Disclaimer: I own nothing; it all belongs to J.K.Rowling. I’m just borrowing the characters to play with for a while. This is for pleasure only, no profit is being made, and no copyright infringement is intended.
Ginny opened her eyes, steadied herself and stared at the gloomy outline of Number Twelve Grimmauld Place. She had just Apparated onto a small grassy patch of land shadowed by a large tree a short way from the house, and hoped she wouldn’t get a reprimand from the Ministry about underage magic since she was in the company of several of-age wizards.
The sun had set long ago, and the street was quiet and dark, not even a Muggle vehicle disturbing the stillness. She could see dim candlelight burning in several of the windows of headquarters and was relieved that it was still occupied. Harry slumped against her, finally losing his long battle to stay conscious. She struggled to let him down gently and ended up pinned beneath him. Merlin, for a thin bloke he was heavy. She shuddered at the stark purple bruises covering his pale face.
Ron sat on the ground next to Harry, cradling Hermione in his lap. He was listless and barely had the strength to speak.
"Sorry, Ginny," he said, gasping. "I tried to fire sparks at the door, but I missed."
"It’s okay. Everything’s going to be fine, Ron. How’s Hermione?" Ginny asked. The older girl was frighteningly still, and Ginny couldn’t bear to look at the awful wounds on her head.
"She won’t wake up, Ginny," Ron said, sounding like the frightened little boy that Fred and George used to tease with spiders.
"She will," Ginny said with a confidence she didn’t have. She suddenly didn’t feel very grown up, at all. "This isn’t finished yet, and Hermione is way too tenacious to give up in the middle of a project. Stay with them a minute; I’ll be right back."
She gently untangled herself from Harry’s limbs, wincing at the raw slashes across his chest. Her hands were slick with blood from gripping him so tightly when they Apparated.
He’d been magnificent against the dragon. Ginny had been awed watching him, despite her terror. After the dragon had first whipped him with its tail, she’d begun trying to conjure a broom to help him. Conjuring items was a sixth-year spell, and she’d never attempted it. All she had to go on was the memory of Harry conjuring his own broom. It had taken her several attempts to get it right, and she knew her own panic and frustration hadn’t helped. Once she’d finally had the broom, something in the magic of the place wouldn’t allow her to leave the stands to help him.
Still, despite knowing all he’d done and how much he’d been through in that arena, she couldn’t help the slight twinge of annoyance over being the only one conscious and unhurt and able to deal with the wrath that awaited her on the other side of the door. She knew she was in for a barrage of questions, and she wished she didn’t have to face it alone. It might be childish, but that’s how she felt.
She’d let the others recover, but once they were well again, she had every intention of pointing out that despite all their protests about her being underage, she was the last one standing. Steeling her resolve with a grim smile, Ginny climbed the steps of number twelve.
She tested the handle of the door and found it unlocked. Her heart gave a slight twinge knowing that her mum would have left it that way in case they returned. Biting her lip, she pushed open the door and stepped inside.
I have to be strong.
Directly inside the entrance hall, Bill, Remus Lupin and Alastor Moody were arguing heatedly, but Ginny was too tired to pay attention to their words. None of them noticed her straightaway. Remus looked up first and caught her standing uncertainly in the doorway.
"Ginny," he said, startled.
Bill and Moody’s heads whipped around, but otherwise they were all frozen.
"Uhm…I need some help outside. We’ve got some injuries," Ginny said finally, biting her lip.
It was as if her words unfroze them. Remus and Moody pushed past her and sprinted outside, but Bill caught her by the arm before she could follow.
"Oh no, squirt, you’re not going anywhere," he said, and despite the old familiar nickname, she could tell he was angry.
His anger snapped something inside her and released her courage. There was no way she was going back to being treated like a baby – not by Bill – not by anyone.
"Let go of me, Bill," she demanded, jerking her arm free. "Hermione is really hurt, and I know right where she is. I’ll answer your questions later, but I don’t have time for this right now."
Ignoring the surprised look on her brother’s face, she turned and sprinted out the door, leading Lupin and Moody to the others.
"She’s been burned," Ron said as Remus leaned over Hermione. "She needs Madam Pomfrey right now."
"Let me take her inside, Ron," Remus said, gently lifting her from Ron’s arms. "I’ll Floo Poppy, and she’ll be here in no time."
Ron nodded, struggling to stand. Moody pulled him to his feet and grabbed him around his waist when Ron started to sway.
"Easy, lad. I’ve got you. Just lean on me, and we’ll get you inside," the old Auror said, surprisingly gently.
Bill stared down at Harry’s crumpled form, an unreadable expression on his face. After waiting a moment, Ginny finally nudged him, and he leaned over to lift Harry. He pulled Harry to his feet and threw him over his shoulder none-too-gently. Ginny bit the inside of her cheeks, breathing through her nose, and followed them inside.
When they arrived in the entrance hall, they followed Remus and Moody into one of the smaller sitting rooms where Bill unceremoniously dropped Harry to the floor in a heap.
Ginny couldn’t control her temper any longer. She whirled on her brother in a rage, holding her wand on him.
"That’s enough," she snarled.
"Ginny," he said, his own temper rising.
"Not another word from you," she spat. "You have absolutely no idea what’s going on here, and if you mishandle Harry one more time, I’m going to make certain you wish you’d never taught me the Bat Bogey Hex."
"That’s enough," Remus said sharply. "We’re not going to start fighting amongst ourselves. We’re going to tend these injuries before we sit down and calmly discuss what’s happened. I’m going to Floo Poppy. Bill, I think you should go and get your parents."
Bill frowned at Ginny for a moment before turning on his heel and leaving the room without a word.
"Stay with Harry, Ginny. I’ll be right back," Remus said, squeezing her shoulder gently.
