Some Cuts Leave Scars by melindaleo



Summary: Not all wounds heal completely – many scars aren’t readily visible. Join Harry and his friends as they journey through the year following the war, learning how to maneuver over hurdles both unique and lingering. An 8th-year sequel to the summer of These Cuts I Have.
Rating: PG-13 starstarstarstarstar
Categories: Post-DH/AB
Characters: None
Genres: None
Warnings: None
Challenges: None
Series: None
Published: 2018.01.04
Updated: 2018.02.22


Index

Chapter 1: Hurts to Say Goodbye
Chapter 2: Ghosts and Phantoms
Chapter 3: Bitterness of the Past
Chapter 4: Revelations and Frustrations
Chapter 5: Reunions and Reactions
Chapter 6: Recovery and Reversals
Chapter 7: Daring Nerve
Chapter 8: Witches and Bitches


Chapter 1: Hurts to Say Goodbye

Author's Notes: At long last, here it is! This story is more a family/drama epic, although there are bits of action in there (I can’t help myself!) Still, it’s more character than plot driven. I want to express my sincere thanks to my beta, Sherry, for fitting this into her very busy schedule! Also, I had several alpha readers who were all amazing. Arnel, Ryan, Danielle, and Sue – this story is better for letting me work through ideas with all of you! Lastly, DustNight88 did the awesome aesthetic for this story, and I still love it every time I look at it.


Ginny watched King’s Cross Station disappear from view as the rapidly accelerating Hogwarts Express began its long journey north. Her fingers clung to the metal rim of the window so tightly, she was certain there would be marks. The wind blew her fiery hair around her head, mimicking the maelstrom of her emotions. Her vision blurred as she struggled with the persistent lump in her throat that had formed as she had watched Harry chase the train and wave farewell.

She was not going to cry.

As a child, she’d always stood on the platform, crying as her brothers all left her behind one by one. But this time, it was her turn to leave. She was the one beginning her grand adventure. Why, then, did she feel so heartbroken and as if she was still the one missing out? It hadn’t occurred to her during all those years she’d watched her brothers leave that she’d close out their time at Hogwarts still alone.

She wondered if Harry felt as miserable as she did, or were his thoughts already filling with ideas on how to spend the rest of his day?

Ginny sniffled quietly, hoping her fellow travelers wouldn’t notice her distress. She was being stupid, and they probably knew it. Merlin, Ginny hated to cry. It would’ve been worse to be the one left behind — again! — but when would they ever have their chance to just be together without commitments pulling them in opposite directions? It was so unfair.

A gentle hand squeezed Ginny’s shoulder, and she looked up to see Luna standing beside her with a solemn expression. “The recent Eridanian influx is causing a lot of melancholy amongst wizards. You need more sugar in your diet to combat them,” she said helpfully.

“Er… thanks, Luna. I’ll get something off the trolley,” Ginny replied, accustomed to her friend’s unusual outlook. It was easiest to just go along with her.

“Come sit down, Ginny. We want to hear all about your summer,” Siobhan MacAuley, one of Ginny’s roommates, said kindly. She shifted over to make room on the seat next to her, folding her long legs under the bench.

Ginny took a deep breath and pulled herself together, accepting the offered seat. Luna sat down opposite her, next to Ginny’s other roommate, Liz Spencer. Liz had very straight brown hair, and it hung rather limply around her pale face. Liz looked as if she’d been through a lot, and Ginny suddenly felt ashamed for moping over being separated from Harry.

“Hi, Liz,” she said warmly. “It’s good to see you again.” She didn’t ask how Liz was, it was obvious by her appearance. Those who had suffered the most during the war were easily recognizable.

“Hey, Ginny. It’s good to see you, too,” Liz said, her smile not quite reaching her eyes.

“How’s your brother?” Ginny asked softly. Liz’ brother was newly widowed and struggling to raise a young son. Her sister-in-law had died in Azkaban, a victim of the Muggle-born Registration Committee.

Liz shrugged. “Carmela’s parents want to take my nephew to live with them. They think they can offer him a better life in the Muggle world.”

Ginny winced. “Is your brother rowing with them?”

“He’s never had a lot of patience, and he’s not the most tactful of blokes, so it’s been strained,” Liz said wearily. “I don’t want to talk about them right now. I want to focus on getting back to school.”

“Did you sit your exams?” Siobhan asked, biting her lip.

“Yes. Professor McGonagall arranged a session a couple weeks ago,” Liz replied tiredly.

“How did you do?” Ginny asked.

“All right,” Liz shrugged. “Potions was a cock-up, but I never stood much chance on that one.”

“I struggled with Potions, too,” Siobhan replied, wincing. “I suppose we won’t expect an invitation to the Slug Club again this year.”

“Is Professor Slughorn returning?” Luna asked dreamily.

“Dunno,” Ginny said. “Hadn’t really thought about it.”

“Only I thought he’d retired once already. Perhaps there wasn’t time for a party with the Battle and all,” Luna said.

“Er… right,” Siobhan said warily. “I really don’t know who will be returning and who won’t. We’ll need a new Defense teacher again.”

Neither Siobhan nor Liz had ever been certain how to take Luna. They weren’t rude, but they’d never gone out of their way to befriend her, either. They tolerated her for Ginny’s sake.

“When I took my exams, Professor McGonagall stressed she’d be acting as Headmistress, but it wouldn’t be permanent,” Liz said.

“She doesn’t want to give up teaching,” Ginny said. Her mum had shared that little tidbit with her. It was a shame, really, because Ginny thought McGonagall would be a brilliant choice for Headmistress.

“So we’re in for a lot of changes again,” Siobhan said, her bright blue eyes wide and thoughtful.

“Anything has to be better than last year. We’ll face it as it comes,” Ginny said bracingly.

They all nodded, each momentarily lost in her own thoughts. Hogwarts had been so brutal and depressing the previous year, it was hard to shake off the uncertainty.

“Professor McGonagall also told me Hermione Granger is returning, and she’s bunking in with us,” Liz said.

Ginny nodded. “Parvati Patil, too. I know Hermione is nervous, so try and make her feel welcome.”

“As long as she doesn’t try and arrange my revision schedule for me,” Liz said, frowning slightly.

“She just might,” Ginny said, grinning. “She can be a bit swotty, but really, she’s all right.”

“Do you know if any Ravenclaws are returning, Luna?” Siobhan asked.

Luna’s wide, rather vacant eyes blinked at Siobhan for a moment as if trying to remember why she was there. Ginny often wondered what went on inside Luna’s head.

“I’d imagine if Parvati is coming back, Padma will as well. They both left at the same time, didn’t they?” Luna replied, pulling a copy of The Quibbler from her bag.

She was right; Padma Patil was probably returning too. Twins usually stuck together. Ginny’s heart clenched tightly as images of Fred and George played across her mind, intermingling with one another. She didn’t think George would ever be quite the same.

“You’re probably right,” Ginny said, swallowing hard.

“The Eridanians are back,” Luna said dreamily, patting Ginny’s arm.

Ginny cleared her throat. “Stupid Eridanians,” she mumbled. Before any conversation could continue, the compartment door slid open, and Hermione nervously stuck her head inside.

“Hi,” she said tentatively, her eyes roaming over the other occupants. She seemed relieved to find Luna there as well.

“Hello, Hermione,” Luna said. “Is the prefect meeting done, then?”

“Yes, it’s over,” Hermione said, entering the compartment and taking the seat next to Ginny. She let Crookshanks out of his carrier, and the big orange cat yawned hugely.

Demelza Robbins, a sixth-year and fellow member of the Gryffindor Quidditch team, followed her inside the compartment and took the remaining seat next to Luna.

“Hi, ladies,” Demelza said. “Mind if I join you? I’m not up to dealing with Romilda yet.”

Romilda Vane was one of Demelza’s roommates, and far from one of Ginny’s favorite people. She liked to gossip and could be very catty. Ginny could easily understand why Demelza would want to stay away from her. Romilda had a talent for always becoming scarce whenever the curses flew the previous year, and Ginny hadn’t forgotten it.

“Not at all,” Ginny said, smiling. She’d always enjoyed Demelza’s company. “I ran into Romilda on the platform.”

“Yeah? Did you hex her?” Demelza asked, her dark eyes glittering.

“Demelza! Of course, she didn’t,” Hermione scolded. “We’re working toward a more peaceful and cooperative year, remember? We have to put all our past differences behind us and work on making positive relationships.”

“Oh…yeah,” Demelza said, although she didn’t look sorry.

Hermione frowned before turning toward Ginny. “You didn’t hex her, did you?”

“Thought about it, but no… not yet,” Ginny replied. “I make no promises if she keeps up her smart-arse comments about Harry, though.”

“Oh, she wants him all right. She’s made no secret about it,” Demelza said, leaning forward mischievously.

Ginny had the distinct impression she was looking forward to the coming row. “She has a Daily Prophet photo of him at the Order of Merlin ceremony, and she cut you out of the frame! I know because I can still recognize part of your dress robes.”

“That cow. She pretended to be surprised we were together on the platform,” Ginny growled.

“I really don’t think Harry would be interested in Romilda. He seems quite taken with you though,” Luna said absently, barely looking over the top of her paper.

Ginny smiled fondly at Luna, but her words held an edge. “And I don’t share.”

“Did you learn anything interesting at your meeting?” Liz asked, glancing nervously at Ginny.

Hermione jumped at the chance to settle the rising tension in the compartment. “There are a handful of students from three of the four Houses who’ve returned to complete their seventh year. Three from Gryffindor — Parvati Patil, Dean Thomas, and…well, me.”

“Let me guess, no one from Slytherin?” Siobhan asked, frowning.

“Well, no… none of them were forced out last year, were they?” Hermione asked, sounding uncharacteristically bitter.

“Head Girl is from Slytherin though. It’s Astoria Greengrass, and Simon Teevens from Ravenclaw is Head Boy,” Demelza said.

Siobhan and Ginny shared a glance. They’d reckoned Astoria would get it, but knew it was a bit of a sore spot with Hermione. For her part, Hermione’s lips pressed into a thin line, but she held her tongue.

“It was Simon’s idea to begin hiding in the Room of Requirement since the Carrows could never work out how to get in, yeah?” Liz asked.

“Right. He and Seamus both took a fair number of beatings for refusing to divulge the location,” Demelza said, scowling.

“He’s quite bright, but a bit odd,” Luna said.

Liz and Siobhan stared at Luna in disbelief. Ginny really couldn’t blame them. Luna was reading her paper with what looked like mushrooms in her hair. Calling anyone else odd was a bit of a stretch. She couldn’t help but wonder what Simon Teevens could’ve done to make Luna Lovegood think he was odd.

“I always thought he was kind of cute,” Siobhan said, shrugging.

“You just like his muscles,” Ginny said, laughing. Siobhan’s fascination with a muscular build was well known in their dormitory.

Liz grinned as well. “That’s right — over the Muggle’s muscles already, are you? That didn’t take long.”
Siobhan shrugged sheepishly. “I can admire,” she said, protesting.

“Muggle?” Hermione asked curiously.

“I had a bit of a summer fling with a Muggle boy in my neighborhood,” Siobhan explained, her pale Irish skin turning a rosy pink.

“Whose muscles you were most impressed by, according to your letters,” Liz said, needling. Ginny was pleased to see her showing a bit more spark. It was the first time she’d seen Liz truly smile since before the Battle.

“Oh, I think I could have played his abs like an instrument,” Siobhan said dreamily.

Girlish shrieks and laughter erupted in their compartment. “And how did you manage to get a good look at his abs?” Demelza asked, waggling her eyebrows.

“We spent a good deal of time at the beach, so get your mind out of the gutter,” Siobhan said primly.
Demelza snorted. “Either way, it sounds as if you had a better summer than me.”

“Oh, didn’t you meet any muscular Muggle boys on your holiday?” Luna asked. “I met a few Muggles in the village, but none of the muscly sort.”

“No Muggles — muscly or otherwise,” Demelza said sadly. “I spent the summer working in my aunt’s shop in Diagon Alley. It needed a lot of work, but it’s done now. Made for a fairly dull summer, but after last year, I needed some calm.”

“Where does the Muggle boy think you go to school?” Hermione asked, her mind obviously still on Siobhan’s fling.

Siobhan frowned. “I told him I go to a boarding school up north. He kept pressing for a name, and I didn’t know what to say. He thought I was evading him, so I made something up. I don’t think he believed me, though.”

“My relatives were told the same thing when I first went to Hogwarts,” Hermione said, sympathizing. “Thankfully they didn’t press for a name.”

“We broke it off. We’ll see what happens next summer, but I honestly don’t think he’ll wait for me. It was too awkward at the end, and I think he believes I was being untruthful,” Siobhan said, sighing.

“Well, you were being untruthful,” Luna said, her eyes wide.

“Not intentionally!” Siobhan replied hotly.

“Oh, there’s nothing for it, but you’re each right from your own point of view,” Luna said simply.

“I wonder how most relationships with Muggles work,” Hermione said, pondering. “When are you allowed to tell about magic?”

“You’re not supposed to say anything until after you’ve been married, but I don’t think many witches and wizards wait that long,” Ginny said. She knew that much from her dad.

“Well, that seems rather unfair to the Muggles,” Hermione said indignantly.

“Perhaps that’s something that will change now that a lot of the old Pureblood families have been weeded out of the Ministry,” Ginny said.

“I certainly hope so,” Hermione said, and by the cross way she folded her arms, Ginny suspected it would be one of Hermione’s new campaigns.

“Back to summer romances,” Demelza said eagerly. “I saw you and Harry on the platform, Ginny.”

Ginny smiled sadly as a wave of melancholy washed over her. “Yeah, we got back together.”

“Sweet Merlin!” Demelza exclaimed suddenly, looking startled and sitting up ramrod straight.

“What? Certainly you’ve seen photos of them, they’ve been all over the Prophet,” Siobhan said, perplexed.

Demelza’s eyes locked with Ginny’s, and the whiteness stood out against her dark face. “We’re going to have to find a new Seeker,” she whispered dramatically.

“Oh,” Ginny said, releasing the breath she was holding. “Yeah. A new Keeper and another Chaser, too.”

“But how are we ever supposed to replace Harry? He never lost a game,” Demelza said frantically.

“Well, there was that one, but it was really the Dementors’ fault,” Ginny said fairly.

“And the time Cormac knocked him from his broom,” Liz added.

“He did win when he played, but he was suspended a lot. Perhaps you should look for a Seeker that won’t get so many detentions,” Luna said, causing Hermione to snigger.

As if somehow knowing they were talking Quidditch, Ritchie Coote and Jimmy Peaks, the Gryffindor Beaters, slid the door open and waved in greeting.

“Hello, you lot. Congratulations on the captaincy, Ginny,” Jimmy said, nodding at her badge. “We thought you might get it.”

“Thanks, Jimmy. Hi, Ritchie. You two are still trying out this year, right? We’re already down three positions,” Ginny said. Now that Demelza had brought up Quidditch, Ginny was getting concerned about her lack of a team.

“Absolutely,” Ritchie said. “Dean Thomas is back. He’s joining my dormitory. He might want to take the open Chaser spot. He’s got some experience.”

“Will he be allowed to play?” Demelza asked, frowning.

“What do you mean?” Hermione asked, her shoulders stiffening.

“Well, I mean…Slytherin doesn’t have any returning students. I’ll bet they make a fuss,” Demelza said.
“He’s joined the seventh years, and should be treated as such,” Hermione said indignantly.

“Let’s wait and see what happens at try outs,” Ginny said, placating. She had no problem with Dean because he was returning for an unprecedented eighth year, but she wasn’t certain she wanted to spend that much time with him. Their break up had been rough at the end. Still, that was two years ago. He’d have to be over it by now, and so much had happened in between.

“Where is Dean? Is he sitting in your compartment with the other seventh-year boys?” Liz asked.

“Yeah, he and the Patil twins. I also saw Justin Finch-Fletchley, but he’s never played Quidditch,” Ritchie said.

“That makes sense. He’s Muggle-born, too,” Hermione said stiffly, obviously still upset with the idea Dean wouldn’t be allowed to play Quidditch.

Ginny was happy that the blokes from her year seemed to be accepting Dean without a problem. She hoped all the witches could do the same. She hated to admit it, but sometimes girls could be harder about such things. At least Hermione and Parvati would have each other.

“I was excited that Quidditch would be back this year, but I completely missed the fact we’d need a new Seeker,” Demelza said, still looking rather dazed.

“You were our back up, Ginny. Any plans to take over as Seeker?” Jimmy asked.

“Not a chance,” Ginny said firmly. Being captain had its advantages, and this was an easy first decision. “I like playing Chaser. We’ll have to find someone else, so keep your ears open.”

“For a Keeper, too,” Ritchie said, looking far more serious than he had when he’d arrived. Apparently, a lot of the team hadn’t truly considered how depleted they were.

“Yes, and another Chaser. I’ll book the pitch as soon as I can, and we’ll schedule some try-outs. Pass the word along, and look sharp. Maybe some of these younger kids that we haven’t seen can play,” Ginny said. There hadn’t been any Quidditch last year, so they really didn’t know anything about the second- and third-years.

“That’s a good idea,” Demelza said. “We’ll lose you and Ritchie next year, Jimmy and me the year after that. We need to spread it out if we can.”

Ritchie turned his head as someone else approached the compartment door. “We’ll keep our eyes open,” he said as he and Jimmy moved along.

A Ravenclaw prefect with short russet hair and an unfortunate pointy nose stuck her head in the doorway. “You’re up next for rounds, Demelza,” she said coolly.

“All right,” Demelza said, nodding.

The girl glanced around the cabin without greeting any of the others. As she turned to leave, Ginny called out. “Nice to see you, too, Brynn.”

Brynn neither turned nor acknowledged Ginny as she moved down the train.

“Are you two still bickering?” Hermione asked in exasperation.

Ginny shrugged. “She annoys me, and she’s not very nice to Luna.”

“She’s not very nice to anyone,” Demelza said, preparing to begin her prefect duties.

It was true. Brynn Dempsey and her group of Ravenclaw friends were rather haughty, and they frequently gossiped about the other Houses. They appeared to take great delight in poking fun at Luna, in particular, and Ginny suspected she might be behind the yearly disappearance of most of Luna’s things. Brynn had taken an intense dislike to Ginny when Ginny had started dating Michael Corner, despite the fact she’d never actually dated him herself, before or since, as far as Ginny knew. Ginny had never really taken to any of Michael’s friends. She thought some of the Ravenclaws were a tad stuck-up.

“But we’re supposed to be working on unity after the war. We need to let go of old grudges,” Hermione said in an almost pleading voice.

Ginny supposed Hermione was right, although she didn’t want to admit it. “I didn’t hex her. I simply said hello,” Ginny said firmly.

Hermione frowned at her, but kept her mouth shut. Ginny thought that was a wise move as both Liz and Siobhan were scowling slightly. Neither of them liked Brynn, either. While the horror that enveloped Hogwarts the previous year had unified a lot of the students against a greater enemy, it had also deepened some of the divides. This rebuilding year would be interesting.

The rest of the journey passed rather uneventfully. A few friends and acquaintances stopped by to say hello. As she’d promised Luna, Ginny bought some sweets off the trolley, and before they knew it, they could see the outline of Hogwarts in the distance. Ginny and her friends began changing into robes.

The castle looked as magnificent as ever, but there was also something imposing about it. It had been more a prison camp than a school the previous year, and that would have to leave marks on the returning classes.
Ginny tamped down on her increasing anxiety, and slipped her new school robes over her head. A heavy silence enveloped the compartment as her companions did the same.

As she left the train, she looked up at the carriages awaiting their arrival. For the first time, she could actually see the Thestrals pulling them, and it made the breath catch in her throat. From the stunned silence surrounding her on the platform, she knew she wasn’t the only one. The majority of her class had been of age and had stayed to fight in the Battle of Hogwarts, and they’d all witnessed death that day.

She shuddered, looking at the eerie, leathery creatures. She’d ridden one to the Department of Mysteries in her fourth year, but she hadn’t been able to see it then. At least she knew what they were. She remembered Harry talking about his first time seeing them, and he’d thought he was going mad.

Ginny took a deep breath, squared her shoulders and slowly moved toward the awaiting carriages. Hermione clutched her hand, and Ginny returned the pressure. They’d returned.

ooOOoo

Harry watched the departing Hogwarts Express until it vanished, his extended arm dropping slowly to his side. For several moments, he stood on the platform gazing at the empty tunnel, his mind blank. She was gone. Harry felt that old familiar pang of loneliness and longing rising up to greet him like an unwelcome guest.

But this was different.

He wasn’t going back to Privet Drive alone, and he could write as many letters with as much information as he wanted. It wasn’t the same as in years past.

Yet, it still felt painfully inadequate.

“Er… we probably should get going,” Ron said uneasily, scuffing his feet as he stood next to the wall, his hands stuffed in his pockets.

Harry looked up and caught Ron’s eyes before they both quickly looked away. He knew he’d have to do something about this awkward discomfort between them, but he really didn’t want to think about it yet.
Before he had time to ponder, a distinctly feminine hand with long red nails reached out and grasped his sleeve.

“Oh, Mr. Potter. I’m so pleased to see you again,” the woman said, her voice low and seductive.

Harry glanced at her in confusion. He had no clue who she was.

She took his arm and continued leading him down the platform. “I was hoping we’d have a chance to talk,” she said, leaning in conspiratorially and placing her other hand on his chest.

“Er… I beg your pardon, but have we met?” he asked.

She laughed, a high, tinkling laugh that echoed on the platform. Her grey eyes sparkled brightly. “We met at the Order of Merlin ceremony,” she purred. “I’m certain you were introduced to all sorts of people that night. Terra Munch from the International Confederation of Wizards.”

Harry still had no recollection of this witch, despite the fact she was quite stunning. He glanced warily around the train station and for the first time noticed how many people were still lingering. More accurately, how many witches were still lingering. Most of them, he’d never seen on the platform before, and they appeared far too young to have students at Hogwarts.

“I was hoping we could have a chat about the Battle,” Terra said coyly.

“Pardon…who were you seeing off to Hogwarts?” Harry asked, his suspicion growing. Was this woman a reporter? They’d been growing increasingly desperate to get a quote. He stopped walking and refused to be led any further.

“Oh… just some friends. As I said, I work with the International Confederation of Wizards, and we’re working on statutes to ensure no one ever gains that kind of control again. Your input could be invaluable to us. Perhaps we could go to lunch and discuss it, my treat?” she asked, smiling brilliantly.

“Hi, Harry,” Sally Perks called, waving frantically. She’d been in Harry’s year at Hogwarts, and he vaguely recollected her having younger siblings.

“Perhaps we should go. It’s very crowded here,” Terra said, her nails digging into the soft flesh on the underside of his arm.

“Harry, we really need to get to the Ministry before we’re late,” Ron said, stepping up next to them.

Harry stared stupidly. They didn’t have class today.

Ron raised his eyebrows, and Harry finally got a clue.

“Oh! Er… right. I have an engagement, Miss Munch. You’ll have to excuse me,” he said, disentangling his arm from her extraordinarily tight grip.

“Oh, please, call me Terra. I’ll contact you about meeting another time then?” she asked persistently.

“Er…right. You can send a message through the Ministry. They’ll get you in touch with whomever you need to speak with,” Harry said before hurrying through the barrier behind Ron. There were even more magical people on the Muggle side, and these were definitely reporters. They spotted him immediately and surged forward.

“Bloody hell,” Ron mumbled.

“Let’s get out of here,” Harry replied before dashing for the door and a secluded spot where they could Apparate.

He let out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding when he saw the familiar outline of the crooked little house he’d grown to love as a home.

Ron appeared next to him, and he turned his wide, incredulous blue eyes toward Harry. “Blimey! There were more witches there than I’ve ever seen in my life.”

“Ron! Harry!” Bill called, swinging open the kitchen door. “Come inside and assure Mum that Ginny got off all right. She’s nearly hyperventilating.”

Ron and Harry hurried inside to find Mrs. Weasley sitting at the kitchen table wringing her hands while Bill refilled her tea cup.

“Oh, boys,” she said tearfully. “Did everything go all right?”

“It was fine, Mum,” Ron said, sounding slightly exasperated. “As shocking as it may be, we could handle getting them to the train station.”

“Oh, I knew you could,” Mrs. Weasley said, pulling herself together and swatting her youngest son with a dish towel. “It’s just hard to let go.”

“Hermione and Ginny boarded the train and are off to Hogwarts, Mrs. Weasley,” Harry said, feeling anxious that she was so distressed.

“Thank you, Harry dear. I knew there wouldn’t be any trouble, but it was hard not to be there,” Mrs. Weasley said, patting Harry’s hand.

“Well, we didn’t say there wasn’t any trouble,” Ron replied, sitting down and serving himself some of the biscuits already on the table.

Mrs. Weasley looked up sharply.

“There was trouble?” Bill asked intently.

Harry sunk into an empty chair and grabbed a biscuit while there was still a few left. Ron could tell the tale, he really didn’t know what to make of it, anyway.

“Nothing to do with the girls,” Ron said, quickly assuring his mother. “Ginny boarded the train without a problem. She didn’t even hex anyone.”

“She thought about hexing Romilda Vane,” Harry piped up, wiping crumbs from his lip.

“Wish she would’ve hexed her,” Ron mumbled, his face darkening.

Harry snorted and took another biscuit.

“Then what trouble?” Bill asked, a knowing glint appearing in his eyes.

“The station was packed with witches all trying to get their claws into Harry,” Ron said, chuckling.
Harry felt his face grow warm.

“What?” Mrs. Weasley asked, perplexed.

“There must have been about a hundred of ‘em. One bold witch tried to drag him off to lunch to discuss the Battle,” Ron said, making it sound outrageously dirty.

“She said she was from the International Confederation of Wizards,” Harry said, feeling the need to clarify. “How d’you know they were all there for me?”

Ron rolled his eyes. “Because they were nearly stepping over each other to get to you. Didn’t you notice them chasing us down the platform, or were you too engrossed with whatever your admirer was saying?”

Harry was discomfited enough with Ron already, and this subject crossed too close to the reason. Ron seemed to become aware of it at the same time, and he immediately stuffed another biscuit in his mouth, his ears turning scarlet.

“How do you know she was really who she said she was?” Mrs. Weasley asked, her hand back on Harry’s arm and clutching his sleeve as if someone were trying to drag him away.

“Er…” Harry said eloquently.

“She could’ve been a Death Eater!” Mrs. Weasley shrieked.

“I didn’t go off with her,” Harry said, feeling nettled. “She approached me on the platform, and I told her to contact the Ministry.”

“Oh,” Mrs. Weasley said, derailed. “That was very good of you, dear.”

Harry just stared at her, at a loss how to process her quick change in moods. She baffled him sometimes.
“Harry, there are bound to be a lot of witches who want to be seen with you,” Bill said delicately.

Harry shifted uncomfortably and ran his hand along the back of his neck, uncertain what to say. It wasn’t as if he hadn’t noticed all the fussing, he just didn’t know what he was supposed to do about it. He wasn’t trying to encourage their interest.

“Sally-Ann Perks looked good,” Ron said casually.

“Did you talk to her?” Harry asked.

“Nah. It was too crowded. Besides, she was looking for you. She’d wanted to go to the Yule Ball with you, too, remember?” Ron said, not bothering to hide his smirk.

Harry’s annoyance with Ron re-ignited, and this wasn’t helping.

“Can I give you a bit of advice, Harry?” Bill asked.

“What’s that?” Harry asked, feeling most agitated.

“Write to Ginny and tell her what happened,” Bill said simply.

“Nothing happened!” Harry insisted.

Bill smiled slightly. “I know that, and you know that. She should know that before someone tells her otherwise.”

Harry nodded, realizing Bill wasn’t taking the mickey and was actually trying to help. He probably was right. Ginny’s temper sometimes overrode her common sense, and he wouldn’t like hearing about it were the situation reversed.

“It’s shocking how brazen these witches are,” Mrs. Weasley said, sniffling.

“They think since Ginny’s out of the way, Harry might be lonely,” Bill replied, his eyes twinkling.

Okay, now he was taking the mickey.

“Right. I’m going to go write that letter,” Harry said, excusing himself from the table and hurrying up to Ron’s bright orange bedroom. He could hear the others continuing to talk and decided he really didn’t want to know what they were saying.

How did he get himself into these messes?

He entered Ron’s room and sank down on the camp bed. Although he loved it here, he’d be happy once they moved to Grimmauld Place so he could have some privacy. Percy was still staying in his old room, and Mrs. Weasley had firmly shut the door to the twins’ bedroom. No one ever went in there, so he and Ron were still bunking together in the cramped attic room.

Harry needed some space of his own more than ever. Although he cherished the way the Weasleys had accepted him as one of their own, he’d still not been able to shake the discomfort of always being with a crowd.

One of the Aurors who played on their inter-department Quidditch team had a sister who was a decorator. Harry was meeting with her the next day to discuss renovations at Grimmauld Place. He hoped to have a better idea then on how long it would take before he and Ron could move there permanently.

Ron.

There was the other issue swirling in Harry’s mind. He shifted uncomfortably as he rested his back against the wall, finally allowing his thoughts to drift back to the previous evening. There was really no reason to be upset. Ron and Hermione were adults. What they did in their own private time was their own business.

He just hadn’t expected to walk in on it.

Harry shuddered, trying to erase the eyeful of both his best mates that he’d received when he’d stopped by Grimmauld Place the previous evening. They’d been carrying on in the sitting room for Merlin’s sake — on Harry’s new red leather couch! Shouldn’t they have gone up to Ron’s bedroom at least? The fact there wasn’t any furniture in Ron’s room yet was beside the point.

Harry hadn’t needed to see that.

Or hear it.

He couldn’t even look at Hermione at the station because every time he did, his mind went back to parts of her he never should’ve seen.

He shuddered again, clenching his eyes tightly, as if that could erase the memory.

He and Ron never talked about this stuff. Ginny was Ron’s sister, and that would just be too awkward. He knew Ginny and Hermione talked, but Ginny’d never said anything about Ron and Hermione shagging. He didn’t think what he’d walked in on had been their first time, however. They certainly hadn’t seemed uncertain.

Ron and Hermione had taken that last, mysterious and unknown step into adulthood. Although Harry’s body had been frequently reminding him it was ready and up to the task, his rational side struggled. Somehow, he thought battling a Basilisk or a Dark Lord was easier than completely opening up to someone. Even Ginny.

Not that she’d given him the opportunity, anyway. Besides, living here at the Burrow ensured they were never alone in a room together long enough to leap over that proverbial cliff. They’d been interrupted more times than he could count. That, in itself, was probably the reason why he’d found Ron and Hermione at Grimmauld Place.

They’d taken that step without him. Of course, it had to be without him. It wasn’t as if he’d wanted to be with them. He wasn’t pervy or anything, but…still…they’d left him behind.

Harry stared daggers at the wall. He knew he was being ridiculous, and it was only increasing his agitation. What was wrong with him? Maybe he was just frustrated and randy. Loads of eager witches stalking him through King’s Cross hadn’t helped.

He leaned his head back and banged it into the wall. He desperately needed a distraction. He took some parchment and a quill from Ron’s well-worn wooden desk, and leaning against a book, tried to decide what to say to Ginny. What he really wanted to ask was if she’d known Ron and Hermione were shagging.

If Harry were honest with himself, he’d have to admit he was a little jealous, and that infuriated him. His friends deserved some happiness; they’d sacrificed everything for him. He didn’t want to believe he was the kind of person who would begrudge them. What was wrong with him? Perhaps it was a combination of Ginny’s leaving and the constraints of the Burrow. He didn’t know what he’d expected of life after the Battle, but so far, this wasn’t it.

The sound of Ron’s footsteps pounding up the stairs distracted him. They’d had yet to really talk since he’d walked in on them, and he was dreading it.

The door swung open and Ron stopped short, staring at Harry with a slightly panicked expression. Harry knew he was glowering at his best mate, but he couldn’t seem to help it. He set his jaw and looked purposefully away.

“Writing to Ginny, eh?” Ron asked in a deliberately casual tone.

“Well spotted,” Harry said, grunting.

Ron sat on his own bed and began flipping through a Quidditch magazine. How typical of Ron to simply avoid anything uncomfortable. The fact he wasn’t even going to address it set Harry off.

“What in Merlin’s name were you thinking?” Harry snapped.

Ron set his chin at a stubborn angle, refusing to look up from his magazine. The spreading reddish coloring on his ears gave his discomfort away. “Don’t know what you’re talking about,” he lied.

“Why out in the middle of the sitting room?” Harry demanded, feeling his own face growing heated.

“We were alone!” Ron said, finally looking up, his own expression darkening. “What are you on about?”

“I shouldn’t have to walk in on that!” Harry insisted.

“You weren’t even there! You were supposed to be out with Ginny,” Ron yelped. “What did you come back for, anyway?”

“When did this start?” Harry asked. The words were out before he could stop them.

If possible, Ron turned even redder. “We hadn’t planned it…We just…when she got back from Australia, we were so happy to see each other, and, well…one thing led to another…”

Harry thought Ron looked rather proud of himself, and Harry had the urge to hit him. His mind was racing. “So that’s why it took you so long to get back from the Apparition point?”

Ron shrugged, sheepishly. “We stopped at her house to check on a few things, and… well…”

“Enough!” Harry said, holding up his hand. “I don’t want to know, and I don’t want to see that again.”

“Not likely. She’s at Hogwarts now, isn’t she?” Ron said despondently.

A feeling of savage triumph rose in Harry’s chest.

“When the girls come home, we’re going to have to set up some house rules,” he said firmly.

“Huh?”

“You know… about common areas. Things that should remain private can stay in our own rooms. We can all practice some discretion,” Harry said.

Ron stared at him with a thunderstruck expression.

“What?” Harry asked. “You disagree?”

“Are you and Ginny…” Ron asked, spluttering.

“Well…not yet,” Harry conceded, scowling again.

“Good!” Ron said forcefully, squaring his shoulders.

Harry’s ire spiked. He could tell his mate was immensely pleased to have crossed this barrier first.

“What? You mean it’s okay for you and Hermione, but not for Ginny and me? It doesn’t work that way, Ron,” he said.

“She’s my baby sister, Harry. Besides, Hermione is nearly two years older than her, and I’m older than you,” Ron said.

Harry nearly rolled his eyes right out of his head. “Oh, don’t even go there lest you want to get into a maturity debate,” he said hotly.

Ron immediately stared at his feet, and Harry felt a twinge of guilt. Not enough to let it go, however.

“If we’re going to all live together, we have to respect each other’s privacy. I won’t have you going off on either of us,” Harry said.

“Me? You’re the one going off about me and Hermione,” Ron said, spluttering.

“You caught me by surprise is all,” Harry said stiffly. “We’ll both need to get used to it.”

Ron seemed to deflate a bit. “I’ll try,” he said softly. “I can’t make any promises once I see you two together, and I know what you’ve done.”

Harry exhaled and nodded tightly, but anger still simmered beneath the surface. “And you know I won’t hurt her. Merlin, I died once already to protect her.”

“I know,” Ron moaned. “I do trust you with her, Harry. More than anyone. Actually, I worry more about her hurting you!”

“Yeah…your overprotectiveness is driving me spare,” Harry said, reckoning it was time to address everything.

“I can’t help it. Every time you’re in danger, my mind flashes back to Hagrid carrying you out of the forest and I panic,” Ron mumbled, his eyes dropping to the floor again.

Harry certainly could sympathize with flashbacks, he’d had enough of his own. The fact he was the cause of Ron’s triggered his guilt, and he didn’t want to argue anymore. “Try and work on it, okay. I can take care of myself.”

Ron looked as if he wasn’t entirely convinced of that, but he didn’t argue the point.

“Are we finished?” Harry asked.

“Suppose so,” Ron said, picking up his magazine again and covering his face. Harry thought he saw his lips twitching, however.

“Of course, Hermione still wants to talk to you about what you saw,” Ron said.

Harry unstuck his tongue from the roof of his mouth with difficulty. Ron was one thing, but this wasn’t something he wanted to discuss with Hermione.

Ever.

In fact, it was a very good thing he wouldn’t have to see her until October. Perhaps he could master his embarrassment when looking at her by then.

Back to index


Chapter 2: Ghosts and Phantoms

Ginny followed the massive group of returning students up the stone steps and into Hogwarts. She drew a deep breath as they headed toward the Great Hall, and a maelstrom of emotions assaulted her from all angles. Some of the best memories of her life originated in this place.

And some of the worst.

Her wary gaze scanned the interior of the castle. The walls had been repaired and strengthened, and most of the scorch marks had been scrubbed clean. Still, there were signs of the Battle that had taken place a mere four months ago. Chips and mars in the stone, a new portrait, suits of armor with pieces that didn’t exactly match.

The sconces on the walls were lit brightly in an attempt to lend a festive atmosphere to the reopening of Hogwarts. The students, however, were somber and uncertain. Although there had been a lot of chattering on the train, most were now subdued. Some openly wept as they made their way toward their familiar House tables. Despite the fact that only the seventh years had remained in the castle to witness the Battle, all of them had lived here under the Carrows’ cruel reign.

Hogwarts didn’t feel nearly as secure as it once had.

Ginny could see a group of solemn-eyed second-years huddled together, walking in a group so they had each other’s backs. Their lost innocence brought a lump to her throat. They’d never known Hogwarts the way she wanted to remember it. She hoped this year could bring back even a glimmer of what had been lost.

