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.
Matters of the Heart
As winter slowly released its icy grip from the Scottish soil, signs of new life appeared throughout the forest and across the Hogwarts grounds. Small green buds began to pop out on previously barren trees, and the first hearty flowers poked their heads from the earth.
Ginny’s recovery was moving along, albeit slowly. She still struggled for breath whenever she overexerted herself, and her leg had proven more stubborn to heal than had been expected. She walked with a definite limp. Madam Pomfrey had said something about a pinched spinal nerve, but as yet, she hadn’t found the correct solution.
Ginny had adapted to the uncertainty about her leg well – better than anyone would have expected. But she chafed under her forced confinement in the hospital wing. Feeling frustrated and impatient to leave, she was prone to snap and even throw various objects at anyone within reach whenever she was denied her request to return to Gryffindor Tower.
Madam Pomfrey had been reluctant to release her before she was certain that Ginny’s breathing difficulties could be managed. Mrs. Weasley followed Madam Pomfrey’s instructions to the letter, further testing Ginny’s already-strained patience. According to Ginny, the only positive aspect to the whole ordeal was that all the restorative potions she’d been required to take had had the wonderful side effect of speeding up her hair growth.
Ginny’s fiery hair now reached halfway down her back, and she again was able to pull it back into her familiar ponytail. Once she’d realized the effect, Madam Pomfrey had even given a much smaller dose to Hermione to hurry along her re-growth, as well.
Ginny had made good use of her time in confinement, catching up on all the schoolwork that she’d been neglecting. Between her mother, Hermione, and Professor McGonagall’s visits, she was bound to score well on her end-of-term exams. While Ginny revised, Harry had been spending his time training with the Aurors. He knew the time for his final confrontation with Voldemort was growing ever nearer, and he wanted to feel as ready as he could for when that day arrived.
His stomach still twisted in knots whenever he thought about it, but he knew what had to be done. He’d finished his letters to Ron, Hermione and Ginny and knew they’d take care of Hedwig after he was gone. He’d been trying to practice the Occlumency exercises that Draco and Narcissa had shown him, but still felt it was useless. All he needed to do was break into Voldemort’s mind once – that would be enough. He planned on going to the Department of Mysteries and letting the tosser know he was there.
He’d even considered again asking Draco for help but decided that would be a last option. Harry thought he’d rather face Voldemort than have to owe anything to the Slytherin prat.
On the morning that Ginny was finally scheduled to be released, Harry and Ron met her in the hospital wing.
"Out of bed, you lazy wretch. We’re here to spring you," Ron said, grinning as they entered the door.
Ginny turned her head and promptly stuck out her tongue at her brother.
"Oh, that’s mature," Ron said, plopping into the chair beside her bed.
Harry leaned over and gave Ginny a quick kiss before taking the other chair. "How does it feel to finally be getting out of here?" he asked, grinning. She’d been complaining to him nonstop for days.
"Brilliant," she said, sliding her legs over the side of the bed and standing up, fully dressed. Harry could see the necklace he’d given her for Christmas glittering in the sunlight streaming in from the window. "Let’s hurry before she changes her mind."
"Hang on. Mum will curse me if I take you out of here, and she doesn’t get to be part of it. She’s bringing her camera," Ron said gleefully.
Ginny rolled her eyes. "Oh, brother! What’s got you so chipper this morning, anyway? Where’s Hermione?" she asked.
"Dunno. She was supposed to meet us in the common room, but Fleur told us she said to go ahead without her," Ron replied, frowning.
"Those two were definitely up to something," Harry said, pleased to see Ginny looking so healthy. "D’you know anything?"
Ginny shrugged. "How would I know? I’m the one who’s been stuck in here."
"Yeah, but you always know everything," Harry replied.
"And don’t you forget it," Ginny said, waggling her eyebrows.
Harry chuckled, taking her hand and swinging it back and forth. His heart always felt lighter when he stood near her. The hospital door opened again, and Bill entered, followed closely by Fleur and a dark-haired Hermione. For the first time since her accident, she wasn’t wearing her red wig.
"Hermione!" Ron said, sitting up straight. "You’ve got your own hair."
"Well spotted," Hermione said with a small smile, her cheeks turning pink. Her hand automatically fluttered up to tug on a stray curl.
"’Eet looks lovely, does eet not?" Fleur asked, beaming as if she alone was responsible for Hermione’s hair growth.
"It always does," Ron replied, staring at Hermione critically. "It’s different though."
Harry stared at Hermione, realizing Ron was right. Her hair nearly touched her shoulders, but it wasn’t as full as Harry remembered. It was still wavy but sleeker somehow.
"It grew in less bushy," she replied, beaming. "I read that it happens sometimes, particularly after medical hair loss. Chemotherapy patients experience it all the time."
"Keemo-what?" Ron asked, blankly. "It’s nice to see your own color again. It makes your eyes shine more."
Hermione looked at the floor, blushing, but her smile never dipped.