Moody sat Ron on a chair, but he immediately moved to the floor next to the couch where Hermione lay. He held her hand tightly, gazing intently at her closed eyelids. Ginny imagined he was willing her to wake up from sheer desire alone.
Moody helped her move Harry to the empty chair, and she gently rested his head to the side. The floor where Bill had dropped him was smeared with his blood, and the fabric on the chair where they placed him was rapidly becoming stained.
"He’s going to need a Blood Replenishing Potion, but we’ll let Poppy look him over first," Moody said, his good eye fixed on Ginny while his magical eye kept spinning to watch the other three.
A commotion in the doorway caused Ginny to look up to see her parents, Bill, Fred and George all staring back at her. Her mum was pale, although Ginny could see two bright spots of color growing rapidly on her cheeks.
That was never a good sign.
Ginny glanced at her father’s face. She could read relief there, but had to look away from the disappointment she saw reflected in his eyes. What was it about parents that could make you feel so small and unsure, no matter how strongly you believed in what you were doing?
She knew she’d been right to go along with Harry and the others. She knew what they were doing was important, and that they were following Professor Dumbledore’s instructions. She also knew the great burden Harry carried, and that he was stronger with her by his side. Why, then, could the simplest look from each of her parents make her feel as if she’d done something terribly wrong?
"Ronnie," her mum wailed, finally noticing the burns on Ron’s arm. She ran across the room and grabbed his hand, trying to straighten out his arm and inspect the wounds.
Ron jerked his arm away roughly. "M’fine," he slurred, letting them all know he was anything but. "’Erminee’s hurt."
"I want to know what in the name of Merlin happened to all of you, and I want to know right now. I’m aware that you were in Diagon Alley earlier today, and now you show up here injured. Where have you been, and what have you been doing?" Molly demanded, drawing herself up to her full height. She glared at Ginny while keeping her hand on Ron’s shoulder. Molly Weasley wasn’t a tall woman, but when she was angry she appeared to grow before their eyes.
"The questions will keep, Molly," Remus Lupin said mildly as he reentered the room followed closely by Madam Pomfrey. "Let’s get their injuries healed first."
Madam Pomfrey’s expert gaze swept the room and each of the four teens before moving directly to Hermione. She set her bag on the floor and in a no-nonsense voice told Ron to move aside. Ron shifted back, although admittedly not very far.
"Are you injured, Ginevra?" her mother asked stiffly.
"No," Ginny replied, knowing what was coming and steeling herself for it.
"Then I want you upstairs and in your room. I’ll be up to discuss this with you after I’m certain your brother will be all right," her mum said in a shrill voice.
Ginny swallowed, clenching her fists so tightly her fingernails dug into her palms. "No, Mum. I’m staying."
"Don’t you dare argue with me, young lady. I’m on my last nerve with you as it is, disappearing in the middle of the night without so much as a note. There’s a war going on out there. You could have been killed," her mum shouted.
"Molly," her dad said, placing a restraining arm on her mum’s shoulder.
"No, Arthur. I want her upstairs now," her mum insisted, pointing at the door.
"No, Mum. I’m staying here until I know they’ll be all right," Ginny said, swallowing hard. "Hermione and Harry are unconscious, and Ron’s nearly delirious. I’m the only one who can tell Madam Pomfrey anything she might need to know."
She knew she was using the health of the others as her trump card, but she didn’t care. She wasn’t leaving the room. She felt this first battle of wills was pivotal in how the rest of the Order was to see them. Besides, she wasn’t about to leave Harry defenseless with her brothers in the room. Still, it was terrifying to defy her mother. There had been a time not all that long ago when she’d never have considered doing it.
"She’s right, Molly," Remus said, and Ginny could have hugged him. She looked over at him gratefully, but he averted his eyes.
Her mother’s lips thinned, and she looked as if she might cry, causing Ginny’s heart to pinch again. What she really wanted to do was to fling her arms around her mum and just hang on, but she knew she couldn’t do that. If she wanted her family to see her as an adult, she was going to have to act like one. No matter how hard that proved to be.
"This is Dark magic," Madam Pomfrey cried, pulling away from Hermione, her eyes wild. "This child is covered in Dark magic."
"Does that mean you won’t be able to heal her?" Ginny asked, panicked. She could hear the tremble in her own voice, but couldn’t hide it. All she could remember was Professor Dumbledore’s blackened hand and how dead it had looked.
"I don’t know. It’s going to take me some time to see how bad the damage is," Madam Pomfrey said, obviously shaken. "She’s stable for now, but I can’t heal these burns without some additional research."
"How did Hermione get these burns, Ginny?" Remus asked. "Can you tell us that?"
"Hermione," Ron said, his voice cracking as he attempted to move closer to her.
"Sit down, young man," Madam Pomfrey demanded. "Let me take a look at you before you go anywhere. You," she said, pointing at Bill and the twins, "begin Transfiguring this furniture into beds and make me an infirmary. I want all four of my patients in the same spot."
"Ginny’s not hurt," Bill said, staring at his sister with that same unfathomable expression.
"I’ll be the judge of that. Just do as I say," Madam Pomfrey snapped, returning to tending Ron’s wounds.
"Ginny, who caused these injuries to the others?" Remus asked, attempting to stop the bleeding on Harry’s chest with the sleeve of his robe. "We haven’t had any reports of Death Eater activity tonight."
"Voldemort," Ginny said flatly.
There were several gasps, and her mother visibly flinched.
"Ginny!" she cried as if Ginny had cursed. "Don’t say the name."
Ginny rolled her eyes. She was tired and stressed and the adrenaline from the night’s activities was beginning to wear off. She had no patience for this. "I will say the name. I’m not going to be a hypocrite about it."
