|SIYE Time:20:50 on 18th March 2018|
Category: Pre-OotP, Alternate Universe
Characters:Albus Dumbledore, All, Draco Malfoy, Harry/Ginny, Hermione Granger, Minerva McGonagall, Neville Longbottom, Nymphadora Tonks, Other, Remus Lupin, Ron Weasley, Severus Snape, Sirius Black
Genres: Action/Adventure, Drama, General, Humor, Romance
Warnings: Dark Fiction, Mild Language, Mild Sexual Situations, Violence/Physical Abuse
Summary: Harry had never friends, so he imagined one: a red haired girl he kept forgetting to name. Ginny imagined a shy boy with untidy hair and bright eyes, who knew nothing of magic, so she told him. He dreamt of a world of magic and of a girl who wanted to be his friend. She dreamt of a boy who loved to hear her voice, no matter what. Then dreams become a reality when Harry met Ginny.
Rating changed for later chapters.
*Nominated for 2014 November/December DSTA for Best New Story and Best Romance* *Nominated for 2016 January/Feburary DSTA for Best Comedy, Drama, and Romance*
Hitcount: Story Total: 102634; Chapter Total: 1922
Hi, I'm sorry I forgot to update here again. I'm going to work on that, you can expect the next chapter in less than two weeks. Sorry.
A Skeleton That Could Walk
The sound of their alarm was the first thing he heard on the first of September, and it was just as annoying as every other morning. Harry rolled onto his back and slapped at the clock on his night-table until the piercing beeping was silenced. He rubbed at his eyes, then turned back and pulled Ginny closer to him.
The beeping started again.
"Shut up!" Harry moaned, sitting up and slapping the alarm. He couldn't see where the dismiss button was, so he shoved his glasses on and squinted at it. Finding the correct button, he stabbed it with a finger and it stopped. Then he flopped back onto the bed and hugged his wife to him.
"I heard the alarm," she muttered.
"Shush," he said. "It's only six."
"We have to drive to King's Cross."
"Shush… I want to hold my wife."
Ginny giggled. "We've got to get up!"
Harry kissed her instead. Then he took her hand and kissed the rings on her finger. "I don't want to get up," he said.
Ginny shook her head at him, then squirmed out of his grip and sat up. She stretched, and her tee shirt rode up to expose the small of her back. Harry wanted to reach out and pull her back, but she got up before he could.
"Do you want to shower first or shall I?" she asked.
"You go first," he answered. "I've got to pack more than you do."
Ginny nodded, then she grabbed the stack of clothes she'd set out the night before and entered the bathroom. Harry got out of the bed and stretched his arms above his head. From her perch by his desk, Hedwig trilled a note as if to tell him to hurry up. He sleepily stroked her feathers before going to pack. His trunk was sitting next to Ginny's; they'd brought his things from her house back to his the day before. Ginny had packed everything from her room already and practically everything from this room as well, excepting the things she had to use in the morning. While he wasn't finished, he only had a few things left.
Ginny was out of the shower after only fifteen minutes or so. She'd taken her things out of the bathroom and was putting them in her trunk when Harry went in. He took less time than she did, but paused to shave before leaving the bathroom.
When they'd packed, they left the room to go downstairs for breakfast. After breakfast they would pack up his grandmother's van and drive to the Burrow to meet the Weasleys before driving up to King's Cross.
"Good morning," Gram said as they entered the kitchen. "Bacon and eggs and coffee are on the table."
Harry dropped down across from Dudley, who grunted in greeting. Ginny took a seat next to him and poured herself coffee. Gram set a plate of toast and a jar of her homemade strawberry jam on the table and took her own seat.
"Have a good night's rest?" Gram asked.
"Yeah," Harry replied.
"No odd dreams?"
"Very good. Dudley, pass over the eggs, won't you dear."
His cousin handed a bowl of scrambled eggs to their grandmother, then went back to shoveling his own breakfast into his mouth.
"Your aunt ate already, she'll leave just after we do. Be sure you say good-bye to her when you go back upstairs."
Harry took the eggs from her and served himself some, then Ginny. She'd filled his mug with coffee for him, and had set the cream and sugar where he could reach it. He gave her a smile and set the bowl down. His ring caught the light from the kitchen and the windows. Harry took Ginny's hand and gave it a squeeze.
After breakfast, they both went back up to his room to put the last of their things in their trunks; Harry stopped in the doorway of his aunt's room and called a goodbye out to her. She had echoed it, sitting at her desk, and he had continued to his room.
Having put the last of his things in his trunk, Harry closed the lid and flipped the clasps. Ginny was sitting on her own trunk, zipping shut a small shoulder bag.
"Can I put a book in that bag?" he asked her.
"Sure. Lord of the Rings?"
"Yeah. It's on the nightstand."
Ginny stood and crossed the room. She picked up the book and, unzipping the bag, pushed it in. "Are you ready?"
Harry straightened up and stretched. "Yeah, I think so."
She dropped the bag on their bed and stepped forward. Harry held out his arms and she slid into his embrace. He pressed a soft kiss to her lips and leaned his forehead on hers.
