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.
A/N: Just a fair warning that this chapter earns its PG-13 rating for some drunken boy talk at the end ;).
Harry awoke to someone roughly shaking him. He tried to turn away and burrow back into his pillow. He’d been having a very pleasant dream for once, involving chocolate Easter eggs, broomsticks, and giggling Snitches. The shaking only increased and soon a loud voice bellowed in his ear.
"Get up, Potter, and do it quickly. Weasley, get out of that bed."
Harry’s eyes snapped open as he struggled to clear his head and recognize the voice. The room was shrouded in darkness, the only light coming from the dim glow of a lantern in the hallway. The big old house seemed abnormally silent, almost as if there had been a silencing charm placed outside his door.
Harry fumbled for his glasses, realizing it still must be the middle of the night or just before dawn, at best. He could hear Ron cursing sleepily from his own bed, groaning about the rude awakening. Finally locating his glasses, Harry shoved them onto his face, and his vision sharpened. Sighing, he realized that although he’d managed to eliminate the blurriness, he still couldn’t see a thing.
"Who’s there?" he asked, continuing to try and clear the sleep from his head.
"Whazzit?" Ron mumbled.
"Ooomf," Harry grunted as something bulky – yet not exactly hard – hit his head. He heard another thud before Ron made a similar sound.
"Pack those rucksacks with whatever you can in two minutes," Moody growled from somewhere near the door. Harry could see Moody’s shadow as he moved into the hallway. "Get yourselves down to the kitchen. Keep the lights to a minimum; we’re evacuating. Move."
Suddenly wide-awake, his adrenaline pumping, Harry leaped out of bed and yanked open the wardrobe. Using his wand for light, he magically expanded the rucksack Moody had tossed at him. He carefully put Dumbledore’s Pensieve inside, along with the strange silver instrument, the Horcrux containers, and his most prized possessions. He’d just begun to throw some of his clothing inside – he was fortunate that he hadn’t yet had the opportunity to shop, so he still didn’t own very much – when his head burst with excruciating pain.
It was as if someone had suddenly clamped it in a vise and proceeded to squeeze at full force. He fell to his knees with a grunt, grasping his head in his hands as he laid his forehead on the cold floor. A wave of pure, unmitigated fury washed over him before the pain ended nearly as soon as it had begun. If it weren’t for the fact that he was on his knees with his head on the floor, he would have thought he’d imagined it. One thing he did know for certain: Voldemort was angry about something – very angry.
"Harry, are you all right, mate?" Ron asked groggily. He’d finally pulled himself out of bed and had nearly tripped over Harry.
"Yeah, I’m fine," Harry said, pulling himself to his feet and shaking his head.
He picked up his wand and resumed stuffing clothing into his backpack, feeling troubled. He hadn’t had any kind of vision or felt any emotion from Voldemort in over a year. Dumbledore had suspected he was using Occlumency to keep Harry out. Why now? What had happened that would enrage Voldemort so much that he would temporarily drop his Occlumency shield? Did it have anything to do with the reason they were evacuating headquarters in the middle of the night?
"What are you doing on the floor?" Ron asked, beginning haphazardly to stash items into his own rucksack.
"Tripped," Harry mumbled, not wanting to alarm Ron just yet with the revelation that Voldemort had been in his head again.
"I wonder what happened," Ron said, beginning to look worried. "It must have been something big."
"Yeah," Harry said, zipping up his bag. "Are you finished?"
"I suppose," Ron said, staring at the messy room helplessly. "I can’t see a bloody thing, anyway. How am I supposed to know what to take if I don’t even know where we’re going? Why does he want the lights out?"
Harry shrugged. "Probably just being Moody. Just take some extra clothing, your broom and anything really important to you. Come on, let’s get downstairs. I want to find out what happened," he said, his hand instinctively touching the rope bracelet Ginny had given him to be certain he had it.
Ron shrank his broom before zipping his bag and following Harry from the room. They hurried down the dark stairs and into the kitchen where the lights blazed brightly. Harry had to blink and shield his eyes from the sudden glare.
Bill and Fleur were the room’s only occupants. Standing near the large fireplace, they had their heads bent and appeared to be in the middle of a deep discussion. Fleur had her arm on Bill’s shoulder, the side of her face still swathed in bandages from the wounds she’d received in Diagon Alley.
"What’s going on?" Ron asked, staring back and forth between his brother and Fleur.
"It happened quicker than we thought it would," Bill said grimly. "The Order has been accused of treason against the Ministry. There are a handful of warrants out for arrests, and we believe the wards are already failing."
"Whoa," Ron said, sitting down heavily at the table. "Whose arrest? Dad’s?
Bill nodded. "And Moody’s, McGonagall’s and mine. Umbridge has had a grudge against McGonagall since her time at Hogwarts. We suspect there will be more names added as the day progresses. Our Interim Minister appears to have a source who’s willing to talk."
"Percy?" Ron asked, grimacing slightly.
Bill winced and sucked in his breath.
"Non! Not your brozzer," Fleur said, once again gripping Bill’s shoulder. "He’s been giving information to us for months, now."
"Mum and Dad have gone ahead to Hogwarts, and we’ve already sent the owls along," Bill said, his face impassive. "Professor McGonagall is preparing for our arrival."
"That’s where we’re going? Hogwarts?" Harry asked, feeling both relieved and apprehensive about going to the school again. He hadn’t been back since Professor Dumbledore’s death.
"Yeah," Bill replied, nodding. "It’s the safest location, and there are plenty of places to hide if the Ministry conducts a search. Hogwarts has a way of keeping things hidden. We’ve got the Floo open to the Hog’s Head; Aberforth Dumbledore and Hagrid are expecting us."
"’Help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it,’" Harry mumbled.
"Pardon?" Bill asked.
"Nothing," Harry said, shaking his head. "Just a memory. Where are Ginny and Hermione?"
"They haven’t come downstairs yet. Moody is rounding up everyone," Bill replied.
"Move along quickly, girls," Anastasia Parkinson said as she pushed her two daughters through the kitchen door.
Iris stumbled in with sleep-filled eyes, still wearing her dressing gown, while Pansy was arguing with her mother and trying to turn back. Both she and Mrs. Parkinson had taken the time to put on robes, and they were all carrying small bags.
"Mother, I want to wait for Draco," Pansy whined.
"You let Draco’s mother worry about him. If there’s going to be trouble, I want you girls far away from it," Mrs. Parkinson replied firmly, her face pale and strained.
"Don’t worry, Mother. Most likely it’s just more of their melodrama," Iris said, yawning.
"I’m afraid not," Bill replied, ignoring the girls and looking directly at Mrs. Parkinson. "Our sources tell us that our location’s been compromised. We have to move, now."
Mrs. Parkinson’s hand shook as she pointed towards the fireplace. "Go on, girls," she said.
"Mother!" Pansy said. "We don’t even know where we’re going. I want to wait for Draco."
"The Floo will only let you go to one location," Bill said, handing Iris some Floo powder. "Just toss it."
Iris took the powder, a flicker of worry crossing her features as she glanced around the kitchen. She appeared to be looking for someone before she stepped into the flames and disappeared in a puff of green smoke.
"You next, Pansy," Mrs. Parkinson said, urging her daughter forward.