"Don’t talk to your mother that way, Ginny," her father said sternly. It was so rare that her dad ever reprimanded them that it mollified her instantly.
"I’m sorry," Ginny said. "It’s been a stressful night, and I’m worried about them."
Her mother’s expression softened slightly, although she still hadn’t made a move to touch her. Ginny wished she would; she could use a hug.
Harry groaned slightly and shifted his position. Ginny immediately turned to him and brushed the hair from his eyes. "Harry?" she said.
She could see his eyes moving rapidly beneath his closed lids, but she suspected he was dreaming rather than trying to wake.
"I’ve healed most of his burns. They weren’t as severe as Miss Granger’s. Still, I need to do a little research before I can be certain," Madam Pomfrey said. Ron was sleeping peacefully in the bed Fred and George had Transfigured. Ginny suspected that Madam Pomfrey had given him a sleeping draught. She wished she could get one in order to avoid the questions she knew were coming.
"I have some questions I need answered as well, but let me tend to Mr. Potter first," Madam Pomfrey said.
"I think we all have a lot of questions," her dad said, his gaze boring into Ginny and causing her to flinch.
When Madam Pomfrey reached Harry, she waved her wand over him once and jerked back. "These aren’t burns," she said, nonplussed.
"No," Ginny replied, swallowing hard. She didn’t want to reveal anything she’d promised to keep quiet, but she had to make certain the others’ injuries were tended. She found herself wishing these weren’t her decisions to make and had a new respect for the burden that had been placed on Harry. No wonder he frequently appeared so on edge.
She desperately wanted to do the right thing, but what happened if what was the right thing wasn’t entirely clear? How was she supposed to know, let alone decide? Professor Dumbledore’s words from after the Third Task drifted back to her, something about choosing between what was right and what was easy. It would be easy to simply fall on her knees and confess everything to the Order, to place the burden of what to do on their heads. But that wasn’t what Harry would do. He’d choose the right path, no matter how much it cost him. Ginny had to choose to do what was right, as well.
"These injuries were caused by a magical creature, a dragon, if I had to hazard a guess," Madam Pomfrey said, staring at Ginny intently.
"A dragon?" Fred and George both asked, speaking for the first time. Ginny thought they looked rather impressed.
"Where on earth did you find a dragon?" her mum shrieked, looking slightly deranged. Her hair had pulled from its bun, and her eyes were wild.
"Can you heal him?" Ginny asked, ignoring everyone else in the room. Nothing was as important as getting Harry well. She needed him well so she could give him hell for leaving her here with all of them.
"Of course I can," Madam Pomfrey said indignantly. "He’ll need some Blood Replenishing Potions that will have to be taken in intervals over the next two days. He’ll probably sleep through most of it, but he’ll be fine. There won’t even be any scarring."
Two days? Oh, that’s just great.
"I’ll help with giving him the potions," Ginny said firmly.
"That won’t be necessary, Ginny," her mother said. "We’ll make certain Harry gets his potions. You have some questions to answer."
"I’m not going anywhere until I know they’re all going to be okay," Ginny said, refusing to back down. "And I don’t trust any of you with Harry right now."
"Ginevra Molly Weasley," her mother said, scandalized. "We might be upset with all of you at the moment, but we certainly would never do anything to hinder Harry’s recovery."
"Bill’s already dropped him on the floor, despite the fact he’s injured," Ginny fired back mutinously. She glared at her eldest brother, still feeling unforgiving.
"He what?" her mother bellowed, turning towards Bill.
Despite being a fully qualified wizard, not to mention a grown and married man, Bill Weasley blanched. "I would have done the same to Ron, too, if he were the one I was carrying. They had no business dragging Ginny off on their little adventure."
"’Little adventure,’" Ginny shrieked. "You have absolutely no idea what we’ve done, or what we’ve been through."
"How about you enlighten us then," Bill snarled. "Tell us why you nearly broke your mother’s heart. Do you have any idea how much you upset her? Madam Pomfrey had to be called to give her a Calming Draught that first morning. But you wouldn’t know about that since you never bothered to check or even write a note to let us know you were all right, never mind where you were. I knew Harry was up to something, but I never thought he’d drag the rest of you right into danger with him."
"He didn’t drag us anywhere," Ginny spat. "In fact, we had to force him to let us come. Professor Dumbledore left him a job to do. Completing his task is the only way Harry can beat Voldemort in the end. That’s exactly what he’s going to do, and we’re going to help him do it."
Again, the others cringed when Ginny said the name, but she didn’t care.
"Ginny," Remus began, but she didn’t let him finish.
"Look at you. All of you cringe just hearing the name. How can you possibly believe you can handle this better than us?" Ginny asked incredulously. "Professor Dumbledore trusted him; why can’t you?"
"You are just children," her mum said stubbornly.
"We’re not children. Harry’s never even been allowed to be a child, and I haven’t been since I was eleven. I’ve been touched by this war more than any of you, even you, Bill," she said, nodding towards her brother’s scars. "How any of you think you can keep us safe is beyond me. You couldn’t do it then, you can’t do it now."
"That’s enough." Madam Pomfrey said sternly. "Miss Weasley, climb into that bed." She nodded towards the one empty bed left in the impromptu infirmary, the one next to Harry’s.
"We need to ask Ginny some questions, Poppy," her dad said.
"Not right now you don’t," Madam Pomfrey said indignantly. "Minerva isn’t even here, and this is developing into nothing more than a shouting match. These children have obviously been through a shock, and nobody is going to upset them until they have a good night’s sleep. I’ll return in the morning with more information on Miss Granger."
She handed Ginny a phial of purple liquid that Ginny assumed was a sleep potion. She gratefully gulped it down before anyone could stop her.
"I don’t think anyone is going to get any clear answers tonight," Moody said. "Why don’t we all get some sleep? We can talk about their return in the morning."
