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: 2018.04.19


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 9: Sneezes and Snuggles
Chapter 10: Parties and Partings
Chapter 11: Reunions Redux
Chapter 12: Good Tidings of Comfort and Joy
Chapter 13: Cars and Couches Be Damned
Chapter 14: Auld Lang Syne
Chapter 15: Catching Up and Moving On
Chapter 16: Past, Present, and Future


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.

Back to index


Chapter 9: Sneezes and Snuggles

Author's Notes: Thanks to my friend, Ryan for the RoR line. Ryan has been such an awesome alpha reader as I plodded my way through this, giving me feedback both on his favorite lines, and what he thought needed to be expanded.


Chapter Nine
Sneezes and Snuggles



November’s chill hit Hogwarts with the force of a Bludger. Cold, damp fog rolled down from the surrounding mountains and permeated the grounds. The stone walls of the castle seemed to harbor the dank cold. The biting wind whistled through the cracks and crevices, and damp mist stubbornly remained on the windows. Students no longer lingered in the corridors to chat but hurried to get to classrooms where at least the enclosed spaces retained some warmth. Naturally, with the clammy weather came a series of coughs and colds. By mid-month, a raging epidemic had enveloped Hogwarts.

The hospital wing was at capacity, and a harried Madam Pomfrey had requested that the upper classes repeatedly brew Pepper-up Potion, despite it being well below their grade level. She couldn’t keep enough on hand as there were more ill than healthy students and staff currently in residence.

Ginny wearily trudged up the stairs, feeling wretched. She’d had a dose of Pepper-up the previous day and thought she was on the mend, but it had worn off after Madam Pomfrey’s supply had run out again. Her name was on a long list awaiting the next batch to finish brewing. It was the same every year once the weather turned colder. She’d learned in her Muggle Studies class that Muggles suffered the same way, but they didn’t even have the benefit of a Pepper-up Potion. You’d think with magic, wizards would’ve come up with some kind of cure by now.

Her throat ached, and her head felt stuffed with cotton wool. All she wanted to do was lie down, but the common room was overflowing with students sicker than she was. At least she’d caught it early enough to get a dose of Pepper-up Potion. Hermione had begun brewing her own, but it wasn’t ready yet. Instead, Ginny was meeting Luna in the library to work on a Charms essay. Luna was one of the few who’d managed to escape the plague.

She was wearing her thickest, warmest Weasley jumper, a purple one with an extravagant flower on the front. Her mum always thought she enjoyed gardening more than she did, but it was warm and reminded her of the comfort of home. The library wasn’t overly crowded, and Ginny easily spotted Luna sitting at a table alone. Brynn Dempsey was sitting at another table behind her with several of her usual followers.

Typical of Brynn not to invite Luna to join them.

“Hi, Luna,” Ginny said, her voice sounding croaky through her stuffed nose. She dropped her bag on the table and sank wearily into a chair on the opposite side from Luna.

“Hullo, Ginny. You sound miserable. Did you forget to add some Peggityroot Sap to your bath?” Luna asked, her mouth turning downwards in a slight frown.

“Er…. What?” Ginny asked.

“You’re supposed to add some Peggityroot Sap to your bath once cold season starts,” Luna said, as if scolding a wayward child. “It keeps your sinuses clear.”

Ginny often thought Luna’s ideas were mad, but who knew? Luna was one of the few who weren’t sick, after all.

“Oh, er… I forgot. Have you started on Charms already, then?” she asked, looking at Luna’s parchment.

“No, this is for Herbology,” Luna said, putting it aside and pulling out her Charms notes. Ginny hadn’t continued with Herbology after OWLs. The two girls worked for several hours on their essays. Ginny was most thankful for Luna’s help because the words kept blurring on the page as she read. She only looked up when the volume of twittering from Brynn’s table increased exponentially. Looking around, she instantly spotted the reason. Simon Teevens, the Head Boy, had wandered into the library looking lost.

“Simon, there’s room at our table,” Brynn said, smiling widely.

Ginny rolled her eyes. There were a number of empty tables available.

Simon surprised her when he said, “Thanks, Brynn. I’m all right here,” and he promptly joined her and Luna at their table.

“Hullo, Simon,” Luna said in a sing-song voice. “We’re working on Charms.”

The last time Ginny had seen Simon, he’d been running away from Luna, whom Ginny suspected had a crush on him. Obviously, Ginny had missed a crucial step, for now Simon was beaming at Luna as if she was the most wonderful witch he’d ever seen.

“Luna, you were right about the Crimson Weed. It was exactly what my potion needed. It worked perfectly,” he said, beaming.

Luna smiled serenely. “I knew it would.”

“I can’t thank you enough. I’ve been working on this for months,” Simon said, leaning back in his chair with a sigh of relief. His arms dangled off the sides of his chair as he continued smiling at Luna.

Ginny stared between the two, puzzled.

“Simon wants to be a Healer. He’s attempting to alter a potion to increase the rate of time,” Luna said, filling Ginny in. At least Ginny thought Luna was trying to fill her in. She honestly had no idea what her friend was talking about.

“Pardon?” she asked.

Simon shook his head impatiently. “It’s a potion designed to quicken the healing rate of internal injuries. I almost had it, but I couldn’t get it to congeal. Luna suggested an ingredient, and it worked. I still don’t know how you knew what it would do.”

“Crimson Weed is often used in the making of Time-Turners,” Luna said vaguely.

Simon frowned, but shook his head. Apparently, he was too excited about his potion to try and work it out. “D’you want to see? It’s still brewing down in the dungeon, but I’m certain it’s working.”

“All right. D’you think there’s still pudding in the Great Hall?” Luna asked.

“We could stop on our way down and check. My treat,” Simon said, helping Luna with her books.

“Oh, I didn’t realize you had to pay for second helpings,” Luna said. “I’m glad you knew, since I didn’t bring any gold to the Library. See you, Ginny,”

Luna took a rather-stunned looking Simon’s arm and let him escort her out of the library.

“I can’t believe he’s spending time with Loony,” Brynn said rather loudly, also staring at the door where Simon and Luna had just departed. “She’s so weird.”

“I know. She’s good at Potions, though,” one of her friend’s replied. “Even Professor Snape didn’t often correct her.”

“If she’s so good, you’d think she’d come up with something to fix the stringiness of her hair,” Brynn said spitefully.

Scowling, Ginny lifted her wand and silently cast a Stinging Hex.

“Ouch!” Brynn said, grabbing her shoulder and looking around wildly. Fortunately for Ginny, a group of Hufflepuff boys were pushing their chairs away from their table, and Brynn thought they’d bumped her. “Watch it, or I’ll take points the next time,” she snarled.

Alarmed, the third-years’ eyes widened as they hastened from the library. Hermione, who had just entered, walked over to Ginny’s table, glaring. “Ginny, you can’t go around hexing anyone who annoys you.”

“That’s why you’re the prefect and not me, Hermione,” Ginny said blithely.

Hermione pursed her lips. “I don’t think I should even share this.”

It was only then that Ginny realized Hermione didn’t sound congested at all. “You’ve got Pepper-up Potion,” she said, sitting up straight.

Hermione paused, her eyes narrowed, but then she relented and slipped a phial into Ginny’s outstretched hand.

“I love you, Hermione,” Ginny said, sighing as she uncorked it.

“It’s remarkable how similar you and your brother can be sometimes,” Hermione said wryly, her eyebrows raised.

Ginny grinned before downing the potion. Steam immediately rushed from her ears, and she felt her sinuses clearing with blessed relief. Even her throat felt better.

“Is that Pepper-up Potion?” Brynn asked nosily. She’d turned around completely to inspect the Gryffindors’ table. “D’you have any more?”

Ginny didn’t think she even sounded congested. “Sorry,” she answered before Hermione could. “That was the last dose.”

Brynn scowled and turned back to her work, muttering indecipherably to her cohorts.

“Ginny,” Hermione hissed under her breath. “I do have more.”

“I’d rather cough on her then share the relief,” Ginny said, savagely. “You’re not becoming her potion supplier. Besides, you didn’t hear how nasty she was being to Luna before you arrived.”

“I saw Luna leaving with Simon Teevens,” Hermione said, puzzled. “What was that about? I thought you said Luna fancied him, but it was one-sided.”

“I dunno. That’s what I thought, but there was definitely an undertone happening here tonight. Perhaps potion-making creates romance.”

Hermione reared back skeptically. “You think she gave him a love potion?”

“What? No, of course not. Simon is working on a potion, and apparently Luna helped him with an ingredient. Something to do with internal injuries. Honestly, my head was so clogged, I couldn’t pay attention,” Ginny said, sighing with pleasure as she felt her cold symptoms continue to clear. “Did you give the others some of this?”

Hermione nodded. “Yes. I left them all in the dormitory, but they all appeared to be on the mend. Parvati insists she’s dying, but she sounded better doing it,” Hermione said, her lips pursed. Parvati definitely qualified as a difficult patient. She hadn’t stopped complaining from the moment of her first sniffle.

“Good. Maybe we can all get a good night’s sleep, then,” Ginny said, letting her eyes drift shut.

“Well, you can’t sleep here,” Hermione said, chuckling. “What are you working on?”

“Luna and I were working on Charms. I’ve just about got that one finished. I haven’t started on Transfiguration or Defense Against the Dark Arts, though,” she said, her eyes remaining closed.

“I saw Professor McGonagall on my way here. I think she brewed some Pepper-up Potion for the teachers. She was coming out of the staff room, and I saw her putting some empty phials in her pocket,” Hermione said, grinning.

Ginny laughed. Hermione and Professor McGonagall as Potion Pushers was amusing. “I wonder why Professor Slughorn isn’t supplying their fix.”

“It isn’t a fix,” Hermione said, outraged. “Brewing your own Pepper-up Potion is perfectly safe, and legal. There is such an overly large need right now, I’m certain Professor Slughorn can’t produce any more than what he’s making for Madam Pomfrey. He cancelled the Slug Club dinner tomorrow. He said he didn’t think anyone was healthy enough to attend, anyway.”

“Pity. I was so looking forward to it,” Ginny said, clutching her chest and smirking.

“They’re not that bad,” Hermione said, although she grinned. “It breaks up the monotony, anyway.”

“I suppose,” Ginny said, pulling out her Transfiguration book. She might as well take advantage of working with Hermione and get her most difficult subject out of the way. Hermione followed suit, pulling out her own homework.

Once they’d started, Ginny realized it wasn’t as difficult as she’d feared. Or — more likely — the Pepper-up Potion had cleared her head so it was easier to think.

“I had an owl from Ron this morning,” Hermione said in a deliberately casual tone that caused Ginny to jerk her head upright. She remained silent, waiting for Hermione to continue.


“He said they’re still working with the Dementors,” Hermione said eventually. “I wish they could get a break from that. It makes him so irritable.”

“I know,” Ginny said. “Harry said they’re trying to limit shifts, and they’ve finally added some of the Aurors from Neville’s class to the rotation.”

The tension appeared to drain from Hermione. “You’ve heard from him, then? That’s good,” she said, sighing.

Ginny frowned, puzzled. Something was obviously troubling Hermione. She pondered it for a moment before it finally dawned on her. Zeus had been getting less of a work-out since Harry and she had been using the mirrors to communicate. She didn’t know why she didn’t want to share the secret of the mirrors with Hermione. Somehow, she liked having this small secret with only Harry. Sneaking away to use them made it more exciting. Still, Hermione didn’t know this and had probably been worrying they were rowing.

“Of course I’ve heard from him. How else would I have known he was working on that murder investigation in Knockturn Alley?” she asked.

Rita Skeeter’s most recent article had caused yet another uproar and batch of rumors. Romilda Vane had actually approached Ginny trying to get more details about Harry’s connection to Dark magic. Ginny had retaliated by slipping itching powder into Romilda’s pajamas when the sixth-year dormitory was empty, but Hermione didn’t need to know about that.

Hermione shrugged. “I just haven’t seen Zeus at breakfast the last few days,” she said, picking at a non-existent piece of lint on her sweater.

Ginny wondered how many others had noticed the decrease in the amount of her owl post, and if they, like Hermione, had assumed there was trouble between Harry and her. She’d have to make an effort to send more post, even if it were simply blank parchment.

Before Ginny could respond, Dean entered the library and dropped his bag at their table, sitting down. He looked remarkably healthy.

“Blimey,” he said. “I didn’t think I’d find any other students who weren’t sick. All my roommates insist they have the plague.”

“How’d you manage to escape it?” Ginny asked with a hint of envy.

“Dunno. I’m not complaining, though. I don’t want it,” he replied, shaking his head. “I won’t even go into the dormitory without covering my face first.”

“What happens when you’re sleeping?” Hermione asked, amused.

Dean looked aghast. “I haven’t been sleeping in there with those germs. I’ve spent the past two nights in the Room of Requirement. Seamus told me he used to sleep in there to escape the Carrows last year, so I reckoned it would work for me. Besides, I heard you ladies were partying in there the other night.”

“How’d you hear that?” Ginny asked, her eyes narrowed.

Their night in the Room had been special, one of those times that can’t be planned where the mood just clicked. It made being back at Hogwarts seem right again, and she held the memory close to her heart.

Dean shrugged nonchalantly. “I heard Siobhan telling Andrew.”

“Siobhan and Andrew were together?” Ginny asked, glancing at Hermione pointedly. They both agreed that Siobhan ought to give Andrew a chance, and it had been Hermione who pointed out that Siobhan protested entirely too much for someone she didn’t care anything about.

“Oh, he has it bad for her,” Dean said, laughing. He turned towards Hermione. “It’s like being stuck back in fifth year with Ron mooning over you.”

“Ron was mooning in fifth year?” Hermione asked, tilting her head to the side as if perplexed.

Ginny sniggered. The two of them could be so dense. They were made for one another. And here she’d been thinking Hermione was doing very well assimilating with the girls. Every once in a while, the fact she’d spent the majority of her school years with only boys for company was glaringly apparent.

“Ron was always mooning,” Dean replied, saying what everyone but Hermione had always known.

“How is it living in the dormitory this year?” Ginny asked curiously. “Hermione and I, at least, have shared a room before.”

Dean paused, gathering his thoughts. Finally, he said, “It’s… okay. Different, but okay. They all know each other better, but they’ve been cool. Ron and Neville both used to snore horrendously, so that’s an improvement. Harry used to be the only one to wake us up with nightmares, but now, we all have ‘em.”

Ginny knew what he meant. Since the war, there wasn’t a night in Gryffindor Tower that someone didn’t have a nightmare. Madam Pomfrey kept a supply of Dreamless Sleep Potion on hand for anyone who requested it.

“I hope that’ll get better one day — for all of us,” Hermione said, her eyes glistening.

Dean sighed, rubbing his forehead as if he had a headache. “We’ve all become used to it, same as the other years. Once the drama is over, we all usually roll over and go back to sleep. No one has puked all over the place, anyway.”

“That was different,” Hermione said sharply.

Ginny felt confused. He’d lost her, but apparently Hermione knew what he meant. “What was?” she asked.

“I know… still memorable though,” Dean said at the same time.

Hermione looked at Ginny, grimacing. “That was the night Harry had the vision about your dad.”

“He kept screaming about blood. Lost his stomach a couple times all over the floor. I think he even threw up on Ron’s feet. Thankfully, no one is having dreams like that,” Dean said, lost in the memory.

“I didn’t know,” Ginny said quietly. A lot of that night was a blur to her. She’d been dragged out of bed by Professor McGonagall telling her that her dad had been seriously hurt. She knew they took a Portkey back to Grimmauld Place, but she didn’t recall any of the details in getting there.

“Seamus says he uses the nightmares to gain sympathy from witches. If either of you feel the need to gush comfort all over me the next time, you’re welcome to run up to my dormitory and fling yourself on me,” Dean said, eyeing them speculatively.

“Thanks. I’ll keep that in mind,” Hermione said, shoving his shoulder.

Dean laughed. “Just don’t tell Ron. He’d kill me for suggesting it.”

Ginny watched Dean flirting with Hermione under lowered lashes. He was as charming and effervescent as he always was, and Ginny couldn’t work out what it was she was bothered by. Dean had always had an easy smile and flirtatious nature. He was behaving perfectly normal. Still, she’d noticed that he didn’t mention if Harry would be jealous about his comment. In fact… he never joked with her about Harry at all.

She reasoned that it could easily be discomfort over their past relationship. She and Michael Corner barely looked at one another after their break up.

“The library will be closing in five minutes,” Madam Pince announced, her vulture-like countenance appearing suddenly from behind a bookcase. “All books must be properly returned to their places. Now!”

She glowered at them, her eyes roaming their table for any damage to her precious books. Hermione jumped and quickly began stacking the tomes she’d been using. Ginny finished the paragraph she’d been working on first. After all she’d gone through last year, Madam Pince no longer intimidated her.

“I’ll finish my essay later,” Dean said, swinging his bag over his back. “See you later, Hermione. Bye, Ginny. If you want another escape up in the Room of Requirement, don’t let me stop you. I’d love the company.” He smiled engagingly and squeezed Ginny’s arm, lowering his voice. “I even have a bottle of Firewhiskey that Seamus sent me.”

After he left, Ginny stared at the door, watching it swing closed with that same, discombobulated feeling she’d had recently after encounters with Dean.

When Hermione returned to the table, she noticed Ginny’s pensive expression. “What’s up?” she asked.

Ginny frowned. “Did you think anything seemed off with Dean?”

“Off?” Hermione asked, tilting her head to the side. “How do you mean?”

“I don’t know. He keeps rubbing my arm,” she said, feeling it would sound overly dramatic to say that he kept touching her.

“Rubbing your arm?” Hermione asked, laughing. “Well, isn’t that part of what you always used to complain about — that he was so clingy?”

“Yeah, but we’re not dating anymore. I dunno,” Ginny said, having trouble articulating. “He said I could drop by and visit him up in the Room of Requirement. Apparently he has Firewhiskey.”

Hermione frowned, but evidently chose to ignore the flaunting of the rules. “Look, he had a rough year himself, and it’s not easy trying to fit in with a new group. Perhaps he’s just seeing how much you’ll let him get away with since Harry’s not around.”
Ginny snorted. “That does sound like him.” She instantly felt remorse for suspecting anything more. Hermione was right. Dean’d had a rough year, too, and he was all on his own. At Hogwarts, they’d all had each other to cling to when things got rough, but Dean had been completely isolated. Ginny knew from personal experience how traumatizing that could be. He was probably just looking for company. “We should invite him the next time we have a party.”

Hermione paused, looking at her a little shyly. “Although it was fun — just the girls. I’ve never had a lot of girlfriends before.”

“It was fun. We should do it again when everyone is healthier,” Ginny agreed, and the two girls returned to their dormitory.

ooOOoo


Harry tilted his broom and banked right, gaining some altitude away from the power of the Dementors. The trees below in the Forest of Dean had a yellowish tinge and were already losing their leaves. It wouldn’t be long before the first snow fell. There was a biting chill to the air, and although the fabric of his uniform was warm, Harry thought he’d still be chilled when he returned home. He sighed, trying to work out the kinks in his neck. His shift was nearly over, and he was feeling rather sick and exhausted from being with the Dementors so long. He’d be happy when he was relieved so he could go home and have a kip. He was minding Teddy tonight so that Andromeda could go out to dinner with her sister, and he didn’t want any of the effects the Dementors took on him to touch his godson.

“Look sharp, Potter,” Cormac shouted over the wind, which had reddened his cheeks and nose.

Harry scowled and continued his course. Cormac had a habit of correcting everyone else while they were flying, much as he’d done during Quidditch back at school.

“Mind the Dementors and not your fellow trainees, McLaggen,” Owen said lazily, immune to Cormac’s comments. “Looks like there’s one getting close to the edge.”

They’d attempted to place a ward around the area of forest where the Dementors were being kept. It didn’t hold them, but it at least alerted the Aurors when one was approaching. Better yet, it kept Muggles out. As Gawain Robards had warned, the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures wanted to study the new behavior the Dementors were exhibiting. As far as Harry could tell, however, they hadn’t done anything but talk about it and argue over the restrictions the Aurors had placed on their research.

Each shift had one or two members from their department flying along and observing. Of course, no one could stand being close to the Dementors for any length of time, so progress was slow. Robards insisted they had to stay outside the ring of Aurors on patrol. There had been fierce arguments, but Robards said he wasn’t putting the Aurors in any more danger by having to rescue any observers who got too close.

Since the end of the war, Harry had learned that government — whether new and interested in reformation or old and stodgy — had one thing in common: they couldn’t seem to function without a load of bureaucracy.

“Expecto Patronum,” he bellowed, sending Prongs charging toward a group of three Dementors that had joined the one testing the perimeter near Cormac.

He saw the burly McLaggen start, his broom dipping with the motion. He’d obviously missed the approach of the other Dementors. Harry smirked. Perhaps that would shut him up for a while.

He continued his circular flight, hoping there would be no further escape attempts before his shift ended. He always felt washed-out and slightly disoriented by the end. He hoped the Dementors couldn’t sense this, although it wouldn’t surprise him if they eventually caught on that the best time for an escape would be shortly before a shift change.

As he scanned the forest below, Harry’s mind wandered over his past, as it was wont to do around the Dementors. He remembered the power of the Resurrection Stone during his lonely walk through the forest at Hogwarts. His parents and loved ones had acted as a shield against the Dementors’ chill then. They’d been more powerful than Prongs, more powerful than any Patronus.

Now, the tired, chilled, weary part of Harry wished he had the Resurrection Stone again.

He blinked hard to dispel the thought, his vision clearing. There was no way to really resurrect the dead, and it didn’t do to dwell on such things. What would help was a hot shower and his soft bed. Merlin’s beard, he was tired. He noticed the first of their group beginning to descend, and he could see a new group of Aurors waiting to take flight.

It was time for the shift change. Since Owen was the leader of the current shift, he and Harry would be the last to land. Still, an end was in sight. It was about midway through that Harry became aware of a disturbance on the ground. Several Dementors were gathered near a group of Aurors waiting to take flight. The Aurors, caught unexpectedly, were casting a large number of Patronuses toward them. The Dementors were fleeing, but only moving further along the perimeter rather than deeper into the forest.

A cold, clammy sweat broke out along Harry’s spine, and his chest constricted. Dizziness fogged his vision, and he shook his head to clear it, his broom dipping alarmingly. His hands were so sweaty, he was having trouble grasping the handle. He hoped he wouldn’t vomit all over whoever was below.

“Hold your position, Potter,” Owen barked, his breath coming in bursts of steam. “Let those on the ground handle it. Our job is to ensure none of them flee through the air.”

Harry knew he was right but still found it hard not to land and attempt aid. His instincts were screaming at him that those on the ground were in trouble. He gripped his broom tightly, tension throbbing through his veins. The pitch of voices in his head increased, making it throb, and his stomach roiled. It took forever for the rest of the group to switch off, and by the time he and Owen had landed, the group on the ground had the Dementors well away from the perimeter.

Harry quickly swung his leg over his broom, forgetting his equilibrium was usually off after being around the creatures. He promptly swayed on the spot, but managed to right himself before drawing attention. Taking deep, gulping breaths, he leaned against a tree until the world righted itself. Opening his eyes once the nausea passed, he saw a witch with an indigo streak down the side of her dark hair gazing deeper into the forest.

“What happened?” he asked, approaching her.

Lisa Turpin turned to him, looking wan and pale. Her eyes were dull as she said, “They tried to breach the perimeter as soon as the shift change started. I think they’re contained now, but it took a while. You know how we’re all so drained after a shift.”

Harry nodded, feeling as rough as Lisa looked. “It’s odd that their attempt was on the ground rather than in the air, yeah?”

“Unless they think the new shift isn’t on their game yet, and the returning shift is obviously exhausted,” Lisa said, staring up at Harry. He could see the reflection of the trees in her tired eyes.

“You think they’re that sentient?” he asked, tilting his head to the side.

She shrugged. “Seemed liked it.”

Owen’s irritated voice rang out, echoing against the tree trunks and resounding through the forest. “I don’t bloody well care if they sprout toes and dance an effin’ ballet, you’re not getting any closer.”

Another angry voice answered him, although at a lower pitch so Harry couldn’t make out the words. He and Lisa both looked around.

Owen was towering over a reedy-looking wizard from the Department for the Regulation and Control for Magical Creatures. The wizard was lean and looked as if Owen’s rant could blow him away. He had a thin, black goatee that hung down below his chin, and his hair was receding so it looked as if he had a ‘W’ imprinted on his head. The size disparity between he and Owen didn’t appear to concern him as he stood chest to chest with the enraged Auror, an angry red flush coloring his neck.

Harry and Lisa glanced at one another, then by unspoken communication, they moved closer to hear what was being said.

“They fall under the authority of our department, and we need to document the changes they’re exhibiting,” the man said, snarling.

“You document any ruddy thing you like, but you do it from behind the Aurors,” Owen said, through gritted teeth.

“We can’t properly document the behavior from that distance. We can barely see what’s happening, never mind notice any differences in characteristics,” the thin wizard said, his voice rising with each syllable.

Owen folded his arms and glared down at the man. “If you want to bloody take over keeping these effin’ things contained, then put in your request with the Minister, and have at ‘em. Until then, we’ve been assigned the job of protecting your arse, and I can’t bloody do that if I have to waste time rescuing you.”

The redness on the man’s neck spread to his sparsely covered head. “You know we don’t have the resources to take over the operation, and we don’t need your protection. We understand these creatures better than you do.”

“Who does have the ruddy resources?” Owen asked, scoffing. “We’re putting everything we have into keeping them contained. If we have to focus on preventing you from falling off your bloody broom or getting your souls sucked, there is a bigger chance they’ll escape and that puts the entire population at risk.”

The smaller man swelled, arms akimbo. “We cannot work this way. We need to be closer.”

Owen took a deep breath, and Harry knew it was taking all his will power not to strike the other man. “Take it up with the Minister,” he said through gritted teeth.

“I’ll do that,” the man replied angrily.

“I’ll look forward to hearing from him,” Owen said, glowering.

The angry wizard stormed away, his notebook clutched tightly in his hand. Harry noticed a vein throbbing in his forehead that reminded him oddly of Uncle Vernon, despite the stature of the man being so different.

Owen’s shoulders sagged, the air appearing to deflate out of him.

“You really ought to work on the way you bottle up your emotions,” Harry said evenly. “Just let it all out.”

“Eff off, Potter,” Owen said wearily.

Harry snorted.
“Are we done here?” Cormac asked rudely. He was standing with his partner eating a chocolate bar.

“Yeah, you’re all dismissed. There is class in the morning for the trainees. Your instructor will let you know what time your next Dementor shift is,” Owen said. In a lower voice, he added, “Have some chocolate before you go, Potter.”

Harry nodded, pulling a bar from his pocket. He waited a moment before Disapparating to be certain Owen did the same.

ooOOoo


The whooshing sound of a fire call swept through the newly-bright kitchen at Grimmauld Place. Harry, who was cleaning up the remains of a small supper, turned to see Andromeda’s regal head in the flames. He knelt down in front of the fireplace.

“Everything all right, Andromeda?” he asked, concerned. Andromeda usually used the Floo when visiting Grimmauld Place since Teddy was too small to Apparate, but the wards allowed her to visit unannounced.

“All’s fine, Harry. I’m about to bring Teddy over. Cissy is here with me, so I’m wondering if you could lower the wards to allow her entrance,” Andromeda said.

Harry was taken aback, and quickly scanned the kitchen to be certain everything was tidy and in its place. He wasn’t entirely certain how he felt about having Narcissa Malfoy in his home. He hadn’t seen her since he’d stood up for her at her trial, and they hadn’t spoken directly at the time. She was the one member of her family who’d had all charges against her dropped entirely, mostly down to Harry’s testimony.

They hadn’t spoken since that whispered conversation in the forest where she’d lied about his death.

He swallowed heavily, his throat gone dry. “All right,” he said, though he didn’t think his voice sounded quite like his own. He felt rather unnerved.

He cast a complicated charm to temporarily open the Floo connection, and stood back to allow the women entrance. Andromeda came through first with Teddy in her arms. The baby’s hair was his favorite shade of blue, and he had his face buried in Andromeda’s shoulder. Andromeda looked elegant, wearing royal blue robes.

Narcissa Malfoy followed her sister from the fireplace, carrying a bulging cloth baby bag. Her blonde hair was pulled back severely, and her face appeared drawn. She looked older than Harry remembered, but before he had time to contemplate this change, Teddy had lifted his head and spotted Harry.


“Ra ra ra ra,” he shouted, reaching for his godfather, his chubby baby fingers wiggling. A wide smile covered his cherubic face revealing two small teeth on the bottom.

Harry reached out and plucked the baby from his grandmother’s arms. “Hi, little mate! What do you have there?” he asked, smiling at the boy.

Teddy clutched a small train in his hand, and he waved it emphatically. His hair immediately changed into a deep ebony to match Harry’s.

Narcissa placed Teddy’s baby bag on the floor, her eyes sweeping the large kitchen. Harry didn’t know when the last time she’d been here was — the home did once belong in her family — but he knew from her expression that she’d noticed the changes. He discreetly shut the connection on the Floo. He didn’t want any unexpected visitors while he was minding Teddy.

“Cissy, you know Harry,” Andromeda said, making the unnecessary introduction. She appeared oblivious to the slight tension, but Harry knew Andromeda too well. She was aware, she simply chose to ignore it. As the sisters stood next to one another, one so light and the other so dark, Harry’s mind flashed on the third, missing sister who so resembled Andromeda in looks, but not at all in heart. Andromeda reminded Harry of Sirius.

“Yes. Hello, Mr. Potter,” Narcissa said stiffly. “He certainly seems comfortable with you.”

She nodded toward Teddy who was trying to rip the glasses from Harry’s face — a favorite game of his. From the tone of her voice, Harry suspected Teddy must’ve displayed some stranger anxiety when Narcissa had arrived. Andromeda had warned him that Teddy had been doing that recently. Harry was pleased Teddy recognized him, too.

Andromeda nodded. “Harry’s a frequent visitor and Teddy’s favorite.”

Her words filled Harry’s belly with a pleasant warmth, and he felt lighter on his feet, as if some unseen buoyancy filled his veins. He continued his attempts to keep his glasses out of Teddy’s grip, but knew it was a losing battle.

“So, what are your plans for the evening?” Harry asked.

“We’re going into Diagon Alley for dinner. I gave Kreacher the night off, as well, so I thought it would be easier to just drop off Teddy and leave from here,” Andromeda said. “We won’t be late.”

“Take your time,” Harry said, and Teddy squealed as he finally grasped Harry’s glasses, waving them in his fist.

Harry sighed, squinting at Andromeda and Narcissa who were now only colorful blurs.

“You’ve made some changes,” Narcissa said, her stately gaze once again perusing the kitchen, pausing on the new window.

Harry took the toy train from Teddy’s slackened grasp and began rolling it on the counter. It only took a moment for Teddy to notice and drop the glasses in order to reach for the train. Harry slipped the smudged spectacles back on his nose.

“Yeah. I didn’t fancy the gloom,” he replied. Andromeda coughed slightly to cover a smirk.

“It’s lovely,” Narcissa said, though the warmth of her smile didn’t quite reach her eyes.

“How have you been?” he asked awkwardly. He felt rather ridiculous having a conversation with her with his glasses smeared, and Teddy repeatedly conking him on the head with his train. He remembered seeing Theo Nott and hearing his mates telling him it was best to lie low in the present, anti-Death Eater climate. Harry was certain the Malfoys would feel the same segregation.

Narcissa shrugged delicately. “It’s been… different. As you know, Lucius is home, and we’re… managing.”

Lucius Malfoy had been released from Azkaban in exchange for Draco Malfoy’s cooperation in catching the Lestrange brothers. Like many of Voldemort’s sympathizers, he wasn’t allowed a wand and was considered released under a probationary period. The Malfoys’ mansion had been seized after the war, and as far as Harry knew, they were currently living in one of their smaller properties. Draco had mentioned his mother was unhappy there. Harry couldn’t dredge up much sympathy.

“It must be nice that your family is able to be all together,” he said pointedly.

Narcissa had the good grace to flush. She nodded stiffly.

“Teddy has already eaten, but I put an extra bottle in the bag just in case. I must warn you, he’s even more mobile than the last time you saw him. He scoots across a room if I so much as blink. I think he’ll be crawling soon,” Andromeda said, staring fondly at her grandson. “I put some dry flannels in the bag, as well, I think he has another tooth coming in.”

Harry nodded patiently. Andromeda went through this every time she left Teddy with Harry, and so far, he hadn’t managed to lose the baby. “We’ll be fine, Andromeda. I’m just going to take him up on the Firebolt. We’re going to race Ron.”

Narcissa gasped, gaping at Harry. Andromeda wasn’t fooled.

“Make certain you beat him, then,” she said, smirking.

Harry looked at Teddy. “We always do, don’t we, little mate?”

The baby again reached for Harry’s glasses. Andromeda leaned over and kissed him on the top of his head. “Have fun with Harry, Teddy. You always do.”

Harry led the two women up the kitchen stairs and down the corridor to the entryway. This was Harry’s least favorite room with its grand pillars and gleaming chandelier. When he noticed Narcissa’s eyes widen, obviously impressed, he again thought the demon decorator had known what she was doing.

“This is lovely,” she said, more animated than she’d been in the kitchen. “I always thought this house would eventually go to my Draco. This room is more his style.”

“It’s my least favorite, actually,” Harry said honestly.

Narcissa smiled stiffly. “That doesn’t surprise me.”

He bid the women farewell and brought Teddy into the sitting room where he’d put some of Teddy’s toys on the soft new carpet. He put Teddy down, and sat across from him, rolling a ball toward the baby.

Teddy grasped it, pushing it back with a squeal of delight. He tottered slightly as he pushed. He could now sit without support, but he still could fall over when excited. Harry used an old, pink-feathered Headless Hat of George’s to entertain him with a headless game of peek-a-boo. He spent an enjoyable hour bonding with his godson, but he knew Teddy was getting tired when he grew fussy and kept putting his little fist in his mouth, drooling heavily.

“Are those teeth bothering you again, little mate? I think your grandmother said she put something in here for that,” he said, reaching for the bag Andromeda had left.

He pulled out a flannel and cast a Cooling Charm on it before handing it to Teddy. The baby immediately put it in his mouth. Harry lifted him, placing him over his shoulder as he began pacing the room. It was when he briefly put the fussy baby down to expertly change a nappy that he was surprised to notice George standing in the doorway, silently observing Harry and Teddy. Harry had no idea how long he’d been there.

“Hi, George,” he said, curious about the odd expression on George’s face.

“You read that book I gave you, yeah?” George asked without preamble.

“Yeah,” Harry said slowly, picturing the copy of Twelve Failsafe Ways to Charm Witches on his bedside table that he’d been perusing before sleep each night.

George’s ears turned red. “Did you, ah… did you read the bit about contraceptive charms?”

Harry goggled at him. Teddy fussed a bit more, and Harry reapplied the cooling charm to his flannel. “I’m not looking for one of my own, George. I’ve got my hands full with Teddy, thanks,” he said, flippantly.

“Well… you know… us Weasleys are rather prolific… at least the blokes are… Hmm, perhaps I ought to have this conversation with Ron,” George said, his voice trailing.

“Perhaps you should,” Harry replied, breaking into a grin.

“Nevertheless, it’s best to be informed. There are charms for both a witch and a wizard to use, but I always think taking care of it on both sides is prudent. It has to be done every time, right? Every time,” he said with heavy emphasis on the final two words.

Harry felt heat rising in his own face, and his grin vanished. “Got it,” he said tersely.

“Ron’s in the kitchen. I’m going to make sure he’s aware of that, too,” George said, looking as if the idea of confronting Ron with a sex talk delighted him.

As he watched George go, Harry pulled Teddy’s bottle from his bag and wearily sank down on the leather couch. As Teddy began to suckle, his eyes drooping sleepily, Harry’s mind flashed on what he’d seen Ron and Hermione doing on this very couch. He quickly stood and moved to an adjacent chair. Teddy grumbled a bit at the sudden motion.

As the baby fell asleep in his arms, Harry’s mind wandered over the conversation with George. It seemed every time he’d seen George recently, Ron’s elder brother had ended up giving Harry sex advice. Although still not completely comfortable with the topic, Harry had relaxed enough to contemplate what George was saying. He wondered what would happen once he and Ginny did take that final step — assuming that they eventually would. Would George know? Would he tease Harry or be angry? Well, Harry supposed he’d tease him whether he was angry or not, but he wondered if George would want to hit him like he was certain Ron would.

Maybe he wouldn’t even know. Harry didn’t know about Ron and Hermione until he’d walked in on them, after all.

No. George would somehow know. Harry was certain of it.

Would Ron? Hermione would, and she’d probably tell him. Harry squirmed uncomfortably, feeling somehow trapped with pressure mounting on all sides. He turned back to Teddy, whose hair had returned to a soft brown in his sleep. Taking a deep breath and trying to force the discomfort from his mind, Harry sat with the baby for a long time. When Andromeda returned from dinner to pick up Teddy, she found both the baby and his minder asleep in the sitting room armchair.

Back to index


Chapter 10: Parties and Partings

Author's Notes: Sometimes while writing, a character completely takes over and the scene sort of writes itself. It happened with Draco Malfoy in this one. I recently joined a Facebook group called Home Away From Hogwarts. I like the group, even though I don’t really fit in. They’re all very fond of Malfoy, and I’m just not. Anyway, someone I met there helped me to make sure I had Malfoy right, so thanks very much to Miss Bonnie Devine for looking over the characterization for me.

Both my beta, Arnel, and I wrote oneshots for the Portkey Challenge. Go on and give all the stories submitted for the challenge a read, and let us know what you think!


Chapter Ten
Parties and Partings



The Great Hall was full of chatter at breakfast that morning. Festive Christmas decorations hung from the walls, and twelve gigantic Christmas trees lit with everlasting candles dwarfed the vast Hall. Live turtle doves fluttered around the trees, twittering joyfully as they swooped between the branches.

Ginny sat at the Gryffindor table, perplexed, as she absently added spoonful after spoonful of sugar to her porridge.

At a Slug Club meeting three nights before, Professor Slughorn had announced he’d be hosting a small Christmas party on the Friday before end of term, and members were allowed to bring guests. Hogwarts students had been aflutter with the news ever since. Older students remembered the one he’d held two years prior and how exclusive the invitation list had been. Younger students were fascinated by the idea of a party, and everyone was vying for an invitation.

The thought of asking Harry to be her date had crossed Ginny’s mind. Hermione had sent an owl to Ron straightaway, but Ginny felt reluctant. Harry hadn’t enjoyed the Slug Club when he’d been a student, and now there was even more fawning over him when he was in public. Even Professor Slughorn kept dropping sly hints that he’d hoped Harry would attend.

And, of course, there was Rita’s latest article about Harry harboring Dark magic. She knew talking about it upset him, and she didn’t think it was fair to put him through it. She’d therefore decided to take her lead from him and invite Luna as her date. She’d arrived for breakfast early to await her Ravenclaw friend’s arrival.

She didn’t have to wait long to see Luna enter the Great Hall and join the Ravenclaw table. She didn’t look quite awake, and she blinked blankly when Ginny hurried over with her extra-sweet porridge to join her.

“Good morning, Luna,” Ginny said brightly.

“Good morning, Ginny. Are we supposed to be switching tables this morning?” Luna asked vaguely, scooping eggs onto her plate. “Perhaps I’ll be Slytherin today.”