The magnificent ceiling of the Great Hall was grey, and a light rain had begun to fall, mirroring the increasing melancholy of the students. Hundreds of floating candles hovering above the tables couldn’t diminish the gloom. Ginny’s heart thumped uncomfortably as she followed Siobhan toward the Gryffindor table. She stopped abruptly in her tracks, causing Hermione to plough right into her.

“Ginny, what— oh,” Hermione said, following Ginny’s gaze.

Dennis Creevy sat alone at the long wooden table, staring with deadened eyes around the vast Great Hall. Although his fellow fifth years sat around him, they kept a somber, respectful distance from the obviously grieving boy.

Ginny braced herself and resumed her march toward the table. She approached Dennis cautiously, not knowing if he’d appreciate company. She felt a new kinship with the younger boy — he’d lost a brother, too.

“Hey, Dennis,” she said quietly.

Dennis looked up, and a bit of warmth flooded his eyes. “Hey, Ginny. All right?”

Ginny shrugged. “You?”

Dennis paused a moment before answering. “The summer was hard. Mum’s not handling things too well. She didn’t want me to come back.”

Ginny nodded. “I’m glad you did.”

Dennis drew a deep breath, and released it slowly. “I am, too. It’s hard to be here, but… it feels right.”

“I know what you mean,” Ginny said, sighing.

“How’s Harry?” Dennis asked.

He’d never been quite as in awe of Harry as Colin had, but Dennis could still easily be classified as a fan. Still, Ginny thought he deserved the truth.

“About the same as the rest of us. We’re all getting there,” she said.

“I didn’t go to the Order of Merlin ceremony, but they delivered our medals. Da was quite touched that Colin was awarded one. The Ministry worker said Harry insisted that all the DA get one.”

Ginny felt that pesky lump forming in her throat again. She hadn’t known he’d been the one behind it, but it was so like Harry, she felt foolish for not realizing. “Fred got one, too,” she said.

Dennis nodded slowly. “Have you gone up to the spot where… it happened?” he asked, his voice husky and strained.

Ginny shook her head, but leaned down to tell him quietly. “I’m going to see it after the feast, before the corridors get too crowded.”

Dennis squared his shoulders. “That’s a good idea, perhaps I’ll do the same.”

Ginny felt she ought to offer him to come along, but she couldn’t do it. She needed to do this alone, and didn’t think she had it in her for company. She smiled sadly and moved further down the table to where her roommates were seated. Dean and Parvati had taken seats on Hermione’s other side, and they seemed deeply involved in whatever they were discussing.

“How’s Dennis?” Siobhan asked.

“He’s holding up. He’s stronger than he looks,” she replied, glancing back down the table and watching Dennis begin to interact with the other fifth years.

“Have you noticed all the new faces at the teachers’ table?” Hermione whispered, drawing Ginny’s attention to the front of the hall.

She was right. All the chairs were filled, but Ginny didn’t recognize any of the newcomers. Professor Slughorn sat chatting amiably with Professor Sinestra, and Hagrid held his traditional spot at the end of the table. Professor McGonagall sat in the center, her hat perched imperiously on her head. She wore her traditional black, but Ginny noticed the cuffs and neckline were lined with a soft velvet. A fitting tribute to the festivity of the welcoming feast.

Ginny turned and glanced at the back of the hall. As expected, there stood a group of frightened first years peering in awe as they caught their first glimpse of the room. Ginny remembered her stomach threatening to regurgitate all the sweets she’d eaten on the train while she stared into the vast hall in her own first year.

“I know that man,” she said suddenly, realizing the person at the front of the queue had a scraggly tuft of thin white hair protruding from his hat. Although even smaller in height than the first years he accompanied, he was obviously in charge and leading with a firm hand.

“That’s Professor Tofty,” Hermione gasped. “He’s from the Wizarding Examinations Authority. He was here for our OWLs.”

Ginny remembered him, too. She’d demonstrated her Bat Bogey Hex for him during her Defense examination.

“He’s positively ancient!” Demelza said, her eyes wide.

“I wonder what he’s doing here,” Hermione said, frowning.

“Do you think he’s staying?” Liz asked.

“We’ll have to wait for Professor McGonagall’s speech,” Hermione said.

She was right. It wasn’t until the new students had been Sorted and everyone’s appetite sated before Professor McGonagall rose and stared down at them all expectantly, and complete silence soon overtook the Great Hall. Before she could begin speaking, however, from somewhere amongst the crowd of students, someone began a slow clap. It was rapidly joined by others until the entire Great Hall was giving the Acting Headmistress a somewhat somber but appreciative ovation.

Professor McGonagall had repeatedly stood up to the Carrows with grace and dignity during the previous year. She wasn’t always able to stop them, but she always tried, and she frequently confused them with her sharp tongue and acerbic wit. Ginny suspected both Carrows had been fearful of the formidable witch.

It had been Professor McGonagall who had found Ginny after the Welcoming Feast last year… after the Carrows had sought her out… Ginny shuddered, pushing that thought from her mind.

Professor McGonagall stared at the applauding students, her lips pinching as her eyes glazed slightly. She only allowed the ovation for a short time before she cleared her throat and raised her hand to quiet them.

“Thank you for that welcome. I am pleased to have you all back, as well,” she said. Her voice quavered slightly, but she pulled herself together so quickly, Ginny wasn’t even certain if everyone had caught it. Ginny had always liked her Head of House, but it was only during the previous year that she realized how badass the intimidating witch truly was.

“I realize it is difficult for many of you to be back here after the war and the tragedies that occurred,” Professor McGonagall said, her voice strong and resounding across the room. “Still, Hogwarts has always been our home and the best educational institute on the continent. We must carry on and not allow that to be taken from us. In trying to balance the need to regain normalcy with the understanding that this year is anything but normal, I have decided to hold off the start of classes.”

The volume in the Great Hall grew as students began questioning each other and murmuring over this news. Hermione frowned, and stared at Professor McGonagall expectantly. The professor held up her hand to silence the students again.

“Tomorrow, we will hold a non-mandatory Memorial Ceremony for any student who would like to attend. A larger, more public ceremony is being planned, but tomorrow will be students only. Classes will begin the following day,” Professor McGonagall said.

Ginny dug her nails into her palms. She knew how difficult a Memorial would be, but she also remembered how the students had drawn strength from banding together the previous year. She glanced up the length of the Gryffindor table, seeing housemates taking each other’s hands. Perhaps the healing was already beginning. Ginny took Hermione and Siobhan’s hands, squeezing each gently. Hermione’s eyes were shining brightly.

After allowing them a moment, Professor McGonagall once again took control. “As you can see, there are several new additions to the staff table. First off, some of you may recognize Leonard Tofty from the Wizarding Examinations Authority.” Tiny little Professor Tofty didn’t leave his chair, but he waved his hand in greeting. “Professor Tofty has graciously agreed to take over the Transfiguration classes this year whilst I am acting as Headmistress.”

Professor McGonagall indicated the witch sitting next to Professor Tofty. She was on the younger side compared to some of the professors, but her hair was cropped very short and her expression remained neutral. She wasn’t dressed in robes but instead wore a fashionable Muggle suit.

“This is Jocylyn Wagstaff who will be teaching Muggle Studies,” Professor McGonagall said. “Professor Wagstaff has vast experience in the Muggle world, and plans to give you all some pointers on how to go unnoticed during your interactions.”

“That will be helpful,” Hermione said, staring at Professor Wagstaff speculatively.

“She has a big job in front of her,” Siobhan said. “Last year, the Carrows did their best to convince students that Muggles were useless but still a threat to our world.”

“But certainly the students were smarter than that,” Hermione said, appalled.

“I don’t know,” Siobhan replied, shrugging. “Everyone knew not to trust the Carrows, but there are a lot of students who know absolutely nothing else about Muggles, or how they live.”

Ginny knew this was true. Her dad loved Muggles and everything about them, but it wasn’t until Harry and Hermione had come into their lives that Ginny had realized how much he’d actually guessed wrong. His enthusiasm sometimes over-compensated for his facts.

At the head table, Professor McGonagall pointed toward a dignified-looking wizard wearing subdued, but well-cut, robes. His salt and pepper hair and goatee were trimmed and tidy, much like the rest of him. He made a dashing figure, and Ginny was intrigued.

“Allow me to introduce Teidian Nutcombe who has agreed to take over the History of Magic position,” Professor McGonagall said. “Professor Nutcombe has worked as a barrister in London for the past several years and has an enduring love for history.”

The volume in the Great Hall rose again with students craning their necks to get a better look at the handsome Professor Nutcombe.

“What happened to Binns?” Parvati asked the question on everyone’s mind. He was a horrible teacher, but he’d been there forever.

“Oh! I know,” Liz said, having trouble tearing her eyes away from Professor Nutcombe. “Professor McGonagall told me she’d convinced him to retire. She’s not entirely certain he’s actually left the castle, however. She thought that during the transition, it was time for a revamping.”

“She’s not wrong,” Hermione said. “There is so much more to the History of Magic than just goblin rebellions. I can’t wait to see the curriculum.”

“Yeah…me either,” Siobhan said sarcastically.

“I won’t mind going to History class if I can stare at him every day,” Romilda said rather loudly. Several of her classmates readily agreed.

Ginny knew she was being ridiculous, but she decided then and there that if Romilda was taken with the new professor, she was going to steer well clear of him.

“So the last new one must be the new Defense teacher,” Ginny said, directing their attention to the last remaining unknown.

“And finally, in what we hope will begin a new, long-term tradition, your new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Ms. Catena Radford,” Professor McGonagall said, indicating a mature witch with tight, curly blonde hair and an aristocratic chin. Professor Radford smiled tightly and nodded at the students.

“She didn’t say where Professor Radford came from,” Hermione said, still watching the new Defense teacher closely.

“Pardon?” Ginny asked.

“She told us a bit about all the other new teachers, but nothing about this one,” Hermione said.

“Do you know anything, Liz?” Siobhan asked. By taking her exams so much later than the others, Liz was privy to more of the current changes.

“No. She never mentioned her,” Liz replied.

“It’s been a long day, and I daresay you must all be feeling it. Fifth-year prefects will escort your new Housemates, and I shall see you at the Memorial tomorrow,” Professor McGonagall said. “Good night.”

The sounds of benches scraping along the floor and the increase in chatter filled the Hall. Parvati and Hermione leaned their heads together, discussing the new teachers, no doubt. This was Ginny’s chance to escape unnoticed. She allowed the crowd to swallow her as she made her way purposefully through the throng. She broke off on the fifth floor, and instead of heading toward Gryffindor Tower, she steeled her resolve as she headed for the corridor where she knew Fred had met his demise.

Her feet dragged as she slowly approached the castle wall. It had been repaired, and no sign of the destruction that had happened here remained. Ginny ran her hand along the cool stone, remembering the flashes and chaos of the battle that had reigned that night. Here, alone in the corridor where her brother had perished, Ginny finally allowed the tears that had been threatening all day to fall. They streamed silently down her cheeks as her mind filled with images of that fateful night.

She’d met up with George and Lee Jordan, exhilarated as they entered the Great Hall. Lee was sharing a story of how he’d completely disorientated a group of Death Eaters with products from the twins’ shop. Her mum’s agonized wail had echoed throughout the Hall. She and George both knew their mum wouldn’t make that sound unless something truly awful had happened. Ginny’s first thought had been her dad, and she clambered around people in a rush to reach her family. George’s longer legs had allowed him to reach them first.

She watched his back stiffen as he stopped, dead still. It took Ginny’s brain a moment to process what she was seeing. Two identical faces, one so vibrant and alive, the other so still and unnaturally pale. George had fallen apart beside his lost twin, but Ginny felt frozen. She’d been unable to move, unable to process the horrendous truth in front of her eyes.

She’d lost Harry later that night, too, or at least she’d thought she had. Tom had come so close to winning. She felt as she did then, uncertain whether to laugh or cry. Such mixed emotions wrapped into a tight ball.

“Ginny,” a quiet voice spoke, startling her. Ginny spun around, wand drawn, to find a pale, blonde Slytherin watching her closely. She never flinched under Ginny’s fierce stare, and Ginny took note of the Head Girl badge attached to her robes.

“Astoria,” she said, her voice husky. Lowering her wand, Ginny quickly swiped her eyes.

“Are you all right?” Astoria asked, surprisingly gentle.

Ginny cleared her throat. “Yeah,” she said gruffly.

“Is this where… it happened?” Astoria asked. Although they’d never been friends — Gryffindors and Slytherins rarely were — Ginny had gained a grudging respect for the girl last year. She might look like a delicate flower, but Astoria Greengrass was fierce when standing up for what she believed in.

Ginny glanced at the wall again, a single sconce casting long shadows toward the window. The grounds were dark, and there was no light outside as there had been that night. No sounds of a raging battle, or Tom taunting them to hand over Harry. Time hadn’t stood still, and neither could she.

“Yeah. I wasn’t with him… but this is where it happened,” she said, her throat tight.

Astoria put a hand on Ginny’s shoulder and squeezed quickly before taking her hand away. “I’m supposed to clear the corridors, but I can give you a few minutes. I doubt you’re the only one revisiting painful memories tonight.”

Ginny shook her head. “I’m all right. This isn’t where I can find Fred’s memory. He’ll be more in the spots where students are causing trouble.”

He’d be on the Quidditch pitch, or in the fourth-floor corridor where a part of his swamp remained to this day. He’d be flying through the classrooms with Peeves causing disruption and mayhem. A spirit like Fred’s could never truly be extinguished.

Astoria grinned. “If you call me on it, I’ll never admit it, but he was a legend even in Slytherin. I’m glad I’m not the Head Girl who had to try and control any of your brothers.”

“Ahh, but you do have me to contend with, and I’m a Weasley through and through,” Ginny replied, feeling more cheerful than she had all day.

“I’ll consider myself warned,” Astoria said, bypassing Ginny to continue her rounds.

“Astoria,” Ginny called.

The blonde Slytherin turned, her face in the shadows.

“Thanks,” Ginny whispered.

Astoria nodded and continued on her way.

Ginny quietly headed toward Gryffindor Tower, not dawdling, per se, but not in any rush to get there, either. After enduring a disapproving scowl from the Fat Lady, she entered the common room, which was mercifully empty. The dying embers still glowed warmly, but the Tower was silent. As she was about to climb the stairs toward her dormitory, a scratching at the window caught her attention.

A regal-looking snowy owl was perched outside, pecking the window. She could see a scroll attached to his leg. Even this far from home, Harry always found a way to be there when she needed him.

ooOOoo

Harry sank down onto his new leather sofa in the sitting room at Grimmauld Place. After a full day of intense training on Potions — his most challenging class — he’d just finished meeting with the decorator who was going to transform the old house into something more palatable. He’d be glad to have it look different and hoped she could accomplish even some of her claims. This house brought back so many distressful memories, he found it hard to be inside for long.

He didn’t really know what to make of the decorator. She was brisk and forthright and had apparently translated Harry’s many ‘ers’ and shrugs to mean a vast number of things. The one thing he’d insisted on was that he didn’t want stuffy. He wanted a place to unwind and be comfortable.

Stuffy was the Dursleys. Comfortable was the Burrow — with more privacy.

The decorator… Harry’d already forgotten her name… paused every time he’d said that. She’d finally proposed that she make the entryway a grand room, something fitting his stature. Harry had actually cringed when she said it. Before he’d opened his mouth to argue, however, she’d promised the rest of the house would be private and casual. The grand entryway was simply a spot he could entertain any guests he needed to impress.

Harry rolled his eyes. He didn’t want to impress anyone, but he supposed she might know more about it than he did. He’d never even had a room of his own, never mind his own house. Dudley’s second bedroom was never really his.

As long as the decorator was handling all the details, he didn’t have to do it, and he supposed it would be easier to change anything he really didn’t like rather than start from scratch.

He reluctantly allowed his eyes to close. He was beat, but enjoying the moment of solitude. There was no privacy at the Burrow, and Mrs. Weasley still treated them all like children. A year ago, he was living on his own and hiding from Death Eaters. Now, a demon decorator was insisting he choose pillow fabrics and scorning his choices. He really wasn’t certain which was worse, but at least no one had tried to kill him today.

He snuggled down deeper into the comfort of the sofa and, as if sensing he was alone, Ron and George’s voices sounded from the front door.

“Harry! You here?” Ron called.

Harry sighed and pulled himself off the sofa. The leather made an odd, squeaking sort of sound as he stood.

“I’m in the sitting room,” he shouted, staring in consternation at the new red sofa. His vision swam with the memory of what Ron and Hermione had been doing on this sofa the last time he was here…

Shuddering, Harry cast a quick ‘Scourgify’ over the entire thing. Perhaps it wasn’t too late to get a refund.

Ron and George bounded into the room, arms laden with containers which Harry was certain were filled with leftovers from the Burrow.

“We brought food,” Ron said unnecessarily, already taking a bite out of a large sandwich.

“How’s your day?” George asked, sitting on the sofa and beginning to feast.

“Dull,” Harry replied, giving in and filling a plate with some of the offerings. Forgoing the sofa, he leaned against the table as he ate.

“What?” George gasped in mock horror. “No Death Eater attacks? No Dark Lord attempting to poison you? No dragons or Dementors or death threats to set your pulse racing? Is life getting boring already, mate?”

“Heh. No Dursleys either,” Ron said, his mouth full.

Harry smirked wryly. They could certainly be added to the list of D-words that had plagued him.

“No, but a cheeky decorator,” he sighed. He had spent his afternoon being told how amazingly stupid all his ideas on the house were.

“Elin’s sister is cheeky?” Ron asked, frowning. “That’s weird since she’s so straight and narrow.”

“I know. They couldn’t be more opposite,” Harry agreed. “Although I wouldn’t want to cross either of them.”

“Sounds like a challenge,” George said, waggling his eyebrows.

“Good luck,” Harry said, snorting. “She’d gut you like a fish.”

“She can be bloody scary, that one,” Ron agreed.

“Speaking of scary, heard from the littlest Weasley yet?” George asked.

“Nah. I ‘spect she’s still settling in,” Ron said, his mouth full.

George rolled his eyes. “I wasn’t talking to you, you tosser. I meant lover boy, here.”

Harry felt the color rising in his face despite the fact he knew George was only trying to wind him up. Doing his best to stifle his discomfort, he replied, “Yeah, I got an owl this morning.”

“Of course you did,” George said, smirking and making Harry want to hex him.

“She said they didn’t have any classes today,” he said instead, hoping to side-track Ginny’s mischievous brother.

“How come?” Ron asked.

“Professor McGonagall held some kind of memorial — just for the students, you know?” he said softly. Ginny had told him she’d visited the spot where Fred had perished, and it had given her an odd sense of peace. He hoped she wasn’t just saying that so he wouldn’t worry. He was plenty worried, anyway.

“That must’ve been cheerful,” George said, a bitter edge to his voice.

Harry felt a stab of panic. He hadn’t meant to bring George back down when he finally appeared to be pulling himself together.

“She also said there were a bunch of new professors. One of the wizards from the OWL Examinations is teaching Transfiguration,” he said quickly.

“Who’d they get for Defense?” George asked.

“Can’t imagine anyone wants that job,” Ron replied. “It’s cursed.”

“Not anymore,” Harry replied firmly. It annoyed him how many people still refused to say Voldemort’s name and appeared to fear him. What had they been fighting for if not to end all that? “She didn’t say much about whoever took that one, anyway.”

“I can’t imagine anyone wanting any of the teaching jobs there this year. Instead of children, they’re teaching a room full of war veterans,” George said soberly.

Harry frowned. He’d never quite considered it that way, but George was absolutely right. Most of the seventh years had fought in the Battle, and the majority of the younger students had basically been prisoners of war. How do you go back to being treated like a child after that?

“Never mind Hogwarts. Back to this decorator. Did she say when she’d finish so we can move in?” Ron asked eagerly. He, too, was ready to flee the constraints of the Burrow.

“She said two weeks,” Harry said, biting into his own sandwich.

George snorted derisively.

“What?’ Harry asked, frowning.

“You have seen this place, right? I think two weeks is pushing it,” he replied.

“Well, we really only the need the bedrooms and one bathroom done before we can move in. The rest of the renovations can continue while we’re here,” Harry said.

“Two weeks and I’m moving in whether it’s done or not,” Ron said, his mouth full.

George stuffed the last of his sandwich in his mouth. “So, what are we doing tonight?” he asked.

“I thought this is what we’re doing,” Harry replied, still feeling tired and hoping to go to bed early.

“Let’s go the Leaky Cauldron and see who’s about,” George said.

“Sounds good,” Ron replied.

Harry groaned. “I think I’ll pass—”

“No. Enough passing. You’re coming, Harry,” Ron insisted. “You can’t keep avoiding the crowds forever. You’re becoming a shut-in.”

“’Sides,” George said, “it’s a Tuesday night. It won’t be packed, and we’ll be your bodyguards.”

Harry groaned again. He wasn’t in the mood to deal with reporters and endless well-wishers. He never knew what to say when people groveled, and they seemed intent on doing it.

Before he’d had too much time to consider a way out, Ron and George had bustled him out the door, and they’d all Apparated to the Leaky Cauldron. Despite it being only Tuesday, the pub was bustling and busy. It was dimly lit and Harry had to squint as his eyes adjusted to the smoky air.

The rumble of the many conversations and various shrieks of laughter intermingled with the music blaring from the wireless. Harry kept his head down, following Ron as he pushed their way quickly through the crowd. George followed closely behind, barring any escape that might cross Harry’s mind.

“Owen!” Ron said suddenly, heading toward a booth along the back wall.

Harry recognized fellow Aurors Owen Savage and Ken Towler sharing a pint. Both men played on the same department Quidditch team as Harry and Ron. They grinned in greeting and shifted closer to the wall to make room in the booth. Harry quickly took a seat next to Owen while George sat opposite him, and Ron dragged over a stool. Harry hadn’t been spotted by the crowd, and he hoped to keep it that way.

“Good to see you, George,” Ken said warmly, reaching out to shake George’s hand.

“Towler, you old sea dog,” George replied. “How have you been?”

Harry had forgotten that the two had been roommates at Hogwarts. It seemed like another lifetime.

“Doing well, busy, but busy is good,” Ken said easily. He nodded his head toward each as he made the introductions. “Owen Savage, George Weasley.”

“Both of them play on our Quidditch team,” Ron told his brother, obviously pleased with the group.

“Weasley, eh?” Owen asked gruffly, the scar on his chin prominent. “Another effin’ ginger. Don’t you have any friends that aren’t bloody redheads, kid?”

Harry smirked. “Never gave it much thought.”

“I s’pose that brainy one who helped on our last case wasn’t ginger. There’s one,” Owen conceded.

Ron’s brow furrowed. “Hermione? She’s my girlfriend,” he said proudly.

Owen peered at Harry closely over the rim of his pint. “And you’re dating their sister, right? Bloody hell, you’re a tight lot.”

“I suppose saving the world will do that to you,” Ken said loudly. It was then Harry noticed his glazed eyes and Owen’s ruddy complexion. The pair had obviously been here a while.

“Well, I’ll be damned! It’s Harry Potter!” someone nearby shouted, and Harry’s shoulders slumped. Ken had been a bit too loud, and Harry’s luck remaining anonymous was at an end.

Shrieks and calls echoed throughout the bar as everyone craned their necks to get a better look. The barkeep dropped a tray and the shattering of glass pierced the cacophony of voices. Harry felt his face coloring when he caught snatches of the accolades and admiring pledges being shouted at him. He tried to melt into the booth.

“Stay sitting right there, Potter,” George said menacingly. “You’re not going to let them run you out again.”

Harry frowned. “They’re not going to leave us alone.”

Owen stared intently at Harry, his brow furrowed. “Huh. You’re not at all what I expected, kid,” the older man said.

“What d’you mean?” Harry asked warily.

Owen took a long swallow from his pint. “When we first heard you were joining the Aurors, we all thought you’d demand special attention and be a ruddy stuck-up wanker. I always assumed you’d enjoy all the attention.”

“I told you,” Ken said smugly. “Even in school he was a shy one.”

Harry scowled, but Ron grinned and nodded, obviously enjoying both the attention and Harry’s discomfort.

Hannah Abbott approached their table appearing harried and put a tray of lagers down heavily. “Hello, boys. These are from the gentlemen by the door,” she said hurriedly before bustling away.

George pushed one towards Harry before picking one up himself. Harry sighed, taking the bottle and raising it in salute to the anonymous gifters. He took a long swallow of the bitter brew.

“I heard you’re behind the Quidditch viewer we saw over at Harry’s place,” Ken said to George.

George beamed. “Yeah. It’s called an Action Twin. I can’t wait for the start of the season. We’re broadcasting it here.”

“I can’t wait for our season to start,” Ron said. “I want to play in a real match again.”

“Me, either,” Owen replied, toasting him. “Unfortunately, I think it’s going to coincide with the Dementor round up so we might not all get to play. We have to do something, they’re getting out of control. There was another attack up in York yesterday. You two are going to be pulled in on that, you know. Anyone who can cast a Patronus will be.”

“You reckon?” Ron asked. “Before completing all the training?”

While Ron looked excited, Harry felt uncomfortable. He’d do whatever needed to be done, but he really hated Dementors and had hoped to avoid that particular assignment.

Hannah returned with another tray of beers, some of her hair loosened from her bun. “The group at the bar this time, with their appreciation,” she said before hurrying away. Harry again toasted the gifters.

“You have amazing combat experience, and we’re too effin’ short-staffed not to bloody well use that. It doesn’t mean you get a ruddy pass on the training, however. You need to work on the fundamentals, especially Potions,” Owen said, glaring hard at Harry.

“I know,” Harry said, cringing. He’d been struggling particularly hard in his Potions review. It had always been toiling for him, but it was embarrassing to be the worst one in the class, and Harry felt his cheeks flaming.

“Transfiguration could use work, too,” Ken said unhelpfully.

“We never finished our last year,” Ron grumbled as he took a swill from his pint.

Owen shrugged carelessly. “So you’ll need to make up the work faster. Susan Bones finished her last year with high marks, but she was rubbish in the field. We all have strengths, but we need to strengthen our weaknesses.”

“Have you heard from Susan?” Harry asked curiously. Susan Bones had been a member of his Auror class, but she’d taken a curse during their last raid.

“She’s out,” Ken replied. “Dropped before you were even out of hospital. Despite how short-handed we are, not everyone is made for this job.”

“There’s a new class of Aurors beginning next week,” Ken said. “Instructor Pierce and I are going to try and manage both groups between the two of us. There’s another classmate of yours among the newbies — Neville Longbottom.”

“Neville?” Harry asked, startled.

“I didn’t know Neville wanted to be an Auror,” Ron said, equally surprised.

“He certainly rose to the occasion during the Battle,” Harry said.

Owen nodded. “The Minister is heavily recruiting from your DA. You all did well during the whole mess.”

Hannah appeared again with another round of drinks from yet another group. This was a round of shots, and Harry knew it was Firewhiskey by the tell-tale smoke rising from the glasses. “This is from the witches by the door,” she said, scowling slightly.

Harry glanced over to see a large group of young witches waving frantically. He nodded toward them causing them to erupt into shrieks and giggles.

George distributed the shots, and they all tossed them back quickly. Harry felt the burn going down and realized he was far less tense and unbothered by the crowds clamoring for his attention. Still, he’d learned his lesson with the Firewhiskey already and decided he’d better stick to the beer.

“So, will the trained Aurors who were partnered with us stay or move on to the next class?” Harry asked.

Owen smirked. “Dunno. Why? Tired of Dawlish already?”

“He and I don’t get on,” Harry said, shrugging. “We never have done.”

“He doesn’t get on with anybody. He’s always been a cock-up,” Owen replied causing the table to erupt with laughter.

They continued nursing their drinks, all the while disparaging one another with barbs and insults. Harry began to relax and enjoy himself. The alcohol made his insides feel warm, and it was fun to be out in the festive pub. Perhaps he had let his guard down a bit too soon.

Starting when someone touched his shoulder, he quickly turned to the side and found himself staring directly into the cleavage of a very curvy witch. His heart was thundering because she’d managed to approach without his notice. His eyes shot up instantly, as he choked on his beer. He could hear the sniggers from his mates, but ignored them.

“Harry Potter,” the witch sighed breathily. “I just couldn’t resist coming over to say hello despite that bossy waitress discouraging it. I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t take the chance.”

She smiled widely and fluttered her eyes while her hand began rubbing his shoulder.

“Er… hello,” Harry said warily, still trying to force down the flashbacks attempting to take over his mind.

“I’m just so grateful for all you’ve done for us. If there is any way I could repay you,” she said, nudging his hip as she sat down on the thin sliver of the booth next to him. “Anything at all.”
“That really isn’t necessary,” Harry replied, feeling nettled. The snorts from his mates were growing louder. He knew he was rubbish with girls, but the fact they were all sitting there watching and getting a laugh out of his discomfort really annoyed him.

The witch was very close, and Harry had to lean back slightly to keep their noses from touching.

“Your eyes are such an extraordinary shade of green. Have you enhanced them?” she asked, running her fingers along his face.

“All right. He appreciates your gratitude, but it’s time you run along,” George said aggressively from across the table.

“Who are you, his keeper?” she shot back, her expression hardening instantly.

“If you don’t mind, we were having a private discussion. It was nice to meet you,” Harry said firmly, shifting in his seat so she was forced to stand.

Her expression soured as she flounced away. “I’ll see you around, Harry.”

“You’re all a bunch of wankers,” Harry snapped, disgruntled. He took a long draught from his pint.

“She would’ve done anything you wanted,” Owen said appreciatively, leaning over to watch her backside as she walked away.

“Hey, he’s dating our sister,” George said indignantly. “And he’d better never do anything to hurt her.”

“Ginny and I can handle things just fine without any interference from you lot,” Harry said, narrowing his eyes at both Weasley brothers.

“Tough luck being mates with your girl’s brothers,” Owen said sympathetically, still watching the witch across the bar.

“Harry wouldn’t know what to do with her anyway,” George said, slurring his words. His eyes were very glassy. His manner always became more biting when he’d had too much to drink. “Ginny will be the one having her way with him before Harry makes a move. If she hasn’t already, that is.”

Harry choked on his beer, looking at George in shock.

“George!” Ron gasped. “Don’t talk about Ginny like that.”

“What? She’s a Weasley, isn’t she? She’s as randy as the rest of us,” George replied, unfazed.

Hannah appeared with yet another round looking distinctly overwhelmed. “From the group sitting next to the Floo,” she said, grimacing sympathetically at Harry.

Harry was ready to die. He knew coming here would be a mistake. Why hadn’t he insisted on going back to the Burrow and making it an early night like he’d wanted? Yeah, he was rubbish with girls, but it wasn’t like he’d had a lot of time or opportunity to refine any moves. He’d had other things on his mind. Besides, the fact he and Ginny hadn’t really done anything yet wasn’t due to lack of trying on his part.

“Hang on,” Owen said loudly. “Back up just one effin’ minute. Do you mean to tell me that Harry Potter, the savior of the wizarding world who could have any witch he desired with the snap of his fingers, is a bloody virgin?!?”

Harry slammed his elbow into Owen’s ribs, his face flaming as he tried to bolt from the table.

Ron pushed him back down, grinning manically.

“I could solve that problem for yeh, Harry,” a heavily made-up witch who happened to be walking past their table said throatily before winking at him.

His mates roared with laughter as Harry thumped his head into table hoping it would open up and swallow him. This couldn’t get any worse.

“What about after the Battle?” Owen asked incredulously. “Who would’ve turned you down then?”

“I was half-dead at the time,” Harry shouted, exasperated.

Hannah once again hurried over to their table, this time appearing much more alert and concerned. She leaned in rather urgently. “Thought I’d best warn you, several reporters are coming in through the Floo.”

Harry sat up quickly, not about to let the question of his virginity make tomorrow’s headlines. The room spun, and he had to grasp the table to remain upright.

“I’m going,” he said quickly, blinking to clear the spots that appeared in front of his eyes.

They all rose and surrounded him, shielding him from view as they walked out the front door just as the reporters rounded the corner and headed toward the booth where they’d been sitting. Harry wobbled and swayed slightly, but Ron and George kept righting him between them. He might’ve been ready to throttle them, but they’d all had his back when he needed it.

“That was close,” Ron said.

“None of you should probably Apparate,” George said. “Why don’t you come to my shop and use the Floo from there?”

“I’m parked on the Muggle side,” Ken said. “Owen, can you cast a Sobering Charm so I can drive?”

Owen quickly complied, and Ken shook his head as the charm took effect.

Harry looked at him questioningly.

“I’m Muggle-born, and my family still lives in the Muggle world, so I need a method of travel that works there,” he explained.

“So you have a car?” Harry asked, realizing his words were slightly slurred.

“Not a car. A motorcycle — closest thing to flying you’ll ever experience,” Ken said with a grin.

Harry knew that Sirius had a motorbike. He wondered if that’s how Sirius had felt, too.

“See you tomorrow, Ken,” Owen called, following the others to Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes.

“Can you do one of those Sobering Charms on us, too?” Ron asked, wobbling a bit himself.

Owen shrugged. “I could if you’d rather Apparate. It only lasts a couple hours though. You still need to get the alcohol out of your system.”

“Oh,” Ron said glumly.

“I hope none of that is in the papers tomorrow,” Harry said, still wondering what the reporters knew.

Owen and Ron laughed loudly, and George leaned over to Harry. “Do you need a hug?”

Harry shoved George away and kept walking unevenly. He really should’ve just gone home.


Back to index


Chapter 3: Bitterness of the Past

Author's Notes: Hello everyone, and thanks for the welcome back. I had a few people push me along the way to finish this one up, and I wanted to give them a shout out. I used to call them pre-beta's but I've recently heard the term alphas - someone who reads ahead and shares thoughts and helps work out plot points when you're stuck. That's exactly what Arnel and Ryan have done for me. Sometimes just talking things out gets the creative muse flowing again, and their influence is a big part of this story. I think Arnel knows more about canon and even the way words and spells are used in canon than anyone I know. She's also a great cook and helped me with making sure my foods were British enough. Ryan graciously accepts texts at midnight that go something like... "Hmm, I really haven't had Harry unconscious in a while, have I?" ... and he just goes with it. And, of course, there is my long-time beta and partner in crime - Sherrilyn - who adds laughter into the middle of her notes and works her magic to get the site back up and working. She's endlessly patient and kind and makes sure these stories are coherent. I really appreciate all of you!


Chapter Three
Bitterness of the Past



Ginny hurried along the corridor after her last class of the day. She was immensely relieved to be done, but a staggering amount of homework loomed over her that weekend. She wanted to snag the common room’s large table for her study group. She had to make a dent in this homework if she wanted to have any peace at Quidditch try-outs the next day.

Being back at school, Hermione was in her element, but Ginny couldn’t help feeling somewhat blasé about the whole academic setting.

Hogwarts could never be the same.

She was moving too fast around a corner and ploughed into a bunch of first-year girls, upending their books and papers all over the corridor, and even knocking one little Ravenclaw to the floor.

“Oh! Pardon, I’m so sorry,” she said, pulling the little girl to her feet and dusting her robes.

The wide-eyed first year just stared at her, seeming at a loss for words. Ginny was afraid the girl might be concussed. “Are you all right? Did you bang your head?”

The girl shook her head meekly, her dark fringe bobbing to and fro. The other girls began tittering as they picked up their bits and bobs.

Ginny shook her head, giving it up as a lost cause. “Well, if you’re all right then, I really have to dash.”

As she hurried around the corner, she heard one of the girls squeal, “That was Ginny Weasley. She’s the one who’s dating Harry Potter!”

“Can you imagine?” another one said dreamily. “I bet he’s soooo romantic.”

Ginny didn’t hear the rest as she hurried toward the common room. She’d been getting that all week, not only from the younger students, but some of the older ones as well. Even Gryffindors had been not-so-subtly trying to wheedle private information out of her about the savior of the wizarding world. Harry had been at school with most of them, but he’d always been so private, and their curiosity was at a fever pitch once again.

It amused Ginny, but she knew how much Harry would hate all the attention. Still, it wouldn’t stop her from teasing him relentlessly when she finally saw him again.

When she arrived at the portrait hole, she hurried through and was relieved to see the big table was still empty. She quickly dropped her bag and began spreading out her History of Magic homework.

Professor Nutcombe was an improvement over Professor Binns in some ways, but not so much in others. He gave a lot of homework and was meticulous about details. Hermione-level meticulous. They weren’t covering a lot of the goblin rebellions, which made everyone happy, but they spent a lot of time talking about the first rise of Voldemort.

The new professor tended to ask a lot of questions about everyone’s roles during the war, and Ginny suspected he was compiling his own book about Voldemort’s second rise. She was very wary of sharing much information, although she didn’t know why. He was obviously an avid historian, but she found him rather obsessive.

Of course, most of her classmates only wanted to talk about was how handsome he was. Although he wasn’t vain, in some ways he reminded Ginny of Professor Lockhart. He was less flamboyant and definitely smarter, but Ginny really didn’t have a favorable opinion of Professor Lockhart, so Nutcombe was already starting at a disadvantage. She supposed there would be a lot of people writing books about the war, and at least Professor Nutcombe appeared to be searching for the historical side rather than just gossip. Still, she wasn’t ready to let her guard down.

The portrait hole opened, and Hermione, Parvati, Siobhan and Liz all climbed through. Hermione led the way towards Ginny’s table.

“Why did you leave in such a hurry?” she asked, brushing her unruly hair from her face. After a long day of classes, the neat plait Hermione had created that morning seemed to have exploded.

