures professor. Nicolas did not want to lose the dragon handler any sooner than he had to. Albus sat in the chair at his desk and stroked his beard. He needed the director to agree to the year of absence. With Nicolas’s letter of permission in hand, he was certain he could convince Charlie to take the teaching post. Albus needed both Charlie and Anna at Hogwarts. He needed to learn more about the magical bond they shared. As Order members, he had frequent access to Bill and Fleur and intended to observe them far more closely also. He wanted to understand the magic he had witnessed.

He picked up his quill and began to write.

xxxxx

“Gin, we’re going to be caught!” Harry protested.

“I don’t care!” She pulled him behind the broom shed. “Kiss me!”

Harry glanced around quickly before pulling Ginny to him. His mouth caressed hers, kissing her slowly, gently. She moaned into his mouth. He tightened his grasp as he pressed his tongue between her slightly parted lips. The feel of her was deliciously overwhelming. His hands roamed over her back, her shoulders, her neck, always returning to the fiery red hair. The scent of her floral shampoo lingered on her tresses and permeated the air around her. Harry groaned with sweet desire.

“You’re right,” he murmured. “I don’t care if we’re caught.”

Ginny giggled as he left a trail of kisses down her neck. Her hands were in his hair, probably making it look even messier than normal. He couldn’t care less.

Easing back slightly, Harry stared into her beautiful brown eyes. “I’m looking forward to being back at Hogwarts with you.”

She grinned. “So we can make use of all the school’s broom cupboards?”

“No!” He laughed as he stroked the length of her arms. “I want to be able to take you to Hogsmeade on proper dates. We can have lunch together at the Three Broomsticks and visit a few shops. I can buy you your favorite chocolates from Honeydukes.”

“That will be nice,” Ginny agreed, then smirked cheekily. “Though I wouldn’t be opposed to broom cupboards.”

“We can find better places than that.” Harry kissed her lips gently. “The Room of Requirement.” He tilted his head and kissed her again. “The Astronomy Tower.” He pressed his mouth to hers once more, wrapping his arms around her tightly, preparing to deepen the kiss.

“Great to hear you’ve identified some good snogging locations at Hogwarts,” Sirius commented.

The couple sprang apart, both blushing slightly.

Sirius was leaning against the wall of the broom shed, smirking at them. “Sorry to interrupt, Pup. We’re going back to the Manor for lunch. Remus is insisting on normal lessons this afternoon.”

Harry ran his hand through his hair. They were originally supposed to leave directly after breakfast this morning. He supposed the extra couple hours were all he could realistically hope for.

“Sirius, you won’t…um…mention to Mum how you found us, right?” Ginny asked.

He shrugged nonchalantly. “All I heard was a conversation about Hogwarts. Didn’t notice anything else.”

The teens shared a brief glance, relief mirrored on their faces. Hand in hand, Harry and Ginny followed Sirius back to the house to say their goodbyes.

xxxxx

Charlie held Anna’s hand as they strolled along the main walkway through the gardens of Longbottom Manor. The stone path led them in a wide, meandering circle around the large house. Approaching the ward lines in several places, it was almost exactly one mile in length. The route snaked around trees and crossed two narrow wooden bridges over the stream on the property. Occasionally, a smaller path branched off, but they followed the main one. The sun was rapidly setting. Brilliant hues of red, orange, and pink painted the sky and were easily visible through the canopy of trees.

Charlie had been pleasantly surprised when Augusta invited him to come to the Manor for a few days. He had quickly packed a small bag and followed them through the Floo. The opportunity to spend time with Anna and her family was not something he would pass up. Lunch was a calmer affair than what he was used to at The Burrow. The conversation covered a variety of topics, including the betrothal announcement for the Daily Prophet, the latest news about Death Eater attacks, and a planned trip to Diagon Alley at the end of the week. The house-elves had prepared a delicious meal consisting of grilled sea bass, coconut rice, and a garden salad.

The afternoon lessons began as soon as the meal ended. Neville went to the greenhouse with Remus, while Harry and Anna headed directly to an open space behind the house. Charlie joined Sirius as he walked behind the two teens and stopped several yards away from them.

“I mostly just sit and observe.” Sirius conjured a large Adirondack chair and settled into it. “They know what they’re supposed to do.”

“I heard they often practice dueling in the afternoon,” Charlie said.

“They’ve all become quite good. Remus and Neville will join us for dueling practice in about an hour. In the meantime, Harry and Anna will attempt wandless magic.”

Harry and Anna placed their wands in the grass a few feet in front of them. They both stood looking at their wands with hands outstretched towards them, focused expressions on their faces.

Charlie conjured a simple wooden bench. “What exactly are they supposed to try to do?”

“Harry is trying to cast the Wand-Lighting Spell. Anna is trying to Summon her wand.”

Charlie sat on the bench and stared at the older man for a moment. “Why?”

Sirius smirked. “Wandless magic is quite an advantage in battle. Don’t you think it’s something that would benefit them?”

“Of course, but they haven’t even completed their education at Hogwarts. How many fully-trained adult witches and wizards can perform magic without a wand?”

“Not many,” Sirius admitted. “But Harry and Anna already have. Now they just need to learn to control it.”

“When did they cast wandless magic?” Charlie asked.

“Harry used the Wand-Lighting Spell after he and his cousin, Dudley, were attacked by Dementors last summer. He’d dropped his wand, and said the spell in desperation as he searched for his lost wand in the dark.” Sirius rubbed the back of his neck before continuing quietly. “Anna wandlessly Stunned the Malfoy boy and then Summoned her wand. That’s how she escaped.”

“You can’t be serious!”

“And, yet I am, in more ways than one,” he muttered.

“That fucking…” Charlie’s voice trailed off as he attempted to master his emotions.

Sirius nodded and exhaled slowly. “Anyways, the point is that Harry and Anna have both already done wandless magic when under extreme stress. They are capable of it, but they need to learn to control it. Remus believes once they can reproduce the spells they have already managed without a wand, they have the potential to learn other spells as well.”

Charlie watched them quietly for several minutes. “I would imagine the line between wandless magic and the accidental magic young children perform can be pretty thin for teens.”

“Which is why they only practice a few days a week for an hour at a time.” Sirius shrugged. “They may never be able to control wandless magic. In the meantime, they are quietly focusing on the magic in their bodies, on feeling it move and flow.”

“Almost like meditation,” Charlie murmured. He could certainly understand the benefit of learning to feel magic in such a fundamental way.

“You did it!” Anna exclaimed.

Charlie’s eyes snapped to the lit wand in front of Harry. Sirius leapt from his chair and hurried over to his godson as Anna pulled her friend into a congratulatory hug.

“Excellent work, Harry!” His godfather patted his back. “Let’s see if you can do it again.”

Harry nodded and closed his eyes for a moment. His breathing slowed as he stretched out his hand to the wand still on the grass. A moment passed before the tip of the wand lit brightly once more.

“How are you doing it, Harry? What’s different today?” Anna asked. Her eyes were bright with excitement.

A faint blush spread over Harry’s face. “Well…erm…to be honest, my mind wandered for a bit there. I was actually thinking about Ginny.” His gaze was fixed firmly on the ground in front of him.

Charlie frowned in confusion while Sirius started laughing beside him.

“Were you just thinking about Ginny, or were you thinking about snogging your girlfriend behind the broom shed this morning?” Sirius chuckled.

Harry looked up sheepishly. “I was thinking about how her hair always smells like flowers, and about how I feel when I hold her.”

The slight longing in his tone sobered Sirius. “I’m very proud of you. I know it’s been difficult to continually attempt a task that seemed rather impossible.”

Remus and Neville joined the group a few minutes later, and the dueling practice began. Watching Anna and Neville pair up to duel Harry was stressful enough for Charlie. Unfortunately, Sirius suggested Charlie monitor a duel pitting the three teens against Sirius and Remus. Charlie’s wand was clenched tightly in his hand, ready to Stun one or all of them at a moment’s notice. He didn’t relax until Augusta finally ordered them all back into the house to change for dinner.

The dinner conversation began with a discussion of Harry’s success with the wandless ‘Lumos’ spell and with speculation about how to help him progress in his ability. Charlie was impressed with the comradery among the teens, as well as with the thoughtful discussion that ensued as everyone enjoyed the roast lamb with parsnips, carrots, and potatoes, served alongside a strawberry and plum salad.

“Anna, I sent off the formal responses to the Macmillan, Zabini, and Malfoy families this afternoon,” Augusta announced. “They should receive the letters declining interest in a betrothal well before the announcement of your betrothal with Charlie appears in tomorrow morning’s edition of the Daily Prophet.”

“Thank you, Aunt Augusta,” Anna said. She pushed the food around on her plate a moment longer before setting her fork down and drinking the last of her wine. “I’d like to go outside for a walk before it becomes too dark.”

“Of course, dear,” her aunt replied.

“May I join you?” Charlie asked.

Anna nodded as she stood and led the way out of the dining room. The first several minutes of their walk was in silence and at a fast pace. Charlie wasn’t sure what to do or say so he strode along the path beside her and waited for her to become calmer. He was quickly learning she was an odd mixture of strength and timidity, of fearfulness and perseverance. Eventually, her pace slowed. When she paused to watch a rabbit nibbling on clover by a bush, he took a chance and reached for her hand. Anna smiled as she laced her fingers through his and continued walking slowly along the path.

The sun was setting rapidly. A myriad of fiery hues blurred the ever-darkening sky.

“Anna,” Charlie began. “If I were to buy you an engagement ring, would you wear it?”

“Yes, of course, but…my parents’ rings, as well as both sets of my grandparents’ rings, are in my vault at Gringotts.” She bit her lower lip. “What would you think about using one of their rings?”

Charlie led her over to a nearby garden bench. “If it will make you happy to use family rings, that’s exactly what we should do. Perhaps we can visit the bank tomorrow, and you can select what you want to use.”

“Eager to put a ring on my finger?” Anna smiled as she sat beside him.

“Yes,” he admitted. “I want it to be perfectly clear to anyone who sees you that you’re with someone.” He stroked the side of her face gently with his thumb. “May I kiss you?”

“Yes, Charlie,” she murmured.

He stared into her eyes as he slowly closed the distance between them. Her eyelids fluttered closed just before their lips met. He could still taste a hint of the wine she had consumed earlier that evening. As her arms slid around his neck, he deepened the kiss. The softness of her lips, the warmth of her body, drew him in. His initial intention of a rather chaste first kiss slipped from his mind. His mouth slanted against hers as he moved one hand to support the back of her neck. He traced her lips with the tip of his tongue before he pressed gently into her mouth. Tightening his arm around her back, he pulled her closer to him. Her lips moved against his in innocent experimentation, while her fingers toyed with the hair at the base of his neck. He groaned in satisfaction. She pulled back suddenly.

Her eyes were wide as they met his. He relaxed his hold on her, not completely letting go, but giving her the space she apparently needed.

“You okay?” he asked.

She nodded, but looked uncertain.

“Anna, I will always stop when you want me to stop. You can always say ‘no’ if you don’t like what I’m doing. I will never force you to do anything.” He began slowly rubbing her back.

“You growled at me,” she said. Her tone was more confused, than accusatory.

Charlie stared at her incredulously for a moment. “I wasn’t upset with you in any way if that’s what you’re thinking. When a man is…sexually excited, sometimes he growls or groans in the same way a woman makes noises when she is…enjoying herself.”

She bit her already slightly swollen bottom lip. “I wasn’t sure.”

“Have you had any experience with kissing? I mean, willing experience?” He cringed at his own awkwardly worded question.

“I kissed Neville and Fred when we were playing Spin the Bottle a few months ago in Gryffindor Tower.”

“I’m guessing that was the twins’ idea.”

Anna nodded. “We all promised not to tell anyone, but…”

“Your secret is safe with me,” Charlie assured her. “So, how was it?”

“Kissing Neville was really awkward. We both laughed because it just felt so wrong.” She shrugged. “About like trying to kiss a sibling, I imagine.”

He smirked. “I guess that explains why Augusta didn’t just betroth you with Neville. I’ve been half expecting it for months now.”

“I think for a time she hoped we would end up together, but realized it wouldn’t work.”

“And kissing Fred?” Charlie asked.

Anna blushed slightly. “Interesting.”

He laughed. “Good for Fred!”

“You’re not jealous at all?”

“No.” Charlie shrugged. “I might have been a bit jealous a few weeks ago, but not now.” He stroked her cheek lightly with his thumb. “We are meant to be together, and we have a betrothal contract to prove it. Besides, I’m not a hypocrite. I have a definite history with several women.”

“How many?”

“I’ve slept with six women. None of them were one-night stands. I had a dating relationship with each of them.”

Anna nodded slightly. Charlie was relieved she didn’t seem upset about his level of experience.

“Anything else you want to talk about?” He asked.

“Will I like Romania?”

“What do you mean?”

“We both know if there was an opening at one of the dragon reserves here in Britain, you would’ve already been notified. Besides, I don’t think seeing each other once every couple of months on Hogsmeade weekends or school holidays is enough for us. I’ll have to go to Romania with you.”

He’d been thinking along similar lines and felt reassured that she had come to the same conclusion. “Anna, only family members are permitted to live on the Reserve. We’ll have to marry within the next couple of weeks.” Charlie paused, searching her face for a moment. “That does not mean the marriage needs to be consummated anytime soon.”

“This is all happening so fast.” She took a slow breath. “Can we even marry before my birthday in October?”

“With a signed betrothal contract, we can legally wed in several places, including Scotland and Romania.” Charlie replied. “Our families are not going to be happy with us.”

She nodded. “They didn’t see what we did.”

“Are you ready to talk about the visions from our bonding?”

“No.” Anna sank into his arms, her face pressed against his neck in the same way she had hidden that night.

“It will be okay,” he murmured. Easing her back slightly, he kissed her forehead, then her cheek. “May I kiss you?”

“Yes, Charlie, and you don’t always have to ask.”

“Good to know.” He smiled as he pressed his lips gently to hers in a sweet caress.

Back to index


Chapter 22: Chapter 22 Conversations

Author's Notes: Sincere thanks to all who have been reading and reviewing and to my beta, Arnel, for patiently helping me with every chapter. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone celebrating this wonderful time of the year!


Chapter 22

Conversations

The meeting of the Order of the Phoenix at Grimmauld Place finally concluded. The teens were called to come down to the kitchen for dinner. “Feels like last summer,” Ron commented as he sat next to Hermione at the large wooden table.

“Yeah,” Ginny smirked, glancing around and lowering her voice. “Except now the place is ridiculously clean, and Mum and Kreacher are arguing over who cooks and serves what!”

Harry sat beside her, resting his hand on her leg underneath the table and rubbing his thumb in small circles above her knee. This was their first evening together at Grimmauld Place of the summer and likely their last. Ginny wished she knew what had been discussed during the Order meeting, but as usual the teens had been sequestered upstairs. Most of those attending the meeting had left as soon as it concluded, including Professor Snape -- whose black cloak had swept out the front door as Ginny descended the last step.

“Charlie,” Professor Dumbledore sat across from Anna and her brother. “I received a letter from Nicolas Vasile earlier today.” He slid an envelope across the table. “I contacted him a few days ago with a proposal and have happily received a favorable reply. You see, I was hoping to secure a leave of absence for you so that I could in good conscience offer you the position of Care of Magical Creatures professor at Hogwarts for the upcoming school year. I couldn’t possibly offer you such a post if it would adversely impact your career as a Draconologist.” His blue eyes twinkled. “You’ll notice that your director has granted you a year of absence from the Reserve in Romania if you choose to accept the teaching position. What do you say, Charlie? Will you become my newest professor at Hogwarts?”

“What about Hagrid?” Ron blurted out.

The Headmaster smiled benignly at her brother. “Hagrid has family obligations which, along with his work as gamekeeper and the tasks he wishes to undertake on behalf of the Order, will make it difficult for him to teach classes.” Turning his attention back to Charlie, he continued. “Hagrid was very enthusiastic about the idea of you taking over his teaching post for the coming school year. Naturally, with the unique situation you and Miss Henry find yourselves in, I felt it would be very convenient indeed for you to be at Hogwarts.”

“Oh, Charlie!” Mum set a heavy pot of lamb stew on the table next to a large shepherd’s pie. “What a wonderful opportunity!”

Charlie looked up from the letter he was reading and nodded. “It is a generous offer. Thank you, Albus. Anna and I will need to discuss it this evening. Perhaps I can give you my response tomorrow.”

“Certainly.” Dumbledore nodded agreeably. “I feel I should inform you all that I received a letter from Narcissa Malfoy recently. Young Mister Malfoy will be attending Durmstrang for the upcoming school year.”

“That is certainly welcome news,” Augusta commented.

Ginny chewed her lip as she glanced at Anna. Her friend was sitting between Charlie and Neville, the engagement ring on her finger sparkling in the light. Conversations swirled around them as they ate their dinner. Charlie and Anna murmured quietly to one another a few times, but were otherwise silent as they ate. Mum stared at them periodically with a slight frown on her face. She wondered if Mum was as confused as she was that Charlie failed to immediately accept the job offer.

As the meal ended, Professor Dumbledore stood up. “Thank you for a most excellent dinner! Charlie, I wonder if you would accompany me out so that I may explain a few more details about the teaching position.”

“Of course.” Charlie stood up and squeezed Anna’s shoulder lightly before he followed the Headmaster out of the kitchen.

“Anna.” Fleur smiled as she rose and tugged the girl’s hand gently, leading her towards the door. “You must come and see the fabric samples I have for wedding gowns. What sort of style are you interested in? I am considering a sleek….”

Fleur’s voice faded as Ginny’s two future sisters-in-law left the kitchen.

Ginny was about to follow them when Harry spoke. “I’m surprised Charlie didn’t accept the teaching position right away. Wasn’t he worried about being apart from Anna?”

“Charlie doesn’t exactly flaunt it, but he’s clearly a quietly knowledgeable young man,” Sirius observed. “I’m sure he realizes with a signed betrothal contract he can marry Anna immediately and take her wherever he wishes, including back to Romania.”

“He wouldn’t do that, would he?” Neville’s concern was clear on his face.

“Of course not! We have so many wedding plans to make, and Anna has to finish school!” Molly exclaimed. “She’s not even of age yet! Charlie wouldn’t do such a thing. I’m sure he’s just taking his time to consider things carefully, that’s all.” Mum’s eyes focused on Dad clearly willing him to agree with her.

Dad nodded. “Let’s not jump to conclusions. So much has happened so quickly to Charlie and Anna, it’s only natural for them to want to slow down and think before making any decisions. Charlie was quite correct to say he should discuss the offer with Anna. A couple should try to make joint decisions whenever possible.”

As Ginny left the kitchen, she couldn’t help but notice that Dad did not contradict Sirius’s opinion.

xxxxx

Charlie stepped into the library at Grimmauld Place. He was only slightly surprised to see all the men gathered there, even Neville, Harry, and Ron. Apparently, they were avoiding the constant talk of wedding plans occurring in the drawing room. Charlie had rescued Anna from looking at fabric swatches to discuss the teaching post, but had returned her there at his mum’s request after their conversation.

“Firewhisky?” Sirius asked holding out a full glass.

“Thanks.” Charlie accepted the glass, drinking it in one long swallow. “I’m accepting the teaching position at Hogwarts.”

Dad exhaled loudly. “Glad to hear it. You had your mother worried.”

He nodded. “Anna and I needed to talk about it. The Malfoy boy not attending this year helped, but she was still concerned about me not working with dragons for a year. Working at one of the reserves here in Britain is one thing, teaching is another situation entirely.”

“I think you’ll be great at it,” Ron enthused. “Plus, you’ll be able to watch our Quidditch matches!”

Charlie smiled. “I have to admit I’m looking forward to being back at Hogwarts, and hopefully I’ll be able to witness the Gryffindor team securing the Quidditch cup.”

“Out of curiosity, before this teaching job came up, were you and Anna planning on returning to Romania together in a couple of weeks?” Sirius inquired.

Charlie’s face hardened. “Does it matter now?”

“No,” Bill said firmly. “It doesn’t matter now in the least. You and Anna will be here in Britain.” He refilled his brother’s empty glass. “What has you unsettled?”

Charlie sat on the sofa and sipped his drink. “Albus’s offer has me unsettled. Why does he want Anna and me in Britain so badly?”

“Well, he needs a Care of Magical Creatures teacher,” Ron said. “Professor Dumbledore explained that Hagrid is too busy to teach this year.”

He stifled a scoff. “I know what he said, but you must realize he arranged for the need in the first place. You don’t honestly believe Hagrid asked for a year off teaching. Albus likely talked him into it. I’m also wondering what the hell he offered Nicolas to secure my year of absence from the Reserve. I guarantee he did not obtain that letter from my director by just asking nicely.” Charlie drained his glass. “Perhaps we should talk about something else for now.” He gestured towards the teens as he gave Bill a pointed look.

The boys glanced at one another before Harry responded. “I think we can handle hearing whatever it is you have to say.”

Charlie briefly made eye contact with his dad, Remus, and Sirius before setting down his empty glass on the side table. “Okay. You all heard Albus asking me to walk with him so he could provide specific information about the offer.” He paused waiting for a few nods of affirmation. “Well, our conversation wasn’t just about salary and benefits. I mean, it started that way, but I think he expected me to accept the position at Hogwarts immediately and decided he needed to talk me into it.” Charlie leaned forward bracing his forearms on his thighs as he pressed his hands together.

He continued in a low voice. “Dumbledore made a point of reminding me that Anna would not be one of my students, since she is not pursuing a N.E.W.T. in Care of Magical Creatures. He then casually mentioned that my living quarters will be the ones closest to the Gryffindor common room entrance. He even expressed his respect for the traditional rights of betrothed couples and stated that since Anna will be of age, an adult legally, in a couple of months, her whereabouts will not be monitored. Is it clear now exactly what he is offering? What he is clearly willing to not just ignore, but sanction, to have Anna and me at Hogwarts?”

Remus’s thumb and forefinger were pressed against his closed eyelids. “Albus is willing to turn a blind eye to you having Anna in your bed every night.” A growl escaped the man’s lips. “Is that your intention?”

Charlie met the other man’s gaze. “I will never force Anna to do anything she is not willing to do, and Merlin knows, I will never intentionally harm her or frighten her,” he snapped. “Beyond that, I will make you no promises, and it is truly none of your business.” He rubbed the back of his neck and took a slow breath. “What concerns me is that Albus is desperate enough to have Anna and me at Hogwarts that he would be so blatant, so obvious about telling me he would condone a sexual relationship to develop between us at his school. Those are not the words of a Headmaster trying to fill a teaching position.”

Bill nodded. “It is certainly odd that he would say such things. He had to know how inappropriate it would sound, and yet he was willing to offer the extra inducement to have you at Hogwarts. The only excuse I can think of is the magical bond between you and Anna. I mean, he’s been perfectly satisfied this past year having you working for the Order in Romania, so that isn’t it. Anna’s a good student, but she isn’t a prefect or particularly special to the school in any way.”

“Do you think it could simply be intellectual curiosity on his part?” Dad asked. “I mean Albus does like to have a hand in things and to understand magical phenomena. The bond between you all is fascinating and certainly something I could imagine piquing his interest.”

“I agree,” Sirius said slowly. “But Bill and Fleur are here, members of the Order, and generally at his disposal. If Albus is simply curious about the bonds, he can talk to them; observe them. They certainly know more about the bond and have experienced it for far longer.” He sipped his drink.

“Not to state the obvious, but why not simply ask Professor Dumbledore?” Harry inquired. “He is sharing information a lot more freely lately.”

Charlie nodded. “I did ask him. I asked very calmly and respectfully why he is so intent on both Anna and me being at Hogwarts this school year. His only response was that he believes it may be extremely beneficial to everyone.”

“Albus is a brilliant wizard," Remus said quietly. "He often sees and understands more than he is willing to share. In this case, perhaps he suspects something important that involves the bond. He may even strongly suspect, but he doesn’t know with enough certainty to say.”

“Alright,” Bill agreed. “What do we suspect that we are willing to guess about the bond?”

Sirius sighed. “We can guess from your experience with Fleur that over time Anna and Charlie will also notice changes in their magic. The question is what is the advantage of having two couples to observe instead of just one?”

“Comparison,” Remus responded. “With two couples for comparison, a far greater understanding of the situation and of the potential of the bond can be made. And why would that be beneficial?”

Harry shrugged. “Because knowledge is power.”

“And because he suspects that knowledge will be helpful in the future,” Charlie quietly added.

Dad groaned as he rubbed his chin. “Albus suspects this will happen again. Doesn’t he?” He glanced around the room. “Molly and I will have to talk to Muriel. Maybe we can learn something. At least this magical bonding seems to be far more positive than negative. My eldest two sons are happily engaged to be married. I have two future daughters-in-law discussing wedding plans with my wife.” He smiled. “Honestly, from my perspective all of this is rather hopeful, but I do understand that the unknown can be stressful. I also notice it is getting rather late.” Dad gestured towards the old clock on the mantel as he stood up. “Time for bed, boys!”

“Charlie,” Neville said. “Did you tell Anna everything you just told us?”

He shrugged awkwardly. “Not exactly,” he admitted.

“We’ll keep it to ourselves then,” Neville decided. The other two teens nodded in agreement as they left the room.

Remus cleared his throat. “Charlie, I probably owe you an apology,” he began.

“No, you don’t.” He shook his head. “You’re the closest thing Anna has to a father, and I need to remember that.”

xxxxxx

Charlie and Anna strolled along the path through the gardens of Longbottom Manor. The sun was setting, casting brilliant red and orange streaks among the blue hues of the sky. Evening was the best time to capture a bit of privacy. Stepping off the path behind a large tree, Charlie pulled Anna into his arms. He lowered his mouth to hers, pressing gently on her soft, warm lips before deepening the kiss. She sighed, one hand threading through the hair at the back of his neck while the other clung to his shoulder. He supported the back of her neck while lightly caressing the length of her spine through the summer dress she was wearing. Anna arched her back as his thumb traced the line from between her shoulder blades down to the top of her knickers and then back up again. She bit back a soft moan.

Charlie smirked as he gazed down at her. “You have the most wonderfully sensitive back,” he murmured. He placed a few gentle kisses on her neck before taking one earlobe between his teeth, pulling lightly as he sucked on the tender bit of flesh. Several minutes passed in careful exploration before Charlie stepped back. He breathed in slowly, determined to maintain his self-control even if it meant curtailing their activities far sooner than he wished.

Anna rested her forehead on his chest for a moment. “Charlie, I need to share some things with you.” She glanced around briefly before conjuring a simple blanket for them to sit on and casting a privacy spell. They both sat on the blanket facing one another. Charlie took one of her hands in his own, tracing small circles on her smooth skin with his thumb. He’d wondered if she would decide to share the details of what the Malfoy boy had done, and steeled himself to be calmly supportive.

“What would you like to tell me, Anna?” he asked quietly.

She stared into his eyes for a moment. “How familiar are you with Occlumency?”

“Very familiar,” he admitted, trying not to react to the unexpected turn in the conversation.

She raised an eyebrow slightly in surprise.

Raking one hand through his hair, he sighed. “My job at the Reserve…I, well, it’s complicated, but the fact is my boss, Nicolas, decided I needed to learn Occlumency. He began teaching me a few years ago. I’m not an expert, but I’ve learned enough to satisfy him.”

Anna nodded. “My grandmother taught me Occlumency after my father decided he would be bringing me to Britain and enrolling me at Hogwarts.”

Charlie frowned. “Why did she teach you such complex magic at such a young age? You couldn’t have been more than, what? Thirteen?”

“Yes. I was thirteen.” She rubbed her forehead. “Grandma didn’t want anyone to know about certain things, so she taught me to block my mind, compartmentalize it so that I can be completely…blank when I need to be.”

“Are you certain you want to tell me these things, Anna? Everyone is entitled to a few secrets. You don’t have to tell me anything you are uncomfortable with me knowing,” Charlie assured her.

She smiled slightly. “You need to know.” Exhaling slowly, she squeezed his hand. “Neville and Ginny both know the first part. I’m a Parselmouth.”

His eyes widened in surprise, and he tried to stifle some of the wonder on his face. He had always been fascinated with anyone who could communicate in any way with animals. Yet, logically, he understood that most people were frightened by anyone who could speak the snake language because Salazar Slytherin and Voldemort were both Parselmouths. It was generally considered a Dark Art, something to be hidden. No wonder her grandmother had wanted her to hide it.

“Would you say something, please?” Charlie asked. “Will you speak in Parseltongue for me?”

She closed her eyes for a moment and then began hissing in a soft, sibilant way. Charlie couldn’t contain the smile that spread over his face at hearing her. Nor could he deny his awe when a small garden snake slithered into view, hissing intently at his betrothed as it moved on to the blanket.

Anna looked at the reptile, continuing to make soft hissing sounds for a moment before the snake slithered from view.

“That’s amazing, Anna! Did someone teach you how to do that?” Charlie asked.

She shook her head. “No, I can speak to snakes because my mother could.”

He nodded. “I know conventional wisdom is that the talent is hereditary, but then Harry can talk to snakes so that doesn’t exactly follow. Was your grandmother a Parselmouth?”

A solitary tear ran down her cheek. “Not my grandmother…”

Charlie reached out and carefully wiped the tear from her face with his thumb.

“My grandmother told me never to tell anyone, but we’re going to be married and you have the right to know,” Anna whispered. “The man my grandmother married was a wonderful person, a Healer. She was already pregnant with my mother when she met him.”

He felt suddenly sick to his stomach and reached out for the pale girl sitting on the blanket, pulling her onto his lap and holding her tightly against him.

“Grandma couldn’t escape when he attacked her,” Anna’s voice was so shaky Charlie had to focus to hear her words. “He tricked her because she was Head Girl, and he was a prefect. She was trying to be responsible and do her job, and then she was so scared. When she realized she was pregnant, she left Britain and ….”

“Shhhhh.” Charlie tightened his grip. “Don’t say any more, Anna.”

He held her for several minutes while she gradually became calmer and quieter in his lap.

“Does anyone else know?” he asked, stunned by how hollow and empty his own voice sounded.

She shook her head against his chest. “No, I’ve never told anyone, and I don’t think anyone else knows.”

Charlie nodded. “I’m glad you trusted me enough to confide in me, and I’m so sorry that happened to her.” He rubbed her back gently in a soothing circle.

Anna sighed, snuggling into the side of his neck.

“It’ll be okay, love. I have you,” he murmured, holding her firmly against him. His words were calm, reassuring. His thoughts were a far less pleasant torrent of emotion.

xxxxxx

Molly exhaled slowly as she paused outside her daughter’s bedroom door. Ginny’s fifteenth birthday party had been wonderful. Everyone complimented her on the food, cake, and decorations. Ginny received some fabulous presents, including a lovely bracelet from Harry. The teens had been laughing all day as they traipsed from the pond to the orchard to the picnic tables, engaged in a variety of activities and eating an impressive amount of food. It had been a wonderful party.

Molly raised her hand to knock on her only daughter’s door.

“Hi, Mum!” Ginny smiled as she threw open the door. She was clearly still on an emotional high from yesterday’s festivities.

“Hi, Ginny dear,” she began. “I wanted to have a little talk with you.” She sat on her daughter’s bed and patted the space beside her.

Ginny sat down looking a bit cautious.

“I’ll get straight to the point,” Molly said. “I saw you and Harry kissing each other last evening, and I think we should discuss…well, how relationships progress between witches and wizards.”

Her daughter’s eyes widened. “Mum, we already had that talk. We had it last summer just before my fourth year, and we had it again this summer right when I came home. Remember?”

“Yes, dear.” Molly picked at a loose thread on the blanket. “I know we’ve had the talk, but that was before you and Harry became boyfriend and girlfriend, and…well.” She patted Ginny’s hand. “Now, you know I adore Harry and I’m very pleased the two of you are together. I just…I just want you to know that it’s okay to take your time. It’s also okay to draw a line. Harry will understand and respect you for it if you state clearly what the line is. For example, you could tell him that sweet, closed mouth kisses are the line for this school year.”

Ginny raised one eyebrow. “Mum, that ship has sailed.”

“Oh.” Molly frowned. “How far has it sailed?”

“Not too far.” Ginny chewed her lip. “Just, you know, not closed mouth.”

“I see. Well, you could draw the line then at kissing. That way, Harry will understand you don’t want to do anything beyond that.”

Her daughter’s jaw set tightly and her face reddened. “Are you planning to have this talk with Charlie or Anna?”

“Ginevra!” Molly began hotly, before sighing and closing her eyes. She continued more calmly. “No, I’m not. They are both older than you and Harry. They are also legally betrothed, and Anna is wearing an engagement ring on her finger. I trust them to proceed at a slow pace when it comes to physically intimate expressions of affection. I trust you and Harry as well, I just…I hope you don’t rush into things.”

Ginny’s expression relaxed a bit. “Mum, I know you probably want us all to wait until our wedding nights, but…”

“I’m not that much of a hypocrite,” she admitted softly. “Your father and I didn’t wait until we were married. I can hardly expect my children to wait, and I’m realistic enough to know that all of the boys with the possible exception of Ron have already…” she gestured vaguely with one hand. “Please, Ginny, just don’t rush. There really is no hurry.”

Ginny shifted closer and hugged her tightly. Molly soaked up her daughter’s sudden display of affection. “I won’t rush, Mum, I promise,” she whispered.

Molly nodded into her daughter’s hair. “I love you, Ginny.”

“Love you, Mum.”

Back to index


Chapter 23: Chapter 23 Favorite Lady

Author's Notes: With thanks to my beta, Arnel. Hope everyone has a Happy New Year!!!


Chapter 23

Favorite Lady

The owl tucked her head and fell into an almost immediate slumber. Her flight had been too long, and she was clearly in need of rest. Charlie broke the seal of the envelope and opened the letter.

Charlie,

I have some definite reservations about this, but Nicolas approved your request. The lads and I will meet you at the designated location with your favorite lady on Saturday evening at 6. Do not let it go too far, or I will Stun you and her. See you soon.

Robbie


He smiled as he folded the letter and slid it into his pocket. He could hardly wait to see his favorite lady.

xxxx

Draco had a permanent scowl etched across his face as he stalked along the dirt path. His mother hadn’t let up all summer. First, he had faced her anger -- a bitter anger stoked with a touch of fear. She had ranted about his ignorance, his thoughtlessness, and his disregard for proper pureblood tradition. It hadn’t taken long for Draco to admit to himself that his behavior towards Anna in that empty classroom in Hogwarts had been far from ideal. He had meant to seduce her, to entice her into agreeing to the betrothal. Her less than eager response had hurt his ego and frustrated him. Draco had attempted to explain his actions to his mother, to make her understand that he had tried to follow her and father’s wishes for the betrothal by forcing Anna’s compliance.

“Compliance?” she had hissed dangerously. “Do you honestly believe forcing a woman sexually is the best way to gain her? You think that is a proper foundation for a betrothal? For a marriage? I raised you better than that, Draco Malfoy!”

Thus began something worse than his mother’s anger. He had quickly been subjected to her complete and utter disappointment. She had felt the need to reeducate him on every manner of proper behavior and respect towards witches. Endless hours of lectures had ensued, as well as some of the most openly honest conversations he had ever had with either of his parents. It had been embarrassing and, though he would never admit it, also rather enlightening.

Draco had also been subjected to daily lessons in Occlumency from his mother. When he tried to ask her why it was necessary for him to bury the event behind an impenetrable wall in his mind, she glared at him.

“You may not realize how incredibly fortunate you are that Anna did not choose to press charges against you, but I can assure you that had she reported the incident officially to the Aurors you would now be in Azkaban, if not worse!” He had cringed at the pain in her voice. “It is vital to your future that no one ever know what you did. Therefore, you will learn to protect your mind.”

One result of her tutelage was a persistent, throbbing ache in his head. Fortunately, he had learned to effectively block her efforts to see into his mind, but not until after she had seen far more than he would wish. Learning Occlumency was the only success he had enjoyed over this exceptionally long, dull summer. The fact that they were currently residing in the most boring place he had ever had the misfortune to experience did not help matters.

Draco and his mother were living in a cabin along the Kostonjoki River north of Taivalkoski in Finland. That place couldn’t even properly be called a town with less than 5,000 inhabitants. They ventured into Taivalkoski only once a week to purchase provisions and have a meal at the only decent restaurant. The surrounding area was an endless vista of forests, barren grassland, and small ponds. His mother had declared the cabin perfectly comfortable on their first day there so many weeks ago. His opinion differed somewhat. It was as different from Malfoy Manor as a place could possibly be with the exception of how he envisioned the hovel the Weasley family called a home. The cabin was a heavy log structure, with thick solid walls and rather small windows. True the place was a two-story dwelling with four bedrooms and two bathrooms, but it was a far cry from the kind of accommodations he was accustomed to.

To further confound him, he was not adjusting well to the lack of a proper night. How on earth was he supposed to sleep restfully when the sun shone almost continually? Why had his mother brought him to a place where darkness lasted only a few hours per night? When he had asked her that question, she had arched a delicate eyebrow and reminded him that come winter he would only see daylight for a brief time and be surrounded by endless night. Draco had not been certain of her intentions until that moment, but he knew now that he would likely never be a student at Hogwarts again. He was enrolled to begin at Durmstrang and would be leaving for school in just a couple of days. As a child, his father had been very positive in his comments concerning the school. Draco had at one time wished to complete his education there. Now that he was actually going, he was less sure.