“No, silly. I wanted to talk to you,” Ginny said, lowering her voice. She noticed some of the other Ravenclaws were straining their ears to hear them. “Did you hear about Professor Slughorn’s Christmas party?”

A wide smile spread across Luna’s face, seeming to light her eyes from within. “You’ve heard, then? I was looking forward to telling you.”

Ginny felt confused. Luna wasn’t part of the Slug Club, so how would she have told Ginny? “Er… told me what?” Ginny asked.

“That I’m going to the party again, too. Last time Harry took me, and this time Simon has invited me. It’s so nice to have friends who take you to parties,” Luna replied happily.

“Oh,” Ginny said, a little stunned. She felt ashamed for assuming no one else would’ve asked Luna. She pasted a smile on her face. “I’m so happy for you, Luna.”

“That flummoxed expression on your face tells me that you didn’t know. What was it you wanted to talk to me about, then?” Luna asked, blinking.

“Oh… it’s nothing… It’s just, I was going to ask you to come with me,” Ginny said honestly.

“Invited by another friend,” Luna said, delighted. “We could all go together. Do you want to have a threesome? I’m certain Simon wouldn’t mind.”

Ginny choked, uncertain if Luna realized what she’d actually said. “Er… no, that’s all right, Luna. You and Simon will have fun, and I’ll see you there,” Ginny replied, standing up quickly.

“Oh. All right, then,” Luna said, returning to her breakfast.

Feeling the intense heat on her cheeks, Ginny ducked her head and hurried from the Great Hall, certain she could hear stifled laughter coming from the Ravenclaw table. By the time she returned to her dormitory, feeling slightly disheartened, the rest of her roommates were awake and in various states of dress.

“Where were you?” Hermione asked, attempting to wrangle her hair into a plait.

“I just asked Luna to accompany me to the Slug Club Christmas party, but she turned me down,” Ginny said, flopping onto her bed dramatically. “She already has a date.”

“Oooh,” said Parvati, hurrying over to Ginny’s bed and sitting beside her. “Luna’s going to the party? Who’s she going with?”

“You asked Luna? Why aren’t you going with Harry?” Liz asked, pausing in pulling her jumper over her head.

“What do you mean you asked Luna?” Hermione asked, looking slightly panicked. She shared an odd glance with Siobhan.

As the other girls all huddled around Ginny’s bed, she raised herself up on her elbows, staring at their interest bemusedly. “I don’t want to put Harry through another Slug Club party. He never cared for them, so I asked Luna. Apparently, Simon Teevens already asked her.” After a pause, she added, “She did invite me to join a threesome with them, however.”

“Oh, she did not,” Liz said while the other girls shrieked with laughter.

“She did,” Ginny said, beginning to laugh herself. “Although, with Luna, I can’t be certain she intended it the way it came out. I think Simon asked her as a friend since she helped him with a potion, but for all I know, they could be shagging in every broom cupboard in the castle.”

“But… I thought you’d decided you were going alone,” Hermione said, still looking slightly distressed. She didn’t even flinch at the comment about Luna.

Ginny shrugged. “I know she enjoyed it when Harry took her a few years ago, and I thought she deserved some fun.”

“I’ll go with you,” Siobhan said suddenly.

Ginny looked around, slightly surprised.

“I mean, I have all these dresses, and I’d love to go to one. I’m a good date, really,” Siobhan said, laughing.

Hermione looked oddly relieved. “What do you mean you have all these dresses?” she asked.

Siobhan flung the lid of her trunk open and began pulling out dress after dress. Her trunk must’ve been half-filled with dresses she’d never had the opportunity to wear. By the time she was finished, her bed was nearly sagging with the weight of them.

“Well, you never know what you might need, so it’s best to bring everything,” Siobhan said defensively.

Ginny, who had a very limited wardrobe, began to worry about what she would wear to the party. Finances were much better now that her dad had his new job, but she didn’t want to ask for anything extra so close to Christmas.

“Er, Siobhan… d’you have anything I could wear?” she asked, ducking her head so she didn’t have to meet the other girl’s eyes.

“Oh, I haven’t ordered anything, either,” Hermione said, frowning. Ginny knew Hermione planned to visit her parents at some point over break, but the relationship was still strained. Perhaps she didn’t want to ask for anything extra, either.

Siobhan grinned wryly. “Well, as you can see I don’t have much, but you’re welcome to wear anything you fancy. Except the red one. I’m going to wear the red one,” she said, pulling a velvet one from the large pile.

Hermione began sorting through the dresses, admiring several, but Ginny could already see a problem. Siobhan was so much taller than Ginny, anything she chose would have to be severely altered. Ginny was hesitant to try any alteration charms in case she caused permanent damage to Siobhan’s clothes.

Parvati opened her own wardrobe. “I don’t have nearly as many as Siobhan, but you’re welcome to borrow anything of mine, too. I wish I was going.”

“I’ve got a few, too,” Liz said. “Parvati, you and I can go up to the Room of Requirement that night and have our own Christmas party.”

“Ooh, that’s a great idea,” Parvati said, beaming.

“We could invite some of the blokes who weren’t invited to Slughorn’s party, too,” Siobhan said.

Liz stared at Siobhan pointedly, “Er… Siobhan, you’re going to Slughorn’s party, remember?”

Siobhan looked momentarily startled. “Oh. Right. I forgot.”

Ginny frowned at her roommates. Siobhan wasn’t usually a morning person, but she must’ve just rolled out of bed. Ginny began sorting through the many dresses. She’d never had so many to choose from. In the end, she realized that the bright colors Parvati fancied clashed horribly with her hair, but she found a lovely emerald green one that belonged to Liz. It reminded her of Harry’s eyes, and it would make her feel like he was with her in spirit.

She tried it on, but when she stared at her reflection, she was uncertain. It was very low-cut — even more than the gold one she’d worn for Bill and Fleur’s wedding. Still, it clinched in at her waist, and the skirt flared out, ending just above her knees.

“Oh, Ginny. You look lovely,” Hermione said, staring. She wore a black velvet dress of Siobhan’s with sheer sleeves and a sparkly material on her bust line.

“So do you,” Ginny said, wishing she had Hermione’s curves.

“I wonder what Luna will wear,” Parvati said. “Simon is fairly straight-laced.”

Ginny giggled. “I’m certain it will be something to talk about. Luna’s always good value.”

ooOOoo


The night of the Christmas party found Ginny in the common room awaiting Hermione’s return. She’d gone down to the Entrance Hall to retrieve Ron, who’d been given special permission to enter the castle for the party. The common room was festively decorated, and students were milling around, chatting about their weekend plans and hoping to get a glimpse of those lucky enough to attend Slughorn’s party. Aside from Hermione and her, the only other Gryffindor with an invitation was Bailey McLaggen, whose family was apparently very well-connected at the Ministry. She didn’t see him in the common room, however.

“You look beautiful, Ginny,” Dean said from one of the good chairs by the fire.

Ginny hadn’t noticed him there when she’d entered the common room. He’d actually offered to accompany her to the party as they’d done in her fifth year, but she’d turned him down. He’d been gracious, but she’d felt bad all the same.

“Thank you, Dean,” she said, smiling. She did feel beautiful in Liz’ pretty green dress, despite the fact she kept fidgeting with the neckline, feeling exposed.

“Good night for a party, yeah? I’m joining Andrew, Jimmy, Siobhan and that crew for a party of our own in the Room of Requirement.”

Ginny stared at him blankly. “Siobhan is coming with me,” she said.

Dean’s eyes flew open, and he scuffed his toe sheepishly. “Oh. Right. I meant Parvati,” he said not looking at her.

“What’s going on?” Ginny asked, her eyes narrowed.

“Why are your knickers in a twist, Ginny?” Siobhan asked, coming down the stairs from the dormitory with Liz and Parvati. She wore her red velvet dress and had her hair styled in a knot on top of her head.

“Dean says you’re going with him to the Room of Requirement,” Ginny said bluntly.

Siobhan’s eyes strayed quickly to Dean before turning back to Ginny. “No, the others are all going up there. I’m going with you and Hermione. Where is she?”

Ginny frowned, tapping her foot. “She went down to fetch Ron.”

Liz walked over and began adjusting Ginny’s dress unnecessarily. “You look lovely, Ginny. That dress is really flattering on you.”

“You really do,” Parvati said, gushing. “And I love your hair up that way.”

Ginny’s nerves were frayed, and her temper, never far from the surface, had reached its limit. “All right, I want to know what’s going on with you lot, and I want to know right now,” she bellowed.

“Bloody hell. Is she always in such a temper? It’s a wonder you haven’t chucked her out,” a familiar voice said, coming from the portrait hole.

Ginny spun around to see Ron standing right inside the portrait hole with his arm around Hermione. She briefly acknowledged that he looked extremely respectable in his Muggle clothes when her brain registered who had climbed in behind them.

Harry straightened up, grinning. He wore a striped grey button-down with black trousers, and Ginny thought she’d never seen anything more attractive in her life. She stood there, gaping and unable to move.

“Surprise,” he said, shrugging his shoulders timidly.

She bounded across the room and leaped into his arms, kissing him soundly. When she finally pulled back, he grinned.

“I suppose I ought to do this properly for once. Would you like to go to Professor Slughorn’s party with me, Ginny?”

She reared back, gasping, her heart dropping to somewhere in the region of her stomach. It was like being back in third year when Ron had so casually offered her up as a consolation prize after Harry’s failed attempt to ask Cho Chang to the Yule Ball. She’d wanted to go with him more than anything, but she’d already promised Neville, and she couldn’t just ditch him. Her conscience wouldn’t allow it.

She glanced helplessly at Siobhan.

“Merlin’s Beard, Ginevra, don’t be daft,” Siobhan said rolling her eyes.

It was only then that she realized the rest of the occupants in the common room were all staring at her, beaming. Dean’s expression was a cross between a smile and a grimace.

“You all knew,” she said accusingly.

“Bit slow on the uptake, aren’t you?” Ron asked, grinning.

“Er… d’you not want to go?” Harry asked, looking rather worried.

“At least they’re equally daft,” Ron said, his arm draped casually around a smiling Hermione’s waist.

“Of course I want to go with you,” Ginny said, kissing him again. “I didn’t want to put you through it. There’s going to be a lot of fawning.”

“Never mind that. If it’s important to you, I’m going to do it,” Harry said, putting his hands on her shoulders and moving her back slightly so his arms were stretched taut. For a moment, she thought he was going to scold her for not telling him, but she quickly realized he was perusing her borrowed dress. From the appreciative gleam in his eyes, she knew he approved.

“You look brilliant,” he said, a little breathlessly.

Ginny beamed, immensely glad she let Liz talk her into wearing the dress. It suddenly didn’t feel daringly low-cut at all.

Ron shuddered. “All right, if you’re going to go all soppy, I think we should go to the party.”

Hermione slapped him on the shoulder. “Leave them alone, Ron.”

Ginny turned to Siobhan, reaching over to hug her friend. “Thanks, Siobhan. You’re certain you’re not too disappointed?”

Siobhan grinned. “I knew what I was doing. Besides, I’m still wearing this dress up to the Room of Requirement party, and bollocks to anyone who thinks I’m overdressed.”

“I think you’re dressed perfectly,” Andrew said appreciatively.

“We should go if we don’t want to be late,” Hermione said.

They bid the others farewell, and began the trek to Slughorn’s office. Harry held her hand, and Ginny was struck by how warm he felt, even in the chilly corridor.

“I can’t believe you’re here,” she murmured so that Ron and Hermione wouldn’t hear. It wouldn’t have mattered, the other two were caught up in their own whispered conversation.

“I’ll always be there for you, Ginny,” he said earnestly. “Look, no matter how much I complain about all the attention—”

“That’s just it, you don’t complain, but I know you hate it,” she said, interrupting.

“It doesn’t matter,” he said, continuing undeterred. “I don’t want you to… to protect me or something. I want to be part of your life. I’m certain there will be stuffy old Ministry parties with a bunch of old toffs that you’ll have to endure, and I’ll have to make the sacrifice and attend all those dreadful Quidditch engagements.”

Ginny snorted. “You’ll make that sacrifice, huh?” she asked sarcastically, even though his words made her feel as if she were floating along the corridor beside him.

He put his hand over his heart. “I’ll fall on my sword and do it,” he said seriously, his eyes twinkling merrily.

“I love you,” Ginny blurted.

Harry’s entire face lit up as it always did when she said the words that she knew he’d waited so long to hear. He wrapped his arm around her snugly, shielding her from the cold. “I love you, too.”

“You said there’ll be food at this do, right?” Ron asked, his voice carrying. “I’m starving.”

“When aren’t you starving, Ron?” Hermione asked fondly.

“You clean up nice, Ron,” Ginny said, feeling generous.

She was so happy to have Harry here with her, she briefly considered blowing off the party and pulling him into an empty broom cupboard instead. Perhaps, if the party was lame, she could still do just that.

When they arrived at Professor’s Slughorn’s magically expanded office, it was decorated in the same manner as his previous party with crimson, emerald and gold cloths draped from floor to ceiling, giving it the appearance of a large tent. Holly and ivy were woven onto candelabras that gave a soft glow to the entire area. Ginny noticed pixies fluttering overhead with sprigs of mistletoe grasped in their claw-like hands.

The fireplace had also been expanded to take up an entire side of the tent, the fire blazed brightly, warming the area splendidly. The air was scented with mulled cider, and Ginny’s mouth began to water.

Ron immediately spotted a house-elf crouched low with a heavily laden tray, and he dragged Hermione toward it. Harry picked up two goblets of warm cider, and handed one to Ginny, who sipped in appreciatively.

Professor Slughorn had seen them enter, and he pushed his way through the crowd to greet them by the door. “Harry, m’boy, good to see you. Good to see you. Miss Weasley told me you were unable to attend,” he said, looking at Ginny with slight disapproval.

“Change of plans, and I knew Ginny wanted me to come,” Harry lied smoothly.

Professor Slughorn beamed, grasping Ginny’s shoulder. “This young lady is going places. I wouldn’t want to disappoint her, either,” he said jovially. “Tell me, Harry. How are things at the Ministry?”

“Going well, sir. Thanks for asking,” Harry said politely.

“I understand Gawain Robards is heading up your department, these days. Wonderful bloke, Gawain, and an excellent student. Give him my best, won’t you?” Professor Slughorn said heartily.

Ginny had to give Harry credit for his patience. She could only tolerate Professor Slughorn’s boasting for so long. She noticed Luna and Simon sitting at a nearby table. As Professor Slughorn turned to greet another guest, Ginny grabbed Harry’s arm and steered him toward their table.

“Hi, Luna!” she greeted her friend happily.

She felt Harry jerk beside her. Turning her head, she noticed who else was sitting at the table with Luna and Simon. Head Girl Astoria Greengrass sat quietly beside Simon with her date — Draco Malfoy, who was dressed in traditional wizard robes. It was only then that she realized the wide distance others were keeping from this table might not be people avoiding Luna. Ginny had heard through the grapevine that the Malfoys and made a match with the Greengrass family, as many of the old, pure-blood families did. She’d assumed the match had been with Daphne, and she and Siobhan had giggled how awkward that must be since Draco had dated Daphne’s friend, Pansy Parkinson, for so long. Obviously it had been Ginny and Siobhan who were mistaken on which sister the blonde former Death Eater had been paired.

“Hello, Ginny. You look very nice. Hi, Harry. I’m very glad you were able to take my place as Ginny’s date,” Luna said, staring at Harry as if she’d never seen him before.

“Er… I asked Luna to come with me before I knew you were coming. She already had plans with Simon,” Ginny explained to Harry quickly in an attempt to derail Luna from mentioning anything about a threesome.

“Hi, Luna. You look very… wintry,” Harry said. Luna was dressed from head to toe in bright white, with large, sparkling silver snowflakes hanging from her ears. Ginny suspected the light layer of snow on her head was real.

Harry nodded to Simon, who reached across the table to shake his hand. “Nice to see you again, Harry.”

Harry covered well, but Ginny suspected he had no idea who Simon was. “Simon and Astoria,” Ginny said, nodding towards the Slytherin girl, “are our Head Boy and Girl.”

“Nice to meet you,” Harry said, nodding toward Astoria, who returned the gesture. “Draco,” he said simply.

“Potter,” Draco said with an obvious attempt to control his sneer. “I see your fan club is as vapid as ever.”

Ginny looked around and realized the eyes of nearly everyone in the room were glued on their table. Several people waved, and some of the braver ones were apparently getting over their aversion of a former Death Eater in order to get closer to Harry.

“Behave, Draco,” Astoria murmured. “He can’t help how they treat him any more than you can help how they treat you.”

“How’s your family, Draco?” Harry asked. “Your mother said you were all settling in.” Though his voice was pleasant, Ginny knew it was a slight dig. Judging by Astoria’s comment, the Malfoys were having as hard a time as other supporters of Voldemort.

Draco’s eyes narrowed malevolently. “Things are going well. My father and I have been making some investments on the continent that are paying off splendidly. How about you? Mother said they have you chasing Dementors. How are you managing to stay on your broom?”

Harry smiled tightly. “Broom handling has always come naturally, funnily enough,” he said blithely.

“Bloody hell! What are you doing here?” Ron had finally spotted whom they were sitting with when he and Hermione joined their table.

Astoria arched one perfect eyebrow, perusing Ron coolly. “He’s an invited guest, same as you.”

Hermione tugged on Ron’s arm. “Hello, Astoria, Draco,” Hermione said, nodding. Ginny noticed that Hermione didn’t meet Draco’s eyes, and she shifted closer to Ron.

“What are you doing with this buffoon, Granger?” Draco asked, sneering.

Hermione flinched. “I think I’d like to get a drink, Ron,” she said rather shrilly.

Ron glared at Draco, and wrapping his arm around Hermione, steered her away without a backward glance. Hermione leaned into him. A pregnant pause encompassed the table as the other occupants watched the couple move away.

“I think you bring uncomfortable memories of what happened to Hermione when she visited your home,” Luna said, as if starting an innocuous conversation.

Ginny’s stomach plummeted. Hermione had been tortured at Malfoy Manor, and although Harry had said that Draco hadn’t taken part, he’d still been there. Of course, he’d been part of many of the tortures that had taken place at Hogwarts, as well. It was no wonder people were hesitant to go near him. Ginny turned towards Luna, startled. Luna, too, had been imprisoned in Malfoy Manor for months, yet she appeared unaffected by Malfoy’s company.

Draco paled considerably, his eyes averting Luna’s wide ones. “We all have uncomfortable memories of what happened during the war,” he said shortly.

“Except that you caused a lot of them,” Harry said candidly.

Astoria laid a hand on Draco’s sleeve. “I’m certain we all have regrets, but the past can’t be undone. The best we can do is learn and move forward. I’d like something to eat, Draco. Would you care to try some of those salmon-filled vol au vents we saw earlier?” she asked, expertly pulling Draco to his feet and steering him away from their table.

“Are you all right, Luna?” Ginny asked at once.

“Of course,” Luna said, blinking. “I’ve already tried the vol au vents. They’re quite good.”

“I meant seeing Draco Malfoy,” Ginny said, clarifying.

“Oh, yes. He wanted very badly to be one of them, but he was really just as much a prisoner as I was. He’s actually not very brave,” Luna said, taking a large sip of her Elderberry wine.

“That’s true,” Harry said, his body still tight. “I’ll concede that he could’ve told them it was me once I’d been captured, but he didn’t. I’m certain he knew.”

“And yet he still tried to hand you over to the Death Eaters during the Battle — twice,” Ginny said, glaring. She didn’t have it in her heart to forgive Draco Malfoy yet, even if Luna and Harry did.

The tension relaxed from Harry’s body, and he leaned over to kiss her, smiling contentedly.

“Harry seems to like it when Ginny defends him,” Luna told Simon, her whisper not at all quiet.

Simon’s face colored, and he cleared his throat uncomfortably. Once Draco and Astoria had left the table, a long stream of students and guests began approaching, all seeking an audience with Harry. Ginny was growing annoyed that she wasn’t getting any time with her boyfriend, but she managed to curb her temper every time she noticed the disgruntled yet envious expression on Draco Malfoy’s face.

“If you’ll excuse me,” Harry said at last. “I think I’m ignoring my date.” He grasped Ginny’s arm and led her away from the ring of tables toward the exit. He stopped a short space away, mumbling, “Sorry about that.”

“S’not your fault,” Ginny said firmly.

“Oh, can I get a picture of the happy couple under the mistletoe?” a voice very near them asked loudly.

They turned to see a curly-haired witch in a flowing teal dress with Daily Prophet credentials around her neck. Ginny didn’t remember there being any reporters at the last party, although she acknowledged it wouldn’t have been her they were interested in. She surmised that the witch was a former Slug Club member.

Harry glanced up towards the mistletoe hovering above them, clutched in the vise-like grip of a leering pixie. His hand automatically rubbed the back of his neck, alerting Ginny to his discomfort. She narrowed her eyes, wondering what Professor Slughorn would do if she hexed the intrusive witch.

“Don’t you want to kiss her, Potter?” Draco asked, smirking as he leaned against a nearby table, obviously delighting in Harry’s discomfort.

Harry smiled at her apologetically, leaned over and kissed her softly. It was neither a peck nor a snog, and Ginny was dimly aware of the burst of light from a flashbulb. At least she thought it was the camera — it could’ve been in her mind. Her legs felt weak, and now she really wanted to go find that broom cupboard.

A round of applause filled the room, and the reporter moved closer in an attempt to question Harry, but her route was blocked by a massive shape who suddenly obstructed her view.

“Harry!” Hagrid boomed, reaching over to pat Harry’s shoulder. Harry’s entire body shook with the force.

“Beatrice, I thought we agreed there would be no working here tonight,” Professor Slughorn said heartily, leading the reporter away. Many of the onlookers began to drift away rather than interrupt Hagrid.

“How are yeh, Ginny?” Hagrid asked, his dark, beetle-black eyes glowing warmly. “I’m glad to see this one,” he jerked his massive thumb in Harry’s direction, “got off his duff and came up here to escor’ yeh.”

“I have learned to see reason, on occasion,” Harry said good-naturedly. His whole demeanor had lightened, and his pleasure at seeing Hagrid was palpable. Ginny had been down for tea with the half-giant on several occasions, but she didn’t think Harry had seen him since the summer.

“O’course yeh do,” Hagrid boomed. “I hear you’re workin’ with those ruddy Dementors, Harry. I don’t like the idea of yeh being round them things.”

Harry shrugged. “I don’t much like being around them, either, Hagrid, but it has to be done.”

Hagrid shook his shaggy head, concern shining in his eyes. “I remember how they affected yeh. Think I’ll write Kingsley meself.”

Color suffused Harry’s cheeks, and he kicked at the ground. “I’m fine, Hagrid. Besides, I’m on a broom with some distance, not stuck up with them in Azkaban like you were,” Harry said, shuddering slightly.

Hagrid shrugged. “Yeah, but my blood gives me some extra protection,” he said, lowering his voice and staring around to be certain no one could over hear.

“What do you mean?” Harry asked swiftly.

“I’m a bit tougher than most,” Hagrid said, mumbling and clearly uncomfortable. Attempting to change the subject, he said, “Professor Slughorn asked me to chaperone tonight. I’ve never been to such a fancy do.”

Ginny could see Harry’s mind was elsewhere, so she stepped in smoothly. “I’m certain he knew no one would put a toe out of line with you here, Hagrid.” In fact, she suspected the unlikely friendship that had sprung up between the two professors had more to do with Hagrid’s ready access to rare potions ingredients.

Hagrid blushed, grinning. “I bes’ make me rounds. Good ter see yeh, Harry, Ginny.”

Harry and Ginny rejoined the crowd, making small talk with friends and admirers. During the course of the evening, as the crowd thinned, Ginny realized that Draco and Astoria had disappeared. Scanning the room, she noticed that Ron and Hermione were also among the missing. She slipped her hand into Harry’s.

“D’you want to leave?” she asked quietly.

“Have you had enough?” Harry asked.

“Well, I thought we might nick a sprig of that mistletoe and make a more private stop on our way to the Entrance Hall,” she said coyly.

Harry didn’t have to be asked twice.

ooOOoo


Harry stood in the Entrance Hall watching Ginny climb the stairs up to her dormitory and appreciating the gentle sway of her hips. Her disheveled hair hung in loose ringlets down her back because he’d pulled out the fancy knot she’d done as soon as he was able. He liked when her hair hung down.

He’d lost track of time and had no idea where Ron had disappeared, so he decided to simply go home. They’d meet up back at Grimmauld Place, and it was less than a week before Ginny and Hermione would be home for the Christmas holidays. Ginny was staying at the Burrow, but he was certain they’d still get a lot of time to spend together. Their stolen moments in the broom cupboard after the party led his mind to all sorts of intriguing possibilities as to what they could do with that time.

“There you are,” Ron said, sounding annoyed as he emerged from a darkened corridor and strode across the Entrance Hall.

Harry turned around slowly, uncomfortably aware of his rumpled clothing and the swollen feeling of his lips.

“Where have you been?” Ron demanded, eyeing Harry suspiciously.

Harry cocked an eyebrow. “Your shirt is buttoned wrong, Ron. Has it been that way all night?” he asked innocently. “I don’t remember noticing it at the party.”

Color suffused Ron’s ears, and he quickly ducked his head to adjust the buttons on his shirt. “Let’s get out of here,” he mumbled, striding toward the front doors and pulling them open. The temperature outside had dropped dramatically, and a light snow was falling. Harry and Ron quickly pulled their shrunken cloaks from their pockets and resized them for the cold walk back to the gates.

“Bloody hell, I’m freezing my balls off,” Ron said, grumbling. “You’d think they’d have allowed Apparition inside the castle for one night.”

Harry grinned, imagining Hermione’s response to that statement. “There was likely a carriage to transport guests after the party, but… we’re a bit late,” he said, not meeting Ron’s eyes. He knew as soon as he’d started speaking that he should’ve kept his mouth shut, but it was too late at that point.

Ron’s entire body appeared to swell. “Exactly where did you and my sister go after the party anyway?” he demanded.

Harry rolled his eyes. “Ron, don’t even think about lecturing me when it’s obvious you were off shagging Hermione.”

“Seriously? Granger let you shag her?” a drawling voice asked incredulously.

Harry and Ron looked around to see Draco Malfoy descending the front stone stairs, his hands still working on the buttons of his dark travelling cloak.

“Piss off, Malfoy,” Ron said, his embarrassed coloring even darker than it had been when Harry confronted him.

“And inside the castle, too? I never would’ve expected she had that in her,” Draco said, ignoring Ron’s mounting fury — or perhaps he was winding him up. That seemed more his style.

“Don’t you even utter her name,” Ron snarled, his fists clenched.

“If you keep it up, he’s going to attack you, and I’m not going to stop him,” Harry said lightly, beginning to walk across the castle grounds.

Draco kept pace with him, leaving a spluttering Ron standing where he was as snow gathered in his hair.

“And of course, everyone knows you already got it from the Weaslette. I’m certain they’re all surprised to see you back around,” Draco said, pulling on a pair of dark gloves. “You’re ruining that love ‘em and leave ‘em reputation.”

Harry stopped walking, spinning toward him. “What’s that supposed to mean?” he asked, his own temper rising.

Ron had caught up with them. “What did you say about my sister?”

Draco’s grey eyes widened in surprise, a delighted grin spreading across his face as if he’d just stumbled upon hidden treasure. He casually began to walk again, savoring the moment. “Didn’t you know? Wasn’t that all part of your plan?” he asked, drawing out the reveal because it was obvious he was delighting in their perplexed frowns.

“What are you talking about, Malfoy?” Harry asked.

Draco smirked. “Last year, the rumor around the castle was that you broke up with her after she gave you what you were after. Earned her quite a reputation that did.”

Harry scowled, stuffing his hands deeper into his pockets and quickening his pace. Anger licked at his insides, and he was struggling not to act rashly.

“What are you on about?” Ron asked. “Harry broke up with her to protect her.”

“Naturally, anyone who really knows Potter’s penchant for saving people expected that, but the ruse did work amongst the masses,” Draco conceded. “Loads of blokes spent the year trying to get into her robes. I’m not certain who succeeded.”

Harry grabbed Draco’s cloak and pushed him hard against a tree along the path, his words ringing in Harry’s ears. The similar words about his ‘saving-people thing,’ always cut him deeply, but the thought Ginny suffered because of his effort to keep her safe was maddening. He should’ve been the slag in that scenario, not her.

Draco’s eyes widened in panic, pain crossing his features as he slammed into the tree. Ron pulled Harry back, but kept a secure hold on him just in case. It was a testament to their long-standing friendship that Ron was controlling his own temper in order to focus on Harry’s.

“If anyone is going to get to hit him, it’s me,” Ron said firmly.

Draco made a show out of shaking out his robes and again began walking toward the gates at a slightly quicker pace.

“You know Ginny can take care of herself, mate. And it’s always been you,” Ron said to Harry under his breath. “Even I can see that. She wouldn’t have given the time of day to anyone else — except maybe to hex them.”

Harry pressed his lips together, his insides clenched painfully. He had a physical ache inside him that he was powerless to stop. Malfoy’s words kept replaying in his mind, churning in his gut. He wanted to hit something. It seemed he failed no matter who he tried to protect.

“Touch a nerve, did I, Potter?” Malfoy drawled. The distance between them giving him back some of his swagger.

Harry didn’t feel he had enough control of his temper to respond, but he didn’t have to as Ron jumped in for him.

“Of course you touched a nerve,” he said scathingly. “See, Malfoy, when you love someone, you get upset over them being hurt. A concept I know you have trouble with since you’ve never actually cared about anyone but yourself, and because you’re usually the one doing the hurting.”

An image of Ron’s desperation while Hermione screamed at Malfoy Manor flashed across Harry’s mind, and he braced himself in case Ron would need him to intervene this time.

Even in the dim moonlight, Harry could see color suffuse Draco’s pale cheeks. “You don’t know a damn thing about me, Weasley. You harp on and on about protecting each other. You’re not the only ones in the bloody war who had people they wanted to protect,” he snarled heatedly.

“Right,” Ron said, scoffing. “You were all about protecting others. How could I have missed that?”

Draco’s lip curled in derision. “I never claimed to have Potter’s ridiculous nobility, but if you’re suggesting I didn’t to everything in my power to protect my own family—”

“And it didn’t matter if everyone else perished along the way, right, Malfoy?” Ron asked bitterly. “I didn’t save my family by torturing anyone else.”

“I wasn’t the one who tortured her,” Draco said hotly.

“No, you just stood by and watched while the family you were trying to protect did it. You might have got away with it, but I’ll never forget,” Ron said bitterly.

“I’ll never be able to forget either,” Draco said, unconsciously rubbing his forearm as they walked.

“Are you using that Dark Mark as a symbol to remind you of your mistakes during the war?” Harry asked astutely. “Is that why you haven’t had it removed?”

Draco scoffed. “Your Muggle upbringing is showing, Potter,” he said derisively. “The Dark Mark isn’t a tattoo that can be removed. It’s faded to a red prickle now, but it’s there if you know where to look. It will never be gone — it’s permanent magic. I know because many have tried to rid themselves of it. Even if you cut off the skin, it still comes back.”

Harry squirmed uncomfortably at the idea of cutting off his own skin. His mind flashed on Wormtail slicing off his own hand in the graveyard in Little Hangleton. These Death Eaters were mad.

“I’ve heard it’s been rough for the families of your lot since the Battle,” Harry said, still uncertain how much sympathy to feel. While the families hadn’t done anything against the law, a lot of them had still supported Voldemort’s actions. There was a distinct difference between forgiving and forgetting.

“If you’re looking for sympathy, look elsewhere,” Ron said, apparently not struggling with the dilemma at all. Harry thought it would take a long time for Ron to be capable of moving past what had happened to Hermione at Malfoy Manor — never mind the fact it was down to Malfoy that Ron had been poisoned in sixth year.

“I didn’t expect you to understand, Weasley,” Draco said coolly.

“You had your chance at redemption during the Battle, Malfoy. Even then you decided one last time to side with Voldemort, and you still tried to hand Harry over. You chose the easy route, so don’t go looking for sympathy now,” Ron said, his expression resolute.

“Look,” Harry said, sighing. He was weary of the entire conversation. “We’ve all made decisions we regret after the fact. If we’re going to rebuild a better place now that the war is over, we’ve all got to let go.”

He glanced sideways at Ron, meeting his eyes. Even in the darkness, Harry could see Ron shift his gaze, no doubt remembering a night he stormed from their tent in anger. For his part, Harry would give anything to rethink a rash decision to storm the Ministry on a so-called rescue mission. “The past can’t be undone,” he said, suddenly exhausted, “no matter how much we wish we could.”

All three were quiet for several moments. The only sound disturbing the night air was the crunching of the newly fallen snow beneath their feet. Harry could see the dim outline of the gates now, they were nearly there. Clearly, the conversation was playing in all their heads. They were all living with the legacies their parents left them, but now the future was wide open, and Harry couldn’t help but wonder which direction they would go from here.

At least the conversation had distracted him from the cold. He was certain Ginny would already be snuggled in her warm four-poster. He desperately wanted to talk to her about what Malfoy had said. She’d told him his plan had worked, but she’d conveniently left out some significant details.

“Any leads on who murdered Agnes Heatherton?” Draco asked suddenly, clearly changing the subject. There hadn’t been many leads on the murdered witch in Knockturn Alley.

“How did you know about that?” he asked.

Draco shrugged. “My family has known her for years. She ran that shop with her brother, although it’s been just her recently. He’s a bit of a tosser, but Agnes was all right.”

“D’you know where we can find her brother?” Harry asked. As of yet, the Ministry had been unable to track him down.

“Haven’t seen him in years. He generally made himself scarce when there was work to be done. He and Agnes didn’t get on, but not enough for him to kill her,” Draco replied indifferently.

“Were her difficulties with her brother common knowledge?” Harry asked.

“Of course, amongst a select group, anyway,” Draco said, the haughtiness finally having returned to his voice.

They’d reached the gates at last, and Ron pushed them open, allowing Harry and Draco through before closing them once again.

“It’s been… an interesting evening,” Draco said, eyeing them coolly. He pulled a pristine crystal decanter top from his pocket and closed his gloved fingers around it, vanishing without another word.

The use of a Portkey startled Harry for a moment, but of course, Draco wasn’t allowed a wand during his probationary period. He wondered if the Slytherin had walked to the Apparition point so no one inside the castle would realize this. As Aurors, he and Ron were already aware.

“Git,” Ron said. “I’ll see you at home.”

Perhaps hoping people were ready to move on was too much to ask this quickly. Harry had so many thoughts running through his head, he wasn’t certain which to concentrate on first. Despite this, he knew once he was home, his exhaustion would win the battle. He was knackered.

ooOOoo


Harry was awoken from a deep sleep by the sound of Teddy crying. Terrified, agonized wails that caused Harry’s heart to pound uncomfortably. He leapt from his bed and scrambled for the door, his feet getting tangled in his sheets, tripping him up. He pulled his bedroom door open and found himself in an impossibly long, black corridor at the Department of Mysteries. Teddy’s door was all the way at the end. The faster he tried to run toward it, the longer the corridor stretched, and the louder Teddy shrieked.

It took an age for him to reach Teddy’s door, and when at last he did, the wall that held it spun, revealing several more doors. Harry couldn’t decipher which one was Teddy’s. His lungs ached as he took deep, icy breaths, the sound rattling in the black corridor. He madly kept flinging doors open, but he couldn’t find his crying godson. His panic increased every time he wrenched open the wrong door.

The first one led to a vault at Gringotts, and Harry’s hand burned when he touched the doorknob. The next one appeared empty, and only the sound of a cold, high-pitched laugh emanated from within. Harry shut the door tightly, shuddering.

As he flung open the next one, a scabbed, scaly hand reached from within, grasping the collar of his pajama jacket. He pulled back, repulsed, and forced the hand back inside, slamming the door shut.

Teddy’s terrified screams forced him to continue. He had to find the baby.

The next door revealed his cupboard, a few broken toy soldiers lay scattered on the small bed. A spider scurried across the pillow. Harry slammed the door.

When at last he found the right room, he flung himself inside, panting. Teddy was standing up in his cot, clutching the rails and wailing while blood oozed from a lightning bolt-shaped cut on his forehead. The blood trickled down his small face, smearing with his terrified tears. Harry reared back in shock, staring around the room in confusion. He caught sight of his own reflection in a mirror hanging on the wall. His eyes glowed back at him — merciless red eyes. Harry looked away in horror, and realized he was the one holding his wand on the screaming baby…


Harry awoke, screaming in terror, his throat raw in the pitch black room. He was drenched in sweat, and his entire body shook as he searched vainly for his wand on his bedside table. He knocked his glasses to the floor as another scream died on his lips, still frantically seeking his wand. Heart racing, he was desperate to dispel the darkness. His bedroom door burst open and light from the hallway flooded into the space around the doorway, revealing a solitary figure.

“Lumos,” Ron said, illuminating the room.

He appeared as only a blurry mass to Harry, whose heart continued to pound as his stomach roiled. He shut his eyes, leaning back against his headboard, trying to master himself. He was unable to stop shaking.

“All right?” Ron asked, sounding rather shaky himself.

Harry nodded, again blindly reaching around on his bedside table. Without his glasses, he couldn’t see anyway, so he didn’t see the point in opening his eyes. Ron must’ve seen his glasses on the floor, because the next thing Harry felt was them being slipped onto his nose.

“Thanks,” he muttered. “Couldn’t find my wand for the light.”

“I was making hot chocolate when I heard you scream. Want some?” Ron asked, his voice still sounding oddly hollow.

Now that he had his glasses, Harry opened his eyes and took a good look at Ron. His friend looked ill and pale, and he was much more subdued than usual. “Why were you up?” he asked, his voice raspy.

“Same reason as you,” Ron said, rubbing his eyes. “Malfoy could give anybody nightmares.”

Harry tried to snort, but it came out more like a whimper. Truly, Malfoy hadn’t featured in Harry’s dreams, but he supposed it was rehashing the war that stirred the memories. He was certain he knew exactly what it was that Ron had dreamed about.

“D’you want me to bring you some chocolate or not? I want mine, so I’m going back,” Ron said, turning toward the door.

Hot chocolate didn’t sound like a bad idea at all. Professor Lupin had always recommended it when he was feeling low.

“I’ll come, too. I need to get out of this room and get some air,” Harry said, swinging his legs off the side of the bed. He had to sit still a moment before he felt strong enough to stand, but he eventually managed it, albeit shakily. Harry was grateful Ron had remained patient and without comment.

The two slowly headed down into the kitchen where Ron already had his supplies out on the counter. His mug was overturned, most likely from when he’d heard Harry’s shout. Harry took another cup from the cupboard while Ron used his wand to boil the cocoa. They prepared their drinks in silence, each still processing the horrors in their own minds. Harry’s hands weren’t quite steady, but the chocolate helped, and he sipped in gratefully.

“It’s been an effin’ long day,” Ron said wearily.

“You sound like Owen,” Harry said, snorting. Despite the humor, it didn’t make Ron’s words untrue. They’d started early that morning — or perhaps it was yesterday morning now — riding over the Forest of Dean.

“At least we have tomorrow off so we can have a lie-in,” Ron said, his countenance lightening.

Harry wasn’t certain he’d be able to get back to sleep at all. The prospect wasn’t at all appealing, anyway. From the look on Ron’s face, he thought his friend might’ve just made the same realization.

