Harry Potter: To Love Is To Live by _kb_



Summary: What if Ginny really got over Harry during his fourth year, and then he fell for her and found love while she was with someone else? Can he get her attention and convince her to be his girlfriend? What happens if he can't and she is the secret to helping him defeat Voldemort? {post-GoF & Alt-OotP } COMPLETE!
Rating: PG-13 starstarstarstarstar
Categories: Alternate Universe
Characters: None
Genres: None
Warnings: None
Challenges: None
Series: None
Published: 2006.11.22
Updated: 2007.01.12


Index

Chapter 1: Prologue: History & Chapter 1: Year of Hell
Chapter 2: Chapter 2: It Doesn't Matter
Chapter 3: Chapter 3: Finding Harry
Chapter 4: Chapter 4: Flying Again
Chapter 5: Chapter 5: Together
Chapter 6: Chapter 6: Visitors
Chapter 7: Chapter 7: Birthdays and Truth
Chapter 8: Chapter 8: New Beginnings
Chapter 9: Chapter 9: Fun and Not So Fun
Chapter 10: Chapter 10: Mars Bringth Forth...
Chapter 11: Chapter 11: Love
Chapter 12: Chapter 12: Epilogue


Chapter 1: Prologue: History & Chapter 1: Year of Hell

Author's Notes: {A/N: I need to have the main events from most of the OotP, with some twists, up front to set up the main part of the story correctly. So because I need to cover a lot of ground very quickly, the first chapter will be mostly narrative in style. Please bear with me and read through chapter two before you decided you hate the story. :-) Fortunately for you gentle reader, chapter one is also the shortest chapter in the whole story. I'll post the second chapter very soon because of this. But hey, you'll get to read the equivalent of an entire book in one chapter, and no useless parts. :-)



I'm taking a small liberty with the GoF cannon. I know that Ginny was not there in the scene, and it's also possible I gave her a boyfriend a wee bit earlier than in JKR's mind too. But I need it to be this way to set up the story. Trust me, I have a good reason.



I also want to give a great big thanks to my pre-beta GinnyMarie and my beta editor cwarbeck, without whom this story would not be nearly as good as it is. Thanks to both of you for keeping me straight and pointing out my errors!



This story is a bit different for me. I don't usually write "dark" stories, or use angst, but it helps the first part of this story. I hope you enjoy it. -- kb :-}


Harry Potter: To Love Is To Live


Prologue: History

Harry lay on the bed in the hospital wing after the Tri-Wizard Tournament and its aftermath. The Minister for Magic and the other adults had already left after their shouting match that had awakened Harry. Mrs. Weasley had just sent Ron and Hermione to their dorm room and then had given him the last part of his sleeping potion. While it was taking effect, she told Ginny to sit with Harry and help him be comfortable until she got back from conferring with Madam Pomfrey, before Ginny also had to go to her dorm room.

Albus Dumbledore stood across the room, surveying the Infirmary. He sighed to himself and wished not for the first time that Harry had not had to experience what he had gone through tonight, and that he did not have to face what he must eventually go through in the future. Molly was still whispering with Poppy, so he looked once more at the young hero of the day. He was just in time to see Ginny wipe Harry's forehead with a cool cloth. Harry turned his head slightly to look at her, and Ginny smiled down at him.

A look of happiness came over the boy's face as he dropped back off to sleep.

Dumbledore could not know that the lad was dreaming of that smile, nor could the Headmaster know that the smiling girl felt sorry for the boy for what he had had to endure that evening, as she wondered if she would get to sit with her new boyfriend on the train ride back to King's Cross.

Chapter 1: Year of Hell

Harry was back at the Dursleys. It was not nearly as pleasant as last year, when he had found out he had a godfather, someone who was a friend of his parents, and most importantly, someone who cared for him. No, this summer, he was having to deal with the guilt of being the cause of the return of the most evil wizard in recent memory. A small part of him knew it was not totally his fault. He had not wanted Voldemort to return, and had not willingly participated in the ritual, but if he had not been there, Voldemort would not have had his blood.

Unfortunately, that was not his only problem in relation to Dark wizards. His scar was starting to prickle more often, or sometimes it would just throb. He assumed that it was because of Voldemort's return. Harry also wondered if part of the reason for his headaches was due to sheer frustration of not knowing what was going on. No matter what he had tried, he was not getting any news. Recently, he had even sent Hedwig to his friends instructing her to peck at them for a reply. Maybe a walk would help.

As he started his walk towards and through the nearby park, he pondered another recurring thought: his sudden discovery of an angel, or at least the face of an angel. When he had fallen to sleep in the Hospital Wing after his latest run-in with Voldemort, there had been that caring smile and lovely red hair looking down upon him. Sure he had seen Ginny plenty of times before, but somehow that experience was different. What did that mean?

Unfortunately, that was when he had run into Dudley, and without warning, that horrible cold feeling came. Dementors! As he was trying to figure out what to do, Dudley had hit him and he lost his wand. Then he had found it and cast his Patronus, saving them both, only to be shocked again at finding out Mrs. Figg knew about the magical world. What more could happen?

He was soon sorry he had asked that question. Harry had received a number of owls in short order about his use of magic, which led to a flaming fight with his relatives. Of course, the big surprise of the night had been seeing his aunt get a Howler.

In some ways the next week was not a whole lot better. Sure he had finally left the Dursleys, flying to what was called "Headquarters", and he was with his godfather; but those were the only bright spots in a dim world called his life.

One of the first things he did there was to let his two "best friends" have it for not telling him what was going on. Fortunately for him, Fred, George, and Ginny came in, and he had settled down when they got to talking. He was finally finding out a few things at least. There was also the opportunity to see that long, red hair and smile again. Like an enigma, he wondered what it meant; so he covertly tried to watch her to figure it out.

He actually had a number of opportunities to watch Ginny. They had all been drafted into a cleaning army, or that was how Harry thought of it. All the students slaved under Mrs. Weasley's watchful eye, and Harry continued to watch Ginny. There was something about her that piqued his interest. Fortunately, she seemed oblivious of his observations of her.

At night time, he had a different preoccupation; this was a dream of a long, dark corridor with locked doors. It came most nights and he could not understand why it kept coming or why his scar continued to prickle. The dream took backstage though, in the light of morning, as he had something else more important to worry about: his trial.

To his great relief, he had been acquitted. But his happiness at his acquittal was dampened by the seeming indifference of Professor Dumbledore. Even though the Headmaster had helped him with his trial, he seemed to be deliberately ignoring Harry.

Harry was hurt, but when he got home and spread the good news, he got to see Fred, George, and Ginny dance and shout, "Harry got off!" This fun side of her was a bit different from the sharp-witted and sometimes sharp-tongued Ginny he had seen while they had been cleaning Grimmauld Place.

The owls bringing their Hogwarts letters came soon after, bringing with them prefect badges for Hermione and Ron. Harry realised that he had completely forgotten prefect badges were to be awarded this summer for his year, and when it hit him that Ron had been made prefect instead of him, he felt angry and jealous. But when he thought about his friend, the one that had mostly lived in the shadows of others for most of his life, Harry managed to pull his head out of his arse and with that shame to power him, he congratulated his friend and was mostly happy for him.

The prefect party, as he thought of it, was actually kind of fun, at least for awhile. He had another opportunity to observe Ginny, this time while she was talking to Tonks. There was something about her that captured his attention when she walked into the room.

All too soon, summer was over and they were heading for King's Cross and the Hogwarts Express. Harry, Neville, Ginny, and Luna all shared a compartment on the train. While they were waiting for Ron and Hermione to come back from their prefect meeting, Neville showed off his new Mimbulus plant, which squirted on everyone. Fortunately Ginny was able to clean them up. Unfortunately, the cleaning did not happen until after Cho Chang stuck her head in the compartment. It could have been worse he supposed, but he was not sure how. Still, he had gotten to observe Ginny some more, this time as she interacted with someone in her own year: Luna. Ginny also disappeared for awhile on the train. She did not say where she went and he did not feel it was his place to ask, but he did wonder.

When Harry finally arrived at school, he found a number of very unusual things. First, Hagrid was missing and they could not find out where he was. Then at the welcoming feast, they found out their new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher was Dolores Umbridge, whom he had met at his trial. To top it all off, he kept running into Cho Chang.

Cho was pretty and captured his attention, at least when she was in front of him. It was this last observation that gave Harry much pause. He had tried to ask her to the Yule Ball last year, but that had not worked out. Now, it almost seemed like she was looking for him, but he was not sure he believed that to be possible. Interestingly, Harry reflected as he was drifting off to sleep that night, he thought about Cho only when she was nearby, but found himself thinking more and more about Ginny, even if she was nowhere to be found. He was sure that meant something. He fell asleep and the corridor dream returned.

If all those girl puzzles had been the worst that had happened to him, he would have been a happy boy. But alas, as Dumbledore would have said, it got worse -- much worse. In his first DADA class, he and Professor Umbridge got into a heated discussion over whether Voldemort had really returned. Before he could censor his thoughts, anger, and speech, he had ended up with a week of detention. Worse still, it was writing lines with a Blood Quill. His hand would never be the same.

On a more positive note, Ron tried out for and actually made the Quidditch team as Keeper. Harry was really happy for his best mate, as he knew how much Ron loved the game.

Life quickly became worse during the following week when Harry again let his temper get out of control and received another week of detention with Umbridge and her Blood Quill. He hated this for three reasons: his hand hurt like hell, this mental battle with Umbridge and his determination not to let her win was very difficult, and finally it robbed him of time in the common room. Time he needed not only to do homework and get sleep instead of having to stay up into the wee hours of the morning, but time he could have spent looking across the room and observing Ginny.

When he did get to watch her, he found yet more interesting things about her. She tended to have trouble with small locks of hair falling into her face that she continually had to put back up behind her ear; but that only happened for her left side and never her right. When she did something she needed to hide with a straight face, she would suck her upper lip in ever so slightly, as if she was having to bite it to distract herself. He also noticed that when she was deep in thought, she tended to bounce the end of her quill on her chin, as if trying to knock the knowledge into, or maybe out of, herself. It took a while to figure out, but he also observed that when she was frustrated, she tended to fold her right leg up under her and swing her left leg. The greater the frustration, the greater and higher the swing he found. Ginny Weasley was an interesting person to watch.

Not so interesting was Dolores J. Umbridge, who became Hogwarts "High Inquisitor" courtesy of Educational Decree number Twenty-two. That plus the lack of hands-on spell work in their DADA class led Hermione to suggest a "study group" to learn the spells; and who better to teach and lead them than Harry she told him. The amazing part was she did not want this just for the three of them, but suggested it be for anyone who needed to.

Once he had finally agreed to it, because who else would want to do this with him, Harry was surprised when over twenty people showed up at the Hog's Head Pub during their first Hogsmeade weekend, which happened in early October. Not only were they willing to discuss the group, they all joined it.

To make it even more interesting, Cho praised his spell work and efforts in the Tri-Wizard Tournament. At the same time, Harry also saw Ginny there, and she was holding hands with Michael Corner. That certainly explained why she would occasionally disappear at times. For some reason, this made him want to punch out Corner, though he was not certain why he felt that way. Fortunately, he restrained himself; as did Ron when he found out his little sister was dating.

Equally interesting was a comment Hermione made when he casually questioned her on it. She told him that Ginny used to fancy him, but she gave up on him months ago. Almost as an afterthought, she added that doesn't mean that she doesn't like him as a friend, of course. Harry knew he was going to have to think very hard about all this very soon.

Two days later, life was again unfair to Harry, or so he thought, when Educational Decree number Twenty-four came out and banned all student organizations. While he knew that was aimed at their defense study group, it also affected their Quidditch team. All the Gryffindors were furious.

While Harry debated as to where to have this study group meet, as having the group seemed like such a great way to tweak Umbridge, Dobby came to his rescue by telling him about the "Come and Go Room" or the "Room of Requirement". Not only did it work out, but it was the perfect place for the "DA", or "Dumbledore's Army". That Ginny had suggested the winning name did not go unnoticed by him.

Having the DA was a real boon for Harry. This was not turning out to be a good year, so any positive spots were welcome, such as flying and his love for Quidditch.

As the first Quidditch game of the season came upon them, Harry was really looking forward to it; he wanted to beat Slytherin badly. But as much as Harry was looking forward to it, Ron was not as he was developing a monumental case of nerves. Despite Hermione's and Ginny's attempts to try to cheer up Ron before the game, the pressure got to him and he did not play well. Still, Gryffindor won anyway as Harry caught the Golden Snitch while the score was still close.

All did not end well however, because as the game ended Crabbe hit Harry with a Bludger. While Madam Hooch was taking care of Crabbe, Malfoy started taunting them. After a particularly nasty remark about Mrs. Weasley, Harry and George slugged Malfoy. It would not have been so bad except that Umbridge got herself involved and banned them, plus Fred for good measure, from Quidditch. Educational Decree number Twenty-five (the High Inquisitor will henceforth have supreme authority over all punishments, sanctions and removal of privileges, etc.) gave her that power. To say that Harry was livid would have been an understatement. This also helped to cement the idea that what was between him and Dolores Jane Umbridge was not merely dislike or even hate -- as he had earlier thought. No, what was between them was war.

The House reaction was completely expected and driven home when Harry, Ron, Hermione, Fred, George, and Ginny all congregated in their common room to discuss it. Everyone was depressed. Only two things kept Harry from getting completely down: Hagrid had returned from visiting the giants they found out, and thoughts of Ginny.

Harry finally slowed down long enough that evening to give his observations and thoughts on Ginny his full attention. The Ginny who had been polite and friendly all term, but who was only Ron's little sister. As he lay on his bed in the dark, all the various little things he had seen about her came to him. That included the feelings he had felt in the Hog's Head Pub, which were the most mystifying of all. In the end, the only answer he could come up with was that he had wished it had been him holding her hand and that he was jealous of Corner. When that thought hit him, he had been forced to consider the question whether he really and truly fancied Ginny Weasley. He avoided answering that question by falling asleep, yet a small part of him already knew the answer and liked it.

***

As the term came to a close, Harry found himself down about everything, except for the DA. When he mentioned that to Ron, his best mate suddenly remembered to tell him that Mrs. Weasley had invited him home for Christmas. Other than the fact that he wanted to smack Ron for forgetting to tell him, Harry was again happy,up until the last DA meeting of the term. That was when Angelina told him Ginny was the new Seeker, which brought up the bad memory of his Quidditch ban. Then the truly bizarre happened. After the meeting Cho cornered him and started talking about Cedric, which started her crying, and yet, she also kissed him. He was so confused.

Not only did he not understand Cho's actions, he did not understand his reactions. He felt like he should have liked being kissed by Cho, especially since he had thought about that for a good portion of last year, not to mention the generally good thought of being kissed by a pretty girl. Yet he had not really cared that she had kissed him. It was wet, and well, if he was honest with himself, it really was not the kiss he wanted. What he really wanted was a kiss from the one girl he could not have right now. That thought shocked him as soon as it went through his brain, but he also knew it was true.

Fortunately, the term was almost over and they could all relax for awhile. Or so Harry thought until he had the dream of being a snake and seeing Arthur Weasley being attacked, which scared him greatly. The result was all four of the Weasley children were summoned, and all of them, including Harry, took a portkey to Grimmauld Place to await news of Mr. Weasley. It was a tough wait for everyone as no news was immediately forthcoming.

The next morning, they not only found out Mr. Weasley was going to live, but they were able to visit him. He was doing well, except that his snake bite did not want to heal. Harry felt bad when they overheard Mad-Eye Moody guess that Harry had been possessed during his vision. The more he thought about it, the more frightened he became.

When they got back to the house, Harry hid, at least until Hermione came to join them from her aborted skiing trip with her parents. She managed to drag him out of his self-imposed exile so that they could talk to him about what Moody had said. The pinnacle of the discussion had been when Ginny had angrily told him he was being stupid because if he really wanted to know what it was like to be possessed, she could tell him firsthand. The stare she gave him normally caused her brothers to quickly wilt, but Harry did not look away as he contemplated her answer and his situation. Being the prat that he was, or maybe just because he was in the same room with her, which sometimes caused him to do stupid things, he told he had forgotten about her episode. Her answer of "Lucky you" was very cool. Still, it did lighten his heart as he considered that he had not really been possessed and he started feeling better. It also gave him a whole new set of thoughts to consider about Ginny. He lay in bed for quite some time that evening thinking it all through before he finally gave in to sleep.

While Christmas and the presents had been good, he had also been informed over the holidays that Dumbledore wanted him to study Occlumency with Snape, and that Sirius and Lupin had agreed. He was having trouble imagining whether he had rather do that or spend time with Umbridge.

Another person he was going to be spending time with was Cho. He had just come back from the holiday break when he ran into her, literally. She told him there was a Hogsmeade weekend coming up and the look on her face was such that even Harry, as uninformed as he was about girls, understood what he should do. So not knowing how to get out of it, or what else to do, he asked her to go with him to Hogsmeade on Valentine's Day. He considered that since he could not go with Ginny, it should be okay to enjoy the time with someone else, as friends at any rate. Still, something in the back of his mind was not so sure this was a good idea, but he was committed now.

As classes started up again, he had his first Occlumency lesson with Snape. The best thing he could say about it was that it had not gone too well. Any other comments were completely negative, as expected. As the lessons and classes continued, Harry thought that about the only things keeping him sane were his DA lessons and watching Ginny. That seemed especially true as his scar was prickling more than ever before, and his dream of walking down the corridor to the Department of Mysteries was coming almost every night.

Before Harry realized it, Valentine's Day was upon him and he was walking Cho to Hogsmeade. They talked of Quidditch and Umbridge on the way there, and by the time they reached the village, Harry felt they had exhausted all the topics he could think of. Cho proposed going to Madam Puddifoot's; not knowing what else to do, Harry agreed.

In the tea room, Harry got the surprise of his life. Between the lace and other frills, and the stupid cupids that kept throwing confetti, he regretted ever coming into the shop. He regretted it even more when Cho started crying when he would not talk about Cedric, and he mentioned that he needed to go meet Hermione at noon. He would never forget the scene Cho made which culminated in her leaving Madam Puddifoot's in tears..

Not knowing what else to do, Harry went to meet Hermione at the Three Broomsticks an hour early. He was surprised yet again that day when he found her with Rita Skeeter, his least favourite reporter in the world. In the end, he was not sure whether he or Rita was more amazed when Hermione had Rita interview him on the real story of Voldemort's return.

By the time Harry had made his slow walk back to the castle that Valentine's Day, he had decided that as soon as Ginny Weasley and Michael Corner broke up, he was going to be there waiting for her. While he did not want to admit it, he knew the kiss he saw Ginny give Michael in the pub was the reason for his sudden decision. No matter how innocent the kiss had looked, he wanted her kisses to be only for him.

Classes continued, Occlumency lessons continued, watching Ginny continued. Of those, only watching Ginny was going well. His corridor dreams continued to get worse after every lesson with Snape. He was also now getting very behind in his classes. He did not know why, but he just did not have the motivation to do much anymore. The only good thing was that Hermione had not found out yet, so she had not been continually nagging him, more than she usually did.

As March rolled around, so did the Quidditch game against Hufflepuff. Unfortunately, Gryffindor lost 240-230. It was only that close because Ginny caught the Snitch to end the game. Harry used that excuse to congratulate Ginny and to spend some time talking to her and standing around her. He was more and more amazed at what a wonderful person she was, not to mention cute. If only she was available, he thought.

March also brought a new edition of The Quibbler, the edition which featured his interview. According to Luna, it was a best seller. Umbridge was incensed when she saw it and gave Harry another week's worth of detentions. The words "I will not tell lies" were now permanently etched into the back of his right hand.

***

The evening after Harry finished his detentions with Umbridge, Harry was in the common room trying to get his homework done, which he was woefully behind on. Not only had his detentions slowed him down, but he was starting to care less and less about his classes for some reason he could not fathom. It was only he and Hermione left at their table, and only a few seventh years were also still in the room.

Feeling like he needed a study break for a few minutes, he decided to talk to Hermione as she finished her work for the evening and packed her things. "Hey Hermione, anything special been happening while I've been gone? New Fred and George treats, good gossip, other news?"

His friend let out a breath that almost sounded like a snort. "Those twins, I swear they're still trying to get the first years to do testing for them. I'm not sure how, but when I catch them I'm taking them to Professor McGonagall this time."

Harry smiled. "That's nothing special, business as usual for them."

"Really Harry, they shouldn't be doing that." She finished packing and stood.

"Anything else special in the last week?" he asked.

"No. Wait, yes." Harry raised an eyebrow at her. "Ginny broke up with Michael."

"Oh, when?" Harry did not realise how excited he sounded but Hermione had noticed, though she said nothing.

"A few days ago," she answered. "It was for a stupid reason over some Quidditch game they disagreed over, but that just tells me they should have broken up sooner."

Harry contemplated that for a moment before he smiled and told her, "Very interesting. Well, good-night, Hermione."

"'Night Harry," replied Hermione, and she went up to her dorm room. There was something about Harry's reaction that prompted a thought about Ginny, but she was too tired at the moment. She would try to follow up on that tomorrow.

Harry almost fell asleep in the common room, thinking of Ginny and what he needed to do. When he came to his senses and realised he needed to go to bed, he did not know he had been tapping the end of his quill on his chin while he thought.

The next day did not go well for Harry. He could not find Ginny during breakfast, and when he did, she was always surrounded by a crowd of people. To make matters worse, he had got even further behind in Transfiguration and McGonagall had told him to come spend tonight and the next several evenings with her to help force him to catch up.

He had barely gotten free of detentions when the next DA meeting came, which he thought to be a perfect time to get a free minute with Ginny to ask her out. But that was the meeting Dobby showed up for and told everyone that Umbridge was coming. By the time he finished with her, the meeting in Dumbledore's office, and the Headmaster's interesting exit, he was beat. When he got back to the common room, everyone besieged him with questions, so he had no chance of talking to Ginny privately.

The next day was Saturday, and Harry was sure he would be successful, but Ginny was nowhere to be found that morning or afternoon. He finally saw her come to dinner that evening, but he could not believe what he saw. She came in holding hands with Dean Thomas, and they sat together at the Gryffindor table. Harry left his dinner half eaten and mumbled, "I don't feel good," to Ron and left for his dorm. Hermione saw him take one last look at Ginny before he left the Great Hall. Once he got to his room, he threw himself on his bed and thought dark thoughts about his roommate before falling asleep.

***

The next day, Hermione sought Harry out. Most unusually, she found him in the library. Books were spread out around him, but he did not seem to be working. She sat down and waited patiently until he finally looked up at her.

"Harry, what's wrong with you? I've noticed your class work is not up to your usual standards, and you're spending much more time in detention than you should. I've also noticed lately that even your spell work in Charms and Transfiguration isn't working as well as it has in the past, like you're having trouble making the spells work."

"I don't know Hermione. I'm mostly OK, maybe I've got a small cold or something that's affecting me; I'm sure it's nothing to be concerned about." He knew his normal "I'm fine" answer was not going to work, so he hoped this would. The hope was in vain.

"No Harry, there's more than that. In addition to your class work, you're having other problems. You're sleeping more than usual, avoiding everyone, and I've hardly seen you eat the last few days. You mostly just push your food around on your plate after you've taken maybe three bites."

"I told you, I'm mostly fine, just a cold or something."

Hermione was not convinced. She almost did not want to bring this up, but decided she needed to cover all the possibilities. "Or is it someone, Harry?"

Harry did not move his head, but his eyes jumped to hers. "I have no idea what you're talking about."

That was Harry's guilty look, she had seen it before. "Who is it Harry? Is it Ginny?" She saw him close his eyes and something about his expression made her think he was swearing in his mind.

"What about her? She's a friend." There was a touch of bitterness there.

She thought his tone was very interesting. "I've seen you watching her, Harry. What is it about her?"

He looked almost panic stricken for a fleeting moment before an angry expression appeared on his face. "It doesn't matter," he hissed.

"But Harry ..."

"I said it doesn't matter, she has a boyfriend and is apparently happy, so drop it." Hermione took a breath to speak but he cut her off. "I said drop it Hermione, and you have to promise me as my friend you won't share this conversation with anyone, no exceptions."

"But Harry ..."

"Promise me!" Harry said angrily, his voice rising a little.

She knew they were starting to draw attention and this had to stop. "I promise," she told him quietly. He nodded and grabbed his stuff and quickly left. She sighed and slowly picked up the books he had left on the table and reshelved them before she left. There was not much else she could do.

***

It was not until the next day that Hermione was able to get a few minutes with Ginny for some girl talk. "Hey Ginny," she whispered when they where alone at a table at the side of the room. "Why are you going out with Dean?"

"Because he's a nice guy and he asked me out," the redhead told her.

"I'm curious why you didn't try to go out with Harry because I know you used to really like him."

Ginny shrugged. "I know I used to have a crush on Harry and I still think he's a nice guy, but I'm over all that now." She paused for moment as if contemplating something. "You know, I might have dated him if he had asked. Of course, he could make the decision a lot easier if he'd get over all the moodiness he's displayed this year."

"Interesting," the brown-haired girl told her. "Still friends?"

"Of course," Ginny told her. "He'll grow out of it some day and that will make the friendship easier, though I don't see it going beyond that."

Hermione nodded in understanding. Being Harry's friend was hard sometimes. This year was a perfect example of that. Fortunately, it was Easter break and there were only six weeks until exams started; the year was almost over. Hopefully, Harry would return to more of his normal self over the summer she thought.

***

Over the next couple of weeks, Harry's life seemed to become even worse. Umbridge took over running the school in Dumbledore's absence. Harry was doing even more poorly in class, and spending much more time in detention since he was so far behind. He barely managed get an "A" in most of his classes, and in some his average was moving down to "P" for poor. Even his narrowly escaping Umbridge's questioning with Veritaserum in his drink did not cheer him up, though Fred and George's spectacular fireworks display in the hallway did help a little.

The straw that seemed to break the camel's back came during his next Occlumency lesson. Just as he and Snape were about to start, Malfoy came in and said that Umbridge needed Snape's help, so Snape left. Then for reasons unknown to him, he stupidly put his head in Snape's Pensieve. He saw a scene of his dad being an arrogant git, just like Snape had accused his father for years. Even Snape's anger over catching Harry did not hurt as much as seeing the wonderful image he had built of his dad, and his mum to some extent, shattered. His world destroyed, he went back to his room and fell into bed. He did not even care about the corridor dream that he had been so anxious to find the end to.


{A/N: I hope you enjoyed "Stalker Harry" as my pre-beta called him. :-}

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Chapter 2: Chapter 2: It Doesn't Matter

Author's Notes: Now we really getting into the story proper...enjoy!


Chapter 2: It Doesn't Matter

The next morning, a little less than four weeks before OWLs, Ron got up like normal. He was about to go down to breakfast when he realised Harry was still in bed. Remembering his friend had not felt well the night before, Ron decided to give his friend a few extra minutes of rest hoping that would help him, and went ahead.

However, when he and Hermione got to Charms that morning, Harry was still nowhere to be found. "Where is he?" Hermione asked.

"Still in bed I guess," Ron commented.

"We'll have to go find him after class," she whispered as Professor Flitwick started class.

The second the class was over, the two of them hurried back to the boy's dorms to find Harry just laying there. Ron gently shook Harry's shoulder. "Hey mate, you gotta get up. You've already missed Charms and you need to be in Transfiguration in less than ten minutes."

"Whatever," Harry muttered.

"Are you sick, Harry? Do we need to help you to go see Madam Pomfrey?" Hermione asked him. Harry slowly blinked at her then let his eyes close. "Really Harry, you have to get up or let us take you to see the nurse." Harry ignored her. Pulling out her wand, she sighed a bit before she told him, "Well, you asked for this then," and she cast the spell that spewed water all over him.

Harry flinched slightly as the cool water hit him, but other giving her a sad puppy dog look, he had no other reaction and he refused to get up and join them.

With some exasperation, Hermione turned to Ron, "Come on, we have to go to Transfiguration." She did dry Harry off before she left, and shot him a worried look when he remained motionless on his bed.

When Transfiguration class started, Professor McGonagall noticed his absence as well. "Mr. Weasley, Miss Granger, do you know where Mr. Potter is?"

Hermione looked at Ron, who nodded to her. Chicken, she thought. "He's not feeling well, Professor. We can tell you more after class if you'd like." McGonagall raised an eyebrow at that answer, but started class anyway.

When class was over, the two Gryffindor prefects stayed in their seats. It was not until the room was empty, except for the three of them, that McGonagall finally spoke. "Well Miss Granger, where is Potter?"

"He's in his dorm room, Professor. We couldn't get him to get out of bed, or rather he refused to get up. He appears to be sick, but he won't go visit Madam Pomfrey. We really tried to get him to go."

"I see. Do you believe he's still there now?"

"Yes ma'am."

"Very well, let's go see what the problem is then, shall we?" The Professor led them to the House tower. It was the beginning of lunch time, so there were few people in the corridors.

When they walked into the fifth year boy's dorm room, Harry was still there. In fact, Hermione thought he had not moved at all. "Mr. Potter," his Head of House addressed him, "do you have a problem?"

Harry slowly opened his eyes and looked at them. He slowly shook his head no.

"Then why weren't you in class, Potter?"

Harry closed his eyes as he mumbled, "It doesn't matter."

"What doesn't matter, Potter?" McGonagall still wore her usual stern expression, but she was starting to worry about the boy, especially when he said nothing else. She looked at his two friends, who looked back at her helplessly. Professor McGonagall sighed and flicked her wand at his robe at the foot of the bed and it disappeared then reappeared on sick boy. With a Mobilicorpus, she steered the errant boy to the Hospital Wing. If Harry cared, he never showed it as he appeared to be unconscious.

Pomfrey sent the two prefects on to lunch while she checked out her new patient. After a few minutes, she turned to Minerva, who had stayed to get an answer. "I believe I heard his stomach rumble, but other than that, I can find nothing wrong with him. He appears to be in a light sleep at this time, perhaps it would be best for him to stay here for awhile and see what happens." Minerva McGonagall nodded and left feeling very puzzled.

The school nurse checked on him from time to time throughout the afternoon. She sent for some food and put it by his bed with a warming spell on it, but it stayed there untouched. When she came back from dinner, she brought more food with her and made him eat something, but it had not been more than two bites before he stopped and she could not get him to continue. He was so despondent, she thought. He did not even acknowledge his two friends when they came to visit him, and she was concerned by their worried looks.

That night, Pomfrey tried to keep an eye on him to see if there was any sudden change. The only activity she saw from him was a bit of thrashing for a few minutes, then he was calm again. Perhaps a nightmare, but she was not sure.

Again the dream of the long corridor and room of many doors came to Harry, but his new condition caused Harry to feel something was not right though he did not know what it was -- maybe it was the repetition of the dream. Harry felt sure he was not a seer and so his dreams must be about the past or else nonsense fantasy. So he started ignoring it as "dreamland", and no longer cared if he ever reached the end of the corridor.

***

A week later, Pomfrey could not make Harry take any food and was having to force nutrient potions down him so he did not waste away. She was starting to do major research on possible causes, and was bothered that every test she did turned out negative. The nurse had even noticed the daily visits from Ron and Hermione just before dinner did not cheer him up; he just lay there like a dead man, assuming he was even conscious enough to notice them.

When Professor McGonagall came to see how he was doing, Pomfrey explained his status and what she had been trying; she was getting very concerned. McGonagall did not like what she was hearing, but did not know what to do. She desperately wished Dumbledore was there to discuss this with.

The OWL and NEWT exams were starting, which kept everyone busy. Ron and Hermione kept up their daily visits even though Harry had slipped into unconsciousness, which resembled a coma to Hermione's eye. That caused her to start reading medical texts in the library whenever she was not revising for her OWLs.

The report when McGonagall next came in disturbed her even more. Poppy had told her that Harry was no longer keeping the nutrient potions down, he was starting to throw those back up, so he was losing weight even faster. And still, Poppy could not find anything medically wrong with him that would cause this. If she did not know any better, she would have said he had lost the will to live.

Minerva took that information back to her office to think about and decide what to do. There was no helping it, she was going to have to contact Albus. As she was about to send a Patronus message to him, she saw out of her window what could only be fighting in front of Hagrid's hut. Forgetting what she had been thinking about, she rushed outside to help Hagrid. When she took four stunners to her chest, all thoughts of Harry left her.

***

[Wed Jun 26]

As the OWL exams ended, High Inquisitor Umbridge's thoughts returned to one Harry Potter, whose interrogation had been interrupted by fireworks some weeks earlier. She had seen his name on the sick list, and the more she thought about it, it had been there for some time. A delight filled her as she considered that either he was faking it, and she would expel him for that, or he had to be so weak he would answer her questions. With glee, she went to the Hospital Wing as she had a little extra time just before dinner.

Umbridge walked into the Hospital Wing and saw Harry lying in his bed, no one else was in the room. She walked up to him and looked closer, he seemed to be asleep, so she shook his shoulder. There was no response, so she shook him harder and still got no response. He just lay there. Getting desperate, she pulled out her wand and pointed it at him and cast Crucio! That got a response. Harry started screaming though it was weak.

Dolores Umbridge did not stop to consider the reactions of others. Madam Pomfrey came flying out of her office and could not believe what she saw; but more importantly, Ron and Hermione had just walked in for their daily visit. The High Inquisitor took two stunners to the back, the teens were not ashamed of their actions in the slightest, not even Hermione.

Ron took Umbridge's wand and cast Incarcerous at her before he moved her out of the way. Hermione and Pomfrey had both rushed to Harry's side. Other than some trembling, he appeared to be all right, though he still was unresponsive to the two women. The nurse knew something else had to be done, there was little time left and what Umbridge had done was literally criminal. Pulling out her wand, she cast "Communio Patronus" and a faint unicorn came out of her wand and galloped off through the wall. Hermione stared at her back as the nurse went to her office for another potion for Harry.

Harry had not kept that potion down either. When the nurse had vaguely said that help would be coming soon, Ron had volunteered to keep watch on the prisoner. Pomfrey had let him, as she had not stopped Hermione from wiping a cool cloth on Harry's face. Pomfrey was at her wits' end with this case. All of her research, as well as some very discrete discussions with fellow healers at St. Mungo's, had turned up no answer for her patient that was wasting away.

Nearly half an hour after Pomfrey's strange spell, the students received the shock of their life, Albus Dumbledore strode into the room. He immediately walked over to Harry's bed and was shocked at the now gaunt boy. "What's his condition?"

The nurse looked at the two students, but the Headmaster's gaze was such that she knew he did not care if they knew. "I'm extremely concerned for him, Headmaster. He's unresponsive and I can't keep anything down him, not even potions. He hasn't been conscious for any length of time in over a week. I've run out of ideas on how to help him, but something needs to change very soon." At that, Dumbledore looked deeply into the nurse's eyes and saw her current thoughts on that last statement.

"I see," the old man said. He considered the boy carefully. This was very very bad. The Prophecy said he was the one, but as it now stood, he would never have the chance to even attempt the task, and that meant all hope would be lost. This called for drastic measures, if he could only figure out what they were.

As the old man stood there searching his mind for any options at all, Harry started thrashing weakly on his bed. "He hasn't done that in some time," the nurse commented.

Harry surprised them further when he called out in a hoarse whisper, "No, Sirius, run to the corridor, run ..." They all stared at him.

"Is that the dream he keeps having about the long dark corridor?" Ron asked.

Dumbledore came to a conclusion. "Yes, I believe it is. I must go deal with something else first. I'll be back in a few hours."

"Headmaster," the nurse called as he was about to walk out the door. "She tortured the boy. What do we do with her?" and she pointed to a tied up Umbridge who was still stunned.

"You mean she performed a Cruciatus Curse on Harry?"

"Yes."

"Professor?"

"Yes Miss Granger."

"She also used a Blood Quill on Harry multiple times, as well as on Lee Jordan and possibly others," the girl told him.

Dumbledore's eyebrows went up. "That would have been nice to have known sooner." Hermione felt vindicated though a bit sad at hearing that. "Since I see you have her wand, why don't you put her in the cupboard over there and put a locking spell on the door to hold her until I can bring someone back to take care of her. I'll talk with all of you later. Fawkes?" The bird flashed in directly in front of the old man, who grabbed the bird's tail feathers, and they both flashed out.

Dumbledore flashed into the kitchen at the Headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix, where he found Remus Lupin. "Remus, who is here at the moment?"

"Sirius is upstairs and I think Alastor is in the library searching for something."

"Please call them in here, we have an emergency." Dumbledore then cast four Communio Patronus spells. As the three other men came into kitchen, the Floo started belching out people.

When it appeared everyone was there, Dumbledore finally spoke. "While I'm not completely certain, I feel there is a very good possibility that Voldemort is making an attempt on the Prophecy tonight. Please make your way to the Ministry and be very careful. I believe a Disillusionment charm will help you travel through the corridors safely. Sirius, a moment before you go please?"

The man walked over to the mentor and looked expectantly. "We have a very real problem with Harry. After we've made sure the Prophecy is safe, we need to go to Hogwarts." Sirius nodded. "One more thing," and he pulled out his wand and pointed it at Sirius. "I think that will do," and he pointed at a glass pane, where Sirius could see he now had golden hair.

When Albus arrived at the Ministry building, his fears were found to be true, there were Death Eaters there. After he had stunned and contained several Death Eaters, he wrote two quick messages and sent them to Ministers Fudge and Bones via Fawkes. Then he went further down into the Department of Mysteries proper.

There was more fighting and just as he took out Lucius Malfoy, he saw Bellatrix LeStrange hit Sirius with a spell so that he went flying backward directly towards the Veil of Death. He silently said good-bye to his young friend, only to be surprised to see Remus reach out and grab one hand as it went by him. Yanking hard, he twirled Sirius around in a circle which stopped his flight. When Sirius finally came to a stop on the floor, his feet were touching the veil and he was breathing hard at his close call.

Bellatrix got the drop on Kingsley as he was looking the other way, then she ran up the stairs. No one else was nearby so Albus followed her. When they reached the atrium, Albus sent a tripping jinx and hit her in the right leg. She managed to crawl behind a desk and a fight was on.

Dumbledore had no fear about his fight, until it changed because a new person showed up: Voldemort himself. This fight was intense, and though he maintained irritatingly polite conversation with Tom Riddle just to annoy his former student, he was worried, especially after Fawkes took a killing curse for him.

Fortunately, that was also the time the Floos started lighting up and many Aurors started coming into the atrium area. Seeing he was vastly outnumbered, Voldemort grabbed Bellatrix's arm and Disapparated. When Dumbledore turned around, he saw both Fudge and Bones standing there in shock at seeing Voldemort in the Ministry of Magic building.

Amelia Bones recovered first, and as head of the MLE, she started giving orders for cleanup of the captured Death Eaters. Albus was not looking forward to his conversation with Fudge, but he was going to have to have a brief one tonight.

It was nearly an hour later before Dumbledore had finished speaking to everyone he had to speak with that night, as well as putting a special ward over a specific prophecy in the Department of Mysteries so that glass ball could not be picked up for the next ten years. He probably should have done that earlier, but then that target had also kept Voldemort occupied and not launching attacks either.

Back at Hogwarts, Dumbledore was pleased to find that aside from a few minor injuries, no one in the Order had died. Tonks and Kingsley both were hurt with fighting Bellatrix, but they seemed to be doing fine now. Lupin appeared to still be having his dislocated shoulder tended to, and Mad-Eye was resting on a bed with dried blood on his cloak.

Sirius saw Dumbledore return and went over to him. "Albus, what do I need to know about Harry? And can I see him? I haven't heard from him lately." Concern filled Sirius' eyes.

Not knowing what to do at first, the Headmaster grasped the younger man's arm and led him over to Harry's bed. "Who's th... Oh my god, Harry!" and he rushed the last two steps over to Harry's side. "Albus, what happened? What's wrong with him?"

"One moment if you please, Sirius. Kingsley?" The Auror turned to look at him. "In that cupboard you should find Dolores J. Umbridge." The Auror looked shocked as he looked over to the door Dumbledore pointed to. "She has performed a Cruciatus on Mr. Potter, which was witnessed by three people, and she has used a Blood Quill multiple times on multiple students. I would like all charges possible filed against her."

"Absolutely!" Tonks told him as she unlocked the door and pulled the now former High Inquisitor out to be taken away.

As Umbridge was being taken to a Ministry security cell, Hermione and Ron come back in. "Sirius?" Hermione questioned. The man grinned at her.

Dumbledore smiled at the pair. "Just the people I was about to go look for. If the three of you would follow me, please?" He guided them to his office. "Sirius, I'll answer all of your questions in a moment if you'll be patient." The old man unsealed his office and then said, "Apple pie and ice cream". The gargoyle started moving and the four of them went up.

"Now, where to begin," Dumbledore mused. "I guess I should start with Harry's present condition." He repeated what Madam Pomfrey had told him.

To say that Sirius was shocked was an understatement. The only thing he could get out was, "How?"

The Headmaster turned to the teens. "Do either of you know how this came to be?"

Ron spoke first. "He's been sorta angry and down all year, but he's really changed this last term. Then about a month ago he said he wasn't feeling well and went to bed early; and the next day, he just refused to get up and he's been in the Hospital Wing ever since."

They all now looked to Hermione, who sat there thinking hard. Various emotions playing across her face, it was obvious she was struggling with something.

Dumbledore prompted her. "Harry needs your help Miss Granger, or he will die in less than a week."

She did not know what to say. "I promised him I wouldn't tell anyone."

"I'm sorry for the difficult position you are in, Miss Granger," the Headmaster did truly sympathize with her, "but I assure you that if you know anything that will help Harry, I need to know so we can give him that help, or he will die no matter what you promised him."

After yet more thought, she finally answered, "I have a good idea as to what he's been thinking about lately."

Sirius pleaded with her. "Please, Hermione, I don't want to lose my godson. What has he been thinking about? Maybe that would be a clue ..."

"Ginny," she softly confessed.

"What does my sister have to do with this?" Ron blurted out.

"Ah," and Dumbledore steepled his fingers and sat back in his chair, "that makes perfect sense."

"Albus? Will you stop speaking in riddles? You've done this for years," Sirius admonished him.

The Professor went into teaching mode. "They say that a person's greatest strength is also his greatest weakness. Sirius, what would you say Harry's greatest strength is?"

Sirius thought for a few seconds. "I haven't been around him enough to be completely sure, but I'd say it's his caring for others, even people he doesn't even really know."

"Yes, in word -- love. So if that's his strength, what would his weakness look like?" the old man asked.

No one answered immediately. As the silence continued, the Headmaster looked at Hermione. "The lack of love," she softly answered. "But Professor," she went on in a more normal voice, "Harry never experienced any form of love while he was growing up, why is it now an issue?"

"When did you first notice Harry caring about Ginny?"

Hermione thought about that for a moment. "Late September, but I suspect it started at least a week or two before and I just didn't notice as I was busy with my classes. He's been watching her a lot. I also noticed that his class work declined dramatically right after Ginny dumped Michael Corner and Dean Thomas started dating her less than a week later. I think Harry wanted to ask her himself but Dean just asked her too quickly and he never had much of a chance because of all of his detentions."

The Headmaster thought for a moment and a memory from the end of last year came to mind. A memory of a boy in a hospital bed looking at a girl before he fell asleep came to mind, as did the memory of a look of adoration. "None of you were there, but I suspect it started late last June."

"What? How?" Hermione asked.

At the same time, Sirius asked, "What do we do?"

Dumbledore chose to answer Sirius' question. "I believe the proper course of action is for me to talk to Miss Weasley about a few private matters." He looked directly at the two students, "If you would please go find Miss Weasley and give her the message that I would like to talk to her as soon as possible, I would appreciate it. You may want to pack or something after you have given her the message and my office password." Seeing a small look of fear on Ron's face, Dumbledore also added, "If you must, Mr. Weasley, you may tell her that I wish to talk to her about her summer, but not a word about anything we have discussed. They understood the dismissal and that they would not be hearing the rest of a conversation they dearly wanted to hear.

As they walked down the hall, Ron asked, "Do you suppose we'll be able to get Ginny to tell us what they talked about later?" He watched Hermione think while they walked.

Hermione was very quickly trying to process everything she had heard this evening and make sense of it, but there were just too many unknowns to wrap the whole problem up in a nice, neat package. As they neared the portrait door, Hermione finally answered Ron. "I doubt we'll get many details, but I'm sure we'll find out some things. Come on, let's hope she's in here and we don't have to search all around the castle."

They got lucky and found her and Dean sitting on a couch in the common room. "Hey, Ginny," her brother called, "Professor Dumbledore wants to talk to you in his office."

"He's back?!" she asked excitedly.

"Yeah, come on and I'll whisper the password to you."

"What this about?" she asked a little warily.

"He said he wants to talk to you about your summer," Hermione told her.

"That's strange, I wonder why," she commented as she got up.

Ron scowled a little as he saw Dean squeeze her hand as she stood. Hermione smiled slightly as she saw they did not kiss, not even on the cheek. Her brother whispered the pass phrase in her ear. "Well, you know Dumbledore, he never explains the good stuff." Ginny gave him a questioning look but went to her meeting anyway.

---

As the teens left, Sirius gave Dumbledore a hard look. "Harry can't go back to his relatives this summer. I want him with me." He tone indicated he was willing to fight for this. "Those people are as bad my parents were." Dumbledore steepled his fingers and again leaned back in his chair and did not say anything for a minute. "Albus, I mean it, I don't care what kind of wards you have there. They won't do him any good if he's dead because you and I both know those stupid Muggles won't take care of him, especially if he's sick in any way. They hate him."

The Headmaster winced at having the argument he had given to Hermione thrown back at him. "You have an all too valid point Sirius. Of course, I also know that Harry is not fond of Grimmauld Place and only goes there because of you. There is another alternative."

"Where?"

"Here at Hogwarts," the old man calmly told him. "It's not common, but other students have stayed here over the summer."

"Hmm, I'd forgotten; Remus did that his last couple of summers didn't he?"

"Yes, I let him. It's not quite as safe as during the school year because there aren't as many eyes around to see people who shouldn't be here, but if I seal off all but the front door and have a few house elves help out, it should be as good as headquarters because people won't expect to find him here."

Sirius took a few minutes to think it through. "That might work. I could stay here too as an extra measure of safety?"

Dumbledore thought about that, it had both pluses and minuses. "With the proper glamours like this one to hide your true appearance, that would probably be acceptable. Why don't we leave it up to Harry to decide?"

"Sure, but we have to get him well first."

A knock came through the door. "And here's our lovely assistant, whom we can hopefully persuade to help us." Then in a loud voice he spoke, "Enter!"

Ginny came in. "You asked to see me sir?"

"Yes, please have a seat Miss Weasley."

She looked at the man with the golden hair, who looked strangely familiar. "Sirius?" and when he smiled at her she came over and gave him a hug.

"It's good to see you too, Ginny," he told her as she let go and sat down.

"Ron said you wanted to talk to me about my summer?" she addressed the Headmaster. She looked and sounded confused.

"Among a few other things, yes. I should tell you up front that the things we will be discussing are private, and if it's not obvious, I will not be acting as Headmaster during most of our discussion, as I would have to violate several of my normal policies."

That got her curiosity up. "Such as?"

"Please think of me more as a mentor for this discussion, or as a guardian like Sirius, if you prefer." That did not answer her question, but she let it slide for now and nodded. "Good," Dumbledore continued, "our first topic should probably be Harry, which is why Sirius is here." Actually Harry was the only topic, but Dumbledore thought there would be many points and thought it sounded like a non-threatening opening for the young witch.

"How is he?"

"He's not doing very well, I'm sorry to say."

"I'm sorry to hear that. I assume he'll get better soon?"

"I'd like to hope so Ginny, that's part of what we need to discuss."

That confused her. "I'm afraid I don't understand what that has to do with me."

"How would you describe your relationship with Harry?"

Ginny became even more confused. "We're friends, he's a friend of the family, my brother's best mate." She was not sure what else to say.

The old man nodded. "Are you still dating Mr. Thomas?"

Ginny was floored and coolly responded, "I don't see how that has any connection to our discussion."

"I'm sorry Ginny, but we need to know, and I promise to explain before you leave. But if I'm to explain this to you in a way that makes sense, I need to know a few facts first."

She was a bit wary of her Headmaster now, but she finally said, "Yes, we're still dating for now."

Without a change on his neutral face, he asked, "May I infer from that that your relationship with Mr. Thomas is not going well?"

"No, it's not going well. Now what do I and my dating life have to do with Harry?"

"It simple, Ginny," Sirius told her. "We desperately need your help with a project involving Harry and if you're not dating, then you'll have more time to help us."

She thought about that for a moment and looked at both of their expressions. "What else aren't you telling me? You wouldn't have gone through all that for something so simple."

"While we do need a significant amount of your time, no, it's not entirely that simple," Dumbledore finally confessed. "I was really hoping things would work themselves out in their own way and in their own time, but alas, I'm afraid we're about to run out of time and so we must meddle where we shouldn't."

"And this affects me how?" Ginny was on her guard, closely scrutinizing the two men.

"Ginny, what would you say is Harry's greatest strength?" Sirius asked her. He hoped Dumbledore's idea would work.

"He's very good at defense and thinking on his feet ..."

"I agree, but how about personality-wise?"

She thought for a moment. "His desire to help others."

"Would you agree with his love for people?"

"Yes," she told Harry's godfather.

Sirius did not continue so Dumbledore took up the explanation. "You see Ginny, the thing about Harry is that he can be that way and give out love because he has love given to him. In his early life, it was probably more the hope for love, but now as he's gotten older, he's discovering love for himself. Your family has been very loving to him, for example."

"Sure, I understand. I think my parents see him as an unofficial son."

"Exactly. And his closest friends also give him love through friendship," he went on.

"OK, so where is this going, sir?"

"The next step for Harry is personal love, or to put it more commonly, female companionship, which for his age generally means a girlfriend," Dumbledore tried to delicately explain, though he braced himself for a female Weasley reaction. He had dealt with her mother multiple times and had a good idea as to what was coming.

It took a few seconds, then suddenly her face started going red and Dumbledore was not disappointed. "Wait just a minute!" Her voice just shy of a shout. "Are you trying to tell me you want me to be his girlfriend?! It doesn't work that way! I'm the one who gets to choose, we are not in the middle ages where I'm traded like sheep!"

Sirius looked on and did his best to hold in the grin from her choice of words, a grin that was trying its best to burst out. He was quite glad Albus had taken the explanation from him.

"No, Ginny," and the Headmaster did his best to keep his voice calm. "You're misunderstanding me. I personally, and I think I can speak for Sirius as well, have no expectations like that at all." Sirius was nodding his agreement, all the while wondering how Albus was going to get the next part out, as she had been basically correct. "I was just trying to explain the next stage of Harry's understanding of love."

"So ..." her tone indicated she was not totally mollified.

"Harry's present state, which I'm afraid to say is actually near death," he said as Ginny gasped, "is because he thinks he's found love, but it's not being returned to him. Therefore, he seems to be giving up on life." No one said anything for a moment so he had to go on. "What we would like you to do is to spend time with him and convince him to go on living, sort of be a surrogate or pretend girlfriend until he can find one for real." Dumbledore knew he was on thin ice here and hoped for the best. Sirius looked to be holding his breath.

"You're serious, aren't you?" She was dismayed.

"No, I'm Sirius," the man next her said. The glare he got made him instantly drop the joke. "Yes, Ginny, I'm afraid we are. We both know it's asking a lot of you, and to be completely honest, we aren't totally sure even this will save him, but we just don't know what else to try."

She thought about it for a moment. "You're trying to guilt me into this aren't you?"

Sirius sighed, "Perhaps a little, but we really don't know what else to do, and if it doesn't work, Madam Pomfrey says he'll probably be dead in less than a week. He stopped eating some time back,and now he's not even managing to keep her nutrient potions down. He's literally starving himself to death, though I'm not sure if he's conscious enough to know that. Please Ginny, you must help us."

"Why me?" she asked in a resigned voice.

Sirius looked to Dumbledore because he did not want to answer that. Dumbledore shot him a look of disgust for being a coward and finally said, "We hope Harry will respond to you because we think Harry already wants you to be his girlfriend."

"You think what?!" she exclaimed. "What on earth would lead you to that conclusion?"

"Actually we have Hermione's observations to thank for that," the Professor explained. "She said she's noticed Harry paying you extra attention all year. She also pointed out that Harry's decline seem to accelerate significantly around the time you became available then immediately started dating Mr. Thomas. It is her theory that he wanted to ask you then but didn't get the chance, and he is not the type of person to try to break you two up."

"No, I don't believe he would do that either," she agreed.

"Ginny, I know that we're grasping at straws here, but the evidence points in this direction and we have so little time to do anything. Please help us. Please help Harry," Sirius passionately pleaded with her.

He was her friend. The thought of a twelve-year old boy fighting for her also came to mind. Then there was Sirius' plea, and she was not sure what to say about that, except for, "OK, I'll give it a go and we can see what happens. What's the plan?"

Dumbledore's smile and twinkle came back. "Thank you Ginny. I'd like you to start by being Poppy's assistant. By being around him as much as possible, we're hoping that your presence will get his attention. Then if you would just spend time talking to him. It doesn't really matter about what, just help him to know that life is still worth living for. I'll talk to your parents and get their permission for you to stay here."

"You mean I'll stay at Hogwarts after the train leaves?"

"Yes," Sirius told her. "Then after Harry's better," he did not want to consider the alternative, "it will either be here or at Headquarters. We'll arrange Floo connections to the Burrow for a very small group of us. I'll be the chaperone, as will Madam Pomfrey while we're all here."

"I assume you'll need to hide that all this is happening. How do you plan to get around the fact that I'll be missed on the train?" she wondered.

Dumbledore's twinkle was very pronounced now. "There are several ways, please leave that up to me. If you would, please go ahead and pack like you normally would. I'll arrange a substitute to take your place on the train with a trunk that looks just like yours. If you would, please tell Miss Granger and your brother that you will not be there and they are to help the substitute maintain cover. This whole project is to remain as secret as possible to protect Harry and yourself. The only other people who are to know are Poppy, Professor McGonagall, your parents, and of course, your two friends."

"Very well, Professor. Is there anything else before I go?"

"Yes, if you would, I have a couple of notes for you." Dumbledore scratched out a short one and handed it to her. "This one is for Poppy." She looked at it while he scratched out another. This first one said: Ginny will help you with Harry. "And this one is for you if you need it over the next couple of days." She took that one and saw that it said: Ginny Weasley is excused from curfew. Albus Dumbledore.

"Please hand the first one to Poppy and tell Harry you'll see him in the morning. He may not even hear you at first, but then again maybe he will and it will help a little tonight."

"Yes sir." Ginny left the room.

"Excellent, Albus," Sirius told the Headmaster. "I better go pack a bag so I can come back day after tomorrow when everyone leaves."

"Not so fast Sirius, we still have one more major task ahead of us tonight." Sirius raised an eyebrow while the Headmaster got up and went over to his fireplace. Throwing some Floo powder in, he said "The Burrow" and stuck his head in the flames. "Arthur, Molly? Oh Molly, I know it's getting late and Arthur just got home, but may I come for a visit? Thank you. I'll be there in a moment." He pulled his head out and slowly stood. Turning to Sirius, he waved his hand towards the fireplace and said, "After you."

Sirius was not looking forward to facing Molly over this, but he knew it had to be done. Two pinches of Floo powder later and the two men went to make arrangements for their charges for the summer.

---

Ginny slowly walked to the Hospital Wing. Her mind was overloaded from information and it was hard to get a grip on it; it all seemed to want to slip through her mind. Basically, it boiled down to Harry was sick because he wanted to be her boyfriend and was not, so she had to pretend to like him like a girlfriend to make him better, then he could get a real girlfriend. This was so bizarre, like one of silly romance stories her roommates liked.

In some ways, it really was not so bad. She and Dean were not getting along as well as they had been and she did not care for his obsession with football. He was basically a nice guy, but they were really better off as friends. She started to wonder if maybe this was the time to end that relationship. She knew she really did not have to as Dean would be at home and she could write him, while at the same time she had be here with Harry; so the two would not really know, but that just seemed wrong.

She had come to the Infirmary doors and walked through. What she found was not what she was expecting. Instead of only one occupied bed, she found about half the beds had someone in them, and they were all adults. Upon closer inspection, she noticed she recognized most of them as Order members and wondered what had happened that evening.

Madam Pomfrey was attending Remus Lupin, so Ginny walked over there and handed her the proper note. "Oh, thank you, Miss Weasley. Right, I'll see you tomorrow morning after breakfast. Feel free to bring any books or something else to pass the time when there's not much to do." The nurse turned around and left her to go check on Alastor Moody as Remus moved his arm around to test it.

Ginny looked around a bit and in the bed nearest the nurse's office door, she saw a body covered in a sheet with a head of black hair. She walked over and took a good look at her friend, whom she had not seen in a month. Her heart nearly broke when she saw Harry's gaunt, expressionless face. She sat down on the edge of the bed and very gently stroked his face to pull his fringe back. "Oh Harry, what's happened to you?" she asked very softly. His head seemed to turn to her hand just slightly, but it was the only indication he knew she was there. This reminded her a younger Harry who had just been rescued from his relative's house after his first year at Hogwarts. "I'll be back to spend tomorrow with you," she told him. He was totally unresponsive, so she got up and quickly walked back to the tower. She knew what she had to do.

"Slytherins drool," she told the Fat Lady, who opened up for her. Entering the common room, she easily found the two people she was looking for and saw a few others who were still up. First she went over to Hermione, who was quietly talking to Ron about the train ride day after tomorrow. Leaning down, she whispered in the girl's ear, "I need to talk to you alone, so can you go up and then come back down in about thirty minutes?" Her friend nodded, so Ginny told them, "Good-night Hermione, good-night Ron."

"Hey, I wasn't ready to go to bed yet," her brother complained. "And besides, I thought we wanted to talk to her."

"Ron, come on, I'm going up to my room too. I'm sure we'll see Ginny at breakfast." Hermione got up to go and made sure Ron came too.