Kicking a large stone from the dirt path into the nearby river, he wondered when he would see his father again. He’d been sent to Azkaban after the incident in the Department of Mysteries in the Ministry. Draco had been shocked when his mother told him, but had also been convinced his father would be freed quickly. After all, his Aunt Bellatrix and several other inmates had escaped the prison several months ago. As the weeks passed, he had realized his father would not be joining them in Finland anytime soon. Perhaps the Dark Lord did not intend to have more prisoners released. Perhaps his father was being left there to punish him for his failure.

Draco sank onto a fallen log overlooking the river. How had it all gone wrong so quickly for his family? His mother had abandoned Britain in fear and anger. His father was a prisoner in Azkaban, a known Death Eater to the Ministry, but one currently lacking his Lord’s favorable regard. A few short months ago, his life had been so much better. As head of the Inquisitorial Squad at Hogwarts, he had enjoyed power and prestige. As the son of one of the Dark Lord’s Inner Circle of Death Eaters, he had felt invincible. He had even been close to securing the witch his parents desired in a betrothal. One night had changed everything, for himself and for his father.

He sighed as he made to rise. A brief flash of light caught his peripheral vision as the world went black.

xxxx

The Hogwarts Express was waiting for them at the platform as they hurried through the barrier. After a flurry of goodbyes and promises to write soon, Harry grabbed Ginny by the hand and led her to the last compartment. Ron and Hermione hurried off to their prefect meeting, while Neville and Anna made sure the animals were all properly secured and safely stowed.

“Would you like us to go for a walk or something and give you a few minutes of privacy?” Neville asked.

Harry flushed. “Oh, you don’t have to…”

“Yes!” Ginny interrupted.

Anna grinned. “We’ll just go see if we can find Luna.” The pair left the compartment, closing the door behind them.

Ginny smiled at Harry as he pulled her onto his lap. “I’ve missed you.” She ran her hand through his messy black hair.

“Ten days is definitely too long to be apart.” He captured her mouth in a teasing kiss, sucking gently on her lower lip as he shifted her body to straddle him on the seat. His hands roamed freely from the back of her neck to just below the dip of her lower back. He had not yet dared to allow himself to caress her bottom, but he was sorely tempted to learn her every curve. She was everything that was soft and warm, and he yearned to stroke her freely.

“This feels so good.” He placed gentle kisses along her neck before sucking harder at the juncture of her neck and shoulder. She whimpered softly, clinging to him desperately as her breath became more labored.

He tangled both hands in the fiery length of her hair -- holding her securely and returning to her lips. He felt as though he could not bring her close enough to satisfy his need for her. His tongue stroked the slight opening between her lips tentatively for a brief moment before she opened her mouth completely to his exploration. The sweet response made his control snap and he pushed his tongue into her mouth roughly. She made a soft gasping noise that had him pulling back and staring into the chocolate depths of her eyes.

“Merlin, Ginny.” His mouth descended upon hers again with more force than he intended. They were both kissing aggressively now, sucking and biting at each other’s lips. Her sudden hiss of pain caused his eyes to pop open. He drew back in astonishment as he realized he had bit down on her bottom lip hard enough to hurt her.

“I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to…” He swallowed hard as he examined her face with concern, cupping her cheeks gently. “Are you okay?”

She pressed her fingers to her mouth in silent surprise for a moment. Then, her giggling caused her whole body to shake.

He sighed and dropped his forehead to her shoulder. He took slow steady breaths trying to regain control of himself and calm the uncomfortable tightness in his trousers.

“I’m fine, Harry,” Ginny murmured into his ear once her giggles ceased. “I rather like the fact that I can make you that wild.”

Lifting his head from her shoulder, he focused on her lovely face. Her lips were swollen, but at least she wasn’t bleeding. He couldn’t even see any teeth marks. He smiled as he stroked her cheek gently with one thumb.

A thorough rattling of the door, before it slowly opened to reveal Neville, gave Ginny enough warning to shift quickly off Harry’s lap and settle on the seat beside him.

“We found Luna!” he exclaimed heartily before ushering the blonde into the compartment.

xxxxx

“Awake, now?”

Draco groaned as he rolled over. The ground felt hard beneath him, even with the patches of grass and smattering of pine needles. His body tingled uncomfortably with another’s magic. It was a familiar enough feeling that he suspected he had likely been Stunned and Revived.

“What the hell?” Draco muttered as he tried to sit up. Glancing around in an effort to orient himself, he saw that he was no longer by the Kostonjoki River, but in a sparsely wooded area. He had learned the landscape of this part of Finland well enough in the last couple of months that he was reasonably sure he was still close to Taivalkoski.

“Rather unsettling, isn’t it?”

Draco turned his head towards the disembodied voice. A man with distinctive red hair stood several feet from him. He wasn’t much taller than Draco but was broader and thickly muscled.

“Are you a Weasley?” he asked, rising a bit unsteadily to his feet and glancing around cautiously.

The man nodded. “I’m Charlie Weasley.”

Draco frowned. He had attended school with several members of the Weasley family, but he felt certain he had never met this Weasley brother. “Are you the one that works with dragons?”

“Yes, but before we discuss my career, we need to talk about Anna.” His voice was calm, dispassionate.

The oddly remote demeanor of the man before him made Draco uncomfortable. “What about her?”

“Anna is my betrothed. My fiancÚ.” Charlie folded his arms across his chest. “You’ll not touch her again.”

Draco’s mouth dropped open in shock as his eyes widened. “She chose you? A Weasley? Anna could have been my wife and presided over Malfoy Manor, and she chose you!” Bitter disappointment overwhelmed him as he rapidly sized up the man who had succeeded where he had failed.

His jaw twitched before he exhaled slowly. “It’s sad how shocked you are that a witch would chose a man who has treated her with kindness and respect rather than a simpering boy who attacked her in an empty classroom.”

“I didn’t mean for that to happen!” Draco seethed. The past weeks of listening to his mother’s endless rants made his frustration boil quickly to the surface.

Charlie nodded steadily. “Perhaps you simply don’t understand the consequences of your actions.”

“Of course, I understand,” he sneered. “I lost her! She chose you! Now I’m stuck in this miserable country and have to attend a new school.” The injustice of it all had Draco grinding his teeth in impotent rage.

“I don’t believe you, and I fully admit there is probably no way for me to ever really make you understand.” He paused and tilted his head as he lowered his arms, his hands gripping into tight fists at his sides. “But I’m going to try anyway.” The menace in his voice was suddenly clear as he slowly enunciated every word.

Draco felt a tendril of fear slither down his spine. Backing away slowly, he bumped into the trunk of a tree. He reached for his wand as a spell hit him. The hex pinned his hands above his head. His eyes widened as he saw that Charlie gripped a wand in each hand. He held up Draco’s hawthorn wand for a moment in his left hand before placing it on the ground several feet from where he was now bound.

“Disconcerting, isn’t it?” the red-head remarked. “Not having your wand. Being restrained.” With another silent flick of his wand, Draco’s clothes Vanished leaving him in only his boxers. “A vulnerable feeling to be nearly naked and at the mercy of someone else.”

Draco ground his teeth together as he tried to force his hands away from the tree trunk. Both wrists were affixed to the rough surface and no amount of twisting and pulling enabled him to break free of the curse. “What do you want?” he spat.

“I said it once, but it seems you weren’t paying attention,” Charlie said. “You will never touch Anna again.” The man’s voice was almost toneless in its self-control. “My hope is that you will never attempt to force yourself on any woman in the future.”

The complete lack of emotion unnerved Draco. Panic quickly set in as he realized he was in the middle of nowhere with a potentially insane Weasley. “Fine! Whatever!” he snarled. “Let me go, you stupid blood traitor!”

Weasley raised an eyebrow and simply stared at him. Draco was about to demand that the other man release him when he felt the sharp probing pain of a Legilimency attack. Fortifying his shields quickly, he winced against the intrusion.

“You’re a well-trained Occlumens.” He drawled with apparent approval. “That’s quite helpful. You’ll be able to bury this experience deep. No one will ever need to know.”

“What are you talking about?” Draco spat. “You’ve attacked me! Kidnapped me! If you think I’m not pressing charges against you, you’re deluding yourself!”

He shrugged. “Well, if I can’t count on you to keep this quiet, it’s really best for me to just kill you. Since I promised my friends I wouldn’t take things quite that far, let’s just agree that you’re about to learn a valuable lesson.”

Draco’s eyes widened as he sputtered and glanced around desperately for some way to escape. He could see no one. There was nothing but trees scattered on the still and silent terrain. No sound would carry to anyone. They were clearly too far away from town or from any of the isolated dwellings that dotted the landscape.

He yelped in surprise as a mild hex hit his arm. It hadn’t been truly painful, but was certainly uncomfortable. A red mark marred his skin where the spell struck. He was about to yell in annoyance when another hex hit him, then another.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” Draco exclaimed.

The red-head paused to raise an eyebrow and glare coldly. “I’m showing you what it’s like to be hurt slowly. Those marks will be bruises tomorrow. They’ll cover your skin and remind you that you were helpless. Powerless. That you were at the mercy of someone just a bit stronger than you.”

Draco pressed his lips together, glaring at the man as he was struck repeatedly. He refused to scream, refused to give the bastard the satisfaction of knowing he was afraid. He hated this feeling -- knowing he was unable to escape; knowing he would have red welts and small bruises all over his body angered him more than he cared to admit. He refused to even consider the exact message Weasley was sending with this relentless form of torture. He hadn’t meant to actually hurt Anna!

The spells stopped as suddenly as they had begun. Draco stared at the man standing in front of him. He hated the cold calculation of that gaze. Not wanting to hope that it might be over, that Weasley might walk away, he waited.

The lack of sound, lack of movement, lack of anything made his body twitch in anxious anticipation. He was trying to think of something to say to help him escape this mess when a sharp guttural cry filled the air. Focusing his eyes on his tormentor, Draco realized the eerie sound emanated from the other man’s throat.

A moment of tense silence followed before the sound was repeated from a great distance that echoed through the surrounding landscape. His eyes darted about frantically as he tried to see the source of that horrific noise.

A flash of dark green was suddenly visible between two large trees. Draco’s eyes widened in horror as he tried to deny the sight before him. Enormous wings flapped slowly as the creature lowered itself to the earth. Scales of dark green covered the beast, glittering menacingly in the bright sunlight. Two long golden horns protruded from the top of its head. The creature landed only a dozen yards away and moved quickly towards them to close that distance.

“Beautiful girl, isn’t she?” the man mused as he approached the dragon. “She’s a Romanian Longhorn.” He reached out one hand to stroke the beast’s neck in a gentle caress. “Only thirty-five feet long. Rather short for a Longhorn, but still my favorite lady.”

Draco felt his jaw opening and closing slightly, as he stood in mute fear, pulling helplessly to free his hands. A soft whine escaped his throat as he stared in terror at the dragon, who was currently rubbing its neck against the man’s entire arm the way a dog might rub against its master. They weren’t more than ten feet away from where he was pinned to the tree.

“I understand Care of Magical Creatures isn’t one of your best subjects, Draco.” His eyes were focused on the dragon as he continued to pet her. “Had a bit of an issue with a hippogriff if I remember the story Ron told me correctly. Of course, hippogriffs are rather easily offended, so if you were foolish enough to insult one, I can’t say I’m entirely surprised you suffered the consequences. I sincerely hope you learned something from that experience, just as I hope you will learn something from this.”

He felt tears sliding down his face as he shook his head hopelessly. Fear coursed through his body strongly enough to have him trembling uncontrollably. A hollow rushing filled his ears and his vision began to swim.

“Please, don’t!” He begged. A desperation he had never felt before flooded his mind as his voice cracked. “Please, let me go!”

The man regarded him coldly as he continued to caress the enormous beast. “Did Anna beg you to let her go? Did she plead with you to stop?”

Draco shook his head violently. “I didn’t mean to hurt her! I wasn’t trying to…it…it wasn’t supposed to happen like that!”

“Actions speak louder than words, Malfoy.” Charlie stalked slowly towards him, the dragon obediently walking along.

A frightened whimper escaped Draco’s trembling form as the dragon stopped directly in front of him. One long glittering golden horn was on either side of his body. The dragon’s snout was so close he could feel its breath on him. His mind went blank as his body lost all functional control. Numbly, he realized he was wet, cold, shaking uncontrollably. He closed his eyes in a desperate attempt to block out the dragon, the man standing in front of him, and the smell of his own urine and feces.

“You can open your eyes now, Draco. I sent my lovely lady on her way.”

He clenched his jaw tight enough to hurt as he opened his eyes slightly, searching for the dragon. He almost sighed with relief that the beast was gone. Sagging to his knees, he suddenly realized he was no longer restrained.

“I imagine it must have been pretty humiliating for Anna to walk half naked through the corridors of Hogwarts to seek medical attention from Madam Pomfrey after you attacked her. Keep that in mind as you make your way home.” Charlie spoke quietly. “It’s about three miles directly behind you. Your wand is in plain sight a few hundred feet along the way.”

Draco heard the soft pop of Apparition as the red-head disappeared. Wiping at his face with both hands, he turned in the direction he had been directed and began stumbling toward his home.

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Chapter 24: Chapter 24 Curfew and Compromise

Author's Notes: Tremendous thanks to my beta, Arnel, and to everyone who is reading and reviewing!


Chapter 24

Curfew and Compromise

Ginny sighed and turned to smile at Harry as the Hogwarts Express pulled into Hogsmeade station. The train ride had begun with a delightfully private few minutes of snogging between the two while Neville and Anna went in search of Luna. Some rather awkward conversations had punctuated the remainder of the trip.

“Hello, Ginny. Your lips are rather swollen.” The blonde tilted her head to one side as she made the observation. “Hi, Harry. I suppose you must be a very good kisser.”

Ginny stifled a laugh. Beside her Harry was suddenly looking at his hands with a great deal of concentration as his face slowly turned red. “He is actually.” She gave her friend a hug. “Maybe we should talk about it later,” Ginny suggested quietly.

Luna nodded and sat on the seat across from them. “I suppose that would be best. To talk without the boys, I mean. I’m curious about your experience of having a boyfriend and about Anna’s experience of being betrothed to your older brother. I imagine she can contribute quite a bit to the conversation as well.” She paused to peer briefly at each girl, her silvery eyes large and expressive. “You’ll both probably talk more freely if it’s just us girls. Although I’d be interested in hearing the boys’ perspective on certain intimate activities as well. Perhaps Harry and Charlie would be willing to discuss their thoughts with me sometime.”

Harry’s head snapped up as his eyes widened comically. His mouth opened and closed a few times as though he was trying to speak. An incoherent sputtering was the only sound which emerged from his lips. Neville started chuckling quietly.

“Perhaps not,” Luna admitted. “It seems a shame, though, that we can’t simply talk openly and honestly about sexual matters.”

Ginny lost the battle to contain her mirth and was giggling into Harry’s shoulder when Anna asked Luna about her summer holiday. She launched into an animated description of her travels with her father, during which they had searched for evidence of yet another unknown magical creature.

“Care of Magical Creatures should be interesting this year with your brother teaching us,” Luna continued. “Hagrid is quite brilliant with the animals at Hogwarts and in the Forbidden Forest, but he has never shown much interest in the Crumple-Horned Snorkack or Heliopaths. Has Charlie ever mentioned them to you?”

“Umm, not that I can recall,” Ginny answered.

“Well, I’ll be sure to ask him his thoughts on Heliopaths at our first lesson. They’re spirits of fire, you know, so he’s bound to know something about them,” Luna enthused. “And, it’s probably more appropriate to ask him about magical creatures than about his erotic feelings towards Anna.”

Ginny nodded. “Heliopaths sounds like a much safer topic of discussion.”

Ernie Macmillan stopped by the compartment a few minutes later. After the usual polite greetings, he focused his attention on Anna. “I know my mother sent a formal letter of congratulations a couple of weeks ago, but I wanted to offer my own personal congratulations on your recent betrothal.”

“Thank you, Ernie,” Anna said.

“Your ring is lovely,” he continued reaching out to hold her hand briefly while he admired it. “Have you settled on a wedding date yet?”

“Not specifically,” she replied. “Though I imagine it will be summer after next. Do you remember Fleur Delacour?”

He raised an eyebrow. “The Triwizard Champion for Beauxbatons?”

“Yes. She’s marrying Charlie’s older brother, Bill, next summer, so Fleur has been sharing many of her wedding plans with me and encouraging me to make a few decisions.”

Ernie smirked. “Well, I’m sure that’s been pleasant.”

“Fabric swatches, color schemes, possibilities for floral arrangements, and an hour-long discussion on the color of parchment for the invitations.” Ginny rolled her eyes. “I still don’t know how you survived that discussion.”

“Weren’t you sitting through it as well?” Harry asked.

Ginny grinned at her boyfriend. “I had a pair of Extendable Ears in my pocket. Much more interesting listening to you gentlemen in the library than hearing Fleur and Mum discuss whether ivory, ecru, or cream would be best for the invitations.”

“You heard the entire conversation?” Neville inquired, though his tone did not actually make it sound like a question.

Ginny face broke into a Cheshire grin. “And I already relayed every word of it to Anna.”

Ernie glanced around the compartment. “Well, I’m guessing there’s an amusing story, though probably private, so I should be going back to my own compartment.”

“Thank you for stopping by, Ernie,” Anna smiled sincerely as he stood up. “I really do appreciate it.”

He took her hand once more. “I hope you will be very happy.” Ernie nodded politely to everyone before leaving.

“It was well done of him,” Neville commented.

“I hadn’t really thought he was seriously interested,” Ginny murmured. “No offense or anything, Anna, but last spring it kind of seemed like he was just going through the motions of trying to court you. Now, I’m not so sure.”

Anna nodded and pressed her fingertips to her forehead. “Neither am I.”

xxxx

Charlie tried to focus on the Sorting in the Great Hall as Hagrid settled into the chair beside him. Sitting at the High Table for the Start-of-Term Feast felt surreal. Part of him longed to be at the Gryffindor table and his eyes continually strayed in that direction. He dutifully stood and nodded towards the students when the Headmaster introduced him as the new Care of Magical Creatures teacher. He wondered what had possessed him to agree to this instead of taking Anna back to Romania.

Forcing himself to participate in the conversations of the teachers beside him, he smiled good-naturedly when Pomona Sprout warned him that she suspected a few of her Hufflepuff girls would suddenly show an interest in N.E.W.T. level Care of Magical Creatures.

“Perhaps you could mention that I’m taken,” Charlie suggested.

“I may.” Pomona winked. “Not that it would make much difference. The older girls don’t have the chance to ogle over a teacher very often. Lockhart and Lupin received a fair amount of attention during their time, of course, but the past two years…well, Severus was the only young professor here, and his personality doesn’t exactly invite appreciation.”

Charlie glanced towards the Gryffindor table where his betrothed sat between Neville and Ginny. Anna seemed vaguely uncomfortable, and he wanted to know why. When the Feast finally ended, he made his way carefully around the throng of students and up to his quarters. Standing in the doorway, he had a perfect view of the entrance to the Gryffindor common room. Anna slipped away from the group of chattering students making their way through the open portrait hole and walked into his arms. He turned quickly, lifting her off her feet as he pulled her into the room and closed the door behind them.

“I missed you.” He pressed his lips against hers eagerly -- feeling her softness; tasting her warmth. She responded with equal enthusiasm, her mouth opening to his silent request as she toyed with the hair at the back of his neck. He held her securely in his arms, slanting his mouth over hers hungrily. When the kiss finally ended, they were sitting on the couch before the fire.

“Charlie,” Anna said. “Why didn’t you ask me to go with you to retrieve your belongings?”

He stroked her neck gently with his thumb. “Well, it was a fast trip. I was only gone two days, and you wouldn’t have been able to ride the Hogwarts Express. I only made it to the castle a few hours ago.”

She nodded. “Did you Apparate or take a Portkey?”

Charlie hesitated. “I Apparated. Is there a reason you are suddenly so interested in the details of my trip?”

“Did you go to Romania?” Anna gazed at him searchingly.

He exhaled slowly, wondering how he had slipped up. Everyone seemed to believe him when he mentioned the need for a quick trip to retrieve his belongings. No one had asked many questions at the time. Clearly, his betrothed had become suspicious at some point while he was gone.

“No,” he finally replied. “I didn’t go to the Reserve.”

“Were you in Finland?”

“Yes.”

“Did you find him?”

“Yes.”

Her eyes widened. “Is he alive?”

Charlie cupped both her cheeks gently in his large hands. “Are you hoping I killed him?”

Anna’s shoulders lifted in the slightest of shrugs. “I truly don’t know.”

“An honest answer.” He claimed her lips briefly in a gentle caress. “I left him alive. I’m not entirely sure that I should have, but I did. Hopefully, the warning I gave him was enough. If he ever harms you again, I will kill him.”

She closed her eyes and leaned fully into him. He wrapped his hands securely around her back, holding her tightly to him.

“How did you know, Anna?” Charlie asked. “Why did you think I was in Finland instead of Romania?”

“I didn’t know with certainty, but I could feel the pull of our bond after you left. It seemed to be going northeast, not southeast as it should have been if you went to Romania.”

He gripped her upper arms and pushed her back slightly to look into her eyes. “That shouldn’t be possible. Bill and Fleur told us they can only feel the pull when they’re in the same building.”

“I know, and that’s why I wasn’t sure if what I was feeling was real or imagined. Then, I realized you never actually said you were going to Romania. You just said you needed to retrieve your belongings. I assume one of your friends from the Reserve met you in Finland and brought your things to you.”

“Did you mention your suspicions to anyone else?”

Anna shook her head. “Do I even want to know what happened?”

“Probably not,” Charlie admitted.

Her eyes fluttered closed as she sought his lips. She was soft and pliant, pressing herself against him with a quiet moan. He held her gently -- caressing her arms, her neck, and her back as he claimed her mouth. The feel of her warm body in his arms heightened his senses, making him feel more alert and alive. She met his every kiss, encouraged his tongue to touch her own. A growl escaped his lips as he lowered her down onto the cushions of the couch and shifted to lay on top of her. Her soft curves beneath him were entirely too tempting. Everything warm, safe, and perfect was under his taut form. He could easily imagine the clothing that separated them vanishing and longed to feel her skin against his own. She nipped his lip playfully while untucking his shirt from his trousers. Her fingertips danced over the skin of his lower back, sending a tantalizing tingle of raw need up his spine. Clenching his jaw, he broke the kiss and pushed himself up on his forearms, determined to regain his self-control.

“We need to stop,” he declared.

“No.”

“No?”

“I don’t want to stop.” Anna gazed up at him. Her eyes were bright, her pupils dilated.

He smirked. “It’s almost curfew. You need to get into the common room.”

“Or I could stay here with you.”

“Do you really want to break the rules your first night back at Hogwarts?”

“According to Ginny, we wouldn’t be breaking the rules.”

Charlie frowned and sat up. He pulled Anna gently into a sitting position on the couch. “What are you talking about?”

“Are you really not planning to tell me?” She asked, one eyebrow raising slowly. “Ginny had Extendable Ears at Grimmauld Place. She heard what you said in the library.”

He sighed audibly. “Sneaky little brat.”

“Says the man who lied about his trip to Finland.”

“I didn’t lie.” Charlie shifted uncomfortably. “I just didn’t volunteer the truth. Besides, we’re all entitled to a few secrets.”

Anna nodded. “Agreed. But curfew is not really an issue, and I don’t want to stop yet.” She leaned forward, brushing her lips gently over his.

He felt his resolve cracking at her touch. “Talk to me, love. How far do you want to go?”

She swallowed and suddenly looked nervous. “I’m not sure, but I want…I want to only think of you when they talk about sex, when they ask me questions.”

“Who is asking you questions?”

“Tonks, Ginny, Hermione, Fleur, Luna,” she whispered. “They don’t mean any harm. I think they mostly mean to be supportive, but…”

“But, what?” Charlie asked.

Anna closed her eyes. “Sometimes, when sex is mentioned, particularly when someone is asking about our relationship, about how far we’ve…progressed, I think of him. And I hate that!” She pressed her lips together hard. “Lavender and Parvati came into the compartment on the train after Ernie left and Lavender was asking about you. I know she thinks we’ve already made love because of the betrothal and the ring. She was hinting excitedly, wanting to know details, and I…I thought of him, of being trapped in that classroom, of his hands.” A tear rolled down her cheek and she swiped at it angrily. “I’m sorry. I’m being stupid!”

“No. You’re not.” He lifted her chin carefully. “You want to replace a negative memory with something positive, a memory of being hurt and scared with one of being loved. Logically, it makes a certain amount of sense. Practically, I’m not sure it will work the way you want it to.” Charlie exhaled slowly, collecting his thoughts. “Do you remember when we first met, just over two years ago, the day before the Quidditch World Cup?”

She nodded. “I remember.”

“I had a dream that night. It was a highly erotic dream about you that…well, it was inappropriate to say the least. Bill talked me down when I panicked. He’s always been rather good at that.” He smiled slightly. “Once I realized that it wasn’t just a dream -- that it was more -- I promised myself I wouldn’t attempt to seduce you until you were legally an adult. With everything that happened this summer, it hasn’t felt like an easy vow to keep, but I have.”

“I’ll be an adult in two months, Charlie. Isn’t that close enough?” Anna stroked his lower lip with her thumb. “If I’m the one seducing you, you won’t have broken your vow.”

He smirked at her. “I suggest a compromise.”

“A compromise?”

“Yes. My father has started giving Bill and me a few pointers on marriage, and compromise was definitely mentioned.” Charlie stood up and held out his hand to her. “Do you trust me?”

“Yes.”

Charlie took her hand carefully and led her into his bedroom. With a couple of flicks of the wand, he lit a fire in the fireplace and a candle on the side table. Slowly raising her hand to his mouth, he kissed the inside of her wrist before undoing the button on the cuff of her blouse. He undid each button of her blouse carefully, giving her time to change her mind if she became uncomfortable. Her breath quickened as he eased the blouse off her shoulders, allowing it to fall to the floor beside the bed. He trailed his fingers down the smooth skin of her arms and lightly touched her stomach before unfastening her skirt and dropping the garment on top of her blouse.

“Sit on the bed,” he murmured, trying to keep his focus on her face instead of her creamy, smooth curves barely concealed by the pale blue lace and satin of her bra and knickers.

Anna moved back on the bed until her feet were just barely dangling off the end. He caught her ankles and rapidly removed her shoes and socks.

“Lay on your stomach.”

A puzzled look briefly crossed her face before she rolled over onto her stomach. Charlie smoothed her hair off to one side and bent down to leave a line of kisses on her neck and shoulder. He gently straightened her arms so they were beside her, palms up, fingertips towards her toes.

“You are beautiful,” he whispered, lightly trailing his fingers down her spine. “I’m unhooking your bra.” He laid the straps on the bed on either side of her, exposing her back completely.

Opening a drawer on the side table, Charlie pulled out a glass bottle. Pouring a small amount of the oil into the palm of his hand, he rubbed his hands together briefly before gently stroking her. The soft sigh made him smile as he slowly went to work massaging every inch of her back and shoulders. Every bit of tension in her frame eased under the steady pressure of his hands. Her breath slowed, and other than a slight moan occasionally, she was still and silent under his touch. He carefully observed her every small reaction -- noticing what she liked the most; what seemed to make her relax completely.

Eyeing the clock, he regretfully hooked her bra. “How do you feel?”

“Boneless,” she mumbled.

Charlie chuckled. “Good.” He gave her a light slap on the bottom. “Now sit up and I’ll help you dress. You have five minutes until curfew.”

She whimpered in protest, but rolled over and stood up, a smile lighting her face. “Perhaps next time I can give you a massage.”

“I’d like that.”

A few minutes later he pulled the door closed behind them and almost walked directly into Minerva McGonagall.

“Good evening, Charlie. Miss Henry.” Her stern gaze swept over them. “I was on my way to the common room to give this note to Miss Granger. Perhaps you could take it to her.”

Anna smiled politely. “Of course. Good night, Professor McGonagall. Good night, Charlie.”

“Sleep well, Anna,” he murmured kissing her hand before releasing it. He stood watching as she gave the password to the Fat Lady and climbed through the portrait hole.

“The Headmaster has made me aware of his decision to ignore breaches of curfew with regards to Miss Henry,” Minerva began stiffly. “It is not my place to question the wisdom of that, but I would caution you that her dorm mates may notice her absence if she is repeatedly late or absent altogether. One girl in particular is a rather silly gossip on occasion.”

Charlie nodded. “I appreciate the warning. Anna made curfew this evening, and I fully intend to make certain that is a regular occurrence.”

A small smile graced her features. “I know Molly and Arthur raised you to be an honorable young man, and I don’t mind admitting you were one of my favorite students. I hope you understand that I feel somewhat protective of Miss Henry. She is a student in my house, and…well, she’s had some difficulties.”

“I know.” He raked a hand through his hair. “We’re honestly both doing the best we can in a complicated situation. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I believe I’ll go for a swim in the lake, since I was enough of a gentleman that a cold shower would be completely useless.”

Her lips pressed together in a thin line for a brief moment before her laughter escaped.

“Good night, Minerva.”

xxxxx

The Order Meeting was being held at The Burrow this evening. Molly was happy to host and prepare a large meal for those that remained for dinner when the meeting ended. Meeting locations randomly rotated between Grimmauld Place, Longbottom Manor, and The Burrow. Tonight’s meeting would be brief and included only those members who could attend at short notice. Molly reached out to touch the hand of each of her four sons who were in the Order as they arrived.

“How complete was the breakout this time?” Albus inquired.

“Every known Death Eater and sympathizer that was in Azkaban escaped, including those we captured in the Department of Mysteries just a few months ago,” Kingsley stated solemnly. His deep voice easily carried throughout the kitchen.

“We lost four Aurors,” Tonks added. “Minister Scrimgeour has given permission for more lethal force to be used when attempting to capture Death Eaters. He didn’t state it outright, but…”

She and Kingsley exchanged a glance before he spoke. “The message we all received was that capturing Death Eaters alive is no longer the priority.”

“About bloody fucking time,” Sirius growled.

“Killing is rarely the best option,” Albus observed quietly.

“In a better world, I’d agree with you.” Mad-Eye Moody frowned. “But, we keep capturing them alive, turn them over to Azkaban, they escape, and we have to do it all over again. They’re killing us just like they always have. They practically wiped out the first Order of the Phoenix, and it’s clear they intend to do the same this time around. The Auror force is dangerously low. We can’t keep doing what we did in the past. It’s a sure way to lose the war, and if we lose…well, I don’t have to tell you all what will happen to wizarding Britain. What will happen to Muggles and the Muggle-born.”

A brief silence followed as Moody’s words sank in. Molly couldn’t help but think of Dolohov. He had killed both of her brothers. He had seriously wounded Hermione. How many other lives had he destroyed? He had been captured and sent to Azkaban twice and escaped twice. Molly’s lips trembled as she admitted to herself that if she had the opportunity, she would not take him alive. Turning to her stove, she focused on finishing dinner and ignored the remainder of the meeting. Arthur’s hand on her shoulder some time later had her turning and inviting everyone to stay for dinner.

Many of the assembled members left, leaving about a dozen behind, including her four sons.

“Need a hand, Mum?” Charlie asked.

She nodded, handing him a large basket of dinner rolls. “How is everyone at Hogwarts?”

“They’re all doing well. Ginny, Harry, Hermione, and Anna are members of the Slug Club. No surprise there.” He smirked. “Harry, Ron, and Ginny may very well secure the Quidditch Cup for Gryffindor this year.” He glanced towards Augusta and raised his voice. “Pomona Sprout told me flat out that she intends to groom Neville to take over as Herbology professor in a few years. He’s the best student she’s ever had and the only one she trusts with her greenhouses.”

Augusta smiled proudly. “It would be an honorable career choice.”

“Yes, it would,” Remus agreed. “How are you and Anna…um…fairing?”

Charlie smiled. “We’re doing well. She’ll know where I am this evening.”

“Because you told her?” Bill asked.

Charlie shook his head. “She can sense where I am, the direction and the general distance. I can feel it, too.”

“How?” Fleur asked.

He shrugged. “I don’t know how to explain it. She noticed before I did, but we can feel the pull of the bond, feel it even from a vast distance.”

Bill and Fleur exchanged a look. Albus’s eyes widened as he stared off into space.

“So the bond is different for you and Anna than it is for Bill and Fleur,” Arthur said. “We’ve talked to Aunt Muriel. She remembers stories told to her as a girl about bonds like this in the Prewett family, but nothing was ever written down. She knows no details about the strength or power of such bonds.”

“Have you experienced anything else unusual?” Albus asked, looking from Charlie to Bill and Fleur.

“Nothing we haven’t already shared,” Bill replied. “For us, the change in power is the most obvious difference.” He turned to Charlie. “Have you noticed that at all?”

Charlie shrugged. “I haven’t yet, but I’ll talk to Anna. It may be more obvious to her than to me. Teaching is not exactly magically taxing.”

“Is there anything else we need to be doing?” Sirius asked.

“I hesitate to ask, but if any of you come across any information about Rowena Ravenclaw’s diadem or Helga Hufflepuff’s cup, I would be very interested in examining those objects,” Albus said. “And I would caution you to not touch them.”

“We’ll see what we can learn,” Sirius promised.

Back to index


Chapter 25: Chapter 25 The Headmaster's Office

Author's Notes: With thanks to my beta, Arnel, and everyone who is reading and reviewing!


Chapter 25

The Headmaster’s Office

Albus gazed into the bright crimson embers of the fire as he stroked Fawkes. The phoenix’s vibrant red plumage glowed slightly in the light of his empty office. Laying open on his desk was the latest letter from Nicolas.

He read the letter aloud to the portraits, then sighed. “While I can’t pretend to approve of his actions, there is no doubt his control was extraordinary.”

“You know full well the boy had it coming, Albus,” Dylis Derwent sniffed. “In my day, he would have--”

“No one cares what would have happened in your day,” snapped Phineas Black.

“You’re just cross because the boy is the son of a Black,” Eupraxia Mole commented.

Armando Dippet cleared his throat. “Perhaps we should focus on the matter at hand. The point of this discussion is not young Mr. Malfoy, but Professor Weasley. Was his control of the beast relatively normal for him or does this incident demonstrate a definite escalation of his magical power?”

“That is indeed the vital question,” Albus mused. “Nicolas clearly believes this was a different level of mastery.”

“Humph,” Phineas grumbled. “Well, then, what is the….” He paused turning his head to glare in the direction of the stairs. “My great-great-grandson is on his way up with the werewolf.”

“Ah, yes.” The Headmaster smiled. “Perhaps Sirius and Remus have some news for me.” He settled back into the chair behind his desk and waited quietly for his guests to arrive.

“Good evening, Albus.” Remus nodded politely as he walked into the office.

“Please, have a seat.” He gestured towards the high-backed chairs facing his desk. “Lemon drop?” He tilted the glass candy jar slightly in their direction.

“No, thank you,” Sirius responded as both men settled into their chairs.

“How can I help you this evening?” Albus inquired.

The two men exchanged a brief glance before Remus cleared his throat. “We’ve been talking with Bill and Fleur, trying to better understand the nature and benefits of their magical bond. It seems that Charlie and Anna may be experiencing the bond more strongly. May I ask what your thoughts are on the situation?”

He leaned back in his chair. “I have some suspicions and some hopes. Are you aware of a further escalation in their magic?”

Remus nodded. “I received a letter from Anna this morning. Over the summer we began working on wandless magic. Her task was to use the Summoning Spell to retrieve her wand from a distance of several feet away. Apparently, she succeeded for the first time yesterday.”

“A remarkable achievement for such a young witch,” the Headmaster acknowledged. “I have reason to believe that Charlie has also experienced a heightening of his magical talents.”

“And Charlie already told us that he and Anna can sense each other over long distances,” Sirius added. “Bill and Fleur have tried to push the limits of their own ability to know where the other is, but they still can’t feel each other’s presence farther than a couple hundred yards or so.”

“Why might their experiences be different?” Remus asked.

“I can only make an educated guess of course, but sometimes in magic there is a building of power, particularly when the same event occurs multiple times.” His eyes twinkled as he spoke.

“You believe this will happen again,” Sirius pressed.

Albus nodded. “Muriel has confirmed that these bonds are unusual, but not unknown in the Prewett family. I wonder if either of you have heard of the Muggle concept of genetic predisposition.”

Sirius looked at him vacantly before peering at Remus with a raised eyebrow.

“It’s the idea of something being in the genetic make-up, the body and blood perhaps, of a person. For example, some Muggle medical conditions are believed to be genetically predisposed and then a triggering event or confluence of multiple factors can cause them to happen,” Remus explained.

“You’ve lost me completely,” Sirius muttered.

His friend sighed sardonically. “Think of it this way. Most of the Black family is probably predisposed to some degree of madness due to cousins marrying for far too many generations. Why is Andromeda perfectly sane, Narcissa mostly composed, and Bellatrix positively crazy? They are sisters, raised by the same parents in the same house, yet they are quite different. Did one single manifestation or perhaps a series of events trigger Bellatrix’s insanity? Could it have been prevented at any point in her childhood or young adulthood? Were Andromeda and Narcissa simply lucky, or did they somehow manage to avoid the experiences that triggered the twisted evil in their sister?”

“If you’re hinting about the affects of Azkaban, I can assure you my dear cousin, Bella, was definitely insane long before she entered the prison. Although she probably came out far worse,” Sirius admitted.

“The point is that since these magical bonds are possible in the Prewett family, we have to ask how or why they happen so rarely. Molly was clearly stunned by the bond. The knowledge of these events is not even passed down through the generations because they are such unusual occurrences.” Remus rubbed his chin thoughtfully.