“It was good to see Hermione and Ginny. I think they enjoyed the party,” Harry said, remembering the shocked look on Ginny’s face when he’d surprised her in the common room. She’d looked fantastic in her green dress.

“Yeah, I think so, too. Hermione said it was more fun than the first one,” Ron said, his expression telling Harry that he was most likely remembering Hermione’s dress, too.

“Yeah, well, she spent the first one ducking McLaggen, so I’m not surprised,” Harry said, chuckling. “She’ll be here for Christmas, yeah?” Ginny had told him that both girls were taking the train, although Hermione was coming to Grimmauld Place while Ginny was going to the Burrow.

Ron nodded. “She’ll be here, but she’s leaving Christmas night to visit with her parents. She said she’d try and be back in time for our New Year’s Eve party, though.”

“I talked to Fleur about that the other day. She’s helping me make arrangements, so I think it might be fancier than we’d anticipated,” Harry said, grimacing.

“Did she tell you their news?” Ron asked.

Harry shook his head. “What news?”

“Apparently, my brother knocked her up,” Ron replied. “We’re going to be uncles.”

Harry shook his head, noting the plurality of Ron’s statement with pleasure. “She didn’t say anything.”

Ron shrugged. “George told me, but he reckons they want to make some big announcement at Christmas.”

“So, naturally you’re sharing it with me, anyway,” Harry said wryly.

Ron waved his hand in the air dismissively. “Everyone knows. We can all just pretend to be surprised for Bill and Fleur.”

Harry would never understand the inner workings of Ron’s family. He was immensely pleased to be considered one of them, however.

Back to index


Chapter 11: Reunions Redux

Author's Notes: Thanks for the Silver Trinket noms! Much appreciated!!


Chapter Eleven
Reunions Redux



Ginny sat at the counter in Grimmauld Place’s kitchen perusing a stack of owl order forms. She’d yet to finish her Christmas shopping, despite the fact she had more pocket money this year than she’d ever had in the past, earned during all the hours she worked in George’s shop over the summer. Ron and Harry had picked up Hermione and her from the Hogwarts Express earlier that day, and though Ginny was planning on returning to the Burrow after dinner, she’d stopped at Grimmauld Place first. It was the first time she’d seen all the changes the decorator had made.

It was like being in a new house, and she really had to look for traces of the way it used to be. Walls had been moved, windows added and the color scheme was so much brighter. It was truly lovely, and her jaw had literally dropped when she’d entered the elegant entrance hall.

As she’d specified, her own room had been painted a soft green. It was unfurnished despite the fact Harry had told her she could order what she liked. The green Ginny had selected was lighter than the Holyhead Harpies green, but she thought it would blend well once she added all those accents. Somehow, she felt she’d be tempting fate if she went all out before she’d officially made the team.

Ron and Hermione had disappeared some time ago, and Ginny wasn’t allowing her mind to ponder what they might be doing. As promised, Harry was cooking dinner for her, and the smell of roasting chicken was making her mouth water. It was difficult to concentrate on ordering her gifts when all she wanted to do was nick something to sample.

“D’you think Dad would appreciate a bottle of Irish Firewhiskey? Dean told me Seamus is working for Ogden’s branch in Ireland, and he can get samples,” Ginny asked, staring at the order forms in consternation. Every year there was always one person who stumped her, and this year it was her dad. It was the first year she was old enough to purchase the stuff, and she knew her dad was fond of it, but someone always gave him some.

“There’s a Muggle shop right on the corner. Why don’t you just go in and get him something that runs on batteries? He’ll be fascinated,” Harry said, his head inside the oven.

“Harry, that’s brilliant,” she said blankly. “Why have I never thought of that?”

“Because you’re not a Muggle,” Harry said, grinning as he pulled his head out. His glasses were slighted tilted, and Ginny thought he looked adorable.

“What did you get him, then?” she asked.

“A small television. With. A. Plug,” he said smugly. “I know it won’t work at the Burrow, but I can’t wait to see what he does with it.”

Ginny laughed. “You’d better have bought something equally good for Mum, so she’ll be able to get over her annoyance.”

Harry suddenly looked worried.

“Don’t be ridiculous, Harry. She can’t stay put-out with you for long,” she said gently, touched that he needed the reassurance.

“So… you said Dean told you about Seamus. How’s Dean doing?” Harry asked, his back to her as he sliced some vegetables. She wasn’t fooled by the casual tone of his voice. Harry wasn’t the overly jealous type like Ron, but he did have a streak of his own. Ginny thought she quite liked it.

“I don’t know. I think he’s struggling, actually,” she said, choosing her words carefully.

Harry turned back around, his brow knitted. “Why?” he asked, and she could see his compassionate nature warring with his jealousy.

She shrugged. “He was always very clingy. It’s one of the things that drove me mad, but this year… I dunno, it’s ramped up a notch. Hermione said it must’ve been hard to be all on his own for a whole year, and now, none of you came back, and he has to try and fit in with a new lot.”

“Are they not getting on with him?” Harry asked.

“I think they are, actually. I certainly haven’t seen them exclude him, but… I don’t know. Something is off,” Ginny said, feeling that same frustration she felt at Hogwarts.

“He’s coming over here during break to paint Teddy’s room,” Harry told her, looking pensive.

“I know. He told me. I’m certain it’ll be brilliant.”

“What will be brilliant?” Ron asked as he and Hermione came down the stairs into the kitchen holding hands. Ron took a seat at the counter opposite her, causing Ginny to quickly collect her catalogs and put her order forms away. Ron was known to peek at Christmas gifts.

“Teddy’s room,” Harry said distractedly, pointing his wand at the chopping vegetables.

“Harry, what can I do to help?” Hermione asked, frowning at Ron.

“I’ve already asked,” Ginny said, feeling the need to defend herself. “He says he has it covered.”

“I told you that I’d make dinner for you. It’s not making it for you if you’re helping,” Harry said patiently.

“Yes, but Ron and I are going to eat too, so we can help. Right, Ron?” Hermione asked pointedly.

“I’ll set the table, but I’m rubbish at cooking,” Ron replied, standing up to pull plates from the cupboard. They’d decided to eat at the kitchen table — something the boys had yet to do — in celebration of the girls’ return from Hogwarts.

“I’d like to help,” Hermione said firmly.

“Here,” Harry said absently, pointing her toward the stove. “I’m making a cheese sauce for the cauliflower and leeks. The flour and butter are almost done. Just stir it while it cooks for another minute, then add the milk slowly once you remove it,” he said, pointing to a cup of milk he’d left on the counter.

Ginny thought Hermione looked slightly panicked, but she moved toward the stove while Harry returned to his runner beans. Hermione always appeared so confident and in control at school, Ginny had to admit that she felt a small hint of pleasure at seeing the other girl out of her element.

“If you’re not helping with the cooking, I think you should be in charge of clean-up,” Hermione said, glancing over at Ron, who was placing utensils on the table.

“I help,” Ron said, sounding wounded. “‘Sides, I think Kreacher tidies up at night even after I’ve done it.”

“What?” Hermione asked, spinning around. “Harry, I thought you said Kreacher was with Andromeda?”

“He is,” Harry replied. “I don’t make him clean up, Hermione. He just does it on his own. I’ve never seen him here, but I know it’s always neater than we leave it.”

“He probably likes to feel as if he’s still caring for the House of Black. He was really devoted,” Ginny said.

“If he looks like he’s wearing himself out, I’ll intervene,” Harry said calmly.

“Oh, no!” Hermione gasped. “Harry, I’m sorry.”

Ginny turned, frowning. Hermione was emphatic about elf-rights, but she hadn’t said anything she needed to apologize for. It was then Ginny noticed the smoke above the saucepan Hermione was stirring.

Harry hurried over and pulled the saucepan from the stove.

“Oh, I’ve ruined it,” Hermione moaned.

“It’s all right,” Harry said patiently. He used his wand to clean out the pan, and quickly started over with butter and flour. “We can redo this. You forgot to take it off the burner before adding the milk.”

Hermione came over to the counter and slumped down in a chair, looking forlorn. “I don’t know why I have such trouble cooking. I’m terrible,” she said, putting her head down.

Ginny laughed, patting her on the shoulder. “Hermione, I’ll concede that you’re not a very good cook, yet Ron — my brother, Ron — chose you. That has to tell you how much he likes you, anyway.”

“She’s right,” Ron said, smiling tenderly. “We’ll starve together.”

“It’s not funny,” Hermione said, lifting her head. “What are we going to do if Harry is the only one who can cook anything decent? We won’t all be together forever. I feel like such a failure.”

“Hermione, you brewed Polyjuice Potion when you were twelve. You’re far from a failure,” Harry said, rolling his eyes as he expertly added ingredients to the saucepan.

“I was thirteen,” Hermione said, sniffling.

Harry silently stared at her over the roof of his glasses until Hermione grinned, abashed.

“Besides, you lot kept me from starving when I was at the Dursleys, I can return the favor now,” Harry said, turning back to the stove.

“Don’t joke about that,” Ginny said, scowling.

“What was longest amount of time you spent in that cupboard?” Hermione asked, turning to face him, her distress over failing to make the cheese sauce apparently forgotten.

Harry spun around, gaping at her. It was his turn to forget what he was doing. “What?” he asked, spluttering.

“What’s the longest time you went without food?” Hermione asked bluntly.

“I don’t want to talk about the Dursleys,” Harry said, turning his back on them again. He removed the sauce from the stove and began paying over-exaggerated attention to adding the milk.

“You brought them up,” Hermione said. “I’m curious.”

“I dunno,” Harry said, his voice low. “A few days. When I got older, I learned to pick the lock, so I could nick food at night. If I didn’t take too much, they didn’t notice.”

“A few days?” Ron asked, outraged. “With nothing to eat?”

Ginny knew that to Ron, even spiders wouldn’t have been as terrible. She watched Harry closely. Her dad had told them not to push him when it came to the Dursleys, but although he was obviously uncomfortable, he wasn’t shutting them out completely. She wondered if perhaps he needed to talk about it.

“What about water? They couldn’t have withheld water that long. You’d have died,” Hermione said, her expression somewhere between horrified and outraged, though her tone was very clinical.

Harry began lining the food up on the counter to be brought over to the table. Ginny and Ron, both so used to this at the Burrow, automatically got up and began putting items at the table.

“Good thing the Dursleys didn’t know that then. It would’ve made it so much easier on them,” Harry said dryly. “Can we talk about something else now?”

“After you tell me what they gave you for water,” Hermione said, clearing spots on the table for Ron and Ginny to place the food.

“I got bathroom breaks twice a day. There was water in the tap, so it wasn’t a big deal,” Harry replied, bringing over the roasted chicken on a huge platter. “Look, chicken!”

From the slight coloring of his cheeks, Ginny suspected that when he was younger, two bathroom breaks probably weren’t enough. She viciously stuck the serving fork into the chicken. They all took chairs around the table, Ginny sitting to Harry’s left. Ron began piling food on his plate at once.

“Harry…” Hermione said, but he interrupted her before she could finish her thought.

“Enough about the Dursleys. It’s Christmas,” he said firmly. His attitude made it clear he was done talking about it.

“This looks amazing, Harry,” Ginny said, allowing the change of subject and admiring his work. She couldn’t have done this if you’d paid her.

“Harry,” Hermione said, looking stunned. Her eyes roamed the vast feast laid out before them, “why weren’t you in charge of cooking when we were on the run last year?”

Harry snorted. “Because you need food to cook.”

“Can we eat now?” Ron asked, leaning in toward the delicious aromas.

“Did you learn how to do all this while living with the Dursleys?” Hermione asked, picking up a serving spoon.

Harry, however, had been pushed as far as he was going to be. “See, Hermione, this is how the cheese sauce looks when it’s done properly,” he said, handing her the bowl of cauliflower. Hermione scowled, but took the plate.

Ginny tasted a bite of the chicken and savored the flavor as it nearly melted in her mouth. “Mmm, Harry. You can cook for me anytime,” she said, sighing.

Ron grunted what sounded like it could have been a ‘me, too,’ but Ginny couldn’t be certain because his mouth was so full. One thing about Weasleys — they all enjoyed eating.

After they’d eaten their fill, Hermione insisted Harry and Ginny clear out of the kitchen, and she and Ron would do the clean-up. Harry took Ginny’s hand in his, and began leading her up the stairs.

“Where are you going?” Ron asked.

“Never mind where they’re going,” Hermione said, using her wand so that the pots and pans started scrubbing themselves in the sink. “Finish clearing the table, Ron.”

“I just thought… Mum is expecting to see Ginny after dinner,” he said, looking over at the fireplace.

“And she will,” Ginny said firmly. “After I’ve thanked Harry for preparing such a wonderful dinner.”

“You’ve already thanked him,” Ron said, grumbling.

Ginny could see this sharing living quarters with Ron was going to be a problem. Before she could round on him, however, Harry spoke up.

“Ron. We’ve discussed this,” he said firmly.

Ginny didn’t know what they’d discussed, but she could piece it together by the reddening of Ron’s ears. Harry tugged on her hand and led her up the stairs and out of the kitchen. She followed him into the sitting room where he used his wand to light a fire in the fireplace. Ginny sat down on the new red leather sofa.

Harry looked over at her, then took a seat in a large chair by the fire. Ginny frowned, wondering if she’d upset him.

“Er… that’s where Ron and Hermione were when I accidentally walked in on them,” Harry said sheepishly.

Ginny jumped from the sofa, swiping at her bum futilely. Harry grinned. “I’ve used Scourgify, but I can’t wipe my memory clean.”

“D’you want me to erase it?” she asked, removing her wand.

Harry pulled back slightly. “Er… d’you know how to do a Memory Charm?” he asked, looking alarmed.

“No,” Ginny replied simply. She kept her face stoic for as long as she could, looking at his horrified expression before she burst into laughter.

“Prat,” Harry said, grinning ruefully.

“I think the best we can do is make a memory of our own on the sofa,” she replied, sitting back down. “Are you up for that?”

The grin melted from Harry’s face into an expression of shocked intrigue. He scrambled off the chair to join her on the sofa. She laughed as she began to kiss him.

ooOOoo


Once she stopped spinning, Ginny stepped from the fireplace into the Burrow’s silent kitchen. She blinked several times, discombobulated. She knew none of her siblings were living at home anymore, but she hadn’t expected the complete silence. It was unnatural, and she didn’t like it. Glancing around the empty room, the next thing she noticed was the lack of Christmas decorations. Mum had always left the bulk of the decorating for when her children returned from Hogwarts, but there was always something festive to welcome them home. Now, even the door lacked its traditional wreath. Although the kitchen smelled faintly of the remains of dinner, the traditional scents of baking was conspicuously absent.

Ginny knew this Christmas would be a hard one. The empty spot at the dinner table cast a pall over the rest of the kitchen. She hadn’t known what she expected, but this certainly wasn’t it. The joy and contentment that she’d achieved during her snog session with Harry evaporated like a punctured balloon.

She and Harry had spent an enjoyable hour wrapped around one another. Although they’d yet to take that final step, she was certain it’s where they were headed. She’d have to think of a way to circumvent Ron’s attention when they did. She wanted more than a stolen hour once they decided on that particular course of action.

Her belly fluttered at the thought, and she knew her skin had colored just remembering his caresses during their stolen hour. Yes, she definitely wanted more of that. A muffled cough from the sitting room alerted her that she wasn’t completely alone. Checking that her clothes were readjusted and her ponytail back in place, Ginny poked her head around the entrance of the sitting room.

Her mum sat in her rocking chair by the fire, knitting needles clicking madly while another set clicked magically beside her. Her dad sat on the other chair, sipping a glass of Firewhisky and reading the newspaper.

“I’m home,” she called, somewhat glumly. It wasn’t the greeting she’d expected.

“Ginny!” Dad said, putting down the paper to stand and hug her. He kissed the top of her head, making her feel a little better. “We knew you’d returned safely when your trunk arrived. I’ve put it up in your room.”

“Hello, dear. How was dinner? Did Harry make you something special?” Mum asked, holding out a hand.

Ginny complied by taking it, leaning down to hug her mother. “Yeah, he prepared a roast chicken with all the fixings.”

Mum’s eyebrows rose appreciatively. Ginny knew she was disappointed that none of her own children had really taken to cooking.

“That must’ve taken a lot of work. I hope you all helped him,” Mum said.

“Hermione tried, but… well, I think we’ve finally found the solution to Ron’s obesity once his metabolism slows down,” Ginny replied, grinning.

Her dad chuckled, and her mum tut-tutted. “Did you like all the renovations?” Dad asked.

“I can hardly believe it’s the same house,” Ginny said. “Teddy’s room is being painted next week, and that should be the last of it, I think.”

“Teddy and Andromeda are joining us for Christmas dinner,” Mum said, her voice a little wobbly.

Ginny knew Christmas would be hard for Andromeda, too, but hopefully Teddy’s presence would help them all. “That’s a brilliant idea. I know Harry will be pleased. When is Charlie arriving?”

“That would be now,” a voice boomed from the kitchen. A moment later, Charlie’s massive frame filled the doorway, a light snow covering his hair that had collected as he’d walked from the Apparition point.

“Charlie!” Dad said, again rising to greet his second son.

“I thought you were arriving tomorrow night,” Mum said blankly. She looked rather stunned.

Charlie shrugged. “Things were slow, so I left a bit early. There wasn’t a delay at the checkpoint in Germany, and I was able to come right through,” he said, his gaze wandering around the room. Ginny wondered if he, too, was noticing the lack of Christmas decorations.

Ginny leapt up and flung herself at her brother, squeezing him for all she was worth. “It’s good to see you. How are the dragons?”

“Are you hungry?” Mum asked. “I had a big dinner planned for tomorrow, but I can put something together now.”

“Nah,” Charlie said. “I ate at my favorite pub in Germany.”

“The one with the waitress with the nice… hands?” Ginny asked, grinning. She remembered Charlie’s near slip when he was telling her and Hermione about his pub.

Charlie’s ears reddened, but he grinned good-naturedly. “Right in one, little sis. Where is everyone? It’s bloody quiet here,” he asked, his booming voice doing much to dispel the unnatural silence at the Burrow.

“Well, we weren’t expecting you, so everyone will be here tomorrow to welcome you,” her dad reminded him.

“Looks like I can surprise them all by already being here, then. At least you’re home,” he said, hugging Ginny again.

“I just arrived, too. I stopped at Grimmauld Place to have dinner with Harry, Ron and Hermione. They would’ve come back with me if they knew you were here,” Ginny said. Everyone always enjoyed listening to Charlie’s rambunctious tales about the dragons.

“What do Ron and Harry think of Auror training? I can’t believe my baby brother is an Auror,” Charlie said, and Ginny grinned, imagining the expression on Ron’s face if he’d heard Charlie calling him his ‘baby brother.’

“Both appear to have taken to it like fish to water,” Dad replied. “Although, at the moment, they’re working on an attempt to contain the Dementors, and it’s definitely taking a toll on the entire ranks.”

“I thought both Harry and Ron looked a bit washed-out at dinner. By the time I left, they could barely keep their eyes open,” Ginny said.

“The Ministry is working on a better solution,” Dad said tiredly, and Ginny suspected this discussion came up a lot.

“Will they both be here tomorrow?” Mum asked, her mouth puckered in disapproval.

“I don’t know about Ron, but Harry’s working,” Ginny replied. “I think Ron took a few days off while Hermione is home. Harry took Christmas off so he could spend Teddy’s first one with him.”

“I wish the Grangers would’ve come home instead so we could all be together for the holidays,” Mum said fretfully.

“I don’t think they wanted to leave their practice for that long. It takes Muggles much longer to travel,” Ginny explained.

“But they’d get to ride in an aeroplane,” Dad said excitedly.

Mum frowned. “Honestly, Arthur. I cannot understand your fascination with those Muggle contraptions. It sounds quite dodgy if you ask me.”

“These Muggles are so clever, though,” Dad answered, his enthusiasm not dimmed in the slightest by Mum’s disapproval.

“Hermione says all you have to do is take him on an aeroplane once, and he’d know how much better Apparition is,” Ginny replied.

“Oh, Molly! Could we?” Dad asked, holding his breath he was so excited.

Mum looked at him incredulously. “Where would we go?” she asked. “I don’t trust that thing wouldn’t fall out of the sky with us in it.”

“I think I’m just going to nip upstairs and drop off my things,” Charlie said, leaning close to Ginny’s ear. He held a large duffle bag in one hand, the muscles in his arm rippling with the weight of it. Ginny briefly wondered what he’d brought home that made his bag so heavy before she remembered that he’d have everyone’s Christmas gifts in there.

“I’ll help,” she said, hurrying up the stairs with him to escape her parents escalating row.

Ginny’s room was on the first landing, and she peeked inside. Her trunk sat on the floor at the foot of her bed. She flipped the lid open and grabbed two unopened bottles of Butterbeer that she’d bought on the train. Bringing them up two more flights of stairs, she stopped short to find Charlie still on the landing, staring at the closed door of the room that had once belonged to the twins. It was the only closed door she’d passed.

Charlie sighed deeply before crossing the hall into what had been Percy’s room. Tossing his duffle bag on one of the beds, he sank down wearily.

“How have they been?” he asked in a low voice.

Ginny handed him one of the Butterbeers, and he popped the lid easily. She handed him the other bottle for him to do the same to hers. “Dunno. I’ve been at school, haven’t I? You noticed the lack of decorations.”

“Yeah,” Charlie said, handing her back an opened bottle. “We can fix that tomorrow. What about George? He’s sent me packages of products, but he never says much.”

“George is okay — some days are harder than others. I think their birthday will be harder on him than Christmas,” Ginny said slowly, thinking about it. Once the words were out, she knew they were true. Mum and Dad would have a harder time with Christmas. For George, it would be the first time he celebrated a birthday alone.

Charlie took a long swig of the Butterbeer, nearly finishing it in one swallow. “You’re probably right.”

“He spends a lot of time at Ron and Harry’s. Eats with them, too, from what I hear, and I think that’s good for him. Oh, Fleur’s pregnant, so pretend to be surprised when they make their announcement,” Ginny said.

“No shit!” Charlie exclaimed, his eyes widening. “I’m going to be an uncle. Bill must be over the moon.”

“Dunno. I haven’t seen him yet,” Ginny said, looking forward to seeing her eldest brother — and even Fleur. It would be wonderful to no longer be the youngest Weasley.

“How’s school been?” Charlie asked, taking another swallow of his Butterbeer.

Ginny shrugged. “All right. Classes are more normal, but there’s this weird tension amongst the students all the time.”

Charlie frowned, watching her closely. “It must be hard to be back with some of the same students who were on the other side, yeah?”

“Very,” Ginny agreed, nodding. “There’s been a lot of shoving in the halls, but nothing too drastic. The teachers have all been really vigilant, particularly around Slytherin House. Still, I’m surprised there hasn’t been any all-out duels.”

“Maybe there were some deals made between Hogwarts and families of those involved with the Carrows,” Charlie said, still frowning. “I can’t imagine they’d just let them back without any restrictions.”

“Dunno,” Ginny said. “If there are, it’s not general knowledge, and you know how hard it is to keep secrets at Hogwarts.”

“Now, there’s an understatement,” Charlie said, grinning.

“So, tell me about this waitress in Germany. Honestly, Charlie, I think this is about the longest-term relationship you’ve ever had,” Ginny said, smirking.

Charlie choked on the last of his Butterbeer. “We don’t have a relationship,” he said as if it were a dirty word.

“Just sex then?” she asked impishly.

Charlie’s coloring deepened. “I’m not having this conversation with you.”

“Why not? I’m not a child, I’m seventeen, Charlie. I want you to think back to when you were seventeen and what you were doing.”

Charlie scowled. “It’s not the same.”

“Of course it’s the same,” Ginny said indignantly. “You’d answer if it was Bill who was asking.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t remember ever seeing Bill in nappies,” Charlie replied.

Ginny snorted. “You’d answer Percy or George, as well.”

Now it was Charlie’s turn to snort. “I can’t see Percy ever coming right out and asking that question. What’s going on with you and Harry, anyway?”

“Nice try changing the subject,” Ginny said, eyebrows raised.

“I’m serious. I saw a Daily Prophet article that made it seem like he was playing the field,” Charlie said, kicking the dresser and not quite meeting her eyes.

Ginny rolled them dramatically so he couldn’t miss it. “Yeah, but what it didn’t say is that one of his ‘attractive Potions tutors’ was George. You know better than to believe everything you read in that rag. They’re always having a go at him. He can take it from outsiders, but don’t you dare give him any grief over it,” she said, firing up on Harry’s behalf.

“Don’t get your knickers in a twist. I was just asking,” Charlie said, holding up his hands defensively.

“Sorry,” Ginny mumbled, though she really wasn’t. “I just thought they’d give him a bit of break before they turned on him again.”

“It’s only Skeeter though, yeah?” he asked.

“I suppose, but the editor is still printing it. Harry’s been through a lot, and I just wish they’d give him some peace.”

Charlie didn’t reply, but when Ginny looked up, he was staring at her intently. “What?” she asked.

“Ginny and Harry, caught by the Ministry, K-I-S-S-I-N-G,” he sang impishly.

“Oh, real mature. Shut it, Charlie,” Ginny said, fighting a laugh.

Charlie grinned, batting his eyes dramatically. “I saw the way he looked at you last summer — like the sun rose and set just for you.”

Ginny felt her color rising, and cursed that Weasley tell-tale red. “I said, shut it. Back to you and your German waitress, what did you say her name was?”

“I didn’t,” he replied, still smirking.

“So you’re shagging her, and you don’t even know her name?” Ginny asked, mock-scandalized.

“Ginny! I said I’m not discussing this with you,” he said firmly.

“What’s her name, then?” she repeated, unrelenting.

“Inga,” he said, sighing. Apparently, he knew she wouldn’t give up.

“Ing-Ga,” Ginny said, exaggerating each syllable.

“All right, enough of you,” Charlie said, reaching over and plucking Ginny up as if she weighed nothing at all. He tossed her on the extra twin bed and began tickling her like he did when she was small, something Ginny was never able to combat.

“Cut it out, Charlie, I mean it,” she gasped between laughter.

“Oh, you mean it, do you? What are you going to do about it?” he asked, laughing.

“I’ll tell Inga you’re in love with her!” Ginny shrieked.

“Ha. Nice try,” he replied, unimpressed.

Ginny fought to breathe through her laughter. “Okay, I’ll tell Mum you’re in love with Inga.”

Charlie stopped, pulling back and looking at her with a horrified expression. “That’s low, Ginny.”

Ginny raised up on her elbows, smirking. “I’m glad you’re home, Charlie,” she said, and she meant it.

“I’m glad to be home, Ginny. We’ll get through Christmas — together.”

ooOOoo


T’was the day before Christmas, and Harry sat atop his broom, keeping a wary eye out for any stray Dementors. He’d done an early morning shift already, but he was working a double shift today, so he could have the whole day off on Christmas. Usually double shifts were discouraged, but there were so many Aurors taking time off, there simply weren’t any other options. He’d managed a short break before the second shift started, and he’d gobbled up several bars of Honeydukes’ best chocolate.

Owen was in charge of this shift, and Harry knew his partner wasn’t pleased that he’d done a double. It couldn’t be helped, however. He wanted the whole day off to spend with Teddy. Cormac McLaggen had also worked the previous shift — he’d said something about his family traveling. If Harry had to do a double, he would’ve preferred to do it with anyone other than Cormac.

Harry futilely tried to work the kinks out of his neck. When he’d originally agreed to the trade, he thought it had been a great idea. He’d be off in time to join the Weasleys at the Burrow for Christmas Eve dinner, and have Christmas Day entirely free. The rundown feeling he was experiencing after one shift left him worried that he’d be too tired to celebrate that evening.

Everyone planned to gather at the Burrow. It had been like this for the past several nights since Charlie and Ginny’s return. They’d all decorated the Burrow, and Harry had to admit it looked very festive. Even Mrs. Weasley seemed to get into the holiday spirit. Harry enjoyed the homemade decorations at the Burrow. He and Ginny had put up a few new decorations at Grimmauld Place, and he’d put a tree in the sitting room. It wasn’t quite the same without all the stories behind the decorations, however.

He knew Ginny was expecting him this evening, and he couldn’t disappoint her, so he had to be certain to have enough energy to at least make an appearance. She was spending the day doing some last-minute shopping with Ron and Hermione.

“Level off, Potter,” Owen barked, and Harry realized he’d been steadily gaining altitude while his mind drifted. He straightened his broom and descended back on course.

“Ooh, what crawled up his arse?” Violet, who was riding alongside him, asked.

“Dunno. I think he’s hacked off I’m riding a double shift,” Harry said, keeping his voice low so Owen wouldn’t overhear and start berating him again.

“Honestly, Harry. Why would you do something like that? One of these shifts is hard enough,” Violet scolded, sounding uncharacteristically like Hermione.

“Oi. If I knew you were going to go off on me, too, I would’ve kept my mouth shut,” Harry replied, disgruntled.

“Perhaps you ought to be working on keeping your mouth shut when they ask for volunteers to do a double shift,” Violet said, unperturbed.

“I wanted tomorrow off,” Harry mumbled, now wishing he hadn’t even engaged in conversation.

“Why? I thought it was only those with kids doing extra shifts. Personally, I’m working. The less time I spend with my dad and his pretty young wife, the better,” Violet said, grimacing.

“I have a godson, and it’s his first Christmas,” Harry said, shrugging. Remus and Tonks couldn’t be there, and Harry was bound and determined to stand in for them, no matter what he had to do.

Some of his emotions must’ve shown on his face, for Violet didn’t press the issue. They flew in silence for some time, and the Dementors were unusually quiet. Oddly, it made for a rather dull shift. Harry’s mind wandered as he circled the area, voices echoing in his head if he flew too close to any of them. From the corner of his eye, he noticed a Patronus that he didn’t recognize stopping in front of Owen. Apparently, something was going on, because if he wasn’t mistaken, it was carrying a message.

He kept a surreptitious eye on Owen as he cast his own Patronus toward a lone Dementor that had moved too close. It had been behind him for some time, and Harry had the eerie feeling it had been following him. It retreated under the blaze of Prongs, and Harry let out a sigh of relief.

“Potter,” Owen said, flying up alongside him. “I’ve got a job for you.”

Harry quirked his eyebrow. “I thought I was doing a job.”

“Save your effin’ sass for someone else. I’ve got a report that three more Dementors were spotted. I need you to take McLaggen and drive them back here,” Owen said gruffly.

Harry groaned inwardly. “Isn’t there anyone else?” he asked, feeling too exhausted already to deal with Cormac one-on-one.

Owen shook his head. “This is Duncan’s first time back, and I need to keep an eye on him. You and Cormac could use the break whilst you’re searching. The two of you should easily be able to handle three ruddy Dementors without much trouble.”

Harry glanced over at Duncan Tate. His ankle had fully healed, but he still looked a bit wary being surrounded by the Dementors again. It was only down to Christmas staffing issues that he’d been sent back out here without more training.

“All right,” he said morosely. “Where are they?” He supposed a flight without the drain of the Dementors wouldn’t be a bad idea. He thought it would be just the ticket to get his adrenaline pumping again. Perhaps he wouldn’t be too tired for the Christmas festivities after all.

“Little Whinging,” Owen said, and Harry’s spirits, which had begun to rise at the thought of flying, deflated.

“Pardon?” he asked, not certain he’d heard correctly. He felt as if he’d been punched in the gut.

“They were spotted entering Little Whinging. It’s in the county of Surrey in the south—”

“I know where it is. I grew up there,” Harry said, a vague feeling of unease creeping over him. He shifted on his broom, running a hand along the back of his neck.

“Good,” Owen continued, unaware of Harry’s distress. “I don’t have an exact location for them, but the Ministry is sending a Portkey post-haste. It will bring you to the location they were last spotted, then you can do a fly over the village. I’m certain you’ll be able to sense them. You’re like a ruddy Dementor Detector, you are.”

“Great,” Harry said, rolling his eyes. “If I have to spend the afternoon with him, then you get to tell McLaggen he’s going.”

Owen grinned evilly. “I’d rather tell him than spend the afternoon with him,” he said quietly before flying over to Cormac’s position.

“You and me both,” Harry muttered.

The Portkey arrived soon after, and the unlikely pair each put a hand on the crushed fizzy drink can. Cormac wore a sullen expression, and he stared at Harry resentfully as the pull of the Portkey tugged them toward Little Whinging. Harry wasn’t certain if it was the effect of the Portkey or his nerves about returning that was causing the discomfort in his belly. Most likely a combination of both.

The Portkey delivered them in the village center behind a department store that Harry recognized. He was often made to tag along behind Aunt Petunia and Dudley while they searched for new clothes for Dudley, who kept outgrowing his. Harry could hear the ring of Christmas bells, and he could imagine loads of Muggle shoppers rushing about on the busy sidewalk.

He hated it here.

Vaguely, he wondered if Dementors were somehow drawn to places other Dementors had been. The playpark where he and his cousin had been attacked wasn’t far from here, and he thought that would be where he’d check next.

“Listen,” Harry said. “I know this village, and this is about as busy a spot as you’ll find in all of Surrey. If there are Dementors around, this is where they’ll congregate. I suggest we reverse the Concealment Charms on our clothing, and walk about rather than fly. It’ll be easier to see in the alleys between shops that way.”

Cormac scowled but complied. “They should’ve given us an exact location. This could take hours,” he complained.

“We’ll give it an hour on foot. If we don’t spot them, we can fly over the neighborhoods. It gets sparse the further out you go from the shops,” Harry said. He didn’t want to be here, either, but they had a job to do. Best to get it over with as quickly as possible.

He quickly transfigured their Auror clothing into jeans and heavy outerwear, and making certain they were both visible, shrunk his Firebolt to be stored in his pocket for easy reach. They set out through the slim alley and emerged onto the high street. As Harry expected, there were loads of Muggles hurrying about with bags and parcels. The trees that lined the street were decorated, and lights flashed in every shop window.

“You take this side of the street, I’ll go across,” Cormac said, casting disgusted looks at all the Muggles. “Shout out if you see anything.”

Harry nodded and, shoving his hands deep into his pockets, began trudging up the street. He glanced carefully down each dark alley between shops, but he knew before looking that there weren’t any Dementors in each one. The cold he felt was natural, and the only sounds in his head was the ringing of bells and excited chatter from the many shoppers.

He was so engrossed in looking down the alleys that he didn’t notice anyone in front of him until he’d already ploughed into him.

“Pardon,” he said quickly, the word dying on his lips when he realized who was staring at him with the same stunned expression that he expected was on his own face. “Dudley.”

“Harry,” Dudley said, sounding both shocked and pleased. “What are doing here? How are you?”

“I’m good. I’m working, actually. You?” he asked, feeling wrong-footed. He hadn’t expected to run into any of the Dursleys, despite the fact they’d been on his mind since learning he was returning to Surrey, and the fact Dudley was acting cordial really threw him.

“Mum and I had a few last-minute things to pick up. Are you coming ‘round for dinner?” Dudley asked.

“Er… no. I’m… I have plans with my wiz… with friends,” Harry said, catching himself before saying his wizarding family. It had been so long since he’d been in the company of any of the Dursleys, he was out of practice.

“Oh… right,” Dudley replied, shifting from foot to foot. “Where do you live?”

“What?”

“Where d’you live? We got back after… you know… when they said it was safe, but we never saw you. They told me you were all right,” Dudley said, and Harry couldn’t remember a time when Dudley had ever strung so many words together.

“Oh, yeah. I have a house in London. I checked on Privet Drive before you returned. It all looked all right,” Harry said awkwardly. He was trying not to imagine the look on Aunt Petunia’s face if she found out her Diddy-ums had invited Harry to Christmas Eve dinner.

“Right. Your godfather gave you a house. I remember Dad ranting about it,” Dudley said.

“Right,” Harry said, wincing. He rapidly searched his brain for any other topic to discuss. “How did you all cope being in hiding?”

“About how you’d expect,” Dudley said, snorting. “I liked Hestia, though. She helped me with my homework and even charted out an exercise plan.”

Dudley was thinner and more fit than Harry had remembered him, so it seemed Hestia, at least, had done him some good.

“She told me when you’d won, that you killed Lord Voldymort,” Dudley said, not lowering his voice at all.

Harry glanced around wildly, not wanting any of his old neighbors, who already thought he was a delinquent, to overhear that he’d killed someone. “Shh, not in front of other Muggles,” he whispered, noting the irony of telling someone else not to use the name.

“Dudley,” Aunt Petunia called as she exited the nearest shop. “I think I have every— What are you doing here?” she asked, her eyes narrowing in dislike as she realized to whom Dudley was speaking.

“Hello, Aunt Petunia,” Harry said pleasantly.

Dudley glanced between his mother and Harry, perplexed. Harry didn’t know why he’d be confused by the open hostility. It had always been that way. Harry had been so caught up in bumping into Dudley, he’d completely forgotten he was supposed to be doing a job. Glancing over at the other side of the street, he realized he could no longer see McLaggen.

“I have to go. Good to see you, Dudley,” he said, moving to walk past them.

Aunt Petunia scowled and didn’t say anything at all, but Dudley called out, “Happy Christmas, Harry.”

Harry stopped and turned around, “Happy Christmas,” he said quietly, his eyes briefly meeting his aunt’s stone-cold blue. They looked like chips of ice, and Harry somehow felt a bit of that coldness seeping into his very soul.

He turned again and hurried along the sidewalk. It only took a short distance before he saw Cormac’s tall frame. He was a few shops ahead, still peering into alleys. Harry jogged to catch up but stopped suddenly as an unnatural chill ran down his spine. Glancing to his right, he realized he was standing directly in front of long, dark alleyway. Any pleasure over the positive greeting from Dudley melted from him, leaving him with nothing but the image of Aunt Petunia’s cold eyes.

He whistled sharply and saw Cormac turn his head. He waved him over as he took a few tentative steps down the alley. His lungs began to ache as the cold seeped into them, and it only took a moment before he heard a deep rattling sound that sometimes filled his nightmares. Pulling his wand from its holster, he inched along the dirty stone until the darkness became unmanageable.

“Lumos,” he whispered, and was surprised to find a lone Dementor nearly on top of him when light burst from his wand tip. The sightless Dementor hovered, reaching out a scabby, decayed-looking hand.

The breath left Harry’s lungs as his mother’s screams pierced the fogginess in his brain.

“You have allowed your friends to die for you,” Voldemort’s ghostly echo filled his mind.

“Expecto Patronum,” he bellowed, wondering what was taking Cormac so long. Prongs burst from his wand and charged at the approaching Dementor, chasing it down the alley.

Cormac finally appeared behind him, speeding up at the sound of Harry’s shout. He looked surprised that Harry had found them, as if he’d thought the entire exercise had been nothing but a waste of his time. The fact there were actual Dementors appeared to startle him.

“Took you long enough,” Harry snarled. “I have them pinned at the end of this alley. Get your broom ready.”

Both resized their brooms and quickly transfigured their clothing back into the special Auror uniform. The three Dementors had retreated as far as they could to escape Prongs, and the Patronus held them there. It faded once Harry and Cormac were close enough, and they attempted to take flight.

The Aurors followed quickly into the air, their uniforms shielding them from any Muggles below. Casting Patronuses in tandem, they began herding the creatures toward the Forest of Dean. Harry had participated in several round-ups. Some of them went without incident, and the Dementors moved along as they tried to keep ahead of the Patronuses. Other journeys were more difficult with unruly Dementors attempting to make an escape at every turn. Naturally, this journey fell into the second category.