Ron’s ears colored brilliantly when he realized what he’d said.
"She does look splendid," Bill replied easily. "And I think we can all be thankful the twins weren’t here for that display." He gave Ron a light shove in the shoulder, causing his brother to stumble into Hermione.
Ginny snickered. "You do look lovely, Hermione, but I’m sorry to see the red go. I liked having a ‘sister’."
"Thanks, Ginny," Hermione said. "The potions have really hurried it along, and Fleur cut it for me this morning."
"Doesn’t eet look magnifique?" Fleur asked, fussing with Hermione’s hair.
Hermione pulled her head away and moved to stand near Ron. "So, are you ready to be released? Madam Pomfrey is certain you’ll be all right, isn’t she?"
"She’s certain I won’t be kept here one moment longer," Ginny growled, crossing her arms over her chest. "I’ve had enough."
"That’s my girl," Mr. Weasley said, beaming as he and Mrs. Weasley entered the hospital wing. The area around Ginny’s bed was growing very crowded. Harry began to move aside to allow Ginny’s parents to get closer, but Ginny firmly grabbed his hand, insisting he stay where he was. She squeezed it reassuringly.
"Oh, Ginny," Mrs. Weasley said, elbowing her way past Ron and Hermione. "I was so afraid this day would never come." She wrapped Ginny in a bone-crushing hug and began sniffling.
"There, there, Mum," Ginny said, patting her mother’s back while trying to extricate herself. "I’m fine and ready to get out of here."
Mrs. Weasley pulled her camera out of her pocket. "We need to take a photo to mark the occasion," she said, suddenly in take-charge mode. "Bill and Fleur, move around behind them. Ginny, don’t slouch. Harry move closer, dear. You won’t be in the picture if you stand way back there."
A blinding flash went off, causing all of them to blink.
"I told Fred and George to be here on time. Those two can’t follow the simplest of directions," Mrs. Weasley said, scowling.
"Oh, Mum. Don’t be cross with Fred and George. It’s really not a big deal. I’d rather just go," Ginny said, her tone both hopeful and resigned. Somehow, they all knew Mrs. Weasley was determined to make a production out of this and no amount of excuses would change her mind.
Mr. Weasley smiled indulgently. "Why don’t you get in the shot, Molly? I’ll take the next picture," he said, holding out his hand for the camera.
"Pictures? Did I hear pictures?" Fred asked, loudly banging the hospital door open.
"You’ve started family pictures without us?" George asked, feigning horror. "I always knew we were the black sheep, Fred."
"Black sheep?" Fred gasped, his eyes wide with mock indignation. "I don’t think we even count as sheep – more like a distant goat."
"I’ll give you a goat," Mrs. Weasley said sternly. "If you’d been here on time like I’d asked you, you wouldn’t have missed the picture and marred Ginny’s special day."
Ginny rolled her eyes and muttered, "Good grief."
"We’re here now, Mum. We wouldn’t think of mucking up Ginny’s special day," George said, his eyes sparkling mischievously as he caught his sister’s expression.
"Leave your sister alone," Shannon said, wagging a finger at George. Her chestnut-brown hair was swept back into a ponytail that swayed as she moved her finger. "Sorry we’re late, Mrs. Weasley."
Mrs. Weasley deflated at the apologetic tone. "It’s all right, dear. I know it wasn’t your fault," she said, glaring at the twins.
"Why don’t you all stand around Ginny again, and I’ll take a family picture?" Iris suggested, still standing in the doorway.
Harry hadn’t even realized that she’d arrived with Shannon and the twins because she was standing so far back. She appeared rather hesitant to enter, and from the looks on the assorted Weasley faces, Harry couldn’t say he blamed her.
There had been a brief moment of shocked silence as everyone stared at her, apparently lost for words. Fred finally broke the tenseness by grabbing Iris’s arm and tugging her into the room. "Don’t be silly. Everyone can be in the picture. You can charm it, Dad, can’t you?"
Mr. Weasley shook himself from his daze. "Er…of course. All right, everyone, gather ‘round again," he said, positioning the camera.
Mrs. Weasley, too, smiled widely at Iris and once again began issuing orders. "George and Shannon, you stand on that side of Bill and Fleur, behind Harry. Fred and Iris, you two go on their other side, behind Ron and Hermione. Arthur, hurry with that thing and sit with me in front of them all," she said, sitting in the chair Harry had occupied.
"Where’s Charlie? How come he gets out of this?" Ron asked, grumbling.
"He’s back at the dragon reservation. He should return tomorrow," Mrs. Weasley said. "Arthur, is that ready yet?"
"Just let me get the focus right," Mr. Weasley said, tinkering with the camera.
"Just take the picture, Dad," Ron said, rolling his eyes.
Harry began shifting his feet.
"Da-ad. I want to leave this place some time today," Ginny moaned.
"All right, that should do it," Mr. Weasley said, sprinting back toward Mrs. Weasley and just managing to sit down before the camera flashed several times.