Meanwhile, Ginny was walking over to another group of students. She paused by a dark-haired boy. "Dean, we need to talk."

"Can't it wait until tomorrow? We're trying to figure out how to get everyone to a football game this summer."

"Dean, if you'll come quickly, I only need about one minute of your time before I go to bed, then you can come back and talk all you want."

"OK," he said. "Hey guys, I'll be right back; I got a short bit of girlfriend business to take care of. Don't decide anything without me." He finally turned to her and saw she was walking over to a corner that was not occupied. He joined her and sat in the chair next her. "What's up that couldn't wait?"

Ginny took a deep breath before she began. "Dean, I think you're really a nice guy, but I also think we need to be just friends. I've really enjoyed being your girlfriend, but I don't think it's really working for us. Is that OK with you?" She wanted this conversation to be over quickly, but she also did not want to hurt his feelings.

He looked at her with amazement. "This is awfully sudden, isn't it?"

"My decision may be, but I've been feeling like we haven't been a couple for the last few weeks. How do you feel about us? Are we working together?" She fixed him with a look that demanded an honest answer, a look that most boys could not stand for long. In fact, she only knew of one who could, but he was not conscious to see it.

After a few seconds, Dean looked down. "You're right, it's nowhere near like it was in the beginning." He moved his right foot around on the floor as if trying to uncover something. "Do you think we can still be friends?"

She softened her stare into a gentle smile, the look of someone searching for a friend. "Yes, I think we can, if you want to be. I'd still like to be friends with you if you'll let me."

"Yeah, I would. You really are a great person. So, who's the lucky guy?" Part of Dean wanted to know, and part of him did not.

"No one, Dean. At least not in the foreseeable future. I think we need to end this while we can still be friends afterward," she pointed out softly, wanting to hurt him as little as possible.

Dean felt relief at not being dumped for someone else. "OK, thanks for that."

"No problem. Go plan a game with your friends and have fun," she told him. As they both stood up, she went up on her tip-toes and gave him a quick kiss on his cheek. "Thanks for everything, Dean. I'll see you around." She left for her room and did not see him staring after her, wishing it could have been like it was in the beginning.

---

Her roommates were in their room too, but no one was trying to sleep so Ginny spent about twenty minutes rearranging her trunk in preparation for packing. She also pulled a few things off the walls around her bed and packed them away. When enough time had passed, she went back downstairs. Fortunately, Dean and his friends had already gone up. Only a small group of seventh years were over by the fireplace, reminiscing about fun memories over their time at Hogwarts. As she looked around, she spotted Hermione in the same corner she had used to break up with Dean earlier that evening.

"Hey, Ginny."

"Hey, Hermione. Ron didn't give you too hard a time, did he?"

"No," the fifth year told her. "He's slowly getting better manners. Maybe next year he'll figure things out."

"Yeah," Ginny agreed. "Maybe next year he'll even ask you out." They both giggled at that.

"So what's up? Though I can guess."

"Yeah I bet you can," Ginny told her, "as your name came up several times. So tell me what you know."

Now Hermione did not seem quite so confident. "You remember that talk we had when you started going out with Dean?"

"The one where you mentioned it happened so fast other boys didn't have a chance?"

Hermione nodded. "I'm not supposed to be telling you this, but Harry wanted to ask you. In fact, he had been waiting all year to ask you. But when you broke up with Michael, I don't think he found out about it for a few days, then he had detention for a few evenings. And you know how shy he is around girls," Ginny nodded, "so I think he had trouble asking you because he could never find you alone, you were always with a group of people."

"But Dean managed to overcome all that," Ginny retorted.

"True, but Harry is not Dean," Hermione explained. "Harry's never had the social skills. In my opinion, his Muggle relatives practically made him anti-social. He probably would have asked you if he had only a few more days, as a Quidditch practice would have come up and he'd have used that time to find you alone. But Dean moved too fast, and well, I think it broke his heart, crushed his spirit, whatever you want to call it. His class work took such a turn that I think he still has outstanding detentions to make up the work; plus he didn't take his OWLs. So I don't know what's going to happen to him. Have you seen him lately?"

Ginny face fell. "Yes," she breathed. "I stopped by on the way back. I can't believe the condition he's in. It almost broke my heart to see someone like that, Hermione. I touched his face and it moved a little, but otherwise he didn't even know I was there."

"I know, his not eating is really catching up with him." The brunette paused for a moment. "You know, now that you make me think about it, he seemed to respond to me more when I held his hand than when I talked to him. You should keep that in mind."

"Thanks, Hermione, I will. So here's the plan, and you can tell Ron, but otherwise this is all secret." Her friend nodded and moved her head a little closer, so Ginny spoke more softly. "I'm supposed to stay here and help Madam Pomfrey with Harry for awhile, so Dumbledore is going to have someone else take my place on the train ride home. I'm thinking Polyjuice Potion." Hermione looked surprised. "You and Ron are supposed to help cover for whoever it is so no one will be any wiser where I am."

"What about for Harry? Everyone knows he's been sick and is still here."

Ginny shrugged. "Don't know, that's Dumbledore's problem. I'll make the occasional trip to the Burrow, so if you're there, we can talk. Sirius will be here, and my parents will know, so tell Ron to keep his big mouth shut and not tell anyone else. If he spills the beans, I'll personally fill it with slugs -- multiple times." Her prefect friend giggled. "Oh, and will you bring your Spells book to breakfast with you? I'd like to read ahead a bit. I'll give it back to you later this summer."

"Sure, Ginny. See you in the morning?" The redhead nodded. "OK then, and thanks for helping Harry, I really don't want to lose him." Tears built a little in the brunette's eyes.

"I'll do my best," Ginny told her as she hugged her friend tightly. "He may not be a best friend, but I don't want to lose him either."

Back to index


Chapter 3: Chapter 3: Finding Harry

Author's Notes: Enjoy...


Chapter 3: Finding Harry

[Thu Jun 27]

The next morning, Ginny made her way to breakfast before most of her friends. As there were no official classes that day, most slept in and only came to eat at the last moment. By the time she was ready to leave the Great Hall, Hermione had made it there and gave her friend her Standard Book of Spells Grade 5. Ron had not made it down yet, so Ginny was saved from any of his stupid comments about her wanting to read a textbook for fun. Hermione said they would be up in the afternoon.

Ginny made her way to the Hospital Wing. When she walked in, she noticed that all the beds but one were again empty. Sitting next to the bed was Madam Pomfrey with Harry's pyjama top open and a sponge in her hand. "Oh Miss Weasley, I didn't expect you to be here so early."

"I was already awake," the girl told her, "so I thought I'd come down." The matron dried off the boy's chest and closed his top back up. "Is there anything I can do besides just sitting and talking to him?"

"There are two things. I have yet to wash his face and hair, and I need to try to give him his potions, though I doubt he'll keep them down."

"OK, I can help with that. Which do you want me to do first?"

"How about the potions? Then I'll do some more research just in case I overlooked something while you finish the washing. I just got a Muggle Healer book I'd like to look through to see if they have found anything like this. Back in a minute."

Ginny just stared at her friend for a while. It was hard in some ways. He was normally so full of life, even his moodiness had a life of its own, just like his hair. She almost giggled at that. It was an old memory of hers, the thought of trying to tame his hair. In fact, as she looked at him, she realised this was the first time she had ever seen it not at the exact length he always kept it at. She was wondering about that when the nurse returned.

"All right, let's sit him up." The woman put a flat basin in the boy's lap as she expected the potions to come back up.

"Madam Pomfrey, how do you give potions to someone who's unconscious and can't swallow?"

"There's a special healing spell to help with that. It causes the person to not breathe for a moment and forces them to swallow so it doesn't go into their lungs. Why?"

"So you give him the whole potion at once?"

"Yes, why?"

"Have you tried giving him the potion only a little at a time without the spell?"

"No, why?" The matron's 'why' was getting more insistent.

"Because I've watched Harry eat when he's at The Burrow. I know he can sometimes eat like he's starving, but normally he picks at his food and takes very small bites. Perhaps you should try giving the potion to him only a little at a time and see what happens," Ginny explained.

The school nurse looked at her and blinked. "It won't hurt to try. Here, I'll tilt his head back and let you pour it in like you suggested. If he starts to regurgitate it, just pull back and I'll handle it." Compared to most people who could handle the potion in three swallows, it took nearly a full minute to pour the potion into Harry. They waited another minute until they were satisfied that Harry would keep the potion down. The nurse looked at her helper with admiration. "That was an excellent idea, Miss Weasley. Have you ever considered being a healer?"

"No ma'am. I haven't fully decided what I'm going to do yet, but I am thinking about following in my brother Bill's footsteps and becoming a curse breaker."

"I'm sure you'll do well. Let me go get a strengthening potion and we can try the same thing."

"Since he's so undernourished right now, would it be useful to give him double the nutritional potions? Or would that be too much?"

The nurse looked at her and smiled. "It probably would be helpful to double those up for a little while. I'll be right back." It took another five minutes to get all the potions into him, but Pomfrey was happy about Harry's condition for the first time in several weeks. She left Ginny to finish the bath while she went to do some reading about head injuries in her borrowed Muggle medical book.

Knowing a Scourgify would be too harsh on his skin and hair, Ginny washed his face and neck the old-fashioned way. As she did it, she tried to give him some light banter. "So Harry, what are we going to do with you here? After washing your hair, I mean. If you were awake, it would be so much easier to talk." Putting the soap in had been easy, rinsing was more of a challenge, but she very carefully managed it. "So tell me, Harry, did you like me running my fingers through your hair? I'll tell you a secret if you like." She felt this was a safe thing to say since he was unconscious. In fact, she had no idea why Dumbledore wanted her to talk with him, but she could do this. "When I used to have a crush on you, I always wanted to run my fingers through your hair, so this is kind of fun in a way. And in fact, you know what? I think I like your hair getting longer, at least in back. It seems to lay nicer this way, not that I don't like the messy style too, as that's sort of sexy. Both look nice on you." She kept up a commentary the entire time.

As she washed his face and neck, she realised she was going to have to touch his scar too. This was the first time she had ever really paid it any detailed attention. It was definitely thicker like normal scar tissue, but also different somehow. She had a small scar on her leg from when she was a child. She had been stupid and had hurt herself when she had been out playing when she was supposed to have been inside. So she had not told her mum about it, and it had left a small scar because of the way it had healed.

When her cool cloth touched his forehead, specially his scar, Harry reacted. It was very slight, but she was sure he saw him relax. She took the cloth away and he seemed to move and get a bit more tense. She put the cloth back and he relaxed again and slightly turned his head towards her.

She thought about what Hermione had said last night and decided to try something else. Grabbing his hand tightly in hers, she leaned down so she could whisper in his ear. "Harry, this is Ginny." He seemed to move even closer to her. "I'm here for you when you're ready to wake up." She caressed his cheek with her other hand and he turned toward her hand slightly. Now that was very interesting. She wondered if that was intentional on his part or just a reflex of some sort, like the healer tested her knee with a little hammer.

After the bath, she continued to hold his hand and started reading Hermione's textbook. It was a thick book, but it looked like she would have plenty of time.

***

Just before the Leaving Feast, Ron and Hermione dropped by. It took some doing, but they eventually convinced Ginny to come to the Feast. An hour or two off would not hurt, they told her, and would help her as there were potentially many days she would be left in the Hospital Wing with little entertainment.

Before they left, Ginny decided she wanted to try one thing first. She told Harry good-bye and that she would come back in a little while. He gave no response. Ginny called her friends over by the door, where she whispered to Ron that he was to stand there and not make a sound. To Hermione, she whispered some instructions. Hermione did not quite understand, but did as her friend asked.

She noisily walked over to Harry and sat in the chair Ginny had been in. She took his hand and squeezed it tightly, before leaning over and softly speaking in his ear, "Harry, this is Hermione. I'm here for you when you're ready to wake up." Finally, she reached over and gently stroked Harry's cheek. The only reaction Harry made was a very slight movement when she stroked his cheek. Hermione looked at Ginny to find out what she should do next. Ginny motioned for her to say good-bye, which Hermione did, after telling Harry that she would come again later to visit

Once in the hall on the way to the Feast, Hermione asked, "OK Ginny, what was that for?" Ron looked curious too.

"It was an experiment. I wanted to know what would make Harry react more -- touch or voice."

"Oh, like we talked about last night."

"Yes."

"And?" her bushy-haired friend asked.

"It was the same for me," she lied with a perfectly straight face. A lot of time with the twins had taught her that acting ability quite well. "Some movement for a touch on the face."

"Are you going to do more of that?" Hermione wanted to know.

"I'll try it for a few days and see if it helps." Ginny was also wondering why Harry seemed to react more when she said her name.

***

The Feast was fun and Ginny was glad her friends had talked her into it, even if Ravenclaw had won the House Cup. Dumbledore urged everyone to pack tonight and not to be late in the morning. He also told everyone that Harry Potter seemed to be doing slightly better and would be going to a health spa for the summer, so he would not be able to receive mail over the summer and the Headmaster hoped all his friends would understand it was best not to write him but to wait to see him next year. Ginny was amazed at the crafty wording of the statement. Other than the words "health spa", none of it was true yet none of it was really false either.

After dinner, she decided that before heading up to pack, she would stop by to see Harry for a few minutes. She ran into the Headmaster in the Hospital Wing. "Ah Ginny, how is our patient?"

"As you said Professor, he's doing slightly better. We've managed to get him to keep his potions down now."

"Yes, Poppy told me of your insight and ideas. She was most congratulatory and she doesn't do that often, I might say." The twinkle in his eye was most pronounced. "Before I go, I will ask you to make a quick visit to my office alone immediately after breakfast so we can attend to a small amount of business."

She understood that was when the double would take her place. "Yes sir, I'll be there."

"Very good, I'll see you then. Please don't stay out too late. You need to keep your health up to help Harry. Pleasant dreams." The old man left.

Ginny stroked his cheek and again he turned slightly to it. After a few minutes she leaned down and whispered in his ear. "Harry, it's Ginny." He again turned slightly to her voice. "I have to go to sleep, but I'll be back to spend all day tomorrow with you. I hope you have pleasant dreams." With that, she squeezed his hand and left to go pack. Her journey time was spent thinking about why he had reacted to her voice and not Hermione's.

***

[Fri Jun 28]

The next morning, Ginny arrived in Dumbledore's office to find an exact copy of herself standing there. "Uh, hi."

Her twin gave her a grin and told her, "Hi yourself, Ginny." That was so unnerving. She looked at the Headmaster and saw him chuckling. "OK, how did you do this?"

Her twin laughed, and it sound so much like her it was amazing. Probably only herself, and maybe Hermione, would have known it was not really her. The twin winked at her and the twin's hair became short, spiky, and bubble-gum pink.

"Tonks?"

"Wotcher, Ginny." Ginny laughed and Tonks joined her. Tonks' hair changed back to match Ginny's. "So, do I pass?"

"Yes, that is amazing. What are you going to do if you get asked something that only I know?" Ginny wondered.

"Give a vague answer or look to Ron and Hermione, probably Hermione, to help me out. Still, I plan to sleep most of the way to avoid the problem."

"As long as you don't trip too much you should be OK," the real Ginny joked.

The fake Ginny stuck her tongue out. "So, got anyone you want hexed, or a boyfriend you don't want anymore?"

"No, that's all taken care of." Ginny's face suddenly lit up with glee. "Oh wait, want to do Malfoy? He drops by every ride to make some snide, insulting remark."

"With pleasure..." She gave a good Ginny-like grin.

"Ms. Tonks," came the Headmaster's reproving voice, "you are on assignment, not on a holiday."

The fake Ginny frowned, then asked in a meek voice, "What would the real Ginny do so I'm not out of character?"

"Hex him on the first insult," she replied without hesitation.

A slow smile came over fake Ginny's face while the Headmaster spoke up again. "Ginny, I think you need to go to the Hospital Wing before any more bad ideas are hatched." He did not sound too upset though. "Here," and he tapped his wand on her head and she felt a cool feeling run down her. "That's a timed Disillusionment charm; it will wear off in about ten minutes. Please do not come out of the Hospital Wing until after lunch."

About five minutes after she got to the Infirmary, she again felt the chilly feeling come over her and she noticed she could see her body again. That was some cool magic. She picked up the textbook she had left there from the day before and started to read out loud, then she stopped herself.

Leaning down, she whispered into Harry's ear, "Harry, it's me Ginny," and again he moved slightly. "I'm going to read to you for awhile. I'm here waiting for you when you wake up." She squeezed his hand and was about to turn back to her book when she thought she had felt a very slight movement in his fingers. She squeezed his hand again, but nothing happened. Deciding it was her imagination, she started reading from her book.

Sirius came in to see her and brought her lunch. The two of them talked about how Harry was doing. For reasons she could not explain, Ginny only told him about keeping the potions down and Harry reacting to having his cheek gently stroked. Sirius thought that was encouraging.

At the end of the day, she went back to her dorm room. It was very lonely; she had never realised how much the background noise of people talking made the common room "normal". Sirius took a room in the teacher's quarters, which was also pretty deserted. Almost all the teachers were on holiday. The only ones there were Dumbledore, McGonagall, and Pomfrey. At least all four of the adults were nice.

***

[Sat Jun 29]

The first full day after all the students had left was much like the previous day. Madam Pomfrey had Ginny bathe Harry's top and face. Apparently the nurse did his legs when she was not there. They washed his hair only once a week. There were also the potions to administer. Ginny would have sworn he was looking slightly better; Harry did seem to have a bit more colour, but it was hard to tell.

After breakfast with the adults, she was reading to Harry when she got a surprise. "Mum?" she exclaimed when her mother come out of the nurse's office.

"Hi, Ginny dear. I just had to come see you and also see how Harry was doing. She looked at the boy and inhaled sharply in surprise. "Oh my, how could they let this happen to him?"

"Mum," Ginny said, but her mother was ignoring her and mumbling under her breath. "Mum!" Suddenly her mother looked at her. "Mum, no one let this happen. No one knows why this happened. Didn't Professor Dumbledore explain it to you when he asked about my staying here?"

"Well, yes, I suppose he did, but he didn't mention how he looked. I mean ..."

"Yes Mum, I understand. I don't know why, but I think Harry will get better. I think he already has more colour. It's just going to take time for him to heal from whatever the problem is."

Her mother smiled and finally came over to her and gave her a big hug. "And I'm ceertain you'll be a big help, though I'm still not sure why you need to be the one to do so. At least there are chaperones. Poppy was most complimentary of you when I talked to her. Do you need anything from home?"

"Thanks, Mum, and no, I'm fine. I borrowed Hermione's book so I can read ahead for next year's work," her daughter told her.

"Very well, dear. Now, I'm glad you're doing this, but you do need to come home sometimes to see the rest of the family. We've told them that you're taking some special tutoring from Madam Pomfrey because you want to be a healer, along with some extra work from Professor McGonagall. I'm hoping that will prevent Fred and George from becoming any wiser, but you watch out for those two."

"Yes, Mum, though I think you need to watch over Ron. He's much more likely to spill the secret than I am."

Molly sighed. "I'm afraid you are right about that, but don't worry too much. With Fred and George off and starting a new business, they haven't been spending too much time at home. You know, dear, they seem to be doing quite well, but I do wonder how they got enough money to rent a shop in Diagon Alley. Would you know, dear?"

"No Mum, I don't know." Ginny could say that with a straight face because she really did not know. However, she strongly suspected the reason was laying right in front of her mum. If -- when -- she quickly corrected herself, Harry woke up, that was one of several secrets she wanted to get out of him.

"Hmm. Oh well, I'll find out eventually, I'm sure. Well, Ginny dear, I want you to come to dinner with us at least three times a week. You may bring Sirius if you wish. So, tonight or tomorrow night?"

"How about tonight and then I'll just come every other night?"

Her mother smiled. "That sounds good, dear. Now you take good care of Harry and mind Madam Pomfrey. I'll pop in from time to time too."

Ginny was sure that was said to keep her on her best behaviour, but really, the boy was unconscious and therefore she was quite safe. Then the thought that she had the perfect opportunity to take advantage of him swept through her mind, it was all she could do to hold in her giggle and keep a straight face. Her mum kissed her forehead and left. Ginny returned to her reading out loud to Harry.

After lunch, she was a bit bored, so she decided to try another experiment. For this one, she again leaned down by his ear and whispered. It would not do for the nurse, Sirius, or heaven forbid, her mum, to hear her. The only question was how far she should go. For the first try, she decided to keep it very innocent.

She started whispering things like, "Harry, Ginny wants to hold your hand," and she would grab his hand and squeeze it. "Harry, Ginny wants to take a walk with you." "Ginny likes spending time with you." "Ginny wants to hug you." "Ginny wants you to hug her back." And on she went for a good five minutes.

The reaction was slight, but it was there. Every time she said her name, he moved. Usually it was his head, but a couple of times she definitely felt his hand twitch. She wanted to think about that some more before she tried the next experiment.

As soon as the nurse left after the dinner meal of potions they fed Harry, Ginny checked to see that she would have at least five minutes of being uninterrupted before conducting her next test on Harry. She started gently caressing him on the hands, arms, chest, neck, and face. Again, he moved slightly at her touch, but that was all. As soon as she stopped, he also stopped. The reaction to her name and voice seemed to be purposeful, but she was not too sure about his response to her touching him. After all, he had responded to Hermione's touch also.

Shortly thereafter, she went home for dinner and saw her parents and Ron. It was a nice meal but nothing special, except for when Ron asked about Harry. She really had nothing new to report, which disappointed her brother. She still tried to encourage him anyway before she left for the school and bed.

***

[Sun Jun 30]

The second full day started much like the previous, and she decided she needed to continue on with her experiment. So a little after Harry's breakfast potions, she started whispering to him again. This time, she was more suggestive in her comments, including the encouragement that if he would only wake up, she would snog him senseless. After another five minutes of that, she stopped and went back to reading her book, though softly this time.

She was in the middle reading about animating objects when she felt a weak but definite pressure on her hand, which surprised her because she knew that she had not squeezed his hand to begin with. Looking down, she all but fell out of her chair when she saw those marvelous emerald orbs looking at her for the first time in over a month.

"Harry?" He blinked at her. "Harry, can you talk to me?" His lips moved slightly but no sound came out. "Do you need some water?" He seemed to have to think about that then nodded slightly. She quickly got a glass, almost spilling it in her haste and excitement. She helped him up into a sitting position and let him drink very slowly. When he had drained the glass, she gently lowered him back down. "Better?"

She heard a very faint "Yes". Ginny was beaming her broadest smile at him.

"Is there anything else I can get you? Are you hungry or anything?" She knew those were important questions, but she still felt like she was babbling.

He mouthed something she could not make out. "What did you say Harry?" and she leaned down to put her ear near his mouth where she heard "You".

She blushed and looked at him and coyly said, "Harry, now, now ..."

He mouthed something else, so she again leaned down and heard him whisper, "You promised... senseless..." He seemed to run out of breath.

Now she really blushed. "Harry, I don't think you're ready for that yet." She wondered how she was going to get out of the situation her senseless whisperings had got her into. That instantly made her start to wonder if he had really heard and could remember all the other things she had told him for the last three days. Her mind tried to quickly remember every secret she had inadvertently told him.

She could tell he wanted to say something else, so she bent down to listen, but that was when Sirius came in.

"Hey Ginny, how's it going? What are you doing, listening to his heart?" Then the man saw Harry's face. "Harry!" Sirius ran across the room to envelop the boy in a hug.

"Stop!" Ginny yelled and both of them flinched. "Sorry, Harry," she apologized. "Oh, and this is Sirius in disguise." She pointed to the golden haired man. "Sirius, be very careful with your touches, no bear hugs. In fact, no hugs at all for today."

"Yes, Healer Weasley," he told her in jest. Laying a hand gently on Harry's shoulder, his godfather told him. "Harry, I'm so glad you're awake again. We have so much to talk about, things to do, and pranks to pull." Harry gave a small smile at that.

"I'll leave you two for a few minutes." Ginny tried to get up to leave, but Harry was doing his best to hold on to her hand. She sat back down and softly told him, "Harry, I'll be back in about five minutes, I promise. I need to go tell some other people you're awake then I'll come back and hold your hand for as long as you like, OK?" He seemed to have to think about that, but after a few seconds he let go of her. "I'll be back very soon, I promise."

Sirius started to talk softly as she walked away. Now that the initial moment was over, it was all she could do not to cry; she was so happy. The thought of what it would actually mean to lose Harry only really hit her at this time. She may not be the best of friends with him, but he had become a very good friend to her.

Madam Pomfrey was in her office, still reading a Muggle book, though it appeared to be one on psychology. "Oh Ginny, is something wrong?" When Ginny shook her head, the matron said, "Good, you know, I think I may have found something in this Muggle book about mental dysfunctions."

"It doesn't matter now."

"Of course it does. Wait, why not?" The nurse seemed to panic and rose out of her chair.

"Because he's awake." A big grin broke out on Ginny's face. The nurse ran from her office to her patient's side. Ginny could hear her ordering Sirius to move out of the way. With the smile still on her face, Ginny took a pinch of Floo powder and threw it in the fireplace and clearly said, "The Burrow".

As she rolled out on the other end, her mum turned around wand in hand. "Ginny? I didn't think you were coming to dinner until tomorrow night, and it would be early for you anyway. Wait, is something wrong dear?"

"No, Mum, everything is going well." She did not see her father or brother.

"Then why are you here?"

"Make me a promise and I'll tell you a secret."

"Sorry dear, I learned the hard way a long time ago not to promise anything without knowing what it's about."

"Oh, sorry. OK then, please promise no hugs to any teenager for the rest of the day and I'll tell you a secret."

"And why would I need to not give out hugs, young lady?" Ginny just stood there and smiled. "Very well, I promise. Now what is this about?"

"If you'll be very gentle because he's very weak, you can come say hello to Harry now that he's awake." Her grin got bigger, until her mum almost pushed her down trying to get to the fireplace so quickly.

"Sorry dear, I'm just so excited."

"I understand Mum, follow me." Ginny went back to school with her mum right on her heals.

Back in the Infirmary, she saw the nurse at the end of the bed looking at Harry while Sirius was on one side holding his hand. Ginny went around to the other side to grab his other hand, leaving her mum and Sirius to figure out how they could get closer to Harry. As long as they did not hurt her good friend, they could do what they liked.

She watched her mother fawn all over Harry and tell him how wonderful it was to see him again. When he did not answer, she looked at Ginny in puzzlement.

"Don't worry, Mum. His throat is just sore from not having used it for a while. He can talk but it's difficult for him." She felt him give her hand a slight squeeze as he nodded slightly.

After another five minutes, Ginny noticed Harry starting to get agitated. She realised that her mum was trying to run her hand over his head and touch his shoulder and arm. Sirius had moved back slightly for her to get closer. It took a moment for the problem to click in her head, but she was suddenly pleased she had made her mum promise not to hug him. "Mum, Sirius, I think Harry's had enough visits for now. He really needs his rest."

"Yes, definitely," the school nurse chimed in. "You can come back tomorrow for a very brief visit."

Mrs. Weasley looked like she did not want to follow those intructions, but she slowly rose to her feet. "Are you coming home now, Ginny?"

She did not even have to think about her answer. "No, Mum. I still have work to do here. I'm still not sure how long I'll be."

"Quite right, Ginny," the nurse told her. "Don't worry, Molly. I'll always be near by."

"Very well," her mother said and Ginny could tell she was not happy with her answer. "You'll be home tomorrow night for dinner though." It was more of a command than a request.

"Yes, Mum, I'll see you then." Molly Weasley came around the bed and gave her daughter a quick hug before going back home.

Sirius gently squeezed Harry shoulder and told him to get well soon before he also said good-bye. Harry was left with his two nurses which was fine with him. He was soon asleep.

---

The news spread fast and by dinner time, the Headmaster and his Deputy dropped by to see Harry. They both were pleased to see him awake. The next test for Ginny came when Dumbledore told them, "Well, I guess I need to expand the security list for the Floo here to now include Mr. Ron Weasley and Miss Granger."

Ginny instantly felt Harry's hand pull hers to get her attention and she looked down to see something like fear in his eyes. She fully understood that Harry did not want this.

"Please don't, Headmaster," she said in her most respectful tone. The man's bushy eyebrows went almost to the top of his forehead. "I know that Harry will want that eventually, but now is not a good time. He needs his rest and the best way to get him well quickly will be to limit his visitors."

Professor McGonagall's expression indicated she agreed, but Dumbledore turned to look at the school nurse. "I totally concur, Albus. In fact, other than strict medical issues, I'd say that whatever Miss Weasley says, goes. She seems to have a very good grasp on the situation and has my full confidence." She turned to the young lady. "I'm still hoping you'll let me talk you into being a healer. I think you would be a good one."

"Thank you, Madam Pomfrey. We'll see how I feel about that at the end of next year when I have to pick my NEWT courses." Ginny was very pleased the healer had backed her up on her decision.

Dumbledore was surprised but Harry's health was important to him. "Very well. Although I'm sure his friends will want to see him, I'll wait until you think he's ready." The Headmaster smiled and left.

McGonagall walked over to the bed and gently laid a hand on his arm and softly told him, "I'm very glad you're doing better, Harry. You gave me a real fright." Harry smiled at her. She stood up and started walking out. As she got to the door, she stopped and looked back at the young man. "By the way, Potter, I've got a Firebolt in my office that's looking for its rider. It's ready for you when you are." She strode through the hospital doors.

Ginny looked at Harry and saw his biggest smile yet. She laughed lightly. "We'll go flying together just as soon as you're able. First though, I have some broth for you."

Harry was not happy at having to be fed, but after he found that he could not really hold his arm up for very long, he gave in and let Ginny feed him.

"I know it must be frustrating, Harry," she sympathized with him. "A little each day, OK?" All he could do was nod. "I'll do everything I can to help you."

At that he looked right at her and stared into her eyes. She loved looking into his eyes, she could not deny that, but she also found she could not hold his stare -- a stare with a lot of understanding and emotion. He finally tried to say something but all she could catch was a lot of "s" sounds. The smile on his face finally clued her in and she blushed. "Yes Harry, if that's what it really takes, I'll snog you senseless." His face lit up and he opened his mouth for the next bite.

That evening, on the way back to her room, she stopped by the Owlery with a note for Hermione. She suspected it was not really needed as Ron would have probably already told their friend, but Ginny felt she should send it anyway just to make sure, so Hermione would not feel left out. Between the two of them, she knew that Ron would be excitable, but otherwise easy to handle. Hermione was the one she was actually dreading to deal with. Hermione would want to pursue the mystery of Harry's illness and she might badger him to death. Ginny sighed before she released Hedwig with the admonition of, "Be safe while you take this to Hermione."

***

[Mon Jul 1]

The next day, Harry seemed to be have improved even more, at least until a very strange look came over his face midway through the morning. "Get Sirius, quickly," he hoarsely whispered to her.

"What is it, Harry? What do you need?" Ginny was perplexed.

"Get Sirius!" There was a real sense of urgency in his voice now.

She was not sure what the problem was, so she went into the little office and told Madam Pomfrey of Harry's request. The nurse picked up her wand and cast Communio Patronus. "He'll be here in a minute I'm sure."

Ginny went back out and told her patient, "He's on his way. Is there anything I can get you?" He shook his head and seemed to grimace slightly as he closed his eyes.

A couple of minutes later, Sirius came rushing in through the doors. "What's wrong? Poppy said you needed me immediately."

Harry let go of Ginny hand, which he normally held all day, and waved Sirius over. When the man neared him, Harry grabbed his robes and tried to pull him down. Sirius understood and leaned over with his ear in front of Harry's mouth. After a quick whisper, Sirius grinned and sat back up. "Ginny, if you'd go talk to Poppy for about five minutes, Harry and I need to have a talk, man to man."

Ginny did not understand and looked down at Harry. He mouthed "Please" at her, so she shrugged and went into the nurse's office.

Once she was out of sight, Harry pulled the covers back. Sirius tried to help him get up, but Harry could not stand on his own. "Here Harry, let me," and he scooped up the underweight boy and carried him across the room to the bathroom where he carefully stood him in front of the toilet. "Can you take it from here or shall I stay?" Harry waved him away so Sirius told him, "I'll be back in a minute," and stepped out and closed the door. He was very tempted to make a joke about it all, but did not think his godson would appreciate any bathroom humor at the moment and managed to restrain himself. A few moments after Sirius heard the flush, he went back in and carried Harry back to bed. When his godson was nicely tucked back in, he stepped over to the little office and told Ginny she could come back out.

When she came back out, she was blushing slightly. Sirius looked at her and shook his head, so she did her best to lose her blush and pretend nothing had happened. Madam Pomfrey had told her the broth and other liquids were probably starting to work their way through his system, and he had only been embarrassed about his situation.

"Ginny, I think I need to teach you a new charm. Harry, you pay attention, you'll want to know this one too. Use the same wand movement as your normal Patronus charm, but the incantation is Communio Patronus. Think very hard about who you want it to go to. In fact, picturing them in your head is a good thing. Then think of a short message and cast the charm. Stay there and I'll go across the room."

Sirius walked to the other side and cast the charm. A very faint, large dog came out of his wand. It ran to her and then into her. "Oh!" she exclaimed. "Yes, I do understand." Ginny pulled out her wand and did the charm. A very faint, large owl came out and flew to Sirius; an owl that Sirius thought looked a great deal like Hedwig.

"Yes, Ginny, this is how the Order members communicate with one another." He walked back over. "You can use that anytime you need to find me, or if Harry needs me. All right?" They both thanked him, or at least Harry tried to. Disaster averted, Sirius turned around and left.

Harry reached out and grabbed her hand again and they continued their conversations about school and life. Ginny also read to him some more, which he actually appreciated because he had missed so many classes. In fact, when he stopped to think about it, he was not sure what was going to happen to him because he was not able to take his OWLs, but he did his best to ignore the problem for now. He liked looking at her face and red hair.

That evening, Ginny got another surprise. When she went back to The Burrow, not only was her family there, but Hermione was too. Ginny was not looking forward to the questions her friend was sure to ask.

"You're just in time, Ginny dear, come join us." Her mum gave her a hug. As she left her mother's arms, she turned around and also gave her dad a hug before she sat down.

Everyone had barely started serving themselves when Ron asked, "So, how's Harry?"

"He's slightly better," she announced and knew she could not stop there without getting hounded. "We started him on broths today, that was the big thing, other than he's finding out how weak he is. He still sleeps a lot, but at least it's a peaceful sleep."

Hermione spoke up. "What about when he's not sleeping?"

"Sometimes he just likes to sit and think. Other times we talk, though he can only manage a hoarse whisper. I've also been reading to him a lot, trying to help him with the spells he missed from being so sick at the end of term," Ginny told them. She wondered if her dinner would be cold because she was going to have to talk so much, so she stuck a few bites in her mouth.

"When can we go see him?" Ron asked. "Mum said he still wasn't supposed to have visitors yet."

That was the question she dreaded the most. "I don't really know, Ron. Like I said, he sleeps a lot and he's really weak. He likes the peace and quiet."

"But you're there," her brother retorted.

"He accepted the fact that someone needs to be there, and since I was there when he woke up, I suppose I get the job. Please let it be, Ron. I promise I'll let you know when you can visit." She glanced over at Hermione who was looking very thoughtful and who was -- thankfully -- silent.

Her father saved her by starting up on the latest happenings at the Ministry. By then, her food was only barely warm.

As soon as it did not seem rude, she left shortly after dinner for the quiet in the school. Checking on Harry, she found he was already asleep. She smoothed his covers and gently caressed his cheek. He turned slightly toward her hand and smiled, though he did not seem to wake. She smiled back at him and left for her room.

***

[Fri Jul 5]

Harry slowly continued to become stronger over the next few days. He got to where he could easily feed himself again. The only potions he was taking now were strengthening ones. At the end of the first week, Sirius also helped Harry down the hall to a guest room and he took a bath on his own, which he decided was very good as he enjoyed sitting in the hot water. Ginny teased him about not being able to run her fingers through his hair as she washed it for him. He blushed very deeply, but then turned the tables on her and told maybe she could give him a bath next time and wash it then. She was sure her face had to have reached the colour of her hair.

After he came back from his bath to a clean set of sheets and he had his dinner, Ginny decided it was time for discussion on a certain subject. Actually, there were several things they needed to talk about, but one was more important than the rest. "Harry?" He looked at her and smiled. "We need to talk about Ron and Hermione." His face fell a bit and he looked down. Slowly he reached out and pulled her hand into his so it laid there palm down. With his other hand he gently caressed the back of her hand. It sent chills up her arm.

"Harry, are you ready for them to come visit?" She had to know because she was to go home for dinner tonight and knew she would be grilled on that question -- again.

It took nearly a full minute before he asked, "What do you think Ron will be like?"

"Excited and ready to drag you out onto the Quidditch pitch," she said with a slight laugh in her voice.

He gave a small smile as he thought about that. "That would be nice, but even I know that's not going to happen soon. I can barely walk across the room to the bathroom now." That walk had been a major accomplishment two days ago. "What about Hermione?" His voice had not changed, but there was something in his expression that seemed more guarded.

"She's actually been pretty good when I've visited The Burrow. I think she's more aware of what's going on than Ron. She ..." and Ginny had to search for the right wording, "has a better understanding."

"You mean she understands about us." His voice and expression had not changed.

"Yes, I guess that's a good way to put it." Ginny was not sure where to take this as they were dangerously close to another subject she knew they needed to talk about but had avoided so far.

Harry took it out of her hands. "What about us, Ginny? I think you know how I feel. How do you feel about me?"

And there it was, the million Galleon question in all its glory and bluntness. The question she had hoped he would not yet ask. The question she did not have an answer for. The question she was afraid would drive him back into despair. Ginny did the only thing she could think of: she stalled.

"What do you want, Harry?" He gave her that intense look again. She felt that he could see into her soul and seconds later, she could not take it any longer and had to look away.

"I guess that answers my question." He let go of her hand and hunched down into his sheets and closed his eyes.

Damn! It had happened anyway, she thought. Just as she was about to open her mouth to try to straighten him out, the door opened and Sirius walked in. "Ready to go to dinner Ginny?"

She looked up and snapped, "No." Realising what she had done, she was instantly contrite. "Sorry, Sirius, you interrupted something. Please go on and tell everyone to start eating. I'll be there when I'm done here."

"I can wait," the older man offered.

"No, please go on, this is important."

Something must have finally clued him in, because he finally said, "Right, I'll go on and you work out what you need to here. I'll make sure Ron doesn't eat it all and Molly saves you something." He turned and walked into the nurse's office.

Ginny took a deep breath to try to calm herself before she looked down at Harry. She saw him looking at her, his eyes very watery. "Harry, you're misunderstanding what's going on here."

"I don't think I'm misunderstanding anything," he spat out. "You don't want me, what more is there?"

"Well, if you're going to treat me like that, then yes, I don't think I do want you," she told him, trying with all her might to stay calm. "I do like you Harry, you're not merely a friend, but a good friend at that. You know, you're changing into a best friend. I've been finding out a lot about you this last week, things I didn't know about you, things I happen to like. You're not perfect by any means, but I'm finding out you're really a nice guy. "

"Great, I'm a nice guy, so what?" he said sarcastically. "I thought you were my girlfriend ..."

"Being a nice guy isn't so bad, Harry. The last guy I dated was a nice guy, that's why I picked him in the first place. Now why did you think I was your girlfriend?"

"Because you're always here, because you're acting like it, because Sirius told me you were."

She hung her head. Dumbledore's manipulation had caught her, and she was impaled upon her agreement to it. Ginny did not know what to do but meekly ask, "Do you want the truth Harry?" He nodded firmly. "I like you, Harry. Actually, I like you a lot. Given some time, I might even let you ask me out, but right now I'm supposed to pretend to be your girlfriend."

"Huh?" he was almost in shock at hearing that.

"Dumbledore thought you'd got sick because you hadn't been able to date me, or something along those lines. So he thought that if I pretended to be your girlfriend, I could bring you out of that sickness to get you well so you could find a real girlfriend."

"But Sirius said ..."

Ginny interrupted him. "I'm sure he did, because he encouraged and went along with the plan. Now please understand me, Harry. I did this because I care for you. Like I said, I do like you, I like you a lot, but it was my choice to do this knowing it was a false hope for you. You see, you were all but dead. Madam Pomfrey said that if something wasn't done, you'd be dead in less than a week and I couldn't live with myself if I hadn't tried to help. It's what friends do for each other, like you helped me three years ago."

Harry thought about that, and the reference to the Chamber of Secrets was not lost on him, though he did not feel that it mattered. "Perhaps you shouldn't have, perhaps everyone is better off without me. You have a real boyfriend waiting for you."

"No Harry! Don't go there! You matter to all of us," she told him. Then she went on more softly, "You matter to me, you're my friend and I don't want to lose my friend."

"But ..."

"And no, Harry, I don't have a boyfriend waiting. It wasn't working out for Dean and I. He was a nice guy, but that's all. He wasn't what I was looking for. So if you play your cards right, Mr. Potter, you have a shot at being my boyfriend. You just have to convince me." She did her best to give him her mysterious smile and found him responding and starting to smile back.

"That better Harry, I like it when you're happy. OK, now that that's out of the way and we know where we stand with each other, we still have the original question. What about visitors?"

He took a deep breath but did not seem too unhappy anymore. "I know I can't keep them away forever, but I really don't want to deal with them right now. And well ..." His face started looking tense.

"What wrong, Harry? What are you afraid of?"

A sigh escaped him. "You do know me pretty well then to ask that."

She smiled, "I do try. It's Hermione and her potential for a thousand questions in ten seconds, isn't it?"

He nodded. "Right in one."

"Don't you forget it either, Harry. I'm always right." He gave her a bigger smile. "How about very short visits and I'll be here to help you deflect the worst, OK?" He nodded resignedly. "All right, listen, you've already had dinner and I've got to go get mine. I'll be back in an hour or two to say good night."

"Alright, and thanks for telling me, Ginny. I'll work hard too, I promise."

She reached out and grabbed his hand. "I know you will, Harry. You even have a good chance of being successful." That made him smile again and gave him hope. With a last squeeze, she got up and left. Harry really was a nice guy she thought, and some of the reasons why she had a crush on him years ago started coming back to her.

Entering the nurse's office, Madam Pomfrey stopped Ginny with a hand on her arm and a whisper so Harry could not hear. "That was a fine thing you did Ginny. Albus shouldn't have put you into that position. I hope it works out for the two of you."

"Thanks," she whispered back. For some reason, she was not bothered that the nurse had overheard her conversation. "Though if the Headmaster is really smart, he'll stay out of my sight for the next few days."

Poppy put her hand in front of her mouth to suppress a laugh. "I better help you out where I can then. We really do need to keep our Headmaster." Ginny smiled and Flooed home.

The scene that greeted her was much as she had expected. Dinner was mostly gone though everyone was still sitting around the table. Hermione was visiting on the same schedule that Ginny was. That made her wonder what Ron and Hermione did before dinner and that thought made her smile.

"Sorry, everyone. I needed to finish a conversation before I came. What's for dinner?"

"I saved you some dinner, Ginny dear." Her mum handed her a plate of food. It was still quite warm.

"Thanks, I'm starved."

"Did everything work out all right?" Sirius asked.

Protective feelings for Harry suddenly rose in her. "Yes, no thanks to you," she told him sarcastically.

"Ginny!" Her mum was aghast. "You may not talk to Sirius or any other adult that way."

She sent a glare at her mother and turned back to Sirius, becoming more vindictive the more she thought about it. "You and our manipulative Headmaster almost ripped his heart out."

"Ginny, calm down and explain yourself!" Her mother's temper was rising too, but for a very different reason than her daughter's.

Deciding this was going in a direction she did not want to deal with right now, she stood up again. "Ask him." She pointed at Sirius. "If you'll excuse me, I better leave before I hex him into next week."

As she strode back over to the fireplace, Ron called out to her. "Do we get to come visit?"

"Later," she answered as she grabbed some Floo Powder. Throwing it in the fireplace, she growled, "Hogwarts, Hospital Wing!" and stepped in.

Everyone at the table turned to Sirius. Mr. Weasley was the first one to speak in his normally calm manner, though he was obviously concerned for his only daughter. "So, Sirius, would you please explain what our daughter was talking about? I have the feeling you and Albus left something out of your explanations."

Sirius did his best to appear calm himself, though he was starting to sweat. His eyes flicked to the door and the fireplace. He did not think he could successfully get to either with four on one odds, even if two of them were underage. "Right, I -- uh -- I suppose Albus did leave one or two things out of his explanation last week ..."

---

Ginny came back to school ready to breathe fire. Fortunately for her, Madam Pomfrey was not in her office to ask why she was back so soon. Striding into the Infirmary, she saw Harry look up at her.

"That was an awfully fast dinner."

"That's because I didn't have dinner. I explained, I shouted, I almost hexed someone, and then I left. Ugh!" She closed her eyes and started taking deep breaths to try to calm herself. After taking three, she opened her eyes and looked at Harry. He was staring at her as if trying to work out a puzzle. "I'm still hungry, feel like a short walk, Harry?"

"Sure, a change of scenery would be nice," he commented.

"Great, get your robe and let's go to the kitchens."

Harry was tired when he got to the kitchens and drank some juice while she ate and told him about her aborted dinner. In the end, they had a great laugh at Sirius' predicament. They also started plotting a prank or two on both Sirius and Dumbledore.

After a leisurely dinner, they slowly made their way back up to Harry's bed. He was heavily leaning on her by the time they arrived. "There you are," the school nurse exclaimed. "I was about to start sending out a search party."

"Sorry, Madam Pomfrey," Ginny said contritely. "It was my fault. I was hungry and didn't want to eat alone, so I convinced Harry to come with me."

"I thought you went home for dinner, Miss Weasley."

"I, uh, I tried, but the Weasley temper got in the way."

A hint of a smile appeared on the nurse's lips. "Very well. Please leave a note for me in the future as to your whereabouts if you take our patient somewhere." Ginny nodded and the nurse went back through the door next to her office that led to her quarters. The teens told each other good-night and Ginny left for her room.

Back to index


Chapter 4: Chapter 4: Flying Again

Author's Notes: Here's ch 4, with some H/G fun -- enjoy. kb


Chapter 4: Flying Again

[Sat Jul 6]

The next day saw Ginny teasing Harry about the exercises Madam Pomfrey had him doing -- which were not much -- hence her teasing. She could easily do more than he could. Fortunately, Harry was taking her teasing good-naturedly, though she suspected it was only because she was the one doing it. She doubted he would have taken Ron's teasing so well.

During the exercise time, Sirius made an appearance in the Infirmary. Ginny was still a bit put out with him, though Harry seemed more easy going. Still, Sirius knew things could not be left like they were.

"Ginny, and well, Harry I suppose this applies to you too. I'd like to apologize for the position I put you in, Ginny, and Harry, I'm sorry for any anger you've felt by what I've done. I can assure you that I had the best of intentions, which were mainly to keep you alive, Harry. However, I can see that there were errors in how the whole thing was handled." In truth, Sirius had no idea what he could have done differently, but that was best left unsaid and he hoped she would take the apology as is.

After several seconds of silence, Harry was the first to speak. "Sirius, I understand what you were thinking. I probably would have done just about anything to keep you alive too, and to be honest, I don't feel that much harm was done, at least to me. I'll let Ginny speak for herself though. You took a risk -- it worked." He shrugged. "I have to say though that if Ginny hadn't pulled your bacon out of the fire at the last minute, this wouldn't have worked."

Sirius gave a hollow laugh. "Thanks, Harry." He wanted to look at Ginny, but he could not bring himself to. He knew he had hurt her more.

"I'll accept that apology, Sirius, but only because it's all working out. If we had lost Harry, it would be quite different." As she said this, Ginny was startled to recognize the feelings that her statement had invoked in her. Sirius finally looked up at her and nodded to show his understanding. "At the same time, I'm sorry for being disrespectful to you last night Sirius. I could have handled that better."

An easy grin came to his face. "Thanks, Ginny. I know your mum wasn't happy with you, but I'm not too bothered. I deserved everything you gave me." She smiled back at him, though her grin was a little more forced.

"Well, now that we have the important stuff out of the way, I have a question for you, Harry. Actually, several questions," his godfather told him. Harry shrugged and let him go on. "I guess the easiest one is whether you would like to start working on some defense training next week? I'm hoping you'll be strong enough to start by then. I'll keep the training relatively light for the first few weeks and we can do some theory and simple spells. Then when you're stronger, we can do more dueling type work."

Harry smiled at that. "Sure, Ginny too?"

He looked at the girl, whose smile became more genuine. "Then Ginny too," Sirius agreed. "That was easy. Second, Professors McGonagall and Dumbledore would like to talk to you soon. I think it's mostly about your classes, how you feel, and where you want to stay. If you want, you can stay here all summer, though I'm thinking that moving back to Gryffindor Tower would be the correct thing to do so Poppy can leave for a while. We can move the Floo arrangements from here to there. Or your other option is to come back to Grimmauld Place. Ginny can Floo over every day if she wishes."

"If I stay here, can Ginny stay in the girl's dorm?" he asked.

"That's fine with me. I'd move into the dorm with you. In fact, I'm sure Molly would require it. As for Ginny staying, that's up to her parents. Ginny what do you think?" Sirius was trying hard to include her to make up for his earlier transgression.

"I'd like that, actually. Please don't tell my mum, but I don't see how making me do all the chores by hand can be all that useful when these things can easily done with magic," Ginny confided.

A bark of laughter came from Sirius. "I understand completely. There are ways to get around the Restriction on Underage Magic, but they are pretty hard to come by."

"How can it be done?" Harry was curious.

"There is a spell to block it," Sirius explained. "On the other hand, it's very easy for the Ministry to detect and neutralize it, so it's rarely done. A more foolproof way is to live under a Fidelius Charm."

"What?!" Ginny was appalled. "You mean all that cleaning we did by hand at Grimmauld Place could have been done in a fraction of the time with Scourgify and some other household spells?"

Now the man looked a bit embarrassed. "Uh, actually, yes. Though in your mother's defense, she may not know about that because that knowledge is not very widely known."

"But you could have told us," she countered.

"Yeah, yeah I suppose I could have, but that would have caused two very big problems." Ginny glared at him to go on. "Without all that work, there would have been six very bored teenagers. More importantly, I would have had to face the wrath of your mother, Ginny. That's not something I do for fun, and I've had to do it twice in that many weeks."

Ginny looked at him with a stunned expression, but Harry started to laugh. "What?" Ginny asked.

"Actually he would also have had to worry about two other problems, otherwise named Fred and George," Harry explained. They all started laughing at that.

When the laughter died down, Sirius' expression turned a bit more serious. "There is one more question, Harry, and I know Dumbledore's going to ask it too. So if it's any easier on you, I'll be happy to relay your answer and spare you the trouble." Harry felt he knew what was coming and all his happiness left him as he looked down at the floor. "Do you know what caused you to be so sick?" his godfather asked.

Harry got up from the bed and went over to the nearby window. He could see the forest and the Quidditch pitch. He suddenly wondered if he was strong enough to fly. In reality, he would have preferred to have talked about Voldemort than answer this question. Suddenly turning around, he looked at his godfather and calmly said, "No," before he walked out of the Infirmary.

Sirius watched him walk away and debated with himself as to whether he should follow him. He wondered out loud, "I wonder if that's really true?"

"It doesn't matter, you won't get any other answer from him now." Ginny started walking very quickly out of the Infirmary. She barely saw Harry before he turned a corner. She started running and as she rounded the corner, she realised he was going up the stairs, which would slow him down a bit. Hurrying after him, she caught up as he arrived at Professor McGonagall's door. He knocked but did not have to wait long for an answer.

"Mr. Potter, Miss Weasley, what can I do for the two of you?"

"You said you had my broom, Professor. May I please have it now?" Harry was trying to be polite, but he knew that he probably sounded as if he was making a demand.

"Certainly. Tell me, are you sure you feel well enough to fly Potter?"

"Yes ma'am, and I will say that I don't plan to do any Seeker moves for awhile. I just want to fly. And in case I get too tired of walking, I can probably use my broom to get around."

"Very well, but if I catch you flying in the corridors once school starts again, it will mean detention," she informed him before she went back into her room to fetch his broom. When she returned, she had a most interesting expression on her face. "I've had a change of mind, Mr. Potter. I believe I'll give this to Miss Weasley. When she is convinced you're ready, I'm sure she will give it to you." She handed the broom to Ginny.

Harry was shocked. He turned to Ginny who smiled at him. "Thank you Professor, I'll take good care of him."

He was even more surprised when his professor actually smiled at them. "I'm sure you will, Miss Weasley. Good-bye for now." She closed her door, leaving them alone in the corridor.

Not knowing what else to do, Harry turned to her and asked, "My broom -- please?"

Ginny smiled at him. "Soon, Harry, very soon. Come with me." She turned and started walking. He was already a little tired from the earlier brisk walk, but he managed to keep up with her, mostly because she had pity on him and did not walk that fast. At the portrait of the Fat Lady, she spoke. "Slytherins Drool." The Fat Lady nodded and opened her portrait for them.

Inside the empty common room, Harry grabbed Ginny's wrist to stop her. "Ginny, why are we here?"

She smirked and took two steps towards him. "To get my broom, of course, so I can keep up with you."

A devilish grin come over his face. He also took several steps towards her until he stood only inches from her. He stared into her eyes -- beautiful light chocolate colored eyes. "You don't need a broom, you could ride with me."

His emerald eyes held hers. "But it wouldn't be as easy," she said softly, starting to get caught up in the moment.

"But it would be more fun," he countered as he leaned into her and their faces were very close to each other. She did not move so he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her tightly against him. She felt vibrant to him. He saw the tip of her tongue come out and wet her lips slightly. Hoping that was a good sign, he slowly lowered his face and brushed her lips with his. He saw her eyes close and she pushed her lips to his for their first kiss. It was not a long one, but Harry thought it was brilliant.

Ginny pulled back and her eyes fluttered open. Then she seemed to flush and completely pulled away from him as a pink tint coloured her face. "I, uh, I need to go get my broom from my room." She turned around and ran into the wall next to the stairs, dropping his broom. Without turning back to Harry, she moved sideways and ran up the stairs. He smiled and could not take his eyes off of her.

She ran into her room and flopped on the bed knowing she was safe as Harry could not come up the stairs. What have I done? she thought. Actually that was easy, she had kissed him.

Why did I do that? was her second thought. They were just friends, good friends, no, probably best of friends now. She knew a lot about Harry now. But kissing him? Do I really feel those sort of feelings for him? Searching within herself, she came to the realisation that she might really feel that way. His eyes were dreamy and being held by him made her heart beat faster. This was just like the first time Michael Corner held her, but better. It had been only a short kiss with Harry, but better than either of her other two boyfriends. He had teased her about her snogging him senseless, but she started to wonder if she would be the one left senseless, and it probably would not have to be that long of a kiss.

"Ginny?" Harry shouted from below.

She had taken too long. She grabbed her broom, which was leaning against the wall next to her bed. "If you don't come down, I will come up." She started to laugh at him for even thinking that. Then it occurred to her that she had dropped his broom down below and he might very well be able to fly up there without setting off any alarms. She ran for the stairs and saw him staring at her from the landing.

She froze. What am I going to say to him?

"Come on Ginny," he called to her.

That's right, she thought, just act normal, he is. She started walking down, aware that his eyes were following her with every step she took. She wondered if she would be able to hear him because her heart was beating so loudly.

When she reached the bottom, he walked up and put his arms around her, even though he was now holding his broom in one hand. "Are you sure you don't want to fly with me?"

It was so hard to think with him holding her. "But I have my broom," she said softly.

"I can hold it for you and you can hold onto me. I won't go fast. I promise."

She looked up and again, their faces were almost touching. Ginny had no idea why she did it, but she pushed up and kissed him again. This was a much longer kiss and a much more satisfying one. As she pulled back, she turned her head slightly and placed it on his shoulder. She felt comfortable there. Safe.

"Come on Ginny, we need to go back. As much as I'd like to stay here like this, we'd get into trouble and I don't want you taken from me." She smiled at him as he stepped back and grabbed her hand. He walked her through the portrait hole and onto the landing. He mounted his broom and took hers. "Get on behind me and hold on." Smiling, she did just that, scooting up as close to him as possible and wrapping her arms around his stomach and chest before leaning into his back.

When Harry felt her settle and stop moving, he carefully took off and flew down the stairs and the corridors. Their toes were never more than a few feet off the floor. It was a bit strange at first, but it was also a lot faster and not as tiring as walking. Very soon, they were back at the doors to the Hospital Wing, where they dismounted. Walking inside, they found it to be empty.

Harry grabbed her hand and led her back to the beds. He laid the brooms on the bed next to his. Grabbing the pillow from that bed, he put it on his bed too, then he sat down taking up nearly half the width. He patted the spot beside him and she sat down next to him, their hips touching. Harry put his arm around her shoulder and sat back against the pillows.. Ginny leaned against him with her head on his shoulder.

"I like this," he whispered to her.

"Me too," she agreed.

Neither moved and soon they were both asleep. Poppy came out of her quarters and found them that way. She started to object and wake them up, then she thought about what Harry had been through and why they suspected it had happened. So instead of disturbing the couple, she went into her office and picked her medical journal up. Moving her chair back a bit so she could see the room if she turned her head, she smiled and continued reading. The matron now understood why Harry had not been upset with Sirius. It seemed Ginny did care about him.

---

Ginny woke to see the sun coming in the window at a low angle. It must near or even past dinner time, she thought. Without moving her head, she saw the back of the matron's chair in her office, so the woman was nearby but not really in view. Concentrating on the chest she was leaning against, she could tell by its slow movement that he was still asleep. That was actually a good thing, both for his health and for her. She needed to think.

The thought from earlier came back to her. What had she done? It had seemed like the most natural thing to do at the time. He was there close to her. She knew he liked her a lot. Those eyes and lips had been so inviting. She had just acted without thinking. Did that make her a tease, or worse, a tart? She supposed it would depend on her intentions.