“I wanted to get this table. Did you notice how much work we have to do?” Ginny asked, feeling overwhelmed.

“I know,” Liz said grumpily, dropping her heavy bag, and sinking into a chair. “We’re not going to get any free time this weekend.”

“Well, I have to,” Ginny said firmly. “Try-outs are tomorrow.”

“So what are we starting with?” Siobhan asked resignedly.

“History of Magic,” Ginny replied. “We have that essay on the origins of the Unforgivables. I think that will take the most time.”

The fact it would be the most difficult for a lot of them went unsaid.

“Boo yah, just what I want to spend my weekend thinking about,” Siobhan said, sighing.

“Oh, must we?” Liz asked harshly. “What is that man thinking, assigning an essay like this right off the bat? Does he really think we all need to be reminded of how many Unforgivables were cast in this castle all last year?”

“Did it happen a lot?” Hermione asked, looking startled. She held her breath as she looked at the bitter faces of her classmates. Hermione bit her lip, and Ginny knew she’d been dying to ask but was still afraid of the answers.

“Ask Ginny — she was the first,” Liz snapped, her eyes blazing. “The Carrows burst into our common room on the first night back looking for Harry. Ginny sassed them, and they hit her with the Cruciatus before we even knew what was going on. It was right there on that rug behind you. We were all too stunned to move.”

“Ginny?” Hermione asked, her eyes wide. Ginny hadn’t given anyone all the details of what had happened at Hogwarts the previous year. Harry knew most of it, but she’d been most reticent to share with Hermione or the rest of her family.

“I don’t know what would’ve happened if McGonagall hadn’t come in when she did. They didn’t want to curse students in front of her — at least at that point,” Siobhan said bitterly.

Ginny shuddered, remembering the horror of that first night back a year ago. She’d been sitting in this very room catching up with her roommates when Amycus and Alecto Carrow had stormed in. They’d zeroed in on her, demanding to know Harry’s whereabouts. She’d played her role and told them she wouldn’t know since he’d dumped her. She had heard he was chasing after some Veela harlot, but they were welcome to give him her best.

The curse came suddenly and without warning, slamming into her and knocking her back against the chair in which she’d been sitting. There had been no way to contain her scream. It felt as if her blood were boiling, as if a herd of raging hippogriffs were trampling her, spilling her insides all over the common room floor.

At that point, she knew Harry had suffered under this curse several times, but she’d never truly appreciated the utter agony until that day. Thank Merlin Professor McGonagall intervened. She didn’t think she could’ve lasted much longer and remained sane.

None of her friends — or any of the older Gryffindors — had bought her lie, but they’d all backed her up with her break up story after that. Romilda Vane seemed to have convinced herself it was true and had tormented Ginny with Veela stories repeatedly.

Liz continued with the story, “It was quiet for a few weeks after that, but everyone knew what happened, you know how rumors spread here. The Carrows liked the fear, seemed to relish it, honestly. There was a lot of threats and intimidation, a bit of physical shoving, but…”

“I think it was Simon Teevens who was the next victim,” Parvati said, picking up the story, her voice distant, her eyes far away. “They cursed him for defending a younger student who was being berated. Padma told me it happened really fast, just like with Ginny. That weekend was a Hogsmeade weekend, so my parents showed up in these wonky disguises and whisked us away. We hid with relatives until Padma noticed our DA coins flaring the night of the Battle.”

“The Carrows went ballistic once you’d disappeared. Luna told me they put nearly half of the Ravenclaws under the Imperius to find out where you’d gone, but no one knew,” Ginny said. “All Hogsmeade visits were cancelled after that. That’s when they started making us use the Cruciatus against each other in class.”

“They were already unhinged when they arrived, but this sent them over the edge. We all thought Snape allowed it, but now… I think maybe he tried to reign them in and things settled down for a bit,” Liz said thoughtfully. “The curses from fellow students were tentative, not as harsh or painful as when the Carrows did it themselves.”

“That’s when the DA re-formed, and we started fighting back,” Ginny said.

“What do you mean?” Hermione asked shrilly. Her eyes were wide and she kept tossing her head between the speakers. She was really struggling to reconcile all this with her beloved Hogwarts. Ginny supposed it would be hard for anyone who hadn’t actually been there.

“It was epic. The DA gave everyone such hope by standing up to them, like Harry did to Umbridge back in fourth year,” Siobhan said.

“We removed the Undesirable Number One wanted posters, or put graffiti over them. It drove the Carrows spare because they couldn’t work out who was doing it,” Liz said, smiling fondly.

“But you weren’t in the DA,” Hermione said, apparently still having trouble wrapping her mind around all the changes.

“Not the original, but it grew,” Siobhan said absently. “Dumbledore’s Army was still recruiting. Everyone needed to do something, and the DA gave us all some of our power back.”

Hermione looked shocked, and it angered Ginny. She knew there was no way the other girl could’ve known since Ginny herself hadn’t shared, but she didn’t feel like being reasonable. She wanted to lash out.

“I told you it was no picnic here last year. You think because they were in a school they wouldn’t do the same kinds of things they were doing out there?” she snapped.

“I’m sorry,” Hermione said tearfully.

“It was after Ginny didn’t return from Easter hols that it got really bad,” Liz whispered.

“Neville said they’d insisted you practice Unforgivables on first years,” Ginny said, her chest tight.

“Yeah, as a result,” Liz said bitterly.

“Liz—¬¬¬” Siobhan said warningly.

Ginny knew she was missing something. “What?” she asked, frowning. “What don’t I know?”

“It doesn’t matter—” Siobhan said, placating.

“They came looking for you on the night you didn’t return. They thought we knew something,” Liz said softly, a hard edge to her voice.

“You two?” Ginny asked in dread, knowing where this was going. Bill had arrived at the Burrow in a panic, evacuating them all to Auntie Muriel’s in a whirlwind. There hadn’t been time to send an owl to warn anyone, and Ginny’s DA coin had been packed away in her haste to flee the Burrow.

“And Anna. They dragged us all out of bed,” Liz said shortly.

Ginny’s thoughts strayed to sweet Anna who never hurt anyone, and she thought the guilt would choke her. The Weasleys had to go into hiding because Ron had been spotted. The game was up, and the Death Eaters knew he wasn’t hidden away sick in the attic like they’d pretended all year long.

“It’s not your fault, Ginny,” Siobhan said firmly. “It was a good thing you didn’t come back. Harry had escaped their clutches again, and they were desperate. They wanted you for a reason, and I don’t think McGonagall would’ve been able to do anything about it this time.”

“I never meant to get you Cursed,” Ginny whispered.

“You didn’t. The Carrows did that, and if they caught you to use as bait, I think Harry would’ve come, and all would’ve been lost,” Siobhan said earnestly.

“He would’ve,” Hermione agreed solemnly. “It would’ve been the Department of Mysteries all over again.”

Ginny swallowed hard. She’d never wanted to be Harry’s weakness, but she knew it was true. Despite all the loss and devastation, things had worked out in the end. Voldemort was gone, and they all had a chance for a brighter future. She had to remember that when she felt the bitterness taking hold.

“That’s when we started sleeping in the Room of Requirement, so they couldn’t get us at night again,” Liz said.

“So, yeah, any essay on the Unforgivables isn’t going to go well. What d’you think he’s up to?” Siobhan asked, her sarcasm returning.

“Well, they were a great part of the war, and he is emphasizing the history, not how to cast one,” Hermione said diplomatically.

“I don’t like him,” Ginny replied bluntly.

“Oh, but he’s soo handsome,” Parvati said, sighing.

Ginny rolled her eyes. “I don’t think he’s a Death Eater in disguise. I think he’s just so enthralled with the history aspect, he forgets he’s standing amidst the real people who went through it all.”

“Academic versus emotional. He is rather cold when he isn’t discussing something that happened two hundred years ago,” Liz said.

Hermione shifted, looking uncomfortable. Ginny supposed Hermione could get the same way sometimes — so focused on understanding the question that she’d forget about the feelings involved. Hermione did feel it, however, but sometimes her brain got ahead of her.

“Let’s just get started. I want to have some time off this weekend,” Parvati said grumpily, and they all pulled out their history books.

ooOOoo

The next morning dawned cool and clear — perfect weather for Quidditch try-outs. This far north, the afternoons were sunny and pleasant, but a distinct chill was seeping into the air that spoke of winter’s coming. Ginny had risen early, grabbed some toast, and hurried out to the pitch to await the candidates. She’d wanted some time alone to clear her head. Her entire future could depend on the choices she made today. She had to put sentimentality aside and choose the right team.

Ginny placed her Firebolt on the bench and took a deep breath, fingering the letter in her pocket. Harry had been a faithful — if less than verbose — correspondent. His owl, Zeus, faithfully delivered a missive each morning, letting her know what he’d practiced at training each day. He sounded pleased — if a bit frustrated — with Auror classes, but positively flummoxed by his Demon Decorator (his exact phrasing).

His letters made her laugh, and she hoped this decorator could fulfill her promises. Harry would be happier with some space of his own — not to mention it would give them the previously impossible opportunity for some privacy.

Ginny still wasn’t positive what she wanted to do with that privacy, but she knew she wanted to discover her limitations. A small, secret grin splayed across her face as she thought of the expression on Harry’s face if he could read what was on her mind.
“Ginny!” a voice called, interrupting her improper thoughts.

She turned to see Demelza Robbins hurrying towards her, her own broom tossed haphazardly over her shoulder.

“Are you ready for this?” Demelza asked enthusiastically. Demelza loved Quidditch as much as Ginny did. Ginny suspected it was the reason she adored playing with her so much.

“I’m ready, are you?” Ginny asked, knowing the answer.

“I was born ready,” Demelza replied, grinning. Her dark eyes roamed the pitch, squinting up at the hoops. “Good weather for it. I saw Ritchie and Jimmy stuffing their faces in the Great Hall. They should be here shortly.”

“I’ve been here for about a half hour, and no sign of any rogue Bludgers. Remember how many times Harry was hit at practice the last time we had a proper team?” Ginny asked, laughing.

“That’s because he was too busy trying to slyly stare at you. We all knew what he was doing,” Demelza said, rolling her eyes. “How are we ever going to replace him? Even obsessing over you he could still catch the Snitch.”

“He wasn’t obsessing,” Ginny mumbled, her face coloring. She’d suspected Harry had been staring, but she didn’t know everyone else had noticed it.

“Don’t fool yourself, Ginny. He was smitten. From what I’ve seen, he still is,” Demelza said, teasing.

Ginny blushed to the roots of her hair. She hoped he’d stay smitten with this long distance between them.

“Do you remember what happened that last year we had Quidditch? At try-outs, I mean, when he was captain?” Demelza asked, biting her bottom lip.

Ginny thought back. “A lot of people showed up — some of them weren’t even from Gryffindor,” she said.

Demelza nodded. “They came to see him. I think we might be in for more of the same.”

“But… he’s not here,” Ginny said, blinking.

“But you are, and with all the reports in the Prophet, you’re the only connection some of them can get. I think we’re going to have a lot of non-serious Quidditch players here today,” Demelza warned.

Ginny grinned evilly, “Then we’ll have to show them our expectations. Tell Jimmy and Ritchie to whack a Bludger at anyone who doesn’t seem to be paying real attention.”

Demelza’s eyes widened in surprise before her gleaming white teeth brightened her whole face. “I can do that.”

The stands were beginning to fill with prospective players. Ginny put on her game face, and glanced at her sign-up sheet. Jimmy and Ritchie crossed the pitch towards them, Jimmy still chewing the remains of his breakfast.

“We’re starting with Keepers and Chasers. We can do them together. Demelza, you line up the Chasers, Ritchie, you can handle the Keepers,” Ginny said, frowning as she noticed Hermione crossing the pitch.

“What are you doing here?” she asked, perplexed. Hermione was never a fan of Quidditch.

“Erm… I thought I could help,” Hermione said timidly. “I’ve made you a chart of all your players so far and their strengths and weaknesses. I thought it might help in narrowing down where you might need help.”

Ginny’s eyes roamed over the detailed spreadsheet Hermione had compiled. “Hermione, this is brilliant,” she said. “Thank you!”

Hermione beamed at her.

“I tell you what, sit up in the stands and I’ll come talk with you before my final decisions,” Ginny said, smiling. It was her team, but she wasn’t foolish enough to turn down help. Hermione might be rubbish at playing Quidditch, but she had an eye for detail and the mundane side of things that Ginny couldn’t be bothered with. Hermione’s lack of passion might be just what Ginny needed to put together this team.

As the trials began, she was dismayed to realize that Demelza had been right — there were far more candidates than there ought to be, and a majority of them were from other Houses. Even more daunting, she could see Brynn Dempsey and her pack of snooty Ravenclaws sitting in the stands. Ginny would bet they were there to watch her fail. She wasn’t going to give them the satisfaction.

Honestly, after everything they’d all gone through last year, shouldn’t the cattiness be a distant memory? Apparently not.

She also noticed her group of first years were up there — her and Harry’s fan club, she thought with a snort. She wondered what he’d make of it all, although he was probably used to it by now. To her, it was a novelty.

“All right, you lot,” she shouted, stomping to the center of the pitch, and casting a Sonorous Charm so her voice would carry. “I thought coming to Hogwarts meant we were bright, but see, the Gryffindor Quidditch try-outs means you actually have to be part of Gryffindor House, not just want to be. Anyone from the other Houses, clear off.”

There were some grumblings and sneers about not wanting to be Gryffindor, but the lot of candidates shrank considerably as the others went to sit in the stands. Ginny noticed that Brynn’s pack grew even larger. She cast her eyes around who was left, and felt a flash of irritation as she noticed Romilda Vane’s curly dark locks amongst them. She wasn’t with the groups of Chasers or Keepers, so Ginny surmised that Romilda was trying out for Seeker.

Merlin’s pants.

There were only four candidates trying out for the Seeker position — not nearly as many as she’d hoped. Apparently, brave Gryffindors or not, nobody wanted to be the first to try and fill Harry’s shoes.

As the trials wore on, Ginny narrowed down her picks. She grabbed Demelza and dragged her up into the stands to where Hermione was sitting.

“Muffliato,” she said quickly.

Hermione frowned. “I really don’t like that spell.”

Ginny rolled her eyes. “My patience is thin, and there are way too many people here. I don’t want other Houses to know what I’m doing before I work it out,” she said testily.

Demelza smirked, accustomed to Ginny’s temper. “I think the only definite is the Keeper.”

Ginny pursed her lips, knowing she was right but still not liking it.

“Well, he was obviously better than all the others,” Hermione said hesitantly.

“All right. Bailey McLaggen is Keeper,” Ginny said. “He just better play his position and leave everyone else to theirs.”

“You have to give him a chance. He’s not Cormac,” Hermione said fairly.

“And if he acts up, you can easily curse him. He’s only a fourth year,” Demelza said, grinning. “Since we’re making uncomfortable choices — Dean was the best Chaser. He knows what he’s doing, and the experience will help.”

Ginny frowned. She knew it was true. She was being ridiculous. She had to let go of the past if she expected everyone else to do it. “Okay, so Bailey and Dean. What about a Seeker? I didn’t think any of them were bad — but none of them really stood out, either.”

“You didn’t think Romilda was bad? She fell off her broom twice,” Demelza said, horrified.

“Oh, I wasn’t including Romilda seriously. She’s only here to get news on Harry. No, I meant between the other three candidates. Did your spreadsheet show us anything, Hermione?” Ginny asked.

“Not really. The littlest one was quickest, but the girl with two braids wasn’t much slower, and she seemed to anticipate the Snitch’s movement better,” Hermione said, pulling out the spreadsheet and indicating the Seeker notes she’d made.

“The girl with the braids is Wendy Chambers. Her older brother played for Ravenclaw a few years ago, apparently,” Demelza said.

“So, it’s in her blood, anyway,” Ginny said slowly. “Let’s give her a shot. What year is she?”

“She’s a third year,” Demelza said.

“That’s good, plenty of time to train her up,” Ginny said.

“And how about me? Are you keeping me?” Demelza asked, grinning.

“Don’t be ridiculous. You’re my best player, and more likely than not captain of next year’s team. Of course I’m keeping you,” Ginny said, scoffing.

Demelza grinned widely. “I know. I just like hearing you say it.”

“Let’s call ‘em in and give them the news. I hope Romilda doesn’t throw a fit. I’m hungry, and it’s past lunch,” Ginny said, cancelling her Muffliato and moving back onto the pitch.

ooOOoo

Harry sighed, watching his classmates file out of the cramped room for a lunch break. He had begged off and stayed behind to gain a little more revising time before his Potions quiz that afternoon. He wasn’t certain it would help, it seemed he bombed them no matter what he did. Much the same as it had been at Hogwarts, Harry and Potions just didn’t get on. He’d been half-tempted to pop up to Hogwarts to check if his old Potions book had survived the Fiendfyre.

Almost, but not quite.

Ginny wrote that she hadn’t been up to check on the Room of Requirement yet, either. Some memories from the war were still very raw.

An added bonus to staying behind in his classroom meant there was no chance of running into Owen Savage. Since their night at the Leaky Cauldron, Owen had been taking immense pleasure in needling Harry about his lack of experience. Mercifully, there had been nothing in the papers, and Owen hadn’t shared the sordid details with Harry’s entire class. Still, Harry feared it was only a matter of time.

It didn’t help that Ron found the whole situation hilarious. Ron’s teasing rankled Harry more than it should. He’d grown up learning to tune out all sorts of taunts, but this was different. Ron knew, and Harry didn’t, and it left him wrong-footed. He wasn’t proud of it, but he didn’t like Ron having the upper hand.

Of course, besides Ron, the one other classmate who had heard all about it was Violet Benson. She somehow found out everything that was going on at the Ministry on a regular basis. She was a bit like the twi… George that way.

Harry turned his head back to his work when a group of trainees stopped on their way past the open classroom door. He thought they might be part of the new Auror class who’d just begun. Neville was part of that class, but this group was made up entirely of witches.

“Hi, Harry,” they all chorused. He had no idea who they were, but they obviously knew him. Story of his life.

“We’re going over to the Leaky Cauldron for lunch if you’d like to join,” one of the witches said, smiling widely.

“It would do you good to have some fun. You’re always so busy,” another said.

Harry politely declined, shifting uncomfortably, and put his head back to his notes.

“You’re going to have to learn to handle the witches,” a caustic voice said behind him.

He whirled around to find Violet sitting at an empty desk, twirling one dark lock of curly hair around her quill with an amused smirk. He’d been unaware she’d also stayed behind, and his heart thundered in his chest at being caught unawares. He struggled to control the slight tremor in his hands.

“Violet,” he said, gasping.

“They’re right about one thing, you do work too hard,” she said.

Harry grunted noncommittedly.

“Are you not hungry, or is it just the witches you try to avoid?” she asked, persisting despite his obvious lack of enthusiasm for the subject.

“We have a Potions quiz this afternoon,” he replied, hoping she’d get the hint that he was trying to revise.

“Seriously, Harry. You’ve got to get it together when they pounce. There isn’t a witch alive today that wouldn’t like to try and get her claws into you.”

“You haven’t,” Harry countered, giving up on getting any work done.

“That’s because I like all the attention in a relationship to be on me,” Violet said primly.

Harry smiled grudgingly. Was that why he liked Violet? Because he knew she had no real interest in him or any ulterior motives.

“You need to have confidence in you, and not worry about what they want from you. They can believe what they like, you know what you want — and I don’t think it’s them. You’re allowed to go out with friends, regardless of what the papers say — or if it leads one of those witches to think they stand a chance with the Chosen One,” she said, as if the title left a sour taste.

That particular title always left Harry with a sour taste, as well.

“But isn’t letting them believe I’m interested the same as leading them on?” Harry asked. He knew his heart belonged to Ginny, but he was completely flummoxed by what these witches expected, and he hoped she could offer some insight. Her advice for his date with Ginny over the summer had been brilliant.

Violet shook her head pityingly. “Oh, they’re going to eat you alive.”

Harry frowned, not enjoying the scrutiny. “Is there something you wanted, Violet?” he asked. If she was just going to poke fun at him, he could get that at the Burrow.
“Harry!” George Weasley said, poking his head into the classroom. His shirt was rumpled, and his eyes appeared bloodshot. George had been doing better lately, but Harry suspected his sobriety might have slipped.

“What are you doing here, George?” he asked without any bite to his words.

“Stopped in to catch up with Dad, but I think he’s at lunch. Didn’t realize the time. Why are you here?” George asked.

“Because he’s avoiding his adoring fans,” Violet said, amused.

George smiled devilishly and strolled into the classroom. “I don’t believe we’ve met. George Weasley, at your service.” He stuck out his hand, which Violet took with amusement shining in her eyes. Harry just knew getting these two together would mean trouble for him.

“Violet Benson. You must be Ron’s brother.”

“Certainly I don’t resemble that oaf in any way,” George said in mock horror.

“The freckles are a bit of a giveaway,” she said, smiling. “Ron’s gone to lunch.”

“Harry and I are just about to head out now. Why don’t you join us?” George asked gallantly.

“I’m not going to lunch. I need to prepare for this quiz,” Harry said, frowning.

Violet rolled her eyes. “Oh, if you don’t have it now, Potter, just give it up as a lost cause.”

“Easy for you to say — you’re scoring very well in Potions.”

“I can quiz you during lunch then,” she replied breezily.

“I’m not going to lunch,” Harry insisted.

George placed a hand over his heart dramatically. “I would be derelict in my duty to my poor, overwrought mother if I allowed you to miss a meal, Harrikins. She’s under the impression you’re about to fade away from malnourishment. She’ll be devastated when I tell her you’re skipping.”

“Then don’t tell her,” Harry said, snapping and unimpressed with George’s melodrama.

Violet, on the other hand, was cackling unabashedly.

“Are you suggesting I lie to my saintly mum?” George asked, horrified.

Throwing his hands up in frustration, Harry finally slammed his book shut. “Where are we going?” he asked, resigned

“The cafeteria is quick and easy, and your lovely classmate can still quiz you on your material. Win-win for everyone,” George said, standing by the door and sweeping his arm in an ‘after you’ gesture.

“Definitely doesn’t feel like a win,” Harry said, grumbling.

George and Violet both grinned as he picked up his books and followed them from the room. The three walked down to the cafeteria, garnering strange looks from several Ministry employees due to Harry’s sullen expression and the loud laughter of his two companions.

The cafeteria wasn’t overly full, and the three managed to get sandwiches and crisps without delay. Harry settled on a toasted cheese and tomato with a steaming mug of soup. Violet had either found an empty table or scared its former occupants off, because she was alone when he and George arrived with their food.

As promised, Violet attempted to help Harry prepare for his quiz, but even with her useful hints, he felt dismal about his chances of passing.

“Harry, I’m saddened you didn’t automatically think of me if you needed guidance on the fine art of potion-making. With the absence of your wise and all-knowing bushy-haired friend, I should have been your next thought,” George said, sighing.

Harry wasn’t taking that bait. “George, you barely scraped three OWLs.”

“Ahh, but one of those was in Potions. I would think the brilliance of my product line would’ve clued you in to the fact I’m a steady hand at Potions.”

Harry paused for a moment, considering. He’d never really given it much thought, but even Hermione had admitted that the level of spellwork involved in many of their products was brilliant. Of course he and Fred both would’ve had to be good at Potions.

“And you said you knew I was doing okay with it. You could have just asked for some help,” Violet said.

Harry shrugged. He didn’t know why he’d never thought to ask — it simply hadn’t occurred to him.

“You helped me with my Patronus, why shouldn’t I help you with this?” Violet asked, and Harry had the distinct impression she wanted to call him a daft idiot. Perhaps when it came to Potions he was, and Snape had been right all along.

“Harry — it’s okay to need a little help from your friends now and then,” George said, surprisingly gentle.

Harry shifted uncomfortably. It wasn’t that he didn’t want the help. He knew he needed it. Truthfully, he just hadn’t thought to ask, but he didn’t want to say that, either. He sat munching on his toasted cheese while George and Violet pointed out relevant bits, and as he was finishing his sandwich, he felt marginally better. He still might bomb this quiz, but with their help, he’d be in better shape for the next one. His peaceful musings were shattered by a loud voice entering the cafeteria swearing up a storm. He looked up in time to see Owen Savage making a beeline for his small group.

Harry groaned.

“George, ya bloody lunatic. What are you doing with the trainees?” Owen asked loudly, slamming his lunch tray on the table. “You spend enough time with this effing lot, maybe you ought to join the class.”

“And deny the world my prankster genius? Ah, that would be truly devastating,” George replied easily.

“What are you doing here, Owen? I thought there was some big meeting going on this afternoon?” Violet asked.

Harry frowned. He hadn’t heard anything about a meeting.

“Yeah, I have just long enough to wolf this down. I’m not going into a meeting to discuss the Dementor problem on an empty stomach. They last forever with all the bickering,” Owen replied, taking a large bite of his sandwich.

“I thought they were ready to start rounding them up,” Harry said.

“The higher ups are still arguing about what to do with them once they get ‘em. They can’t be trusted back at Azkaban; there’s no way to destroy them unless you starve them, and some are arguing that’s inhumane, so we’re stuck. In the meantime, their ambushes are becoming organized attacks. Something has to be done,” Owen replied grimly.

“Inhumane? So, what do they think is the point in keeping them around?” George asked incredulously.

“Dunno. An activist for every cause, I suppose. Just means lots of red tape, we all run around in circles and nothing gets done.”

“While innocents have their souls sucked out,” Harry said, disgusted. “I thought we were changing the Ministry with this new regime.”

“Change is a slow process. There are still plenty who benefitted under the old regime trying to throw cogs in the wheel,” Owen said, sighing.

“The old regime were Death Eaters,” Harry said indignantly, causing several heads to turn and stare in their direction.

“Not all of them. There are still many old politicians who are used to a little grease in getting things moving. The Minister is working on changing the process, but it won’t happen overnight. Besides, I don’t think anyone is making gold off Dementors, although they’re not opposed to looking for ways to try. Some are just daft and want to give rights to all creatures, dangerous or otherwise,” Owen replied, finishing up his sandwich.

Harry was uncomfortably reminded of S.P.E.W. Something else was tugging at the corner of his brain, and he paused, going back over the conversation. “Hang on… you said the attacks were becoming organized. Who’s organizing them?”

A cold trickle of dread dropped into his stomach, turning what he’d eaten of his sandwich into ash.

Owen looked up, staring directly at Harry and nodding appreciatively. “That’s the million Galleon question, innit?”

Harrys mind raced. Even Voldemort had never fully controlled the Dementors, and he didn’t think any of his missing followers had that kind of power, so that would mean… “Do you think they’re organizing themselves? Evolving somehow?”

Owen grimaced. “Some do, and therein lies the problem. If they’re evolving, some of the activists want to study them.”

“But… what about the people being attacked now?” George asked, troubled. “They can’t just be allowed to feast at will.”

“Something will probably change with this afternoon’s meeting. The attacks are getting closer and closer to London. Keep practicing your Patronus,” Owen said.

“Maybe we could get our group together to practice over the weekend,” Violet said, turning toward Harry.

“Practicing sounds good, but it’ll have to be Sunday. I’m moving on Saturday,” Harry said, feeling a thrill of excitement.

“The decorator is actually finished?” George asked incredulously.

Harry’s demon decorator had been promising Grimmauld Place would be finished ‘in two weeks’ for over a month now.

“Well, not all of it, but the living space we need is ready, so Ron and I are moving,” Harry said.

“I’ll be there,” George said quickly.

“Thanks!” Harry said, gratefully. He really didn’t own much, but Ron could use the help.

“Oh, I’m not helping you move. I just want to see the guilt trip Mum lays on both of you,” George said, grinning.

Harry gulped.

Back to index


Chapter 4: Revelations and Frustrations

Author's Notes: There’s a tribute in there to my wonderful Tom Brady. Did you see it? Go, Pats! (Heh – I wrote this part of the story ages ago, but I’m tickled at the timeliness of where it came out!)

To the SIYE reader - thanks SO much for the Trinket Award noms! Much appreciated


Chapter Four
Revelations and Frustrations



Ginny stumbled sleepily into the Great Hall, her feet tangling as she made a beeline for the coffee. Merlin, she hated mornings. Hermione had kept her up until all hours preparing for a Transfiguration exam.

Ginny still hated Transfiguration, but she had to admit, her marks had improved this year with Hermione’s return. No matter how swotty she could sometimes be, there was no denying Hermione’s brilliance. Ginny suspected it was down to Hermione that Ron had earned as many OWLs as he did.

Her friend sat beside her, bright-eyed and eager to begin their day. She calmly poured coffee for both of them. Ginny didn’t understand it — Hermione had been up as late as she had, yet didn’t appear the least bit tired. Ginny couldn’t even see straight.

“We have History of Magic first, so you have to try and keep all the Transfiguration facts in your head and not get derailed,” Hermione said. She’d been prattling on about the Transfiguration exam since they’d awoken, but this was truly the first statement Ginny had been able to process.

She took another sip of her coffee, her eyes wandering over the Great Hall and the teachers conversing amongst themselves at the head table. Weak morning sunlight streamed in through the windows, sparkling off the pitchers of pumpkin juice spread along the tables. For a moment, Ginny’s vision glazed, and a row of shrouded bodies against the far wall shimmered in the glare.

Sitting up sharply, heart thudding, she shook her head. Of course, there were no bodies — just the four house tables filled with sleepy students starting their day. This had happened several times to Ginny since her return. Some abstract reminder — as simple as sunlight streaming in through the windows — could send her back to the Battle.

The Great Hall was always the hardest. If not memories of the bodies — of Fred — she’d sometimes flash on a jet of green light streaming towards her head, or Voldemort’s jubilant words, Harry Potter is dead, or Harry himself whipping the Cloak off his head as he cast a protection spell over her mother.

He’d told her how he saw Bellatrix try to curse her, and it was her he was running toward when Mum had intervened. His love for her could’ve still killed him that night…

Ginny had to grasp her coffee mug with both hands to stop the trembling. Naturally, Hermione hadn’t missed it.

“Are you all right?” the other girl asked quietly.

Ginny nodded. “I’m fine,” she said with a hint of defiance.

“I get them, too,” Hermione whispered, her eyes firmly fixed on her own coffee.

“I think we all do. I saw Emily Winston suddenly burst into tears out on the grounds yesterday,” Ginny replied. The Hufflepuff girl was in Ginny’s year, and she’d been one of the ones old enough to stay behind and fight. “There are still a few Red Caps that were missed out there.”

Red Caps were nasty, goblin-like creatures that lurk wherever there has been bloodshed. The grounds had been covered with them after the Battle, and Hagrid had been having a devil of a time getting rid of them all.

Hermione nodded. “Parvati had a panic attack outside the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom the other day.”

Ginny wasn’t surprised. The Defense classroom was where the majority of the violence had taken place during the previous year.

She shrugged. “Sometimes the memories bite. I wonder how Harry is coping.”

Hermione rested her hand on Ginny’s. “Probably about the same, but their new jobs are keeping them busy, just like our school work is for us. I do know something that might cheer you up.”

“What’s that?” Ginny asked.

“At the prefect meeting last night, we learned the first Hogsmeade weekend is scheduled for the first weekend in October.”

Ginny couldn’t help the smile that spread across her face. “Oh, that will be wonderful.” She’d been missing Harry all along, but now, suddenly knowing when she could see him made the longing pierce fiercely. “I miss him.”

“I know — I miss Ron, too,” Hermione said. “Maybe we could all share a Butterbeer at the Three Broomsticks. I’d like to catch up with Harry, too.”

“It’s a plan, then,” Ginny replied, beaming. She looked at her friend shrewdly. There was a slight tinge of color on Hermione’s cheeks, and Ginny’s suspicions were all but confirmed. “We could plan on spending the whole day together. I’m certain Harry will be thrilled to catch up.”

The color on Hermione’s face grew even brighter. “Er… yes, well… You probably want a little private time with each other… I’d imagine.”

Ginny had to bite the inside of her lip to keep from laughing. “It’s not like there’s much privacy in Hogsmeade to snog, particularly for Harry. The Three Broomsticks will be a perfect place to spend the day.”

“Well… you see… Ron and I were hoping to catch up a bit,” Hermione said, faltering.

Ginny blinked owlishly. She’d perfected that clueless expression from years of observing Ron, and she knew Hermione would recognize it.

“Privately,” Hermione said, clearing her throat with dignity.

“Where are you going to find privacy in Hogsmeade?” Ginny asked.

Hermione’s color could now compete with the Weasley red. “Ron… Ron said something about booking a room at the Inn so we could catch up.”

Ginny narrowed her eyes. “Best be all you’re catching.”

“Ginny!” Hermione said, affronted.

Ginny could take it no more. She leaned in closer and whispered, “Exactly how long have you been shagging my brother?”

Hermione squeaked, but they were interrupted by Demelza, Jimmy and the new Keeper — Bailey McLaggen — before Ginny could get any of the details.

“We’ll continue this later,” Ginny said under her breath, turning to face the new arrivals, while Hermione shakily gulped some juice. Ginny knew her teammates were going to ask her about Quidditch practices. The final try-outs — Ravenclaws — had been held, so Madam Hooch would be opening the pitch for sign-ups shortly.

“I’m on it,” Ginny said, derailing them. “I have a bunch of first years monitoring the board to see the moment the notice appears.”

“How’d you bribe them to do that?” Jimmy asked, impressed.

“I told them Harry would probably be here for the first match, and we want to be ready,” Ginny said, smirking. Harry would be appalled by her fascinated little gang of firsties, but Ginny firmly believed there should be no holds barred in Quidditch.

“Excellent,” Demelza said, grinning. “Not a bad idea to get them excited about Quidditch early. Maybe one of them is our next star.”

“Speaking of next stars — be certain to tune up your broom before the first match. I’d highly recommend a good broom servicing kit,” Ginny said, pinning her gaze on Bailey.

“I already have one. I knew I’d be on the team this year,” he replied at once, taking a large bite of a fried tomato. Bailey wasn’t nearly as obnoxious as Cormac, but he did share some of his older brother’s arrogance.

“Did you?” Ginny replied coolly. “Odd, since I didn’t.”

Bailey looked up, his hazel eyes staring at Ginny intently. “I’m the best decision the Gryffindor Quidditch team has made.”

Ginny smirked. “We’ll see about that.”

Bailey nodded and resumed eating his breakfast.

He was big-headed, but Ginny admired the confidence and hoped he could live up to it. She recalled Cormac was a good player as well, when he wasn’t trying to show off and prove he was better than everyone else at their positions.

“We need to get practices started quickly, before the Slytherins book all the slots. They have a relatively new team, as well,” Demelza said, buttering her toast.

Ginny nodded. “I know. We need to get Wendy practicing. I want to see what kind of reasonable expectations we can have for her — and Bailey.”

Wendy Chambers was their new Seeker. A third year who’d shown promise at try-outs, but Ginny had seen good tryout prospects flounder under the pressure of a game before. She needed this team to come together. She wanted that Quidditch Cup under her captaincy. It would look really good to the recruiters for the professional league.

“You won’t be disappointed. I’m ready,” Bailey replied, scowling slightly.

Before Ginny could reply, a swarm of owls swooped into the Great Hall with the morning mail. Zeus soared down and landed in front of her, leaning over to take some bacon from her plate as she untied Harry’s letter. The little owl had been getting a workout, but he was still young, and she knew he’d need a rest before taking a response back to Harry.

Handing him another bit of bacon, she said, “Go on up to the Owlery for a kip. I’ll have a reply later.”

Zeus leaned over impertinently and took a sip of her juice before flying back out the door. Ginny examined Harry’s letter, she always liked seeing her name scribbled on front in Harry’s messy scrawl.

She glanced over to see if Hermione had received a letter from Ron, and her hackles rose. Hermione was rapidly scanning the Daily Prophet with a horrified expression. This couldn’t be good, and Ginny’s heart rate increased — the image of Hagrid carrying Harry’s limp body from the Forest looming in her mind. What had he done? Bile rose arose in her throat as she leaned over to see what Hermione was reading.

Please don’t let him be dead.

But it wasn’t a failed mission, although Harry’s name was in the headlines:


Regular Rules Don’t Apply to the Savior?
By Rita Skeeter


It has come to the attention of this ever-seeking reporter that our illustrious hero is struggling with his Auror Training. As my faithful readers will know, Harry Potter was given a pass on his NEWTs (a previously strict requirement of the Auror program) and allowed to begin his training because of his efforts during the war.

Whether or not this was a sound decision by our new Minister — a personal friend of Mr. Potter — remains to be seen.

Within the confines of the Ministry, this reporter has learned that rumors abound about Mr. Potter scrambling to prepare for a recent Potions quiz. He has frequently been seen conferring with several attractive tutors at all hours. One of these tutors, a dark-haired beauty with eyes nearly as striking as his own, has allegedly been aiding Mr. Potter with the Patronus Charm, as well.

It leads one to question if Mr. Potter has been given a special waiver to become an Auror. There is no doubt his popularity is a coup for this new Administration. Of course, everyone adores Potter for all he’s done for us, but one has to wonder about the prospects for our future safety if he’s being pushed through.

Curious as I always am, I interviewed his former Hogwarts Professor, Horace Slughorn, who teaches Potions at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry (where the supposed girlfriend of the Chosen One attends). Professor Slughorn enthusiastically insisted that his former pupil was a steady hand at Potion making, even winning a special treat in one class where he outperformed his peers.

So, if Potter is not struggling with Potions, is he only pretending to need help in order to spend more time with his attractive, willing-to-help classmates while his alleged girlfriend is off at Hogwarts? The truth remains to be seen, but this reporter will not rest until the facts are revealed.