“Perhaps it needs to come from both parties of the bond,” Sirius surmised. “Maybe Bill could have only bonded with Fleur. Had they never met, he would have never bonded with anyone. Still may have married, had children, lived his life normally and happily, but unbonded.”

“Indeed,” Albus nodded. “I believe an entire set of circumstances had to converge just perfectly to set these bonds in motion, making them incredibly rare -- even within the Prewett family. I have continued with some private research and heard back from many old friends. I have concluded that the Prewett family may very well be the only one in wizarding Britain to have ever experienced this previously.”

“So why now? Why Bill and Fleur? Why Charlie and Anna?” Remus asked.

“An extraordinary and rare set of circumstances. Seven children born to a Prewett, all highly magically talented in various ways. Bill was the Head Boy at Hogwarts in his time and achieved a remarkable twelve O.W.L.s. He is not simply a curse-breaker for Gringotts. According to the Head Goblin, Bill is the curse-breaker for Gringotts. He is their best. Not every employee would be allowed to so easily transfer from Egypt to Britain so quickly.” Albus paused for a moment, taking a sip of water. “Consider the young witch he bonded. Fleur is the granddaughter of a Veela. She was the Triwizard Champion from Beauxbatons. Obviously, I don’t know as much about her as I do Bill, but clearly, she is a strong witch, powerful in her own right.”

“And Charlie?” Sirius prompted.

“He was the Captain of the Gryffindor Quidditch team, a talented Seeker who could have gone professional had he not chosen to go to Romania to work with dragons.” Albus tapped a finger on the open letter on his desk, before scrutinizing the two young wizards in his office. “I’ll need your word that you will not repeat what I am about to tell you before I say more.”

Remus and Sirius exchanged an uneasily glance before agreeing.

“You may have been curious how I obtained the leave of absence from the Reserve for Charlie to take a teaching post this year.” Both men nodded. “I’ve been corresponding with Nicolas, the head of the Reserve in Romania, for some time. Charlie has displayed a unique ability when working with the dragons from his earliest days there. Nicolas has personally taught Charlie Occlumency to protect him and has insisted on silence and discretion from the other dragon handlers.”

“What are you saying?” Remus clenched the arms of his chair as he leaned forward.

“Charlie can train dragons. He can control them to a degree Nicolas has never seen or even heard of.”

“That’s not possible,” Sirius muttered.

Albus sighed. “Just before the start of the school year, Charlie took a brief trip to Finland. He was met by a few handlers who brought a Romanian Longhorn to meet him at his request. Apparently, the dragon is one of Charlie’s favorites.” He handed over the letter from his desk. “Nicolas relayed the details of the encounter as described by another Draconologist who witnessed it all.”

The men held the letter between them -- reading it carefully.

Sirius let out a bark of laughter, while Remus seemed too stunned to react until a feral grin spread across his face.

“I see you approve of Charlie’s actions rather more than I do,” Albus frowned slightly. “Regardless, the description of his level of control over the beast is rather startling.”

Remus nodded. “Many pet owners don’t have that much control over a dog. I can see why this ability has been kept quiet. A wizard with that much power could perhaps order a dragon to destroy an entire village.”

“I’m pleased you comprehend the possible danger of Charlie’s skill,” the Headmaster remarked soberly. “That of course leaves us with Anna. As with Fleur, I admit to not knowing much about her other than that she is a good student and seems to be a very powerful witch. I know her grandmother, Katherine Longbottom, was a Potions prodigy as well as being the Head Girl in her time. With her other three grandparents having been Healers, magical prowess is certainly to be expected in Anna. Interestingly she and Fleur are both seven years younger than their future husbands.”

Sirius leapt from his chair. “You think this has something to do with the Prophecy! Something to do with Harry!”

Remus shot a bewildered look from one man to the other. Albus exhaled slowly, a smile spreading across his face. It was easy to forget how brilliant Sirius could be. His propensity for adolescent humor, violent outbursts, and drunken stupors hid a keen mind and a fiercely loyal heart.

“What am I missing?” Remus rose slowly from his seat.

“He keeps mentioning the numbers from the prophecy - seven and three. Remember the conversation the kids had at the Manor. Ginny wondered if the numbers were important and they are, aren’t they?” Sirius asked.

“I believe so, but this remains mostly guesswork at this point,” Albus admitted.

“Back up!” Remus demanded. “Alright. Seven was mentioned a couple times, but not three!”

“Not as obviously, but Fleur was a Triwizard champion, tri as in three. Harry was as well technically,” Sirius said. “And, with the girls, Albus was focusing on their grandparents. Three generations. Do you think it’s important that Fleur is the granddaughter of a Veela?”

“It may be, or it may not,” the Headmaster admitted. “I’m simply observing the patterns in the events we have all witnessed. Whether everything has a meaning or not is anyone’s guess. If another magical bonding occurs in the Weasley family…well, I’m sure we are all familiar with the saying ‘third time’s a charm.’ Charlie and Anna’s bond already seems stronger than Bill and Fleur’s bond. It goes to follow that the potential exists for a third bond to be even stronger.” He shrugged. “All of this may have nothing at all to do with the Prophecy, but listening to Bill and Fleur talk so many weeks ago. They focused on the power of the bond. I can’t help but wonder if ‘the power he knows not’ could be the power gained from a magical bond.”

“But you told Harry the power was love,” Remus said.

Albus nodded. “And I believe it is. What caused the magical bonds in the Weasley family?”

“Nothing caused it,” Sirius replied. “Bill cast numerous diagnostic charms. He assured everyone that no magic was cast to cause the bond.”

“Indeed, no magic, but love.” The Headmaster’s eyes twinkled. “We were speaking of a trigger earlier. What was the final trigger that caused the bond between Charlie and Anna?” He paused briefly before answering his own question. “He asked her to enter into a betrothal contract, and she agreed. The act of deciding to marry is certainly a powerful declaration of love.”

Remus frowned slightly. “What about Bill and Fleur? Did they have a similar trigger?”

Albus nodded. “Bill was not completely forthcoming, but from what he was willing to say, it is clear to me that he and Fleur bonded immediately following their first act of loving — of physical intimacy.”

“So they were surrounded by magical, glowing light right after having sex for the first time?” Sirius smirked. “That must have been…interesting.”

“Undoubtedly.”

“You believe Harry will be the third to bond, with Ginny obviously,” Remus said.

“And she is the seventh child of Molly Prewett,” Sirius added.

“I admit it’s rather a stretch, but I believe it is at least possible.” Albus stroked his beard. “The Prophecy is vague, as all prophecies generally are, but ‘the power he knows not’ is the most vital piece of the puzzle. Helping Harry gain that power and understand how to use it may well make the difference in him surviving the encounter we know he is destined to have with Voldemort.”

“Well, then shouldn’t we explain this to Harry and Ginny and encourage them to…” Sirius’s voice trailed off.

The Headmaster bit back a chuckle. “Personally, I would prefer not to risk Molly’s wrath by encouraging her only daughter to sleep with her boyfriend or become engaged to him in the near future on the off chance that we are interpreting the meaning of the Prophecy and the effects of the magical bonds accurately. Besides, I believe the bond must happen naturally, not be forced or even coerced.”

Sirius sighed heavily as he collapsed into his chair. “So we just wait and hope for the best.”

“Alas, I’m afraid that really is our only course of action.” Albus sipped from his water goblet. “Now, on to other matters. Have you made any progress learning about Hufflepuff’s cup or Ravenclaw’s diadem?”

Remus cleared his throat. “As far as the cup is concerned, we haven’t been able to learn any more than what you already told us. It was last in the possession of Hepzibah Smith. It was discovered missing after her death. We’re still waiting to hear back from a few sources on the continent, but as it stands now, no one has seen or heard any mention of the cup in decades. Assuming Voldemort turned the cup into a Horcrux, I wouldn’t be surprised if he left it in the hands of one of his favored Death Eaters since he left the diary with Lucius Malfoy. The most likely candidates would be Avery, Mulciber, Nott, one of the Carrows, or one of the Lestranges.”

Sirius made a face. “Well, if my dear cousin Bella were given the cup, I imagine she would have treasured it as other women would their first-born child.”

“Treasured and done what with it?” Albus mused.

The men were silent for a moment before Remus spoke again. “This may sound ridiculous but…” He paused to collect his thoughts. “…if Voldemort gave it to Bellatrix or any member of an old pure-blood family, wouldn’t it be logical for them to store it at Gringotts?”

The Headmaster smiled even as he shook his head. “Of course. It is so simple and so brilliant.”

“Any chance of the goblins being willing to let us look in a few vaults?” Sirius inquired.

He chuckled thoughtfully. “That will require some very delicate negotiations. I will have to make it clear we are searching for a lost relic stolen from the Smith family long ago and even then….” His voice trailed off as he considered the possibilities.

“As far as Ravenclaw’s diadem is concerned,” Remus said. “We found no records of it at all. It has truly been lost for centuries, so I can only suggest that we ask those who have been gone for centuries.” He peered around the room at the many portraits of former Headmasters and Headmistresses of Hogwarts lining the walls.

The portraits glanced about at one another in a rather comical fashion before one finally spoke. “The diadem has indeed been lost for centuries, and personally I have never heard it even discussed within these walls. Having said that, I can’t help but wonder if perhaps the ghosts would be more helpful to you. They see and hear more than we possibly can.”

“A reasonable suggestion,” the Headmaster considered. “Unfortunately, the Grey Lady is the most likely to know something that might help us and the least likely to actually share any information. We will have our work cut out for us gentlemen.”

“Well, as long as you don’t mind us hanging out around Hogwarts, I’m sure we can charm her into talking to us eventually,” Sirius declared.

“An honest approach may be the wisest course of action when dealing with Rowena Ravenclaw’s daughter,” Remus opined.

“You try your way. I’ll try mine. As long as one of us learns something….” He shrugged. “Mind if we catch up with the kids a bit before leaving?”

“Not at all,” Albus smiled. “I believe you can find your way to the Gryffindor common room. The current password is Devil’s Snare.”

“Severus Snape is on his way up,” Phineas announced.

The Headmaster nodded and flicked his wand silently, conjuring a chair next to the one Remus was about to vacate.

Severus came to a halt halfway across the office. “My apologies. I was unaware you had…guests.”

“Join us, please,” Albus motioned to the chair. “How was your meeting with Voldemort?”

The professor peered deliberately at the other two men as he sat. “I’m not certain it would be wise for me to discuss such things in present company,” Severus enunciated clearly.

Albus sighed. “The three of you share a greater knowledge and understanding of the threats we currently face than any other man alive apart from me. You must trust one another for us to have any chance of helping Harry defeat the encroaching evil. Severus, you wouldn’t have come if you didn’t have important news. What happened?”

The other man rubbed his chin for a moment. “The Dark Lord called me to speak with him at Malfoy Manor, where he has recently taken up residence. Lucius was the only Death Eater present for our meeting. The Dark Lord was puzzled by Narcissa’s continued absence from the Manor since news of her husband’s liberation from Azkaban a few weeks ago has surely reached her. Early today the Dark Lord spent an extended period of time rifling through his host’s mind, searching for clues to explain her disappearance.”

“And what did Tom learn?” Albus asked.

“Not a great deal,” Severus admitted. “He learned of the Malfoys’ interest in securing a betrothal agreement with Miss Henry, and of Lucius’s belief that Narcissa wanted that alliance very badly. The fact that Narcissa apparently wouldn’t share her reasons for wanting the marriage to take place after using Occlumency herself on her husband furthered the Dark Lord’s curiosity. He called me to him to share my knowledge of the girl and of the betrothal.”

Remus leaned forward. “What did you tell him?”

“That’s the problem. I told him nothing of obvious import -- nothing he couldn’t easily learn from other sources.” Severus’s gaze fixed upon the other man. “I explained how Miss Henry joined the student body as a third-year student and mentioned her recent betrothal to Charlie Weasley, our new Care of Magical Creatures teacher. I expressed the opinion that Miss Henry is a talented witch, but not the top student in her year. The Dark Lord asked specifically about her ability in Potions, and I remarked that she is quite accomplished for a Gryffindor. He inquired about her family, stating that Lucius had already informed him she was a ward of the Longbottoms. I confirmed that and explained that her grandmother was Katherine Longbottom, the sister-in-law to Augusta.”

The Headmaster frowned. “What exactly concerns you, Severus?”

“His reaction. Briefly, as I was speaking of Miss Henry, I thought the Dark Lord was losing interest and was about to dismiss me, but the moment I mentioned Katherine Longbottom by name…” He shuddered slightly. “…Some sudden awareness, the glee in his eyes, the way he was pacing the room rubbing his hands together…He was chuckling as he dismissed me, and I heard him immediately calling for Bella and Dolohov as I left.”

Albus turned with unveiled concern to Remus. “Any ideas?”

“Nothing concrete,” he replied. “Anna has never been particularly forthcoming about the past. She lost her grandparents and parents one after the other all in a relatively short span of time. Neither Augusta nor I ever pressed for details about any of them. She’s mentioned her grandmother in passing occasionally of course, but…well, you know, Anna…” He glanced over towards Severus before turning to Albus.

“Severus has had many years to perfect the art of conveying just enough information without revealing all to the Dark Lord.” Albus assured him. “You would do well to trust him, and I’m afraid it may be vital for us to learn what filled Tom with such glee from the minor details Severus revealed, information he could have gained just as easily from a dozen others. It was all relatively common knowledge.”

Remus rubbed his forehead. “Anna knows some slightly unusual magic, including how to erect a blood ward rapidly. It is magic her grandmother taught her long ago. She is also more capable of nonverbal magic than she likely reveals in the classroom.”

Severus’s jaw twitched. “Is she also capable of wandless magic?”

Remus was silent, but met the other man’s gaze head on.

“I wondered how she managed to overwhelm Draco," Severus said. "We need to learn more about Katherine Longbottom. The Dark Lord must have known her in some way. Could she have been one of his earliest followers?”

“I sincerely doubt it,” Remus frowned. “Katherine left Britain the summer after her seventh year. She moved to America, became a wife and a mother by the time she was about twenty. As far as I know, she never even returned to Britain for a visit.”

“Well, their must be some reason the Dark Lord was so pleased to hear her name,” Severus insisted.

“I’ll talk to Augusta,” Remus promised. “Perhaps she’ll have some idea.”

Albus nodded. “I’ll pull Katherine’s old school records and talk to Horace. I definitely recall Potions was her favorite subject and she was quite talented — definitely a member of the Slug Club.”

“Will anything be said to Miss Henry?” Severus asked.

“Let’s give it a few days, and I will of course speak with Charlie,” Albus decided.

The other men nodded and left the office.

Back to index


Chapter 26: Chapter 26 The Astronomy Tower

Author's Notes: Thank you all for reading and reviewing! Special thanks to my beta, Arnel.


Chapter 26

The Astronomy Tower

“Homenum Revelio,” Harry murmured. He glanced about the dark shadows of the Astronomy Tower for a moment. “We’re alone.” Harry whipped the Invisibility Cloak from their shoulders and shoved it into the large inner pocket of his black Hogwarts’ robes.

Ginny smiled as she watched him conjure a thick blanket and spread it on the cold stone floor. “This was a wonderful idea!”

He chuckled quietly and lowered his lanky form. “Only if none of the prefects come across us while on rounds.”

“Where is your sense of adventure, good sir?” She raised an eyebrow expectantly as she held out her hand.

He took it gently and kissed the back of her hand before tugging her carefully towards him. “I just can’t believe I forgot to bring the Marauders’ Map.” He turned her hand and raised it back to his lips, kissing the inside of her wrist as he stared into her eyes.

“You had other things on your mind,” Ginny said.

“True.” Harry leaned forward to place a soft kiss on her lips. She responded immediately, wrapping her arms around his shoulders, opening her mouth slightly to his exploration. One hand supported the back of her neck while the other threaded through the silky strands of her fiery hair. A hint of the floral shampoo she favored permeated the air around them. He inhaled slowly, allowing the distinct scent that was Ginny to fill him. Harry groaned as he ended the kiss, moving to her neck and sucking on the tender flesh. He used his tongue to trace a path from one freckle to the next, eliciting a sweet giggle and a tightening of her grip on his shoulder. His hand trailed from her neck down to her side as he shifted to lower her slowly onto her back. Her hair spread out around her like a red halo, accentuating the pale skin that glowed in the moonlight. A whimper escaped her lips as he moved to cover her body with his own.

“Is this too much?” His voice sounded oddly husky to his own ears. Ginny gazed up at him with her bright brown eyes and shook her head. A slow smile spread over her face as she pulled him down to meet her lips once more. Harry allowed instinct to take over as he kissed her lips, nibbled her neck, and caressed the soft skin of her throat. She held him to her, snogging him just as fiercely as he was claiming her. He loved the feel of her nails scraping lightly against his scalp, her soft curves pressing up against him. The growing ache in his trousers from his position on top of her eventually became more obvious, and he sighed loudly.

“I need to stop for a while,” he admitted. Pulling back regretfully, he attempted to regain some control over his body and his breathing.

Ginny bit her lip. “It’s very easy to let things go a little far with you.” She stroked his cheek gently with the tips of her fingers.

“Why do you think that is?” Harry asked.

“Because I feel perfectly safe with you,” she whispered. “I always have, you know. Ever since the Chamber, I’ve known I was completely safe with you.”

He swallowed thickly. Ginny rarely mentioned the Chamber. They’d still been kids then. He’d been terrified when he found her still form on the cold, hard floor. The image of the young Tom Riddle standing over her mockingly was a sight he knew he would never forget. Leaning down, he placed a chaste kiss on her lips. “You’ll always be safe with me,” he promised.

She smiled up at him. A look of pure peace and contentment lit her face. He grinned in return before lying next to her on the blanket. He pulled her gently into his arms, so her head was resting on his chest, and held her quietly for some time, listening to the sounds of the night and to her steady breathing.

“Were you able to see Sirius and Remus earlier?” Ginny asked. “Neville said they were in the castle.”

Harry nodded. “I saw them briefly. They were here to have a meeting with Dumbledore. Apparently, they’ll be working together regularly and doing some research at Hogwarts.”

“Is it something for the Order?”

“Sort of,” he replied, speaking slowly as he considered how much information he could share with her. “I’m not really supposed to talk about the specifics, but Sirius and Remus started helping Professor Dumbledore with a project a couple of months ago. Something that will help allow me to take down Voldemort. Sirius doesn’t really want me too involved in it because he said the adults can handle this part. It has nothing to do with the Prophecy.”

Ginny traced a random pattern over his chest with her fingertips. “Well, that sounds like a good thing, then. I’m glad they’re telling you what they’re doing. You have a right to know what’s going on, and if they are handling it, you have more free time.”

He chuckled. “That’s pretty close to what Sirius and Remus said. They want me to understand what’s happening, but they also want me to have time to focus on school, and on Quidditch, and on you.” He kissed the top of her head.

“Really?”

“Oh, yeah,” Harry sighed. “They’re both pretty chuffed that another Potter man fell for another red-headed witch.”

She giggled. “Do you think we need to head back to the common room soon?”

“Probably.” He made no attempt to move, but cuddled her warm body closer to his.

“Five more minutes?”

“Sounds perfect.”

xxxx

Neville glanced around the empty dormitory and screwed up his courage. It was rare for Harry to be the only other boy in the room and he really needed some advice. “Harry,” Neville began.

“Yeah.”

“Um, I was wondering…what do you like best about Ginny? I mean…what made you notice her as, well, as a girlfriend instead of just a friend who’s a girl?”

Harry looked up from the parchment he was writing on. “Oh, well, I guess I noticed her hair. It’s red and shiny and smells rather…erm…sorry, why do you want to know exactly?”

Neville cleared his throat awkwardly. “I’ve been, you know, thinking a bit about the conversation we had with Remus and Sirius over the summer. You remember the one I’m talking about?” His face flushed spectacularly.

“Yeah,” he nodded. “That talk was definitely memorable.”

Neville chuckled nervously. “A few of those diagrams were really quite something.”

“I know! I mean the girl would have to be seriously flexible to attempt that one position,” Harry agreed.

“And, that other one?” Neville snickered. “Remember how Remus turned it upside down and asked what the devil Sirius was trying to draw?”

He laughed. “Or the one with the guy holding the girl against…I mean the guy would have to be very strong and the girl kind of small, don’t you think?”

“I have the feeling Sirius has had a lot of interesting moments,” Neville smirked. “Either that or his imagination is extremely active.”

Harry nodded. “Probably a bit of both.” He cleared his throat. “Listen, I don’t think I’m probably the best to ask for advice about any of those.” He shrugged. “I mean I haven’t actually….” His voice trailed off as he gestured awkwardly with one hand.

“No, of course not!” Neville shook his head, his eyes widening. “I didn’t mean to imply…I mean I don’t really want to talk about that. It’s just Remus and Sirius mentioned the easiest way to let a girl know you like them is to ask them to go to Hogsmeade.” He exhaled loudly. “I’ve been thinking quite a bit about Luna lately.”

Harry grinned. “Well, that’s great, mate! Are you going to ask her out?”

Neville nodded slowly. “I think so. I mean I’d like to, but I’m not sure how to…” He sighed. “She’s really kind and easy to talk to, you know. I like her hair, too, and she has those intense eyes.”

“Who are we talking about?” Seamus asked as he sauntered into the room, followed by Dean and Ron, and leapt on his bed. “No, don’t tell me! Intense eyes. What do you think, Dean?” He glanced over at his friend expectantly.

The other boy sat next to him and pondered for a moment. “Lavender has rather intense eyes, an unusual shade of blue, and Ginny’s eyes are very…expressive.”

Seamus nodded. “Yeah. I think they have it for most intense eyes. How about best hair?”

Harry and Neville exchanged a glance.

“Are we sticking to Gryffindor girls?” Neville asked.

“For now.” Seamus grinned.

“Parvati has nice hair,” Neville said. “It’s very sleek and dark.”

“Ginny’s hair is good. Striking, you know,” Dean added. “No offense, or anything, Harry. It’s just that red is hard to not notice.”

“Yeah,” Harry agreed, although Neville thought he seemed a bit annoyed that Dean had commented on Ginny’s eyes and hair. “How about best skin?”

“Demelza, all peaches and cream, that one,” Seamus decided. “And Hermione.”

Ron swallowed audibly. “Hermione does have really nice skin.”

Seamus smirked. “Best breasts?”

“Maybe we shouldn’t go there,” Neville said, his face darkening slightly.

“Come on, Nev,” he drawled. “We all know it’s between Anna and Lavender. They both have seriously nice sets!”

“And, they’d both hex us into next week for commenting on their…erm…assets,” Harry added.

Seamus laughed. “Well, it’s not like we need to go and tell them. Besides, you never know, they might be rather flattered that we’re expressing our honest admiration and appreciation for their very feminine assets.” He paused, a wicked gleam in his eye. “Speaking of which, best arse?”

“Like we can even tell with the robes they wear,” Ron sputtered. “How did we even start talking about this?” He glanced around the room with a bewildered look on his flushed face.

“Before you lot came in, I was mentioning to Harry that I might ask Luna to go to Hogsmeade with me this weekend,” Neville said quietly.

The mischievous glint left Seamus’s face almost instantly. He nodded thoughtfully, surprising Neville by how quickly he dropped the casual sexual banter. “Luna does have interesting hair and intense eyes. Good luck to you, mate!”

Neville exhaled slowly. He wasn’t sure why he was nervous, but somehow having the support and encouragement of two of his dorm mates made the whole dating thing seem a lot less daunting.

“You have to admit though, she’s a bit dotty,” Ron commented, earning him a glare from Harry.

Seamus rolled his eyes. “And who are you asking to Hogsmeade?” he asked.

“I’m going with Harry and Hermione.” Ron shrugged. “Same as always.”

“Ron,” Harry said slowly. “I’m going with Ginny. We have a date.”

“Oh, right, well…” his voice trailed off as he thought about the situation. “So, Harry’s going with Ginny. Neville, you’re going with Luna, if she says ‘yes.’ I guess Charlie and Anna are going together.” His forehead furrowed as his eyebrows drew together. “Who are you guys going with?” he glanced from Seamus to Dean.

“I asked Lavender and she accepted,” Seamus smirked.

Dean stared out the window for a moment before squaring his shoulders. “Well, I’m off….”

“Who are you asking?” Seamus called after him.

The other boy shrugged. “I’ll let you know when I come back.”

Ron frowned. “Well, this is just….” He collapsed on his bed.

xxxx

The wand flew into her hand. She put it into her pocket and turned to the letter. It vibrated slightly, but did not move from the table. Sighing in frustration, she focused on the bit of parchment once more.

“Anna, take a break, love,” Charlie murmured. She’d been practicing for almost an hour, enough time for him to finish grading the fourth years’ essays.

A stubborn frown appeared on her face. “If I can Summon my wand, I should be able to Summon the letter.”

He failed to hide a small smile. “Wands are magical objects. They may be easier to Summon than other objects.” He pulled out his own wand and set it on the table. “See if mine will come to you.”

She closed her eyes and exhaled slowly. Opening them, she stretched her hand out and was quickly rewarded with the wand flying into her open palm.

“That’s more wandless magic than the average witch or wizard is ever capable of.” Charlie stroked his hands slowly up her arms to lightly grip her shoulders. “You can Summon not only your own wand, but others as well. Take a break. It’s Friday night.”

Anna set both their wands on the table and smiled up at him, letting her hands rest on his waist. “What would you like to do in Hogsmeade tomorrow?”

“Anything you want,” he answered. “Even Madam Puddifoot’s Tea Shop. It’s probably one of those experiences that everyone should endure at least once.”

She laughed lightly. “I’ve heard some of the girls giggling about it. I’ve heard others talk about how awful it is, hideously frilly and tacky.”

Charlie placed a gentle kiss on her lips before slowly working his way to whisper in her ear. “I’ll be eager to hear your opinion after you’ve experienced it yourself.” He caught her earlobe with his teeth and tugged it carefully.

Anna’s grip tightened on his waist as her breath hitched. “Everyone wants to meet up at the Three Broomsticks at about two for a late lunch.”

“Sounds perfect.” He swept her up into his arms, catching her lips in a searing kiss, as he carried her into his bedroom.

Anna laughed when he dropped her onto his bed. “Why, Mr. Weasley, what are your intensions?” she inquired playfully.

He stood beside the bed, staring at her for a long moment, an unreadable expression on his face. “Would you like a glass of wine?”

Anna sat up and crossed her legs, sobering quickly under the intensity of his gaze. “Yes, please.” She hesitated. “Is everything alright?”

“Everything’s fine.” Charlie kissed her forehead before opening a bottle of red wine and pouring liberal portions in two glasses. “I didn’t mean to worry you.” He handed her a glass and relaxed against the bedpost.

They both sipped the wine quietly for a few minutes.

“Any news?” she asked.

Charlie shrugged. “Nothing much new. Dad’s worried about Death Eaters infiltrating the Ministry. They probably have a few people in place already and, of course, anyone could be put under an Imperius Curse. The recent breakout from Azkaban has put more pressure on the Auror Department. They’ve made a few arrests, but even Kingsley says they haven’t caught anyone remotely important in a couple of months.”

He stood, refilled his empty glass, and took a swig. “Fenrir Greyback and his werewolves are attacking more obviously throughout the country. The Dementors are roaming about spreading their misery everywhere and sucking the souls out of wayward Muggles. Bill says the goblins of Gringotts want to remain neutral, but that may be difficult over time. He’s trying to sway them towards siding with us instead of Voldemort if it comes down to that.” He sat at the end of the bed and stroked her leg gently. “We’re all safe here at Hogwarts, and the wards at the Manor and The Burrow are strong.” He emptied his glass in one long swallow. “Everyone’s okay for now.”

She drained the last of the wine from her glass. “Are you glad we stayed in Britain?”

“Yes,” he replied. “Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes I wish we were in Romania, but it’s good to be close enough to actually know what’s happening.” He smirked. “I did recently learn that Remus and Tonks are an item.”

“Seriously!” Anna set down her glass. “That’s wonderful! Remus deserves to have someone like Tonks. She is so much fun! I think he’ll be good for her, too. He’ll balance her energy.”

“I didn’t know you knew Tonks so well,” Charlie commented.

She nodded. “We spent some time together over the summer.” A warm blush suffused her face.

“Why are you blushing?” he asked.

Anna bit her lip. “Tonks is the one who gave me ‘The Talk’ over the summer.”

Charlie blinked in shock. “She…no one had ever explained things to you until this summer?”

“Well, I knew a little bit from my grandmother, and Hermione loaned me a book that explained a bit more. It was very basic though,” Anna admitted. “Tonks was really great about providing me with details that I hadn’t really understood before.”

He hesitated briefly, but couldn’t stop the question from leaving his mouth. “What kind of details?”

Anna began slowly unbuttoning her blouse. “Well, she told me she thought I would quite like to be on top. She said a lot of women enjoy it because it gives them a lot of control.” Anna eased the garment off her shoulders before she dropped it onto the floor. Moving up onto her knees on the bed she unfastened her skirt and allowed it to fall from her hips. Her pink bra and knickers left very little to the imagination. “A woman can be on her knees like this…” She separated her knees and sat back so she was almost sitting on her heels. “Or move into more of a squatting position like this.” Anna leaned back shifting to balance easily on her feet.

Charlie’s tenuous control snapped in an instant. He pushed her onto her back in one swift motion, landing on top of her and pressing his mouth to hers in a demanding kiss. Her knees were still bent and fell wide open allowing him to press urgently into the welcoming cradle of her thighs. Throbbing pleasure coursed through him clouding all restraint. He groaned as he slid his tongue into her mouth, tasting and stroking, the feel of her soft warmth fueling his desire. Her arms came around him, fingers digging into the hair at the nape of his neck and into his taut back. He gripped her hip as lust spurred his instinctive movements. A breathy whimper erupted from her throat causing him to pull back enough to nip at her lips.

“Charlie,” she moaned, arching more firmly into him as her head fell back on to the sheets.

Seeing her neck stretched invitingly before him, he sucked the delicate skin into his mouth. He was dimly aware of her hands moving around his body, but didn’t realize her intent or that she had managed to undo the buttons on his shirt until she gripped the fabric and yanked it from his shoulders. The feel of so much skin-to-skin contact abruptly brought him back to his senses. He slowed his movements and gentled his hands and mouth. They had been progressively exploring one another over several weeks now, but he had always followed an unspoken rule that one of them was to remain fully clothed at all times to reduce temptation. She followed his lead, exhaling slowly as her passion cooled. Her fingers moved lightly over his chest and back, caressing his scars and burns, tracing the lines of his tattoo.

“You’re entirely too tempting, you know,” Charlie muttered.

Anna bit her lip and looked up at him. “So are you. I’m still rather curious about how far this scar goes.” She traced the line diagonally down his abdomen, hesitating at the waistline.

He grabbed both of her hands quickly and pinned them flat against the mattress above her head. Her eyes widened slightly, and he released her. “Anna, I didn’t mean to–”

“I’m fine, Charlie,” she said. “Please, don’t…please, don’t worry.” She stroked his bottom lip with her thumb and smiled mischievously. “Tonks was correct about you.”

He sighed quietly. “In what way?”

“She told me that you are probably naturally dominant in the bedroom.”

“I think most men are,” he replied. “I don’t think I’m…unusually dominant.”

“So, you’d be fine with me being on top?”

He swallowed. “I have to tell you that now is not the best time to be discussing sexual positions.” He shifted uncomfortably. “But, of course, I’d let you be on top,” he said. “Well, for a few minutes anyways.” He rolled off the bed and picked up her blouse and skirt.

Anna laughed softly, catching the clothes he tossed to her.

Back to index


Chapter 27: Chapter 27 Hogsmeade

Author's Notes: Tremendous thanks to everyone who is taking the time to review! Special appreciation goes out to my beta, Arnel!


Chapter 27

Hogsmeade

Ginny stretched and shifted about on her warm bed, blinking sleepily at the soft light filtering in through the curtains. The dorm room was blissfully quiet. Idly she wondered whether her fellow Gryffindor fifth years were still asleep or already making their way down to breakfast. A faint smile tugged at her lips as she recalled the very pleasant dream she had been having. Her best dreams always featured Harry and had for many years now. The content of those dreams had naturally shifted over time. Lately, she had awakened on more than one morning with a delicious tingling in her body. Sighing quietly, she abandoned the temptation to cling to the remnants of her nighttime wanderings and left the warmth of her bed to prepare for the day.

This would be the first Hogsmeade weekend of the school year and the first ever in which most of her friends were paired off. Even Ron had somehow managed to ask Hermione to accompany him into the village, though she was unsure whether it was an official date or not. There was no such uncertainty about her own date with Harry. They had both been looking forward to their first official date for weeks.

Peering into the mirror at her reflection once dressed, Ginny could not keep the smile off her face. She had chosen to wear her birthday gift from Bill and Fleur. Her brother had assured her while handing her the box that the gift had been selected by her future sister-in-law. While Ginny couldn’t truly claim to be friends with the French girl yet, she had to admit that Fleur had excellent taste. The skirt and matching sweater were periwinkle blue, a color that worked well with her fair skin and flaming tresses. The soft fabric hugged her body and accentuated her slim figure without being immodest. It was the kind of outfit that even her mother would approve of, but that somehow managed to make her feel slightly alluring. After pulling the brush through her hair one final time, she applied a thin layer of lip gloss and skipped down the steps to meet Harry for breakfast.

Her boyfriend was sitting in the common room, for once appearing as relaxed as a teenager should look on a Saturday morning. Harry was dressed in black jeans and a charcoal gray sweater. His dark hair was as messy as ever, though she didn’t doubt he had made some attempt to tame it. An issue of Quidditch Quarterly sat open on his lap, his fingers idly flipping through the pages. Ron was standing a bit awkwardly beside him and occasionally casting an anxious glance towards the girls’ staircase.

“Good morning, Harry!” She greeted him with a hug before turning to her brother. “Ron, would you like me to go check on Hermione?”

“Hmmm….” Her brother blinked as he shifted his attention. “No thanks, Ginny. I’m sure she’ll be down in a bit. It’s still early after all.” He nodded as if to reassure himself before again focusing on the stairs.

Ginny pressed her lips together to stifle a giggle. Whether her brother realized it or not, he was certainly acting like a young man anticipating a date with a girl who was more than just a friend.

“You look so beautiful.” Harry spoke softly in her ear as he pulled her into his arms. “Should we go on down to breakfast?”

She looked at him in surprise as Harry was not typically physically demonstrative in front of others, but quickly realized her brother was paying them no attention whatsoever and the common room was unusually empty.

Nodding to Harry, she touched her brother’s shoulder. “We’ll see you downstairs in a bit.”

“Yeah, sure,” he mumbled without taking his eyes off the stairs.

Ginny and Harry quickly made their way out of the portrait hole and down a few flights of stairs before he pulled her into a deserted corridor.

“Do you have any idea how much I want to kiss you right now?” His eyes searched hers intently, seeking permission.

“Then what are you waiting for?” She leaned towards him slowly -- never breaking eye contact.

“Gin.” Harry lowered his lips to hers. The kiss began gently - a lingering caress that evolved into an ardent snog leaving neither in any doubt of their mutual desire. Eventually, they broke away from one another breathing heavily. Harry smiled at her as he ran his fingers through his hair, trying to flatten the black mane.

“You do know it’s a lost cause, yeah?” Ginny grinned.

Harry chuckled as he grabbed her hand and led her quickly down the last couple flights of stairs.

By the time they finally reached the Great Hall, Ron and Hermione were already halfway through their breakfasts and many students were preparing to queue to leave the castle.

“What took you so long?” Ron asked. “You left before we did!”

“Oh…erm…we decided to explore a bit of the Trophy Room…to see the awards and such,” Harry explained.

“Really.” Hermione slanted her gaze towards Ginny and smirked. “Was it an interesting excursion?”

She nodded innocently. “Of course! A very educational experience!”

xxxxx

Ginny couldn’t quite suppress a giggle as she made eye contact with Anna from across the restaurant. Madam Puddifoot’s Tea Shop was as frilly and sickeningly pink as they had feared. Numerous young couples from Hogwarts sat at tiny little tables for two. Most were holding hands, exchanging chaste kisses, and staring rather stupidly into each other’s eyes. Ginny suspected Charlie must be uncomfortable being a professor surrounded by overly affectionate students in an environment so obviously contrived for romance. She had to give her brother credit for looking perfectly calm and comfortable in such a place. The only positive she could honestly say about Madam Puddifoot’s was that the tea and biscuits were perfectly tasty.

It still amused Ginny that even though their large circle of friends was divided into pairs, so many were currently at the tea shop. In a village as small as Hogsmeade, there really was no place for Hogwarts’ students to obtain privacy. Anna and Charlie were at a table in one corner, while Neville and Luna were in another corner. Seamus and Lavender were at a table by the window, and Dean was with Demelza at a table near the front door.

“Anna and Charlie just gave up,” Harry announced.

Ginny looked up in time to see them exit. “Well, what do you think? Tomes and Scrolls? I still need to find a gift for Anna’s birthday, and Sirius’s birthday is coming up soon as well.”

He nodded in obvious relief. “Sounds good to me!” Dropping some money on the table, he took Ginny’s hand as they left the shop. They had already been to Honeydukes, Spintwitches Sporting Needs, and Zonko’s Joke Shop. The bookstore seemed like a good place to spend a bit of time before they were to meet up with everyone at the Three Broomsticks Inn for a late lunch.