She tried to examine her feelings for him. That she liked him was now a given, he was definitely a very good friend. But was she about to ruin a friendship? Kissing and then telling him that she didn't want to be his girlfriend would certainly do that, not to mention what her mum would say to her if she found out Ginny had "led him on". Being called a tart would be the least of her worries.

It suddenly occurred to her that the matron had obviously seen them like this and left them alone, which Ginny did not think was normal for the woman. Therefore, she must approve of this to an extent. After all, she was practically keeping an eye on them.

Ginny's thoughts returned to searching her feelings. They were so mixed up right now it was hard to figure out what her true feelings were. She decided that the problem was deciding if her hormones were leading her astray, or if her heart knew the answer and she just had not realised it yet. She sighed.

Apparently, Harry was close to waking up anyway, because that small disturbance caused him to take a deep breath and his arms moved, tightening around her; that felt very nice. Looking up, she saw his eyes flutter open and then look down at her. A smile came to his lips, which then moved down to gently kiss the top of her head.

"Hey beautiful," he whispered. She tightened her arms around him in appreciation. "I'm getting hungry, how about you?" She nodded. "What do you say we go down to the kitchens?" She started to get up, making the bed to creak, which caused a head to instantly appear in the doorway to the nurse's office.

"Did you have a good nap, Mr. Potter?" the nurse asked him.

"Wonderful," he told her.

Pomfrey smiled at him. "I'm glad, Mr. Potter. However, don't get used to that. I don't think Mrs. Weasley would be very happy."

"I understand ma'am. Is it too late for dinner?"

"Not if you two hurry." Harry smiled as he stood and grabbed his broom along with Ginny's hand. "Mr. Potter, what do you think you're doing with that broom?"

Harry walked to the doors of the Hospital Wing. "Hurrying to dinner, Professor McGonagall said I could use it." He pulled Ginny through the doors and they hopped on the broom, taking off before the nurse could stop them. Ginny giggled all the way the Great Hall, where they found Professors Dumbledore and McGonagall at a round table finishing dinner. There was one dirty plate still there, which they assumed was Sirius'.

When Harry landed near the table, they could hear Dumbledore chuckling. "That's most amusing, Harry. I don't think I've ever seen anyone fly through the halls."

Harry grinned at him. "Professor McGonagall was most kind to let me do so while I build my strength back up."

"Yes, yes, doing that during the normal school year would invite far too many injuries." Harry noticed the twinkle leaving the old man's eyes as he cleared his throat. "If I may, I'd like to talk to the two of you while you eat. There are a few things you should probably know." He looked at them expectantly. Harry shrugged and he noticed that Ginny nodded as they both started filling their plates.

"I suppose I should start with the most important item," the Headmaster began. "Ginny, I'd like to apologize for the difficult position I put you in. I did realise the difficulties at the time, but I'm afraid I must admit that I didn't know what else to do to save Harry. One can easily say that your nursing skills played an important part in his recovery, but it was less than fair of me to force you to do so."

Ginny finished chewing her current bite to give her a few extra seconds to find a response. As with Sirius, she realised she was not really angry, but this was only because things seemed to be working out. "Thank you, Professor. I appreciate you telling me that. I'm still not fine with all of it yet, but I do understand the position you were in and forgive you."

The old man gave her a small smile before he turned to Harry. "Harry, I'd like to apologize to you as well. I put Ginny in a position where you were given false hope. While I had the best of intentions as I wanted you to live, I sincerely hope I have not made life worse for you."

Harry decided his response to Sirius was reasonably appropriate here as well. "I understand why you did it, and it seems that no real harm was done, at least so far. I guess we'll just have to see how it all works out."

"Thank you, Harry. I have every confidence that you can work things out given time, and I hope I can give you all the time you need." Dumbledore picked up his goblet and took a drink before continuing. "Harry, since I'm admitting mistakes, I shall go ahead and admit one more, as well as try to correct it." The young man raised an eyebrow before he took another bite of mashed potatoes and gravy. "Did you wonder why you were not chosen as prefect last year?"

The fork fell out of Harry's hand, though fortunately, there was no food on it to make a mess. He stared down at his plate as if it held the answer. He saw a bit of movement out of the corner of his eye, then felt Ginny's hand on his knee. "Yes, yes I did. I, uh, I will admit that at first I'd forgotten prefects were to be chosen last summer, but when I saw the badge in Ron's envelope, I didn't understand why I wasn't chosen. I really am happy for Ron as it made him happy, but deep down I was really surprised and hurt." Picking up his fork, he started playing with his food for a few seconds before taking a small bite.

A sigh escaped Dumbledore, causing Harry to look up at the old man. "I'm sorry, Harry. Minerva picked you, but I overrode her choice as I rather thought that you had enough responsibility and other problems last year."

Harry nodded. It was so tempting to give in to the anger he had felt so much of last year, but it just did not seem useful anymore. He had only recently realised his anger had not really solved anything and usually made things worse. Well, maybe he had recognized it sooner and that was why he gave up caring last term before he got sick. "Perhaps you're right, Professor, but that doesn't change the way I felt about it."

"I'd like to make it up to you if I can, Harry. Would you like to be prefect this coming year?"

Happiness surged through Harry for about three seconds before logic kicked in and his face became sad again. "Thank you, Professor, but I couldn't do that to Ron."

"Actually, you would not be displacing Mr. Weasley." Now Harry was really confused as he had never heard of having three prefects in one class. The Headmaster looked over to his Deputy, "May I steal one of your surprises, Minerva?" Both teens were surprised to see their Transfiguration teacher smile as she nodded, and wondered what was coming next.

"Harry," the Headmaster addressed the young man again, "you would be prefect along with Miss Weasley."

Ginny gasped and her hands flew to her mouth in surprise, while the old man braced himself for the most likely coming storm.

Confusion was very evident on Harry's face and accurately reflected his thoughts. Ginny is going into fifth year. I won't displace Ron. There wouldn't be three prefects in one year. So that leaves ... "You're saying I'll be repeating the fifth year, aren't you?" His tone was very neutral.

His Head of House spoke up for the first time during the conversation. "I'm sorry, Harry, but yes, you will need to retake the fifth year. You didn't take your OWLs, so we don't know what courses you can take for sixth year. In addition, you missed so much class work and your grades were so poor for most of the second term last year, that you essentially failed the year. Now, if I ignore last year and compare your grades from your fourth year with those that just finished the fourth year, you have the second highest grades of all the male students. The male student who has better grades than you has only a couple points more than you. For all practical purposes, the two of you are tied. However, you have much more leadership experience than he does because of your work with the DA last year, so you really are the best choice for male prefect."

Harry started thinking that through and to their credit, neither of the adults said anything and let him think. After a few moments, he turned to Ginny. "Would you be OK with that, Ginny?"

She immediately smiled. "Yes, Harry, I think you would do a good job and it would be nice to work with you." That made him smile too, though he understood that there was still no commitment about them yet. She also added, "And we'll also get to spend more time together as we'll be mostly taking the same classes."

He smiled a bit more. She seemed to imply she wanted to spend time with him and that made him happy. "OK, I'll be prefect then, since I seem to have to be in the fifth year anyway. It should be easier this time -- at least the first half of the year." His face suddenly clouded and he seemed to deflate. "Oh no, Malfoy is going to have a field day with this. And Snape's not going to let me forget it either."

"Professor Snape, Harry," the Headmaster reminded him. "I guess I need to have another talk with your Potions master to remind him that you are not your father. But Harry, if you'll do your best to give him the respect he deserves, it will be of great help."

"I do," the boy protested and let all his frustration out, "but he insults me and my father, takes points off for me doing little things like coughing, drops my potions so I have nothing to hand in, or else just Vanishes them so I don't even get partial credit. To make it worse, he never restrains the Slytherins in my class from making fun of me or sabotaging my work, and lets them get away with all the things he punishes me for. I don't think a Slytherin has ever received a detention in his class. And to top it all off, he really doesn't teach us anything. He just points to the book or the board, and if you're doing something wrong, he doesn't help. He just yells at us, takes points off or hands out detention, and Vanishes our work. We don't know how to do better because he won't tell us. If it wasn't for Hermione, I'd have done twice as bad over the years -- sir."

Albus was shocked to hear all that and looked over to Minerva. "I've heard the rumours and tried to tell you Albus," the Deputy Headmistress said. "If you look at the class scores by house, the Slytherins are always significantly on top and the Gryffindors are always at the bottom, with the exception of Miss Granger. It has been that way since Severus joined the staff. The disparity in grades has only gotten worse since Harry started school here. Not counting last term, Severus normally grades Harry at the Acceptable level, but I strongly suspect that if it were anyone else teaching the class, he would be making an Exceeds Expectations or perhaps even an Outstanding."

Everyone looked at the Headmaster, waiting for his response. "Another mistake that I need to correct, apparently. I will think about how to deal with this." The Headmaster sighed as he considered how to correct his problematic Potions professor. Looking back at Harry, he decided that there was something else he needed to tell the boy. "Since I'm 'coming clean' as you would say, I also need to apologize for thinking that all grudges can be forgiven. Your Occlumency lessons with Professor Snape did not go anywhere near as well as I had planned. While I would still prefer not to do the task, for the same reasons I had earlier, I will teach you the skill myself. I'll just have to find a way that will protect us both."

"Thank you sir," Harry gratefully told him. Harry had finished dinner by now and spooned out some chocolate pudding to finish up. "Was there anything else?"

"Actually, yes, there is, and a much more pleasant topic for all of us. Madam Pomfrey tells me that medically speaking, you are generally well enough not to require her care anymore, and that all you really need is to regain weight and build your muscles back up." That brought a smile to the young man's face. "Therefore, tomorrow morning you may either move to the Gryffindor Tower for the next five weeks and then to Sirius' house for the last two weeks before next term starts, or you may go to Sirius' house immediately."

"No more Dursleys ever again?" Extreme hope was in Harry's voice and expression. That give Dumbledore a bit more pain, but he hid it.

"Sirius believes, and I am forced to agree with him, that while you would be safest from Voldemort at your aunt's house because of the blood ward that protects you there, there is a good chance that your health would suffer so badly you might not survive. Do you know where you'd like to stay?"

Harry thought about that for a moment. Each place had its advantages and disadvantages. He turned and looked to Ginny and tried to read her expression, but it only held a smile for him. "Do you think your parents would let you continue to stay here for most of the summer?" The Headmaster had not really extended the invitation to her as well, but Harry decided to just assume that it did, and neither Professor corrected him.

"I think that would be fun Harry, but I don't really know. I'll have to ask."

"OK," he acknowledged but he seemed happy as if he knew it would all work out. "Professor, how about if I move to the Gryffindor Tower for now."

"That will be fine, Harry. I'll move the Floo connection and even if Ginny can't stay, she can come visit you whenever she is free. Shall I add Mr. Ron Weasley and Miss Granger now as well?" the Headmaster asked.

Harry paused before finally saying, "Yes, sir. I suppose it would be acceptable now." The slight hesitation and doubt in the answer was a surprise to the Headmaster, but he let it go.

"Very well, I'll take care of it first thing in the morning. I hope I have not tired you out too much with all the information we've discussed, but I believe that is all I have at the moment."

"Albus," Minerva McGonagall jumped in, "I do have one more thing for Mr. Potter." She turned to look at Harry. "Potter, as you know, Angelina Johnson graduated last year and the Quidditch team captain position is open. Katie Bell says she will be too busy to be captain. I would like to offer the spot to you. Would you like to take it?"

Harry heard a small gasp from Ginny. He started to say yes, but something held him back. Then another thought came to mind. "Professor, will I be allowed to play next year? I was banned for ..."

"Of course you will," McGonagall forcefully interrupted. "All of that ... woman's decrees were dropped the instant she was taken away." Both Harry and Ginny thought McGonagall had been about to call Umbridge something less than nice; it was an amusing thought. Ginny had told him what had happened to Dolores J. Umbridge and it had become of the few bright memories from this last year.

Still, Harry had to decide. Suddenly, he knew why he had paused. A memory of a mirror with the image of a redhaired boy with a badge on his chest, a badge that he was very proud of, came to mind. A small smile came to his lips and McGonagall assumed he was going to take the position. "Thank you Professor, but I think I would recommend Ron for the job. He's really much better at understanding the game than I am and it appears that even with him being captain, I'll still have a chance during my last year."

McGonagall was surprised, but nodded her understanding. "Very well Potter, if you think that's best."

"Yes, Professor. By the way, I'd like to drop my Divination class. May I do so?"

"I see no reason why not," his Head of House told him. "May I ask why?"

"I don't believe it to be a useful subject for me and the main reason I was taking it was because I was with Ron. Since I'll be all by myself next year, I'd really prefer not to take it." Harry decided not to mention that he also thought Trelawney to be a fraud, but there was something about the small smirk on both of his professors that indicated they believed that too.

"You really should have another class to replace it, but I'm not sure what that would be since you would have missed the first two years of instruction in the electives," she pondered out loud.

"What about Muggle Studies?" Ginny suggested.

"An excellent idea, Miss Weasley. You'd probably be able to handle that since you came from a Muggle home. How do you feel about that, Mr. Potter?"

He had never really thought about the course, since he thought he had a decent understanding of the Muggle world. Then something occurred to him. "Are you taking that course, Ginny?"

"Yes." She smiled at him. "I don't think you'd have too much trouble. I can show you my notes if you'd like, but the last two years were about things you probably already know."

Harry thought that statement and and her smile seemed to indicate that she would like him to be in another class with her. He smiled back and continued to look at Ginny as he told his Head of House, "That would be all right with me. I'm sure Ginny will be able to help with anything I've missed."

"Very well, Mr. Potter. I'll make the change for you."

"May I leave now? I think I'm ready to go to bed. It's been a long day."

"You may, Harry," the Headmaster told him. "I know that Sirius plans to start working on some extra training with you and Ginny on Monday. I ask that you please take that seriously. In fact, I think I would like to give you some extra training as well next year if you'll let me, but we can discuss that later, probably just before you leave here." Dumbledore needed a bit more time before that important conversation. He had a few more loose ends to tie up first.

"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."

Dumbledore inclined his head. "Very good then. Good-night, Harry. Good-night, Ginny." McGonagall added a nod for her dismal as well.

Harry stood and put out his hand for Ginny, who accepted it. Grabbing his broom, Harry swung his leg over his Firebolt and waited for Ginny to climb on behind him and hold onto his waist. As he slowly flew back to the Hospital Wing, he thought he heard a chuckle behind him.

When they had arrived at the hospital doors, they dismounted and walked back into an empty room. The school nurse was not in her office either, so they assumed she was either out about in the castle or in her quarters. They sat down on Harry's bed next to each other.

"Harry, how do you feel after everything that was said tonight?" Ginny was concerned for him.

He was silent for a moment before he answered. "I'm OK with most it. Even though I really don't want to repeat a year, knowing that I'll get to spend a lot more time with you is a nice thing." He paused and looked at her. She was smiling but had not said anything. "You will be there for me, won't you?"

Ginny started to answer, but Harry interrupted her as he was suddenly afraid of what she would say. "Ginny, whatever you tell me, please be totally honest with me. 'Yes' had better really mean yes. Please don't say 'yes' just to make me feel good because when I find out later you didn't mean it, that will just make it worse."

She was not sure she had ever seen him look that serious about anything. His piercing gaze was again upon her and she had to blink. "OK Harry, my honest answer right now is 'maybe'. I want to be sure before I tell you 'yes'. I think you deserve that."

Harry smiled at her and put an arm around her shoulders. "Thanks, Ginny. I appreciate your consideration. And you know, a 'maybe' is OK right now because it's not a 'no' yet, so that means I still have an opportunity to convince you." He gently pulled her into his shoulder for a hug and kissed her on the top of her head. "I'll let you go and I'll see what I can do tomorrow to convince you that you should be my girlfriend."

She rose from the bed. "Thanks for understanding, Harry." She walked back to the tower via the kitchens, deep in thought.

When she had left the room, Harry changed into his pyjamas and crawled into bed. He really was tired, although he also wanted to think about what Ginny had said, in light of everything she had done today.

Sirius came into the Infirmary and saw Harry slip in under his sheets. "Hey Harry, I thought I'd come bid you good-night."

"Thanks, Sirius. Hey, can you tell Madam Pomfrey that I'd like to move into Gryffindor Tower tomorrow? Dumbledore said I could and that he'd change the Floo arrangements." Sirius loved his godson and was happy to see he was well enough to leave the Infirmary.

"Sure Harry, I'll take care of it." His godfather came over and sat on the edge of the bed. "You know, you can talk to me about anything you'd like. It will be very easy this summer, and well, I'd really like to get to know you even better."

Harry smiled broadly. "I'd like that too, Sirius." After letting out a big yawn, he added, "But I think it's going to have to wait until later. I'm really tired."

The older man smiled. "Of course, Harry. Tomorrow will do just fine. We can have fun while we're both moving into the dorms. You get a good night's rest and I'll go inform Poppy she can leave on her holiday." He squeezed Harry's shoulder and headed to the nurse's quarters, where he softly knocked.

When she answered, Sirius told her Harry was moving tomorrow and she could go on holiday. Besides being pleased, she also informed the guardian that Harry needed to make sure he ate well and slowly built himself back up. Being very careful not to overdo it was important. Though his conversation with the nurse had not been that long, Sirius found Harry asleep by the time he left the nurse's company.

As it was not that late, Sirius took a walk around the castle. He mostly thought about Harry as he strolled the corridors. Fortunately, Peeves was nowhere to be found and the ghosts even seemed to be absent. The silence seemed very unusual. Without realizing how it had happened, Sirius found himself at the bottom of Gryffindor Tower. Wanting more information and figuring he had nothing to lose, he gave the password and went in. Looking towards the fireplace, he saw what he was looking for just over the top of the couch: a crown of red hair. He walked over and sat in a chair next to the couch. Ginny was sitting with one leg folded up underneath her, and the other leg swinging to and fro. She was drinking a mug of hot chocolate and looking very contemplatively at a small fire.

"Hey Ginny."

She looked up at him as if she had not noticed his arrival. "Hey Sirius," she said softly.

"You look like you're trying to solve the troubles of the world. Want to share the burden?"

She gave a soft snort. "You may not be that far off, or maybe it will be that way," she replied cryptically.

"Want to tell me? Maybe I can help." He had a feeling he knew what she was thinking about and he really wanted to know where things stood.

Shrugging, she told him, "Some of it is about what Dumbledore just told Harry and me." Sirius raised an eyebrow. "He said that Harry was going to have to repeat his fifth year."

"Ah yes, he mentioned that to me at dinner. So, did Harry take it well?"

Not only did she smile, but she gave him a light laugh. "Much better than I expected. Sure, he wasn't jumping for joy, but he didn't get angry, which after last year is a blessing."

"Why do you think he was all right with it?" He wanted to add "Oh expert on Harry", but managed to bite his tongue as he was afraid his joking would kill the serious talk before he found out anything useful.

"He has a couple of good reasons, but I think the main reason is he thinks he'll get to spend lots of time with me."

"That would make sense. Wouldn't he, though?"

Ginny sighed. "Yes he would. We'd have almost all our classes together. We'll both probably be on the Quidditch team at the same time since there's a Chaser position opening up and I want to do that. Plus, we'll both be prefects."

"That's fantastic, Ginny. Congratulations on making prefect. But why the sigh?"

"I haven't fully decided how I feel about Harry. I just don't know what to think and I'm so afraid I'll break his heart if I don't agree to be his girlfriend, yet I can't hide the truth from him.."

It was all Sirius could do to not react to that. Instead he spoke more quietly, almost conspiratorially. "What does your heart say, Ginny?"

She put the mug down and dropped her face into the palms of her hands, covering her eyes. The man kept quiet while waiting for an answer. "But what if my heart's wrong? What if it doesn't work out? If Dumbledore is right, it could kill him." She looked back up at him almost despairingly, hoping he had an answer for her.

Sirius did his best to work out what she had just told him and thought he liked the answer, but girls were so hard to figure out sometimes. "But what if it works out, Ginny? What if he's someone special and both of you really do need time together but you never gave it a chance? What then?"

"What if ..." she said and then became silent. Just as Sirius was about to speak up again, she suddenly rose from her seat. "Good-night, Sirius." She turned and walked up the stairs to the girls' dorms.

He watched her slowly go up the stairs. It was obvious she still had not made a decision, but at least she was thinking about it. Sighing, he got up to go back to his room. He needed to go get something there and take care of it before morning. He knew he would not get to sleep anytime soon with all the thoughts running around in his head right now.

***

[Sun Jul 7]

When Ginny came down to the common room around breakfast time the next day, she wondered if she would find Harry there or if she would have to go and wake him up. She thought that the latter task sounded kind of fun. Searching the common room, she saw no sign of Harry. However, she did see a new contraption on the far side of the room; it was a machine like no other she had seen before. In fact, the more she looked at it, the more she decided she had no clue what it could be used for. There seemed to be a lot of shiny bars and wires, with a few padded benches sticking out, and a quite a few little black squares with numbers on them in the middle. Shrugging and ignoring the thing, she decided to go on down to the Great Hall and see if Harry was there, before going to the Hospital Wing to check if he was still asleep.

Harry was already in the Great Hall; it looked like he had just started eating. He smiled when she joined him. "Morning, Ginny." Professor McGonagall and Sirius also greeted her.

"Good morning, Harry. You seem to be in a good mood," she said.

"Leaving the Hospital Wing after an extended stay is sure to put anyone in a good mood." He continued to eat quickly and heartily. She smiled at that and his enthusiasm. Sirius gave a short laugh.

"Eat up then," Sirius told him, "we'll move you as soon as we're all done. I moved to Gryffindor Tower last night. To make it easy for you, I think we'll stay in the room off the first landing. That way you'll have fewer stairs to manoeuvre while you're still getting back into shape."

Ginny looked up with a mischievous grin. "Does that mean when he gets better you'll move to the top floor?"

Sirius gave his usual bark of laughter. "No, I have other ways of getting him into shape."

"Oh, how?" Harry asked.

"You'll see soon enough. In fact, I bet you'll be begging me to let you quit and have a lie in," the man kidded his godson.

"I don't think so, Sirius. I really want to get back to normal as fast as I can."

"We'll see, kiddo, but do know that I'm going to watch you. Madam Pomfrey said you should exercise, but to take care not to overdo it. I don't want you sick again." Sirius looked very serious as he said the last part. Harry understood and nodded his agreement.

Soon afterward, they headed up to the Hospital Wing and got his trunk and other things from the little table next to his bed. Harry thanked the nurse for her help. For a second, he thought she was going to hug him, but she did not. Sirius magicked his trunk along with a Locomotor trunk spell, while Harry and Ginny just walked behind him. Since Sirius was not watching him, Harry reached over and casually grabbed Ginny's hand and held it very loosely as they walked. She gave him a look of amusement, wondering what he was up to, but she did not pull her hand away from him either.

Marching up to the dorm room off the first landing, they settled Harry in before Sirius took him back downstairs. It was not until Harry was on the stairs that he looked out and saw the machine on the far side of the room.

"Hey Sirius, where did the exercise machine come from?" he asked in amazement.

"You know what that is, Harry?" Ginny inquired.

"Sure, they advertise them on telly. That's for me, isn't it?"

A smiling Sirius explained, "Yes, Harry, that's for you. I saw it while walking through Muggle London not too long ago and thought it would be a great thing for you. The advertisement says you can do over twenty different exercises with it to build up your muscles. Come on over and we can figure it out. I've got the instruction book." He pulled the booklet out of his robes for them to look at.

"See this picture?" His godfather showed him the second page in the book. "That the first exercise. You can adjust the weight that you lift, then lie down here on this bench," he pointed, "and then push up on the bar. It says here to set the weight to what you can comfortably lift for ten times. Hmm, I guess that means there will be some trial and error. Oh, and you can increase the weight as you get stronger."

"Cool! Thanks, Sirius." Harry eagerly tried it out, and immediately found out how out of shape he was. "I guess laying around for a month makes you really weak," he said dejectedly.

"Hey kiddo, it's all right. Madam Pomfrey said this was to be expected. Try to do every exercise a little each day, and you'll slowly get better and soon be as good as new." A calculated smirk came over his godfather's face. "You know what, Harry? With some extra work, you can be better than before. I bet Ginny wouldn't mind seeing some strong muscles on you."

Both teens turned red at that and the older man laughed at both of them. "Come on Harry, work on it for awhile, then you can lie down and rest until lunch if you want. Today is your last day of relaxation. Summer school starts tomorrow for you." Harry groaned, but turned the page in the booklet to see what the next exercise was.

Forty-five minutes later, Harry had completed every exercise, though most were at the lowest weight, and he was utterly exhausted. Ginny helped him over to the couch in front of the fireplace and made him lie down. As she put a pillow under his head, she told him, "Harry, rest for awhile here. I need to go do something real quick, and I'll be done before you wake up."

"What do you have to do?"

"I need to go talk to Mum, so just rest." She was slowly stroking his slightly damp hair as he closed his eyes. A few minutes later, his breathing became slow and shallow. Smiling down at him as she knelt by the couch, she leaned over and lightly kissed his cheek before she stood up. It was not until she turned around to face the fireplace that she saw Sirius leaning against the wall watching them.

Although she did not jump from the surprise, she did give him a glare before she whispered, "What are you doing there?"

He smiled at her. "Playing chaperone," he whispered back. Then with a grin he added, "Just making sure you take advantage of him."

A quizzical look came over her. "Don't you mean 'don't take advantage of him'?"

"Nope." He gave her an even bigger grin, which caused her to blush. "Now run along and talk to your mum. I'll watch over him." He settled into a chair and waved his hand to shoo her along. With a scowl, she grabbed some Floo powder and left.

As she came tumbling out of The Burrow's fireplace, Ginny saw her mother near the sink, and her dad was at the table reading the paper. "Ginny, what are you doing here? I didn't expect you until dinner time. Is something wrong dear?" her mother asked.

"No, Mum, but I did have something to talk to you -- actually, all of you -- about. Where's Ron?"

"He's up in his room, I think."

"OK, let me go get him and then we can all talk." Ginny started for the stairs.

"What's wrong dear?" her mum asked again in a concerned tone.

"Nothing mum, but I'll explain in a minute after I bring Ron down."

Sure enough, Ron was in his room. He was sitting on his bed leaning against the headboard reading a Quidditch magazine.

"Hey, Ron."

"Ginny? What are you doing here?"

"I got something to tell everyone. Come on down, will you?"

"Is this about Harry?" He became excited at the thought of hearing news about his best mate.

She grinned at him. "If you come down you'll find out." She turned on her heel and left. There were thundering footsteps behind her.

Going to the table, she took a seat; Ron was right behind her. Her mother stayed in the kitchen proper chopping up some carrots for lunch, but she was able to easily watch and hear as she was only a few arm-lengths away.

"What's this about, Ginny?" her father asked as he laid his paper down.

Smiling, she announced, "Would anyone like to go visit Harry this afternoon?"

"Finally!" her brother shouted, and she noticed that her parents seemed to be pretty happy too.

"All right, contain yourself, Ron. You can all come at five, and Hermione too, if she wants. But, there are some ground rules you must abide by or you can't come."

"First you said we couldn't visit him, now you're going to tell us how we can or can't visit him?" Ron complained.

"Ron," his mother said sharply, "I'm sure Ginny is just looking out for Harry. He's only been up for a little more than a week now and is still weak. You can't tire him out."

"Thanks Mum. And you're right. Rule one," she raised the index finger on her left hand. "The stay will be short, somewhere between five and thirty minutes max. When Harry starts getting tired and I say time's up, you must go -- no complaining." She glared at her brother who finally nodded his acceptance. She ticked off the next finger as she said, "Two, you may not ask Harry why he got sick or if he knows why he woke up; he's very sensitive about those topics. Three, do not comment on his weakness, he's also very sensitive about that. If he talks about it, you may say something positive like 'I'm sure you'll be fine soon', but otherwise leave it alone. And lastly, if you say something and Harry reacts negatively to it, drop it and change the topic. If I change the topic and you go back and say something else that affects him, I promise I'll hex you into next week. Do you understand me, Ronald Weasley?" She glared at him, hoping to make him understand.

"Why are you picking on me?" her brother started getting upset.

"Because of the countless number of times I've watched you argue with someone, when it was obviously something they didn't want to talk about, and you wouldn't shut up which made them feel worse. I love you Ron, but sometimes you are so thick about other people's feelings."

"I am not," he countered.

"And what are you doing right now? Arguing with me about the obvious. Listen to yourself next time you have an argument with Hermione."

"Kids?" Arthur finally stepped into the growing spat.

Ginny took a deep breath and then calmly continued. "So, does everyone agree to the visitation rules?" Looking around she saw her dad nod and her mum answered "Yes, dear." However, her brother tried to glower at her. She merely sat and waited. Finally, he nodded too. When he did, she reached out and gently touched his arm. "Thanks Ron, I know he'll be glad to see you too." He looked her in the eyes and a small smile came to his face and she knew everything was all right between them again.

"I'm off again. I'll be back at five to get you all. If Hermione's coming too, be sure she's here by five. Bye!" She left and returned to the school.

Ron started grumbling. "I still can't believe she said that about me."

His mother put down her kitchen knife and came over to him and gave him a hug. "Ron dear, you know she loves you and she loves Harry too. She just wants this to be an easy and peaceful visit for both of you, so please pay attention to what she said."

"OK, Mum. Dad, are you still going to get Hermione at three this afternoon?"

Arthur smiled at the boy. "Yes, son, I will. I'm sure she'll want to see Harry too." Happier, Ron went back up to his room.

---

Ginny woke Harry up at noon and walked him to lunch. On the way she decided she needed to tell him about his visitors.

"Harry, I hope you don't mind that I invited my parents and Ron and Hermione to come visit for a few minutes before dinner. Is that all right with you?"

He did not immediately answer, which worried her a bit. "Yeah, I suppose. Only for a few minutes though?"

"That's what I told them, or do you want them to stay longer?"

This time there was no hesitation. "No, just a very short while."

"OK, Harry. If you get tired, you can tell them that and go up to your room. I won't let anyone follow you. Or since it will be near dinner time, you can say you're hungry and leave. I'll make sure they go home. Is that all right with you?"

They were nearing the Great Hall when Harry gently grabbed her shoulder and stopped her, then pulled her into his arms for a hug. "Thanks Gin. I'm so glad I have you to help me." She was surprised at his action, but she returned it anyway. The more she thought about it, the better it felt; then he let go and entered the hall.

All through lunch, she thought about his hug and how she had felt about it. She was starting to wonder if maybe her heart was right after all.

***

At five, Ginny left Harry on the couch and Sirius in a nearby chair, and Flooed back to The Burrow. She found the four visitors sitting in the living room waiting on her.

"Hi, Ginny!" Hermione called out when her friend came into the room.

"How are you doing, Hermione?"

"Pretty good," the brunette told her friend. "I'm glad you're letting us visit Harry. I know you're taking good care of him, but I'd like to see him too."

Ginny smiled at that. "I know he'll be glad to see you too. Did they explain the visitation rules?"

Hermione laughed, "Yes -- short visit, don't ask about sickness, waking up, and weakness, and if Harry's not comfortable with something, drop it. Common sense things, actually."

" Apparently only for some people." Ginny giggled and her girl friend joined in. The adults smiled at each other, while Ron looked confused. "Oh, one more rule I just thought of, no badgering Harry with a hundred questions in a minute."

Hermione blushed a bit but nodded. "Believe it or not Ginny, I don't have a hundred questions. In fact, I doubt I have more than about five, and you've already ruled out several of them. I'm just glad to get to see him."

"Thanks, Hermione. Well everyone, let's go." She led them to the fireplace. With some Floo powder thrown in, she said, "Hogwarts, Gryffindor Tower" and stepped in. The other four followed.

As they came out, everyone dusted themselves off and started saying hi to Harry and to Sirius. Ginny thought Harry looked a bit wary with all the new people there, but he did not bolt from the room.

"Hi mate, how ya doing?" Ron asked the obvious question.

"Mostly OK," Harry told him.

"Great, I'm glad you're feeling better, you're looking a lot better too. I can't wait until you're feeling up to playing Quidditch again." Harry looked down at Ron's statements.

"Ron," Ginny tried to get his attention with a low voice. She did not want Ron going on about how Harry had looked.

Hermione felt she better jump in quick. "So Harry, what's it like to be at school during the summer? Is it really different?"

A small smile can to Harry's face and he looked back up. "Yeah, it's real different. It's very quiet everywhere you go. Even meals are pretty quiet since there are only five of us in the castle. I've even had a few long conversations with Nick about the history of the castle."

Hermione did look very interested. "Ooo, that sounds exciting."

Molly had her own concerns. "Are they feeding you well, Harry dear? I hope the food is as good during the summer as during the school terms."

"Yes, Mrs. Weasley. Between your daughter and Professor McGonagall, I feel like I'm being fattened up so I can play Father Christmas." Everyone laughed at Harry's joke.

"So Harry," Hermione had another question, "do you know what classes you're going to take next year since you missed your OWLs?"

He scratched at some imaginary dirt on his jeans. "No, I, ah, don't think it's been officially decided yet." Most of that had been mumbled, but everyone still heard it.

"It doesn't matter, mate," Ron told his friend, "the OWLs aren't that big a deal. I'm sure McGonagall will let you continue on with the classes you had."

"Ron..." This time Ginny's voice was stern and getting a little louder. Even Sirius started sitting up straighter and looked like he was about to say something.

To protect his son, Mr. Weasley spoke up. "Say Harry, what is this contraption you have over here? I've never seen one before. Is it from Muggles?"

Harry barely needed to look in the direction Mr. Weasley was pointing; he already knew that device would get the man's attention. "Yes Mr. Weasley, it's an exercise machine. It, uh, it's useful for building up your muscles." Harry trailed off and looked up at Ginny, his eyes pleading with her.

Before Ginny could announce that the visit was over, Ron had stood up and challenged his friend. "Hey Harry, come on over and show me how this thing works. Let's see who can do more." Ron started walking over to check it out.

But Ron had not even taken his second step when everyone heard "Silencio!" and looked up to see Ginny with her wand pointed at her brother and a furious look on her face. When Ron turned around, he saw his sister with her wand pointed at him, and then noticed the occasional red spark coming out of the end as she glared at him. "Ron, you better leave now while you still can." Her icy tone allowed for no argument.

Her brother practically ran for the fireplace, but stopped when he realised he could not speak his destination. To prevent more trouble, his father came over and threw some Floo powder in and spoke, "The Burrow" for him, and Ron left. "I think we should all leave," the elder Weasley suggested, though everyone knew it was a command.

Hermione was the first to stand. She walked over to her friend and placed a hand on his shoulder as she told him, "Take care Harry, I'll see you later." He nodded his acknowledgement.

Mrs. Weasley did the same, then looked at Ginny. "Are you still coming home for dinner tonight, dear?" Molly's look made it clear only one answer was acceptable.

"Yes Mum, I'll be there shortly." Her mother then left.

Finally, Arthur Weasley addressed the young man. "Harry, it was good to see you again. Do take care of yourself. Bye Sirius." Arthur nodded to Harry's godfather before he left too.

When it was just the three of them again, Ginny finally looked at Harry just in time to see a huge grin break out onto his face before a chuckle escaped him. "What?" she asked.

When Harry finally finished laughing, he stood up and gave her a quick hug and let his hands slide down to her hands and held them. "Thanks Ginny, I really needed that. I suppose it is sad you had to do that, but it was the funniest thing I've seen in months."

Ginny was not sure whether to be happy she had made him laugh, or sad that horrible episode was the funniest thing he had seen in so long.

"Go have dinner with your family. I'm sure Sirius can walk me down. When Ron apologizes, please accept it. Then you can tell him maybe we can lift weights together in a week or two. Oh, and can you ask Hermione if she can come tutor me occasionally on fifth year classes?"

"Sure Harry, but do you really need that?"

"I'd like to catch up if I can, as that would make next year a lot easier." He had another idea in mind, but was not ready to voice it.

"OK, I can do that. Are you sure you're going to be all right?"

"Yes Ginny, I will be. Go enjoy yourself and don't worry about me for awhile." With a quick squeeze of her hands, he left for dinner. Sirius winked at her and followed Harry.

She sighed, then she started laughing. Her brother really was so thick, she thought. Deep down, Ginny felt that hexing him like that had been really fun, as well as helpful for her to relieve some stress. Now that she felt more normal, she Flooed to The Burrow.

Coming out of the fireplace, she saw that her mum was putting the finishing touches on dinner and her dad was setting the table. Her brother and their friend were nowhere to be found. "Where's Ron and Hermione?"

"They're on the back porch dear," her mum answered in a voice that let Ginny know she was in trouble. "Ginny, was it really necessary to hex your brother?"

"Mum, not only did he do what I told him not to, he ignored Harry who was obviously uncomfortable with some of the things that he said. I'd already warned him twice. I swear he's so thick about paying attention to others that he might as well take a Beater bat to them. It might be kinder." Ginny was getting quite worked up again.

"How was Harry when you left him?" her father asked. Ginny had always appreciated her dad. He always seemed to know how to help her.

"Actually, he wasn't as unhappy as I expected, thanks to Ron's comic relief."

"How's that, Ginny dear?" her mum queried as she started bringing food to the table.

"He told me that my silencing Ron was the funniest thing he'd seen in several months." Her parents looked at her in mild shock.

Her father recovered first and let a small smile come to his lips. "Yes, well, perhaps you should keep that to yourself, Ginny. If you'll excuse me, I better go call the others." He left for the back porch. Her mum returned to get more food, and Ginny would have sworn she heard mumbling about "better manners." She was quite pleased.

It was not until the end of a dinner that was light on conversation that Ron finally spoke to her. "Uh, Ginny, I'm sorry for not listening to you."

Ginny wanted to blast him, but she saw a look on her mum's face that stopped her. "Do you know how you made Harry feel?" she asked calmly.

"No," he said in a soft voice, "but I would guess he's not happy with me."

"You're actually quite lucky you have such a good friend, Ron. While he didn't appreciate what you said, he did say you could come lift weights with him," she paused as her brother's face lit up, then she dropped the bomb, "in a week or two." His face fell. While she tried not to show it, she was a little pleased about his unhappiness. She really hoped he would learn a lesson from this and become more sensitive to others and their feelings.

As everyone was done, Ginny looked at Hermione. "Hermione, will you come for a walk with me?"

"Sure." Her friend got up from the table and the two girls went out the back door.

"What's up, Ginny?"

"A couple of things. What time do you usually come over here?"

"Your mum usually comes to get me about three in the afternoon, unless it's on a Sunday, then your dad comes over. Why?"

"Interesting. So what do you do before I come join everyone for dinner?"

The older girl coloured slightly. "I, uh, well, I talk with Ron usually, though sometimes I also talk with your mum. Why do you ask?"

Ginny smiled. "Partially because I was just curious, and also because Harry asked if you could come visit him for a little bit during some of your visits to The Burrow."

"Really? He said that?" She was excited.

"Believe it or not, he'd like you to tutor him on some of the fifth year things he missed. And in reality, I'd like to sit in too, if you don't mind, so I can get ahead," Ginny confessed.

"Oh sure, Ginny. So Harry is really taking his school work more seriously then?"

"I suppose so. Sirius is also going to be tutoring us in some defence work, which I'd guess Harry wants so he'll have more material for the DA."

"Harry's going to continue that?" Hermione exclaimed. "That would be so great. So Ginny, does Harry know what's going to happen with his classes next year since he didn't take his OWLs?"

The redhead did not know how to answer. She knew Harry did not want to share that yet, but she had to tell Hermione something. She decided to follow Harry's lead. "I know he was talking to McGonagall about it the other day, but I don't think there's an official answer yet."

"Official? You make it sound like you know something. What are his options?"

She was again stuck, but a small lie would be needed for now. "I don't really know, Hermione. Harry told me he talked with her, but he didn't tell me the outcome."

"Oh." Hermione sounded disappointed.

"Hermione? Can you give me some advice?"

The brunette perked up at that. "Sure, Ginny. You know you can ask anything."

"Do you know how I can tell Harry I like him, but that I don't want him to go overboard and think too much about me? I'm afraid that if I tell him yes, he's going to think I'm head over heels in love with him."

"Aren't you?"

"I don't think so. I mean he's a really good friend now, like best friend quality. And I've decided I do like him and could be his girlfriend, but I just don't know how serious I am, while I know he's really serious about wanting me to be his girlfriend. I just don't want to start something then find it's not working out and break his heart."

Hermione put her arm around Ginny shoulders as they continued slowly walking around the back garden. "Ginny, you know Harry can be sort of stubborn, and well, that can be both good and bad. In this case, you shouldn't see it as a bad thing, his being ultra serious about you."

"But he is that way about this Hermione ..."

"Maybe so, but don't look at it that way. Instead, see it as a really nice guy who's very devoted to you, as someone who will do anything for you, and as someone who would never cheat on you. Those are qualities every girl looks for in a bloke and you've got one trying to beat down your door and offer that to you. Open the door Ginny; give him a chance. I know you won't be sorry."

"How can you be so sure? I'm not even sure what I'm feeling."

"Because Ginny, I know you both, and honestly, it's a little easier for me to see it all because I'm not in involved. Trust me when I tell you that you should tell him yes to being his girlfriend."

The younger girl sighed. "You're right, he does have a lot of nice qualities. I've always liked looking into his eyes."

"Try holding his hand, see what that feels like. That can be a good indicator sometimes."

"It's nice. My hand fits in his very nicely."

"You've held hands?" Hermione asked. Ginny nodded. "Then try a hug too, see if that's natural too."

"Those are very nice too, I feel so warm and safe when he holds me."

"Ginny?! I suppose you're going to tell me you've kissed him too?"

"It was spectacular." Her bushy-haired friend's mouth fell open. "I think I almost melted, and it wasn't even that long a kiss. We were standing there in the empty common room mere inches apart staring into one another's eyes. I have no idea why I did it, but I closed the gap and kissed him. I can't believe I did that."

Hermione finally found her voice. "Ginny! Why are you asking me anything? You already know what you want, tell the boy yes before he gives up. Harry doesn't put his heart out there for just anyone and it usually takes him forever to realise he likes a girl. Grab him before it's too late."

"You really think I should?" She was still hesitant for some reason.

"No, I don't think so," the brunette told her sarcastically, "I know so. Now quit stalling and listen to your heart."

With a smile, Ginny turned to her friend and gave her a hug. "Thanks, Hermione."

"No problem Ginny, now go back there right now and do the right thing."

"Before I chicken out you mean?"

Laughing, her friend started pulling her back to the house. "Exactly. Now, I'll see if I can come over tomorrow, since that's when you're starting your classes. Come get me at five and I'll work with both of you for an hour. And I better hear that the two of you are a couple or I swear I'll hex you."

Ginny laughed all the way to the back door. Going inside, she walked straight to the fireplace, her heart lighter. "Bye, everyone," she called out as she disappeared into the flames, "see you Tuesday."

"What was all that about out there?" Ron asked Hermione as she came into the kitchen area.

Hermione merely said, "Girl talk, Ron. Mrs. Weasley? I know I wouldn't normally come over tomorrow, but could you please come get me around half past four? I need to help Harry and Ginny with a project ..."

Ginny come out of the Gryffindor Tower fireplace and found Sirius reading a book and Harry lying on the couch, a book on the floor beside him. She walked up to him and gently rubbed his shoulder. "Harry?"

He opened his eyes almost immediately. She guessed he had not quite gotten to sleep yet. "You're back. Everything go OK?"

"It was great, Harry." Her heart was starting to beat madly, but she did her best to ignore it. "Get up Harry, I think you need a little exercise and a short walk is just what your nurse thinks you need."

"You do?" he asked uncertainly.

"Yes I do, so come on." Turning she addressed the other person there. "We'll be back shortly, Sirius."

"All right," Sirius said as he turned another page. "Please don't stay out too late." If Ginny could have seen his face, which was hidden behind the book, she would have seen one of the biggest smiles she had ever seen on him.

As he stood, Ginny grabbed Harry's hand and led him out the portrait hole. He was watching her trying to figure out what was going on, but he could not come to any conclusions. She led him to the nearest classroom and closed the door.

"What's up Ginny? Is something wrong?"

"No Harry, well, not unless you want to count the fact that we haven't completed your therapy, and I thought we should do that now."

"Huh? What haven't we done?"

Smiling, she slowly backed him up to the wall next to the door and pressed herself to him as she said, "The answer to your most important question is 'Yes'," and she pushed her lips up to his and proceeded to kiss him thoroughly. Half an hour later, as they were walking back towards Gryffindor Tower, Harry was quite sure that he was in no condition to do anything of importance. All he could think about was Ginny Weasley and her amazing lips and tongue. The fact that her body felt wonderful against him and her hair felt like silk in his hands did also cross his mind. But if someone had asked him what his name was, he would have had to think long and hard before he would be able to answer that question.

Back in the common room, they gave each other a very lingering kiss before parting for their own rooms for the night. Not a word was said, but they felt they understood the other.

From across the room, Sirius peeked out from behind a book and watched the two teens, the smile on his face becoming wider than it had been earlier. He let out a satisfied breath; the plan had been accomplished and he was quite ecstatic.

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Chapter 5: Chapter 5: Together

Chapter 5: Together

[Mon Jul 8]

The next morning, Harry woke, feeling a bit strange. He had been dreaming he had been out with Sirius, but Sirius had been in dog form and was licking his face. As he broke into consciousness, the first thing he noticed was that his nose and lips seemed slightly damp. As he was lying on his back, that didn't seem quite right. The second and third things he noticed as he opened his eyes was the light was very reddish and there was something just above his face. When his eyes finally focused, he realised it was Ginny.

"Morning, Harry," she whispered with a slight giggle in her voice. "You didn't seem to be getting up so I thought I'd come help." She leaned down and kissed him again.

Harry liked that, though it paled when compared to his fantasies. Many times over the last year he had dreamed of her waking up next to him with her head lying on his chest and her hair draped all over his body. Usually, his arms were tightly wrapped around her too. There was something about her kiss that triggered a thought, but he could not quite grasp it.

"Come on Harry, you have to get up," she told him.

"All right, give me ten minutes."

"OK Harry, but if you're not up, I will come back up and pull you downstairs." With a light laugh she left him.

Grabbing some clean clothes, he dragged himself out of bed and headed to the bathroom for a quick shower. He was surprised at how sore he felt, as if he had been beaten up yesterday. Still, he managed to do everything he needed to do in the bathroom, get dressed, and make it downstairs in nine minutes.

"Very good," said Ginny. "Now come on, we need to hurry before breakfast is over." She gave him a quick kiss and turned to leave him, though she also grabbed his hand to pull him along.

Her kiss and then leaving made him think he needed to ask her something, then it hit him as she was dragging him out the portrait hole. He was barely able to take a breath to query her. "Hey Ginny? Can you stop for a sec?"

"What's wrong Harry? Am I going too fast? Here, I'll slow down."

"No Ginny, I have to ask you, something I need to know." Little things were starting to come together in Harry's mind since she had told him "Yes" last night. Of course, not having Ginny's lips attached to his helped him to think more clearly this morning -- unlike last night when he barely knew his own name.

"Sure Harry, what is it?"

"Do you really, and I mean truly and honestly, want to be my girlfriend, or are you still pretending?"

Ginny stopped and immediately whirled around with anger and hurt on her face. "Do you really think I would lie to you about this, Harry? What part of 'yes' didn't you understand? Or did you think I just kissed you in that classroom merely for fun?" She was quite intense, and a little scary like this, and yet, there was something attractive about her too.

Though he paused for a second to consider his answer, he knew he could not let her wait too long unless he wanted to get hexed. "Ginny, I heard you say 'yes', and your kissing was brilliant, but that wasn't what I was talking about."

"What else is there, Potter?" She had lost none of her intensity.

"I guess I'm confused. You're telling me you want to be my girlfriend, but the way you're acting now is not too different from the way you were acting several days ago. So I can't figure out what to think about the entire situation."

She gave him a quizzical look and lost some of her anger. "What are you talking about?"

"Two days ago you also kissed me, but then you turned and walked away and you wouldn't say anything to me about it. At first I thought you were just flirting with me before you said yes, but you didn't say anything else the rest of the night or the next day except for a 'maybe'."

She seemed to deflate and the rest of her anger left her.

He continued on. "You knew the question was there and I wasn't going to push because I wanted a real answer. So how do I know which is the real answer?"

Ginny closed her eyes and since she was standing so close to him, she bowed her head and leaned it against his shoulder. When she finally looked back up at him a few moments later, she could see that he was a bit teary-eyed. "I'm so sorry, Harry; I didn't mean to do that or plan to purposely hurt you. I, uh, ... oh damn! How do I explain this?" She closed her eyes again to try to find a good way to explain her heart -- yes, maybe that was it.

"Harry, I really do want to be your girlfriend now. The other day was a problem because my heart and my head couldn't agree. Have you ever had that problem?"

"I have no idea what you're talking about." Harry was quite neutral.

She really didn't want to go into the details, but there was no other way. "OK Harry, it's like this. When we were in the common room, I found myself in a situation that I wasn't expecting. You were there, I was there, we were alone and standing close together. It was just one of those magic moments between a boy and a girl, and I didn't think. So when my heart said to kiss you, I did. Then my brain got back in control and started asking if I really did care for you like my heart said I did. The thing is, my brain was being cautious because I was afraid. So when I came back down the stairs and saw you acting like nothing had happened, I did the same thing."

"So why the change?"

Ginny stepped back a bit and pulled on his hand so he would start walking again, although they went slowly. "My brain finally figured out my heart was right. It knew you were a nice guy and someone who cared for me. I finally figured out I need to trust that you were right about us, so we could find out if we could work as a couple." She had decided to leave Hermione's encouragement out; girl talk didn't count and did not have to be explained.

Harry thought about that for a bit as they walked and decided he would probably never really figure out girls. Still, she had left something out. "You said you were afraid. What were you afraid of?"

She sighed as she did not want to get into this now. "I can explain what I was thinking, but it will take a lot longer than what we have right now." They had just entered the foyer and the Great Hall doors were in sight. "Can you take what I've said for now and know that I am serious about you?"

He stopped her outside of the doors. "Will you tell me tonight?"

No matter how much she did not want to go into this, somehow she knew he was not going to let her forget. "Yes Harry, I'll tell you tonight after dinner if you want."

Acknowledging her with a nod, he also leaned down and kissed her gently on the lips. She returned it and then saw him smile when he straightened up; he seemed to be happy with her again. Still holding her hand, he finally walked her into the Great Hall.

"Hey sleepyhead," Sirius called out to him, "you finally made it. I was beginning to think one of us was going to have to come up and drag you down."

"No," he told the three adults, "Ginny beat you to that job." McGonagall sat impassively, though he almost thought he saw the left corner of her mouth twitch; Dumbledore and Sirius actually chuckled.

"Speaking of Ginny," Dumbledore spoke up, "how are you two doing? I noticed you were holding hands coming in this morning, and I hadn't seen that before." The young couple blushed slightly and stared at the food they were trying to dish out.

Sirius joined in the fun. "Yes, is it official now? Can I start making the invitations?"

"Sirius!" Harry tried to chastise his godfather, while Ginny continued blushing.

"Really, Sirius, give them a chance to explain before you go jumping to conclusions," Minerva admonished him.

"So? What's the news?" the middle-aged man asked.

Harry had just taken a bite, so he looked to Ginny. Her mouth was free and she told him, "Chicken!" while he smiled good naturedly. Turning to Harry's godfather, she scowled a bit and told him, "Yes, we're together now. Happy?"

"Quite!" Sirius was smiling a very large smile. Dumbledore also seemed quite happy and his eyes were twinkling madly.

"Congratulations," McGonagall told them. "Enjoy your time together, but please make sure that you act within the boundaries of propriety. I wouldn't want to have to inform Mrs. Weasley if I saw something that wasn't."

That was a sobering thought to both teens. "Yes, ma'am," Harry responded in a very serious voice.

"Very good then you two, I'm sure everything will be fine." They actually got a small smile from their Transfiguration Professor." A bit more heartened, they tried to finish breakfast as fast as they could. Harry was actually looking forward to his class with Sirius.

As soon as they were finished, Sirius dragged the two of them to the Defense classroom. There he pulled out a parchment from his robes and started quizzing them on various spells they had learned in their first four years. While he made each of them correctly demonstrate the spell, they also discussed the various ways each spell would be useful in a real battle. Harry found this quite enlightening, as none of his professors had ever done this, except for Lupin in his third year, and that was only for a few spells. They had managed to finish reviewing only two years worth of spells during the morning, so the plan was to continue after lunch, when Harry finished his exercises.

But after lunch and his exercises, Harry was exhausted, so he lay on the couch with his head in Ginny's lap and took a nap. She read more of his fifth year books while he slept. Neither she nor Sirius had the heart to wake him for only a class this early in his recovery. So they let him sleep until nearly five, when she woke him up and left to get Hermione.

When the two girls returned, Harry was waiting with his Transfiguration book, his notes from last year, plus quills, ink, and parchment for more notes. "Hi Harry!" the brunette called upon her arrival. He returned the greeting. She came over and sat in a chair next to the couch Harry was in and set her book bag down on the low table in front them. She did not fail to notice that Ginny sat down very close to Harry. Sirius was not to be seen at the moment. "So Harry, how's it going? Or should I ask Ginny that question?"

"What do you mean?" he asked guardedly.

"I can't help but notice how closely the two of you are sitting, nor how she was watching you when she came back," Hermione pointed out to him.

The other two looked at each other, then Ginny told him, "Your turn, I did the last one."

He harrumphed at that, but turned to his long time friend. "OK, we're dating now. Happy?"

Hermione squealed and launched herself at him to give him a hug. "Oh Harry, I'm so happy for you. You too, Ginny," she exclaimed and put one arm around the other girl for a brief moment before she sat back down.

"Thanks Hermione. I know I like it," the boy told her, which got a laugh from the two girls.

When she settled down, Hermione became more serious. "So Harry, I'm assuming you want me to help you with the class work you missed last term. I brought all my notes from last year."

"Yes, I want to try to stay about where you and Ron are in class work."

"I can help catch you up on the spells, but what about your OWLs? You didn't take them so how can they know what classes to put you in?"

This was something he had been dreading, yet he knew he was going to have to inform her some time. He supposed now would be best, even if it would be difficult to actually tell her. Then he felt a hand grabbing his, and he looked over to see Ginny giving him a supportive look. She seemed to understand his problem and wanted to help him.

"I guess I might as well tell you." He looked down, not able to look at her as he said the fateful words. "I, uh, I won't be in the same classes as you, Hermione; I'm going to have to repeat the fifth year."

"Oh Harry, I was so afraid of that. I knew that was a distinct possibility when you missed so much class time, not to mention your tests." Hermione was very sympathetic. "So how can you stay up with us? You won't be in the same classes, though I suppose a good way to look at it would be that you'll be in classes with Ginny."

"I know, but since I've done most of the work for fifth year, or at least I was exposed to most of the material, my thought is to catch up on what I missed during this summer, then try to learn sixth year work, or at least the spells. That should help prevent me from being at a disadvantage, especially with people like Malfoy," Harry told her.

Hermione sighed. "Oh, I hadn't even thought that far ahead yet. Yes, he is going to give you a very hard time about this."

Harry became more serious and forceful. "I know, which means I've got to be ready for him. I'm thinking this is the year I stop taking all of his ..." A look from Hermione cause him to lamely finish, "rubbish."

"I understand how you feel Harry, but you don't want to get into trouble."

"Of course I don't," he said, "so that's why I need to start planning now."

"Sorry Harry, you're on your own for that."

Ginny finally spoke up. "No he's not. Even if I wasn't his girlfriend, I'd still be for trying to teach Malfoy it's in his best interest to act civil. Think about all the mean things he's said and done to you, not to mention the rest of us."

"All right, I don't mean totally do nothing," Hermione admitted, "but I'm not going to fight him. If you want advice on the rules and how to get him into trouble with them, fine, come ask me. A special spell here or there, as long as it's not too dangerous, sure. But outright hexing him? Not unless he fires first."

Now it was Harry's turn to sigh. "I don't agree, Hermione, but I do respect that decision."

"Thank you, Harry. Now what do you want to go over first?" his tutor asked.

"I'm thinking Transfiguration. I've done all right there, but you seem to do so much better. Are there any special secrets?" the boy wondered.

"Not really, Harry. Obviously, the harder the transfiguration, the more power you need to make it work, but that's not really a problem for you. I think your problem has always been concentration. You need to very firmly visualize what you're trying to do, both the starting state and the ending state, then use lots of 'intent' to get it there while you're doing the spell."

"You make it sound like I'm 'wishing' for the right outcome." He sounded slightly confused.

The older girl thought about it for a minute. "I suppose you could put it that way, but I see it more as 'intent'. I know it's this way now, and I really intend for it to be another way. I suppose you could think about it as 'resolve', if that term helps you more."

"OK, let's try a few," Harry suggested. By the time Hermione had to leave, Harry had worked through a number of spells in the lower years and found he had a much better grasp on them now, and they were starting to work better and faster. That made him wonder what else he could polish and become better at, as well as if he should learn more about the theory of magic. He was very thankful to Hermione when it was her time to leave and told her so.

The lesson over, Harry realised he should ask his friend something else. "Hermione, how's Ron doing?"

Surprisingly, that caused the brunette to giggle. "He's mostly all right," before she turned serious. "Harry, are you really mad at him right now?"

Harry paused to think about that, as it was something he had pretty well put from his mind. "No, I suppose I'm not really mad. I am a bit bothered by his -- his -- uh -- how do I put it?"

His girlfriend decided to help him out. "His inability to talk without putting his foot in his mouth? Or perhaps you're looking for his relative ease for being a complete and total insensitive prat when it comes to other's feelings?"

That got Harry laughing. "I don't know that I'd go quite that far Ginny, but you are going in the right direction. Look Hermione, tell Ron that I'm not angry at him, but I'm not happy with him either. He's still my best mate, but if he ever does something like that again, my wand and I will teach him some manners."

Hermione was chuckling now. "No problem, Harry. I'll be happy to pass the message and I think dinner tonight will be a good time."