"Ready for everyone asking if it's true that we're married?" Ginny asked.
"Not really," he replied. "I'm hoping we can hide behind Ron and Hermione the entire time."
She laughed. "They're going to have to patrol the train, you know. Fifth year prefects always get stuck with that."
"How long does being a prefect last?"
"Until you graduate, unless you lose your position or get made Head Boy or Girl in seventh year."
Harry kissed her again. "Good for Ron and Hermione."
"But if they're going to be patrolling the train, who do you plan on hiding behind?"
"Neville?" Harry suggested.
"You're taller than him."
"Fred and George. No one would dare bother us then."
"Just resign yourself, love; we are going to get pestered."
Harry sighed. "Fine. But when Malfoy shows up, can I hex him?"
"Only if he doesn't leave when we ask politely."
"Why would he leave if we ask politely?"
Ginny shrugged. "I don't expect him to. That means you get to hex him."
He laughed and released her; he moved over to his desk and clicked his tongue at Hedwig, who hooted then reluctantly fluttered into her cage. He closed and locked it, then lifted the end of his trunk. "Shall we go?"
"Might as well," she said, grabbing her bag from the bed. She copied him, and they left the room. Harry pulled the door shut behind him. They moved down the hallway and took the stairs to the first floor.
"Gram!" Harry called. "We're ready."
His grandmother entered the foyer, followed by Dudley.
"See ya," Dudley said, pushing past them and going upstairs.
"Bye," Harry gave him a reply, not really caring. His grandmother took her keys from a table by the door.
"We're leaving," Gram called up the stairs.
"Goodbye, Mum, Harry," his aunt yelled back.
"See you at Christmas," Harry called.
His grandmother opened the front door for them and they pulled their trunks out onto the porch.
"The van should be unlocked," Gram told them. "Go on and put your trunks in the boot."
"Right," Harry said, stepping off the porch and onto the front walk. Ginny followed him to the car and he put their trunks into the back of the car. He stowed Hedwig in the backseat and put a buckle around her cage. She hooted rather unenthusiastically. His grandmother came down the walk and stopped by the driver's side door.
"Harry, there's a box in the back seat, you ought to take that up to the house in case some of the Weasleys want to ride with us."
Harry obeyed his grandmother, taking the box back into the house quickly. Ginny had taken a seat in the middle row, and he joined her, pulling the door closed behind him.
Gram started the car, then put it in reverse. In ten minutes, they were parked in front of the Burrow to see George shoving a trunk into the boot of the family Ford Anglia.
"Morning," George called to them. "All set?"
"Yeah," Ginny answered, getting out of the car. "I'm just going to check my room one more time before we leave."
Harry followed her up to the house, Gram did as well, however she went into the kitchen while they curved towards the sitting room and the stairs.
"Hi, guys," Ron said as he passed them with his trunk thudding behind them.
"You've got a clasp undone," Ginny said over her shoulder as she started up the stairs. They heard Ron curse as they moved to Ginny's room.
Harry slipped past her and opened the door for her; she nodded a thanks and entered the room. Harry stood in the doorway; Fred went by him without pausing as he said a passing hello.
"Forget anything?" Harry asked his wife.
She was standing in the middle of the room, fists on her hips and her lips pursed as she scanned the bedroom.
"I packed my sketch books?"
"All four. Including the one that’s giant."
"And my pencil cases?"
"Each one, blue box, red box, and gray box. Why've you got three anyway?"
"One for blues and greens, one for reds and yellows, one for graphite."
Ginny stepped over to the nightstand and opened a drawer. As she saw nothing she needed, she closed it again. She pulled her wand out of her jacket and flicked it at a lamp across the room that had been left on; it switched off dutifully.
"I do love not having the Trace," Ginny remarked as she put the wand away.
"Me too," Harry replied.
"Did I pack my painting shirts?"
"I think so."
Ginny crossed to her closet and opened it. She pulled an old plaid button up shirt from it and balled it up. "I have one other, but I don't remember if I put it in my trunk or not."
"I'm pretty sure you did."
"Did you get your trainers from my room?"
"I'm wearing them."
"Oh." She looked at him. "Do you have more than one pair of shoes?"
"I own fancy shoes," he said. "And winter boots. I packed those, before you ask."
She shrugged. "Fine. You forget anything?"
"My head," he quipped. She rolled her eyes. Ginny opened her desk drawer but closed it again as there was nothing in it. She left the room, and, having pushed Harry into the hallway, closed the door.
"That's all," she said.
"Then you should go put that in your trunk."
Ginny nodded. She kissed his cheek, then went downstairs. She passed Ron, who waved to Harry.
"What did you forget?" Harry asked him.
"Exploding Snap deck," he said as he passed him. Harry clapped him on the shoulder before going in the opposite direction, following Ginny.
In another twenty minutes, everyone had all of their things packed and in the two cars. Ron decided to ride with Harry and Ginny in Gram's car so he could sit up front, while Mr. and Mrs. Weasley took the Anglia with Fred and George. Harry gave the Burrow one last wave as Gram pulled into the driveway.