Harry again blinked the spots from his eyes.
"There. Now that wasn’t hard, was it?" Mrs. Weasley asked, smiling.
"Let’s go," Ginny said, picking up her small bag of toiletries.
"Ginny, can you walk all the way?" Mrs. Weasley asked fretfully.
"Mum, we’re only going up to Gryffindor Tower," Ginny said, clearly becoming annoyed.
Knowing the feeling of being stalled when he wanted nothing more than to get out of the hospital wing, Harry took pity on her. Taking her bag and slinging it over his shoulder, he offered her his arm.
"Shall we?" he asked.
Ginny beamed, linking her arm with his. "Let’s go."
Sticking to Harry’s side and limping slightly, she strode purposefully toward the door. From the corner of his eye, Harry saw Mrs. Weasley move to assist Ginny, but Mr. Weasley grabbed her arm and held her back, nodding at Harry.
Mrs. Weasley’s gaze wavered slightly before she nodded, taking Mr. Weasley’s arm and following behind them.
The large group climbed toward Gryffindor Tower, chatting merrily along the way. By the time they reached the portrait hole, Ginny was slightly out of breath and definitely leaning more heavily on Harry than she had at the beginning of their trek.
"Well, it’s nice to see you back, young lady," the Fat Lady said, glancing down at Ginny.
"It’s nice to be back," she said.
"Hungarian Horntail," Harry mumbled, ducking his head as the portrait swung open. The common room had been prepared for a "Welcome Back" feast in Ginny’s honor. The fire blazed invitingly, and there was food and drinks spread out on several tables.
Ginny could barely contain her grin. "Hungarian Horntail?" she asked, her eyes shining brightly.
"I didn’t make the password," Harry said under his breath, feeling his face heat.
"No, he didn’t, but you should see the disgust on Malfoy’s face every time he has to say it," Ron said gleefully.
"And we all enjoyed tormenting Harry’s aunt with tales of his glory," George replied, ruffling Harry’s hair. "Mum even offered to bring her out to the pitch to show her where you beat that dragon."
Harry pulled his head away, scowling.
"And Dudley’s eyes were about ready to bug out of his head," Fred said, grinning. "He’s not nearly as fun since he doesn’t spook so easily over anything magical anymore."
"Yeah. Testing our stuff out on him isn’t half the laugh it used to be," said George sadly. "Making your aunt faint is only funny for so long."
"Oh, I still enjoy it," Fred said happily.
"Have you been testing stuff on Dudley?" Harry asked curiously, disappointed that he’d missed it. "You’re still producing stuff while we’ve been here, then?"
"Of course we are," Fred said. "The mail order business is the only thing that’s thriving since no one with an ounce of sense would be seen in Diagon Alley these days. That’s severely limited our pool of potential test subjects. George and I have had to revert to testing things on ourselves again."
"Oh, there’s a sacrifice," Iris said, rolling her eyes.
"It is," Fred replied. "You don’t know how much George and I have put ourselves through testing this on our own."
"Yes. Placing a hat atop your head to make your own head disappear is so dangerous…and hysterically funny, I might add," Iris replied in a bored voice, although her eyes were sparkling brightly.
"Loads of people think those Headless Hats are funny. We’ve made bucket-loads of Galleons off them," Fred said hotly.
Harry couldn’t remember ever having seen Fred so off his game. Iris was really winding him up. Harry suddenly developed a new appreciation for the Slytherin girl. He, Ron, Hermione and Ginny all watched the sparring between the two as if it were a tennis match while George and Shannon had slunk off into a darkened corner.
"Well, loads of people thought Dolores Umbridge would lead them out of the grip of the Dark Lord, too," Iris countered.
Fred’s face became mutinous. "The Headless Hats and all Weasley products never belong in the same category as Dolores Umbridge – may she rest in Centaur heaven."
Iris actually sniggered at that, and Harry had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep his snort of laughter inside. He didn’t want either of them turning their attention on him.
"I’ll concede you that point – they’re a step above Umbridge. But only just," she said primly.
"What do you have against the Hats?" Fred asked indignantly.
"Oh, nothing against them. I suppose plenty of people find it amusing to see a hat floating around on its own. I simply prefer subtly in my humor," Iris said, casually pushing her dark hair off her shoulder. "If you had, say…made the hats turn the wearer’s face into a celebrity. That would be amusing. You could have a friend wear the hat to a party, and you could impress the other guests with whom you know. See and be seen, sort of thing. Create jealousy with a rival or potential love interest if you show up with a professional Quidditch star, an entertainer…or even Harry Potter."
Harry had been grinning at the calculating look on both Iris and Fred’s faces, but it turned into a scowl at mention of his own name. Ginny elbowed him in the ribs.
"A Quidditch player, hmmm? Someone like Oliver Wood?" Fred asked, raising an eyebrow triumphantly.
Iris dropped her eyes for a moment before shrugging. "Oliver’s old news. I’d suggest someone more…current," she said, her eye twinkling.