"Why's that?" he was curious at the timing.

"You should have heard him when I came this afternoon. Apparently, his mum has been merciless about teaching him manners and watching what he says since we all came here. He told me he has numerous little red spots where she keeps zapping him with a stinging hex every time he says something she doesn't like, eats with his mouth open, and otherwise makes her unhappy." She stopped to giggle. "I may have more time to eat this coming year because I won't have to be correcting him all the time." The other two laughed with her.

After Harry got control of himself again, he also told her, "After you take the mickey out of him for that, do tell him that I'd like him to come visit me starting next week, I'm thinking in the late afternoons. I thought he might like to come lift weights with me, at least after I get a little closer to normal."

"All right, Harry. I'm sure he'd like to hear that." His tutor finished packing her bag.

As she was about to leave, Harry had a last word for her. "Hermione," she looked back at him, "please don't tell anyone about my repeating fifth year, and not about Ginny and I either; I want to do that myself."

She gave him a friendly smile. "Of course, Harry. I understand. I'll see you tomorrow." She left for The Burrow.

Ginny moved over and sat on his lap with her arms around him. "Are going to be OK for dinner by yourself Harry?"

"As long as you come back to me, I'll manage," he told her with a smirk on his face.

"I understand," she told him with a smile. "It'll be hard on me too." Pulling his face to her, she kissed him for a few minutes before she got up and Flooed home.

As he sat alone, Harry thought about his girlfriend. He liked this situation, yet there was still a nagging nugget of doubt in the back of his brain. Oh well, he thought, we still have our talk tonight. Pulling out his wand, he spoke "Accio Firebolt!" and caught his broom when it came to him. He walked to the Great Hall to join the other adults in the castle for dinner. His broom went with him in case he wanted it if he got too tired.

---

After dinner, Harry was back in the common room with some new books. When he had mentioned magical theory and how Hermione had helped him, everyone else started talking about it also for the rest of the dinner time. By the time he had left the Great Hall, he had decided it was one of the most enjoyable dinners he had had all summer. It also caused him to wonder if this was how Hermione approached life, and if so, it gave him a little bit of insight into her.

Another positive outcome of the dinner conversation was that Dumbledore took him to the library and pulled three books off the shelves and handed them to him for extra reading. The Headmaster informed Harry that if he could understand and put into practice what was in these books, he would do a lot better with his spells.

Opening the first book, An Introduction to the Theory of Magic, he noticed the check out card had Hermione's name on it and the date was from five years ago, or during his first year. Curious, he looked at the other two books and found they had the same date on it for his friend too. That gave him a good laugh as he started reading the first book.

Sirius came in and joined him with a book and an arm load of parchment, as well as writing materials. "What's all that for?" Harry asked.

His godfather just smiled at him. "Your extra study work, of course." Harry eyes went wide at the many rolls of parchment in front of him. He heard a bark of laughter. "Don't worry, Harry, you don't have to know all of this. Some of these are merely notes for myself on how to present the material. Dumbledore also gave me a book on teaching that I've been reading a lot, so I'm trying to get a feel for putting this all together."

Harry felt more relieved and went back to his book. He did not notice his godfather watching him for a few moments.

Just as Harry was really getting into his book, the fireplace lit up and spewed out a cute redhead. Shaking herself off, she took her smiling self over to her boyfriend and deposited herself on his lap and kissed him soundly. Hearing a short laugh from the side, she turned to their chaperone and saucily told him, "Shut it, I'm in a great mood and want to enjoy it."

That merely made him laugh more. "Then do tell girl, knowing you, it's got to be good if you're this happy."

She raised one eyebrow at him, but her boyfriend also asked her to tell her story. "OK, so I went home for dinner, and like usual, it was basically ready when I got there. Dad had even made it home early to join us. We're sitting at the table, Dad is telling us about how he had to deal with an enchanted water fountain that would squirt people, both in the face and in other embarrassing places, when suddenly Mum grabs her wand beside her plate and sends a stinging hex at Ron and catches him in the neck. She told him, 'I told you not chew with your mouth open', to which he replied, 'Bloody hell, that hurt right there'." The two males burst out laughing, knowing what was coming next.

"You guessed it," Ginny went on, "she hexed him again, this time in the forehead so he smacked himself with his hand and said 'Damn, that hurt even worse!'" That brought even more laughter from her listeners. "Then Mum yelled at him, 'Ron, I told you to watch your language. Now grow up!'" Harry almost dumped Ginny out of his lap he was laughing so hard; Sirius was not much better off.

"I swear," Ginny confessed, "Hermione and I were crying because we were laughing so hard. Oh wait, it got better. Everything had just settled down when Hermione mentioned visiting you Harry and how well the studying had gone. The rest of us at the table were listening intently, then she dropped the bomb and passed your message along to Ron. Mum picked her wand back up and Ron took off for the stairs, but he wasn't fast enough and one of Mum's stinging hexes caught him right in the bum." The boys lost it again.

"Oh, I would have loved to have seen all that," Harry finally said when he could talk again.

A mischievous grin came over Sirius. "Hey, let's all go to Dumbledore's office and borrow his Pensieve." Now Harry did dump Ginny off his lap, but he kept his hands on her waist so she would not fall.

Dragging his girlfriend with him, he shouted, "Come on Sirius, hurry up!" They all laughed as they quickly walked. Luck was with them as Dumbledore was in his office, as was Professor McGonagall.

"Sirius, Harry, Ginny, what can we help you with? Please help yourself to a lemon drop." He pointed to his usual silver bowl full of the sweets.

Now that they were actually in the Headmaster's office, Harry was suddenly not certain what to say, as it was obvious from the many stacks of letters all over the Headmaster's desk, that the small group had interrupted school business.

Sirius took care of the problem. "Albus, we're sorry to disturb you and Minerva, but we'd like to borrow your Pensieve."

"No problem really," the old man assured them, "my Pensieve has been the guest of many a party. May I ask what this is about?"

"Oh certainly, Ginny just returned from home with a most amusing event and we'd like to view it too."

The Headmaster got up and walked over to his cabinet and pulled the magical device out. After setting it on a table, he looked at the three visitors and asked, "Do you mind if we take a break from some rather dull business and join you? Or is this more of a private viewing?"

Harry shrugged his indifference and Sirius looked to Ginny. "I don't mind," the girl said.

"Minerva, do you wish to join in?" Albus asked her. She seemed thoughtful for a moment, then rose from her chair to join the crowd, much to their surprise. "Now Ginny, if you'll think very carefully about the memory and let me know when you have it at the front of your mind." She nodded, and Dumbledore put his wand to her temple and extracted a thin silvery strand, that he deposited into the stone basin. "Everyone, stick your hand in," he requested.

The five of them found themselves in the Weasley dining room, as the elder Weasleys, Ron, Ginny, and Hermione were about to sit down for dinner. Harry watched the scene unfold and barely remained standing he was laughing so hard towards the end. He could not decide whether knowing what was coming made it funnier or not.

When they all came back out of the Pensieve, there was not a single dry eye. Even his stern Transfiguration teacher had laughed like a little girl and had a tear of mirth coming out of her right eye. With many thanks to the Headmaster, the three left back for Gryffindor Tower, joking about the scene they had witnessed.

Back at the tower, Harry remembered what still needed to be done, and that sobered his thoughts quickly. Upon seeing his change, the smile on Ginny's face disappeared. Sirius also noticed the change. "What's wrong Harry?"

"I uh, well, we, Ginny and I, need to have a private conversation about some things."

"Oh, well, I really shouldn't let you go anywhere nor should I leave, because if Molly should happen to pop out of that fireplace over there, she'd have a fit."

The teens looked at each other as if they had not thought about that.

"How about if I return to my seat and face the fireplace to continue my work, while you two head over to the corner behind me and cast an Imperturbable Charm. I think that will make everyone happy."

Harry smiled gratefully and said, "Thanks!" as he pulled Ginny over to the two chairs in the corner, the same place she had used to break up with Dean. He sat in a chair and then pulled her onto his lap, where he put his arms around her waist so she could not get away. Pulling out his wand, he cast the charm for privacy and saw his godfather grin at them before disappearing into his own chair.

Putting his wand up, he asked Ginny in a quiet, intimate voice, "So Ginny, please tell me why you changed your mind and what you were afraid of."

Sitting with her hands folded in her own lap, Ginny contemplated on what exactly to tell Harry. That she had thought about this a good bit of the time he had been napping this afternoon still had not helped her much. "I think I need to ask you a question or two first, Harry, then I can explain better."

"I'm not the one with the doubts, Ginny."

"Of course you aren't Harry, but my doubts hinged on you and what I thought you were thinking. I need to know if that was true or if my imagination made it up." She paused. "I need to know if Dumbledore was right."

"Huh? What are you talking about?"

"Harry, I need to know why you got sick and I need to know if you know why you woke up." There, she had said the unmentionable; now she would find out just how much Harry trusted her.

It took a few seconds before Harry answered. "It doesn't matter."

"Yes it does, Harry. Can't you see? If I say or do the wrong thing and make you sick again, we could lose you -- I could lose you, and I don't want that to happen."

"You really mean that?" He was surprised by the emotion in her voice, she seemed to really care even though they had only been dating for one day.

"Of course I care, you prat!" Her passion was displayed in her voice. I've been your friend for a long time now, and as I've really gotten to know you this summer, I'm finding that I really like you." Her voice softened again. "I'm afraid it would rip my heart out to lose you."

Harry was moved by her feelings and pulled her to him so she was leaning against him with her head on his shoulder. He rubbed her arm in an attempt to comfort her. "Ginny, I don't know if I have a good answer for you," he finally admitted after a very long moment. He took a deep breath before continuing. "I really don't know why I got sick, but I can tell you that I just didn't care about life anymore when I got sick. I didn't care what was going on around me, what happened to me, or what anyone did with me. I think Voldemort was trying to do something to me too, and I didn't even care about that."

She gasped but did not move. "Dumbledore was right then, you gave up on life."

"I've never really thought about it like that, but I suppose you could say it that way. I have no idea if that could make a person sick or not, so you know why I can't really answer the question."

"But why did you give up on living, Harry? What could be so bad?" Ginny was afraid of his answer.

"It doesn't matter now," he repeated.

She groaned as she sat up, "It was me, wasn't it?" She started getting angry again when he kept silent, avoiding her gaze. "Damn it Harry, answer me! I have to know. You wanted me and got sick when you couldn't date me, didn't you?"

Harry still could not speak; all he could do was nod his assent.

"Why, Harry?" Her voice was now one of caring again. "Why me? What makes me so special and why didn't you ever tell me?"

It was another long moment before she heard him say, "I don't know Ginny, but there is something special about you. And I didn't tell you because it took me a long time to figure out what I was feeling about you, and by the time I did figure it out, you always had a boyfriend."

"And when I broke up with Michael and started dating Dean, you wanted to ask me but didn't." It was a guess, but she knew it had to be true.

He nodded. "I was always in detention, or I could never find you without at least five other people around you. Then when I saw you holding hands with Dean and the two of you sat apart for dinner, I knew you two were dating and I had no hope of getting you."

"Oh Harry, I'm so sorry, I had no idea."

"Ginny! You weren't supposed to know; I'm glad I did at least one thing right."

"But if you'd told me, or let me know that you liked me, we could have talked about it after I broke up with Michael."

"Maybe," he finally admitted, but he was almost certain he would not have.

"So do you know why you finally woke up?"

"Not totally." He seemed to get embarrassed.

"Harry?" She had a firm tone in her voice now. "You know something, come on and spill it."

"Am I ever going to be able to hide anything from you?" He was not angry at this, but seemed more resigned.

"No, at least nothing of importance. That's what girlfriends and boyfriends do, you know, they share things," she informed him.

"I think it was you telling me what you wanted to do with me." Ginny started looking embarrassed now. "At first, I think it was merely your voice. Then I started having dreams of us spending time together, as if you were really my girlfriend. So when I heard you talk about what you wanted to do with me, I wanted to be there too. Of course, as I don't really know why I got sick, I also don't really know why I woke up, but that is what seemed important to me."

"What else did you hear, Harry?" She would not look at him now and had a pink tinge to her complexion.

"I heard that you used to have a crush on me, but I figured that out on my own years ago. I heard you say that you were grateful for me saving you in the Chamber and that you thought I was very brave. You also said I'd been really amazing in the Tri-Wizard Tournament and that I was much better than the other three contestants. Then there was the bit about liking my hair and how you'd always wanted to run your fingers through it. I suppose the most important parts were the promises of hugs and kissing me senseless." He was grinning very broadly at her now, not that she could see it as she had her face buried in her hands.

Ginny was sure that her face matched the color of her hair. She had said so many secrets to him while she thought he was asleep, and he had heard them all. Way to go Weasley, she thought.

He could tell she was embarrassed as she would not put her hands down, but he still found her cute. "Ginny," he called gently, "it's all right, your secrets are safe with me."

Her face came out of her hands but quickly went to beside his head as she hugged him. She did not want him to see her face. "Harry, you weren't supposed to know those things."

He surprised her with a small laugh. "Hey, who better to share your secrets with than your boyfriend?"

"You weren't my boyfriend then, you prat!" She finally pulled her face out so they could look at each other.

Harry noticed she was still slightly embarrassed. Smiling he told her, "But I thought I was then, and I am now, plus it helped me to wake up, so it's all good." She took a deep breath and exhaled, trying to lose some of her tension. "Now that we have that over with, what were you so afraid of?"

Some of her tension came back as she was slightly afraid of what his reaction was going to be. "Isn't it obvious now?" She really was hoping to get out of this.

"I think I have an idea, but I'm still not certain." He looked expectantly at her.

Taking a deep breath, she launched into her explanation, hoping for the best. "My brain couldn't decide whether to let my heart win, because it was afraid of hurting you Harry. I didn't know what would happen to you if I said no, or if I said yes and then decided it wasn't working out and we broke up. Dumbledore had said the reason you got sick was because you couldn't date me, or at least someone; but according to Hermione, I was the one you were attached to. So the theory went that if I wasn't your girlfriend, then you would get sick again, and as there would be no one else to bring you out of your sickness, then you would die. So I was both afraid for you, and afraid to make a decision for fear of hurting you. Do you understand now?"

Several thoughts went through Harry's mind as he thought about all she had said. "I do understand the problem you faced ,Ginny, and I'm really sorry you were put into that position. It really doesn't seem fair to you."

"No it wasn't, and I really do want to prank Sirius and Dumbledore for doing that to me, well, to us really."

"You're on," he agreed with a mischievous look. "It's also amazing that Dumbledore's guess was so close to how I view it. Though can I ask you to not share what I told you with them?"

"Of course, Harry, since you don't know, I can't know either now, can I?" She winked at him conspiratorially.

"That's my girl." He squeezed her waist. He thought about all she had told him a little more and given her point of view, he was happier. "I guess I owe you an apology then, Ginny. I really shouldn't have doubted you."

"No Harry, I'm not surprised you were confused. I did sort of lead you on with our first kiss. I shouldn't have done that and I am really sorry." She was hanging her head again.

He pulled a hand out and touched her face to pull it up so she would see him. "Ginny, it's all right. How about we call it even and forget about it? Now that I know how things stand, I'm not concerned anymore. Is that OK with you?"

"Yes Harry, I'm OK with that." She leaned in to give him a kiss to show him how she felt. Harry moved his hand from her face to the back of her head. When she tried to pull back, he just grinned at her and nudged her head back to his. She did not resist at all and they lost all track of time.

Harry was trailing kisses along her jaw for at least the third time when he suddenly heard "Finite Incantatem!" The two of them jerked apart and started looking around as if searching for signs of danger. While they did not find any, they did hear a barking laugh. "OK you two, make up and make out time is over," Sirius announced with a large grin on his face. "It's well after curfew time and while I could be wrong, I believe your conversation is finished."

Though a bit embarrassed, they got up and started for their dorm rooms. "Harry?" Ginny stopped him just before he went up. "Would you like to come to The Burrow for dinner tomorrow?"

"I suppose I could. Do you think your mum would mind?"

She laughed. "Heavens no, she'd love it."

"OK, I guess I can go home with you for a short visit after Hermione's tutoring session."

Ginny smiled and gave him one last kiss before they separated for the night. Upstairs, Harry went through his nightly routine. When he came back from the bathroom and crawled into bed, Sirius came into the room and walked over to him. "Hey Sirius," Harry looked up at his godfather, "thanks for being understanding about Ginny and me."

"Harry," Sirius sat down on the side of the bed, "I'm really happy you have her and that you two are getting along so well, but, and I know your mother would agree with me on this, it had better not go any further with her than what I saw tonight. Do you understand?"

Harry was surprised at his godfather for this seemingly sudden strictness. No sign of the prankster was present. "Sure, I understand," he said very carefully.

"Mind you, it's not that I'm trying to limit your fun. Merlin knows I spent more time than I should have in broom closets here at Hogwarts. I want you to be responsible, Harry, and that means controlling yourself and not getting her, or yourself for that matter, into trouble. Maybe things will work out for you two, but right now, you're only fifteen going on sixteen and she's a year behind. You've got at least two years before you should be doing anything serious. Am I making sense as to why this needs to happen?"

The teen thought about it all and slowly nodded as he said, "Yes."

"Good. Remember Harry, I'm not trying to take the joy out of your life. Just the opposite in fact. I'm trying to protect you from Molly Weasley; and I promise you, no matter how much she may like you, you do not want to get on her bad side. Just remember what you saw tonight in the Pensieve, and that was just the smallest hint of what she would do to you if you hurt her daughter or she caught you doing anything beyond kissing."

Harry gulped at that. "I fully understand."

"Excellent, I knew you were a bright boy. Good-night, Harry."

***

[Tue Jul 9]

Tuesday was much like previous day except that Harry's nap after his exercises was only for an hour and a half instead of three hours. He spent the rest of the afternoon studying his Magical Theory book while Ginny spent it reading the fifth year spells book. They had finished covering the third and fourth year spells that morning with Sirius, who was becoming more impressed with the pair. Especially impressive to their teacher was the power Harry was putting into his spells.

When Hermione joined them, she saw Harry's library book. "Oh, you're reading a theory book. That's an excellent one too."

Harry grinned at her. "That's good to know. I did see your name on the card."

"There are several more good ones in the library on that subject," she said enthusiastically.

He smiled, "I know, I have two more and they have your name in them too." They all laughed.

"So what are we going to do today Harry? Finish Transfiguration?"

"Yeah, let's try to do that, then we can work on Charms next," he suggested.

As the were working on only the practical and there were no essays, the two fifth-years-to-be went quite quickly through the fifth year spells, though Ginny was a little slower as she had not tried most of them before like Harry had. Still, by the end of their session, they had finished working through all the fifth year Transfiguration spells.

"Well, I guess that's all for today. You two only need practice now," Hermione announced as it neared six in the evening. "We can start on Charms next time." She paused before making a suggestion. "You know, at the rate we're going, we really don't need to meet every day, and I also don't want to inconvenience Mrs. Weasley too much. What if I came for tutoring every other day when I'd normally come over for dinner?"

Harry shrugged, "That seems OK with me."

Hermione seemed happy it was settled. "So I'll see you in a couple of days then."

"Yeah, but I am coming to dinner with you, so you'll get to see a bit more of me today," the boy told her.

"Oh, excellent Harry, so we'll get to talk more. I know Ron will be happy to see you too." He smiled at that.

Ginny took charge as Hermione finished packing. "Hermione, you go ahead and I'll follow. Harry, I want you to slowly count to three to be sure we have enough time to get out of the way, since this is your first Floo trip in awhile." Harry looked a bit indignant over that. "Yes Harry, I'm the nurse and you have to follow what I say." Hermione giggled at that before she Flooed back, then Ginny went. Just to be perverse, Harry counted to ten before he went.

As he came out, he was grabbed by his arm and then practically whirled into a nearby chair. "Harry, what happened?!" Ginny seemed almost in a panic.

"Nothing, Ginny," he told her easily. "I just counted to ten before I left to give you plenty of time to get out of the way."

"HARRY JAMES POTTER! You scared me to death with you didn't come out on time!" Harry just smiled at her to get her back for yelling and she "harrumphed" and stomped out of the room. Hermione had a slightly concerned look on her face at first, then had to stifle her laughter as Ginny vented her frustration, before she too, left for the kitchen.

Hearing Ginny shout his name, both Ron and Mrs. Weasley came into the room and over to him. "Harry!" they both said, though Mrs. Weasley got there first with a big hug for him. "How are you doing? You're looking much better."

"I'm fine, Mrs. Weasley, or at least I am as long as I don't do too much."

"Well, no problem with that here. You just sit there and enjoy yourself. Dinner will be ready in about five minutes. Ron can get you anything you need. Won't you Ron?" She fixed her youngest son with a stare.

"Yes Mum," he dutifully said so she could return to fixing dinner. When she had left, Ron turned back to Harry, "So mate, you really doing OK?"

"Yeah, I actually am, or rather, as well as can be expected I suppose."

"Great, I'm sure you'll be feeling like your old self in no time," his friend told him with an overly loud voice.

Harry chuckled as he thought about what his friend must be going through. That comment was so obviously said so his mother could hear it. "Hey Ron, maybe we can talk after dinner, but I have a question for your dad. Is he here?" Harry was a bit nervous about this, but he had promised himself he would do this as soon as he could.

"Sure Harry. He's out on the back porch. Come on, we can go find him."

"Thanks Ron, but it's really just a quick question, and uh, I think I'd like to ask him privately -- please."

"Sure, mate," said Ron, but his face was a bit downcast.

"Thanks, Ron, and hey, I'll tell you later, OK?" His redheaded friend brightened at that, so Harry got up to find Mr. Weasley. He was alone on the porch reading the paper, so Harry went out and closed the door behind him.

"Mr. Weasley, do you have a moment?" Harry was getting more nervous, but he told himself it had to happen.

"Harry! Come on over my boy and have a seat. How are you doing?" The man put the paper down and gave Harry his full attention.

"Pretty good, Mr. Weasley, all things considered."

"Very good. I must say that I'm surprised to see you. I didn't think you'd make it here until next week."

He smiled at that. "As long as I don't stay too long, I think I'll be fine."

"Well, you're welcome here anytime."

"Thanks Mr. Weasley, that means a lot to me. Although I hope you'll still feel the same way after I ask you a question." Harry's nervousness was reaching new heights.

"Oh, I have trouble imagining what you could ask me that would be so bad, other than a few obvious ones I don't expect you to ask. What did you want to know?"

Harry purposely took a deep slow breath to prevent himself from hyperventilating. "Mr. Weasley, Ginny and I have come to an understanding and I'd like to date her. While I suppose the decision is up to her, I still feel like I should ask your permission if I could do so."

The head of the Weasley family smiled at the boy, which removed much of his case of nerves. "That's very thoughtful of you, Harry, and with thinking like that, I suspect you will go far. I'm very happy for you two and I'm just fine with the idea. I believe Molly will be fine with it too. In fact, don't tell her I told you this, but she's been hoping you two would discover each other since not long after she met you."

Harry closed his eyes and mentally groaned. Arthur Weasley just laughed as he could tell the boy was imaging Molly planning weddings.

There was a knock on the door before it opened and Ron's head came out to announce "Dinner's ready." He left as quickly as he had come.

"Come on Harry, let's go in and eat. Don't worry about Molly. She'll be fine with this. I think you'll have more trouble with the six brothers," her father joked with him. Now Harry did groan as they walked back into the house.

"What wrong, Harry?" Ginny asked as they came to the table.

He gave her a weak smile. "Just a depressing thought or six," he told her as he sat down next to her.

"Like what?"

Looking at Ron, who was interested in dishing out food, he finally leaned over and whispered to her, "Your brothers and what they will think of me." It took a moment before she understood, and then she smiled at him as if she was unconcerned while she started reaching for food.

"Anything you'd like to share mate?" his best friend asked.

"Now Ron, don't pry," his mother chastised him.

Figuring he was already deep in it, he decided to go the rest of the way. "Actually, yes there is something I'd like to share with all of you." Ginny looked at him with some surprise, but he just winked at her for some fun teasing.

Both of her eyebrows went up and she asked, "Are you sure, Harry?"

"Yes, unless you're afraid Ginny." He was enjoying baiting her. Arthur was doing his best to hold back a smile, as was Hermione. Ron and his mother were looking at the two of them very strangely.

"Never, Potter," she challenged him.

"What is it Harry?" Molly Weasley asked.

"Well, Mrs. Weasley," his nerves were starting to act up again, "I thought you should know that Ginny and I are dating."

The woman looked like she was going explode with happiness as she squealed and jumped up out of her chair to rush around the table to give both of them a hug. After she finally let go of Harry and gave a hug to Ginny, Harry looked over at Ron and saw that his friend was staring at him with an open mouth that did not seem to want to close. Arthur was now openly smiling at him and Hermione was smirking at them.

"Finally, I'm so happy for you two."

"What do you mean by finally, Mum?" her daughter asked.

"Just that, Ginny dear. Ever since Harry saved you from all that horrible mess in your first year, I thought the two of you should be together."

"Mum, you're making that out to be a fairy tale, or something else equally impossible," her daughter complained.

"Oh Ginny, don't worry about it. This will all work out so nicely for you, well, except that Harry is one year ahead of you. But I'm sure he won't have any problem waiting on you to finish school," her mum said happily as she mentally planned their future for them.

Harry just shook his head as he listened to her virtually making wedding plans. When he looked up, he saw Mr. Weasley looking at him with a knowing smile and an "I told you so" look. Looking over at Ron, he noticed that his friend had managed to close his mouth, but he still had an incredulous stare.

His friend finally snapped back into reality. "You and my sister? My little sister?"

"Hey!" his sister retorted. "Yes, I may be shorter than you, but I can outhex you any day of the week."

"Uh, sure Ginny, but you and Harry? I mean, why?" Ron seemed genuinely stumped.

"Because we like each other you thick-headed prat."

"Ginny dear, be nice to your brother. Just because he's slower at these kinds of things is no reason to be insulting," her mum admonished her.

"Mum! That was insulting to me." The other three teens snickered at Ron. "Hey!" Now his parents joined in too, which incensed him a bit and also shut him up.

Harry decided to go ahead and get it all over with at once. "Actually Mrs. Weasley, if Ginny and I should manage to date until we graduate, she won't have to wait for me."

"Of course she will, Harry dear, you're a year ahead of her," the matriarch of the family pointed out.

"I was, but since I missed so much class from being sick and didn't take my OWLs, I have to retake the fifth year," Harry admitted.

"WHAT!?" Ron shouted.

His mum picked up her wand and pointed it at her son. "Ron, no shouting at the table," she told him sternly before turning to Harry with sympathy all over her face. "Harry, I'm very sorry dear; I'm sure that must be very disappointing."

"I'm starting to come to terms with it Mrs. Weasley. It was a bit hard at first, but I'm getting used to it." Hermione let out a small giggle and looked like she was suppressing a larger one, along with a secret.

"But that means we won't be sharing a dorm room any more, and our classes will be different too," Ron finally got his thoughts out.

Harry nodded. "I'm sorry, Ron. I still want to be your best mate, but you're right, our classes and dorm rooms will be different." What else could he say, it was the truth.

There was a large pause in the conversation after that, while everyone finished the last of their dinner. Mrs. Weasley broke the uneasy silence. "I have a couple of pies for desert." She got up to get them.

Mr. Weasley spoke up. "So Harry, what's your routine like for the summer. Are you relaxing a lot to recover faster?"

The boy smiled at that delightful thought. "No sir, that sounds very nice but I'm afraid my normal day would not be considered relaxing."

"Why not, Harry?" Molly asked as she started the pies around for everyone to take a piece, or in Ron's case, two pieces.

"Because I have so much to do, Mrs. Weasley. My mornings are classes with Sirius on Defense, and my afternoons are exercises usually with a nap plus either studying or more classes, and the evenings are usually filled with reading homework and maybe an hour for free time. Plus Ginny and Sirius make me go to bed early."

"Yuck!" Ron exclaimed. "That sounds just like normal school."

"Why all the classes, Harry?" Arthur asked.

"Because Sirius thinks it's a good idea to get ahead, since I've had to fight either Death Eaters or Voldemort," Molly gave a slight shudder, "or sometimes both every year I've been at Hogwarts, except for this last year. And Professor Dumbledore thinks they were setting something up and I probably would have run into them this last year if I hadn't gotten sick. So they want me to be as prepared as possible. I'm also doing extra studying so I can prepare myself to do sixth year spells even if I'm not in that year."

"Blimey Harry. Two years of work at once?" Ron was incredulous.

"Yes and no, Ron." Ron looked confused so Harry decided he needed to explain more. "Yes I want to learn all the six year spells with you guys, but it won't be so bad because I won't have all of your homework. No because I already know all the fifth year spells, and because I've already have done all that homework, it will be easy to redo."

As the conversation died down a bit, Harry decided this was a good time to get away. "I hope you don't mind me eating and running Mrs. Weasley, but I think I'd like to go back so I can lay down for a bit and rest while I read."

"Certainly, Harry dear. I don't want you to get overly tired, your rest is very important. And Harry? You can come eat dinner any time," Molly told him.

"Thanks Mrs. Weasley, and thanks for dinner tonight. It was very good."

"Any time, Harry. Go on back and have Sirius take care of you. I need to borrow Ginny for a little bit if you don't mind."

"Uh, no ma'am. I'll see everyone later." He left for Hogwarts.

Back in the common room, he did lie on the couch and open his book. Surprisingly, he did not make it past two pages before he fell asleep.

When Harry woke up, there was no light coming in through the windows. Looking around, he saw Ginny sitting on the other end of the couch from his head, and Sirius sitting in a chair. Both were reading. When he stirred, Ginny looked over at him and smiled.

"Hey sleepyhead, you really weren't faking being tired, were you?" She put her book down and went over to the other end of the couch, kneeling on the floor by his head. She ran her fingers through his hair as he slowly blinked and looked at her.

"I thought I was faking it at the time, but when I stretched out on the couch, I don't think I lasted very long," he admitted. "What time is it?"

"Nearly ten, and time for you to go to bed," she answered him teasingly.

"Ha-ha," he told her, "I just woke up."

"Well, OK, you can stay up a few more minutes, but just because you're cute," she flirted with him.

He snorted at that. "So, what did your mum have to talk to you about?"

Her expression turned dark at that. "She wanted me to come home instead of staying here all the time." That got his attention and his eyes opened wide in surprise. "Yeah, I was surprised too. She thought that since you were doing so well that you didn't need a nurse any more."

"So what happened?" he asked with some worry in his voice. He liked all the time he got to spend with her.

"It took me awhile, and I had to appeal to dad, but I get to stay here for the next month until you have to go home with Sirius," she said happily. He was happy too. "Believe it or not, the winning argument was that I need the extra classes to protect myself from You-Know-Who. Well, and the extra tutoring sessions with Hermione and you to help me for next year didn't hurt either," she said with a smile.

"I'm really glad," he told her, and then felt his eyelids start drooping once more.

"Come on Harry, I think we need to get you up to bed," she told him and started pulling him up. Though he fussed a bit over her help, he did get up and gave her a quick kiss before heading to bed.

When he was upstairs, she turned to their chaperone. "Sirius? I'm concerned about all of his sleeping."

"Don't worry about it, Ginny. Poppy said he'd need a lot of rest and we've been working him hard," he tried to soothe her. "If he's still like this in a couple of weeks, we can find someone to check him out, but I think we need to wait and let his body recover some more."

She was not totally happy with that answer, but she told him, "All right." She promised herself she would watch over Harry very carefully. She really liked him a lot.

Back to index


Chapter 6: Chapter 6: Visitors

Author's Notes: {A/N: This chapter marks the halfway point in the story (chapter-wise). I hope everyone is enjoying it. :-) If you are, there are 2 good reasons: GinnyMarie, my pre-beta, who was very good about keeping me from making plot errors; and cwarbeck, who has been an incredible beta-editor and makes my writing look so much better than it really is. Thanks ladies! -- kb}


Chapter 6: Visitors

[Sun Jul 14]

The Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft was sitting at his desk looking over a short list of names that had been nominated for Head Boy and Head Girl. Beside each name was their marks and a short list of achievements as written by their Head of House. He was about to choose the Head Boy when his fireplace lit up and a man came out. As the number of people who could do that unannounced was very limited, the Head Boy was forgotten as he focused his complete attention on his visitor.

Dumbledore noted that his Potion's professor was very pale and unstable on his feet. The man quickly made his way to a chair, which he slumped into before he started digging for something in his robes. "Severus, are you all right?"

The Potions master did not answer as he was quickly swallowing a potion. After putting the empty phial back into its place and taking a couple of deep breaths, he softly answered with a slight quiver in his voice, "No Headmaster, I am not. I spent more than the average amount of time under a Cruciatus Curse last night, and I received a last reminder of my failure minutes ago."

"I'm very sorry, Severus. What went wrong?"

"The Dark Lord was very displeased at," the greasy-haired man spat out the next word, "Potter's failure to show up at the Department of Mysteries. He was even more displeased when Lucius Malfoy pointed out my failure to inform the Dark Lord that Potter had been sick for a month and was incapable of coming. It was of course unsafe to point out to Him that I was unaware of his plan to lure Potter out and capture him and the Prophecy, and so I was unaware of the need to inform him of Potter's sickness."

"I see. Did you learn anything else of importance?"

"The only thing of significance is that he sent Pettigrew on some mission, but he didn't say what it was or where he was to go. Other than that, the Dark Lord seems to want to think about his next move, but I believe he will restart his reign of terror as he did in the last war now that his rebirth is known." Snape's voice still was not completely steady yet.

Albus ignored the information on Pettigrew as there was not anything he could do about that for the present time. "That's unfortunate, but not completely unexpected given how the last war went. Why don't you rest for a minute and let me finish what I was doing and we can talk about other matters. Would you like something to drink? There's a good brandy in the cabinet, and you can help yourself to anything else in there you'd like."

"Thank you, Headmaster." The spy got up and poured himself a large amount of brandy before returning slowly to his chair.

In the meantime, Dumbledore was very quickly scribbling a short note. While Severus was occupied with pouring his drink, the old man walked over to Fawkes and handed the note to him. The beautiful phoenix grabbed the note in his beak and flashed out of the room. Dumbledore returned to his seat and by the time he was comfortable again with a new cup of tea from his Ever-Filling Teapot, the bird had flashed back to his perch. When the other man was settled, the conversation resumed.

"Severus, are you happy teaching here?"

Snape almost choked on his drink; that was about the last question he had been expecting. "Yes Headmaster, why do you ask?" he drawled. Dealing with Dumbledore was almost as difficult as dealing with the Dark Lord sometimes, though he had to admit it was certainly less physically painful.

"I'm trying to decide if teaching is the best thing for you, personally."

"You aren't thinking of having me leave are you? That would remove my Death Eater cover for the Dark Lord." Snape was calm on the outside only because of years of practice before Voldemort; on the inside, he was almost panicking.

"Not particularly, unless you wanted to. I'm just concerned for you, Severus. You don't always seem happy, and I'm sad to say that I've recently started hearing reports about your teaching over the last few years that lead me to believe you may not like it here." Albus was doing his best to dance around the issue, as he did not want to lose his spy into Voldemort's camp.

"What kind of reports?"

"Reports of work not being graded fairly, and other biased behaviour in the classroom are the most disturbing to me as Headmaster. A few other rumours have also recently reached my ears, some of which I don't believe, and a few which might be true, but are easily explained away, most of them due to lack of time on your part because of all the things you do." Dumbledore patiently waited for an answer.

"I don't know what to say, Headmaster. I've always tried to do my best to teach my craft. Of course, some students don't want to learn, which makes teaching difficult."

"Alas, that is all too true, sometimes. Very well, Severus, I'll let you return to your summer holiday and I hope you will recover quickly from your recent difficulty. I will warn you that various people will be watching your work most closely this coming term, so I would suggest you be most careful, and dare I say, fair, in dealing with all the students in your classes."

The hook-nosed Potions master nodded and drained the last of his brandy before he stood and left. Albus thought deeply for a few minutes, then also rose to leave. Sealing his Floo completely, he left the room for Gryffindor Tower.

In the Tower, he had barely set foot in the common room before he was besieged with, "Albus, what's happening that we need to stay here?" Only Sirius' head and wand could be seen from around the edge of the boy's stairs. Looking up them to the door on the first landing, he saw two more heads and wands sticking out. One head had black hair and one had red hair.

"My apologies everyone, I did not mean to scare you. I merely wanted to make sure you stayed here, so as not to run into my guest. The fewer people who know you're here, the better, even if I do trust them." Anticipating their question, the old man continued. "Severus dropped in unexpectedly with a report." The three began walking towards him.

"Anything useful this time?" Sirius asked.

The Headmaster looked at Harry. "Apparently, Voldemort was most unhappy with you, Harry, for not showing up at a trap he'd set up for you."

"The long corridor, I was supposed to go there, wasn't I?" the boy asked.

"Yes Harry," Dumbledore answered, "it seems that dream was being sent to you. But you have no need to worry about that now. I have made it so that corridor is now useless to Voldemort, and he should leave you alone about that. However, that does indicate I need to teach you Occlumency, since your lessons with Professor Snape didn't go as well as I had planned." Harry nodded his acknowledgement.

"Was there anything else that was useful?" Sirius queried.

"Not really. Apparently your old friend Pettigrew is on a mission, but there is no information about what or where."

Sirius' voice suddenly became laced with hatred. "I would dearly love to catch the rat. I'd give all my gold to get a hold of him so I could chop his tail off and slowly feed him to Buckbeak, or any other hippogriff for that matter." Ginny paled a bit, but both teens understood the man's animosity for his former friend. A supposed friend who had caused him to spend twelve years in Azkaban after he had betrayed Harry's parents and then framed Sirius.

Truth be told, Harry understood exactly how the man felt. If not for Pettigrew, he would still have his parents and never would have had to live at the Dursleys.

***

Like most nights when Harry had dinner at the castle, the three adults joined him and Ginny. As usual, Dumbledore started the conversation with a question about their classes.

"How are our pupils doing Sirius?"

"Excellent, Albus, in fact, I'm quite impressed with both of them. Ginny is catching on very quickly to the fifth year spells as well as some of the sixth year spells I've been showing them."

"She is at the top of her class, and that's why she was picked to be a prefect," McGonagall pointed out. Ginny paid close attention to her food to hide her embarrassment. "Really, Miss Weasley, there's no need to be embarrassed for someone stating the truth about you in a positive way. You are a good student and all the teachers think so, even Severus."

"And Albus," Sirius went on, "Harry has just been phenomenal when we duel lately. The power he puts behind his spells is tremendous. He's fast and thinks well on his feet. I can still beat him, but I'm telling you, if he keeps progressing like he has been over the last two weeks, I don't know how I will be able to win against him by the end of the summer."

Now it was Harry's turn to look closely at his food.

"That good?" Albus sounded curious.

"Absolutely, and his spell work in Transfiguration and Charms has been quite excellent as well. I'll be very surprised if he doesn't make an Outstanding in those two OWLs as well as in Defense," his godfather explained.

"Potter has always been good in Defense." McGonagall now looked at Harry, "But why didn't you do as well in Transfiguration last year? Even at the beginning of the year when you seemed to do well, it appeared to me that you had to struggle to get an Exceeds."

Harry swallowed his current bite of food before answering. "You're right Professor, I did struggle then, and I can't explain it. I'd say it has something to with Hermione's tutoring, but she was helping me all last year too. She did explain some things about 'intent' that I hadn't understood before, and I think that helped, but all I can really say is that it all comes easier now."

"Very interesting, Potter." His Transfiguration teacher looked at him very thoughtfully.

Harry had found he could ask almost any question about magic that he wanted at these meals and get an answer; he took advantage of that now. "Professor, we've been looking at animal to animal transfigurations in our sessions, and I was wondering how hard human to animal transfigurations are in comparison. I know that's really seventh year material, but I'm curious now." Harry looked at her as she considered him and the question. He thought he saw a wink from the Headmaster, but he was not totally sure.

"Like many things Potter, it depends." McGonagall put her fork down as she had finished dinner, though the treacle tart was tempting her. "To turn someone else into an animal is only about half again as hard as turning, say a cat into a dog. You need to take special care that the person's consciousness isn't lost, but that's really the only wrinkle and where the extra difficulty comes in. Shall I assume you're also asking about doing that transformation to yourself?" He nodded. "Then as your godfather can tell you, the Animagus transformation is quite difficult because it's essentially wandless magic, which most wizards and witches can't do, or can only do one or two very simple spells."

"So the fact that I did a wandless Lumos last year would indicate I might be able to make the Animagus transformation?" Harry was getting a bit excited.

"I don't know that I'd go that far, Potter, but I would say that it indicates you have the power to do so, if, and that is a big 'if' Potter, you can manage to learn how to do it. Many have tried and failed. That being said, it is my opinion that you probably could do it if you had the time and training. Albus, what do you think?"

Harry was getting very excited as he looked to the Headmaster, whom he just remembered used to teach Transfiguration too.

"I think I would agree, Minerva." Then he looked at the boy. "However Harry, I must caution you not to get your hopes up too high. While I will authorize Professor McGonagall to teach you to do this if she feels it appropriate, this normally takes many months, and it's not uncommon for it to take several years of very hard work every day in order to complete the transformation."

"He's right," Sirius agreed. "It took James and I a little over two years to master, and Wormtail took nearly three years." Harry noted that Sirius never called Pettigrew by anything other than Wormtail, at least in recent memory.

Even with all these warnings, Harry was still excited and turned to his Transfiguration teacher. "Please, Professor, will you teach me?"

"And me too," Ginny chimed in.

Minerva was not sure why she felt this way, maybe it was because she had not had any really promising students who seemed to be capable of this in a number of years. In fact, it amused her that Bill Weasley was the last student who had tried, and failed; and now here was his sister asking to be instructed on how to become an Animagus. "It will be very hard, but I'll agree to instruct you once the term starts. We'll find one evening a week and work on it for an hour or two, then you can work on your own as much as you want, at least in the beginning. Once you reach a certain point however, I shall tell you not to practise on your own, but only in my presence. And you are never at anytime to practise by yourself. Is that clearly understood?"

The warnings and restrictions did not faze them, they were both thrilled. "Yes Professor," they said almost in unison, which made them laugh; the adults found it funny too.

Harry dished out some of the dessert and started eating it. Ginny looked over at him and noticed that he seemed to be absent-mindedly rubbing his scar. "Harry, is your scar bothering you again?"

"Just a bit," he shrugged, "but then it's almost always prickling or aching slightly."

"Can you do anything about it Headmaster?" Ginny asked.

"I had hoped that Harry's learning Occlumency would have helped that, but it appears that it hasn't and I'm starting to wonder if it ever will," Dumbledore admitted.

"Then why are you going to teach me sir?" Harry wondered.

"Because Harry, even if it does not block the connection to Voldemort, it is still a useful skill for you to have. For example, if Voldemort does make a connection to you, Occlumency is good for not letting him get any information from you. Please understand that the connection and influencing you via the connection are two different things, so even if you can't stop the connection, at least you can stop him from doing anything useful with the connection. Also, if you are dueling someone who's a Legilimens, then Occlumency can help you shield your mind so he or she doesn't know what you're about to do." Dumbledore looked at him to see if he understood.

Harry thought about that for a few seconds. "At first it seems like you're splitting hairs with the blocking and the influence, but I guess I can see what you mean. It's like I can't remove the pipe, but I can stop up one end so the pipe can't be used."

"Exactly Harry," the head Professor congratulated him.

"And that's why you and Professor Snape are considered such good duelers, because you can use Legilemency to know what spell is about to come at you before it's cast." Harry was thinking out loud, but it sounded good to him.

"Very good again, Harry," Dumbledore told him. "Therefore, I shall also take up one of your evenings this coming term, at least for a few weeks. After you have the basics of the skill down, I'll see you about once a month to help you refine it." Then he looked at the girl. "Ginny, why don't you come as well. If you are going to be around Harry a lot, it would be a good skill for you to have too."

Ginny was thrilled to be included in this as well. "Yes, sir." She gave him a big smile. "By the way Professor, you didn't answer my original question. Can something be done for the pain caused by the intrusion by V-Voldemort." It was the first time she had said it and she was proud of herself. Harry smiled at her as he recognized she had overcome that fear.

"I'm afraid not, Ginny, at least not unless I could analyze it while it was happening. If I could, perhaps I could detect something about it and could then devise a remedy." The old man was sad to have to say that, he really did not want Harry to suffer from a pain he never should have had.

"Sir, is the connection in the scar? Because if it is, could the scar be removed and then it would take the connection away?" Ginny felt like she was stretching for an idea, but she just had to ask.

"You amaze me Ginny," Dumbledore told her. "I hadn't thought of that; but alas, I think not. The scar is not a tumour."

Too bad, Harry thought. The three of them soon went back to the Gryffindor Tower for the evening.

[Mon Jul 15]

The next week finally came for Ron and it was time for him to Floo to school to see his best mate. Of course, it was also a great escape from his mum. She was still hexing him with little stings when he was doing what he thought of as normal things. He did have to admit that most of the things she reprimanded him for were the same things Hermione did, so perhaps a little change in behaviour was not totally bad.

Since Harry's sickness, Hermione had been coming over every other day. Usually his mother would go get her a few hours before his friend needed to be there for dinner, and Hermione would spend the time with him. Chess was a common pastime, and when he let up a little, she actually gave him a good game. They also had spent a lot of time discussing last year. He hated rehashing the OWLs for the thousandth time, but he put up with it because she was fun to be around, and deep down, he also knew that he needed her if he was to get better marks. There was also something about her that felt nice. He was not sure what the feeling was, but he had finally recognized that he felt it whenever she was around.

Ron had also been a bit put out with her going to tutor Harry and Ginny instead of spending time with him, but he also recognized he could not monopolize all of Hermione's time. Harry and Ginny were her friends too. Besides, he really did not want to be studying any more this summer. Now that he understood Harry's situation with having to repeat a grade, he sort of understood why Harry was doing this, but Ron personally felt that since he had already seen all the material before, that would make the year a breeze for him and he would have enjoyed himself as much as possible.

As he Flooed into the Gryffindor common room, he saw Harry sitting on the couch in a T-shirt and shorts, reading a book. Ginny was on the other end of the couch writing notes for the book in front of her; she was dressed in a loose T-shirt and a pair of long shorts. Mental they are, he thought. Hearing a noise to his left, he saw Sirius using Spell-O-Tape to put some papers up on the wall near the exercise machine.

"Hey Ron," Harry called out.

Ron grinned at his best friend. He was looking a lot better. Of course Harry had always been on the thin side. "What's up Harry?"

"Oh, just finishing up my afternoon homework. Hey, you should have worn shorts."

Looking down, Ron did not see anything wrong. "Why? I like these jeans."

Harry smiled, "OK, but I bet you'll want shorts for next time. Come on, Sirius is putting up the instruction book so you can easily figure out what to do, though I'll show you too."

The two boys went over and Harry started demonstrating to him how the Muggle exercise machine worked. As Harry finished the initial explanation, Ginny came up to Harry. "If you don't mind, I think I'll join you and do a little bit of light exercise. Don't worry, I'll stay out of your way."

Harry saw Ron about to object, so he quickly cut that off. "Sure Ginny, there's plenty of stations on the machine. Since you've watched me use it before, you can start on the other side and it won't be a problem."

"Thanks Harry." She smiled at him for sticking up for her.

He winked back. "OK Ron, let's try this first one. Sit here and we'll work your leg muscles."

Ron decided it was almost too much fun to be work, until his muscles started getting tired. Still, he noticed that for about any exercise, he was lifting about double what Harry was. He almost pointed that out until he remembered the scene he had caused last time he was here, and Ginny was very nearby, so he stopped himself.

The hour and a half Harry had allotted for the workout went by quickly, and before Ron knew it, his friend was saying, "I don't know about you, but I'm tired and it's time to stop."

"Yeah, I'm kinda tired too, Harry. Whatcha going to do next?"

"Take a shower, then Hermione will be here shortly for a Potions tutorial. We don't actually make most of the potions, but we'll probably do one or two of the easier ones that don't use the rarer ingredients."

"Wow, you're really going all out in your studying." Ron was both impressed and happy it was not him.

"Have to Ron, I've got a lot to do, or so everyone keeps pointing out to me. Anyway, I'm glad you came. Want to come by tomorrow at the same time? We can probably fit one game of chess in too since Hermione won't be here."

"Sure Harry, I'll see you then." I'll be wearing shorts too, Ron thought. His knees were a bit sore from rubbing on his pants.

***

[Thu Jul 25]

Harry woke from a wonderful dream, or so it seemed to him as it was starting to slip away. He thought it was something about him, a beautiful redhead, and a broom closet. Or was he mixing that up with what he did last night? Deciding that both were equally good thoughts, he got up. Glancing at Sirius' bed, he noticed it was empty, as usual. He could tell it had been slept in, but he really wondered about his godfather. The man usually came to bed after Harry, and got up before Harry too. He wondered if it was because the man was trying to make up for being out of life for twelve years.

After returning from the bathroom and getting dressed, he went downstairs and found his guardian pouring through another old book. "'Morning, Sirius. What's up?"

"Oh, 'morning, Harry. Just reading another book from Dumbledore's collection. I figured my time to read through his bookshelves was limited, so I should take advantage of it. Ready for breakfast, kiddo?"

"Almost. I'm just missing the most important part of my life."

While he heard Sirius give his classic bark of laughter, he also heard, "Ah, that's so sweet," from behind him. Twirling quickly, he caught Ginny in a hug and gave her a quick welcoming kiss.

More laughter came as did the comment, "Come on you two, enough mushy stuff. Let's go get breakfast." Sirius started towards the door when he exclaimed, "Son of a ..." Suddenly he whipped out his wand and pointed it at the chairs in the corner and yelled, "Accio Wormtail!" When nothing came flying into his hand, another flick of his wand and the two chairs in the corner went flying to the side, but it was obvious nothing was there.

Sirius whirled around and drew a circle around the area in front of the fireplace and cast an Imperturbable Charm before stepping into it. The teens were already near the fireplace.

"What was ..." Harry started but was cut off.

"Harry, Ginny, quickly Floo to my house and stay there. You'll be safe while I hunt that rat."

"But ..."

"Shut up Harry, and go now! I'm sure I just saw a rat with a silver paw. I need you two safe and I need to hurry before I lose him. Now GO!" He shoved his godson towards the pot with the Floo powder. When both Harry and Ginny had left, he grabbed some powder himself, threw it in, and said, "Dumbledore's office".

Fortunately, the Headmaster was in. "Albus, you've got to seal the castle right now!"

"What seems to be the problem, Sirius?" The old man seemed to talking quite slow for some reason.

"I'd swear I just saw Wormtail. Seal the castle so he can't get away. I have to hunt him down."

"Are you certain? That would be most unusual."

Sirius practically screamed, "Yes I'm certain! How many rats have one silver paw? Now quickly Albus! I don't want to lose him."

Nodding, the Headmaster quickly walked over to a portrait of the castle and tapped it with his wand while saying, "Clausus". Sirius watched the shutters on the windows in the room snap shut and briefly glow blue. "All doors, windows, and Floos are now sealed. I believe there is no way in or out of the castle."

"You believe?" Sirius had been starting to breathe easier, but the Headmaster's qualification gave him pause.

"Yes, Sirius, I believe it to be true. I know that's more vague than you'd like, but many things in life are not entirely certain because we don't fully understand how they work. I know this castle can seal itself, which it just did. But I also can't tell you how it does it, so I don't fully know the limitations therein. Still, I do trust it, like I trust the Fidelius around your house."

"Oh, OK, I understand. Can the seal be broken or are you the only one who can turn it off?"

Albus looked thoughtful for a moment before he answered. "I think it could be broken, but it would take some very powerful magic. Suffice to say, if Pettigrew really is in the castle, I believe he will be staying here. Of course, we will too, so that raises an interesting issue."

The Headmaster changed to a more commanding tone, "Frolly!"

A house elf with an immaculate apron with the Hogwarts crest popped in. "Yes, Headmaster."

"Frolly, as you've no doubt sensed, I've just sealed the castle." The elf nodded her agreement. "Given the amount of food we have the castle right now, how long can you feed three adults, two students, and all the house elves?"

"I sent Harry and Ginny to Headquarters for safety," Sirius informed him.

"Ah, very good. So Frolly, it's now only three adults and all the house elves."

"Depending on how much we eat, we can live here for at least a week. If we eat less, then we can stay longer." The elf seemed unconcerned about it all.

"That should be sufficient for our needs. Frolly, I have a new order for you. We believe there to be an intruder in the castle who we desperately need to catch. This intruder is a man, but he can also take the animal shape of a rat. So please have all house elves start searching for this man, and if you find him, capture him and let me know. I would also request that you keep at least four elves guarding the kitchens at all times. As he will eventually want food, he may go there."

"Yes sir, it will be done." The elf popped out.

"There, I believe that will be a good start. I need to tell Minerva of our problem and then we can start searching ourselves." The Headmaster started for the door.

Sirius desperately wanted a way to find that rat. He needed something like a Point Me spell attuned to the rat, or something that would show him where ... And a smile broke out over his face. "Actually Albus, I have an idea, I'll find you soon." He strode back to the fireplace, and with some Floo powder spoke "Gryffindor Tower" and was gone.

The Headmaster shrugged and resumed his trek for the Great Hall to find his colleague and maybe a quick spot of breakfast.

Sirius came out of the Gryffindor fireplace and quickly looked around. No one else was there, at least that he could see. Sprinting up the stairs, he quickly went to Harry's trunk, which was fortunately unlocked. He really did not want to waste the time trying undo any locking charms there. Rummaging through the box, he finally found what he was looking for next to an invisibility cloak. That's my boy, he thought.

Pulling out the old parchment, he tapped it with his wand and spoke, "I solemnly swear that I am up to no good." A large grin appeared on his face at the same time writing appeared on the parchment. Spreading it out, he started searching. There was no one around him, so he was safe for the moment. There was Albus and Minerva in the Great Hall, they were probably talking. He considered that having the castle empty of people should make this easy.

"There!" he told himself. On the first floor near the kitchens was a box labeled "Peter Pettigrew". With a feral look, he grabbed Harry's Firebolt and took off. Once out of the Portrait hole guarding the Tower, he jumped on the broom and flew as fast as he dared. The parchment was whipping around in his hand.

As he neared the corridor he wanted, he slowed down and checked the map carefully. The rat was at the entrance to the kitchens. Sirius suspected he was going for a back door out of the castle. Arriving at the picture of the fruit, he was about to tickle the pear when there was a loud thump against the door from the inside. His wand was already out, so he tickled the pear and grabbed the door handle. Turning the knob, he yanked the door open with a stunning spell on his lips, but there was no need for it.

In the doorway at his feet, was an unconscious Wormtail, and maybe ten feet inside the kitchen was a little green creature with large eyes and a big round nose. One hand was out in front of him as if warding something off, while the other arm was cocked back as if he was about to throw a spell. Sirius was never so happy to see a house elf in his life. "Excellent! You caught him!" The elf relaxed.

Looking down at his former friend, Padfoot muttered, "Accio Wand!" and two came at him, which he grabbed and stored away. "Accio Portkeys" and nothing came. Strange, he thought, I wonder how he planned to get away; you can't Disapparate here. Then another idea came, "Accio Broom!" and a stick the size of his hand came out of the rat's robes. It looked like a very miniature Cleansweep 5; that was stored away too. Finally, he commanded, "Incarcerous!" and bound his prisoner.

He now looked at the elf who had been watching patiently, "Now that I have that done, who do I have to think for this wonderful job of capturing the intruder?"

"My name is Dobby, Sir. I is assigned to watch the kitchens, Sir, when this man came in."

"Excellent work Dobby, most excellent," Sirius complemented him again. "In fact, why don't you come with me and we'll talk to the Headmaster about rewarding you. A quick peek at the map showed the two professors to still be in the Great Hall, so he headed that way with a Mobilicorpus spell to bring his prisoner.

Walking into the Great Hall, he surprised the other two. "Sirius, you got him already?" Dumbledore was amazed at the speed of the capture.

"While I was hot on his trail, it was this wonderful elf that did the actual capture." The man let his unconscious prisoner drop to the ground without any concern. "I think he deserves a big reward, and I'll gladly pay for it."

"Dobby, very good work indeed," the Headmaster praised the elf, who became even more shy. "So Dobby, Sirius would like to reward you, and I agree this deserves something. What would you like? If we can make it happen we will."

The elf looked at the Headmaster, then at Sirius who solemnly nodded his agreement. With some fear in his voice, Dobby squeaked, "Being free is nice, but if it's not too much trouble, I be wanting a nice family, Sir." Then he hastily added, "Hogwarts is very good to me, but I miss having a family to take care of and call mine."

Sirius smiled, "I believe I can help you, Dobby. Can you promise to keep all my family secrets if you come live with me?"

"You would give me a home?" Happiness came to Dobby's face as his eyes seemed to swell.

"Yes, Dobby; you would live in my house with myself and Harry Potter, who is my godson."

"I could live with the great Harry Potter? Oh you are the bestest wizard next to him." Dobby seemed to be vibrating with happiness.

Sirius looked at Albus in confusion, so Albus told him, "Harry freed Dobby, ah, three years ago from the Malfoys."

Understanding and a smile came to Sirius. "Dobby, you will be most welcome in my house," the thought of getting rid of Kreacher was very appealing. "I believe I have some things to do here, but when I'm done, I'll return home and you can come with me. I can hire you or you can be bound to the House of Black, your choice."

"Oh thank you, Master Black!" Dobby bowed low.

"Albus," Sirius turned to him, "we need to get this piece of trash to the authorities so he can be locked up and my name can be cleared."

"Certainly, Sirius. Minerva, if you would come with us, after I unseal the castle, you can Floo to Headquarters and see if Kingsley or Tonks is there, as well as bring Harry and Ginny back."

"Of course Albus, I'll be happy to," she told him. The three plus an unconscious prisoner and a house elf traveled to Dumbledore's office.