The drive to the station took a little more than three hours. They'd left just before eight, meaning that it was quarter 'til eleven when they pulled into the parking lot of the train station. They all rushed to get their trunks on trolleys, rushed through the station to the barrier between platforms nine and ten, and rushed through the seemingly solid wall to get on the already packed Platform 9 and ¾. They scrambled to get their things onto the train; Fred grabbed Ginny’s trunk from her claiming he could lift it faster into the carriage only to have Ron pick it up and shove it into the carriage before Fred could finish getting scolded by Ginny. Hedwig hooted loudly every time Harry tried to step off the train, Ginny almost left her bag with her mother, and Mrs. Weasley realized that the lunches she’d packed were still on the kitchen counter.
“Oh, it’s almost eleven!” Gram called. She hugged Harry, who patted her back, then Ginny. Mrs. Weasley hugged all of her children and got Ginny twice, Mr. Weasley reminded them to all be good that year and — mostly to Harry — to stay out of trouble. They jumped onto the train, then leaned out a nearby window to wave as the train began to move. The Weasley parents both waved with broad grins, though Molly had teary eyes, and Harry’s grandmother blew them kisses in between waves.
“Be good!” Mrs. Weasley called. Then the train rounded a corner and they were gone.
The five of them backed away from the window, to grip their luggage and find a compartment. Fred and George waved to them, then headed off towards the front of the train, and Ron looked around for Hermione.
“We’re supposed to patrol the train,” he said. “Have you seen her?”
“She’s probably at the front with the rest of the prefects,” Ginny said. “Do you want me to take your trunk?”
“Sure, thanks. Er, I guess I’d better head up to meet the prefects.” Ron looked slightly put out at not getting to sit with his friends, but more awkward at having to walk by himself to the front of the train.
“Well, then go,” Ginny said, pulling his trunk up beside hers. Ron gave them a two fingered salute, then started off in the direction Fred and George had gone.
Ginny turned to face Harry and brushed a strand of hair from her face; the rings on her hand caught the light for a moment before she dropped her hand. “Come on, let’s go find somewhere to sit.”
Harry grabbed Ron’s trunk, then pushed his in front of him so he could pull his behind him. “Back or front?” he asked.
“Head towards the back, there’ll be less people there.”
He nodded, then began walking. “You want to find Neville or Luna?”
“Luna’s always in the back, we’ll probably meet her. We can go look for Neville after putting away our trunks, if you like.”
“Sure, that sounds good.”
Luna was indeed in the back, sitting by herself in a corner of her compartment. Ginny pulled open the door and smiled at her.
“Hi, Luna,” she said. “Could we sit with you?”
“Of course,” she said. She had on odd, blue and purple spectacles and was staring at a point somewhere near the lamp above them. Ginny stepped inside, followed by Harry. They lifted first her trunk into the luggage rack, then his and Ron’s. Luna didn’t stop to look at them until Ron’s trunk was shoved above them.
“You have a distinct lack of nargles this morning, Harry,” she said.
“Thanks,” he replied, not bothering to ask why. He had gotten used to Ginny’s strange friend by then. “How’ve you been?”
“Lovely,” she sighed, but offered no further details.
Ginny pulled a band from her wrist and, pushing her hands through her hair, put it up into a ponytail. “Harry wanted to go look for Neville, Lu, you want to come?”
“No, thank you,” she answered. “I’m waiting for him to come to me.”
Ginny frowned, but shrugged, turning back to Harry. “Shall we go?”
“Yeah. See you, Luna.”
“We’ll be back soon,” Ginny added as they stepped back out of the compartment. Luna only smiled warmly at them and continued looking up at the ceiling.
As they moved back up the train, Harry took her hand in his. At that point, most people had settled into compartments, and the corridor was empty. Harry kept his head angled away from the doors in hopes no one would stop to ogle him, though people did stand up to watch them past regardless.
“There you are!”
The two of them halted as the two voices hailed them. Seamus and Dean opened their compartment door stepped out, looking between them with wide grins.
“Hi, guys,” Harry said.
Seamus glanced at Ginny and raised his eyebrows. “So, is it true?” he asked.
“What else?” Dean said. “You two!”
“Oh.” Harry went pink, but he nodded with a small smile. “Yeah, it is.”
Seamus let out a laugh. “Can I be godfather?” he joked.
Harry reddened further. “That part’s not true; she’s not pregnant.”
Seamus and Dean’s smiles turned to frowns. Then Lavender Brown appeared behind them, followed by Pavarti Patil.
“But you’re married,” Lavender said.
“Yes, we are.” Harry was no longer smiling at them.
Ginny raised her hand and wiggled her fingers; Lavender and Pavarti were visibly shocked and jealous at the diamonds in her ring.
“Congratulations, mate,” Dean said, reaching forward and clapping Harry on the shoulder. “Good for you.”
“Thanks,” replied Harry, softening. “Hey, have you seen Neville?”
Seamus pointed in the other direction. “He passed by here just a few minutes ago. Didn’t stop to chat.”
“Thanks,” said Harry once again. “See you.” He started away. Ginny waved to them, letting her wedding ring catch the light from the windows. She was grinning at the look on Lavender and Pavarti’s faces.