With the unusually mild weather and Harry’s hand clasped warmly in hers, Ginny enjoyed their brief walk to the bookshop. The village was full of talking and laughing students reveling in their first day of freedom from the castle since the school year began. Many who strolled the main street carried bags from one or more shops. The carefree atmosphere here offered an illusion of normalcy to the troubles currently facing the wizarding world. Only the presence of more professors than usual in the village, as well as a few Order members, testified to the need for a higher level of alertness.

Upon entering Tomes and Scrolls, Harry and Ginny separated to peruse the shelves for gifts. She soon found a rather advanced looking book on potion-making for Anna before noticing a display in the fiction section announcing the highly anticipated new release by Witch Weekly’s favorite young author, M. J. Wolfe. Ginny had never heard of the author, but picked up the book curiously and began flipping through it, reading a few lines of text at random before focusing intently on one page.

“Find anything good for Anna?” Harry asked.

Ginny snapped the book shut, her eyes wide as she glanced up at her boyfriend. “Yes,” she squeaked. “A newly released novel. Not practical, I know, but she might like it.”

Harry raised an eyebrow as he peered at the book in her hand. “Erm…any reason you’re blushing?”

She shrugged innocently as she held up the book, relieved that the front cover held a simple illustration of a manor house and that the title was innocuous. “I think it’s just a bit warm in here. Are you buying that for Sirius? Let’s head up to the counter and then we can walk on over to the Three Broomsticks.”

“Okay,” he said slowly, scrutinizing the display before reaching for one of the other copies on the table. She grabbed his wrist.

A knowing smirk lit his face. “Romance novel?”

Ginny nodded and desperately tried to quell any feelings of nervous guilt. Without another word, he led her up to the counter to pay for the books.

xxxx

Ron and Hermione were sitting at a large table in the corner with Neville and Luna nursing butterbeers when Harry and Ginny arrived at the Three Broomsticks. Harry ordered two butterbeers for them, and they quickly joined their friends.

“Having a good time?” Ginny asked brightly.

“Oh, yes,” Luna replied with a fond look at Neville. “We visited most of the shops and bought a nice selection of sweets from Honeydukes.”

Anna and Charlie were the last to arrive. The couple had just sat down with a butterbeer for Anna and a Firewhisky for Charlie when Luna said, “Anna, your lips are as swollen as Ginny’s usually are when she’s been alone with Harry for a while.”

Anna bit her lip before lifting Charlie’s drink and taking a liberal swallow. Turning to him she said, “Perhaps you might like to order another drink, love.”

He chuckled and kissed her forehead before returning to the bar. Madam Rosmerta was talking with him in an easy, flirtatious manner that had Ginny feeling slightly uneasy on Anna’s behalf. Returning her attention to her friend, Anna offered her a wry smirk before draining the rest of the Firewhisky.

“He’s an attractive man.” She sighed softly. “I promise you, Ginny, I don’t feel threatened in the least.” Her expression was completely honest. Ginny couldn’t help but admire the relationship her brother and her best friend had developed in such a short period of time.

“I’m not doubting my brother,” Ginny whispered. “I know he loves you, but how can you be so calm when he is given so much temptation?”

Anna’s lips curved into a slight smile. “Do you trust Harry?”

Ginny nodded without even having to think about it.

“And I trust Charlie. He could sweep Madam Rosmerta up in an affectionate hug and kiss, and I would still trust him.” She took a sip of the butterbeer. “Don’t mistake me. I think she is an awful flirt and part of me wants to go up there and make it perfectly clear he is taken, but since he is regularly having to gently rebuff students who become a bit too friendly, I think he can handle himself.”

Charlie soon made his way back to the table with a double shot of whisky. As he sat down, he whispered something in Anna’s ear that caused her to giggle before he casually draped an arm across the back of her chair.

Sirius and Remus joined them shortly thereafter.

“Finally off duty?” Charlie inquired.

Remus nodded agreeably. “Many of the students are heading back towards the castle. It’s been a nice, quiet outing for everyone. Hagrid and Horace are still keeping an eye on things, of course.”

“Everyone having a good day?” Sirius asked.

Affirmative nods and responses were voiced among their group. “We visited Madam Puddifoot’s Tea Shop,” Harry volunteered.

Sirius chuckled. “A venue everyone must experience for themselves at least once.”

“Once was definitely enough for me,” Harry muttered before sitting up straighter and turning his attention back towards her. “Not that I wouldn’t be willing to return if you want to go there again, Ginny.”

She shook her head slightly and decided to put him out of his misery. “Once was certainly enough.”

“You’re allowed to say, ‘thank Merlin’ at this point, Harry,” Charlie quipped.

Anna swatted his chest lightly. “It was your idea that we go there!”

He leaned sideways to give her a soft kiss. “Every witch should be taken there once. If she wants to go back, good for her and good luck to her boyfriend. If she doesn’t, a man should count his blessings and never let go of the jewel he’s found.”

Laughter sounded around the table as the waitress came over to take their meal orders.

xxxx

Sirius had just finished telling them about one of the pranks the Marauders pulled off during their Hogwarts years when Anna stood up.

“I need to make a quick stop at Gladrags Wizardwear before we return to the castle,” she said.

“Just give me a minute to pay the bill,” Charlie began.

She leaned over him, kissing his cheek. “Have another drink. I’ll only be a few minutes.”

“I haven’t been to Gladrags yet,” Hermione said. “I’ll come along if that’s okay.”

Anna nodded. “Of course.” She smiled at her dorm mate before turning back to the men. “We’ll be back soon.”

Luna and Neville decided to head back to Hogwarts, but Ginny quickly followed the witches out the door. The street was practically deserted, and she realized that most of their classmates must have already returned to school. Clouds were rolling in rather quickly and a brisk wind was chilling the late afternoon air.

Upon entering Gladrags, Anna walked directly up to the counter. “Good afternoon. Do you have an owl order ready for pick up for Miss Henry?”

The witch behind the counter smiled. “Oh, yes! It arrived just yesterday. I have it right here. Would you like to check your order before paying?”

“No, thank you,” Anna said quickly. “That won’t be necessary.”

“What did you order, Anna?” Ginny asked curiously.

“Just a few undergarments.” Anna was already digging through her handbag to pull out her coin purse.

“Oh, look!” Hermione exclaimed. “The sale rack has knickers two for one!”

“It’s one of our best sales of the year!” the shopkeeper announced.

“Why did you order ahead of time, Anna?” Hermione asked. “They have a rather good selection.”

Ginny wandered over to look through the sales rack.

“I wasn’t sure they’d have my size,” Anna explained.

“We do try to carry a decent selection of sizes, colors, and styles, but matching sets of lingerie in black and red lace is not something we generally carry except for the weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day,” the shopkeeper said.

Hermione choked back a laugh. Ginny watched as Anna’s cheeks flushed pink. “How much do I owe you?” she inquired sharply of the overly informative witch.

The shopkeeper suddenly seemed to realize she had been less than discrete. “Twenty galleons, Miss Henry.”

Anna rapidly counted out the money and set it on the counter, glaring briefly at the shopkeeper as she collected her purchase.

Ginny was torn between sympathy and amusement. Unable to shake the absurdity of the situation, she said, “Perhaps we can temporarily ignore the fact that you’re with my brother and you can show us the red and black lace lingerie. I’m rather curious to see what twenty galleons worth of undergarments looks like.”

“I’m quite interested myself,” Hermione admitted as she approached the counter with several pairs of cotton knickers in her hand.

“Oh, alright,” Anna relented. “I’ll show you when we return to the dorm. I think I’ll just wait for you outside.”

Ginny followed her out of the shop while Hermione completed her purchase. She was turning to her friend, who was busy trying to stow her package into her handbag, when a brief flash of light caught her peripheral vision. A reflexive scream erupted from Ginny’s throat as she reached for her wand. Anna’s gasp was cut short as she was grabbed from behind by a large man with dark hair. He Disapparated them both away instantly with a loud pop. Ginny was caught by a burly arm wrapped painfully around her waist. Her wand was plucked easily from her grip as she was lifted off the ground. She kicked her feet ineffectually, struggling to catch her breath, before being overwhelmed by the sick tightening pull of being sucked through space.

xxxx

Charlie lowered his glass slowly to the table and stood up - a disoriented expression appearing on his face. “Anna?”

Without another word he walked out the door of the Three Broomsticks Inn. Sirius exchanged a brief glance with Remus before throwing some money on the table and quickly following the other man out of the pub. Harry and Ron grabbed the shopping bags and hurried after them.

“What is it, Charlie?” Remus inquired.

He shook his head slightly as though trying to clear it and find his bearings. “Anna’s gone.”

Sirius grabbed his arm. “What do you mean ‘gone’?”

“She just…left,” he muttered. “Anna was…” Charlie turned in the direction of Gladrags Wizardwear and froze at the sight of Hermione running towards them, a panicked look on her face.

Sirius seized her by the shoulders. “What’s wrong?”

“They took Ginny and Anna,” Hermione panted. “It happened so fast!” She was trembling and looked on the verge of tears.

“Take a breath, love.” Sirius ordered firmly, giving her a slight shake. “We need you to calm down enough to tell us exactly what happened.”

She nodded and closed her eyes briefly. “Two wizards grabbed them. Anna and Ginny left the shop to wait outside while I finished my purchase. The men must have been close by.” She pressed the heel of her hand to her chest as she took another labored breath. “I saw a flash of light and heard a scream. I turned just in time to see one of them with his arms around Anna. He Disapparated with her. The other man picked up Ginny and they disappeared as well. It all happened so quickly! I didn’t even have time to reach the door.” A tear rolled down her face.

“Did you recognize them?” Harry queried. “Were they Death Eaters?”

Hermione blinked rapidly. “The one who took Anna — it was Dolohov. I’m sure of it! I saw him from the side when he turned.”

Ron reached out to touch her face. “What about the other one? Did you recognize him at all?”

“Any distinguishing features could help us identify him, Hermione,” Remus added.

Her eyes slid out of focus. “He was…huge. Short hair. I only saw him from the back.” She shrugged helplessly. “Honestly, there was nothing about him to remember except for his size. I mean not as big as Hagrid obviously, but still huge!”

“Rowle maybe,” Sirius muttered.

Remus nodded in accord. “We need to return to Hogwarts, alert the Order, come up with a plan.”

“I can feel her.” Charlie’s voice was low, but strong. His eyes were closed as he turned slowly. “She’s almost directly south.” Opening his eyes, his countenance was suddenly focused and determined. “I can feel Anna. Hopefully, she and Ginny are together. I’m going to start Apparating — jump a little closer each time until I reach them.”

“Hold on a minute,” Sirius demanded. “You can’t just go alone. There are at least two and possibly more.”

“Fine!” Charlie bit out. “I’ll take you with me, but I’m leaving. Now! We both know what those two could do to them. I’m not waiting to discuss options with the Order and waste hours coming up with a rescue plan.”

“Take me, too!” Harry demanded desperately. “I have to find Ginny!”

Charlie shook his head. “Sorry, Harry. Even if you weren’t a student, I couldn’t take you with me. I’m not brilliant at Apparition. Taking one person Side-Along will be hard enough.”

Remus grabbed his friend’s shoulder. “Sirius, you need to go with Harry, Ron, and Hermione back to Hogwarts. I’m going with Charlie —"

“Why you?” Sirius demanded.

“Because I don’t have the responsibility of guardianship over a minor!” Remus exhaled loudly. “Tell everyone what happened and have someone waiting at the front gates to let us in when we return with the girls. Make sure Madam Pomfrey is prepared.”

“Fucking hell!” Sirius growled, his eyes darting angrily between the two men. “Good luck.”

Charlie nodded grimly and held out his arm for Remus. The moment he grabbed hold, they disappeared with a soft crack.

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Chapter 28: Chapter 28 Guests

Author's Notes: Thank you to everyone who has been reading and reviewing and to my beta, Arnel!


Chapter 28

Guests

“Well done! Very well done indeed!” The sound of two palms coming together in a single loud smack caused Ginny to flinch. “I trust there were no difficulties, Antonin.”

“None at all, my lord. We simply waited for an opportune moment.”

“Had I been in command of the mission, we would have returned hours ago, my lord.”

“Yes, Bella, but you would have left a multitude of bodies in your wake. The Dark Lord ordered that no one be harmed. A measure of patience was required for this task. A mission leading us to an area filled with students, some of whom are the children of our brethren, is not the place to initiate a duel.”

An indulgent chuckle permeated the air around them. “Do not fret, my dear Bella. You will be leading a mission very soon that will call upon your unique talents of persuasion.”

“Yes, my lord.” The witch’s voice remained petulant.

“Thorfinn, I notice you brought an extra guest…”

The man holding Ginny relaxed his grip as he spoke. “Yes, my lord. She was with the other witch when Antonin grabbed her.”

“Well, you should have just ki…I mean, you certainly could have Stunned the girl!” Bellatrix snapped.

“My lord has specifically ordered that no more witches be tortured or killed in raids, and that no one at all be harmed on this particular mission. Bringing her along seemed like the best course of action.”

“I do believe the young lady is Miss Weasley, my lord,” Antonin added.

The sinister chortle sounded closer now. “Well, you have found an interesting prize, Thorfinn. I do believe it’s time to call dear Severus to join our little gathering.”

A pause in the conversation allowed Ginny to blink away the horror of her situation and to acknowledge the truth of it. She and Anna had been captured by Death Eaters and presented to Tom Riddle. As her vision traveled up from the grass beneath her shoes, she glimpsed two wands being handed over to the man of her nightmares. He stowed them in the pocket of his dark robes. Oddly, her first tangled thought as she focused her eyes and observed the wizard was that he looked nothing like the young Tom Riddle of her memories from the diary. This man was a pasty white creature - a bald, red-eyed, flat-nosed being. While her image of the young Tom was undoubtedly clouded by her hatred of what he had done and what he had made her do, the fact remained that he had, at least, been a person. The wizard standing before her now, eyeing her curiously, seemed more monster than man.

The soft pop of Apparition announced the arrival of another Death Eater.

“Ah, Severus,” Riddle intoned. “How good of you to join us!” He gestured with his hands. “I have guests as you can see.”

Ginny had never been so happy to see her Potions professor. Even as some rational part of her brain quickly reminded her that he was a spy and had a role to maintain, she was comforted by the presence of someone familiar.

“Indeed, my lord,” Professor Snape replied, glancing impassively between the two girls. “How may I be of service?”

Ginny focused on Anna now that she had seen her. Her friend was being held loosely in the grasp of her abductor. Ginny willed her to look up, to turn her way, to respond in some way to their circumstances, but Anna’s eyes were downcast, her body rigid.

“Can you confirm the identities of these two young witches, Severus?” Riddle inquired.

The Potions master walked calmly over to her. He took her chin carefully in one hand and lifted her face. His black eyes met hers. She desperately tried to perceive some message of reassurance from his dark orbs. “This is Ginevra Weasley, youngest child of Arthur and Molly Weasley. Fifth-year student of Gryffindor House.”

He let go of her and moved on to Anna, tipping her head up in the same manner. “This is Anna Henry, the ward of Augusta Longbottom. Sixth-year student of Gryffindor House.”

Riddle’s smile as he approached her made Ginny feel sick to her stomach. Malice seemed to radiate from his very being, contaminating the air around them. Though the wizard before her lacked the dark hair and handsome features of the Slytherin prefect she had been exposed to in the diary, the cruel intelligence of the man remained. She resisted the urge to cringe away from him and from the manipulations she feared were coming.

“I’ve been informed that you were the young lady who was gifted my diary. I wonder what memories my younger self chose to show you, Miss Weasley.” His cold fingers on her cheek were a distinctly unpleasant contrast from the ones of her Potions teacher. “Did I show you anything of that mindless oaf Hagrid?”

She shook her head slightly.

“No. Well, I’m certain I must have shown you how I opened the Chamber of Secrets.” His sinister tone betrayed his disturbing amusement.

Ginny could feel her body trembling uncontrollably as she kept her head still, refusing to nod, refusing to agree.

Riddle smirked perversely before bending closer to her and whispering in her ear. “Did I show you my time with the lovely young Katherine Longbottom. She was such an earnest Head Girl, so very eager to do her job well. I rather think she did, don’t you?”

He leaned back, still smirking for a moment before he changed the focus of his attention to Anna. Ginny felt the blood leaving her face, rushing down as her body swayed unsteadily. Strong arms tightened around her waist, refusing to allow her to pass out and fall to the ground. Forcing herself to take a slow breath, she raised one hand to cover her mouth as she turned to watch her friend.

“My dear Anna…” Riddle spoke with calm solemnity as he took her hand in his own. “I am so pleased to finally meet you.”

Anna raised her head slowly, meeting the gaze of their captor. Ginny’s eyes widened slightly at the dead calm of her friend’s eyes. Her face was so remote, so impassive that she looked like a porcelain doll instead of a living girl. Riddle stared at her silently for a long moment.

“Have you nothing to say, my dear Anna?”

He placed one hand on the side of her face, cupping her cheek, as he peered into her eyes for so long that Ginny felt the man behind her shifting slightly. The silent stillness of the moment was only interrupted by the sound of the wind blowing through the nearby trees. Eventually, Riddle let his hand fall. His eyes remained fixed on Anna’s face for a brief time, his expression unreadable.

“Perhaps your friend will be more informative than you are.”

Anna’s countenance remained vacant as Riddle again approached Ginny. He commanded her attention and stroked her cheek with one cold finger just as a sharp pain exploded through her head. She gasped at the intense pressure in her skull which seemed to pierce various areas with white-hot probing pain. Images of her past appeared and disappeared in a dizzying and haphazard blur.

Ginny saw her brothers teaching her how to swim in the pond…the Chamber of Secrets opening…her voice calling for the Basilisk…her mother cooking at The Burrow…one of the pyramids in Egypt…the Gryffindor Quidditch team flying a victory lap around the pitch…her father exclaiming over some Muggle artifact…the fight at the Department of Mysteries…Harry confessing about using the Cruciatus Curse on Bellatrix Lestrange…Anna talking about being attacked by Draco Malfoy.

The acute pain receded almost as quickly as it had begun, leaving Ginny with a throbbing headache and a hazy lack of awareness. She felt her body sagging forward as her legs buckled beneath her, but couldn’t summon the muscular control to remain upright. The grip of the man holding her tightened almost painfully, forcing the breath from her lungs, before he shifted his grasp and tilted her backward to lean against him. She stiffened at the increased contact, but was relieved to be able to take a deep breath again.

Riddle returned to Anna, hissing something to her that almost sounded like a question. She regarded him blankly until he made a strange movement with his wand which had her suddenly hissing in anger. Stowing his wand and raising his hands in a placating gesture, he continued to speak to her in the language of snakes.

Never had Parseltongue seemed at once more disturbing and more natural to her as she watched the heated exchange. The hands gripping her waist relaxed to the point she was barely being restrained. She suspected the man holding her was as caught up in the angry hisses of the conversation as she was. The wizard holding Anna, who Ginny now recognized as Antonin Dolohov, had released her entirely.

The anger seemed to leave Anna as quickly as it had come. She stood silently, her face unnaturally calm once more. Riddle made one more attempt to speak with her before turning to Bellatrix Lestrange. “My dear Bella, please invite Lucius to join us.”

The witch in question had been frozen in reverent awe at the sight before her, but quickly responded to the sound of her name and hastened to do her master’s bidding. A few moments later Lucius Malfoy appeared in the small clearing.

“Thank you, my dear Bella. You may wait for me at the Manor,” Riddle instructed.

Her face displayed obvious disappointment at being dismissed, but she bowed silently before Apparating away.

Lucius was an empty shell of the arrogant wizard who had long plagued Ginny’s nightmares. The wizard of her memory was a tall, strong, powerful man. He was a proud figure with a supercilious sneer on his face for all those he considered beneath him, and a courteous smile for those few he deemed worthy of his time and recognition. That was the man who had slipped her the diary ruining her first year as a student at Hogwarts, who had openly scoffed at and ridiculed her father on multiple occasions, who had taunted her friends and attacked them in the Department of Mysteries. This man standing before them now looked utterly defeated.

“My lord.” Malfoy bowed to Riddle.

“Lucius, I find myself somewhat troubled by something I have recently learned. I wonder if you are aware of the incident.” Riddle paused briefly before clasping the other man’s chin and peering deeply into his eyes.

Having so recently experienced the painful, probing pressure that she now recognized as a Legilimency attack, Ginny was not surprised when the wizard fell to his knees at the onslaught. The lengthy encounter ended suddenly with Riddle looking away in mild irritation. Clearly whatever information he hoped to learn he had failed to obtain from Malfoy.

“Severus.” Riddle turned his head to regard the other man. “As the Head of Slytherin House, I believe you should have been made aware of a certain incident involving young Mr. Malfoy at the end of the last school year.”

Professor Snape inclined his head politely. “Yes, my lord. Draco Malfoy was involved in something that led to his mother removing him from the castle.”

“And, what precisely do you know of the circumstances of this incident?”

“Very little, my lord.” He responded in a calm, silky tone. “I was somewhat…distracted by other events occurring at about the same time.”

“Other events?”

The professor inclined his head in a small nod. “The acting Headmistress Dolores Umbridge was missing from the castle, as were a number of students. Professor McGonagall had only recently been attacked and taken to St. Mungo’s, and Hagrid was no longer on school grounds. Hogwarts does not employ enough staff members to make the sudden disappearance of three negligible.” He shifted slightly, though maintained a relaxed posture. “I was eventually informed, several hours after the…event, that young Mr. Malfoy was involved in a situation. However, as no charges were filed with the Auror Department and no complaint was lodged to the faculty, I was provided very little information. Mr. Malfoy was removed from the castle by his mother quite precipitously allowing me scant opportunity to question him or to determine whether any disciplinary action was required. As the…other party involved obviously desired privacy and discretion in the matter, I felt no need to investigate further.”

Riddle considered him for a moment before waving the man forward with a brief flick of his hand. “Show me what you were told.”

Professor Snape walked directly in front of him and met his piercing gaze. The interaction was brief and appeared to leave Riddle less than completely satisfied. His eyes wandered between Anna and Lucius Malfoy a couple of times before he seemed to come to a decision.

“Anna, my dear,” he began as he moved to stand before her. The rest of his statement continued in Parseltongue. All eyes were once again fully focused on the pair. Just as before, Anna was unresponsive for a time before Riddle managed to garner a heated reply.

A mischievous gleam overtook Riddle’s mien. Removing his wand, he flicked the instrument at his open palm, conjuring a dagger with a black handle. He held the weapon up, examining it thoughtfully before offering it to Anna by the hilt. Her eyes traveled slowly to the sharp blade. Not waiting for her to possibly refuse, he placed the knife in her right hand. She clenched her jaw as her hand tightened over the handle.

Dolohov slowly backed away from her, walking with measured steps to stand beside Professor Snape. The Potion Master was the image of forbearance - still and silent as he observed the events unfolding before him.

“Come forward, my dear.” Riddle stowed his wand once more and took Anna’s left hand. He led her slowly to within a few feet of Lucius Malfoy. “Lovely young witch, isn’t she?” The dark amusement in his voice was obvious. Ginny could almost feel the uneasy glances passing between Dolohov and the wizard holding her.

“Certainly, my lord,” Malfoy managed haltingly. “Quite lovely indeed.”

Riddle smirked cruelly before he released Anna’s hand and moved to stand behind her. He began hissing quietly in her ear. The soft, sibilant sounds floated over the clearing. Anna’s calm fašade slowly cracked as the minutes passed. A tear slid down her cheek as she raised her gaze to meet the anxious face of Lucius Malfoy. Her grip on the dagger was tight enough to make her knuckles white.

Ginny felt the large hands of the Death Eater behind her slowly withdraw from her waist before the wizard sidled towards Dolohov. The three men stood side by side, watching and waiting with forced impassivity. Ginny stared desperately at her Potions professor, willing him to look her way, to offer some measure of assistance. Neither Snape nor either of the other two Death Eaters even glanced in her direction. They were completely focused on the sights and sounds unfolding before them.

The sudden addition of a feminine voice to the melodic sibilance shifted her attention. Her friend was speaking Parseltongue softly in what sounded like short phrases. Tears were running down her cheeks in a steady stream. Behind her, Riddle continued to hiss fluently in her ear. Ginny didn’t have to understand the words to feel how enticing the tone was. Abruptly, she understood why the Dark Arts were said to be so seductive.

With a strangled cry, Anna stumbled away from the wizards. Riddle made no attempt to restrain her, but instead stepped closer to Malfoy.

“Ginny, please!” Anna cried as she rushed towards her and reached for her hand before sinking slowly to the ground.

She wrapped her arms tightly around the other witch, glancing apprehensively towards Riddle, who was fortunately occupied taunting Malfoy.

Anna pulled away and stood up suddenly as she drove the dagger into the pale skin of her inner elbow. “Ward,” she breathed, whirling on the spot. Ginny saw movement out of the corner of her eye and saw wands flying rapidly through the air towards them. Blood was spurting out of Anna’s arm, spraying in an arc that fell to the ground a few feet away from them in every direction. Blindly grabbing one of the wands out of the air, Ginny hurriedly recited the incantations Anna had taught her over the summer at Longbottom Manor. She gasped in relief as she felt the power of the Blood Ward rise and surround them. Beside her, Anna collapsed to the ground, blood still pouring sickeningly from the open wound.

“Anna!” Ginny fell to her knees beside the pale witch trying to stop the shaking of her wand hand as she cast ‘Episkey’ three times before the wound finally closed. “Wake up!” she pleaded, shaking the girl.

Ginny let out a strangled scream when Charlie and Remus suddenly appeared beside them with a soft crack.

Charlie immediately bent down, briefly placing his hand just below Anna’s neck. “She’s breathing.” He slid both arms beneath her body and lifted her easily as he stood.

“I’ll take Ginny. Go!” Remus ordered.

Ginny grabbed the wands off the ground, shoving them into her pocket, as Remus pulled her into his arms and Disapparated with a sharp pop.

She forced herself to swallow hard as they landed at the front gates of Hogwarts. The smell of blood was still heavy in her nostrils and her stomach wanted to rebel against the squeezing pressure from Apparition.

“Take hold,” Sirius ordered roughly, thrusting a length of rope before them. Charlie cradled Anna tightly against his chest as his fingers entwined with hers to hold the Portkey. Remus clasped Ginny’s hand firmly around the rope.

“Flossing Stringmints.” The rope glowed with a faint blue light drawing a whimper from Ginny just before the sickening pull caught her middle.

Landing in the hospital wing, Ginny knew she would have sunk to the floor had Remus not been holding her upright.

“Oh, Ginny!” Mum wailed as she embraced her, squeezing hard enough to make her ribs ache.

She wrapped her arms around her mother trying to pat her back reassuringly even as she pressed her hand to her mouth in a desperate attempt to force down her nausea.

“Blood-Replenishing Potion. Two flasks.” Charlie’s voice held the clipped authority of a Draconologist used to handling medical emergencies.

Ginny pulled back slightly and turned to watch her brother carefully placing Anna on a nearby bed.

Madam Pomfrey brought him the flasks and watched while he quickly administered one vial after the other, forcing Anna to swallow by gently massaging her throat.

“Pain-Relieving Potion,” Madam Pomfrey said as she handed it to Charlie. “I’ll run a medical diagnostic.”

He nodded as he accepted the vial. Madam Pomfrey’s wand moved slowly over Anna’s still form. The matron sighed audibly.

“There are no other wounds or signs of trauma,” Madam Pomfrey announced. “She will wake when she is ready and may need another dose or two of Blood-Replenishing Potion over the next few hours, but Miss Henry will be fine.”

Charlie sagged against Anna’s bed, fear and exhaustion finally catching up to him. Bill shoved a chair beneath him and clasped his shoulder in a reassuring grip. Neville and Augusta stepped forward, and Ginny realized that their family members must have all been called to Hogwarts while they were gone.

“Molly dear, Madam Pomfrey needs to examine Ginny,” Dad said, as he carefully extracted her from Mum’s arms and placed her on the bed beside Anna’s.

Harry was beside her bed in an instant, holding her hand and watching her intently as Madam Pomfrey ran her wand over her body.

“How do you feel, Miss Weasley?” the matron asked.

Ginny pressed her free hand to her forehead. “My head is throbbing, and I feel rather nauseous.”

“Drink this,” she ordered, as she handed over one potion after another.

She dutifully drank each vial before handing them back. The pain in her head eased noticeably, and the feeling of nausea disappeared entirely.

“They’ll both be fine, Molly,” Madam Pomfrey said softly. “A good night’s sleep and a day of rest, they’ll be ready for classes Monday morning.”

Mum sighed loudly, a few tears falling down her cheeks, as she nodded. Dad pulled her into his arms, murmuring quietly.

“Ginny, I…” Harry’s jaw was clenched as he stared down at her. “Don’t you ever…” He groaned before he grabbed her suddenly, capturing her lips in a demanding kiss. Though initially stunned, her arms moved to wrap around him as she sought comfort in his familiar embrace. The clearing of throats and a few chuckles finally made him end the kiss, though his hands still held one of hers in a tight grip.

“Easy, pup,” Sirius said, patting his back a few times. “The girls are okay.” Raising his voice slightly, he called out. “Poppy, I hope you have a good supply of Calming Draught because I believe a few doses may be necessary.”

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Chapter 29: Chapter 29 Temptation

Author's Notes: Sincere thanks to my beta, Arnel, and to everyone who is reading and reviewing! Unfortunately, I have posted all of my completed chapters, so from this point on I will be posting chapters as I finish writing them. Regular weekly posts are still my goal, but that may no longer be possible (especially when I have the flu).


Chapter 29

Temptation

The hospital ward was blissfully silent -- everyone quietly basking in the relief of having Ginny and Anna safely back at Hogwarts. Anna remained unconscious. Although her skin was far paler than usual due to blood loss, the steady rise and fall of her chest was reassuring. Charlie sat in a chair beside her bed, hunched over her still form, both hands resting lightly on her. Ginny felt a bit lightheaded, as much from the trauma of their recent experience as from the potions Madam Pomfrey had given her. The pressure of Harry’s hand squeezing hers, of his thumb making slow circles on her skin, drew her gaze to him once more. A small smile lit her face as their eyes met.

Dad cleared his throat. “Please tell us what happened, son.”

Charlie took a slow breath as he shook his head and leaned back in the chair. “I could feel Anna through the pull of our bond, but it wasn’t clear where they were. We kept jumping.” He groaned, one hand raking roughly through his hair. “It took so long to find them!”

“You did an amazing job locating them, Charlie,” Remus insisted. His calm voice was firm enough to broker no argument. Turning to dad, he continued. “Charlie took me on seven consecutive Side-Along Apparition jumps before we found them. You know how magically draining and exhausting that is. Most wizards wouldn’t have been able to do it.”

Dad nodded. Standing beside him, Mum beamed at the praise even as she tried to blink away the tears in her eyes.

“Why did they take Anna’s blood?” Harry asked, subconsciously rubbing at the old scar on his inner arm where Pettigrew had stabbed him as part of the ritual to resurrect Voldemort. “What did they use it for?”

“They didn’t…” Remus shook his head. “Anna stabbed herself with the dagger.”

Concerned glances were cast about the quiet hospital ward. Charlie’s eyes closed as he lifted Anna’s hand to his lips, kissing it gently.

“She wasn’t…” Ginny struggled to sit up. “She wasn’t trying to hurt herself! She was trying to cast the Blood Ward to protect us. She told me!”

“What happened, Ginny?” Remus asked. “When we arrived, Anna was standing with Voldemort and Lucius Malfoy. She had the dagger in her hand. We were trying to come up with a plan when she cried out and ran towards you. Then, she cut herself and…”

“And I finished the Blood Ward,” Ginny explained. “Anna wasn’t trying to kill herself, if that’s what you all are thinking. We were terrified, not suicidal. We were trying to protect ourselves! She told me to cast the ward while she was…” She closed her eyes, pressing her fingertips to the lids. “There wasn’t time for one witch to provide the blood necessary to create the circle and complete the spell casting. She plunged the dagger in her arm as she told me to say the spells.”

“She severed an artery, Miss Weasley.” Madam Pomfrey’s words were clipped. “That was a very risky choice.”

Ginny shrugged slightly as she leaned back against the headboard. “What choice would you have made if you were standing in front of Voldemort and a few other Death Eaters?” she asked. “It’s not as though we realized Charlie and Remus were in the woods right behind us.”

“You both made it out of there, Ginny,” Harry quietly asserted. “Nothing else matters.” His fingertips lightly stroked her arm.

“I wasn’t aware that you knew how to cast the spells for the Blood Ward, Ginny.” Bill’s voice held a definite edge.

She closed her eyes. “Anna started teaching them to me over the summer. I wanted to learn the spells and asked her to help me.”

“Will you please show me the spells later?” Bill ground out.

Ginny nodded. Bill exhaled loudly, while Fleur wrapped her arms around him and began whispering in rapid French.

“What was the plan?” Sirius asked. Blank looks met his question. “Remus, you mentioned that you and Charlie were coming up with a plan. What was it?”

Remus sighed. “Keep in mind, it wasn’t a good plan. We were far enough away from the girls that we didn’t know exactly what was happening. We couldn’t hear whatever was being said.” He shifted his stance awkwardly and gestured with one hand. “We were just quickly brainstorming possible courses of action.” He and Charlie exchanged a brief glance which resulted in a resigned shrug from her brother. “We considered trying to pull off double hops.”

Mum’s eyes widened, and she sucked in a startled breath. Harry’s brow furrowed as he transferred his gaze from Remus to her.

“Please tell me you’re joking.” Dad shook his head slightly as he rubbed at one temple.

“I said we considered it! Obviously, we didn’t do it,” Remus replied.

“What are double hops?” Hermione asked.

“They aren’t generally taught for a reason.” Sirius stroked his chin. “But, theoretically, you Apparate to a location without completely landing, grab someone to Side-Along, and immediately Apparate out to a different location,” he explained. “It’s a damn reckless maneuver because you don’t actually land after the first jump. The chances of someone being severely Splinched are very high.”

Tonks nodded in accord. “The concept is covered as part of Auror training — sort of a last resort maneuver only to be attempted in extreme emergencies. Even Moody advised me to never actually try such a stupid stunt.”

“I’m very glad you didn’t attempt that,” Professor McGonagall said, her lips pinched in disapproval.

Charlie nodded grimly. “We both knew it was too risky. We were planning to attack before the girls took matters into their own hands, although that wasn’t a particularly good idea either.”

“Why not?”

“We intended to take out Dolohov and Rowle in simultaneous attacks, but that still would have left Voldemort and Lucius Malfoy. Snape was there as well, but he’s a bit of a wild card, so…”

“Yeah, the problem with Stunning Dolohov and Rowle is that Malfoy could have easily revived them while you were fending off You-Know-Who,” Ron said.

Charlie shook his head and sighed. “We weren’t going to Stun them, little brother.”

“I hope you weren’t considering the use of the Killing Curse,” Professor Dumbledore said quietly.

“No need, Albus. Remus and I both know plenty of other lethal curses that are far more satisfying because they kill their victims more slowly and painfully,” Charlie bit out.

The Headmaster opened his mouth to protest, when Remus spoke up. “Our priority was returning the girls safely to Hogwarts. The two of us against four, and without knowing what Severus might feel compelled to do, didn’t leave us with many options. Dolohov and Rowle are both marked Death Eaters. They abducted two innocent girls from Hogsmeade in broad daylight. I don’t relish killing anyone ever, but I would have in this instance and not felt any remorse.” His calm manner and matter-of-fact explanation seemed impossible even for Professor Dumbledore to refute.

“So, what happened exactly?” Dad asked. “Ginny said they created a Blood Ward.”

Charlie nodded. “The girls vanished from sight just as we were preparing to attack. I could still feel Anna, but we didn’t know what was going on. I grabbed Remus and Apparated us both in…well, into the Blood Ward. Ginny looked okay, but Anna was clearly unconscious.” He stroked his betrothed’s arm gently. “I picked up Anna, Remus took Ginny, and we left as quickly as we could.”

“How could you Apparate into a Blood Ward?” Hermione asked. “I thought a ward would prevent something like that.”

“Blood Wards are extremely strong,” Bill agreed. “They generally aren’t designed to keep out close family members though. With Anna providing the blood and Ginny performing the necessary spell work, Charlie would be able to penetrate the protective barrier. The bond Anna and Charlie share is stronger than a typical magical marriage, and of course since Ginny is our sister…” His voice trailed off as Hermione nodded in obvious understanding.

“I wouldn’t have been able to Apparate in on my own,” Remus admitted. “Even being pulled through by Side-Along was noticeably painful.”

“Sorry, I didn’t realize…” Charlie began.

Remus chuckled softly as he patted her brother’s shoulder. “My pain tolerance is rather high.”

“Understatement of the year,” Sirius muttered.

“Ginny,” Mum began hesitantly. “Did the Death Eaters do anything to you or to Anna?”

Ginny shook her head. “They grabbed us outside of the shop and took us to…” She shrugged. “Well, I don’t know where really. It was just a clearing near a forest. Antonin Dolohov had Anna, and Thorfinn Rowle was holding me. Bellatrix Lestrange was there at first, but she was sent away.” Her eyes met Harry’s as her jaw tightened. He squeezed her hand reassuringly. “Voldemort was waiting for us. No one hurt us really. Voldemort used Legilimency on me, and I think he tried to use it on Anna as well.”

“Was it painful?” Ron asked quietly.

“Certainly more than you could tolerate, Mr. Weasley,” Professor Snape sneered as he swept through the hospital ward doors.