The Headmaster unsealed the castle allowing McGonagall to leave. The two men sat down and had some tea while they waited. The house elf guarded the prisoner.

---

When Harry and Ginny had arrived at Grimmauld Place, they had found Mad-Eye Moody poking around in the kitchen trying to find something to eat. When he mentioned that there were a few others around who had not had breakfast yet, the teens volunteered to cook it. Remembering what Sirius had told them, they whipped out their wands and got to work.

Twenty minutes later, the three were eating and figured the rest would come when they got hungry enough. There was already a pile of dishes there, so Ginny waved her wand at them and started them washing. Harry used his wand to clean up the stove area. They both loved this new freedom.

As Harry was bringing a dirty pan and plate from the table to the sink, Mrs. Weasley came out of the Floo and startled him, causing him to drop the pan, which dumped a few bits of food on the floor. Having enjoyed using his wand for every day things so much, he did not think and used his wand to levitate the pan over to the sink. In the same way, Ginny used her wand to clean up the bits of food on the floor.

"Harry! Ginny! What are you doing? You're going to get expelled for underage magic." Ginny's mum was beside herself in shock.

"It's all right, Mrs. Weasley," he assured her. "Sirius told us it couldn't be tracked here, and we've been doing it for over an hour with no notices."

"But, but... Alastor," she addressed the retired Auror, "how could you allow them to do this?"

Mad-Eye looked at her and said, "He's right, there's no problem with them doing magic here. What good would a Fidelius Charm be if you could track magic inside it? And magic is right useful. Good job on the breakfast, kids."

"Thanks, Mad-Eye," Harry told him. He was actually more thankful for being backed up than for the complement, and the old Auror seemed to understand that as he gave Harry a hearty grin.

For one of the few times in Ginny's memory, her mum looked unsure of what was happening and what she should do about it. This was going to be a great story to tell her brothers, though not in her mum's presence, of course.

It was at that time the Floo fired up for another person, and out stepped McGonagall.

"Professor!" Harry all but shouted. "Did Sirius get him?"

The usually stern woman gave him a small smile and answered, "Yes, Peter Pettigrew has been captured. They are all in Professor Dumbledore's office right now. You may return to the Tower any time you wish." She turned to the others. "Does anyone know if Kingsley or Tonks is here?"

"Tonks is in the living room with Lupin, I believe," Alastor told her. His magical eye swiveled, "Yep, they're still there."

While McGonagall went to talk to Tonks, Harry raced for the fireplace and had thrown in some powder and said, "Hogwarts, Headmaster's Office," before anyone had noticed. Ginny had realised what he was up to as soon as he started moving and followed him. She was throwing the powder in when her mother called her name, but she did not stop and followed her boyfriend.

Molly tried to follow, but when she tried to Floo, she did not go anywhere. Still standing in the fireplace, she turned to face the room. "Minerva, why can't I follow them?" she said with some anger in her voice.

"I'm sorry Molly, you're not on the Headmaster's list. If you'll let me get Tonks, I'll go through and temporarily add you."

"Then why could they go through?" she demanded.

"They're on the list for their own safety," McGonagall replied as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. With a purposeful stride, she left to go find an Auror. Molly came out of the fireplace and stomped to get ashes off of her, as well as to express her anger. Mad-Eye grinned, but knew he needed to keep his chuckle to himself.

A moment later, Minerva and Tonks come into the kitchen and went for the fireplace. "I'll let you know in a minute or two when you can come through, Molly." She went through to Hogwarts with Tonks following close behind.

The scene in front of Minerva was not one she was expecting, it was chaos. With both fascination and horror, she watched Sirius try to pull Harry back, while the boy had his hands around Pettigrew's neck. The man had barely succeeded in breaking Harry's grip, when a blue-white aura flared out from Harry and threw his godfather back. Freed, Harry returned to the prisoner to finish choking him. As the energy sparks from Harry's aura touched Pettigrew, the prisoner started twitching as if he was under a Cruciatus Curse. Her shock continued as she watched Albus whip out his wand and send a stunning spell at Harry, which had no effect whatsoever. It had appeared to have been absorbed. To her horror, Ginny then dashed to Harry's side.

Minerva tried to move, expecting to have to catch Ginny as she was thrown like Sirius had been, but instead the aura engulfed Ginny as she wrapped her arms around him. With her hair starting to move outward as if filled with static electricity, Ginny put her arms around him from behind and her face near his ear. After a few seconds of Ginny talking to him, Minerva saw her pull the boy back. When his touch left Pettigrew, the prisoner stopped twitching and Harry seemed to collapse as the aura disappeared. Only Ginny was holding him up, and she was barely doing that. Minerva's shock left her and she rushed over to help Ginny.

"Lay him on the couch," Dumbledore directed as he walked over to the prisoner. Satisfied that Pettigrew was still breathing, Albus continued over to the now unconscious boy, whom he proceeded to examine.

"Is he going to be all right?" Ginny asked with a slight panic in her voice.

"I believe so, Ginny, but we shall have to be patient for awhile. Minerva, if you would please look at Sirius. I believe he only knocked himself out when he fell. Dobby, please go to the Hospital Wing and bring back a Strengthening Potion and two Headache Potions." The elf disappeared.

His final order was issued to the woman behind him. "Tonks, if you would, please take charge of your prisoner and put him in a high security cell that will prevent his leaving, even if he tries to turn into his rat Animagus form. Also, please credit his capture to me and leave Sirius' name out of the report. He still needs to avoid publicity until his name is officially cleared."

"Of course, Headmaster." The young Auror put a special Portkey onto Pettigrew and activated it. They popped out of the office and into the security area of the Ministry building.

Dobby returned shortly, and Albus and Ginny carefully made Harry swallow the Strengthening Potion. "I think you should hold onto the Headache Potion, Ginny. He may want that when he wakes up."

Groaning came from behind the old man, so he turned and saw Sirius sitting up and rubbing his head. "Headache?" Albus asked while holding out the potion.

The man on the floor did not answer but gratefully took the potion and swallowed it in one gulp. Then he asked the question on everyone's mind. "What happened, Albus?" The three adults found a chair, while Ginny sat on the edge of the couch next to Harry, holding his hand and looking very worried. All looked to the Headmaster for an answer.

"I'm afraid I can't fully explain as it's not a common occurrence. In fact, I'm only aware of it happening to one other person, Nicolas Flamel. His wife once told me that he had an episode that sounded very similar to this. The best way she could describe it was that he was doing wandless magic."

"I don't understand, Albus," Minerva told him, and looked like she had heard a nonsense answer from a student and was about to reprimand said student. "I've never heard of an aura like that, and Harry would have had to do numerous very advanced spells to accomplish what he did, not to mention the fact that he's now unconscious. So how could you call that wandless magic? Other than the fact that I agree he didn't seem to be using a wand."

The Headmaster seemed to be thinking very carefully. "After having seen this, I think I can now understand Perenelle's explanation a little better. I think I would describe this more like accidental magic, except that it was continuous as opposed to a single event. The aura was most likely a manifestation of his magic, or maybe even his magic making itself visible."

"But Albus," Minerva objected again, "all the spells he was doing. I saw a Banishment and what looked like a Cruciatus, and those are not trivial spells."

"No, they are not; and you didn't mention the shield-like spell he did to block my Stupefy, or maybe he merely absorbed the energy; I'm not sure which. To answer all of these questions would clear up several unknowns in the realm of Magical Theory. Alas, I doubt we'll get the answer."

"When's he going to wake up, Professor?" Ginny asked.

"I don't rightly know, Ginny. Don't worry, I don't believe he's in any danger. I would say that he has magically exhausted himself and all he needs is some rest. Sirius, why don't you help Ginny take him back to the Tower and you can also get some rest. If you are still on your normal schedule, Ginny, I believe you were to visit your parent's house for dinner tonight. You might want to Floo your mother and send your regrets so everyone can rest after the excitement."

"Oh my word!" Minerva exclaimed. "I was supposed to temporarily open your Floo for Molly as she was at Headquarters and tried to come through when I did. She's going to be beside herself, wondering what has happened."

The old man sighed; he was not looking forward to this. "Sirius, why don't you pick up Harry and Floo back to the Tower and put him to bed. Ginny you'll need to go too. Minerva and I will go to Headquarters and calm your mother down as best we can before she Floos to the Tower, as I know she will want to check on you two. Actually, I hope she hasn't already remembered she can do that now."

Everyone went their way. Dumbledore and McGonagall did find Molly still at Grimmauld Place. It was a very long ten minutes for the professors before Molly had vented enough of her anger and frustration for them to explain to her what the emergency was. Once the mother understood what had happened and where the children were, all the professors could do was to follow her through the Floo as she had to check on her daughter and surrogate son. It was another hour before she could be persuaded to go home.

---

As dinner time was rolling around, Ginny was trying to decide how to get some food sent up. She really did not want to leave Harry at the moment. Sirius was not here now, so she waited for him to return. She assumed he was talking with the Headmaster, though the more she thought about it, he might be at the Ministry and was in the process of becoming a free person again.

Sitting in the chair next to his bed, she held Harry's cool hand and waited for him to wake up. It was so much like when he was sick before, except that he looked almost normal now. He was still a bit thin overall, even if his face had mostly filled back out.

Then an inspiration struck her. She wondered if it would work a second time. Getting out of her chair, she crawled onto his bed. He was under the covers, she was on top, and they both were clothed. Still, she wondered what her mum would say if she came up now, so she tried to keep an ear open for feet on the stairs.

Putting her lips down by his ear, she began whispering, this time meaning everything she said. "Harry, this is Ginny, and I want you to wake up. I really need a hug, and while I could kiss you now, it just wouldn't be the same unless you were awake. So if you'll wake up, I'm sure we can find someplace for us to go so I can snog you senseless." She also caressed his face. Watching him, she was not sure if he had moved or if it was her imagination. So she started whispering to him again.

Ten minutes later, she was about to give up hope when she heard, "Now that's how I'd like to wake up if I needed a nurse."

Ginny about fell out of the bed, she was so startled. A loud bark of laughter came from the man in the doorway. "Shut up Sirius, you about frightened me to death. How'd you get up here so quietly anyway?"

He continued into the room with a tray in his hands as she got up and pulled another chair over to act as a table. "I was walking very slowly with the food, and of course I suppose you were a bit busy there, so I could see how you might not have heard me." The grin still hadn't left his face. "Your reaction was priceless, though you should be glad it was me and not you mum."

"Yeah, good point. I'd probably be back at The Burrow by now and grounded for the rest of the summer," the girl admitted. "She's a bit sticky about me being close to boys."

"You're her daughter and she cares about you, Ginny. Be glad she does. On the other hand, as long as I don't catch you doing anything more than what I've caught you two doing so far, I won't give you any problems. I know how it is to be young, but do understand Ginny, that even I have a line you and Harry shouldn't cross -- a line that I think James and especially Lily would agree with."

"Thanks for the trust, Sirius," she told him quietly. "I understand and will honor your request."

"I hope you do. I'd kind of like to keep you around. I think you'd make a fine goddaughter someday."

Ginny about fell out of her chair. Looking at him again, she saw he had a pleasant smile on his face, as if he was discussing a fond memory. "You're serious aren't you?"

"In name and feeling," he told her, his smile broadening. "Don't feel rushed, or pressured, or anything else, Ginny. I'm merely stating that I think you are very good for Harry. The two of you are well matched in temperament and power, not to mention in personality."

"It's a little soon to be discussing anything permanent, isn't it? I mean, I'm only about to turn fifteen, and we've only been dating for about three weeks."

"Like I told you, no pressure; you've got plenty of time. But answer me one question, Ginny: When you think about Harry, does life just feel right? Do you feel, um, complete?"

The girl thought about that. Her feelings for Harry were still somewhat new, and yet, Sirius had a point. When she was with Harry, especially when it was just the two of them alone doing whatever, the world did not seem to matter -- everything was as it should be. Michael and Dean had been nice, but she had not ever felt this way about them. Harry was so much more real. "Yes," she finally answered very quietly.

"Could you speak a little louder so I can hear?" she heard from her right side.

Moving like she had been hexed, she jumped up and ran to the bed. "Harry!" She threw her arms around him and hugged him tightly. "Are you all right? Do you hurt anywhere? Can I get you anything?" She heard a laugh from behind her.

"Slow down, girl, let him answer at least one of the questions." She glared at the man, but she did shut up.

"I'm fine, except for being very tired." She looked at him as if she was not sure he was being totally honest with her. "Well, all right, I'm hungry too, but otherwise, I really am fine."

"Come on Sirius, help me sit him up." Between the two of them, Harry was made comfortable so he could eat whatever he wanted from the tray of food Sirius had brought with him. He thanked them when he had eaten about half of what he normally ate.

"Harry," his godfather moved a bit closer to him. Ginny was sitting on the bed beside her boyfriend. "Do you remember what happened in the Headmaster's office?"

He closed his eyes, reliving the incident in his mind. "Yes," he finally answered.

"Can you tell us what happened?"

He really did not want to, but he also realised he would be pestered about this episode until he did. While he could evade questions about his health, this was one subject that would be impossible to avoid. "When I came into the office and saw Wormtail, I started thinking about all the problems he'd caused me: my torture and the rise of Voldemort again, getting you falsely imprisoned, and then finally my parent's death. I don't know what happened, Sirius, but something just snapped in me and I wanted to make sure he didn't cause pain to anyone else ever again. I'm really sorry about anything that I may have done to you. I think that I knew it was you trying to pull me off of him, but I'm not really sure. Perhaps the best way to explain it is that I wasn't thinking, I was merely acting out of pure instinct."

"Do you know how you did all the magic you performed?"

"No, I just didn't want to be stopped. It was like another part of me was doing that while I was going after Wormtail."

"I'm sorry to have to ask this Harry, but did you feel another presence?"

"No," he told his godfather, "Voldemort wasn't there."

"That's good to hear. So what caused you stop?"

"I don't know. I do remember hearing Ginny telling me to stop, so maybe that did it, or maybe I thought I'd finished off Wormtail. Did I?"

"No Harry, you didn't -- thankfully. Dumbledore told me just before I got here that he's being questioned very carefully," Sirius told him.

"And will you be free now?" Harry was hopeful.

"Soon Harry, very soon. Do you think I should keep this golden hair or go back to my normal dark hair?" he teased his godson.

"I think your normal hair looks better on you. I'm sorry I caused problems by going after Wormtail. I know that would have made things a lot worse if I'd killed him."

"Well, we would have lost some information about Voldemort and his Death Eaters, but other than that, I think everything else would be the same, except for what it would have done to you." Harry nodded sadly. "But don't worry about it, Harry, that didn't happen and a number of good things have transpired today."

"Wormtail was caught, you're going to be freed, what else is there?" Harry was curious.

"Those are the most important things, but there's more. Dobby helped capture Wormtail, and he's been rewarded with a family." That surprised both of the teens. "So, how would you feel about having Dobby help out around Grimmauld Place?" That got him two smiles.

"That would be awesome, Sirius. I bet he'd do a great job." Then Harry's face fell, "Oh wait, what about Kreacher?"

"Oh yes, Kreacher. Well, I've got some good news there too. When I returned home earlier with Dobby and bound him to the House of Black, Kreacher couldn't believe he'd been replaced and fell over dead." Sirius had a big smile on his face at that thought.

"Well, that does solve the problem," Harry deadpanned, though he was still smiling.

"Actually, it solved several more. I heard multiple thumps when he died, and then my mother's portrait started screaming; but when I went in there, she was not on the wall, but on the floor."

"You mean ..." Ginny was amazed.

"You got it, Ginny. Apparently it was Kreacher's magic that was holding her there, as well as all the elf heads on the wall. So they're all gone now, and Dobby has been tasked with redecorating the place. By the time you return there in a few weeks, hopefully it will be a cheery place to live."

"That's great Sirius! Wow, I've got a family, and a nice house. What more could I want?" Harry was very happy, until he heard a very good imitation of Umbridge's, "Hem, hem". Startled, he looked over at Ginny and quickly added, "I've got the best girlfriend in the world, a family, and a nice house. I've got everything I need." Sirius laughed at him and Ginny gave him a hug.

Harry snuggled down in his bed a bit before looking at his girlfriend. "Hey Ginny, since Sirius is here to make sure you don't cross the line, how about you lay down here by me so I can go back to sleep?"

She turned a deep red and dropped her head down to his chest to hide. "How much did you hear, Harry?" She was so embarrassed; he kept hearing all of her secrets.

"I seem to remember a loud laugh in the distance, but I remember something about lines, and definitely something about feelings. But I don't think I heard the answer to Sirius' question." He managed to pull her around so she was lying next him on top of the covers with her head by his shoulder. "Tell me how you really feel, Ginny."

Sirius picked up the tray and empty dishes. "I'll be back in a few minutes, kiddo. Be careful, because you never know when someone will be watching." He walked out of the room to take the tray to the kitchens.

Ginny finally whispered to him, "I feel wonderful whenever I'm with you, Harry." She put her head on his shoulder and her arm across his chest as she closed her eyes, reveling in being close to him and the feel of his arms as he wrapped them around her. Both of them were asleep when Sirius returned a few minutes later.

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Chapter 7: Chapter 7: Birthdays and Truth

Author's Notes: {A/N: Here's one of the longer chapters. Thanks to those of you who have nominited this story for a trinket award. Now you all have to vote for it too. :-}


Chapter 7: Birthdays and Truth

[Wed Jul 31]

The morning of the 31st of July started out wonderfully, or so Harry thought at first. For the second time that summer, he was awakened with a kiss. The only way it could have been better is if Sirius had not walked in slightly after he had gotten it and pulled Ginny into his bed for a tickle fight. At least Sirius had only raised an eyebrow at them, which made Harry release Ginny so she could leave and Harry could get up.

During exercises that day, Harry also noticed for the first time that he was lifting as much weight as Ron was lifting, and Ron was now doing a little more than he was when he had started. Harry supposed he should not be too surprised as he did work out harder than Ron did, but his progress was still amazing to him.

Everything he did in classes that day went swimmingly. Even when Hermione came to tutor him, and they were now looking at early sixth year Charms work, Harry got them all correctly the first time, much to the consternation of Hermione, who was trying to learn them too. Ginny just laughed at her friend's frustration. Of course, she was not helping any because she was able to perform most of the spells on her second try after she saw Harry do it correctly.

Since everything about his birthday seemed to be going his way, he was really looking forward to visiting The Burrow tonight. Ginny made him go last, after herself and Hermione. As he rolled out of the fireplace, he was not really all that taken aback when all the Weasleys -- minus Charlie and Percy -- and Sirius (who had disappeared during his tutoring), and surprisingly Dumbledore, all shouted "Surprise!".

He was pulled into the living room and presents were thrust at him. Unsurprisingly, Fred and George gave him a whole box of their joke products. Bill gave him a set of Quidditch gloves made for Seekers. Ron handed him a huge box of Chocolate Frogs, so Harry could try to complete his card collection he had started in his first year. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley handed him a box with four nice shirts in it. And Sirius gave him yet a bigger box of clothes that included some nice T-shirts, new jeans, slacks, and some new trainers.

Dumbledore handed him a medium sized box as he told him, "Harry, you may want to wait until later to open that -- if I may explain." Harry was not sure what it was so he nodded his agreement. "There are actually three presents, of a sort, here. The first is the hardest for me, and I hope you will accept it, though if you do not, I will understand. You see, I visited Petunia Dursley today," Harry stiffened, but Dumbledore continued without missing a beat, "and while I was there I did something I should have done a long time ago. I -- and I'm sure you'll understand if I don't mention how -- intruded upon her privacy a bit." Harry nodded.

The Headmaster heaved a heavy sigh before continuing. "I now understand what you went through as a child and I am dreadfully sorry, Harry. I could point out that once she accepted the magical contract to raise you, that I was obligated to leave her family alone. However, that does not excuse me from not making certain that she was fulfilling her side of the contract and taking good care of you. I did not expect her to raise you as a Wizarding family would have, but I should have checked that she was being a decent mother; and when she wasn't, I should have ended the magical contract and helped you in some other way. So I hope you will accept my heartfelt sorrow and apologies for what happened to you while you lived there."

Harry was not sure what to say. He had always wanted to hear something from Dumbledore on this topic, and now that he had, he really did not know what to think. A part of him wanted to get very angry at the old man, but as he had learned last year, as nice as that might feel for a short while, it really did not help in the long run. He was also afraid that if he talked about this, or even dwelt on it for too long, he would begin crying, and he did not want that in front of everyone here. So he just nodded his acknowledgement.

"I understand, Harry, perhaps we can discuss it some other time," the old man acknowledged the nod. "On a somewhat happier note, because you did not return to Privet Drive this summer, the blood ward which protected you there has expired, and it can not be reinitiated. The result is that you never have to return there again, unless you just want to."

That brought a smile to Harry's face. "Thank you, sir," he said softly. Ron and Ginny both patted him on the back in congratulations, and Hermione beamed her pleasure at his good fortune.

"There's something else to go along with that, but I'll let Sirius share that with you," Dumbledore said cryptically and with a slight twinkle. "Finally, one of the other things I found out from Petunia, is that she had a few things from your mother." Harry's eyebrows rose in surprise. "I retrieved them from her and those things are in that box. In addition, I also had a few small items from James and Lily that may be of some sentimental value to you. There is also a key in there to your parent's vault, but I'm sorry to say, you won't be able to access it until your next birthday. Still, you should have it for safekeeping. In fact, putting it in your present vault might be the best place for it."

Harry was not sure what to think of all of that. Things from his parents -- how many times had he wished for that, and Aunt Petunia had had some all the time. Again he wanted to be really angry, but again he was not sure how that would help. "Thank you Professor, I'm sure I will enjoy going through this box." Dumbledore nodded and stepped back.

The best gift of all came last, and was from his favourite redhead there. Surprisingly, it was in a fairly small and flat box. Opening it up, he saw what appeared to be a black leather pouch about the size of his hand. He looked at her in puzzlement. She merely grinned and turned to her brother. "Bill, would you please hand me Dad's broom behind you?" She had gone out to retrieve it from the shed earlier. Bill handed the broom over, and she gave it to Harry.

"You can practice with this," she told him. "Now, put the opening of the bag over the end of the handle and pull it down so the end of the handle goes to the bottom of the bag, and hold onto the bag."

Harry grabbed the two sides of the bag's opening and pulled it down. As soon as the handle hit the bottom of the bag, the broom disappeared. There were several gasps, and Harry thought he might have done so too. "Look in your magical broom bag," Ginny encouraged him, smirking slightly.

Looking in the opening, he saw that the broom had been shrunk down. "Cool!" He showed it to Ron who gave an "Awesome!" As he showed it to the rest, they thought it was pretty special too.

"Now reach in and grab just the end of it and pull it out," she told him. Harry did, and as soon as it was about half way out, the rest came out and the broom automatically expanded back into its normal size. There were lots of "Ooo's and Ahh's" for that. "There you go Harry, now you can always have your broom with you."

"That's incredible Ginny, thanks!" Without thinking, he leaned over to her and gave her kiss right on the lips.

"Hey old bean, that's our sister," George told him.

"And you weren't even holding hands earlier," Fred continued.

"So why are you kissing her?"

"Unless you've been withholding information."

The young couple blushed deeply at the same time.

"Oh ho!" Bill jumped in too. "I think there is something going on here. Details, we need details."

"Boys!" Mrs. Weasley spoke up. "They've only been dating for a few weeks, so leave them alone."

Fred started to go again, but then he saw his mum pull out her wand, so he promptly shut up, as did George. Bill smiled as he remembered Ginny's crush on Harry when she was much younger. He would talk with them later, perhaps on Ginny's birthday when his mother was not so watchful.

"I have an announcement, if I may," Sirius called out. "While it's not really a birthday present Harry, I'm hope you'll be happy about it anyway." He smiled at the boy as he continued. "As of today, you may officially stay with me for summers and holidays because I'm now a free man in the eyes of the law." Everyone cheered and Harry went to his godfather and gave him a big hug.

"I'm so happy for you, Sirius," Harry finally told him when he could speak again. "I'm happy I'll have a place to stay, but I'm happier that you can have a normal life back."

"Thank you, Harry. That means a lot to me, and I want you to know that I hope we can spend a lot more time together. I've really enjoyed our time together this summer. But you know what? I know one more thing I bet you'll be happy about."

"What?" Harry had trouble imagining anything else that could go right for his godfather.

"I also got a job today." Harry gave him a questioning look. "You are looking at your new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher." The cheers for that were just as loud as when he had announced he was free.

"That's brilliant Sirius!" Harry congratulated him. Everyone there was very happy for the man who had had so much trouble for most of the last half of his life.

As people started to leave Sirius alone, Molly called out, "Dinner time, and leave room for the cake too." The conversation started back up as everyone seated themselves and tucked in. Upon prompting, Sirius recounted the details on what had happened to him at the Ministry, and how the full Wizengamot had voted him not guilty. In a rare move, they had actually voted the death penalty for Wormtail, though the vote had been very close.

Though Sirius did not mention it, he had also been allowed to watch them throw Wormtail through the Veil of Death that afternoon. It was very sobering in some ways, yet extremely freeing in others.

As Sirius thought about the afternoon, when people were not asking him questions because Molly was starting to serve the cake, he wondered if he should have asked Harry if he had wanted to see that. He looked at the boy -- no, young man -- he corrected himself, who had grown up too fast and had experienced so much trouble. Sirius wondered if Harry deserved the honour of watching or if he was still too young.

Still thinking and watching, he was the only person to see Harry suddenly throw his hands to his forehead over his scar and flip his chair over backwards onto the floor. Ginny screamed and went over to him as Sirius rushed around the table. Harry was curled in a ball half groaning and half screaming in pain, all the while pressing his hands to his forehead.

Dumbledore rushed over and knelt by Harry's head. With his wand, he started doing several spells. He was getting frustrated because each showed him no sign of any problem, yet it was obvious to everyone that Harry was experiencing extreme pain because of his connection to Voldemort. When the fourth spell failed, he was out of diagnostic spells. While not a diagnostic spell per se, there was an old spell that was meant to block Legilimency. It was not really Occlumency, which was done in the mind; this spell was like a shield spell for the mind. So long as the spell was held, Legilimency would not work.

Becoming desperate, Dumbledore pointed his wand at the writhing boy and cast "Stuppare". Immediately Harry relaxed. The Headmaster was so surprised he stopped the spell, and Harry cried out as if suddenly in great pain. Realizing what he had done, Dumbledore cast the same spell and worked to hold it this time. Relief was again immediately obvious on Harry's face.

Harry looked up at the Headmaster from the floor, tears running down his face. "Thank you," he hoarsely said.

Dumbledore could tell he wanted to get up, so he put hand on Harry's shoulder to indicate the boy should stay down and rest. Dumbledore's concentration on holding the spell needed to be absolute, which meant that he could not talk to the boy while he was performing it. The problem was the length of time he needed to keep the spell active; the professor was not sure how much longer he could maintain it, given the nature of the spell.

After a couple of minutes, Harry seemed to be breathing normally, so Dumbledore tapped him on the shoulder to get his attention and then pointed to the wand.

"You're about to stop the spell?" Harry asked. Dumbledore nodded. Harry took a deep breath and reach for Ginny's hand. He knew it would not really help, but the moral support would not hurt. "All right, I'm ready." The Headmaster cancelled the spell; this time Harry only grimaced. "It hurts, but it is bearable."

"What was that spell Albus?" Sirius wanted to know, so Dumbledore explained it to him. "I could see it was taking some concentration to hold it. Is there a more permanent form of the spell that would also help Harry?"

"Not that I'm aware of, but since we know this works, I can start researching that."

"I think I'll do that too," Sirius said.

Molly moved a little closer to Harry, who was still lying on the floor. "Harry, do you feel well enough for some cake now?"

He was very appreciative of her trying for some form of normalcy, and to direct the attention away from his episode. "Maybe a piece, thank you." With a little help from his godfather, he got back into his chair.

"Harry?" Dumbledore got his attention. "Do you know what that was about?"

His throat was very dry, so Harry grabbed his drink and swallowed some before he said anything. "Voldemort was very angry. In fact, I haven't felt him be this angry in a very long time. I believe he just received the news about Wormtail." Dumbledore nodded and looked like he was lost in thought. Everyone else left that topic alone and purposefully talked about happier things.

By the time Harry left the party an hour later, he was feeling almost normal. Sirius put all of his opened presents into a box and took that back for him. Ginny offered to hold onto his box from Dumbledore and take that back. She also whispered an offer to kiss him to make him feel better when they got back. While that would not quite erase all the pain that Voldemort had inflicted on him tonight, he was reasonably sure she could make him forget most of it.

***

[Thu Aug 1]

The next day at breakfast, Professor McGonagall handed each of them an envelope. Curious as to what it was, they each found a book list and a prefect badge inside. "I'm sure you saw the flock of owls that flew around the castle this morning?" They nodded. "They were leaving to deliver the letters. There was no need to mail yours, so I brought them to you."

"Oh, I'd always wondered how all the letters were sent out," Ginny told her.

"Besides the school owls, we rent about twice as many more for a day. The Headmaster and I have already been up for several hours magicking letters to owl legs," their professor explained.

While they already knew they were to be prefects, it was still nice to see the badge. As they left for their morning class, they wondered when they would get to go shopping in Diagon Alley.

***

After lunch, Harry and Ginny were walking back to the Tower for their afternoon studies, when Ginny remembered something her mum had told her the evening before. "Harry, Mum told me last night that she'd noticed we'd been visiting on the odd days of the month, and wanted to know if we would like to keep doing that for the last couple of weeks while we were still here. She thought that would make celebrating my birthday easier; that is, if it's OK with you."

"Sure, I suppose so," he replied. He did not think it was that big a deal exactly which days they went on, so he did not care that much.

"OK, I'll tell her then. That means we'll be going back tonight."

Harry suddenly thought of something. He had really wanted to stay at the castle tonight. "Uh, Ginny? Do you mind if I skip tonight?"

She looked at him as they continued to walk slowly. "You wanted to open the box tonight, didn't you?" Her voice was soft and her face showed understanding.

"Yeah, I'd really wanted to do that tonight," he admitted. "You can go on if you want to see your family."

"That's fine, I'm sure Mum will understand." She looked at him wondering if she should voice another question, then finally decided it would not hurt. "Harry? Do you just want to stay here to open it, or did you really want to be alone?"

He was silent for so long that they had arrived at the portrait of the Fat Lady. "Gryffindors rule", he said so they could go in. "Ginny, I don't know what I'm going to find in the box, so I don't know how to answer. I think I'll leave it up to you. You may join me if you want, or you can go back for dinner. I think I'll skip working out today too."

"All right," she told him. "I'll tell Ron not to come today when I tell mum we won't be there until Saturday evening."

Harry gave her quick kiss on the top of head. "Thanks for understanding, Ginny, it's one of the many things I love about you." He turned and went upstairs to get his books.

She was floored and was glad she was alone for the moment, though she was going to have to get her act together quickly as he would be back soon. He had used the "L" word. What should she do? Taking a deep breath, she realised the first thing she needed to do was to Floo home and pass some messages.

Fortunately, her mum was alone in the kitchen, reading a new cookbook. She was also very understanding about them not coming to dinner when Ginny explained Harry's request, and she promised to keep Ron home for the day. That done, Ginny went back to the castle.

Harry was already on the couch and reading, though he did look up and smile at her as she came out of the fireplace. Since her books had been left on the table, she joined him on the couch and picked up a book, so it was at least looked like she was reading. After staring at the book for a few seconds, she realised it was upside down and quickly righted it, lest her cover be exposed. Now she could think.

He said it was something he loved about me, but does that mean he loves me? Damn! Why does the actual relationship with Harry have to be so hard? Or is it really not hard and it's just me? I never had this sort of problem with Dean or Michael. Of course, I don't think Dean ever used the "L" word, and I used it several times before Michael did. Ron only uses that word about food and Quidditch, not that Ron is a good measure for anything, she mused.

Ginny snuck a quick glance at Harry and saw that he was now writing a study note about the passage in his book. Not counting my crush when I was so young, Harry has always been the one to advance the relationship, but is that really so bad? It certainly makes my life easier, and she had to suppress a giggle at that thought.

But what do I really feel? Why has it been so hard to figure out? Then a strange thought came to her. Or do I already know and am just fighting it? But if that's true, what am I scared of? What's there to fight? The more she pondered, the more her thoughts came back around to the same questions, and no answers were forthcoming.

Before she realised how long she had been thinking about her boyfriend, Hermione came out of the fireplace for their study session. Today's topic was Astronomy. Ginny liked Astronomy and enjoyed the discussion.

As Hermione was packing her book bag, Ginny realised here was an opportunity she should not pass up. "Hermione?" Her friend looked up. "I, uh, need your help measuring the hem for my robes. I need to adjust them and can't do it all by myself. Come help me." She grabbed her friend's hand and hauled her up to the dorm room. Ginny saw Harry watching them with an amused expression on his face as they left.

Ginny had barely closed the door when Hermione asked, "Ginny, this has nothing to do with your robes, does it?"

"No," the redhead admitted and sat on her bed.

Hermione sat on the next bed over. "So what's your problem, because I can tell you're not doing this just for fun."

"No," she said again. Knowing she probably did not have long, she jumped straight into it. "Hermione, Harry used the 'L' word today and I don't know what to do."

"Excuse me?" The bushy brown head had moved a bit forward and tilted as it tried to understand.

"Today, like a couple of hours ago, I told Harry I understood what he was doing and he said, and I quote, It's one of the things I love about you Ginny. Hermione, he's never used that word before, never. Ron uses it for food and Quidditch, but I don't think Harry ever has about anything."

"Ginny, you may be overreacting. 'Love' has many meanings, including 'like'. I suppose there are only two real questions. One, since you've been around him this summer, how do you think Harry meant it? And two, how do you really feel about Harry?"

"Hermione, that's the problem," Ginny told her with some exasperation in her voice. "I can't tell what Harry means by it. When I try to work it out, all I end up doing is arguing with myself in circles."

"OK, then stop trying to be so analytical about it." Ginny gave a snort. "Yes, I know that sounds strange coming from me, but if you can't analyze it, tell me how you think Harry feels. Based on all he's said and done this summer, how do you think he feels about you, Ginny Weasley?"

She hung her head for moment. "He probably really does love me."

"See, that wasn't so hard. Now the other question, how do you feel about him?"

Ginny made a snorting noise. "I don't know, that's part of what's so maddening."

"All right, let me ask it this way. Do you feel like you loved Michael when you were in the middle of that relationship, after you had worked everything out?"

"Uh, yeah, I probably did," Ginny admitted.

"Do you like Harry more than you liked Michael at that time?" Hermione patiently asked.

Ginny worked through that question, "Probably yes. No, that's not true, Harry is ten times better than Michael ever was at his best." She groaned, "I do love him don't I?"

A smiling Hermione told her, "Sure looks that way to me. So what's wrong? You sound like being in love with Harry is bad or something."

"I don't know, I guess it's because it snuck up on me. I wasn't expecting to fall in love. I mean, I'd gotten over Harry, really gotten over him such that he didn't matter except as a friend. Then this had to go and happen, and I'm having trouble dealing with it I guess."

"Ginny, don't worry, just enjoy it. Harry's not asking for any permanent commitment, is he?"

"No," but her overheard conversation with Sirius came back to her, and Harry had seemed like he was not opposed to something permanent.

"Then you really don't have any problems. He's a good guy. I'd date him but I know he's not right for me."

Ginny looked slyly at her friend. "Yeah, that's because a certain brother of mine looks better to you."

"Huh? What are you talking about?"

"Oh come on, Hermione. Everyone knows you like Ron."

"He is a nice friend, but he's only a friend Ginny." She got up to leave. "Come on, Harry's probably wondering about us and I need to get back for dinner."

"Avoiding the topic, are we?" Ginny was having fun with this. They were going down the stairs now. "If you don't believe me, ask Harry."

"Ask Harry what?" the boy in question asked.

Hermione looked to her friend and noticed that he had changed into one of the shirts the Weasleys had given him for his birthday. It was stretched tight on him and some new muscle was showing. "You look very nice in that shirt, Harry, I bet Ginny would agree with me if you asked her."

The redhead blushed slightly but was not distracted. "I do agree, but that wasn't the question. Harry, do you think Hermione likes anyone?"

"Yes." He wasn't sure if this was something he wanted to be drawn into.

"See," Ginny looked triumphant. "Of course, there is a more interesting question. Harry, do you know if there is someone who likes Hermione?"

"Ah, yes." He still was not sure what this conversation was about.

"See Hermione, it's all good. Just like you told me, you don't have any problems and should enjoy it." Hermione had a shocked look. "We'll see you later. Coming to dinner, Harry?" She started walking toward the portrait hole.

Harry joined her. "Uh, yeah, see ya later Hermione." A very thoughtful Hermione went back to join one of her best friend's family for dinner.

***

Harry finished up with dinner, or at least with what little he had eaten, and looked at Sirius. "I'm going to retrieve something from my room and then I'll be in the Room of Requirement for the next few hours."

Sirius looked at his godson carefully because of the solemn voice. "Would you like some company? I might be able to answer some questions for you."

"Thank you, perhaps I'll come find you later." He then looked at Ginny.

"I'll be with him, Sirius, at least for as long as he wants me there," she told Harry's guardian. The man nodded and the two students left.

When they had left the Great Hall, McGonagall asked Sirius, "What was that about?" Dumbledore was not there that evening.

"Albus gave Harry a box of some things from his mother. I believe he's about to open it and he's not sure what he's going to find."

---

Harry walked into the Room of Requirement and found a park scene. Lots of green grass, a few large shade trees here and there with the occasional bird twittering; a brook was softly gurgling not too far away, and there was a big blanket in the shade under one of the trees. The sun high in the blue sky was a bit strange as he knew the sun was about to set outside in the real world, but what he saw in front of him could easy be described as a relaxing, even a cheery and comfortable setting -- which was what he had thought about.

He walked over to the blanket and sat down, putting the box in the middle. Ginny stood nearby, not sure where she should be. Harry smiled at her and patted the blanket next to him on his left, so she joined him there.

Tearing off the birthday wrapping paper, he found a plain cardboard box. Inside, there was the large envelope Dumbledore had mentioned; it was a bit lumpy in a couple of places. Pulling it out, he saw some dried flowers underneath and what appeared to be a number of letters. He decided to start with the large envelope.

Opening the flap, he poured the contents onto the blanket. Out came two wands, a few pieces of metal which clinked but looked like rings, and were quickly covered up by a photo.

Picking up the photo, he saw the picture of a bride and groom. The groom could have easily passed for his slightly older brother, the bride was a pretty witch with red hair several shades darker than Ginny's. Having seen the other pictures in the photo book from Hagrid, not to mention seeing them in the Mirror of Erised, they were undoubtedly his parents. He knew they had married soon after graduating, so they were still quite young looking, about eighteen years old or so. They also looked very happy holding each other, with the groom stealing a kiss from the bride, who acted indignant he would do that, but it was obvious she loved it. Then they would wave at him before starting the sequence all over. He handed the photo to Ginny.

Next he picked up the rings, they were his parent's wedding rings. There were two plain gold bands, one a little narrower, and the third had a large diamond which was surrounded by tiny red rubies. He set them down next to what was obviously a Gringotts' vault key.

The wands looked like they were in perfect order. He picked up each one and gave it a wave. The first gave a few red sparks, but not many. The second gave one white spark. He could use the first one if he had too, but these would go into his trunk for now, so he placed them down with the rings.

The dried flowers came out next. Harry turned them around and found a small handle on the back. They were mostly white flowers with long petals, though there were three red roses in the middle and some other small green stuff here and there. "I wonder why she saved this?" he mumbled.

Ginny spoke for the first time since entering the room. "They were your mum's. See, they match what's in the picture. Your aunt must have caught the bouquet." He shrugged and put it down.

The last things in the box were about a dozen letters. He wondered why there were not more, but he knew he would never find out. He certainly would not ask his aunt.

Opening the first letter, it was obvious this was his mother's first letter home from school. She gushed about all the interesting things, many of the same sights that had awed Harry when he had first entered. He also saw a Chocolate Frog card in the letter; it was of Albus Dumbledore. It was a slightly younger Headmaster, but he still waved at Harry and ate a candy before sitting down in a chair and taking a nap.

He quickly read through them all, folding each back up and putting it back into the box when he was done. He did not hide the letters, but he did not hand them to her either; so Ginny had to read over his shoulder, until he got to the last one. As he finished it, he laid it on the blanket in front of her and started crying.

Ginny flipped the letter over so she could read the last page, then she reached over and pulled Harry into her arms and held him tightly. As she slowly read the letter on the ground, she understood why he was crying. This was probably the last letter his mother had ever written. It had been dated the day before they had been killed, and told Petunia they were now in hiding so it would be some time before she wrote again. It also asked Petunia to take good care of Harry if something should happen to them, as James had no family left. Ginny silently cried with him.

After a few minutes, Harry pulled back and quietly told her "thanks", and then he stood and pulled out his magical broom bag. As he pulled out his broom, the room got larger still. Ginny watched Harry mount his Firebolt and take off. He was not doing anything special, he just flew: circles, figure-eights, in and out through the trees, and even a few small dives. Ginny was trying to decide if she should request a broom to fly with him, when she heard a noise behind her. Turning, she saw Sirius, so she got up and walked over to him.

"How's he doing?

"He was pretty sad for a while, but I think he's getting it out of his system now," she answered. She thought of asking the Room for a broom, and one appeared on their blanket. Ginny walked over and put everything back into the box for Harry before she picked up the broom and joined him in the air.

It took several minutes, but Harry eventually noticed she was with him. She was heartened that he smiled at her, but she also noticed that he did not stop flying either. Looking down, she did not see Sirius, so she assumed he had already left.

After what seemed like a very long time later, Harry finally landed near the blanket and put his broom back into the bag and into the pocket on his shirt. As she landed next to him, he grabbed her hands and slowly pulled her into an embrace hugging her tightly. "Thank you Gin. Thanks for being here with me, thanks for letting me be me, and thanks for flying with me. The only thing better than flying, is flying with someone else who enjoys it too."

When he finished thanking her, Harry pulled back a little bit so he could look into her brown eyes, sort of like liquid chocolate he imagined. He loved looking into those eyes; well, actually he loved almost everything about her. To show her, he softly kissed her then slowly deepened the kiss.

Ginny wanted to melt. Harry felt so good to her against her and under her hands, especially with all his work on the weight machine. This kiss, like all the others, turned her brain to mush, and she did not ever want it to end.

It was some time before they got back to Gryffindor Tower, and both had very ruffled hair.

***

[Sun Aug 11]

Harry woke early on 11th of August. He got up and went through his normal morning routine. As he finished, he wished he could get into the girls dorm to wake Ginny up like she had woke him up on his birthday. As he finished getting dressed, he stuck his little broom bag into his pocket and then had the most brilliant of ideas, or at least it seemed to him.

He went out to the landing outside his room and looked down. No one was there. It was about an hour before breakfast, so he was not surprised not to find Ginny there; she normally waited until the very last minute to get up. That Sirius was not there either was not a surprise either. Harry never knew when he would be there or show up. He rather suspected his godfather did that on purpose to keep him and Ginny on their toes, but it worked to his advantage now.

Pulling out his broom, he mounted and flew across the gap to the landing on the girl's side. Hovering, he carefully opened her door so he could fly in. He was not sure if the alarm was on the stairs only or the landing too. Peeking in, he saw that she was still in bed and asleep. Grinning, he flew into her room, held his breath, and gingerly dismounted. No alarms went off. With a sigh of relief, he put his broom down and went over to his girlfriend.

He gently kissed her lips and saw her move slightly. Laughing to himself, he kissed her again, then moved his kisses down her neck. He heard her groan, but as he moved back to her face, he saw that her eyes were still closed, though she was now wearing a smile. Stealing yet another kiss finally got a more definite reaction. He saw her eyes fly wide open as she looked at him, then looked around her to confirm that yes, she was still in bed.

Realizing she was about to scream, he quickly put his hand over her mouth and whispered, "Ssh, Happy birthday Ginny!" then he moved his hand.

Suddenly, he felt her arms and hands go around his back and pull him down into a hug. "I don't know how you did this Mr. Potter, but it is a wonderful way to wake up."

Grinning, he told her, "I know. I like it too." Brushing a lock of hair back from her face, he stood up. "Get dressed quickly, you have a fun day ahead of you." As he grabbed his broom and flew back out the door, she understood how he had done it and why Professor McGonagall said flying in the castle was not allowed.

Wasting no time, Ginny was showered, dressed, and downstairs a little more than twenty minutes later. She came over to Harry who was looking through a book, as if searching for a favorite passage, and sat in his lap. "So, what are we going to do this morning, Harry?" They did not have to be at The Burrow until lunchtime, and they always took one day a week off just for relaxation. Since they went to The Burrow every other day, they normally took the Saturday or Sunday off. Hermione did not come for tutoring that day either.

"Would you prefer a walk on the beach or a visit to the moon? Or do you have some other place you've prefer? It's your day, so you get to chose." The Room of Requirement was a favorite place to go as it helped them to feel like they were not confined to the castle, even though they were and had not really been outside all summer.

"Hmm, that's tough." She was thinking out loud. "I do like sitting on the moon and watching the stars and seeing the blue earth in the distance, but I think today is a beach day. Sand between my toes sounds good for some reason."

"Then the beach it is." Harry knew they still had plenty of time before breakfast, and she was looking and feeling very nice on his lap. There was no resistance as he pulled her face to his. It was much nicer without morning breath, but he was not going to tell her that. There was something so satisfying about kissing her and running his hands through her long hair.

Harry had had no idea how long they had been sitting on the couch in the common room being "busy", when he heard a throat clearing. He and Ginny's heads sprang apart, though she stayed on his lap. A now dark haired man had a grin on his face that was about to split it in two as he said, "Do you two ever come up for air?" They blushed at him. "I swear I was standing there for at least five minutes and I don't think you ever parted once."

Though embarrassed, Harry was starting to figure out how to deal with his godfather. "What, you've never done that?"

"Didn't say I hadn't," the man calmly replied. He had handled too much ribbing from the other Marauders to let that little comment faze him. "I was just wondering about you two. You're about to miss breakfast if you don't hurry."

Looking at his watch, Harry snorted in amusement. "Sirius, breakfast won't even be starting for another five minutes." Still, Ginny rose and gave him a hand to pull him up.

"Maybe, but the way you two were going, I doubt you would have stopped before lunch."

"Ha-ha, Sirius," Ginny retorted and quickly flipped her hair to try to put it all back into place. Harry loved to watch her do that.

"Well, come on then." The trio went down to the Great Hall. As usual, Professor McGonagall was there. Harry noticed that Professor Dumbledore was again missing, for the third day in a row. When he had asked where the Headmaster was yesterday, Sirius had told him that the old man was off on Order business and that was all the answer he got; so Harry knew better than to ask again this morning.

After breakfast, the young couple did go find "their beach". Harry liked coming here as much as Ginny did. As usual, they took off their shoes and slowly walked in the sand at the edge of the water, where the water would occasionally splash them. When he concentrated on it, he realised the beach curved so the Room kept them in it by having them walk in a circle; but he wondered how big the Room really was.

Holding hands, they walked in silence for a bit. When Ginny stopped to squat down and looked at a starfish that was laying at the edge of the water, Harry thought of a question for her. "Ginny? What do you want to do when you graduate from Hogwarts?"

She turned the starfish over and looked at the bottom of it and watched it move, searching for the water. She did not hurry to answer, she knew all conversations on the beach were lazy. These were times the two of them used to get to know one another better; she loved these times.

"I don't know, Harry. I think I could do any number of things and be happy. I've thought about being a curse breaker like Bill. Doing research like Hermione wants to do could be fun at times, but so could working in a library where I get to read a lot. I'm hoping to take a Chaser position on the team this year, and if that is as fun as I think it will be, playing professional Quidditch might be interesting for awhile." Having a family was also high on the list, but she was not sure if that would scare him or encourage him too much, so she kept that to herself.

"You haven't really given it a lot of thought, have you?"

"No, I suppose not, just a little bit here and there." She stood up and grabbed his hand so they could resume their stroll. "I know you wanted to be an Auror. Do you still want to?"

Harry took his time answering. "Yeah, I guess, at least for now." She looked at him as if searching for a deeper answer, and saw him smile back at her. "Of course, now that you mention it, playing professional Quidditch does sound like a blast. It'd be really cool to get paid for something I enjoy doing."

She giggled a bit at him. "Harry, I surprised that isn't at the top of your list." He just smiled and they walked on.

---

A very long time and more conversations later, they noticed that Sirius was sitting in a lounge chair not too far in front of them. As they walked up to him, Harry asked, "Working on your sun tan?"

Sirius laughed, "Naw, that wouldn't work in here. Nice setting by the way, I could almost live in here. It just needs a cute girl in a grass skirt bringing me drinks to be perfect."

"Well, I brought my own cute girl, I guess you'll have to go get your own," Harry bantered with him.

That produced another bark of laughter. "Good one, Harry, good one. Well, since you two are so good about ignoring the clock today, I thought I should come and tell you that it's time to go so Ginny can become the young lady of the day to more than just you, Harry." They both looked down for a moment in embarrassment, though their faces did not change colour for once. Sirius handed them their shoes and socks, which he had found by the door, and they soon left.

As Ginny came out of the fireplace, Sirius, Harry, Hermione, and her whole family (except for Percy) yelled "Happy Birthday!" at her.

Her smile became very large when she saw Charlie and ran to him with a hug. "Charlie! I can't believe you came."

He returned the hug and told her, "Hey sis, for you, I'd take a day off." When he finally let her go, she went around to everyone else and gave them a hug too.

To Ron's relief, his mum called, "Lunch!" and started motioning everyone towards the table. He did not want to have to wait through all the presents first.

They had a good time talking while eating, but lunch was soon done and Ginny was pulled into the living room by Harry. There, Ginny saw a number of presents, including a very large one off to the side.

Harry really wanted to see her open his present, but he made himself be patient. Thinking about it, he had almost made a really stupid mistake. For reasons unbeknownst to him, he had corned Mr. Weasley shortly after his birthday to set up a meeting to talk to the man. The next day before anyone else was up, Harry had Flooed to The Burrow to talk to him. It had been one of the most intense ten minutes Harry had ever experienced as he told Ginny's father what he wanted to get her for her birthday. Her father had all but forbidden the present, and Harry was eventually forced to confide a secret to Arthur, and that finally won the man over, after a small compromise. After getting Arthur to keep the secret from his wife, Harry arranged for the present to be bought and sent to Arthur's office. Ginny had no clue what he had done. Harry also learned that sometimes, it's better to act first and ask forgiveness later.

Just as Ginny was about to open the first present, Harry stopped her. "Ah Ginny, before you start on the presents, shouldn't you give a present to everyone else first?" She looked at him strangely. "Perhaps share some news we received a few days ago?" Everyone was looking at him and Ginny still seemed puzzled, so he mouthed a word at her.

Enlightenment finally came over on her. "I suppose you're right, I'd forgotten."

"What is it, Ginny dear?" her mother asked.

"Well," the birthday girl paused as she hoped her mum did not kill her for withholding this news, "Harry and I both made prefect for this year."

Her mum squealed, "Ginny!" before she practically launched herself on her daughter and squeezed her tightly. There were several "Way to go" congratulations bestowed upon both of them, even by Fred and George. When her mum let her go, she looked at her sternly. "Ginny, why didn't you tell me when you found out?"

"Sorry Mum, but we didn't come visit for a few days and we both just forgot," she explained a bit lamely.

Her mother let her go and rounded on her father. "You knew, didn't you? That's why you suggested one of those for a present, isn't it?"

Arthur looked at his toes for a moment before he looked her in the eye. "I was sworn to secrecy, Molly, and you'll understand in a minute." Molly did not look like she believed him, but she moved back so Ginny could open her presents. The thought of blaming Harry did not even occur to her.

Fred and George gave their usual present, a box of their joke products. "Make us proud and uphold the Weasley tradition, little sis. Someone must carry on now that we're not there." Molly glared at them, but Ginny smiled and laughed.

Ron handed his over and she found some sugar quills and a box of very nice chocolates. Trust Ron to think with his stomach, she thought, but he did have excellent tastes in candy.

Bill also gave her quills, but they were Fwooper quills: a neon pink one, a garish green one, and a snow white one. "That's so you can write me about any important news sis, like if you should get a new boyfriend, or maybe get engaged." She blushed a bit, but tried to hide it with a shocked look.

Hermione's present turned out to be some very nice stationery with an ornate "G" at the top, as well as four bottles of 'Long Lasting Ink'. "The bottles will refill themselves four times," her friend told her.

Charlie's present came in a flat box that contained a T-shirt with a picture of a dragon that was slightly pink, had long eye lashes, and had a hair bow on top of her head. Underneath her were the words, "I'm hot!" Everyone laughed at it but Molly, she glared at her second son.

There were only two presents left, a small one and the very big one. Harry walked over to the one that was the size of a small trunk and easily moved it over to her. "This one is from me and your parents." He looked to her mother as he also added, "I believe a portion of it is also your present for making prefect." Her mum made an "oh" look, while her dad smiled at her.

Ginny ripped off the paper, and when she opened the box, she found it was mostly empty; but it did contain one item what was fairly long. She gasped and threw herself at Harry and almost knocked him over before she soundly kissed him. That got some cat-calls.

As she moved to hug her parents too, Ron lifted the flap on the box to look in and froze after saying, "Blimey!" That got everyone else wondering what was in the box.

Leaving her mother, she came back and gently pushed Ron back and pulled out her new Firebolt. All the other boys now "Ahh'd" over it too. Sirius just smirked and whacked Harry on the shoulder good naturedly before he reached for the last present.

"Here Ginny, this is from me," Sirius told her with a big smile on his face. "Now I understand why someone suggested this would be a good gift for you."

Setting the broom down, but leaning it against her as she did not want to part from it just yet; she opened the present. With a loud laugh, she pulled out a small black leather bag. Without hesitation, she put it over the handle of her broom and let it be swallowed up. Charlie gasped as he had not seen a magical broom bag before.

Ginny gave Sirius a quick hug of thanks, and then gave Harry a longer one, while she whispered, "Thanks Harry, you're too good for me, but don't you ever change." He chuckled while he hugged her back. It was a very happy birthday.

***

[Mon Aug 12]

The morning after Ginny's birthday, Harry and Ginny found Professor Dumbledore at breakfast. "Professor, you're back!"

That brought a chuckle from the old man. "Yes Harry, I have returned. Why are you surprised?"

"You've been gone for several days and no one would tell us where'd you'd gone." He also thought the Headmaster looked a bit pale and tired when he looked closely.

"As I'm sure you were told, I was away on some business." When Harry raised his eyebrow at him with a hopeful look, the Headmaster chuckled again. "Actually, yes, I will share it with you this time, as it does concern you." Harry noticed the twinkle fade from the old man's eyes. "In fact, if you and Sirius would join me after breakfast, I would appreciate it."

Then almost as an afterthought, he looked at the other student. "Ginny, I hope you will excuse me for not inviting you this time. This is something that concerns only Harry."

"Of course Headmaster," she neutrally told him. She really was not too worried about it, as Harry shared everything with her anyway, and she would get the news out of her boyfriend later tonight.

As they all finished breakfast, Dumbledore stood and said, "Gentlemen, if you'd come with me? Minerva and Ginny, we'll see you at lunch."

Settling into the Headmaster's office, no one took a lemon drop, not even the Headmaster, though they all took a cup of tea to help settle breakfast. Finally, the old man seemed to resign himself to attending to business. "Harry, I'll address the most pleasant business first." He reached into a desk draw and pulled out a necklace with five black stones that had silvery flakes in them, each hanging from the leather throng.

"You should wear this at all times," he told the young man while he handed it over. "I managed to store the Legilimency Shield spell on each stone, so if you or anyone else touches a wand to a stone, the spell will protect you for about two minutes. I would not be surprised if you should need to use multiple stones before the attack is over and you are comfortable again. I shall endeavor to find more of the stones that can hold the spell, but that is all I could find for now. If you will come back to me after they have been used, I can recast the spell on the used stones for a future attack."

"Can you also teach me to do that in case you can't be found?" Sirius asked.

"Certainly, and that is a wise move. Perhaps next time I have to do the charm would be good."

Dumbledore took another sip of tea, and Harry would have sworn the old man was delaying something. "I suppose we should discuss the most unpleasant part next, though I'm afraid I have one other bit of unfortunate news that will come later." He sighed deeply and the other two remained silent.

"Harry, some years ago a Prophecy was made. It was a bit ambiguous at the time, but since then, a few events have cleared parts of it up. I suppose I should apologize for not sharing this with you sooner, but as you're about to see, it's been very hard to determine when the right time was to share it with you. That being said, I believe it would be unwise for me to delay any further." With that, Dumbledore retrieved his Pensieve and the other two watched in fascination and horror as a miniature Sybill Trelawney rose up and stood on top of the pensive and uttered her fateful Prophecy.

When the memory had finished playing, there was absolute silence in the room. None of the three men could be heard breathing, nor could the phoenix on his perch. For once, even all the portraits on the wall were totally silent.

Harry sat in shock with one question running through his head. Not knowing what else to say, he verbalized it. "Why me?"

"An excellent question that I'm very sorry to say that I don't have the answer to. I would also understand you asking how we know this Prophecy to be valid." Harry nodded his agreement. "And one of my personal favourites, where does the knowledge of the prophecies come from and how do the oracles know what to say? Or probably better, how do the prophecies get spoken through the oracles?" Harry looked at him blankly for that question. "I must say I can not answer any of those questions, and another myriad more. Some things just seem to be the way they are."

"That's not very satisfying," Harry said very bitterly, and he was very surprised by the reaction to that comment. Dumbledore chuckled.

"That's not funny," Sirius told him very sternly. "This is Harry's life we're talking about here." Harry fully agreed.

The Headmaster coughed a bit before he very contritely agreed, "Quite right, my apologies. I suppose I've spent too much time thinking deeply about the philosophies and theories of magic. Anyway, as we can all see, the Prophecy answers several questions for us. Harry was born at the end of July and his parents had defied Voldemort three times. He's been marked with a special scar, and he's shown us at least one power only Voldemort had, or now has."