“Bitches,” Ginny muttered, but she was still smiling.
“What, your roommates?”
“Yeah. Did you see their faces? I’ll bet you they were hoping all the papers were wrong so they still had a chance at you.”
“At me?” Harry asked. “When did they ever want a chance at me?”
“As far as I’m aware, since the beginning of last term.” Harry frowned, but Ginny laughed. “Do you not know how many girls in Hogwarts want to just be seen walking down the corridor with you? You’re Harry Potter, for Merlin’s sake.”
“I don’t pay attention to girls!” he protested. “I’m not even that attractive!”
Ginny pointed to the compartment they had just passed, in which at least five girls had all jumped up at the sight of him. “Do you see my point?”
Harry sighed. “I’m going to start wearing a hood at all times.”
Ginny grinned and flicked up the hood on his sweatshirt, pulling it down over his eyes. He batted her hand away and adjusted it so he could see. She laughed at him, then looked up ahead.
Neville turned and beamed at them. “I’ve been looking for you guys!” he said, stepping towards them. “Where’s Ron?”
“Prefects’ carriage,” Harry answered.
“Oh, is he in trouble?”
They laughed. “No, he’s prefect,” Harry said.
“Really? Oh, well, good for him.”
“Have you got somewhere to sit, Neville?” Ginny asked, noting his trunk in his hand.
“No, everywhere’s full.”
“Come sit with us, then,” Ginny said. “We’re in the back with Luna Lovegood.”
For some reason, Neville went pink. “L-Luna? Oh, erm…”
Harry raised an eyebrow. “What’s the matter?”
“Nothing, it’s nothing. Sure. I’ll sit with you.”
Ginny gestured him forward. “Come on then.”
As they walked, Neville asked if it was true they were married. “Yes,” Harry said. “No, she’s not pregnant.”
“I didn’t think she was,” Neville replied. “You’d have told me if you were having a kid, wouldn’t you?”
“Yeah,” Ginny answered. “For sure.”
Shut up, Harry.
“So, did you have a good summer?” he asked them.
“Yes, it was nice. What about you?”
“It was alright. I didn’t do anything.”
“Neither did we,” Harry told him.
“Except get married.”
“Okay, we did one thing.”
Neville let out a little chuckle. “You two are the weirdest people I’ve ever met.”
“Lots of people say that,” Ginny mused. “I wonder why.”
They had reached the compartment and Ginny opened the door. Luna had her back to the window and a book directly in front of her face; she didn’t lower it when the door was opened.
“We’re back, Luna,” Ginny said. “We brought Neville.”
Luna still didn’t lower her book. “That’s nice.”
Harry helped Neville put his trunk in the luggage rack before sitting down. He took the seat opposite the window, then Ginny dropped down next him and curled up on the seat, dropping her head on his lap. Neville looked between the small amount of room between Ginny’s feet and the wall and the half of a bench that was next to Luna. He sat down next to Luna, but as far away as he could then stared at the floor.
Ginny peered at the cover of the book Luna was reading, but it was an old hardback that had no design on it. “Whatcha got there?”
“Alice in Wonderland,” Luna replied. “It’s a lovely book.”
“I’ve never read it, how is it?”
“Excellent. I’ve read it more than fifteen times.”
Luna kept on reading. Ginny glanced at Neville, who was staring at the wall now. She looked up at Harry, who began to run his fingers through her hair. She gripped his other hand, his left hand, and rubbed her thumb over his wedding ring.
“I’m told you two got married over the summer,” Luna said suddenly.
“Yes,” Ginny answered.
“Did you have a wedding yet?”
“No, it’ll be during Christmas break.”
“A Christmas wedding… very romantic.”
Ginny smiled. “Yes, it should be.”
Neville glanced at them, then at Luna, then back at his feet. She narrowed her gaze at him, wondering.
He’s always quiet and awkward, Harry told her.
No, he isn’t, he’s just quiet.
You’re more awkward than he is.
You say that as if it is a bad thing.
She shook her head at him and looked back to Luna and Neville. Luna’s cheeks had gotten pinker since they’d returned.
Something happened between them, she decided.
If you say so.
Ginny pursed her lips at her husband, one eyebrow raised in a scornful look. He merely shrugged his shoulders and leaned back against the seat.
“So…” Harry said. Luna slowly lowered her book, her large eyes fixed on Harry’s. Neville looked back at him. Harry cleared his throat. “Anybody up for a game of Exploding Snap?”
“Sure,” Neville said. Ginny grabbed her bag from the floor and took a deck from it, which she gave to Harry.
They played until the deck combusted, at which point Ginny retrieved a normal deck of cards and they played a different game. The food cart arrived sometime after that, and Harry bought himself and Ginny cauldron cakes and chocolate frogs; Ginny ate two of the cakes while hoping that Tonks never found out. An hour after that, Luna returned to her book, and Neville became less and less interested in the game until he finally stopped and began reading. Ginny made Harry sit on the bench again then she lay down with her head in his lap; the rocking of the train and the distant sound of the pistons were making her sleepy. He let her sleep, gently coming her hair, and dug out Fellowship of the Ring; a compartment full of nerds reading. The thought made him chuckle softly.