“Ah, Severus,” the Headmaster greeted him. “How was Voldemort’s mood when you left him?”

“Surprisingly cheerful,” Snape bit out. “After using the Cruciatus Curse a few times on Lucius Malfoy, he announced the meeting a delightful event and excused everyone for the evening.” His dark gaze swept over Anna. “Wake the girl,” he shouted. “I don’t care whether you use a potion or Rennervate, but we need to have a conversation.”

Charlie stood slowly and turned to face the Potions Master just as Remus edged towards them, a low growl rumbling from his throat. Despite her brother’s obvious exhaustion, he looked almost as lethal as the werewolf by his side.

“I’m awake,” Anna said softly.

Charlie turned towards her quickly, his features softening as he took hold of her hand and stroked her cheek. “How do you feel?”

“A bit weak, but I’m okay.” She tried to smile.

“Miss Henry, what exactly is the nature of your relationship with the Dark Lord?” Snape inquired.

“What did he tell you?” Anna asked.

He exhaled loudly. “Do not play games with me, young lady! How are you related to the Dark Lord?”

“What difference does it make?” Charlie demanded.

“An underage student at Hogwarts is a Parselmouth and is of great interest to the most powerful Dark wizard who ever lived! I think it perfectly reasonable for me to demand some sort of explanation!” The Head of Slytherin House was now glaring at Anna.

She closed her eyes and took a slow, steady breath. “I’m his granddaughter.”

A few startled gasps were heard in the otherwise silent hospital ward. Glancing around, Ginny quickly realized she was not the only who was not surprised by the announcement. Remus, Sirius, and Augusta looked resigned. Harry and Neville quietly shifted their feet while casting small, awkward smiles of support in Anna’s direction. Charlie lifted her hand to his lips, kissing it gently several times.

Professor Dumbledore closed his eyes briefly and pulled at his long, white beard. “Katherine Longbottom?”

“He forced her,” Ginny whispered. “Riddle tricked her into an empty classroom and attacked her. He showed me his memory of hurting her in the diary.”

“I’m so sorry you had to see that, Ginny,” Anna said softly. “Grandma showed me her memory of it in her Pensieve shortly before she died.”

Their eyes met as they both attempted to blink away gathering tears.

“Oh, my poor girls!” Mum whimpered.

Dad pulled her back against his chest in a tight embrace. The muscles in his jaw twitched and his eyes were colder than Ginny could ever remember seeing them.

Professor Snape sighed. “The Dark Lord is far too interested in both Miss Henry and Miss Weasley. He was intrigued rather than angered by their escape. For obvious reasons, I do not wish to be told of how they managed to Apparate away from the clearing. He assumes that even though they are both underage, one or both of them were able to facilitate their departure without outside assistance.” His eyes roved over the group before settling on Charlie. “I would rather not be informed of any help they may have had.”

“Do you believe he will have them abducted again?” Dad asked.

The professor hesitated for a moment before offering a small affirmative nod. “The Dark Lord was pleased with them both. However, he realizes they are still students and will bide his time. Currently, his primary focus is to infiltrate and take over the Ministry. Once the Ministry falls in the next year or so, he will gain control of Hogwarts and of all the students here, including Miss Henry and Miss Weasley. I don’t believe either of them are in any immediate danger. Having said that, it would not be wise for them to leave the safety of the school grounds.” His piercing gaze shifted between the two girls before settling on Anna. “Were you tempted, Miss Henry?”

“Tempted by what?” Augusta asked.

The Potion Master’s intense stare never left Anna as he spoke. “Though the conversation was conducted in Parselmouth, it was abundantly clear the Dark Lord was attempting to persuade Miss Henry to murder Lucius Malfoy.” His voice had adopted the silky tone he used occasionally in the classroom. “Were you tempted?”

“Why would Voldemort want Anna to kill Lucius Malfoy?” Tonks asked.

“Does he want to mark her as a Death Eater?” Professor Dumbledore inquired.

“I don’t believe so,” Snape replied, his eyes never leaving Anna’s face. “His exact intentions remain unclear; however, he was certainly hoping she would be susceptible to his influence and to the lure of Darkness.” He paused briefly. “Were you tempted, Miss Henry? You were clearly affected by the Dark Lord’s words. What was he saying to you?”

Anna’s voice was remote when she finally responded. “He was telling me about the atrocities Lucius Malfoy has committed over the years, about the pain and fear he has inflicted on others. He was telling me why Lucius deserved to die, why it would be better for everyone if I ended his miserable existence.” She exhaled slowly and continued on in a more natural tone. “I wasn’t tempted to murder him. I don’t even know Lucius Malfoy. I mean…” She shook her head slightly. “I understand he’s a Death Eater and a horrible person, but I wouldn’t kill someone in cold blood. Perhaps, everything he told me was the truth, but it may have been mostly lies. It’s not as though I would ever trust Voldemort’s word on anything.”

“And if the Dark Lord had presented you with a better victim? What if Draco Malfoy had been offered to you? Would you have used the dagger on him?” The professor studied her carefully with dark eyes.

Anna blinked, a tear rolling slowly down her cheek. Charlie’s thumb swept away the moisture, and he lowered his lips to gently caress hers. She smiled as he leaned back. Raising one eyebrow, she turned her attention back to their professor. “Nothing could ever compel me to join forces with the twisted bastard who raped my grandmother.”

Professor Snape nodded before directing his attention towards her. “And you, Miss Weasley?”

Ginny made no attempt to hide her surprise. “Why in Merlin’s name would I ever join Tom Riddle?”

“I sincerely doubt you would,” the professor remarked. “I was merely curious whether you would have murdered Lucius Malfoy given the opportunity. Unlike Miss Henry, you have a definite history with the man. He made your first year at Hogwarts rather unpleasant.”

Harry’s hand gripped hers tightly, and she suspected he was suppressing the urge to yell at their teacher for bringing up the Chamber of Secrets.

“I won’t lie and say that his death would upset me,” Ginny admitted. “And, I think I’m as capable as most everyone in this room of killing someone if the occasion called for it.”

“Ginny!” Mum gasped.

She sighed. “We’re at war, Mum. Who knows what will happen? I’m not saying I would intentionally kill someone without cause. Anna’s right though about today…it would have been cold-blooded murder. Lucius Malfoy was just standing there waiting, knowing he might die at any moment and knowing he couldn’t do a damn thing to prevent it.” Ginny shook her head. “But, Charlie’s right, too. If it came to an actual battle against Death Eaters, I wouldn’t just cast a Stunning Spell.”

A brief silence followed her statement. Ginny glanced around the room, measuring the reactions of those around her. No one seemed particularly surprised by her comments, and Professor Snape was not the only one eyeing her with slight approval.

“Miss Henry,” he asked. “What was the nonverbal spell the Dark Lord used that elicited such a negative response from you at the beginning of your conversation with him?”

Anna’s eyes widened, and her cheeks flushed. “It’s not important.”

Madam Pomfrey was already hurrying over with her wand drawn.

“I’m not hurt,” Anna reassured the matron. “He was just trying to provoke me.” She turned to Charlie who was hovering over her protectively. “I promise you, he did not physically hurt me.” An unspoken message seemed to pass between the two, and Charlie’s posture relaxed as he nodded.

“Professor Snape,” Ginny ventured. “May I ask what Rowle meant about the order that no more witches be killed or harmed in raids?”

His gaze met hers for a moment before he answered. “The Dark Lord is becoming increasingly confident that he will soon be the leader of magical Britain. As such, he is beginning to consider the magical population he will be governing. It has been brought to his attention that the population is declining and has been for decades. He has recently issued a standing order through the ranks that protects most witches from harm due to their importance in eventually rebuilding our magical society.”

“Rebuilding the population? As in having babies?” Ron quietly asked Hermione.

She nodded while rolling her eyes in exasperation.

“Aren’t wizards just as necessary?” he inquired a bit louder. “I mean it does take two.” His cheeks had darkened, and he was shifting his feet nervously.

“Females are always more important in building a population than males,” Hermione answered.

“That doesn’t make any sense,” he argued. “It took Mum and Dad to make the seven of us.”

“Yes, Ronald, but on a horse breeding farm, one stallion is all that is needed to breed several mares and produce dozens of offspring,” Hermione countered.

The Headmaster cleared his throat loudly. “Severus, has Voldemort made any other announcements regarding the magical population problem?”

Professor Snape shook his head. “He is not making specific plans that far into the future. Other than a general rule to avoid killing witches, no other plans or pronouncements have been made. He has not even encouraged married Death Eaters to have more children, or single ones to find spouses.”

“Then, this is not an issue for concern in the near future,” Professor Dumbledore decided. “Let’s be grateful for the time being that witches are perhaps safer now than they were a month ago.”

The Head of Slytherin House nodded before turning to Tonks. “I would advise you not to be complacent. As an Auror, you remain a target and —”

“My dear Aunt Bella would probably be very happy to kill me,” Tonks finished.

“Obviously,” Professor Snape drawled.

“Well, Anna, at least you know you’re not the only one with a shitty relative,” Tonks quipped. “Actually, I’m not thrilled to be related to the Malfoys either.”

Sirius chuckled as he wrapped his arm around his cousin. “At least we have each other!”

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Chapter 30: Chapter 30 The Ones You Love

Author's Notes: Tremendous thanks to everyone taking the time to read and review this story! Also, a gentle reminder about the rating and warnings of this story. Thank you to my beta, Arnel!


Chapter 30

The Ones You Love

The puddings had just been served when Professor Dumbledore rose to his feet. Peering in the direction of each of the House Tables, he cleared his throat loudly. The Great Hall descended into silence. The rarity of the Headmaster speaking to the student body during an ordinary evening meal clearly indicated that an important message was about to be conveyed.

Harry’s arm went around Ginny as he smiled at her. She and Anna had been released from the hospital wing just the previous morning. While logically, he knew they should be safe in the castle, he had been trying to keep tabs on both girls. Ron, Neville, and Charlie had been hovering more than usual as well.

“Due to the supreme excellence of the Hogwarts rumor mill, I feel certain that by now most of you are aware of the incident that occurred this past Saturday in Hogsmeade,” Professor Dumbledore began. “For those who do not know, I must inform you that two students were abducted by Death Eaters outside a shop. This was, of course, a brazen attack occurring long before nightfall. Fortunately, the students returned to Hogwarts unharmed that same evening. Knowing that Voldemort’s followers are willing and able to act in such a bold way has greatly concerned the faculty and staff, as well as the Board of Governors. The safety of students is always of paramount concern and must override the privileges older students typically enjoy.” He paused as he allowed his message to sink in, his gaze wandering briefly over those assembled. “Therefore, l must inform you that until such time as the safety of students can be ensured, visits to Hogsmeade are hereby suspended.”

Angry muttering broke out at all the tables, though most of the Gryffindors sitting near Harry limited their reactions to sighs of resignation. Dumbledore calmly waited for the frustrated buzz to rise and then slowly die out before continuing. “On a happier note, I am very pleased to announce that we will be holding a Yule Ball on the last Saturday evening of the term. All third-year students and above are encouraged to attend.” Delighted squeals and excited chatter filled the Great Hall.

Professor Dumbledore chuckled, and his blue eyes twinkled. “I’m pleased to hear this much excitement. I must admit that I’m quite looking forward to it myself, having thoroughly enjoyed the last Yule Ball. We are still in the process of making arrangements for the evening, but rest assured we will have a fine dinner, a group of musicians to entertain us, and dancing until midnight. More specific details will be announced closer to the event by your Head of House.”

With a slight nod of his head, the Headmaster returned to his seat, immediately engaging Professor McGonagall in conversation.

“Well, I’m not going to bollox this up again,” Ron announced. His jaw was set even though his face was rapidly flushing. Turning to Hermione, he grabbed her hand tightly. “Will you be my date for the Yule Ball?”

She sat in stunned silence for several seconds, her eyes widening as her mouth fell open. “Umm…yes, Ronald.” She nodded and smiled. “Of course I’ll be your date for the ball.”

He exhaled loudly. “Alright then!” A goofy grin spread across his face as he released her hand and grabbed another piece of treacle tart.

xxxxx

Later that evening, Harry and Ginny made their way quietly to the Astronomy tower. He had remembered both the Invisibility Cloak and the Marauder’s Map.

“Sorry this isn’t the warmest option,” Harry said.

“Perhaps not, but I like it here,” Ginny replied. She sat in front of him on the conjured blanket and rested her back against his chest. His arms wrapped around her middle as he kissed the soft skin of her neck.

“I suppose I should ask since I don’t want to presume,” he said. “Will you accompany me to the Yule Ball?”

She laughed softly. “Of course I will, Harry.”

He tilted her head gently to lean against his shoulder and captured her lips in a tender caress.

“How are you feeling?”

“I’m okay,” Ginny assured him. “I don’t know how to explain it exactly, but facing him was almost…not cathartic really, but…” she sighed. “Part of me feels like I needed to see him as he is now. Voldemort isn’t the Tom I knew from the diary. He’s certainly as evil and horrible as he was -- maybe even more so.” She shrugged. “But he’s different and not just physically. I really don’t know how to describe it.”

Harry tightened his arms around her. “Tom won’t win. Somehow, we’ll defeat him, and he won’t be able to hurt anyone ever again.” He cleared his throat awkwardly. “Ginny, I know you said they didn’t hurt you, but–"

“Nothing happened to me, Harry,” Ginny said. “Rowle grabbed me and took me from Hogsmeade, but he didn’t hurt me at all. He held me, so I couldn’t escape, but that was it, truly.” She took his hand in her own and raised it to her lips, gently kissing each knuckle.

“And Tom?” he asked.

“Just a headache from the Legilimency,” she answered lightly.

He nodded, pressing his lips to her cheek, her temple, the soft skin below her ear. Unable to stop himself, he suddenly blurted out, “I still can’t believe that sick bastard showed you what he did to Anna’s grandmother. Why would he show you that? What kind of twisted fuck would show that to an eleven-year-old? I mean…” His eyes widened as he pulled her around in his arms so that he could see her face clearly. A sudden tightness gripped his chest. “Ginny, Tom became solid in the Chamber. He was able to pick up my wand. He had a physical form. He–"

“Stop!” Ginny ordered. She placed her hands on either side of his face, holding him securely as she stared into his eyes. “Nothing happened.” She enunciated each syllable with slow deliberation. “He said hateful things to me, but that was all.” She shook her head slowly. “I fully admit I don’t know what could have happened had you not arrived when you did, had you not destroyed the diary, but you came. You found me! He didn’t do anything.”

Harry exhaled raggedly as he pulled Ginny tightly to him. His heart was hammering painfully within his rib cage. He squeezed his eyes shut to block out the horrible images that flooded his mind. He forced himself to concentrate on this moment, on the feel of her in his arms. Her warm, steady breathing slowly regulated his own. “I didn’t have a clue at the time,” he whispered. “It never even dawned on me back then.”

“Shhh!” She stroked his cheek. “Let it go, love.”

He nodded, trying to let go of the guilt of not reaching Ginny sooner in the Chamber, of not seeking more information about her condition after their escape, of not securing her friendship when they were younger. Forcing his thoughts back to more recent events, he asked, “What about that spell Tom cast on Anna? Did she ever tell you what it was?”

Ginny grimaced slightly. “She didn’t actually tell me, but she told Charlie in front of me, and his reaction was rather…loud.”

“I won’t tell anyone,” Harry assured her. “What did Voldemort do?”

She chewed her lip for a moment. “It was my fault really. He was using Legilimency on me and saw enough of my thoughts to know that Malfoy hurt Anna. From what she told Charlie, Tom asked her about what happened, about what exactly Malfoy did to her, but she wouldn’t tell him and he….” Ginny’s cheeks were bright red. “The spell tests a witch’s…innocence.”

Harry frowned. “Innocence?”

“It shows whether the maidenhead is intact. It’s a virginity test,” Ginny blurted out. “I suspected at the time that’s what he did, but hoped I was wrong.” She shook her head, her eyes sliding out of focus. “It looked like the wand movement Madam Pomfrey did on me after the Chamber. I had woken up screaming in the hospital wing and I guess I must have said something that concerned her. She didn’t tell me what she was a doing, but the test is a bit of uncomfortable pressure, you know, down there.” She was staring down at their entwined hands resting on her thigh.

He shook his head slightly trying to ignore the heat suffusing his face. “Not to sound like an arse, but why would he care? I mean–”

“I don’t believe that he did care out of any concern for Anna,” Ginny admitted. “Tom wanted something, some piece of information, he could use to manipulate her. He wanted to garner a reaction from her, and he did.”

Harry rubbed his forehead. “I can certainly understand why Charlie’s reaction was rather loud.”

Ginny nodded, her gaze still downcast. “It’s hard to realize you can’t always be there to protect the ones you love.”

“Yes, it is.” He placed one hand lightly under her chin and tilted her head up. He stared into her warm brown eyes, where flecks of rich gold sparkled subtly in the moonlight.

She closed the distance between them and kissed him gently. Her lips were soft and tentative. He returned her light caresses with sweetness rather than heat. It wasn’t the time for heat, not when all his instincts were directing him to hold her, to protect her. They sat in silence for several minutes, arms wrapped securely around each other, exchanging tender kisses.

“We should probably head back to the common room soon,” Harry finally whispered.

“Five more minutes?” Ginny asked.

“Sounds perfect.”

xxxxx

“Hufflepuff’s cup!” Albus exclaimed, staring at the small, golden vessel on his desk. “How? Where did you find it?”

“A bit of good luck and some help from Bill and Fleur,” Sirius replied, gesturing to the curse-breaker as he settled into a chair beside Remus.

“Fleur found an old Ministry by-law concerning how the family members of convicted felons could request access to their Gringotts’ vaults as long as they had specific need or cause,” Bill explained. “It provided us with the legal precedent to petition Gringotts on Sirius’s behalf for entry into the Lestrange and Malfoy vaults.” He handed over a copy of the relevant legislation as well as the letter of authorization from the Gringotts Head Goblin. “Basically, it came down to the fact that Sirius is the Head of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black.”

“It was past time for me to receive some benefit from being born into my miserable family,” Sirius scoffed.

Bill smirked. “The Heads of the Lestrange and Malfoy families are, of course, all wanted criminals. As a male cousin of both Bellatrix and Narcissa and a free man thanks to his acquittal a few months ago, Sirius was in a perfect position to gain access to the family vaults. He formally requested the right to examine the vaults and search for suspected stolen artifacts. Unfortunately, we did have to name Rowena Ravenclaw’s diadem and the cup of Helga Hufflepuff as the objects we were looking for. However, the goblins will keep that information in confidence.”

Albus quickly scanned both documents before setting them upon his desk. “And you were allowed into the vaults today?”

“It all happened rather quickly and easily,” Remus replied. “Bill brought over the authorization letter to Grimmauld Place this morning. We went to Gringotts and were escorted first to the Malfoy family vault, then to the Lestrange family vault. Once we found the cup, we placed it into the dragonhide sack and came straight here.”

Albus removed his wand from his robes and carefully scanned the golden cup. “It definitely appears to be another Horcrux. We must destroy it immediately.”

Sirius nodded soberly. “I would rather not be the one to wield the sword this time.”

“Understandable,” Albus commented. “I fully admit wishing to avoid that honor as well.” His shriveled hand rested on the dark wood of his desk.

“I’ll do it,” Remus volunteered.

Their old professor nodded. “You know what to expect.”

“Um,” Bill paused, casting his gaze from man to man, noting their grim expressions. “What do you expect will happen?”

Sirius sighed. “The Horcrux will fight back when it realizes it is in danger. Harry never said exactly how the diary reacted, what the shade of Tom Riddle did, just before he stabbed it with the Basilisk fang. Before I destroyed Slytherin’s locket…” his voice trailed off as a pained look crossed his face.

Remus clapped his shoulder lightly. “Images of people saying things they would never have said appeared from the Horcrux. I imagine something similar occurred when you destroyed the ring, Albus.”

He nodded tiredly. “It did indeed. I encourage you to move quickly. Hesitation will only prolong your possible suffering.”

Remus cleared his throat as he stood and walked over to the wall where the sword of Godric Gryffindor was on display.

“Wands at the ready, gentlemen,” Albus commanded.

Bill and Sirius pulled out their wands while the professor set the cup on the stone floor of his office. Remus hefted the sword easily with one hand and raised it above the golden artifact. A piercing howl emanated from the vessel as blood began to seep from its depths and spill onto the stones. The crimson liquid ran in tiny rivulets directly towards Remus. His eyes widened, and his jaw set as he swung the heavy sword straight at the cup. The clang of metal hitting metal reverberated throughout the Headmaster’s office as the howl became a tortured scream.

Remus’s hands shook slightly. He staggered away from the broken cup as it finally fell silent. Blood continued to trickle onto the stones, though it quickly dwindled to a slow drip. He turned his back on the sight and carefully set the sword back in its place on the wall.

“Not so bad, considering.” His voice was steady though oddly hollow sounding.

“You did well, and we have now found and destroyed four Horcruxes.” Albus removed the blood from the stone floor with a few sweeps of his wand. “Perhaps you’d all like to join me in a drink. I think we could all use one -- strictly for medicinal purposes, of course.”

The other men nodded as they quietly sank into the chairs and accepted their drinks.

xxxxx

Her nails scraped restlessly into the bedsheet before fisting the thin fabric by her sides. A keening whimper escaped her lips as her hips rose and her lower back arched slightly off the bed. Every muscle of her taut form tensed in anticipation. The whimper became a prolonged sigh just as her body relaxed and softened beneath him, sinking back into the mattress. He glanced up in time to watch the tension leave her face and her eyelids flutter closed.

“I love watching you come undone.” Charlie kissed the soft pale skin of her inner thighs.

Anna’s response was inarticulate.

“Not quite capable of speech yet, love?” His tone was light and teasing, but his dark eyes were heated as they roved over her creamy skin. He slowly kissed his way up her body, taking his time as he traversed the smooth plane of her abdomen before becoming distracted by her soft, round breasts.

Her fingers tangled in his messy red hair, drawing him up towards her mouth. He nipped at her bottom lip before snogging her intensely. His desire for her had become an aching, throbbing need that was increasingly difficult to ignore. Pushing his tongue between her parted lips, he explored her welcoming mouth. They were both breathing heavily when he finally forced himself to end the kiss.

Anna smiled up at him. “I’m glad you enjoy watching me come undone since you are so very good at making it happen.”

“I aim to please,” Charlie smirked. He bent down to nip at her throat. “I do believe your neck has been slightly neglected this evening.”

She giggled. “Make love to me, Charlie.”

“Pretty sure what I just did qualifies,” he quipped.

Anna stroked the rough stubble on his cheek. “You know what I mean.” Her voice was softly alluring. Staring up into his eyes, she deliberately lifted her hips to press against the hardness in his trousers. “I know you want me as much as I want you.”

Charlie sighed. “I won’t even try to deny it, but we don’t need to rush, love.” His actions contradicted his words as he rubbed against her instinctively while stifling a groan.

“We aren’t rushing.” Her hands moved lightly over his shoulders. “We’ve been bonded, betrothed, and engaged for three months.” Glancing over at the clock, she added. “And, legally, I’ve been an adult for seven minutes. There’s no reason for us to delay.”

“Are you sure, Anna?” He swallowed. “I need you to be very sure.”

“I’m very…” she kissed his neck, “…completely…” she sucked at the tender skin below his ear, “…utterly…” she gently bit the top of his shoulder as she pushed his shirt out of the way, “…sure.”

The last whit of restraint evaporated from Charlie’s mind. He finished unbuttoning his shirt and yanked the garment from his torso before unceremoniously removing his trousers. Anna eased his boxer shorts down his legs with a seductively slow movement that had his heart pounding forcefully in his chest.

Pinning her body with his own, he towered above her on the bed. Braced on his forearms, Charlie stared intently into her warm eyes. “If I do anything you don’t like, tell me to stop immediately.” His tone was suddenly demanding. “Promise me.”

She nodded. “I promise.”

“Keep your hands on my back,” he ordered. At her raised eyebrow, he continued. “If you reach a level of ecstasy to claw something, I want your nails digging into me, not the damn sheets.”

Anna laughed softly before biting her lower lip. Charlie reached over to the side table and pulled a small glass jar from the top drawer. He opened the container and quickly scooped out some of the viscous contents, applying it liberally to his erection.

“No such thing as too much lubricant the first time,” he said quietly.

Her cheeks flushed as she reached for him. Charlie felt more in control now that the moment he had been eagerly awaiting was suddenly upon them. He kissed her lips gently before moving to those places on her neck that always made her moan with desire. Anna’s hands roamed up and down his back as she nuzzled his neck in turn and grazed her teeth along his ear lobe.

“I love you,” she whispered.

He caught her lips in a searing kiss. His mouth was hard and demanding, claiming her and overwhelming her. He desperately wanted to drive her back to the same level of wild arousal that had consumed her moments earlier. Bracing himself on one forearm, he guided himself to her entrance.

“I love you.”

He entered her slowly, sinking into her tight, wet, heat in one smooth motion. Raw pleasure coursed through him, igniting every nerve ending in his body. A strangled whimper as she turned her head to press her cheek into the pillow made him pause. Exhaling slowly, he forced himself to remain still, to allow her body time to adjust to him. He was just starting to formulate an alphabetical list of the dragons currently living at the Reserve in Romania when she shifted slightly beneath him. It was a tentative movement but encouraging enough that he began a slow rhythm.

Her soft hum of approval, combined with her instinctive efforts to meet his thrusts, drew an answering groan from deep in his throat. She was his -- finally, completely and decisively his. He felt not only a primal sense of possession but also an almost overwhelming need to protect her and to worship her in the only way he knew how. He kissed her with all the gentle reverence he could manage while stimulating the most sensitive places on her chest with light caresses.

She clung to him, her hands pressing him to her tightly as she moaned. He began moving faster and harder, gripping one of her thighs firmly and pulling her leg up at the knee to allow him a better angle. Her reaction was immediate. The stifled scream coincided with her nails digging sharply into his back.

“Fuck, love,” he ground out.

A few more deep, hard thrusts had her convulsing around him, pulling him over the precipice to his own release. He barely managed to refrain from collapsing onto her suddenly lax body. Her hands had fallen from their previous position and were now limp on the bed. Her eyes were closed as her breath came in shallow little sighs. Breathing deeply, he withdrew slowly and rolled off her to settle on the bed beside her. He tugged her gently towards him before allowing his own eyes to close -- submitting to the soporific effects of their lovemaking.

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Chapter 31: Chapter 31 An Unexpected Letter

Author's Notes: Thank you for all of the comments and questions! I truly appreciate reading your thoughts. Sincere thanks to my beta, Arnel!


Chapter 31

An Unexpected Letter

“Where have you been?” Hermione exclaimed in a harsh whisper. Her hand smacked the solid wood table with a dull thud. “It’s nearly lunchtime!”

Anna’s eyes widened as she sank into the empty chair next to Luna. The girls were at their normal table in a corner of the library.

“Wow!” Ginny grinned. “You actually managed to channel Mum, Hermione!” Pressing her hand to her chest, she sighed dramatically. “She would be so proud.”

“It isn’t a laughing matter, Ginny!” Hermione hissed. “What if someone else had noticed?”

“Did anyone else realize I wasn’t in the dorm last night?” Anna asked quickly.

“No!” Hermione exhaled, exasperation clear in her tone. “Lavender didn’t make it back from her date with Seamus until well after midnight. She and Parvati were so busy trying to cover that, they never even noticed you were missing. I opened your bed curtains while they were in the bathroom talking, and then casually mentioned that you had gone for a walk around the lake.”

Anna visibly relaxed. “Well, that’s a relief. Thank you for covering for me.”

Hermione frowned at her. “You’re supposed to be setting an example. You shouldn’t have been out all night!”

“I’m not the prefect, Hermione,” Anna reminded her with a smirk. “It’s your job to set the example! Don’t worry though, I’ll be happy to cover for you when you don’t make it back to the dorm.”

Her roommate sputtered incoherently for a moment before sighing. “Are you okay?”

Anna nodded. She blushed slightly as she bit her lip.

“What was it like?” Luna asked, leaning towards her and grasping one of Anna’s hands. Her wide eyes demanded the other girl’s attention. “Did he know what he was doing?” She nodded slightly in response to her own question. “I imagine he’d have to know what he’s doing at his age.”

A grin spread across her face. “He knew what he was doing,” Anna agreed. “It was…” She stared off dreamily for a moment. “…lovely.”

“Did it hurt?” Luna tilted her head to the side as she continued to stare at her. “One of the seventh years said it hurt the first time, but another said it really didn’t, so I don’t know what to think.”

Anna twirled a lock of her brown hair slowly around her finger. “It did hurt the first time, but….” She let her head fall back against the chair. “The pain didn’t last long at all, and it was really more pressure and a bit of stinging than actual pain. I don’t know how to describe it really. After that it was just…bliss.”

“What do you mean the first time?” Hermione asked.

Her face flushed dark pink. “Well, we…um…I mean, there was last night, of course, and then a couple of times this morning.”

“A couple of times this morning,” Ginny repeated. “Never mind!” She shook her head resolutely. “He’s my brother. I don’t really want to know.”

“Well, I want to know,” Luna stated matter-of-factly. “Was it better each time?”

Anna’s smile on her flushed face impossible to contain. “He was very careful to make sure I was…completely satisfied each time. I think that…well…instinct kind of kicks in and takes over. As long as you’re with someone you love and trust, and you allow yourself to just feel and experience the sensations -- it’s truly brilliant!”

xxxx

The Headmaster sat down behind his desk and peered at the men sitting before him. Remus Lupin and Sirius Black were on the right. Bill Weasley and Charlie Weasley were on the left. Waving his wand carefully, Albus Dumbledore made four copies of the letter sitting on his desk and floated the parchments over to each wizard.

Silence descended as each man took a moment to read the letter from Narcissa Malfoy.

Dear Albus Dumbledore,

I find myself in the difficult position of trying to determine the best course of action to save my family, both my son and my husband, from certain death. Recent events have made it quite clear to me that they are more likely to survive at the hands of your followers than if left to the dubious mercy of the Dark Lord.

Draco was disciplined by one of your professors a couple of months ago. While I was initially infuriated by that man’s methods, I have since come to realize how fortunate my son was. He has changed for the better since that incident. Most importantly to me, he was left alive after being punished for his unfortunate actions on that night in June. Similarly, my husband was recently put in a terribly vulnerable position by the Dark Lord, who urged one of your students to kill him. From what Lucius conveyed to me in his last letter, he fully expected to die at the hands of the young lady, yet was left unscathed. I cannot properly convey my relief and gratitude that she chose to spare him.

I am left with the realization that the lives of my loved ones are considered of more consequence to the side of the Light than they will ever be to the Dark Lord. His willingness to offer my husband as a sacrifice was testimony to his opinion of the worth of my family. As such, I am willing to offer my assistance in planning an attack on the Dark Lord. He is currently living in my home, having taken over the ancestral property of the Malfoy family as though he had the right to such a residence. I have no doubt that his knowledge of the security systems, the wards, and the secret passageways of Malfoy Manor are severely lacking.

I can help you plan an assault of my former home. I fully realize that any such action will potentially leave Malfoy Manor in ruins. The loss of our property will be worthwhile as long as the Dark Lord is defeated. My only request is that I be allowed to take part in the attack so that I can access the hidden passageways and save my husband. My son is safe as a student at the Durmstrang Institute, but my husband lives in daily fear for his life.

Please send an emissary to meet me at Gustav Wasa in Vaasa, Finland at noon on the 30th of November. I will provide all the information necessary to breach the wards and security measures in place at Malfoy Manor. My sincere hope is that by working together we can defeat our shared enemy before he has the opportunity to gain absolute power over us all.

Thank you for your time and consideration,
Narcissa Malfoy

Sirius was rereading the letter when Charlie’s voice broke the silence. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

“Do you believe she’s sincere?” Bill asked.

“I do.” Professor Dumbledore sighed as he stroked his beard. “Narcissa has a firm grasp of the danger Tom Riddle poses to her husband. Lucius must be managing to smuggle forthright letters out of the Manor occasionally. Severus has reported that Lucius is increasingly the target of Tom’s frustration and has been tortured multiple times. I have no doubt Narcissa is also aware that if her son ever returns to Britain, he will almost certainly be branded a Death Eater. It’s in her best interests to help us defeat Tom, and apparently she’s willing to sacrifice Malfoy Manor to make that possible.”

“Cissy always was a very practical witch,” Sirius agreed. “The Malfoy coffers are full. If the house is damaged or even destroyed, it can be rebuilt easily enough. Unworthy though the bastard is, she always loved her husband, and of course she loves her son.”

“Her motivations are quite plainly stated in this letter,” Remus remarked. “They are also completely selfish. She wants Voldemort defeated to save her husband and her son. That’s it!” He struck the palm of one hand with the side of the other. “She’s had no change of heart regarding pureblood supremacy. She expresses no concern for Muggles or the Muggle-born. No horror over the use of Unforgivables. No repentance for her husband’s past Death Eater activities.”

Sirius nodded slowly while raising an eyebrow at his old friend. “What exactly concerns you, Moony?”

“If we accept her help and allow her into the Manor to rescue her husband during our attack, can we depend on her to not also try to save her sister, Bellatrix?” Remus asked.

Sirius exhaled loudly. “I’ll have to make it very clear to her that she can only smuggle out her husband and no one else, certainly not Bella.”

“Am I to assume you are willing to act as the emissary?” Albus inquired.

Sirius nodded. “Cissy’s my cousin. I fully admit I was never close to her like I was with Andy, but we never hated each other either. I’m the Head of the Black Family and that still means something to Cissy. I have a certain amount of authority over her, and I fully intend to use it.” He turned to Bill. “Are you at all familiar with Unbreakable Vows tied to Family Blood Bonds?”

“I’ve read about them,” Bill admitted. “Do you think she’ll agree to something that binding?”

“She’s going to have to agree,” Sirius said firmly. “Remus is correct. We can’t completely trust Cissy. After Voldemort, Bella is probably the next most vicious threat among the Death Eaters. She can’t be allowed to escape with Lucius.”

Bill nodded. “I’ll come. I’d like to hear as much as possible about the wards and general security of Malfoy Manor directly from her anyway.”

“Excellent!” Albus smiled. “I’ll inform Narcissa that the two of you will meet her at the proposed time and place. Now, on to other matters. Remus, I —”

“Wait a minute!” Bill interrupted. “Excuse me, Albus, but what did Narcissa mean about her son being disciplined by one of your professors a couple of months ago, and why did none of you ask about it?” His gaze moved from man to man before settling on his brother. Holding up his copy of the letter, he continued. “Obviously, you all know about the punishment that initially infuriated her. Tell me, Charlie, what exactly were your methods?”

His brother shifted uneasily in his chair. “I went to Finland and confronted the Malfoy boy the day before coming here to Hogwarts. I wasn’t officially a professor yet. As Narcissa admitted in the letter, I didn’t damage the boy that badly.”

“How did you even find out where he was?” Bill asked.

Charlie shrugged. “You told me Narcissa had taken her son to Finland. I have several friends that live there. I contacted them and asked them to let me know if they saw or heard anything about either one of them. It took most of the summer, but eventually I learned where they were living.”

Bill sighed and shook his head. “Why didn’t you ask me to go with you? I would’ve made sure it didn’t go too far, which apparently it did.”

“He was still standing upright, capable of walking and talking when I left him,” Charlie ground out. “I didn’t lose control. It didn’t go too far. That kid deserved what happened and probably a lot more.” He pressed his hands together hard enough that his arms bulged. “I know you don’t understand, but I needed to do something! He couldn’t just walk away like it never happened!”

“For what it’s worth,” Remus began quietly. “I’m glad you went after him. You left him alive, and I don’t honestly know that I would’ve managed it. The wolf inside of me wanted to rip him apart.”

Charlie nodded, the tension in his posture slowly relaxing as a brief silence descended.

Albus cleared his throat. “Nicolas Vasile informed me by letter soon after the incident occurred. I confided in Remus and Sirius.”

Charlie’s eyes widened. “Nicolas informed you? The Head of the Dragon Reserve in Romania?”

“Nicolas and I have maintained a correspondence for quite some time now. Naturally, you and your rather unique talents are a frequent topic in our letters,” Albus said.

“But —”

“I know that Nicolas ordered you to remain silent about your work. He was, of course, quite correct to be cautious. Your abilities can never become public knowledge; however, I’m quite confident the people in this room are entirely trustworthy.” His blue eyes twinkled. “Remus and Sirius both know the entire truth.”

Charlie sat in stunned silence for a moment before turning to his brother. “I haven’t even told Anna yet. She knows I went after the Malfoy kid, but she didn’t ask for any details, and I didn’t volunteer anything.” He sat back in his chair and cracked a smile. “A few of the guys from the Reserve brought one of my favorite dragons to Finland. She’s a Romanian Longhorn by the name of Sasha, a particularly obedient lady.”

Bill’s eyes widened as he glanced around at the others briefly in disbelief before focusing once more on Charlie. “No way. That’s not possible. You’ve said so yourself a dozen times. Dragons can’t be trained or tamed. They’re not pets!”

“What was I supposed to say?” He rubbed the back of his neck. “I haven’t been successful with all of them. Romanian Longhorns and Welsh Greens are very cooperative. Others are less so. The Hungarian Horntail Harry faced in the Triwizard Tournament is about the least amenable dragon I’ve ever worked with, but even she has learned to obey a few basic commands over the years.”