"That could work," Fred mumbled, forgetting about his fight with Iris and rubbing his chin thoughtfully.
"Of course it would," Iris replied, waving her hand in the air. "A more Slytherin kind of practical joke."
"You’re a devious woman, Iris Parkinson," Fred said, smiling widely. "I can work with that. Come on, we need to talk to George. He’s the brain of the operation – I’m the gag man."
"I can see that," Iris smiled, smirking. She allowed Fred to take her hand and drag her over to the corner where George and Shannon were seated. George didn’t appear pleased with the interruption at all.
There was a moment of stunned silence before Ron turned to look at them, his eyes wide, aghast. "They were flirting! Making eyes at each other out in the open for all to see."
"Oh, well spotted," Ginny said, giggling.
Hermione smiled, patting Ron on the arm. "At least you did notice this time, Ron. You’re making progress."
"But…but… she’s a Slytherin," Ron said, his eyes darting back and forth between the girls.
"Well, The Sorting Hat did always say that the Houses needed to unite," Hermione said, barely able to control her laughter.
"It didn’t mean that physically," Ron said hotly.
"You mean figuratively," Hermione said automatically.
"That, too!" Ron shouted, sending both Hermione and Ginny into gales of laughter. They collapsed on the couch, propping each other up as they giggled.
"Barking mad," Ron said, shaking his head and moving toward the Butterbeer.
Harry let his eyes roam around the room. He noticed Draco and Dudley sitting in a corner, each watching the others in the room with a similar expression that Harry couldn’t quite name.
When Draco noticed Harry’s attention, he sat up straighter, that familiar, cocky expression returning to his features. "What are you looking at, Scarhead?" he asked.
Harry rolled his eyes, ignoring the jibe.
"Don’t call him that," Ginny snapped, moving to stand beside him. Her eyes flashed fiercely, apparently taking more exception to the name than he did.
"Would you rather keep the title for yourself?" Malfoy asked, smirking. "Matching scars. Aren’t the two of you pathetically cute?"
Ginny’s hand instinctively went to the top of her forehead where the red mark was visible, angering Harry.
"That’s enough, Malfoy," he said, seeing red as he took a step closer to the blonde. "This is her party, and you’re not to spoil to it."
"Keep your knickers on, Potter. I’m not going to ruin your girlfriend’s little homecoming," Draco said, taking a sip of his Butterbeer and keeping a wary eye on Harry’s wand.
"Hey, Ginny. Glad to see they finally sprung you," Dudley said, peering around Draco to smile at Ginny.
Harry had previously been amused by Dudley’s obvious crush on Ginny, doubly so since his slow-witted cousin hadn’t yet caught on to Ginny’s distinct coldness towards him. But he wasn’t in the mood now. He ground his teeth together as he clenched his jaw.
"Dudley," Ginny replied, coolly.
"Are you feeling better?" Dudley asked.
"If it makes you so miserable to be with all of us, Malfoy, why don’t you just leave? Permanently." Ron said, elbowing his way past Harry and Ginny to stand in front of Draco with his arms folded across his chest. "I mean, no one is going to fight to keep you here."
Something intangible again flickered in Draco’s eyes before a sneer crossed his lips. "I’d like nothing better than to stroll out that door, Weasel, but once again I’m waiting for Potter to quit his stalling and get this over and done."
"So, you’re basically waiting for Harry to save your arse – again – and feeling frustrated that he’s not doing it according to your timetable?" Ron asked, rolling his eyes.
Malfoy’s face colored. "I’m biding my time to see what happens," he replied, scowling.
"No," Ron said, shaking his head, a slow grin spreading across his face. "I think you do believe Harry will win, you just don’t want to admit it. It’s just like out at Azkaban – when the Dementors came after you. For all your grandstanding, you turned to Harry to get you out of it."
"Dementors?" Dudley asked, his head swinging from side to side. "I’ve seen those Dementors. They came after me, too – when I was with him. Maybe he brings them out."
He jabbed his finger toward Harry’s chest, looking to Draco for approval. Harry watched them both stoically.
Harry was shocked to his core by Draco’s response.
"Lay off the Dementors," the blonde said, scowling at Dudley. He didn’t meet Harry’s eyes, but sneered at Ron. "I don’t want to talk about Azkaban."
"Why? Did I hit a nerve?" Ron asked belligerently.
"Ease up, Ron," Harry said, knowing Draco’s memories of that expedition couldn’t be any better than his own. "Let’s not spoil Ginny’s party."
Draco’s eyes briefly registered surprise before he turned and stalked away, joining Pansy as she walked down the stairs, scowling at the gathered Weasleys.
"I’m going to get something to eat," Ron muttered, moving toward the food table.
"Are you coming?" Ginny asked, tugging on his hand.
"I’ll be right there," Harry said, staring at Dudley who suddenly appeared lost without Draco’s company. "Give me a moment."
Ginny glanced warily at Dudley before nodding and joining Ron and Hermione at the food table.