“That cow!” Hermione hissed angrily. “She makes it sound like Harry is the only one to enter the training without achieving his NEWTs. There’s no mention of the depleted ranks and the requirements being lifted for the entire class. Oh, I warned Harry about this.”

Ginny was too livid to speak. Damn that woman to hell. Her fingers itched to reach for her wand, but her target wasn’t here. She was afraid to move lest she take out her raging emotions on a classmate. She was spoiling for a fight, and she knew it. Items on the table began to rattle, and it was only when Hermione’s newspaper suddenly burst into flames that she pulled herself together.

Hermione quickly cast a spell to extinguish the newspaper.

“Whoa,” Demelza yelped, staring warily at Professor Radford who was slowly moving toward the disturbance.

Ginny stood woodenly and began to gather her things. She had to get out of the Hall before she hexed someone, possibly a teacher.

“Ginny?” Hermione said warily. “Are you all right? You know Rita is just trying to stir up trouble. It’s what she does.”

“Ooh, sounds like the Boy Who Lived is getting it somewhere else, Weasley?” Evan Bulstrode quipped, leering as he passed her on his way out of the Great Hall.

It was down to the fact Professor Radford was nearly upon them that saved the Slytherin from getting blasted with a powerful Bat-Bogey Hex.

“Just ignore him,” Hermione advised.

“His efforts during the war?” Ginny said through clenched teeth. “He bloody well ended the war by defeating Voldemort. Where was Rita when all this was going on? Bloody hell, he died for us.”

“I know, I know,” Hermione said, hurrying to catch up with Ginny’s angry strides. “Where are you going? Class starts in a few minutes.”

“I’ll meet you there,” Ginny said, snapping.

“Ginny—”

“Just let me be, Hermione,” Ginny said, turning quickly and hurrying in the opposite direction from History of Magic.


ooOOoo



Ginny quickly darted through the common room and hurried up the stairs to her dormitory. She kept her head down because she didn’t particularly want to talk to any of her housemates. By the time she reached her room her eyes stung, and she had to blink to clear them. She’d never been one to easily succumb to tears, in fact she usually scoffed at girls who did, but since coming back at Hogwarts, the tears were always close to the surface. She’d noticed it wasn’t just her, many of her classmates were very emotional since returning to the castle. It was both wonderful and terrible to be back.

She gave a start when she entered her room — five beds instead of the four that had been there all the other years. Shaking it off, she threw her bag on her bed and pulled the curtains around her, breathing deeply as she sagged into the comfort of her familiar four-poster.

It had been a truly horrid day. The article in the Daily Prophet had soured her mood, and she’d needed some time to pull herself together after reading it. She’d arrived twenty minutes late to History of Magic, and Professor Nutcombe hadn’t been amused. She now had a detention on Saturday — which was the Puddlemere vs. Tornados opening match. She had hoped to get a pass to visit home to see the debut of George’s Action Twin (although she hadn’t confirmed that with Headmistress McGonagall yet), but Professor Nutcombe wouldn’t listen to her pleas.

Afterwards, she’d sat her Transfiguration exam. She didn’t think she’d done horribly, but her mind was definitely elsewhere. It didn’t help that the Gryffindors shared that class with the Ravenclaws, and Brynn Dempsey kept whispering snide comments about Harry’s roving eye.

She knew the article was rubbish, but that didn’t mean it hadn’t stung. Harry’s letter had told her about getting help from Violet and George on his Potions quiz, but even knowing the truth wasn’t helping.

She heard the dormitory door opening, and she held her breath hoping it wasn’t someone looking for her. Naturally that didn’t go her way, either.

“Ginny?” Hermione said softly. “I wanted to see if you were all right.”

“I’m fine, Hermione. I just thought I’d have a kip before supper,” Ginny lied. She bit her lip, staring intently at the dark red coloring of the curtains, willing Hermione to let her be.

There was silence for a moment, but then the curtains parted and her friend sat on Ginny’s bed, shutting the curtains again behind her.

“Don’t pull a Harry,” she said primly.

Despite her mood, a grin tugged at her lips. “All right,” she said, conceding. “I’m not fine.”

“You didn’t believe what Rita wrote, did you? You know Harry’s arse over elbow for you,” Hermione said earnestly.

Ginny sighed, flopping back on her pillow. “I know it’s just Rita making things up. The other attractive tutor was George. Rita forgot to mention that part.”

“George? He’s helping Harry with Potions? I suppose he must have loads of experience with all those products,” Hermione said pensively.

“Focus, Hermione,” Ginny said. “Harry wrote that he had lunch with George and Violet the other day, and they offered to help him revise for a Potions quiz. Someone must’ve overheard them in the cafeteria.”

“So… are you jealous of Violet, then?” Hermione asked.

Ginny sighed. “Not really. I’ve met Violet, and I honestly don’t think she’s interested in Harry, but…”

“But what?”

“Harry also wrote to me about all the witches at the train station mobbing him after the Hogwarts Express left. And I know all the attention he received here, I imagine it’s the same at the Ministry. He’s out there in the world with all these older, beautiful, experienced witches, and I’m stuck here.”

“But you’re the one he wants, Ginny. It doesn’t sound like he’s trying to hide anything from you, and for Harry, you have to know that’s huge.”

Ginny looked up into Hermione’s sincere brown eyes, feeling marginally better, yet still insecure. She wanted to believe everything Hermione was saying, she knew it was true, and yet…

“Harry doesn’t open up easily. I think you’re downplaying your own significance. You’re the one he talks to because you’re the one he wants,” Hermione said.

Ginny shifted uncomfortably. Harry did want her, physically as well as emotionally, but she knew she’d been the one holding back, and it had been plaguing her of late. Perhaps Hermione could offer some advice. “We haven’t… we… I’ve stopped things from going too far, and now I’m worried that we waited,” she said awkwardly.

Hermione apparently knew exactly what Ginny was talking about despite her vague opening. “I don’t think Harry wants you to do anything you’re not ready for, Ginny.”

“Oh, I know he wants to, but he hasn’t pushed me. It’s my own issues,” Ginny said, frustrated. “I’m certain all these other witches won’t have so many hang-ups, and they’re probably throwing themselves at him.”

“But we’ve already established that you’re the one he wants. What hang-ups?” Hermione asked interestedly.

“I—” Ginny floundered, uncertain what to say or how to put it into words. She hated feeling so wrong-footed.

“I’ll admit I was curious. Both of you are passionate people, and neither puts a lot of stock in rules. I thought it might have been a control thing — you know — since everything was so out of your control last year,” Hermione said delicately.

Ginny nodded. “Maybe. I think I’m being stupid. Did you hear Evan Bulstrode this morning?”

Hermione paused, and Ginny could practically see the scene replaying in front of her friend’s eyes. “He was just winding you up.”

“I know — but last year — after that first night back when rumor had spread that Harry had broken up with me… None of my friends believed it, but… the Carrows and the Slytherins mostly… They used to sneer that he left me once he got what he wanted, and I let them think it to play along with his ruse. I’m not a slag, Hermione,” Ginny said, hating the waver in her voice.

“Of course you’re not.”

Ginny shrugged. “I suppose some part of me wanted to prove them wrong, so I’ve held back.”

“Does Harry know any of this?” Hermione asked.

Ginny shook her head before another thought occurred to her, and her eyes widened. “Hang on. You never answered my question this morning. How long have you been shagging my brother?”

Color flooded Hermione’s face. “We’re talking about you.”

“Not anymore. I want some details. Spill it, Hermione. You can’t deny it, it’s written all over your face.”

Now it was Hermione’s turn to shift uncomfortably. “Yes, well… It just sort of happened.”

“When?”

“After I came back from visiting my parents. We were so happy to see each other, and—”

“You pounced.”

Hermione frowned, disgruntled. “I didn’t pounce. Things sort of spun out of control really quickly. The second time was better.”

“Second time? How quickly did that happen after the first time?” she asked, fascinated.

Hermione’s face flamed brilliantly. “It was that same afternoon.”

“I can’t believe it — who would’ve thought prissy Hermione Granger was really a vixen?”

“Ginny, don’t. I’m not prissy — and I’m not a vixen, either. We took precautions. He’s really been very sweet.”

“Okay, I don’t want any specific details about my brother, but I do want to know details. Maybe I can just block the fact it’s Ron out in my mind,” Ginny said, pulling a face.

Hermione laughed. “What do you want to know?” she asked with that superior voice she always used when she knew something Ginny didn’t. Ginny tried not to get annoyed, because she really wanted answers to a few things, and here was the perfect opportunity to ask.

“Well… did you build up to it, or did everything sort of happen all at once?”

“I told you — we got carried away, so mostly all at once. Actually, I suppose there was some build up before I left. How about you? Have you done anything?” Hermione asked curiously.

“I’ve let his hands roam a bit, but that’s all. My hormones have been raging though, and I think his have, too.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “I think that’s a safe bet.”

“Does he know? About you and Ron, I mean? He hasn’t said anything.”

Hermione cringed and shut her eyes tightly, letting out a pained squeak.

“What?” Ginny asked.

“He sort of walked in on us the night before we returned to Hogwarts.”

“What?” Ginny shrieked. How could she have missed all this? “He didn’t say anything to me.”

“He wouldn’t even look at me on platform nine and three quarters. I wrote and tried to apologize, but he hasn’t answered,” Hermione said.

“Why would you need to apologize?”

Hermione colored even brighter. “We were at Grimmauld Place — in the sitting room.”

Ginny gasped, reveling in the details. “Oh. How much did he see?”

“Too much. I was so embarrassed,” Hermione said, burying her face in her hands.

“I bet he was, too,” Ginny said, smirking at the image her mind created.

Hermione giggled. “His face did rival your hair. Ron said they had it out, and Harry wants some rules about common areas once we come home for Christmas.”

Ginny let out a bark of laughter, the first true laugh she’d had that day. “He must’ve been mortified. Poor boy — particularly since I’ve been putting on the brakes.”

Hermione grinned. “D’you feel better?”

“I do. Thanks, Hermione.”

“Anytime. Don’t let Rita push you into doing anything before you’re ready. You’ll know when you are,” Hermione said, tucking a stray lock of Ginny’s hair behind her ear.

“Well, I won’t even see him until the first Hogsmeade weekend, now,” Ginny said unhappily, the events of the day rushing back at her.

“What about the match this weekend?” Hermione asked.

“I have a detention with Nutcombe, remember?”

Hermione frowned. “You really shouldn’t have been so late to class.”

It was Ginny who rolled her eyes this time. “How can you be such a swot and a rebel at the same time?”

“I don’t know about a rebel,” Hermione said uncertainly.

“Yeah? Who’s meeting her boyfriend at the Hogsmeade Inn? It’s not me.”

Hermione grinned, and Ginny thought she looked rather pleased.


ooOOoo



Harry carefully kneaded some dough on the flour-spattered workspace in his brand-new kitchen at Grimmauld Place. They’d been here less than a week, and the entire house wasn’t yet finished, but finally, after eighteen years, he had a place to call home.

His home.

The wonder of the idea still made his insides churn pleasantly.

The decorator was still working — he could hear a variety of spells being cast upstairs — but enough was done to enable him and Ron to move in, and they hadn’t wasted any time in doing so. Harry’s favorite room was the kitchen. It was bright and spacious with a counter island in the center so they could gather, eat and cook all in the same spot. Harry had asked the decorator to add a window like at the Ministry where he could control the weather. There hadn’t been a real window in the old kitchen, but Harry charmed this new one to appear as if looking at the meadow in back of the Burrow where he and Ginny had spent a good portion of their summer. He’d kept the weather bright and sunny, and several times already had gone outside surprised to find rain.

He was thoroughly enjoying having his own space. He loved his new bedroom as well, with its large, soft bed and unblemished furniture that didn’t require constant tinkering to keep it from falling apart. He’d taken Ginny’s advice and bought a full bedroom set in a rich mahogany. The decorator had matched the curtains and bedding for him, and he’d chosen a moving picture of Hogwarts for the wall with a flock of owls leaving the owlery, a familiar snowy one in the lead. Hedwig had been the only one that had been with him all those lonely years at Privet Drive, and he felt it was fitting she was still with him now. All in all, he was glad he’d decided to listen to the demon decorator.

It was Ron’s night to cook, but since the redhead wasn’t home yet, Harry decided to begin. Ron had attempted cooking only once so far, and they’d ended up eating sandwiches. On Ron’s other designated night, they had takeout. He hadn’t inherited Mrs. Weasley’s cooking gene.

Harry found he enjoyed cooking since he no longer had the stress of Uncle Vernon’s reaction if something went wrong. Mrs. Weasley had given him her recipe for steak and kidney pie — one of Harry’s favorites — but the one time he’d made it he didn’t think it was quite the same. He decided to try a second attempt tonight.

Fleur had shown Harry some of the food multiplying spells she used, and Mrs. Weasley was always willing to help if he had questions. She seemed particularly pleased when he’d asked her advice. Harry had grown up cooking the Muggle way, and he found his methods now were a bit of a hodgepodge — half Muggle/half magic. He definitely found using magic to clean up afterwards made everything much easier.

He and Ron planned to entertain their first guests tomorrow when some of their mates were coming over to watch Quidditch on the Action Twin. Harry was really looking forward to it, although Ginny had written with some disappointing news. She’d landed herself in detention and wouldn’t be able to come.

Harry had been crushed. It felt like an eternity since she’d left. He knew she was disappointed as well, and he was trying not to be annoyed she’d received a detention.

Trying, but so far failing…

It was his fault, really. The ruddy Rita Skeeter article had upset her. She tried to play it off, but he knew it had. If he ever found out who overheard them in the cafeteria that day and leaked the story to Skeeter — well — he’d learned a few new offensive spells in training that he’d really like to try out on the mole.

He knew it was only a short time before the first Hogsmeade weekend, but he’d had his heart set on seeing her. Realistically, he was aware that she’d have only been able to stay for a short time, and they wouldn’t get any time alone, but he’d still have been able to see her, to smell her hair, perhaps hold her hand during the match or to steal a kiss when Puddlemere scored…

Harry shook his head, knowing he was getting the better end of the deal. He’d be here watching the match with his mates. Ginny would be serving detention with the new History teacher to whom he knew she wasn’t partial.

Harry looked up from his work and pushed his disappointment aside at the sound of Ron’s irritated voice. “Get your sorry arse down there.”

There was a muffled response before George and Ron came down the stairs into the kitchen. George’s eyes were bloodshot, and his clothes were rumpled. It looked as if he’d slept in them. Ron scowled at his brother as they both took seats at the kitchen counter. Apparently, it had been a bad George day. Harry had noticed there had been more good days than bad recently, but the bad tended to sink to desperate lows.

Harry continued to prepare the meal, staring back and forth between the brothers.

“Hey, Harry,” George mumbled dully.

“What’s for dinner?’ Ron asked at the same time.

Harry fought down a twinge of annoyance. “Isn’t that my line?” he asked.

“Huh?” Ron asked, puzzled.

“See, the idea of rotating shifts means I cook one night, you cook the next,” Harry said without bite as he continued preparing the crust for the pie.

“Oh… right,” Ron said, derailed. “Sorry about that. Percy sent an owl informing me that this one,” he jerked his thumb at George, “just up and walked out of the shop in the middle of the day.”

“I knew Alicia was coming in,” George said, folding his arms across his chest.

“Well, you should have waited for her to get there. What was so important, anyway?” Ron asked, snapping.

“I had something to do,” George replied.

Harry silently placed a glass of water in front of George as he continued to work. George raised his eyes and stared at Harry as if contemplating asking him for something stronger. Harry raised his eyebrows in silence, and George took the water.

“It’s a good thing we were going over Patronuses again today, and I could get away. If it had been a test day or something new, Percy would’ve had to close up shop,” Ron said, grumbling.

“Percy is great with the books, but he’s rubbish in the lab,” George said, perking up now that he was gulping the water.

“You think? I don’t think he’s messed anything up,” Ron said.

“Wasn’t Percy Head Boy with a load of NEWTs? He has to be able to concoct a decent potion,” Harry said.

“Oh, he’s fine with the mechanics, he just doesn’t have much of a sense of humor. Ron, you’re actually much better at coming up with stuff,” George said, picking at the dough Harry was forming so that Harry had to slap his hand away.

Harry shoved a cutting board with some vegetables toward George, mainly to get him to keep his hands out of the dinner. “Here, make yourself useful.”

Grumbling, George complied. “You do know you’re not supposed to put your houseguests to work, right?”

“You’re not a houseguest, you’re family,” Ron said. “Family works.”

“Coming from the one who was supposed to cook tonight and is now sitting here watching us make dinner,” Harry said sarcastically.

Ron grinned, taking a bite out of an apple that was sitting in a bowl on the counter. “At least my day wasn’t entirely unproductive.”

“You can make sure the sitting room is clean for tomorrow,” Harry said, smirking. “I’m having a lie in.”

“This place does look good. Are you enjoying being out from underfoot of Mum’s hovering? I see you haven’t died of starvation yet,” George said easily.

Harry laughed. “She’s not that bad. It’s nice to have someone care,” he said before he could stop the words. He ducked his head to avoid their eyes, feeling heat rise on his neck.

“Aww, don’t go telling her that, mate. You make us look bad,” Ron said, groaning.

Harry grinned good-naturedly. He knew Ron was sensitive about how much Mrs. Weasley doted on Harry, and he didn’t want to rub it in, but he couldn’t deny he appreciated it, either. Harry was so wrapped up in considering Ron, he didn’t notice the mischievous twinkle that had entered George’s eye — always a sure sign of trouble.

“Still, less risk of her walking in on you when you’re wanking thinking about my sister,” George said as he continued to chop the vegetables.

Harry choked, goggling at George.

Predictably, Ron howled in rage, his face flushing as he slammed his apple down on the counter. “What? That’s not funny, George. Ewww.”

“Why? He has to be thinking about solving that virgin problem soon. How long d’you think Savage can keep information like that to himself?” George asked with a perfectly straight face.

Ron spluttered, at a complete loss for words for a moment before apparently grasping at the first thought that came to mind: an old, familiar fall back. “Ginny’s too young!”

Harry really wished he’d asked the demon decorator to put in a sink hole in the middle of the kitchen floor so he could find a way out of this conversation. He turned away to put the oven on and try to cool his burning face. It didn’t help as he could still hear them.

“Don’t be ridiculous. They’ve been together longer than you and Hermione, haven’t they?” George asked. “You have to know they’re working up to shagging.”

“I don’t want to hear about them shagging,” Ron said, outraged. “While I might know they’re going to get up to stuff, we have an agreement. I don’t have to hear about it, or know about it, or acknowledge it in any way. We agreed. Is that too much to ask? She’s our sister.”

“And he’s your best mate. Who else is he going to talk to?” George asked coolly.

Ron looked ready to explode. His face was unhealthily red and his mouth opened and closed, silently sputtering like a fish out of water. Harry would’ve found the expression funny if the subject had been anything else. He really didn’t want to talk about this, either.

“Fine, when it comes to this topic, you be Ginny’s big brother, and I’ll stand in for Harry’s. One of us has to make sure he knows what he’s doing, or Ginny’ll slay him alive,” George said, pushing the finished vegetable platter to the center of the island.

Harry’s jaw dropped. He wasn’t an idiot! He felt very much up to the task, and he didn’t think he could handle taking sex advice from George, anyway. In fact, taking any serious advice from George seemed like an all-around risky venture.

“I’m not staying to listen to this,” Ron said, glowering at Harry even though he hadn’t said a word.

“Fine, we’ll call you when dinner’s ready,” George replied.

Ron stormed out of the kitchen, muttering under his breath the whole way.

Harry was flabbergasted, and he really didn’t want to talk to George about this stuff anymore than he did Ron. Much…

He supposed he wouldn’t mind getting a few questions answered. He stared at George warily, certain he was missing something. That entire conversation — row — whatever it had been had been surreal.

He and George stared at one another in silence for several moments. Harry knew his face was flaming, and even George wouldn’t quite meet his eyes.

“Well, isn’t this bloody awkward? D’you have a copy of Twelve Fail-Safe Ways to Charm Witches?” George asked casually.

“Er… I did, but I don’t know what happened to it,” Harry replied, remembering the book Ron had given him in what seemed like another lifetime.

“I’ll get you another copy, it really will tell you everything you need to know. Ginny gave me grief about not teaching her any moves once. I can’t do that, but making sure you don’t bollix it up is the next best thing. I thought Ron would never leave,” George said.

“You were trying to get him to leave?” Harry asked, feeling very wrong-footed. He was dismayed that his voice sounded much higher than it normally did.

“Yeah. I need to ask you something,” George said, his face losing all trace of the mischievousness that had been present during the entire conversation.

Harry knew where this was going. Whenever George had been pondering the loss of Fred, he turned to Harry. He supposed he was the easiest one to talk to about death. Ironically, Harry found George easier to talk to than Ron and Hermione about this stuff, as well. They made an odd pair, he and George.

“I don’t know why I left work. I just couldn’t stay there,” George said in a low voice. “Sometimes it all just hits me from out of the blue.”

Harry paused, picking up his own apple and munching it slowly. He wasn’t certain what it meant that he was far more comfortable with the turn the conversation had taken.

“I remember being numb for the first few days after Sirius died. I could see and hear everything that was going on around me, but it was like I wasn’t really there inside. If I was alone, I wanted people around; if people were around I wanted to be alone,” he said quietly.

George nodded. “I felt that way, too. I could hear the bustle going on at the Burrow. With so many people there, it was never really quiet even when they were all trying to be. I didn’t want to come out of my room, but I still wanted to hear them. It’s why I didn’t go back to my flat right away.”

“For me, it became worse once I was back at the Dursleys. For those first few weeks, I stayed in bed without really sleeping. I didn’t eat, or think, and tried not to feel. I don’t even remember most of it. Sometimes I could barely make it to the toilet I was trembling so badly,” Harry said quietly. He didn’t know what possessed him to share that bit with George, but he felt the lonely twin would keep his confidences, the same as Harry would do for him.

“The shop is the hardest place to be sometimes — even worse than the flat. All our hopes and dreams…. everything we’d planned is represented in that shop. Sometimes I’m doing okay and feeling like I’m ensuring his legacy lives on. Other times it’s just all too much, and I have to get out,” George whispered roughly, his voice wavering.

“If you need to get out, just do it, then. So what? Who cares what anyone else thinks. But you have to be certain to go back,” Harry said fervently, his own throat tight. “I remember that things became better again when I went to the Burrow, so… I think being around others rather than alone does help, even if you have to make yourself do it. Force yourself to get dressed and go out. Eventually, it wasn’t always so hard.”

George swiped at his nose, but he didn’t say anything. Harry was certain he was listening, however. He knew what he wanted to convey, he just didn’t know how to put it into words.

“It was different with Dumbledore. I had this massive job ahead of me, and I didn’t have time to mourn. I think I still might have been in shock anyway, but Ginny made it better. Having people around helps,” Harry said.

“Fred was more than a brother. He was my best mate, and my work partner. It was like he was half my brain, and now I’m just brain damaged,” George said forlornly.

“You’re not brain damaged,” Harry said fiercely. “It hurts, and I can’t tell you it will ever stop hurting completely. Even after everything else that’s happened, Sirius’ loss still hits the hardest, but you get through it. You have the most wonderful family in the world looking out for you. You will get through it.”

George rubbed angrily at his eyes. “Sometimes I just need to hear it from someone who’s been there,” he said gruffly. “You get it.”

“I can’t pretend to know if it’ll be the same for you, George, all I can do is tell you my own experience. I don’t even remember my parents, and I only had Sirius and Dumbledore for a very short time. Hell, they weren’t even really mine. The loss was for something that could’ve been — something I never had. I don’t even know what I’m saying,” Harry said, feeling like he’d bollixed this up royally. He clutched at the strands of his hair, wishing he had Hermione’s gift for words.

“I do. And you’re not alone, either, Harry. You have all of us, too,” George said sincerely, and Harry felt his heart swell with feeling for this mischievous man who’d always treated him like a younger brother, even before Harry had realized what he was doing.

That impish twinkle returned to George’s eye before he added, “And…. If you really do need sex advice, I don’t promise not to mock you, but I will give my best effort not to steer you wrong.”


ooOOoo



Saturday evening marked a full week since Ron and Harry had moved into Grimmauld Place. It also marked the opening match between Puddlemere United and the Tutshill Tornados. George was hosting a group at the Leaky Cauldron, while Ron and Harry had invited a bunch of their Ministry friends over to enjoy the match.

Their inter-departmental Quidditch mates had already witnessed the wonder of the Action Twin, but they were all eager to return, and this time, they’d invited some of their fellow trainees. Bill had helped Harry adjust the wards on Grimmauld Place in order to allow his guests to enter. Both Bill and Percy were joining George in Diagon Alley for the match.

Grimmauld Place was lit brightly, and Harry enjoyed seeing the newly decorated room filled with friends enjoying the match. Sirius would’ve loved this, and Harry raised his beer in silent salute to his godfather whose presence he could still feel throughout the house. It wasn’t depressing, as he’d feared, but more of a comfort.

Upon his arrival, Owen Savage had loudly and colorfully exclaimed his amazement over the changes in décor, and Elin Harrington, sister of the demon decorator, beamed with pride. Duncan Tate and Violet Benson, who hadn’t been here for the pre-season match, looked around curiously.

Now, after the match had started and some of the food and beverages had been consumed, the guests were all enthusiastically watching. Harry noticed Violet sitting with Owen, both mocking the Tornados’ uniforms. Hans Rickman had his arms over each of Chasers Elin and Abby’s shoulders, and they were all clearly dressed in support of their Tornado team.

The doorbell rang, and Harry indicated to Ron that he’d get it. Ron was dressed in his Chudley Cannon sweatshirt despite the fact his team wasn’t even playing. He and Duncan Tate had placed a bowl of crisps between them, and it was nearly empty already. Harry moved through his ‘grand entryway’ — one of the rooms that still wasn’t complete — cringing slightly at the massive pillars the demon decorator had installed.

He opened the door to find Ken Towler, Neville Longbottom, and Seamus Finnigan standing on the stoop supporting a large case of lager between them. He could also see bottles of Firewhiskey poking from Seamus’ pockets. Harry knew Seamus had taken a job at Ogden’s after he’d left Hogwarts. The running joke was that he only took the job for the perk of free samples.

“Seamus!” Harry said, using his wand to lift their burden. He levitated it inside while Ken gave him a disgruntled look.

“Hiya, Harry!” Seamus greeted cheerfully.

“All of our spells were nullified as we approached the house. We nearly ruined the drinks,” Ken said, scowling.

“Sorry about that. Ron’s brother works for Gringotts, and he designed the wards,” Harry said, moving back so his guests to enter.

“They’re impressive, but I wish you’d warned us,” Ken said.

“Can’t have anyone sneaking up on the Savior, can we?” Seamus asked, reaching over and slapping Harry on the back. “It’s good to see you.”

“Good to see you, too,” Harry said happily. Now that Neville was in another Auror training program, he frequently saw him at the Ministry, but he hadn’t seen his other former roommates since the funerals after the Battle. “How’s life been treating you?”

“Can’t complain. Work is good, and having been at the Battle goes a long way to sway the ladies,” Seamus said wolfishly. “Neville knows what I mean.”

Neville had gone very red, and he ducked his head although he didn’t deny it. Harry led them into the sitting room where the rest of the crowd was gathered.

“Neville!” Lisa Turpin greeted at once. “How did you do on the Stealth and Concealment quiz you were worried about?” Harry realized both Neville and Lisa would’ve been at Hogwarts together last year.

Neville shrugged but moved to take the seat next to her. “I did all right. That’s not my best subject.” The rest of their conversation was drowned in the noise of the room. Puddlemere had the Quaffle, and one of the Chasers was racing toward the hoops. Half of the room cheered when she scored. Harry, who was wearing a Puddlemere jersey that Oliver Wood had sent him, cheered along.

“I hear Ginny is Captain of the Gryffindor team,” Seamus said, standing next to Harry in the large opening to the sitting room.

“Yeah, she is. She’s going to be brilliant. How’d you hear that?” Harry asked, taking a swallow of his pint.

“Dean told me. He made the team, too.”

“Right,” Harry replied awkwardly.

Seamus realized he’d wandered into uncomfortable territory the moment after he’d spoke, and he took a long draught of his beer. “So… where is she? Doesn’t this count as some sort of family event? How come you didn’t use your influence to spring her?”

“She was supposed to be here,” Harry replied unhappily. “She got detention.”

“Yeah, she was always good at that. At least detentions can’t be as bad as last year,” Seamus said darkly.

“How are you doing, Seamus?” Harry asked.

Seamus shrugged. “Still not nightmare-free, but it gets me sympathy from the birds. A phenomenon I know you’ve been aware of a lot longer than me.”

Harry’s hand automatically moved upwards to rub his scar, uncertain how to respond. He usually didn’t like any attention being drawn to his sleeping difficulties.

“What kind of effect does he have on the birds?” Owen asked, coming up to stand with them and hearing the end of the conversation.

Harry could’ve groaned out loud, knowing instinctively that getting Owen and Seamus together would be a mistake. He’d be the brunt of jokes all evening.

“Nothing,” he said quickly. “Seamus, did you see Lisa Turpin was here? She was in Ravenclaw. You knew her, yeah?”

He pushed Seamus toward Neville and Lisa and breathed a sigh of relief when Seamus joined their conversation.

“Relax, kid — I’m not about to throw you under the Knight Bus. I love this Action Twin thing and want to keep coming back,” Owen said, grinning.

“Good to know I have some power over you, then,” Harry replied cheekily.

Owen grinned. “Watch the back talk — your new superior deserves some effin’ respect.”

Harry raised his eyebrows, puzzled.

“I traded with Dawlish. You’re my new partner for the Dementor round up,” Owen said, uncharacteristically solemn.

“Seriously? That’s brilliant. How did you manage that?” Not only did Harry prefer Owen’s company, he thought he could learn much more from the seasoned Auror than he ever would from Dawlish.

“Glad you think I’m at least better than that bloody oaf,” Owen replied wryly. “Since Bones dropped, I didn’t have a trainee. Trading with Dawlish meant he didn’t have to work, and he’s always good for that.”

“So, does that mean they’ve made a decision about what to do with the Dementors?” Harry asked.

“Nothing permanent, but we have to get them out of the populated areas. We’re herding them toward the Forest of Dean. It’s getting colder, so less likely there’ll be campers, and it gives us time to come up with a permanent solution,” Owen said, grimacing.

Since Harry had been camping in the Forest of Dean last winter, he was alarmed by the prospect. “What if there are still people in there?” he asked, alarmed.

“We’re going to put up warnings, and even have the Muggle Prime Minster attempt to keep the Muggles away. It’s the best we’ve come up with so far. There have been too many attacks already. They’re attracted to the populated cities. We have to do something.”

Harry didn’t like it, but he didn’t have a better idea. “When does this start?” he asked warily.

Although he’d be happy to get out of the classroom and actually get to do something, the prospect of spending time around Dementors wasn’t appealing. Still, he’d feel better being out in the field and away from a cauldron. Hopefully, a more permanent solution to the Dementor problem would present itself without delay. There had to be something they were missing.

“Next week. Keep chocolate handy, it’s going to be a rough job,” Owen replied.

“Don’t tell me you two are talking work. It’s a party, boys — lighten up,” Violet said, elbowing her way between them. “Take a lead from your mates,” she said, pointing at Ron and Seamus who were enthusiastically arguing the highpoints of Puddlemere to Duncan and Lisa, who were defending the Tornados with fervor.

“You’re obviously a Puddlemere fan — why aren’t you in on that?” Violet asked, nodding towards Harry’s Puddlemere jersey.

Harry grinned. “I went to school with Oliver Wood. He taught me how to play Quidditch, actually.”

“No way! He’s positively dreamy! Can you introduce me?” Violet asked enthusiastically.

Harry was stumped and blinked stupidly. He liked Violet very much, but there was no way he would put Oliver on the spot. He didn’t like when people gushed about his celebrity status. Although, knowing Oliver, he might enjoy it.

“I didn’t have you pegged for going for the pretty-boy type,” Owen mused.

Violet rolled her eyes. “What? You thought I was blind?”

Owen shrugged. “I had the impression you preferred substance. Obviously, I’d overestimated you.”

“Who says substance can’t be pretty?” Violet challenged.

Harry left them to it and slipped away to get another pint. Neville was standing by the drinks table refilling his own glass.

“Hey, Neville. How are you finding the training?” he asked.

“Classes are going well. I hear your group is going out in the field soon. They told us we’re not ready yet,” Neville said.

“Do they know you can cast a Patronus?” Harry asked.

“Yeah, but I’m the only one in my group, so they want to give us more time. I’m practicing with a group later this week,” Neville said.

“We’ve been doing that, as well.”

“The place looks great, Harry. I can’t believe you and Ron are living on your own. I’m still staying with Gran,” Neville said.

“I’m not certain it’s completely on our own. Mrs. Weasley still supplied a lot of the food for today,” Harry replied sheepishly.

“That’s not a bad thing,” Neville said, stuffing a biscuit in his mouth and catching the crumbs in his hand.

“All we need is Dean, and the gang’s all here,” Seamus said as he and Ron joined them at the drinks table.

“We all survived the war,” Ron said, toasting the others.

“Had my doubts about this one,” Seamus said, jerking his thumb at Harry, “but we did at that. Cheers!”

“Cheers!” the others all chorused, although Ron frowned as he glanced at Harry. His friend’s overprotectiveness still hadn’t worn off, but Harry knew that when Ron was the one who awoke screaming at night, it was the image of a dead Harry being carried out of the forest, or Hermione being tortured under Bellatrix’s wand that he saw. It always tamped down on Harry’s irritation.

“Who would’ve ever guessed the same bumbling blokes paralyzed at the thought of a Yule Ball in fourth year would end up leading a revolution,” Neville asked, chuckling.

Harry choked and sprayed his drink everywhere. “At the time, the girls seemed far scarier than Voldemort ever did,” he said, gasping.

“Remember when I tried to invite Fleur? She’s my sister-in-law now,” Ron said, laughing.

“She was so out of your league, mate,” Seamus said.

“She wouldn’t be now — I’m a war hero,” Ron said smugly.

“Cheers!” Seamus toasted again. “The witches do love to be seen with war heroes.”

“Apparently, there are a lot of wizards who do, as well. I was talking to Hannah Abbott at the Leaky Cauldron, and she says she gets asked out all the time,” Neville said, his face a rosy color. Harry thought perhaps the beer was catching up with him.

“This time last year, I was dodging the Carrows, now I’m drinking and watching Quidditch with mates. Life has turned spectacularly,” Seamus said, clapping Neville on the back.

They all drifted toward the Action Twin, cheering for their respective teams as they scored. The match went on for several hours before Harry saw a brief glimmer of gold on the field near the goalposts.

“Hooper has seen the Snitch!” Harry said, moving closer to the Action Twin.

“But Garrett is right on his tail,” Elin added, twisting her Tornado scarf as her eyes urgently followed their trailing Seeker.

Puddlemere was leading by a decent amount, but whoever caught the Snitch would win this one.

“Look at Oliver yelling his head off,” Ron said, laughing. “Another score isn’t going to make a difference now.”

“Hooper has it!” Harry shouted, beaming. Watching made him long to play, but he was happy for Oliver and his team.

“I love getting to watch it,” Duncan said excitedly. “When is the next one? I’ve never been to a professional Quidditch match, but this was fantastic.”

“Lee and George are negotiating with the league to get another one aired. I think they’re waiting to see the response to this one,” Ron said.

“I’d say it was a ruddy brilliant achievement,” Owen said heartily.

They all toasted the sentiment. The first party at the newly renovated Grimmauld Place was a rousing success.


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Chapter 5: Reunions and Reactions

Author's Notes: Thanks so much for the readers over at SIYE for nominating and voting for These Cuts I Have in the Silver Trinket Awards. This story won in the Best New Story Category, and I can’t tell you how delighted it makes me. I’d like to express my sincere appreciation to all of those who take the time to hit the review tab and let me know what you think.


Chapter Five
Reunions and Reactions



Ginny absently trailed her fingers along the wall of the seventh-floor corridor as she wandered aimlessly on an early Saturday morning. She’d awoken and eaten breakfast far earlier than was her norm. Now, she was whiling away the time before the older students would be allowed to exit the castle for their first Hogsmeade visit.

There hadn’t been a Hogsmeade weekend since the previous autumn, and the very air in the castle positively thrummed with excitement. Most of her friends were either still at breakfast or gathering in the common room, but Ginny found she couldn’t sit still.

She was going to see Harry today after a month-long separation. Goosebumps arose on her arms just thinking about it, and she wrapped them around herself so she could rub her hands up and down them to get her blood circulating. She wished it was half ten already. She and Harry had kept up a regular conversation through owl post, but it wasn’t the same as seeing him. The past month had been an eternity.

Ginny had chosen her outfit for the day with much more care than usual — her softest, best jeans that hugged her hips just right, and a pale blue button-down that hadn’t belonged to any of her brothers. She knew reporters would be following Harry. She didn’t want to look like a little girl, but she didn’t want to look like a slag either. She also planned to take one of Harry’s old Quidditch sweatshirts. No harm in showing a little possessiveness.

It was only when she realized how close she was to the Room of Requirement that she thought to check if it had survived. Since returning to Hogwarts, she’d honestly had no reason to seek the room, and her first month of term had been exceedingly busy. She thought Harry would like to know the room’s fate however, and it gave her something to do. With a purpose in mind, she strode the familiar path toward the vacant wall.