"What's that?" Harry was curious.

"Your ability to speak Parseltongue is the most obvious, though he may have transferred other powers to you as well that we have yet to learn." Dumbledore had another thought there, but held it to himself for the moment.

"And what would be 'the power He knows not'?" Sirius asked.

Albus sighed. "Alas, I'm afraid I don't know at this time. I firmly believe it has something to do with love, as that is something that Tom Riddle no longer knows, and probably has never known, but I'm presently unaware of how it will manifest itself. When the time comes, I'm confident Harry will know."

Harry wanted to get mad again, and again he suppressed it as he could not figure out how to make it work to his advantage. Then he noticed something else, something very strange. "Professor," his voice was very quiet, "what's wrong with your left hand?" Harry had noticed that Dumbledore's left hand looked a bit weird, but he could not figure it out. It was also hard to see why it was weird because Dumbledore had hid it most of the morning.

Dumbledore was taken aback by the question. "Why do you ask, Harry?" This time, Dumbledore did not pull it from sight.

"Because, it looks, uh, weird. I can't totally say why, just that it's not normal." After a pause, a thought occurred to him. "I'm sorry sir, that was rude of me."

"No, not at all Harry." Dumbledore waved off the question with his right hand. "Harry, do you feel you are still doing well in Sirius' classes? He said everything seemed to be coming to you very easily lately."

"Yes sir. Why do you ask?"

"Sirius?" Dumbledore looked to the other man. "Do you notice anything wrong with my left hand?"

"No Albus, I don't. In fact, I was wondering what Harry was talking about?"

Dumbledore decided this was as good a way as any to discuss the last topic. Picking up his wand, he pointed it at his left hand and said, "Finite Incantatem". Both Sirius and Harry stared at the blackened and slightly withered left hand of the Headmaster that was also missing his ring finger. With absolute calm, he said, "Harry, I believe that what you were seeing was the magical signature of the glamour on my hand. That is actually very advanced magic, and it reinforces with my suspicion that perhaps Voldemort also gave that ability to you, though that may not be correct. I also have that ability, and I believe Voldemort does too. So it is possible that you could have naturally been born with it, however, I don't think that is the case. Alas, we'll never really know."

After a moment, Sirius finally managed to speak. "What happened, Albus?"

"A very sad story, but let's take the long way to get there." He smiled at them as he thought about his humour. "First, let's ask the apparently unrelated question: Why didn't Voldemort die when the Killing Curse rebounded off baby Harry and hit him instead?"

"Yes, I'd call that unrelated," the dark haired man commented.

Albus smiled at him. "The obvious answer is, because he didn't, or couldn't, die. Which of course leads us to: Why couldn't he die?" Sirius and Harry nodded their agreement. "It took me quite awhile, but I finally tracked that answer down to some very Dark Magic. It was because he created a Horcrux." Sirius gasped and Harry looked puzzled.

"A Horcrux, Harry, is the splitting of your soul and then putting that part of your soul into an object. The theory is that because part of your soul is trapped here, you can't die if killed. Unfortunately, that theory is correct as Voldemort has used it successfully. Not only that, but he split his soul six times so there are now seven pieces of it, since seven is a powerful magic number."

Sirius slumped forward and put his head into his hands, his elbows on his knees as he digested this horrible bit of news. Even in that position, his question was still audible in the quiet office. "So now we have to find these six objects and destroy them?"

"Theoretically, yes. However, I have some good news for us on this topic." The old man stood and went over to a cabinet. Opening it, he grabbed a bundle of cloth. Bringing it back to his desk, Harry saw it was a Hogwarts towel that had the four corners pulled together with a number of things in the middle. Dumbledore untied the knot at the top and laid the towel open.

"I must caution both of you not to touch anything here, you risk your life if you do." Reaching down he picked up a small old book. "I'm sure you recognize this Harry?"

"Yes sir. It's Tom Riddle's diary -- the one that was controlling Ginny and trying to kill her."

"Correct, that was the first Horcrux I believe." With his wand, he moved a ring to the front of the towel. "This is the Gaunt family ring. The Gaunts were Tom's mother's family, and were descended from Slytherin himself. This locket," he picked it up, "represents a locket once owned by Salazar Slytherin. Most unfortunately, though I was able to magick an Inferi to drink the poison guarding this locket, it is not the real locket. Inside I found a note by an 'R.A.B.' stating that he was against Voldemort and had the real locket, whoever this R.A.B. person is."

Sirius sat up. "My brother Regulus Alphard was a Death Eater who tried to defect!"

Dumbledore brightened. "Could it be at your house then?"

"Almost certainly. There is a large silver locket hanging in the glass heirloom case in the living room, we can search this afternoon if you'd like."

"Yes, a good afternoon activity." Again using his wand Albus moved a piece of jewelry to the side. "This brooch belonged to Ravenclaw, and this teacup," he pointed to an ornate little china cup, "belonged to Hufflepuff."

"Professor," Harry spoke up after a moment of silence, "that's only five and you said there should be six."

"You are correct Harry. I have yet to track down the sixth, and in fact, if you paid careful attention, you should have noticed a pattern in the objects and therefore know what is missing."

"Those two," Sirius pointed at the book and the ring, "belonged to Tom Riddle, and might be considered family heirlooms."

"But the rest belonged to the Hogwarts founders, except for Gryffindor," Harry finished.

"Very good both of you." Dumbledore congratulated them. "I have yet to find the missing piece, and in all honesty, I have run out of things to look for and places to look. That being said, I strongly suspect that his pet snake Nagini is the last missing one."

"Huh?" Sirius was confused. "Why would you put that into a snake? They can die."

"Yes, but you can make them live a very long time with Dark Magic, and I don't think it was his first choice, just a back up choice. Still, Nagini seems to be more intelligent that she should be and he's also very protective of her, so I need to find her and test her."

"How do you test for a Horcrux, Professor?"

"Simple Harry. There is a spell to test for an animal life form. If an inanimate object has a life form, then it is either a transformed person or it is a Horcrux. As I can force a transformed person back to their human form," he did the spell on the cup, which stayed a cup, "if it doesn't change but has a life form," he did another spell on the cup and it briefly glowed red before looking normal again, "then we know this must be a Horcrux. Testing Nagini will require a slightly different spell so I can ignore the snake essence, but it can be done."

"Oh." Harry thought for a moment. "Professor, what objects were known as of, say one hundred years ago, to have been owned by Godric Gryffindor?"

The Headmaster smiled at the young man. "An excellent question! We have the sorting hat, but it is supposed to have an intelligence and it has never possessed any students in it's lifetime, so it is not a Horcrux. Then we have his sword, which was thought to be lost until you found it Harry. It has tested negative. You can also see a picture of it here with the founders." He pointed to a picture on the wall.

Sure enough, Harry saw a still portrait of the four founders, including Gryffindor standing at an angle with his right hand at his hip and holding onto the sword belted there. The jeweled handle was sticking out front, while the shaft of the sword would be behind him, but it was impossible to see as it was blocked by his body and Ravenclaw, who was standing next to him. "Are there any other known objects, sir?"

"No Harry, no others have been known about for hundreds of years. In fact, other than those two, any others are so lost in time they are now only a legend."

"Right, so we have to find and destroy Nagini, then we can help Harry get rid of Voldemort," Sirius summarized.

"Basically yes, at least after we destroy these living Horcruxes first," Dumbledore pointed out.

"How does one destroy a Horcrux, Professor?" Harry asked.

"That's another good question, Harry, and brings us back to Sirius' query. I tried to destroy the ring and was unsuccessful in several attempts. Finally I decided that maybe if I used the object in its intended manner, I might find a way. So I put the ring on my finger." He held up his left hand to show his missing finger.

"It did that?"

"Yes Harry, and I still wasn't able to destroy it. Also, let this be a lesson to both of you. When you do something foolish, always have someone nearby who can help you, and also know your priorities."

"What do you mean, sir?"

"I had a choice to make Harry, my life or my finger. I can live without my finger, though I must say that my hand is not what it used to be. Still, a small price to pay to continue amongst the living."

"What about an exorcism?" Sirius suggested.

"My first thought too, but it didn't work on the ring."

"I used a Basilisk fang on the diary. Can we do that on the others?" Harry asked.

"Interesting, but I don't think it would. Still, if we can not find another way, I'll consider finding another Basilisk and getting Fawkes to help us with it."

"But Professor, there must still be fangs left on the one down in the Chamber."

"I'm sure there are, Harry, but alas, the venom in them will have rotted by now, so they would do us no good."

There was more silence for a moment as each was pondering the question. "Er, Professor?" The old man looked at Harry patiently. "What would happen if you gave the item to a Dementor?"

The old man's eyebrows shot up to the top of his forehead. "Now that's something interesting I hadn't considered." Sirius shuddered as he remembered his encounter with the foul creatures two years ago. With some more thought, he began nodding, "Yes, I shall have to investigate that. Very good suggestion Harry, I should have thought of that."

Harry had another question. "Professor, since I'm going to have to take on Voldemort, can I join the Order now?"

"I'm sorry, Harry, we can only allow fully qualified wizards and witches to join the Order. This is because of personal safety. The Order sometimes must do very dangerous things and the members must be able to not only take care of themselves, but be able to Apparate. So while I'd like to do this for you, I'm afraid I can not allow it." Harry hung his head; he could understand and yet it was a real problem, and he hated to be kept in the dark.

Then Harry heard Dumbledore speak again. "Sirius, as head of the Order of the Phoenix, I think I have a new assignment for you." Harry saw his godfather jump slightly, apparently he had been somewhat lost in thought too. "The Chosen One, as the Daily Prophet calls him, is going to need a little extra information to perform his task. I would like you to be the liaison to him and let him know any information the Order develops concerning Voldemort. I believe we can dispense with all the mundane trivia that's discussed in our meetings, but any other major Death Eater type activity seems like fair game to me."

Harry could hardly believe what he was hearing, and when he finally looked up, not only were the Headmaster's eyes twinkling, but he would swear he saw the old man's left eye twitching too. Then he had another thought and looked at his godfather, who looked back at him. He mouthed "Ginny" at his guardian.

Smiling, Sirius turned to Dumbledore, "Certainly Albus, I'll be happy to take that assignment for you. I do have a question though." Albus merely nodded for him to go on. "Considering Harry gets much of his support from his friends, I believe it might be a good idea to let him share some of the information with them, or at least the one he's closest to." Harry concentrated on the desk in front of him in an attempt to control his slightly embarrassed reaction.

"Yes, you have a good point, Sirius. If you will communicate to the Chosen One that if he deems it useful, he may also pass along the information to his three closest friends, as long as they give him a Wizard's oath they will protect the information and will not share it any further."

"I can do that, and I believe it will work out just fine."

"Excellent," Dumbledore told them as he stood and started levitating the Horcruxes back into the make-shift bag they came out of. "Well gentlemen, I'm sorry I had to spoil your day with such dreadful news as these items and the Prophecy, but if you'll excuse me, I need to take care of a few more start of term tasks, and I'm sure you two will want to discuss this news as well as plan on how to keep yourselves safe." Harry interpreted that to mean how to keep him safe.

"I'm not happy to hear all of this, Professor, but I do thank you for telling me and for not keeping me in the dark. That means a lot to me," Harry confessed as he stood to leave. For some reason, he decided to take one of the Headmaster's treats as he left, and so he reached for a candy and popped the lemon drop in his mouth.

He heard a deep chuckle behind him. "You're welcome, Harry, and I believe you're starting the rest of the day off right. I've always found the lemon drops to help."

Once they were out in the corridor, Sirius came to a decision. "Harry, I'm sorry to have to do this to you, but when we go to my house in a few days, I'm going to have to ask you to stay there. If you need anything from Diagon Alley, I'll be happy to get it for you, but I don't want you to go yourself."

"Do you really think it's that unsafe? I mean, I could disguise myself."

"I know we could disguise you Harry, but it's only for about two weeks. After you get to Hogwarts, you'll be safe enough, though I'm afraid I'm going to have to think very carefully about Hogsmeade weekends."

Harry groaned, "Sirius!"

"I'm truly am sorry Harry, but as that woman said, 'neither can live', which I take to mean living a normal life. But then, when has life ever been normal for you, Harry?"

"Still, I need to have some fun or I'll go crazy."

"I know, and when you come back to school, I want everything to be as normal as possible. That's in three weeks Harry. Just hang on."

He was not happy at all, but Harry realised there was not much he could do. "OK, fine," he said with exasperation.

Sirius put an arm around his godson shoulder, which cause him to really notice that Harry was only a couple of inches shorter than himself, and maybe an inch shorter than James had been. "It will all work out, Harry. We'll help get you trained, keep the Death Eaters off your back, and then let you kick Voldemort's stupid arse to end the war once and for all. Just give us a chance to help you and stick with the plan. All right, kiddo?"

Harry nodded and told him, "All right." Now that they were finished talking about the Prophecy and the Horcruxes, the full weight of the burden was starting to hit him. "I think I'd like to spend a few minutes alone and think if you don't mind."

"Sure Harry. Lunch is starting soon, I'll see you there." Sirius gave his shoulder a squeeze and left him for the Great Hall. Harry turned and went down a different corridor. Soon, he was going up the steps of the Astronomy tower.

At the top, he looked out over the school grounds. His first thought was how beautiful it all was in the summer. He felt like a king surveying his kingdom. The second thought was that unless he was successful, this would all go away. He knew Voldemort would take whatever he wanted and ravish it, spoil it, corrupt it, and destroy it. It was all up to him in the end, kill or be killed. He leaned against one of the ramparts and slowly slid down to the floor of the observation deck.

If that was not depressing enough, they were still missing one of the pieces to the puzzle. Unless they could find it, and find a way to destroy all the Horcruxes, they could not even begin to go after Tom Riddle. And what would He do until then? How much destruction and fear would He spread? How many people would die? And most importantly -- how could Harry protect those who mattered most to him?

---

By the end of lunch, Harry still had not shown up. Ginny looked at Sirius and asked, "Where is Harry? I thought you'd said he'd be here by now." McGonagall look curious as well, though she said nothing. Dumbledore was not there.

"He's probably just thinking about everything he heard this morning. How about we go find him?"

Ginny agreed, so they left. As he seemed to be leading them back to Gryffindor Tower, she asked, "Do you really think he went back here?"

"Don't know," the guardian replied, "but it is a good place to check and if he's not here, there is something that will help us find him." She looked puzzled, but he smiled and gave the password, "Gryffindors rule". Harry was not to be found in the common room, or in the dorm room. Walking to Harry's trunk, Sirius immediately searched the left side of it and pulled out the old parchment.

"I've seen him with that. What does it do?" Ginny asked.

"Ah, this magical device is a prankster's dream come true." He tapped his wand to the map and said, "I solemnly swear that I am up to no good."

"Cool!" she exclaimed as the writing started to appear.

"Quite right Ginny, now search for the label with Harry's name," he instructed her.

After a moment, she pointed and said, "There, on the Astronomy tower."

Tapping the map again with his wand, he said, "Mischief Managed," before he put the map back. "Why don't you go talk to him Ginny? I think he's heard enough from me this morning, and I also think your kind of magic might be more successful than mine right now."

It took a moment before his meaning became clear, but when it did, she blushed slightly. "OK" she said in a quiet voice and left to find her boyfriend.

---

Harry was sitting very still against the wall when she got to the top of the tower. He was not asleep, unless he was able to do it with his eyes open. She was on her third step to him when he looked at her, though he kept silent. Not knowing what else to do, she sat next to him. "Want to talk about it?"

He took so long to answer, she was not sure he was going to, but he finally said, "No, it really doesn't matter."

"Then if doesn't matter, why not talk about it? Maybe that will help you."

"I didn't mean that, I mean that it doesn't matter in that talking won't help. In fact, talking about it would actually hurt you, so I can't really do that."

Ginny knew she was not perfect, and if forced to admit it, she would say that her dislike of people being protective of her was one of her flaws. One that blossomed with a passion. "Harry James Potter! Do not push me away like this, you need me if the problem is that big."

"But Ginny ..."

"Don't you 'but Ginny' me," she reprimanded him. She had learned this art from the best -- her mum. "You are pushing me away. What did I tell you at the beginning? Boyfriends and girlfriends share things with each other. It's how they help each other," she told him sternly.

"No!" he told her and stood. "I can't tell you this. I can't do this to you."

She stood too her eyes a blazing. "Can't or won't?!" she shouted.

He looked her right in the eye and did not flinch from her stare, the only boy she knew who could do that. "I won't," he firmly told her and walked away.

Ginny wanted to hex him so badly, her wand was in her hand before she had even thought about it. But it stayed at her side as she watched him walk through the door and down the steps back into the corridors below. She stepped back against the wall and slowly slid down and cried.

Harry walked back to the Tower and straight up to this dorm room. He changed into his workout clothes and went back down into the common room. It was not until then that he noticed Sirius was in the room. He saw the man watch him walk over to the exercise machine, but neither of them said anything, not that Harry would have answered him anyway. Setting the machine up one notch, he started his workout program. For the next hour, the only sound in the room was the clanking of the exercise machine as the weights went up and down, and the heavy breathing by the young man as he put himself through his paces. Sirius was barely reading as he thought about Harry, what was probably going through Harry's mind, and his possible options on how to help the young man.

After nearly an hour, Sirius watched a sweat-drenched Harry walk back up to his dorm room, hopefully to shower. He still had no idea what Harry was thinking, and now that he thought about it, he realised he had not seen Ginny since lunch either. As he was about to go up the dorm room to look at the map while Harry was in the shower, Ron came through the Floo network and into the room.

"Hi Sirius."

"Hi Ron."

"Harry up in his room changing?"

"No, I don't think Harry is going to be working out with you today. He seems to have something else on his mind."

"Nothing bad happened, did it?"

"No, Ron. Listen, it's really nothing you can help with. Harry is just being ... Harry."

"You mean he's being stubborn and pushing everyone away."

Sirius thought that was pretty insightful for Ron, but maybe that was not being totally fair to Ron. "It's hard to say, but probably true."

"I can stay and talk to him."

"Actually, I was about to go do that. Do me a favour though and don't mention this to your mum. I don't want her to worry, especially when it will work itself out."

"Even if you have to beat it out of him?" the redhead asked and laughed.

"The thought has crossed my mind," the man admitted. "I'll see you later Ron."

"OK," then Ron left.

Sirius went upstairs. Harry was not there, so he must be in the bathroom. A quick check of the map showed Ginny to be in his Defense classroom. He guessed she needed some alone time too. As he put the map back, he wondered if Harry had told her everything or not. Sirius was not bothered that he would have. In fact, Harry really needed to tell not only her, but Ron and Hermione too. Those four were a real force when they worked on something together. Not sure what else to do, he sat on his bed and waited.

It was another ten minutes before Harry came back in. He knew Harry had seen him, but his godson still had not said anything.

"Harry, if you're feeling so bad you won't talk, then you definitely need to talk about this."

"I'm fine, Sirius, I've just got a lot on my mind, a lot I need to work through. We'll talk later, but right now, I need to fly, so I'll be in the Room of Requirement."

Sirius did not try to stop Harry from escaping: physically and mentally. He watched him go. After a few more moments of thought, he decided to tackle the problem from the other direction. He started walking for his classroom.

When he got there, he found Ginny sitting in a chair with her wand in hand, alternately destroying and repairing a pillow. She had hit it with a Reducto and watch it fly apart, then a Reparo watching it fly back together, over and over.

"Hey, Ginny," he said.

She looked up at him to acknowledge his presence, but then turned back to the pillow and repaired it.

"How's it going?" he asked gently.

"Fine." Her tone was completely flat.

"That seems a bit hard to believe right now. What's wrong?"

She whirled and stood at the same time, then pointed her wand at him. "Don't push me," she said in a strained voice. When he stood motionless for few seconds, she strode towards the door with anger in her steps and left the room.

Alone, he sank into a chair to think. The only thing that came to mind was, This is not good.

---

Dinnertime came and it was again five of them at the table, since Dumbledore joined them. The three adults did all the talking, unless one of them asked a specific question to one of the students, who answered in as short an answer as possible. The second Harry was done eating, he was gone. Ginny left less than half a minute later, but it was obvious they were not going in the same direction.

As Dumbledore grabbed some pudding, he looked at Sirius and innocently asked, "I take it things aren't going well between Harry and Ginny right now?"

"I think that would be a safe bet, Albus."

"Given my experience from last year, I would guess that Potter is unhappy about something and has said something he regrets to Miss Weasley?" Minerva ventured.

"Possibly, or else he won't say anything to Ginny and she's mad at him for that; he's not really talking to me either."

A sigh escaped Dumbledore. "I was hoping we were beyond that after last year. I thought this morning went rather well. Not that I would have blamed him, but I wouldn't have been surprised if he'd hexed my office, or me for that matter."

"What were you talking about Albus that would madden him so?" Minerva was very concerned.

"I was trying to explain to him why Voldemort keeps attacking him." He hoped that was enough to answer her as he really did not want to tell too many people the Prophecy. "Harry seemed quite normal as he left."

"He was," Sirius admitted. "He said he wanted to be alone to think for awhile, which didn't seem like an unusual request. Ginny went to talk to him after he didn't show up for lunch and it's been downhill ever since. Obviously, there are a few pieces to this puzzle I don't know about."

Dumbledore pulled thoughtfully on his beard. "I do not wish to meddle unless I absolutely have to, so I guess we should leave it alone for now. Minerva, have all of our usual supplies been ordered?"

"Yes, they should be here early next week," the Deputy Headmistress answered.

Sirius bid them good-night and left them to school business. He walked back to the Tower to take up his chaperone duties. While he, Harry, and Ginny were all in the common room for most of the evening, it was the quietest the chaperone had ever heard. Everyone, including himself, turned in early.

Back to index


Chapter 8: Chapter 8: New Beginnings

Author's Notes: {A/N: I suspect this is the chapter most of you have been waiting for. Enjoy! }


Chapter 8: New Beginnings

[Tue Aug 13]

Breakfast was another very quiet affair. Sirius was pleased to see that the angry looks were gone, though he was not sure how much better the leave-me-alone looks were. He was starting to formulate a plan, or actually the idea for a good prank to drive them back together. James would be proud of him.

When breakfast was done, he herded them to the classroom for their daily Defense lessons. Harry understood why he was having all of these lessons now and went without complaint. Ginny glared at him as if she did not want to be in the same room with Harry, but Sirius just whipped out his wand and twirled it around his fingers like he had seen a drummer in a Muggle rock band do once. The wand ended up pointing at her. Either she was impressed by the speed of his draw, or else she decided it was not worth fighting about and went too.

Sirius started class today by having them duel each other. His plan was to get them going, then make something funny happen to get them to start laughing, then finally have them duel him so they would have to work together. His plan died before it was even born. It seemed that no matter how hard Harry tried, Ginny quickly beat him. Usually it took two or three spells, but sometimes a single Expelliarmus was all it took. Normally, Ginny struggled to keep up with Harry, he was that much better. Sirius knew Ginny was good enough now she could probably beat even most of the seventh years who had just graduated because of her summer of intensive training.

Deciding that maybe something different was needed, he had them try some Transfiguration work. That was just as bad. Ginny was doing her usual good work. Harry could not make anything work to save his life.

Looking at his watch, Sirius saw that it was about forty-five minutes until lunch. Getting truly desperate, he called a halt to the class. "Harry, why don't you go ahead and go back to the Tower. I want you to reread the Transfiguration section in the seventh year text book. Pay special attention to the animal to animal Transfiguration spells. I want you to be able to change a spider into a dog tomorrow." Harry turned and started shuffling out.

"Ginny, I want to work with you a moment on conjuring, your technique is slightly off. Now, when you need multiple rocks, ..." The door closed behind Harry and Sirius stopped talking.

Ginny looked right at him and said, "This has nothing to do with my conjuring technique, does it?"

"No, Ginny, it doesn't. We need to have a serious talk and this was the first way I could think of."

"Fine. When I feel like having a serious talk, I'll let you know." She turned around started leaving the room.

Sirius sighed and pointed his wand at her and said, "Accio Wand," then he flung a locking spell at the door as he caught her wand.

She was really angry when she faced him from across the room. "I'm truly sorry, Ginny, but we really do have to talk. Harry has a problem, a very bad problem, and I need you to help me help him."

"What makes you think I can help him or even want to help him?"

"Because I know that you really care about him. I don't think he will even be that hard to help, it will just require a little effort on your part."

"Like what? Go up to him, kiss him, and pretend everything's OK?" she asked snidely.

"Some people might tell you yes, but I actually want the two of you to be truly happy; and to be honest, we all need you two to be happy."

She laughed at him then sarcastically told him, "Right, you need us to be happy. Ha, ha, pull the other one."

Sirius did not laugh though. "Ginny, what you don't understand is that Harry is dealing with something very serious right now. It's so serious, it's distracting him and he's not thinking clearly. Look, you and I both know that when Harry is in peak form, we could drop him into the middle of a bunch of Death Eaters and he'd probably come out on top. He's a fighter, and he's physically and mentally tough. But Harry also wears his heart on his sleeve, and emotional things are difficult for him. Give him an emotional problem and it will take him forever to figure out he has the problem, then it will take him even longer to figure out what to do about it."

He paused a moment as he could tell she was starting to think about what he was saying. "Because Harry is not emotionally tough and insightful, I or rather we, need you to be that for him. Give him a chance and a little nudge in the right direction and he'll eventually do the right thing."

"I still don't understand why this is so important. We will work it out eventually, even if it takes awhile."

"But that's the problem Ginny, Harry doesn't have awhile. Harry needs to be tough all the time, but he can't be when he's like he is now. You saw him this morning, he wasn't just having an off day, he was pathetic -- to put it bluntly. But what Harry has to do is so important, he can't ever have even an off day, much less a bad one like today. If he does, and things happen then, he, you, us, everything as you know it will be lost in that one day."

She gasped. "You mean ..." and she could not say it.

"I'm not saying Ginny, that's Harry's information to tell. But we all need you and him to work something out, find a compromise that allows you both to be happy, and continue on. If you're patient with him, I have every confidence that he will eventually share it all with you. By being there and showing him that he's better with you than without you, he will come around and do the right thing. But in the meantime, he needs to be strong."

"I pushed too hard, didn't I?"

"You need to push Harry from time to time, that's part of why you're such a good person for him, but yeah, there are times when you need to not push too hard. You'll learn when to push and when not to over time. You've been dating for barely over a month Ginny, you're still learning about each other. Please realise that disagreements will happen from time to time. The important thing to understand is that you can work through them and you must work through them quickly."

"I guess I need to do this today."

"Yeah, the sooner the better. In fact, the longer you wait to fix a problem, the harder it gets," he told her.

"Right after lunch then and I'll need to do this alone."

"Use the common room, I'll send him there and be somewhere else. Ron will be here at his usual three o'clock, I presume, so that will give you a little over two hours."

"Right, let's go get lunch over with then."

"Thanks, Ginny," he told her gratefully as he handed her wand back to her, and he unlocked the door with his wand. "When he explains, you'll understand."

"I better, or you're in deeper trouble than you are now," she told him seriously as she walked to the Great Hall. He was not sure what to think of that, but he would suffer about anything to get Harry back on track.

Lunch was like breakfast in that it was a quiet affair. Harry did not say much to anyone, and Ginny followed suit, mostly to carry on an act so Harry would not suspect what she was about to do. As Harry finished lunch, Sirius informed him, "Harry, I really do want to go over that Transfiguration material tomorrow morning, so please take some time to read the material for a couple of hours this afternoon. I'll be setting up my classroom, so the Tower common room should be nice and quiet for you."

The boy nodded and then left. When he was gone, Sirius and Ginny looked at each other and nodded. Ginny got up and left too, doing her best to make sure Harry was going back to the common room, but trying to stay out of sight as she wanted him to have a few minutes to get set up first.

As the girl left the Hall, Minerva looked at Sirius and asked, "I take it you have convinced her to help you now and have a plan to help him?"

"Yeah, I had to take her wand, lock her in a room, then absorb insults for awhile, but I did finally get her to understand and agree to help," Sirius explained.

Minerva smiled at him and finished off her drink. "She's her mother's daughter. Would you really expect anything less?"

"No, and that's why I think she'll be successful too."

McGonagall privately agreed, though she did not say anything.

---

Ginny had watched him go into the Tower. Her self-imposed five minute waiting time was almost up when Nearly Headless Nick came by. "Miss Weasley, what are you doing standing around? There's not enough people in the castle to expect someone to pass by."

"I'm not waiting for anyone to pass by, Nick, I'm waiting for Harry to make himself comfortable before I go straighten him out."

"Ah yes, Mr. Potter. The Headmaster is quite concerned for him I hear," the ghost informed her.

"Oh really? Thanks for that info Nick, I'll send some concern his way soon." She was so going to prank those two for meddling. So what if they had good intentions, they were still meddling, she thought.

"You're quite welcome, Miss Weasley. Enjoy your hunt." The ghost left through the corridor wall.

Ginny was reasonably sure Harry should be on the couch with his books by now, the place she felt was best to trap him. Giving the password, she walked into the common room. His head was barely visible over the back of the couch as he read; she advanced on him.

As she came to his position, she saw that he was leaning forward reading the textbook that was lying on the low table in front of him, so she went over and moved the book and sat where it had been. She could tell he was about to protest so she rushed to beat him to the punch. "Harry we need to talk."

"We talked earlier." He was not quite rude, but close.

"Do you enjoy being mad at me, Harry?" She thought she would soften him up a bit first. He sat there and did not answer. "I don't enjoy being mad at you Harry. I really prefer it when we're happy and enjoying life together." He continued to be silent, but she could tell she had his attention. "Harry, I want you to know that I'm sorry for pushing you too hard. Sirius told me you were dealing with something important and I didn't realise that."

"He told you?" He was mad now.

She was having to work very hard at being calm. Her Weasley temper wanted to snap at him for not trying to work with her. "No, Sirius didn't tell me what you were thinking about, just that it was important and difficult, and that I needed to be patient."

He deflated with an "Oh."

"I'll be patient and wait Harry. I know you need to talk to someone and share the burden. I'll be here for you when you are."

"But I can't Ginny, can't you see, I'll put you in danger." He was almost pleading with her.

"I'm sorry, Harry, but I don't see because you won't tell me and I'm in danger anyway. It's well known my family is in 'the resistance'. Then there's the fact that I'm your girlfriend, and I'm not planning on not being your girlfriend anytime soon. Or are you planning on dumping me when school starts?" She did not think he was, but she was serious and felt like she had to ask. Please say 'no', she silently prayed.

"Oh no, Ginny," he quickly reassured her, and she mentally breathed a sigh of relief. Then another look of grief passed over his face. "But ... I never thought about that. I can't even have a girlfriend without putting her in danger."

"Harry James Potter, you will not worry about me that way. I can and will take care of myself. I can out hex everyone here but you and a few teachers, and I bet I could out hex most of the Death Eaters too," she sternly told him.

A small smile came to his lips for the first time during the conversation. "That is one thing I've always really liked about you," he admitted, "you're the sort of person I want around to watch my back."

"And don't you forget it Harry," she told him with a smile too. Reaching out, she grabbed his hands as she went back to the main topic. "Now, I can be patient when I have to Harry, but I also know that you do need to share your burden, even if you think you've got the whole world on your shoulders. You're not going to do the whole task on your own."

"But that's it, Ginny, it is the whole world and I'm the only one who can do it. Me, not you, or even Dumbledore, or anyone else. Just me."

"OK Harry, let's pretend for a moment it is just you. Can you tell me what stands between you and what you have to do? Is it an empty path or are there obstacles between here and there?" She was trying to be logical about this and hoped it helped him.

"Ah, yeah, there are a few obstacles," he admitted.

"All right, is there any reason the rest of us can't make it easier on you by taking care of the obstacles so you don't have to?"

He puzzled over that. "No, I don't think so."

"So we can help you that way, which should make it easier for you to accomplish the final goal. Of course, that also means we need to know what you need in order to help you do it," she concluded.

"Ah," he felt slightly torn between his feelings and her logic, but she had a really good point. "I've got to find something, and there will probably be a few Death Eaters in the way."

"Death Eaters aren't too bad, the Order handles them all the time. What sort of thing do we have to find?" she asked.

"An object of very Dark Magic. I probably shouldn't say much more than that. Dumbledore thinks he might know where it is, but he's not sure how to destroy it."

"Well, considering how many times he's had to apologize to you for major mistakes this summer, that's not overly comforting," she commented.

She had a point, he conceded, there seemed to be a lot Dumbledore did not know about all of this. Maybe she could help him. Ginny was being quiet and letting him think it through. Finally deciding he did completely trust her, he told her, "Remember last year when we heard the Order talking about a weapon they were guarding?" She nodded. "I found out they were really guarding a Prophecy that told about Voldemort and me." She looked taken aback by that. Then he quoted it for her.

While not totally surprised given Sirius' vague reference, she was still quite thrown for a loop. "Oh Harry, I understand now." She let go of his hands and pushed him backward on the couch so she could move forward and straddle his lap and get close to him. She gave him a hug, a tight, hard hug worthy of her mother. It felt so good to hold him again after a whole day of no hugs. She felt his strong arms slowly go around her and hug her back. "That feels so good," she whispered into his ear.

"Yes it does," he agreed. It felt wonderful holding her strong, lithe body against his. He had missed this more than he had realised. Everything suddenly felt right in the world again. He knew he had a hard task, but now he felt like he could do it and come out on top. Then he felt her hands start to run themselves through his hair and her lips on his. They were making up for lost snogging time and that was fine with him.

Ginny felt his hands roam up and down her back and sides. Strong hands that felt so good on her. His kissing was driving her wild, but she had missed and needed him like this. They could stay just like this until dinner for all she cared.

Time was completely forgotten until Ginny heard a voice behind her. "Ginny! Get off of him or I'm telling Mum!" It did not matter who it was, an intruding voice was enough to shock her into spinning sideways off of her boyfriend onto the couch beside him. She was glad she did not wear lipstick, or there was no telling where he would have lip prints.

"I'd yell at you mate," Ron told him, "but even I can see you weren't responsible for that scene." He glared at his little sister.

"Ron, you leave us alone. You have no idea what was happening."

"Oh no?" her brother retorted. "I think I could describe you sitting on Harry and what you were doing to Mum pretty well. I've watched enough of the seventh years and heard the stories here at school to know what was happening."

"No, sometimes things are more than they seem."

"Fine sis. Why don't you enlighten me then."

"Because it's none of your business, that's why." Wanting to put an end to all this, she turned to Harry. "If you're going to lift weights today, you should probably go change."

"Uh, right," he told her as he stood up, grateful to escape. He did not really want to talk to Ron about this. Ron started to follow, but Ginny got in his path.

When it was just the two of them, she told her brother in a quiet voice, "Now listen to me Ronald. There is something bigger going on. I can't tell you about it right now, but you will find out, probably soon. And don't you bother Harry about it either, because if I find out you have, I will hex you into next week and send bat bogeys after you."

"But that has nothing to do with what you were doing on the couch."

"Don't be so sure about that Ron, and you can't say anything about that either." It was a long shot, it was a bluff, but she thought it was true. "After all, what would Mum say if I told her about you and Hermione?"

His eyes went wide. "How did you know? We only, I mean we never, ..."

"It doesn't matter how I know, Ron." She was thrilled her bluff had worked beautifully. "The point is that neither of us is going to be talking to Mum, are we?" He shook his head no. "And you're also going to leave Harry alone about this, aren't you?" He nodded. She gave him a hug, "That's why I love you Ron, you really do care for others."

Ron gave her a hug back, she was his sister after all. She was a sneaky one, more mental than most girls, but she was still his sister.

Harry came back down and the two best mates lifted weights for the next hour and a half. Ginny was always nearby, though she only did a few exercises that day. Ron had entertained small thoughts of asking Harry a question or two about his feelings and plans for his sister, but her presence neatly prevented that. Her wrath was not to be taken lightly.

After the exercise period, which Ginny adored as she snuck glances at Harry with a special female passion, he went up to shower. When he came back down, she pulled him back to the couch. "Harry? Now that we understand about your special task, I'd like you to help me with a special task."

"Oh, what else is there beyond snogging me senseless? At least that we won't get into trouble for?" he asked innocently.

She laughed before she told him, "We've had a couple of meddlers in our life that I think need to be shown the error of their ways. We need to plan a few pranks." A half hour later, they had a plan and were heading to the Owlery with a note for a few supplies from some outside help.

***

[Thu Aug 15]

By the time the 15th of August came, Harry was not only able to beat Sirius in a duel, but he even gave Sirius and Ginny a very difficult time when it was the two of them against him. He could not quite beat them yet, but he held his own for long enough that if there had been any help nearby, they would have had plenty of time to come to his aide.

When they finished lunch, Professor McGonagall came back to the Tower with them to give it her inspection before the start of term. It passed, except for one item. "Potter!" she called as the boy came back down from his dorm with his trunk.

"Yes, Professor?"

"You are going to take that contraption with you, aren't you?" She was pointing to the exercise machine.

"I was hoping it could stay here for everyone in the house to use. I'd put it in my dorm room, but I didn't think it would fit with all the beds."

"I don't think so either," she agreed, "and it also can't stay where it is. There isn't enough room."

"But it's not in the way now ..."

"Potter, the only reason it fits now is because Sirius moved a number of work tables to another room, which have to come back if everyone in the house is to have a place to study." She looked at him as if that should have been obvious.

"Oh yeah, sorry. I'd forgotten what was there. I've sorta got used to all this over the summer. Hogwarts has always been my real home," he admitted.

The professor's stern look softened. "I understand, Harry. For you and few others, I suppose you do see Hogwarts as your real home. But you know that you have a real one to go home to now. You wouldn't have stayed here if it wasn't for your exceptional circumstances at the end of last term."

He nodded. "Thanks for that Professor. This has been the best summer of my life."

That tore at McGonagall's heart even more. She would always had a soft spot for Harry. "Still, that contraption has to be moved."

"Professor? There's an empty classroom right around the corner from our stairs. Could Sirius and I move it there for the House to use?"

Wanting to do something special for him, she smiled and told him, "Yes, but I can do something else that will help you a little more." She walked over to a blank spot on the wall and pulled her wand out. With a spell Harry had never heard before, the stones on the wall transformed into a doorway. She opened the door and the entire inside of the doorframe was black. "Walk through the door Harry, like this." She walked into the blackness as if it was a normal doorway.

Not sure what else to do, Harry followed; and suddenly, he was in the classroom he had pointed out to his Head of House. "Cool!" He also saw her do a spell to the class' door that led to the corridor, and the door turned into gray bricks so no one could enter or exit there.

"I've made a portal for you Harry. This room is now an extension of our House. I would suggest Shrinking and Feather Weight spells to move it in here. I'll leave the cleaning and arranging of the room to you. That includes all the papers you have taped to the wall in the common room."

"Thank you, Professor! I'll take care of it." Harry was happy to comply.

They walked back through the portal and returned in time to see Ginny levitating her trunk down the stairs. "Oh Miss Weasley, if you would come join us over here, I have something to show you two." Ginny set her trunk down and followed her Head of House and Harry out the portrait hole.

On the landing, McGonagall turned to the Fat Lady. "These are the two new fifth-year prefects, and I want to show them how to set the password." She turned to the students. "As you are on the list of prefects, you can state you name, your desire to change the password, and what the new password or pass phrase is. Once one of you does that, it takes a second prefect to confirm the change before it takes effect. Go ahead and set the password, it shall be in effect through the first week of class."

They looked at each other. Harry asked, "What shall we make it?"

"I don't know," Ginny replied. "Something Gryffindor-ish sounds good to me."

A smile crossed his face, "How about something educational too?" He turned to the Fat Lady and said, "I, Harry Potter, wish to change the password. Please make it: Voldemort lies."

The Fat Lady gasped and McGonagall exclaimed, "Mr. Potter! Why would you choose a password like that?"

"It's very Gryffindor-ish as Ginny suggested, and as Professor Dumbledore says, 'Fear of the name increases fear of the thing'. What better way to teach people it's just a name, and what Voldemort is best at: lying."

Harry and McGonagall were so focused on each other, they were surprised by a new voice, "I, Ginny Weasley, agree to the password: Voldemort lies." She had said the name clearly and without hesitation for the first time, and she was proud of it.

McGonagall sighed, "I can't fault your logic, Potter, but you do realise that the majority of the House will feel like they can't say it and may be stuck outside the portrait." Harry shrugged his indifference. "Very well then, but I'm also giving you the task of explaining this password on our first night. So when you lead the first years up here, hold them downstairs for a few minutes to hear your speech to the whole house."

If she thought that giving a speech would scare Harry into changing it, she was wrong. "As you wish, Professor. Is there anything else we need to do, besides moving my exercise machine before we leave?"

"No, Mr. Potter, there is not." She looked at the young man. He was only sixteen, and yet he seemed so much older; and it seemed like only yesterday his father was here looking just like Harry did now. "I'm glad you've recovered, Harry, and that you've had such a good summer. I'll see you in about two weeks." With a small smile, Minerva McGonagall turned and left for her office.

Harry looked at Ginny and grabbed her hand. "Hey, let me show you what McGonagall did. 'Voldemort lies'." He practically dragged her into the common room and through the portal. She was impressed. They went back through and while Harry moved the machine, Ginny took down all of the papers taped to the wall. Into the new room it all went, and they put it back into a useful state. Harry decided he would clean the room later, if the elves did not do it for him.

They both shrunk their trunks down so they were small enough to hold in their hand and Flooed to Grimmauld Place. As they came into the kitchen, they were greeted by an exuberant Dobby. "Master Harry and his Wheezy," the elf exclaimed as he came over and hugged Harry's left leg.

Harry had been happy for Dobby when Sirius had told him what had happened. "Hey Dobby, it's always good to see you." He noticed that Ginny seemed to be frozen, so he looked to see what the problem was. As he looked, he could not believe how good the place looked. It sparkled so even Molly Weasley would have approved. And the place looked positively cheery. "Dobby, excellent job on the redecorating here. I really like it."

"Thank you, Master Harry, Master Sirius says he likes it too."

"Has the rest of the house been fixed up too?"

"No, sir. I have only done most of the first floor and your two bedrooms and bathrooms besides the kitchen. There have been many bad things to remove," the elf told him.

Remembering all the cleaning they had done last year, Harry could easily believe that. "Well, let me take my trunk up, then I guess you have to go home, Ginny."

"Master Harry," Dobby interrupted him, "Master Sirius said dinner tonight is to be at the Wheezies."

The two took his trunk up to Harry's room. The extra bed for Ron was still there, but the rest of the room was very different. New paint and a new rug helped a lot. Harry also noticed that many of the fixtures that had had snakes and other Dark creatures on them were gone, and plain fixtures, or fixtures with lions had taken their place. Harry expanded his trunk so it would be ready later. Checking his watch, Harry saw they had plenty of extra time, so he took Ginny's lunch box sized trunk from her, and place it on top of his. "You do realise we have over an hour left before we need to be at The Burrow, don't you?" He slowly pushed her back against the wall to his room.

"Really? Did you want to do anything special before we go?" Ginny grabbed his waist and pulled him to her. They only made it to The Burrow on time because Dobby interrupted their snogging session when they were supposed to be there.

***

[Fri Aug 23]

Harry sat down for breakfast in a foul mood. His godfather was reading the morning paper while he ate breakfast. While Harry was dishing out some eggs, he started his argument again. "Sirius, I'm sure no one would recognize me with a few good glamours."

Sighing, the guardian put the paper down. "Harry, we've already discussed this. You can't go today. Diagon Alley is too exposed and easy to get to and get away from. Look, you've had a great summer so far. You've told me yourself that this house is actually nice to come to now, and Ginny has been over training with you every day since you've been here. So I know you can't be that bored. And, you'll be leaving for school in nine days, which isn't that long. You've already got all of your books since they're the same as last year's, so if you went, it would only be for sightseeing."

"That's not true, there are things I need to get."

"Like what," his godfather challenged him. Harry was ready and pulled out a list and handed it over. It read:

500 Galleons
3 boxes of owl treats
5th year potions supplies
Broom servicing kit refill
New robes
Extra defense books

"Thanks Harry, I'll take the list and get it for you."

Harry harrumphed. "While you might could get the rest for me, you can't get the robes unless I'm there to be measured for them."

"Not a problem, Harry, I've already thought of that. Molly is going to come by before she goes and take your measurements."

A harder looked crossed Harry's face. "Is Ginny going?"

"Yes, she and Ron are going with her mother, myself, and Tonks. We're to meet Hermione there too."

"Wait just a minute now Sirius, that's my girlfriend you're talking about and you're not letting me protect her."

"You don't need to Harry, there will be three adults there."

"Yeah, three adults and I can beat two of them and maybe the third too. You need me to be there. In a disguise, and I promise not to act like Ginny's boyfriend, I'm just an old friend who can help protect everyone there."

"I'm sorry, Harry, it's just too dangerous. Here, look at the front page." Sirius unfolded the paper and slid it over to him.

Harry read about the Dementors leaving Azkaban and ten escaped Death Eaters. "All the more reason for me to go. I can create a corporeal Patronus. And besides, if it's that dangerous and Ginny goes and gets hurt, then what happens? Do you think you can really stop me from going after the Death Eaters who do something to her? Because I will, the second I find out, and the consequences don't matter to me."

Sirius mentally cursed. He knew Harry would do that too and there was not anything he could do about it. The damn kid was growing up. Who signed him up for this godfather job anyway?

There were limited options and Sirius needed to talk to someone. He fixed Harry with a stare and commanded him, "You stay right here, I'll be back in a few minutes. Dobby?" He turned to the elf who was taking care of the dishes. "Don't let Harry leave this room unless he's in mortal peril. If something happens, send him to Dumbledore's office and seal the Floo. If I'm not back in twenty minutes, send him there anyway." He strode for the fireplace muttering. "Damn kids grow up and think they know everything." Throwing some Floo powder in, he growled, "The Burrow," and disappeared.

Harry grinned while he finished off his juice. Dobby stood there watching Harry, but Harry could tell Dobby was indecisive as to what to do. Harry knew he could trick the elf and take him if he had to. Yes, plans were good when they worked.

---

Sirius came out of the fireplace and without looking yelled, "MOLLY?!"

Molly Weasley was trying to put breakfast up and was ten feet from the fireplace. The yelling startled her and she dropped the plate in her hand. She also ducked and twirled; by the time she was facing the fireplace and her visitor, her wand was in her hand and pointed at him.

"What are you doing? You about scared me to death."

"We have to talk, it's an emergency." He looked around the room and the only other person there was Ginny, who was finishing up breakfast. Looking at the girl, he added, "We better go into the other room, I don't want anyone else getting any sneaky ideas." He grabbed Molly's arm and practically dragged her into the living where he shut the door and put an Imperturbable Charm on it.

Ginny watched them go into the other room. Curiosity got the better of her, so she went to the fireplace and threw a pinch of Floo powder in to make a Fire Call to Harry to see what was going on.

In the living room, Sirius told Molly, "I've got to have some help, Molly. I swear that if I didn't already drink, that boy would make me start."

"Calm down, Sirius, and tell me what the problem is," Molly tried to placate him.

"Molly, Harry is telling me that he is going to Diagon Alley with us, whether we want him to or not."

"Sirius, you're the guardian, his father so to speak. Just tell him to stay."

"You're missing the point Molly. No, I'm not telling you the point," he said hurriedly in his exasperation. "He said that if Ginny goes, he goes because he has to be there to protect her; and I can't tell Ginny not to go."

"That's silly, Sirius, tell him he can't go and then make him stay. You're the parent."

"Molly, I can't, as in literally can not. The whole point of the summer was to train him in Defense; and he's damn good. He can practically wipe the floor with me, and your daughter is almost as good."

"Fine, Ginny can stay here and then Harry doesn't need to go," Molly decided.

"Thank you, Molly." He surprised the woman with a hug.

Taking the silencing charm down, they went back out into the kitchen and found it empty. Sirius was about to go back when he found a note attached to the fireplace where it could not be missed.

Mum, I've gone over to Harry's for awhile. Come get us when you're ready to go. Ginny

"Damn! Give the boy some training and he wants to use it," Sirius snarled as he handed the note to Molly.

Molly read the note and her temper rose, then she had an idea. She was not the mother of Fred and George for nothing.

---

Harry and Ginny were sitting at the kitchen table looking at the newspaper when the fireplace came to life and Sirius, Molly, and Ron came out of it. Dobby looked very relieved to see them.

Molly quickly walked over to the two teens and told them, "If you're going to come, I need your measurements so we can drop those off for robes and come back and pick them up later. We need to be very quick about this trip." She inwardly smiled when her daughter and her boyfriend both stood. Molly pulled out her magical tape and quickly measured them. Ron came over too and idly talked with them. No one paid Sirius any attention as he handed Dobby a note.

When Molly was done, she told Ron to go first, and he went through the Floo Network. Sirius looked at them and told them, "Put some glamours on and then come through. Molly and I will go guard the other end while you're doing that."

Harry and Ginny pulled out their wands to change their appearance when the two adults left. As soon as they were gone, Dobby flung his hands up in front of him and a light hit the fireplace. "Dobby, what did you just do?" Harry asked.

"I is sorry Master Harry, but Master Sirius commanded that I seal the Floo until three this afternoon. The doors are sealed too; you and your Wheezy must stay here."

Harry looked at the little elf and started to get mad, then he could not help himself and started laughing.

"What's so funny Harry? We can't go now." Ginny was fuming.

"I know, the plan almost worked, but I think your mum outsmarted us. I don't think Sirius wouldn't have thought of that on his own. Still, this isn't all bad," he told her.

"It's not?"

He grabbed her hand and started pulling her out of the kitchen and up towards the rest of the house. "No, it's not. Don't you see?" She shook her head. "Ginny, it's just you and me, and no adults, for the next five hours or so." He led her into the library and closed the door, and locked it with his wand. "There, that will give us a warning if they should come home early."

She smiled at him coyly as she asked, "What did you have in mind, Mr. Potter?"

"Nothing that would get us into permanent trouble, but perhaps we could explore a little. What do you think Ginny?"

Ginny came over to him and pulled him to the couch, "I don't think I would be opposed to that," she told him as she ran her hands up the T-shirt on his chest. She grabbed the back of his head and pulled it to her for a kiss, then ran her hands back down enjoying the feel of his chest muscles. "In fact, a little bit extra could even be fun," she breathed into his ear as she felt his hands go slowly down her back and onto her jeans.

***

The shopping troupe Flooed into the kitchen at Grimmauld Place at three after three. Sirius saw Dobby working on dinner. "Where's Harry?" he asked the elf.

"Master Harry and his Wheezy are in the library, Master Sirius. They been there the entire day."

"Thank you Dobby." Sirius, Molly, Ron, and Hermione, who had come back with them for a few hours, went upstairs to the main floor of the house. They found the library door slightly open. Looking inside, they saw Harry lying on the couch, and Ginny half lying on Harry with her head on his chest and wrapped in his arms. Both were asleep. They also noticed two books on the table and a pack of Exploding Snap cards in a messy pile.

Molly looked at the pair and was torn between being happy they were still here and not doing anything really bad. She was also sure their position was not the most appropriate.

Sirius walked over and gently shook Harry's shoulder. "We're back." Two green eyes snapped open and looked at him.

Harry looked back down to Ginny and rubbed her back. "Time to wake up, Ginny."

She seemed to want to snuggle closer to Harry as she mumbled, "Just a few more minutes Mum."

That actually made her mother feel a bit better and chuckle, everyone else grinned heartily. Molly put all the sacks down and looked at Ron. "Why don't you two stay here with them, and when they fully wake, you can go through and divide all the items in the bags."

It took a few minutes, but Harry eventually woke Ginny. She got up enough for Harry to sit up, then she crawled back into his lap to snuggle again.

"Did you both have fun shopping?" Harry asked.

"Yeah we did, though I was pretty surprised when you two didn't follow us out of the Floo. I must admit that was pretty sneaky of Mum to get you two to stay here," Ron told them. Hermione smiled at the thought.

"Well, I guess she did outsmart us," Harry admitted, though he also decided that his day's activities had been more fun than Diagon Alley would have been. "Still, at least she left me with a good reason to stay." He kissed the top of Ginny's head, who tightened her arms around Harry. She was still waking up.

"What did you two do all day?" Hermione asked them.

"A little bit of everything, but mostly read and talked," he casually answered.

"Uh huh, right," she agreed with a smile.

Ginny spoke for the first time. "You two are sitting awfully close other there. Are you finally ready to announce that you two are an item? Or are you just going to keep snogging away and not tell anyone?"

Hermione's eyes went wide. "Ron! You promised not to tell."

Ginny giggled in Harry's ear and he chuckled. "Did you really think you guys were going to keep it a secret?" Ginny queried.

"Not forever," the brunette answered, "but for now, yes."

Harry rolled his eyes. "Oh please, everyone's been waiting for you two to get together for the last year or two. We're not going to miss you sitting that close together, holding hands, or spending that much time together alone." Ron and Hermione both blushed, but did not deny anything. Ron was about to deny the holding hands part, but then looked down and realised their fingers were overlapping and neither had noticed or moved.

"So, how did it happen?" Ginny asked them.

Ron looked embarrassed, so Hermione knew it was going to be up to her. "After you and I talked at the castle that day, you made me realise I really did like Ron in that way, so I decided to talk to him about it. He tried to deny it, but I also decided to take matters into my own hands like you did Ginny -- I kissed him. The rest, as they say, is history."

Ginny giggled again and Harry laughed quietly. To get himself and Hermione away from scrutiny, Ron quickly suggested they go through the packages. Hermione agreed and started passing things out. That took them the rest of the time until an early dinner.

***

[Sun Sep 1]

Harry was glad to be going back to school today. After the stunt he and Ginny pulled about going to Diagon Alley, they had both been grounded for the last eight days of summer and only saw each other twice; both times were when there was an Order meeting. But today, he would go back to his other home, where Ginny and his other friends would be there with him every day. He would even get to see his godfather every day, with whom he really was not that mad at anymore for the grounding.

He wanted to go early to meet Ginny, but did not bother as he knew Ron would make the Weasleys late. It amused him that he had been correct in his guess; the Weasleys showed up five minutes before the train was due to depart. Harry had already secured a compartment and stowed his stuff there, as well as found Hermione, Neville, and Luna, and got them to come sit in it to hold it. That allowed him to go back out and wait for his girlfriend.

Ginny was the first through the barrier. She let her cart go and ran over to Harry where he swept her up and twirled her around before he kissed her soundly. As he set her down so he could grab her trunk for her, he noticed Ron watching them and rolling his eyes. Harry chuckled and tried to remember the look so he could return it when Ron did something with Hermione.

Helping Ginny get her stuff into his compartment, Harry put his prefect badge on so he could assume his official duties. Neville looked at him in amazement, but did not say anything. Luna did not seem to notice. Ginny put her badge on as Ron came in to put his trunk up and greet Hermione, then the four of them walked forward.

They made it to the Head car as the train started to move. Looking around, they saw that only about half the prefects were there. The Head Girl, Katie Bell of Gryffindor, and the Head Boy, Marcus Belby of Ravenclaw, were already present.

Harry and Ginny took a seat and noticed Draco Malfoy and Pansy Parkinson were across from them. The blond Slytherin drawled at him, "So who'd you steal the badge from, Potter?"

"I got mine the same way you did Malfoy, in my letter. Of course, I didn't have to have my father bribe my Head of House to get it." Harry was pleased to see a small rankle of annoyance pass over his nemesis. He had decided he was not going to let Malfoy get the best of him this year.

Draco was looking around and had a puzzled look on his face. "Since the Mudblood and her Weasel are here," Ron bristled at the slur, "and there can't be three prefects in a year," a smile suddenly crossed his face, "that means you're still going to be in fifth year." He laughed at Harry.

Harry did his best to act casual. "Well, that happens when you miss over a month a school because you're sick, not to mention being too sick to take OWLs. At least I didn't outright fail like Marcus Flint in your house did a few years back and have to repeat the seventh year."

"Who cares," Malfoy brushed off the barb, "you're going to get so behind even Crabbe and Goyle will know more spells than you." He laughed at Harry to rub the taunt in.

"If you're so certain of that, feel free to challenge me to a duel anytime you want, Malfoy." Harry heard a gasped intake of air from Hermione's direction. "However, I hope that this time you'll not be such a coward and actually show up, unlike last time when you chickened out."

"How dare you call me that!" Draco sat up straighter and glared at Harry.

Katie Bell was watching the exchange with interest and amusement, as well as wondering if she needed to end it; but everyone was not quite there yet. Katie noticed that Marcus Belby was making puzzled faces while watching the two enemies, but he did not stop it either. Still, Katie was not too worried. Harry might have a casual air about him, but she could see his hands behind his crossed leg. They were together in such a way that if he was wearing a wand holder on his wrist, his hand was almost certainly on the end of his wand. Plus, she was not opposed to seeing Draco receive a hex just on sheer principle.

Harry was pleased he was finally getting under Malfoy's skin, though he also noted that Ginny was tense and her hand had slowly moved towards where he knew she kept her wand in her robes.

"What's wrong, Malfoy? Don't like the truth that you're a coward and didn't come to the duel that you challenged me to five years ago?" Draco moved a little more, and Harry was pleased and tried to push that last extra bit so spells would start. "I bet you also don't like the truth that your illustrious Voldemort," and there were several gasps from the others, "who likes to promote pure-blood ancestry, is really a half-blood himself."

"Shut it, Potter!"

"The truth is that Voldemort's father was a Muggle. I think that's pretty mental for the leader of the pure-blood terrorists." Harry saw the fire in Malfoy's eyes and knew all the Slytherin needed was one more push, maybe something about his mother.

Just then, the door to the cabin opened and the Head Boy announced, "It looks like we're all finally here, so why don't we get started."