"Dudley," Harry said, nodding. He wasn’t certain why he was even bothering with his cousin. It was more than likely that Dudley would start a row, but curiosity as to how Dudley was coping with his classes was overwhelming him.
"I hear the professors have been giving you some magical tutoring," Harry said stiffly, nearly stumbling over the word ‘magical’. On Privet Drive, it would have been considered foul language.
"Yeah," Dudley replied, watching Harry warily. "They’ve been showing me some stuff."
"Good," Harry said, feeling at a loss for words. In all his years on Privet Drive, he’d never had a civil conversation with Dudley.
"They’ve told me some stuff about you," Dudley said, his brow furrowing. "None of them will hear a word against you. It drives Draco barmy, mind," Dudley said, his eyes roaming across the room to where Draco stood with Pansy.
Harry’s heart warmed on hearing that his professors had sided with him. That certainly had never happened in primary school.
"Yeah, well, don’t believe everything you hear," he replied, shrugging.
"What happened with you and Draco and the Dementors?" Dudley asked.
"A couple of them attacked us – same way they did you and me," Harry replied, shifting uncomfortably. "Dementors are horrible creatures."
"Yeah," Dudley replied, shuddering.
"What did you see?" Harry asked. He’d always wondered about that – what Dudley Dursley would possibly see when the Dementors came too close.
Dudley looked at the floor, shifting his feet. "Your cupboard," he said, barely audible.
"Pardon?" Harry asked, stunned.
"I saw your cupboard," Dudley said, slightly louder. He shifted his gaze away. "Only it was me inside…and my parents were saying stuff. What difference does it make anyway? What do you see?"
Harry stepped back, surprised. Dudley feared his parents turning on him and treating him the way they’d always treated Harry. He suddenly felt a wave of unexpected sympathy for his cousin. "I hear my parents, too," Harry said softly, unwilling to say anymore.
"Does everyone hear their parents?" Dudley asked, confused.
Harry shook his head. "Not if you’re lucky," he whispered. "I bet Draco does, though."
"Professor McGonagall told me your parents didn’t die in a car crash," Dudley said, staring openly.
"No," Harry replied shortly. Hagrid had said the same thing when he’d first collected Harry from the Dursleys, but he supposed Dudley had been more concerned with the pig’s tail Hagrid had given him than to pay attention to what was actually said.
"She said they were murdered by the same psychopath who’s trying to kill you now, and that he tried to kill you when he murdered them, too," Dudley said, staring at Harry appraisingly. His eyes narrowed in on Harry’s scar, as if just realizing its significance.
Harry didn’t know what Dudley was expecting, so he merely nodded.
"You make big enemies," Dudley said, apparently impressed.
Harry couldn’t contain himself. He threw back his head and laughed. Maybe it was the massive understatement, or simply because he was actually having a conversation with Dudley about magical things. Perhaps it was Dudley’s obvious respect over the fact that someone could actually hate Harry that much, but it suddenly struck Harry as absurdly funny.
Tears formed in the corner of his eyes as Dudley began glancing at him the way he always used to do – as if Harry were some unstable time bomb ready to explode. This struck Harry as even funnier, and he had to grip the table for support. Dudley nodded warily and scurried away.
"Are you all right?" Ginny asked, appearing at his side.
Harry’s laughter finally faded into small chuckles. "Never better," he replied, kissing the crown of her head. "Come on. Let’s get something to eat."
Harry trudged wearily down the corridor, hoping to stop by the kitchens for a bite to eat before seeking the warm comfort of his bed. He was bone tired and felt as if he could fall asleep on his feet. He kept being jarred back into alertness after his eyes would droop, and his shoulder occasionally would brush against the wall as he walked. The day’s training had been intense. Kingsley Shacklebolt had run drills, and Harry’s muscles were complaining of mistreatment.
Now that Ginny had recovered from her injuries, Harry felt ready to confront Voldemort. He knew with the passing of each day that he was stalling, but he just wasn’t ready to really say goodbye. He knew Ron, Hermione, and Ginny wanted to be there at the end, but he was hesitant to let them. What if Voldemort delivered a fatal blow before Harry could manage to drag them both through the Veil? Voldemort would then turn and immediately kill Harry’s friends. Harry wanted to at least give them a chance to go deeper into hiding if his plan failed.
But what if Voldemort didn’t arrive by himself at the Ministry after Harry formed the mind-link? His plan was to let Voldemort see him alone in the Department of Mysteries, but that didn’t guarantee he would react as Harry wanted. If he brought other Death Eaters with him, Harry would need the help of his friends to keep the Death Eaters back while he fought their leader. Harry was uncomfortably aware that Voldemort’s plans involved capturing Harry rather than killing him. Voldemort wanted to keep him a prisoner, safely tucked away. He shuddered at considering that fate – death would be far kinder.
There was also the simple truth that he couldn’t quite admit out loud – that he was afraid to die alone.