The sleep potion was making Ginny warm and so very drowsy. Fog tinged the edges of her vision, and the voices became oddly distorted. Before the tide of sleep claimed her, however, she thought she saw Alastor Moody give Madam Pomfrey the briefest of winks. Her brain must have been addled, because she thought she saw the stern hospital matron actually blush.
When Harry opened his eyes, the first thing he noticed was how stiff his body felt. The second thing he noticed was how bright the room was due to the sunlight streaming through the undraped windows.
What time is it? And how long have I been asleep?
His eyes scanned the room, noticing the four beds and bedside tables arranged in the otherwise bare room. He was obviously somewhere in Grimmauld Place, but he didn’t remember ever seeing an infirmary while there.
Hermione was sleeping across from him, her head wrapped in heavy white bandages. The other two beds were empty, however, causing Harry’s stomach to lurch with dread. He knew Ginny hadn’t been hurt, but why were both Weasleys missing? Had Mrs. Weasley spirited them away?
Harry half hoped it was true, half dreaded the idea. He didn’t think he had any hope of succeeding without them. Along with Hermione, they each were a part of him now; he needed them.
A small sigh distracted him, and he turned his head. Ginny was asleep on a chair beside his bed, her feet curled beneath her. Her head lolled to the side, and she clutched a tattered old book in her hand.
Harry smiled in relief; she hadn’t left him. He immediately noticed that she’d changed her clothes and wondered again how long he’d been unconscious. A tremendous wave of guilt washed over him. He’d left Ginny alone to deal with her parents’ wrath. Some boyfriend he made.
Standing up and stretching in an attempt to loosen his stiff muscles and joints, Harry watched Ginny sleep for a moment. A few stray wisps of hair covered her face and moved in and out as she breathed. He smiled, imagining it must tickle. He gently brushed the hair away and she stirred slightly, shifting in her seat and causing her book to fall from her grasp.
Harry leaned over to pick it up, wondering what she was reading and if it would help them with their mission. Turning the book over, he found a full-cover moving picture of a witch and wizard locked in a passionate embrace. The witch’s robes were hanging off her in a way he’d never seen any witch dress, not even Madam Rosmerta. Curious, he flipped it open to a random page and began to read. He managed only a few words that consisted of a heaving bosom and a throbbing…
Harry slammed the book shut and dropped it on his bed, his face coloring brilliantly. He stared at Ginny incredulously. What on Earth was she was reading, and how in Merlin’s name had it put her to sleep? Harry shifted uncomfortably, suddenly feeling very worried about what Ginny might think of their private snogging sessions. Living in such close quarters with Ron and Hermione hadn’t afforded them the opportunity for much time alone, but they’d taken the opportunity whenever possible.
Harry thought their time together had been nothing short of brilliant, but now he was a bit worried. Exactly what was Ginny expecting? He wished he could talk to Ron about it, but he could just picture the look on his mate’s face if he even attempted to bring it up. Ron never shared anything about what was going on with him and Hermione – a fact for which Harry was eternally grateful – but he had been rather proud and forthright about his activities with Lavender.
Shaking his head, Harry decided he’d have to worry about it later. Right now he had to find out what had been happening while he’d slept. He desperately wanted a shower, but decided even that would have to wait. He was going to look for Ron.
He ran up the stairs to the room he and Ron had shared before they’d left but he didn’t see anyone. The fact the house appeared so empty left him uneasy. The bedroom was empty, not showing any sign that Ron had been there. Harry decided to try the kitchen but pulled up short in front of the door that led to Ginny and Hermione’s room.
Quietly opening the door, he immediately saw what he was seeking. Snot sat perched on Ginny’s bed looking sad and forlorn. Scooping up the bear, Harry shut the door behind him and turned, only to find Malfoy standing directly in front of him with a sardonic grin on his face.
"So, finally awake, Potter? What happened, you just couldn’t stand to lie there any longer without your teddy bear?" Malfoy asked, sneering.
Harry felt warmth flood his face. He struggled valiantly with the urge to shove the bear behind his back, despite the fact he knew it was too late for that. Of all the people that could have found him walking around with Snot, why did it have to be Malfoy? The only worse choice would have been the twins. Something Malfoy said finally penetrated Harry’s embarrassment.
"What do you mean ‘finally awake’? How long have I been here?" he demanded.
Malfoy raised an eyebrow. "Long enough to let your little girlfriend take all the heat for your disappearance. Smooth move, Potter. It’s exactly what I would have done, too, but I thought you’d somehow be too noble for that," Malfoy said with a grimace.
"O h, there’s that Gryffindor pride. I knew it must be hiding in there somewhere," Malfoy said, scoffing. "Don’t worry, Potter. Weaslette apparently can handle her family just fine without your protection. She does a better job than her pitiable brother, anyway. I hear Granger’s going hairless these days. I never would have suspected Weasley was harboring a fetish for bald birds."
Harry angrily shoved Malfoy against the wall. The blonde boy’s eyes widened in surprise. "Shut it, Malfoy," Harry said through clenched teeth. He was disturbed to realize how much attention Malfoy had been paying to his friends. If he were double crossing them somehow…
"Let go of me, Potter," Malfoy said, angrily pushing Harry back a step and straightening his clothing. "Don’t take out your frustration on me simply because you’re unhappy you let your girlfriend down."
"I said shut it. You don’t know what you’re saying," Harry replied.
"Oh, yeah. I wouldn’t know a thing about leaving my girlfriend high and dry, would I, Potter?" Malfoy asked, sneering hatefully. "I’m certain Pansy is perfectly content sitting around wondering if I’m dead or alive. Only thing is, she’s smart enough not to expect me to put myself in any danger simply for her comfort."