Draco settled back in his seat, though he rarely took his eyes off of Harry. Harry glanced around the room as needed, but made sure Draco was always in his field of vision. Harry knew it was a dangerous game he was playing, at least when he did not control the playing field. If he could keep Draco from hexing him in the back by surprise, Harry knew Draco would not be a problem. If he got really lucky, he would also get Malfoy expelled.

As the Head Boy started talking, Ginny moved over slightly and whispered in Harry's ear, "Harry, were you trying to pick a fight? Because you came awfully close there." He nodded and she sat back up and looked a bit worried as she listened to the Head Girl start to talk about their duties.

During the meeting, Harry started to understand why Ron was always so down about these things. They were tedious and boring. If he ever made Head Boy, he would do his best to liven things up at his meetings.

It took nearly an hour and a half, but the meeting finally ended and everyone started to leave. Harry took his time getting up, and as Malfoy was almost at the door, he told his friends in an overly loud voice, "Well, I guess Malfoy doesn't have the guts to do anything unless he has his two goons with him so he doesn't have to soil himself." Draco glared at Harry and Harry saw the Slytherin's hand twitch, but after a moment, Malfoy left with Pansy muttering at him about not doing something about Potter.

"Bloody hell, mate," Ron exclaimed after all the Slytherins had left. "What got into you? Not that I didn't enjoy that of course."

"Ron!" Hermione rounded on him.

"Hermione, he was brilliant, though I think Malfoy was about to pull his wand." Harry just smiled at Ron's comment, though he did not answer.

They all left to go to their cabin, and Harry was very careful to note what compartment Malfoy and his friends were in; he was careful as well to shield Ginny when they passed by. Back in their own compartment, Neville and Luna were waiting for them. Neville was reading a book on plants, while Luna was reading her Quibbler -- upside down as usual.

As soon as they got in, Neville looked at Harry. "Hey Harry, how'd you get a prefect badge?"

The explanation was not getting any easier, and he still had his announcement that evening coming. Ginny sat down very close beside him, so he put his arm around her shoulders. "I'm having to repeat the fifth year since I missed so many classes and my OWLs. McGonagall said that I had good grades and leadership experience, so voila, I'm a prefect along with the lovely Miss Weasley here." He gave her shoulders a squeeze and she snuggled into him.

"I'm glad you two finally got together," Luna told them. "I was afraid it wouldn't happen before the Thuffilnuts killed you, Harry; but I see that Ginny rescued you as only a lover can kill them."

A quick glance showed amused looks on everyone else's faces, so Harry did his best to put a small smile on his and replied, "Yes, I was most fortunate that Ginny saved me." Hermione looked like she was about to say something, but Ron reached over and grabbed her hand, which totally distracted the girl. "So you know, Neville and Luna, Ron and Hermione are dating too."

"About time," Neville muttered. Harry and Ginny started the other four laughing.

Other than their one brief patrol duty of walking up and down their car, the rest of the trip went quite well. Malfoy did not show himself for his usual jeer and taunts, and for the first time, Harry was almost sorry about that.

***

At the train platform in Hogsmeade, Harry and Ginny helped direct all the first years over to Hagrid. They also greeted their giant friend before finding a carriage for their ride to the castle.

Finding a seat at the Gryffindor table, Ginny leaned over to him and whispered, "It's too bad we couldn't have done it tonight."

Harry knew exactly what she was talking about, as he was looking forward to it was well. "Yeah, but we couldn't get here soon enough. We'll take care of it tonight." She smiled and looked forward to their adventure with relish.

The Welcoming Feast was as good as usual. The highlight was when Dumbledore introduced Professor Black as their new DADA teacher. He got a nice round of applause. As the Feast ended and Dumbledore sent them back to their rooms, McGonagall fixed him with a stare, to which he nodded his acknowledgement.

"First year Gryffindors, follow me," Harry commanded. Ginny did the same and soon everyone was making their way to their home away from home.

"Harry, do you know the password?" Hermione asked. "I haven't heard what it is and Ron hasn't either."

"Why, yes, I, do," he said proudly, enunciating each word with jubilation in his voice. "In fact, Professor McGonagall let me set the password for the first week when she showed us how to set it," he told her.

"Oh, what is it?" The four friends were leading the pack of Gryffindors up the stairs.

"Are you sure you really want to know?" Harry toyed with her and gave her a smirk.

Her eyes narrowed slightly, "You didn't make it anything crude did you? Ron tried that once last year and I wouldn't agree to it."

Both Harry and Ginny laughed, while Ron looked behind hime, as if making sure no one was getting lost. "No Hermione," Ginny told her friend. "It's an educational password and I approved it."

Hermione stopped pressing them for it as they were now at the portrait. Harry looked at his girlfriend and asked, "You or me?"

She smiled and said, "'Voldemort lies'." Hermione gasped and Ron paled as the door opened. The two fifth year prefects lead everyone in.

As the crowd was coming in, Harry spoke up. "First years, this is the common room. It is our place to gather with other Gryffindors, study, and also have fun, much like your family room at home. Come this way and we'll show you to your dorm rooms in a minute." Harry went up the boys' stairs and stopped on the second step and turned around to face the room. He saw Katie near the portrait hole. "Katie, will you please get everyone out there in here? Professor McGonagall has asked me to make an announcement to the House."

While he was waiting, he thought he would make his other announcement. "My first announcement is a bit personal, but since everyone is probably wondering why I'm a prefect, I thought I'd tell you all at once. Because of my prolonged sickness last year, I missed too many classes, not to mention my OWLs; and so I am having to retake my fifth year. So let that be a lesson to everyone not to skive off too many classes." There were a few chuckles.

It appeared no one else was coming in, so he took a deep breath and started in. "All right, Professor McGonagall has asked me to tell you the password for the next week, and to explain it to you." That started a few murmurs. The password is 'Voldemort lies'." Now there were many outright gasps, as well as an anonymous "You can't do that", which sounded like it might have come from Seamus.

"Quiet down and let me explain!" he shouted to get their attention. When the crowd finally settled, he went on. "Now, I chose that password for its educational value. As you all should know, we are at war; if you don't believe me, read the last week's worth of Daily Prophets. There have been three attacks attributed to Death Eaters. Now, as the Headmaster says, 'Fear of a name increases fear of the thing'. So I chose that password to help everyone get over an unneeded fear." He wanted to say 'silly fear', but restrained himself.

"But He's powerful ..." someone started.

"Look everyone, the monster's real name is Tom Riddle, and he is a half-blood since his father was a Muggle." There were several "I didn't know that" exclamations. "So his self-proclaimed label of 'Lord Voldemort'," there were more gasps, "is entirely made up. He could have called himself Voltaire, or Humpty-Dumpty," that got a few confused looks, "or anything else that came to his mind; but the name of Voldemort is entirely made up." The number of gasps was fewer, but still there.

"The last word 'lies' is to help you understand that that is what he does most, he lies and deceives. Now, Ginny opened the portrait for you tonight, that is your free pass. For the rest of the week, Ginny and I will not speak the password if anyone else is present. You are Gryffindors, use your courage and speak the monster's name. To you first-years, know that the portrait will only open if you say the password correctly, so 'You-Know-Who lies' or any other alias for Voldemort, will not work."

"That's easy for you to say Harry, but not for us," Lavender Brown shouted out.

"Yes, it is easier for me because I've already been saying his name; but think about that Lavender. The wizard so many people are afraid of could not kill a one year old, an eleven year old, a twelve year old, and a fourteen year old. Does he really sound all that powerful now?" For the first time that evening, Harry saw some thoughtful looks. "Now, I'm not saying I want to go pick a fight with the monster because he might get lucky, but I'm not scared of him either."

"I heard you tried to pick a fight with Draco Malfoy," Dennis Creevey spoke up.

Harry smiled, "I wouldn't quite say that Dennis." Harry wondered who had spread that story so quickly, "but I will say that he didn't like the truth I shared with him, some of which I just shared with you. OK, enough of that, everyone have a good evening tonight and a good day tomorrow. First year boys, follow me."

"First year girls, follow me," Ginny called out and started going up her stairs. "Hey Harry!"

He looked to her and answered, "As soon as I'm done." He loved nights with no homework, and he was soon going to be enjoying it with her back down on the couch, assuming he could get Ron to look some other direction.

***

Harry came back down a half hour later after he had gotten all the male firsties settled. His map and special cloak were in inside pockets of his robe. His favorite redhead was waiting for him, as were his other best friends.

"What took you so long, Harry?" she asked as he sat down beside her.

"I had a small fight to settle about who got the bed nearest the bathroom," he said while shaking his head in mild disgust. Looking at his watch, he noticed it was almost curfew time, and time for action. Fortunately, fate was working in his favour tonight. "Well Ginny, we've got our first patrol in a few minutes. Shall we?" He rose and held out his hand for her.

"We shall," she told him as she grabbed on and pulled herself up. "Don't wait up for us," she told her friends.

"It's only for an hour," Hermione told her. Ginny only shrugged.

Ron still had an annoyed look on his face. "I still can't believe you set the password to that."

"Oh grow up Ron," his sister told him, "like Harry said, it's just a made-up name that means nothing."

"Yeah Ron," Neville agreed. "Now can you imagine if He had picked a spell word? Then his name really could do something." He had been completely serious.

"I can hear it now," Harry said. "Everyone shall bow before me, Lord Riddikulus, the bane of Boggarts everywhere." Ginny and Neville cracked up, Hermione even started snickering. Just as Harry was about to give up and leave anyway, a smile finally came over Ron's face. "That's better, Ron, just think of that whenever you hear his name." He turned back to his girlfriend. "Coming, Ginny?"

"Yes dear," and they left.

As their patrol took them near the Great Hall, Ginny carefully looked at the map which she had concealed in her hand. "We're clear." Harry pulled out his invisibility cloak and wrapped it around them. With care, they walked into the Great Hall and found the two seats they wanted.

Ginny pulled out two phials of powder, one with a fine white dust, and the other a fine pink dust. Harry took the pink one and sprinkled it on the seats; Ginny sprinkled the white one on the table top where a person would put their hands or elbows. While their wands were pointed at the white powder, each said a spell and tacked on a few extra words. The powder on both the seats and the table glowed for a second then turned invisible.

Ducking back under the cloak, they made their way out of the Great Hall and into the foyer, which the map showed to be clear of people. Resuming their patrol, Ginny whispered, "You know this is going to put us in Fred and George's debt, don't you? That's not a good place to be."

"Don't worry about it," Harry assured her in his own whisper. "We're testing a new product for them, and besides, they already owe me. That's why I had you tell them I wanted it."

She looked at him in wide-eyed surprise. "You! You're the one that gave them their start-up money."

Harry smirked at her. "Well, aren't you the clever little witch."

Ginny scrunched up her face and stuck out her tongue to make fun of him.

"Trying to start something Ginny?" he teased her.

She pulled him into an alcove they were passing. "I'll show you just how clever I can be too," and she proceeded to press herself against him and kissed him soundly for the next five minutes.

Eventually, Harry had the presence of mind to break off the fun activity and get them walking back towards the Tower. Their friends were still up, much to their disappointment, as they had wanted the couch for themselves for at least a few minutes that night. Realizing that was not going to happen, they told everyone good night and went to bed. They wanted to be early to breakfast.

Harry had just laid down when his forehead exploded in pain. His eyes were watering so bad he had trouble finding his wand. When he did, he touched it to a stone on his necklace and the relief was instant. He held it there while he tried to take deep breaths and calm himself. He also decided which rock was next. He did that three more times before the pain became tolereable. Voldemort was angry, very angry. Harry hoped that meant something good had happened. Taking more deep breaths, he tried to clear his mind to protect it. He would have to go see Sirius tomorrow to get his necklace charms renewed.

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Chapter 9: Chapter 9: Fun and Not So Fun

Author's Notes: {A/N: The prank on Sirius and Albus is in this chapter. I hope it's OK, though it may strike some as a bit lame -- sorry! Do remember, the prank lasts for 12 hours.

Last chapter in this story for this year. The last 3 chapters will be uploaded in January. Thanks to everyone who has nominiated this story for a Trinket award. When the time comes to vote, you know what you have to do -- go vote. :-}


Chapter 9: Fun and Not So Fun

[Mon Sep 2]

Harry and Ginny were up early enough that they were at the doors to the Great Hall a few minutes before they opened for breakfast. They had gone by themselves as Hermione wanted to wait for Ron, and he was slower to wake up that morning. Harry considered telling his friends about what was to come to give them motivation to get there early, but Ginny had talked him out of it, as the fewer that knew, the fewer there were to spill the secret.

They took a seat in their usual places at the Gryffindor table and began to help themselves to breakfast, while watching everyone file in. It took another fifteen minutes for their victims to come in, but their presence was duly noted and the two were pleased to see their victims sit in the same seats as they did last night.

Ginny turned to Harry and whispered, "Whatever you do, act normally. If you have to keep a straight face, bite the inside of your lip, or whatever else you have to do to think about something, anything, else so as not to give your amusement away."

"I don't think that's going to be a problem," he told her. "Everyone else will be rolling with laughter too."

"Yes, but when that dies down and 'specially if they start questioning people -- and you know they're going to look at you -- then you've got to be able to withstand the scrutiny," she explained. "Oh look, Sirius just stood up to look at the other end of the table."

Harry checked his watch. "Right; it's 8:23, we should have five minutes. More pumpkin juice?"

Hermione and Ron came in and sat down in front of them. "You're up early," Ron commented.

Harry shrugged slightly. "I'm looking forward to class, Ron. It should be an easy year."

They continued eating, engaging in light banter, though Harry kept his peripheral vision on the staff table. Then he saw it. Checking his watch, he saw it was indeed 8:28; the twins would be pleased. Focusing on his food, he tried to act normal and succeeded, until a few chuckles reached him. Looking around, he saw that Sirius' robes were now half way between black and pink, and they were getting lighter every second -- except for a small area on his chest that stayed black. Harry could not help but stare now, but then, he was not the only one. Sixty seconds after it had started, Sirius noticed that his robes were hot pink, except for a spot on his chest that read, "Ask me about my wand."

A few of the other teachers had noticed Sirius predicament, and pointed at him, chuckling at the initiation of the new teacher. Sirius appeared to be torn between anger and amusement. Pulling out his wand, he cast a "Finite Incantatem" on his robes and they went back to solid black. Harry looked at his watch and saw 8:30.

Dumbledore stood with a smile on his face and clinked his glass a couple of times. "Yes, our first prank of the year. Welcome to the staff, Professor Black." Everyone clapped and Sirius good-naturedly took a bow. "If the Heads of House will start passing out the timetables, we can be prepared to start class at nine. Prefects, please make yourselves available to the first years." He sat down at the end of his speech.

By the time McGonagall came over to the Gryffindor table, Harry noticed two changes at the staff table: Dumbledore's robes were starting to lighten, and a light patch was starting to appear on the chest of Sirius' robes. As he took his timetable from McGonagall, Harry gleefully saw that he would have Defense first thing today. He pointed this out to Ginny, who gave him an evil grin.

"What?" Hermione asked as she saw their expressions and knew they had to be up to something with looks like that.

"We've got Defense as our first class," Ginny told her friend. "I can't wait to see what Professor Black has to show us." It was all Harry could do not to burst out laughing. Somehow, he managed to keep it down as he pointed back towards to the staff table.

Now Dumbledore's robes were hot pink, but the words on his robes read, "Looking for love". Sirius' robes were still black, but the works "Ask me about my wand" were back, but in pink this time. Laughter was starting to spread through the student population.

Sirius must have made a comment to Dumbledore, though Harry could not hear it, because the Headmaster looked back at the Defense teacher and pointed. Sirius looked down and saw his redecorated robes and sighed. Another Finite Incantatem changed them back to solid black. The Headmaster left his pink for awhile.

Ron managed to wash part of his breakfast down before saying, "That was classic Fred and George, I wonder who did that?"

"Yes, it was," Hermione said thoughtfully as she looked at Ginny.

Ginny merely said, "Yeah, it was good. Hey look, the morning owls."

The birds came in carrying all manner of objects, many of them items the students had forgotten to bring with them. A small brown one dropped a newspaper in front of Hermione. She opened her Daily Prophet and after one look, exclaimed, "It's about time!"

"What?" her three friends asked her. She turned it around and they saw the headlines "FUDGE SACKED!" Underneath that was, "BONES TAKES OVER".

Harry smiled, "Yes, it is about time. Shall we go get our books, Ginny?" He glanced at his watch and saw that it was 8:36. Looking at the staff table again, he saw that Sirius' robes were again halfway back to pink, and with the words in black becoming more visible again. He laughed as he thought about his godfather having another twelve hours of this.

---

As Harry and Ginny sat in their DADA class waiting for it to start, they scanned their timetables further. They saw that an hour on Tuesday evening was scheduled with Professor McGonagall, and an hour on Thursday evening with Professor Dumbledore, their extra lessons. Harry was not too concerned, but Ginny was really hoping they were only for the first term, as preparation for OWLs would hit them hard in the second term.

Their teacher came out of his office door and into the class room looking quite normal. Sirius surveyed his students. Their desks were in a semi-circle around the back of the room, and there was a dueling area up front.

"Good morning, class." He looked right at Harry as he said, "I'm Professor Black." He had talked to Harry several times about remembering to call him "Professor" unless they were in private. "Let's start with the roll. Hmm, looks like we have Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs here. Teresa Baker?" and on he went.

As he finished the roll and was about to start the lesson for the day, he heard several snickers. Looking down, Sirius saw his robes were changing back to pink again. Damn! This is almost as good as what James and I used to do. He sighed as he contemplated what to do next.

"Professor?" He looked up and saw Ginny with her hand in the air. "Have you considered changing robes?"

"Actually, Miss Weasley, these are different robes than what I wore to breakfast; but thank you for your concern." As he looked at her, something about this prank reminded him of her brothers, but she looked innocent. Beside her, Harry had a slight smile on his face, but then again, so did the rest of the class. Casting another Finite Incantatem on his new robes, he decided he would just have to teach as is. He had noticed they alternated color schemes, so black robes with the pink words was about the best he was going to get for now. He would do some careful investigation during lunchtime.

***

[Fri Sep 6]

Harry walked Ginny back from dinner. Everything seemed right in the world. It had been a good dinner, spent in good company, and now it was the end of the week. True, they both had homework to do over the weekend, but they were taking the night off -- together.

As they walked down a third floor corridor towards Harry's secret destination, he saw Peeves up ahead where the corridor turned. The poltergeist appeared to be trying to do something to someone down the corridor that crossed the one Harry and Ginny were walking down. As they came to the intersection to see who it was, Peeves finally noticed them and shouted, "Oh, it's Potty and ..."

But Harry never heard the rest of Peeves non-sense, because as he cleared the corner, he saw Draco Malfoy just in time to see the Slytherin cast a pale yellow spell at him, one he had never heard before. He shoved Ginny hard back the way from which they had come, hoping she would be land behind the wall. The spell barely missed him because of his unexpected movement. Ducking and twisting, Harry shot off three quick Tickling Charms in a small horizontal spread. The two left ones hit Malfoy and he fell into a heap unable to immediately cast anything. With the smallest of pauses, Harry also cast a full Body Bind at the laughing and writhing Draco, fully enjoying the thought of Malfoy being tickled but not being able to do anything about it.

"Oh, I think a teacher needs to know about this," Peeves cackled.

"Hey Peeves, how about I make you a deal?" Harry offered. Both the spirit and Ginny looked at him with interest as to what Harry was thinking. "How about you don't tell anyone what you saw, and I'll give you a wand for free. How's that?"

"You'd give me a wand?" The poltergeist was amazed. "It's a deal! Give me the wand."

"Sure, Peeves, it's right over there on the floor. Grab it and take it with you."

Peeves laughed as he swooped down and grabbed Malfoy's wand, then took off laughing all the way down the hall.

Ginny looked at Malfoy and asked, "What about him? Attacking you like that wasn't very nice."

"Yeah, poor cowardly little Draco," Harry commiserated in a singsong voice, knowing the Slytherin could hear him. "We're in the castle and so I doubt anything can hurt him too badly, and the Body Bind will wear off soon. Let's go." He grabbed her hand and started leading her off.

Quite some distance from their attack, they passed the statue of the one-eyed witch. Checking to make sure they were alone, Harry spoke, "Dissendium", and it moved aside. Harry had grown such that it was harder to get through the opening, but he still managed to fit inside. He lit his wand so Ginny could see the steep stairs and join him. The statue moved back and they were in a world of their own.

"Where are we, Harry?"

He led her a short ways down the small tunnel until it widened. There he conjured a small settee. "Well, Ginny, if you take this passage to the other end, you'd end up in the basement of Honeydukes in Hogsmeade."

Her face lit up. "This is one of the secret passages Fred and George told me about."

Harry sat down and pulled her to him so she was on his lap. "So Miss Weasley, I think I've had an excellent week. How about you?"

Putting her arms around his neck, she told him, "Mmm, me too." Then she paused before going on, "Does that include what Malfoy just tried to do to you?"

"What happened with Malfoy is part of what made it so great. I never completely realised how difficult he made class until I've had ones without him. That alone may be worth having to repeat a year. Anyway, I think I showed him who's better, and then when the thought of letting Peeves take his wand hit me, I just had to do it."

Ginny giggled. "Yeah, I liked that. I wonder if he'll ever get it back? Or if Peeves can use it?"

"I'm sure Dumbledore will make Peeves give it back, or he'll get the Bloody Baron to make Peeves to return it; but for now, Draco isn't much of a threat. And I doubt Peeves can use it, but I hope he hides it well."

"True. But Harry, why the Tickling Charms?"

"Oh, because the Tickling Charm is one of the fastest charms to cast: a single word with a quick jab for a wand movement. I just needed to slow Malfoy down a bit to get the upper hand on him. Doing the Body Bind on him without removing the Tickling Charm is probably a bit cruel of me, but considering what all he's done to me over the years, I think it's reasonable pay back. And even better, he really can't get me in trouble without admitting what he did, which would get him into trouble, not me." Harry was feeling pretty smug.

His girlfriend laughed at that. "That is good. So what did you think of Dumbledore's lesson?"

"I liked it; he has a much gentler approach than Snape. With Snape, he just threw me into the ocean without telling me how to swim. I think Snape gave me one or two comments of explanation, and immediately started trying to break into my mind. At least Dumbledore explained about organizing your mind, putting little locked doors, figuratively speaking, in front of special places in your mind, as well how to push people out. Snape never mentioned any of that to me," he told her. "By the way, since I didn't tell you then, good job with that. I think you're going to catch on faster than I will."

"I doubt it, you've already had some training and I haven't," she said.

"But I'm having to unlearn bad training, therefore I think you'll master it first, assuming I ever do." He was starting to wonder if he would ever really learn. He did not want to tell her yet how little he had stopped Dumbledore when the Professor had tested his Occlumency.

"Well, at least I made some progress there," she told him with a small note of pride in her voice, which gave way to disgust. "I don't think I made any progress with McGonagall. I mean really, 'Find your center'. Ha!"

"Yeah, that was really different. I'm not sure I have a center, but I think more of it as 'find the inner me'. Of course, I didn't do that, but I think I can see what she means. So with time, I think I can make it."

"I don't, at least not yet, but I do so want to be an Animagus," she confided in him. "Even if I won't know what I'll be until I do it ..."

"If you do it," he corrected her, "it's not guaranteed you know."

"When I do it," she told him a little forcefully.

He smiled at her. "OK, when. You want to practice now? She said we could do this ourselves."

"Maybe, but since we only have a couple of hours and we're alone, I can think of something else I'd rather do for awhile." She lowered her face closer and closer to his.

After a few minutes, the thought of I'm senseless, totally senseless, came into his head. They barely made it back by curfew.

***

[Sat Sep 7]

The next morning a thoroughly happy Harry and Ginny went to breakfast with a completely psyched Ron. Hermione resigned herself to merely coming along for the ride. Quidditch tryouts were this morning.

Ron split up all the hopefuls by position. Harry had no competition for Seeker. Jack Sloper stayed on as a Beater, but Seamus ended up being a surprisingly good tryout and got picked as a Beater too. After watching the Chaser tryouts, no one could have said Ron played favourites in picking his sister. Even without her Firebolt, she almost matched Katie in skill. Demelza Robins ended up being the third Chaser. Ron stayed as Keeper, of course.

Finishing up tryouts, Ron came over to Harry. "Hey, thanks for helping me out, it was like having an assistant Captain. You up for doing some of that in the future?"

"Sure, you know I'm there for you Ron."

"Thanks, Harry, and you know I'm always there for you, no matter what." That hit Harry in a way he had not expected. There was something about Ron's promise, his loyalty, that grabbed at him, and it must have showed. "What wrong, Harry?"

Harry looked around and saw Ginny over talking to Katie. Hermione was descending the stands to come meet them. "You got a few minutes Ron?" Part of Harry did not want to talk about this, until he realised that unless he made a conscious effort, he would never do this; and it was something that he needed to do.

"Sure, Harry, let me put the equipment away."

While Ron cleared up the equipment, Harry looked over and saw Ginny start to walk in with Katie. "Ginny!" He waved her over. He was not going to do this without her; actually, he was not sure he could without her support. She arrived at the same time Hermione did.

"What's wrong, Harry?" She put her arm around his waist to comfort him. There was something about his expression that screamed 'help'.

"I need to talk to Ron and Hermione." He looked at his brunette friend who nodded. "I need you to help me."

Ginny almost asked him what it was about, until he added that last part, then she knew. "Sure Harry, you know I'll always be there for you."

Harry drew her into a hug as they waited for Ron. A few minutes later he was leading them to the Room of Requirement. After triggering the door, they all walked in to find a fireplace, two couches, and a low table with Butterbeers on it.

"Wow!" Ron was pleased as he picked up a bottle. "I didn't know the room could do this."

"Me neither," Harry admitted, "but it does look like a cosy place to share burdens with your closest friends."

"Thanks, Harry," Hermione softly told him.

He gave her a hard smile, "Yeah, well, you may not thank me when I'm done." He got two concerned and puzzled looks. Ginny placed her hand over his. "I don't know how to say this, except to just drop it on you."

"However you want to do it mate. Like I said on the pitch, we're here for you."

"Thanks, Ron." Harry took a deep breath, both physically and mentally. "A few weeks ago, Dumbledore explained to me why Voldemort keeps trying to kill me." Hermione looked alarmed. "There's a prophecy that says I have to kill him or he has to kill me."

In a voice barely above a whisper, Hermione said, "The Daily Prophet was right, you are the Chosen One."

"Bloody hell!" Ron exclaimed. For once, Hermione did not tell him off for swearing.

"It gets worse."

"What could be worse than that?" Ron looked amazed that Harry's statement could even possibly be true.

Harry looked down, unable to look at his friends; the task was so daunting. "Well, Voldemort split his soul and embedded the pieces into objects, so that he couldn't be killed unless you destroy those bits of his soul first. The good news is that Dumbledore has found five of the six objects. The bad news is that he hasn't figured out how to destroy them, and the last one is missing, though Dumbledore has an idea what it is."

"Maybe I can research how to destroy the objects," Hermione volunteered, as Harry knew she would.

"The objects are called Horcruxes. You'll need to talk to Dumbledore about them, you won't find any reference to them in the library. They are extremely Dark Magic." Harry finally looked up at his friend.

She looked shocked. "Not in the library at all?" The humourous thought that the library had failed her brought a little life back into Harry.

"No, Hermione, this is the darkest of Dark Magic. It takes a murder to create one. Anyway, I wanted you to know. I may share other things with you as I find out, but you must all promise to hold them secret, even if threatened." Harry hoped they would understand and not ask 'threatened by what?' A serious look came over them all, so apparently they did understand.

Ginny gave him a hug. "You know I'll protect you and your secrets no matter what Harry." He hugged her back.

Ron and then Hermione each put a hand on his shoulder and told him, "Me too, Harry."

As Ginny released him, he breathed deeply again, and realised he had not touched his drink. Picking up a bottle, he downed half of it in one long swallow. With a loud, "Ahh," he looked at his other two friends and smiled. "You want to hear a funny story about Malfoy from last night?"

Ron brightened considerably and even Hermione looked interested. Ginny merely chuckled and grabbed her Butterbeer. It's great to have good friends, Harry thought as he started in on the story. When he was done telling it, he thought Ron was going to wet himself from laughing so hard. Hermione was greatly amused too. Draining their drinks, they all left for lunch.

***

[Tue Sep 10]

In his first Potions class of the second week, Harry and his partner Ginny were diligently working on their assignment. Harry was doing the constant stirring it required, changing direction for every stir, while Ginny prepared the slug entrails and daisy roots required for the next step. Ginny was adding the mixture in while Harry did the final three clock-wise stirs, when a cauldron on the other side of the room had a mild explosion and belched its entire contents over its Slytherin owners and their workbench.

Harry had barely looked over at the scene, now that he could stop stirring or his cauldron would have done the same, when Snape bellowed, "Potter, detention for ruining another person's work."

"Sir?" Even Harry was amazed at the man for this contrived charge, despite his past five years of experience.

"I saw you shoot that heating spell at their cauldron. Come to think of it, fifty points for your cheek too. Be here tonight at seven."

He took a deep breath and resignedly said, "Yes, Sir."

Turning back to his potion and his partner, Harry saw another problem about to explode: Ginny. "Ssh," he quickly hissed. "Don't worry and I'll explain later." He thought Ginny had heard him, but he was not sure, so he nodded back at the potion. Slowly, she went back to work, but Harry had to do most of it as she was so angry she could barely see straight. Still, Harry thought it was worth full marks when he handed it in.

As he handed their work to his teacher, the Potions master did not close his hand and the phial slipped out and broke on the floor. An old trick of his. "Whoops! I guess that'll be a zero for you two today," he drawled.

"No problem sir, I've got another." Harry handed it to him, but he held it so the teacher had to take it from his hand. Snape grabbed it and put it with the other students work. Harry went back and very discretely, with his body between his cauldron and the teacher, drew off another phial and pocketed it. For the first time that term, Ginny saw him do that and raised an eyebrow. "In a minute," he whispered. They quickly cleaned up and went to Herbology.

When they were out of the classroom, Ginny turned to him and started grilling him. "All right Harry, spill it. How can you let that go? And what was the extra phial for?"

"Look, it's something I've had to deal with for the last five years. Yes, I'm still very angry on the inside, but that's his normal treatment of me."

"Harry! You shouldn't have to deal with that."

"And I'm not, at least this year. You remember that talk I had with Dumbledore over the summer?" She nodded. "One morning just before we left the castle I couldn't sleep and went for a walk. I ran into Dumbledore, who was also taking an early morning walk. He told me some background stuff on Tom and we talked about some other things too, including his talk with Snape to reign in his prejudices with me. I told him I didn't think Snape would change, so Dumbledore told me to keep an extra sample of my work and he'd grade it for us."

"Really? Now that's one of the smartest things I've heard of."

"You mean beside asking you out?" he teased her.

"Of course, that's a given," she haughtily replied to tease him. "But what about detention?"

"Ah, well, I'm thinking you and I are going to go talk to the Headmaster in our free hour after lunch about that. None of this is fair, and it's even less fair to you, since his grudge against me and my father is affecting your grades." They were almost at the greenhouses now.

"OK, Harry, I see your point, and yes, we will go talk to the Headmaster. Come on, let's sit with Colin," she told him and led him to the workbench where Colin was standing by himself.

---

Colin turned out to be a pretty easy person to work with, which was a bit of a surprise to Harry because Colin had been such a "fan" the first couple of years; but apparently Colin had grown out of that and Harry had not even noticed. That made Harry a bit sad, so he tried to be nicer to the younger boy and treat him like a normal friend, especially since Colin was now his roommate.

They ended up walking to lunch together, just talking about classes in general. As they sat down for lunch, Harry noticed that he was surrounded by all the fifth years. It had happened once or twice before, but he had never really paid much attention, as he normally sat with Ron and Hermione, and Ginny joined him there. Still, they were nice people; his new dorm mates had been pretty good to him as well, though he was still getting to know them.

"Hey, Harry," Colin looked at him as he finished grabbing a chicken drumstick. "How come you always finish homework so much faster than we do? It's like you don't have as much as we do or something?"

Harry smiled. "Colin, I think you're overlooking the advantages of having seen all of this before. I wrote all the essays last year, and while I can't remember exactly what I put down, I have enough of a memory to remember the subject matter, so it's not that hard for me."

"But it's more than that, Harry," Colin insisted. "I know it's only the second week of school, but I already feel like I'm swamped, and you're never having to put in all the time we do, as if you have fewer assignments or something."

"Well, Colin, in general I do have fewer assignments than you do."

"Huh?" the camera bug questioned him.

Harry saw that he had the attention of everyone around him, trying to divine the secret of his success. "You do realise there are two types of homework, right?"

"No." There were many other heads shaking no in agreement. Even Ginny was looking at him in puzzlement.

"OK, I first noticed this last year, during a similar conversation with Hermione," Harry said. "Consider Transfiguration class yesterday. There's the basic homework, like two feet of parchment on changing dissimiliar objects. Everyone does that. The goal there is to help us understand the theory and basic principles behind the magic we're doing, that way, we'll have a clue when we try it in class. Understand?"

All the heads were nodding, and all eyes were on Harry. Food was being eaten very slowly as they listened.

"Now what I finally noticed is that there is a second kind of homework, a kind that Hermione never seemed to have, and what I don't have now but you do. What did McGonagall say in class yesterday at the very end?" He got blank stares. "Those of you who didn't turn your dried flower into a teacup ...", and he waited for them to fill in the blank.

Colin groaned, "Write a foot of parchment on similarities and differences between dried flowers and teacups."

Harry grinned. "Exactly! She's trying to help you out by making you think about the spell and its theories some more. Since I did make my spell work to her satisfaction, I don't have to do that. Therefore, I have more free time to snog my girlfriend, who also made her spell work correctly and didn't have to do the extra homework either."

"So Harry," Ginny spoke up very innocently, "you're saying that being prepared for class and doing well with your spells equates to more kisses?" She had a perfectly innocent face, though Harry would have sworn her bottom lip was sucked in just a little, as if she was biting it.

"For those who are so inclined and have the opportunity -- yes."

Ginny's roommate Violet, started giggling. Her other roommates Melinda and Mandy, soon joined in. Colin just dropped his head and shook it slowly. Harry's other new roommates: Jack, Andrew, and William, just looked at him like he was spouting nonsense. Finally, Ginny could not hold it any longer and giggled too, though she also kissed him on the cheek.

"So, Colin, does that clear up your problem?" Harry watched the boy slowly raise his head. Colin's face was red and his eyes were tearing up, until finally, he let out a full fledged laugh.

"Oh yeah, Harry," Colin finally answered when he could breathe properly again. "I think that does clear it up for me, except perhaps for the 'opportunity' part."

A smirk appeared on Harry's face. "Well, you can't borrow my girlfriend, but perhaps one of her roommates would be willing to help you out." There was a moment of silence, then mass giggling came over all the girls except for Mandy, who was blushing deeply. "There you go Colin, I think you have a willing candidate to discuss the matter with." Mandy now shot daggers at him, but the rest of the girls' giggles turned into laughter, Ginny included.

Harry finished his food and then rose; he had noticed Dumbledore had left a few minutes earlier. "Later everyone. Come on Ginny, we have an appointment."

Ginny stopped laughing, but she still had a mischievous look on her face. "Thanks, Harry! That's the most fun I've had at lunch so far this year."

"Yeah, but is Mandy going to forgive me any time soon?"

She laughed. "Depends on whether Colin asks her to Hogsmeade or not."

They eventually made their way to Dumbledore's office. With a "Pepperment Twist", the gargoyle started moving. Meeting with the Headmaster weekly helped to ensure that he always had the current password.

"Ah, Harry, Ginny, to what do I owe this pleasure to? Lemon drop?"

"Thank you, Headmaster." Harry took one and sat in front of the large desk. Ginny ignored the candy dish but sat beside her boyfriend. "I'm afraid you owe the pleasure to Professor Snape."

The twinkle left the old man's eyes. "I see. What happened, Harry?"

"Here's a sample of our latest Potions classwork." Harry handed the phial over, and then told the Headmaster what happened in class that morning. "If you wish, I'll provide you with my memory to view in your Pensieve."

"Thank you for your offer, but I have my own means via this recording device." The Headmaster reached over to the side of his desk and moved a crystal ball in front of them all. There, he tapped it with his wand. Watching it, he tapped it a few more times such that the image speeded up, then another tap and it slowed down. The three of them watched the scene Harry had described; there were images like with a Pensieve and sound. When it was done, the Headmaster leaned back in his chair and thought. The students remained silent.

After a few minutes, Dumbledore sat back up and looked at the students. "I believe thirty points each are in order for both of you for holding your temper, and I shall meet you at the Potions classroom at seven tonight Harry. But don't worry, you shall not be staying long. Both of you please meet me here at my office at eight for your extra lessons, though I'm afraid it will have to be a short training session as I also have an Order meeting tonight at nine."

"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."

"Very well, if you'll head on to get ready for your next class, I can take care of a few things," Dumbledore said as he dismissed them. As the students left, Albus went over to a cabinet where he kept various school records and started searching for one. He had heard some news that morning which he thought might help him. Finding the folder he was looking for, he sat back down and started reviewing the student's record, including his OWL and NEWT scores.

***

The Headmaster strolled down the corridor that led to the Potions classroom. As he turned the last corner, he saw two students waiting there. "Good evening, Harry. Ginny, it's a surprise to see you here."

"I'm only accompanying Harry. I'll wait here since you said he won't be long."

"Thank you, I think it best if you're not in the room; it will be difficult enough as it is. Harry, shall we?" Harry nodded and knocked on the door.

They heard Snape shout, "Enter." Walking in, the greasy-haired teacher spat out, "Potter, get in here and ..." His voice changed to one of surprise. "Headmaster ..."

"Severus, Mr. Potter has brought an incident in his class today to my attention, or actually a couple of incidents. One of those resulted in you giving him detention for something which he did not do. Could you please explain that to me?"

Snape glared at Harry. "Mr. Potter has always been disruptive in my class, so when things go very wrong, he's almost always the cause."

"I see, so even though you didn't see him do anything wrong, you still accused him of doing so and assigned him detention?" Snape did not say anything. Without taking his gaze from the Potions Master, Dumbledore said, "Harry, you may leave, your detention is cancelled."

"Thank you, sir," he said very solemnly and left, closing the door behind him.

"Severus, I'm very disappointed in you, especially after we had our talk this summer."

"Headmaster, Potter deserves to be punished. He attacked one of my students and took his wand."

"Oh? I hadn't seen a report for that filed. Why don't you tell me about it?"

"Apparently Potter and his girlfriend were walking down a corridor and did a Body Bind on one of my Slytherins, then gave his wand to Peeves. We've yet to get it back, so I've had to loan him an extra so he can protect himself."

"I see. And who would this student be?"

"It doesn't matter, Headmaster."

"But Severus, if I am to investigate, I need to know all the parties so I can ask questions." Snape did not answer. "Or would the victim be anonymous because there is no victim? Or maybe it's because the victim attacked Mr. Potter who only defended himself? Which is it, Severus?"

"There is a victim, Headmaster, but I'm unclear on all the details."

"Hmm, so you're using false charges to hand out punishment for an action you don't have all the details on. I'm amazed. How would you feel if Minerva gave undeserved detention to one of your students, say Mr. Malfoy?"

Snape's head snapped up and he glared at his superior.

"Yes, not such a comforting thought, is it?" The old man paused for a moment. "As Headmaster, I must consider the welfare of all of our students; therefore, I think we need to return to our previous discussion about whether this is the best job for you."

"But Headmaster?! If I'm not here, that would ruin my cover. The Dark Lord would probably have me killed."

"I'm still not saying you should leave, well, at least not permanently. However, I think it would do you good to take a week off, go relax, and think about what you want to do."

"A week?!"

"Yes, you're right, a week isn't very long. Take two weeks, Severus. Go visit the beach, my personal favourite, or take some nice nature hikes and go camping on the continent. Do whatever you like to do for fun, just go think about life and the balance of things. Your pay will not be docked, the holiday is on me. Come back and see me on the twenty-second, I think that's a Sunday. We'll talk about how you see things then."

"But, my classes, the students can't be in here unsupervised ..."

"Yes, you are correct. Never fear, I shall teach them. I made an Outstanding on my Potions NEWT. I also have a person in mind to help me on a temporary basis. You have your lesson plans done?"

"Of course."

"Very good then. Go pack and enjoy yourself; perhaps some time off will help you find a more balanced outlook on life. I'll see you at the Order meeting in a little more than an hour, then on the evening of the twenty-second." The Headmaster almost wondered if he would be hexed as he walked out, but he really did trust the man so he turned his back and left. He made it out of the room without a spell coming from behind him.

Dumbledore went to the Owlery to send off a message before heading to his office to meet Harry and Ginny, if they were not already there enjoying the solitude of the room in their own way. He chuckled at the thought of the young couple. Albus also wondered what they would think of the person he was trying to interview to help him with the Potions classes. It would probably only be on a temporary basis to help him out, as well as help the person while between jobs. Hopefully, he would find out tomorrow morning.

***

[Wed Sep 11]

Between an early morning interview, and teaching both a fourth year class and a seventh year NEWT Potions class, Dumbledore had quite the busy morning. His afternoon had been only slightly easier with a first year and two second year classes. Still, he was pleased as he now had some temporary help. It was time for dinner, and a surprise, at least for some people.

Harry and Ginny sat with Ron and Hermione for dinner this evening. Ham appeared to the main course for the evening meal and most people were filling their plates and enjoying it. Ginny was spooning out some new potatoes when she saw a redheaded man follow Professor Dumbledore into the Great Hall and up to the staff table. Her surprise was so great she dropped the spoon and the little round red skinned potato went rolling across the table.

"Hey, watch what you're doing," Ron told her. Ginny did not say a word, she only held out her arm and pointed. Ron looked up and his mouth fell open, fortunately, devoid of food. Harry and Hermione were only a little less astonished than when they saw who Ginny was pointing at.

As Dumbledore reached the head table, he stood in front of his chair and used his fork to rap on his goblet, The other man took a seat near the end of the table, where he had sat a few times before almost two years ago. Everyone quieted down. "May I have your attention? As I announced this morning, Professor Snape is taking some time off to deal with a personal issue, and I will be taking over his classes during his temporary absence. I am happy to announce that I have some help in my teaching role, which will help me balance that with my Headmaster duties. While I will continue to teach the fifth through the seventh years for the next couple of weeks, the first four years will be taught by our new teacher. Please give a welcome to Professor Percy Weasley. A smatter of applause greeted him, to which he inclined his head in acceptance. Only the students from the oldest two years already knew who he was.

The Gryffindor foursome looked at each other each unable to say anything for nearly a full minute. Ginny finally broke the silence between them with, "Well, at least we'll still have Dumbledore."

Hermione looked at her and slowly asked, "I wonder why he's here and not at the Ministry?" No one answered as they did not have a clue.

When his siblings cornered him later that night, Percy merely chided them to leave professor's personal lives alone, before continuing on his way to his quarters. It took a note to her mum and two days of waiting to find out that Percy had been sacked by Minister Bones after Fudge had been forced out of office.

***

[Fri Sep 20]

It was Friday afternoon and Harry was standing through another lesson on Thestrals. At least Hagrid was interesting, so Harry tried to listen to him. Harry had underestimated how boring it was going to be to retake his classes this year. It was their ease that made them boring. If it had not been for Ginny's presence, and he had to be careful not to distract her since she had not seen this material before, he thought he might go around the twist, as Ron would say. The last part of the second term should be better as he would not be repeating as many lessons.

When Hagrid was done, the class started walking back towards the castle. They had a free hour before dinner and Harry was seriously considering heading to the weight room for a quick workout. He had managed to continue doing three sessions a week since he had come back to school. A few of the other guys had been enthusiastic and done it too. He noticed that with the exception of Ron, they were all Muggle-born. Wizards just did not seem to be into physical fitness.

There was a very interesting side effect to working out, Harry had noticed, though it had taken him until just the other day before he had recognized it. It seemed that he and the other guys that were lifting weights got a few more stares from the girls, from the third year and up, than the other blokes did. When he mentioned what he thought he saw to Ginny, she confirmed it by giving him a sour look and saying, "I know, and you should hear them talk in the bathroom. Ugh." Though he did his best to hide it, Harry found that bit of jealousy in her quite amusing, and the attention was a bit of an ego boost too.

As they reached the edge of the forest near Hagrid's hut, Ginny suddenly screamed and jumped back behind Harry hiding her face against his back. He had been lost in his thoughts and was unaware of any problem. Still, his wand was in his hand before she could take a breath to scream again. Searching, he finally saw a big black snake with yellow eyes that was nearly twenty feet long. It was looking at the people and flicking its tongue to taste the air as they went by.

Chaos happened with Ginny's screaming. People started running towards the castle, even though they had no idea what was happening, what they were running from, or even if they might be running into the danger. "What's wrong?!" Hagrid asked as he came running up.

"Basilisk!" Ginny cried, while still hiding her eyes and blindly pointing.

Harry tried to comfort her. "It's all right, Ginny. It's not a Basilisk, it's just a snake. I can make it go away if you want."

"Yeah, it's me new pet, Ginny. Just go' it the other day," Hagrid told her with some pride in his voice.

"See Ginny, it's only Hagrid's pet. It's not a Basilisk," Harry tried to calm her. Of course, Harry also would not put it past Hagrid to try to raise a Basilisk if the gentle giant could get around the fatal stare of the snake.

"Y-y-you s-sure?"

Harry was trying to be as soothing as he could. "Yes, I'm sure and so is Hagrid. You know Hagrid would never hurt you, and I've already looked at it and I'm fine. We can leave and go up to the castle. Would you like to do that?" he asked in a gentle voice.

She nodded vigorously. Still hiding her face in her hands, she allowed Harry to lead her back up. He took her to the common room and pulled her to him on the couch where he held her close. Rubbing her back, he asked, "Are you better now?"

A sniffle escaped her, but she finally started talking again. "I'm sorry, Harry. When I saw the snake, it was like I was suddenly back in Tom's control, and back in the Chamber of Secrets. I don't know what came over me."

"I understand Ginny." He had had enough nightmares himself, and he knew the Chamber of Secrets had been horrible to her.

"I can't do that again Harry, I've got to get over that."

"You will, you just need a little more time."

Passion jumped back into her voice. "Harry! It's been over three years." She sighed. "I need to do something."

Trying to be as comforting as he could, Harry told her, "Look, it's just a fear. Face the fear and understand it, and it can then go away."

Her voice was just shy of a shout, "Face a basilisk? Are you crazy? You almost died doing that."

"That does seem a bit extreme when you put it that way, but there is a much safer way. You could face a dead basilisk if you want; I could help you," Harry replied.

Ginny gasped as she understood. "I don't know, Harry. Yeah, there's a dead one down in the Chamber, but I'd also have to go back down into the Chamber too. I'd have to face Tom again."

"Maybe you need to do that, Ginny. You told me you want to be beside me, even when I have to face Him. Can you do that without freezing up? Because if you can't, I can't take you." He paused before he quietly tacked on, "Not that I want to expose you to that danger."

A small voice told him, "I hadn't thought of it that way. I thought I was past him, that I had conquered Him, but the thought of the Chamber scares me Harry."

"I understand, Ginny. It's not my favorite place either. But you know, you don't have to decide now, you have some time."

"OK," she quietly agreed.

"Let's go to dinner, Ginny." He helped her up and gave her a hug, which she greedily accepted.

As he started to pull away to walk, she squeezed him tighter, making him look down at her. "Tomorrow, Harry, take me tomorrow. I have to do this soon or I never will." He hugged her again to give her a little more comfort.

***

[Sat Sep 21]

After a full breakfast for Harry and a meager one for Ginny, Harry grabbed his broom and they walked to Moaning Myrtle's bathroom. They had told Ron and Hermione they wanted some alone time and were going to go fly for a bit.

Though he did not say it, he was quite grateful Myrtle was absent. He supposed she was interesting in her own way, but she was not his favourite ghost. If her weepy nature had not put him off before, her showing up in the prefect's bathroom last week while he was in the tub had most certainly done so.

Finding the faucet with the snake, he hissed, "Open" and it all moved around so the opening in the floor was now visible. They could have slid down, but Harry thought the pipe was disgusting, so he got on his broom and let Ginny climb on behind him, then they slowly descended. The slime and the bones at the bottom were still in abundance. Ginny lit her wand so they could see better.

They went through the passage, over the rocks and through the hole. Finally they came to the last door, which also took a command in Parseltongue to open. Just before it opened, Harry put a Bubble Head Charm on both of them. He truly doubted three years was enough for the smell of a rotting sixty foot snake with no fresh air to go away. Other than the spell and Harry's commands for the passage doorways to open, neither had spoken a word.

Stepping through the last doorway, Harry lit his wand to look around. He finally saw some torches on the walls, and lit them with a spell. Even with all the torches, it was still a dreary place. Most of the flesh from the Basilisk was gone, but there was still a little on the skeleton of the large reptile. He held out his hand and helped her through. Her movements were very slow and stiff, until she saw the giant skeleton, then she froze.

In some ways, this was not so bad, she thought. It did not look that much like a snake; and yet, she knew what it had been, that it had been near her, and that because of her, a number of people had almost died. She took several minutes to just stare at the thing, but she finally realised it was dead, and she was going to be all right.

Turning to Harry, she gave him a very small smile and grabbed onto his arm, as if he were to escort her to a dance, and she walked up to the snake skeleton and slowly walked around it. Harry did a few Scourgify spells as they walked around to get rid of the last of the rotting and partially mummified snake flesh. When he was done, there were only the bones left.

Turning around, she now stared at the statue of an ugly figure, Salazar Slytherin. He probably really did not look like that. In fact, now that she thought about it, she was sure as she had seen his portrait in Dumbledore's office. So she knew it was a grotesque representation. Looking down, she saw blood stains on the floor, a little bit of Harry's and mostly the basilisk's. And finally the ink stains from the damn diary, the bane of her first year here. With a last look around, she realised she was just in a cave.

She looked at her boyfriend and said in a slightly muffled voice, "Thanks, Harry. It's possible I may not be totally over it all, but I do feel a lot better. This will never be my favourite place, so don't ever think of bringing here for a picnic," Harry gave a small chuckle, "but I can deal with being here -- it's just a cave."

"That's my Ginny", he told her, also muffled by the Bubble Head Charm.

"Harry? What's that over there? I don't remember it."

He looked to where she was pointing. It was a hole in the wall. "That was the basilisk's lair as I recall. Come on, let's take a quick peek." That did not thrill her, but she did not protest and went with him. Lighting his wand again, he poked his head through the opening. There was actually a fairly good sized room in through there. Looking around, he saw another opening in the back. "I'm going in. Do you want to stay here or come in too?"

"I'll go with you," she said with no hesitation. Holding his hand, she bent over slightly and followed him in.

This place was filthy, with more slime and many more rat bones. It was impossible to walk without making a crunching sound. Harry slowly walked towards the other doorway, his lit wand in front of him like a sword. Part of him wished he had Gryffindor's sword with him now. At the second doorway, he looked in to find another much smaller room, maybe ten by ten at the most. He did not expect to see what he found: a desk and a chair.

More rat bones were in here, but Harry walked in anyway. Ginny followed, still holding his hand. Except for dust, there was nothing on the desk. He noticed there were three drawers on the left side, and for no reason he could explain, he decided to look in them. The top and middle smaller drawers held nothing, but the bottom drawer was not empty. If Harry did not know better, he would have said that it held the hilt half of Gryffindor's sword. The handle was the same jeweled handle, and the blade was about the same length as the handle.

"That looks just like the sword," Ginny said excitedly and she reached to grab it. As her hand neared the opening of the drawer, all the alarms in Harry's head went off and his hand snapped out and grabbed her wrist. "STOP!" he shouted. She looked at him in surprise. "Don't you see? It's a missing relic of Godric Gryffindor; it's the last Horcrux."

Her eyes went wide as she thought about what she had almost done. "Are you sure?"

"No, and I can't remember the spell Dumbledore used to test it, but let's pretend that it is. So we can't touch it, yet we need to take it to him."

"How did he move the ones that he showed you?" she asked.

"Oh yeah, he either levitated it or carried it in a towel. Too bad I don't have a bag or something."

"Can you remove the drawer and take it up in that?"

"Good idea, but let me look at all this first." Harry remembered his ability to see the glamour on Dumbledore's hand, and tried to think about that while he looked at the drawer. No matter how he looked, he could not see any other magic. But did that mean there really were not any traps here? The Headmaster had mentioned having to battle everything from Inferi to a dragon to get the other Horcruxes. Suddenly it hit him, this one had a guard too, but he had killed it three years ago. He smiled at that.

"OK, I think it's about as safe as it can be. Here, hold my wand." He handed her his wand and tried to remove the drawer from the desk, it would only slide in and out, but would not come all the way out. He gave up after a few minutes. "We just need something to carry it in." He could think of nothing except his dirty hands right now, so he wiped them on his jeans. That gave him a thought.

"I have my T-shirt," he told her. "I could take that off and put in there.

She smiled. "I like that idea, but what will people think when we come out of the bathroom and see you without a shirt?"

"Good point, too bad I'm not wearing my robes," he groused half-heartedly.

"But I am wearing a shirt under my jumper," she told him. "Here, hold the wands." She took off her jumper and handed that to him too, then she started taking off her white shirt, but stopped when she suddenly realised how closely Harry was watching her. She turned around before removing it the rest of the way. She handed the shirt over her shoulder to him and held out her hand for her jumper.

Harry plainly saw her bra strap across her shoulder. "I think you should turn around and get this Ginny," he suggested, his voice a little wobbly, not putting her jumper into her hand.

"Harry!" she cried and he could see her neck and the top part of her shoulders turn slightly pink.

"It's only a little lace, Ginny."

"Harry, it's not the lace, it's what's under the lace."

"Oh, you mean I might really get to see something?" he teased, sounding the tiniest bit hopeful.

"No, it's all covered up." She stopped for a moment to look down at herself. Just as Harry was about to hand the jumper over, she huffed, "Fine." Turning around, she grabbed her jumper out of his hands. Harry was not disappointed at the sight and smiled broadly. "Happy?" she asked and sounded a bit put out as she found the sleeves in her jumper.

"Very! At least until I get to see more. You are so beautiful Ginny. Your face, your hair ... your skin looks so soft, and well, everything else looks just right on you."

She paused with her jumper still in her hands. "Really?" Harry thought she sounded surprised. "I'm not too small up top? I know I'm not built anywhere close to what Lavender is."

"Ginny, don't you ever worry about that. I think you're just right, up top and down bottom. I wouldn't change a thing about the way you look."

"Really?" she asked again. He nodded very seriously.

Ginny smiled in gratitude. "Thanks Harry, you don't know how much that means to me."

"Then I guess it must be even better because it's the truth."

"Yes it is, and I'd kiss you for it, but these charms prevent that. In fact, we need to get busy as they will wear off eventually." She quickly pulled the jumper on over her head.

"Right," he agreed. Setting her shirt on top of the desk, Harry levitated the knife on top of it, and he finally grabbed the two sleeves and tied them around the knife. He carefully carried the bundle by the ends, while Ginny brought their wands. When they got back out into the main chamber, Harry had an idea. "Ginny, cut off one of the smaller bones from the tail of the snake. I want a stick about three feet long."

With a cutting charm, she did that, and handed the bone to Harry, who laid it on top of the rolled up bundle. Then with his wand, he shot out a few ropes at it and tied the two together. He grabbed the bone like a stick and carried it all much more easily. "Let's go," he told her.

They traversed their trail backward, out the little door, which Harry closed, over the rocks, and finally, they carefully flew back up the slide with Ginny holding the bone stick. Once in the bathroom, Harry closed the entrance, and because they heard a noise in the plumbing, they quickly went out into the hallway to avoid Myrtle. Even with care they had become filthy, so they cleaned themselves off with several Scourgifies and headed to Dumbledore's office.

"Almond Joy" Harry spoke, and the gargoyle came to life. At the top, they knocked on the door but no one answered. It was the first time Harry had ever been here and the Headmaster had not greeted him. Of course, should he have been surprised? The Headmaster had many things to do. They looked at each over trying to decide what to do. Feeling overly bold, Harry turned the knob, and the door opened. The only living soul in the office besides them was Fawkes, who just looked at them and blinked.

Walking in, Harry was not sure what to do, but he considered that maybe Fawkes could help, he had in the past. He stroked the bird's head for a moment. "Fawkes, can you get Professor Dumbledore? We really need to see him." The bird seemed to turn and flick his head, though the bird did not trill a sound. Harry was not sure what to make of that. He set the bundle and bone stick down on the big desk.

"I wish I could wash up," Ginny said after a moment.

"He has a small bathroom over there," Harry pointed. She went in. Harry noticed all the little portraits were awake and looking at him. Most wore a disapproving look, he guessed they thought he and Ginny should not be there. "Can anyone tell me where Professor Dumbledore is or when he'll be back?" No one answered him. When Ginny came back out, Harry went in and washed his hands and face too. It was not as good as a shower, but it would do for now. Harry sighed. "I wished I could send him a message."

"Harry! Duh, we can. I should have thought of it earlier." Taking her wand out, she cast "Communio Patronum". "Now we wait."

He sat down and she came over and sat on his lap. "I do like this," he admitted while he put his arms around her waist, "but why now?"

"Because I've been dying to do this since you told me I was beautiful." She leaned into him and kissed him soundly. Hearing a slight cough, she looked up and saw Professor Dumbledore in the doorway. His eyes were twinkling madly.

"Well, I've caught a number of students in broom closets over the years, but I must say this is the first time I've caught a couple in my office," he said with a chuckle as he came into the room. "Now that you have my attention, please tell me what's so important," he asked as he settled into his desk chair. "Oh, what's this?" He started to reach for the bundle.

"Stop!" Harry shouted. To his credit, the old man immediately froze, except for his eyes which looked up at Harry. "You should treat the object inside the shirt as if it is a Horcrux, Professor."

The Headmaster's hands went back to his side and a serious look came over his face. "Please tell me about it, Harry. I have trouble imagining how you overcame what was guarding it based on what I had to face."