Perhaps an hour or half later, when he’d reached a midpoint in his book, their door opened and an obviously exhausted Ron practically fell onto his bench, almost squishing Ginny’s feet, but didn’t as Ginny woke up just in time to jerk them up towards her body. Hermione entered the compartment after him, her face almost as weary-looking as Ron’s. They’d been gone the entire ride so far; the lamps had even turned on by then.
“Hi,” Harry said poignantly with a raised eyebrow. “You two look tired.”
“We had to go up and down the train for two hours,” Hermione sighed. “Can I sit next you, Neville?”
“Sure,” Neville replied; he had pulled his legs onto the bench some time ago, but now he moved them to the floor and shifted to sit upright. Hermione sat herself between Neville and Luna, then leaned her head back.
“There was a group of first years near the middle of the train that decided to try and sass their way out of having taken something from the food cart without paying, then refused to listen to either of us.”
“Did they give whatever it was back?”
“Yes, but they wouldn’t apologize,” she said.
“Right little gits,” Ron added. “Called me a hairy orange.”
“You’re not nearly as round as an orange,” Ginny quipped.
Ron glared at her, but then saw the last of the chocolate frogs on top of her bag. “Ooh, can I have one?”
“Have at it,” she said, waving a hand lazily. Ron grabbed three and unwrapped one.
“So who else is prefect?” Harry asked.
“There’s six for each house,” Hermione said. “Two fifth years, two sixth, and two seventh. Then there’s a Head Boy and Girl, the Head Boy's from Ravenclaw and Head Girl is in Gryffindor this year.”
“But who’s prefect in our year?” Harry pressed.
“Ernie Macmillian and Susan Bones are Prefects for Hufflepuff,” Hermione said, ticking them off on a finger. “Then Anthony Goldstein and Padma Patil for Ravenclaw, and for Slytherin, Daphne Greengrass and —”
“Malfoy,” Ron spat. “He’s wormed his way into being Prefect.”
“No!” Ginny said, half sarcastic.
“Snape would make him king of the entire school if he asked,” Harry said. “Git.”
Ron opened his mouth, about to continue badmouthing Malfoy, when the git himself appeared in the doorway.
Harry drew his wand even before Malfoy had opened the door. He didn’t raise it, but gripped it tightly at his side.
“Speak of the devil,” Harry said calmly.
“Oh, were you talking about me?” Malfoy said, touching a hand to his chest in mock surprise. “Oh, I didn’t know you cared, Potter.”
Harry rolled his eyes pointedly. “What do you want, Malfoy?”
“I wanted to hear if it was true,” said the platinum blonde git. “Did you really knock up the Weaselette over the summer?”
Ron shot to his feet, red in the face, but Ginny yanked him back down before he could get any words out. Harry glared coolly into Malfoy’s maliciously glinting eyes.
“I didn’t, as you so vulgarly put it, knock anyone up,” Harry said.
“Oh, then why the ring?” Malfoy asked, gesturing to Harry’s exposed left hand. “And did you buy it, Weasley? Looks like something you’d get in a thrift store.”
Ginny raised her own left hand, letting the emerald and diamonds catch the light. “Does this really look like something you’d get second hand?”
Malfoy narrowed his eyes at her. “If you’re not pregnant, why would he marry you?”
“Why do you care?” Harry asked. “Why don’t you just leave before I hex you?”
His nemesis shrugged. “Oh, no reason. It is a shame the Potter line has been tainted, however. You had your pick of sophisticated, pureblood witches, Potter. It’s such a shame.”
“I’ll say it again,” Harry replied, “leave before I hex you.” He raised his wand.
Malfoy sneered at him, his gray eyes flashing in malevolent, disturbingly so, glee. “You just watch yourself, Potter; that whore of yours is going to ruin you.”
Harry did hex him; in anger he cast a Stinging hex at Malfoy, but he slammed the door shut and it bounced off the glass to hit the ceiling where it dissipated. Malfoy waved merrily to them before leaving. Harry, seething strode to the door to yank it open; he would duel that son of a bitch in the corridors of the train, and he was going to, but Ginny grabbed his arm and shoved him onto the bench.
Stop it, she thought. She was standing in front of him, physically holding him onto the bench to keep him from jumping back up.
“I’m going to kill him, I swear it,” he growled.
“He deserves it!” Harry was almost shouting. “He deserves a slow and painful death!”
Harry! Stop it!
He did; he fell silent, her gaze burning into his.
You are not going to kill Malfoy, Ginny thought. You’re too good. You’re not like him.
And he deflated. He fell back against the seat, his gaze on the ground.
“Sorry,” he mumbled. Ginny nodded, still silent. She released him, then sat beside him and pushed her arms around him, pulling him against her.
The four others in the compartment were staring at them, their eyes wide at their seemingly one-side exchange. Only Ron and Hermione knew how Ginny had calmed him in silence, but even Luna was startled by this. Then:
“You must be meant for each other,” Luna said.