"Mother, I really think-"
"I don’t want to hear what you think right now, young lady. This is serious, and I’ve had just about enough of your attitude. Get into that fireplace without another word," Mrs. Parkinson said sternly.
Pansy looked mutinous. She opened her mouth to reply, but her mother simply arched an eyebrow, and Pansy deflated. Breathing through her nose, she grabbed a handful of Floo powder and tossed it into the fireplace.
Once she’d gone, Mrs. Parkinson relaxed slightly. "She’s just upset," she said, excusing her daughter’s behavior.
"We’re all upset, Madame," Fleur said, scowling at the fireplace. "Zome just handle eet better zan ozers."
Mrs. Parkinson’s nose rose in the air as she took her own handful of Floo powder. "I wish you well," she said stiffly before she disappeared.
The kitchen door swung open again, and Fred, George and Shannon all hurried through. George kept his hand on Shannon’s elbow.
"Did you see Ginny and Hermione on your way downstairs?" Bill asked, his gnarled face lined with tension.
"Hermione is looking for Crookshanks," Fred replied. "Want me to get them?"
"Yeah. Go hurry them along," Bill said. "Where’s Moody?"
"I’m here," Moody replied, leading Draco and Narcissa Malfoy into the kitchen. Narcissa was dressed in a traveling cloak, and Harry noticed she’d taken the time to apply her makeup
"What is the meaning of rousing us at this indecent hour?" she asked imperiously.
"Zere eez a bit of an emergency, Madame. Please, we are taking ze Floo," Fleur said, waving her hand to hurry the Malfoys along.
"What emergency?" Narcissa asked.
"Death Eaters," Bill said flatly.
Narcissa’s hand reached for her throat. "Here? You promised me you would protect my son," she said, spinning on Moody.
"That’s what we’re trying to do, ma’am," Moody replied gruffly. "As I recall, I banged on your door several times to try and hurry you along."
"Ze coloring you’ve chosen is zo exquisite. Eet eez always zo important to choose ze right colors. If you end up being killed because of ze time you’ve wasted, you will certainly be a beautiful corpse," Fleur said, blinking her long lashes.
Narcissa huffed indignantly, crossing her arms over her chest.
"I’ll go," Shannon said, stepping forward and looking as if she’d had more than enough excitement for one night.
"Bon," Fleur said. "Go, now."
Shannon glanced at George who nodded and handed Ginny’s purple pet Pygmy Puff to her. "Go ahead and take Arnold. We’ll be right behind you."
"I’ll go check on the girls," Fred said, tearing his eyes away from Narcissa as if deciding she wouldn’t pose any more of a problem.
"I’ll come with you," Harry said just as the entire house shook from the force of a blast somewhere on the street. Harry had to grab the door jam to stay upright. Glasses and dishes fell from the shelves as cabinet doors opened wide, swinging on the hinges. Fleur stumbled with the Floo powder and would have dropped it without Bill’s steadying arm.
"Looks like they’re here," Fred mumbled, his eyes wide.
"Mother, go, now," Draco said, sounding panicked. He pushed his mother towards the fireplace and nearly jumped in after her.
"Ginny! Hermione!" Harry called, sprinting out the door, Fred on his heels.
The house shook again, knocking Fred and Harry to their knees. Harry was certain he heard the sound of the front door imploding. Looking up, he could see Ginny and Hermione on the stairs. The tremors from the last blast had caused both girls to lose their footing, and they had to grasp the railing to keep from plunging to the bottom.
"Who dares to disturb the sanctuary of my father’s house?" Mrs. Black began screeching from behind the curtains that had been sealed over her portrait. They still hadn’t managed to find a way to remove her from the wall, but the curtains had at least hidden their activity from her view. "Blood traitors, vermin, scum….Mudbloods! All invading the pristine beauty of the home of my ancestors."
Scrambling to his feet, Harry sprinted to the hallway where he had a clear aim at the entrance hall but could still remain behind the cover of the wall. He pointed his wand at the open hole where the door had once been and managed to Stun the first two Death Eaters who emerged. He kept his aim and continued firing, but it soon proved futile as there were entirely too many of them. They entered headquarters like a row of worker ants, demolishing anything in their path.
The house rattled and shook every few moments, and Harry wondered what was being done to the outside. Obviously the Death Eaters weren’t trying to hide their activities from the Muggles, and he thought he could faintly hear police sirens in the distance.
He and Fred tried to cover the stairway from the attacking Death Eaters to give the girls time to regain their footing and continue their descent. A well-aimed Blasting Curse impeded their progress when it hit the railing, demolishing it. Harry felt his breath catch in his throat as he watched Hermione tumble over the side while Ginny fell down the remainder of the stairs. She landed with a thump at the bottom, clutching her knee.
Hermione managed to grab hold of the ruined railing, but she dangled precariously above the entrance hall, and several of the Death Eaters had already taken aim. Her legs swung wildly as she tried to reach the stairs to hoist herself back to the landing. Harry attempted to cover her with a Shielding Charm as he began firing hexes as the closest Death Eaters. Hermione screamed when a Blasting Curse exploded on the stairway near her left ear. Harry didn’t think she’d be able to hold on much longer.
Battered and bruised, Ginny pulled herself to her feet just as Fred sprinted past her.
"I’ll help Hermione, you just get to the kitchen," he said, nodding towards the door where Crookshanks had just sprinted.
Ginny nodded resolutely, dragging her leg behind her as she clutched the wall for support. Her gaze locked on Harry as she limped through the kitchen door. "Be safe," she mouthed before disappearing from sight.
Harry continued to fire spells as he tried to cover Fred and Hermione. Fred had scrambled up the stairs and grabbed Hermione’s wrists, ducking beneath the stray spells that Harry was unable to block. Hermione was so panicked, however, she wouldn’t let go of the railing and let Fred pull her over the edge. The Death Eaters continued to advance, and Harry was growing weary from the energy required to keep up his shield.
He leaned against the wall, wishing a stray curse would hit Mrs. Black’s portrait and shut her up once and for all. She continued to shout orders and instructions at the incoming Death Eaters, despite the fact she couldn’t see what was happening. Harry was flung backwards when a spell hit his shoulder, the same one that was still sore from the previous day. Pain radiated down his arm, causing him to grit his teeth to keep from crying out.
Suddenly, a volley of curses blasted towards the Death Eaters, catching them unaware and causing them to scatter for cover. Harry glanced up to see Ron standing in the kitchen doorway with a murderous glint in his eye. He kept one eye on Fred and Hermione as he blasted anyone who moved within striking distance.
Harry grinned, never so happy in his life to see Ron. Hoisting himself back to his feet, he once again renewed his powerful shield. He could almost feel the room crackling with magic, but knew he must be imagining it.
As if seeing Ron battling Death Eaters had given Hermione the courage to let go, she released the railing and allowed Fred to pull her to safety. She held onto his neck so tightly that Harry wasn’t certain he’d ever be able to peel her off. Hermione had never liked heights very much. Fred wrapped his arm around her and half-carried her down the stairs.
"We’ll cover you," Ron shouted, carefully watching their progress. "Just get her out of here."
"Come right behind us, little brother," Fred said, pulling Hermione through the kitchen door. Hermione leaned over Fred’s shoulder and blasted two Death Eaters before the door closed behind her.