Running a hand through his hair, he sighed tiredly. Whether or not he felt ready, it was time. He had to end this. The people trapped within the castle needed to get back to their lives. Everyone needed this shroud of darkness lifted. He was pleased that he and Dudley had actually managed to get on in these final days. Knowing that Dudley feared his parents treating him the way they’d treated Harry, he’d avoided talking to Dudley where Aunt Petunia or Uncle Vernon could witness it. Outside of their sight, however, they’d actually exchanged a few pleasantries here and there.
Even he and Draco had managed a handful of civil words to one another. Maybe that was the first sign of hell freezing over. Still, it felt good to have all his affairs in order before doing what he had to do. He’d given his letters to Hedwig and instructed her to deliver them after he was gone. Knowing how unreliable Errol had become in his old age, he’d told Hedwig to go stay with Mrs. Weasley after the end. She’d always taken care of him, he was certain she’d take care of Hedwig, too.
"Hey! Knut for your thoughts," Ginny said, walking around the corner and joining him.
Harry started, blindly reaching for his wand.
"You look as if you’re in another world. I hope it’s a nice one," she said, slipping her hand into his own. Her limp seemed more pronounced this evening, so he immediately slowed his pace.
"Sorry," he said. "Long day. I was just heading down to the kitchen to nick a bite. Care to join me?"
"No! You can’t go to the kitchen," Ginny said, shaking her head. "I have a better idea, anyway."
"Why can’t I go to the kitchen?" Harry asked, slightly irritated as his stomach growled. "What do you mean a better idea?"
Ginny tugged on his hand until he let her change their direction. "Ron and Hermione are there on a date," she said primly.
"On a date?" Harry asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Yes. Hermione and I decided that it had been too long since we had a chance to simply spend some quality time with our boyfriends. So, we each picked a location and planned our evenings," she replied. "Of course, I hadn’t planned on those Aurors keeping you so long that you nearly missed ours."
Suddenly, Harry didn’t feel quite as tired or annoyed. "And Hermione chose the kitchen for their date?" he asked.
"Can you think of a spot Ron would find more romantic?" Ginny asked wryly.
"Point taken," he said, laughing. "So, where are we going for our date?"
"Upstairs," Ginny replied as they climbed.
"I’d worked that part out for myself, Ginny," Harry said.
"Then stop talking and keep walking," she replied firmly.
Feeling eager, he allowed himself to be led all the way up to the seventh floor. Ginny didn’t stop until they’d reached the Room of Requirement. After she’d paced back and forth three times, she opened the door to reveal the sprawling white, sandy beach of Harry’s dream. It stretched on and on as if they were entering another place entirely.
"Ginny!" he gasped.
"D’you like it?" Ginny asked, bouncing on the balls of her feet.
"I love it," he said, trying to take it all in. "It’s perfect."
"Take off your shoes," Ginny said, slipping off her own and leaving them by the entrance.
Harry complied and let the sand sift through his toes. It was soft and warm, and Harry thought it felt glorious. He smiled happily as Ginny took his hand and led him toward a small campfire on the darkening beach. Remembering his dream, he glanced back over his shoulder and was delighted to see two tracks of footprints – his larger than hers – trailing across the sand.
The sun was still setting on this hidden Hogwarts beach, and Harry enjoyed the way the colors splayed across the water. Ginny speared two sausages on some wooden sticks and handed one to Harry.
He sat down and began grilling his dinner on the open fire. He and Ginny dined on sausages, toasted marshmallows and an abundance of chilled Butterbeer, laughing at each other whenever they managed to catch their food on fire. After they’d eaten their fill, they rolled their jeans up to their knees and waded in the surf, splashing each other as they walked along.
It didn’t take long before Ginny began to get short of breath. Concerned, Harry slowed down and waited for her breathing to regulate.
"I suppose there won’t be any professional Quidditch in my future," Ginny said, twisting her lips. "With this limp and the heavy breathing, I doubt I’ll be high on any scouting lists."
"It won’t be forever," Harry said, thunderstruck. "Your breathing has been much better recently. It’s just because we were running."
Ginny giggled. "I’m only teasing, Harry. It’s not like I ever considered professional Quidditch, anyway. I just like to play. You’re the natural – maybe you ought to consider it."
Harry scrunched up his nose. "And have to suffer through all those interviews all the time? No, thanks."
Ginny snorted. "I think you’ll always have that, anyway, Harry. Might as well do something you enjoy for it."
Harry smiled, realizing he’d been talking as if Ginny’s plans for a future might actually be possible. He loved that she could make him feel that way.
"What do you want to do after the war – after you finish school?" Harry asked curiously.
"You mean besides making babies with you?" she asked, her eyes sparkling.
Harry felt his own face color as if he’d spent the entire day in the blazing sun. "Er…"
Ginny laughed out loud, shoving him toward the water again. "I don’t know. Definitely not something that involves sitting behind a desk," she replied.
"How about becoming an Auror? Or maybe a Curse-Breaker, like Bill?" Harry asked.