While the Dementors complied at first, it didn’t take long for them to make their first escape attempt. Harry and Cormac flanked them on either side, urging them forward. Each of the three made attempts at escape every few kilometers, or they tried to slow their progress, unwilling to be herded further from the crowds.

After a couple hours of consistently casting his Patronus, Harry was weary. He knew from the flickering of Cormac’s buffalo Patronus, that he was feeling it, as well. They weren’t far from the rendezvous point, they just had to remain seated until they got there.

Vaguely, Harry wondered what it was Cormac was being forced to see, but he couldn’t dwell on it for too long as his own demons were clamoring for attention. Scattered voices rang in his ears.

“Not Harry. Please, not Harry. Have mercy.”

“A fragment of Voldemort’s soul was blasted apart from the whole, and latched itself on the only living thing left in that collapsing building.”

“You have allowed your friends to die for you.”


And, as if the voices telling the woeful story of Harry’s past weren’t enough, there were images too, playing fast and furious like a moving picture show in his mind: Ginny on the Chamber floor; a rush of green light hurtling towards him; Sirius falling through the Veil; the blood-soaked Hogwarts grounds; Remus and Tonks reaching for one another’s hands even in death.

Harry’s hand shook as he raised his wand, “Expecto Patronum!”

Cormac’s Patronus flickered and went out. Harry could see him attempting another, but all that was emitting from his wand was a faint mist. Cormac no longer had the energy to cast a corporeal Patronus. Harry dredged up all the strength he could muster and cast a second Patronus to herd the Dementors from the other side. His sweaty hand slipped on his broom as he kept himself upright by sheer force of will. He could see the outskirts of the forest now. He was almost there.

The Dementors must’ve sensed the presence of others, too, for they appeared to become more alert. Instead of stalling, they moved forward quickly toward the mass. Just as Harry became lulled into believing they would cooperate, they scattered, moving in three opposite directions. Harry followed the two nearest him, and hoped Cormac could contain the other.

He directed Prongs to get behind them, and he forced them forward, moving quickly. The cold wind whipped his hair around his head, but it helped keep him alert. Panting, he could see that Cormac was struggling and still couldn’t produce a Patronus to contain his Dementor. Harry used his wand to send a stream of sparks into the air.

His vision tunneled and elongated as bright spots appeared in front of his eyes. One Prongs was still visible, but it was flickering, although still herding the Dementors forward. A cacophony of sound filled his head, confusing him. Without him understanding how, Owen Savage was suddenly level with him.

“Keep going, Potter, you’re almost there. I need to get the other one,” Owen barked.

He sped toward the Dementor that was fleeing from Cormac, who sat weakly atop his broom, watching his superior give chase. Once he realized Owen was there, Cormac aimed his broom and sped forward. Harry thought he was coming to his aid, but Cormac lowered his broom, instead aiming for the ground and the rendezvous point. He’d left Harry on his own to get these two in containment.

Swearing under his breath, Harry grit his teeth and cast a final Patronus, aiming the Dementors toward his target. His shaking hand slipped from his broom, and he lurched forward, banging his forehead on the tip of the broom sharply. He forced himself back up, blinking hard in an attempt to clear his spotted vision.

Violet noticed him, and used her own Patronus to finally corral the two Dementors. She took one look at Harry and shouted, “Get to the ground and eat some chocolate. Our shift is just about over, and you can get a Portkey back to the Ministry.”

The Ministry had put new procedures in place to send the detail back to the Ministry after a shift to have some chocolate and recover before attempting to go home.

Harry didn’t have the strength to argue with her. He turned to see Owen leading the one lone Dementor toward the circle, and he aimed his broom for the ground. His legs didn’t want to support him, and he nearly collapsed before deciding to sit right down where he was and shoving a chocolate bar in his mouth. It didn’t appear any time had passed at all, but it must’ve done as the next thing he became aware of was Owen kneeling on the ground in front of him, shouting at him.

“What the…” Harry said groggily. His head was spinning, and he felt incredibly weak and confused. Owen’s shouting wasn’t helping.

“What in the name of Merlin’s bloody libido were you thinking? We have procedures, Potter,” Owen bellowed, looking angrier than Harry had ever seen him.

Blinking, he noticed that a new shift was already in the air, and the rest of his patrol were scattered on the ground, shouldering their brooms and eating chocolate. He had no recollection of making the switch. Perhaps the double shift, the unruly Dementors, and his unexpected run-in with his past had taken more out of him than he’d realized — not to mention having to spend the day with Cormac McLaggen. Speak of the devil…

“Where’s McLaggen?” he asked, feeling annoyed. His voice didn’t sound nearly as forceful as he would’ve liked.

“I’ve already sent him back to the Ministry; he was damn near incoherent, the tosser. Don’t think I didn’t see him bail on you up there,” Owen said, scowling. “We have effin’ procedures in place to ensure no one works themselves to bloody exhaustion, Potter. If it becomes too much, you’re supposed to contact the Ministry and merely act as watchers rather than trying to herd them until reinforcements arrive. Exactly what part of the ruddy plan did you feel didn’t apply to you?”

Harry felt his own ire rising, and he jumped to his feet, swaying precariously. “I couldn’t just let them go. It’s Christmas,” he said, his words slurred. “Besides, I was using all my strength to contain two, never mind managing to send a message ahead.”

“All the more reason to stop before you’d used all your strength! Did you think working yourself to the point of exhaustion was a better alternative? How do you think your ginger family would’ve handled you taking a fall off your broom over a pit of them?” Owen asked, irate.

“I didn’t fall,” Harry replied resentfully, feeling Owen was being unreasonable. Even if he’d needed back-up, there weren’t enough Aurors available to cover regular shifts, never mind late in the afternoon on the day before Christmas. It had been a rough journey, but they’d managed without injury.

“Barely!” Owen snapped.

“They’re here, aren’t they?” Harry demanded, feeling both sick and harassed.

“That’s not the point. If it becomes too much, we have procedures to fall back on, and those procedures apply to you. Do you understand, Potter?” Owen demanded furiously.

“Yes, sir,” Harry spat. Harry usually got on so well with Owen that he frequently forgot he was also his superior. Still, it felt uncomfortable to have his friend looking at him that way.

They stared at one another for several moments, both seething and uncomfortable. Apparently giving up on having anything else to say, Owen turned on his heel and stalked over to the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures worker.

Harry was angry and frustrated, and he wanted nothing more than to get out of there. He needed to see Ginny at the Burrow, but he wanted to go home and shower first. His legs were shaking with both irritation and exhaustion, and his head was ringing. As he turned on the spot to Disapparate, anger still pulsing in his veins, the thought that he should’ve gone to the Ministry crossed his mind.

He knew there was a problem the moment he appeared on the front steps of Grimmauld Place. A shooting pain erupted in his knee, and he toppled over in excruciating agony. It was pain like he’d never experienced before — and that was saying a lot. He was wet, and he didn’t know why. He reached a trembling hand toward his pulsing knee, but it instead landed in a puddle of warm wetness. He pulled his hand back, noting dispassionately that it was covered in glistening red, dripping from his fingers. Confusion overtook him as various faces swam in front of him — Owen, Cormac, and Aunt Petunia. The world blurred, and his eyes drifted shut looking at his own front door.

Back to index


Chapter 12: Good Tidings of Comfort and Joy

Author's Notes: My Brit Picker told me Rubber Johnnys, or just Johnnys, is how the Brits refer to condoms. I’d never heard the expression – but I learned something new!


Chapter Twelve
Good Tidings of Comfort and Joy



The Burrow was filled nearly to bursting with the entire family converging for the Christmas Eve festivities. Only George and Harry were missing as they were still at work. The tree was decorated and candles flickered in both the kitchen and sitting room, keeping them well-lit as the sky outside continued to darken. A light snow had begun falling, giving a picturesque view out onto the meadow.

Ginny hummed a carol as she helped her mother bake biscuits. Her mum hadn’t managed any of the usual baking before Ginny’s return, so they’d been working madly to have enough to satisfy everyone. The one thing her mum refused to make was a chocolate and raspberry trifle — which had always been Fred’s favorite. Ginny didn’t know if it would be better to have it or not, but her mum was adamant that she wasn’t going to do it. She’d burst into tears when Ginny had started to gather the ingredients, so she’d just put them away.

Ginny kept glancing at the window, knowing Harry should be done with his shift shortly. She expected he’d want to go home to shower and clean up first, but she was eager for his arrival, nonetheless. He, Ron, Hermione, George, and Percy were sleeping at the Burrow tonight so they’d all be together on Christmas morning.

Only Bill and Fleur had declined to stay, instead wanting to spend the night in their own home. Fleur’s morning sickness was obvious to everyone, although they were all trying to pretend they hadn’t noticed. Ginny wished they’d just get on with making the announcement. Fleur already had a slight curve to her belly.

Her mum had the wireless playing Christmas Carols in the sitting room, telling anyone who’d listen that Celestina Warbeck was once again singing a Christmas concert that evening to celebrate the war’s end. Fleur apparently felt too miserable to even make fun of it. Ginny was happy to see her mother enjoying herself. She’d been in tears off and on throughout the day, so Ginny wasn’t certain what to expect. Oddly, it was her dad who seemed more depressed. He’d spent a large portion of the day out in his shed, and when he came inside, Ginny thought his eyes looked overly bright.

Ron and Hermione were missing at the moment, so Ginny suspected they’d sneaked off to get a few quiet moments with one another. She knew Ron couldn’t resist the pull of the food for long. The smell of baking biscuits was intoxicating.

“Hey, little sis,” Charlie said, attempting to reach around her and grab a warm biscuit from her tray.

Ginny blocked him with her hip and placed the tray on the counter. “Wait until they’re ready,” she scolded, placing them one by one on a cooling rack.

Charlie scowled at her, but reached up to the shelf above the sink and brought down a bottle of Firewhisky. “Let’s see what excuse Fleur comes up with when I offer a glass,” he said, winking. He poured several glasses, and when Ginny reached over to snag one, he grabbed a biscuit and stuffed it in his mouth whole.

“Charlie!” she scolded.

He grinned, but left her with her glass of Firewhisky. Ginny decided it wasn’t nearly as much fun when they didn’t try and stop her. Still, she sipped at it as she continued to remove biscuits from the hot tray.

“This is the last batch,” Mum said, sliding another tray into the oven. “I’m planning to serve dinner at seven.”

“It smells wonderful, Mum,” Bill said, entering the kitchen and kissing her on the head. “Fleur and I have been living on take-away since it’s been so busy at Gringotts.”

Ginny smirked behind his back thinking that it was more likely down to the fact that Fleur couldn’t stand to be in the kitchen without turning green. She’d noticed she hadn’t set foot in here since they’d arrived.

“I think Charlie already poured you some Firewhisky,” Ginny said, noticing Bill filling a glass with pumpkin juice.

“Er… yeah. This one’s for Fleur. She didn’t want a drink before dinner,” Bill said, hurrying from the kitchen without further conversation.

Ginny and her mum caught each other’s eye and both smiled knowingly. The sound of someone Apparating caught Ginny’s attention, and she glanced out the kitchen window. There was a figure strolling from the Apparition point, but it was still too far away to decipher whom it was. The figure seemed to lurch slightly, and Ginny squinted her eyes. Once he was a bit closer, she realized it was George. Judging by his unsteady gait, she would bet he’d already been into the Christmas cheer.

Quickly entering the sitting room, she grabbed Charlie’s arm and hissed, “George just arrived. He’s outside, but I don’t think he’s sober. Catch him before Mum sees.”

Wasting no time, Charlie bolted from the room and made a beeline for the front door. With any luck, he’d intersect with George before he reached the kitchen door. Ginny went back into the kitchen, hoping to keep her mum distracted.

“Mum, where are the Christmas doilies for the biscuit plates? I couldn’t find them,” Ginny said.

“What? They should be in the pantry,” her mum said vaguely, stirring a pot on the stove.

“I didn’t see them,” Ginny said.

“Oh, let me look,” Mum said, handing her the spoon. “Keep stirring that.”

Ginny took the spoon and began stirring the pot, straining to peer out the kitchen window. She could see Charlie attempting to drag George toward Dad’s shed, but it looked as if George was having none of it. Finally giving it up as a lost cause, Charlie aimed his wand at his younger brother.

George stumbled, shaking his head violently. He scowled fiercely at Charlie, and Ginny assumed that Charlie had cast a Sobering Charm. It wouldn’t be permanent, but hopefully it’d at least get them through dinner. Perhaps George was going to have a harder time with Christmas than she thought. She supposed the idea of being back in his old bedroom alone was hard.

She thought of the camp bed set up in Ron’s room for Harry, and realized this was a terrible plan. Maybe it would be better if George slept there, and Harry slept in the twins’ old room. She’d mention it to him when he arrived. Glancing at her watch, she realized that he should’ve been here by now.

The kitchen door banged open and George stormed in, followed more sedately by Charlie, who was staying out of George’s arm span. George looked angrier than a raging Hippogriff.

“Next time, mind your own bloody business,” George snarled.

“Happy Christmas, George,” Ginny said loudly at the same time, hoping her mother wouldn’t hear the row. “Was the shop busy?”

Charlie winked at her as George began unbuttoning his dragon-hide coat. Behind them, Ginny could see the snow was sticking and beginning to come down in earnest. They’d have a white Christmas after all.

“It was packed. Loads of last-minute shoppers,” George said sullenly, staring around the festive kitchen.

Ginny put the spoon down for a moment to press a biscuit into his hand. “Well, I’m glad you’re here now.”

“Hey! How come he gets one?” Charlie demanded, looking insulted.

“Because I’m her favorite,” George replied, his spirts lightening at Charlie’s annoyance.


“Hello, George,” Mum said, leaving the pantry. She took the spoon from Ginny and handed her the doilies. “They were right where I said they were, dear.”

“Huh. I must’ve missed them,” Ginny said, winking at Charlie.

“Is everyone here, then?” George asked, reaching for Ginny’s glass of Firewhisky.

She pulled it out of his reach. “Hey, I shared a biscuit, don’t push your luck.”

George scowled and walked into the sitting room, Charlie close on his heels. Ginny finished placing the biscuits on plates, and glanced out the window once again. There was still no sign of Harry, and a feeling of unease washed over her.

The rest of the family was gathered in the sitting room. Ron and Hermione had reappeared and were engaged in a game of chess. Bill hovered over Fleur while Dad and the other boys were standing around the chess match, cheering Hermione on. Dad had his arm around George, who did have a glass of Firewhisky in his hand, although he was nursing this one.

Ginny’s mind wandered back to the previous Christmas where it had only been her, the twins and their parents at the Burrow. It was tense and quiet and worry for all the others had laid a pall over the entire thing. If she’d only known then it was the last one Fred would ever spend with them, she would have been certain to make it a brighter memory. She had to blink the moisture from her eyes.

“Come on, Ginny. I need someone in my family on my side,” Ron said good-naturedly, beckoning her over.

Hermione’s cheeks turned a rosy shade of pink as the others all jeered at Ron. Percy tried to gently nudge Hermione toward her castle.

“Hey! That’s cheating, that is,” Ron shouted indignantly.

“And you’d be an expert at cheating,” George said innocently.

Ron scowled. “I don’t need to cheat. Ginny, where’s Harry? I’m outnumbered here.”

Ginny unconsciously glanced towards the door. “I thought he’d be here by now.”

“I’m certain he’s fine,” Hermione said, reaching up and squeezing Ginny’s hand. “You know Harry’s never set much stock in punctuality.”

Before Ginny could respond, a handsome Ministry owl swooped in from the kitchen and landed on the back of Hermione’s chair, holding its leg out toward her dad. He frowned and reached to untie the parchment. The regal bird flew back the way it had come without delay.

“Who is it, Arthur?” Mum asked, standing in the doorway to the kitchen looking aggrieved. “They can’t expect you to work tonight.”

Dad’s eyes scanned the missive quickly, his skin growing paler by the moment. Before he’d even looked up, a bright, shining Patronus burst into the room and landed on top of the chessboard.

Kingsley Shacklebolt’s deep, slow voice issued from the glowing lynx, “He’s been brought to the Emergency Ward at St. Mungo’s. I’m heading there now. You need to hurry.”

The lynx faded into mist and dissipated in the air while its words hung heavy in the shocked silence. In the kitchen doorway, Mum dropped the platter she was holding and it landed with a clang, bits of lettuce, chutney and prawn splattered everywhere.

“Arthur?” she said in a trembling voice.

“It’s Harry,” Dad said grimly. “Grab your cloaks and Apparate to St. Mungo’s.” He strode from the sitting room, grasping his and Mum’s cloaks from pegs by the door.

“What d’you mean it’s Harry?” Ginny asked shrilly. “What’s happened to him?” She felt as if a fog had overtaken the sitting room, and she was struggling to wade through it. This couldn’t be happening again.

Hermione thrust her cloak at her and helped her to do up the fastenings. “Hurry, Ginny. We’ll find out when we get there,” Hermione said, her voice strained.

Grim-faced, they all followed her dad out the door and to the Apparition point. They appeared moments later at the St. Mungo’s visitors’ entrance on the deserted London street. Businesses had all closed for the holiday. Ginny could hear church bells ringing in the distance, and there were several restaurants open, but otherwise, it was eerily quiet, and it only increased Ginny’s anxiety.

He had to be all right.

Her dad strode right up to the witch at the reception desk. “We need to see an Auror who was brought into the Emergency Ward,” he said sternly, careful not to use Harry’s name.

The bored-looking witch directed them to a corridor behind her. “Straight down to the end, take a left, and it’s the second door on your right.”

The large group of Weasleys and Hermione hurried down the corridor, their paces increasing as they neared the doors. Ginny’s heart thudded painfully, and she felt a stitch in her side every time she took a breath. Hermione gripped her hand tightly, and Ginny was glad for the pressure because it felt as if it was the only thing tethering her to this earth.

The sterile walls of the hospital had a few Christmas decorations hanging above each doorway, and Ginny found it hard to believe she was home baking biscuits and dreading a Celestina Warbeck concert not an hour ago. She’d give anything to be rolling her eyes with Harry as her mum’s favorite singer serenaded them right now.

When her dad pushed open the door to the Emergency Ward, they found themselves in a large, virtually empty waiting area. One lone wizard sat hunched over in a chair, his head in his hands which rested on his elbows. The long line of Weasleys filed in, and he looked up, startled by the noise.

“Owen,” Ron said urgently, rushing across the room and sitting beside the wizard. When Owen straightened up, it became obvious the front of his uniform was stained with bright red blood. “What happened?”

“Splinched,” Owen said, grimacing.

Ron looked over Owen’s heavily stained clothing. “You or Harry?” he asked uncertainly.

Owen shook his head. “Harry. He finished his double shift, but he was exhausted. He should’ve taken the Portkey to the Ministry to recover, but we rowed, and he left — only he left his lower leg behind.”

“His leg?” Hermione shrieked, looking horror-struck. “Completely severed?”

“Yeah,” Owen said, nodding grimly. “I grabbed it and went after him. He was already unconscious when I arrived. He’s had massive blood loss.”

Ginny sank down into an empty chair. It was only Splinching. A couple of students had been Splinched during Apparition training, and they’d been patched up right on the spot. The Magical Reversal Squad dealt with it all the time. She was used to Harry receiving bizarre injuries, not something as mundane as Splinching. Relief flooding through her veins, she looked up and was confused by the grim looks on everyone else’s faces.

“What?” she asked. “Splinching is relatively easy to fix, right?” she asked. She knew it was reportedly very painful, but…

Mum sat beside her, sniffling, and Dad put his hand on her shoulder. “I’m certain his leg has been repaired, the blood loss is more troubling. Apparition usually makes gouges or tears big chunks of skin and muscle. When an entire body part is severed, the blood loss can be fatal if it isn’t fixed immediately. He’s lucky you were there, Owen.”

Owen nodded. “I didn’t wait for the Magical Reversal Squad but brought him right here. They’re giving him a load of Blood Replenishing Potions, but he’d already lost all color by the time I arrived.”

George slumped into a seat, burying his head in his hands. The others took chairs around the room except for Ron, who paced liked a caged animal. The door opened again, and a dire-looking Kingsley Shacklebolt entered. His eyes scanned the lot of them. It felt as if they did this much too often.

“Minister,” Bill said, standing to shake Kingsley’s hand. “How is he?”

Kingsley nodded to the room and sighed deeply. “He still hasn’t regained consciousness, but they’re working on it. Once he awakens, you’ll be allowed to take him home. He’s going to need a few days off to recover. I thought we’d eliminated double shifts,” he said, turning to Owen.

“We have for the most part. There was a lot of shuffling for Christmas, though,” Owen replied. “He and McLaggen both wanted tomorrow off. I sent them on the retrieval because I thought it would give them a bit of a break, sir.”

“What retrieval?” Ron asked.

“Three more Dementors were located — in Little Whinging,” Kingsley said pointedly.

“What?” Dad asked sharply.

“You sent Harry to Little Whinging?” Mum demanded at the same time, eyes narrowed.

Owen looked confused. “He said he knew the area, but the Dementors were unruly on the trip back. We rowed that they chose to continue herding them rather than calling for back up.”

Ron swore colorfully, and Hermione elbowed him in his ribs, glancing nervously at the Minister.

“I spoke with McLaggen. He said Potter stopped to talk to some Muggles whilst they were searching, but he didn’t know anything more,” Kingsley said.

Before anyone could comment, the door swung open again and a familiar blonde witch with sparkling spectacles strode into the waiting area. Her high heels made a clicking sound on the polished floor as she made a beeline for Kingsley.

“Minister,” Rita Skeeter said, sounding positively delighted. “I got a tip that an Auror had been injured by the Dementors. I didn’t know I’d have the pleasure of running into you here.” Her beady eyes took in all the other faces in the waiting area, and they narrowed calculatingly. “And judging by the visitors, my guess is Mr. Potter has found himself in a spot of trouble yet again. What is it this time? Was he attacked? Good heavens, has he been Kissed?”

The eager bloodlust in her eyes belied the concern of her words.

“No one has been Kissed, Ms. Skeeter. This is a secure area, and I believe you’ve been warned about stalking St. Mungo’s,” Kingsley coolly replied.

Rita was unperturbed. Reaching into her bejeweled handbag, she pulled out her Quick-Quotes Quill and a notepad. “Am I correct in my assumption that Mr. Potter is the mystery Auror? There have now been several mishaps with these Dementors, Minister. What exactly is the Ministry proposing to do about it, because clearly the present course isn’t working. The adoring public will be most upset to think its hero is in jeopardy… or perhaps, it’s Mr. Potter’s own doing, hmm? You’re aware that concern has been expressed about the lack of qualifications of some of the new Aurors. Any comment?”

Ginny clenched her fists, biting her lip to keep from snapping. The concern was only raised by Rita, and it was she who kept fanning the flames.

“Shall I call hospital security, Minister?” Bill asked. The deep scars on his face stood out sharply when he scowled.

“No need, no need,” Rita said airily, her eyes scanning the room. “Does anyone else care to comment on what Mr. Potter has done to himself now?”

Ginny had had enough. She stood up, brandishing her wand and just itching to release some of her tension. “No need for security. I can get rid of her,” she said.

“So hostile, Miss Weasley,” Rita said, beaming. “What is it that’s causing this pent-up frustration? Do you have any comment about Harry being Kissed?”

“Muca Vespertilio,” Ginny said, hissing. Her wand pulsed with her fury.

She heard her dad shout, “Ginny, no!” but it was too late. A jet of white light shot from the tip of her wand and hit Rita square in the face. The witch stumbled back as a swarm of black winged creatures flew from her nose and began flapping furiously around her head. She attempted to swat them away, but only managed to cover herself in the thick, mucus-like substance that was dripping from the creatures.

Rita screeched, and several more bats issued from her gaping mouth.

“Enough,” Kingsley said, calmly waving his wand and saying, “Finite.” The bats disappeared, leaving a gasping Rita covered in the revolting mucus. It clung to her hair and shoulders, and as they watched, a thick glob dropped from her glasses and splattered onto the floor.

“That’s assault,” Rita shouted, glaring at Ginny ferociously. “You’re a witness, Minister. I want this girl arrested.”

Kingsley took a deep, steadying breath. “Down to the fact it’s Christmas Eve, and I’d like to spend some time with my family, I’m going to excuse Ms. Weasley’s lack of judgement,” he put a hand up to stop Rita’s coming tirade, “and I’m also not going to press charges against you for being inside the hospital waiting area, as you’ve been warned about previously. In future, I suggest you both consider working on your people skills.”

Though Ginny felt a degree of humiliation at the Minister’s scolding, she and Rita continued to stare at one another with loathing. She was aware of the disappointment in her dad’s eyes, and the threat of a telling-off from her mum.

“I suggest you leave the hospital, Ms. Skeeter. Either wait in the permitted press area, or better yet, go home and celebrate Christmas. Put your feet up and have a cup of cheer,” Kingsley said, and although his words were pleasant, there was a distinct warning in his tone.

“You haven’t heard the last from me, missy,” she said, eyes narrowed at Ginny. “I hope Mr. Potter lives to celebrate Christmas.” With that, she stormed from the waiting area, although the effect was somewhat ruined by her disheveled state and the mucus still dripping from her hair.

Kingsley followed her out with a curt nod to the Weasley family.

“Nice one, Ginny,” Bill said, leaning over so their parents wouldn’t hear.

Ginny smirked gratefully. She turned towards her mum, attempting to derail her tirade. “And I’m not sorry. She had it coming,” she said mutinously.

“Well, you would’ve been sorry had the Minister dragged you off to a holding cell before finding out how Harry is,” her mum snapped.

Ginny felt as if she’d been doused with ice water. Her ire had completely over-ridden her concern for a few short moments, but now the situation with Harry came rushing back to her. He’d lain there bleeding to death while she’d made effin’ biscuits. Her lower lip trembled slightly, and it caused her mum’s anger to evaporate.

“It’s all right, Ginny. He’s going to be okay. They’re patching him up now, and he’ll be home before you know it,” Mum said, pulling Ginny into her warm embrace.

Ginny let her do it, and buried her face in her mum’s shoulder for a moment, taking a deep breath to steady her nerves.

“Your mother’s right. Harry is going to be all right. There’s no sense for all of us to wait until he’s released. I’ll stay with Ginny, and you lot go back to the Burrow and start dinner. We’ll be along as soon as we’re able,” her dad said.

“We’re staying,” Ron said firmly, his arm around Hermione who nodded fervently.

“All right,” her dad sighed. He must’ve known resistance was futile. “But the rest of you lot can go back.”

“Owen, do you ‘ave plans?” Fleur asked. “Why don’t you join uz for deenner?”

Owen gaped open-mouthed at Fleur, apparently at a complete loss for words. The rest of them smirked at his reaction. Fleur took some getting used to.

“Yes, Owen, please come back with us,” Mum said, rescuing him.

“Thank you, Mrs. Weasley. I think I’ll take you up on that,” Owen replied, his face still slightly dazed.

“Mum,” Ginny said suddenly, looking at George’s washed-out face. “Harry’s bound to be weak and sickly, and he’ll need rest. Why don’t you put him in George’s bed, and have George take the camp bed in Ron’s room?”

“I’ll do that, I don’t mind. That’s a great idea, Ginny,” George said quickly, giving her an appreciative smile. “Come on, Owen. You haven’t experienced the pleasure of my mum’s cooking yet.”

He and Owen led the others from the waiting room, and Ginny suspected George’s Sobering Charm might be wearing off. He’d want to get back to his unfinished glass of Firewhisky. Hopefully, having Owen and the rest of the family there would keep him occupied.

Those who stayed behind sat down once again, staring at the door as the clock ticked slowly.

“So, what happens to someone who Splinched off a leg?” Ron asked. “Will he have a limp? I remember when I got Splinched, and I didn’t feel right for weeks, but I still had all my limbs.”

Ginny watched her dad sigh deeply and run his fingers over his eyes beneath his glasses. “You were very lucky, Ron. You didn’t have any medical attention, although I’m endlessly grateful for Hermione’s quick thinking,” he added, smiling kindly at Hermione. “If you’d actually had an injury like Harry’s, and were unable to get to St. Mungo’s, you could’ve died.”

“And if we did have to go to St. Mungo’s, we would’ve been arrested,” Hermione said softly.

“And the Ministry probably would’ve let me die, anyway,” Ron said, his expression troubled.

“Oh, let’s not dwell on that,” Hermione said, her voice trembling. “It worked out all right, and it’s Christmas, and we’re all here.”

Ron pulled her close, kissing the top of her head.

They sat in silence, each lost in their own heads until a medi-witch gave them a brief update and told them Harry was awake, and they could go in. When she pushed the door to his room open, Ginny saw an ashen Harry propped up on several pillows. His eyes were closed, allowing her a moment to examine him uninterrupted. He had an ugly bump on his head, distorting his scar, and his leg was propped up with a pillow. It was completely reattached, although she could still see a fading, healing scar circling his knee.

She walked over and leaned down to kiss his forehead over his flattened fringe. “You’re warm,” she murmured. The medi-witch had said he had a low-grade fever.

“You’re supposed to say I’m hot,” he replied sleepily, his eyes fluttering open.

Ginny snorted as her dad cleared his throat. Harry looked up at them all, appearing confused they were all there. She suspected he was heavily dosed on pain potion, else he’d have been quite embarrassed that her dad heard him say that.

“I’m going to check with the medi-witch on how long he has to stay,” her dad said, not even attempting to hide his grin as he left the room.

Ginny turned back to Harry, smiling softly. “You know, if you really didn’t want to go to dinner at the Burrow, you could’ve just said no,” she said, brushing his fringe lightly with her fingers.

“I love going to the Burrow,” he said, his sleep-addled brain not following. “Are we going now?”

“Yeah, why don’t you Apparate us all there?” Ron asked, rolling his eyes.

“How do you feel, Harry?” Hermione asked, moving past Ron to stand on Harry’s other side. Her eyes examined him perceptively.

“Tired,” Harry said, mumbling. “Heavy.”

“Well, who knew cutting off your leg at the knee would result in excessive blood loss?” Ron asked. “I think you just miss Madam Pomfrey.”

“No,” Harry said, groaning a little, “she never lets me leave.”

Ginny noticed that his eyes were slightly unfocused, and his words sounded slurred. He was definitely high on something. The door opened, and her father re-entered the room.

“When can we go home, Dad?” she asked, wanting to bring him back to the Burrow where she could keep a better eye on him. This latest health scare had her rattled.

“She said he needed another hour before putting any weight on that leg. She also gave me several potions he’ll need to keep taking. Most likely, he’ll only be able to stay awake for the journey back to the Burrow.”

“Maybe not even that long,” Ron said, watching as Harry shut his eyes again.

“S’Christmas,” Harry said. “Aren’t we supposed to sing?”

“You’re absolutely right, we should,” Hermione said, giggling. “Why don’t you lead us off.”

Harry nodded sleepily and then started with,” God rest ye merry Hippogriffs, let nothing you dismay…”

The others joined in, and Ginny was surprised that unlike her, Harry could actually carry a tune. Granted, he wouldn’t be appearing on the wireless any time soon, but he wasn’t bad, either. Ginny’s mind filled with images of Sirius’ beaming face coming down the stairs at Grimmauld Place. She wondered if Harry was picturing the same thing.

Harry seemed to run out of steam half way through the song, and he sat listening quietly while the rest of them finished, his eyes drooping steadily. Once finished, they were quiet for a moment wondering if he’d drop off when his eyes flew open again.

“Dudley invited me to dinner,” he said, staring around at all of them to see their reactions to this shocking news. When none of them responded, he repeated his statement.

“Would you have liked to go?” her dad asked gently.

“No,” Harry replied, scoffing. His overly-exaggerated expression looked as if he’d been asked if he’d like to eat dung. “Aunt Petunia looked as if she was sorry to see I hadn’t died during the war.” He paused a moment, then added, “Wonder what she’d think if she knew I did die.”

Those gathered around Harry’s bed all winced at this comment, but Harry was oblivious. Ginny knew that his cavalier attitude toward his own mortality was down to that dratted woman, as well. She wished she’d been the one to run into her — a Bat-Bogey would only be the start.

“If she had any decency at all, she’d feel remorse for the way she treated you,” she said, snapping.

“You did run into your relatives in Little Whinging then?” Hermione asked. “I was wondering when we heard you spoke to some Muggles.”

Harry’s hand began playing with a strand of Ginny’s hair, curling it around his fingers as he spoke, and it somehow comforted her, as well.

“Yeah,” Harry said. “Dudley wasn’t a git. Maybe the Ghost of Christmas Past visited him. Aunt Petunia is still Scrooge.”

Ginny had no idea what he was talking about, and judging by the confused expression on Ron’s face, he didn’t, either. Hermione, however, laughed out loud.

“Maybe he did,” Hermione said. “I couldn’t think of better candidates. Are you in any pain, Harry?”

“Nope,” he said, smiling goofily. “I feel great.”

“Wish I could get some of whatever they gave him,” Ron muttered.

“Did I miss pudding?” Harry asked suddenly. “Did your mum make a treacle tart? I don’t want to miss treacle tart.”

“Molly made one special for you, and I’m certain she won’t let anyone else have it until you’re there,” Dad said, his eyes sparkling.

Harry beamed. “Excellent. Want to sing another Christmas song?”

They passed the time in the hospital singing a variety of songs until Harry was able to leave. It wasn’t a typical Christmas Eve, or even what she’d been expecting, but somehow, it was all right. Harry was going to be all right, and that would make Christmas okay, even with the specter of those who could no longer be there.

ooOOoo

Harry awoke, disoriented, to loud voices and the sound of heavy steps outside his closed door. He felt as if he’d been hit by the Hogwarts Express, and it took his foggy brain a moment to register where he was. This was the twin’s room at the Burrow, and judging by the tumult of voices nearby, it was Christmas morning. His leg throbbed with each pulse of his heart, and he had to grit his teeth to stop himself moaning.

He pulled himself to a seated position and had to blink the moisture from his eyes. Merlin, he hurt. He glanced at the bedside table, hoping someone had left a pain-relieving potion, but he had no such luck. He shut his eyes, breathing heavily and attempting to master himself when he heard the whoosh of the Floo. He couldn’t think of who would use the Floo when it struck him suddenly that it was most likely Andromeda. She’d said she’d bring Teddy by early so they could open presents together.

Harry needed to get himself downstairs, but he wasn’t certain he could do it. His gaze fell on the hospital-issue walking stick they’d given him last night. He only had a vague recollection of it, but he’d scoffed when they handed it to him. In an attempt to appease him, Hermione had transfigured the top into a replica of a Golden Snitch. He’d promptly insisted that he still would never use it.

Now, however, with the pain thrumming in his knee, he thought perhaps it was the only way he could get downstairs. Seeing Teddy on his first Christmas was more important than Harry’s pride. Harry had spent his first Christmas with his parents, even if he couldn’t remember it, and he was certain it had been good. He felt as if it was his duty to ensure that Teddy had a good one. He’d never be able to give him his parents, but he could at least make the hole in his heart a bit more bearable. The Weasleys were great for that, so being here was the next best thing.

He eased his legs off the bed, grimacing. He couldn’t stop a small whine escaping his clenched lips. He cringed, sitting stock still to see if anyone had heard, but his door remained shut. Releasing the air in his lungs, he shakily reached for the walking stick. He took a moment to admire Hermione’s transfiguration skills. The Snitch really did look authentic. Gritting his teeth, he pulled himself onto his feet.

It took him an age to make it out of the room and down the stairs. He’d wondered why he was in George’s room rather than Ron’s, but he was grateful — it meant fewer stairs. By the time he reached the landing in the sitting room, he was shaking and sweating profusely.

“Harry!” Mrs. Weasley shouted, noticing him the moment he’d appeared. “What in blazes do you think you’re doing?”

He felt the whoosh of a Levitation Spell before he was swooped off his feet and hovered over to the sofa. The experience of floating in the air without any means of support was disconcerting, and he cried out in dismay. Once he was settled on the sofa, however, and Mrs. Weasley placed an ottoman under his aching leg, he had to admit it was a relief.

“What am I going to do with you?” Mrs. Weasley tutted, fussing with the pillows behind his back. “You weren’t supposed to be awake for a few more hours. I have some potions that should help.” She bustled into the kitchen without waiting for a response.

The lights on the tree twinkled merrily, but they appeared to be blurred in Harry’s weakened state. He felt a hand on his shoulder and turned, startled, to find Andromeda sitting next to him.

“I really hope Teddy doesn’t prove as accident-prone as you,” she said dryly.

Harry smiled weakly. He didn’t have the energy to defend himself at the moment. “Where is he?” he asked, dismayed by how wobbly his voice sounded.

“Arthur has him. He’s attempting to entertain him with a rubber duck,” Andromeda said, sounding puzzled.

Mrs. Weasley re-entered the room with a tray containing three flasks filled with various colored potions. “Take that,” she said, handing Harry the blue one. Once he’d finished taking the potions, she pulled up the leg of his pajama bottoms, examining his knee. “It looks swollen. In future, you’re supposed to take those potions a half hour before you attempt to put any weight on it,” she said, scolding.

The pain potion was already doing its job, and Harry leaned his head back over the edge of the sofa, relishing the relief.

“Better?” Andromeda asked, and he could hear the amusement in her voice.

“Yeah,” he said, keeping his eyes closed. “Is everyone up yet?”

“We’re still waiting on Ron and George. The girls are up but still in their room, and we’re going to wait to open gifts until Bill and Fleur arrive,” Mrs. Weasley said, placing a warm hand on Harry’s forehead to check his temperature. “Breakfast is almost ready. Are you hungry?”

“Yeah, I am,” Harry said, raising his head. Now that he thought about it, he didn’t think he’d had anything to eat aside from a few chocolate bars the previous day. His stomach rumbled in confirmation, causing Mrs. Weasley to beam.

“You stay here. I’ll put together a plate for you,” she said fondly.

As the rest of the family slowly emerged from their bedrooms, and Bill and Fleur finally arrived, they gathered around the tree to open gifts. Teddy didn’t care about any of his presents, but he was delighted by the papers and kept crinkling it up because he enjoyed the sound. The only one who had more fun than the baby was Mr. Weasley. He’d been given a number of Muggle gifts — on Harry’s suggestion — and despite the fact they were all useless to him, he was as delighted as… well, as a little kid at Christmas.

Both Molly and Andromeda continued to fuss over Harry, and he let them for a change. The two women had each lost a child during the war, and if fussing a little over him made the first Christmas without their own kids more bearable, he was going to let them do it.

By the time presents were done and the room cleared, Harry was feeling sleepy again. Strictly told not to move while Mrs. Weasley began dinner preparations, Harry stretched out on the sofa, propping his head on the armrest. Andromeda handed Teddy to him and went to help in the kitchen. Teddy was also ready for a nap. He fussed a bit until Harry picked up one of his new toys — a soft dragon that he was certain came from Charlie — and began moving it along they baby’s belly. Teddy laughed and snuggled close to Harry, giggling every time the dragon neared his face. He eventually nodded off with his hand curled around Harry’s collar. Harry rested his cheek on the downy softness of Teddy’s small head.

“Ha! He likes my present best,” Charlie said as he entered the sitting room with Ginny. Ginny sat on the end of the sofa by Harry’s feet so as not to wake Teddy, and Charlie took the chair near his head.

“Yeah, who would’ve ever guessed a tired baby would like something soft?” Ginny asked, rolling her eyes.

“What did you get him, then?” Charlie demanded.

Ginny pointed to a small drum in the corner. “I thought he could make the most noise with it. He likes making noise.”