Ron and Harry continued to hold back the approaching herd with everything they had. Curses flew back and forth, creating rainbow-like reflections in the windows. Harry could see the flashing lights of Muggle police and rescue vehicles outside and wondered if they’d even be able to see the house. Had the wards and protections failed that completely?
Once they’d given Fred and Hermione the time to escape, Ron provided cover while Harry, again cradling his arm against his body, sprinted toward the kitchen. A Death Eater blasted a hole through the wall where he’d just been standing, forcing him to take a running dive through the air to reach the safety of the kitchen.
Another blast hit the ceiling above Ron, causing a barrage of debris to fall upon his head. A bright streak of blood appeared above Ron’s eyebrow before he sprinted after Harry.
"You fools! Don’t give them the opportunity to escape," Snape’s voice sounded clearly from the entrance hall.
Harry froze, turning back. There was no way he was going to allow Snape to get away with this destruction of Sirius’s house.
"Let it go, Harry," Ron said, grabbing Harry firmly by the shoulders as if reading his mind. "We’re way too outnumbered here; the odds aren’t in our favor. There’ll be another fight on another day."
Harry knew Ron was right, but it galled him to admit it. Scowling and clutching his injured arm tighter to his body, he nodded curtly. Ron patted him on the shoulder.
The two friends stumbled toward the fireplace just as a large, unmasked Death Eater destroyed the kitchen door. Harry grabbed the Floo powder and tossed it as Ron pushed both of them into the fireplace. The Death Eater followed right on their heels, and Harry swore he could feel the man’s hand on the back of his neck as the spinning sensation of Floo travel took him away.
Both boys fell out of the fireplace onto the floor of the Hog’s Head in a tangle of limbs. Harry had just managed to roll onto his back and raise his wand before the Death Eater followed them out of the fireplace. He tumbled out, tripping over Ron’s long legs and landing on the floor on top of him.
"Expelliarmus," Harry shouted, grabbing the wand as it sailed from the Death Eater’s grasp before he could stop it.
Ron pushed him off his legs, scrambling backwards and away from the unarmed Death Eater, pulling Harry to his feet at the same time.
"Close the Floo, now!" Moody barked, raising his wand.
The tall barkeep that Harry recognized as Aberforth Dumbledore waved his wand toward the fireplace. Several more people standing around the center of the pub aimed their wands at the opening
"It’s been sealed," Aberforth said, nodding.
Without another word or glance at the various people who had entered his pub with their wands drawn, he returned to his position behind the bar and began wiping glasses. The pub wasn’t crowded at this late hour, but the scattered patrons who were inside watched the proceedings with interest.
"Amycus Carrow," Moody growled, glaring at the man who remained seated on the floor. "How nice of you to join us."
The lumpy-looking man glanced up and leered, his tongue lolling from the side of his mouth. "So, you’ve got me, eh, Moody? And what do you propose to do with me? You lot don’t have the guts to kill me outright, and the Ministry isn’t exactly cooperating with you these days, is it?"
He moved to stand, but Moody leveled his wand directly between the man’s eyes. "Don’t tempt me," Moody said, unblinking.
The man stared for a moment before sinking back to a seated position on the floor.
"He’s right," Bill said. "We can’t turn him over to the Ministry, so maybe we should just take care of him right here." Bill had a manic gleam in his eye that Harry had never before seen in him. He wondered how close it was to the full moon.
"You could," Aberforth said without looking up from the glass he was drying. "But then, you wouldn’t much be following what my brother stood for, would you?"
Bill cursed beneath his breath. "What do we do, then?"
"I could take him to ze Ministry," Fleur said. "They haven’t issued ze warrant for me, yet."
"No. I’ll do it," a woman said, rising from her chair at the back of the pub and moving forward. She removed the cloak from her head to reveal herself as Rosmerta, the barkeep from the Three Broomsticks, Hogsmeade’s other pub.
"Madam Rosmerta," Bill said, surprised.
"Minerva asked me to be an extra pair of eyes here tonight," Rosmerta said, nodding at Aberforth. "I can take this scum to the Ministry."
Moody shook his head. "You can’t. Umbridge will muck it up, and it will only implicate you as having ties to us," he said, growling in disgust.
"I won’t take him to Umbridge," Rosmerta said, her eyes gleaming brightly as an ugly smile twisted her normally attractive face. "I have several friends in positions of authority on the Wizengamot. I know too many of their secrets for them to want me brought in for questioning."
Moody grinned, nodding his approval.
Carrow scowled at everyone. "It won’t be enough to hold me."
Rosmerta put a hand to her head in an overly dramatized pose. "Why, sirs, I believe I’ve had some of my memory about the night I was placed under the Imperius come back to me. It must have been the shock of seeing his face again. I know how you’ve all been concerned about who did that to me, and what they might have learned when they did."
Moody chuckled. "I think that just might work, Rosie. You convinced me."
"Why thank you, dearie," Rosmerta said, batting her heavy black eyelashes. "You didn’t think I’d allow that little stunt to go unchecked forever, did you?"
"You all think you’re so clever," Amycus said, sneering. "You’re no better than the rest of us. You gave up one of your own tonight without any qualms. Looks like he might have even been family to some of you."
"That’s enough," Bill said, moving forward and holding his wand on the prisoner. "Shut your mouth. Okay, Rosmerta, take him in. Hagrid, let’s get the rest of them up to the school."
Hagrid nodded, his eyes shifting as he wrung his cap in his hands. He nodded towards the table of Slytherins, indicating they should follow him.
"Wait a minute," George said, shoving Bill aside. "What is he on about?"
"Who did we give up?" Fred asked, moving to stand next to George.
"No one. He’s trying to cause trouble. Don’t let him," Bill said, attempting to pull the twins away so Rosmerta could reach Amycus.
Harry felt a knot of fear in his belly. He looked across the room at Ginny, whose eyes were wide and glued on her brothers. All the Weasley boys stood tensely, waiting with bated breath.
"The Ministry worker who gave us the location of your headquarters. Too bad about that Unbreakable Vow he took. Killed him right quickly, it did," Amycus said gleefully.
It wasn’t so much the Death Eater’s words as Bill’s reaction to them that let Harry know it was true. The eldest Weasley brother appeared to sag, shutting his eyes tightly as if to block out the words. Fleur moved to him and began rubbing his back consolingly.
Harry had thought Bill had been acting strangely all night, now he knew the reason. Percy was dead; the Weasleys had lost one of their own.
"It’s true?" George asked, staring at Bill as the color drained from his face.
"Oui," Fleur replied. "Your fazzer got word before we evacuated."
Ron and the twins all stood motionless, as if struggling to process this new information. It was Ginny who finally spoke.
"Does Mum know?"
Her voice sounded strange – not at all like her own. Harry moved across the room and stood behind her, resting his hand on her shoulder. She reached up and grasped his fingers, but kept her eyes firmly on Bill.
"I don’t know," Bill replied. "I reckon Dad’s probably told her by now."
"They’re up at the castle. Professor McGonagall sent me ter bring yer all up ter Gryffindor tower. Yer folks are probably there," Hagrid said gruffly.
"You can all boo hoo over one less blood traitor later," Draco said, sneering. "For now, I don’t fancy risking my own neck by staying here any longer than necessary."
"Shut your pie hole, Malfoy," Ron said, turning and shoving the Slytherin backwards. Draco stumbled several steps before landing on the floor.