"Curse-Breaking sounds fun, but it’s dirty work with a lot of Goblin rules. I don’t think I’d like that. An Auror might work, or a medi-wizard for the Accidental Magical Reversal Squad," she said thoughtfully.
"What do they do?" Harry asked, furrowing his brow.
"Mostly clean up Apparation accidents, but basically rescue witches and wizards who get themselves into trouble and undo whatever havoc they managed to cause," she said.
"I could see you doing something like that," Harry said.
"I could rescue them, and Hermione could patch them up – we’d be quite a team," Ginny said, laughing.
"You think Hermione wants to be a Healer?" Harry asked.
"I think she’d be a good one, and she’s certainly developed an interest since she got hurt," Ginny replied. "And you and Ron would be the Aurors."
"Yeah," Harry said softly, feeling doubtful again that he’d be part of their dream.
After the sun had set and the moon shone brightly across the water, they returned to their campfire and sat on a blanket, listening to the crashing waves.
"Enjoying our date, Mr. Potter?" Ginny asked, snuggling closer against Harry’s side and resting her head on his shoulder.
"Best one yet," Harry replied, pulling her closer.
"Oh, I don’t know about that. As I recall, my birthday was quite charming. You even danced with me," she said, chuckling.
"That’s why this one is the best one yet," Harry replied, pressing his fingers into her side and tickling her until she begged him to stop.
"I love you, Ginny," he said happily, rolling over onto his back and spreading his arms out wide.
Looking slightly disgruntled over losing their tickling match, Ginny gazed at him for a moment before her features softened. She curled back against him, nuzzling the side of his face. "Love you, too, Harry," she whispered.
No longer tired, Harry was keenly aware of each spot where her body was touching his. His skin tingled as his blood began pumping in his veins. He rolled to his side, lightly tracing his fingers along her jaw.
Ginny gasped slightly, and tilted her face toward his. He leaned over and captured her lips with his own, running his tongue slowly over her bottom lip, seeking permission. Her mouth opened beneath his, welcoming him to deepen the kiss. She ran her fingers through his hair, drawing his head closer.
Her fingers felt like feathers and they lightly trailed down his face and over his shoulders. Their passion built quickly, and Harry knew he was close to losing his tight control. His hormonal teenage side was tempted to throw caution to the wind and give in to his body’s demands, but the one small piece of sanity that managed to keep even his raging hormones in check was the thought that Voldemort wouldn’t get to take control of this moment, too.
He’d influenced and tarnished every other part of Harry’s life. When Harry finally took that final step with Ginny, he was determined that it would be on their terms and no one else’s – despite the fact his body was ardently protesting the restraint. Hell, the anticipation alone was enough to make him determined to return to her, somehow…. some way.
The moon shone brightly above, the gentle breeze ruffled their hair and sand stuck to their skin and wet clothing, but neither of them noticed any of it. Their complete focus was on each other as they kissed in the surf until they had to return to their dormitories.
< P>Over the rest of that week, Harry and Ginny returned to their beach several times. They had even brought Ron and Hermione along a few times so that they could enjoy the holiday-feel. Harry had decided he would set his plans in motion the following weekend, but he was going to have one fun-filled week with his friends beforehand. If nothing else, he hoped it would leave them with good memories of him after he was gone.
After dinner one evening, Ginny insisted she had to get caught up on some of the schoolwork she’d let slide while they’d been frolicking on the beach. Ron and Hermione had disappeared together, so Harry decided to walk down to Hagrid’s hut and pay a visit to his old friend. Hagrid had never quite been the same after Professor Dumbledore’s death, and Harry hoped that once the war was over, he’d regain some of his former exuberance.
As he was walking along the path admiring all the new spring growth, he noticed a brief flash of silver near the edge of the forest. His curiosity piqued, he drew his wand and cautiously turned toward the forest. He’d only just entered the brush when he saw the flash again, and he realized who it was.
"What are you doing out here, Pansy?" he called, stopping in his tracks and gripping his wand. He wasn’t about to allow the Slytherin girl to lead him into the forest.
Pansy whipped around quickly, the hood of her silver cloak falling back off her head. Harry was startled to realize she was crying. She had thick black smudges beneath her eyes, and she didn’t bother to wipe them when she saw Harry. Crying girls had always made him uncomfortable, and he suddenly felt very wrong-footed.
"Pansy," he said, running a hand through his hair. "Er… Are you all right?"
"No," she said, sniffling. "Have you seen Draco?"
"Draco?" Harry asked, perplexed. Thinking back, he realized that the blonde hadn’t been in the Great Hall that evening. Now that he thought about it, he hadn’t seen Dudley, either.
"He was supposed to meet me for supper, and he wasn’t there," Pansy said, turning around to stare at the trees. She began walking toward them again, but Harry remained rooted to where he stood.
"Dudley wasn’t there, either. Maybe they just got involved in a card game or something," Harry said. "Why do you think he’d be in the forest?"