“Merlin, Charlie!” Bill leapt up from his chair and began pacing the office. “All these years and you never said anything, not even to me! I’m your older brother! You’ve always been able to tell me anything! Even about that dream of Anna before the World Cup!”

“What dream of Anna?” Remus demanded. “Before the World Cup?”

Charlie’s head fell back against the chair. He squeezed his eyes shut and pressed his fingers into his eyelids. “I think perhaps my magic has been aware of Anna for quite some time. I’ve been attracted to her for longer than was appropriate.” He sat upright and met Remus’s piercing gaze. “I never acted on my feelings for Anna. I kept me distance and waited as long as possible before declaring myself in any way.”

Remus’s jaw was locked, but he nodded in acknowledgement.

Bill sank back into his chair. “So, what did you have the Longhorn do to the Malfoy kid?”

“Honestly, I just called for her to fly in and land. I petted her and praised her and led her over to the tree where he was standing,” Charlie said. “She didn’t do anything to him other than trap him between her horns for a minute. I just wanted to scare him, and I did. He needed to know what it was like to be afraid and at someone else’s mercy. It truly was a lesson he needed to learn.”

“Merlin, that’s just…” Bill shook his head. “You are going to tell Anna, as well as Mum and Dad, right?”

Charlie nodded. “I’ll tell them when the time is right. Being able to train and control dragons is something Nicolas has insisted I keep quiet for years. I need a bit of time to process the idea of sharing this, and perhaps find a better way to say it.”

Bill laughed weakly. “So what else do we have to discuss this evening?”

“Well,” Albus began. “It’s my understanding that Remus had a productive conversation with The Grey Lady of Ravenclaw Tower yesterday.”

Remus swallowed audibly. “I promised her I wouldn’t reveal the details of our conversation to anyone. She…” He shook his head. “The important facts are that she believes the diadem was contaminated by Voldemort with Dark magic, and she thinks he may have placed the diadem in the Room of Hidden Things.”

“Well, that sounds quite promising,” Albus said.

“Have you been in the Room of Hidden Things?” Remus asked.

The Headmaster chuckled. “Not since I was a boy, but…. Ah! I believe I understand the problem. It will be like searching for a needle in a haystack.”

“Last evening I tried every variation I could think of to Summon the diadem. Nothing worked, of course.” Remus shrugged. “Even with all of us searching the place methodically, it could take quite some time for us to find it.”

“Would it be presumptuous of me to have your normal accommodations prepared for you to stay here at the castle for a while?” Albus gazed expectantly at Sirius and Remus.

“Sounds good to me!” Sirius agreed. “Extra time with the kids!”

Remus nodded in accord.

“Excellent! I will see to the necessary arrangements. Thank you, gentlemen.” Albus stood as the others rose and made their way out of his office.

“I wouldn’t count on a lot of extra time with the kids if I were you,” Charlie smirked, making his way down the spiral staircase behind the others. “Between classes, homework, Quidditch, and the fact that they’re all paired off now, you might not see much of them.”

“They’re all paired off?” Remus asked.

“I don’t know if Ron and Hermione are officially a couple yet, but they are planning on attending the Yule Ball together,” Charlie explained. “With Harry and Ginny joined at the hip, Ron and Hermione are often left alone together. It’s the same with Neville and Luna.”

They stood in the empty corridor.

“Luna was a fascinating student,” Remus remarked. “Her questions were always quite interesting.”

Charlie nodded. “She’s brilliant with magical creatures. Calm, gentle, naturally intuitive.” He cleared his throat. “A bit unusually interested in their mating habits, but a wonderful student.”

Bill leaned closer to his brother and grinned suddenly. “So, how’s Anna?”

“She’s great!”

“Yeah, I can tell by the bite mark on your neck.”

Charlie’s eyes widened as he clapped his hand on his neck. He had obviously forgotten to check if he needed bruise paste that morning.

“And, on that note, I’m going to the Three Broomsticks for a drink,” Remus announced.

Sirius’s barking laughter followed his friend along the corridor.

xxxxx

Lucius rolled onto his back and stared up at the ornate ceiling. Pain continued to pulse through his body, making muscles twitch and joints ache. The room was blessedly empty -- but he dared not linger, not even in the library of his own home. This place had once been his castle; his refuge. That had all ended upon his release from Azkaban. He now realized how foolish he was to believe that once he was freed of the prison, his nightmare would end. Truly, his nightmare had begun with his return to Malfoy Manor. His ancestral home was no longer his. The Dark Lord now presided over every meal in the dining room, every meeting in the study, every encounter in the drawing room.

Closing his eyes, he forced himself to clamber to his feet, to stagger out of the room of his most recent torture. The Dark Lord was still angry that his wand had been trampled under the feet of the fleeing girls. How that was Lucius’s fault remained a mystery. The Dark Lord had not immediately noticed the absence since he had used Lucius’s own wand to Crucio him after the girls vanished. Judging by the powerful tremors still jolting through his body, the new wand Ollivander had made was working well enough. He had no idea how the Dark Lord’s wand had ended up in the space where Ginny Weasley and Anna Henry had disappeared. He didn’t know whether they had purposely broken his wand or done it accidently.

Lucius only knew that he was grateful his wife had fled with their son. How she had realized the need to leave Britain, he could not begin to guess. His wife had always been highly astute, far more than he was. She exhibited all the best traits of Slytherin House, self-preservation, cunning, unfailing determination, and clever resourcefulness. At least Narcissa remained in Finland ostensibly visiting and helping to care for an old friend in declining health, while his son attended the Durmstrang Institute. He could not conceive of the horror of her being in their home, witnessing his humiliation. It would be even worse if he was forced to witness her being punished for his failures.

Finally reaching his bed chamber, he collapsed fully clothed onto the soft bedding. He could still vaguely perceive her scent within the confines of this room. His gaze wandered to their wedding portrait hanging on the wall. Her smile frequently haunted his dreams. The memory of her gentle touch and loving whispers filled the space. His breathing slowed as he dwelled upon everything that was perfect and beautiful about his wife. His last thoughts before sleep claimed him included the hope that she would never return.

Back to index


Chapter 32: Chapter 32 For a Price

Author's Notes: Thank you to Arnel for her work as beta and for helping rewrite a dull paragraph! Thank you so much to everyone who has been reading and reviewing!!!!


Chapter 32

For a Price

The Portkey took Sirius and Bill to the outskirts of the small city of Vaasa, Finland a couple of hours before the scheduled meeting time. Sirius had wanted to arrive early enough to briefly scout out the area prior to meeting his cousin, Narcissa. He had learned the value of caution over the last several months. While his instincts assured him that Cissy’s letter had been written in earnest, he knew he would be a fool to completely trust her. Agreeing to this meeting had been an easy decision to make. Her offer of assistance in arranging an attack on Malfoy Manor - the current residence of her Dark Lord - was too tempting to be ignored.

Admittedly her offer was not without selfish motivations. Cissy wanted to save her husband and ensure her son would never be branded as a Death Eater. Part of Sirius felt disgust at her complete lack of care or concern for the rest of wizarding Britain, or for the Muggles who suffered and died under Voldemort’s orders. Another part of him admitted to himself, though to no one else, that he wanted to see Voldemort destroyed primarily to save Harry. He owed it to James and Lily to do anything in his power to protect their son, to give him the chance for a better, happier future.

“Looks clear.” Bill’s quiet comment drew Sirius from his musings.

Sirius peered about carefully with as casual an air as he could. The street had a reasonable amount of pedestrian traffic but was not busy. People were well bundled against the cold, wearing heavy coats, thick scarves, and warm hats. He and Bill had chosen their own attire carefully, selecting garments that were dark and refined, yet easily forgettable.

Crossing the street, they went to the front door of the Gustav Wasa.

“Brilliant!” Sirius scoffed. “The restaurant’s closed.”

“Of course, it is,” Narcissa’s cold voice floated towards him. “We could hardly have the privacy required for our conversation in a busy restaurant.”

Sirius turned sharply towards his cousin. Her long, blonde hair was hidden beneath an elegant shawl, but her blue eyes were as piercing as ever. Slipping her wand from the black sleeve of her long wool coat, she tapped the door handle and whispered a password before stepping lightly across the threshold. Sirius and Bill followed behind her to find themselves in a strangely sophisticated cellar restaurant with exposed brick walls and high windows.

A waiter greeted Narcissa by name and led them to a small dining area where wine awaited them on the table.

“So we have the entire place to ourselves?” Bill inquired.

“Most things are available for a price, Mr. Weasley,” Narcissa replied. “I happen to be acquainted with the owner, so this was not difficult to arrange. I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve already placed the order for our meal.”

Sirius sat in a chair that had his back to the wall. “I’m not concerned about the food, but I would like to hear about Malfoy Manor.”

Cissy nodded as she allowed Bill to help her into a chair. “We should begin with these.” She withdrew several parchments from her bag and spread them out in the middle of the table. “I have drawn up simple blueprints for each level of Malfoy Manor.”

Both men leaned forward to peruse the drawings.

“I wouldn’t call these simple,” Bill muttered. “You’ve identified every doorway and window in every room of the house. Did you draw this all from memory?”

She raised an eyebrow. “It was my home for twenty years.”

Sirius tapped one section of the parchment. “So, this is a secret passageway and staircase leading from this room to…” He shuffled to the next page which displayed the floor above. “this one?”

“Yes,” Cissy said. “I marked each with a code as you can see.” She withdrew another sheet of parchment. “Here I have described in detail how to access each of the secret passageways and rooms. Most are simple to gain entry to, requiring only a password spoken to the correct portrait or the push of a particular section of the wall. Only this one is blood protected.” She indicated the hidden room off the library. “Lucius and Draco are the only ones who can access it. A small blood sacrifice is required, and it must be Malfoy blood. However, there is nothing particularly interesting about the room.”

“Have you been in it?” Sirius inquired.

“Not in the literal sense, but I have become aware of the contents of the room over time,” Cissy said. “It is a small study containing Malfoy family genealogical information, a few heirlooms, and books on Dark magic and the history of wizarding Britain among other things.”

Bill frowned. “Is that what your husband told you?”

She glanced from him to her cousin. “My husband told me nothing, but he is not the most formidable Occlumens. Even when a man is, he has moments of susceptibility when an observant wife can learn what she wants to know.”

Something about her smirk had Sirius hastily shifting his eyes away from her as he reinforced his own Occlumency shields. He had never been particularly skilled in that area, but over the last few months he had read a couple of books on the subject and improved somewhat.

“Is this all you know about the wards and other security measures at the Manor?” Bill asked. He was completely focused on another parchment.

Cissy nodded slowly, her lips pursed, and brow furrowed. “I know it isn’t much. I spent some time last week with Draco discussing all of this, but he knows no more than I do.”

Bill exhaled audibly.

“What’s wrong?” Sirius inquired, glancing at the notes Bill was scrutinizing.

The curse-breaker closed his eyes briefly. “Well, the good news is it won’t be like trying to break into Hogwarts or Gringotts.” He forced a slight smirk. “The bad news is it’s one very small step down from that.”

Sirius grimaced. “What are we looking at?”

“The wards are layered,” Bill began. “Blood wards and security wards that go back for centuries, each combining and merging with the others before them. These are not the type of wards that can be easily dismantled or circumvented. They either must be hit hard and continuously by several wizards at the same time, or they must be meticulously disassembled. That takes a great deal of time and power.”

“Can you do it?” Sirius asked.

Bill rubbed his forehead as he stared at the notes. “Probably,” he finally allowed. “I’ll need to spend quite a bit of time studying this and doing research.” He gestured towards the stack of parchments on the table.

Their waiter now entered the dining room, carrying a tray with three steaming bowls upon it. Sirius quickly rolled up the parchments and stuffed them into his mokeskin pouch. An uneasy silence fell over the three occupants of the table as they ate the delicious almond potato soup and savored the excellent wine that accompanied it.

Narcissa put her spoon down with a slight clang. “I’ve provided everything I know. Will you help me remove Lucius safely from the Manor?”

“We can’t make any promises,” Sirius stated clearly. “How exactly do you plan to reach him?”

“I won’t have to wait for the wards to fall,” she said. “I can enter the house easily and make my way to our bed chamber. If you follow my advice and attack at night, he will be easy to find. I promise you that neither Lucius nor I will raise the alarm or betray you in any way.”

The room was silent as the waiter removed the empty bowls and served their entrees - reindeer fillet with a red wine sauce.

“You understand I can’t guarantee your safety once the attack begins,” Sirius said. “You’ll have to exit the Manor quickly or at least hide in the lowest level of the house before our forces reach you.”

She nodded. “I understand the risks.”

“Good. Then, you’ll understand why I require an Unbreakable Vow from you. Bill will be our Bonder.”

Narcissa sighed, a resigned look on her face.

“Also, you must not help Bellatrix in any way,” Sirius continued. “Not with a warning of any kind, and definitely not by assisting her in leaving the Manor.”

She swallowed. “I know I can’t save my sister.”

Sirius heard the wistfulness of her tone and for a moment understood her pain. His relationship with his own brother had been complicated to say the least. He regretted so much of what had been said and left unsaid between himself and Regulus. Undoubtedly, Narcissa had similar feelings towards her sisters - particularly the sister who had succumbed so completely to the Dark Arts. Forcing his thoughts to return to the matter at hand, he added. “We’ll do the Unbreakable Vow with a Family Blood Bond.”

Her eyes widened. “That’s not necessary!”

“I’m afraid it is, Cissy,” Sirius said as calmly as he could. “You married a Death Eater and stood by silently while your own sister, Andromeda, was cut from the family. I was cast out and falsely imprisoned and you never sought to contact me. From what Andy and Tonks have told me, you’ve made no attempt to reconnect with the only decent members of our family we have left.”

She shook her head. “I can’t do that to Draco!”

“You’ll be doing nothing to your son as long as you keep your word,” Sirius reminded her. “As insane as I know it seems for a member of Slytherin House, I don’t quite trust your own sense of self-preservation. The Unbreakable Vow will be completed with a Family Blood Bond and tied to your only son and heir.” He paused and watched her closely. “I’m sure you know how this works, Cissy. Even if you do betray us and die by breaking your own vow, your son will live. He’ll simply suffer frequent illness or be impotent, perhaps just infertile.”

“You bastard!” Narcissa’s hand trembled as she lifted her wine glass to her lips, taking a healthy swallow of the deep red vintage.

“Regrettably, I’m quite certain that I am a Black and therefore not a bastard,” Sirius said. “Pull it together, Cissy! You want our help, you must prove yourself. I’m not asking for that much. You simply have to promise to not purposely betray us!”

She glared at him as she silently drank the last of her wine.

Bill glanced occasionally from one cousin to the other as he slowly finished eating his meal.

It wasn’t until the last bite was taken that Narcissa stood slowly and traced her wand across the width of her wrist making a shallow cut. Sirius rose from his seat, creating a similar cut on his own arm before grasping his cousin’s forearm. Their blood mingled as they stood in silence for several moments.

Bill pulled out his wand and began reciting the enchantments necessary to create this rather complex version of the Unbreakable Vow. Magic filled the air as Narcissa Malfoy promised to assist the Order of the Phoenix in taking down the Dark forces threatening wizarding Britain, promised to help those loyal to Albus Dumbledore infiltrate Malfoy Manor, promised to support Harry Potter in his quest to destroy the Dark Lord, and promised to save no Death Eater other than her husband.

xxxxxxx

“We found it.” Remus laid the diadem of Rowena Ravenclaw on the Headmaster’s Desk.

Albus stared at the object silently for a moment before withdrawing his wand and casting several spells on the magical artifact. They had been working in teams, slowly and methodically searching through the Room of Hidden Things for weeks. Their persistence had finally been rewarded.

“Well done.” He glanced up at the two men standing before him. Remus looked as tired as he usually did following the full moon. Charlie eyed the elegant tiara with wary disgust. “I suppose we may as well destroy it immediately,” Albus continued.

“Remus told me the Horcrux is likely to fight back,” Charlie said.

Nodding slowly, the Headmaster rose from his desk and retrieved the sword of Godric Gryffindor from its place on the wall. “They are the most detestable forms of magic I have ever had the misfortune to encounter, and believe me, at my age that is truly saying something.”

“At least once the diadem is destroyed, we’ll be one step closer to finishing Voldemort,” Remus said.

“I still can’t believe he made multiple Horcruxes,” Charlie muttered. “No wonder he is so much less than human.”

Albus glanced between the two men before holding out the sword to Charlie. “I don’t suppose you would be interested in doing the honors?”

Charlie cracked a smile as he reached for the sword. “I doubt I’ll ever have another chance to obliterate a piece of that bastard’s soul. Do I literally just strike it?”

“As hard and as fast as you can,” Remus answered as he pulled out his wand.

“Whenever you are ready, Charlie,” Albus said. He used his wand to levitate the diadem to the stone floor a few feet from his desk.

Charlie raised the sword high above his head before swinging the blade down rapidly and striking the precious artifact. The sharp clang of metal against metal reverberated throughout the Headmaster’s office. A cloud of black mist emerged from the diadem and slowly dissipated into the air. Crimson ichor oozed from the blue sapphire of the tiara and stained the floor below. Charlie drew in a sudden gasp as he collapsed to his knees.

“Are you all right?” Remus grabbed his shoulder.

Charlie nodded. “It’s done?”

“Yes, the Horcrux is destroyed,” Albus assured him. “It didn’t appear to put up much resistance, but…how do you feel?”

“I’m fine.” Charlie staggered to his feet, still looking slightly disoriented. “It pulled at the bond.” His gaze focused on the door leading out of the Headmaster’s office. “Anna’s coming.”

The Headmaster raised his eyebrows. “Remus, perhaps you could invite Miss Henry to join us.”

Remus made his way rapidly down the spiral staircase and soon returned with Anna.

“Charlie!” She ran into his arms.

“I’m fine, love.” He held her in a tight embrace. “I’m sorry you felt that. We were dealing with an object tainted by Dark Magic. I had no idea it would affect our bond that way.”

Anna sighed and leaned back slightly to glance at the other occupants of the room. “Is it something to do with Tom Riddle?”

“It is indeed,” Albus admitted. “Fortunately, the item has been destroyed and is no longer a threat to anyone. May I ask how it impacted your bond? What did you feel?”

Charlie shrugged and relaxed his hold on Anna, though he continued to unconsciously rub slow circles on her back. “My magic seemed to spike briefly and then settle right back to normal. Almost the way it does when learning a new spell and putting far too much power into it, and then feeling a bit drained for having expelled so much magical energy. The feeling was uncomfortable, but not painful. I don’t know exactly how to describe the way it felt with our bond other than there was a pulling sensation.”

“Anna?” Remus inquired.

“I felt a sudden pulling on my magic through the bond,” she explained. “It was uncomfortable and made me feel anxious. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it.”

“And now?” Albus asked.

Both were silent for a moment. Charlie smiled, and Anna relaxed more comfortably against him. “We both feel perfectly normal now,” he said. “Although, I fully admit I’m ready for this day to be over!”

Murmurs of good night followed, and the pair left the office quickly.

“Five down, one to go,” Remus remarked, rubbing at his face as he collapsed into a chair.

Albus’s eyes were twinkling as he faced the other man. “I believe this calls for a celebratory drink!”

xxxxxx

Harry paced the Gryffindor common room, anxiously casting glances towards the girls’ staircase. He was nervous and excited. His black dress robes, which had felt comfortable enough when he put them on an hour ago, suddenly felt a bit too constricting. During the Triwizard Tournament, he had escorted a friend to the Yule Ball. Being able to take his girlfriend to the ball this year was distinctly different. Thoughts of Ginny swirled through his mind. He wondered what her dress would look like, how her hair would be done, what it would feel like to hold her in his arms and dance with her all evening. Looking over at Ron, he realized his friend was likely feeling as overwhelmed as he was.

“Mind if I wait with you?” Charlie asked.

“What’s taking them so long?” Ron scowled as he peered at the empty staircase leading up to the girls’ dormitories.

Charlie chuckled as he settled into one of the overstuffed armchairs by the fire. “Take a bit of advice from your older brother. A witch is always worth waiting for. Have a seat and relax. When your girl appears, tell her how beautiful she looks and how lucky you are to be her date for the evening. I guarantee you’ll have a great night!”

Seamus laughed as he collapsed onto a nearby sofa. A few of the other guys were also looking visibly relieved.

Though Charlie was the Care of Magical Creatures Professor, he was not currently teaching any of the sixth or seventh year Gryffindors since none had chosen to continue that elective into their N.E.W.T. years. Among the younger students, he was known as the cool teacher and was therefore seen as far more human and approachable than most of the faculty. Harry could readily admit that any professor who had been a successful Seeker, Quidditch captain, member of the infamous Weasley clan, and Dragon handler at the largest Reserve in Europe was likely to be idolized by many students. The fact that Charlie had a calm, easy-going nature, and was often willing to talk to his students about a vast array of topics only added to his popularity.

Suddenly soft voices and excited giggles filled the air. In a steady stream, girls were descending the staircase finding their dates or quickly exiting the common room if their dates were members of another house.

Harry watched Ginny slowly make her way down the steps. She was wearing a knee-length dark green gown. Her hair was pulled back from her face and flowed down her back in loose waves. The light caught every fiery tendril. Her bright brown eyes were staring at him intently.

“You’re beautiful,” Harry murmured. He took her hands and pulled her gently towards him.

She smiled. “You’re looking rather dashing yourself.”

His mind went blissfully blank as he wrapped her snugly in his arms and lowered his lips to hers. She was soft and pliant. Her lips moved beneath his in eager exploration. The light floral scent of her hair was both calming and stimulating to his senses. A whimper escaped her throat.

“Oi!” Ron exclaimed.

Harry’s head snapped up. He felt his face growing hot as he realized he had kissed Ginny in full view of two of her brothers and numerous members of Gryffindor House.

“Why aren’t you saying anything?” Ron demanded.

Harry opened his mouth to speak before realized his friend was glaring at his older brother.

“I’m practicing not being a hypocrite,” Charlie said calmly. “You might want to try it, unless you’re honestly planning to not kiss your own date this evening.”

Ron sputtered, while Hermione’s cheeks flushed pink. Ginny began giggling quietly in Harry’s arms.

“Well said, love. Shall we go down?” Anna asked.

Charlie wrapped his arms around her and whispered something in her ear that made her face turn bright red as her lips parted. Harry was almost glad he couldn’t hear their conversation.

The group slowly made their way down the staircases to the Great Hall. The room had truly been transformed. Small tables set for eight students each filled the perimeter of the space with a large open area in the middle for dancing. A band was setting up in one corner and brightly lit Christmas trees were adorning each of the other three corners.

Their group joined Neville and Luna at a table and were soon enjoying a delicious meal. Harry missed most of the conversation during dinner, but thoroughly enjoyed having his left hand resting on Ginny’s thigh throughout the meal. After the pudding was finally eaten, the dancing began. Harry grinned as the music started and he was able to take Ginny into his arms once more.

Harry silently thanked Sirius for the opportunity of dancing lessons, for the miracle of permanently escaping his aunt and uncle’s home on Privet Drive, for the advice on how to ask the girl he loved to be his girlfriend.

His mind froze at the thought and he clasped Ginny more firmly in his arms. He loved her. He couldn’t honestly name the moment he was sure, the moment this feeling had filled him so completely, but he was certain of it now. He loved Ginny.

“Are you okay, Harry?” Ginny asked.

He smiled. “Better than okay. This night is perfect.”

She threaded her fingers lightly through the hair at the nape of his neck. “Yes, it is.”

Harry pressed his lips gently to hers, mindful of the room full of students and teachers. He wanted to savor every moment of this night, enjoy every dance, revel in every touch.

He was completely oblivious to the passage of time as the night wore on, and perfectly content to be so happily unaware. Ginny’s flowery scent, the soft skin he was able to touch, and her graceful movements filled his every desire. As the last song of the evening was announced, he was certain of one thing, this night could not end.

“Let’s go,” Harry whispered in her ear.

Ginny’s eyes widened in surprise before she nodded and allowed him to lead her out of the Great Hall and rapidly up the many staircases to the Astronomy Tower. She melted against him as he murmured a warming spell, conjured a thick blanket, and pulled her down to the stone floor. He stroked the soft skin of her cheek with his thumb.

“I love you, Ginny.”

Her lips curved into a radiant smile. “I love you, Harry.”

His heart thundered in his chest as he pushed her back gently to lay on the blanket. Her fiery red hair was spread out around her and his fingers immediately sought out the brilliant softness. Harry covered her slender frame with his own and kissed her with all the passion consuming him. She returned his kiss with equal enthusiasm, her arms wrapping around him securely. A bright, golden light suddenly filled his vision, overwhelming his senses and paralyzing his body. As his limbs froze, he felt vaguely relieved that she was safely encapsulated within his embrace.

They were flying through the brisk air enjoying the thrill of the wind whipping through their hair as they soared on their broomsticks into the ever-darkening night. They were walking through the orchard at The Burrow on a fine spring day admiring the blossoms on the fruit trees. They were swimming in the pond, stealing kisses, pressing their scantily clad bodies together. They were…

Stabbing pain such as Harry had never experienced suddenly obliterated all other sensations. The piercing agony in his skull was joined by a chilling scream that echoed nauseatingly through his tortured mind. Blinding fear caused his entire body to tremble and twitch as he fought the paralysis seizing him. The desperate need to protect Ginny from this unknown menace was overwhelming. He forced himself to block out the sickening pain enough to concentrate on her smell, on the feel of her slight frame still securely beneath him. A dizzying numbness washed over him as a red haze obliterated his awareness….

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Chapter 33: Chapter 33 Much to Discuss

Author's Notes: Tremendous thanks to my beta, Arnel! I truly appreciate all the reviews and nominations for trinkets!


Chapter 33

Much to Discuss

Charlie slowly slid the gown down her body - kissing and caressing every bit of pale skin as it was revealed. Soft sighs escaped her lips as she shivered under his touch. His dress robes and tie were already off having been thrown carelessly on a chair once they were safely ensconced in his quarters. Anna deftly unbuttoned his shirt and was just starting to pull it from his shoulders when a flurry of insistent knocks rattled the door to his rooms.

“No fucking way!” Charlie groaned against her chest. Turning to glare at the door he shouted, “Go to your Head of House!”

“Charlie!” The male voice sounded familiar and desperate as the pounding on the door continued.

“That’s Neville!” Anna exclaimed. She withdrew from his arms and pulled her dress back up to cover her lace clad breasts.

In a few long strides Charlie reached the door and yanked it open. “This had better be important!”

Neville tripped over the threshold and grabbed Charlie’s arm. “We found Harry and Ginny in the Astronomy Tower. Something’s happened. I think Harry’s hurt. There’s blood. Luna’s with them.”

“What exactly were you all doing in the Astronomy Tower?” Charlie thundered as he hurried out the door and along the empty corridor. The Yule Ball had officially ended half an hour ago. Clearly most students had made it back to their dormitories in the allotted time.

“Well…um…Luna and I were just hoping for a bit of…well…privacy.” Neville’s cheeks flushed brilliantly.

Charlie groaned as he rounded the corner and leapt up the stairs with Neville and Anna hot on his heels. “Please tell me I’m not about to find my baby sister and her boyfriend in an amorous embrace.”

“No!” Neville gasped. “I mean, Harry’s lying flat on top of Ginny, but they both have their clothes on!”

“Lovely.”

“You vowed not to be a hypocrite,” Anna reminded him.

“That’s easier said than done,” he muttered.

“Neville, what did they say when you found them?” Anna asked.

“Nothing. They were both unconscious with Harry bleeding from his scar.” He hesitated briefly. “But I could swear I saw a golden light fading as Luna and I entered the tower. Luna said their auras looked different as well.”

Charlie came to a sudden halt and whipped around to stare at them. “They bonded?”

Neville nodded. “I believe so.”

Charlie’s eyes met Anna’s as he reached out to briefly take her hand. The physical contact was enough to calm him, to stop the myriad thoughts and feelings threatening to overwhelm his mind. Managing a slight smile, he squeezed her hand before releasing it and bounding up the last flight of stairs.

The lingering effect of a strong warming charm surrounded the area near the blanket on which Harry and Ginny lay, driving off the typically frigid temperatures of the Astronomy Tower in winter. Luna sat cross legged on the stone floor beside them, heedless of the way her dress was bunched up about her.

Glancing up, Luna smiled serenely. “Good evening, Professor Weasley. Hello, Anna.” Her eyes traveled over them and seemed to linger on Charlie’s unbuttoned shirt. “Neville, I do believe you interrupted what would have been a very pleasant interaction for Anna and Professor Weasley, but I suppose it couldn’t be helped.”

“Luna.” Anna sank to the floor next to the other girl and took her hand. Her gaze immediately focused on Harry and Ginny. “What happened?”

Charlie swept his wand over the listless forms of the teens - casting the few charms he knew to detect spell damage and medical trauma. There was nothing. He wasn’t surprised. Gently placing a hand on Harry’s back, he easily felt the wizard’s regular respirations. He touched the side of Ginny’s face and was reassured by the warmth of her cheek and her steady breathing. A small amount of blood was pooled on the stone floor under Harry’s forehead.

“Neville and I thought this would be a good place to snog. Actually, I was hoping for a bit more than snogging,” Luna stated matter-of-factly. “When we came up the last step, we saw a lovely golden sphere of light.” She tilted her head to one side, her lips pursed in thought. “Not really a sphere though, perhaps more of a two-thirds oval.” Luna used one hand to draw the arc in the air. “The golden light sort of vanished into their bodies at the same time the dark mist disappeared up into the night sky.”

“What do you mean by a dark mist?” Charlie asked. A sick feeling crept into his stomach as he gazed at the unconscious young wizard.

Luna shrugged and remained silent. Her expression indicated her usually quick mind was stymied.

“I saw it, too,” Neville supplied. “It was kind of creepy to be honest, but I don’t know how to explain why. I’ve never seen anything like it before.” He met Charlie’s gaze meaningfully. Charlie knew Neville was thinking of the summer night at The Burrow when he and Anna had bonded in front of everyone. Neville had been one of the first to notice and the only one to reach out and try to intervene. He had been Stunned by the magic of the bond for his efforts.

“Shouldn’t they be awake by now?” Anna inquired, looking from Neville to Charlie and back again as she smoothed Ginny’s fiery locks back from her forehead.

“Maybe something went wrong,” Charlie muttered. He reached a hand out towards Harry’s shoulder, but hesitated. “I would’ve fucking hexed someone for trying to pull me away from you that night.” He glanced briefly at Anna before sighing and lifting Harry off his sister.

Blood was seeping slowly from Harry’s scar and had dripped down to his eyes. It was drying darkly in his brows and lashes.

“Aguamenti.” The spray of water from Luna’s wand cleaned most of the blood from Harry’s face. “Well, at least he looks better now,” she said. “I was rather hoping the water might revive him, though.”

“Ginny.” Anna shook his sister’s shoulder, but there was no response. “At least she’s not bleeding. Harry needs to be seen by Madam Pomfrey.”

Charlie nodded as he stood up holding Harry in his arms. “Can one of you levitate Ginny well enough to follow us?”

“I’ll carry her.” Neville slid his arms under Ginny’s slight form and lifted her from the stone floor. “Let’s go.”

Charlie smiled at the younger wizard. Neville had only recently passed through that awkward stage between boyhood and becoming a young man. He wore the change well.

xxxxxx

“Mum! Dad!” Charlie shouted through the Floo connection to The Burrow.

A few minutes passed before he saw his father’s anxious face. “What’s going on, son?”

“Come through to the Hogwarts’ hospital wing,” Charlie said before pulling his face from the green flames and standing beside the hearth.

Mum appeared in a whoosh of green light, followed immediately by Dad.

“What’s happened?” Mum demanded in a loud, shrill voice. Her commanding tone contrasted with her rather rumpled appearance as she struggled to secure the tie on her dressing gown.

Madam Pomfrey hurried over. “They’re resting comfortably, Molly.” She grabbed Mum’s hand and led her over to the enlarged bed where Harry and Ginny lay side by side.

“We think they bonded, but something went wrong,” Charlie explained.

The hospital wing doors slammed open as Albus, Sirius, and Remus hurried in.

“Harry!” Sirius rushed to his godson’s side, his eyes flitting from the young wizard to the witch beside him. “Why are they unconscious?”

“Physically, they are both well,” Madam Pomfrey reassured him. “Magically, they’re drained in a way I’ve never really witnessed previously. I can only guess that they require rest and will wake when they’re ready.”

Albus pulled out his wand and began carefully sweeping it over Harry, concentrating his efforts on the wizard’s head. After a few moments, he lowered his hand. A look of unconcealed satisfaction graced the Headmaster’s face.

The hospital wing doors were thrust open once more emitting Ron and Hermione. An old piece of folded parchment was clutched in his younger brother’s hand.

“Oh, Harry! Ginny!” Hermione led the way over.

“They bonded,” Neville explained succinctly. “Luna and I saw the golden light receding. I just don’t understand the dark mist.”

Luna nodded. “It was a black cloud of mist that seemed to rise from them and float up before disappearing. It seemed a bit…unpleasant.” Her demeanor was calm, but her tone betrayed a level of concern.

Charlie watched the dawning horror appear on the faces of both Sirius and Remus. It confirmed the suspicion that had entered his mind at the top of the Astronomy Tower.

“Was Harry a Horcrux?” Charlie asked.

“I believe that is a discussion best left for a later time,” Albus declared. His twinkling eyes and look of calm serenity had never irritated Charlie more.

“You knew?” Remus was staring at the Headmaster as though he had never clearly seen him before.

Sirius clenched his fists tightly by his sides. His voice emerged as a vicious growl from his throat. “You knew! You fucking knew and never told us! I’m his fucking godfather!” He struck his chest with one hand before pointing at Harry on the bed. “I had a right to fucking know!”

The Headmaster’s mien became stern, the look of a disappointed father about to scold his wayward children. “I suspected and was concerned by the possibility. I did not know with certainty until this event.”

“Sod that! You should have informed us,” Remus insisted. “We’ve been helping you track down and destroy Horcruxes for months.”

“We should not be discussing this in front of those currently present,” Albus declared.

“Really?” Sirius shouted in exasperation. “Exactly who among those in this room do you not trust? Is there anyone at all here who doesn’t already know about Horcruxes?” His eyes roved wildly about the room.

Madam Pomfrey slowly raised her hand, and then flushed as she realized no one else was.

“Great!” Charlie snapped. “I believe the only medical professional in the room should definitely be told so she has a decent chance of dealing with the possible consequences of a piece of Voldemort’s soul being suddenly evicted from Harry’s body after being housed for what? Fifteen years?”

The matron gasped before pulling out her wand and casting what Charlie was sure was every spell in her repertoire to assess Harry’s well-being.

“How do you all know?” The Headmaster demanded, his focus on the students in the ward.

Ron shrugged. “Harry told us months ago. He pretty much tells us everything eventually.”

“Bill told Molly and I after the cup was found at Gringotts,” Dad admitted. “I understand you not wanting this to be general knowledge, but did you truly not trust us with this?”

Albus sighed, looking genuinely flustered for the first time in recent memory. “It’s not a matter of trust so much as my determination that Voldemort not learn we were destroying them until it was too late.”

“I understand the need for a certain amount of secrecy,” Remus admitted. “But how were you planning on safely removing the Horcrux from Harry? Did you know that when Harry and Ginny bonded, the magic of the bond would force the bit of Voldemort’s soul from his body?”

“I hoped that would be the case. It was certainly better than any other alternative means of destroying a Horcrux from a living host, but I didn’t know with any certainty.” The professor stroked his beard in an agitated gesture.

“Just a moment,” Dad’s voice took on the edge Charlie had thankfully only heard directed at himself a few times in his life. “You knew Harry and Ginny’s magic would bond?”

Sirius grabbed Dad’s arm. “He suspected. Albus told us he thought it was a possibility a while ago. He felt it was better the kids didn’t know so they couldn’t try to force the bond early. I apologize, Arthur. I should have informed you and Molly of that conversation.”

Dad’s visage lost its red hue. “Molly and I discussed the possibility as well. Honestly, in the past few months, we’ve considered that this could happen to any or all of our children.” His eyes closed as he visibly deflated. “I just hate feeling helpless. I hate feeling that I have no control over what happens to my children; no way of protecting them from anything. Sometimes being a parent is not all it’s cracked up to be.”

Sirius’s barking laugh held a note of desperation, but still managed to lighten the atmosphere a bit.

“Poppy.” Mum was carefully watching the matron. “What do you think?”

Madam Pomfrey had finally finished her scans of Harry and was repeating them on Ginny. She was silent a few moments before responding. “I think Harry’s magic pulled on Ginny’s to cope with the stress of the Horcrux departing from his body. They’re both significantly magically depleted, though I don’t believe either are in any danger. They should wake up naturally in the morning. What should I expect as a result of the magical bond? Charlie told me to put them in the same bed and widened it himself.”

Dad nodded. “He knows from personal experience. If Harry is anything like Charlie was immediately after, he may react violently to any attempt at being separated from Ginny. They must be kept together for now, regardless of how uncomfortable that makes us.” He put an arm around Mum. She was blinking back tears as she nodded in agreement.

“I’m not entirely sure we want to know,” Sirius began awkwardly. “But, do they currently look how you found them?”

“No,” Luna shook her head. “Harry was lying directly on top of Ginny. She seemed quite safe under him. Definitely warm and protected. They looked very comfortable.”

“They were both fully clothed!” Neville quickly added.

“Judging from the position they were in, they weren’t doing anything more scandalous than snogging,” Charlie said. “Thank Merlin!”

