|SIYE Time:3:19 on 24th February 2018|
Genres: Action/Adventure, Romance
Warnings: Dark Fiction, Death, Intimate Sexual Situations, Mild Language, Negative Alcohol Use, Rape, Spouse/Adult/Child Abuse, Violence/Physical Abuse
Summary: With Voldemort dead, Harry Potter is training to be an Auror and is finally back together with Ginny Weasley. But when a young woman dies of poisoning at the Ministry’s Midsummer Ball, Harry is the first suspect, and he can only uncover the true murderer by working with his childhood rival, Draco Malfoy.
Hitcount: Story Total: 1435; Chapter Total: 119
Chapter 1: The Midsummer Ball
June 20, 1998, 9:00 p.m.
The Ministry of Magic
Flash! Flash! Flash!
Harry Potter could hardly see with all of the photographers around him, snapping pictures. The world was an explosion of light, and he was vaguely aware of questions being tossed at him. The only real, dependable thing was Ginny Weasley on his arm.
Finally, the photographs ceased and the world came back into focus. He was in the entryway of the ballroom at the Ministry of Magic, and his and Ginny’s entrance had just been announced to the room. The press had immediately swooped in, and they formed a half-circle around them, effectively walling them away from the other guests. Ginny looked calm and elegant in her gold gown, as if she did this every day, while Harry had to remind himself not to cause a scandal by hexing all of the reporters out of their way.
“Mr. Potter! Are you happy with the appointment of Kingsley Shacklebolt as Minister of Magic?”
“Mr. Potter! You are the youngest person to ever be awarded the Order of Merlin, First Class. How does this make you feel?”
“Miss Weasley! Who designed your gown?”
“Mr. Potter! You are the first person allowed into the Auror training program without earning any N.E.W.T.s. Do you feel this special treatment was justified?”
“Miss Weasley! Mr. Potter has allegedly left a long-term relationship with a Miss Romilda Vane to pursue a relationship with you. Were you involved in breaking up Mr. Potter and Miss Vane?”
“Mr. Potter. Miss Weasley is not yet seventeen. Are you keeping your relationship age appropriate?”
“Mr. Potter. Do you feel that Dumbledore would be proud of your defeat of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named?”
Harry forced himself to uncurl his hand from his wand and smile at the reporters. He had spent a five-hour training session with Patricia Willoughby, the Ministry press secretary, earlier this month, learning how to deal with situations like this.
“I am very sorry, but Miss Weasley and I are not taking questions at this time. There will be a brief press conference in the Atrium at eleven o’clock, following the Order of Merlin ceremony. I will be happy to address any appropriate questions at that time. I will not be answering any questions of a personal nature.”
After that statement, the security guards steered Harry and Ginny away from the press, and Ginny squeezed his arm. She knew how much he hated dealing with the reporters. It was like the Tri-Wizard tournament over again, only worse because they wanted his opinion on everything Ministry related, even the things he hadn’t formed opinions on yet. And they were no longer interested in learning who he was kissing, but trying to figure out if there were any women sharing his bed. He didn’t know where they came up with half their material. Long term relationship with Romilda Vane? He had never heard anything more absurd.
This was the first time that he and Ginny were out in public together even though they had become a couple again immediately after the battle. While they had gone to Diagon Alley for ice cream once, it had been a short-lived outing as they had spotted Rita Skeeter coming out of Flourish and Blotts and had Apparated back to the Burrow with ice cream cones still in their hands. And they had gone into the Muggle world with Ron and Hermione on dinner-and-a-movie double dates that were as much a novelty to Harry as they were to Ginny and Ron. Being out in the wizarding world, especially with press around, was new to them, and Harry knew he would have to get used to it.
The Midsummer Ball was exactly what Harry expected it to be: lavish, glittering, and overcrowded. He hated everything about it. The wizarding world had spent all of May burying their loved ones until it felt like all of the earth in Great Britain had been disturbed, and now they were expected to dance and drink champagne like nothing had ever happened? The award he was to receive in an hour felt inappropriate too, and he had only agreed to accept it because Kingsley had insisted it was needed for the morale for the wizarding world.
“The world needs a hero right now, Harry,” Kingsley said. “We can’t recover without visible hope.”
Harry wished they would find a different hope. He didn’t want to be anyone’s hero, and in his apathy, he had allowed Hermione to write his acceptance speech.
He looked over at his girlfriend by his side. So he didn’t hate everything about the ball. Ginny looked beautiful. She wore the gold gown she had worn for Bill’s wedding--it was a shame to let a French designer dress to go to waste, she’d said, but Harry knew her decision to wear the dress again was due to money--but it had been modified. A train had been added to make it more formal. Ginny had said it needed some alterations because she had grown. She blushed while saying this, making Harry wonder if it wasn’t the extra inch or two of height that had been the problem but the distracting curves she’d developed.
Around her neck, Ginny wore a simple gold necklace with a heart pendant, an impromptu gift from Harry from one of their Muggle outings. Her long red hair was in waves around her shoulders, which was how Harry liked it best. She wasn’t the fanciest woman there, but she was definitely the most beautiful.
While Harry would never admit it, he had also loved Ginny’s attempts to teach him how to dance. They had practiced in the garden of the Burrow, barefoot because Harry kept stepping on Ginny’s feet in the beginning. At some point, after many a misstep, it had clicked, and Harry no longer felt like he had to concentrate so intently on the individual steps, and his body began moving easily with Ginny’s. He had enjoyed dancing while no one was watching, but he wasn’t so sure he’d enjoy it in a crowd.
“There’s Ron and Hermione,” Ginny said.