The tone of Ron’s voice let Harry know that his friend was close to exploding, even without his trademark red ears. Ron’s skin was pale, and his eyes had a hard, deadened look to them that almost made Harry worry for Malfoy’s safety. Not that he didn’t think Malfoy deserved a good thrashing, but now wasn’t the time, and he didn’t think it would do any of the Weasleys much good, anyway.
"Take him out of here, Hagrid," Harry said, jerking his head toward Malfoy. "We’re right behind you."
Hagrid nodded and quickly pulled Draco off the floor, lifting him off his feet in the process.
"Unhand me," Draco said, spluttering as he pulled free of Hagrid’s grasp.
"I will not have my son mistreated," Narcissa said, jumping up to stand between Hagrid and Draco.
"I’d treat Hagrid kindly, if I were you, Mrs. Malfoy," Fred said, a dangerous glint in his eye, "since he’s going to be the only thing standing between you and whatever else is out there on the walk to Hogwarts’ gates. If your son insists on mouthing off to anyone older than a Hogwarts’ second-year, he needs to learn to handle the fallout without his mummy’s interference."
"But now isn’t the time," Anastasia Parkinson said firmly, speaking for the first time. "Narcissa and Draco, follow Hagrid outside, please. Iris, Pansy, you, too." She began ushering all the Slytherins towards the door with a no-nonsense attitude. Hagrid gave a slight nod to the Weasleys before hurrying out the door.
"Ron," Harry said, keeping one hand on Ginny’s shoulder while laying his other on Ron’s and squeezing gently.
Ron jerked away and glared at Harry but appeared to deflate just as quickly. He stumbled more than walked towards the table where Hermione sat petting Crookshanks, watching him closely with tear-filled eyes. He slumped into the chair next to her, breathing deeply.
"We need to get up to the castle, as well," Moody said, glancing uncomfortably at all the Weasleys.
Harry wrapped his good arm around Ginny’s waist, and helped support her as she limped towards the doorway. He struggled for a moment with their rucksacks before Fleur and Bill easily lifted them for him. Together with Ginny’s family, they made the long, quiet trek up to the castle, each person lost in their own thoughts as they clung together. Harry didn’t think the walk had ever taken so long.
By the time they’d entered Hogwarts’ front doors, Harry was nearly supporting Ginny’s full weight. She’d twisted her knee in the fall, and it was now swollen to twice its normal size. He could see it bulging beneath her jeans and knew the constriction of the fabric must be hurting her terribly. She hadn’t complained at all, and her silence worried him.
His concern for her and the rest of the Weasleys had overridden his apprehension about returning to Hogwarts, and now he was simply glad to be home. He might not be able to do anything for Ginny’s deeper, emotional wounds, but he could at least alleviate the physical ones.
"I’m going to take Ginny up to the Infirmary," he said, addressing the group. "I think Ron and Hermione need some healing, as well."
Ron’s head was still bleeding, and Hermione appeared ready to collapse on her feet. She wobbled as she leaned against Ron’s broad chest.
"No," Mad Eye growled. "We’ve wasted too much time already. The Ministry could be here at any moment, and we all need to be safely tucked away. Go on up to Gryffindor tower. We’ll get Poppy to treat you all there. Potter, that arm of yours needs tending, as well."
Harry couldn’t argue that they had wasted lots of time, and his arm was throbbing painfully. The weary group of travelers climbed up to the seventh floor and found Professor McGonagall anxiously peering around the corner from her position in front of the portrait of the Fat Lady.
"Good Heavens! It’s about time. What took you so long?" she asked, her gaze raking over them and lingering on Ginny and Hermione. Her eyes softened, and she rubbed her nose with a handkerchief while she counted heads.
"We were delayed, but we’re all present and accounted for now," Moody said.
Professor McGonagall nodded, straightening her shoulders. "All right, then. I’ve told Filius to intercept the Ministry when they arrive. He’ll tell them that I left on holiday and haven’t returned. Hagrid said there were injuries; he’s gone to fetch Poppy," she said briskly. Turning towards the Fat Lady, she said, "Sanctuary."
The Fat Lady swung open, admitting them inside Gryffindor tower. The fire was blazing in the hearth and despite the tense circumstances, Harry felt as if he’d come home. Mrs. Weasley sat by the fire, a well-worn lace handkerchief clutched in her hand. Her head rested on Mr. Weasley’s shoulder as he absently ran his hand along her back, staring into the flames. The group of Slytherins sat huddled by the window, staring at the Gryffindor common room with open curiosity.
"Mum," Ginny whispered, sounding very young as she limped toward her parents.
Mrs. Weasley turned, startled. "Oh, Ginny," she cried, a flood of tears filling her eyes. She jumped up from the couch and ran to her daughter, enfolding her in her arms.
Harry stood back awkwardly, uncertain what he should do.
Mr. Weasley walked over to his sons, embracing each of them in turn before clapping Harry on the back. "You had trouble," he said, glancing at the various injuries.
"We’re all okay," Bill said. "Death Eaters got inside Headquarters, but we all got out with only minor injuries. One of them followed Harry and Ron through the Floo, but we got him."
Shannon helped Hermione to a chair and sank down beside her. Harry moved to sit with them, hoping to give the Weasleys some privacy.
"Hagrid said you’ve all heard the news," Mrs. Weasley said, wiping her nose as she helped Ginny to the couch. Ginny kept her head on her mother’s shoulder, tears streaming silently down her cheeks.
"The Death Eater told us that Percy was…that Percy was dead," she whispered, huddling closer to her mother.
Mrs. Weasley’s face broke, and she buried it in Ginny’s hair.
Fred and George each laid hands on their fathers’ shoulders and led him to a chair while Fleur wrapped her arms around Bill. Ron moved towards Hermione, and although he silently took her hand tightly in his own, his face remained impassive. He stared straight ahead, but Harry didn’t think he was really paying attention to any of them.
"I’m certain we’ll have some more substantial information when Tonks arrives," Moody said, gruffly clearing his throat. He’d remained in the shadows by the portrait hole, speaking with Professor McGonagall in hushed whispers.
"You!" Mrs. Weasley shrieked, startling them all. She let go of Ginny and stood, pointing a shaky finger toward Moody. "I knew that Unbreakable Vow was a mistake, but you insisted. You made my little boy make that promise."
"Molly," Mr. Weasley said, moving to take her in his arms, but she jerked free.
"Don’t you dare ‘Molly’ me," she snarled, her face crumpling. "He made Percy take that horrible Vow, and look what’s happened to my baby. They probably tortured him to get their information."
Moody shifted on his feet and appeared as if he would respond, but Professor McGonagall placed a restraining hand on his arm.
"We don’t know that, Mum," George said, although he couldn’t meet her eyes. "Don’t think about it now. For all we know, it could have just been an accidental slip."
"Unless he gave it to them willingly," Ron said darkly, his face turning scarlet.
Several of the Weasleys shouted in protest, but Ron stared back defiantly. "Don’t tell me the thought hasn’t crossed any of your minds. Percy hasn’t exactly been the most reliable bloke, lately."
The others shifted uncomfortably without meeting anyone’s eyes. The suspicion in the room – although unspoken – was palpable.
Mrs. Weasley collapsed in a puddle on the floor, sobbing hysterically.