“Then what triggered the bond?” Remus asked. “I thought it had to be something rather significant.”

“When they wake you can ask them.” Anna raised an eyebrow. “Just don’t be surprised if they refuse to answer. It is rather personal. It’s also quite late. Good night, everyone.”

Charlie took the hand she held out to him. He was pleased to note that almost everyone followed them out of the hospital wing.

xxxxxx

Harry woke feeling utterly exhausted yet pleasantly warm. It was a warmth that seeped into his very soul. A warmth he was quite certain he had never previously felt. The temptation to open his eyes was easily resisted since he didn’t want to let go of this feeling — ever.

Relying on his other senses, he focused on one at a time. A familiar and wholly comforting floral scent filled his nostrils. He was smelling Ginny. The certainty brought a smile to his face. He wasn’t surprised. Thoughts of Ginny filled his mind more and more often of late. His dreams and waking mind were increasingly consumed by her. Oddly enough Harry had the distinct impression she really was there, not a figment of his imagination but actually in his arms. He flexed his fingers searchingly and sighed in satisfaction as one hand encountered soft skin while the other became tangled in silky smooth hair. He loved Ginny’s hair — the feel of it, the smell of it, the way the sunlight made the red strands look like they were on fire.

Harry was tempted to open his eyes, but they felt so heavy. He never usually experienced this much exhaustion in the morning. Vaguely he wondered if he had been injured, perhaps hit by a Bludger during Quidditch practice. He tried to remember what had happened yesterday.

Myriad colors and sounds filled his mind, mingling with the scent of pine. Suddenly, the events of the Yule Ball came into sharp focus. Ginny in her beautiful gown -- a radiant smile on her face as they danced to the music. The laughter of their friends and classmates as they enjoyed the festive celebration. The feel of his girlfriend in his arms and the satisfaction of being together as a couple. He could even vaguely taste the Firewhisky Seamus had snuck them all before the event. Perhaps he was drunk or hung over. He dismissed the thought immediately. Neither could feel this good. He could actually sense his magic thrumming through his veins. The power was intoxicating in a way that liquor never could be.

A soft sigh sounded against his chest. The noise was only noticeable due to the pervasive silence of the space. He exhaled slowly at the tantalizing feeling of fingers stroking up and down his chest.

“Harry.” Ginny’s voice was barely a whisper.

He forced his eyes open and blinked at the early morning sunlight filtering in through the windows. The light danced on her fiery tresses.

“Ginny.”

She was suddenly above him, staring down into his eyes, her face only a few inches from his. Concern was writ clear on her face as she cupped his cheek. “Do you remember what happened?”

Harry blinked a couple of times in an effort to clear his mind and his vision. “We went to the Astronomy Tower after the Yule Ball.”

She nodded. “You told me you love me. We kissed.”

“I do love you, Ginny.”

“I love you, too.” Her smile was warm as she lowered her lips to his in a tender kiss.

Harry groaned at the soft feel of her mouth against his. What started as a chaste caress became heated as he flipped them over on the bed. His senses were too charged to allow for much gentleness. He pressed his tongue into her mouth hungrily, growling in satisfaction when she opened herself to him. Tasting her lips, exploring her mouth only heightened the warmth that had filled his being from the moment he woke. The feel of her hands wandering over his back increased his ardor. Shifting his weight to balance on one forearm, he slid his other hand to her chest, desperate to feel the soft curves, to draw a whimper from her lips.

“Alright, that’s bloody well enough!” A male voice growled.

“Bill!” an accented French voice scolded. “They are newly bonded! You must make allowances.”

“As much as I agree it’s fucking rude to interrupt, I’d rather not watch him feel up my baby sister,” Charlie agreed.

“Love, I know it’s been a difficult night, but you are becoming far too fond of the F-word,” Anna’s voice held more amusement than censure.

Harry rolled off Ginny and sat up, pulling her firmly against his side. Her eyes were wide, and her face held a rather bemused expression.

“Hi everyone,” Ginny muttered.

“Good morning!” Fleur smiled. “Welcome to the first meeting of the magically bonded Weasley couples. We have much to discuss.”

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Chapter 34: Chapter 34 Touched by Darkness

Author's Notes: Thank you all so much for the Silver Trinket for Best Romance! I am sincerely grateful for the response to this story, and I love reading your reviews. Special thanks as always to my beta, Arnel!


Chapter 34

Touched by Darkness

Harry rolled off Ginny and sat up, pulling her firmly against his side. Her eyes were wide, and her face held a rather bemused expression.

“Hi everyone,” Ginny muttered.

“Good morning!” Fleur smiled. “Welcome to the first meeting of the magically bonded Weasley couples. We have much to discuss.”

Bill shook his head slightly -- a smirk on his face -- as he kissed his fiancÚ’s hand.

“Ginny, how do you feel?” Anna asked.

Ginny shrugged. “I don’t even know how to describe it.” She snuggled closer to Harry. “Exhausted. Exhilarated. At peace for the first time in more years than I care to admit.”

“How are you feeling, Harry?” Charlie asked.

Ginny felt Harry’s hands pressing into her almost painfully as he pulled her more securely against him. She glanced at his face in surprise and was immediately caught in the intensity of his gaze. His eyes entranced hers briefly before sweeping over the others in the hospital wing. The warning in his countenance shocked her, as did the almost resigned looks on her brothers’ faces as they pushed their chairs back a few feet from the bed.

“I know it’s disorienting, Harry,” Charlie said. “I well remember wanting to keep everyone as far away as possible after I bonded with Anna at The Burrow. It’s instinct — pure animalistic instinct to protect one’s mate. I knew I had to protect her from everything and anything, and even family felt like a potential threat.” He sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. “I didn’t know what had happened or what it meant. I felt so drained physically and magically that I wasn’t at all sure I was up for the task of taking care of her, that I was even capable of that responsibility. My own doubt of course just made me feel more defensive.” He pulled Anna gently from her chair and settled her on his lap. She kissed his cheek and began stroking his arm with the very tips of her fingers. A smile crossed his face briefly before he focused again on Harry and Ginny. “The feeling will pass. Once you’ve recovered your physical and magical strength, you’ll feel better about everything. In the meantime, you’re both safe here in the hospital wing at Hogwarts. No one will try to separate you. Ginny is safe, Harry.”

Harry’s arms relaxed slightly as he pressed his face into the side of her neck. Ginny could feel his warm breath on her skin. “Something happened while we were bonding -- or maybe just after?” He spoke slowly, his words betraying the concern he could not hide. “I was trying to keep her safely under me, but we were…I don’t know…not attacked exactly…but…” His voice trailed off.

“Pain you never imagined possible overwhelmed you completely,” Remus said.

Ginny turned towards the new voice and saw that Remus and Sirius were both standing against the wall. Remus stood still, exuding his usual calm resilience and strength in the face of the very worst life had to offer. Sirius was a coiled spring, ready and waiting to meet any threat with force and violence. Since no danger was immediately imminent, he appeared very like a caged lion, poised and waiting.

“What happened?” Ginny asked.

“As far as we’ve been able to decipher, the two of you magically bonded up in the Astronomy Tower,” Remus began. “You know what that means?”

His pause was perfunctory, as they all knew very well what it meant in the most basic sense.

“Neville and Luna reported seeing a dark mist emerge from you, Harry,” Sirius continued. “It evaporated into the night sky and is gone from you now.”

Ginny frowned slightly as she tried to understand their words and reconcile them with her understanding of the magical bonds that had impacted her two eldest brothers. While she knew few details of how the bond had formed between Bill and Fleur, she had witnessed the bond between Charlie and Anna. Dark mist had not been part of their experience.

A tortured sob erupted from Harry’s throat as he squeezed her against him desperately.

“It’s gone, Harry,” Bill said. “The Horcrux is gone.”

Harry’s body shuddered against hers as he clung to her. Ginny held him tightly, her arms wrapped around him fiercely as she attempted to reassure him. The word Horcrux had been whispered among them for a few months now. Realization hit Ginny in a sudden wave of horror that left her reeling emotionally. The thought of Tom Riddle, any small part of him being inside her boyfriend was almost too much to bear. Her eyes watered and stung as the terrible truth swept over her.

“How?” Ginny didn’t recognize her own voice as she asked the question and wasn’t even certain what she was trying to ask.

“Albus believes that when Voldemort tried to kill Harry as a toddler, his soul was so damaged from making Horcruxes and so unstable from killing James and Lily that a piece splintered off and attached to Harry,” Remus explained. “It was completely unintentional on Voldemort’s part. He didn’t mean to make you into a living Horcrux, Harry. When you and Ginny bonded last night, the power of your combined magic seems to have literally driven that piece of his soul from your body. It left both of you far more magically drained than the bonding magic alone caused.”

Harry rubbed at his face. Only a few tears had fallen from his eyes — eyes that looked haunted. “For all these years I’ve been…tainted.”

“No!” Sirius’s ferocious growl drowned out the other voices raised in protest. He reached the bed in a few quick strides and grabbed Harry by the shoulders. “You are not tainted and never were! You are the son of James and Lily. Nothing that bastard did to you when he attacked your family tainted you!”

Ginny cupped Harry’s face in both hands and forced him to meet her gaze. “Harry, am I tainted because Tom Riddle possessed me with the diary during my first year? Am I tainted because he made me kill Hagrid’s roosters and open the Chamber of Secrets? Am I tainted because he took over my mind and controlled my body?”

“No,” Harry whispered. “You’re not tainted. It wasn’t your fault, and you fought against it. You fought against him all year.” His jaw clenched for a moment. “It’s different with me. A piece of him was living inside me for fifteen years. Dark magic leaves a mark — a permanent stain. I’m —"

“Harry!” Bill cut in. “None of us can completely understand what you’re thinking or feeling.” His hands moved in an agitated gesture that swept over the room. “No one else here has lived what you have. We can’t relate to your experiences, but not a single person here believes you are tainted in any way. This is not your fault.”

Ginny’s eyes stung in frustration at the despondent look on Harry’s face. How could he not understand that he was a victim in this? How could he not see that he always fought against the evil of Tom Riddle, and that he always succeeded?

“I won’t argue with you about whether or not the Horcrux tainted you in some way,” Remus said slowly. “I do know what it’s like to have Darkness living inside you. I’ve felt cursed by my lycanthropy all my life.”

“Wishing my full moon playmate away again, Remus,” Sirius quipped. A small smirk attempting to form on his face.

Remus grinned at his old friend. “Wishing it away or not, I know the wolf will always be a part of me. Harry, my goal for…well, as long as I can remember has always been to keep the wolf at bay — to never let it control me except for the night of the full moon when I accept that I must succumb to the dark creature within. You have had a Dark soul, perhaps the Darkest soul imaginable within you most of your life, and you have never let it win, have never failed to do what is right in the end.”

“But he was inside of me.” Harry grimaced. “A piece of Tom Riddle’s soul was inside of me for years.”

“Yes.” Anna nodded. “And Tom Riddle’s blood flows through my veins. I’ll always be his granddaughter no matter how much I wish I wasn’t. We’ve all been touched by Darkness, Harry -- you, Ginny, Remus, and me. None of us are bad people. None of us are evil in any way.”

“Albus told me long ago that it’s the choices we make in our life that define who we are,” Remus said. “You have consistently chosen well. I know your parents would be as proud of you as Sirius and I are.”

Ginny laced her fingers through Harry’s and stared into his eyes. She offered a small smile when she saw the tension drain from his countenance.

Harry sighed. “Sorry,” he mumbled. “I didn’t mean to panic or —"

“You didn’t panic, and you have nothing to apologize for,” Sirius interrupted.

“And,” Remus interjected. “The most important fact to remember is that the Horcrux is gone. We are one step closer to permanently destroying Voldemort.”

“Is this the power he knows not that was mentioned in The Prophecy?” Ginny asked. “Is it our bond?”

“Albus believes it may be,” Sirius allowed. “You all bonding your magic the way you have.” He gestured towards each of the three couples. “This circumstance is unprecedented. Nothing in our research, nothing in the memories of Albus or your Great Aunt Muriel can explain this.”

“When will I have to face him?” Harry asked.

“We’re working on a plan, but it’s far from ready,” Bill began.

“In the meantime, focus on developing your bond with Ginny,” Sirius said. “By the way, I know it’s not exactly my business, but what triggered the formation of your bond? Was it simply the pair of you saying, ‘I love you’?”

Ginny’s lips curved upward as she leaned towards Harry for a brief kiss. His thumb caressed her cheek before he slid his hand back to tangle in her hair.

“I think it must have been,” Harry said.

Bill cleared his throat loudly. “Well, just to clarify on the whole ‘developing your bond’ idea, sex is not necessary,” he declared firmly. “You do need to spend a great deal of time together working on your magic, but the physical contact can be as simple as holding hands.”

“How do you know?” Ginny challenged. “My understanding is that you and Fleur bonded while being very intimate indeed.”

Bill’s glare moved rapidly from Ginny to Fleur to Anna before settling on Charlie.

He shrugged. “Witches talk. I think we may as well accept now that they’re going to be sharing things with each other.” Turning to Harry and Ginny, Charlie continued. “Bill’s correct. The magical bond you share is not an excuse to push your sexual relationship faster or further than you’re ready to take it.”

“Not to disagree with you because I completely approve of them waiting, but how do you know physical consummation of their bond wouldn’t strengthen the magical relationship?” Remus asked.

“Every benefit of the bond, every increase of magical power, was evident within a few months of the bond occurring,” Bill said. “Once we knew what to look for, we realized how quickly the changes happened.”

Fleur nodded. “Our power hasn’t continued to improve over time. We simply understand it better than we did initially.”

Sirius didn’t even try to restrain his smirk. “Yes, but as Ginny stated, if the two of you bonded immediately after coitus, you may not —”

“Charlie and I haven’t noticed any recent changes to our bond or to our magic.” Anna blushed as she spoke and kept her gaze firmly directed to the hospital wing floor.

Her brother met Remus’s hard stare while he lightly stroked Anna’s back.

Their former professor exhaled audibly and rubbed his chin. “Harry, we need to work on strengthening your magical skills. Hopefully, Arthur and Molly will be amenable to you and Ginny spending most of the Christmas holidays together. We need to spend most of the break working on dueling, including the use of nonverbal spells and wandless magic.”

The conversation quickly wrapped up when Madam Pomfrey entered with food trays and insisted that her patients needed more rest.

As they all stood to leave, Anna approached Remus. “Are you disappointed in me?” she quietly asked.

He shook his head and pulled her into his arms. “Of course not. As long as he’s being good to you, as long as you’re happy, I’ll never be disappointed.”

Ginny smiled wistfully as she noticed her brother mouthing a silent ‘thank you’ to Remus.

xxxxxx

Christmas at Longbottom Manor was truly a magical experience. Hermione and Luna had gone home to spend the holidays with their parents, but the rest of their group was all celebrating the season together. Harry and Sirius had spent quite a lot of time at the Manor over the past year, but the house had never been so full as it was for this holiday. Augusta was obviously pleased to have so many guests and welcomed everyone with true pleasure. Harry and Ron were bunking with Neville. Ginny was sharing Anna’s room. Sirius and Charlie were in the guest rooms closest to Remus’s room, while Mr. and Mrs. Weasley were in the one at the end of the corridor. Bill and Fleur, as well as Fred and George, arrived early Christmas morning with the intention of spending the entire day.

The teens had passed the days leading up to Christmas in almost constant dueling practice. Harry could feel his magic pulsing through his body in a way he had never experienced before bonding with Ginny. No one knew whether his magic felt different solely because of the bond or whether jettisoning a piece of Riddle’s soul had also contributed. Harry suspected it was a combination of the two that left him feeling as though his magic had been unleashed. The feeling of having more power and greater control over it was heady. Everything felt easier -- more natural. He trusted in his instincts, and the flow of his magic became increasingly automatic.

Tonks had joined many of their dueling sessions, working mostly with the girls as she was sure Remus and Sirius were not pushing them hard enough. Harry had found it difficult to hold his temper as he watched Ginny being Stunned or otherwise defeated day after day. As Charlie had predicted the strongest of his violent instincts to protect Ginny had passed relatively quickly, but that didn’t make it any easier to watch his girlfriend collapse under a barrage of spell work. The fact that Ginny could generally hold her own when facing a single combatant was little consolation since Tonks repeatedly paired up with whoever was available to subdue the younger witch.

Charlie was his ally in frustration as he watched Anna being attacked repeatedly. Though Charlie was perfectly willing to participate in the dueling practice and cast against anyone other than Anna, he refused to do anything other than monitor her duels. Objectively, they both realized the practice was necessary and the witches were clearly gaining in speed and confidence with each passing day. Harry wasn’t sure if he should be proud or upset by the fact that Charlie cracked first, punching a wall in fury and breaking several bones in his hand before grabbing a Petrified Anna and Apparating away. They returned several hours later looking perfectly calm with Charlie’s hand completely healed.

Harry was quite pleased for the one full day reprieve offered by the Christmas holiday. The Weasley matriarch had insisted that the teens spend the day engaged solely in festive activities. After opening their presents, they had all enjoyed a delicious full English breakfast. The remainder of the day had included a snowball fight, decorating gingerbread biscuits, building snowmen, singing carols while dancing, and engaging in a prolonged game of sardines which enabled he and Ginny to spend almost a half-hour alone in a large linen cupboard. Miraculously, no one had commented on their swollen lips or rumpled attire after the game. It was perhaps very helpful that Bill and Fleur, Charlie and Anna, and even Remus and Tonks had been similarly mussed.

They had just entered the kitchen in search of drinks when Sirius cursed fluently, Mrs. Weasley moaned, but made no effort to reprimand his language, Augusta poured herself a small glass of sherry, and Mr. Weasley commented that it was just an Order Meeting and there was no need to worry yet.

“When?” Remus asked.

“We’re to meet at Grimmauld Place in one hour,” Sirius replied. “Albus didn’t sound particularly urgent, but he felt we needed to be apprised of the most recent news sooner rather than later.”

Mrs. Weasley glanced around the room. “Perhaps we should leave the children here at The Manor. They’ll be safe alone with the house-elves, and hopefully we’ll only be gone for an hour or two.”

“I’m bringing Harry, Molly,” Sirius said. “Believe me, I know how tempting it is to leave them behind, but he needs to know. Whatever the news is, he needs to know.”

She blinked back tears as she nodded and walked into her husband’s arms. He held her securely as he glanced at each of the teens in turn. “Be ready to leave in fifty minutes. Pack an overnight bag just in case the meeting goes longer than anticipated. Bring your wands.”

They all nodded as they walked away.

xxxxxx

“Charlie!”

Ginny looked up to see her brother’s eyes widen in surprise at the attractive, dark-haired woman standing in the kitchen of Grimmauld Place. She appeared to be at least a few years older than her brother, and her accent was not English.

“Katerina, how are you?” he asked.

“Well enough,” she smiled. “Are you happy to be home?”

Charlie nodded. “Very happy.” He turned to Anna and pulled her gently into his arms. “Anna, this is Katerina Dinu. Katerina, this is my fiancÚ Anna Henry.”

Katerina held out her hand. “I’m very pleased to meet you, Anna. Charlie and I are old friends. I’m sure he’s taking excellent care of you.”

Anna shook her hand. “It’s nice to meet a friend of Charlie’s. Are you from Romania?”

“Yes. I’ve come to England to support the efforts against your Lord Voldemort.” Her face was calm, but her tone showed clear disdain. “He caused some…difficulties in Albania for my mother’s family many years ago. I’m eager to see his downfall.”

“Of course,” Anna said. She turned to Charlie with a look in her eyes Ginny could not begin to decipher.

He kissed her lips gently. “Anna, why don’t you and Ginny go on upstairs? I’ll be up once the meeting’s over.”

Anna nodded. “I’ll see you soon.”

Harry hugged Ginny one last time. “I’ll fill you in after the meeting,” he murmured.

“Love you,” she whispered against his ear.

His arms tightened briefly before letting her go.

Ginny and Anna made their way up the stairs followed by Ron and Neville. They had barely crossed the threshold to the first empty room when the boys each pulled Extendable Ears from their pockets and began quickly and carefully lowering them down the stairs and into the kitchen. Neville passed his to Ginny so that she and Anna could listen, while he joined Ron.

“Rather young, isn’t she?”

“She’s of age.”

“But not a member of the Order?”

“No.”

“Because she’s still a student?”

“Let it go, Kat.”

“I’m just curious.”

“You know what they say about curiosity.”

Her throaty chuckle sounded far too intimate to Ginny.

Anna walked away from the ear in Ginny’s hand and leaned against the wall. Ginny continued to listen for a moment, but nothing more was said between her brother and Katerina. The Headmaster had called the meeting to order.

“The meeting has started,” Ginny murmured.

Anna stood still, breathing harshly for a moment before coming back. The news from Professor Dumbledore was as bad as they had all feared. Death Eaters, along with several of Voldemort’s lesser followers, had attacked multiple Muggle villages across the country. The attacks were well-coordinated and very brief. Dozens of innocent people were murdered in less than an hour. Numerous houses had been burned to the ground. A couple of Voldemort’s followers had been killed by Aurors and Order members who had responded to the scenes of violence and destruction. A few Order members had been injured but were expected to make full recoveries.

Foreign governments were beginning to take an active interest in the events occurring on British soil, but none were yet willing to commit to a side in the upcoming war. The meeting ended with reminders for Order members to report any suspicious activity immediately and to make every effort to protect Muggle friends and family members.

xxxxxx

“Ginny!” Harry exclaimed.

“Shhh!”

“Where’s Ron?”

“He and Neville just finished breakfast and decided to play a game of chess. Ron said you were asleep and figured you needed a bit of a lie in.”

“Ginny, what are you…uhhh!”

She continued to move over him, her own breath becoming a bit unsteady, as his breathing became increasingly labored.

“We shouldn’t be doing this.” Harry’s voice was something between a whine and whimper.

“But it feels so good,” Ginny whispered.

“What if we’re caught?” he moaned.

She leaned down and nipped at his earlobe. “I’m fully clothed and you still have your pajamas on. If we’re found, we can reasonably claim we were just snogging.”

“Oh Merlin!” He thrust upwards against her instinctively.

“Don’t hold back, Harry,” Ginny purred. She increased the speed and pressure of her movements. The friction felt brilliant to her, and she knew from the look on her boyfriend’s face that he was very close. “Let it happen, love.”

His lips caught hers in a kiss as he slipped one hand down the back of her jeans, squeezing her arse briefly before groaning loudly into her mouth. She leaned back and watched the tension drain from his face and a look of sheer bliss light his features.

“Love you, Ginny,” he whispered.

“I love you too, Harry.”

Back to index


Chapter 35: Chapter 35 The Plan

Author's Notes: With thanks to everyone who has been reading and reviewing and to my beta, Arnel!


Chapter 35

The Plan

Charlie stroked his fingers lightly up and down her spine. Anna seemed to be barely breathing as she lay face down on the bed. Her level of relaxation was one he had never helped her reach previously, but if ever an occasion called for it, this was it. Charlie suspected from the moment he introduced her to Katerina that a difficult conversation was coming. He had never been a coward, but only a fool would fail to prepare in every way he was able.

Following the Order meeting, he had approached Anna with gentle persuasion and relentless ardor. She had welcomed his every kiss and caress. Their night of lovemaking had left her so calm, he truly doubted anything could rouse her. Her skin was warm and still slightly flushed from their most recent exertions -- her muscles completely lax. It was still rather early in the morning. Most of the inhabitants of Grimmauld Place were undoubtedly asleep. Charlie knew for a fact that Anna had slept for several hours in between their bouts of amorous activity, and she was clearly close to greeting Morpheus once more.

Charlie relaxed into the soft mattress, watching the first hints of sunrise filter in through the drapes at the window, before pressing his lips to the smooth skin of her lower back. They needed to talk, but he wouldn’t push it until she was ready. Working his way slowly up to her shoulder, he smiled at her slight whimper when he allowed his teeth to graze her skin. “All right there, love?”

“Mmmm,” she hummed an inarticulate response as she rolled to rest on her side.

He shifted to press his body against hers, spooning her from behind. “I love you, Anna.”

“Love you.” Her murmured response turned into a strangled moan as his hand wandered to the soft curls between her thighs. “Can’t.” She covered his hand with her own and raised it a few inches to settle his palm flat on her belly.

He chuckled and nuzzled her neck lightly. Nearly an hour passed as he listened to her even breaths. The grey light coming into the room revealed the overcast conditions in London this morning, but at least he could see her features more clearly now. She was beginning to stir — lazily stretching and flexing her torso and limbs on the bed.

“Do you want me to fill you in on what happened at the Order meeting?” Charlie asked.

“No need.” Anna yawned. “We were using Extendable Ears.”

“Of course, you were.” He rolled his eyes. “I’m guessing Ron always has a pair in his pocket.”

“They’re quite handy,” she muttered.

Charlie nodded into her hair before sitting up and rolling her gently to her back. “Anything else you want to talk about?” He looked directly into her eyes and waited.

She chewed her lip and stared at him for a moment. “You slept with Katerina?”

“I did,” he agreed. “She was my girlfriend for several months. I broke up with her the September after the World Cup two years ago -- a few weeks after I met you.”

Anna sat up, hugging her knees to her chest, resting her chin on her crossed arm. “She said I’m young.”

“You are young.”

“How old is she?”

“Thirty, I think.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “Before meeting you, I pretty much always went for older women.”

“She’s beautiful.”

“Yes. She is. And so are you.”

“You called her Kat.”

Charlie sighed. “I’ll try to avoid using her nickname if it makes you uncomfortable.”

Anna groaned, closing her eyes briefly before they flashed open. Her jaw was clenched, and she trembled slightly. Charlie forced himself to remain still, to resist the urge to reach out to her. Suddenly she flopped backwards on the bed, one arm coming up to rest over her eyes.

“I know I’m being ridiculous. I know I shouldn’t be jealous. I know you had six serious girlfriends before me that you slept with. I just…” She sighed heavily. Her next words came out as a whine. “I never thought I’d have to meet one of them! And she’s lovely and mature and sophisticated and a member of the Order.”

Charlie relaxed, sensing that the worst of this particular storm was already over. “Sorry, love. I guess I shouldn’t have slept around so much in my wild youth.”

Anna lowered her arm and narrowed her eyes for a moment before giving into the smirk playing at her lips. “Wild youth!” she huffed. “Katerina probably taught you how to do some of my favorite things, or at the very least you probably perfected them with her!”

He quirked a brow. “Do you really want me to respond to that?”

“Definitely not!”

“Are we okay?” Charlie tentatively began stroking her thighs.

She nodded. “We’re okay.” She was quiet for a moment before her lips quirked in a slight smile. “I think we should try to set Kat up with Sirius. He’s been alone too long and she’s apparently going to be around for a while.”

“Set up a cat with a dog?” He chuckled. “That could certainly be entertaining. Are you trying to be kind or wicked?” He leaned over her to suck on the tender skin of her neck as his hand wandered up to the full, round curves of her chest.

Her breath hitched. “I don’t think I can again.”

“Are you sure?” He murmured. “We’re only one away from breaking our record. Breaking records is always fun.” He nipped her neck lightly before kissing his way down past her clavicle.

Anna’s laugh morphed into a throaty moan. “One more time.” Her hand slid into the hair at the base of his neck as she arched against his seeking mouth.

xxxxxx

“Bill.” Albus nodded for him to begin the meeting and took a seat at the large dining room table of Longbottom Manor. This was not truly a meeting of the Order of the Phoenix, though many members of the inner circle were present. This was a meeting to discuss the feasibility of a direct assault on Malfoy Manor in the coming months, with the primary objective of killing Tom Riddle.

“I’ve been analyzing the blueprints and information about the grounds and wards Narcissa Malfoy provided and cross-referencing it with the records held at Gringotts and in the Ministry about the Manor.” Bill spread several parchments on the table with a flick of his wand. “Assuming all of the information I currently have is correct, we’ll be able to dismantle the wards, but it’ll require a couple of hours of non-stop effort.”

“Hours! That rather eliminates the element of surprise, doesn’t it? I mean, how quickly will they realize the wards surrounding the Manor are under attack?” Sirius wondered.

“They won’t know until the wards actually fall.” Bill smirked. “They’ll have no more than a few minutes’ warning because I’m not going to actually attack the wards. I’m going to carefully dismantle each part without allowing a single one to fall until they are all ready to fall. Each layer, each section, will be left hanging by a thin magical thread so to speak, ready to be severed at the last possible moment.”

“How dangerous is that, son?” Dad asked.

“It’s definitely not the sort of thing a Gringotts curse-breaker would usually sign off on, but I believe I can do it safely.” Bill pressed his lips together in a thin line. “I’ll have to have Fleur with me, so I can draw upon her magic through our bond. We’re going to start practicing tomorrow. I need to learn how much power I can safely draw and work on applying it to actual spells. That will require practice, but we’ve decided it’s worth the risk.” He held Fleur’s hand in his own and attempted a confident smile, though he suspected it looked more like a grimace.

“What happens if you draw too much power from Fleur?” Mum asked.

“I won’t!” Bill’s voice shook slightly as his mind refused to dwell on the possibility.

“If Bill were to draw too much magic too quickly, I would likely fall unconscious.” Fleur shrugged with deliberate nonchalance. “Obviously, that would do no good, so he will be careful. He’s a brilliant curse-breaker. He will succeed!” She flashed him a sweet smile and leaned in to kiss his cheek.

“What’s the best-case scenario for getting the wards down safely?” Sirius asked.

Bill ran his fingers through his hair. “The wards fall in about two hours with Fleur and me still standing upright and about as magically useful as a couple of first years until our cores naturally replenish.”

“And the worst-case?” Remus inquired.

“If Fleur starts to pass out, I’ll have to ease off significantly,” Bill admitted. “If I can’t dismantle the wards in four hours, it’s a lost cause.”

The room was briefly silent as everyone digested the news.

Augusta took a sip from her wine glass. “How do we proceed once the wards fall?”

Albus cleared his throat. “This is the general battle plan I’ve put together, open to suggestions and alterations, of course.” A large parchment settled on top of the others on the table. “I believe attacking in the early hours of the morning will allow us the best opportunity for success. Narcissa Malfoy will be sent in to retrieve her husband as soon as we know the wards are about to be overcome. She will move him to the lowest level of the Manor or vacate the property altogether if possible.”

“Do we know if anyone is being held prisoner at Malfoy Manor?” Mum asked. “So many people have simply disappeared lately.”

The old professor nodded solemnly. “Severus has reported that a few witches and wizards have been captured and held prisoner at the Manor in recent months. I will ask for an update the night before the attack.” He stroked his beard. “Fortunately, prisoners are almost always held in the lowest level — the dungeons. I believe any house-elves on the premises will descend there as well once the attack begins. Due to the nature of the initial attack I have planned, the lowest level will be the safest place. Hopefully, there will be little or no collateral damage from our actions.”

A few quiet murmurings were heard throughout the room.

“The first wave of the assault will be an attack from the air using dragons.” The Headmaster paused to meet Charlie’s suddenly captivated gaze.

“You want me to lead an attack using dragons?” The surprise in his brother’s tone could not mask the veiled excitement.

“Your former director, Nicolas, and I first discussed the possibility a couple of months ago.” Albus’s eyes twinkled. “He’s been kind enough to assist me in making arrangements with Richard Smyth. I believe you know him.”

Charlie nodded. “The director of the Welsh Green Sanctuary.”

“Indeed. He has approved the use of his Welsh Greens and will provide two dragon keepers on the day of the attack. A half-dozen of your old colleagues from the Romanian Reserve will also be available on the scheduled day to hold the dragons here.” The Headmaster pointed to a spot on the map a few miles from Malfoy Manor. “Nicolas suggested you would likely fly them in a slow circle and descend here to attack the Manor.” He indicated the direction on the map. “Then, you can return the dragons to the clearing where they can be safely contained.”

“So, we’ll only have the one pass over?” Charlie rubbed his chin as he frowned.

Albus inclined his head. “Nicolas indicated the dragons could accomplish a significant amount of damage in one go, setting fires that engulf the top floor of the Manor.”

Charlie studied the map for a moment. “It’s a huge property. You’ll need to give me a definite target. Will I have two dragons or three?”

“You can control three dragons?” Dad shook his head as though trying to clear it and organize his thoughts. “I know you mentioned last week that you’ve been working on training them, but how exactly will you control three?”

“Well, it’s easiest to control just one, obviously. I would ride her in, tell her when to breathe fire, and fly back to the holding area. If I’m handling three, I’ll have to ride the middle one and have the other two on either side of me. It’s not something I’ve done often, but I should be able to manage a single pass fairly well.” The gleam in his eyes made it clear he was eager to begin training the dragons. “I’ll need to start working with them at the Welsh Green Sanctuary immediately.”

Albus smiled. “Richard is expecting you, and just to clarify you’ll have access to five Welsh Greens.”

Charlie nodded. “That’s good. I can work with them all for a few weeks and decide which are the most trainable for something like this.”

“You misunderstand me,” Albus said quietly. “As you already mentioned the property is large. We need the entire top floor engulfed in flames. You’ll need to fly in all five to achieve that goal.”

Charlie’s eyes widened, and he stared at the Headmaster in shock. “I’m sorry if Nicolas misled you, but I’ve never controlled more than three at a time. I don’t have the ability to —”

“That was before you entered into a bond with Miss Henry.” He gestured towards his fiancÚ. “Just as Bill will be able to draw extra power from Fleur to dismantle the wards, you’ll be able to draw extra power from Miss Henry to control the dragons.”

“That won’t work,” Charlie began slowly. “Bill will be able to gain power from Fleur because she can stand right next to him, literally hold his hand. I can’t draw power from Anna without physical contact, so…”

Albus was nodding in the benign way a grandfather would to a child being slow to understand the obvious.

“Fuck, no!” Charlie shouted. “Have you seen her on a broom? She’s a rubbish flier! She’ll fall off!”

Bill watched Anna’s mouth drop open in mute horror as she realized what the Headmaster was proposing. From around the room, other voices added to the cacophony of disbelief.

Augusta’s voice was the loudest. “Albus Dumbledore, if you think for one moment that I will allow my–"

“There must be five!” Albus finally cut through the arguments. “My understanding from Nicolas is that Charlie can easily control three, but they would only be able to set about half the Manor on fire. We need the entire house ablaze!”

Turning to Charlie he continued more calmly. “Nicolas believes you can control five dragons with a small amount of extra power. You’ll only need to pull a minimal amount of magic from Miss Henry. There will be no danger to her because she’ll be riding directly behind you on your dragon. She doesn’t need to be a competent flier. You can simply use a Sticking Charm, and perhaps physically secure her to you with a rope or belt of some kind.”

Anna mutely stumbled the few feet towards Charlie who pulled her tightly against him. The fire that had briefly burned in his eyes at the thought of working with dragons again had vanished completely.

“Now, the second wave of the attack will begin immediately after the dragons exit the area. I will lead an aerial assault on brooms. The team will include Sirius, Remus, Tonks, Fred, George. Well, I have the entire list here,” the Headmaster continued, pointing to a long list of names.

“As we’re approaching by air, a second group will be rushing forward across the grounds.” He set another list on the table as he traced the line of movement he expected that group to follow on the map. “The aerial assault will be primarily concerned with neutralizing anyone attempting to flee the Manor. They’ll land here and infiltrate the house by this set of doors at the rear of the property. As the ground force arrives, they’ll be attacking from the front entering the main doors here.” Albus pointed out the doors on the map as he was talking.

“Anti-Apparition wards are already in place at Malfoy Manor, and will not be dismantled when the other wards are brought down, so no one will be able to escape easily. We also have a contact at the Ministry who will ensure the Floo Network is shut down. There is, of course, nothing we can do about illegal Portkeys. Speed and surprise are our most formidable weapons.” He glanced around the room as he concluded.

“Where will I be?” Harry asked. Ginny was standing beside him, holding his hand.

Albus smiled stiffly. “You’ll need to be flying in on a broom during the aerial assault. I need you to remain close to me at all times. Once we’ve landed, you’ll follow me into the Manor, and we’ll seek out Tom. I honestly don’t believe he’ll attempt to flee the encounter. From his perspective it will be the perfect opportunity to finally kill you.”

“We can’t just set up this confrontation and hope for the best, Albus!” Sirius spat. “Harry’s still an underage kid.”

The Headmaster shook his head slowly. “We’ve discussed this multiple times. Once the Prophecy was put in motion by Tom Riddle’s attack at Godric’s Hollow this confrontation became inevitable.” He suddenly looked older and more tired than ever before.

“I’ll be with Harry, won’t I?” Ginny asked. “He’ll be able to draw extra power through our bond, right?”

Mum whimpered softly and leaned into Dad.

“I believe so,” Albus spoke slowly. “When you and Harry initially bonded, I believed the purpose of your bonded magic was simply to forcibly remove the…” He trailed off thoughtfully.

Bill glanced around the room. Everyone present had been informed of the magical bonds existing between the three couples, though few knew all the details of those bonds. The word Horcrux and the fact that one had been in Harry for so many years was far less widely known.

“Miss Weasley, I do believe it would be best to assume that you’ll need to be there with Harry.” Clearing his throat, he redirected his attention to the group at large and continued. “The snake, Nagini, must be killed. A Severing Charm would be best I believe. It doesn’t matter who kills the snake, but whoever has the opportunity must act as quickly and decisively as possible.” He paused and looked very seriously at Harry and Ginny. “I fully intend to try to destroy Tom myself. Unfortunately, I don’t believe I’ll be able to do so,” Albus smiled ruefully.