Pansy froze, keeping her back turned from him. "You might be right," she said hastily. "He’s been spending a lot of time with that Mudblood buffoon lately."
Harry knew that Pansy didn’t share Draco’s affinity for Dudley. She frequently appeared put-out whenever she found the two blondes together. Of course, she also appeared to detest her sister’s new attachment to Fred. Pansy hadn’t given the impression she cared for any of them very much.
As if realizing she’d just insulted Harry’s cousin, she turned around, glancing at him warily.
"Er… I mean," she said, faltering.
Harry scowled, feeling certain she was trying to hide something. "You didn’t answer my question. Why do you think he’d be in the forest if he didn’t meet you for supper?"
Pansy bit her lip, apparently struggling with something. "Why should I tell you?" she demanded, as if finally deciding that being obstinate was her best bet. Her eyes kept drifting toward the trees, as if she was debating making a run for it.
"Because I’m the only one here who might possibly help you," Harry replied, knowing that none of the Weasleys had warmed up to Draco.
Pansy’s face faltered, and she began wringing her hands. Harry thought she was carrying the melodrama a bit far but kept that to himself.
"Draco’s been feeling a bit desperate lately," she wailed, burying her face in her hands and sniffling. "I’m afraid he’s done something reckless."
"What do you mean ‘reckless’?" Harry asked, his stomach lurching.
Pansy swiped her nose with the back of her hand. "He’s been strange since that stupid Welcome Back party for the Weaslette. He keeps talking about his father and his choices. I have to find him," she moaned.
"What about his choices?" Harry asked.
"For Merlin’s sake, will you quit with the questions and help me look for him? He can’t be far," Pansy said. "Come on. I haven’t looked over here yet," she said, pointing deeper into the forest.
"I’m not going anywhere with you, Pansy, until you tell me exactly what’s going on," Harry said, crossing his arms across his chest.
Pansy harrumphed indignantly. "Oh, some hero you are! You’d better hope nothing has happened to him since it’s your fault if he’s in trouble," she said.
"How do you figure it’s my fault this time?" Harry asked, exasperated.
"You’re the one who’s supposed to end this, right? Draco is trapped until you get around to doing it, and he’s too proud to sit back and do nothing for long," Pansy said, scowling.
"Not my fault if he’s an idiot," Harry muttered, glancing at the darkening sky. If Malfoy really had wandered into the forest, it would be dark soon. Harry didn’t fancy wandering through the forest alone at night, never mind with Malfoy or whomever he might be meeting hidden there.
"He’s not an idiot," Pansy said, seething. "He’s got more brains in his pinky finger than you can ever hope to have."
Harry rolled his eyes. "Pansy, it’s getting dark. If he really is out here, we’re going to need some help. Let’s go back inside and see if he’s there before panicking."
"It might be too late by then," she said shrilly.
"I know where there’s something back in the tower that will tell us if he’s in the castle or not. It’s better than searching blind," Harry said, turning around. He only hoped that she’d follow him. He really didn’t want to leave her out here alone.
"Don’t move, Potter," she said, snarling.
Something in the tone of her voice made him stop and glance back over his shoulder. She’d drawn her wand and had it pointed at his back. He knew she was rubbish at dueling and hadn’t even managed to score high enough on her O.W.L.s to participate in Defense the previous year. Still, he didn’t want to take any chances. Turning around slowly, he watched her closely as she moved forward.
"Don’t try anything, Potter. I’m not afraid to use this," she said, waving her wand in the air dramatically.
Harry kept his eyes on the moving wand, struggling not to snicker at her overconfidence.
"Everyone thinks I can’t hold my own in a duel," Pansy said, tossing her hair. "But I got you, didn’t I?"
"Yeah, you got me all right, Pansy," Harry said, slowly sliding his feet forward. "What are you planning?"
"You’re going to come with me," she said, aiming her wand at him again.
Harry noticed it was shaking slightly in her gloved hands. He vaguely wondered why she was dressed so warmly. The night air really wasn’t all that chilly. "Where are we going?" he asked, keeping his voice neutral.
Pansy’s gaze moved to the trees, seeking a place to enter. In that moment of distraction, Harry drew his own wand in a flash.
"Expelliarmus," he shouted. Pansy’s wand flew through the air in a graceful arc, landing perfectly in his outstretched hand.
Shocked, the last thing Harry saw was Pansy’s smirking, triumphant face before he felt the familiar jerk behind his navel. His stomach dropped with dread as the portkey sped him away.
A/N: Well, there you go! Those of you who suspected Pansy was up to something are going "Ah Ha!" right now, right? Hee.
Thanks again to my wonderful beta, Sherylyn for turning these edits around so quickly. It’s thanks to her you’re not seeing the same words and phrases repeated all the time. I’m amazed at how often I do that without realizing.
Thanks also to my wonderful pre-beta team – KEDme, GhostWriter and Dianne. I appreciate all the effort.
Thanks so much to all you SIYE readers for the Silver Trinket nods. They are SO appreciated.