Ron winced. His lower lip beginning to tremble, before he jumped from his chair and fled up the stairs towards the boys’ dormitory. Hermione stood shakily, as if to follow him, but Bill stopped her.
"I’ll go, Hermione; you need to see Madam Pomfrey," he said quietly.
Hermione sniffled and leaned her head onto Harry’s shoulder, bursting into tears. Harry awkwardly wrapped his arm around her and patted her on the back, feeling extremely uncomfortable.
When Madam Pomfrey arrived in the tower, she walked straight toward Hermione, pushing Harry out of the way with her no-nonsense attitude. He moved to the couch where Ginny was seated, clutching her uninjured knee to her chest and looking so forlorn that it broke his heart. Wanting desperately to comfort her, but uncertain how, he spotted her rucksack lying on the floor where she’d dropped it.
He knelt beside it and unzipped the top, rummaging inside until he’d found what he was seeking. Ginny, he discovered, packed just like Ron with no order whatsoever. Moving back to Ginny, he sat down beside her and pulled her close, handing Snot to her with a sad smile.
Ginny sniffed but smiled tremulously as she took the bear in her arms. "He really is a stupid-looking bear, isn’t he?" she asked with a small chuckle.
"Er…just a bit," Harry replied, tugging on one of Snot’s lumpy ears.
"Oh, Harry. I don’t know what to think. Percy could be a prat, but he was our prat. Poor Mum. I don’t know what this is going to do to her," she said, putting her head on Harry’s shoulder.
Harry remembered Mrs. Weasley’s Boggart and shuddered, knowing she was living through her worst fear. He hoped she’d find a way to survive it, too. He hoped they all would.
The next several days passed in a blur for Harry. Tonks had finally arrived at Hogwarts, informing them all of the sketchy details surrounding Percy’s death. According to her source, Severus Snape was seen at the Ministry that night, and Percy had been called to a private meeting. No one knew exactly what went on behind the closed doors, but the meeting had ended with Percy’s dead body and an enraged Severus Snape.
An examination of Percy’s body had revealed that he had indeed been tortured, but from Snape’s angry demeanor, it was suspected that Percy hadn’t given up the information that the former Potions master was seeking.
This was both a relief and a new source of misery to the Weasley family. Percy hadn’t betrayed them, after all. In fact, he’d apparently given his own life while trying to protect them, but he’d died before they’d ever truly had the chance to mend their row. Mrs. Weasley was taking it the hardest, and Madam Pomfrey had been regularly giving her a Calming Draught. The rest of the family was also struggling in their own way.
Charlie had arrived from Romania and attempted to get the Ministry to release Percy’s body to him, but the Ministry had refused. They wanted to speak with Arthur and Molly and demanded to know their whereabouts. Charlie had insisted he didn’t know and had barely escaped before a warrant was issued for his arrest, as well.
While Bill, Fred, George and Ginny appeared to be coming to terms with it, Ron was expressing his grief in anger. His temper boiled over quickly, and he constantly snapped at everyone. Fred and George were far less boisterous than usual, and Harry had spotted each of them blankly staring off into space on numerous occasions.
The one thing that had struck him most about the Weasley grieving process was the way they all clung together, apparently gaining support from one another’s company. Even Ron, with his foul mood, chose to stay in the room and argue with his siblings rather than seek the solace of his room. Harry remembered how he had felt after Sirius died – he’d want company, but as soon as he had it, he’d feel the need to be alone. None of the Weasleys wanted to be alone at all.
Harry, Ron, Charlie, Fred and George were all sharing a single room in the boys’ dormitory. Bill and Fleur were on another floor, with Mr. and Mrs. Weasley taking a third. Ginny had told him she was bunking in the girls’ dormitory with Hermione and Shannon. Harry still hadn’t figured out exactly where Moody was staying. The Slytherin women were all sharing one of the girls’ dormitories, but Draco had refused to room with any of the Gryffindor boys. Instead, he’d taken the first-year boys’ dorm all on his own.
One afternoon, after another row among the Weasleys over the Ministry’s refusal to release Percy’s body, Harry discovered the flying carpet that he’d found amidst Dung’s belongings rolled up at the bottom of his rucksack. Pulling it out with a delighted grin, he gathered Ron, Hermione and Ginny and told them to follow him out to the Quidditch pitch.
"Honestly, Harry," Hermione said, grumpily blowing a stray lock of hair from her mouth. "I don’t want to go to the Quidditch pitch. Whatever it is you want to show us, I’m certain we’ve seen you do it a hundred times already. We all know you can fly. I want to make use of our time here and do some research in the library."
"You haven’t seen this," Harry said, continuing to smile as he marched toward the pitch. "We’ve been holed up in the library since we got here, Hermione. I think we all need some stress relief."
He could see that he’d piqued Ginny’s curiosity, and Ron was always up for a trip to the pitch. It was only the fact that he hadn’t brought his broom that kept Hermione moving, however. He had the carpet wrapped in the Invisibility Cloak and tucked firmly underneath his arm.
"Of course I’ve been there a lot," Hermione said crossly. "The Hogwarts library is extensive, and now that I’m of age, I can get anything I want out of the Restricted Section."
"If you want to go back in an hour, I won’t stop you," Harry said, rolling his eyes. "This is something that might interest you, Hermione. It’s something I inherited from Sirius. I found it at Dung’s place, and I nicked it back."
"You didn’t nick it if it’s yours," Hermione said, furrowing her brow. "You didn’t mention taking anything but the locket."
Ron’s eyes opened wide, suddenly alight. "Blimey, Harry…I forgot. Can I have a go after you?"
"A go with what?" Ginny asked, her head moving back and forth between them.
Harry stopped when they reached the pitch. "With this," he said, removing the Invisibility Cloak and revealing the flying carpet hidden beneath.
"Wicked," Ron said, eyeing it appreciatively.
"Wow, Harry!" Ginny said, "How could you have forgot to mention this?"
"Those are illegal," Hermione said, but Harry could tell it was simply an automatic response. She ran her hands along the fabric inquisitively, examining each side.
"I know, but I can’t imagine Sirius’s family paid much attention to the laws, anyway. I think they were kind of like the Malfoys and thought they were above them," Harry replied.
"Sirius wouldn’t have cared anyway," Ron said, sniggering. "Didn’t you tell me he also charmed a motorbike to fly?"
"Yeah," Harry said, grinning. "That’s how Hagrid first brought me to Privet Drive. I used to have dreams about flying motorbikes as a child, never imagining it might have actually been a real memory. The Dursleys forbade me to mention it."
"How does it work?" Hermione asked.
"No clue," Harry replied, grinning. "Should be fun to find out, though." He placed the carpet on the ground, laying it out flat. "I think we can all fit."
"I’m not getting on that thing! You don’t even know how to fly it," Hermione said, exasperated.
"Never stopped me before," Harry said, dropping to his knees. It couldn’t be that hard. When he’d learned to fly a broomstick, he’d simply had to say ‘up’ and the rest had come naturally.
"Up," he said.
Nothing happened, although he thought he detected ripple of power course through the fabric.
Ron sniggered while both Ginny and Hermione tried to suppress giggles.
"Give me a minute," he said. Remaining on his knees, he leaned over so his hands rested on the edge of the carpet. He shut his eyes, allowing his body to relax.
"Up," he repeated, and this time it worked.