Before rounding the corner, the sound of voices stopped her in her tracks, and she peered cautiously around to see who was there. Professor Nutcombe strolled down the corridor with two of the Hogwarts ghosts. He wasn’t blocking the entrance to the Room, but she couldn’t try to summon the door without being seen, either.

Both Nearly Headless Nick and the Fat Friar hovered on either side of the professor, and he wrote in a small notebook as they spoke.

“It was after Minerva asked the castle to come to her aid. I couldn’t just do nothing. After all, Minerva is from my House, as you know,” Nearly Headless Nick said importantly.

“All the ghosts did what they could do to defend Hogwarts,” the Fat Friar replied, nodding. “They always have done. We weren’t about to allow the school to be taken.”

As they continued walking, Ginny could no longer hear what they were saying, but she imagined Professor Nutcombe was questioning them on the roles they played during the war. When she’d served her detention with him, he’d admitted that he was contemplating writing a history of the war.

He knew of her family’s heavy involvement with the Order, and that she’d been enmeshed with the DA at Hogwarts. She was very proud of her family and didn’t mind telling him so, but remained cagey with giving him too many details.

She could readily admit that Professor Nutcombe was an avid historian, but she still didn’t like him. As the detention wore on, some of his questions had made her uneasy. He seemed rather obsessed with Harry, and even had the nerve to ask her about Harry’s early life. When it was obvious Ginny took offense, he’d explained that he just wanted to know about the people who’d shaped him into the man he became. The public would devour it, and there was so little known about Harry’s young life.

Ginny was livid, and she’d remained tight-lipped and fuming throughout the remainder of her detention. She’d kept just enough control to refrain from hexing him, which was down to the fact she didn’t want to spend another detention with him. She even suspected he’d let her go early simply to escape the tension in the room where she was writing lines.

Ginny shook her head to clear the memory. She moved toward the spot where the Room of Requirement should be but was again interrupted, this time by her roommate, Siobhan.

“There you are! Hermione is throwing a wobbly that you’re going to be late,” Siobhan said with a giggle. She didn’t appear at all concerned over Hermione’s nerves.

“So why are you the one looking for me, then?” Ginny asked.

“She is, too, but I wanted to find you first. I need to walk with you into Hogsmeade,” Siobhan replied, linking her arm in Ginny’s and steering her back toward the Gryffindor common room.

“Why?” Ginny asked slowly.

“Because Andrew is under the impression I’m going with him,” Siobhan said shiftily.

“And why would he be under that impression?”

Andrew Kirke had been trying to get Siobhan to go out with him since fourth year, but as far as Ginny knew, Siobhan had never shown any interest.

“It’s not my fault,” Siobhan said instantly.

“I didn’t say it was. I don’t even know what’s going on,” Ginny replied calmly.

Siobhan frowned, disgruntled. “You gave me that disapproving look.”

“I don’t have a disapproving look,” Ginny said indignantly, uncomfortable images of her mum flitting across her mind.

Siobhan rolled her eyes. “Oh, yes, you do,” she muttered.

“Just tell me what happened,” Ginny said impatiently.

“I was in the common room working on that horrid Potions essay that Slughorn assigned,” Siobhan said. Ginny was very familiar with Siobhan’s difficulties with Potions.

“I thought Hermione was helping you,” she said.

“She did. She was out on Prefect rounds, and I was trying to remember everything she said and write it down before I forgot, when Andrew approached me.”

“And you said you’d go?” Ginny asked, stunned. Siobhan must’ve been really immersed. She’d put him off for years.

“No! I didn’t say I’d go. I simply wasn’t as forceful with my denial, and he’s taken it that I’m wavering,” Siobhan said, exasperated.

“Why don’t you just go with him? You might have fun. I know you’ve noticed the muscles he developed over the summer,” Ginny said, needling. She knew Siobhan’s weakness, and she also suspected Andrew had worked on those muscles specifically with Siobhan in mind.

“He’s just not… It just doesn’t work,” Siobhan said, frowning.

“I think I’m going to tell Andrew to go out with someone else then. Something tells me you’d miss him if he all of a sudden lost interest,” Ginny said.

“You’re supposed to be my friend,” Siobhan said in mock horror.

“I am your friend, and as your friend, I’m telling you to give Andrew a chance,” Ginny said.

“Just what I need, ‘Ginny’s advice for the lovelorn,’” Siobhan teased.

They’d reached the portrait hole and were accosted by Hermione as soon as they entered. “Where have you been?”

“Hermione, Filch hasn’t even begun letting the queue through,” Ginny replied, exasperated. The common room was full of students still waiting to go down. Ginny spotted the first-year girls huddled at a table, whispering. Their eyes followed her every move, though they all blushed and turned their faces when she turned to look at them.

They were still fascinated by her connection to Harry.

“Here, let’s go,” Hermione said, shoving Ginny’s sweatshirt — technically Harry’s sweatshirt — at her before proceeding out the portrait hole.

Ginny and Siobhan followed on her heels. “What about Liz?” Ginny asked.

“She’s meeting me there in a little while. She had to finish up something for Professor Radford first,” Siobhan said.

“Parvati’s gone to meet Padma to walk into the village,” Hermione said, and Ginny was chagrined to realize she hadn’t given her other new roommate much thought. Parvati spent a lot of time with her sister.

It was a dismally grey day, and the air promised rain. The iron-hued sky seemed to frown ominously, and Ginny found herself hoping the carriages would be able to take them back. She didn’t think the rain would hold off for much longer.

The girls joined the long queue awaiting Filch to check them out. Ginny’s excitement was bubbling, and she wished he would get on with it, already. Hermione, too, kept rising on the balls of her feet to judge the number of people ahead of them.

Eventually, they were cleared by Filch and hurried along the path towards the gate. They passed the winged boars, and proceeded along the dusty road to Hogsmeade. They arrived just as the first raindrops began to fall. Siobhan stuck with them as they slipped inside the Three Broomsticks, but she was stopped almost instantly by a group seated near the door.

Ron and Harry were seated in one of the booths, and Ginny was grateful that Hermione thought to tell them to arrive early to snag such a prime spot. Harry wore jeans and an untucked button-down. His familiar mop of messy hair sent a warm feeling through her belly. She and Hermione approached their booth, and the boys moved in to make room, each turning to kiss his partner.

“Hi, Ginny!” Harry said, a broad smile crossing his features. Despite his obvious joy at seeing her, Ginny was concerned by the dark circles beneath his eyes. In fact, she thought both he and Ron looked rather paler than normal.

Harry wrapped his arm around her and pulled her close, his hand playing with the bottom of her ponytail. He grasped her hand with his free one, and Ginny beamed. He’d never been one for public displays, but he was blatantly happy to see her. She knew he could be most affectionate in private, and enjoyed the fact she was the one who knew that about him.

“Have you been here long?” she asked.

“Just long enough to order drinks and snag a table,” Harry replied, leaning in to kiss her again.

“It’s good to see you, Harry,” Hermione said, smiling warmly and reaching over to touch his arm.

“How is it, being back?” Harry asked, raising his eyebrows slightly.

“Well, it’s not the same without you,” Hermione said, glancing over at Ron fondly, “but I’m learning loads, and it’s good to get my brain more academically-focused.”

“Your brain is always academically-focused, Hermione,” Harry said.

“No, research for the sake of survival is different than research for the sake of learning,” Hermione insisted.

“If you say so,” Ron said, grinning at Harry over her head.

“I do say so.”

Rosmerta came over and placed four Butterbeers in front of them. Ginny noticed Hermione frown as Ron sat up straighter. He’d always been rather taken with Rosmerta.

“Aberforth Dumbledore is outside, Mr. Potter, and he’d like a word. He won’t come inside,” Rosmerta said.

Harry frowned questioningly.

Rosmerta shrugged. “I don’t pretend to explain him, I’m just delivering the message.”

Harry unwrapped himself from Ginny. “Let me see what he wants. I’ll be right back.”

Ginny stood to allow him out of the booth, and as she did she rattled the table. It bumped Hermione’s arm as she raised her glass, sloshing Butterbeer all down her front.

“Sorry, Hermione!” Ginny said, cringing.

Hermione tried to mop it up with a napkin. “It’s all right. I have to use the loo, anyway, and I’ll spell it dry there,” she said, still attempting to dab at the spill.

The siblings watched as both Harry and Hermione moved away.

“Well, you certainly cleared the table quickly,” Ron said, amused.

Ginny gave him a very rude hand gesture. As she went to take a sip of her own Butterbeer, she noticed that of the four glasses, Ron’s had the most froth. It was perfectly streaked down the outside of his chilled glass. Ginny always liked the froth best. She reached over and tried to stick her finger in his glass to swipe some, but he pulled it away.

“You have your own,” he said indignantly.

Irked, she stealthily used her wand to knock over a barstool behind Ron. He startled and turned to look quickly, and when he did she quickly switched their drinks, innocently sucking on the straw when he turned back around.

“So, what’s going on with you and Harry? Why do you both look so ragged?” she asked to derail his suspicions.

“You try spending your week herding Dementors where they don’t want to go and see how spiffy you look,” Ron said, scowling.

Ginny frowned. Harry had written to her that they’d been assigned the task of pushing the Dementors toward the Forest of Dean, but he hadn’t said much about it other than it was tiring. Harry and Ron looked more than tired, they looked drained.

“Is it bad?” she asked.

“It’s harder than I’d imagined. I thought that since I could do a fairly strong Patronus I’d be all right, and I was… at first. The longer you’re out there, the harder it gets to conjure one. The memories…. they’re relentless…” he said, lost in thought.

“What do you see?” Ginny whispered tentatively, remembering the unworldly cold that filled her soul and Tom’s evil laugh. Chills ran up her spine, and her mum would’ve said someone had just flown over her grave. She didn’t know if she really wanted Ron to answer, but she couldn’t seem to stop herself asking.

“Same three things over and over, never changes,” Ron replied looking unnaturally pale, his eyes lost in distant memory.

Ginny shuddered, wrapping her arms around herself more tightly, barely breathing.

“It starts with Fred, always Fred. Not even when the wall came down, but later, in the Great Hall when I walk in and see him lying there with George above him looking nearly as pale,” Ron continued mercilessly, his voice dull and faraway.

Ginny clenched her eyes, her mind envisioning the scene that haunted her nightmares. The Great Hall was always the hardest.

Ron continued unpityingly, “Then it all goes dark, pitch black, but there is still sound. I can hear Hermione screaming. Shrill, pained, desperate screams that I can’t do anything to stop. I can’t help her.”

Ginny reached across the table and grasped Ron’s cold hand tightly, squeezing it to give silent support. The lump in her throat prevented her from speaking.

“I’ve never experienced the Cruciatus. Both Harry and Hermione have, but I’ve never physically felt it, even though it seems like I have through her. It’s barbaric.”

“That’s the idea of it. They enjoyed causing that pain,” Ginny said, unsticking her throat. She took a long sip of her Butterbeer in order to escape Ron’s piercing stare.

“Last year?” he asked.

Ginny nodded, causing Ron’s ears to turn red. She didn’t want to talk about last year with him, so she blurted, “You said the Dementors always brought on three memories. What’s the last one?”

“Harry. Hagrid carrying Harry out of the forest, over and over and over again on a continuous loop, and sodding Voldemort shouting, ‘Harry Potter is dead.’ I’d failed him again,” Ron said, taking a swallow of his own drink and looking as if he wished he had something stronger.

“You didn’t fail him,” Ginny said, firing up at once. “He went to protect us all.”

“He always protects us all. I was supposed to protect him. I failed then, and I’m failing now,” Ron said miserably.

“How do you mean?” Ginny asked sharply.

Ron shifted and glanced toward the doorway to check if Harry had re-entered the pub. With no sign of his messy hair approaching, he continued. “Dementors still affect him worst of all, yet he stays near them the longest to ensure everyone else gets away on a shift change. Most of our class doesn’t have a lot of experience with Dementors, but you can see the toll it’s taking on him.”

Ginny remembered her second year when the Dementors had boarded the Hogwarts Express. It had been her first time near them, and she’d been nearly catatonic. She also remembered Harry collapsing lifeless to the floor.

“How much longer do you have this assignment?” she asked.

“Dunno. The last batch is in the forest now, but we’re patrolling to keep them there, and whenever a new batch is spotted, we’ll have to bring them in, as well,” Ron said.

“It all came out,” Hermione said, rejoining them. Her blouse was spotless and dry with no trace of a Butterbeer stain. “Why do you look so serious?”

“Ron was telling me about rounding up the Dementors,” Ginny said.

“I can’t believe they’re just leaving them in the forest. That seems like an accident waiting to happen,” Hermione said, outraged. “We were in the Forest of Dean during the winter last year.”

“I know,” Ron said, grimacing. “No one thinks it’s a permanent solution, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of options.”

Ginny looked up when someone touched her shoulder. Harry stood there, smiling, and she slid along the bench to let him sit. He once again wrapped his arm around her and twisted his fingers around the bottom of her ponytail as if they’d never been interrupted.

“What did Aberforth want?” Hermione asked.

“He was just returning something to me. I couldn’t convince him to come in and join us, but I told him we’d drop by The Hog’s Head another time,” Harry said.

“How are Quidditch practices going, Ginny?” Ron asked.

They spent an enjoyable hour trading stories. Ginny did a fair impression of Professor Nutcombe whilst Hermione tutted her disapproval, insisting he was still better than Binns had been. The froth had settled into Ginny’s glass, and Harry reached over and switched his glass with hers.

“I know you like the froth best,” he said, smiling.

Ginny felt dismayed. She knew Ron’s glass had had the most froth when they’d started, and it had now sunk in splendidly. She looked up, horrified just in time to notice Harry’s smirk. His brilliant eyes were sparkling merrily.

He knew!

He took a sip of the brew, a froth mustache forming on his lip which he licked appreciatively. Ginny narrowed her eyes and again discreetly used her wand to knock a glass off the table behind them. Harry didn’t fall for her trick, however, keeping his glass in hand as he turned to check the fallen glass.

Foiled, Ginny felt annoyed. She hated when he managed to get the best of her, but she knew the sure-fire way to get him; she pouted, sticking her lower lip out dramatically. As expected, Harry caved and switched his glass back with hers. His face was lit cheerfully as he did so, however, and she knew he was playing with her. She’d have to reward him later.

He squeezed her hand as Ron and Hermione stood, and Ginny wondered if he knew about their afternoon plans.

“Off so soon?” she asked, smirking.

Ron’s ears turned red, but Hermione raised her head with dignity. “Ron and I have some plans. I’ll see you later, Ginny.” She kissed Harry on the head as the two moved away from their table.

“D’you know where they’re going?” she asked the moment they were out of earshot.

Harry glanced at her, amused. “No, but something tells me you do.”

“Ron has a room at the Hogsmeade Inn,” Ginny said dramatically.

Harry’s eyes widened and his glasses slipped down his nose. “What?” he asked, pushing them back in place.

Ginny nodded. “Hermione told me you walked in on them shagging. Why didn’t you tell me?”

Harry’s face had gone crimson. “I was trying to forget I saw it. Thanks a lot.”

“No problem,” Ginny said impishly and finished the last bit of her Butterbeer. “So, where to next?”

The rain was now rolling down the windows, but after Ron and Hermione’s departure, Ginny was more cognizant of the attention from her classmates. Students were peering at them from the bar, some craning their necks to get a better look. The excited buzz of conversation was rising the longer they sat there. She knew Harry was aware of it because he kept flattening the hair over his scar — as if that gave him any sort of disguise.

“We could make a dash for one of the shops. Need anything?” Harry asked.

“Not really. I wish it wasn’t raining so we could just take a walk,” Ginny said, sighing. “I suppose we could go to Honeydukes.”

“Do you trust me?” Harry asked, standing up and offering his hand.

“Of course,” Ginny replied, intrigued.

Harry led her away from the curious stares and out into the pouring rain. Ginny pulled up the hood of her sweatshirt — really Harry’s sweatshirt — but was surprised when he steered her down an empty alley. He quickly pulled his Invisibility Cloak from his pocket and tossed it over the two of them. Ginny pressed against him tightly, enjoying both the adventure and his warmth. The rain had a distinct chill.

Harry led them toward Honeydukes, but put his finger over his lips as they entered. He led her behind the counter and to the store room in back. Harry moved aside a rug, and Ginny saw a trap door. Harry lifted it, and beneath was a rickety wooden stairway leading down into darkness. Harry indicated for her to follow.

When they finally reached the bottom, he lit his wand, and Ginny took her first look around. They were in a stone cavern that led off in some sort of tunnel. The floor was earthen and didn’t look as if it had been disturbed in quite some time. Although it smelled a little musty, it was dry. She wondered how he’d known about it.

“Not the most romantic spot, I know, but at least no one is staring at us,” he said self-consciously. Using his wand, he dried the Invisibility Cloak and spread it on the ground with a flourish. He transfigured several rocks into pillows and made a comfortable spot for them to sit.

“Nice spellwork,” Ginny said, impressed.

“Thanks! I’ve learned some cool new spells in Training.”

“How did you know this was here?” Ginny asked, sitting down and leaning against the wall, pleased to realize he’d added Cushioning Charms, as well.

Harry sat down next to her and wrapped his arm around her, his fingers once again tangling in her hair. “It’s a secret passageway into Hogwarts, although Neville told me all the passageways had been sealed last year. I don’t know if you can still get in. I thought we could at least stay dry in here.”

“And I can kiss you without anyone snapping a picture,” Ginny said.

She felt Harry’s heart hammering beneath her hand where it rested on his chest. “Ginny, I promise you can kiss me any time the urge strikes you, photos or not,” he said solemnly.

Ginny giggled before leaning over and doing just that. Harry’s hands — tentative at first — tangled more fully into her hair, holding her head in place. Ginny felt warmth pool in her belly as she shifted slightly to get closer. She couldn’t seem to get close enough. It was like their month-long separation hadn’t even happened, and they were back under their familiar tree behind the Burrow.

After several moments of greeting each other properly, the need for air overtook them, and they reluctantly pulled apart.

“Hi,” Harry murmured, his breath warm on her lips.

“Hi,” she responded, snuggling in close and relishing the feel of his arms around her. “I missed you.”

“I’ve missed you, too. One month down,” he said, nuzzling her neck and kissing that spot that always gave her shivers.

Ginny nudged his legs so she could sit between them, leaning back against his warm chest. He kept his arms wrapped around her middle, resting his chin against her hair.

“How’s Grimmauld Place look?” she asked. The decorator had sent some of the color and pattern choices to her, at Harry’s request, but she was eager to see it all put together.

“It looks great,” he replied, beaming. He proceeded to tell her about some of the changes, and the party they’d had during the Puddlemere match. Harry was obviously delighted with having a place of his own, even if it had taken seventeen years for it to happen.

“Have you seen Teddy?” she asked.

“Yeah. Andromeda lets me take him every Sunday afternoon. I’ve even brought him over to the Burrow for Sunday dinner,” Harry replied happily, dropping a kiss on the top of her head.

“Mum must’ve loved that,” Ginny said, smiling.

“She does. George keeps trying to sneak him sweets that he’s way too young to have, but I think he does it to rile your mum,” Harry said.

“That sounds like him. How is he?” Ginny asked.

Harry shrugged. “Some good days, some bad days. I think he’s working on something involving a de-ageing potion, so I’m really cautious when I eat around him.”

Ginny smiled half-heartedly. While she’d enjoyed the time she spent with Harry when he’d accidentally inhaled the de-ageing potion, the memory had been soured for her. Because all the while they’d been thinking how cute he was, and focused on giving him some happy memories, a poison had been insidiously creeping throughout his body and ravaging his organs from within.

She shuddered.

“Okay, Ginny?” he asked, feeling her body’s response and tightening his arms around her.

“Yeah. I just don’t like thinking about that. I nearly lost you.”

“But you didn’t. I’m not going anywhere,” he said, smiling and nuzzling the side of her face. “You’ll need to work harder than that to get rid of me.”

“I don’t want to get rid of you,” Ginny said, grumbling.

“Oh! That reminds me. I think you’ll like this,” he said, shifting so he could dig something out of his pocket.

“You have something in your pocket for me, Harry?” she asked, grinning.

Harry looked up quickly, color suffusing his cheeks. “Er… yeah. Aberforth returned this to me,” he stammered, holding out a small, square mirror.

Ginny stared, confused. “He gave you a mirror?”

Harry waggled his eyebrows. “What else would you like from my pocket?”

Now it was Ginny’s turn to color, widening her eyes in surprise and causing Harry to grin. He held up the mirror.

“It belonged to Sirius. I have the matching one, although mine’s broken. Put it under your pillow when you go to sleep tonight.”

Ginny was still confused. “Why? D’you think I’m vain?”

“What? No! Of course not. Just do it, will you? I think you’ll be happy. I put an Unbreakable Charm on it.”

“Okay,” Ginny said, shrugging. She put it in the pocket on her sweatshirt.

Harry’s breath was warm on her neck, and she sighed contentedly as he begun kissing beneath her ear. She leaned her head to the side and melted into him. The rest of the afternoon passed in a blur of heated kisses and embraces. Doing anything else didn’t seem nearly as important when she was surrounded by his arms. She’d be perfectly content to kiss him all day. The hem of her sweatshirt had ridden up, and this time when Harry’s hand touched bare skin, she didn’t slap it away.

All too soon, it was time to return to the castle. She and Harry reluctantly stood, both of them disheveled with rumpled clothing. Harry’s eyes were slightly glazed, and she suspected hers might be, as well. Their lips were swollen from snogging, and Ginny knew her ponytail was a mess. Still, the memories of his kisses would have to hold her until she was finally able to see him again.

ooOOoo


Harry clutched his Firebolt as his eyes swept over the group of fellow Aurors surrounding him. They were dressed for flying and were awaiting a shift change. A new group of Dementors had been spotted near Manchester, and the Aurors assigned to the task were currently trying to herd them south toward the Forest of Dean. Herding them involved keeping a steady stream of Patronuses behind them urging them forward.

It was draining work, and some of the Aurors were new to casting a Patronus. Ron was in this group, along with Duncan Tate and Rory MacDonald from training class. All four showed inexpressive game-face, but Harry knew they were all feeling the same anxiety he felt. Working with Dementors wasn’t easy no matter how strong your Patronus.

Harry’s gaze perused the dark outfits they all wore. They’d been specifically designed for the team so as to not get snagged by any tree limbs if they were forced to fly low. The uniform included tight-fitting breeches with dragon-hide boots and warm, tunic-styled jumpers. It reminded Harry of a Quidditch kit without the robes. It was October and England was already growing chilly, so the warmth of the fabric was appreciated.

Muggles couldn’t see Dementors, but they could see wizards, therefore the task force not only had to cast a powerful Patronus Charm, but also keep a Shielding Charm in place while they were in the air. There would be no extra energy spared on repeated warming charms. Harry wished the clothing could be shielded like an Invisibility Cloak, but he’d been told that not only was it very expensive, the magic didn’t work as well in clothing with shapes and edges. A flat cloak was much more efficient.

They’d been briefed that this was the largest group of Dementors they’d come across, many of them juveniles. That wasn’t good. The juveniles were more unpredictable and tended to attempt escape. They’d all have to be sharp. The Auror team whom they were relieving had been flying since early morning, but they hadn’t had any contact to know how they were progressing. Harry squinted in the distance to see if he could find any trace of them, but as yet the skies were clear.

“All right, I don’t want anyone in the air before the full lot of them has passed and our people start to land. For each two Aurors who land, two more go up. Understand?” Quenten Williams asked. He was a senior Auror, and Ron’s partner, and he’d taken the lead on this mission.

There were grunts and nods of assent. Harry was paired with Owen Savage, who was rather subdued so far today, but Harry wasn’t certain if there were a reason. Usually Owen was most exuberant and rattling off a string of colorful swear words as he spoke.
“Tate and Rickman, you’ll go up first,” Williams said.

Duncan Tate was paired with Hans Rickman, one of Harry’s fellow Quidditch teammates. Duncan looked somehow nervous and exhilarated at the same time. He clutched his broom tightly, awaiting the signal. He flashed Harry a tense grin.

“Look alive, here they come,” Owen said, his eyes squinting into the distance.

Harry felt them before he saw them, and nausea filled his belly. He tried to steel himself against the sudden, unnatural chill. A frigid numbness tried to insidiously work its way through his brain like eerie fog.

“We’re low enough so you shouldn’t be affected, but wands out anyway,” Williams barked.

Harry could hear dull screaming coming from a distance, and he felt a cold sweat form on his brow, as if a flu was coming on. It was taking all his concentration to fight the despair and hopelessness that was trying to overtake him. Ron moved to stand beside him, their shoulders touching. Ron was tense, and Harry knew his old friend was aware of the difficulty Harry was experiencing.

Harry really hated Dementors. Since pulling this assignment, he’d discovered that the Dark creatures brought on several new and miserable memories in addition to the death of his parents, and all the feelings those memories evoked.

“Don’t be a prat, Harry. If it gets bad, cast a Patronus whether Williams can feel them or not,” Ron said out of the corner of his mouth. “D’you have plenty of chocolate?”

They’d all been supplied with several bars to keep on them at all times.

“I’m fine,” Harry said impassively, keeping his gaze fixed straight ahead.

“Right. And I’m the new Minister,” Ron said, irritated. “Just don’t—”

“Be a prat. Right, got it,” Harry interrupted. He nodded toward the first riders just coming down to land. “Violet looks wrecked.”

Ron turned as they both watched one of their fellow trainees land with her partner. Duncan and Hans took to the air straightaway, and Williams called out the next pair to be ready. Ron and Auror Williams would be the final two to take flight.

“Looking a bit of a shambles there, Benson. Not finding your Patronus quite so pretty anymore, eh?” Owen Savage asked, moving to stand next to Violet.

She scowled but didn’t appear to have the energy for much more. “Let’s take a look at you when you get back, and we’ll talk shambles, okay, Savage?” she asked weakly.

“It’s a date then. Have the beer chilled,” Owen said cheekily.

Violet managed a hand gesture.

“Potter and Savage, you’re next,” Williams called, and Harry looked up. The dense black cloud of Dementors was moving overhead. Harry’s stomach lurched, and he blinked quickly to clear the light-headedness. He knew once he was behind them with Patronuses between, it would become more bearable. He just had to get in the air and into position without embarrassing himself.

“You okay, kid? You’re looking ruddy peaky,” Owen said, giving Harry a once over.

Harry did not want Owen aware of the difficulties he’d been having with the Dementors. Harry respected the grizzled Auror, and he didn’t want the man to regret partnering with Harry. He was quite pleased to longer be with Dawlish.

“Fine, sir,” Harry replied stoically.

Owen paused a moment, his gaze scoping the other Aurors still awaiting the call to take flight. He kept his voice low so no one else could hear, but the intensity of his words drew Harry’s complete attention. “You know, kid, the idea of a partner is having one another’s back. We work in ruddy tandem. A partner always needs to have all the facts in any given situation. I have your back, you have mine.

“Now, I’m not bloody ignorant when it comes to Dementors. I know what they do, and how they affect people with trauma in their past. Personally, I didn’t think it was a great idea to even put you on this mission, but I was told you took on about a hundred of ‘em when you were barely even a teenager. I know you can handle yourself, but I wasn’t about to let Dawlish be the one to have your ruddy back going into this. If there’s a problem, you need to swallow that Horntail-size pride of yours and bloody well let me know. Understood?”

Harry had shifted uncomfortably as Owen spoke, but he knew his partner was right. It wouldn’t do any good to pass out and leave Owen up there alone. He was nettled by the idea his Dementor problem had been discussed by the higher ups, but he’d think about that later.

Harry nodded and said curtly, “I’m uncomfortable, but it’s manageable. I have chocolate, and it’ll get easier when we’re behind them.”

“Right. Now that wasn’t so hard,” Owen replied, and Harry was grateful to the other man for not causing more of a fuss.

“Go!” Williams said, and both Harry and Owen took flight. The air was chilly and it stung Harry’s cheeks as he rose, the thrill of exhilaration that he always felt when taking flight filling his senses.

The swarm of Dementors was massive and moving slowly. He and Owen were charged with covering the left flank. Harry could recognize some of the juveniles now that he was in the air. They were smaller than the full-grown version, though their effects were the same.

Once in the air, it was several minutes of watchful flying before he had to cast his first Patronus. At least the team had time to fully change shifts before the first Dementor, a juvenile, attempted to break away from the herd. Prongs appeared from the tip of Harry’s wand and charged at the fleeing Dementor along with Owen’s bear Patronus. The two of them corralled the stray back with the others, and Harry could breathe a sigh of relief. He could see several other Patronuses he recognized herding the group from the back, Ron’s Jack Russell terrier among them.

They rode without incident for about an hour before several of the juvenile Dementors peeled off at once, as if testing the boundaries and seeking a weak point. Owen and Harry each cast another Patronus and managed to fence them in on their side, but Harry heard Rory MacDonald’s panicked voice from the other side of the herd.

“There are too many of them.”

Rory had never really meshed with the rest of the class. The only one he was remotely friendly with was Cormac McLaggen, who Harry definitely tried to avoid. Rory was more of a loner, and Harry didn’t think that suited this line of work.

“Easy, MacDonald. We have ‘em,” came Williams’ calm reply.

They’d managed to corral them all back together, but it was a temporary fix as every few minutes, another tried to break off. The herd itself had slowed, bringing all the riders in closer. Harry felt that uncomfortable chill and a dull screaming in his ears overlaid by Snape’s horrified voice, ‘You have kept him alive so that he can die at the right moment?’`

The green of the trees below melded into a streamlined curse coming at him with velocity. There was nothing he could do. There was no escape. It was going to hit him, ending life as he knew it, and he had to let it happen…

“Expecto Patronum!” Harry bellowed with every ounce of strength he had. His silver stag burst from his wand, forcing back the encroaching Dementors. All around him, other Patronuses were doing the same. As the Dementors moved further ahead, Harry’s own thoughts came into clearer focus, despite the sick feeling left behind.

Harry shakily ripped the wrapping from a chocolate bar and shoved it in his mouth one-handed. He glanced over and noticed a pale Owen doing the same.

“All right, kid?” he asked, his voice raspy.

Harry could only manage a nod. “You?” he croaked.

“That was close — too close. Look alive, they’re trying again,” Owen said, aiming his broom downward and aiming his wand at an escaping juvenile.

“I can’t hold them,” Rory shouted, still panicky.

Williams and several of the others moved closer to the right side to give aid. It was then that Harry noticed Duncan. Although he hadn’t made a sound, his broom was dropping, losing altitude at an alarming rate.

“Duncan!” Harry shouted hoarsely, his own voice sounding weak in his own ears. “Pull up.”

Duncan didn’t respond but only slumped over his broom further. He was heading toward the ground. They were on the edge of the forest now, but not far enough inside the copse of trees. Duncan’s shielding charm flickered and went out. He was visible to any Muggles who might be below.

Hans Rickman, Duncan’s partner, was attempting to hold off his area on his own, and the Dementors apparently sensed the weakness. Loads of them began converging toward him. The air became ice cold as they gathered, tearing at Harry’s lungs.

“Switch partners,” Owen yelled authoritatively. “I’ll back up Rickman, you go after Tate.”

It was an order, and Harry had to obey despite his misgivings. He thought he was better equipped to handle Dementors than he was with Healing spells. Still, he aimed his Firebolt downwards and sped off after Duncan. The wind whipped at Harry’s face, causing it to sting as he raced after his plummeting co-worker.

Duncan must still be somewhat conscious, because he wasn’t in a freefall although he didn’t appear to be in control either. The broom was going to crash. Remembering his own fall from a broom in third year, Harry raised his wand and shouted, “Arresto Momentum!”

Duncan’s descent slowed, but he lost his grip on his broom, and it went hurtling to the ground below. Harry kept careful watch on Duncan’s body as he slowly lowered them both to the ground. Duncan hit with a thud, but not as bad as it could’ve been. Harry landed and rushed over to his fallen friend.

Duncan’s eyes were closed, and his dark-colored skin was waxy and pale. Harry quickly swept his wand over him seeking any injuries. He thought they were in the clear until his wand lit red near Duncan’s feet. His right ankle was broken. Harry used a spell to immobilize it, but he didn’t have any pain potions. Duncan would have to wait until they could get him back to the Ministry.

Thankfully, there were no head injuries. Harry didn’t know enough to do anything about those. He took a chocolate bar from his pocket and began gently slapping Duncan’s face, increasing the pressure until the other man’s eyes fluttered open.

“Wha?” he mumbled thickly.

“Eat this, it’ll make you feel better,” Harry said.

Duncan weakly tried to push it away, but Harry forced a square into his mouth. As it melted, he could see some reason return to Duncan’s eyes. He handed him the rest of the bar.

It was only now, after the adrenaline rush was subsiding that Harry realized how woozy he felt. He unwrapped another bar and took a large bite.

“What happened?” Duncan asked weakly. “One minute I remember casting a Patronus, then it all goes fuzzy.”

“We’re nearly there, but they all went mad. I dunno. Maybe they can sense the other Dementors who we already have here, and they somehow communicated they weren’t happy,” Harry said, thinking out loud.

Duncan tried to sit up, but the pain from his ankle made itself known, and he groaned as he dropped back to the ground.

“Yeah. You’re not going to be walking on that for a while,” Harry said.

“Where’s my broom?” Duncan gasped. “I can still fly.”

“Dunno,” Harry said, shaking his head. “You lost it mid-flight.”

He stood up, scanning the area but there was no sight of Duncan’s missing broom. Thankfully, they were surrounded by dense foliage, so hidden from any Muggles. Harry raised his wand again, “Accio Duncan’s broom,” he said, but nothing happened.

“Maybe it was damaged,” Duncan said. He’d risen on his elbows during Harry’s attempt, but now he slouched back onto the ground.

Harry shrugged. “Or it just doesn’t like me. Finish that chocolate. It really does help,” Harry said, putting the last of his own bar in his mouth.

He didn’t want to admit it to Duncan, but Harry felt miserable himself. He’d be so happy when this shift was over, and he could go home and talk to Ginny. They’d been using the two-way mirrors every night. He could still remember Ginny’s utter amazement that first night when he’d called her name from beneath her pillow. The gob-smacked expression alone was worth not telling her what the mirrors did beforehand. He liked it best when he caught her just before she dozed off with her sleepy eyes and hair undone and spread across her shoulders.

Yes, he’d be happy when this day was over and he could use the magical mirrors.

“D’you know where we are?” Duncan asked, grimacing.

“We’re on the outer rim of the Forest of Dean. Protocol says to stay put until they find us. Here,” Harry said as he raised his wand and cast a locator spell.

Duncan pulled himself back to lean against a tree, cringing with pain as he did. “Hurts like a bugger,” he said, gasping.

“I know a few Healing spells, but nothing to fix broken bones,” Harry said, shrugging apologetically. He felt exposed sitting out in the open, but he was certain it was left over paranoia from the Horcrux hunt. Still, he began walking around a small perimeter of where they’d landed casting several protection spells. He needed the Aurors to be able to find them, but he didn’t want anyone else sneaking up on them.

“What are you doing?” Duncan asked.

“Protection spells,” Harry replied.

“Will they keep out Dementors?” Duncan asked. “That would be brilliant if you know a spell that can do that.”

Harry frowned. Other than at the Ministry, they hadn’t really come across many Dementors while hunting last year. “I don’t think so,” he replied cautiously. “As far as I know, the Patronus Charm is the only thing that works against them.”

“Bugger,” Duncan said, shutting his eyes.

“You went to Beauxbatons, right? Didn’t they cover Dementors there?” Harry asked, remembering Duncan had been one of the students who’d never attempted a Patronus.

“I transferred before my third year when my parents divorced,” Duncan said, grimacing. He was obviously feeling discomfort, but Harry respected his lack of complaints. “We read about them briefly, but nothing I retained.”

It was growing colder as the sky darkened. More time must’ve passed than he’d realized. He was just about to cast some warming charms when the dull screaming began echoing in his head. The hairs on the back of his neck rose as goosebumps erupted along his arms. He sat up warily, glancing around. Duncan, whose eyes were closed, didn’t appear to have noticed.

His breath showed in the air in the form of small, chilled puffs while the sky continued to darken. As the echoes in his head grew louder and more insistent, Harry rose to his feet. “I think we have company,” he said.

“What?” Duncan asked, opening his eyes and looking around. “They’ve found us?”

“Dementors,” Harry said, grimacing as the sick feeling filled his gut.

“Where?” Duncan asked. “I don’t feel so good.”

Harry caught movement to his right. He spun in that direction and shouted, “Expecto Patronum!”

The woods around them stilled, even the chirping of birds ceased. It was quiet for a moment before another wave of dizziness overtook Harry. He could see them now, gliding from the trees a short distance from where Prongs had just disappeared. He could hear their slow, rattling breath, sucking all the happiness from his soul. Harry had never cast so many consecutive Patronuses, and it was weakening him. His legs were shaking, the coldness reaching into his bones. His chest constricted as a fog seemed to overwhelm his brain. He cast another Patronus, moving to stand over Duncan who had slouched against the tree.

Fight it, Fight it, Fight it.

As he kept trying to force them off, he noticed that the Dementors were not acting as expected. Rather than fleeing, they would move back and await Prongs to fade before moving forward again, the rattling sounds of their breathing never fading.

They were learning.