“I’m certain Andromeda was thrilled. She’ll pay you back one day,” Charlie said, smirking as both Harry and Ginny’s faces colored brilliantly.

Harry fought the urge to look anywhere near Ginny. He cleared his throat, searching the room desperately for a change in subject. As usual, it was Ginny who came to his rescue.

“I’m surprised you didn’t invite Inga for dinner, Charlie. I’m certain Mum would love to meet her,” she said airily.

“Who’s Inga?” Harry asked.

“No one,” Charlie said, his eyes narrowed at Ginny. “Just someone a nosy little sister likes to abuse.”

“I can’t think of how inviting someone to dinner is abusing them,” Ginny replied, but Harry noticed the smirk she was giving Charlie definitely looked evil.

He decided he really didn’t need to know.

“This is cool,” Charlie said, examining the glinting Golden Snitch on the top of Harry’s walking stick. “Did they do this for you?”

“Hermione did,” Harry replied.

“It’s good, but it isn’t finished yet,” Charlie replied, pulling out his wand and using a charm to add the imprint of a dragon along the stick, twisting around it and breathing fire toward the Snitch. “That’s a Horntail, that is.”

Ginny laughed, and Harry rolled his eyes. As if the walking stick alone wasn’t ridiculous enough.

“What are you doing?” Ron asked, joining them in the sitting room.

“Ensuring that Harry’s walking stick isn’t lame,” Charlie said flatly, handing it to Ron.

Ron looked it over. “Cool,” he said, “but it’s missing something.” And he used his own wand to add another Charm.

“I’m not planning on using that thing after today,” Harry said, groaning.

“They said you’d need it for a week,” Ginny replied firmly.

“We’ll see about that,” Harry said, feeling mutinous.

“There you go,” Ron said, handing the stick back.

At the bottom, beneath the dragon, was the image of a familiar stag. It looked as if it was prodding the dragon. Prongs. Harry stared for a moment, surprised by Ron’s sensitivity.

“I see that bloody thing every day, and when I do, at least I know you’re still conscious,” Ron said, smirking.

Or perhaps not.

“All right, you lot,” Mrs. Weasley called from the doorway. “Ron, Charlie, come in here and help your father with an Extension Charm for the table.”

The boys stood obediently and followed her out. Harry’s gaze wandered to Ginny, who was staring at him keenly, making him feel exposed. He hugged Teddy to his chest like a shield.

“What?” he asked warily. Her intense stare was unnerving him.

She sighed deeply, her eyes, always so vibrant and warm looked rather desolate. “I can’t keep going through this, Harry,” she said softly, causing his heart to clench.

“Going through what?” he asked, his throat suddenly very dry.

Ginny took a deep breath as if steeling herself. “Pacing in hospital rooms, waiting in panic to see if you’re going to live or die,” she whispered, her eyes filling so they shone brightly.

Harry felt as if he’d been punched in the gut, and it took him a moment to get his voice to work properly. “What are you saying? What do you want me to do about it? It’s not like I intend for these things to happen.”

“I know,” she groaned, obviously frustrated. “But they do keep happening. I’m worried that with the career you’ve chosen that you’ll always be in dangerous situations, and things always seem to happen to you.”

Harry swallowed against a painful lump in his throat. He couldn’t deny it, and he’d long since learned there was no point in lying to himself. Losing her, however, might just be the final heartache he could take. He swallowed shakily. “That’s true, and they always will. Merlin, Ginny, I end up on the end of rogue Bludgers even when I’m just playing Quidditch. It’s me, not the job.”

“But the job doesn’t help,” Ginny said, looking at him through her lashes.

“Probably not, but it’s who I am.” While some might not understand it, this job was like an extension of who he was. He had to do something because he could. If he turned his back and left it to others, he’d be leaving a part of himself behind. And he’d only recently made his life wholly his.

She didn’t answer for a moment, and his heart thumped painfully in his chest, waiting. Finally, she took a deep breath and some of the tension seemed to loosen from her posture.

“I know. I just worry,” she said softly.

A small, hopeful smile tugged at the corner of Harry’s mouth. “I like having someone to worry.”

She smiled, but it was a sad smile just the same. “Did strange things always happen to you?”

Harry’s mind briefly scanned over his miserable childhood. Most of it he didn’t want to talk about. He finally landed on one that at least was slightly amusing. “I ended up on the roof of the school when I was eight, and Dudley’s gang was chasing me. I panicked when they tried to get me down, and I realized how angry Uncle Vernon would be. I tried to climb back down quickly, but I fell and broke my arm.”

Uncle Vernon had been livid with all the attention that particular fiasco had caused.

“Maybe you’re not a danger-magnet, then. Maybe you’re just clumsy,” Ginny said, eyebrows raised.

Harry snorted, appreciating the levity, but wanting to be certain she understood. “Loads of people get Splinched. I was just too tired, and I didn’t Deliberate properly.”

“Loads of people don’t amputate their own limbs when they do,” Ginny said, but her words lacked any bite.

“What can I say — I’m an over-achiever,” he said, shrugging.

Ginny rolled her eyes.

His eyes locked on hers, staring intently. He had to say it, and she had to know. “I can’t change who I am, Ginny, even for you.”

The idea that Voldemort had been inside his head for his entire life had wreaked havoc with his sense of self. Becoming an Auror was slowly helping him to reclaim his own identity, and he needed it. But he needed her, too. These two things were so impossibly tied together. He couldn’t have confronted the torment he felt after learning that he’d harbored a piece of Voldemort’s soul without her, and he couldn’t have put himself back together again to find something that was just him without his job. They were irreparably tied together. It was messy and complicated — like every other part of his life always was.

Ginny reached over and laid one of her lovely, warm hands on top of his, squeezing it slightly. “I know, and I wouldn’t want you to. I’m sort of fond of you.”

“Just sort of?” he asked, daring to hope.

“Don’t push your luck.”

Harry grinned. “Who knows? You’ll be playing Quidditch professionally soon, and they have loads of accidents. Just last week a player crashed into the stands and got concussed. He didn’t even know who he was for a few days. Maybe it’ll soon be my turn to pace.”

“Yeah, but I’m not as clumsy as you,” she said.

“You’re prettier, too,” he blurted, then felt his face flush. He didn’t know what possessed him, but he felt filled to bursting with pleasure that she could accept him as he was — flaws and all. She was one of the only ones who knew how truly damaged he was.

“I love the gloves, Harry,” she said softly. He’d given her a pair of professional quality Quidditch gloves. Light-weight yet durable, and flexible enough to hold a wand if necessary. They looked ordinary, so no one was the wiser, although Harry suspected Charlie might have known how high-quality they were. He’d almost played for England, after all.

“You’ll be needing them soon,” he replied.

“I’ll be sure to use them to hang onto my broom tightly, then,” she said cheekily.

“Are we okay?” he asked, knowing they were but needing to hear it anyway.

“We’re better than okay, and now, since you’re on medical leave, I get you all to myself for the next few days,” Ginny replied, her eyes once again warm and full of mischief.

“Whatever will you do with me?” he asked.

“I’ll think of something.”

“Well, if you can’t, I can certainly think of something that will make me feel loads better,” he said, waggling his eyebrows.

“Really? I’ll take it under advisement. For now, you need a kip or you’ll never make it through this whole day.”

Harry’s eyes did feel droopy. He’d suddenly felt as if he’d worked a full day with the Dementors.

“Will you stay?” he asked sleepily.

“I’ll be right here when you wake,” she promised.

ooOOoo

Dim sunlight finally broke out over the snow-covered ground as they took their places at the well-laden table in the early afternoon. Mrs. Weasley, her eyes red-rimmed and her voice falsely bright, announced that the food was ready. As they all sat down to eat, Harry noticed that Andromeda, too, was distant and distracted. She easily lost track of any conversation that Harry tried to engage her in. Despite the large number of people in tight quarters around the table, there were still three vast, gaping holes where Fred, Remus and Tonks should’ve been.

The Christmas cheer was strained and forced. Everyone attempted to move on and celebrate the season, yet somehow, the lives lost nearly seven months ago seemed ever-present. The wounds were fresh and raw once again, making the conversation brittle.

Teddy was the only bright spot. His innocent joy slowly but surely drew them all in as he awoke from his nap quite happy. He’d colored his hair green like the Christmas tree, and he squealed with delight as he smashed his food. Even George attempted to sneak him icing from a cake during pudding, despite Andromeda’s strong attempts to keep him off sugar.

The meal was delicious as always, but Harry couldn’t help being glad when it was over. He supposed it would continue to get easier in years to come. Next year, Bill and Fleur’s new little one — for they’d finally made the announcement over dinner, although Andromeda was the only one truly surprised — would be with them, and he was certain more would follow. He supposed the sound of children’s laughter might be the one thing that could truly make the Burrow right again.

It was in this melancholy mood that he sat alone at the kitchen table well after the crowd had dispersed. Mrs. Weasley insisted that he spend another night at the Burrow where she could keep watch over his healing leg, and he didn’t have the heart to refuse her. He’d come down to take his evening potions, and was attempting to force them down. He turned as George entered the kitchen, spotting him at the table and pulling a small wrapped present from his pocket. Although he’d been hung over in the morning, George had managed to keep it together during the day. Harry suspected the need to be there for his parents helped George to cope with his own grief.

“I didn’t want to leave this one under the tree,” he said, handing the gift to Harry.

“What is it?” Harry asked warily.

“Open it and find out,” George answered, and Harry definitely didn’t like the devious twinkle in his eye.

This couldn’t be good. He didn’t want to open it, but he wouldn’t put it past George to make a scene if he didn’t. Checking to be certain they were alone, he quickly unwrapped the gift. His mouth dropped open as a box of Muggle Rubber Johnnys fell onto the table.

“In case you have trouble casting the Charms,” George said, smirking.

A gob-smacked Harry panicked when Mr. Weasley suddenly entered the kitchen, and he couldn’t conceal the box fast enough. He scrambled to keep it covered to no avail.

“What do you have there?” Mr. Weasley asked jovially. “Oh! I’ve had those.”

Both Harry and George’s heads swiveled to goggle at him, horrified.

Mr. Weasley didn’t notice their appalled gazes. “I found a box under the seat when I first brought the Ford Anglia home. They go in the motor, although I was never entirely certain over which part. I used to attach them to everything to see what worked best. Harry, maybe you could tell me?”

Harry was doing his utmost best to contain his laughter. He didn’t know what amused him more — the idea of Mr. Weasley randomly attaching Johnnys to the motor of his car, or the disturbed and slightly ill expression on George’s face. Apparently, the idea of his father having them at all had revolted George so thoroughly, he’d lost the ability to speak.

“Er… sorry, Mr. Weasley. Uncle Vernon never let me near his car, I think one of the girls who works in George’s shop drives one though, doesn’t she, George?” he asked, grinning.

George’s head snapped around, glaring at Harry.

“Why are you giving them to Harry, anyway, George? He doesn’t have a car,” Mr. Weasley asked, and now it was Harry’s turn to panic. He felt the color draining from his face as George suddenly found his voice.

“I thought Harry could find a use for them. I know they help to keep a motor running,” George said boldly.

“Are you thinking of purchasing a car, Harry?” Mr. Weasley asked excitedly. “I can help. I know a lot about Muggle automobiles. It’s fascinating the way these Muggles have managed without magic.”

Harry stared at Mr. Weasley, unable to get his voice to work properly. He couldn’t find a way to get out of this bizarre conversation, and he was at risk of really getting into trouble here.

“What’s going on?” Charlie asked, entering the kitchen with Ron. He pulled some leftover baked stuffed apples and custard from the cold cupboard. He and Ron each took spoons and began eating directly from the bowl.

While they were all focused on the pudding, Harry surreptitiously cast a spell to erase all the wording on the box of Johnnys still in Mr. Weasley’s hands. He had no idea if the other brothers would know what they were. He always found it odd how little wizards knew about Muggles, even wizards like Mr. Weasley whose job it was to work with Muggle things.

“Harry’s thinking of getting a car,” George said unhelpfully, summoning his own spoon.

If Harry denied the claim, he’d have to further explain the Johnnys. He’d rather go out and purchase a damn car than have this conversation.

“Are you? What for?” Ron asked. “You’re not seriously going to take up your tosser of a cousin’s offer to go to dinner, are you?”

“What?” Harry asked, nonplussed.

“You have to get a license — and take a test,” Mr. Weasley said excitedly. “Oh, I’d love to come with you to see that.”

“You didn’t tell me you wanted a car,” Ron said, still staring at Harry.

“Oh, you could take Ginny for long rides. She always loved the car,” Arthur said enthusiastically.

Harry, who’d been finishing off the last of his water in order to avoid answering Ron, sprayed it all over the table, choking and unable to find his voice.

George beat him on the back, his shoulders shaking. “Hear that, Harry? Dad thinks Ginny would enjoy a ride in your car,” he said, his eyes sparkling with amused tears.

“What’s this?” Charlie asked, pulling the box from Mr. Weasley’s hands.

“George gave it to Harry for his car,” Mr. Weasley said while Harry froze on the spot waiting to see Charlie’s reaction. Charlie frowned and turned the box over, but Harry didn’t see any sign of recognition.

Ron was blatantly oblivious as he continued to battle Charlie for last remaining bits of custard, and Harry could only hope Hermione didn’t enter the kitchen. She’d certainly know, and he didn’t trust her acting skills to keep up the ruse.

“They’re really difficult to get on, but I found rolling them out works best. Here, I’ll show you,” Mr. Weasley said, moving to open the box.

“No!” Both Harry and George shouted at the same time.

“Er… my knee is feeling really sore, so I think I want to go to bed, actually,” Harry said, his voice an octave or two higher than normal. He took the box from Mr. Weasley and reached for his walking stick. Usually he wouldn’t want to draw attention to his injuries, but perhaps this one could work to his favor and get him out of this situation.

“Here,” George said, quickly handing the walking stick to him. As much as George was enjoying Harry’s discomfort, he obviously didn’t want to sit there and watch his dad demonstrate a Johnny, either.

As Harry shakily climbed the stairs, he thought this was the most bizarre Christmas he’d ever lived through.

Back to index


Chapter 13: Cars and Couches Be Damned

Author's Notes: Honestly, what’s the point of magic if it can’t even make first-time sex good? ;) Soundtrack for Harry and Ginny’s night together is Bruce Springsteen’s, I’m on Fire. I’ve never attempted to write a scene like this before, and I built it up so much in my mind that I’ve avoided writing it for a very long time. It’s why this sequel took so long, so I’m eager to hear what you think.

Thank you so much to all the voters in the Trinket awards!! Two stories mentioned and I'm beyond delighted.


Chapter Thirteen
Cars and Couches Be Damned



Ginny nervously paced the small confines of her bedroom, her palms slick as she clenched and unclenched her fists. She could do this. She’d fooled her mum on numerous occasions with her ability to calmly look in her eye and lie. She’d learned from the twins that holding her temper was key. When she lost her temper, she also lost her head and blurted out entirely too much information. She just had to play it cool.

She was staying the night with Luna.

That’s all she had to say. Luna had even sent an invitation so that her mum could see it. She’d be away for the night, and the only part that was a lie was the fact it wouldn’t be with Luna. Her mum wasn’t a fool, and she’d give one of those piercing stares if Ginny talked too much. Ginny always felt compelled to talk when her mum gave her that look. It worked better than Veritaserum.

She wondered where her mum had learned to make that face. Ginny would bet some of these captured Death Eaters would spill their guts if her mum stared at them the way she stared at her children.

It was two days after Christmas, and the Burrow was much quieter and emptier once again. Charlie was still home, although he was out at the moment with some old friends. After Hermione had left for Australia to visit with her parents, Ron and Harry returned to Grimmauld Place. Her mum hadn’t wanted to let them go, insisting Harry would need looking after while he recovered, but the boys weren’t to be deterred. When Ginny went to visit, her mum had used the Floo to call every half hour to check on them, despite the fact Ron was also there. Her mum obviously didn’t trust his ability to chaperone.

It infuriated Ginny since Hermione was living there with Ron and Harry, and her mum didn’t seem to expect Harry to act as chaperone for them. The unfairness burned at her insides, licking at her temper. But she had to keep control.

Oddly, it was Ron’s offhand remark that Harry was having trouble with the stairs that convinced her mum to let her go. Undoubtedly, she was envisioning Harry sprawled at the bottom of the stairs — and given Harry’s track record, she had a point.

Ron was scheduled to work an early shift in the morning, however, so Harry would be quite alone. Her mum was under the impression one of his fellow trainees was coming to stay with him, and Ginny hadn’t corrected her.

Once she made it out the door, she’d be free until dinnertime the next day. Her mum would think she was at Luna’s. Even Harry thought she was spending the night with Luna. Ginny couldn’t wait to see the look on his face when she turned up at Grimmauld Place instead.

Harry was who she wanted, and she was tired of denying it. She was ready — at long last, she was ready. Still, she couldn’t help that her stomach was fluttering with nerves, and her dinner was threatening to make a reappearance. With a determined set to her chin, she closed her rucksack and slung it over her shoulder. Schooling her face, she calmly walked down to the kitchen.

Her mum wasn’t even there, and Ginny felt a flicker of annoyance that all her preparation had been for naught.

A knock at the door made her look up. Luna had her face pressed to the glass, oddly smooshing her nose and causing the glass to fog. Ginny pulled it open.

“Hi, Luna!” she said brightly. Luna had a way of putting her in a good mood.

“Hullo, Ginny. How was your Christmas?” Luna asked, glancing around the kitchen as if she’d never been there before.

“Eventful as always,” Ginny said breezily. “How about yours?”

“Mine was quiet. I don’t have all those brothers to cause so much drama. Daddy invited some friends, though, so I enjoyed it,” Luna replied. “One of his friends gave him a lead on where we can find another Snorkack horn. Daddy had one, but the Death Eaters destroyed it, so we’re leaving on Thursday to begin our search.”

Harry had told Ginny the story of visiting the Lovegoods and the exploding Erumpent horn, but Ginny thought it best not to mention it. Luna was doing her a great favor, after all.

“Oh, will you miss our New Year’s Eve party, then?” she asked instead. Despite Fleur’s pregnancy sickness, she’d still managed to help Harry plan a spectacular party to welcome in the New Year. A fresh start for all of them.

Luna nodded. “If we’re lucky.”

Ginny frowned, knowing Luna didn’t mean that the way it came out. Before she could reply, however, her mum finally entered the kitchen.

“Oh! Hello, Luna dear. How are you?” she asked.

“Fine, thanks,” Luna said, blinking owlishly.

Luna’s dreamy nature had always made her mum uncomfortable, the same way it did many people. Ginny could see it working now. Her mum was looking desperately for something to do with her hands. She lifted a plate from the counter.

“Would you care for a biscuit, dear?” she asked.

“No, thank you. We still have loads leftover from Christmas,” Luna said vaguely.

“Did you pack everything you need, Ginny?” Mum asked, directing her attention back to where she was comfortable.

“Yes, Mum,” Ginny said, feeling somewhat exasperated. After all, she wasn’t five. She gave her mum an impatient hug good-bye, and said, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“All right, girls. Have fun.”

Ginny and Luna walked to the Apparition point, and the next moment found themselves looking up at Luna’s crooked house.

“Thanks, Luna,” Ginny said. “I really appreciate this.”

“No problem,” Luna replied. “I’m certain you’ll cover for me when I want to sneak off with my boyfriend, too.”

“Er… d’you have a boyfriend then, Luna?” Ginny wasn’t certain what was going on between Luna and Simon. Luna was always so vague, but Ginny’s curiosity was killing her.

“No… but I will eventually. I have someone in mind,” she said.

“It wouldn’t be Simon Teevens, perhaps, would it?” Ginny asked in a sing-song voice.

“No,” Luna said, staring at her blankly. “Whatever gave you that idea?”

Ginny stared back, nonplussed.

“I’m not certain I’m ready to share everything with someone yet. I’m still learning about me,” Luna said.

“Whoever he is, he’ll be lucky to have you,” Ginny said, smiling.

Luna beamed. “It’s so nice to have girlfriends to talk about chatting up boys. It’s almost like we’re normal.”

“We are normal, Luna. Just — unusual things have happened to us,” Ginny insisted fiercely.

Luna nodded solemnly. “You should go, though. Harry must be eager.”

“He doesn’t even know I’m coming,” Ginny said, her nerves returning in a rush. “He’s still hurt, and I don’t want to leave him on his own for too long. His leg hurts him more than he’ll admit, and he keeps trying to get around without that walking stick. And Dean is dropping by tomorrow to begin painting, so someone needs to direct him to Teddy’s room.”

She stopped abruptly, aware she was babbling. Luna stared at her with a rather pitying expression.

“I don’t think Harry wants you there to worry or to direct Dean. I think he wants you there so he can get in your knickers,” Luna said matter-of-factly.

Ginny couldn’t help it. She gulped. Perhaps she should’ve taken a potion to steady her nerves.

“Don’t worry. I’m sure Harry will be gentle, and I’ve heard it can be highly enjoyable,” Luna said.

Ginny felt her face go scarlet and cursed her Weasley coloring. “Thanks for helping me with my parents, Luna. I hope you have a wonderful time on your holiday.”

“You don’t need to worry so much about what your parents will think. They had seven children. They must find sex highly enjoyable, too.”

Ginny reared back, horrified. “Don’t say that, Luna,” she cried, revolted. Oh, that was not the image she needed in her head before starting this journey. She shut her eyes tightly, trying to block it out, but it was no good. It was stuck there now.

Luna merely laughed. “Good-bye, Ginny,” she said as she strolled up the pathway toward her house.

“‘Bye, Luna,” she said. Taking a deep breath, she Disapparated and appeared a moment later in London.

It was bitingly cold and windy in the city, the air far more bitter than it had been in Ottery St. Catchpole. Harry was able to Apparate directly onto the doorstep at Grimmauld Place so that he was within the wards and couldn’t be seen. Ginny wasn’t as confident with her precision, so she appeared in a small, dark alley a few doors down, out of sight of any Muggles. She’d only received her license a week before returning to Hogwarts, so she still hadn’t had a lot of practice with Apparition.

She secured her rucksack on her shoulder and quickly walked out to the street. The streetlights hadn’t yet come on, and the sky was streaked a dusky pink. She took a moment to appreciate the freedom of walking along the pavement. Several Muggles passed her unaware, hurriedly on their way home from their various places of work. Ginny liked the anonymity of blending in amongst them.

She climbed the steps of number twelve and let herself inside. The wards were designed to let her in, so the doorknob turned as soon as she’d touched it. It was blessedly warm inside, so the Heating Charms were working, at least. Although most of the house was dark, the grand entryway gleamed as the light from the candle-lit chandelier reflected off the marble pillars and the grand mirror adjacent to the door.

Harry hated this spot, but Ginny actually liked it very much. It was so very different from the Burrow, and it made her feel elegant and grand every time she walked through. Pausing, she listened intently, ready to hide her bag should she hear her brother’s voice. The house was unusually quiet, however. She knew Ron had planned to go out and meet George after he and Harry had eaten dinner. Although he’d never admit it, Harry had been tired and seemed happy to use his bad leg as an excuse not to go out.

So, he was upstairs alone, unsuspecting, and she was here. This was it.

Despite her nerves, Ginny wasn’t second-guessing her decision to come. Her nerves came from the unknown rather than any concern about what she was about to do. After her discussion with Harry on Christmas Day, she knew there was no one else for her. Yes, he had his flaws, but who didn’t? He was a beacon for danger, and that was something she’d have to live with, but his bravery was part of what attracted her. He’d always stand up for what was right, even at great personal cost.

He’d been through so much, and he was such a good person despite it all. She was well-aware that he struggled with his own demons, but so did she. She wanted to be there for him as much as he’d been there for her. He was the only one who knew why the sound of dripping water or a rooster’s cry could make her shudder. He let her be strong and fierce without being intimidated by it, but also freely gave a hug or support without making fun of her for needing it.

She’d spent her whole life being babied and belittled by her brothers. Everyone felt the need to take care of little Ginny, even if she did everything in her power to show that she didn’t always want to be taken care of. Harry let her take care of him, something he rarely let anyone else do, and she appreciated that more than he’d ever know.

They could always lean on the other.

Ginny climbed the stairs to Harry’s room. The door was slightly ajar, so she could see him sitting up in bed reading some sort of manuel with a Ministry seal on the cover. His hair stuck out at all angles, and even as she watched, he ran his hand through it. Whatever he was reading was frustrating him. He had his leg propped up with several pillows — a sign of weakness she knew he’d have never shown if he expected anyone to call.

She pushed the door open, grinning, and said, “Hello, bright eyes.”

Those wonderfully bright eyes looked up, round and startled. It took him a moment to process what he was seeing, and his brow furrowed. “What are you doing here?”

“Well, that’s not the greeting I expected,” she said, dropping her bag and walking over to sit on the bed, facing him.

“Sorry — you know I’m always happy to see you, but… I thought you were spending the night with Luna,” he said. She found the crease that appeared on his forehead oddly endearing.

She shook her head. “That’s just what I told my parents.”

“Told your parents,” he said slowly, and she could see him working it out, but still unwilling to trust what his brain was telling him. “Why would you do that?”

“So they wouldn’t expect me home,” she said, enjoying toying with him.

Harry swallowed visibly. “But you’re not staying with Luna.”

Ginny shook her head.

“So… you’re going to stay… here?” he asked, somewhat breathlessly.

“Well, if you don’t want me to stay, I can always go back,” she said, fighting back a laugh.

“No!” he said, suddenly grasping her arm. “I want you to stay. I do. I really do.”

“Good then,” Ginny said, staring at him. The thudding of her heart was painful.

He visibly swallowed again, and something about the fact he was obviously nervous, too, reassured her. She leaned over and kissed him softly. He tasted like chocolate.

“You’ve had treacle tart,” she said, pulling back and grinning.

“Your mum sent some home with me,” he said, the awkwardness gone. He pushed his manuel off his lap so it landed in a heap on the floor, forgotten. “Can I get you some? D’you want something to drink?”

He pulled the pillows out from beneath his leg and tossed them to the floor, too, as he swung his legs over the side of the bed as if to rise. Ginny pushed him back by his chest.

“Stay there and off that knee. I’ve brought everything,” she said. Summoning her rucksack, she pulled out a bottle of elf-made wine and two wine glasses wrapped in cloth. “There was plenty left at the Burrow, so they won’t miss this one.”

She used magic to pop the cork, and poured them each a glass. Harry settled himself back against his headboard, and held up his arm for her to slide in beside him.

“Did Ron end up going out with George?” she asked, sipping her wine.

“Yeah. I think they’re testing a new product at the shop. Actually, they usually come back here afterwards,” Harry said, looking a little worried.

“Well, you’d best lock your door then,” Ginny said calmly.

Harry stared at her, and she noticed his hand shook slightly as he raised his wand. “Colloportus. Silencio,” he said, his voice a little raspy.

Ginny took another sip of her wine. The past few times they’d been together, they’d barely been able to keep their hands off one another. Now, with the prospect of the entire night and no interruptions ahead of them, neither seemed to know how to start. She looked up to see Harry draining the last of his wine, and she smirked.

“Need a little fortitude, do you?” she asked impishly.

Harry flushed, but refilled his glass and topped hers off. “Are you certain, Ginny?” he asked in a very low voice and not meeting her eyes. “I mean, you can change your mind — and at any point — and that’s okay. You can stay here without… without, y’know.”

Ginny took a rather large sip of her own wine before putting the glass down. “Harry, if we’re going to do this, I think we should at least be able to say it. I want to make love to you. Only you. I’ve never been more certain.”

Harry put his glass on his bedside table and took her in his arms, kissing her fiercely, possessively. It only took a moment before the awkwardness and uncertainty disappeared. Harry’s hand instinctively reached for the clip holding her ponytail and released it, allowing her hair to spill around her shoulders without breaking the kiss. His hands drifted down to the hem of her shirt, and with only a moment’s hesitation she could feel them on her bare skin. Butterflies pooled in her belly, as they always did when he touched her this way.

Within a few intense moments and kisses where she felt as if she couldn’t get close enough, each had shed their clothing down to their underwear, and Ginny felt Harry’s hand caress the bare skin on her hip. She gasped, clenching her fingers in his hair and making him press his hips against hers. He pulled back for a moment, his intense green eyes staring into hers, pinning her with his gaze.

She didn’t want the contact broken, however, and she raised her head slightly so she could reach his lips again. Harry returned the kiss, but his hand fumbled for his wand, aiming it towards the light.

“No!” Ginny said, gasping as she wrenched from the kiss. “Leave the light on. I want to see you.”

She watched as color flooded his features although he conceded to her request and only dimmed the light so that the room remained lit. Ginny’s lips felt swollen, and she struggled to regulate her breathing, all the while wanting him to continue making her breathless.

He looked up at her, his eyes somehow both eager and anguished. “You’re so very beautiful. I don’t want to hurt you,” he said.

“You won’t,” she replied, gently brushing some of his fringe aside so his scar was clearly visible.

“But—”

“Trust me. I know a spell,” she said, feeling her own color rise.

Actually, Hermione had shown her the spell. Both girls knew if Harry thought he had to hurt her first, it could take him ages to get on with it. Hermione had solved the problem — for both of them.

Using her own wand, she cast the two spells Hermione had taught her.

It triggered Harry’s memory because his eyes widened slightly, and he, too, used a contraception spell that she recognized.

“Where did you learn that?” she asked, puzzled. Hermione had told her there was a spell for wizards, too, but she hadn’t thought Harry would know it. She’d stressed to Ginny that it was best to always keep that control, so she should be certain to cast it every time.

“George taught me,” Harry said, flushing.

Ginny paused a moment, gaping at him as she digested that information. “George? My brother taught you how to— He… what? When?” She knew Harry and George had grown close, and George had always been the least overprotective of all her brothers, but still… This seemed incomprehensible to her.

Harry shrugged. “I still think he’s going to want to beat me up because it’s you… but he’s been giving me advice. Too much advice, actually…” Harry said, trailing off.

Ginny couldn’t help it. She snorted, easily picturing how much George would enjoy tormenting a much more reserved Harry about this. Harry was probably lucky it was her with whom he was contemplating this. Otherwise, George would’ve shown no restraint.

“I don’t want to talk about George,” Harry said, his breath warm on her neck before he began kissing her once again.

Ginny let her head fall back, thrilling at the delicious tingle that went all the way down to her toes. Their bodies tangled, and Ginny could feel Harry’s heart thumping beneath his warm skin. Soon, there was nothing between them at all, and they were moving as one, uncaring about the uncertainty as they learned how to please each other.

ooOOoo

Harry awoke slowly, unwilling to open his eyes and trying to snuggle back into the warmth of his bed. He turned his head to the side and something tickled his nose. When he attempted to rub it, he found it was covered by strings of long hair, and his memory came flooding back. Opening his eyes, he tangled his hand in Ginny’s long red tresses, luxuriating in the softness as he rubbed a strand between his fingers. Her hair was fanned out across her pillow (his pillow actually!) as she slept, and he spent a few moments just staring at the gentle rise and fall of her chest, amazed by the events of the previous evening.

She’d surprised him — pleasantly so — when she’d turned up at his door after he’d already gone to bed. He hadn’t been expecting her, but something about the fact she’d come — that she’d chosen him — filled him with a burning desire for this woman that he’d wanted quite a lot already.

She chose him.

Although he’d listened to all of George’s advice and read Twelve Failsafe Ways to Charm Witches from cover to cover numerous times, he’d still felt unsure about what he was doing. It hadn’t mattered though. Nature had taken over, and they’d worked it out together. Twice.

With a flush, Harry remembered when Ginny had asked him to leave the light on — it was still burning now. The fact he was skinny and scarred while she was beautiful and perfect hadn’t appeared to matter to her.

They were each other’s firsts, and Harry had never felt this close — this bared — to another soul in his entire life. It wasn’t just the lack of clothing — although he liked that part very much. She’d been part of him, and he part of her, and Harry felt more content waking up beside her than he’d ever thought possible. This. This is what winning the war meant.

A certain part of his anatomy was straining for her again, and he didn’t think he’d ever grow tired of waking up beside her. He wrapped his arms around her warm skin and pulled her closer, spooning her. She mumbled, deep in sleep and attempted to turn back toward her pillow (his pillow!). Harry began kissing that spot on her neck, just below her ear that he’d discovered drove her mad, and he felt her become aware as she pressed herself more fully against him.

“Morning,” she mumbled, a gentle smile spreading across her face as he nuzzled her neck.

He gently played with her breasts, testing their weight in his hands and enjoying the soft sounds she made as he did. He buried his nose in her hair, inhaling the sweet, flowery scent that had always attracted him. When Ginny gasped and arched her back, he could take no more.

He pulled her over so she was lying flat, and he positioned himself to join with her once again. As she moved beneath him, his breath caught in his chest. He sometimes had trouble with words, but this — this was a way he could express his love for her, and she understood. He could pour all the emotion, everything he couldn’t say, into each touch, each caress, and every sigh. He didn’t have to puzzle out what to say or how to say it. This she understood.

When they were finished and each lay panting beside the other, hands intertwined, she turned her head to look at him.

“Good morning,” she said again, grinning.

“Morning,” Harry replied, feeling as if he could easily drift off and sleep some more. “I like waking up this way.”

“Me, too,” Ginny said. “I think we should stay here all day.”

Harry smiled, lazily tracing circles on her bare hip. “We’ll need sustenance, but I’m game. It’s like any decent Quidditch move. It takes practice to make it perfect.”

Ginny let out a bark of laughter. “I’m like Quidditch, am I?”

“I think I’ve actually found something I enjoy even more than Quidditch,” Harry replied solemnly.

Ginny grinned, “Good answer. I’m starving.”

“And definitely a Weasley. Shall we go make breakfast, then?”

After they’d showered and dressed — and got slightly distracted once again — they’d made their way down to the kitchen. Harry knew he was very slow on the stairs, and he was aware that Ginny had noticed him wincing several times, although he’d tried to hide it. There really were a lot of stairs at Grimmauld Place. The Healers had said his leg would be healed in a week, but he wished he could make it heal faster. He leaned heavily on the walking stick as they descended, and tucked it away in a corner once they’d reached the kitchen.

It was spotless and nearly gleaming with a shine neither Ron nor Harry ever managed. Harry noticed Ginny looking around curiously.

He grinned. “Kreacher. Despite Hermione’s annoyance, he continues to stop by at night. In fact, since Christmas, I have a sneaking suspicion that Andromeda has been sending him.”

“Why’s that?” Ginny asked.

“She fussed over my leg nearly as much as your mum,” Harry replied sourly.

Ginny giggled. “Well, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Did you get him a good Christmas present?”

“Yeah. I got him a case to keep his locket in when he’s sleeping. I think he sleeps with it, actually,” Harry replied, remembering the embarrassing gushing Kreacher did after Harry had given him his gift.

“You gave him a jewelry box?” she asked, giggling.

A slow smile spread across his face. “I didn’t think about it like that, but I suppose I did.”

They prepared a full breakfast of toast, bacon, eggs and tomatoes, and while they were eating it, someone knocked at the door.

“That’ll be Dean,” Ginny said, wiping her mouth with a napkin. She put her hand out, holding Harry by his shoulder. “You stay there, I’ll let him in.”

Harry hated being treated like an invalid, but his leg did hurt, so he complied. He heard voices from the hallway before Ginny and Dean joined him at the kitchen counter. Dean’s expression looked somewhat guarded, and Harry couldn’t help but wonder what he was thinking at finding Ginny here early in the morning.

“Hi, Dean,” Harry said, reaching out to shake the other boy’s hand. “How are you?”

“I’m good,” Dean said, his eyes flicking back and forth between Harry and Ginny. Ginny had filled a plate and put it down in front of Dean, who began picking at it.

“Thanks,” Dean said. “I’ve left my brushes in the Entrance Hall, and I have the sketch of what you described. You’ll just need to show me to the room.”

“We can do that after we’ve finished breakfast,” Ginny said.

Dean’s eyes wandered around the gleaming kitchen, settling on Harry’s leg, which was propped on the chair beside him.

“What did you do?”

“Splinched,” Harry said sourly. He still couldn’t believe he’d been so careless, and hated having to admit it to Dean.

“Ouch,” Dean said, wincing. “I thought you were an old hand at Apparition. How did you get around last year?”

“He was overworked with the Dementors, so it’s completely understandable,” Ginny said, firing up at once. “He’s just lucky his partner acted so quickly.”

Not wanting to rile her up further, Harry let it go. Dean hunched over his eggs and began shoveling them in his mouth, not looking at either of them.

Harry suspected Dean regretted that things didn’t work out between him and Ginny — how could he not? She was brilliant. Still, he remembered how uncomfortable seeing them together had made him feel back in sixth year, and he was trying not to rub it in. Somehow, however, he found that he couldn’t help touching her. He kept reaching out to brush her arm, or hold her hand or tug at her glorious hair. It was as if his hands had a mind of their own this morning, and he kept having to pull them back without having consciously reached out in the first place. And for the life of him, he couldn’t wipe the daft grin off his face every time she glanced his way.

They finished their breakfast quickly, and Ginny began leading the way up to Teddy’s room. Harry didn’t want to use the walking stick, but the glare Ginny gave him let him know he didn’t have a choice. Half-way up the stairs, he had to concede she was right. He would’ve fallen headlong back down without the infernal thing, and that would’ve been more embarrassing than using it.

Ginny pushed open the door to Teddy’s room, and they all stared at the blank walls. Several cans of paint were stacked in the corner. The room had been completely renovated and reconstructed to get rid of the permanent sticking charms Sirius had left on his Muggle, bikini-clad girl pictures. The idea of saving one had crossed Harry’s mind, but he didn’t think it was appropriate for a nursery. He’d saved the pictures in a desk drawer. Perhaps when Teddy was older he’d appreciate them.

“You’ve seen Harry’s Patronus, yeah?” Ginny asked. “Think of that when you’re drawing the stag. The wolf is a representation of Professor Lupin, so if you could give it his eyes, that would be perfect.”

“Reserved yet wise,” Dean said, nodding. “What about the dog?”

“Think of the Grim — only friendlier. The Grim with a mischievous personality, I suppose,” Ginny said, causing Harry to snigger.

“If the stag is Harry, and the wolf is Professor Lupin, who does the dog represent?” Dean asked.

“Sirius Black,” Harry said flatly. Although Sirius’ name had been cleared after the war, Harry often felt his suffering was overlooked amongst everything else that had happened. He didn’t correct Dean on who the stag really was. Somehow, that felt very private.

Ginny followed his lead. “This house belonged to Sirius, who was Harry’s godfather,” she said quietly. “The sky will represent Teddy’s mother, who was a Metamorphmagus.”

“A what?” Dean asked, turning toward her.

“It means she could change her appearance at will. For as long as I knew her, she fancied either bubble gum-pink or violet hair, so those colors need to be in the sky.

Dean nodded, looking back at his sketchpad. “Okay, so a versatile dusky sky. Anything else you can tell me?”

“The landscape around them should look like the Forbidden Forest — only less deadly. I don’t want to scare Teddy,” Harry said, visions of the vast number of deadly creatures running through the forest crossing his mind.

Ginny reached over and took his hand, giving it a light squeeze. He returned the gesture, knowing the forest troubled her, too. He’d died there, after all.

“This will take most of the week,” Dean said. “It’s a big room.”

“I’ll change the wards so you can come and go at will,” Harry said. “You’ll be here for the New Year’s Eve party, yeah?”