They moved through the crowd towards their friends. It was strange being here, seeing so many people from different parts of his life, all in the same ballroom, wearing dress robes. There was Mafalda Hopkirk in pink dress robes who, until Hermione had impersonated her last fall, had only been a signature on Harry’s warnings from the Improper Use of Magic Office. There was Hagrid towering over everyone in his rustic brown suit. Draco Malfoy sat at a table with a pretty blond girl who was definitely not Pansy Parkinson. His fellow Auror trainees were there, trying to figure out how much alcohol they could drink while at the same party as their bosses.
“That was quite a welcome,” Ron said when they reached him.
“What can I say?” Harry said. “Rita missed me. Did the reporters get you on the way in too?”
“Yes, but they mostly asked us questions about you,” Hermione said, as Ron scowled.
Harry wished he hadn’t asked, as his fame was usually a sore topic with Ron, even though Ron and Hermione were now also famous. “So, where does one get a beverage?” he asked.
“Waiters are circulating with champagne, and there is a bartender making cocktails and pouring firewhiskies somewhere over there,” Hermione gestured in the direction of the far wall.
As if on cue, a black-robed waiter appeared with champagne. Harry grabbed glasses for himself and Ginny, as Ron and Hermione already had drinks.
“Cheers,” Ginny said, and the four friends clinked glasses.
Cheers. It felt so hollow to Harry.
“Are you being melancholy?” Ginny elbowed him gently in the ribs.
“We just buried our dead, and here we are drinking and dancing. And about to receive medals,” Harry said.
Ginny put her free arm around Harry’s waist. On cue, a photographer snapped a picture, but from a distance.
“We need to go on with life. If we don’t, Voldemort wins. Some of the people in this ballroom wouldn’t be alive if you hadn’t defeated Voldemort when you did. Drink to that,” Ginny said.
Harry kissed the top of her head. He knew she was right, and he didn’t want to dampen her evening. Unlike him, she had been looking forward to tonight, especially as she was more than a month from her seventeenth birthday, making her one of the youngest people there. He also knew how deeply she was still mourning Fred, so if she could still find joy in the evening, he could as well.
“You know what the Death Eaters would hate?” he asked Ginny.
“A photo of us dancing in the Ministry they once had control of.”
They left their glasses on a nearby table and joined the couples on the dance floor. It was nothing like the Yule Ball at Hogwarts. This time he had exactly the date he wanted. There would be no sitting on the sidelines with Ron, jealous of everyone who knew how to have fun.
“What was the Yule Ball like for you?” Harry asked. “I know you went with Neville, but did you have fun?”
“I did. Neville was very sweet and very nervous. I felt like a bad date at some points because the Ravenclaw boys kept asking me to dance. I later found out it was because Michael Corner had a crush on me, so his friends kept asking me to dance to annoy him. You didn’t enjoy yourself, I recall.”
It wasn’t a question, but Harry responded. “No. I was a bit of an idiot. I think Parvati forgave me eventually.”
Ginny laughed. “I doubt it. These things are a big deal for teenage girls. Sorry Harry, but Parvati will one day tell her daughters that she went on a date with the Boy-Who-Lived. And that it was awful.”
“Well, at least it wasn’t your night I ruined.”
Harry had a history of being a bad date in his Hogwarts days. He had ignored Parvati Patil at the Yule Ball, and he’d once taken Cho Chang to Hogsmeade and made her cry. Perhaps Cho would also tell her daughters about it. Yikes. Hopefully, that was all in the past. Over the summer, he had gone a few dates and many double dates with Ginny, which had mercifully all gone well.
The summer had been odd so far, full of both the saddest and the happiest days of Harry’s life. Harry Potter had had many strange summers in his life. When he was eleven, a half-giant told him he was a wizard and that he had been famous his whole life without knowing it. At twelve, he had ruined his uncle’s dinner party due to a rogue house elf. At thirteen, he had blown up his aunt. Every year, something happened that would never happen to anyone other than him.
This summer might be the strangest yet. It began with an endless string of funerals, followed by his first separation from Ron and Hermione in a long time. His best friends had traveled to Australia to locate Hermione’s parents. He had wanted the break, as it had allowed him to spend time with Ginny without Ron hovering over them, but it was a reminder that their relationships were evolving. After years of shared classes, shared adventures, and shared enemies, they would no longer be living in the same place and following the same schedules. They weren’t even a trio anymore. They were, with the inclusion of Ginny, two couples, which felt strangely adult.
Mere days after Ron and Hermione’s return with Mr. and Mrs. Granger, Ron and Harry began Auror training. It was a lot of ten-hour days, with studying to do after hours. As neither Harry nor Ron had earned their N.E.W.T.s, they had more coursework than the others. Harry missed the lazy days he had spent with Ginny in May and regretted starting his training in June rather than September as Kingsley had originally suggested.
While Harry was living at the Burrow and would continue to do so until the decontaminators and decorators both finished working on 12 Grimmauld Place, he felt like he barely saw Ginny anymore. He would get an hour or two with her in the evenings, and they had the weekends, but the Burrow was so busy and full that they rarely had any privacy. Even at the ball, they were always in eyesight of Molly Weasley, as well as every reporter in wizarding Britain.
“Well, I am enjoying this ball much more than the Yule Ball,” Ginny said.
“So am I. The perfect date makes all the difference,” Harry said.
He expected her to say something flirtatious in response, but she was staring in the far corner of the ballroom. “What’s going on over there? Did someone pass out?”
He turned to look, and sure enough, there appeared to be a disturbance in the corner. In moments, the ballroom would be in chaos, the scene of a murder.
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