Harry blinked, surprised. It sounded almost as if Malfoy actually cared about Parkinson. Who’d have thought? Harry didn’t know why anything had the ability to surprise him anymore. Before he had a chance to contemplate it, or even respond, Ron’s voice echoed loudly in the deserted hallway.
"Harry! You’re awake. What’s going on here? What are you doing with him, Malfoy?"
"Relax, Weasel. If you keep making your face that color it’s going to stay that way," Malfoy replied, lazily leaning against the wall.
"I’m fine, Ron," Harry said, interrupting the other two before they could come to blows. "Are you all right?"
Ron shrugged. "I’m fine; Madam Pomfrey patched me up. What are you waiting on, Malfoy? Go on and scurry away like a good little ferret."
Two bright spots of pink colored Malfoy’s cheeks, but otherwise he didn’t respond to Ron’s taunts. Instead, he turned towards Harry and asked, "So, I take it from all your injuries that you found whatever the Dark Lord is guarding? The only way you’d still be alive is if you came up against an idiot like Crabbe, Goyle or Simmons. What is it, Potter? What are you looking for, anyway?"
"Wouldn’t you like to know?" Harry responded coolly. "You heard Ron, Malfoy. Shove off. I’ve got nothing to say to you."
"Not until you need information again, anyway," Malfoy said bitterly. "Fine. Have it your way, but don’t expect me to be so hospitable next time."
Harry and Ron watched him walk away in silence until Ron finally muttered, "Git," under his breath.
"How could I have been so stupid?" Harry hissed, slapping his hand to his head.
"Huh?" Ron asked, bewildered.
"The Muggle we saw outside the Smith Museum – the one who kept circling the block. That must have been Simmons. I would have recognized Crabbe or Goyle. He was guarding the museum," Harry said.
"Didn’t do a very good job of it, did he?" Ron asked. "We got inside no problem."
"No, but Malfoy did say he was stupid. Don’t you see, Ron? It’s a way to find the other Horcrux – the one we don’t know what it is. Either Crabbe or Goyle is guarding it. If we find them, we at least find where it’s hidden," Harry exclaimed excitedly.
Ron’s expression brightened considerably. "What’s the other one guarding?" he asked.
"I reckon he’s probably at the cave where the amulet was hidden. No one besides the four of us knows it’s not there anymore. I’ll have to check on it," Harry said, running his hand through his hair absently.
"Er, Harry. You do know you’re walking around talking to Malfoy with a teddy bear in your hand, right?" Ron asked, amused.
Snot! He’d completely forgotten he was holding Ginny’s bear. "Er…it’s Ginny’s," he said lamely, ducking Ron’s gaze.
"I know what it is. What’re you doing with it?" Ron asked, obviously amused by Harry’s embarrassment.
Dammit! The lengths he’d go for Ginny Weasley.
He mumbled something undistinguishable as he pushed past Ron and headed towards the infirmary. Ron followed behind him, sniggering the entire way. Scowling, Harry pushed open the door to find Ginny still sleeping where he’d left her.
Ignoring Ron’s snickering presence, he tucked Snot under her arm and gently pulled the blanket around her. He moved towards Hermione, but Ron’s words stopped him in his tracks.
"You’re in love with my sister."
Harry’s steps faltered. He swallowed heavily and continued towards Hermione, flustered by what Ron had said. It wasn’t anything he hadn’t considered himself, but hearing Ron say it out loud was intimidating. How was he supposed to know what love felt like? He had vague recollections of admitting to Ginny that he loved her in the Parthenon, but his memory at the end was slightly faulty. Even if he had, he didn’t want Ron calling him on it.
"Has Hermione awoken at all?" he asked, clearing his throat.
"I knew you fancied her, but you’re actually in love with her. You love my baby sister," Ron repeated gleefully. He was prancing behind Harry and looking like a right pillock.
"Ron! I’m trying to be serious here," Harry said, jerking his shoulder. Ron was really on his nerves.
"You’re trying to change the subject," Ron said smugly.
"So let him," a sleepy voice said from behind them.
Harry whirled around to see Ginny sitting up and rubbing her eyes. Finding Snot, she blinked in surprise before looking directly at Harry and flashing that brilliant smile.
Harry’s mouth went dry. Bollocks! How much did she overhear?
"It’s good to see you up and about," she said, her eyes softening.
"Hi," Harry said, knowing he sounded stupid but unable to think of anything else to say.
Ron had no such problem. "Snap out of it," he said, snapping his fingers beneath Harry’s nose. "You can moon over her later."
"As if you haven’t been the one sitting by Hermione’s bedside mooning for the past three days," Ginny snapped.
"Three days?" Harry bellowed. "We’ve been here for three days?"
"Yes," Ginny said, turning her attention back to Harry. "Nice of you to join us."
"What’s happened while I was out?" he asked, feeling alarmed. "What happened when we got here?"
"Relax, mate," Ron said, taking a seat in the chair next to Hermione’s bed. "When I woke up, Madam Pomfrey had already healed us all," he said, wincing as he looked at Hermione. "It took you longer because you lost so much blood. Ginny’s been giving you a Blood Replenishing Potion. She wouldn’t let anyone else do it – put Mum in a right state, she did."
Ginny shrugged. "I wanted you well, and Bill was a bit angry with you when we first arrived."
Harry cringed. "Sorry to leave you with that, Ginny. What did you tell them?"
"Nothing important, although they have figured a few things out already," Ginny replied.
"Like the fact you went up against another dragon," Ron said.
"Yeah. Madam Pomfrey knew that from your injuries," Ginny said.
"The cup!" Harry exclaimed. "Where is it?"
"Don’t worry. I put it in your nightstand along with your wand," Ginny said calmly. "Things have been rather strained around here since we got back."