The carpet rose in the air rather shakily, creasing and folding and causing him to almost lose his balance as he shifted his weight. It took him a few minutes, but he caught on rather quickly. Leaning from side to side controlled the movement and pulling the front up or down controlled the height. It wasn’t nearly as streamlined as a broomstick, and it didn’t react to his lightest touch the way his Firebolt did, but it was enjoyable nonetheless.
He whooped as he gathered speed, looping around and through the Quidditch hoops. Once he was certain he could control it, he sped down and pulled up short in front of his friends, grinning madly.
"How is it?" Ginny asked, her eyes glowing.
"It looked brilliant," Ron said, smiling in a way Harry hadn’t seen since he’d been informed of Percy’s death.
"It’s not as good as a broomstick, but it certainly beats a Portkey," Harry said, grinning. "Climb on."
Ginny needed no further encouragement. She sat down next to him, resting her hand on his thigh and sending jolts of electricity down his leg.
Ron sat behind him and held his hand out to a reluctant Hermione.
"I don’t know about this," she said, sitting down gingerly. "I’m really not very fond of heights."
"I remember," Harry laughed. "It’s easier than Buckb…er…Witherwings, Hermione. At least the carpet won’t bite your hand off."
"That’s not very encouraging," Hermione said, yelping as Harry pulled on the edge of the carpet, causing it to rise sharply in the air.
She shrieked as Harry continued to increase the speed, soaring high above the pitch and zooming out over the lake. Ginny’s laughter only encouraged Harry to climb higher.
Hermione shrieked again, burying her face in Ron’s jacket. Ron wrapped his arms around her, pulling her close, grinning from ear to ear.
"Just relax and enjoy it, Hermione," Ron shouted over the wind.
"Enjoy it!" Hermione screamed, her voice only slightly muffled as she clung to Ron’s chest. "Enjoy it! I hate flying!"
Harry aimed the carpet at the top of the Astronomy tower, whooping with glee as they caught a strong wind that pushed them along. It wasn’t nearly as fast as his Firebolt, but being able to share the experience with the others was new and exciting.
He soared around the castle, diving in and out of the turrets. He skimmed over the forest and waved to Grawp when they spotted the young giant pulling some trees out by their roots. Finally, conceding to Hermione’s screams, Harry landed on the Quidditch pitch, feeling happier than he had in days.
"That was brilliant," Ginny said, her nose and cheeks pink from the cold. Her eyes were sparkling, and Harry felt pleased he could give that to her. When he’d been sad after losing both Sirius and Dumbledore, flying had always helped him feel better, too.
Hermione, on the other hand, appeared more than happy to be back on the ground. She’d scrambled off the carpet after they’d landed, straightening her wig. Harry half expected her to lean over and kiss the ground.
"Didn’t you enjoy it at all, Hermione?" Harry asked, feeling a little disappointed.
Hermione took a deep breath. "Well," she said, shrugging. "I really don’t like to be up so high, but it was nice to spend the time with all of you."
"But now you want to go back to the library," Ron said, finishing her thought.
Hermione crinkled her nose. "Well…"
"It’s all right. I want to give it a go myself, then I’ll meet you for supper," Ron said.
Hermione frowned, creasing her brow. "I suppose…" she said, trailing her words.
"Suppose what?" Ron asked, clearly confused.
"Well, it’s a long walk back to the castle, and I am rather cold. Do you suppose you could give me a lift?"
Ron’s face beamed with happiness. "You want me to give you a ride? On the carpet?" he asked, delighted.
Hermione nodded warily. "Only don’t go as high as Harry did."
Harry took Ginny’s hand and moved back. "It’s all yours. We’ll wait here," he said, grinning.
Ron and Hermione climbed on and began floating slowly toward the castle. Harry created a small fireball to keep Ginny and him warm while they awaited Ron’s return. Ginny’s smile slowly faded, and she grew quiet as she warmed her hands over it.
"All right, Ginny?" Harry asked quietly, gently nudging her with his shoulder.
"I’m okay," she said. "It’s strange. Sometimes, I get so involved in whatever I’m doing that I forget. Then when I remember, I feel guilty for forgetting. Does that make any sense?"
Harry smiled tightly. "Perfectly."
Ginny nodded. "I suppose you would know."
"Yeah," Harry said. "Try not to feel guilty, Ginny. I know what that must sound like coming from me, but I also know the guilt can eat you alive, and there’s still absolutely nothing you can do to change what’s happened."
"I know that," Ginny said, throwing her hands in the air. "But I still wish I’d said something more to him before it was too late. We talked at Christmas, but just barely. He was my brother, and I was so angry with him. Now he’s gone, and I’ll never have the chance to set things to rights."
Harry watched, dismayed, as a single tear fell slowly down Ginny’s cheek. Reaching out a finger, he gently wiped it away.
"I know," he said, his throat aching. "But you know what? No matter how much time you had, or how much you could have said, the ache would still be there now. I don’t think there’s ever enough time."
Ginny leaned her head on Harry’s shoulder. "Thanks, Harry. I love my family to bits, but sometimes it’s hard to get away from them."
Harry nodded. "Yeah, I’ve noticed." A thought occurred to him, and he abruptly stood, holding out his hand to her. "Come with me. I’ve someplace I want to show you."
Ginny glanced at him curiously, but she took his hand and followed him, nonetheless. As they walked along the edge of the lake, they could see Ron soaring above. Harry chuckled watching as Ron’s long legs dangled off either side of the carpet.
"He’s having fun," Ginny said, smiling. "Thanks for doing that for him, Harry. I think Ron is having the hardest time of all, since he never really even spoke to Percy after he came back."
"I know," Harry said quietly. "Part of that is my fault."
"Your fault?" Ginny said, startled. "How could it be your fault?"
"Percy sent Ron a letter at the beginning of our fifth year, warning him away from me. He said Ron would do better to cut his ties. Ron never hesitated and destroyed the letter," Harry said, smiling fondly. "He chose me," he whispered, blinking the sudden moisture from his eyes.
"Well, of course he did. It’s not your fault Percy was being a prat," Ginny said, firing up at once. "Even Percy saw that at the end. That’s what upsets me the most – that he did realize his mistake, but he wasted all that time that we could have had him in the family. It shouldn’t have been that way."
"No, it shouldn’t. Voldemort has a knack for destroying families. Here," he said, pointing to a spot by the lake that was well secluded with brush. It was a small, peaceful clearing with a nice view of the water.
"I came here a few times when I wanted to be alone after Sirius died," Harry said.
"It’s beautiful," Ginny replied, looking around thoughtfully.
"I thought…er…maybe you’d like to use it if you…er…well, if you ever wanted some time with your thoughts," Harry said, running a hand through his hair.
"Thanks, Harry, Ginny said, her eyes filling. "D’you mind if I stay here a bit now? Just to think?"
Harry shook his head. "I don’t mind. I’m going to go find Ron."
Harry had walked back to the Quidditch pitch and waited for nearly an hour with no sign of his friend. Finally deciding that Ron must have already gone back to the castle, Harry went to find him. He noticed the tense atmosphere in the common room as soon as he entered.
Shannon and George were sitting in the squishy armchairs by the fire. Harry nodded to them as he walked toward the stairs.
"I wouldn’t go up there," George said. "Ron’s in a right state."