Harry shuddered. This wasn’t good, and his head was woozy. Blackness edged his vision, and he needed to put his hand on the tree to remain upright. He thought he could hear something from the trees, but the images in his mind were overwhelming him. He felt confused. He could hear the original memory of his parents’ murder that he’d always experienced when Dementors were about, but now and just as prominent was Dumbledore’s voice describing a parasitic growth forever attached to Harry, Dumbledore’s betrayal…

There were other things, too. Brief flashes of the war he couldn’t get away from: Ron’s angry departure, a green light skimming past Ginny’s head, Malfoy Manor, a snake bursting from an old woman, the sickly green glow of the Killing Curse hurtling towards him, Sirius falling through the Veil, a wall exploding around Fred, flashes of green coming at him when he was both young and older — and all the while, his mother screamed…

Back to index


Chapter 6: Recovery and Reversals

Author's Notes: Did you like that I added an Infirmary to the Ministry? I figured with the amount of times I do Harry harm, I could at least give him a spot for a quick fix. ;)


Chapter Six
Recovery and Reversals



The distant sounds of urgent voices penetrated the fog in Harry’s brain, dragging him upwards from the depths of what felt like a vast abyss. He was too disorientated to make out what the voices were saying, and he couldn’t bring himself to care. His entire body ached as if he’d gone a few rounds with a Hungarian Horntail, and his skull pounded with a furious intensity. He wondered if Dudley’s gang had caught up with him, but he couldn’t remember why he hadn’t been able to outrun them this time.

Sleep beckoned him again, inviting him to return to its depths. He wanted to descend into the darkness, blissfully unaware. If only the incessant voices would stop their clamoring. They were around him on all sides — demanding, goading, and shouting voices. Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon wanted him to make the breakfast and weed the garden, and they didn’t care that he couldn’t do both at the same time. He wished they’d stop shouting.

An irritated groan escaped his lips, and one voice drew closer to his ear. Why wouldn’t they leave him alone?

Ptr. N ere e? Ptr.

Harry couldn’t decipher the words. He felt arms creep underneath him, hoisting him upwards and his world tilted crazily. He was in for it now. He wanted to latch onto something to keep steady, but he couldn’t manage it. He couldn’t get his brain to function properly, and he just wanted to sleep. Suddenly and without warning, his lungs constricted tightly as dizzyingly confusing colors rushed past his closed eyelids. It was too much to take in, and at last he was consumed by the blessed darkness once again.


ooOOoo


The next time consciousness seeped over Harry’s senses, he was lying in a soft bed that he had no recollection of climbing into. He groggily opened his eyes and squinted at the unfamiliar surroundings. Soft, green light burned overhead, and low voices could be heard from outside the blurry curtains surrounding him. He automatically reached to his side looking for his glasses, and was surprised when someone handed them to him.

As soon as he put them on, Owen Savage’s tired face came into sharp focus. Ron sat on the other side of the bed, looking exceedingly pale and worn out. Harry looked around. The room reminded him of the hospital wing at Hogwarts, but knew that couldn’t be the case. He furrowed his brow as he tried to place what had happened, and how he’d ended up here.

“Ministry Infirmary,” Owen said, supplying the information Harry sought. Owen, too, appeared rather restrained.

“Right,” Harry replied, his mouth feeling as if it were filled with cotton wool. Memory was coming back to him now. The forest — Dementors.

“Duncan?” he asked, alarmed. He couldn’t see around the curtain surrounding his bed, although he strained for a look of the other beds that he assumed were nearby.

“He’s fine. They brought him over to St. Mungo’s to have his ankle fixed. You did good, kid,” Owen said.

Ron placed a cup of water in Harry’s hands, and Harry was dismayed to realize his hands were shaking as he lifted it to his lips, sloshing some of the water down his front. He sipped it gratefully as it soothed his parched throat.

“What happened?” he asked. “We were swarmed. Did those Dementors get away from the group we were herding?”

Owen shook his head, looking weary. “They didn’t come from our group,” he said, sighing. “Although it was all we could do to get them to their destination. The rest of our team has been sent home to get some rest.”

“Harry, I’m glad to see you’re awake.”

Harry looked up to see Kingsley Shacklebolt moving aside the curtain that surrounded Harry’s bed. He was followed by Harry’s boss, Gawain Robards. They each moved to stand on either side of the bed, beside Ron and Owen. Ron wore a gob-smacked expression as if his mum had caught him doing something he’d been expressly told not to do.

“Minister,” Harry said, struggling to sit up, “Chief Robards.” He almost asked them what they were doing there, but managed to stop himself in time, thinking it would be rather impertinent to question the Minister for Magic.

“It’s all right, remain at ease,” Kingsley said in his deep, booming voice. He rested his hand on Harry’s shoulder in a comforting sort of way. Harry had managed to sit up, but the pressure of Kingsley’s hand forced him back to rest against his pillows.

“We’ve been briefed by the rest of your team, but we wanted to get your statement about what happened on the forest floor,” Robards said in his no-nonsense manner.

“Are you feeling up to that, Harry?” Kingsley asked.

“Yeah. I’m fine,” Harry said automatically.

“I doubt that very much. Dementors are taking a toll on all of those attempting to control them,” Robards said brusquely.

“I can cast a strong Patronus, sir,” Harry said defensively. He remembered Owen telling him that Harry’s difficulty with Dementors had been discussed by the higher-ups, and it irritated him.

“I’m aware of that, Potter. It’s not the ability to cast a Patronus, but casting them repeatedly that’s been wearing down our Aurors. It takes a good deal of power to cast one, never mind keeping up at the pace that’s been required,” Robards replied curtly.

“I’ve never cast that many before,” Owen said, his face drawn.

“Savage, Weasley, why are you two still here? You’ve been debriefed and cleared to go home,” Robards said as if just noticing the presence of Harry’s two companions.

“Potter is my partner, sir,” Owen replied.

“Yeah, but… it’s Harry,” Ron said at the same time, as if that answered everything.

“It’s all right,” Kingsley said, raising his hand and sidestepping a reprimand. “Once we hear what Harry has to say, all three will return home for a mandatory twelve hours.”

Robards frowned at Ron and Owen, but turned his attention back to Harry. “Auror Savage has divulged to us that he told you to follow Auror Tate as his broom descended, while he paired with Auror Rickman to contain the Dementors in the air. What happened when you and Auror Tate reached the ground?”

Harry scrunched his forehead, dredging up the details. “I sped after Duncan until I was close enough to cast a spell to slow his fall.”

“Oh! So that’s why he wasn’t more injured. We’d wondered,” Ron said, interrupting.

Robards’ glare caused him to close his mouth with a snap.

“Continue, Potter,” Robards said.

“We shared some chocolate, and I immobilized his ankle. I cast a few Protective Charms around us, along with a locator spell. I’m not certain how long we were there before I felt the Dementors approaching,” Harry said, being as concise as possible.

Robards nodded approvingly, and the Minister asked, “Felt them?”

Harry shrugged uncomfortably. “Yeah. I always feel them before I see them. Something was off about this lot, though.”

“Clarify,” Robards barked.

“I dunno. It was odd — as if they were testing my Patronus. They stayed out of reach until it faded every time, then tried another angle. I think… I mean, I’m not certain…” Harry said, faltering.

“What is your gut telling you?” Kingsley asked.

“I think they were learning,” Harry said.

A pregnant pause filled the room as each occupant digested this information. Harry looked around, feeling a little stupid.

“I dunno. I never said I was an expert on Dementors. Where did they come from, anyway? Did they break away from the group we were herding?” he asked.

“No. They were part of the group we already had contained in the forest,” Kingsley replied. “At least, we thought we’d had them contained. We’re still trying to ascertain how these ones went missing without notice.”

“As I’ve said, I don’t think we have enough people patrolling the perimeter, Minister,” Robards said, agitated.

Kingsley nodded, slowly. “I’m open to suggestions, Gawain, but at the moment, we don’t have the people to give you.”

“Sir,” Harry said, pausing.

“You have an idea, Harry?” Kingsley asked.

Harry shook his head. “Not about the staffing, but… When we began our shift, we hadn’t heard from the first shift, and now this. Perhaps we need an alternate way to communicate,” he said, staring meaningfully at the Minister.

“What do you… Oh!” Kingsley said, his dark eyes widening.

“I know it was the Order’s secret form of communication, but… Voldemort is gone, and everyone on the Dementor Task Force can already cast a Patronus,” Harry said.

“Care to enlighten me what you’re talking about?” Robards asked.

“It’s an excellent suggestion, and I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t think of it. In my defense, there’s been a lot on my plate,” Kingsley said, smiling deprecatingly. He turned to face Robards. “Albus Dumbledore discovered a method to use a Patronus to carry a message. It was how we could always be certain the message was coming directly from the source. Did he show you how to do it, Harry?”

Harry shook his head. “Hermione knew the theory, and we worked on it last year when we were on the run,” Harry replied, glancing at Ron, who looked away. It was after Ron’s departure that he and Hermione had decided they needed a way to talk to each other in case they were separated. It was one of the only things they had accomplished successfully during that dark time.

“Arthur and I will begin showing some of the department heads how to accomplish it at once,” Kingsley replied.

“All right, that solves one problem. If Potter is right and these new juvenile Dementors are evolving, we’re going to have the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures all over us. They’ll insist operations be paused until the affect can be studied,” Robards said.

Kingsley nodded. “It will have to be documented, but not at the expense of public safety. You continue with what you’re doing, and I’ll get someone I trust to look into it. For now, you’ve been cleared to go home with the instructions of bed rest and more chocolate.”

“Sounds good,” Harry said, envisioning his warm bed back at Grimmauld Place.

“No Apparition, take the Floo home. I’ll not have another Splinching today,” Robards said, getting to his feet.

“Splinching?” Harry asked sharply.

“One of the trainees from an earlier shift. I’m putting a new procedure in place that there’s to be no Apparition after excessive exposure to Dementors,” Robards said as he strolled from the room.

“I’m glad you’re all right, Harry,” Kingsley said, again squeezing his shoulder before they moved away from his bed.

After they’d left, Harry pulled himself to his feet, still feeling very weak. He had to hold onto the bed for a moment until the room stopped spinning.

“Let’s go home,” Ron said, tiredly.

“I could eat a Hippogriff, then sleep for a week,” Owen said. He, too, appeared to be dragging his feet.

Harry didn’t think that sounded like a bad idea at all.


ooOOoo

Harry walked through the stark white station cautiously. He’d been here before. As it was then, something was making noise from beneath a bench, something that caused his lungs to constrict, and his heart to clench. He was frightened by whatever was under the seat, but he couldn’t stop his legs from walking that way. He crouched down, next to the whimpering thing. It was scarred and hideous — some sort of deformed monster child. As he stared in revulsion, it turned its head and stared directly at him. Its piteous cries stopped, and it studied Harry carefully. A grotesque, forked-tongue darted from its mouth as if testing the air.

‘Harry Potter,’ Voldemort’s unmistakable voice echoed throughout the empty station. ‘You will not escape me.’

Harry backed away, shaking his head. ‘I already have.’

‘No. I’m part of you. I’m forever part of you. You’ll never escape from me, Harry Potter,” Voldemort said, dragging out the last syllable in a hiss.

Harry’s heart thudded. The temperature in the room dropped dramatically, and his breath emitted little puffs of steam that evaporated in the chilly air. The creature on the floor raised a scabbed, scaly hand, reaching for Harry. He couldn’t get away. There was nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. The scabbed hand grasped his shirt, pulling him down. The mist surrounded him, enveloping him in its icy grip. It settled into his pores, claiming him. He was part of it now, and there was no escape.

‘No,’ he moaned helplessly, knowing it was fruitless. ‘No, please. Please!’


“Harry! Harry! Wake up, you maniac.”

Harry awoke with a start, his head moving from side to side, seeking a threat. He was drenched in sweat, and his hands shook uncontrollably. His breath came in frantic gasps as he registered Ron standing beside him, his arms still resting on Harry’s shoulders as if he’d been shaking him.

“Ron,” he gasped, swallowing hard.

Ron stepped back, looking at Harry warily. “All right? You were shouting,” he said uncomfortably.

Harry ran a shaky hand through his sweaty hair, trying to slow his rapid breathing. Fearing his voice would crack if he attempted to answer, he merely nodded. He pulled himself into a seated position and squinted at Ron.

“Time?” he asked.

“It’s about five in the bloody morning. You were screaming your head off, mate. All right?” Ron said, sitting on the edge of Harry’s bed as if all the strength had been sucked out of his legs.

“Sorry,” Harry said, abashed. He hadn’t had to cast a Silencing Charm when he slept in a long time. The nightmares weren’t completely gone, but there hadn’t been one this vivid in a long time. Absently, he ran his hand along his scar, although it hadn’t pained him in months.

“Don’t be sorry,” Ron said, again shifting awkwardly. “Was it bad?”

Harry didn’t answer, looking down. “I don’t understand. After I talked to Ginny, they were better. I don’t know why this one came back.”

“Harry, mate, I’m glad you talked to Ginny, but… I think talking about what’s troubling you is more than a one off. Those ruddy Dementors are bringing all that shite back. I wasn’t sleeping well, either,” Ron said, not meeting Harry’s eyes.

Agitated, Harry rubbed at the scar, uncertain what to say. “Er… you’re probably right. It’s the Dementors,” he said uneasily.

“Yeah. If you’re all right, I’m going to go back to bed and try and catch a few more hours’ sleep,” Ron said.

“Er, Ron…” Harry said.

Ron stopped inches from the door, his hand already on the knob. “Yeah?”

“Thanks,” Harry said inadequately.

“No problem,” Ron replied, attempting to grin and failing miserably.

Once he left, Harry leaned back in bed, trying to put the dream together in his head. Voldemort had been part of him, but he was gone now. He was dead, and he wasn’t coming back. Still, in the early morning darkness with the remnants of the terrifying dream flitting through his mind, he couldn’t shake that small bit of uncertainty. Pulling at his T-shirt, he glanced down at the scar on his chest. It was still there.

Voldemort was gone.

Breathing heavily, Harry lay back and reached for his wand. “Nox,” he said, causing the lights to dim. He attempted to go back to sleep, knowing it was useless. He was wound too tight. Tossing back and forth several times in an attempt to get comfortable, he finally gave it up as a lost cause. He reached over to his bedside table and opened the drawer.

He knew what he needed.

Pulling out a sliver of glass, he momentarily debated waking her so early. She’d have a full day of classes ahead of her. Still, he justified it by telling himself she’d have been worried when he didn’t contact her the night before.

Holding the mirror to his lips, he said softly, “Ginny.”

His mirror remained unchanged, only his pale, drawn face and red-rimmed eyes staring back at him.

“Ginny,” he repeated, a little louder this time.

As if he’d willed her there in his desperation, the mirror fogged over and Ginny’s sleep-tousled hair appeared. She impatiently swiped it from her face.

“Harry?” she said urgently, the drowsiness rapidly disappearing from her eyes. “Are you all right? Why didn’t you contact me last night? I’ve been worried sick and barely able to sleep a wink.”

Harry was uncomfortably reminded of Mrs. Weasley.

“Err… sorry about that. I’m calling now,” he said meekly.

Ginny’s eyes appraised him coolly for a moment before a frown descended over her pretty features. “What happened?” she asked, and there was no chance of denying anything had happened.

Where to begin?

“It was a rough day with the Dementors,” he said, somehow feeling the uncomfortable knot in his chest lifting merely by speaking with her — even if she was slightly hacked off at him.

“You look like hell,” Ginny said, not unkindly.

Harry snorted. “I’ll never get that big head everyone thinks I have with you around.”

Ginny grinned sheepishly. “Really, though… what happened?”

“Duncan went down. I was sent after him, and we were sort of ambushed,” he said, feeling a slight chill run down his spine as he thought of the cold, scabby hand of a Dementor.

“What do you mean ambushed?” she asked sharply.

“There were more of them than we thought. It’s all okay now. Duncan was taken to St. Mungo’s. He broke his ankle in the crash, and we’ve both had plenty of chocolate,” Harry said, trying to reassure her. Comforting her somehow made him feel better.

She didn’t look fooled. “I wish you didn’t have to be so close to those Dementors. You’ve never had an easy time of it.”

“They have a lot more material to work with these days,” he said darkly.

“See! That’s what I mean. I don’t think this is the best assignment for you, Harry,” she said imploringly.

Harry sighed, shrugging. “Unfortunately, anyone who can cast a Patronus is working on this assignment now. We need to come up with a better plan.”

“Did you just get home now?” she asked, horrified. He saw her glance over at the clock on her bedside table.

“No, no. I’m sorry I didn’t contact you. It was late when we came home, and I sort of fell asleep,” he said quickly, hoping to rush past his error.

“Dementors are no excuse for missing our nightly chat,” she said primly, and Harry could see the trace of mischief — so reminiscent of her bothers — in her eyes.

“I don’t want to talk about Dementors anymore. Let’s talk about something else. Distract me — take my mind off it,” he pleaded.

Ginny’s eyes glinted merrily, and a mysterious half-smile formed. “Talk about what? Are you asking me what I’m wearing to bed, Harry?” she asked.

Harry was taken aback. His eyes opened wide. “No! That’s not what… er… what are you wearing to bed?” he asked daringly.

“Wouldn’t you like to know,” she asked, smirking.

Harry’s mind was already conjuring plenty of images that definitely didn’t include flannel.

“Harry. Focus,” Ginny’s voice said from what sounded like a great distance. He wrenched his mind back to the moment.

“Wha… Sorry. What was that?” he asked, still dazed.

“We had a great Quidditch practice tonight. I think this team is going to be good. Are you still coming to our first match?”

“Of course. I wouldn’t miss that. Who knows — maybe Gwenog Jones will be there. She is friendly with Professor Slughorn, you know, and you’re playing Slytherin.”

Ginny frowned, not nearly as excited by that news as Harry thought she’d be.

“What’s wrong, Ginny?” he asked, having to stop himself from reaching out and trying to push the hair back from her face.

“I’m not sure I’m ready for her to see me play yet,” Ginny said, biting her lip.

Ginny’s self-doubt was unlike her, it took him a moment to wrap his mind around it. As far as he was concerned, Gwenog Jones would be lucky to have her. Certainly, she must see that. If not, he was going to ensure that she did.

“Are you having doubts about trying out?” he asked cautiously.

“No… just… loads of people try out, but only a few actually make it,” she said, and Harry suspected she was revealing something to him that had been wreaking havoc in her mind for quite some time.

“You’ll be one of the ones who make it,” he said confidently.

“You don’t know that,” she said, rolling her eyes. Still, he could tell by the tiny twitch on her left cheek that she was pleased.

Feeling bolstered he was on the right track, he said, “I do actually. You’re brilliant.”

A reluctant smile finally formed on Ginny’s face. “Unfortunately, recommendations from one’s boyfriend aren’t the only qualifier.”

“Well, they should be. I have complete faith in you, Ginny. She’ll be amazed, you wait and see. I am,” he said the last part shyly, feeling color infuse his cheeks. He was grateful for the darkness of the room because he didn’t think she could tell.

“Thanks, Harry,” she said, beaming.

“No problem,” he replied sleepily. The stress of the previous day was finally catching up to him now that his talk with her had calmed him. He thought he could actually fall back asleep.

“You get some rest, and we’ll talk tomorrow. Don’t go falling off your broom or anything in the meantime,” she said fondly.

This time Harry rolled his eyes. “Ha, ha. You’re funny. Good night, Gin.”

“Night, Harry. Oh, and by the way, the answer to your earlier question is one of your old Quidditch jerseys — and a pair of tiny black knickers.”

She cut the connection before he had a chance to respond. His head was spinning, but no longer with Dementors or dreams about Voldemort. Another part of his body was clamoring for attention, as well. He never did get back to sleep, but for entirely different reasons.


ooOOoo


Ginny and Siobhan joined the queue outside of Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom. They’d just come from Muggle Studies to meet up with Hermione, who was coming from Arithmancy, and Parvati and Liz who were coming from Divination. They pressed themselves next to the wall of the castle as the rush of students passed. Ginny was still amazed by how many more students there were compared to the previous year.

She caught her breath and straightened her robes, which she’d bunched up while sprinting down the corridor. Judging by the number of students still moving, she wasn’t as late as she’d feared. Professor Radford didn’t tolerate tardiness.

As several first-years passed Ginny, giving her not-so-subtle glances, they yet again burst into giggles, and she heard the familiar chattering about her dating Harry Potter. When this had started at the beginning of term, she’d thought it was funny, but now she had to admit that she was growing weary of it.

“Oh, I have so much homework,” Hermione said, one shoulder sagging with the weight of her book bag. “Professor Vector is concerned we won’t be ready for NEWTs with the disruption last year.”

Hermione was always worrying about one class or another and the upcoming NEWTS. It was only October. Ginny couldn’t imagine what she’d be like by spring term. She turned her head to the side so Hermione wouldn’t catch her amusement and saw Andrew Kirke and Dean Thomas joining the queue. Andrew squeezed into the spot between Ginny and Siobhan.

“Hi, Siobhan,” he said brightly.

He was trying to look cool but failing miserably. Siobhan looked amused.

“All right, Ginny?” Dean asked.

“All right,” she said, nodding. “You?”

“I’m great. I received an owl from Harry this morning. He offered me a job over Christmas break,” he said, beaming.

“Right — Teddy’s room. He said he wanted a magical portrait in there. Can you do it?” she asked. She loved Harry’s idea about turning Sirius’ old room into a room for Teddy with a scene of the Marauders in Animagus form on the wall.

“’Course I can,” Dean said dismissively. “He didn’t say who Teddy was, though.”

“His godson. He’s Professor Lupin’s child,” Ginny replied sadly. She still grieved for Tonks and Professor Lupin. In a more perfect world, they’d be lining up to attend one of Professor Lupin’s lessons. She still thought he was the best Defense teacher they’d ever had.

The classroom door opened, and all the various students began filing into the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom. The Gryffindors shared this class with the Slytherins. Before she’d entered the room, however, Ginny was distracted by a scuffle behind her. Several fifth-years who were walking in the opposite direction shoved one of Ginny’s classmates into the wall rather roughly.

“Watch it, Death Eater,” one of the fifth-years snarled.

“Can’t believe you have the balls to even show up here. You oughta be in Azkaban with your dad,” another said.

When the boy who’d been shoved straightened himself, he knocked his shoulder roughly into one of the fifth-years, sneering and stepped around Ginny to enter the classroom. Ginny recognized him as Tim Travers, one of the Slytherin boys from her year.

Her instinct was to speak up against the unprovoked attack, but she held her tongue, feeling wrong-footed. Tim Travers was usually the one doing the bullying. In fact, during the previous year it had been Tim and his gang of Slytherins who were some of the most adamant on insisting Ginny’s own status as a blood-traitor made her less than human. He was also the lead jeerer in naming her one of Harry’s Slags.

As she finally opened her mouth to speak, Astoria Greengrass grabbed her arm and shook her head. “I’ll deal with it. You stay out of it. Your interference won’t be appreciated. Slytherins take care of their own.

“Twenty points each from Ravenclaw,” she called to the retreating backs of the students involved.

They looked over their shoulders to scowl at her.

“Isn’t your House supposed to signify intelligence? Not very bright to attack another student right in front of the Head Girl, is it boys?” she asked, following Ginny into the classroom.

“I didn’t hex anyone,” the Ravenclaw said.

“No, but as I’m certain you’re aware, Muggle dueling is also not allowed in the corridor,” Astoria answered coolly.

The previous year, there had been periodic wand inspections because the Carrows had been trying to discover the identity of those damaging the Chosen One Most Wanted posters. A lot of the students had learned that Muggle methods couldn’t be identified as easily. Physical pushing and shoving had become far more prevalent than ever before.

Ginny took her seat and watched Tim take his next to Evan Bulstrode. The two of them conferred in hushed tones, but Evan didn’t appear surprised by what had happened. Ginny supposed she really shouldn’t be, either. Both Tim and Evan had been favorite students of the Carrows, and they’d never hesitated to volunteer to hand out punishments. It was no wonder some of the students who had suffered through it bore grudges. Still, as far as she knew, Draco Malfoy had been the only actual Death Eater amongst the students.

“What took you so long?” Hermione asked, her book already open across her desk and quill in hand.

Before Ginny had time to explain, Professor Radford entered the room. “Open your books to chapter seven. We’re going to start a unit on Dementors.”

Ginny quickly pulled out her book. Professor Radford was a mature witch with short, tight blonde curls that were just beginning to be threaded with grey. She was no-nonsense, and so far, had marked fairly. She’d taken points from all the Houses and didn’t seem particularly biased toward any of them. Still, Ginny didn’t feel as if she had a really good read on her. She was usually able to spot which House she thought each professor came from with unerring accuracy. She couldn’t place Professor Radford, however. She was hoping once the Quidditch season began she’d give herself away by wearing colors.

“I don’t know how many of you are aware, but the Dementors have been in the news quite a bit recently. The Ministry is seeking anyone who knows how to cast a Patronus Charm,” Professor Radford said, strolling regally to and fro at the front of the class. “For this reason, I’m certain there will be a section on Dementors on your upcoming NEWTs. We’re going to spend today reviewing what you know about Dementors, and the next class will be a practical on the Patronus Charm.

“I’m aware some of you are capable of producing one. Could you raise your hands, please?”

The former members of the DA — those that Harry taught — all raised their hands. The DA hadn’t covered much about Dementors the previous year as there had been so much other Dark magic being used at Hogwarts. None of the Slytherins raised their hands.

“Very good,” Professor Radford said, nodding. “It is very advanced magic, and not all of you will be capable of it, regardless, but even a mist can be beneficial.”

“Why are the Dementors in the news?” Parvati asked.

“As you are all hopefully aware, they left Azkaban and are now scattered amongst Great Britain. The Ministry is attempting to contain the problem,” Professor Radford said briskly.

“I heard they were breeding,” Dean said, scrunching up his face in distaste. “Though that’s a rather repulsive thought.”

Professor Radford nodded again. “Perhaps you’ll be relieved to note that breeding for Dementors doesn’t involve mating.”

There were sniggers and snorts amongst the students, causing the professor to stare at them in a very McGonagall-ish way. She waited until they’d quieted down before continuing.

“If you’re quite through. Dementors are a bit like fungi, multiplying if conditions are right, meaning despair and degradation, much as they did under Voldemort’s reign. You can limit their numbers when the general morale of the populace improves. I’m certain you’ve all noticed the absence of the heavy mist since Voldemort’s fall.”

Ginny noted there were still several students who shuddered when the professor used the name.

“I thought the mist was caused because they were breeding,” Ritchie Coote said.

“As I just explained, Mr. Coote, the mist is part of the conditions in which they thrive. The only way to destroy a Dementor is by starving it, but completely eradicating despair is easier said than done. You can drive them back, however by utilizing a Patronus Charm. Dementors feed off your emotions, but they are perhaps best known for their ultimate weapon — the Dementor’s Kiss. Can anyone tell me what this is?”

Predictably, Hermione’s hand shot straight in the air.

“Miss Granger?”

“A Dementor’s Kiss is the act of sucking out a person’s soul, leaving them in a permanent vegetative state. The Ministry occasionally used it as a punishment,” Hermione said, shuddering.

“Precisely. The new Administration has decreed that Dementors will no longer be used in any government role, but that still leaves the problem as to what to do with them. They are classified as non-beings, and are, of course, extremely dangerous. They do not, however, feed on souls, they feed on human emotion.

“Please read the full chapter, and for homework I want two scrolls on the problems facing the Ministry in how to control the Dementor population,” Professor Radford said, taking a seat at her desk.

Ginny began her reading, but her eyes kept seeking out Tim Travers and Evan Bulstrode, who weren’t doing a good job hiding the fact they weren’t doing the reading and were instead having a furious discussion. Ginny was too far away to hear what they were whispering, but she tried, anyway. Astoria discerned what she was doing and frowned.

Ginny purposefully dropped her quill and leaned over to pick it up, putting her head within Astoria’s hearing.

“I told you to stay out of it, Weasley,” Astoria said in a low voice, her eyes resembling cold chips of ice.

“Stay out of what? I’m still not sure what I saw,” Ginny said, keeping her eyes on Professor Radford so they wouldn’t get caught.

“It’s understandable that some people are upset with them, but it’s not okay to act on those feelings,” Astoria said.

“Has that been happening a lot?” she asked.

“It’s nothing compared to what’s going on in the rest of the wizarding world,” Astoria said, mumbling.

“What do you mean?” Ginny asked. Was this happening outside of Hogwarts, too? People taking out their anger on the families of Death Eaters? Perhaps they didn’t feel the punishment of a sentence in Azkaban without the Dementors was enough. Ginny had to admit, she’d felt that way herself.

“It doesn’t matter. They don’t want your pity,” Astoria said, purposely keeping her attention fixed on her reading.

“There’s a difference between pity and sympathy,” Ginny said, snapping. She wasn’t even certain what had angered her. These were the same boys who’d harassed her mercilessly the year before, yet she couldn’t help remembering how it felt to be the one being harassed.

Astoria’s gaze softened slightly. “It’ll take some time. Choices have consequences.”

“Miss Weasley and Miss Greengrass, kindly continue your conversation on your own time. Finish the reading and add another scroll to your homework assignments thanks to your chatty classmates,” Professor Radford said sternly.

Ginny’s face burned, and she hurriedly leaned over her book. Damn. There was Quidditch practice tonight, too.


ooOOoo


Dinner that night was a raucous affair. There seemed to be a lot of extra energy amongst the students, and it was being burnt off in loud conversations. Ginny sulked over her beef stew as Hermione continued to berate her.

“I don’t understand what was so important that you felt it had to be discussed during class. As Head Girl, Astoria shouldn’t have engaged with you,” Hermione said for about the fiftieth time. Ginny thought Hermione was getting a perverse pleasure in criticizing Astoria. She still hadn’t fully forgiven her for being named Head Girl.

“Oh, Hermione, give it a rest. What’s done is done,” Siobhan said, surprising Ginny. Siobhan usually stayed out of Hermione’s way.

Hermione also appeared taken aback. “Well,” she said huffily, “I only thought you’d wanted to have Quidditch practice tonight.”

“I am having Quidditch practice tonight,” Ginny said, knowing where this was headed.

“But you have loads of homework,” Hermione said, aghast. “How are you going to get in all done if you’re flying about until dark?”

“We’re not going be flying about, we’re going to be preparing for the match on Saturday,” Ginny said through gritted teeth.

“Well, I don’t think Dean and Ritchie will appreciate you keeping them out there when it’s down to you we have to do an extra scroll on Dementors,” Hermione said loftily.

“Leave me out of it,” Dean said, waving his hand in the air.

“I’m up for Quidditch,” Ritchie said, stuffing more stew into his already full mouth.

“Honestly,” Hermione said, muttering as she returned to her own dinner. She’d just never understood about Quidditch. Ginny hadn’t yet shared with Hermione her desire to join a professional Quidditch team. What did it matter what she scored on her NEWTs if she didn’t have a winning team? She didn’t think Hermione would be at all impressed by her goals.

Ginny also suspected her mum would take Hermione’s view.

Still, she knew Hermione meant well, and she didn’t want to row. “Hermione, have you heard of any vigilante retaliation against the families of Death Eaters?”

She knew that would catch Hermione’s attention.

“What? No… have you? Is that what you were talking about with Astoria? I haven’t seen anything in the Daily Prophet. Ron hasn’t mentioned anything to me, either.”

“Well, to be fair, Ron is probably one of the ones who would be doing it,” Ginny said with a roll of her eyes.

“Ginny! He would not,” Hermione said, scandalized.

Ginny decided to let Hermione have that one.

“I have,” Liz said. She was sitting on Hermione’s other side, and she leaned in so both could hear. “My mum wrote me that my brother got in some trouble with the Ministry for cursing someone. I don’t know the whole story — it’s always difficult to get the full story from my brother — but he calls it retribution rather than cursing. From what I understand, it wasn’t just him. He’s become involved with a group meting out their own punishments.”

“Why hasn’t this been in the Prophet?” Hermione asked.

Liz shrugged. “I don’t know how widespread it is, or if it was more than a one off. It certainly hasn’t helped him in his custody battle.”

“His in-laws still want to take your nephew?” Ginny asked.

“And this counts as a mark against him. Of course, the Ministry is never going to let Muggles take a wizarding child if there’s an option, but his in-laws don’t know that.”

“What do you mean?” Hermione asked.

“Just that it’s in the Muggle courts right now because his in-laws are the ones seeking custody. If he can’t work it out, the Ministry will get involved and settle the matter in his favor,” Liz said, brushing her hair behind her ear.

“Is that what’s best for your nephew?” Hermione asked, outraged.

“I’m not going to take a stand against my brother, Hermione,” Liz said, not quite meeting Hermione’s eyes.

“Well, he sounds a bit of a hothead,” Hermione said delicately. “Perhaps your nephew would be better off growing up in the Muggle world until he’s ready for Hogwarts.”

“Like Harry was?” Ginny asked bitterly.

“That’s different, and you know it,” Hermione said, gasping. “I just don’t think it’s fair that the Ministry would automatically side with him just because he’s a wizard.”

“But he’s the parent. Even Muggle courts side with parents over grandparents unless there is something seriously wrong,” Siobhan said.

Hermione nodded, conceding. “I suppose. It doesn’t seem like there is any way to make everyone happy. What made you ask about retaliations anyway, Ginny?”

“I saw a couple Ravenclaws giving Tim Travers a hard time, and Astoria said something about it being nothing compared to what was going on outside Hogwarts,” Ginny said.

“His father was definitely a Death Eater,” Hermione said, her eyes slightly glazed so that Ginny suspected she was envisioning something none of the rest could see. “I saw his name on the lists of trials over the summer. He was sent to Azkaban.”

“And I really don’t care if the Ravenclaws or anyone else give Tim Travers a hard time,” Siobhan said resentfully. “And don’t you dare give me anything about school unity, Hermione. You weren’t here to see how gleefully he used the Cruciatus against the rest of us — with the Carrows’ encouragement.”

Hermione, who looked as if she was going to reprimand Siobhan, snapped her mouth shut. She frowned, staring back at Ginny.

“Did the Hogwarts students who used these curses receive any punishment?” she asked quietly.

“Dunno. The Carrows are in Azkaban, and everything was done under their orders, with Snape’s apparent approval at the time,” Ginny said, shrugging.

“After Umbridge left, I know Malfoy lost his Prefect status, though, and the Inquisitorial Squad was under her rule,” Hermione said.

“If anything was done, we weren’t told about it,” Ginny replied.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Astoria’s wispy blonde hair trailing behind her as she strode toward the doors. She cornered Simon Teevens, the Head Boy and the two of them left the Great Hall. Simon was from Ravenclaw, and Ginny suspected they were conferring about the incident outside of Defense Against the Dark Arts class. She wished she was close enough to hear it — or at least had a pair of Extendable Ears.

“Ginny, are we practicing?” Demelza called from further down the table.

Ginny nodded, standing up. Dean and Ritchie quickly followed suit.

As they all began to file out of the Great Hall, Ginny noticed Hermione’s troubled expression.

“All right, Hermione?” she asked.

“I don’t know if I could do it,” she said quietly, her eyes brimming.

“Do what?” Ginny asked, alarmed.

“Calmly sit it class next to someone who had tortured me,” Hermione said.

Ginny nodded, biting her lip. What could you say to that?

Back to index


Chapter 7: Daring Nerve

Author's Notes: Happy Valentine's Day! My thanks and sincere appreciation for the Silver Trinket nomination to whoever did that!


Chapter Seven
Daring Nerve



The day of Gryffindor’s opening match against Slytherin dawned crisp and slightly cloudy — perfect to limit the glare of the weakening October sun. Ginny couldn’t have asked for more ideal conditions. The butterflies she’d experienced all week evaporated with the morning mist as she dressed for the match. She’d purposely let her roommates leave for breakfast before her, needing a few moments alone to collect herself and prepare mentally for the match.

She wasn’t usually a nervous person, but she’d built this match up so much in her head, she’d managed to bugger her own confidence. It was a cheerful, supportive note from George that had arrived the previous evening that shook her out of it. George and Harry were both on her side, and she suspected Ron would be, as well. Even if her mum was disappointed when she learned about Ginny’s career of choice, it wasn’t going to sway her.

She could do this.

Why was her mum always able to get under her skin this way? Despite the fact she was a great distance away and wasn’t even aware of Ginny’s plans, it was her mum’s reaction that Ginny was dreading.

If they hadn’t won the war — if Harry and so many others hadn’t sacrificed so much — a career in Quidditch wouldn’t have been available to her. Hell, there might not even be any Quidditch. Being able to live her life playing the game she loved was a way to honor those who gave their lives so that she could do it. Ginny’s mind conjured up the image of Fred’s smiling face as he swung his Beater’s bat. He’d be most chuffed if she made a team.

Ginny was going to do everything in her power to honor him with that, no matter who thought otherwise.

The common room was nearly empty, most everyone was already down in the Great Hall for breakfast when Ginny emerged from the dormitory. She hurried across the familiar room and attempted to climb through the portrait hole, but was startled by Dean, who bumped into her coming in from the opposite direction.

“Ginny! There you are. Is Wendy with you?” Dean asked, slightly breathless. He looked as if he’d sprinted back up to the Tower.

“What?” she asked.

“The rest of the team is already at breakfast. You and Wendy were the only two not there,” Dean said. “I volunteered to come and check on you.”

Ginny glanced back at the stairs to the girls’ dormitory, tamping down on the unease that was starting to bubble up. “I’ll go and see if she’s still upstairs, you check the changing room. It’s her first match, and the nerves might’ve made her want to skip breakfast,” she said, remembering how Harry had always avoided food before a match.