"That’s an understatement," Ron mumbled.
"How do you mean?" asked Harry.
Ginny shrugged. "Mum had her big blow up when we first arrived, but since then she’s been…distant. She seems sad, almost like she doesn’t know what to say to us," Ginny said, her voice cracking slightly. "It’s so unlike her. Sometimes I think she’s angry but…"
"All the Order has been in an out. Shacklebolt and McGonagall have been the most demanding. They’re the ones who are the most put-out, I think. Moody’s been the best," Ron said.
"Yeah, well. He knew we were up to something and was okay with it," Harry said, feeling distinctly uncomfortable.
"I know, but Remus knew too, and he definitely seems off," Ron said. "And Dad just looks sad."
Harry shifted uneasily.
"Don’t you dare start feeling guilty, Harry. We’ve no time for it, and there was nothing else you could have done," Ginny said firmly.
"Besides, showing up here unconscious was the best thing that could have happened. It put Mum right in the ‘poor dear’ mode. I think it helped all of us," Ron said, grinning.
"Great. What about Bill? You said he was upset," Harry asked.
"Yeah, he’s definitely off," Ron said.
"I think that might have more to do with the fact that we were out doing something important, and he’s feeling stifled. We’re just coming off the full moon, you know. His wounds have never healed completely, and Gringotts won’t let him come back to work until they do," Ginny said.
"What? Why not?" Harry asked indignantly.
"They’re afraid," Ginny said, sighing. "Werewolf contamination and all."
"That’s rubbish," Harry said.
"Tell it to the Goblins," Ron said bitterly.
"I think I will," Harry said furiously.
Hermione shifted on the bed, most likely disturbed by their loud voices.
"Madam Pomfrey was able to heal all Hermione’s burns, but she wasn’t able to save her hair," Ginny said quietly. "The spell that hit her was Dark Magic, and the hair cells were completely destroyed. Madam Pomfrey said it would all have to grow back naturally. She’s pretty upset."
"No, she’s not," Ron said, his expression blank. "It’s just hair; it’ll grow back."
Ginny shook her head. "I know it’s just hair, Ron, but trust me, it matters."
Ron shook his head. "She could have been killed, Harry. Madam Pomfrey said the effects of the curse were most likely lessened because it was split between us. I think the fact we both tried to move away helped, as well. If it’s a choice between Hermione and some hair, I’ll take Hermione every time."
"Of course you would. We all would, and she knows that, too. It doesn’t make the idea of losing all her hair less intimidating. I think you’d be hard put to find a witch that didn’t have some vanity about her hair," Ginny replied, patting Hermione’s leg.
"How come she’s still unconscious, and you’ve been up for days?" Harry asked Ron.
"She’s been awake, too," Ginny said, and Harry could tell she was trying not to laugh. "She found a bunch of medical books in the library, and she’s been consulting with Madam Pomfrey about all her options. I’ve noticed she takes a kip every time Madam Pomfrey gives her a Healing Potion. I think the Madam Pomfrey has been slipping her a Sleeping Draught."
"Wish we had some of that when she starts going off on elf rights," Ron said, whispering despite the fact Hermione was sound asleep.
Harry snickered. "Better not let her hear you say that."
"I won’t," Ron said adamantly.
"I suppose we should let everyone know you’re awake. They’ve been waiting to have a meeting," Ginny said quietly.
Harry instinctively reached out and grasped her hand. "I suppose we should get it over with then."
A full meeting of the Order of the Phoenix was held the following evening. Harry had to force himself not to fidget as he waited for the others to file into the room. Ron and Ginny, naturally, were both attending the meeting, but he noticed Mrs. Weasley giving them furtive glances every few seconds, as if she longed to boot them from the room. She’d been as pleasant as always to Harry, and very concerned over his health, but he could sense a distance, a barrier, that he’d never felt before. His chest constricted whenever he thought about it too much.
Hermione was also in attendance. She entered the room wearing a navy blue handkerchief on her head to hide the bandages and leaned heavily on Ron. He’d wrapped his arm protectively around her and hadn’t removed it even after they’d sat down. Hermione was much more subdued than normal, which disturbed Harry.
Both Bill and Lupin had been scarce since Harry had awoken, but they were here tonight, both casting disapproving looks in his direction. Only Mad-Eye Moody appeared happy to see him, and greeted him almost warmly. Well, as warmly as Mad-Eye ever was, anyway. Tonks sat beside Lupin, her hair a hideous shade of olive green. She winked at Harry and stuck her tongue out at Remus when he frowned.
Of all the Weasleys, only Fred, George, and, surprisingly Fleur had acted as if nothing was wrong. The twins were eager to tell him about business and ask loads of questions about the dragon. They also enjoyed teasing Harry and Ron about living unsupervised with the girls. That teasing had caused many disapproving glares from the elder Weasleys, and made Harry fear for the stability of the tentative truce they’d apparently reached.
Charlie and Percy arrived for the meeting, in addition to many other members Harry had only seen on occasion. Professor McGonagall and Kingsley Shacklebolt both sat at the head of the expanded kitchen table, each wearing a grim expression. Professor McGonagall’s lips were compressed so tightly they had lost their color. Harry had seen that expression from her before, and it was usually followed by a particularly foul detention.
He took a deep breath to steady his nerves. He wasn’t a kid called to task in front of a professor. He was an adult now with a greater responsibility than any of them knew. He would not be cowed, and he wouldn’t allow them to revert to treating him like a child.
"Good evening," Professor McGonagall began. "I think it best if we call this meeting to order and get right to business. Mr. Potter, what do you have to say for yourself?"
Harry returned her stare, forcing his voice to remain calm. "What would you like to know?"
"What I’d like to know is where you’ve been over the past month," she said sternly.