“Why’s that, Lu?” Ginny asked her.
“No one else would be able to stop him so easily,” she answered.
Ginny said nothing in reply. She simply hugged Harry tighter, her head dropping onto his shoulder. Harry pulled one arm out and draped it over her shoulders, giving her a squeeze.
Eventually, they began to speak again; Hermione kept telling them about the prefects and the bad-tempered first years that she hoped for her own sake got sent to some other house — preferably Slytherin, Ron had added — and what they would have to do as Prefects. Harry wasn’t really listening for the most part.
When the train began to slow, Harry was very hungry and had cooled off from the encounter with Malfoy. They got their robes out of their trunks and pulled them on over their Muggle clothing, then pulled down their trunks as the final hiss of the pistons sounded and started to make their way from the compartment to the carriage exit onto the platform. Harry’s heart was beating rapidly in excitement; he was back at Hogwarts.
As usual, they left their trunks at the platform and started for the carriages that would carry them to the castle. It had only been two months since he’d left, but Harry already felt as if the very air was working all of the worry that had built up in him, like there was some different blend of oxygen and nitrogen here than in Devon.
But the air wasn’t sweet enough to drown out all of the whispers or the blatant talking around them. They ignored it best they could, but every hiss of “pregnant” sounded like shouts to them. They mounted the crest of the hill; a boy shut the door to his carriage and it lurched forward, travelling up the path behind a large, black form.
Both Harry and Ginny stopped in their tracks. The skeletal creatures were at the head of every coach, almost like horses but without any of the skin or muscle and it had wings, as if someone had taken the bones of a Pegasus, taken them apart and put them back together all wrong, then coated it in leather, and enchanted it to act as if it were alive; a skeleton that could walk. They stared, struck by fear or panic, until Neville stepped in front of them.
“You okay?” he said.
Harry gave him a slow nod, peering over his shoulder at the black, demonic looking beast. Neville glanced in the same direction, then he turned back to face them, his eyes not quite meeting theirs.
“You’re not okay,” he muttered. “Just ignore them.”
“What is it?” Harry asked.
“It’s called a Thestral,” said Luna softly.
Harry looked at her; at her normally large eyes and her arms clutching her book to her chest. She was staring at them, unblinking, with a kinder gaze.
“What are they doing there?” Ginny asked her. Ron and Hermione had stopped walking, looking back in confusion.
“They’ve always been there,” Neville answered. “They pull the carriages.”
“The carriages pull themselves,” Harry said.
“No, the Thestrals do.”
“How come we’ve never seen them?” Ginny questioned.
“Only people who’ve seen death can,” said Luna.
They fell silent. Ron took a step back towards them.
“You alright?” he said.
“Yeah,” Harry replied, shaking his head. He looked between Neville and Luna, his brow still furrowed. “You’ve seen them this entire time?”
“Well, I didn’t see them until third year,” Neville said. “My grandfather died during the summer that year, when I came back, they were there.”
Ginny was looking at Luna. “Your mother died when you were nine,” she said softly. “I — I didn’t realize that… that you saw it…”
Luna shrugged. “It didn’t really matter.”
Harry’s gaze drifted back to the creature, the Thestral. “We… Diggory…” His stomach lurched, remembering the tip of the knife sliding out of Diggory’s chest, the blood seeping out onto his shirt, his pale face that had looked so surprised and confused, his glassy eyes as he fell to the ground…
Ginny gripped his hand and pulled him forward. “Come on, we should go.”
Ron and Hermione fell into step beside them, their faces concerned. “You okay, mate?” Ron asked again as they climbed into the coach. Neville shut the door and the carriage started forward. Harry nodded, saying nothing as his throat was tight. He was remembering the voice that had come from behind the mask, the sound of a body thudding as it limply fell, Krum’s screams as his arm was severed, the feel of the warm, gooey blood hitting him as it shot from Krum’s elbow, the smell… He could still smell it, the sharp scent of iron and the warmth of it soaking his clothes.
Ginny grabbed his arm and pulled him to her; she pressed a hand to his face and kissed him quickly. Stop thinking about it, she whispered in his mind. Or it’ll never go away.
Harry brushed her cheek with his knuckles, then cupped it with a palm. He kissed her again, ignoring Ron’s loud clearing of his throat, and touched his forehead to hers. Ron cleared his throat again, then let out a loud “Ow!” as they heard Hermione hit him.
It’ll never leave…
But you can.
She leaned against him, her hand going to find his. He rubbed a thumb over her knuckles, passing over her wedding and engagement ring with an absent mind. He watched from the door window the gargoyles of the gates get closer, until they were passing them and the castle was in sight. The coach came to a stop in the crest of the rounded drive, and Harry jumped out first. He held out his hand to Ginny, and immediately thought of another time, when carriages pulling up to castles meant grand balls and women in giant skirts ready to dance. She smiled at his thought, then took his hand as she stepped down.