Dean nodded. “Yeah, I got the invitation,” he said, looking puzzled.

Fleur had insisted on sending out fancy invitations in an elaborate scroll. Harry thought they looked rather ridiculous, but she’d been pleased.

“Are we really wearing our Order of Merlin medals?” Dean asked.

Ginny snorted. “Yeah — if you have one, wear it. I think there will be more people there with them than without.”

“What else are we supposed to do with them?” Harry asked, grinning at Ginny’s excitement.

“Well, if that’s all, I suppose I’ll get started,” Dean said, beginning to lay out his brushes. His tone made it obvious that in order to work, he needed them to leave him alone. “I usually get immersed in my work as I’m painting, so I’ll let you know when it’s ready for you to see. It’ll most likely be the end of the day before there’s any real progress.”

“All right,” Ginny said. “Let me just bring you up a few bottles of Butterbeer in case you want them while you’re working.”

She’d left before Dean could respond. “I brought water,” he said lamely to the empty door.

Harry and Dean glanced at each other before quickly looking away. Harry searched for something to say. He’d never felt this awkward with Dean before, and he wasn’t certain what was causing it except the knowledge of what he’d just done with Ginny. He wondered if Dean could somehow tell.

“So… you and Ginny are still together then?” Dean asked, the silence finally becoming too uncomfortable for him, as well.

Harry frowned, puzzled. “Yeah, of course.”

Dean nodded. “I wondered when you came to Slughorn’s party. Ginny wasn’t getting owls anymore, so I thought you might’ve called it quits.”

“You believed what Rita Skeeter has been writing,” Harry said, irritated. How could everyone not know what that woman was all about by now?

Dean shrugged, not meeting Harry’s eyes. “My mistake.”

Harry wanted it to be crystal clear. “There hasn’t been anyone else but Ginny since my sixth year. I left to do what I had to do, but she was never out of my thoughts.”

“Here you go,” Ginny said, coming back into the nursery. She stopped in her tracks, staring warily between the two. “What’s going on?”

“Nothing,” Harry and Dean both said hastily.

Dean took the Butterbeers from Ginny’s hand. “Thanks,” he said, turning back toward his paint.

“We’ll be here if you need anything,” Harry said stiffly, taking Ginny’s hand and leading her from the room.

“Where are we going?” Ginny asked when Harry tugged her up the stairs rather than down. Judging by the amusement in her tone, he suspected she knew.

“Since we can’t play Quidditch, I know something I can do with a bad leg,” Harry replied.

Ginny giggled but followed him just the same — after all, they only had until dinnertime that evening unsupervised.

Back to index


Chapter 14: Auld Lang Syne

Author's Notes: Thanks very much for the Silver Trinket nominations over at SIYE! Best Drama and Best Romance – woo hoo! Romance! Me? Who’d’ve thunk? I appreciate the support, and my heartfelt thanks to all of you who take the time to review. I love hearing what you think!


Chapter Fourteen
Auld Lang Syne



Ginny stood on a ladder in the entrance hall of Grimmauld Place, weaving silver and gold ribbon around the candle-filled chandelier in preparation for the evening’s party. Kreacher had helped them with a thorough cleaning, so the house was sparkling and festive. Although Ginny was excited for the party, she also felt a little sad. New Year’s always reminded her that winter break was nearly over. She’d had a lovely holiday and wasn’t experiencing any of her usual eagerness to return to Hogwarts.

She and Harry hadn’t been able to manage another entire night together, but they’d stolen plenty of interludes, nonetheless. Once Andromeda had learned that Harry was struggling with the stairs at Grimmauld Place, she’d dropped all pretenses and sent Kreacher over to care for him. Harry had grumbled at first, but the fact Kreacher was there left Molly assuming there was constant supervision. Ginny thought it best to avoid telling her mum that Kreacher basically left them alone and had started calling her ‘Master’s Miss.’

Ginny knew Ron was growing suspicious, and if he hadn’t been so distracted by Hermione’s absence, he most likely would’ve been trailing them around the vast house trying to keep them apart. As it was, Ron had spent the majority of the week moping — which kept him out of Ginny’s hair nicely. Hermione had returned this morning, and Ginny hadn’t seen either of them since.

Naturally, Ginny wasn’t happy that Harry had been hurt, but she had to admit that he couldn’t have timed his injury better. He’d been on leave during her entire break. He was supposed to go back to work in a few days, but even then he was assigned to desk duty. His leg was much better, and it was now only the stairs that still gave him trouble. He’d virtually abandoned the walking stick. Ginny kept finding it tossed in corners, but she repeatedly moved it so that it was always positioned by the stairs. She’d even enlisted Kreacher’s help in placing it within easy reach.

Pensively, she chewed on her lip as she hung the ribbon, her mind going over the events of the past week. She’d done something rash and was now second-guessing her actions. Her ruddy temper always brought trouble — sometimes more trouble than she could cope with. She could always see it in hindsight, but she’d yet to manage controlling it before she acted in a fit of pique.

It had started several days ago when she and Harry lay curled in his bed, relishing the afterglow. Ron had gone to work, and they’d spent the afternoon quite alone…

Ginny lay wrapped in Harry’s arm, her head resting on his chest as he twisted a strand of her hair around his finger. She felt drowsy and content, her eyes heavy as she listened to the thumping of his heart. Their legs were tangled together, and she marveled at the warmth of his skin.

“Can I ask you something?” he murmured, his lips pressed against her hair.

“Hmm?” she asked, not really listening.

“You know that I want you for more than just this, right? Don’t get me wrong, I like this — a lot — but I want all of you, Ginny,” he said, pulling her tighter to his chest. “I want to analyze Quidditch moves with you, and laugh at Ron’s obsession with the Cannons. I want to fly with you and hear you laugh as we reach heights that should make you gasp. I want your warm heart, and even your quick temper, and I want to help when your nightmares make you shout, ‘not Harry.’”

That woke her up, and her eyes opened wide. Harry wasn’t one to voluntarily share his feelings unless being pressed. This had been on his mind for some reason, and Ginny could guess why. Someone had talked. She stiffened in his embrace, but she wasn’t going to make it easy. If he wanted to know more, she was going to make him ask.

“What d’you mean?” she asked in a forced calm. In truth, a cold sweat had broken out along her forehead, and it was taking all her strength not to tremble.

Harry absently rubbed the scar on his forehead — a sure sign of discomfort. “Malfoy said something…” he muttered.

Ginny sat up, no longer feigning calm as she stared at him directly, eyes blazing. “What did he say?”

Harry swallowed heavily, but met her gaze. “He said there was a rumor that I’d ditched you after we’d…” He trailed off, but his hand waved over them vaguely as they lay in his bed. “He said a load of blokes gave you a hard time about it.”

“Did he?” Ginny asked, furious. How dare he still be talking about her? She’d put up with this shite all the previous year, and she wasn’t about to let anyone drag her back into it. “Did he tell you that he was one of the lead jeerers? That a load of blokes thought I’d put out for them, too — and not just the Carrows’ enforcers? Did he tell you it wasn’t just the blokes — that loads of fawning witches wanted to believe I was a slag and let you just use me?”

Ginny was panting and she felt the sting of tears in her eyes as she blinked furiously to dispel them.

“Ginny,” Harry said, eyes wide, “I wish you would’ve been the one to tell me.”

“Why? It wasn’t true, and it was in the past. Why did he have to go and say anything to you for, anyway? Most likely because he wasn’t getting the reaction he’d wanted out of me. He had no right. Don’t tell me you let him get you riled,” she said, raging.

Harry scowled, but the color on his skin told her all she needed to know. “Did you hex him?”

“No — but only because Ron stopped me. I wasn’t going to hex him — I was going to hit him,” Harry said, as if that would’ve brought much more satisfaction.

“It’s not your place to hit him. This was something they did to me — to try and make me talk. But I didn’t! Not that I could’ve, anyway,” she said bitterly.

“I’m sorry,” Harry gasped, appalled. “I never meant… I didn’t want… I tried to protect you. I never meant to make it worse.”

Harry’s honest distress brought her back to herself. It wasn’t his fault. He didn’t do this — and he never would. The fact she was lying here next to him, baring both her body and soul without fear reminded her of just how far they’d come. He’d always be there for her.

“I know,” she whispered, the tenseness leaving her body. “It wasn’t your fault.”

“But if I hadn’t left like that—”

“And done what? Taken me along for the Horcrux hunt? I still had the Trace. How long until that allowed them to track you? You said yourself that you couldn’t focus if you thought I was in danger. Voldemort might have succeeded if it happened any other way,” Ginny said fiercely, holding his face in place as he attempted to look away. “I’m right about this. I’ve had loads of time to think about it. If you’d left without breaking up with me, they’d have used me to draw you out — you know they would. And I think you’d have come.”

“I would,” Harry said, his eyes glistening.

“And again, Voldemort might have succeeded. Your plan worked, and we have a lifetime to make up for the time spent apart. I’ll take a few months of misery over a lifetime of grief any day.”

Harry took her in his arms and kissed her fiercely, as if he’d never let her go again…


She smiled at the memory, her skin tingling. Unfortunately, Ginny’s temper had got the best of her afterwards. She’d meant what she said to Harry, but it didn’t lessen her ire with ruddy Draco Malfoy. Who was he to continue these rumors after she’d worked so hard to put them in the past? Did he think by going to Harry it would cause trouble in her relationship? She’d show him. She’d let the prat see exactly how close she and Harry were — that they’d never been apart, not really. Without thinking, without any rational thought whatsoever, she’d grabbed one of the extra party invitations and hastily scribbled, ‘Astoria Greengrass and guest,’ on the envelope. He didn’t even rate his own invitation. Fate, or karma, or whatever it was had either been with or against her — she still wasn’t certain which — for Zeus had been there and ready for a flight, so she’d sent the invitation off before she could rethink it.

Now, on the day of the party, her stomach twisted in a knot. She didn’t know if Astoria would come. They weren’t particularly close, although they’d certainly made steps in that direction this year. Ginny admired the way the Slytherin girl handled herself. She suspected that Astoria was eager to show that she was moving on, as well. That she would like the opportunity to distance herself from the former Death Eaters whom she was associated with through her House — even if she had to walk into a den of lions to do it. Perhaps, she would come and bring her sister, Daphne, who might also want the opportunity.

Ginny instinctively knew that was a pipe dream. If Astoria was coming, she’d bring her boyfriend. Ginny would do the same.

Shit.

She’d really mucked it up this time. Ron was going to blow a gasket. All her brothers would. Even her dad had his difficulties with the Malfoys.

She couldn’t see a way out, so she had to own up to the gaffe.

She at least had to tell Harry. She couldn’t let him walk into this blind. Damn, she hated having to apologize. And she’d buggered herself, as well. She didn’t know if she wanted to see Draco Malfoy, anyway. True, he’d never been the worst about practicing the Curses — he’d always been a tad squeamish, even when following the Carrows’ orders — but he had enjoyed strutting around with them and acting as if he was in charge. He’d relished his role as an enforcer even if he didn’t enjoy getting his hands dirty.

Ginny even suspected that he knew Harry hadn’t left her for any nefarious reasons, but that hadn’t stopped his taunts. To be fair, he hadn’t shared that information with the Carrows, either. But at the moment, she didn’t want to be fair. She wanted to prove to him — to all of them, really — that they hadn’t beaten her. When she’d sent the invitation, she’d wanted to stuff his blabbing words right down his throat.

Now, however, with the clock ticking ever closer to the party, she suspected she’d cut off her nose to spite her face.

Harry would be so disappointed in her.

That thought was even worse than facing Draco Malfoy. She didn’t want to let Harry down, and she knew the idea of having the former Death Eater in his house would make him uncomfortable.

“Bloody hell,” she muttered, straining to tie the last ribbon on the opposite side of the chandelier. She was asking a lot of her ladder. The entrance hall looked spectacular, if she did say so herself, with a dozen large red poinsettias staged around it and reflecting off the large mirror. Ginny had found a stray strand of holly and ivy that she was attempting to attach to the ribbon. She could’ve easily done it with magic, but she always thought it looked “too perfect” that way. She preferred it when it involved a bit of effort. Perhaps her mum had been onto something all those years she’d made her children do chores the Muggle way.

Suddenly, she felt a pair of hands gently, but firmly, grasp her bum in a feigned attempt to support her. Given that her brother and Hermione were the only others present, and she was reasonably certain they wouldn’t grasp her bum, she knew who those hands belonged to. Still, she allowed them to remain as she finally attached the plants.

“Who are you bloody helling?” Harry asked. “You’ve been grumbling in here for the past twenty minutes.”

Ginny climbed off the ladder and turned to face him like a wayward child. He put his hands around her waist, pulling her closer. His lovely eyes glittered with amusement, and she hated that she was about to erase his happy expression. “I’ve really buggered something up,” she said, sighing.

Harry looked amused rather than worried. “What have you buggered up? I’m certain it’s not as bad as you think.”

“I invited Draco Malfoy to the party,” she said bluntly.

Harry paused, blinking owlishly, as if waiting for the punchline to a joke. “You what?” he finally asked.

Ginny sighed deeply. In for a Knut, in for a Galleon. “I invited Draco Malfoy to the party.”

Harry’s eyes dilated as color slowly but surely rose in his cheeks. “You’re joking,” he said, aghast. “Ginny, are you mad?”

Ginny folded her arms across her chest. “I was angry that he’d been spreading those rumors again, and I lost my head. I wanted to show him that we were together and happy,” she said sullenly.

“Dammit, Ginny,” he shouted, releasing her and beginning to pace across the entrance hall. “You know Hermione is still wary around him. I’ve put more wards on this house than ever before so we’d all have a place to finally feel completely safe. How safe can it be if he knows where we live? If there’s nowhere to get away from him? This is going to be a mess.”

Ginny hadn’t thought about Hermione’s reaction and felt a jolt in her gut. “I didn’t think about that. I told you, I wasn’t thinking straight. I invited Astoria, and I’m certain she’s going to bring him if she decides to come.”

Harry ran a hand through his hair, making it stand on end. She could see his eyes moving rapidly as he tried to work out what to do. “Is there anyone else coming who will speak to him? Is there anyone else here he won’t try and wind up?” Harry asked.

“Probably not,” Ginny replied, her spirits sinking. She’d effectively ruined the party that they’d planned for so long.

“Andromeda maybe, and your mum might be civil. We have to give everyone a heads up,” Harry said, still pacing as he worked out a way to salvage the party.

“I’m sorry,” she said, feeling miserable. He was right. There was no one here who would be happy about it, and this was going to be the hardest on Hermione.

Harry looked up, his shoulders slumping. “It’s all right. You have every right to ask Astoria, obviously you do. I’ll talk to Ron and Hermione, so at least they have some warning. Maybe he won’t come,” he said, shrugging hopefully.

“Maybe,” Ginny said, doubting she’d get that lucky.

Harry walked back over to her and put his arms around her waist again, pulling her close. “Hey, it’s a New Year’s Eve party. Isn’t the New Year supposed to be about new starts? Perhaps we can all begin putting the war behind us.”

“You’re not supposed to make me feel better. You’re supposed to be angry,” Ginny said, pouting.

Harry tried to frown but couldn’t hold it. His eyes glinted brighter than ever, and it was cheering Ginny up despite herself. She pushed his shoulder.

“Why are you so damn cheerful?” she asked petulantly.

If possible, Harry’s grin widened even further. “Because this counts as a row, right? Now we can have make-up sex.”

Ginny threw back her head and laughed. Who could deny that?

ooOOoo


When Ginny came downstairs, she found Hermione curled up in the sitting room reading a book. She still looked rather tired, but not as washed-out as she had when she’d first arrived back from Australia earlier that morning. Ginny took a deep breath and joined her on the couch. She knew that Harry had gone to talk to her and Ron while Ginny had been in the shower.

“You all right?” she asked. There was no point in pretending she didn’t know. She was the one who’d brought on this whole mess, after all.

Hermione turned a page without looking up from her book. After a moment, she twisted her lips to the side and said, “I didn’t realize you and Astoria had become such good friends.”

Ginny pressed her lips together and nodded. She deserved that. “I think Astoria’s decent — for a Slytherin, but I concede that we’re not really friends.”

Hermione did look up at that point. “For a Slytherin,” she said slowly. “I thought we were working on school unity.”

Ginny shrugged. “It’s going to take time to get over what the pure-blood Slytherins did last year. I think Astoria is trying to do that. I’m not certain that those of us who were there will ever trust them completely, though. More likely, the school will have a better chance as more and more of the younger students come through.”

Hermione raised her head and stared out the window, unseeing.

“I didn’t invite her to upset you, Hermione. I wasn’t thinking. I was angry, and acted rashly,” Ginny said, shifting her position.

“I know — I’ve seen you do that before. I was thinking that I’m acting the same way,” Hermione said, pursing her lips.

“How do you mean?” Ginny asked.

“I’m holding a grudge against Draco for what his family did to me while he was there. How are we ever going to rebuild and repair if no one can let go?” Hermione asked, sounding rather sad.

“I don’t know. I suppose it’ll change because it has to. Voldemort is gone, and no one is going to tolerate discrimination against the Muggle-borns — at the moment, anyway,” Ginny replied.

“So, we switch our discrimination to the pure-bloods?” Hermione asked, sounding disgusted.

Ginny paused, considering her words. “Some of them deserve it. Draco might have only stood back and watched, but some of the students — Evan Bulstrode and Tim Travers, for instance — actively took part in torture. No one can just go back and pretend that didn’t happen. Merlin’s beard, my own mum is trying to pretend we’re all innocent little children again. We can’t be expected to forget what we’ve seen and done. We all have to grow from it.”

Hermione nodded, frowning. “I suppose you’re right, and if I’m going to keep pushing for that change, I have to be the one to start. I won’t ignore Astoria — but I can’t make any promises about Draco. He has a knack for causing my attempts at civility to fly out the window.”

Ginny nodded. “I feel the same,” she said, shrugging. She’d been the one who’d gone off and impulsively invited them, but she knew that she didn’t know how she’d react until the time.

“We’ll leave it to Harry to behave as the cordial host, then,” Hermione said, giggling.

“We can’t leave all that on Harry,” Ginny said, defensive at once.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “I was kidding. Besides, I think Harry has bigger issues than Draco Malfoy.”

“What do you mean?” Ginny asked curiously, although she thought she might already know.

“I think having him around these Dementors is even worse than we’d feared. Has he said anything about it?” Hermione asked.

Ginny shifted uncomfortably. Hermione was one of Harry’s oldest friends, but she knew that he tended to avoid discussing some things with her, and Ginny had no intention of being put in the middle. “A bit. He’s very private.”

“He’s very stubborn, more like,” Hermione said grumpily.

“Are you talking about me?” Ron asked, joining them in the sitting room. He leaned over and kissed Hermione on the head before turning to Ginny, frowning. “What the bloody hell were you thinking?”

“Ron,” Hermione said, grabbing his arm. “Ginny and I have talked about it, and we agree. It’s time to start healing, and to do that, we need to let go.”

“Let go? I haven’t even had a good hold of him yet!” Ron said incredulously.

“If you’re not ready to be civil, then at least just avoid him. There will be loads of your mates here,” Ginny said.

“They might not even come. There will be a lot of Gryffindors,” Hermione added.

“Yeah, but a lot of Ministry people, too, and those are the types Astoria and Draco will want to socialize with,” Ginny said. Her gut was telling her that the Slytherins would come.

“You sound like you’ve given this a lot of thought,” Ron said, still looking grumpy.

“I have. I’ve been mulling it over since I sent the invitation. The one highlight is, according to Harry, Draco’s mother thinks this house rightfully should’ve gone to him, and you’re the one living here. That has to drive him spare.”

A delighted grin spread across Ron’s face. “Oh, I can have fun with that.”

“Ron! We’re the hosts,” Hermione scolded.

Ron attempted to paste a conciliatory look on his face, but Ginny thought he looked constipated doing it.

“Malfoy did work with us on that last Lestrange raid,” he said.

“And he did turn over his uncle,” Hermione agreed.

Ron had done a good job pretending to be abashed, but he couldn’t hold it. “Only to get his loser father out of Azkaban,” he snapped.

“Why am I the only one in the kitchen a few hours before the party we’re all supposedly throwing?” Harry asked, joining them in the sitting room. Ginny bit her lip and tried not to laugh at the flour in his hair. She caught Hermione’s eye and knew she’d noticed it, too.

“Because you’re the only one who can cook,” Ron answered.

“Stop acting like a house-elf,” Ginny said, rolling her eyes and earning a frown from Hermione. “We all know that Mum, Fleur and Kreacher are helping you with the food.”

Harry grinned. “I think we’re in good shape — just be certain I don’t have to look for you at midnight,” he said, leaning over and kissing Ginny on the nose.

Ron made a retching sound. Harry ignored him. “How did things go with your parents, Hermione?” Harry asked.

Hermione brightened. “It was good, much better than over the summer. My dad asked that I not practice magic around him, but he didn’t try and confiscate my wand or anything. I still wish they would’ve come back to London, but I have to admit they appear to be thriving in Adelaide. They have a nice group of friends, and their practice is flourishing — not to mention their home is right near the beach. We took a few days and went into Sydney to go to the theatre. My parents often took me when I was a child,” Hermione said, her expression longing.

“What’s the theatre?” Ron asked.

Harry grinned at Hermione’s disgusted expression.

“Remind me to show you one of these days,” she said waspishly so that Ron looked alarmed.

“Can I go, too?” Ginny asked. She knew what the theatre was, and thought it sounded fascinating.

“We can all go,” Hermione said cheerfully. “I’ll find one that I think we’ll all enjoy.”

Ginny beamed. “Oh, that’ll be wonderful.”

“You sound like Dad,” Ron said, still looking wary.

“I was just thinking that,” Harry added, although he was grinning.

“Shut it, you two. We should all get dressed. Guests will start arriving soon. Do you all know where your Order of Merlin medals are?” Ginny asked, letting Harry pull her to her feet.

The others nodded as they stood. It was nearly party time.

ooOOoo


Hermione had been standing at the door welcoming guests when Harry relieved her. She, Ron and Harry had decided to take it in turns since they were the ones currently residing at Grimmauld Place. Ginny had yet to tell her parents that she also had a room, although it was unfurnished and she’d yet to spend any time there. Guests had begun arriving about an hour ago, and the party was already in full swing, but there were still guests straggling in. Ron had turned on the wireless, and music blared throughout the rooms on the ground level.

Mrs. Weasley and Fleur were organizing the food in the kitchen — Fleur was obviously feeling better — so Harry was now free to do his stint at the door.

“No sign of them yet, and nearly everyone else is here,” Hermione said from the corner of her mouth when he turned up. They’d all been waiting to see if Astoria and Draco would actually attend.

Harry nodded. “I think Seamus spiked the punch.”

“Why? We’re all of age now,” Hermione said, exasperated.

“Old times?” Harry replied, shrugging. “You can go ask him. I’ll be the greeter for a while.”

Someone knocked on the door, and Harry opened it to find the Patil sisters. “Happy New Year,” they chorused.

Hermione led them inside, and Harry watched their curious stares as they’d followed her down the hallway. They’d never been to Grimmauld Place so knew nothing of its former dark décor. It cheered Harry as he watched them walk away.

“Hey, Harry,” Duncan said, smiling widely. He wore a beret with a silver tassel and it forcibly reminded Harry of the Beauxbatons students at Hogwarts. Violet was with him and wearing a matching beret.

“We thought since we’ll probably be the only ones without an Order of Merlin to flaunt,” she said, flicking her hand at the medal Harry wore around his neck, “we ought to do something.”

Harry grinned. “At least yours keeps the snow off your head,” he said, swinging the door wide so they could enter. “How are you?”

“We’re good,” Duncan said. “We covered an earlier shift. I wouldn’t want to be one of the poor sods who are on duty tonight.”

“How’s your leg?” Violet asked, staring hard at Harry’s knee as if she could see any damage through his trousers.

“It’s fine,” he said automatically.

“If it was fine, you’d be back at work,” Violet said, eyebrows raised.

Harry scowled. “I’m back on Tuesday, but they’ve only approved me for desk duty.” Harry found the restriction ridiculous. It’s not like there were any stairs involved in herding Dementors. He sat on a broom for virtually the entire shift. He wasn’t looking forward to being back in a classroom. At least with the Dementors, he was able to fly.

“Eh, sucks to be you, then,” Duncan said, grimacing.

“Hmm. It seems as if I’m the only one who hasn’t been on desk duty. You boys ought to follow my lead if you want to be considered good Aurors,” Violet said primly, flouncing past them and into the party.

Harry and Duncan stared at one another, gaping.

“Hi, Harry,” George said, appearing at the door with Angelina Johnson and Katie Bell on each arm. “Now we can really get this party started.”

Duncan and the girls joined the party, but George remained behind. He paced around the entrance hall, looking at some of the poinsettias that he’d already seen several times before. Harry’s collar suddenly felt very tight, and he shifted his stance. George somehow had the ability to make him nervous like no one else could. Particularly since he suspected where this was heading. He hadn’t had a proper conversation with the mischievous brother since his and Ginny’s relationship had changed.

“Wha—” Harry had to clear his throat because it cracked in a most embarrassing way. “What can I help you with, George?”

George turned around casually. Too casually. “What’s that? Oh, nothing at all. It’s just… I haven’t seen much of you over the holidays. Every time I’ve been here you’ve been sleeping.”

Harry cursed inwardly as he felt color rushing to his face. “Er… I’m feeling much better now,” he said lamely.

“That’s good, because anyone who sleeps that often must be exhausted. That can’t be healthy. I thought Ginny would be here during her holiday taking care of you, but I didn’t see much of her, either. I wonder why that is?” George asked, his eyes glittering — with mischief or anger Harry wasn’t certain.

“Er—”

“I mean, d’you think you’ll need a kip tonight, or will you be able to go the entire party without sleeping? I hope you’ll be able to stay awake to be with us at midnight. Of course, I can always send Mum to check on you if you disappear,” George said, smiling evilly.

Harry had had enough. “Funny.”

George frowned as if he misunderstood. He placed his arm against the wall and leaned in uncomfortably close. “Yeah, your coloring is a bit funny right now, but… I do think this injury has been good for you. Imagine that? Maybe you just need more time off. Or at least time when Ginny is home to take good care of you. Has she been taking good care of you?”

The heat on Harry’s neck was uncomfortable, but he was saved by a knock at the door. He ducked from under George’s arm and swung the door open wide. Astoria and Draco stood there, staring back. Small puffs of air were visible as they breathed the chilly air. Draco looked sulky, as if he’d rather be anywhere else, but Astoria smiled pleasantly. It took a moment for Harry to regain his composure, and he merely stood there, staring at them stupidly.

“Happy New Year,” Astoria said at last, amused.

“Hello, come in. Happy New Year,” he said, aware he was babbling and still trying to keep a wary eye on George. He was having trouble deciding on which threat to focus. At the moment, George seemed far more dangerous than Draco.

“Thank you for having us. To be honest, I was surprised to receive Ginny’s invitation,” Astoria said, quirking one finely-arched eyebrow.

Draco followed her inside, removing her cloak as his eyes wandered the impressive entry hall. Harry could tell he was impressed despite himself, and it helped him clear his head. George stood back, folding his arms and watching the pair enter with that same, maddeningly amused expression.

Harry tamped down on his annoyance. “Well, it’s time for all of us to move on, right?” he asked, noticing — now that she’d removed her cloak — that Astoria, too, was wearing an Order of Merlin medal.

She spotted Harry’s gaze and fingered the medal. “Yes. It’s a fun idea to wear them. Professor Slughorn and Headmistress McGonagall made certain I received one, too, for helping with the younger students last year. I think the Headmistress wanted to be able to say she had students in all four Houses who’d earned them.”

Harry smiled. “That sounds like McGonagall. Ginny told me about what you did.”

Astoria nodded before Draco blurted, “Yeah, you’re all a bunch of right little heroes.”

“Draco,” Astoria said sternly.

“So, this is the House of Black. You’ve done some work,” Draco said, waving his arm at the hall expansively. “I know Walburga’s tastes were far less modern.”

“Yeah, let me show you inside. George, could you watch the door for a few minutes?” Harry asked, directing Draco to the cloak cupboard.

George nodded, his eyes piercing Harry’s, which Harry took to understand that he wasn’t finished tormenting him. Harry clenched his hands into fists. He knew he’d never be able to slip past George unnoticed. Maybe Ginny could reign him in.

He led the two Slytherins down the hallway and pointed to the stairs leading down to the kitchen. “The party’s basically in two rooms. Down the stairs to the food, and across the hallway to the music and drinks table. I’ll give you fair warning, Seamus Finnigan has spiked the punch.”

Astoria grinned. “There’s one in every common room.”

Harry returned the smile. “Seamus took over for Fred and George Weasley, but he seems to be continuing the tradition.”

“Theodore Nott was ours,” she said, smiling wistfully.

“Poor sod,” Draco said, scowling.

“Why?” Harry asked. “I saw him a while ago in Knockturn Alley,” Harry said, looking at the two Slytherins who both remained silent.

Astoria shifted and Draco looked away. “He’s in St. Mungo’s — we’ve just been to visit,” she said at last, grimacing.

“What’s wrong with him?” Harry asked.

“You Aurors don’t communicate much, do you? Or is it perhaps because of his name that you’re not taking it seriously? Being pure-blood has apparently made us all targets recently, and of course this new administration — with all its talk of unity and coming together — ignores it completely. The Ministry has apparently gone to the dogs.”

“Look,” Harry said, directing his attention to Astoria, who appeared to be the more reasonable of the two. “I’ve been off duty for the past several days while Ginny is home, so I haven’t heard what cases are current. Did something happen to Nott that the Aurors should be aware of?”

“The Aurors are aware,” Astoria said. “He was attacked by a group of vigilantes last night. He’s all right, but his memory has gone wonky, so he couldn’t identify his assailants.”

“Not that it would do any good, anyway,” Draco said, sneering.

Harry eyed him speculatively. He was neat and pressed and arrogant as ever, but there was a slight nervousness to him that Harry hadn’t seen since the war, when Voldemort had been hiding in his family’s home.

“I can understand your lack of faith after the company you’ve been accustomed to, but I assure you, his attack will be treated with equal justice, regardless of his blood status.”

Draco sneered disdainfully. “Saint Potter — somehow I think you actually believe that. You’ll see. The Muggle-born Registration Committee has been replaced with a pure-blood one. All of the old families are being watched.”

“Does that include the Weasleys?” Harry asked.

Draco rolled his eyes. “Don’t be ridiculous — their blood-traitor status has made them right little heroes. No one would dare speak against them.”

“I think you’ll find blood status means far less than it used to. The sooner you can accept that, the easier things will be for you,” Harry said firmly. He didn’t go through everything he had for them all still to be picking at one another over whom their ancestors had married.

Before Draco could retort, Astoria grabbed his sleeve, tugging determinedly. “We’re all watching, but it’ll take more than words before we can truly believe that,” she said demurely.

Harry nodded. “Fair enough. I’ll look into what we know about Nott when I return to work.”

“I thought this was a party. I need a drink and some better company,” Draco said, moving past Harry and into the sitting room.

Astoria and Harry followed him inside. The loud buzz of conversation momentarily halted as they entered the room. Neville, who was pouring a drink, continued filling the glass until it slopped over the side. He broke out of his stupor and grabbed a cloth, trying to mop up the mess.

Harry felt sweat bead up along his spine. Perhaps he should’ve warned everyone they were coming. Too late now. Hermione raised her chin firmly, but she didn’t make a move to approach. Thankfully, Lisa Turpin did, and Harry could’ve hugged her.

“Astoria!” she said, leaning over to hug the willowy blonde. “How are you? It’s nice to see you again.”

“Hello, Lisa. It’s good to see you, too.”

Lisa noticed Harry’s blank stare and she smiled patiently. “Astoria and I were in Charms Club together for years.”

“Met every Tuesday,” Astoria said, her eyes far away. Hogwarts would always be home to all of them.

“Are you attending this year? Has Professor Flitwick started back up again after last year?” Lisa asked.

“He has, and yes, I still attend. What are you doing?” Astoria asked, her arm linked with Draco’s, holding him in place. His eyes repeatedly scanned the rest of the room warily, the only visible sign of his discomfort.

“I joined the Aurors,” Lisa said, perking up happily. “I’m in Harry’s training class. I heard you were engaged.”

“Yes, this is my betrothed, Draco Malfoy,” she said, nodding toward him. “Draco, this is Lisa Turpin. She was in your year, a Ravenclaw.”

Draco nodded. “I remember you, although I don’t remember the blue hair.”

Lisa’s hand automatically reached up and tugged at her streaked hair. “I wanted to do something different — to commemorate.”

“I understand. It suits you,” Astoria said softly.

“Hello, Astoria,” Ginny said, joining them at the drinks table. “Draco.”

She had a tray of chocolate-covered strawberries, and she placed them on the edge before smiling up at Harry. He snaked his arm around her waist and pulled her close.

“Hello, Ginny. Thank you for inviting us. It’s a lovely party,” Astoria said pleasantly.

Harry couldn’t help liking her. She was different than the other Slytherins he knew — or perhaps he just hadn’t known enough of them. She was cunning — Harry knew she’d attended this party for political reasons rather than any great fondness for the people — but she was pleasant, and he couldn’t blame her for trying to put the war behind her. They were all doing that in their own ways.

“Thanks. There’s plenty of food, so be certain to get a plate. Seamus spiked the punch,” Ginny said, eyes sparkling. Harry suspected she might have already had some of the punch.

“We’ve heard. Have you tried it?” Astoria asked.

Ginny shook her head, although Harry noticed she’d crossed her fingers. Draco lifted two glasses and handed them to each of the girls before taking one himself. Harry reached over and picked one up, as well. “To the New Year,” he said.

“Cheers,” Astoria said, and they all tried it. Grimaces crossed all their faces, and it took all Harry’s will not to spit it out.

“That’s awful,” Draco said, still pulling a face.

“It is,” Ginny said, nodding. “It always is, but you get used to it.”

“Theo, at least, knows how to mix a drink,” Draco said, swishing the remains of his punch in the bottom of his glass.

“Theo?” Ginny asked, frowning.

“Apparently, he was the Seamus of the Slytherin common room,” Harry said.

“What are you saying about me?” Seamus asked, joining them at the drinks table. His eyes were glazed and his cheeks very red. Apparently, he’d been sampling his own concoction. Neville still stood at the drinks table, and he eyed Seamus with amusement.

“We were talking about your knack for always spiking the punch,” Ginny said, taking another sip of her drink.

Seamus grinned. “I’m surprised to see you here, Malfoy,” he said bluntly.

“I’m surprised you can see anything clearly, Finnigan,” Draco said, cocking one eyebrow.

“He’s got a point,” Neville said, surprising Harry with his boldness. “Walking into a room with this lot is probably the bravest thing you’ve ever done. Did your girlfriend make you do it?”

“You should know better than anyone, Longbottom, that I rarely do anything that I don’t want to do,” Draco said, puffing out his chest.

“Oh, boys, the war is over. Can’t we all just enjoy ourselves?” Lisa asked, rolling her eyes.

“Cheers,” Astoria said, clinking her glass with Lisa’s.

“You called Draco your betrothed. Is that different than a fiancé?” Lisa asked. Harry suspected she might already know the answer, but she was looking for a way to keep conversation rolling. He felt inviting Lisa has been one of the best moves he’d made.

Astoria nodded and followed Lisa’s lead. “In the old families, marriages are still arranged. Draco will become my fiancé when we decide to marry. I want to finish school and begin a career first.”

“Do you know what you want to do?” Ginny asked, tilting her head.

Harry was very glad it wasn’t all of the wizarding world that arranged marriages. He didn’t think he would like being told who he had to marry. He could only imagine whom he’d be paired with if the Dursleys had any say in the matter. He pulled Ginny closer to his side, feeling an inexplicable need to keep her close. He tugged at the bottom of her hair as she spoke with Astoria, feeling that stupid, soppy grin spreading over his face. He couldn’t seem to help it when he was around her lately.

From the corner of his eye, he saw George entering the room with Owen. The flow of arriving guests must have stopped. The two appeared deep in conversation, and Harry’s heart sank. That was a sure mark of trouble if ever he saw one.

Continuing his perusal of the room, he could see several of Ginny’s dorm mates dancing with Violet and the girls from Harry’s Quidditch team. None of the other Weasleys were in the room, but Harry knew they’d be converged around the food. Hermione was dancing with the other girls, but she kept casting a wary glance toward the drinks table.

His eyes came back around to rest on Ginny — as they so often did. She was still chatting with Astoria and Lisa, but every few moments she’d lean her head against him or run her hand up and down his arm. Harry glanced over at Draco who hadn’t left the conversation but stood sullenly behind Astoria, watching them all. Harry realized Ginny’s need for contact was a by-product of the rumors the Slytherin had started. The war had left unseen scars on his fierce, fiery Ginny, much the same as it had done to him, or Hermione who chose avoidance rather than confrontation. All of them were still wrestling with hidden demons. Harry suspected even Draco Malfoy was trying to find a way to move forward.

That’s what New Year’s was about after all. Harry tugged at his own Order of Merlin medal hanging around his neck. The visible scars from the war had all faded, although some would never heal. He could see it the semi-circle of George Weasley, Lee Jordan, and Ken Towler who were huddled around the wireless, attempting to find the next song. They had all been roommates back at Hogwarts, and even now, there was a slight but visible gap between them where a fourth roommate should have stood. Harry supposed invisible scars would always remain, no matter how much time had passed and progress made.

He was dragged from his gloomy musings when Ginny tugged his arm again, this time leaning over and kissing him fiercely.

“What are you thinking about that’s making you frown like that?” she asked. “This won’t do. It’s a party, Harry.” And she shoved another drink in his hand.

Harry took it, amused by her slurred speech. “Have you had anything to eat?” Harry asked, watching Ginny take another sip of her drink.

Ginny scowled at him. “I’ve eaten. Don’t be a swot — it doesn’t become you.”

That earned a smirk from Draco Malfoy as the others all laughed. Harry grinned good-naturedly. “All right, but I don’t want to hear any whinging from you tomorrow.”

“I don’t whinge,” Ginny said imperiously.

As the evening wore on, and Harry imbibed on several more glasses of Seamus’ punch, he felt lighter and less worried and extremely fond of everyone there — well, almost everyone. As midnight neared, George tuned in the countdown on the wireless. Harry spent several moments looking for Ginny, but she found him before the countdown was finished.

“… four… three… two… one — Happy New Year!” shouts echoed around the filled room. Harry and Ginny shared a kiss along with many of the couples while those without a partner grasped one another. Harry felt a jolt when he noticed Owen and Violet locked in an embrace that went on far longer than a quick New Year peck. Harry felt bolstered that now he had something to taunt Owen with should the change in Harry’s relationship status come up. George and Angelina, both very pissed and holding their glasses in the air, were snogging beneath a spring of mistletoe.

“Happy New Year, Harry,” Ginny said, her eyes bright.

“Happy New Year, Ginny,” he replied, kissing her again. The kiss was happy and filled with promise. They’d survived, and they were all moving on.


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Chapter 15: Catching Up and Moving On

Author's Notes: Thanks so much to all of you who continue to review and share your thoughts. I enjoy that!


Chapter Fifteen
Catching Up and Moving On



The Hogwarts Express lumbered on as it continued its journey toward Hogwarts. The snow-covered landscape rushed past under a continually darkening grey sky. Once again, Ginny was sharing the compartment with her roommates and a few extras. Both Luna and Demelza had joined them, and this time, Padma and Parvati Patil had stopped for a visit. The overflowing compartment was filled with chatter and laughter as they shared the details of their various holidays.