"And why my children went along with you, despite my express wishes that they not be involved," Mrs. Weasley added, glaring at Ron and Ginny with tears in her eyes.
"Harry," Remus Lupin said. "We’d like to know why you left the way you did, without leaving us any means of contacting you. Do you understand how worried we were? How helpless you made us all feel?"
"The Order was assigned the task of protecting you by Albus Dumbledore, someone you supposedly respected," Shacklebolt said, apparently impatient with the emotional turn the meeting had taken. "And yet you saw fit to ignore every measure of protection we had in place to go out on your own. I’d like to know why. What could possibly have been so important?"
Harry expected the barrage of questions, but he was slightly stung by the tone in Remus’s voice. He cleared his throat before speaking, and when he did, he looked directly at Remus.
"I appreciate your concern, and I’m sorry that you were worried, but I honestly didn’t see there being another way. If I’d told you my plans to leave, would you have stood aside and let us walk out that door?" he asked.
"Harry, we’re here to help you," Remus said. "We want to help you."
"You can’t," Harry snapped.
"What do you mean we ‘can’t?’" Professor McGonagall demanded. "Of course, we can, Potter. That’s the entire purpose of the Order."
"We are aware that you believe Albus left you with a job to do, but we can’t believe he meant for you to do this alone, Harry," Mrs. Weasley said, resting a hand on his arm.
Harry pulled his arm away. "You still don’t get it, do you?" he demanded. "He didn’t leave me a job to do. It is my job to do – all of it. Everything the Daily Prophet has said about this ‘Chosen One’ business – well, it’s about the only thing they’ve ever got right. I know it, and Professor Dumbledore knew it. You all say you trusted him, that what you did came down to whether you trusted his judgment or not. Well, leaving this task to me was his judgment."
"But he’s gone now, Harry," Professor McGonagall said. "Things have changed."
"Nothing’s changed; what has to be done remains the same," Harry said vehemently. "Dumbledore once said that he will have only truly left when no one here is loyal to him. You have to decide if you still can be, even if what he’s asking isn’t easy."
"You have to choose between what’s right and what’s easy," Ginny whispered. "We all do."
"How can we choose what’s right when we don’t even know what it is you’re doing?" Kingsley demanded. "You’ve obviously told your friends. Why can’t you tell us?"
"I told them because Professor Dumbledore told me I could. He thought I’d need some support, and they’re the ones I’m closest to," Harry said, leaving out the fact Ginny had only been included later.
"I can’t believe Albus would do this," Mrs. Weasley moaned. "Ginny isn’t even of age."
"Neither was Ron when Professor Dumbledore told Harry he could share this," Ginny snapped. "You have to stop dwelling on our ages and see that what we’re doing is right. It’s working, and it’s the only thing that’s going to stop Voldemort."
Again, there were several muffled gasps and shifting around the table. Members of the Order had become accustomed to Dumbledore using the name, but it still startled them to hear it from someone else.
"Look," Harry said, making a decision. Something told him it was the right one to make. "I know you’re all as dedicated to stopping this war as I am, and I do need some help. If I concede to some stipulations of yours, can you agree to trust the fact that I can’t tell you everything?"
"Fair enough. Dumbledore never shared everything with us anyway," Mad-Eye said before anyone else could agree or disagree. Looking around the table, Harry could tell by their expressions that not everyone was happy with Moody’s decision. Still, there were more that appeared ready to compromise than there had been at the beginning of the meeting.
"The next time you have to leave, we want to know. No more waking up and finding you missing," Moody said, and Harry knew he was beginning with something Harry wouldn’t have a problem agreeing with. It wasn’t like sneaking out again would work, anyway.
"Agreed," he said.
"And we want to know where you’re going and have a way to contact you should the need arise," Remus said.
Harry shook his head. "I can’t tell you where we go. I’m sorry, but I can’t."
"Harry…" Mr. Weasley began.
"No. Not only would Voldemort kill you for that information, it would jeopardize everything if he finds out what we’re doing. I can’t tell you where we are, but I do think I have a way for you to contact us that would be safe," Harry said.
"Which is?" Mr. Weasley asked.
Harry looked towards Remus. "Sirius once gave me a mirror. He said he used to use it to talk with my dad when they were in detention. D’you know what I’m talking about?"
A grin appeared on Remus’s face. "I do."
"I– er...I broke the one I had. D’you think you could charm another couple of mirrors to act the same way? We’ll keep one, and you can keep another here," Harry said.
Remus nodded. "Yes, I can do that. I think that will work nicely."
"That seems to indicate that you think Ron and Ginny will be going with you again," Bill said, frowning.
"Damn straight, we will," Ron said hotly.
"We’re not letting Harry do this alone," Hermione said, speaking for the first time.
"Ginny is not going anywhere," Mrs. Weasley shouted, her face very red. "I won’t have it."
"Oh yes I am," Ginny said, firing right back at her mum. "The others never would have got out of there if it weren’t for me. They need me."
"You’re underage," Mrs. Weasley cried.
"It’s because I’m underage that my magic was undetected. Professor Dumbledore discovered it last year when Harry went with him. Voldemort is too arrogant to believe that anyone underage could be a threat to him. Don’t make the same mistake, Mum." Ginny said, her eyes flashing.
"That’s enough, Ginny," Mr. Weasley said firmly.
"Ginny is your baby sister," Bill said, glaring at Ron. "You never should have allowed her to go along with you."
"She’s not a baby anymore, Bill," Ron said, raising his chin.
Ginny flushed with pleasure and cast a grateful smile at Ron.
"‘E usually ‘az much more common sense except when eet comes to ‘’iz leetle sister," Fleur said, patting Bill on the back.
Fred, George and even Charlie had to cover their snickers. Bill whirled on them.