When they stepped through the grand oak doors, he took a deep breath and chose to push away everything the sight of the Thestral had brought up. Ron clapped him on the shoulder as he went past him, heading straight for the Great Hall and the expected food. Harry rolled his eyes at his best mate, but then smiled as his wife tugged him in the same direction. He was at Hogwarts, he would be sitting down to a feast in a moment, he had his wife and she was smiling back at him. It didn't matter if the whole world was crashing down around them, it couldn't reach him there.
The hall was full, and standing right behind Ron meant that no one could see his face. He took advantage of this as they walked down the hall, Ron heading for an empty spot near Fred and George. Harry saw Angelina Johnson and Alicia Spinnet with them, sitting on either side of them, and waved to them. They took their seats, each of them for the first years to arrive and for the feast to begin.
It didn't take long; they were there within five minutes. Harry watched them walk between the tables, the lot of them looking around nervously. One boy caught his gaze and turned pink before looking quickly away. Professor McGonagall mounted the raised platform and turned to face the students, standing beside a little three legged stool upon which a ragged old hat sat, the first years bunching up in front of her.
McGonagall cleared her throat. She pulled a scroll out of thin air, making the first years gasp, and unrolled it. Then she turned to face the hat, and it held itself straighter.
The rip at the brim opened wide, and the Sorting Hat's voice echoed through the Great Hall as it began its song.
"In times of old when I was new,
Great wizards four, they had a dream,
To make the world’s best magic school
And to wizards it would gleam.
They sought a perfect place
To teach all their knowledge
To members of all their race
And so founded this sacred college.
First came sweet Hufflepuff,
To Ravenclaw with her plan,
And so they went to Gryffindor,
Who said they needed a fourth man,
Who would come but wise old Slytherin
To aid them in this part,
A school they would form,
And this was the first start.
But who to teach, they asked,
Well, wizards of course,
But decide they did of what class.
Bold Gryffindor did call
To teach those of great bravery,
And deeds that were in no way small.
No, said Ravenclaw, those of great mind,
Clever and intuitive,
With skill and who are wise.
Proud Slytherin thought to be more exclusive,
To include only those who were
Born into magic, with wizarding roots.
Hufflepuff then corrected them,
They should teach those with heart,
And that all other points were moot.
“Let’s try this!” Slytherin did say,
“Let’s take them all,
And sort them on the first day.
Each of us will take the students
Who aspire to be like us.”
Now wouldn’t that be prudent?
So here I am, a simple Hat, that’s true,
I am here to sort you,
So listen to this news:
Long ago, when first this school
Was run by our founders four
To teach and learn and stay a place of peace,
It worked until it could no more.
One day it got too much for one,
And never again did Slytherin speak to us,
Why precisely I cannot be sure.
So hear me when I say,
Division and discord will break foundations,
Remaining separate is not the way.
There is danger here, a threat to our very nation,
But idle minds will ignore every warning
Until it is too late.
Oh, do you see what I am saying?
Do you understand that the threat is great?
Dear students, unite inside Hogwarts,
Let not Houses be real or firm walls,
I shall sort you now, as that is what I’m for,
I implore you to listen to my call!
You will see soon if not now,
Let the sorting now, begin!”
There was applause in the hall, but for the first time that Harry could remember, it was hesitant and punctured by whispers. The Hat’s song was strange, a warning against danger that the rest of the student body did not know existed. They were right to mutter.
“Branched out some, don’t you think?” Harry heard Angelina mutter.
“Yeah,” answered Fred, but he was looking at Harry. His furrowed brow and worried gaze seemed to ask a question, but Harry did not care to interpret it. He looked down at the empty plate before him, then back up at McGonagall and the first years. The Transfiguration teacher was eyeing the still muttering audience with a disapproving look that almost smoldered. Quickly, as more and more students caught her gaze, the mutterings fell to a rest and McGonagall unrolled her scroll.
A tiny, terrified looking boy stumbled out of the group and up to the little stool and the Hat. He put it on after dropping onto the seat, and it fell right over his eyes to be held up by his rather tall ears. There was silence, the students all breathed in time, and the rip at the brim opened once again to shout:
Harry and all the other Gryffindors clapped, some cheered, and Euan Abercrombie smiled bashfully as he took off the hat, then fairly ran to the table where he dropped onto the end of a bench and tried to make himself as small as possible. Harry almost smiled, remembering doing almost the exact same thing.
The next twenty minutes he watched the queue of tiny, nervous, stumbling first year students become smaller and smaller as they were sorted into houses. Of the fifty or so, about ten came to Gryffindor, nearly twenty to Hufflepuff, exactly twelve to Slytherin, and the rest to Ravenclaw. Each new student was applauded and cheered for and each new student grinned either shyly or basking in the applause.
Finally, the last in the line was seated at her table and McGonagall and the hat left the hall through the very door Harry had gone through last year after his name came out of the Goblet of Fire. Dumbledore rose from his chair, his arms outstretched and a fond smile upon his lips.
"To our new students," he began, "I say welcome. To our old students, welcome back. There is a time for speech-making, and this is not it. Tuck in!"
And all at once the plates and bowls and dishes before them were filled with food, and directly before Harry was a very fantastic smelling roast turkey. Food was eaten, friends re-connected, stomachs were stretched, and Harry ate perhaps too much treacle tart. As the last of the desserts vanished, all eyes turned back to Professor Dumbledore as he once again stood.