Siobhan had regaled them with the tale of her Muggle beau and all her anticipation upon seeing him again only to learn he’d gone to visit his grandparents over the holidays.

“You mean, after all that — he wasn’t even home at all?” Liz asked, outraged. “You waxed on about it for a whole week at the end of term.”

“How was I supposed to know? It’s not like we’d made any promises. I just reckoned we were bound to run into one another once I was home,” Siobhan said, folding her arms sulkily.

“Have your parents seen him?” Demelza asked.

“My mam said she saw him at the mall once, but she didn’t speak to him,” Siobhan said.

“What’s a mall?” Liz asked.

“Muggle shopping center. Sort of like Diagon Alley, but all in one huge building. Muggle kids tend to hang out there,” Siobhan answered.

“I’d love to go to a mall,” Ginny said wistfully.

Hermione laughed. “I can take you to one, Ginny. You should’ve said before break was over.”

“I didn’t know I wanted to go until now,” Ginny said.

“How was your break, Hermione?” Padma asked. “Did you go to Australia?”

“I did, and I spent a week with Mum and Dad. It was nice to just have the three of us on holiday, like old times. They’re doing very well, and the weather was lovely,” Hermione said, her eyes twinkling mischievously. “Still… my break wasn’t nearly as good as Ginny’s. She spent hers shagging.”

Ginny narrowed her eyes at the giggling Hermione whilst the other girls all leaned in closer for what promised to be a juicy story. Hermione had put up with Ginny’s teasing for months, she supposed turnabout was fair play.

“Ooh,” Liz said, holding her hands to her chest and batting her eyes. “You mean you made him The Boy Who Loved.”

“Or The Boy Who Lusted,” Siobhan said, cackling.

“Or The Boy Who Got a Leg Over our Quidditch Queen,” Demelza said, giggling so hard she actually snorted.

“All right, all right,” Ginny said, laughing. “I did have a lovely holiday, but I’m not about to discuss it with you sods.”

“Your party is the talk of the train,” Demelza said. “I heard loads of comments as I walked back here after the prefects’ meeting.”

There had been a write up in the society pages of the Daily Prophet about their New Year’s Eve party, and Ginny had known it would make the Hogwarts gossip train. She’d even received several hostile stares from people who hadn’t been invited. Of course, they hadn’t been invited because she wasn’t all that close to them, but that didn’t seem to make any difference. She couldn’t have invited the whole school. Her little first-year admirers appeared to be looking at her with new zeal, apparently hoping to get some details about the party.

“Yes,” Hermione said. “I had a few questions on my way back from the prefects’ meeting, too. The Hufflepuff fifth years wanted to know if I had any pictures to share.”

“I think most people are wondering why they weren’t invited when Draco Malfoy was,” Luna said without opening her eyes. She’d returned from her Snorkack-hunting journey the previous evening and claimed she was exhausted. She’d proceeded to curl up in the corner seat, and they’d all thought she’d been asleep until she spoke.

“That was me,” Ginny said, slumping back against the seat. “I had a moment of irritation over the rumors the Slytherins spread about me last year, and I wanted to prove that Harry and I were together and happy. It was stupid.”

“You? Acting out in a fit of temper? I have trouble believing that,” Siobhan said, smirking.

A reluctant grin spread across Ginny’s face. “Shocking, I know.”

“Did you get what you wanted?” Liz asked, tilting her head to the side and staring at Ginny appraisingly.

“Pardon?” Ginny asked.

“Did inviting him work?” she asked. “Do you feel vindicated?”

Ginny shrugged. “Honestly, I don’t care. It occurred to me during the party that I’d been battling my own demons, but… I’d already won. I didn’t need to prove anything to him. It wouldn’t matter, anyway, until I was ready to let it go. It made me realize that I’d come through it, and his opinion really didn’t matter.”

“And I think he was more focused on his own problems, anyway. I saw him hob-knobbing with the Minister and several of the Ministry higher-ups. He wasn’t nearly as confrontational as I’d expected him to be,” Hermione said, nodding slowly.

Ginny and Hermione shared a pointed stare. Ginny hadn’t been the only one battling war scars.

“I dunno. I was all prepared to get right in his face, but once the time came, I found I didn’t have to. Screw him if he doesn’t think Harry and I belong together. He doesn’t get to decide,” Ginny said, eyes narrowed.

“And the punch also helped,” Siobhan said, smirking.

“Oh, yeah. Seamus’s punch always makes me happier,” Demelza replied. “I don’t think I’d recommend making any life-altering decisions while drinking it, however.”

“D’you think he adds a love potion?” Parvati asked, leaning against the door.

“What?” Hermione asked, looking up sharply.

“Well, I was feeling really randy after the party that night,” Parvati replied, her cheeks turning pink.

“That’s just New Year’s in general,” Siobhan said, rolling her eyes. “You don’t need a love potion.”

“Nah, that’s just you in general,” Padma said, nudging her sister’s hip.

“Tell us, Parvati — who escorted you home from the party, hmm?” Liz asked, leaning close to the other girl who laughingly pushed her away.

“Oh, I’m so glad the paper didn’t have anything about that,” Ginny said, laughing. “Can you imagine the fuss that Skeeter cow would’ve made?”

“I think it’s odd she didn’t write anything, actually,” Hermione said, her brow crinkled. “I mean, there was that brief mention in the society pages, but I’ve been watching, and there’s been nothing. It was never mentioned again. The party seems like the sort of thing she’d be all over, particularly since the Minister for Magic was there. Never mind the fact a Malfoy was at Harry’s house, and with the way she’s tried to link him with Dark magic, but… there’s been nothing.”

Ginny’s back straightened, feeling slightly alarmed. “I hadn’t given it a thought, but you’re right. She’s always up for having a go at Harry.”

“Who’s having a go at Harry now? Poor thing?”

Another group of girls had stopped outside their compartment, and Ginny was dismayed to see two of her least favorite people — Brynn Dempsey and Romilda Vane — among them. Romilda stared into their compartment beseechingly, apparently overwrought at the idea of someone having a go at Harry. Had she somehow missed the previous several years? Ginny felt peeved simply by the sight of her. Padma and Parvati moved further inside the already crowded compartment as the new girls looked around.

“What do you want, Romilda?” Ginny asked aggressively, having no intention of giving them more fodder for their gossip. They’d make enough up as it was.

“I don’t want anything except to say hello,” Romilda replied huffily, tossing her long mane of dark curls over her shoulder dramatically.

“Oh, right, like you do every journey,” Ginny said. Romilda had never stopped in before.

She ignored Ginny and focused on Hermione. “I read about your party, Hermione. It sounded lovely. You’re living with Harry now, aren’t you?” Romilda asked, her eyes glittering triumphantly.

Hermione glanced at Ginny before replying, “That’s right. Harry, Ron and I all share the house.”

“We’d heard how close you all grew during the war,” Brynn said, watching Ginny’s reaction closely. Brynn had been one of the ones to start the rumors of something more scandalizing going on amongst the trio whilst they were on the run. “It’s only natural, of course.”

“Right, because nothing bonds you together like dodging Killing Curses,” Hermione said, raising her eyebrow and causing Ginny to snort.

Brynn’s eyes darted back to Hermione before lowering them, shoulders hunched. “Of course. I didn’t mean to diminish your efforts, Hermione. No offense intended.”

Brynn always liked to be the lead in her little group, and she knew going up against Hermione, war heroine and the Ministry’s darling, wasn’t going to be good for her own popularity. Ginny sat back to enjoy the show, knowing Hermione wouldn’t let her off so easily.

“If you don’t mean to offend, perhaps you should try being less offensive,” Hermione said coolly. “The house where we’re all living belonged to Harry’s godfather, who also lost his life during the war.”

“Oh, poor Harry,” Romilda said, simpering.

Brynn pursed her lips. “You all lost so much. I suppose that’s why so many were surprised that you invited a Death Eater to your party.”

“I told you that’s what people were wondering,” Luna said, her eyes still closed. “But what they really want to know is why they weren’t there. Of course, I don’t know why people who don’t have Order of Merlin medals think they should’ve been invited, anyway.”

Brynn shot Luna a nasty glare.

“Actually, we had the party to celebrate the fact we’re all ready to move on. It’s time for everyone to let go. We all know there are those who fought on the side of the light that are now trying to take advantage. In turn, there are those who supported the Dark that are trying to turn their lives around. Personally, I know two estranged sisters from opposite sides who are trying to forge a new relationship after all the loss,” Hermione said.

“Of course, there were also those who merely sat on the sidelines and watched and waited while others bore the brunt of making a change. I suspect they’re the ones who are now attempting to bloody up the Death Eaters. They feel the need to prove which side they were actually on now that it’s nice and safe to do so,” Ginny said, staring directly at Brynn, who flushed deeply.

Romilda, another who had tried to stay out of the way during the war, wasn’t as astute and the comment apparently flew right over her head. “I wish there had been more pictures of the party. I only saw the few that were taken at the Ministry,” she said, pouting slightly.

“Harry’s wards wouldn’t allow them inside. It was a private affair,” Ginny said haughtily. There had been a handful of reporters stationed at the Ministry who’d snapped a few pictures of some of the employees who had received the coveted invitations, but otherwise there had been little coverage.

“I hope you feel it was successful,” Brynn said tightly. “Hermione, we have rounds in half an hour.”

She left with her posse following behind her. Romilda kept looking back longingly as if she’d have rather stayed in the compartment.

“Well, that was pleasant,” Siobhan said flippantly.

“Is your compartment always this exciting?” Padma asked, moving back to lean against the compartment door. “I think I’ve been sitting in the wrong place all these years.”

“I suppose we can’t really criticize them for not getting involved. Loads of people tried to keep their heads down for their own safety,” Hermione said, sighing.

“I can,” Ginny said bitterly.

“But it’s like you said — those who are committing the violence now are the ones who didn’t feel they did enough during the war. The more you make them feel that way, the more they’re going to try and prove themselves,” Hermione said, her eyes filled with despair.

“I can’t help how I feel, Hermione,” Ginny replied, knowing Hermione had a point, but unable to simply turn her feelings off.

“Oh, this conversation is way too heavy for me. Let’s talk Quidditch,” Demelza said, her gaze flicking between Ginny and Hermione. “The open try-outs are scheduled for the week we’re on Easter hols. Any interest?”

Ginny dragged her thoughts away from Brynn and stared at Demelza, considering. She’d kept her plans quiet, only sharing them with Harry until this point. Perhaps it was time to fully commit if the goal was moving on.

“A lot of interest,” she said, breathing deeply. “I’ll need to train hard until then. Will you help me?”

“Of course, I’ll help you,” Demelza said excitedly. “We can use the Room of Requirement until the weather gets better. I bet it can accommodate loads of things for practice.”

“You’re right,” Ginny said, feeling a little stunned. Why had they never thought to use it for Quidditch practices before?

“Are you really, Ginny? Good for you,” Siobhan said, gushing.

“What does open try-outs mean, exactly,” Parvati asked.

“It means the whole League will be there watching potential recruits. If they like you, they’ll contact you for a private try-out,” Ginny said. “I’m hoping for the Harpies, but honestly, I’d play for any of them — except maybe the Cannons. Don’t tell Ron I said that.”

“You’re a fantastic flyer, Ginny. I bet you’ll be selected,” Liz said.

“When does training camp begin?” Siobhan asked eagerly.

“I have to be selected first,” Ginny said, laughing,” but it should be over the summer.”

“What about your NEWTs?” Hermione asked, her eyes wide.

Ginny took a deep breath. This was much the same reaction she was expecting from her mum, so she’d best get her answers straight. “I can still take my NEWTs even if I make a team — I just won’t actually need them.”

Hermione’s face fell, her lips pinching. “Oh, but Ginny, after all that work—”

“I’ve put in just as much work honing my Quidditch skills, and this is what I want, Hermione. I realize you have different goals, but that doesn’t lessen mine in any way,” Ginny said, interrupting before Hermione could hit her stride. That’s what she’d have to do with her mum, too.

“I know that, but… after the war, we can all make a difference,” Hermione said, pleading.

Ginny fired up at once, picturing her mum’s face saying the exact same words. “And who says I won’t be? My brother didn’t fight and die in a war so that I’d have to give up my dreams for someone else’s priorities.”

Hermione reared back, stung, “I didn’t mean—”

“Yes, you did, but don’t worry about it. I’m certain I’m going to get the same attitude from my mum. It won’t make a difference, though. Harry supports me, and I know Fred would’ve, too.”

“Ginny—”

“I need some air,” Ginny said, standing up quickly and leaving her stunned friends staring wide-eyed at one another.

She brushed past the Patil twins and left the compartment, breathing deeply. She strode purposefully down the train’s corridor, ignoring greeting calls along the way. Marks were very important to Hermione, and she’d never understood Quidditch. It wasn’t really Hermione whom she was angry with, anyway.

It was her mum.

During the holidays, Ginny had chaffed under Molly’s renewed overprotectiveness. She’d felt stifled and put-upon at every moment, her mum needing to know where she was even when she was in the same house. The fact her parents seemed to think she needed a chaperone when she visited Grimmauld Place while Hermione actually lived there after returning from Australia drove her mad. She knew her mum had fussed at Ron about it, but she still felt harassed. To top it off, she knew her mum expected her to return home after she left Hogwarts and take a job at the Ministry like a good little girl.

Ginny didn’t plan on doing either of those things. She was a decent student, and had good marks in most of her subjects. She knew Bill was hoping she’d follow his career choice even though she’d never taken Arithmancy. Like Hermione, some of her family would think she was throwing her education away.

Perhaps she was, but did that make her dreams any less important? The Ministry had plenty of Weasley representation with Dad, Percy and Ron. There was nothing there that called to her the way Quidditch did.

Lost in her own thoughts, she hadn’t realized where she was until she’d bumped into someone in front of the toilets.

“Fancy meeting you here, Weasley,” Tim Travers said, his upper lip curling with dislike. She hadn’t been this close to him since he’d been in charge of one of her detentions last year.

Taking quick note of her surroundings, she was dismayed to realize they were quite alone. She’d purposely selected this bathroom at the end of the train since it was easier to find a vacant stall, but now she felt foolish for not remaining vigilant. Surreptitiously, she began reaching around to her back pocket for her wand, but Tim grabbed her arm, holding tightly before she’d reached it. He clutched her other wrist and held her in place, making it impossible for her to grasp it.

“What do you want, Tim?” she asked, struggling to pull her arms free and keep her voice steady. It wouldn’t do to let him see any sign of weakness. “Let go of me,” she shouted, hoping someone would hear her and come to investigate.

“I will, I will. Don’t get your knickers in a twist,” Tim said lazily, his eyes roving over her in a slow, lecherous stare that made Ginny’s skin crawl. “I heard you invited a good friend of mine to a party on New Year’s. I also heard that Potter made a deal with him to get his father out of Azkaban. I thought maybe if you asked him, Potter might be willing to do something for me.”

“Fat chance,” Ginny snarled.

Tim slammed her up against the wall, causing her to see spots as her head connected. She bit her lip in the process, hard enough to split it open. He leaned against her as she struggled to get free, and blew at some stray locks of hair next to her ear. Heart hammering, she struggled to keep her face away from his.

“Play nice, Weasley. I’m not going to hurt you, I just want to have a discussion with your boyfriend,” he said, still uncomfortably close to her ear.

Ginny continued trying to free her arms to no avail. She didn’t grow up with six older brothers and learn nothing about dueling without a wand, however. Feigning defeat, she let the tension leave her body.

Tim, sensing her acquiesce, released his hold just enough for her to rear back, raise her knee, and slam it into his soft, private area.

Tim groaned, slumping to the ground. “You bitch,” he moaned through clenched teeth.

“What’s going on?” Dean asked, coming out of his compartment with Andrew on his heels. “We heard you shout.” His eyes widened at the scene in front of him.

“What did you do to him?” Andrew asked, watching Tim curl into a little ball on the ground. “Never mind, it looks obvious now. What did he do to you? Are you all right?”

Ginny rubbed her wrist which had reddened where Tim and held it. “He was under the mistaken impression that I could be coerced into cooperation,” she spat.

“Idiot,” Dean said, reaching out and putting his arm around her to steer her past the crumpled Travers. “Come on, let’s get you back to your compartment.”

Ginny pulled away, not wanting to be touched. “Thanks, but I don’t need your assistance. I still need to use the loo.” With that, she stepped over Travers and into the toilet, locking the door firmly behind her, and letting out a shaky breath. She stared at her disheveled appearance in the mirror, and wiped the small bit of blood from her lip. She took a few minutes to steady her breathing and let her heart rate slow. She suspected Dean and Andrew would still be waiting when she’d finished, but she was keeping her wand at the ready, nonetheless. While rattled by the encounter, she also felt a degree of vindication. She’d stood up for herself, and hadn’t allowed Travers to get the upper hand. Last year, the Carrows and their minions had all the power, and the students were mostly powerless to defend themselves. It was no longer the case, and she was determined never to let anyone feel they had the upper hand again.

ooOOoo


The cubicles surrounding Harry’s were fairly quiet on this early morning. He could hear Proudfoot grunting over his morning brew, and papers shuffling from Instructor Pierce’s desk, but otherwise, all was still. The distant sound of the lift clanged as other early birds arrived to start their day. Harry had been back to work for several days, but he was still confined to desk duty, and he found it grating.

There had been few leads on the murder of Agnes Heatherton in Knockturn Alley, and the case had gone cold. The increase in attacks on pure-bloods, particularly those with connections to Voldemort — however slim — had been on the rise. Theo Nott was coming in later that day for an interview. He’d been released from St. Mungo’s, but had resisted visiting the Ministry. He’d finally conceded after another attack had left a witch comatose. Something had gone wrong with a spell, and she’d yet to regain consciousness. The Healers had expressed doubt that she ever would.

Ginny had told him about her run-in with Tim Travers on the train. He knew she’d downplayed it in the telling, but since she wasn’t hurt, Harry hadn’t given in to his desire to Apparate to Hogwarts and choke the living daylights out of Travers. Barely. He’d stomped around the house in a towering temper until Ron nicked his walking stick and hit him on the bum with it. When he’d explained why he was so angry, it was his turn to stop Ron from Apparating to the castle in a rage. It was only the threat of McGonagall banning him so that he wouldn’t be able to see Hermione that held him back.

Then, to top it off, Ginny became hacked off with him for thinking she needed his help in dealing with a troublesome classmate, which wasn’t the point, at all.

He knew she could take care of herself and wouldn’t appreciate his stepping in, but he hated the thought of anyone hurting her to get to him. He was beginning to think his promise not to be overprotective of her might be impossibly hard to keep — it wasn’t in his nature. Ginny knew this, but she also really resented the implication she couldn’t take care of herself. And she had done just that. He kept having to remind himself of that. Everyone kept telling him that relationships needed work. He supposed this was one of the things they’d have to work on.

He didn’t know what favor it was Travers wanted, but he suspected it had something to do with the hostility toward former Death Eaters. His father was in Azkaban. Perhaps he wanted to strike a deal like the Malfoys.

Harry rubbed his eyes tiredly. The Dementors were still being held in the Forest of Dean, and no brilliant ideas on what to do with them had surfaced. The task force could only work in short shifts because it was so draining, leaving the rest of the department woefully understaffed. The Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures continued to make demands about needing further study of the wretched creatures.

Harry was disgusted by how slow the wheels of government turned.

Sighing, he pulled a stack from his mail tray and an envelope on top caught his attention. It was a Muggle-style envelope with messy handwriting and a postage stamp. Harry picked it up and stared blankly at his name scrawled onto the front, along with a Hogwarts address that his relatives had used when sending him useless Christmas gifts.

He’d never received any other kind of post from them. The Hogwarts address was scratched out, and his name along with ‘Ministry of Magic’ had been written on the front with a quill. Curious, Harry opened the envelope and warily pulled out a single sheet of lined paper.

Hey, Harry

It was good to see you over Christmas. You said you live in London. I’m at my last year at Smeltings, which is also in London. I’m generally at a pub called ‘The Dirty Bishop’ on Friday nights if you’re ever looking for something to do. Pints are cheap.

Dudley


Harry sat still, staring at the short note for several moments, his finger running over his lower lip pensively. Was his bully of a cousin actually asking him to join him for a pint? Why? What was he up to? When they were kids, he’d often offered for Harry to tag along with his little gang on some sort of activity, usually only so they’d have a scapegoat to blame, or to just beat him up. Harry hadn’t fallen for that sort of thing in ages, and Dudley knew Harry was very capable of using magic these days. So, what gives?

Harry’s brow crinkled as he reread Dudley’s short note. Putting it aside but not throwing it away, he continued going through his mail tray. Before he’d made it to the bottom, a voice boomed through the department, “Potter, come with me.”

Harry looked up to see Gawain Robards beckoning him as he strode from the department, confident Harry would follow. Harry sighed and rose from his chair. He didn’t think he’d done anything to warrant the attention of his boss, unless it was more reprimands for not following procedure the last time he’d been up with the Dementors. After Owen had dressed him down, he’d had to sit through another lecture from Robards on Harry’s first day back at work.

He followed Robards into the lift and they rode up to the Minister’s office. They found Owen and Hestia Jones in the waiting area, both looking rather harassed. Robards walked over to Owen, and they began conferring in hushed voices, leaving Harry with Hestia.

“How are you, Harry?” the witch asked warmly, kindness emanating from her dark eyes. Harry knew she’d taken the position of Undersecretary to the Minister, a position once held by Dolores Umbridge. Although he didn’t know Hestia very well, he knew she was nothing like her predecessor.

“I’m good, thanks. You?” Harry asked.

“It’s busy, but I like busy,” she said, laughing. “It’s certainly very different from what I was doing last year.”

Hestia had been one of the two members of the Order of the Phoenix assigned to protecting Harry’s relatives after they’d gone into hiding.

“I think that’s true for all of us,” Harry said ruefully, wondering how badly the Dursleys had treated her.

“I left a letter in your mail tray from your cousin. He only had your school address,” Hestia said, tilting her head to the side. She actually sounded as if she cared for Dudley, which Harry found surprising.

“Yeah, I received it this morning. He asked me to meet him for a pint,” Harry said, leaving out any of his reservations. He thought that perhaps Hestia suspected, anyway, because she laid a hand on Harry’s forearm, squeezing gently.

“You should go,” she said softly. “Somewhere away from your aunt and uncle, and just get to know your cousin.”

Harry wasn’t entirely certain he wanted to know anything more about his cousin, but he was saved having to comment when the Minister’s door opened, and Kingsley ushered them all inside. The office was already occupied with several members from the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, and Harry’s stomach dropped slightly when he recognized Amos Diggory. He hadn’t been face-to-face with the man since after the third task, and somehow, seeing him here made Harry suddenly feel very young.

Diggory looked much older than the last time Harry had seen him. His hair was liberally streaked with grey and receding alarmingly on both sides, leaving a salt and pepper streak down the center. The part of his face showing above his scraggly beard was lined more heavily than Harry remembered, and he sat slumped with rounded shoulders. His cry upon finding his son’s corpse echoed unrelentingly in Harry’s head.

Amos’ eyes met Harry’s briefly before he looked away. Harry wondered if he was remembering that same fateful night several years ago. He supposed the man had spent a lot of time wishing it had been Cedric who’d survived rather than Harry. Harry couldn’t blame him. Sometimes he’d wished the same thing.

There were a lot of things he wished he’d done differently, but as Dumbledore had once told him, It doesn’t do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.

Harry sat down with the others, keeping his eyes firmly on the carpet, although the prickling feeling on the back of his neck told him Amos was watching him. He shifted uncomfortably. His arms and legs suddenly felt too long for his body, and he struggled to work out what to do with them.

“Thank you all for coming,” Kingsley said, directing everyone’s attention. “Amos is with us to discuss the current Dementor situation.”

As the Minister reviewed events thus far, Harry’s mind drifted toward his own first few encounters with the Dementors whilst at Hogwarts. They’d once caused him to fall from his broom. He’d played against Cedric in that match…

“There is growing evidence that the juvenile Dementors have more intelligence than previous generations. I believe they can be bargained with, perhaps we can even arrange terms to send the new generation back as guards in Azkaban. That would relieve the containment issue, but we need closer observation to determine if this is feasible. Thus far, we’ve received nothing but opposition from the Auror Office,” Amos said heatedly, drawing Harry’s attention back to the meeting.

“And as we’ve repeatedly informed you, we cannot protect you if you insist on getting closer. There are too many of them as it is,” Gawain said, his voice calm and cool despite the grim set of his mouth.

“I haven’t seen more intelligence from them — if anything it’s more determination to get away,” Owen said, scowling.

“There has been a steadily increasing number of incidents between the Dementors and the Aurors,” Hestia said, speaking up before things could get heated between the two department heads. “I fear these occurrences will only grow in severity if other arrangements aren’t made quickly. So far, we’ve been lucky not to lose anyone.”

“We will lose someone if we’re also expected to protect a bunch of humans who want an up close and personal experience with the bloody things,” Owen said, spitting.

The members of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical creatures all began speaking at once, drowning each other out as they disputed Owen’s claims. Amos made a downward motion with his hand to silence them before turning to Kingsley.

“If it’s possible to reason with these creatures and arrange a new agreement to return them to Azkaban, there will no longer be a need to patrol the Forest of Dean,” he said importantly.

“Putting the Dementors back into Azkaban is not an option,” Kingsley said, his deep voice brooking no argument. “I believe it was a mistake in the first place, and I won’t be a part of repeating past errors.”

Amos’s face colored, but he schooled his features before making another attempt. “Our data indicates an increased level of intelligence in these juveniles.”

“Harry, the last group you brought in were all juveniles. In your opinion, did they seem more intelligent?” Robards asked, his cool eyes pinning Harry.

Harry wouldn’t forget that day in a hurry, but he took a moment to gather his thoughts before answering. Amos Diggory’s hostile glare was unnerving him. “I wouldn’t say more intelligent, but definitely more dangerous. The juveniles attempt escape far more often than the adults.”

“Yes, but you’ve always had trouble staying on your broom around them, haven’t you?” Amos asked snidely.

“Amos! That’s uncalled for,” Hestia said, scandalized.

“I have had difficulties with them in the past, yes, so I think I’m a good judge of the differences,” Harry replied coolly.

“You always seem to have a closer insight to anything Dark, don’t you, Mr. Potter?” Amos asked, narrowing his eyes.

“Amos!” Hestia repeated.

Harry grit his teeth. He knew Rita’s article would begin influencing people’s opinions sooner rather than later. He released his breath through his nose, clenching his fists. Putting these creatures in Azkaban was folly. They’d abandon their posts as soon as another gave them an option. Didn’t these people ever learn? His mind flashed on the effects they had on Sirius, and he shuddered slightly. Even Hagrid had said they were awful… Hagrid…

Hagrid. Something was tickling the edge of Harry’s consciousness.

“What about the giants?” he asked suddenly, his eyes widening as he recalled the conversation he’d had with Hagrid at Slughorn’s Christmas party.

“Pardon?” Amos asked unpleasantly.

Harry’s heart thudded with excitement, and he leaned forward in his chair, forgetting his unease. “The giants. They’re not affected by the Dementors like humans are. I remember a conversation I had with someone about it. This person told me Dementors affected his human side, but his giant blood is more resilient because of a natural resistance to magic.” Harry didn’t want to use Hagrid’s name, uncertain who still remembered Rita’s long-ago article about Hagrid’s bloodline. Kingsley would certainly know, and that’s all that mattered.

“Yes, we know about giants. What does their resistance have to do with anything? They’re not even in Britain,” Amos said impatiently.

“Perhaps we could enlist the giants to keep the Dementors on their mountain. It would give them a job, yet wouldn’t drain them as it does the Aurors,” Harry said, causing a stunned silence to fall across the room for several moments.

“What do the giants get out of the deal?” Robards asked. “They’re not known for acting out of the goodness of their hearts.”

“I dunno. What do they want?” Harry asked.

All heads turned toward Amos’s people, who suddenly looked trapped. They all shifted uneasily, their eyes darting to one another.

“The giants are dangerous, and we haven’t had a good line of communication since they were driven out of Britain,” Amos said, clearing his throat.

“Hagrid,” the minister said under his breath.

“Pardon?” Amos asked, appearing agitated.

“I know someone who acted as an envoy for Albus Dumbledore before the war. We could enlist his aid in convincing the giants. The Dementors would have targets that aren’t affected, and the giants could compete with one another to be in charge of the operation,” Kingsley said, his enthusiasm growing the more he spoke.

“You can’t encourage violence amongst the giants. The species is already endangered,” a witch who worked with Amos blurted, horrified.

“Isn’t that their culture? Aren’t they doing it anyway? This could slow down their own extinction,” Robards said, cutting across her.

“And what about our initial request to study these juvenile Dementors? That was the point of this meeting,” Amos said, blatantly flustered.

“Our first priority will be making an alliance with the giants. If they accept, you can study two groups while out there,” Kingsley replied.

Amos paled slightly.

“And how many Aurors will be expected to protect them whilst they do that?”
Robards asked, still frowning.

“They won’t need Aurors. They can hire guards for their own protection within their department,” Kingsley said.

“If they’re so certain they can reason with the Dementors, they can just instruct them not to hurt them,” Owen said, smirking.

“That will be enough, Auror Savage,” Robards said firmly.

Owen pursed his lips, but remained silent. He couldn’t quite control his smug grin, however. In contrast, Amos and his team looked distinctly uncomfortable.

“If we are successful in making an arrangement with the giants, moving the Dementors up to their mountain retreat will be a challenge. Amos, I trust you can map out a route that avoids the Muggle population as much as feasible?” Kingsley asked. “Get Arthur Weasley and his people to confer on the plan.”

Amos nodded, now looking positively alarmed. His hand shook slightly as he quickly wrote into a leather-bound notebook.

“Nice one, kid,” Owen said, clapping Harry’s shoulder.

Hestia smiled warmly at Harry as the meeting dispersed. “You take care, Harry, and say hello to Dudley for me if you decide to see him. I enjoyed getting to know him.”

Harry nodded, still perplexed over the idea of anyone finding Dudley enjoyable.

When he returned to his desk, he found a visitor sitting in the chair opposite it awaiting him. Theo Nott’s leg was bouncing in agitation, and his hazel eyes were shuttered and wary. He scowled as Harry approached him.

“After all your insistence that I had to come in, it’s nice of you to finally make an appearance,” he said, sounding unpleasantly like Draco Malfoy.

“Sorry for the delay — it couldn’t be helped. I’d like to take your statement about the night you were attacked,” Harry said, sitting at his desk and reaching for a quill.

Theo rolled his eyes. “As if you people are going to do anything about it.”

“We’re going to try,” Harry said, certain to make eye contact.

“Right.”

“Why don’t you walk me through it? You were in Knockturn Alley…” Harry prompted.

“No, I was in Somerset. I’d been to Knockturn Alley earlier that day, but I’ve been staying in Somerset. On my way home, I stopped at a pub that a few wizards who I know frequent, and I was attacked before I went inside. I didn’t see anyone — I was grabbed from behind, and it was dark, but it was a male voice who repeatedly called me a Death Eater,” Theo said dully, as if he’d repeated these same words several times already.

“Did you recognize the voice?” Harry asked.

“No. And I’m not a Death Eater — not that it seems to matter to anyone,” Theo said, folding his arms across his chest.

Keeping his cool, Harry said calmly, “I never said you were. Why did your assailant think so?”

“How should I know what he was thinking? Bloke’s a nutter. It’s no secret my father was sent to Azkaban for having the mark,” Theo said, his lip curling in contempt.

“He was sent to his Azkaban for the crimes he committed,” Harry corrected.

“Whatever,” Theo said, rolling his eyes. “Am I done?”

“Do you have any enemies? Anyone that you know is bearing a grudge and wants to hurt you?” Harry asked.

“Are you effing kidding me? Other than half the wizarding population, you mean? In case it’s slipped your notice, even being related to a Death Eater is tricky business these days, Potter.”

“And acting like Death Eaters isn’t the solution to the problem. I need you to tell me anything you can remember about your attack, and I’m going to try and help you get justice,” Harry said.

Theo’s eyes flickered to Harry’s warily as if sizing him up. Finally, he said, “As I said, I didn’t see who grabbed me, but… a few days before it happened, this was on my door.”

He pulled a crumpled-up slip of parchment from his pocket and handed it across the desk to Harry. Harry took it and read the words:

You’re next, Death Eater. We know where you live.

The note was unsigned.

“And you didn’t see who left it?” Harry asked.

Theo shook his head.

“I’m going to keep it to test for any spell residue,” Harry said. “We can assign a guard to watch your home.”

“I’m staying with Caden Fawley. The protections on the Fawley home are fine. All the attacks have come when people are out in public,” Theo said.

Harry nodded, knowing this was accurate. “I’d suggest not going anywhere alone as a precaution, at least for the time being.”

Theo smiled tightly. “That’s the hitch, isn’t it? No one wants to be seen with anyone who has ties to Death Eaters these days.”

“Then stick with others also caught in the same situation,” Harry said, aware of the inadequacy of his words.

Theo appropriately rolled his eyes. “Yeah. I wonder what people will think when us Death Eaters start hanging around it groups.”

Harry could appreciate the irony, but he wasn’t about to let things slip backwards now. He’d didn’t choose to come back to see it happen all over again. “We didn’t fight a war to still be fighting amongst one another. We’ll put a stop to it,” he said firmly.

“You go on believing that, but sunshine and daises have never been my thing,” Theo said, pulling himself to his feet.

Harry did the same, nodding grimly. “I’ll be in touch. Stay alive.”

“Yeah. You, too,” Theo said. “You’re not going to have an easy time of it seeing as you appear determined to protect a group of people who most assuredly want you dead anyway.”

Harry shrugged. “What else is new?”



Back to index


Chapter 16: Past, Present, and Future

Author's Notes: Thanks so much to all who take the time to review! It's much appreciated!


Chapter Sixteen
Past, Present and Future



Ginny sank deeply into the bubbles of the luxurious bath inside the prefect’s bathroom. A painting of a mermaid on the wall watched her, twitching her tail in agitation. Apparently, she was disappointed Ginny was female. An irritated Hermione had once told her how the painting loved to flirt shamelessly with the wizard prefects. Ginny had spent the early morning training hard in the Room of Requirement, and she was enjoying the few moments of solitude that her Captain’s status afforded her. Since her incident with Tim Travers on the train during her return to Hogwarts, her friends and roommates had been insistent that she not travel anywhere alone. Andrew Kirke had become a virtual bodyguard.

She knew they meant well, but she found the hovering stifling. If it wasn’t for the fact she could see how much Siobhan appreciated Andrew’s vigilance, Ginny might’ve put a stop to it. The one highlight of the whole mess was that it meant Andrew and Siobhan were spending a lot more time with each other.

It was Valentine’s Day, and most of the students were preparing to head into Hogsmeade. Unfortunately, since he’d had so much time off due to his injury over Christmas, Harry was unable to get the day off. He was meeting her in the Three Broomsticks during his lunch hour, but that was all the time they’d have. Ginny felt disappointed, but she knew he wasn’t happy about it, either.

Both Ron and George were also joining them in Hogsmeade, and Ginny had decided today was the day she’d let her try-out plans slip to other members of her family. She expected to receive a Howler from her mum in the next day’s morning mail. Still, best to get it over with, and this way, Ron would bear the brunt of Molly’s wrath. She knew he wouldn’t be able to keep his mouth shut.

Ginny twisted one of the bejeweled knobs on the tub, and the scent of gardenias wafted up in the steamy room. It smelled like spring, and it made her eager to get back to Quidditch practices outdoors. The Room of Requirement had been more than satisfactory in providing a practice spot, but she missed being in the fresh air. Quidditch was meant to be played outside.

She rested her head on the back of the tub, letting all the tension leave her muscles. If it weren’t for the fact she had plans in Hogsmeade, she’d be tempted to have a kip. She lazily opened her eyes as she heard the door swing open — her brief solitude dispelled.

“There you are,” Siobhan said, sounding slightly exasperated. “Demelza said you’d finished practicing an hour ago.”

“I wanted a soak,” Ginny said, aware the sullenness in her tone made her sound childish.

“A soak is fine, but you should’ve brought Demelza or one of us with you,” Siobhan said, picking up a warmed towel and laying it on the edge of the tub. “Did you bring a change of clothes? Everyone is getting ready to go to Hogsmeade.”

“Believe it or not, I prefer bathing alone,” Ginny said irritably, grasping the towel and pulling herself out of the tub.

“Does Harry know that? I’m certain he’ll be disappointed,” Siobhan replied flippantly.

Ginny scowled. “Ha, ha. Very funny,” she said, the possibility of a bath with Harry suddenly filling her vision and momentarily distracting her. She hadn’t seen Harry for a month, after all, although they’d been putting the mirrors to uses she suspected even the Marauders hadn’t ever thought about.

“Ginny, you know we’re just trying to keep an eye on you so Travers doesn’t get the chance to corner you again. I don’t know why you have to make it so difficult,” Siobhan said, for the first time sounding truly annoyed. She’d have to be really concerned if she hadn’t picked up on the direction Ginny’s mind had gone. That was usually something Siobhan would have taken the mickey over gleefully.

“It’s been over a month, and he hasn’t approached me again. I do appreciate all your efforts — truly, I do — but sometimes, I need a little space,” Ginny said earnestly.

“Well, can’t you find some space somewhere you aren’t so exposed? This bath is open to all prefects, you know,” Siobhan said.

“He isn’t a prefect,” Ginny said stubbornly, picking up her clothes and entering a dressing room.

“He has friends,” Siobhan countered, a crease forming above her nose as her frown deepened.

Ginny pulled her jumper over her head and used her wand to quickly dry her hair. She put on her jeans and emerged from the changing room. “All right,” she said sulkily. “If I come back here, I’ll ask someone to bathe with me.”

Siobhan’s lip twitched. “Just don’t ask Dean. That bloke is carrying a torch.”

Ginny gave her a rude hand gesture.

“And here’s your poor mum thinking she raised a proper young lady,” Siobhan said with her nose in the air.

“Yeah, add it to the list of things she’s going to be disappointed about,” Ginny said offhandedly as she and Siobhan trekked down toward the Entrance Hall.

“D’you really think she’ll be upset that you’re trying out for Quidditch? What if you don’t tell her until after you make a team? Who won’t be impressed by that?” Siobhan asked.

“You don’t know my mum,” Ginny said, sighing. “She’s a bit… old fashioned. Not only is she very taken with Minister Shacklebolt and thinks we should all do whatever we can to support him, there’s also the fact I’m a witch.”

“You think she’d be happier for one of your brothers?” Siobhan asked.

“I know she would. Professional sports is not a career for a respectable young witch,” Ginny said, imagining her mother’s voice as she said it. “She was furious with Fred and George when they first opened their joke shop. She didn’t think that was respectable, either.”

Ginny was quite proud of herself for being able to say Fred’s name without stumbling.

“Yeah… but, she came around, didn’t she?” Siobhan asked.

“She did,” Ginny conceded, “but only because the Ministry sided against Professor Dumbledore and Harry. Now, they’re trying to rebuild, and she thinks we should all help. Not to mention she’s back to treating me like a child who doesn’t know her own mind.”

“All mums do that,” Siobhan said, laughing. “My mum checked three times to see that I brought enough knickers to school.”