"You can’t tell me you’re all right with Ginny traipsing across the countryside and living with Harry," he said incredulously.
Anger flooded Harry’s cheeks. How could they be worried about the impropriety of where Ginny might be sleeping when Voldemort had Inferi on the loose killing people? It was just too much.
"I don’t believe this," Harry roared. "I wish the biggest concern in my life was hiding what Ginny and I got up to from all of you, but that’s just not the way it is. We’re fighting this war, the same as you."
"We know that, Harry," Mrs. Weasley said, placating him. She again rested her hand on his arm, and this time he didn’t pull it away. "But you have to understand that she’s our child. We won’t stop being parents simply because there is a war raging."
Harry nodded, chastised. "I understand. You really have nothing to worry about; I’d protect Ginny with my life."
"We know you would, dear. That’s partly what we’re afraid of," Mrs. Weasley said tearfully.
"Look," Harry said. "You all know the prophecy, or basically what it says. You know what I’m up against. I might not have a lot of time to give her-"
Shouts of disagreement and dismay met this statement, but Harry held his hands in the air, silencing them.
"Let’s be realistic, all right? There are no guarantees – for any of us. That’s been made painfully clear. This little bit of time might be all I have go give her, so I’m going to take it while its there," Harry said, amazed by his own cheek.
"And what happens afterwards?" Bill asked. "When the war is finished, and you have managed to survive? What happens between you and Ginny then?"
Harry smiled, looking down into Ginny’s warm brown eyes. "Well, that’s the plan. If we manage it, anything that comes after is the whipped cream."
Ginny beamed at him.
"All right, back to the Order," Kingsley said, still scowling. "You won’t tell us where you go, but you will leave us a method to communicate."
Harry nodded. "And what I could use from you is some information. How do you go about tracking a wizard?"
"There is no way to track You-Know-Who, Harry. Don’t you think we’ve tried?" Mr. Weasley asked softly.
"I’m not talking about him," Harry said. "I want to find the location of the fathers of two of my former classmates. Vincent Crabbe and Gregory Goyle’s fathers are both Death Eaters. I bet the guests upstairs know their first names. I need to know where they are, that’s all."
Moody nodded. "I can look into that. Does this have something to do with whatever it is they’re guarding?"
"Yes," Harry said shortly. He suspected he knew the location of one of them already, but he thought it best not to announce he was leaving again so soon to check it out. It would be better to let them think he was following one of their leads.
"There is something else I want you to do for us," Kingsley Shacklebolt said, staring intently at Harry.
He saw Professor McGonagall shift slightly while Remus looked away. Tonks gripped his shoulder supportively. Harry knew instinctively that he wasn’t going to like this.
"What’s that?" he asked.
"I would like you to resume Occlumency lessons," Shacklebolt said evenly.
"What?" Harry exploded. "They were a disaster; Professor Dumbledore even agreed on that. Besides, Voldemort hasn’t tried to get into my head for over a year."
"The reason they were a disaster could have been that Snape," Shacklebolt fairly spat the name, "wasn’t doing his best to teach you. If you are hiding something as critical as you say, we cannot take the chance that You-Know-Who can find it without your knowing."
"He couldn’t," Harry said.
"He’s done it before," Shacklebolt fired back, causing Harry to flinch.
"Harry," Remus said gently. "I think this is a good idea. Dumbledore did believe it was a good idea before Snape convinced him otherwise. I think it’s worth the effort."
Harry’s shoulders slumped in defeat. He couldn’t deny their words, but something inside him told him Occlumency wasn’t the answer. "Fine. Who’s to teach me though? You?"
"No. I’m not qualified to instruct you. We do have a couple of people here, however, who are qualified. If you agree to it, that is," Remus said, his eyes shifting again.
"Here? Who? I thought the reason Snape had to teach me was that there wasn’t anyone else qualified?" Harry asked.
"They weren’t on our side then," Remus replied.
"You can’t be serious," Hermione shouted, looking back and forth wildly between Remus and Kingsley. "You can’t let them inside Harry’s head. No way."
Harry blinked for a moment, trying to figure out what Hermione was saying. The answer hit him like a blow to the gut.
"No way! If you think for one minute I’m going to let Draco Malfoy inside my head-"
"He’s a capable Occlumens, Harry," Remus said mildly. "Weren’t you the one who said he managed to keep Snape out last Christmas?"
"Yeah, but…" Harry stuttered, thunderstruck. "He’s Malfoy."
"He learned from his mother and his aunt. Obviously we can’t trust them completely, but we can use them while they’re here. They’re using us for the same reason; it’s mutually beneficial to both sides," Kingsley said. "Remus has agreed to monitor the situation at all times, so you won’t be alone with them."
"I don’t believe this," Ron shouted, unable to contain himself any further. "First you’re all over Harry about being too young and not trusting you with the answers to things he absolutely can’t tell you, and now you want to let Malfoy and his mother have free reign inside his head? Have you all gone mad?"
"That’s enough, Ron," Mrs. Weasley snapped. "Of age or not, I won’t have you using that disrespectful tone."
"You’re all barking," Ron mumbled mutinously.
"It’s your decision, Harry. What do you say?" Remus asked.
Harry sighed, running his hands through his hair. "I told you I’m willing to make some compromises, but this is a big one. I’ll give it a try, but I’m not promising to stick with it if I think things are going badly. And I want you all to remember this the next time I have to do something that you’re not too happy about."
Ginny clutched his hand beneath the table.
What had he just done?
A/N: Thanks to my wonderful beta team – Sherylyn, KEDme, Dianne, and GhostWriter – you’ve all added things to this story, and I really appreciate your feedback.
To all of you who take the time to review – I really appreciate you. You’re feedback, critique and encouragement mean the world to me. Thanks, much.