Ginny was a Weasley, and she would never forego the opportunity to eat, but Wendy might be like Harry. The new, young Seeker hadn’t appeared overly nervous at practice, but Ginny didn’t know her well enough to be certain she wasn’t covering.

“Okay,” Dean said, smiling and rubbing his hand along her arm familiarly before giving it a slight squeeze. “I’ll see you there. I have a good feeling about this match.”

And he was off, leaving Ginny feeling slightly wrong-footed. Her arm tingled where he’d touched it, and she fought the desire to shake it out. Dean had always been a very touchy person, and he’d been perfectly fine towards her since they’d returned.

Shaking her head, she ran up three quick flights to the third-year dormitories and knocked quickly. When there was no response, she knocked again with more force. The sound echoed throughout the quiet stairwell.

“Oi! What d’you want?” a groggy voice asked from behind the closed door.

“It’s Ginny Weasley, and I want to know if Wendy Chambers is still in there,” she said, frowning at the door. The voice hadn’t sounded like Wendy.

“She’s not here,” came a sullen reply.

Ginny’d had enough. She pushed the door open and barged into the dormitory. It was set up like all the other dormitories with a bed and a dresser for each of the six occupants.

“What are you doing?” a young girl asked indignantly, sitting up with bed-rumpled hair and pulling her covers close to her chest. Her eyes were wide, and she watched Ginny warily.

Ginny couldn’t remember her name, but she had a vague memory of the dark-haired girl running screeching down the corridor with either Crabble or Goyle on her tail, wand drawn. Ginny had stuck out her foot, causing the big lumbering oaf to fall. Ginny had been cursed for it, but the young girl had escaped. When Ginny met her eyes again, she knew the third year was remembering the same thing.

Ginny glanced around the rest of the dormitory and found all the beds empty. “Which one is Wendy’s?” she asked.

The girl pointed to the bed across from her own. Ginny strode over and put her hand against the rumpled sheets. They were cold.

“D’you know where she is?” Ginny asked.

The wide-eyed girl simply shook her head.

“If you see her, tell her the rest of the team is looking for her. We’re heading down to the pitch. You’d best get up and get ready if you’re going to make the match,” Ginny said over her shoulder as she left the room.

She had no idea if the girl had been planning to attend, but she saw her quickly rising from her bed as Ginny shut the door. Feeling pleased, she hurried to the Great Hall, hoping Dean had found Wendy. The rest of the team were all there, rowdy and exuberant, but both Dean and Wendy were missing. She’d have to grab a quick bite and check the changing rooms.

Walking swiftly over to where her roommates sat, Ginny greeted them with a grin. Siobhan handed her a stack of toast while Hermione shoved some bacon on top. They knew her well. They both wished Ginny luck and said they’d be down shortly.

Giving a wave to all the other Gryffindor well-wishers, and a very rude hand gesture toward the catcalls of the Slytherins, Ginny nearly ploughed into the Headmistress who was entering the Great Hall.

“Do watch where you are going, Miss Weasley,” Professor McGonagall said stiffly. “And take your revenge against your opponents on the pitch rather than at breakfast.”

Ginny’s cheeks flushed. “Yes, Professor,” she mumbled, ducking from the Great Hall. The fact Professor McGonagall hadn’t docked her any points assured her that her former Head of House would be privately cheering for Gryffindor today regardless of the impartial stance she insisted on taking as Headmistress.

Ginny pushed open the large oak doors and took a deep breath of the crisp morning air. There was already a distinct chill to the mornings and evenings this far north, and Ginny watched as her breath dissipated in the chilly air. She munched on her sandwich while crossing the grounds toward the Quidditch changing rooms. She could hear voices from both teams when she entered the building, and the sounds from the Gryffindor side didn’t sound panicked, but boisterous. She felt certain Wendy had been found.

Before she turned to the left to join her teammates, she saw Professor Slughorn standing in the entrance of the Slytherin side talking to a tall, athletic witch who Ginny recognized despite the fact her back was turned.

Her breath caught, and she felt frozen to the spot.

“Ah, Miss Weasley,” Professor Slughorn said jovially. “Of course you will know Gwenog Jones from the Holyhead Harpies, one of my favorite former students. Ginny is one of my current favorites, although I probably shouldn’t admit as much since she’s opposing my Slytherin team, today, eh?”

Professor Slughorn laughed at his own joke, his walrus mustache quivering. He stood beaming at the other two and rubbing his hands over his large, distended belly.

Gwenog smiled woodenly, her dark eyes sizing Ginny up. “It’s nice to meet you,” she said, nodding.

Ginny silently berated herself for feeling star-struck, and she forced herself to smile brightly. She’d met Gwenog Jones once before at a Slug Club party she and Hermione had attended. She remembered being over the moon at the time, but still keeping her head enough to realize the Quidditch star was rather full of herself. Though Harry hated everything to do with his celebrity status, Gwenog Jones appeared to thrive off hers.

“Hello. I hope you won’t be disappointed with the results of the match,” Ginny said, forcing her shoulders back and meeting the Quidditch star’s eyes.

Naturally, the other women towered over Ginny. Everyone always did.

Gwenog grinned, and Professor Slughorn chortled. “She’s full of confidence, this one,” he said.

“I always enjoy watching good play,” Gwenog said, her eyes lingering on Ginny’s captain badge.

This was it. Gwenog Jones now knew who she was. It was up to Ginny to make an impression. A surge of confidence flowed through her, and her eyes flashed.

“I have to address my team. If you’ll excuse me,” she said, nodding again at the other two and managing to hold back a huge grin until she was safely inside the Gryffindor changing room.

She wondered if Harry was already in the stands. She wished she could tell him that Gwenog Jones was here, but it would have to wait until after Gryffindor won the match.

ooOOoo


The match was entering its fourth hour, and there still had been no sign of the Snitch. Ginny’s back ached, and her bum had gone numb over an hour ago. Gryffindor had a substantial lead, but not quite enough to win if Slytherin’s Seeker beat Wendy to the Snitch. Ginny pushed herself forward. A couple more goals and the win could be theirs.

Before the match began, they’d found a green-looking Wendy clutching a bucket in the Gryffindor changing room, her eyes red-rimmed. She’d completely fallen apart. The rest of the team cajoled and coerced her into getting dressed. Ginny could admit the Seeker looked better once they were in the air, but she still had her reservations. She’d feel better if the Chasers could outscore Slytherin enough so that the Snitch wouldn’t matter.

She, Dean, and Demelza worked really well together. Their moves were seamless, enabling their relatively new team to function with ease. Ginny was happy she hadn’t let her reservations about Dean keep him off the team. The surprise had been Bailey McLaggen. He was every bit as good as he said he was, and then some. The Slytherin Beaters had even taken to lobbing repeated Bludgers at him, but he’d managed to dodge them as well as block the hoops.

Ginny was delighted with his performance, though she knew his ego would be a beast to deal with afterwards.

She was happy with her own gameplay, as well. She’d managed to score a brilliant goal with two Chasers and a Bludger on her tail, and right in front of Gwenog Jones to boot. Ginny could hear Harry shouting himself hoarse when that had happened. He was sitting in the Gryffindor section with Ron and Hermione, and the nostalgia went straight to Ginny’s heart.

Although both Gwenog and Harry were distractions, she found Harry the harder to ignore. Her eyes kept straying to where he sat, watching him cheer or laugh. It was as if there was a huge spotlight shining on him — even the sun was happy he was there. It warmed her heart to see him obviously enjoying himself. She knew Demelza was aware of her preoccupation because she kept blowing kisses at Ginny each time she passed. Ginny didn’t care. He was worth the peeks.

She’d missed Demelza scoring, so she forced her mind back onto the game just in time to see Dean miss the Quaffle because he had to dodge a Bludger.

“I have it,” she called, swooping lower in time to catch the errant Quaffle. She began speeding toward the Slytherin hoops with both of their Beaters in close pursuit. She felt the familiar, heady rush of the wind blowing her hair as the cold stung her face. She dodged a Bludger while Demelza ran interference for her. She locked her eyes on the center hoop but aimed for the right one and threw.

The Slytherin Keeper followed her eyes and moved toward the center hoop just as the Quaffle sailed by him into the right hoop. He scowled at her as the Gryffindors cheered. At last, Gryffindor had enough of a lead to win regardless who caught the Snitch.

Evan Bulstrode, one of the Chasers, had caught the Quaffle, and he was attempting to dodge past Dean when the excited voice of the announcer spoke across the pitch, “And both Seekers have spotted the Snitch.”

Ginny snapped her head around to see Wendy and the Slytherin Seeker, Phelix Harper diving toward the other end of the pitch where a tiny glimmer of gold was just visible near the bottom or the Gryffindor hoops.

“Go, go, go,” Ginny muttered, as if she could force Wendy faster by the mere force of her words. Evan couldn’t score now or all could be lost. She watched as Jimmy and Ritchie attempted to steer the Bludgers toward him. One of the Bludgers grazed his arm, causing him to drop the Quaffle. Demelza grabbed it and moved toward the opposite end, her eyes fixed on the Seekers.

Both teams were weary, and all of them hovered in mid-air, watching the two Seekers racing for the prize. Ginny felt her heart thumping wildly as she bit her lip watching the action that appeared to be rolling in slow motion.

Each Seeker reached for it at the same time, but Harper’s arm was longer, and it was his fingers that closed around the Snitch. Wendy clutched at the hem of his sleeve, but it was too late. Ginny felt a flicker of irritation — she hated to lose — but it didn’t matter. Gryffindor was still up by points. They’d won the game, if by a very slim margin.

Both teams celebrated as they all lowered their brooms to the ground. It had been an exceedingly long game, and they were all happy to be done. Slytherin wasn’t going to catch them in points, so they were happy to limit the scale of Gryffindor’s victory. Jimmy patted a distraught Wendy on the back while Ritchie picked Demelza off her feet and swung her around. “We won! And we can finally eat,” he said with delight.

Breakfast seemed a long time away, and as soon as he’d said it, Ginny’s own stomach rumbled. Ritchie was a bit like Ron when it came to food. The large crowd must’ve been thinking the same thing, for already the stands had begun to clear as students started the trek towards the Great Hall for lunch. The air was filled with excited chatter as they descended from the stands. Ginny’s eyes again sought out Harry, but she’d lost him in the crowd.

“Ginny, we won!” Dean said, running up beside her and pulling her into a fierce hug before moving toward Demelza to do the same.

Ginny watched them for a moment, pondering, before making the trek back to the changing rooms. She wanted to clean up quickly so she could find Harry and get something to eat.

“Well, we didn’t get the Snitch, but a win is a win,” Bailey said, walking beside her. “We’ll have to see about the score on the Ravenclaw/Hufflepuff match to work out what kind of margin we’ll need for the next match.”

“For now, I’ll take the win and don’t make Wendy feel bad. She only missed by an inch, and it was a great showing for her first match. You did brilliantly, as well,” Ginny said. He really had played spectacularly, and ego or not, he deserved to be congratulated.

Bailey smirked confidently. “Told you.”

“That you did,” Ginny said, laughing. She was too pleased to even try and knock him down a peg. Besides, there were plenty of practices to come in order to do that.

She caught up to Wendy and ruffled the girl’s hair. Her Seeker looked positively heartbroken.

“Go have a shower, it’ll make you feel better,” she said kindly, grabbing her bag of fresh clothes and doing the same.

She relished the feel of the hot water washing away the sweat and grime of the game. Her first match had been a win, and Gwenog Jones had witnessed it. She knew she had personally played well to top it all off. Ginny was feeling immensely cheerful about the day. When she exited the showers, the rest of the team had already departed, but Wendy was sitting glumly on a bench. Ginny pulled her hair into a messy bun and sat beside the younger girl.

“You played well, Wendy. A little more practice and perhaps a growth spurt and we’ll have them,” Ginny said. “Don’t beat yourself up. You were right in the mix.”

“I suppose,” Wendy said. “I wish I could have caught it. I was so close.”

“You were, and that lets me know you’ll have it the next time. I’m not worried, Wendy. Don’t you be,” Ginny said.

“Thanks, Ginny,” Wendy said, a bit more cheerful.

From the corner of her eye, she saw Harry quietly enter the changing room. His bright eyes were alive with mischief as he glanced around the empty changing room. He really wasn’t supposed to be in here.

She was exceedingly happy he didn’t put much stock in rules.

“Go on ahead and get some lunch. I’m certain there’ll be a party in the common room, so don’t fill up too much,” she said, steering Wendy toward the exit in the opposite direction from Harry.

As the girl scampered off, Ginny turned towards him, raising her eyebrow. “Don’t tell me you know of a secret passageway in here, as well?”

Harry grinned. “That’s one I never found, actually.” His skin looked pink from sitting in the sun so long, and his hair was as unkempt as ever. Ginny thought he’d grown more handsome even in the short time since their Hogsmeade visit.

“Pity,” she said, crossing the room and kissing him soundly. Something about a win made her feel daring and bold — and truth be told — a bit randy, as well.

“You played brilliantly,” he said when they finally pulled apart. He kept his arms wrapped around her waist as he spoke, and Ginny liked the feel of their weight resting on her hips. “I loved your mind games on the Slytherin Keeper. It almost looked like you’d Imperiused him.”

Ginny giggled. “Did you notice Gwenog Jones? She was here with Professor Slughorn. I know she isn’t recruiting yet, but it can’t hurt to make an impression.”

“I didn’t see her, but you always make an impression,” he said, smiling that smile that always turned her insides to jelly. It was doing so right now. He reached up and pulled the clip from her hair, causing it to fall over her shoulders. He always seemed to prefer her hair hanging down.

“The match lasted forever. How much longer can you stay?” she asked, wondering if they’d have time to nick a picnic lunch from the house elves.

Harry sighed. “It lasted longer than I’d expected,” he said, raising the bag he had had slumped over his shoulder. “I’ve brought my uniform since I’m on duty in a half hour.”

“Damn. Go on and change then,” she said, nodding toward the changing area. “I’ll walk you to the gates.” The warm bubble that had been building in her chest since she saw him deflated a little.

Harry nodded, tossing his bag on the bench and carelessly pulling his T-shirt over his head as he rummaged in the bag for his uniform. “I don’t want you to miss what’s certain to be an excellent party in the common room,” he said absently.

Ginny only half-heard him. She was mesmerized by the way the lights in the changing room reflected off his taut abdomen. His chest was littered with scars, although Ginny barely noticed them. He was still thin, but much more defined and healthier than he’d been after the Horcrux hunt. Her mouth went dry — perhaps Siobhan had a point about muscles.

Harry had stopped talking and stood there, shirt in his hands, staring at her with a thoroughly amused expression on his handsome face. He’d caught her staring, and he knew it.

“See anything you like?” he asked teasingly.

Ginny wouldn’t have that. “Think you’re impressive, do you?” she asked archly.

Harry’s grin remained in place, his usual modesty glaringly absent as he made no move to cover up. “You’re the one gaping.”

“Oh, really — well, how would you react if I did this?” she asked as she whipped her own shirt off in one smooth motion, amazed at her own boldness. There ought to be an elixir to simulate the feelings of winning a Quidditch match. She didn’t care about her own modesty, and the echoes of the Slytherins’ comments the previous year were growing duller and duller as she stood in front of him.

A stunned Harry stood there gaping. He swallowed visibly as his eyes greedily roamed over her exposed flesh. Ginny was pleased to have the upper hand again. Her heart thundered, and she could feel bumps rising on her skin in the cool air. She wasn’t certain how far her nerve would last, but she was eager to test his reaction.

Without a word, Harry dropped his uniform shirt on the floor, crossed the short distance between them and took her face in his hands. Ginny wasn’t certain who began kissing, but it was hard and fast and bore evidence of a month spent apart. Ginny wound her fingers in Harry’s hair as she felt his arms moving down her back. He was tentative at first, but Ginny’s lack of protest emboldened him, and his fingers became more demanding.

Ginny’s own hands seemed to react with a mind of their own, running over his bare shoulders and down to the abdominal muscles she’d been so fascinated with only moments ago. Harry’s breath hitched as he deepened the kiss, causing her to repeat the motion. The feeling of his skin pressed to hers was heady, and Ginny felt that no matter what she did that she couldn’t get enough of him. She wanted him closer.

She could feel his heart thumping, and instinctively knew he was both as nervous and intrigued as she was, and this thought enabled her to throw caution to the wind.

He began fumbling with her bra clasp. Ginny’s breath caught slightly, and her mind felt muddled. The reasons she’d always told him to stop seemed rather foolish and far away. Instead of wanting him to stop, she wished he’d hurry up. It was taking him much too long to undo that clasp. Finally, her patience could take no more and she used her wand to release it. She grinned against his lips, proud she’d done it wordlessly, and he was none the wiser. He was too focused on his unprecedented good luck to care. He began to lower the garment from her shoulders when they heard someone clumping up the stairs.

“Harry? You in here?” Ron called, very close to the door.

She and Harry broke apart, groaning, and hurriedly grabbing for their shirts. Harry swore colorfully under his breath, looking incredibly put out. Ginny nearly laughed at his disgruntled expression despite her own annoyance with her brother. She’d just managed to straighten her shirt when Ron entered the changing room, swinging his arms gormlessly. His eyes narrowed when he caught sight of them, and he stared at them suspiciously.

“Has everyone else gone? What were you two doing?” he asked.

“What do you think we were doing? Snogging, of course,” Ginny answered flippantly.

Ron’s face puckered as if he’d tasted something sour. “Well, don’t do it where I can see it.”

Ginny’s own temper ignited. “We were in here alone before you interrupted, you hypocrite,” she said scathingly.

“If I don’t see it, I can stay in my nice imaginary world where my sister and best mate are innocent babes doing no more than holding hands,” Ron said as if he sounded perfectly reasonable

Harry started at him incredulously. “Are you ruddy daft?” he asked, his voice sounding strangled. Ginny could hear anger simmering beneath his words. Harry was still worked up, and Ginny wanted to leave him with a more pleasant memory of this promising encounter.

“I like my world. Let me stay there,” Ron replied smugly.

Before Harry could snap, Ginny leaned over and grabbed his arm. Leaning in to whisper, she said, “Don’t worry. We’ll have plenty of time to be alone over Christmas break.”

As soon as she’d said it, she knew that it was true, and the possibilities sent a delightful tingle to the core of her being. The slightly glazed expression in Harry’s eyes let her know his mind was racing, as well.

At least her brother was no longer in danger of being hexed — for the moment, anyway.

ooOOoo


Harry remained vigilant and alert as his eyes swept the many dark crevices between buildings in Knockturn alley. He kept his wand clutched in his hand as he peered into the darkness. Although the streets were crowded, his neck prickled as he felt the weight of a hundred unseen stares watching him move stealthily along the street.

He and Owen were answering a call about an intruder in one of the shops. It was a nice break from the Dementor round up, and Harry had jumped at the chance. He hadn’t been on many investigations as of yet, and no matter what they found, it had to be better than the Dementors.

Although he’d ventured into Knockturn Alley once during a Floo accident in his second year, he hadn’t been back since he’d followed Draco Malfoy to the very edge where Borgin and Burke’s stood. He knew it hadn’t suffered nearly the devastation that had befallen the rest of Diagon Alley during Voldemort’s reign, but there were still some boarded-up shops that had never recovered. Kingsley’s new and improved Ministry was doing all it could to cleanse the area, but a thriving black market had sown deep roots. It would take more time and resources than the Ministry currently had to clean it all up.

As he and Owen moved side by side down the cobblestoned street, Harry saw a heavily-shawled, hunchbacked witch arguing with a wizard wearing a many-pocketed cloak. A number of street vendors quickly closed their stands and hurried into dark corners as the two Aurors approached. Patrons stuffed their hands deep in their pockets and moved in the opposite direction.

Harry supposed he ought to feel some measure of fear as he strolled through the obviously hostile crowd, and though he kept his wand at the ready, he felt oddly alive. His senses were sharpened, and his heart beat with a slight thrill of exhilaration rather than anything foreboding. He supposed his lonely walk into the forest, knowing he was heading for his own death, had dulled other experiences by comparison.

“I think that witch on the corner by the tobacco shop is selling Ashwinder eggs. They’re on the list of substances the Ministry is monitoring,” Harry said, keeping his voice low. He’d seen her stuff the banned substance further into her robes as they passed.

“I know it. I reckon the two blokes over by the pawn shop are trading, as well. We’re here to investigate an alarm in one of the shops, so unless we see a crime blatently taking place, we’re to continue on our investigation. We can’t fix everything overnight, kid, even if it makes us twitch. Dark magic is the priority, the black market will continue to thrive for a few more months,” Owen said grimly.

Harry knew it was the truth. Professor Dumbledore had once said that evil must always be fought, even if it could never be fully eradicated. It ebbs and flows. It was something that Hermione, with all her cleverness, could never understand. She would always believe there was a solid solution, but Harry knew that wasn’t true. Evil would have other victories, they just had to attempt to contain them.

“It’s likely the Dark wizards are getting their supplies off the black market,” Harry said, still aware of how many people were covertly watching them.

“As they always have done. You can’t save everyone, so we have to focus our efforts on where we can do the most good. This is it,” Owen said, stopping and confirming the number on the door.

Harry looked up at a dismally grey, run-down building’s dirty windows and the chipped paint covering the slightly opened door. Owen and Harry exchanged a glance. The call had come from the adjacent shop claiming one of the wards had been announcing an intruder for over an hour. All was silent as they climbed the front steps.

The sign above the door identified the shop as ‘Tippel’s Tomes,’ a book shop, although Harry knew the mere fact of its location indicated the books would be of a darker variety. Owen cast a Revealing spell, but there was no one inside.

“Wands up, we go in on three,” Owen said, grasping the handle so that he would enter first. “One, two, three…”

As soon as he’d pushed open the door, the previously silent wards began to wail, and a Sneakoscope on the floor spun, releasing a high-pitched squeal. A strong gust of hot wind hit both of their faces, but they’d each had a shield in place before a curse could hit them. The wailing continued as they pushed their way into the shop.

“Finite,” Owen said absently as his eyes scanned the dim shop. The wailing stopped instantly, and the Sneakoscope stopped moving.

“Lumos,” Harry said, causing the shops interior sconces to flare. It really didn’t help much. The walls were lined with shelves of dusty books. The covers were all dark and untitled. A small counter stood in the back corner, covered with stacks of more books and an empty birdcage. The till was open, and the floor littered with bits of stray paper and upturned books.

There was a musty, old smell that reminded Harry oddly of Mrs. Figg. The only portrait on the wall showed an old witch stirring her cauldron and watching them beneath the brim of a wide hat.

As they approached the counter, Harry could see open drawers on a credenza beneath the till, various folders and papers pulled out haphazardly. Owen peered around the corner, and his hand instantly reached back, blocking Harry’s progress. He hunched down on his knees, dragging Harry with him.

“What is it?” Harry asked tersely.

“I think our break-in just became a murder investigation,” Owen replied, casting several spells in rapid succession.

Harry knew from his training that Owen was both protecting the body so as not to contaminate the scene, and ensuring there were no Dark spells hidden on the corpse that they could unexpectedly set off.

“All clear,” Owen said.

Harry stepped around the counter and took his first look at their victim. He saw a middle-aged witch with greying hair and a slight build. She was dressed in traditional robes as many of the older generation wore, and her hand was covered in silver rings. Otherwise, her body was unmarked.

Harry cast a spell to detect Dark magic, and as he suspected, there was evidence of the Killing Curse.

“Avada Kedavra?” Owen asked.

Harry nodded, his eyes scanning the surrounding area for a wand. He checked the pockets of her robes and along the edges of her body, but there was nothing.

“Her wand is missing,” he said.

“The till still has gold. If it were a robbery, I can’t imagine they’d leave the gold. Looks like she was reconciling, and they caught her by surprise,” Owen said, examining the desk.

“I’m going to send a Patronus to let the Ministry know they need to get a victim examination team down here,” Harry said, moving toward the entrance of the shop. Since he’d suggested using Patronuses as a form of communication within the Ministry, many of the previous procedures had been changed and streamlined because of it.

As he sent Prongs with his missive, he noticed a lone figure walking on the opposite side of the alley. There was something familiar about the lanky young wizard, but Harry couldn’t immediately place him. He stared for a moment, watching him walk as his mind tried to dredge up how he knew him. A group of three walking in the opposite direction blocked the wizard, forcing him to look when they didn’t move to the side to let him pass.

Harry ducked back into the shadows of the entryway where he could remain unobserved but still hear their conversation.

“What are you doing here? If anyone recognizes you, you could get in trouble,” the only witch amongst the group said.

The lone wizard shrugged his shoulders. “Needed a few things. I’m not doing anything against the law,” he said sullenly.

“Think that’ll stop the mob? They’re after the heads of Death Eaters these days,” another wizard said, staring around cautiously.

“I’m not a Death Eater,” the young wizard replied.

“Your father is, and that’s as good as these day,” the witch replied. “Get out of here, Theo. Go into hiding for a little while.”

“We have to go,” the third in the group said, keeping his eyes to the ground and shifting uncomfortably. “We can’t be seen with you right now.”

“Yeah, I know the spiel,” Theo said contemptuously.

“Theo—” the witch said imploringly.

“Never mind, Gracia. I’m well aware I’m not the company anyone wants to be associated with these days,” he replied, shouldering past the group and continuing on his way.

Harry pulled back inside the shop. He recognized the wizard now. Theodore Nott had been a classmate of his, a Slytherin, but Harry didn’t really know very much about him other than he could see Thestrals. He hadn’t been one of Draco Malfoy’s cohorts, as far as Harry knew.

So, the relatives of Death Eaters were having a hard time of it. He heard there’d been an uptick in arrests of mob-like behavior, and he really couldn’t begrudge people their anger. Many had lost family members because those who supported Voldemort’s cause had reported Muggle-borns to the Registration committee. They’d turned neighbor against neighbor. Some had risen to the occasion, others had done whatever needed to be done to survive, and there were still others who merely tried to keep their heads down and not draw attention to themselves.

It would take time for all the wounds to heal.

Pushing aside his thoughts about Theodore Nott, Harry continued to search the shop for evidence in the crime he was investigating. When the team came to retrieve the body for transport back to the Ministry, he and Owen left them to it. They’d have to return to the Ministry themselves to fill in a report. There was much more paperwork involved in being an Auror than Harry had ever expected.

“She didn’t have a Dark Mark,” Harry said, nearly bursting to get Owen’s opinion on this piece of information.

“No, I noticed that, too. Of course, those with the Mark weren’t the only ones using Dark magic, even during the war,” Owen replied.

“Still, d’you think they were looking for a book or information? Did this witch double-cross somebody, or did she refuse to give them what they wanted?” Harry asked, pondering. His mind was racing with possibilities. The witch was well-dressed, and didn’t seem to be in desperate need for money. This didn’t appear to be a robbery. There was more going on here, he was certain of it.

“Most of the Death Eaters I knew weren’t very interested in reading. If I had to guess, I’d say they were looking for information,” Owen said.

“On what?” Harry asked.

“Isn’t that my line? Aren’t you the one with a direct link into the workings of Dark wizard’s minds?” Owen asked.

Harry snorted. “That only worked with Voldemort. Dolohov is still out there, and there’s been no sign of him. D’you think he could have something to do with this?” They’d managed to apprehend the Lestrange brothers during their last raid, but Dolohov and some of his followers weren’t amongst those captured.

“He has experience with the Killing Curse. The past few years notwithstanding, it really isn’t something we come across with the general populace. There are plenty of more subtle ways to kill someone,” Owen said ominously.

“Harry! Just the man I wanted to see. Fancy running into you, here,” a tall, blonde witch with heavy make-up said, grasping Harry’s arm.

“Er… hello,” Harry said. He’d remembered running into her at King’s Cross Station, but he couldn’t remember her name.

“Terra Munch from the International Confederation of Wizards. I’d requested an audience to discuss some of the highlights of the Battle of Hogwarts,” she said.

“I really wouldn’t call them highlights,” Harry said coldly.

“Oh, pardon. Of course not,” she said, lowering her eyes. Her grip on his arm remained firm, however. “How insensitive of me. I really think your story could go a long way in educating all of us on the horrors of the war.”

“Excuse me,” Owen said, staring at Terra incredulously. “I don’t care who the bloody hell you are. We’re working here. If you want to discuss the ruddy war, contact the Ministry to arrange it.”

“Now listen here,” Terra said, the cloying, fawning voice disappearing instantly. “The International Confederation of Wizards legislates all the procedures you’re attempting to follow, so I’d be most wary of who you cross, Auror Savage.”

“Is that a threat?” Owen asked, eyes narrowed. If he was surprised she knew his name, he didn’t show it.

“Of course not,” Terra replied, taking a step back and regaining her composure. “I’m merely stressing the importance of our work. An interview with Mr. Potter is high on the goals of the Confederation.”

“Exactly what are you doing in Knockturn Alley?” Harry asked suddenly. It seemed an odd place for someone of Terra’s stature to be conducting business.

Terra eyed him much more coolly than she had previously. “I had business,” she said. “Can I let the others know to expect you?”

“You can arrange it with the Ministry,” Owen said firmly.

Terra narrowed her eyes at both before pursing her lips. “Very well,” she said and walked away in the opposite direction.

“Has trouble always just followed you around, kid?” Owen asked conversationally.

“I’m not a kid,” Harry snapped, feeling nettled. Something about Terra Munch set him on edge.

Owen snorted. “You’re much younger than me, therefore you’ll always be a kid. ‘sides, do you even shave?”

ooOOoo


Back at Grimmauld Place, Harry pulled back the covers on his large bed and slid inside the cool sheets, sighing as he felt the weariness that had plagued him all day lifting. He’d returned from the Ministry to prepare a quick fry-up for himself, Ron, and George — who frequently had been joining them for supper — but excused himself after wolfing down his own portion. He didn’t feel particularly social this evening.

For the past several nights, he’d been assigned the late shift with the Dementors, and by the time he’d returned home, it had been too late to contact Ginny. He was working again the following evening, so this was his one chance to catch up with her, and he wasn’t letting Ron and George stand in his way.

He pulled the mirror from the drawer of his bedside table — on top of which rested his new copy of Twelve Fail-Safe Ways to Charm Witches, courtesy of George — and stared at it, contemplating. He hadn’t spoken with Ginny since their interrupted kiss in the changing room, but his mind had repeatedly replayed her parting comment. She’d said they’d have plenty of time alone over Christmas, and he’d looked at that statement from several angles, hoping she meant the same thing he thought she did.

He’d been sure of it when he’d left Hogwarts, but his repeated excursions with the Dementors left him doubting himself to the point he wasn’t even certain what he’d heard anymore. Perhaps he’d imagined it. Why would she possibly want to be with him that way, damaged as he was? Nothing had changed since the summer, after all.

Harry shifted, lying back on the pillow and staring at the mirror without using it. His mind kept replaying a conversation he’d had with George. George had said that he felt brain damaged since the loss of Fred, and Harry had, of course, adamantly denied that claim. Still, it had started Harry thinking. After all, he was the one who’d had an insidious parasite living inside him for most of his life. That didn’t even take into account all the traumatizing experiences at Hogwarts, the Triwizard tournament, the Battle — they’d all left scars. Not to mention the fact the Auror class had been reading a unit about abuse victims and how to handle them in class. Although he didn’t care for the word, he couldn’t deny that some of the material made him uncomfortable. Spending ten years in a cupboard wasn’t normal.

There was nothing about Harry’s life that had been normal, and part of him was damaged because of it. He was the one who was damaged.

Ginny was the only one who could even come close to understanding what that Horcrux had done to him. She’d lived with a part of Riddle’s soul attached to her, as well. But Ginny was pure and light and good. She was fun and cheerful, and she made others want to be around her. Harry was none of those things. So, why then, would she want to know him in the most intimate way possible? It didn’t make any sense, so he must’ve misunderstood her. Once Ginny realized how marred he truly was, she’d come to her senses.

He knew enough about the effects of Dementors to know they were wreaking havoc on his emotions, but he could no longer completely squash the feelings of self-doubt they evoked. How had Sirius managed to survive in Azkaban for twelve years? Harry didn’t think he’d last twelve days in the same situation.

He was being ridiculous. He’d come up here to talk to her, and he wasn’t going to let his worries stop him from doing so. Before his courage failed, he breathed on the mirror and softly called her name.

“Ginny.”

There was no immediate response, and Harry held his breath while his heart hammered a furious rhythm. He really needed to talk to her, even just for a little while.

Please be there.

“Ginny,” he repeated, and this time, the mirror fogged over and Ginny’s bright red hair filled up the surface. He gasped in relief while she adjusted the mirror to show her face. She smiled brightly. To him, it felt like a Patronus clearing away his demons.

“Hi,” she said. “I didn’t expect to hear from you. Did something happen with the Dementors?” she asked, her brow knitting with worry.

“No,” Harry said quickly, reassuring. “I had a day off from Dementor duty. Owen and I took a call in Knockturn Alley. I ended up spending my day on a murder investigation.”

“Really? I’m not sure what it means that I’m happy you did that rather than spend more time with the Dementors,” Ginny said, frowning.

Harry snorted. “I know what you mean. Not to diminish the poor witch’s suffering, but it did make for an easier day.”

“A witch was murdered?” Ginny asked.

“I don’t mean to sound like Hagrid, but I’m not certain I’m supposed to tell you that. Can you keep it to yourself for the time being?” Harry asked sheepishly.

Ginny let out a bark of laughter, her eyes sparkling mischievously and causing a flood of warmth to run through Harry’s belly.

“I can, but it’ll cost you,” she said.

Harry’s grin grew wider. “Yeah? And what’s your price?” he asked, hoping it would be something to make her blush and reassure him that all the concerns he’d been having were for naught, and her mind was in exactly the same place as his.

“Well, I’m out of grape-flavored Sugar Quills, you know,” she said impishly.

Harry deflated a little.

“So, were you in Knockturn Alley all day?” she asked, unaware of Harry’s inner turmoil.

“Yeah,” he replied, pulling himself together. “Well, most of it, anyway. I saw Theodore Nott. It looked like his mates were trying to avoid him.”

“Ooh, I’ve seen that, too. No one wants to be associated with the Death Eaters these days,” she said.

“Nott wasn’t a Death Eater, though, was he? I know his father was. What was he like at Hogwarts?” Harry asked.

“I remember that he was friendly with Draco Malfoy, but he wasn’t one of the ones who really took to the Carrows’ methods. Malfoy wasn’t either, though, not like Crabbe and Goyle, anyway. Still, they never balked at handing out the punishments, even against the little ones.

“There are a lot of weird tensions here at Hogwarts, even between those who didn’t really do anything but keep their heads down. There’s resentment among the Houses, particularly toward Slytherin,” Ginny said.

“I suppose that’s not surprising. It’ll take time to sort it all out,” Harry said, frowning. He remembered a speech Professor Dumbledore had made long ago about choosing between what was right and what was easy. He wondered how many people were second-guessing their choices now.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“I was in the common room working on a History of Magic assignment. I came up here when I felt the mirror vibrate,” Ginny said.

“Is that still your favorite class?” Harry asked, smirking.

“Ha, ha. We’re doing an essay on the use of Inferi during Voldemort’s first rise. They really are foul,” Ginny said.

Harry’s mind flashed on a hidden cave and an army of Inferi lurking beneath the surface of a lake as he mercilessly forced Professor Dumbledore to drink a potion that would eventually lead to his death. He shuddered involuntarily, hard enough for Ginny to notice.

“Sorry,” she said quietly, her eyes concerned.

“S’alright,” Harry said, shaking his head. “They are foul.”

Something in his face must’ve still betrayed his discomfort, for Ginny changed the subject. “Did Ron make dinner tonight?”

Harry shrugged. “No, but we were all working. I just did a quick fry-up. He and George are still down there eating.”

“Harry, if you don’t make him pull his own weight, he’s never going to learn,” Ginny said, frowning.

“I know, but he’s really bad at it, and I get hungry,” Harry said, feeling defensive. Ron did skive off on his cooking duties more often than not, but Harry wasn’t certain which was worse — when he didn’t cook or when he did.

Ginny shook her head. “It’s on your head, then. Are you going to cook for me over Christmas break?”

Harry sat up straighter. They were back to Christmas break. “If you want me to,” he said.

“Of course I want you to! I like the idea of being pampered by my boyfriend,” Ginny said, laughter sparkling in her eyes.

“Consider it done, then,” Harry replied, hoping she’d say more about her plans for Christmas break.

Ginny beamed. “Ooh, guess what? I think Luna fancies someone,” Ginny said, as if she was revealing one of life’s great mysteries. Come to think of it, Harry didn’t remember anyone that had ever really caught Luna’s interest.

“Who?” he asked curiously.

“Simon Teevens, the Head Boy. We were in the library earlier, and I think Luna was trying to flirt with him. Of course, Luna being Luna, I think she scared the poor boy off because he didn’t know what to make of her. I saw her sitting by him at supper, too,” Ginny said.

“I don’t remember him,” Harry said, trying to place a face.

“He’s in Ravenclaw, and he’s never dated Brynn Dempsey, so that’s one thing he has going for him,” Ginny said.

From what Ginny had told him, Brynn was Ravenclaw tower’s version of Romilda Vane, and she’d been one of the chief perpetrators in stealing Luna’s things year after year. Harry didn’t like her on principle.

“Good for Luna,” Harry said. “She deserves some happiness.”