Ginny grinned. “My mum usually does that, but this year she was so out of it after we lost Fred. I don’t think she even noticed when I left. Over the holidays though, she wanted me within her sight or with a family member every second of every day. She appears to have forgotten that I fought during the Battle, too. Hogwarts was no picnic last year, but she doesn’t even want to acknowledge it.”

The two girls stopped on the landing above the Entrance Hall, wanting to continue their discussion away from all the prying ears below. Already students were gathering to await Filch and his checklist.

“Maybe she feels guilty for ignoring you over the summer,” Siobhan said thoughtfully. “Maybe it’s her way of making up for it.”

“I thought about that, but I don’t know. I’ve seen her attempting it with my brothers, too. It’s like she wants us to go back to being innocent little kids… but we can’t un-see what we’ve seen. The war changed all of us.”

“And that’s probably what she’s fighting against. She’ll come around, Ginny. You’re going to be the best Harpy they’ve ever seen.”

“Between you lot and Harry — I’ve already made the team,” Ginny said, pleased with the support.

“If it were up to us, you would’ve,” Siobhan said earnestly.

“Let’s hope Gwenog Jones agrees, then. Look, there’s Hermione,” Ginny said, pointing to a mass of bushy hair on the landing below.

They met up with Hermione, Liz and the Patil sisters just as Mr. Filch arrived to check off names.

“Where’s Luna?” Ginny asked.

“Dunno,” Padma replied. “She said she had something else to do today.”

There was a group of second-year Hufflepuffs watching them all line up from a side corridor with forlorn expressions. Even halfway through the current year, the second-years kept mostly to themselves. They were the ones who had the awful introduction to Hogwarts during the Carrows’ reign, and it filled Ginny’s heart with sorrow to see how they still never left anyone from their year alone in the corridors. They looked so sad now, watching the older students preparing for their Hogsmeade visit, and she wished they were allowed to come along.

She remembered her own second year and how she’d ached to go to Hogsmeade with her brothers. She’d stood in nearly the same spot those Hufflepuffs were now and watched Harry being left behind as Ron and Hermione walked away. She’d been too intimidated by him then to approach. It was only now, looking back with more mature hindsight, that she knew he was as lonely as she was. She wished there was a way to redo those awkward adolescent years. Offering him a game of Exploding Snap on that day would have been far more comforting than the silly Get Well card she’d made him after his Quidditch fall. She cringed just thinking about it.

Her younger self really embarrassed her sometimes.

Once they were through the line, they started down the path toward the gates. The weather was grey and dismal, but at least it wasn’t raining. Ginny looked unhappily at the bare branches of the Whomping Willow, spinning angrily in the slight breeze. She longed to see any sign of a bud, but as of yet, spring appeared to be out of reach. She glanced over toward the Quidditch pitch and saw the Ravenclaw team flying above the stands. They’d booked the pitch before Ginny was able, but she was happy for it. It gave her a guilt-free excuse to see Harry. It was Valentine’s Day, after all, and as much as she loved Quidditch, she’d rather spend the day with him — even if they could only snag an hour. She’d sent an owl that morning with a bottle of Rosmerta’s special Elderberry wine. Harry had become quite fond of it to go along with the elaborate meals he enjoyed cooking.

Running footsteps pounded the muddy ground behind them, and they turned to see Dean, Andrew and Ritchie hurrying to join them.

“Hi, Siobhan. Happy Valentine’s Day,” Andrew said, smiling widely. Ginny noticed Siobhan didn’t give an exasperated eye roll as she had so often in the past. Instead, she greeted him brightly. Perhaps the spring thaw was closer than previously expected.

They walked through the winged boar-guarded gates and along the road to Hogwarts, happily ribbing one another. The streets were filled with various couples, but they remained in a group, enjoying their freedom together as they roamed into the various shops. Eventually, Ginny and Hermione broke off from the others and good-naturedly took the teasing as they left their friends in order to meet their boyfriends at the Three Broomsticks. They found an empty booth in the corner with a good view of the door. Hermione arranged her packages in a stack on the seat beside her and began shrinking them one by one.

“How can you be out of so much stuff already? Christmas wasn’t that long ago,” Ginny said, laughing at the quills and parchment peeking out from Hermione’s packages.

“NEWT preparation has begun. We have less than four months until the exams, Ginny,” Hermione said, a slight note of panic arising in her voice. She stuffed all the shrunken packages into her pockets.

“We’ll manage,” Ginny said firmly, unwilling to revisit their row about the importance of NEWTs. “I wish Harry and Ron could have had the whole day off.”

“I know. I do, too. Were you and Harry hoping to get a room at the Hogsmeade Inn this time?” Hermione asked with a smirk.

“Right. As if Harry Potter booking a room on a Hogwarts Valentine weekend wouldn’t send Rita into fits of delight with headline possibilities,” Ginny said, rolling her eyes.

“Oh,” Hermione said, looking startled. “I suppose you’re right about that.”

“Don’t worry. You and Ron pulled it off without a hitch the last time, didn’t you?” she asked.

“Oh, look,” Hermione said, gasping as she stared over Ginny’s shoulder.

Ginny turned to see a table cosseted in dark corner where Andrew and Siobhan were taking seats rather close together over a couple of Butterbeers. Both looked as if they were trying to be inconspicuous.

“Are they on a date?” Hermione asked incredulously.

“Looks that way,” Ginny replied, equally amazed. “She didn’t say anything to me, though.”

“Well, I’m certain she knew you’d take the mickey out of her. It doesn’t look as if they want to be spotted or else they’d have gone to Madam Puddifoot’s.”

“She knew we had plans, and I think I told her we were coming here… didn’t I?” Ginny asked, now uncertain if she’d mentioned that particular detail.

“Probably not. I know I didn’t tell anyone where we’d be because I reckoned everyone would show up to try and have a word with Harry,” Hermione said.

“That little sneak,” Ginny said, feeling indignant as she watched Siobhan. How could her friend not have told her she was going on a date with Andrew after all this time?

“Um, Ginny. Aren’t we sneaking, too?” Hermione asked, amused.

Ginny looked up, startled, but before she could form a response, she saw a familiar mop of black hair by the entrance, surrounded by more red than she’d expected.

“What the—”

Hermione looked around, and they watched as Harry, Ron, George and Percy all pushed their way through the thickening crowd. The three brothers formed a pack around Harry, ushering him through the crowd and barring anyone from stopping his progress.

Harry slid into the booth beside her, kissing her quickly as George pushed onto the bench after him. Ron and Percy did the same on Hermione’s side. The waitress arrived quickly to take their lunch orders. As her brothers all shoved one another trying to get their orders in first, Harry leaned toward Ginny.

“Happy Valentine’s Day,” he whispered, slipping a box of Honeydukes finest chocolate into her hands. The box had several grape-flavored Sugar Quills arranged in a makeshift bow. Ginny grinned at him, tucking the present into her bag before any of her brothers noticed. Hermione beamed at them, however. “I wish we could do something more romantic… and alone,” he said, casting a disgruntled look at the others.

Ginny appreciated the tight quarters in the booth as it forced her to press snugly into Harry as she greeted all her brothers. He took her hand in his and squeezed it gently as he rested their entwined hands on his lap.

“It’s great to see you, Percy. I didn’t expect you today,” Ginny said, smiling. Percy looked more relaxed than she’d seen in years, and it did her heart good to see her brothers including him. He’d been the odd one out for years, even before his estrangement during the war.

“I stopped by the shop to see if George wanted to get some lunch when he told me about his plans,” Percy said. “I couldn’t let him join you lovebirds without a date of his own.”

George leaned over and gave Percy a sloppy kiss on the forehead. “My hero,” he said, batting his lashes.

Percy’s joking would only go so far and he pushed George back in indignation, needlessly adjusting his glasses. “Besides, I wouldn’t miss an opportunity to visit my favorite little sister.”

“I’m your only little sister,” Ginny said, easily falling into the familiar banter.

“You’re still my favorite,” Percy replied promptly.

“Has the shop been busy?” Hermione asked, snuggled just as close to Ron as Ginny was to Harry.

“Busy enough, but I’m barely keeping up,” George said. “I don’t think I’d be able to do it without this lot. Busy season will begin over the Easter holidays.”

Their drinks magically appeared at the table, and Harry slid a frothy Butterbeer towards Ginny before grabbing one for himself. The boys all had to return to work, so anything stronger was out of the question.

“The storeroom at the shop is a mess,” Percy said once they all had their drinks, sounding disapproving and more like the Percy of old.

“I know. Lee moved in with Alicia, so I’ve tried to move some of the development stuff up to the flat, but it’s still overflowing,” George said ruefully.

“He did? When did this happen? Are you staying there alone?” Ginny asked, slamming her Butterbeer on the table, concerned. George was better than he’d been over the summer, but the thought of him living alone in the flat he’d once shared with Fred seemed wrought with potential hazard.

“He’s at our place more than he is there anyway,” Ron said, shrugging.

“Ron’s right. I don’t know why you don’t just move in. There are plenty of rooms, and that way you could use the entire flat as a development lab,” Harry said, casually take a sip of his Butterbeer.

Ginny could have kissed him. She suspected his thoughts had gone to the exact place hers had when they’d heard about Lee. She squeezed his hand, still clasped within her own. Harry returned the pressure.

“That’s not a bad idea,” Percy said, looking over for George’s reaction.

George sat motionless, staring at Harry as if waiting for him to drop a punchline. He was extremely tense, and Ginny felt confused by his reaction. She thought he’d be delighted.

“What would change? You eat there every night, and usually come back after a pub run to sleep on the couch, anyway,” Ron said.

“It doesn’t mean you’re moving on, George,” Harry said quietly. “Just expanding the business is all.”

George visibly swallowed, his head bobbing in acquiesce. He and Harry’s eyes met briefly — but more words than could ever be expressed were held in that gaze. “All right, but I want a room well away from both yours and Ron’s. I don’t want to hear anything that might be going on in there,” George said, his voice a bit shaky.

Ginny didn’t know if she wanted to laugh or cry. Harry always understood far too much about loss, and although he was covering well, George was still struggling to be a single.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Ron asked indignantly.

“Hermione, you’re lovely, but I don’t know how you stand being around someone so dense,” George said, holding his hand over his heart.

Hermione’s cheeks turned pink, but she covered her grin behind her glass.

Ron’s eyes darted back and forth between George and Harry, and his face revealed exactly when he made the connection. Harry sat back against the booth and watched him calmly, but Ginny reached for her wand nonetheless.

“Wait… what? You’ve… you two have already… with my sister?” he demanded, the last word exploding from his lips. His ears had turned alarmingly red and his eyes narrowed into a glare. Several heads in the pub turned in their direction.

Hermione grabbed his arm, tugging him back and making tut-tutting noises. Ron ignored her.

“Where were you all during Christmas break?” George asked, obviously amused. He took a long draught of his Butterbeer, looking pleased.

“I don’t think this is the proper place for this discussion,” Percy said, frowning disapprovingly. His ears, too, were rather red, although not to the same extent as Ron’s.

Ginny rolled her eyes. Her brothers could be so ridiculous.

“What we do is absolutely none of your business, and I’ll thank you to keep that in mind,” she said, glaring at both of them. “It’s no different than either of you.”

“It most certainly is different,” Percy said hotly. “You’re—”

“I’m what?” Ginny asked, narrowing her eyes. “I’m of age, same as you. I’m a witch? Well, I assume your partners have been witches, too, Perce — unless there’s something you want to tell us.”

George sniggered, his grin so wide it nearly split his face.

“That’s not the point,” Percy said, spluttering.

“But that is the point,” Ron said, staring blankly between his siblings. He looked at Harry for a long moment before turning back to Percy and saying, “Unless… is there something we don’t know, Percy?”

Hermione giggled so hard she actually snorted. She slapped her hand across her mouth in embarrassment.

“Oh, I suspect the things you don’t know could fill a history book, Ron,” Ginny snapped. “Back on topic. I want all of you lot to stay out of my private life — and that includes you, George.” She turned her sharp gaze on her only brother that appeared gleeful about the conversation.

“Me?” George yelped.

“Yeah, you. Don’t think I don’t know how you like to wind them up. If we’re all going to be sharing living space, we all need to stay out of each other’s business. I don’t want to hear anything from your room either — although I haven’t seen you with a date in quite some time,” Ginny said tartly, taking a sip of her Butterbeer.

“That doesn’t mean you still won’t hear noises,” Ron said, smirking.

George’s mouth fell open and Harry barked with laughter, choking so that Ginny had to slap him on the back.

“Oh, my God!” Hermione said, scarlet. She covered her face with her hands.

“Aaaand, we’re back to wanking,” Ginny said, sighing. Somehow it always came to jokes like this when her brothers were all together. She could never understand how they found various bodily functions so endlessly amusing.

“We are blokes,” George said, shrugging.

“D’you remember Charlie telling that story involving a wet dream about Professor Sprout?” Percy asked, shocking them all.

“Ha! He’s not the only one. Remember Seamus said the same thing in third year?” Ron said, guffawing.

“Seriously?” Ginny asked, feeling rather revolted.

“It was the lesson with all the demonstrations on the proper ways to squeeze out the Bubotuber pus,” Ron said, his eyes streaming.

Raucous laughter rose from their table so that several heads in the pub turned toward them again.

A rosy hue spread across Harry’s cheeks. It made Ginny want to ask him about his own youthful fantasies, but she couldn’t put him through that in front of all her brothers. That would have to wait for their conversation through the magical mirrors that evening. Of course, then she’d have to share her own, so perhaps that wasn’t such a good idea.

Once the laughter finally started to die out and they pulled themselves back together, Ron turned towards Harry and Ginny, scowling once more. “Now, back to you two. I told you I didn’t want to know anything.”

“And you didn’t before George opened his big mouth, so take it out on him,” Ginny said sharply.

“But I was happier not knowing,” Ron said, slumping down and looking sulky.

“Then just go about your life as if nothing has changed. Soon, you might even realize it hasn’t,” Harry replied calmly, taking another pull from his drink. “It’s how I deal with disturbing memories of the leather couch.”

Ron turned scarlet, but before he could retort, the waitress returned with their lunch orders. Thankfully, as per usual, food distracted Ron completely. As the boys all reached for their lunches, Hermione leaned over and tugged on Ginny’s sleeve. In an undertone, she said, “It’s really nice to see Harry so relaxed and happy.”

Ginny beamed, watching her boyfriend snag a chip from Ron’s plate. He really did look more at ease than she’d seen in a very long time.

“He deserves some happiness. I’m happy for you both, Ginny,” Hermione said, looking a bit tearful.

“Thanks, Hermione. Don’t get all sniffly. I think we all deserve a bit of happiness for a change,” she said, reaching for her friend’s hand and squeezing it gently.

“What are you two whispering about?” Ron asked through a mouthful of food.

“Ron! Finish chewing before you speak,” Hermione said, looking disgusted.

“So, Ginny,” George said, turning toward her as he pushed his plate away, “interested in working over the Easter hols? I’m going to have to add more staff, anyway.”

Ginny didn’t answer right away, still chewing. Was she ready for this? Harry nudged her, smiling encouragingly, and that made up her mind. If he believed in her, it didn’t matter what anyone else thought.

“I can’t. I have other plans,” she said, raising her chin in the air.

“What kind of other plans?” George asked, waggling his eyebrows.

“I was planning to attend the League try-outs,” Ginny said steadily.

Her brothers all stared at her, nonplussed for a moment before the shouting ensued.

“What?”

“Are you serious?”

“Ginny, have you thought this through?”

Ron, George and Percy all said at once, looking stunned. Hermione took a bite of her chicken pie and chewed without comment.

“I’m very serious, and I have thought it through,” she said calmly, reaching for Harry’s hand beneath the table again. He squeezed it reassuringly.

“I think it’s fantastic. You’ll be brilliant, and I, for one, would love to see ‘Weasley’ printed in big letters on the back of your robes,” George said, gushing.

“You’re going to try to play… professionally?” Ron asked, still looking stunned.

“Ginevra,” Percy said pompously, “don’t you want to wait until you know what NEWTs you earn first?”

Hermione put her head down and shoveled another scoop of chicken pie into her mouth.

“Contrary to what you may believe, Percival,” Ginny said, firing back, “playing professional Quidditch isn’t often a fall-back choice of those who didn’t earn enough NEWTs.”

“Wasn’t Oliver Wood in your year, Percy? He plays for Puddlemere United now. He’s doing very well,” Harry said, his green eyes blazing.

“I know that,” Percy said, his coloring heightening once again. Ginny would lay a bet that Percy had given Oliver the same lecture. At least she was in good company.

“Yeah, and Oliver had really good marks. We always used to wonder how he did it with how often he scheduled practices,” George said.

“Who cares about NEWTs if you make a team?” Ron said, staring wide-eyed at his sister. “Ginny, this is brilliant. You know, I’ve heard the Chudley Cannons are looking for a new Chaser.”

“Thanks, Ron,” Ginny said, smiling. Her chest tingled with a bubble of excitement. Apparently, Ron’s approval meant more than she’d realized. She really didn’t want to play for the Cannons, but she wasn’t about to shoot him down after he’d supported her.

“Your NEWT results are very important, Ron. The rest of your life can depend on it. What does Mum say?” Percy asked.

Ginny stared across the table directly at him. “I haven’t told her yet.”

Percy frowned. “Do you think that’s wise?”

“I wouldn’t tell her yet, either. Wait until you make a team,” Ron said fervently.

His surety that she would make a team made that little bubble of excitement gurgle again. Perhaps Ron wouldn’t be the one to slip to their mum after all. Now, Ginny would really have to decide when to tell her.

“Ron’s right,” George said suddenly. “That will give her too much time to build up a rant. You know that’s the key to Mum. Wait until you have good news to share. She’ll get over it quicker.”

“Or you could just have Harry tell her. She never gets angry with him,” Ron said without a trace of envy.

Ginny felt Harry tense beside her. He still worried about Ron’s reaction to how much attention her mum paid him. Ginny didn’t think either Harry or Ron understood that her mum’s desire to shower Harry with affection stemmed from the knowledge that no one else ever had.

“I know!” George said suddenly. “Harry, you could always tell mum you want to marry Ginny. That’ll put the thought of Quidditch right out of her head.”

Both Harry and Ginny choked on their Butterbeers.

“Of course, that would mean she’d have ‘Potter’ on the back of her robes, so that won’t work. I really want to see ‘Weasley’ there,” George carried on as if the two in question weren’t gasping for breath.

Hermione stood up and leaned over to try and pat them both on their backs. “I think Harry and Ginny should be allowed to plan their future on things other than avoiding your mum’s temper, George,” she said disapprovingly.

Harry turned panicked eyes toward Ginny, and she’d finally had enough. “Stop trying to scare the crap out of him, George,” she said sternly. “I’m attending the try-outs, and I haven’t decided when to tell Mum yet. That’s all.”

“I suppose that’s wise. As long as you’re keeping up with your studies, you can still sit your NEWTs before you decide,” Percy said, nodding.

“Are you kidding? If she makes a team, she won’t need to bother,” Ron said incredulously. When he caught Hermione’s disapproving scowl, he added hastily, “But it’s always good to have options.”

Hermione didn’t reply, but her scowl did relax slightly.

Harry glanced at his watch, still looking rather pale.

“Oh, d’you have to go already?” Ginny asked, wishing again that they could have the whole day.

“Not yet. We have to be in the Forest of Dean at half one,” he said apologetically.

“Dementors on Valentine’s Day? How romantic,” Ginny said scathingly, finishing her Butterbeer. She couldn’t think of a less romantic way to spend the day.

“I don’t think it will be much longer,” he said quietly. “Did you notice that Hagrid’s back?”

Hagrid had taken a leave several weeks ago, and his classes had been covered by Professor Grubbly-Plank. It was only because of Harry that Ginny knew the full story of his mission for the Ministry to approach the giants.

“Oh, I did see him at breakfast this morning,” Hermione said excitedly. “Was he successful?”

“Dunno,” Harry said, shrugging. “I didn’t get the chance to talk to him, and they haven’t said anything to the team yet.”

“Then why don’t you think you’ll be with the Dementors much longer?” Hermione asked sharply.

“I saw Amos Diggory, and he looked as if he’s had a shock. No one from the Regulation and Control for Magical Creatures has been out with the Dementors for the past three days,” he said promptly.

“But… won’t that mean you’ll have to herd them all the way up to their mountain retreat?” Hermione asked, biting her lip.

“It will,” Harry said, nodding. “But once we get them there, I hope I never see another Dementor as long as I live.”

“I’ll drink to that,” Ginny said, chugging the last of Harry’s Butterbeer.

ooOOoo


Harry trekked through the Burrow’s muddy garden and pulled open the door to Mr. Weasley’s shed. He attempted to wipe some of the muck from his boots, but gave it up as a lost cause. The melting snow had left the surrounding garden a mess, and it was impossible to go outside without taking some of it back inside with you.

Inside the shed, he cast a warming charm and pulled the tarp off a tangled heap of metal in the far left corner. Beneath the tarp lay the remains of Sirius’ beloved motorbike. It had been destroyed the night he and Hagrid had fled from Privet Drive, but Mr. Weasley had collected the scattered pieces from the Tonks’ property during the war. Ken Towler had a motorbike and frequently raved about riding. He said it was the closest things Muggles had to flying. He and George were coming by the Burrow today to see if this one was worth saving.

Harry had always been good at mending things. He’d saved loads of Dudley’s discarded items to use himself that way. He decided tinkering with Sirius’ bike would be a worthy project, and it would take his mind off Ginny’s absence. Although there hadn’t been any further incidents with Tim Travers, Harry couldn’t help the nagging worry and desire to be with her to ensure her safety. He also knew she’d hex him for even having that thought.

Wistfully, he ran a hand along the twisted metal of the bike. He’d ridden on it twice in his life that he knew about, although only once that he could remember. That trip had been terrifying, and he’d nearly died as he and Hagrid plunged to the ground in a pile of destruction. His beloved owl, Hedwig, had lost her life that fateful night.

The first time he’d also ridden with Hagrid, but then it had been away from destruction and into a dismal, ten-year imprisonment. His jail hadn’t been as bad as Sirius’, but only due to the lack of Dementors. The Dursleys were their own form of Dementors.

Harry knew that Sirius had owned this bike before he’d given it to Hagrid to take Harry away from Godric’s Hollow. He liked to believe Sirius thought Hagrid was taking Harry to safety, and he was glad that Sirius didn’t know the truth. He imagined his godfather had a good deal of fun on this bike before the tragedy that would change all of their lives. He envisioned long rides in the countryside with the wind whipping at his face. Perhaps he’d even taken his dad for a ride or two. He didn’t think his mum would’ve allowed Harry on the bike as a baby, not if she was anything like Mrs. Weasley, anyway. But then, if his dad had been anything like Mr. Weasley, he might’ve sneaked him out. Harry amused himself with the thought for several moments as he moved stray pieces of the bike aside.

It had started as an ordinary Muggle motor bike, but Sirius had added a number of enhancements, most notably one enabling the bike to fly. Hagrid and Mr. Weasley had both added enhancements of their own. Once Harry realized that three of the men who’d tried, in their own ways, to offer him some guidance and support during his turbulent teenage years had all had a hand in this bike, Harry knew he had to try and save it.

As he pulled out various twisted pieces of metal and arranged them along the floor, he heard voices outside the shed.

“I really don’t miss all this much,” George said, pulling the door open. He and Ken stepped inside, both of their boots covered in mud, as well.

“Hey, George, Ken,” Harry said in greeting.

“Wow! Where did you get this? It’s ancient,” Ken said, his eyes roaming over the scattered pieces of motorbike that Harry had spread along a tarp on the floor.

“Er… family heirloom,” Harry said, unwilling to dredge up the whole story.

“What happened to it? Were you on this thing when it crashed?” Ken asked, whistling through his teeth.

“Voldemort himself took it out,” George said, picking up a piece of pipe and examining it critically.

“What?” Ken asked, swiveling his head between the two. “I didn’t think he liked Muggle things.”

“Yeah, well… this is no ordinary bike,” Harry said sheepishly. “It has some magical enhancements.”

“And it can fly,” George added helpfully.

“You’re joking,” Ken said skeptically. He’d obviously shared a dorm with George long enough to know not to trust everything he said.

“No, this time he’s not,” Harry replied.

“My dad… he’s fascinated by Muggle things. He likes to tinker with them in his spare time,” George said.

“I don’t even know what this is,” Ken said, picking up the loose handlebars and poking at a smashed purple button near the speedometer.

“It used to emit dragon fire from the exhaust,” Harry said, shuddering as he remembered the one time he’d seen it used.

Ken’s face went slack with shock. “Er… Didn’t your father work for the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts though?” he asked, confused.

“He did,” George said wryly. “It’s where he picked up most of the things he likes to tinker with. We even had a flying car once.”

“Honestly? I’d love to see that,” Ken said, and Harry had the distinct impression he and Mr. Weasley would get along splendidly.

“It’s running wild in the Forbidden Forest, I think. You could find it near the Acromantulas if you really want to look,” Harry said. He had no intention of volunteering to go with him.

Ken’s eyes had gone wide, and he swallowed visibly. “Thanks, I’ll take your word for it.”

“What’s the matter, Towler? Afraid of a few spiders, are you?” George asked, picking up a twisted piece of metal and tossing it in the air repeatedly.

“Remind me again exactly why you’re here, Weasley? D’you know anything about mending motorbikes?” Ken asked, not even looking up from his perusal of the parts.

“I’m here for the entertainment value, of course,” George said, kneeling on the floor beside them without stopping his game of toss.

“I s’pose it is your house,” Ken replied.

“It’s my parents’ house, and they consider Harry one of theirs, anyway,” George said.

His words filled Harry’s chest with warmth, and he was unable to keep his face neutral. He ducked his head to hide his smile. He knew he was caught, however, when George fondly ruffled his hair. Not much slipped past George.

He’d moved into Grimmauld Place the day after Valentine’s, taking one of the rooms on an upper floor. Not much had changed since he’d officially moved in, since he’d been spending so much time with Harry and Ron, anyway. Mrs. Weasley had been delighted, and she increased the number of food deliveries. She insisted that Harry shouldn’t be expected to cook for two of her sons alone.

Although George was a better cook than Ron, he obviously didn’t enjoy it much, insisting he spent all day concocting potions for his products, so that he didn’t want to do more of it when he came home. Harry couldn’t blame him for that. He wouldn’t like to face a Dementor on his off time, either.

“All right. Harry, you have the right idea. Let’s lay out all these parts, then we’ll repair what we can. I ‘spect we’ll need to get more parts, but once we have an idea of what we need, we can start looking. This is an old bike, so I doubt you’ll be able to get any original parts,” Ken said, staring at the various pieces critically.

The three wizards spent the rest of the morning sorting and casting spells to repair what they could. Despite his jokes, George proved surprisingly adept at mending various pieces, and his talent for problem-solving shone. All three were covered in spots of grease in no time, and all were surprised when the door to the shed opened and Mrs. Weasley brought in a tray of sandwiches. Glancing at his watch, Harry was stunned to realize it was tea time.

“Ah, thanks, Mum,” George said, reaching for a sandwich.

Mrs. Weasley pulled the tray away. “I suggest you all clean your hands first. They’re disgusting,” she said, placing the tray on Mr. Weasley’s work table.

Chastised, they all cast Cleaning Charms before helping themselves to sandwiches. Harry finished half of his — ham and cheese — in one bite. Mrs. Weasley watched him approvingly.

“Do you think you’ll be able to salvage it?” she asked, staring at the motorbike with a frown.

“Still not sure,” Ken said, looking back at the bike. “There’s a lot of damage. You might end up putting more gold into fixing this one than you would if you just bought a new one.”

“I’d like this one, if possible,” Harry said quietly. For him, it was more the significance of the bike than the bike itself. He’d lost the Firebolt Sirius had given him, but this… this was a way to keep some part of him alive.

“You’ll have to watch yourself if you do get it running,” Mrs. Weasley said. “You don’t want to get into trouble at the Ministry, Harry, dear.”

George covered a grin behind another sandwich. Harry knew that Mr. Weasley often added magical enhancements to Muggle things, and although it was technically against wizarding law, he didn’t think he’d ever been in trouble for it other than the time he and Ron had used the car to fly to Hogwarts. He certainly didn’t intend to use it to hurt anyone, and he suspected that was what the Ministry was more concerned over.

“I’ll be careful, Mrs. Weasley.”

“I know you will, dear. I’ll leave the tray here, but don’t work too hard,” she said, squeezing George’s shoulder before she left. The day had warmed nicely, and a warm breeze floated in from the garden. Harry could even hear the buzz of insects around the budding trees.

George watched his mother carefully until she’d gone back inside the kitchen door before pulling a familiar-looking bottle from his pocket. “I think we’ve earned a nip,” he said, grinning. He banished the remaining Pumpkin juice from their glasses and poured a generous amount of Firewhisky.

“Ah,” Ken said, reaching for his glass. “Definitely earned this, yeah?”

Harry stared at the mess of parts still littering the floor. “Are we done, then?” he asked, torn between wanting it done and wanting to stop.

“We can putter, but we need a few parts to do much more anyway,” George said. “Cheers.”

Harry raised his glass and felt the familiar burning sensation going down. “Any news on when we begin moving the Dementors?” he asked.

Ken grimaced and shook his head. “Amos Diggory and his people are still stalling. I think the Minister is going to give him a hard deadline.”

“Why were they in such a hurry to inspect the Dementors, then?” Harry asked, exasperated. The weather was slowly getting warmer. It wouldn’t be long before the Muggles returned to camp in the Forest of Dean.

“Because they knew we were there to protect them. Now that it’s on their own department, all of a sudden their own safety is of greater concern,” Ken replied bitterly. He refilled their glasses, and took another sip as if talk of the Department for the Regulations and Control of Magical Creatures had left a bad taste in his mouth.

“How are you going to move all those Dementors?” George asked. “How will each shift know where to go to switch?”

“Honestly, it’s a scheduling nightmare. We’re going to use Portkeys to get the Aurors on- and off-duty to avoid Splinching,” Ken said, glancing at Harry.

Harry averted his eyes and took a sip of his drink without response, still embarrassed about his mishap.

“Until we start, we won’t know for certain how much distance per shift is reasonable. Plus, most of those on shift are new recruits. In the past, they wouldn’t even be out in the field yet,” Ken said.

“I heard there were a few volunteers from outside the Ministry,” Harry said, looking questioningly at Ken, who nodded.

“Yeah. Some of the old Order of the Phoenix — your brother, Bill, for instance. There are also a few people from other various departments who have volunteered,” Ken said.

“Bill is?” George asked, surprised.

Ken nodded. “As long as we’re done by April.”

“That’s because his wife is due to have a baby in May,” George replied, grinning. “First grandchild for mum, and she’s over the moon about it.”

“With all those volunteers, there’s a much greater risk for casualties,” Harry said, unconsciously rubbing his scar. His chest constricted with the thought of having to keep track of all those civilians while dealing with his own difficulties with the Dementors.

“Is your scar hurting?” George asked, concerned.

“What?” Harry asked, startled before realizing he’d been rubbing it. He immediately put his hand down. “No. It hasn’t since Voldemort’s death.”

“How did that all work?” Ken asked frankly, staring at Harry. “I can’t help but wonder, although it’s all been very vague. Did it really hurt you all the time when he was alive? Why?”

Harry grimaced and finished his drink before replying. He really hated talking about it, but he couldn’t see a way out. Ken had, after all, been helping him all day on his own time. He had a rehearsed, Ministry-approved answer, but he still hated it. “Once he came back, yeah,” he said gruffly, nodding at George who refilled his glass unasked. “Somehow, when he cursed me as a baby, it forged some kind of connection. It’s never really been explained. No one else has ever had a scar like mine.”

Harry found his hand was shaking slightly, and he sloshed Firewhisky down the sides before taking another sip to drain it. As far as he knew, no one else had ever had an evil bit of someone else’s soul living inside their head, either. Harry couldn’t repress a shudder as Dumbledore’s words echoed in his brain. ‘You were the Horcrux he never intended to make.’ Ginny kept telling him it was separate from him, but whenever his thoughts dwelled too much upon it — like when he was up with the Dementors — it left him feeling ill and unclean.

“Yeah, you get the cool-looking scar, and I just get a hole in my head,” George said, his tone light but eyes radiating concern as he watched Harry.

“But that’s nothing new. You’ve always had a hole in your head, it’s just more visible now,” Ken replied, laughing and causing George to express his feelings with a hand gesture.

Harry took another shaky sip of his drink, noting his ghostlike pallor in the glass. The sandwich he’d eaten was suddenly sitting heavily in his stomach.

“Why don’t we wrap this up? We can work on it again after we get some new parts?” George said, still watching Harry. “I need to check the shop to see if Verity had any trouble. If I get some take away, care to join us for supper, Ken?”

“Can’t,” Ken replied, grinning. “I’ve got a date.”

“A date? Who’d go out with you?” George asked, his eyebrows lifting.

“Her name’s Leanne. She was in the year behind us at Hogwarts. She works in the Department of Magical Transportation,” he replied. “She’s been organizing the Portkeys for the Dementor squads.”

“Well, have a good one, then. Harry? Any requests for take away?” George asked, helping to stack their parts in neat piles.

“Nah. Anything’s fine,” Harry said absently. His stomach roiled again with the thought of food. He was more tired than he ought to be and had lost his enthusiasm for the motorbike.

ooOOoo


At home, Harry sank down into the comfort of his familiar four-poster bed. It was larger than the one he’d had at Hogwarts, but it reminded him of the first place he’d truly felt at home. He shut his eyes and allowed the tension to ease. He’d had dinner with George and Ron — George had brought back some Asian take away — but Harry hadn’t been very hungry and begged off early. He had an early shift in the morning, and he wasn’t in the mood to socialize. Ron — who’d worked a shift today and had tomorrow off — and George were setting up the chess board when he’d left.

Harry took the broken piece of mirror from his bedside table. He reckoned it was too early for Ginny to be in bed, but he tried anyway. He really needed to talk to her, even though he knew it was silly to let talk of the Horcrux inside him unsettle him so.

“Ginny,” he said, trying to tamp down on the urgency in his voice as he held the sliver of mirror up to his face.

It remained annoyingly clear. “Ginny,” he repeated, this time allowing some of his desperation to seep through.

He waited several fruitless moments before laying the mirror on his bedside table and flopping back upon his pillows. She was probably still doing homework… or maybe she’d gone on a kitchen run with her roommates. He couldn’t stop the annoying thought that perhaps Dean Thomas had persuaded her to play a game of Exploding Snap by the fire in the common room.

Scowling, he turned on his side, staring at the blank mirror. So irritated by the thought of Dean being there with her while Harry was here in London, he didn’t even register when the mirror clouded over.

“Harry? Harry are you there?”

Eyes opening wide, he fumbled for the mirror, drawing it closer to his face. Ginny was there, her hair plastered down with sweat, and she was breathing heavily.

“Where are you?” he asked, trying unsuccessfully to keep the note of suspicion from his voice.

Ginny wasn’t fooled, and her eyebrows rose as her mouth pinched. “I’m in the Room of Requirement training, if you must know,” she said coolly.

“Sorry,” Harry said hastily. “I know I’m early.”

She frowned as she studied his face. “What’s wrong, Harry?”

“Nothing. I’m fine. I— I just wanted to talk to you is all,” he lied.

“I thought we had a deal that you wouldn’t say you were fine when you obviously aren’t?” she said, scowling.

Harry had forgotten she didn’t like the word ‘fine.’ He probably should’ve waited to call her. She didn’t appear to be in the mood to chat. He bit his lip without response.

After several empty beats, she spoke again, sounding exasperated, “I’m hot and sweaty and need a shower. We can either go back and forth as I try to get you to spit it out, growing more irritated all the while, or you could just tell me the problem and we could work out a solution.”

“It’s nothing,” Harry said quickly, fiercely rubbing a hand along his scar. For Merlin’s sake, he was an Auror. Why did she still have the ability to make him as nervous as a school boy? “Go have your shower, and we’ll talk later.”

“Harry, wait!” she shouted, sounding urgent. “No, tell me what’s going on. My shower can wait. I thought you didn’t work today.”

“I didn’t. I worked on Sirius’ motorbike with George and Ken Towler.”

“So, what upset you?” she asked.

“Nothing,” he replied quickly. “I’m not upset. It’s just — It’s stupid, really. Ken was wondering about my connection to Voldemort — you know, what’s true and what isn’t. It’s completely normal that he would wonder. Probably everyone does when they see me or hear about me, but…”

“But you don’t want to talk about it,” she said gently. “You don’t have to, you know. I suppose it made you think about the Horcrux again?”

Harry groaned miserably. “I know it’s gone. It shouldn’t matter.”

“Of course it matters to you. It probably always will. I know after my first year, I couldn’t walk past the lavatory on the second floor without breaking out in a cold sweat. I eventually had to map out my route to classes without passing it,” Ginny said.

“I didn’t know that,” Harry said, eyes widening. He should’ve done so much more for her back then, and he mentally kicked his thirteen-year-old self.

“That’s because I tried to cover it up — like you’re doing now. It’s okay that it still bothers you, even though you know there was nothing else you could’ve done,” she said, smiling sadly.

“Did — Did it get better… eventually?” he whispered, looking up through his fringe hopefully.

Ginny shrugged. “It did. The more time that passed, the easier it was… although I admit, I still avoid going that way if I can help it. At the time, Bill actually gave me the best bit of advice.”

“What’s that?”

“He said not to pretend it didn’t matter. That I should allow myself to acknowledge that I was upset, and it made it easier to move on. Talking about it always helps,” she said, her brown eyes glowing with warmth and sympathy.

“Thanks, Ginny,” Harry said, swallowing.

“If you don’t, sweetie, it’ll keep cropping up. Those Dementors really aren’t helping. They keep the memories too close for you to work past them. How much longer?” she asked, looking irritated once again.

“They’re working on a plan to move them now,” Harry said, feeling his cold insides thaw a little with the use of her endearment.

“What about Theo Nott? Have you seen him again?” she asked. Harry had told her about their meeting.

Harry shook his head. “No, nothing from him, although there have been several more attacks on the families of known Death Eaters.”

“D’you think… do you think maybe the Ministry went too lightly on those who were involved here at Hogwarts?” Ginny asked, biting her lip.

Harry shrugged. He’d agonized over this decision, as well. “Do you think they should’ve gone to Azkaban? Some of them were only doing what their families instructed them to do.”

“I know that, but… Look, I don’t think anyone underage should’ve gone to Azkaban, but… I wonder if perhaps being allowed to come back to Hogwarts was wise. There is so much animosity amongst the younger students toward Slytherin House.”

“It’s not like they walked away scot-free,” Harry said, growling his frustration. “All the Carrows’ goons are on a sort of probation, and their wands are confiscated when they aren’t at school. People like Malfoy and Nott, and anyone else whose parents were Death Eaters have had their homes and finances confiscated.”

“I think the Ministry needs to make that better known. People need to feel there was justice.”

“I understand that, but where do you draw that line? The students were allowed back to Hogwarts to try and educate them about Muggles. That’s why the class is now mandatory. If we let it get out that they aren’t allowed wands before they finish their studies, then those who are already attacking them will know they’re defenseless.”

Ginny frowned. “I don’t know.”

“Me, either… but, we have to keep trying, don’t we?” he asked, feeling better just having the chance to talk with her.

She smiled. “Yeah, we do. You go to sleep, love. I’m going to have a shower.”

“You could still take your mirror with you,” Harry said, waggling his eyebrows.

“Good night, Harry.”

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