"Why? What happened?" Harry asked.
"Same as always – another Weasley row. Mum and Moody went at it again, and Ron took Moody’s side. Mum burst into tears, and Charlie laid into Ron for upsetting her. It was ugly."
Harry nodded. "Thanks for the warning. I’m going to go see him, anyway."
"Don’t say I didn’t warn you," George replied, shrugging.
When Harry entered the dormitory, he found Ron lying on his bed with his arms behind his head, staring blankly at the ceiling.
"Hey," Harry said, carefully edging into the room.
"Hey," Ron replied, unmoving.
Harry walked over to his own bed and sat on the edge, glancing around uncomfortably.
"Why’d you leave? I thought we’d do some more flying," Harry said.
Ron shrugged. "I saw you and Ginny talking, and it looked pretty serious. I didn’t want to interrupt, and I certainly didn’t want to talk anymore about Percy, so I came inside."
"Ron…" Harry said, uncertain what to say. It wasn’t as if he and Ron ever really discussed any of this emotional stuff with each other. That was usually Hermione’s area.
"Don’t, Harry," Ron said, snapping. "What? D’you want to say ‘I told you so’? D’you want to remind me that you warned me about regretting not doing what was important when I had the chance?"
"No," Harry replied, stung.
"Then what? What can you possibly say that will change anything?" Ron shouted.
Breathing deeply to control his rising temper, Harry said, "Nothing. There’s nothing I can say that will change anything, Ron. You’re angry that you didn’t get to have it out with Percy, but rowing with the rest of your brothers won’t make it stop."
"Yeah, you’re such an expert on this stuff, huh, Harry?" Ron snarled.
Harry flinched. "Unfortunately, I’ve had some experience," he said through clinched teeth.
Ron paled, deflating. "Shite, Harry. I’m sorry. I don’t know what’s wrong with me – I keep snapping at Hermione, too. Merlin, I need a drink."
Harry pursed his lips and stared at Ron a moment before moving to his rucksack and digging through it. Pulling out his remaining bottle of Everlasting Firewhisky, he said, "That’s one problem I can solve."
One corner of Ron’s mouth quirked upwards. He grabbed the bottle and took a long swig, setting on the floor with his back resting against his bed. He folded his legs and handed the bottle to Harry, who also took a swig.
When he passed the bottle back to Ron, a brief flicker of concern crossed his friend’s face. "Hermione is going to kill us. We haven’t even had supper yet," he said. Despite his concern, he took a long draught of the Firewhisky, wincing slightly from the burn as it went down.
Harry shrugged, taking the bottle. "So? We are having supper – it’s just a liquid supper," he replied, grinning.
"Yeah," Ron said, chuckling. "You tell Hermione that when she bursts in here and finds the two of us pissed."
Harry shook his head. "Nuh–uh. She’s your girlfriend. You get to deal with it, while I quietly slink out of the room," he replied, laughing.
"Thanks a lot, you git," Ron said.
They sat on the floor trading the bottle back and forth for quite some time. If it had been a normal bottle, it would have been long empty by the time the winter sky had darkened, and the candles in the dormitory lit. Neither of them felt any pain, and the Firewhisky had long since stopped burning as they swallowed it. Both boys had uncurled their legs and sat sprawled on the floor – each kicking the other as they traded good-natured barbs.
It was only after they’d been drinking happily for some time that the conversation drifted back to Percy.
"I just wish I could have said ‘Happy Christmas’ while he was at Grimmauld Place, you know? What’s so hard about saying Happy Christmas?" Ron asked, slurring his words.
For some reason, Harry found it very difficult to follow Ron’s train of thought. He furrowed his brow, concentrating on enunciating his words. "Not hard at all. Happy. Christmas. Easy, see. Only two words."
"Exactly! Two words. So how come I couldn’t say them?" Ron asked.
"Dunno," Harry replied. "But he didn’t say them, either."
Ron blinked, nonplussed. "What?"
"You’re beating yourself up for not saying ‘Happy Christmas,’" Harry said, stressing each word to ensure he had his facts straight. "But, did Percy say it to you?"
"Well…no," Ron replied, "but he did show up for dinner."
"Yeah…well, he owed you the apology, right?" Harry asked, taking another swig.
Ron eyes widened to the point they were bugging out of his head. "We both made mistakes!" he shouted.
"’Course you did – you’re Weasleys," Harry said, kicking Ron’s leg.
Ron grinned, his eyes focusing somewhere beside Harry’s head. "Watch out, or I’ll tell my sister you said that, Potter."
Harry tried to control the grin he felt overtaking his face, but it was useless. He felt giddy and didn’t care if Ron knew it.
"You’re in love with my sister," Ron said, grinning.
"Yep," Harry answered unflinchingly, the grin remaining plastered on his face.
"You’re serious," Ron said.
Harry shrugged. "She makes me happy. She makes me want things that I never thought were meant for me…and I could easily spend every waking moment snogging her senseless."
"Eww, Harry," Ron said, taking a long swig. "I’m not pissed enough to hear any details."
"I am," Harry said, resting the back of his head on the top of his bed. Realizing it made him nauseous, he quickly lifted it back up, causing the room to spin. "Whoa."
"Hermione is an extremely good kisser," Ron said, his brow furrowed. "I don’t like to think that it was Vicky who taught her, though."
"Maybe it wasn’t," Harry replied, trying to measure the size of a candle’s flame with his fingers. "Maybe she’s just naturally a good kisser."
"Maybe she just likes kissing me," Ron said, his head lolling to the side with a silly grin. "There’s lots she likes to do with me."
Harry’s eyes bulged. "Exactly how much does she like to do with you?" he asked, not certain if he really wanted to know.
"Wouldn’t you like to know?" Ron said, chuckling.
"Er…no, not really," Harry said, suddenly giving in to the uncontrollable urge to laugh. "I keep imagining you and Hermione getting carried away and her wanting to stop to pull out her notes."
Ron kicked Harry in the leg, hard. Harry began convulsing with laughter, falling to his side and finding it impossible to sit up again.
"If Hermione has read any notes on pleasing her man, I’m not complaining," Ron said. "That girl has always been good about doing her homework."
Harry began waving his arms in the air. "Stop! No more. I don’t want to know."
"I thought you said you were drunk enough to hear this," Ron said, picking up his wand and using it to make the flame on the nearest candle alternately dim and flare.
"I’m drunk not," Harry said, staring at the ceiling. He furrowed his brow. That didn’t sound right…did it?
"Yeah, you always lie on the floor with your feet on the bed, Harry," Ron said, suddenly doubling over laughing. In the process he dropped his wand, and it rolled under Harry’s bed. "Oh…crap."
"I’ll get it!" Harry shouted. He knew he could do this. He dove under the bed, grasping the wand in his fingers and rolling out on the other side. "Ha! Told you I could get it."
"Yeah, you’re my hero," Ron said, snorting.
Harry flung the wand and pelted Ron off the head with it.
"Ow!" Ron cried, rubbing his forehead vigorously.
"Seriously," Harry said, peeking over the top of his bed, but keeping it between Ron and him like a shield. "Exactly how far have you and Hermione gone?" he asked, slurring his words.
"Are you drunk enough to know?" Ron asked.
"Yeah, I am," Harry replied, hiccupping in confirmation.