“Harry, I highly recommend that you and Miss Weasley begin working on joining your magic. The dueling practice you’ve been engaging in is all well and good, but you must learn how to channel your magic and direct the greatest amount of power possible. Practice casting spells -- individually while holding hands, as well as simultaneously. Practice both of you holding the same wand and pushing your magic into a single spell. You must learn how to summon and control your combined power in the most effective way possible. That will take time.”

Harry put his arm around Ginny and managed to give her a small smile. “What spell should we be working on specifically? The Killing Curse?”

The Headmaster shook his head. “I don’t believe so. For now, practice simple cutting charms, Stunning Spells, that sort of thing. I’m considering options and working on what spell would be best, but for now, simply work on controlling and directing your combined magic. Please do not attempt any of the Unforgivables.”

Harry looked visibly relieved as he nodded.

“What time frame are we looking at to try to accomplish all of this?” Remus asked.

“I’m hoping everyone will be ready to strike in a couple of months,” Albus replied. “We will of course have frequent meetings to discuss progress and work through any difficulties that crop up.” Rising from his seat, he clapped Harry on the back before ending the meeting and wishing everyone a good night.

xxxxx

Remus threw back another shot of Firewhisky and peered blearily around the room. The responsible adults, of which he was clearly not one, had departed from Longbottom Manor or retired upstairs some time ago. Vaguely, he wondered if he would suddenly become more of an adult if he married Tonks. Watching her giggling with Katerina, he sincerely doubted it. Sometimes his werewolf metabolism and resistance to alcohol were complete shite. This was one of those times. He could get drunk. He knew that from past experience, but it would take several more shots in quick succession. He was almost too tired to make the effort.

“So just to clarify, Bill.” Sirius’s Firewhisky sloshed precariously as he waved his hand, yet somehow remained in the glass. “Your worst-case scenario was absolute bollocks, right? Because if you’re not completely fucking brilliant, you’ll accidentally kill Fleur and yourself to bust the wards on Malfoy Manor, right?”

Fleur cast such a look of scorn at Sirius that Remus was surprised he didn’t stutter an apology. “Bill is ze best curse-breaker at Gingo…Grinningo…Gringotts! And, don’t you forget it, Sirius Black!”

“Easy, love.” Bill pulled his fiancÚ into his arms. “Sirius doesn’t mean to sound like an arse. He’s just trying to understand the situation.”

Tonks nodded. “Sirius is wonderful really. My favorite cousin!” She bumped into him, landing surprisingly gracefully into his lap before descending into giggles.

“Charlie, do you really think you can control those dragons?” Neville demanded as he tottered unsteadily. “Because…what if one tries to eat Anna?”

“No worries on that score,” Charlie muttered. “She’ll probably vomit all over the place but that’ll be the worst of it.” He threw back the last of the Firewhisky in his glass.

“Oh Merlin, I will, won’t I?” Anna grimaced. “I don’t want to ride on a dragon. Why do you have to like dragons so much?” She frowned at her fiancÚ before taking another sip of her drink.

“If it makes you feel any better,” Katerina said. “I’m a terrible flier as well.” She clinked her glass with Anna’s and smiled. “That’s why I’m part of the ground force.”

Ginny finished refilling Harry’s glass and dropped the bottle of Ogden’s on the table with a dull thud. “So, you’re a…what are they called? Emissary? From the wizard government in Albania?”

Katerina nodded. “I work in the Ministry, and I volunteered to come. Many years ago, your Lord Voldemort killed my mother’s sister and her entire family.” She emptied her glass quickly. “I’d like to help kill him. If he takes over here in Britain, the rest of Europe will soon be at his mercy.”

“Fucking reassuring thought,” Sirius muttered. “Pup, you need to go to bed!” He pointed at Harry before gesturing around the room with his empty glass. “All of you need to get some sleep. Molly may have been too stunned by Albus’s brilliant plan to send you to bed before but come morning she’ll be eyeing every one of you.”

Ron nodded, and the teens murmured their good nights before making their way out of the room. Remus bit back a smirk as he watched Sirius talk Katerina into returning with him to Grimmauld Place.

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Chapter 36: Chapter 36 Preparations

Author's Notes: Thank you all for your patience with this story. Family medical issues have slowed down my writing, but fortunately not stalled it completely! Hope you all enjoy this chapter and thanks as always to my beta, Arnel.


Chapter 36

Preparations

Harry closed his eyes and focused on the feel of Ginny’s hand in his own. Her skin was smooth and soft. He rubbed his thumb gently along her palm and felt his lips twitch as he noticed a callous — undoubtedly caused by their Quidditch practice the previous evening. His Gin was no shrinking violet. She was tough and fierce — a true survivor. He sobered instantly at the thought. Her hand was so small in his. He should be protecting her, not planning on using her as an extra power source in his fight against Voldemort.

Not for the first time, Harry wondered if this was truly necessary. Perhaps the entire purpose of their magical bond was to force the bit of Riddle’s soul from his body. Perhaps he didn’t need Ginny to be at the confrontation Dumbledore was planning at Malfoy Manor. Perhaps he could talk her into staying behind at Hogwarts where she would be safe. Surely her parents would support the idea if he proposed it.

He exhaled slowly. Ginny would flay him alive for even suggesting such a thing. She would be at the battle, along with the rest of her family, their closest friends, and every member of the Order of the Phoenix.

“I don’t feel anything,” Ginny murmured.

“That’s okay,” Bill said. “It takes some time to even discern the magic in another person, let alone draw it from them. Harry, do you notice a sort of hum, like a vibration? It might tingle somewhat or even burn slightly.”

Harry nodded without opening his eyes. He could feel the magic flowing through Ginny. In truth he could always feel it — that thrum of magical current moving through her. He had felt it in every magical person he had ever touched and never realized that was unusual until now. He wasn’t about to admit to that. He didn’t need anything else to mark him as being different. This was yet another example of his general lack of knowledge about the magical world. Being raised most of his life in a Muggle household, he didn’t understand that wizards generally could not feel magic in others. It was like the Parselmouth incident of second year all over again, except this time he was keeping his mouth shut.

“Very good, Harry.” Fleur’s melodic voice sounded close to his ear. “Now try to pull that vibration towards you. Think of it as being a long rubber band. Draw it slowly from Ginny.”

Harry breathed steadily, focusing on the warmth of Ginny’s hand and on the magic coursing through her. He wasn’t at all sure he wanted to do this — wasn’t at all sure he should be trying to do this. Giving her hand a gentle squeeze, he finally followed Bill and Fleur’s directions. He bit back a sigh of contentment at the sensation of his girlfriend’s magic entering his body. No one had mentioned how it would actually feel to draw magic from someone else.

Merlin! It was intoxicating.

He swallowed convulsively and attempted to focus on the task at hand. He was supposed to try to meld her magic with his own. The goal was to use their combined power in a spell. His brain couldn’t function. He couldn’t even remember the hex he was supposed to be casting. The warmth of her magic surrounded him, entwining with his and moving swiftly through his body. He had never imagined drawing magic from Ginny would feel anything remotely like this. The sense of completion - of utter belonging - was overwhelming. Nothing mattered other than this incredible feeling of connectedness.

“Harry! Ease off. Now!” Bill ordered.

Harry’s eyes popped open and fixed on Ginny. Her eyelids fluttered and her lips were parted as she took a shallow breath. She swayed as though she was struggling to remain upright.

“Ginny!” Harry pushed their combined magic forcefully into her as he wrapped his wand arm around her torso.

She gasped as though she’d just surfaced from holding her breath under water for entirely too long. Two bright spots of color appeared on her otherwise pale face.

“Alright, there?” Bill placed a hand on each of their shoulders, squeezing firmly.

Harry blinked and nodded, staring at Ginny and trying to process what they had just experienced. It had almost felt…he blushed at his own thoughts, but quickly tried to quell that idea. The feeling had been similar, but distinctly different.

“An interesting sensation, no?” Fleur smirked knowingly.

Harry shifted his gaze to the floor and tried to master his wayward impressions.

“Is it supposed to be kind of like…well…um…?” Ginny stammered to a halt.

Fleur giggled while Bill muttered incoherently about baby sisters and really not wanting to know.

“Stop scowling!” Fleur ordered in a decidedly teasing tone.

Harry glanced up and saw that Bill was indeed scowling. Ginny looked slightly bewildered, and Fleur appeared entirely too amused.

“The experience is indeed quite sensual, but not exactly orgasmic, yes?” Fleur said.

Ginny nodded thoughtfully. “More like a really good massage and a warm bath after a brutal game of Quidditch combined with chicken noodle soup, a soft blanket, and a bedtime story from Mum when I’m sick.”

Bill sighed, and the tension drained rapidly from his face. “It’s a very comforting sensation. That is the danger more than anything else. It’s entirely too easy for the person drawing power to be lost in the pleasant feeling and keep sapping the other person’s magic until they pass out or stop breathing entirely.”

Harry’s eyes widened in horror as he finally understood the danger of what they were all attempting. “I can’t do this! If I hurt Ginny…” He shook his head. He could feel the fear, the complete panic rising and flooding his system.

“Harry!” Ginny hugged him tightly to her. “This is why we’re practicing with Bill and Fleur, so that we’ll be safe. It will be okay!”

Once again Harry felt the solid grip of Bill’s hand on his shoulder as well as the gentle patting of Fleur’s hand on his back.

“You’ll learn this, Harry,” Bill assured him. “Fleur and I were reckless doing this on our own for nearly a year, and we still managed.”

Fleur laughed. “The innocence of curiosity!”

Bill stroked her cheek. “The desire to protect your bond mate is stronger than anything else. Believe me — in a month you’ll be able to draw magic without feeling any loss of control at all. Then, we’ll just be working on how much magic you can pull safely and teaching you to direct it.”

Harry groaned and tightened his grip on Ginny. He bent down to press his face into her soft tresses and inhaled the flowery scent that was so distinctly hers. “I love you,” he whispered.

“I love you, too.” She tilted her head up and met his lips in a gentle caress.

Harry was quite sure as he deepened the kiss that neither cared about their audience.

xxxxx

Charlie woke for the second time that morning and stretched. His arms met empty sheets. Frowning, he sat up. His gaze focused unerringly on Anna. She was standing in knickers and a bra by the open armoire pulling out a simple shirt and pair of jeans.

“You’re up early,” he complained.

She raised one eyebrow. “It’s past nine. You told me last night you wanted to be at the Welsh Green Sanctuary by ten.”

He sighed as he rolled out of bed. As much as he wanted her beneath him one more time, he was excited to introduce her to the Welsh Greens, especially Emma. She was the lady he had carefully worked with over the past month and selected to be their lead dragon in the attack on Malfoy Manor.

As Anna pulled the shirt over her head and stepped into her jeans, Charlie felt somewhat more in control of his baser instincts — not that he was particularly happy about that.

He dressed quickly and thought about frying up some eggs and bacon for breakfast. Ultimately, he decided it would be easier to call for a house-elf to bring them up two plates of food from the kitchen.

“Any advice for me before I face…” Anna’s brow crinkled as she glanced towards the ceiling. “What was her name? Emma?”

Charlie smiled. “The most important fact to remember when working with dragons is that they can smell fear — literally. Mum used to always say that children are the same way. They can smell fear and use it against you if you let them. Try not to react to anything that happens. I have good control of the five you will be meeting today and the one we will be flying. They might posture a bit — put on a little show by snorting, growling, clawing at the ground.” He stroked her cheek gently. “You’ll be safe, love. I promise they won’t hurt you. They’ll settle down and behave better if you can maintain a persona of having seen it all before and not being impressed or unsettled by anything.”

“Charming!” she bit out. “I’ll pretend I’m Queen Victoria and go for the ‘we are not amused’ look.”

He cleared his throat to hide a chuckle. “How would you handle a misbehaving dog?”

Anna’s eyes flashed. “I’d grab it by the scruff of the neck before going for its throat and making it very clear that, whether an alpha or not, it has no control over me!”

“Handling dragons is not very different.” He smirked. “Just let me do the neck grabbing.”

“It’s completely different! The largest dog I ever had to…discipline still weighed less than me, not by much, but —”

“It’s not as different as you think,” Charlie explained. “Obviously dragons are huge, but with the help of a wand I can still basically grab them by the throat if need be and show them who is in control. Like dogs, they respond very well to positive reinforcement, whether praise or food is the reward. Also, like dogs there are few alphas. The vast majority are perfectly willing to follow directions.”

“I might be best off by using Occlumency and just going blank,” she admitted.

He nodded. “If that’s what you want to do, I completely support it, especially for this first flight. It will be better over time, Anna.” He pressed a soft kiss to her lips.

A house-elf appeared with their breakfast. Two plates of eggs, bacon and sausage were accompanied by a large stack of toast and a carafe of pumpkin juice.

Anna scowled at the plates before swallowing a flask of potion and grimacing slightly at the taste.

“What is that?” He gestured towards the empty container.

“Morning Sickness Potion.” Anna frowned as she glared at the flask. “It’s positively vile!”

Charlie felt his body going numb by degrees. His arms and legs were frozen in place. His torso was still, save for the pounding of his heart in his suddenly too small chest. His mind was an empty void — a blank slate of thought and emotion, right before the image of Anna with a rounded belly filled his being.

“You’re taking Morning Sickness Potion?” Charlie asked.

Anna nodded. “Our trip to the Welsh Green Sanctuary is going to be hard enough this morning. I really don’t want to vomit on the dragon, or on you.”

He rubbed his forehead as he stared at her, wondering how she could be so calm. “You’re pregnant.” Fear and elation battled as Charlie stared at her flat abdomen. The thought of his child growing in her womb was compelling, and yet so daunting.

“No!” Anna exclaimed, moving quickly towards him. “I’m not pregnant, Charlie. The potion reduces nausea. That’s all.”

He pulled her into his arms, holding her tightly against him.

“We both know I’m not the best flier, love,” Anna whispered. “I can’t handle so much movement well. The potion will help settle my stomach.”

Charlie nodded as he attempted to quell his emotions. As frightening as the initial thought was, he could admit to himself that he was somewhat disappointed.

“I know it would be awful timing. I mean we’re at war and we definitely need to be married first or Mum will flip, but…” He kissed her gently. “Is it wrong that part of me wants you to be growing with my child?”

Anna smiled and looked at him with watery eyes. “It’s never wrong to feel whatever you feel, but if you think I’d be careless with birth control when we’re at war, or that my grandmother’s contraception potion recipe would be anything other than perfect, you need to think again.”

Her tart response had him chuckling as his hand tentatively stroked her belly. “Some day?”

She nodded. “In a few years, I’d be perfectly happy to discuss this with you again.”

Charlie kissed her hungrily as he pulled her body flush against his own.

xxxxxx

Hermione looked up from her completed essay. She sighed with satisfaction. Her homework was done, and she was, as usual, ahead on all her assignments. Hermione wished she could say the same for Harry and Ron or could in fact even be certain they were prepared for tomorrow’s classes. Ever since Harry and Ginny had started dating, she had been less able to influence him in any way. The initial sting had passed quickly because she was so happy for them both. The magical bonding Harry and Ginny had recently experienced only made it worse. If it wasn’t for the obvious love and contentment of both, she would have tried to assert her influence. As it was, every time she felt compelled to start lecturing them about the importance of their school work, she tended to become side tracked by their happiness. It was both frustrating and endearing.

Peering across the nearly empty common room, her eyes quickly found her own boyfriend Ron staring at the same chess board he had been observing for almost two hours. He was sitting by himself having rebuffed a few offers from their fellow Gryffindors for a game. Frowning she watched him move a couple of pieces and mutter to himself before moving another piece. He stood and circled the board, his mouth moving occasionally. A permanent crinkle was etched between his eyebrows. Sitting back in his chair, he moved the pieces again and stroked his chin, clearly lost in thought.

Hermione watched him silently for several minutes before gathering her supplies and stuffing them back in her bag. Her heart was pounding in her chest and she didn’t understand the sudden fear that gripped her.

“Ron.” She laid a hand on the back of his neck as she set her bag on the floor beside his chair. “What are you doing?”

He glanced up and forced a smile as he pulled her carefully into his lap. “Just working out a few new moves.” He gestured towards the chess board.

Hermione focused on the board. She was lousy at chess and even she could see that it wasn’t set up properly for a match. White pieces were surrounding the black. Many had been removed and others duplicated in clear violation of the basic rules of chess. Three sets of white kings and queens graced the board, while far too many black knights were in attendance.

A quick scan of the common room showed that they were alone, nevertheless her voice came out in a whisper. “You’re working on the Headmaster’s plan. Aren’t you?”

He nodded grimly in silence.

“Will the plan fail?” Hermione closed her eyes as she verbalized her worst fear. She had come to know Ron first as a friend and then as a boyfriend. Having observed him for so many years, she knew his strengths as well as his weaknesses. While Ron was only a fair student and a decent Quidditch player, he was a brilliant chess player because he was an exceptional strategist. She valued his opinion.

“It’s about fifty-fifty, I reckon,” Ron admitted.

Hermione chewed her lip as she studied the board. “Have you found a way to make it better?”

He rubbed his chin before sighing and leaning back in the chair. “The way I see it, the snake is the problem. I figure Dumbledore’s right about it being the last Horcrux. You-Know-Who is going to have too much warning. He’ll know what’s happening the second those wards fall and will protect that snake with spells, wards…whatever he can quickly manage. Bill and Fleur won’t be able to do much. They’ll be pretty magically spent after overcoming the wards around Malfoy Manor. Anna will be with Charlie and the dragons, so she can’t help. Dumbledore will be busy with Harry and Ginny facing You-Know-Who. I don’t know that anyone who is particularly good with protective spells and wards will be available.”

Hermione nodded. “The Headmaster just said that whoever has the opportunity should try to kill the snake with a Severing Charm.”

“Yeah, and that’s not good enough!” Ron’s jaw clenched as he stared at the chess board. “If no one manages to kill the snake, Harry can defeat the bastard, but he’ll still survive and have the chance to rise again. The snake has to be killed before the invasion on the Manor.”

“How?” Hermione asked.

“Harry’s favorite house-elf,” Ron smirked. “Dobby belonged to the Malfoy family. He can easily Apparate into the house. House-elf magic is different. He can take Neville and me into the Manor just prior to the attack. We can find the snake and kill it before You-Know-Who knows they are in danger.”

“Have you spoken with Dobby about this?” she demanded.

Ron shrugged. “Not yet, but he’ll be willing. It’ll be a quick drop off for him, Hermione. He won’t be in any danger.”

She slapped her hand weakly at his shoulder. “He might not be, but you will be! And what about Neville!”

He rubbed her back in a slow circle. “I need someone to watch my back, love. Neville’s good with a wand and comfortable with house-elves. He’ll want to come the moment I explain the plan.”

Hermione’s gaze wandered frantically from her boyfriend to the chess board and back again. “Take me with you!”

Ron shook his head slowly. “Neville and I are both pure-blood wizards. If we’re caught, they won’t kill us. We’re young enough that they’ll try to convert us, try to make us join their cause. You’re a known Muggle-born, love. If they catch you…” His jaw clenched. “I don’t even want to think about what they might do to you.”

Tears flooded her vision as she shook her head angrily. “Please tell me you’re going to share this plan with someone!”

He pulled her tightly against his chest. “You know that’s a bad idea. Much better for Neville and me to disappear just before the wards fall. No one will even notice. We’ll have that snake dead by the time Charlie flies the dragons over and sets the Manor on fire.”

“Ron!” She clasped his face between her hands and searched his face, willing herself to memorize every line.

His lips descended on hers with a ferocity she had never experienced. As his tongue claimed her mouth and his hands wandered freely over her curves, she clung to his strength and willed the moment to last forever.

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Chapter 37: Chapter 37 The Beginning

Author's Notes: Sincere apologies for the long delay between chapters. The truth is rather uninspiring (multiple doctor's appointments, minor surgery, waiting for biopsy results, waiting for stitches to be removed), so I've imagined many more pleasant alternatives. Let's pretend I spent a month in Africa on safari, or perhaps I sailed around the Chesapeake Bay on a small yacht! I'm open to suggestions :) Thank you to everyone who has been reading and reviewing and to my beta, Arnel.


Chapter 37

The Beginning

Ginny giggled as Harry pulled her through the doorway into the Room of Requirement. With a few passes of the blank wall opposite the tapestry of Barnabas the Barmy, he had created their usual lovely room. It contained a roaring fire in the hearth, a plush sofa situated several feet away, and a large bed covered by a thick maroon quilt. This had become their new favorite location for private moments after abandoning the wintery chill of the Astronomy Tower several weeks ago. As the door vanished, Harry pushed her gently against the stone wall, kissing her with enthusiasm and growing expertise. His hands clasped her wrists, loosely holding them on either side of her head as he pressed his body firmly against hers.

Harry and Ginny had learned a great deal about how to please one another physically over the past few months. They knew the touches that could offer comfort and loving devotion, as well as those that could drive the other wild with desire. Harry recognized exactly where to nibble on her neck and her shoulders to make her gasp, exactly how much pressure she most enjoyed. Ginny realized that firm caresses on his back and hips while they were kissing could easily encourage her boyfriend to lose control and push past the next step of their intimate relationship. They had been exceeding boundaries steadily for a while now, and she wanted to push past the last one tonight. She needed to cross the line with him tonight, before it was too late.

“Harry.” She moaned as she rapidly unbuttoned his shirt, pulling it off his shoulders and down his arms to fall on the floor next to his tie and black school robe. Stroking his bare chest and back, she leaned forward to press her lips against his warm skin, savoring the feel of being in his arms.

Harry groaned as his fingers deftly removed her own blouse, slowing only when they encountered the lace of her cream-colored bra. He lifted her chin with one hand and stared into her eyes as he slowly rubbed his thumb over the hardened peaks of each of her breasts. A whimper of delight escaped her lips.

“You are so beautiful,” he whispered hoarsely. His lips captured hers in a tender kiss that rapidly escalated into rough and demanding. His tongue slid into her mouth as his hands glided over her curves, alternating between light caresses and taut squeezes. He was panting heavily by the time he broke the kiss and eased back in an obvious attempt to control himself.

Ginny bit her lower lip before reaching behind her back to unhook her bra. She released the garment just as Harry’s eyes widened and his hands pressed firmly over the fabric wrapping around her torso.

“Ginny! What —"

“I want you to make love to me, Harry,” she said quickly. “Tomorrow…” She swallowed hard as tears threatened to prick her vision. “I don’t want to have regrets. I don’t want to die not knowing…” A few tears began to trail down her cheeks as she finally voiced the fear that had been consuming her for weeks. Wiping them away in frustration, she took a deep breath. “I love you, Harry! I love you so much, and if one or both of us doesn’t make it through tomorrow….”

“Shhh!” Harry rubbed her back soothingly for a moment before his fingers located her bra straps and hooked them with more dexterity than she would have thought possible. He gazed at her silently for a few minutes as he carefully wiped the tears from her cheeks and waited for her to regain her composure.

“Ginny, I love you more than anything in the world.” Harry peered at her intently. “I don’t want our first time together to be because we’re afraid.”

She swallowed the lump in her throat and stroked his cheek. “You know everyone else is having sex tonight. Bill and Fleur, Charlie and Anna, Hermione and Ron…probably even Mum and Dad. Maybe even Neville and Luna!”

Harry chuckled as he shook his head slightly. “Thanks, Ginny! I really needed all of that in my mind.”

She laughed along with him, a rather hysterical sound that quickly subsided. “It’s what people do, when they’re afraid, when they want to express their feelings for one another.”

“I think…” He paused as he stared into the fire for a moment before focusing his attention on her once more. “I think making love is a beautiful way to reassure a partner, but only in a relationship that already has that level of intimacy.” Harry gripped her shoulder with one hand while the other threaded through the hair at the back of her neck. “Ginny, when we make love completely for the first time, whether that’s a month from now, a year from now, or on our wedding night, I want it to be because we’re ready -- truly and completely ready.”

Ginny pursed her lips in slight frustration as she pondered her boyfriend. “Sometimes I really do wish you were a bit less noble. Releasing some tension wouldn’t be such a bad thing the night before we have to face our worst nightmare.”

Harry smirked as his hands trailed slowly down her body. “I have no intention of being completely noble tonight.”

“So long as my bra and knickers are on?” she asked.

He chuckled. “I fully admit my fingers might wander under those a bit, and I solemnly swear to help relieve your tension as best as I can manage.”

Ginny smiled. “Sounds like a good plan.”

xxxxxxx

A flash of blue light briefly appeared as an old silk parasol fell to the floor of the small sitting room at his home in Spinner’s End. His guests landed gracefully by the threadbare sofa in the middle of the sparsely decorated room. A small fire blazed in the hearth to ward off the winter chill, while a few candles provided relief from the general darkness of the space.

“Severus.” Narcissa’s smile was a bit strained in her pale face. “Thank you for allowing us to come, and for meeting us here.” The long blonde hair that usually trailed down her back was twisted and secured by an ornate silver hair comb.

He inclined his head slightly in greeting before stepping forward to help her remove the heavy black cloak from her shoulders. “You are always welcome, Narcissa.” Turning to his other guest, Severus raised an eyebrow. “I was unaware you would be joining us, Draco.”

“Mother is not well enough to attempt this on her own,” Draco said. “I’ll be going into Malfoy Manor with her.”

Severus glanced towards Narcissa with a small frown on his face. She was, in fact, paler and thinner than he could ever remember seeing her. “Have you been ill, Narcissa?”

She pursed her lips. “There is nothing seriously wrong with me.” Her eyelids closed briefly, and she pressed her fingertips against them. “It has been a difficult year. I’m managing.” With a sigh, Narcissa attained a position of formal rigidity -- almost, but not quite pulling off the haughty look she had mastered a decade ago.

Severus peered at his former student and noticed that Draco barely managed to refrain an eye roll and that his jaw was locked, a muscle twitching in obvious irritation.

“I would offer wine but given the lateness of the hour and the task we will embark upon all too soon, perhaps tea would be more beneficial,” Severus suggested.

Narcissa inclined her head politely and sank into the soft cushions of an old wingback chair by the fire.

He soon returned with their refreshments and talk turned to the exact timing and execution of their part of the plan to infiltrate Malfoy Manor.

“Is Father well enough to run and to fight if necessary?” Draco inquired.

“I believe so,” Severus said. “A wizard of his knowledge and experience does not lose the ability to survive a duel just because he has been denied the use of a wand for several months. I must admit though that his strength and endurance is not what it once was. The effects of regularly suffering the Cruciatus Curse over a prolonged period of time are not negligible.”

Narcissa blinked her eyes rapidly for a moment but did not allow a tear to fall. “You did see Lucius recently though. He is–"

“I attended a meeting at the Manor several hours ago and was seated quite near him. He appeared in reasonable health and was about to retire for the evening when I departed.”

At her nod and slow exhale, Severus continued. “I cannot tell you precisely who or how many remained to spend the night at the Manor. The Dark Lord, the Lestranges, Dolohov, and Rowle are almost always in residence. Others, including Greyback, Yaxley, and Rookwood, are regular, but not permanent guests. A dozen others occasionally spend the night, especially after a meeting like the one last night, in which the Dark Lord was in a positive frame of mind and wine flowed quite freely. The only prisoner being held in the dungeons at this time is Ollivander.”

“We’ll try to release him and lead him safely out of the Manor,” Narcissa said. “The safest passages and ones least likely to be known and guarded are quite close to the dungeons.”

Draco frowned. “Not that I have anything against trying to save the wand-maker, but wouldn’t it be wiser for us to hide in the safe room off the library. We can take the secret staircase from the master suite to the library without much chance of being discovered. Only Father and I can access that particular room, so we can remain there until the battle is over.”

“You’re assuming the Dark Lord will lose,” his mother said.

“Won’t he?” Draco’s eyes widened in alarm. “Mother, you assured me that he would be defeated. You do understand if he survives this attack, he may realize our part in it and come after us.”

“We have no choice, Draco!” Narcissa exclaimed, her agitation evident as she rose from her chair and waved her hands. “Your father won’t live much longer. Once he fell out of the Dark Lord’s favor, it was clear to me that his life and your life would be forfeit.”

Severus cleared his throat. “Draco, I truly believe this plan is the best chance for ever defeating the Dark Lord. If I wasn’t confident, I wouldn’t be involved.” He paused and waited for his words to have the desired effect. Narcissa resumed her seat and his former student exhaled loudly. “Having said that, I strongly recommend you do everything in your power to escape Malfoy Manor as quickly as possible after finding your father. If you can release Ollivander, please do so. His talent is too vital to the wizarding community to be lost forever.” He rubbed his chin. “Don’t even consider hiding in any room in the house. Though I have not been told the entire plan for my own protection, Albus has been very clear in his belief that much of the Manor will be completely destroyed.”

“Our home —” Draco began.

“Is already lost,” Narcissa finished quietly. “It was lost the moment the Dark Lord took possession of it.”

Draco stared at the fire in silence for a moment while his mother sipped her tea. “May I ask what you will be doing, sir, during the attack?”

“The Headmaster believes I, as well as many others, will be summoned by the Dark Lord once he realizes they’re under attack,” Severus explained. “What actions I will have to take once I arrive on the scene depend upon what is happening and who is closest to me. Ultimately, I will do everything in my power to ensure that Albus Dumbledore and Harry Potter permanently eradicate the Dark Lord.”

“Even if you have to kill friends?” Draco asked.

“Sadly, many Death Eaters have by now realized the folly of ever agreeing to become what they are,” he murmured. “Only the most foolish could possibly believe they have any friends among the ranks. Once they understand the battle they’ll be facing, my hope is that some will chose to flee–a few may even choose to suddenly switch sides.” He raised an eyebrow as he peered at his former student. “Regardless, we are at war. I will do what I have to do, and I hope you do the same.” He glanced at the clock. “In the meantime, we have a few hours to rest before it all begins. I suggest we make the most of that time.”

xxxxxx

“Dobby!” Ron paused and looked about expectantly for a moment before inhaling to call again. Hermione frowned as she, too, glanced around, torn between nervous excitement and absolute terror. She understood and agreed with Ron’s arguments about why someone had to infiltrate Malfoy Manor before the wards fell to locate and kill the snake, Nagini -- the last of Voldemort’s Horcruxes. Still, the memories of the battle at the Department of Mysteries haunted her. She wasn’t too proud to admit fear in the task that lay before them. Hermione didn’t doubt the determination or the ability of Ron and Neville to find and destroy the snake. She simply wasn’t comfortable watching the boys go alone.

The crack of house-elf Apparition interrupted the silence around them. The four teens had ventured off to an empty area in the densely packed woods north of the Manor. Green eyes peered about in quiet confusion before the diminutive house-elf settled his gaze.

“Harry Potter’s Wheezy! How can I help you, sir?” Dobby asked.

Ron smiled and sank to his knees. “Dobby, I need you to do me a favor that will help Harry Potter defeat You-Know-Who.”

The small elf’s eyes bulged making his reverence for Harry clear, as well as his willingness to take on any task in his name. “Anything, sir!”

“Take Neville and me to a room in Malfoy Manor that is likely to be empty,” Ron requested.

Dobby’s nervous glance swept from the two wizards to Hermione and Luna before returning once more to Ron. Clearly ‘anything’ had been too great of an expectation. “Sir?” he croaked.

Neville knelt and smiled at the house-elf. “Dobby, we just need you to drop us off at the Manor. We don’t need you to stay. You’ll only be there for a moment. After you take us there you can go back to Hogwarts.”

Luna hummed loudly as her wide silvery eyes met those of her boyfriend.

“Or,” Neville continued. “Perhaps you could come back to the ladies and assure them that you left us off safely in an empty room?”

Luna smiled her approval as she gently ran her fingers through Neville’s hair.

“Harry Potter would want me to do this, sir?” Dobby asked.

Ron nodded. “Harry will be at the Manor himself in just an hour or two. Neville and I want to make sure it is safer before he arrives. You know Harry! He lands himself in dangerous situations all the time without even trying. We just want to help keep him safe.” The sincerity in her boyfriend’s tone could not be mistaken.

Dobby’s lips pursed, and his chin lifted. Hermione knew in that instant the boys had won the point. As the house-elf reached a hand out to each of the wizards preparing to Apparate them to Malfoy Manor, Hermione felt Luna’s hand grasp her own.

With a sharp crack, Dobby, Ron, and Neville vanished into the night.

Luna sighed softly and smiled at her. Hermione tried to smile back but was afraid she failed miserably.

After a few minutes, Luna turned to take her other hand as well. “Are you ready?”

“Ready?” Hermione asked.

“To call Dobby,” Luna said. “Unless you would like me to?”

Hermione stared at the other witch for a full minute before a smile lit her face. “I’m ready.” She drew in a breath and confidently called, “Dobby!”

Another crack sounded as the house-elf appeared before them. “I was just coming to tell Harry Potter’s Wheezy’s friends that they are safe in an empty room on the ground floor.”

“Excellent work, Dobby!” Hermione praised. “Do you know where they plan to go next?”

He nodded agreeably. “Dobby told them to go up to the drawing room on the first floor.” He lowered his voice to a whisper. “Dobby thought he heard sounds from that room,” he confided.

“Well done, Dobby!” Luna stated serenely. “Please take us to the same room you left our boyfriends.”

Dobby nodded agreeably for a few seconds before the meaning of Luna’s words took hold. “But…” he shook his head in agitation.

“Please, sir.” Luna took his hand in both of hers. “Ron and Neville are marvelous wizards and we have complete confidence in them; however, they may need our help. Four are undoubtedly better than two.”

Hermione winced inwardly at the obvious manipulation of the house-elf, but she would not interfere. The idea of her boyfriend being in Malfoy Manor without her was too stressful to be endured. She needed to be there with him. For the first time, she truly understood Harry’s reliance on Ginny and acknowledged that she would never again be the first girl he turned to for anything. Strangely, she was utterly comfortable with the realization.

“Dobby.” Hermione knelt beside Luna and smiled at the house-elf. “Please take us to our boys.”

Dobby’s wide green eyes moved between the two witches before he nodded solemnly. A moment later, with a sharp crack, they disappeared from the cold, dark forest.

xxxxxx

Arthur continued to stare at his eldest son as he worked to dismantle the wards of Malfoy Manor. He forced his mind to remain in the present and to avoid thoughts of Bill as an infant at his wife’s breast; as a toddler stumbling around the house and saying his first words; as a big brother teaching the younger ones how to collect eggs from the henhouse; how to swim in the pond; how to de-gnome the garden. Glancing at his wife, he could see the strain on Molly’s face. Her gaze was darting between her son and his fiancÚ as it had been for the past three hours. Fleur’s right hand was clasped tightly in Bill’s left while he drew on the power of their bond to repeatedly cast spells with his wand arm. After a moment, Arthur realized Molly’s gaze was darting more quickly and with far more concern than it had previously.

Fleur was swaying on her feet. Her eyes were closed and her skin was looking more luminous -- yet more pale -- with each passing minute. The witch’s lips were parted, but she looked to be barely breathing. Arthur’s focus returned to his son just in time to see the young curse-breaker’s jaw clench as Fleur sank gracefully to her knees. His son’s focus didn’t seem to waiver, though Arthur had no doubt Bill realized Fleur’s magical energy was waning.

Arthur shot an alarmed look at Albus Dumbledore who was watching the proceedings with his usual calm visage. His own jaw clenched, and he was about to question the other man when he noticed a wisp of light energy leave Albus’s wand and strike Fleur in the back. Immediately, the witch’s exhalations were more pronounced, and her cheeks appeared to regain their color.

“Ten,” Bill hissed through gritted teeth before continuing the endless spell casting that had made one layer of the wards after another fall over the past three hours. Arthur barely comprehended the complexity of what his eldest son was accomplishing, but he could see the thin strings that were all that was left of the wards hovering in the air waiting to be severed just as Bill had described.

Albus’s phoenix Patronus suddenly lit the prevailing darkness and after a few whispered words was soon soaring through the night.

Arthur closed his eyes briefly. Ten. Ten minutes until the wards would fall. The phoenix Patronus was the signal for everyone to prepare for the first wave of the attack. Only his firm belief in the power of light to overcome darkness allowed Arthur to overcome the fear threatening to overwhelm him. Five of his sons, his daughter, his wife, two future daughters-in-law, his future son-in-law, and numerous friends were participating in this attack. Truly every person he knew and loved in the world was involved in this battle to the death. It was too much, and yet he knew he had no choice but to face it.

Forcing his eyes open and resolutely sending his wife a calm smile of reassurance, he grasped Molly’s hand just as Bill fell to his knees. Fleur sagged towards him as his son cast the last few spells before viciously swiping his wand through the air, cutting the thin threads and causing the earth to shudder beneath them.

The wards protecting Malfoy Manor were down.

Arthur was about to pull Molly forward to check on Bill and Fleur when the eerie shriek of multiple dragons made everyone pause and look up.

The sight of five Welsh Greens soaring through the air a mere hundred feet above them was enough to paralyze every onlooker. The green skin of the dragons glowed in the vague light of the approaching dawn. They flew in such close formation that their wings seemed to nearly connect with one another as they glided towards the manor house. Arthur swallowed with difficulty at the thought of Charlie and Anna riding on the lead dragon. An ominous call resounded through the night.

“Oh, Arthur!” Molly whimpered as she clung to him.

All five dragons were simultaneously breathing fire in a glowing inferno that set the entire top floor of the Manor ablaze. Arthur instantly comprehended that the ominous call of a moment before was his second son ordering the dragons to release fire. The attack of Malfoy Manor had begun.

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