“I always thought she might get together with Neville,” Ginny said musingly. “Although, I suppose she’s a bit out there for him.”

“I’d like to see him introduce her to his grandmother though,” Harry said, and he couldn’t help but laugh at the image. “I saw Neville today at the Ministry. He’s eager to get on the Dementor Task Force, but I told him to be glad his class hadn’t started there yet.”

“Well, it will be good to get more people involved and give those of you who’ve been doing it more of a rest. I can see the toll it’s taking on you, Harry,” Ginny said, her eyes growing serious.

Harry shrugged. “Hopefully, it’ll be over soon.”

“You get some sleep so you’ll feel strong tomorrow. I’m going to finish my essay,” Ginny said, stretching.

“All right,” Harry said, his eyes drooping. “Good night, Ginny.”

“Good night, Harry. Sleep well. I love you,” Ginny whispered.

“I love you, too,” Harry said, smiling. As he rolled over to go to sleep, he thought he’d definitely have to order her more grape Sugar Quills.

Back to index


Chapter 8: Witches and Bitches

Chapter Eight
Witches and Bitches



“There has to be a better way to spend a Friday night,” Siobhan said, tossing a Jelly Slug in the air and catching it as it fell. Some of the red liquid squirted through her lips as she bit into it. She didn’t appear all that fussed and swiped at it with the back of her hand.

Ginny and her dormitory mates were gathered around the fire in the Gryffindor common room, eating all the sweets they’d managed to find and challenging one another to games of Exploding Snap. For once, they weren’t inundated with homework and instead were enjoying a relaxed evening. Some of the other years who weren’t so fortunate, however, kept shooting annoyed looks at the group of seventh-year girls each time the pitch of their laughter increased.

“Perhaps we should move our games up to the dormitory,” Hermione said, glancing worriedly at a group of fifth-years who were giving them decidedly nasty looks.

“Oh, but the fire down here is so lovely, and I’m not ready to get into bed yet,” Ginny said. Siobhan was right, she wanted to do something. Harry was on duty, so there wasn’t even the promise of a conversation to entice her.

“Or how about a kitchen run?” Siobhan asked, equally unimpressed with Hermione’s suggestion.

After Harry had shown Ginny where the kitchens were in her fifth year, she and Siobhan had made a habit of sneaking food back to the common room. It had been a dicey expedition because if they’d been caught by the Carrows, there would’ve been hell to pay. Like Dumbledore’s Army, however, it felt good to get away with something right under their noses.

“I wouldn’t mind stretching my legs,” Liz said, sitting up from where she’d been sprawled on the floor and sending sweet wrappers everywhere. She stared at them unconcernedly.

“I don’t know if I could eat another thing, but hot chocolate sounds divine,” Parvati said. She was lying on one of the couches with her feet on the top and her long, sleek hair hanging off the edge.

“I have an idea,” Ginny said slowly, looking at each of the other girls in turn, sizing them up.

“What is it?” Hermione asked warily, familiar with the mischievous look in Ginny’s eyes.

“Let’s ask the elves for some hot chocolate to take away, then we can bring it up to the Room of Requirement,” Ginny said. Her curiosity about the room’s fate hadn’t abated since her failed attempted to check on it the day of the Hogsmeade visit.

“I thought you said it was destroyed,” Liz said, tilting her head to the side. Another sweet wrapper fell out of her hair.

“But don’t you wonder if it was able to repair itself?” Ginny asked. “We could hang around in there without disturbing anyone trying to revise — maybe even turn on the Wireless.”

“Ooh, yes, let’s do it. I’m so bored. Even if it’s not there, at least it will be an adventure going to see,” Siobhan said.

“I dunno. Making a kitchen run and going exploring on the seventh floor without the Invisibility Cloak. It seems like a big risk of getting caught out of bounds,” Hermione said, but Ginny knew she wanted to go. She wouldn’t be thinking about the Invisibility Cloak, otherwise. She knew as soon as she mentioned wanting to find out what had happened to the room that Hermione’s curiosity would override her caution.

“I’ll risk it,” Parvati said, her dark eyes dancing merrily. “We could use the DA coins to tell Padma. She and I have been using them from our dormitories.”

“Oh, and she should bring Luna,” Ginny said brightly.

“Why don’t we go and see if it’s there first, before we tell the others to join us?” Hermione said. “I suppose if you’re with me, and we run into another Prefect, they might not make a fuss.”

“Hang on. We might not have Harry’s Cloak, but I do have the map. That way we can at least see if the coast is clear,” Ginny said, standing up and moving toward the stairs to the dormitories.

“You have the map?” Hermione asked sharply, her eyes widening.

“What map?” Liz asked.

“When did he give you the map?” Hermione asked, looking rather stunned.

Ginny hadn’t thought of this. The map had always been something between Harry, Ron and Hermione. Ginny hadn’t even known it existed until she’d started dating Harry, and they’d used it to find secluded spots to snog. Perhaps Hermione wouldn’t like the fact Ginny had it now.

“Er… he gave it to me the night before term started. He thought I’d get more use out of it,” Ginny said tentatively, biting her lip. She hoped Hermione wasn’t upset. She wondered if there would ever come a day where she actually felt a part of their tight-knit group and not an interloper.

“What map?” Liz repeated.

“Let me get it, and I’ll show you,” Ginny said, turning and fleeing the common room and Hermione’s intense stare. She sprinted up to her dormitory and pulled the map from her trunk. When she returned to the common room, slightly breathless, her roommates were all gathered around the portrait hole awaiting her.

She opened the map and uttered the password before she was in hearing distance of the others, keeping it concealed until it was fully activated. Checking that the corridor outside the portrait hole was empty, she led them all through. The others got their first good look at the Marauder’s Map as they bustled down the corridor.

“That’s bloody amazing,” Siobhan said. “Look, I can see Romilda Vane at Andrew’s table in the library. She’s been hanging around him a lot lately.”

Ginny grinned. “Worried you have some competition for Andrew’s affections? I thought you didn’t like him that way.”

“I don’t, but he can still do better than Romilda,” Siobhan said hotly.

“So this is how you three got away with so much,” Parvati said, looking at Hermione. "I remember Harry using it during DA meetings, but I never had a good look.”

Hermione nodded. “It certainly came in handy. It belonged to Harry’s dad,” she said, staring hard at Ginny.

“I’ll give it back,” Ginny said quickly, feeling defensive.

Hermione smiled. “You’d have to be really important to him for him to share something so sentimental.”

Ignoring the other girls’ sighs of ‘aww,’ Ginny felt heat rising to her face. Hermione reached out and squeezed her hand while Siobhan made mock-simpering noises.

“Shut it, Siobhan,” Ginny said, pleased. Hermione wasn’t upset she had the map, at all. Ginny was being foolish. Hermione had been championing for Ginny all along. It wasn’t Harry’s feelings she felt insecure about, however, it was more how she fit into their trio. The fact Hermione was happy that Ginny had the map felt very much like acceptance.

“Last year, when we were on the run, Harry often stared at that map just watching your dot. I think it was his way of assuring himself that you were all right,” Hermione said. “He tried to be discreet about it, but even Ron knew what he was doing. Well… after I pointed it out to him, anyway.”

Ginny was certain the heat emanating from her was enough to warm the whole castle. She knew a bit of that story, but it was nice to hear it all the same. “Thanks, Hermione. I wish I’d had some way to know you lot were all right, as well.”

“It all worked out in the end,” Hermione said, squeezing Ginny’s hand again.

They reached the tapestry of Barnaby the Barmy without incident, and the blank wall stood before them.

“So, do we get to hear the story now? What do we ask the room to be?” Liz asked.

Hermione and Ginny glanced at each other. “I think we should try where the fire began,” Hermione said.

“What fire?” Parvati asked. “What in Merlin’s name are you two on about?”

“I’ll do it,” Hermione said.

“There was a fire in the room during the Battle while Harry, Ron and Hermione were inside,” Ginny explained to the other girls. “D’you remember how Harry came to the castle looking for something? It was in here, in the Room of Requirement.”

A door had appeared in front of Hermione. “Well, that’s good,” she said, sounding very un-Hermione-like. She stared at the doorknob hesitantly.

“I’ll do it,” Ginny said, reaching for the handle and pushing the door open to find… nothing. The room was completely empty. There were no burn marks, the walls were unmarked, and the air was fresh and clean, but there was nothing inside but a vast, open space.

“I asked for the room where everything was hidden,” Hermione said. “But everything that was hidden was burned. I think this room is here to start collecting new things.”

“The room survived, just not the things. I suppose that makes sense,” Ginny said, marveling at the wonder that was Hogwarts.

“Okay, so we know it’s still here. Come out and let it seal up so we can ask for another room,” Siobhan said, pulling Ginny back outside. Once she’d stepped foot outside, the door disappeared, and the wall reformed.

“So… what do we want?” asked Parvati.

“I’ll do this one,” Siobhan said, moving to stand in front of the wall and shutting her eyes.

When the door appeared again, Siobhan quickly pushed it open, revealing a replica of the Gryffindor common room only with many more of the good, cushy chairs by the fire. The hearth was huge and blazing, and there were several tables set up with various games. One table was devoted to copies of Witch Weekly, while yet another held a Wireless playing the latest Weird Sisters song. There were large posters on the walls depicting various singers, Quidditch teams, and a vast number of wizards sans shirts.

“It’s perfect,” Liz said, beaming.

Parvati already had her DA coin out, and her fingers were flying over it, presumably sending a message to her sister.

“Tell her to bring Luna,” Ginny said, pulling out her own coin. Although there was no longer a need to use it, she wasn’t able to drop the habit of keeping it on her at all times. Ginny quickly sent a message to Demelza, as well. Although the sixth-year had been working on her homework when they’d left, Ginny thought she might like to join them. Tomorrow’s match was Ravenclaw vs. Hufflepuff, so there would be plenty of time to get her revision done.

“Come on, Ginny. Bring that delightful map, and we’ll make a run to the kitchen,” Siobhan said.

The two girls made the long trek to the kitchen, having to backtrack once when they’d nearly run into Mrs. Norris. The house-elves had laden them with a jug of hot chocolate, as well as a variety of biscuits and tasty treats. By the time they’d returned to their new hideaway, Padma, Luna and Demelza had joined the group, who were all singing along to the Weird Sisters.

An impromptu party of sorts took place with lots of shrieks of laughter and a sharing of Hogwarts gossip. It was later in the evening when a particularly popular song played on the Wireless, and all the girls had jumped up to dance when a feeling of melancholy washed over Ginny.

She moved over to one of the comfy chairs by the fire and sank down into it. It wasn’t long before Siobhan noticed her and took the chair next to hers.

“All right, Ginny?” she asked, her bright blue eyes wide.

“Yeah. I was thinking how much Anna would’ve enjoyed this,” Ginny said, feeling gloomy. Her former roommate, Anna, had been a huge Weird Sisters fan.

“Oh,” Siobhan said, a slow, sad smile forming on her pale face. “You’re right. She would’ve. I can still remember how she sulked for nearly a month when she learned her cousins and older sister were going to a concert, but her parents wouldn’t let her take the time off from school during OWL revision.”

Ginny laughed. “She was so angry. Even when her sister sent her that T-shirt, Anna wasn’t certain if she was being kind or just rubbing it in.”

“I miss Anna,” Siobhan said. By now, the other girls had overheard their conversation and came to join them around the fire.

“I saw her, you know, that night, before she died,” Ginny said, whispering. “I found her out on the grounds struggling to reach the castle. She said she wanted to go home.”

“You never told us that,” Liz said, her voice cracking.

“When I was out there, I thought I felt someone pass me. Harry later told me it was him under the Invisibility Cloak on his way out to the forest,” Ginny said, her throat raw.

“Can I ask you something?” Padma said, her eyes boring into Ginny.

“Depends,” Ginny replied.

“Well, we were all here during the Battle—”

“I wasn’t,” Demelza interrupted. “I wanted to stay, but Professor McGonagall wouldn’t hear of it. I don’t turn seventeen until December.” Demelza was the only sixth-year student amongst their group.

“All right, so the rest of us were here,” Padma said, stressing her words to draw the conversation back on track. “We all saw how impressive Harry was during that duel, but I can’t help wondering about some of the things they said. I think they were talking about the Elder Wand.”

“You mean from the Beedle the Bard stories?” Liz asked.

“Yes, but the Elder Wand actually does exist,” Padma said. “My father always calls it the Death Stick.”

“She’s right,” Hermione said, glancing at Ginny. The Ministry had spread the story that Voldemort believed the tale of the Elder Wand, and Harry merely went along with it as part of a ruse. Nothing about the Horcruxes were ever confirmed, and both girls had to be certain to stick to the Ministry story. “There have been documented cases throughout history of the wand’s existence, so Voldemort wanted it. He thought it would help him beat Harry.”

“So, he didn’t really have it, then?” Padma asked.

“I don’t know,” Hermione said, looking down as she repeated the Ministry story. “He thought he did.”

“I do know that Harry still has his own wand, the same one he got when he was eleven,” Ginny said, aware she was a far better liar than Hermione. “The Ministry destroyed the wand Voldemort used so no one else would get any ideas about an unbeatable wand.”

“So, even if he did have it, it’s gone now? What made Voldemort think he had the real one?” Padma asked.

“The details are rather tricky since we weren’t with him, of course,” Hermione said. Even those who knew about the connection between Harry and Voldemort didn’t understand the full extent, or how far Harry had ventured into Voldemort’s mind. “I do know how it started, though. Harry and Voldemort’s wands shared a core, so they didn’t work properly against each other. That’s how Harry was able to escape him so often. Voldemort went looking for another wand to beat him.”

“And we all know how much stock he put in lore. The reason he went after Harry in the first place was because he believed in some old prophecy,” Ginny said, scathingly.

“Oh, but prophecies are real. Professor Trelawny says so. And… Harry did defeat him, after all,” Parvati said. She was still very taken with Divination.

Ginny was struck by the difference between the sisters. She thought that if Hermione had been Sorted into Ravenclaw, she and Padma would’ve become better friends than she ever had with Parvati. Ginny was happy Hermione ended up in Gryffindor.

“It only came true because Voldemort went after the Potters in the first place. He made it come true,” Ginny said hotly. She felt an overwhelming urge to roll her eyes at herself. She was so focused on sticking to the Ministry-approved story that she thought she sounded like Percy.

“So, all that Chosen One business was true?” Demelza asked.

“Basically,” Ginny said, shrugging.

“We all thought he’d finally gone ‘round the twist when you lot showed up here saying you needed to find something but didn’t know what,” Siobhan said, chuckling.

“Yeah. What was that all about? Obviously, you found whatever you were looking for since he was destroyed,” Liz said, staring at Hermione.

“Harry was under a great deal of stress at the time. I think he had to find the pieces of his courage to do what he did,” Luna said, staring at two different biscuits with intensity. She finally selected one and popped it in her mouth. When she noticed the others were all staring at her blankly, she added. “Well, I think it took a great deal of courage to stand there and take a Killing Curse.”

Ginny shuddered. She hated to imagine what that had been like. Harry had told her all about his lonely walk into the forest, and he’d even admitted he’d never been so terrified in his life. For Harry to acknowledge it, Ginny couldn’t bear to think about it. She wasn’t certain anyone could truly appreciate the sacrifice he had made.

“Professor Dumbledore left Harry a mission — something he had been working on before he died that enabled Harry to finally defeat Voldemort. That’s all I can say about it,” Hermione said firmly.

“Never mind what you were looking for, I want to know what it was like living with the two of them all year. Where did you stay?” Parvati asked, leaning forward on her elbows.

Hermione let out a bark of laughter. “Most of it involved living in a tent, and I realized quickly that boys smell bad.”

Ginny, who had grown up in a house full of brothers, knew this wasn’t an exaggeration. “Can they ever,” she said.

“Did you just keep moving around? How did you avoid the Snatchers? Harry’s face was plastered everywhere,” Liz asked.

Hermione’s face grew drawn. “We never stayed in one place for long, but they did get us eventually. Harry had always used Voldemort’s name, and getting used to saying ‘You-Know-Who’ didn’t come naturally. The jinx caught us, but we were able to get away,” Hermione said, her eyes clouded. She pressed her hand to the thin scar on her neck where Bellatrix Lestrange’s cursed blade had dug into her throat.

“Well, we all know you found whatever you needed since we won, but I still want to know about living with the boys. How awkward was it for you and Ron to have Harry around?” Parvati asked.

“Come on, spill it, Hermione. I think even poor Lavender knew there was something between you and Ron,” Padma added. “I don’t know how Harry could stand it sometimes.”

And there were the sisters showing their similarity.

“Did you manage to snog?” Parvati asked.

Ginny crinkled her nose. Why did it always end up back here? “Hello. Still here, and I don’t want to hear about this,” she said, waving her hand in the air.

“Shut it, Ginny,” Siobhan said, tossing a pillow at her. “Well, Hermione?”

Hermione’s cheeks flushed. “Sorry, but we really didn’t. The first time Ron kissed me was here at the castle during the Battle. Harry was about as impressed with our timing as Ginny here.”

“Did you snog Harry then? Ginny thinks he’s quite snoggable,” Luna said, her eyes wide,

“Of course not. I’ve never thought of Harry that way,” Hermione said, scandalized. She cast a quick, apologetic look towards Ginny, who grinned. She knew from a very young age that it was Ron whom Hermione fancied, and a part of her would always be grateful for that.

“Aside from Ginny, no one knew for certain you were with Harry, though we all suspected it was true,” Liz said. “Brynn Dempsey insisted you were together romantically.”

“That’s only because she doesn’t like Ginny,” Demelza said, rolling her eyes.

“She doesn’t like Ginny because Ginny makes her feel bad about herself,” Luna said, her protuberant eyes blinking slowly. “Brynn often does things that aren’t very nice, and Ginny calls her on it.”

“What? You mean like the fact she’s a spiteful cow?” Ginny asked.

“Exactly like that,” Luna said, nodding.

“Despite what Rita Skeeter said, there has never been anything romantic between Harry and me,” Hermione said firmly.

“Why not, though? Sorry, Ginny, but he is really cute. Who knew he’d grow into those glasses and awful hair the way he did?” Padma asked.

“I did. I knew. I always thought he was cute,” Ginny said, glaring.

“You liked his story,” Parvati said, rolling her eyes so that Ginny wanted to poke them out.

“Actually, the first time I met him was at King’s Cross before his first year. He asked my mum how to get onto the platform. We didn’t know who he was at the time, and I thought he was cute then. So there,” Ginny said, sticking her chin in the air defiantly.

“How come he didn’t know how to get on the platform? Don’t they tell Muggle-borns how to do it? How did you get on, Hermione?” Liz asked.

“Oh, I had explicit directions from Professor McGonagall. I don’t think Harry did, though. Hagrid was the one who brought him his letter,” Hermione said, shrugging. The others all nodded as if that explained everything.

“He was left alone at the train station? That’s odd. Do Muggles do that to their kids a lot?” Demelza asked. “Is that not a big deal in the Muggle world?”

Hermione raised her head indignantly. “No! Most Muggles would never leave their kids in a busy train station, alone, without knowing where they were going. Harry’s relatives definitely don’t represent all Muggles.”

“I remember Colin telling me that he was so excited the first time he did it that he kept running back outside the barrier so he could go through again,” Ginny said, smiling fondly.

“That sounds like Colin,” Liz said, sharing the same wistful smile.

“I think Colin would’ve liked being stuck in a tent with Harry as much as Ginny would,” Demelza said, laughing.

Ginny threw a pillow at her. “To Colin,” she said, raising her mug in the air. They all shared a toast to each Colin, Lavender, and Anna.

“I think the reason Hermione never fancied Harry is because she was always over the moon about Ron,” Parvati said at last, drawing them out of their remembrance. “Even when she pretended that she wasn’t. It must’ve been cozy being on the run together.”

“Let me get this straight, the three of you shared one bathroom all this time. That must’ve been awkward,” Padma said.

“It could be. I finally made a rule that once a week I was allowed to take a long, hot soak, and both of them had to clear out of the tent while I did so. One night, it started pouring on them, but I didn’t realize, and I kept shouting at them to get out every time I heard them try and come back inside the tent. They were more drenched than me when I finally came out of the washroom,” Hermione said, laughing so hard she had tears in her eyes.

“So, you weren’t terrified all the time, then?” Padma asked.

Hermione paused a moment, pondering. “No, not all the time, but there were definitely some terrifying moments. Things I certainly never want to live through again. Now that some time has passed, I find the smaller moments are what come back to me, though. I remember when I showed Ron how to play some Muggle card games, and when Harry fell asleep one night while he was supposed to be on guard duty. We only knew because he must’ve keeled over to one side and knocked down one of the tent poles so the whole thing collapsed on Ron and me.”

“So you and Ron were sleeping alone in the tent then?” Parvati asked eagerly.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “You’re impossible. I told you, we never even kissed before the Battle.”

“That doesn’t mean you weren’t thinking about it — all alone there in the tent with him. His presence must’ve been suffocating,” Liz said gleefully.

“Were you able to ignore it when you knew either of them was wanking?” Luna asked curiously.

Shrieks and laughter filled the room so loudly it nearly shook. Liz hid her face in her hands, and Siobhan laughed so hard, she fell off her chair and stayed on the floor, still laughing.

“Luna!” Hermione said, shocked.

“What? You were gone for nearly a year. Did they pretend not to notice when it was your turn? Although, Ron was never very tactful,” Luna said, apparently oblivious to the uproar she was causing.

Hermione appeared to have been struck speechless as she stared at Luna with her mouth gaping. Ginny patted her on the back because she was afraid Hermione had forgotten how to breathe. Her friend raised a hand to tug at her impossibly bushy hair, attempting to salvage her dignity.

“I would think if you found it disconcerting to be sleeping so close to him, it must’ve made him feel the same. Ron tends to act first and think later, and Harry was probably missing Ginny very much, so he’d remember things that could arouse him,” Luna said, soldiering on.

“Oh, for the love of Merlin’s saggy buttocks,” Ginny said, holding her stomach. It actually hurt from laughing. “Luna, sometimes your thoughts ought to remain private.”

Luna merely blinked at her. “Oh. I thought we were talking about what it would be like to share a tent with two teenage boys, especially one you fancied.”

“I honestly tried not to think about it with them, but why do you think I demanded privacy for my weekly bath?” Hermione asked, finally finding her voice. There was the Gryffindor that Ginny knew Hermione had in her.

There were more shrieks and laughter, several of the girls tossing pillows at each other as their raucous squeals continued. Finally, Padma was the one who tried to regain some order.

“All right, ladies. It’s after midnight, and on that note, I think we should all head back to our dormitories before we’re caught out of bounds.”

The others began gathering their things. Ginny checked the map to be certain the coast was clear for Luna and Padma to get back to Ravenclaw Tower un-accosted. Before they’d left the room, however, Luna had one parting comment that caused them all to dissolve into giggles once again.

“And if I decide to wank, I won’t share my thoughts about it at breakfast tomorrow.”

ooOOoo


The cubicles in the Auror Department were decorated with jack-o-lanterns, and cut-outs of various bats and spiders hung from the ceiling. The Ministry was bursting with color and had orange and black streamers lining the walls. Halloween was approaching, and the Ministry workers were preparing for a celebration. Harry stared dully at the various decorations as he trudged his way through the crowded room toward Owen’s cubicle. Since he was technically still in training, Harry hadn’t been assigned his own cubicle yet.

He had spent his day keeping watch over the Dementors in the Forest of Dean, and he really wanted to go home for a kip. The Dementors were exhausting, and they even managed to suck the joy out of flying — something that he’d always found exhilarating. He propped his broom next to Owen’s desk and wearily sank into the chair, leaning his head back and letting his eyes drift shut. He’d promised his partner he’d swing by the Ministry to check if there were any developments on their murder investigation.

There hadn’t been any new leads, and the examination of the body confirmed the witch had indeed been killed by a Killing Curse. The trail had gone cold, however. A team had swept the shop for clues, but they hadn’t found anything of interest, no one had claimed responsibility, and none of the other attacks on pure-bloods had gone so far as murder. The witch had been identified as Agnes Heatherton, and she’d run the illicit book shop for years without law entanglements.

Harry sighed, pulling out a stack of parchment from Owen’s in-tray. On top was a flyer announcing a Ministry Halloween party. Harry stared at it in consternation. He’d never put a lot of thought into the holiday. When he was a child, the Dursleys hadn’t been keen on it. Even when they’d given in to Dudley’s tantrums about going out for Trick-or-Treat, Harry hadn’t been allowed to go. At Hogwarts, he’d always enjoyed the feast, but he’d never really given a lot of thought to the implications of the holiday.

The war had changed that. Facing Voldemort had made him truly appreciate all his parents had sacrificed on the fateful Halloween night seventeen years ago. They’d each faced their own imminent demise, as well. Harry had managed to cope during the walk to his own fate with his parents’ support. They were the ones who should’ve been there all along. It should’ve been them who saw him off on the Hogwarts Express rather than Ron’s parents. His mum should’ve been the one to be there when he awoke all those times in the hospital wing. His dad should’ve been the one to give him an awkward sex talk rather than George Weasley. All those should’ve-beens had changed in an instant.

Somehow, the thought of attending a party turned his stomach. He put the flyer back in Owen’s in-tray and looked through the rest of the stack. There was nothing pending on their murder investigation, so he was free to go home at last. His body was so tired, it ached.

As he moved the stack of correspondence back to its place, he noticed the headline on the Daily Prophet. His stomach dropped as his eyes scanned the ensuing article with mounting horror.


Boy Who Lived Mysterious Connection to the Dark Lord Continues
By Rita Skeeter


I’m certain all my avid and loyal readers will remember when I exposed the odd behavior of the Boy Who Lived during the Tri-wizard Tournament. As you will recall, a then adolescent Harry Potter entered the contest whilst he was underage, despite numerous safeguards that had been put in place by former Headmaster Albus Dumbledore to prevent such an occurrence. Of course, it was later revealed that You-Know-Who had allegedly orchestrated the entire fiasco in order to abduct Mr. Potter.

At the time, there had been multiple reports of our young rebel complaining about his scar hurting, and that he frequently collapsed and had to be removed from class. Naturally, this all could be put down to a young adolescent trying to ditch his studies, but curiously, my frequent inquiries into the matter were repeatedly brushed off. Albus Dumbledore, who had an unusually close relationship with the Boy Who Lived (that you can read all about in my exclusive biography on the former Headmaster) explained Mr. Potter’s actions as lingering trauma from the curse that failed to kill him as a baby. I’ve yet to find medical evidence of a curse scar acting in such a way.

During the Battle of Hogwarts, Harry Potter yet again seemed to have a lot of inside information on the mysterious activities of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. There had been a vast number of months where both of the combatants had been out of the public eye, and no one appeared certain of their whereabouts. During that time, Mr. Potter had been on the run, allegedly seeking a way to destroy the Dark Lord, hiding from both You-Know-Who and the Ministry which sought to question him. As we all know, Mr. Potter did eventually defeat his nemesis.

More recently, however, there was a murder in Knockturn Alley that has been kept very hush-hush. Mr. Potter is yet again embroiled in the midst of this mysterious death. This reporter, through tireless investigation and selfless disregard of her own safety, has discovered there was indeed a link between Mr. Potter and said former villain. A link that had been kept quiet from the public by those in authority who have been trusted to protect our security and well-being. In fact, an Auror was overheard interrogating Mr. Potter on the possibility of his having more information on the current Dark and elicit activities involved in the murder of this innocent witch than he was letting on.

Call this reporter both alarmed and concerned that yet again, Mr. Potter is at the crux of another attempt at forbidden Dark magic. He appears to be drawn to such activity, unable to escape its calling, and we, the people, need our leaders to keep a very close watch on him to ensure we don’t have another uprising on our hands.


That bitch!

She made it sound as if he, Harry, was queuing up to be the next Tom Riddle. There was no mention of the fact he was there as an Auror investigating the crime. She’d even managed to make the parts she had right sound sordid. Hadn’t he spent the past year living in a tent and surviving on mushrooms so that Rita bloody Skeeter could continue her pampered lifestyle? And where had her information come from, anyway? Harry remembered that Owen had made a joke about his connection to Voldemort while they’d been in Knockturn Alley, but he couldn’t recall exactly what had been said. They’d been interrupted by the arrival of that witch from the Confederation…Terra Munch.

She’d been at the train station that day he’d been mobbed by reporters, too, and although he hadn’t seen her in the cafeteria on the day his last conversation had been overheard and reported, it didn’t mean she hadn’t been there. She’d said she did a lot of business at the Ministry.

Pulling out a piece of parchment, Harry scrawled a quick message to Percy Weasley asking what he knew about Terra Munch. If anyone had the inside scoop on the players at the Ministry, it would be Percy. Harry folded his missive into a paper airplane and spelled it to fly up to Percy’s office.

Fuming, Harry grabbed his broom and stormed from the area, hoping to avoid contact with anyone. He was in a foul mood, and he didn’t think the tentative hold he had on his temper would survive a confrontation. He stalked through the corridors and into the thankfully empty lift, wanting nothing more than to get home to think calmly. As he continued his angry march toward the Apparition point, he saw several eager people trying to get his attention, but he ignored them all. There was always someone who wanted to chat with the Boy Who Lived. Perhaps once they read the article, they’d start cowering instead of fawning. That was the usual pattern at Hogwarts, anyway.

He Disapparated without really thinking about it, and was therefore surprised to find himself not on the steps of Grimmauld Place, but in the familiar, overgrown garden at the Burrow. He’d obviously been more upset than he’d realized because he wasn’t even certain how he’d ended up here, but he knew he was lucky he hadn’t Splinched himself. Before he could even consider correcting his error, the kitchen door swung open, revealing the smiling face of Molly Weasley.

“Harry!” she said, sounding truly delighted to see him. That was one thing he’d always appreciated about the Burrow — someone was always happy to have him there. Swinging the kitchen door wide, she greeted him with a bone-crushing hug that he melted into, resting his head on her shoulder. Something must’ve alerted her to his distress, for she held on and didn’t let go until he finally pulled back from her greeting. Embarrassed, he couldn’t meet her eyes and instead scuffed his foot on the ground, still standing in the doorway of the well-worn kitchen.

She curled her arm through his and pulled him over to the kitchen table. “Sit down, dear. Dinner is almost ready, but we can start with a cup of tea until Arthur joins us. I’m so pleased you decided to drop by. It gets so quiet here without a crowd.”

She used her wand on the kettle, and placed two cups on the table side-by-side. He was grateful to her for at least pretending that he’d meant to be here. The tea was steaming, and it helped to settle his fragile emotions. The kitchen was so familiar and calming that Harry felt his mood lightening. There was a jack-o-lantern sitting on the counter, and Harry realized this was the first Halloween he’d ever been here. He’d always been at school in the past. He didn’t know if Mrs. Weasley usually decorated or not. With Fred missing, some things could just never be the same, but he was pleased by the understated tone nonetheless.

“Tell me, how are you and Ron coping with the cooking? Is Ron still skiving off his share of kitchen duty?” she asked.

Harry’s eyes opened wide. He hadn’t mentioned anything about Ron’s abysmal cooking skills.

“Don’t give me that wide-eyed stare. I raised him, I know what he gets up to. Bill, Percy and the twi… er, and George are all able to navigate a kitchen. Charlie, Ron, and Ginny — not so much,” Mrs. Weasley said, looking down and taking a sip of her own tea.

Harry glanced at her, worried her slip about Fred would send her into tears. Harry would do anything for her, but he didn’t think he could cope just then. Thankfully, Mrs. Weasley pulled herself together.

“Ginny and Charlie never wanted to learn, and Ron wouldn’t put in the effort. Are you doing all the cooking? How are you managing?” she asked.

“Er… we tend to have take-away on Ron’s nights,” Harry admitted sheepishly.

“I thought as much,” Mrs. Weasley said, sniffing.

“It’s all right. I don’t mind cooking. I think I finally have your steak and kidney pie right,” he said with a small bit of pride.

Mrs. Weasley beamed. “All it takes is a bit of practice. I never get a new recipe exactly right the first time, either.” She looked up as Mr. Weasley’s hand on the family clock moved to ‘traveling.’ “Oh, here comes Arthur. I’ll get the plates, you get the cutlery,” she said, bustling from the table.

Harry happily helped her set the table, remembering a comment Ron had made about guests sitting and family doing chores. Mrs. Weasley placed a hot chicken pie on the table just as Mr. Weasley opened the kitchen door. He greeted Mrs. Weasley with a kiss, and walked over to shake Harry’s hand.

“It’s good to see you, Harry.”

“Good to see you, too, sir.”

As they sat down to eat, and Mrs. Weasley served Harry a heaping portion, he found he really wasn’t very hungry. He swirled his fork around on his plate, moving the crumbling pie around more than putting anything in his mouth.

“I understand you’ve seen Rita’s new rubbish in today’s edition,” Mr. Weasley said without preamble.

Harry looked up, stunned.

“I heard you were down in the Auror department with it this afternoon,” Mr. Weasley answered quietly.

Harry supposed he’d never be able to get away with anything at the Ministry. There was always someone watching him.

He shrugged, viciously stabbing a carrot on his plate. “I saw it,” he said baldly.

“That woman makes her living off tormenting other people. She should learn a bit of decency and gratitude. I never noticed her out there when there was fighting to be done while Voldemort took over. She sat back and followed orders, keeping her head down like the rest of the hags at the Prophet,” Mrs. Weasley said with her nose in the air.

“Rita Skeeter has always lived to cause trouble. She takes a tiny bit of truth and spins it into the story she wants to tell rather than the actual news,” Mr. Weasley said calmly. “Don’t let her get under your skin, lad. She’s reaching and looking to see what kind of reaction she can stir.”

“I know, but… how did she find out about the link?” Harry asked the question that had been sitting like lead in his belly. If the rest of the wizarding world ever learned he’d had a piece of Voldemort’s soul living inside him, he’d never hear the end of it. It would be a hundred times worse than knowing Parseltongue — which he couldn’t do anymore, anyway. Not that it would matter.

“She doesn’t know anything,” Mr. Weasley stated firmly. “She’s grasping at those old rumors. The only people who know about that link who aren’t in this room are people you’ve told, people you trust. Even what’s left of the Order don’t know the full story.”

“I do end up in the center of a lot of Dark magic, though,” Harry said, looking up through his lashes at Mr. Weasley.

“And that isn’t your fault. Your connection to V— Voldemort was unique. You’re going to be an Auror, you’re naturally going to come across instances of Dark magic. That doesn’t mean you’re in any way to blame for them. Harry, that piece that resided in you — that was something that was done to you, not something you did. It was never you,” Mr. Weasley said, gently laying his hand on Harry’s arm.

Despite knowing that what Mr. Weasley said was true, it felt nice to hear it all the same. Harry took a bite of his chicken.

“I’m glad to hear you’re investigating something besides those Dementors all the time,” Mrs. Weasley said huffily. “No one should be around those foul creatures for extended periods. It’s not healthy.”

“Now, Molly. We all agree it’s not a perfect plan, but it’s not permanent, either,” Mr. Weasley said.

“And there haven’t been any new Dementor attacks since we started,” Harry said. Gawain Robards had pointed that out at their last meeting. It was the one thing that made being around the creatures more bearable.

Mrs. Weasley walked over to a side dresser and picked up a copy of the Daily Prophet. Harry noticed the top of the dresser had various photographs of the Weasley kids at various ages. The one in front was one he hadn’t seen before. It was Ginny and him in the common room playing a game of Exploding Snap. They were really young, perhaps first- and second-years. Harry didn’t remember the picture being taken, but it looked like Colin Creevey’s work. Perhaps Ginny had placed it there in honor of her departed friend.

“What is this about you being interrogated by an Auror?” Mrs. Weasley asked, frowning as she perused the article.

“That part is true, sort of,” Harry said, swallowing a bit of the chicken pie. “Owen Savage and I were talking about a link to Voldemort. It was more of a joke than an interrogation, though. Rita forgot to mention I was working and not the suspect.”

“Hmm,” Mrs. Weasley said, pursing her lips. Harry was unexpectedly reminded of Professor McGonagall.

“Could the Skeeter woman have overhead you?” Mr. Weasley asked.

“I suppose,” Harry said, shrugging, knowing Rita had a sure-fire way of going unnoticed. “I think someone else might be tipping her off, though.”

“You sound as if you have someone in mind,” Mr. Weasley said shrewdly.

“Do you know a witch called Terra Munch from the International Confederation of Wizards?” Harry asked.

Mr. Weasley paused a moment, his brow furrowed in concentration. “Can’t say that I do. Why?”

“She keeps turning up, and she was there right as Savage and I were talking the other day. She’s been after me to give an interview to the Confederation, but I’ve been dodging her,” Harry said, coloring slightly.

“And you think she’s been feeding information to Rita Skeeter?” Mrs. Weasley asked, swelling.

Harry shrugged. “I dunno. Perhaps she thought it was a way to get me to want my story out. I sent a message to Percy asking what he knows about her.”

“That’s a very good idea,” Mr. Weasley said, pausing. His ears turned red in much the same way Ron’s did when he was uncomfortable. He cleared his throat before speaking. “I want to reiterate that no one who wasn’t part of the instated Order knows the full details.”

The instated Order. That meant Percy hadn’t been as fully briefed as the other Weasley children. Harry nodded awkwardly.

“Why don’t we have pudding?” Mrs. Weasley said, running her hand in Harry’s hair fondly and breaking the uncomfortable silence.

All in all, Harry was very glad his discomfort over the article had accidentally landed him at the Burrow. It was where he needed to be.

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