"We haven’t gone all the way…but not from lack of trying on my part. Further than I did with Lavender, anyway," Ron said.
Harry pursed his lips without commenting.
Ron grimaced. "How about you and Ginny?" he asked, his entire body tensing.
Harry snorted, taking another sip of the Firewhisky.
"What? I told you," Ron said indignantly.
"Yeah, but I’m not telling you. You’ll hit me," Harry said. The entire room was spinning, and he was having trouble focusing on exactly where Ron’s voice was coming from.
"I won’t hit you," Ron said, moving from a seated position onto his knees. "Just tell me quick – and no real details."
"I’m not telling you anything. You nearly choked me for tickling her. Who knows what you’ll do if I tell you I’ve seen her naked," Harry said, swallowing heavily. "Well…almost naked, anyway."
"I told you not to tell me that!" Ron exclaimed, putting his hands over his ears.
"That’s why I’m not going to tell you about the almost naked part," Harry said, exasperated.
"Well, someone told me because now I know. Now I have to do something about it," Ron said, his face turning alarmingly red. "That’s my little sister, Harry."
"I know. That’s why I’m not telling you that I know how much of her is freckled," Harry said earnestly.
Ron reached for his wand, but he fumbled, and it rolled under the bed once again. Ron dove for it on one side while Harry did on the other, each of them struggling on the floor to reach it first.
That was how Hermione and Ginny found them when they finally came up to the dorm to see why the boys had skipped supper. Ginny had spent a long time down by the lake lost in her own thoughts and returned to find Hermione feeling rather miffed that Ron hadn’t joined her for supper. They’d shared a nice meal together before going in search of the boys, and Ginny felt better than she had in some time.
"What in Merlin’s name are you two doing?" she asked, giggling at the sight of Harry’s bed shaking as the two boys wrestled beneath it with their legs sticking out on either side.
Both of them jumped at the sound of her voice, cracking their heads on the bottom of the bed. After a considerable amount of time, they managed to extract themselves on opposite sides of the bed and sat on the floor rubbing their heads. Both wore glazed expressions and had high color on their cheeks. They’d obviously been drinking – heavily. Ginny giggled at the way their eyes refused to focus. Hermione, however, was not amused.
"Ron!" she shouted, stamping her foot. "You two have been drinking, and you haven’t even had supper. I thought you were going to meet me."
Ron turned toward his girlfriend, his expression dazed. "Oh, yeah…I was. I said that after I gave you that romantic ride on the flying carpet, right?" he asked, obviously pleased he remembered.
"Ginny!" Harry exclaimed, an enormous smile spreading across his face. It was the kind of smile he usually only wore if he was flying, and Ginny always thought he was beautiful when he grinned that way.
His hair was tousled, and he ran a hand through it as he tried to keep up with the conversation. Turning towards Ron with an incredulous expression, he said, "It wasn’t romantic. Hermione hates to fly."
Ron stuck out his chest, slurring his words. "Was so romantic. I wasn’t like you just trying to make it go as fast as it would go so the girls would scream on the dives."
Harry looked crestfallen, and he turned wide eyes towards Ginny. "Did you think it was romantic, Ginny?"
The corner of Ginny’s mouth twitched – she found him rather adorable in this condition. "Of course it was, Harry," she said.
"She’s just saying that ‘cuz it’s you. Our flight was definitely more romantic, wasn’t it, Hermione?" Ron asked.
"Why is everything always a competition with you two?" Hermione asked, exasperated.
"I think it’s a bloke thing," Ginny replied, giggling. "I remember Mum throwing a wobbly once when we were younger because all my brothers were rowing about who had the biggest scoop of mashed potatoes."
"Yeah! Mine was definitely the biggest. Charlie kept fluffing his with his fork to try and make it look bigger than it was," Ron said, looking rather put out with Charlie.
Hermione shook her head and picked up the bottle of Firewhisky. "You’ve had enough of this," she said, Banishing it.
"Hey!" Harry yelped, blinking. "That was my birthday present, and I’m not done with it."
"Then where is it?" Hermione asked, impressing Ginny with her quick thinking.
Harry looked perplexed. "I…You…I don’t know, but I’m not done with it."
"Come on, off the floor with you, Harry," Ginny said, tugging him to his feet and pushing him back down on his bed. "The party’s over."
"It is?" Harry asked, allowing her to manhandle him.
"Yeah. We’ve got some news," Ginny said, a chill running down her spine. She wished she could just leave him this way and allow him to continue his party with Ron, but this couldn’t wait. She sat beside him, ruffling his hair.
"What news?" Ron asked, sitting on his own bed.
"I need you sober," Hermione said, waving her wand in the air. Both Harry and Ron shook their heads, blinking.
"Oi. I didn’t like that," Harry said, slapping his hands over his ears repeatedly. "It made my ears pop."
"Why did you do that, Hermione?" Ron whinged, shaking his head.
"Because I have something important to tell you, and I didn’t want you giggling through it. The Order is having an impromptu meeting downstairs about Umbridge. Apparently, she’s called a press conference at the Ministry in three days. She claims to have struck a deal with Voldemort to ensure peace."
"What? Voldemort will never stick to that," Harry said, finally giving the girls his full attention.
"The Order doesn’t think so, either," Hermione replied. "According to Tonks’s source, Umbridge wanted to have a warrant issued for your arrest, Harry. She still doesn’t have enough clout with the Wizengamot to push it through, but they did agree to bring you in for questioning."
"Have to find me first, don’t they?" Harry asked, scowling.
"It gets worse, Harry," Hermione said, biting her lip.
"What do you mean?" he asked, and Ginny could feel his entire body tense.
Hermione took a deep breath before resting her hand on Harry’s arm as if to keep him calm. "This bargain that she’s supposedly struck with Voldemort is very dodgy. No one knows exactly what it entails, but as part of a show of good faith on her part, she released Wormtail."
"What?" Harry exploded, jumping from the bed and jerking his arm away from Hermione. His eyes were wild, and Ginny could feel the power radiating from him. It was almost frightening.
Hermione recoiled, stricken. "She’s going to give all the details at her press conference. Tonks suspects she’s going to use it as a push to have herself instated as full Minister and not just for the Interim."
"We’ll see about that," Harry said, his voice deadly calm. Ginny moved toward him, resting her hand on his shoulder. He was so tense, she feared he was ready to snap.
"What do you mean? Harry, you can’t be anywhere near there. She’s got the order to bring you in for questioning, and if she succeeds in securing the Ministry, she’ll have you arrested," Hermione said tearfully.
Harry’s face hardened as a steely glint of power stole into his eyes. He looked fierce, and Ginny couldn’t help feeling proud of the man he was becoming.
"Then maybe it’s time for the Chosen One to tell the people what’s really going on – whether they want to hear it or not," Harry said, his jaw clenched in determination.
Ginny slipped her hand into his and squeezed it gently. Whatever happened, she knew they’d all be by his side.
A/N: Thanks so much to Sherylyn for her speedy beta worked. Even after all this time – I’m still comma-impaired (although, to be fair, I think every single person who looks at this follows different comma rules :D) Thanks also to my wonderful pre-betas, KEDme, Dianne, and GhostWriter – all of whom wanted to see the return of Drunk!Harry. I do like writing him. I love the idea of a Harry powerful enough to thwart a Dark Lord but unable to handle his alcohol, lol.