“Now that we are all full, we are soon bound to become sleepy, therefore I shall make this short. We have no new teachers this year, so please congratulate Professors Lupin and Black on their survival to teach another year!” There was applause, and Harry saw Sirius beaming out at the crowd while Lupin looked slightly pink. When the clapping died, Dumbledore began again. “Mr. Filch, our caretaker has asked me to remind you that using spells in the corridors is forbidden, and that Fanged Frisbees are still banned. To see the full list of banned items which contains now 114 items, please visit Mr. Filch’s office on the fourth floor. First years should note that the forest on the edge of the grounds is off-limits, and several of our older students should remember that by now.” Harry could swear Dumbledore was looking right at Fred and George. “Classes shall begin on Monday, so please have an excellent weekend. Now, off to bed you go.”
The sound of benches scraping against the stone floor filled the hall as the students all rose from their seats and began to exit the Great Hall. Hermione grabbed Ron’s sleeve as he turned to go, reminding him that they had to lead the first years up to Gryffindor Tower.
“Oh, right. Er, oi! Midgets!”
“Ron!” Hermione scolded. “You can’t call them that! First years, over here please!”
Harry stepped back as the timid looking group of first years approached, taking Ginny’s hand as he did. “We’ll see you later,” he said to their friends. “Have fun!”
“Thanks,” Ron grumbled.
Ginny tugged on Harry’s arm, then leaned on his shoulder as they began to follow the crowd out. I’m sleepy, she thought.
“Course you are,” he chuckled. “Come on then.”
“Hey, Potter! Potter!”
Harry stopped, looking around. A girl older than them had called to them, and she was quickly making her way to them.
“I’m Sarah Hollins, Head Girl this year,” she said. “Professor McGonagall has asked me to show you to your quarters.”
“Oh, thanks,” Harry said, going a little pink. Sarah Hollins was taller than he was, almost six feet he guessed, and had broad shoulders that were almost wider than her hips despite having a thin waist. She had stern eyes, dark brown hair that had been pulled into a bun and a thin mouth that was at that moment set in a frown. He guessed that she was not pleased at being told to escort him and Ginny. Hollins moved past them, quickly navigating the crowd into the Entrance Hall. People seemed to step aside for her, or perhaps it was her irritated expression or her rather intimidating figure or the fact that she took long strides, so Harry and Ginny just tried to walk in her wake. Soon they had made their way to the marble staircase and Hollins was going up them two at a time, which they found difficult to keep up with. Eventually they had headed off the crowd and Hollins was leading them through a shortcut to Gryffindor Tower.
When they reached the Fat Lady, Hollins pulled a pair of glasses from her robes and a slip of paper. She pushed the glasses onto her face, then glanced over the paper and looked over the glasses to the Fat Lady.
“Neverland,” she said.
The Fat Lady inclined her head and swung forward. Hollins ducked her head to climb through the hole and they followed her. In the common room, Harry posed a question to her.
“Are there private quarters off of Gryffindor Tower?”
Hollins shoved her glasses into her hair, catching her bangs the ends of which stuck up behind the glasses. “Yes, loads. There’s a whole two floors above the regular dormitories for married students.”
“Yes. The castle was built during a time when people married a lot younger, especially women, so there were frequently students with spouses, some of which weren’t enrolled. Nowadays they’re never used except when Gryffindor has a Head Boy or Girl.”
“So we’ll be neighbors?” Ginny asked Hollins.
The Head Girl nodded, though she didn’t look particularly pleased about this. “The entrance to the extra quarters is past the normal dorms, so you’ll have to go past the other students to get to them. We’ll go up the boys’ stairs so Potter doesn’t slid back down.”
Hollins led them up through the boys dorms, past rooms Harry had never seen, until they ran out of stairs at which point she walked past all the other doors to the very last one. She opened it and let them go past her.
“Normally, Potter, er, Mrs. Potter, you’ll have to go through the girls dorms like I do to get up here.”
“That’s fine,” Ginny said, not knowing what else she should say. They had to go up one more flight of stairs before Hollins stopped and entered a corridor. Harry saw that there was another stairway flanking the one they’d come up, probably going down into the girls’ dorms.
“Here you are,” she said, opening a door to their left. “That’s your rooms, mine’s across the hall.”
Harry looked into the room, seeing deep red hardwood floors and matching furniture and their luggage piled in the middle of the room and Hedwig in her cage waiting for him to release her; he looked back to Hollins and smiled appreciatively. She stepped out of the doorway, towards the other side of the hall.
“The rooms all have silencing charms on the outer walls,” she said, “so don’t worry about accidentally waking me up.”
Ginny frowned. “What would we wake you up with?”
That was the first time she smiled since finding them in the Great Hall, but it was an “are you kidding me?” sort of smile. “You’re newlyweds. What else?” At which point, she turned and opened her own door; she shut it behind her with a foot, almost slamming it. Ginny turned to Harry, her eyebrows raised.
“Well then,” she huffed.
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