"We went back down into the Chamber of Secrets this morning Professor. Ginny wanted to face her fear of basilisks, and I thought maybe seeing the dead one would be good enough."

"I also wanted to face my fear of the Chamber and Tom," she admitted in a small voice.

Dumbledore nodded. "I understand, go on."

"I saw a small room I hadn't been in before and we investigated. In there was a desk, and this was in the drawer. Remembering your warning and care, we levitated to a shirt, then tied it to a small basilisk bone to make it safer, and brought to you."

The Headmaster nodded approvingly. "Good work. Very commendable really, but also very dangerous for you to have come this close to it, if it is one. All the Horcruxes I found were guarded by difficult to overcome magic."

"Professor, if you think about it, only someone who could speak Parseltongue could get to this. Not to mention it being guarded by a sixty foot basilisk." Harry was a little proud to point that out, and that he had overcome both obstacles when he was twelve.

"Good point, Harry. I must say though, that I'm surprised you would find a Horcurx in the Chamber, since I don't believe Tom would hide two of them in the same place," the Headmaster reasoned.

"If you think about it sir, he didn't hide two of them there." Dumbledore looked thoughtful, but waited for Harry to continue. "The essence of Tom in the diary used the Chamber since it found itself here at the school, but I don't think it was meant to have done that."

"Hmm, that is an interesting theory, Harry. I see what you mean, the diary really didn't have a place to hide, other than wherever it found itself. That sort of made it a floating location. Yes, very well reasoned... Well, let's see what we have here." Dumbledore Vanished the rope and carefully untied the simple knot in the shirt and opened it up. Very little surprised Dumbledore at this point in his life, yet a gasp escaped him as he viewed the object in front of him. He looked up to the students.

Pulling back, he went to the glass case behind him and pulled out the sword and brought it over. The hilts matched perfectly. "Well Harry, if nothing else, you appear to have recovered a second Gryffindor relic. I believe I can say that, unfortunately, I was in error again. Apparently, the handle under Godric's hand in the picture on the wall is not his sword, but this knife." He put the sword back and pulled out his wand. Casting the animal detection charm, they all saw the knife briefly glow red.

A large smile came upon Dumbledore's face. "Excellent work, Harry and Ginny. You have not only found the last Horcrux, you've saved us a lot of time and danger by not having to find Nagini and test her. Hmm, I should give you a large number of points for this, but it's not actually school work. I shall have to find another reward for you." He thought for a moment. "It's not much, but how about a dinner alone for just the two of you one evening. I think I could persuade Sirius to give up Dobby for a night to take care of the food."

The teens looked at one another with smiles. Harry turned back to the Headmaster. "In the Room of Requirement and from dinner time to curfew?"

"Would the Saturday evening after your first Quidditch game work?"

"Deal!" Ginny agreed brightly.

***

[Sun Sep 22]

Harry got up early on Sunday morning, as had been his habit for the last couple of weeks. Sunday mornings, Monday evenings, and Wednesday evenings were the times he and Ginny got together with Sirius to continue with their Defense training. Most of the morning would be for training, while the two weekday evenings were only an hour, or at most two hours long. Between that and a couple of weight sessions on other early mornings, Harry was glad he was ahead in all of his classes and was doing well on his homework. He did not have nearly as much free time as he would have liked. The occasional prefect patrols did not help.

As he was about to go downstairs, he heard Ron's voice from the landing above him and knew his friend was up too, which was a bit unusual. Still, he did not worry about it; Ron knew he got up early to work out from time to time.

Downstairs, Harry took a seat on the couch and waited for Ginny. He was usually ready before she was. Of course, if he had had everything his way, they would both be still lying in bed somewhere with her snuggled up next to him. That got him to thinking about their relationship. They had been getting along quite well, and since that day they had had to stay home from Diagon Alley, they gone a little further than snogging. Harry sort of wanted to go a little further still, but he would never push Ginny to do so. But how much further did he really want to go, at least before marriage?

That thought really hit him hard, as he had never given it any serious consideration. Just how serious was he about Ginny? Did he want to make it permanent? He was only sixteen now, and she was fifteen; they had plenty of time before marriage was even possible. Since Sirius had given him "The Talk", he knew contraceptives were really up to the witch through a potion, but there was no way he was going to mention that to Ginny. A forced wedding did not appeal to him either, so that created one boundary in their physical relationship. There were other obvious stopping places before that point; perhaps he needed to think about what the boundaries should be. He knew that if they were not careful, it would be far too easy to be caught up in the passion of the moment and do something they would regret.

But this was not the time for contemplation on that topic as he saw Ginny and Hermione coming down the stairs. To his surprise, as they reached the common room, he also saw Ron and Neville starting to come down the stairs too.

"Hey Harry?" Hermione called to him while Ginny gave him a quick good morning kiss on the cheek and sat down close beside him. "I was wondering what your training sessions were like. Would you mind if we came too?"

He looked at Ginny who just shrugged. "Ah, who's we?" He supposed he did not mind sharing it too much, but it was not something he wanted everyone to know about either.

"Ron and I," she answered. Then she saw Neville walk up too and understood why Harry had asked.

"Hi Harry," Neville greeted him. Harry had not seen too much of Neville this year. Only a little here and there around the common room and at meal times.

"Hey Neville. What's up?"

"Oh, gotta go get an early breakfast. I'm supposed to help Professor Sprout with some new Fairie Ferns she got in yesterday. Sort of extra credit work, as well as allowing me to get some extra experience."

Ron snorted, "Right, like you need extra credit in Herbology. I swear Neville, when you graduate you'll be able to take her place."

Though Neville had partially overcome his shyness in the past couple of years, he still looked bashfully down on his shoes at Ron's comment. "Uh, thanks, Ron. I wish I could come see you train, Harry, I'm sure you're really good now, considering how good you were last year."

"Thanks Neville."

"Say Harry, are you going to restart the DA this year?" Neville wondered.

"Uh, no, I really don't have any plans to. We have a good Defense teacher this year, so I didn't see any need to," Harry explained. "Why do you ask?"

Neville looked a bit embarrassed as he said, "Just wondering, because, well, I liked it. The DA, and you, really helped me. I don't think I would have made an Outstanding on my Defense OWL if it weren't for you."

"I'm glad for you Neville, it was fun and useful. If you still want to do it, perhaps you should ask Professor Black about making a club for it." Neville did not say anything, though he seemed to be thinking about it. "Anyway, we gotta go."

"Me too," the future Herbologist told him. They all walked out together, though soon they split up.

"Hey! Aren't we going to get breakfast first?" Ron asked, while pointing the direction Neville had gone.

Harry smiled at him. "No Ron, Ginny and I will wait until lunch to eat. I've already had some water and that will hold me until then. I've found that having a lot of food on my stomach for these sessions isn't a good idea."

"But ..." Ron started to object.

"Hey, if you want to go eat, that's OK with me. Hermione said you two wanted to watch and that's fine. Once we really start, I probably won't even remember whether you're there or not." Ron was looking a little put out at that, so Harry added, "And it's not that I'm trying to be rude, it's just that these sessions are for us. If you want to come learn things by watching, that's fine, but unlike the DA meetings, these are only for Ginny and I to learn things."

Hermione tried to placate her friend. "We understand Harry, we're just observers." She was also curious what he was doing and if she could learn anything. Deep down, she also felt a little left out and wanted to join in, but was not sure he wanted her to, which hurt a little.

Walking into the classroom, they found Sirius already there. He looked surprised at the two visitors. "Hermione, Ron, I didn't know you were coming."

"Harry said we could come watch, though I suppose that's also up to you," she acknowledged.

He thought about it for a second. "I'm fine with that. You can sit over there, but you're on your own as far as protecting yourself from stray spells. Oh, and a wizard's oath that you don't discuss this with anyone outside of the four of us or Dumbledore." Both of them pulled out their wands and so swore.

They took a seat and saw their two friends stretching. Neither Harry nor Ginny was wearing their robes any longer, but rather tight fitting jeans and long sleeve T-shirts. Harry had a wand holder on his left forearm, while Ginny had one on her right thigh. Near the end of their preparations, a quick charm caused Ginny's hair to braid itself into a single, thick, long braid. Hermione found it interesting how her two friends, which were so alike, still had their own style about certain things.

"All right you two," Sirius said to his two trainees, "a duel between you to warm up, then we'll try something harder." Harry and Ginny stood back about twenty feet from each other. They got into their ready stance, but neither had their wand in their hand.

Hermione heard Ron's stomach growl, and he grumbled about missing breakfast. She shot him a quick irritated look for interrupting what was sure to be interesting, but conjured him a glass of water to hold him. "Go!" Sirius shouted.

Each of them moved while drawing their wand, Hermione noted. Ginny's first spell was a shield, and a good choice as Harry had already fired a Tripping jinx and a Stunning hex, both of which bounced harmless off her shield. She had fired back with a Stunner too, but it only went through the spot Harry had been in. He had rolled to his right and fired a Bludgeoning hex, followed by a spell Hermione had not ever seen. The first hex took her shield down, and the second spell transfigured her clothes into a bikini.

Ginny looked down and saw her lack of clothes and huffed, "All right Potter, you asked for it." She shot her patented hex at him in retaliation. Again he was too fast and it went through thin air, and came very close to her and Ron, Hermione noticed. As Harry continued to move around, he shot off a series of Tickling charms. One of them hit Ginny and started her chuckling, although she seemed to be trying to ignore it. Still, it was enough that Harry was able to conjure a barrel behind her and summon it to him. That knocked her legs out from under her, and he sent an unknown pink spell at her, which hit her as she hit the floor. Finally, he hit her with an Expelliarmus, which sent her wand flying to him effectively ending the match.

"Good job Harry," Sirius congratulated him. "I think the cutting spell would have done the job," he said as he pointed to the pink line of paint across her stomach, their substitute for the dangerous cutting spell.

"What are you doing to my sister?" Ron roared.

"Silencio!" Harry flung at his best friend, breathing heavily from the exercise. "Shut it Ron, we're in training and all's fair in war. If you don't like it, leave." Harry's seriousness and anger were very evident. He was bothered by his friend's stupidity at missing the obvious point, and he was also still partially caught up in the emotion of the mock battle. "You know what I'm training to do, so don't distract me."

Ron still was not happy, but he stopped trying to make a scene. Harry transfigured her clothes back. "That was pretty good, Harry," she told him with admiration in her voice. "I haven't seen you use that one before. I liked the barrel too, but why didn't you just summon my feet or my shoes to knock me down?"

He laughed as he started to calm down emotionally, "Because I didn't think of it. I would have preferred to yank a rug out from under you, but you weren't standing on a rug."

"OK you two," Sirius stopped them. "Now for your hard challenge, Harry, before we start working on individual spells."

"I still say we two should fight you," Harry grumbled.

Sirius' bark of laughter came out of him. "You know we stopped doing that a few weeks after we started, and that it would be useless now, Harry. I'd be lucky to last ten seconds against the two of you together. But you know, since you brought a couple of friends, maybe we can pull them in and try three on two. That's still probably not fair, but I guess it will have to do." He turned to the two observers. "Well, you two want to help out since you're here?"

Ron nodded, obviously eager to get back at Harry, but Hermione hesitated. That whole match had taken maybe twenty seconds at the most, and Harry had done some spells they had not even covered in class yet. And the speed at which he cast his spells was incredible, at least compared to her. To make matters worse, Ginny was not that far behind him, and she almost made up for the gap in sheer determination. Still, they would have Sirius helping them, though she did not know what to think of his comment that it still would not be a fair match. "I suppose," she finally said.

"Excellent," the professor told them. "You start thinking of some good things to do while we push Harry a bit. Ready, champ? Or is it going to be chump today?" Sirius laughed at his own joke.

"One day Sirius, I'm going to do this and then you'll stop laughing," Harry told him seriously. He relaxed and shook his arms to loosen up. "OK, Hermione, say the word."

"Go!" she shouted suddenly. Now Harry was jumping to the side and shooting a Stunner at Sirius. Ginny was going on the offense and sent a Body Bind at him; it missed. They kept flinging spells at each other, and because Harry had to keep moving, Hermione actually had to throw up a shield at one point to protect herself. Just as she thought Harry was about to get the upper hand after two minutes of hard work, when he animated a chair to go after Ginny, his girlfriend hit him with a spell that stuck his feet to the floor. That loss of mobility was all it took for Sirius to finally hit him with a Stunning spell and Harry fell backwards, though Ginny was fast enough to hit him with a Levitation charm so he did not fall at a wrong angle and break a leg or some other limb, since his feet were still stuck to the floor.

Sirius unstuck him and let Ginny lower him down before he revived the boy. "Good job Ginny, I really like that feet-gluing charm."

She smiled. "I purposely had to go find that as he's so good with moving around that it's hard to hit him.

Hermione was getting less sure about participating after hearing that. She wondered what else they knew she had not heard of; but maybe it worked the other way too. She had done a lot of extra reading and had come across some spells that were not covered in class.

Harry needed a few minutes to recover and drank some more water. While he did that, he and Ginny put their heads together to discuss strategy. Hermione had already taken the silencing spell off of Ron and they talked with Sirius quietly about what to do. Sirius did not have many words of wisdom and confessed he did not know how to win against them.

Ginny and Harry had a small argument over who was going after Ron, but Harry finally won it. Still, to confuse matters, he stood in front of Sirius and looked at him as they got ready for the three on two duel. Ginny stared at her brother, who started getting very nervous with the way she was looking at him. "Any time, Sirius," Harry told him with a predatory grin on his face.

"Go!" the teacher said and conjured a shield, but it did not go quite all the way to the floor, nor did it protect him from Ginny who was not in front of him. She summoned his shoes and he dropped hard onto his back. Then with a Mobilicorpus, she lifted the professor and moved him to the left, right toward her two friends.

Meanwhile, as Ron started towards Harry, the black-haired boy did a Banishing charm on Ron and sent him backwards and slightly sideways. When he made contact with Hermione, Harry cast a Sticking charm on them so they were stuck together, stopping Hermione's Stunner halfway through her cast. The couple were knocked off balance and started to fall. Sirius moved across the floor at knee height and ran into them such that they all landed in a heap. Harry shouted, "Accio Wands!" and caught the two of the three wands that came to him; Ginny reached over and caught the third. The couple laughed at the other three.

After a moment, Ginny had pity, at least on Hermione, and cast a "Finite Incantatem" to end the sticking charm. "Well, that was fun, wasn't it Ron?" she taunted him. He was rubbing his right elbow where it had hit the floor, but he did not say anything.

"That was pretty incredible," Hermione admitted. "I wasn't sure I wanted to do that after watching you two fight against each other, but to see you work together is just amazing. How did you get to be so good? Not that you weren't good last year in the DA, but you're doing spells that we won't cover until later this year, and maybe not even until seventh year, based on what I saw in our studies this summer."

"We worked for at least four hours a day on Defense alone, plus we also had Charms and Transfiguration all summer, Hermione," Ginny told her. "And since school has started, we spend at least another six hours a week on it outside of class. Since we've had so much individual tutoring, we were bound to become better at dueling."

The brunette just gaped at them, and even Ron was starting to lose some of his anger now that he realised there was a good reason that they had to become such excellent fighters.

Sirius decided to add one more thing. "Plus, you guys need to understand that Defense work, fighting, is a talent these two have. I can't say I know what all of your strengths are Hermione and Ron, but these two are a natural at this. With the training I've been giving them, they were bound to excel at it, so please don't think badly of them. They weren't showing off, well, at least not too much. I've drilled it into them not to hold back. The quicker they can end a fight, the less chance there is for an enemy to get lucky and hurt you. That was a lesson I learned back in June, one that almost killed me because I was toying with the person I was fighting. I push them hard for a reason. They always have a target on them, and they really aren't allowed to fail."

"What do you mean they aren't allowed to fail?" Ron was perplexed at that.

"You know what Harry has to do right?" Sirius asked the boy; Ron nodded. "If he gets himself killed before taking out Voldemort, then we'll all be much worse off, or dead. Harry can't fail if we're all to enjoy life the way it was meant to be enjoyed. Likewise, Ginny can't ever fail either. If she does and is captured, she'll be used against Harry, and we can't let that happen. It's ugly, but this is war." He hoped they did not ask about what would happen if one of them were captured; they probably would not like the answer.

Fortunately, the conversation was brought to an abrupt end by a knock on the door, and the Headmaster entered the room. "Ah, a bigger crowd than normal today," he observed with a smile and a twinkle. "I'm very sorry to interrupt, but I need Sirius and Harry to accompany me on a short journey."

"I can't go too?" Ginny asked.

The old man smiled at her. "No, I'm sorry Ginny, but I need to keep the party small. I'm sure Harry will tell you about it when we return. Gentlemen? If you'll touch this." He held out an ostrich feather quill. The other two reached out and Dumbledore activated the Portkey and they were gone.

Ginny sighed, "Well, I bet they won't be back soon, so we might as well go visit the kitchens for a snack."

Ron started to brighten at the thought of food, but he still had something on his mind. "Ginny, about what Harry did to you."

She looked at her brother with a disgusted face. "Ron, get over it. It was a joke, and actually highly effective. It distracted me, which is what he meant to do. When we're fighting, whether play fighting like that or for real, Harry's right, everything goes. I know Harry wouldn't do more, though I'm quite sure he's capable of vanishing all of someone's clothes. And I point that out to you, because in fact, that's what he wanted to do to you for interrupting. I talked him out of it because Hermione was here. If she hadn't, I think I would have let him do it to teach you a lesson."

Her brother looked shocked, "But, but, ..."

"OK, maybe we're being a little hard on you, but you've been all right with us dating so far, so don't mess it up. Both Harry and I can take you out in our sleep, and don't start in on the fact that I have six brothers. I'd bet on Harry and I winning against all six of you any day."

Ron was looking at her trying to figure out if she was serious or bluffing. Hermione rolled her eyes at him. "Yes Ron, she's being serious, and I think they could too. Not only are they using spells we won't see here at Hogwarts, they're using simple spells in ways we haven't even imagined. Bill and Charlie might be good, but they haven't been trained like these two." She looked at her friend. "Ginny, has Harry dueled Dumbledore yet?"

"Once," Ginny told them as they approached the kitchens, "and Harry almost got lucky." Ron gulped and dropped the argument.

---

When Harry came out of the jerk and the flying from the Portkey, he saw that he was in an old house that had seen much better days, and not much cleaning lately. "Where are we?"

Dumbledore smiled at him. "This is a place I come to about every twenty years or so, when I want to do something I don't want anyone else to find out about. It's quite well hidden. Let's go to the basement." Going below, Harry felt something he had not felt in a while, and was not sure he wanted to feel it now either: a very particular coldness.

The room they descended into had a doorway with bars in it. Looking through the bars, Harry saw a mostly empty room. It had a small table in it, and a Dementor who was standing and not doing anything. "Is that real?"

"Oh yes, Harry. It is contained by a few special spells that the Ministry uses on Azkaban. Between the bars and the spells, we are quite safe here, or at least we are as long as we don't go too near the bars. Now, it's time for our experiment." Reaching into his robes, Dumbledore pulled out a small wooden box. With his wand, he levitated a ring from the box and sent it through the bars and set it on the table. The reaction from the Dementor was immediate, it started gliding to the table. The soul in the ring was calling to the Dark creature.

The creature reached down to the table, and when its robed hands, or where they assumed its hands or claws were, rose up, the ring was no longer there. It lifted its "hands" to its face and the three men held their collective breath. A few seconds later there was a loud noise like an explosion and shreds of the Dementors robes fluttered to the floor. The creature was not to be seen. The three just looked at each other for several very long seconds.

"Well that was interesting," Sirius said.

"Very," Albus added.

"But did it work?" Harry asked.

With several levitation spells, they finally found the ring under a shred of cloth. Dumbledore did the testing spell on it and the ring did not glow. Smiles appeared on all their faces. Dumbledore summoned the ring and caught it in his bare hand. Then before anyone could stop him, he shoved it on the middle finger of his left hand. Nothing happened. Turning to his pupil, he praised him with, "Excellent idea Harry, most excellent. It is a difficult way to rid ourselves of Dementors, but they shouldn't really exist anyway. I shall return to where I got this one and get some more. By the end of the day, Tom Riddle should be mortal again."

Harry shouted, "Yes!" and pumped his fist into the air. The two older men laughed at the young man's exuberance.

***

Dumbledore barely made it back in time for dinner, but when he sat down to eat, he had managed to get six Horcruxes together with six Dementors and they had all cancelled each other out. He was very pleased to have finished that task. When he was nearly halfway through the evening meal, an owl flew to him and stuck his leg out. The short message informed him he had a visitor. Nevertheless, he finished his dinner and pudding before he left; he felt he had earned it.

With a full stomach, the Headmaster made his way back to his office for what he hoped was a short meeting. This was a meeting that he was not sure how he wanted it to end. If he was truthful with himself, he had conflicting emotions. He decided that it would be best to just to wait and see how things would turn out.

Walking into his office, he saw his Potions Master with a glass of Firewhisky in his hand. Albus was not sure if that was a good sign or not. "Severus, it's good to see you again. Did you have a relaxing time?"

"Yes, Headmaster. I got lots of reading done, as well as brewed several of the more difficult potions I didn't get to this last summer."

"That's an interesting way to spend time off, but we all have our own ways. So, did you come to any conclusions about what you'd like to do in the near future?"

"Yes, Headmaster. I'd like to continue teaching."

Snape was sounding very formal, Dumbledore thought. "I see, I'm not against that, but I would like to know how you plan to deal with the issues that gave you difficulty, as I don't want to see you have those kinds of problems again." While Dumbledore was being vague and wording it as if he wanted only a trouble-free life for Snape, which he did, they both knew what he was really talking about.

"My plans are to ignore a number of things that I didn't used to, at least as long as there are no major problems. 'Live and let live' is an appropriate policy in some instances, such as with dragons and other less than desirable creatures." Severus still hated Potter, but he did recognize him as a force to be reckoned with, especially when he had Albus looking out for him.

"I believe that will work, Severus. However, I think I shall make one other small change to help you out." The former Death Eater raised an eyebrow. "I believe part of the problem is that you had extra stress from too much to do. Therefore, I plan to let Percy Weasley continue to work here and teach Potions for the first and second years only. I know you never liked the lower levels."

"I see." Snape was both happy and upset. He had always hated dealing with the introductory material, yet he also did not want to give up control. Of course, what choice did he have at the moment? "As you wish Headmaster, though I would request he use a different classroom."

"Certainly Severus, I think that would be best for everyone. I'll tell Percy that. I'm also thinking of having him teach the first two or three years of Arithmancy too. That should keep him busy, and Professor Vector has been wanting fewer hours as she nears retirement."

"I'm sure that will keep Weasley busy and out of my hair."

"Very good then, we are agreed. And Severus? Our other goal is in sight. Soon, you'll be free."

Back to index


Chapter 10: Chapter 10: Mars Bringth Forth...

Author's Notes: {A/N: Happy new Year! We're getting close to the finale. To avoid spoiling the fun, there's another small A/N at that bottom, which both of my betas agreed with. :-) Enjoy -- kb.}


Chapter 10: Mars Bringth Forth...

[Sat Oct 26]

Everyone got up early for a Saturday morning; it was a Hogsmeade day. Nobody had any hard and fast plans, other than the usual stop at Honeydukes, lunch at the Three Broomsticks, and window shopping. Still, they hurried to town as soon as they could get past Filch because they wanted to see something different than school.

Harry held hands with Ginny, Ron held Hermione's hand, Neville and Luna just walked together, quietly talking. A quick look back also showed Colin walking with Mandy, so Harry guessed Colin had found his courage and asked the girl to go with him. Ginny saw where he was looking and spying her friends, a big smile appeared on her face. "You don't know how long she's been waiting for him to ask her," Ginny informed him.

"As long as you waited for me before you gave up?" he teased her.

"Maybe," she said a little bashfully. "I waited until the end of my second year, so I gave you two whole years Harry."

"Sorry, Ginny." He pulled his hand from hers and put it around her waist to pull her close as they walked. "Well, I had to wait for awhile too, but it all worked out in the end."

As they came into town, they slowed down to look in the windows, even going into the occasional shoppe full of knick-knacks. In one shoppe, he saw what appeared to be hair accessories: a couple of combs, something that looked like it was for ponytails, and a larger band that he had seen a few girls wear on top of their head to hold their hair in place. They were all silver and a matching set to boot. Recalling Sirius' advice the other day when they had been discussing this trip, wherein his godfather had said it was good to buy your girlfriend little things from time to time "just because", Harry decided to purchase the lot. Even if she hated it, the set was only five Galleons.

Picking up the present, he went to pay for it. Ginny had been in another aisle with Hermione and Ron, and she joined him again when she saw him making a purchase. "Whatcha got?" she playfully asked him.

He picked up the hair accessories and handed them to her, "Something for you." He handed the money to the shoppe owner.

"For me?" she said excitedly. "What for? This isn't a special day I've forgotten about, is it?" she asked suspiciously.

Harry chuckled. "No, Ginny. It's a present 'just because', or rather just because you deserve one."

She gave him a long hug and a short kiss before pulling the pony-tail holder out. By slipping the stick out of the "U" shaped part, it was out of the packaging and ready to be put in her hair. Seeing Hermione walking their way, she called to her friend. "Hermione, put this in my hair for me." She handed it over and turned around.

"This is really nice, Ginny. What's it for?"

"Harry got it for me 'just because' he said." She seemed very proud of her boyfriend.

Hermione looked at Harry and gave him a smile and an appreciative look. "I'm impressed Harry; I didn't think you'd do something like this." As she finished, she dug a small mirror out of her robes and handed it to Ginny, who used it and a larger mirror on the wall to see how it looked.

"Yes, very nice. I like it," Ginny told him as she handed the mirror back to Hermione and grabbed onto Harry's arm for her to escort her.

For the rest of the day, Harry felt like Prince Charming and that he could do no wrong. He did see Ron looking at him sourly. "Thanks, mate, for making the rest of us look bad," the redheaded boy muttered. Harry merely laughed and went on. Ron would have to do something on his own.

***

They arrived back at the castle just before dinner, so they went straight to the Great Hall. Walking in, Harry saw it was almost filled; even Malfoy was already there. Thinking back to his last encounter with the Slytherin git made him smile, especially the fact that Malfoy had basically left him alone since then. He was not sure why the Slytherin boy was ignoring him, but Harry did like it. With Malfoy and Snape both ignoring him, life had been ten times better over the last month.

As Harry was dishing out some stew, a small gray owl, not much bigger than Ron's Pigwidgeon flew up to him with a small note. Detaching it, he read, "Meet me in my office at 8, alone. - AD" A quick glance up to the staff table revealed Dumbledore looking at him and giving him a small nod before the Headmaster returned his attention to his plate.

"What's that?" Ginny asked. He merely handed the note to her and resumed eating. "What do you suppose he wants?" she wondered.

"Haven't a clue," he admitted. "Must be something special though. He doesn't ask for me to come alone very often."

"No, he doesn't." She looked very thoughtful for a few seconds, then seemed to give up and handed the note back.

Looking back up again, he saw Hermione looking at him. While owls did occasionally come during the evening meal, it was uncommon enough it had attracted attention. Not really wanting to discuss it, he decided to hand her the note and let her draw her own conclusions, which were as empty as his apparently, because she handed it back without saying a thing.

After dinner, despite the fact they had almost an hour to wait, they did not return to the Tower. He and Ginny decided to start walking towards Dumbledore's office by themselves now, visiting more than a few alcoves on the way. By the time Harry reached the Headmaster's office at five minutes before eight, Ginny needed to fix his usually messy hair, as it was much worse than normal. He kissed her one last time and told her, "Don't wait up, there's no telling how late it will be." He was trying to be thoughtful, though he did not really expect her to follow his advice. He gave the password and was soon heading up the spiral staircase.

"Enter," Harry heard when he had politely knocked. Going in, he saw his godfather with the Headmaster. "Ah Harry, right on time. I have a special meeting for you tonight that I think you will appreciate. If you'll come over to my fireplace, we'll go to your house for a discussion."

That puzzled Harry as he could not imagine what they could talk about there that they could not discuss here. Still, he did as he was told and he Flooed to number twelve Grimmauld Place.

He had barely started to dust the ashes off of himself when he heard Mrs. Weasley ask, "Harry? What are you doing here?" He did not answer as Sirius and Dumbledore came out behind him in short order.

From in front of the stove, she now looked at the two older men and repeated her question. "What is Harry doing here? Why isn't he at school?"

Dumbledore fielded the question. "Harry is going to help us with a little something tonight before he returns back to school, Molly. Don't worry about it, he'll be fine."

"But Albus, we're supposed to have a meeting tonight and he can't be here for that." The tea she had been making was forgotten.

"I understand Molly, and I have the matter well in hand. Harry, would you come with me please. Sirius, perhaps you could help Molly with the tea set. I believe we'll need all the cups that you have tonight." The old man led Harry upstairs and into the library, where he closed the door behind him. They both stood looking at one another, and for the first time Harry realised he was almost as tall as the old man.

"Now Harry, Molly's objection is very real and will only be the first tonight; but when they come, it would probably be best if you let me handle it. I've asked you here for a reason. It is almost time for your destiny to be fulfilled, and they need to know that since they will be helping you."

Harry could barely breathe as he heard that. "You're going to tell them the Prophecy, aren't you?"

"Yes and no. I will tell them about what Voldemort knows, but no more. Rest assured that the Prophecy will not get out. I have plans to ensure this. You've been doing well lately in your training, I'm very proud of you. There's something about you, Harry, that makes me sure you will win."

"Aren't you being overly optimistic, sir? I mean, I know I'm better than all the other kids at school, but I couldn't beat you last time, and I know that Voldemort knows a lot of Dark Magic, a lot of which I haven't seen before." Harry felt worried now that it was getting close to time for the final battle.

"I understand, Harry." Dumbledore put a sympathetic hand on the young man's shoulder. "It's only natural to get worried or feel overwhelmed when you try to look at everything at once. But please don't worry, I'm doing my best to make it easy on you, and you will have other help as well. Some like Sirius are more obvious, but even your friends' support is of enormous help. Perhaps more than you think."

"If you say so, sir. I am ready to get it over with so I can live a normal life, and most days I think I have a good chance to win."

"That's the spirit Harry. Hopefully 'most days' will soon become 'everyday'. Now, I think sufficient time has passed for everyone to have arrived, so let's go in." Dumbledore turned and led Harry out of the library and into the dining room. Almost every chair was filled around the huge table. They went to two empty chairs near the head of the table and sat while the tea and coffee service was going around. Once Harry sat down and looked, he realised that he knew only about half of the people here, and more and more of them were starting to stare at him.

Albus Dumbledore rose and spoke a bit loudly to get everyone's attention. "Excellent, it looks like almost everyone is here. Let's get started, shall we?" Everyone settled down while Molly and Arthur Weasley came through the door and took the last seats.

Molly opened her mouth to say something, but Dumbledore began talking. "Now, I'm sure you're all wondering why we have a visitor tonight. For those who have not met him, this is Harry Potter. He has been an unofficial member of the Order of the Phoenix for the last two months, and tonight he is now a full member, though with very limited duties."

"Albus, you can't do that to him!" Molly objected. "He's not an adult, nor does he meet any of the requirements you yourself set forth for membership," she told him adamantly.

"An extremely valid objection, yet meaningless as you shall soon find out," he told her quite calmly, and so as not to give her a chance to object any further, he continued to speak. "Now, I need everyone to take a minute and examine yourself and your motive for being here in the organization. Basically, do you believe in the need, the imperative, to rid the world of Voldemort?" Harry noted there were no gasps at this table over His name, "Are you willing to do everything in your power to make that happen, even facing death? If you are, please stay. If you find any shadow of doubt, I must ask you to leave tonight, though I will not revoke your membership here. I will merely find other duties for you other than what we are about to discuss." With that ominous introduction, he sat down and poured himself a cup of tea and waited.

Harry noticed that most of the people in the room looked unconcerned -- Alastor, Kingsley, and Tonks among them. Of course, as Harry thought about it, he realised they made that decision every day when they went to work. Others seemed to have their heads bowed in quiet introspection. After a couple of minutes, he watched Dumbledore drain his cup and rise again from his chair.

"If you need to make an exit, please do so. No one moved, not even Fred or George, the youngest of the regular members. Very well then, due to the nature of the information you are about to receive, and the need for complete secrecy, I will require an Unbreakable Vow from each of you before we go further." Now there were gasps.

"You will swear to hold all information you learn tonight to yourself or communicate it only with those here, and not to any one who is not present, until the time comes that I either release you from the vow, or Voldemort is dead." He paused as he looked over the group of nearly thirty wizards and witches. "If anyone now wishes to have only lighter duties rather than embark on this adventure, now is the time to make that known." No one spoke and no one left either.

Dumbledore turned to his left, "Minerva, I guess you're first." One by one, he went to every member of the Order present, including Severus Snape, who took the vow very solemnly. Lastly, he came to Harry. "Harry, while I would like you to do the same, I'm afraid I can not, so I shall merely require a Wizard's Oath. I know you don't want your wand broken, so I believe that will be sufficient."

"Albus, that's a security hole," Alastor Moody objected.

"You are correct Alastor, and I shall explain in a moment. Harry?"

Harry considered a small problem: Ginny. "Professor, there will come a time when I must leave friends behind to do my duty. What can I tell my friends that will not violate the oath?"

"You may tell them that I require your immediate services for a short while, and that you will be happy to tell them all about it when you return," Dumbledore explained. Understanding, Harry raised his wand and swore his oath to secrecy.

With that done, the Head of the Order faced his troops. "Some have said that we have been fighting a defensive war, and I will admit to that being true. The same people have also said that you cannot win a war that way, and I will also agree with that. But we have been fighting the war that way for a reason, there were preparatory steps to be taken before our ultimate task was possible. I am very happy to tell you that all such steps have been taken, all needed obstacles have been removed, and we are now ready to go on the offensive and start down the road to final victory." The rousing speech was warmly greeted and most people had smiles on their faces.

"One of the last things we have been waiting for is for Harry Potter to become ready to assume his role, a role that was prophesied approximately seventeen years ago. A prophecy which many of you helped to guard. The Prophecy says:

The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches; born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies; and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal.

There was much murmuring, and Harry noticed almost everyone was now looking at him. He did not know what to do under all that scrutiny. He finally settled on pouring himself another cup of tea as if Dumbledore had just announced they were about to have roast beef for dinner tomorrow; something of no importance and life was normal. He heard a quick sniffle and knew without taking his focus off of his cup that it had come from his girlfriend's mother.

"It's easy to see now, that Harry fulfills all of the qualifications." Dumbledore started ticking off the points on his fingers. "His parents did indeed live through three direct assaults from Voldemort. He was born in the correct year on the 31st of July. And finally, the Dark Lord marked Harry himself. To date, Harry has survived four encounters with Voldemort, and has been in intensive training for this task for the last four months."

"But he's not even seventeen," Molly complained in a voice that sounded like it wanted to break.

"Molly, he almost beat me in a duel a few weeks ago, and I believe that he might be able to beat me now." Harry noticed a number of raised eyebrows at Dumbledore's admission. "Does that make you feel any better?" She nodded slightly. "Molly, I know your fear. You love Harry as if he was your own son and you don't want to see him hurt. But please understand that Harry must do this, that Harry is the only one who can do this, and that if Harry doesn't do this, there can be no victory. That is why I exempted him from the Unbreakable Vow. If he slips and tells his friends, I can do Obliviation spells and I can get him another wand, but there is only one Harry." Albus looked at Mad-Eye who had made the security objection, and saw the retired Auror nod his understanding.

The Headmaster continued. "Now that everyone knows why the situation is as it is, I shall now tell you how we're going to accomplish our goal." Everyone leaned forward slightly, eager to hear the plan.

"I'm going to hand special assignments to most of you. You will need to learn the spell or skill in your free time, and away from where anyone will find out. If you don't have anywhere to practice, please let me know and I'll help you with a place in the Forbidden Forest." The old man's eyes twinkled mightily as he said the last part. For every critical task, there will be a primary person responsible, and also someone who is a backup, such that if the primary person cannot complete his or her task, hopefully the backup will be able to."

"First, Severus will inform us when a special meeting takes place. It will be special because Voldemort will be present, as well as a large number of His followers, or at least his most important core followers. When that situation happens, I will have a way for him to notify me and I in turn will notify the rest of you. When you receive the summons, you must drop whatever you are doing and be here in one minute."

Mundungus Fletcher objected. "Albus, that's almost impossible most of the time. There's usually not a Floo anywhere near me."

"Then I suggest you Apparate to the street outside and run in. I am extremely firm about this because we will get only one, I repeat, one chance at this." He paused and turned to his right. "Harry, when I return, I will set every fireplace in the castle to allow you to Floo to my office. When Sirius or I send you a Patronus message for this, run to the nearest fireplace and come to my office and then come here. The one minute time limit applies to you as well."

"I understand, Professor." Harry was impressed the Headmaster could that to all the fireplaces.

"When Severus thinks the time is right, after at least one minute of his first notification, he will activate a Portkey Homing Device and place it somewhere there is room for two people to portkey into. In addition, so he won't be seen doing a spell, he will activate a device I shall create that will release an Anti-Apparation ward."

"At the count of one, someone will go to Minister Bones. Molly, that will be you. After you have done that, you may join us." She nodded her acknowledgement. "I also have an Unbreakable Vow with her on this; she knows you will be coming, Molly, and will send the Aurors who will surround the area to prevent Death Eaters from escaping." Albus knew the task was extremely important, but it also fulfilled his promise to Arthur to limit Molly's presence in the fighting.

"At the count of five, Remus and Tonks," they looked at the Headmaster intently, "will portkey in, and one of you will fire off an Area Concussion spell, while the other shields you both."

"At the count of seven, two more people will portkey in and toss another Portkey Homing Device into an open area."

"And finally at the count of eight, or three seconds after chaos has started, the rest of us will portkey in, in a circle all facing out. I will activate an Anti-Portkey ward."

"Whoever is there and knows where Voldemort has run to, unless he's still in the room, will need to point Harry in the proper direction. Sirius will accompany him to help protect him where he can. Everyone else has one goal: protect Harry by capturing the Death Eaters. If you are free and there are no Death Eaters to capture, and you have a clear shot at Voldemort; then you may take the shot to distract him from Harry. Otherwise, help someone else fight a Death Eater. We must keep them away from Harry at all costs so he can fulfill his destiny. Are there any questions about the overview?"

The plan was pretty clear, yet Alastor spoke up. "I like the plan in general, but isn't it risky? You're putting all of your eggs in one basket, Albus."

"I'm afraid we must. We must take out Voldemort and we want as many Death Eaters as possible, but I see no way to accomplish the goal of the Order without being bold."

"This is bold, Albus," Kingsley agreed. "I do have one question though. Harry, can you do it now, or do you need more time to train? I think this is very important if we only have one chance at this."

Harry had many emotions running through him, fear being the easiest for him to identify, but he also knew these people, who had volunteered to risk their lives, deserved an honest answer. "I know there are no certainties, but I believe I am ready. I can promise you that I will either take him out completely, or if I fail, I will take him with me." He really wanted to enjoy life, but if he could not, Harry knew he wanted others to have a world where they could enjoy life.

A number of heads nodded at his answer, and he heard someone say "Good man" from down the table. Deciding he had heard enough, given his job was so simple in concept, Harry had his own question. "Professor, I don't believe I really need to hear any more details, and it might be best if I don't. May I return back to school?"

Albus looked down at him and wished he could take the task from the young man. Still, he was very proud of him for what he had accomplished at such an early age. "Yes Harry, you may. There will be at least one week for people to learn their parts, so you have that long to finish your preparations."

"Thank you, sir." He got up to leave. Most of the people he passed on the way to the door either told him "Thank you" or shook his hand. It was bewildering to him that they should, but he supposed he understood their thankfulness for his willingness to do the hardest task. As he reached the door, an unusual thought came to him that made him stop.

"Professor?"

The old man looked at him.

"I would like to take the knife that I found that's in your office." He left it at that, Dumbledore would know what he meant.

"If you think it wise, Harry. You will find it in the display case behind my desk. Take good care of it."

"Yes sir. Good night." Harry left the room and closed the door behind him. He walked as fast as he could. He wanted to be alone and did not want anyone to catch up to him. He succeeded.

Back at the castle, he took Gryffindor's knife out of the glass case and looked closely at it. It was a work of art. It was also magically sharp and not to be toyed with. It was about nine inches of jeweled handle, a sturdy finger guard, and about nine more inches of heavy blade. Laying it flat on one of his fingers near the finger guard, Harry noticed that it balanced perfectly on his finger. He decided he needed to learn to throw it. It was heavy, but he had acquired a lot of muscle in recent months. He saw that Dumbledore had a leather holder for it, as if the old man had anticipated it would need to be carried, so he grabbed that too. It all strapped nicely onto his right thigh. He put a Disillusioning spell on the leather scabbard, which also hid the knife. He was sure no one would know it was there. When he drew the knife out to look at it, it became visible -- perfect.

Leaving the office, he went down the steps and found a surprise: Ginny. "It's about time," she told him. "It's almost curfew and I was about to leave."

Harry pulled her into a hug. "I'm so glad to see you." His voice broke on the last word. He did not want to be alone anymore. He wanted his Ginny.

"What's wrong, Harry?" Concern was in her voice and on her face. Then her hand hit the top of the knife on his thigh, "And what's this on your leg?" She was looking for whatever her hand had hit but nothing seemed to be visible.

"That's the knife we found, it's disillusioned. Come on, let's get back to the Tower so you don't get in trouble." He slowly started walking her back. "Have you been waiting here the whole time?" He really wanted to put the meeting out of his thoughts for the moment.

"No, I went back and did homework for a little bit, but eventually I wanted a break and couldn't stay there any longer. Hermione is sort of mad at me for abandoning my homework," she told him with a soft giggle. Harry smiled at that and at her. She liked that smile, even if it was a little sad right now. Sensing he needed to talk about something else, she went on. "I also spent some time practicing finding my center. I still can't do it as fast as you can, but it only takes a couple of seconds for me now."

"That's really good. Can you sense the power in you now?"

"Yeah, you're right, there is a power there, like a caged power, an animal power. I also sense fur like you do too," she told him.

"Interesting, I supposed I might sense an animal power, but that wasn't what I was referring to." She looked at him quizzically. "When I say power, what I feel when I find my center, or myself, is more basic. It's more like my true essence, or maybe it's my magic. It's hard for me to describe, but when I find that essence in my center, I also find that my spells work better, or maybe my magic flows better. Does that make sense?"

"I don't know. Let me try." She stopped walking as they were about to go up the steps to the Tower. After a several seconds of concentration, she opened her eyes again. "Maybe, I do see what you mean by it's hard to describe. I do think I'm feeling my animal, but there is something else in there."

They started climbing the stairs. "Interesting, I've approached it the other way around. I found my magic first, and am now starting to detect my animal inside. 'The lion sleeps tonight'," he told the Fat Lady in the portrait, who opened up for them.

Walking into the common room hand in hand with Ginny, Harry found what he had been secretly dreading: his other best friends waiting eagerly for him. He tried to ignore them for the moment and walked towards a chair by the fire, but Hermione saw him and waved him over. Sighing in resignation, he made his way over to them. Once there, he heard the expected question: "What did Professor Dumbledore want Harry?"

Harry's voice was very quiet, as there were still some others in the common room. "He wanted to give me an update on one of his projects. And before you ask for more details, please understand that I had to give a Wizard's Oath not to tell, so please don't make me." Hermione's eyebrows seem to climb to the top of her forehead upon hearing that. "If you'll excuse me, I need some quiet time."

Still holding Ginny's hand, he led her to one of the high backed chairs that had its back to Ron and sat down. The knife pressed against him slightly, but it was easily bearable. Since he had not let go of her, she understood and sat on his lap. Harry pulled her close and buried his face in her hair and neck. He just sat there for a few minutes trying to relax in the feel and smell of his girlfriend. "Thanks, Gin," he finally whispered to her. "You don't know how good this feels. The burden gets so heavy sometimes."

Doing her best to hold him tightly, she whispered back, "Any time, Harry. You know I'm here for you." She really wanted to know more, but his answer to Hermione told her not to push. Harry always told her everything; she just had to be patient. Of course, a Wizard's Oath was serious and she wondered about that. If he broke it, his wand would snap itself in two. What was Dumbledore up to? Actually, she could readily guess as to what had happened tonight, and it both excited and worried her.

After a few more minutes of silence, she heard him whisper again. "It will be soon Ginny, the Prophecy will be fulfilled one way or the other soon. I want this over so badly, but I'm also afraid something will happen to you."

She tried to pull him even nearer. Her guess had been correct, something was being planned to end the war. Then she felt him starting to shake slightly, and realised he was crying. "It's all right Harry, I'm here for you; it will all work out all right in the end." She started running one of her hands through his hair, she knew he liked that.

"Hey mate, want to play a game of ..."

Ginny saw her brother standing beside the chair looking down at them. She had not heard him walk up she was concentrating on Harry so much. Harry had not raised his head, he kept it buried in her hair. "I don't think tonight is a good night for that Ron," she told him softly.

Ron stood there for a moment contemplating the sight of his best friend drawing comfort from his sister. There was something about that which finally made him understand the heavy load his friend really carried.

"Yeah, another time then," he mumbled. "Good-night." Ron walked away and headed up to bed. The memory of him Flooing in on Ginny kissing Harry during the summer, when she claimed that something more was happening between them than was first apparent, also came to mind. Ron wondered if it was almost time for Harry to fight You-Know-Who.

Hermione came over a short while later and saw them still holding each other. With a small encouraging smile and a soft touch on Ginny's shoulder, she too left.

Ginny soon noticed that the two of them were the last ones in the common room. Harry seemed to be breathing easier now, though his hold on her was still fairly tight. She could not believe his legs had not fallen asleep yet, but he had not complained. In fact, he had not said anything in the last half hour. Checking carefully, she finally realised he had fallen asleep. Ginny almost laughed to herself at the thought of being able to sleep with her boyfriend, but she also was happy he could relax enough with her to actually go to sleep.

"I love you, Harry," she finally whispered to him. There was no reaction, but she had not expected any. Still, she hoped he heard her in some way, like he had during his sickness.

Relaxing against the back of the chair, she allowed herself to take a nap. He would wake up in a few hours and she would send him to bed then.

***

[Sat Nov 2]

Feeling the cool breeze whip through his hair was one of life's best pleasures for Harry. If only he could figure out how to snog Ginny while flying, he would combine his two favourite pastimes into one. She was flying below him, getting ready for their game like he was. He was not sure how Ravenclaw was as a team this year, but it was his last year to fly against Cho Chang, who was Ravenclaw's Seeker. He was undefeated against her and he planned to remain that way.

Both teams settled into their initial formations and Madam Hooch released all the balls. The Golden Snitch instantly disappeared, as it was supposed to for the first minute of the game. Harry took that time to watch the Chasers; the long red hair was always a joy to behold.

Shaking his head to clear his thoughts, he started searching for the Snitch, all the while trying to listen to the commentary in the background to keep track of the score. Cho was pacing him, but she was not flying as close to him as she had in past games.

Ten minutes into the game, he thought he saw something flash near the middle of the field. Watching carefully, he saw it again and this time his eye held the object. With a grin, he let his broom start to fall before he leaned over to go into a power dive. He saw a Bludger being hit his direction, but he knew it would not strike him; he was going too fast. The Snitch jerked around slightly, but he made small adjustments for it in his flight. With a speed that almost surprised him, the little golden winged ball smacked into hand, stinging despite his glove, and he pulled out of his dive easily. He still had another fifteen feet to spare. This had been one of the quickest games of his career.

There was much rejoicing among the Gryffindor housemates, though the Chasers were a bit put out they did not get to do more scoring. The final tally was 190-20, Gryffindor. It was still early afternoon, but that did not stop the Gryffindors from starting their celebration early too.

As dinnertime approached, Harry reminded Ginny of their special date. With a, "I'll be back in a few minutes," she left for her dorm room. Harry decided a quick trip to the bathroom was not a bad idea and also left the party. Another five minutes passed after he had returned before Ginny reappeared, looking nice and smelling great. He grabbed her hand and pulled her out the portrait hole. The party was still so rowdy he was not sure if anyone noticed they were gone, and he did not care.

The door for the Room of Requirement was already present, so they went in. It was a cozy restaurant setting, and Dobby was there dressed in the uniform of a waiter. Part of Harry wondered why that did not constitute giving Dobby clothes, which would have freed him; but Harry supposed that wearing a uniform as part of a job did not count. He decided not to ask.

"Master Harry and his Wheezy, please come in and have a seat. I have dinner all ready," the little elf told them.

Harry seated Ginny and then himself. Curiosity about what Dobby had filled both of them.

"Master Sirius suggested a steak dinner," Dobby told them as he started serving.

As they started eating, Harry realised the lighting had changed to only a few candles and a fireplace on the side. It was very romantic, he thought, except for one thing: a pair of large green eyes that always seemed to be watching them.

"Dobby, can you let us eat by ourselves? Having you stand there like that doesn't seem right." He was trying hard not to hurt the elf's feelings.

"Master Sirius said I was to stay with you."

A sigh escaped Harry before he could stop it. His godfather was getting to know him too well. Though annoying at times, it also made him feel very good. Sirius was not his dad, but he was making a great effort to be Harry's family, and Harry loved him for it. "I think Sirius meant for you to just to be in the room, not standing at my elbow. Why don't you go sit over there?" Harry pointed to the other side of the room, "Make yourself comfortable and read or something. If you'd like to go back to the house, that would be all right; I think we'll be fine as we are." He saw Ginny give him a provocative smile at that.

Dobby seemed to be thinking that through trying to decide if he could fit Harry's orders within Sirius'. After a few seconds, he agreed. "I'll be over there Master Harry. Please call if I may be of service."

Feeling a little more relaxed, Harry started on dessert, and the two of them continued with their conversation on Quidditch.

Finishing his pudding, Harry asked the Room for a high-backed couch in front of the fire and one appeared. Rising, he held out his hand for Ginny. He lay down on the couch, propped up somewhat against the arm. Ginny lay down beside him so she faced him. It was a very intimate position for conversation; it also made kissing easy, so Harry gave her a quick one.

"Thanks, Gin, I like spending time like this with you. We seem so busy at times, so this is very nice."

She kissed him back and teased him with, "You're very welcome, Mr. Potter." Then she became more serious. "You're who I like to spend my time with the most."

Brushing the hair back from her face, he stared deeply into her beautiful brown eyes. "What is it about you that makes everything seem right?" She gave him a mini-shrug. "It's like you make my world complete. It's like what I feel for Sirius, but a little different and there's more of it."

Ginny gave him a tender smile as she told him, "I'm only guessing, but normally it's called love."

"Love," he said the as if tasting the word. "Sirius has told me he loves me; in fact, he's the only person I can remember who has told me that."

Surprise came to Ginny's face. "But your Aunt, didn't she ever tell you?"

"No, I'm not sure she knows what it is either. None of them ever said it to each other like I've heard your family say it."

"Oh Harry, that's not right. You need to hear it more. Here -- I love you, Harry Potter. It's taken me awhile to be able to admit that to you, though I don't know why." She looked down as if afraid of what she would see from him. "You're nothing like any other boy I've ever been with." Hearing that out loud made her laugh slightly. "That makes it sound like I have lots of experience, but you're only my third boyfriend and honestly, there's no comparison. You're hands down the best I've been with. You make me feel wonderful like no else ever has."

"I feel the same way, you make me feel wonderful. When I'm with you, I feel like I can do anything, accomplish whatever I set my mind to. The world is right when you're with me." Harry considered how he felt about Ginny. He cherished her, needed her, desired her, adored her, and even lusted after her. Yet, the feelings they were discussing went beyond all of those things; feelings he had taken for granted and never labeled. "I think I'll call that love, so I love you Ginny." He kissed her again. He liked kissing her. He liked her being everywhere with him.

Suddenly, it all clicked in his mind. He knew he was not a seer or anything of that nature, but he suddenly understood the nature of himself and the events around him, at least in a special way. He knew he had to do something he strongly did not want to do. That realisation caused him close his eyes and lean backwards fully against the back of the couch, and therefore away from Ginny.

"What's wrong Harry? What's wrong with being in love with me? Isn't that what you've wanted all along?" She was confused because he looked like he had a problem.

"Nothing is wrong, and yet it everything is wrong. What am I going to do?" he asked with anguish in his voice.

"Tell me Harry. I'll help you fix it," she told him gently.

"Don't you see? I'm stuck. I can't beat Him without you there, but I don't want you there because I'm afraid something will happen to you. I'm damned if I do and damned if I don't. What am I going to do when that time comes?" he asked again with despair.

"You mean the final battle, don't you?" He nodded. "There is no problem Harry. I'll be there anyway."

"But you can't! What if I can't protect you and you get killed? And the plan ... I told Dumbledore ... Oh hell, that stupid bloody oath."

"Harry Potter, you listen to me. You are not leaving me behind, I am coming with you no matter what the plan is or what Dumbledore says. I was planning to come with you anyway to help protect you, and now that we know I need to be there for you to win, I'm definitely coming with you. I can take care of myself, thank you very much." The last part was said with a bit of heat.

He lay there for a moment, thinking. The longer he did so, the more he realised he really did not have a choice, just like he did not have a choice in fighting Voldemort. "I guess we'll have to figure out a way to get you to come with me," he finally said with some resignation.

She smiled and leaned forward and kissed him. "I'm glad you finally came to your senses," she sweetly told him when their lips parted. "Now, let's forget all this battle stuff and return to the good stuff, like you telling me you love me." She pressed forward even more and was almost laying on top of him now. Harry was happy to oblige.

Dobby interrupted them when they had fifteen minutes before curfew. With great reluctance, they broke apart. Though not a stitch of clothing had come off, Harry felt like he knew Ginny a whole lot better. Dobby was sworn to complete secrecy about the evening before they returned to their Tower.

***

[Wed Nov 6]

It was time for another practice session with Sirius, so they put off their other homework and went. Harry thought it amusing that the thing everyone wondered about but could not quite accuse him of was true: he got preferential treatment from Sirius. Sirius knew these lessons affected both his study and homework time, so his godfather had told both he and Ginny to always do their Defense homework last, so that if they had to skip something, it would be for his class. Sirius knew the two knew all the spells anyway, so he was not overly concerned about a missing essay or two. They did every spell in class perfectly and on the first attempt.

Unfortunately, their Occlumency lessons had not yet ended, so they still had very little free time. Ginny seemed to doing pretty well, but Harry was still struggling. He had mastered the basics, but no matter how hard he tried, he just could not keep Dumbledore out and he did not feel he was making any progress. In fact, he was starting to think he would never go beyond the basics. The mental attacks from Voldemort were pretty rare, but at least he had his necklace of stones holding the blocking spells.

On the other hand, the Animagus training was going well for both of them. Ginny had recently caught up with him so they both could find their magical center in less than two seconds every time now. Ginny was now agreeing with him that it helped when doing the harder spells. However, there was a frustrating part too. They could both sense something was there inside them, but neither of them could tell what the animal was. Professor McGonagall insisted they be able to do a partial transformation, which was the source of their frustration. Both of the students wanted to go for the whole animal. They were stuck doing it her way.

Arriving at the DADA classroom, they found their teacher waiting for them. "Get in here, you two, and loosen up." He closed the door and locked it, their standard procedure to avoid interruptions. "I'm going to skip our normal warm-up duel today. I know how it's going to end already. A great fight for about two or three minutes, but Harry will win in the end." Ginny stuck her tongue at him, but he was quoting the results from their last dozen or so training sessions.

"Hey, don't stick that thing out unless you're going to use it, and I don't want to be seeing any of that, young lady. It's bad enough knowing that you two snog. I certainly don't want to see it." All three of them laughed at his silly banter.

"All righty, Harry, you got close last time, chump. Do you think you can beat both of us this time and become a champ?" It was his usual joke for this part of their training. Sirius slowly drew his wand and stood about six feet from Ginny. Far enough apart that a single spell would not hit both of them, but close enough they could work together.

Harry left his wand in the holster, he wanted a second, only a mere second ... he was now at his magical center. It was clearer today, he could feel it. He could also feel his magic flow more freely than ever before. So he willed it to his hands and held it there ready to be used. This was a new feeling of power and he liked it. He slowly pulled out his wand to show he was ready.

Sirius watched his godson bow his head slightly and take on a meditative look. Being an Animagus, he knew Harry was finding his center, though he was not sure why he was doing it now as Minerva said they had not managed any change at all yet. He watched Harry shift slightly and get ready. The boy did not stand like most wizards. His feet were spread and he had his knees slightly bent. He also had one foot slightly behind the other so he was facing them from an angle. It reminded Sirius of one of those Chinese fighters who used only their hands from the Muggle movies Remus used to drag him to from time to time. He saw Harry look up and slowly draw his wand. He had never seen his godson look so dangerous before. There was pure concentration on his face.

The professor looked over at Ginny and saw a similar expression. These two were scary at times. He did not say a word; he merely whipped his arm around to start casting the first spell. That motion on his part was all it took to unleash Harry. Sirius was halfway through his Stunner when a bright light went off in front of his eyes.

Harry saw Sirius start to move and he reacted. With his bare left hand pointing between his opponents, he tried something new. He willed a Flash spell and literally dove forward and to the right. He was looking down with his eyes closed when the spell went off. As he came up he performed a Shield spell with his wand, which stopped a spell from Ginny, and then thought a Stunner at her with his left hand. A quick jab with his wand sent a Tickling spell at his teacher, who was shooting a Stunner at his original position. He lazily sent a Stunning spell at Sirius and double-checked his girlfriend, who was down for the count. "Yes!" he shouted to the room.

Deciding to have some fun, he conjured three nice comfy chairs, a table, and finally a tea set. Making himself comfortable, he poured himself a cup. When he thought he looked like he had been there awhile, though the fight had ended less than a minute ago, he sent an Enervate at his teacher to wake him up.

As the man raised his head, Harry, as casually as he could, asked, "How nice of you to join the party. Tea, old man?"

Sirius looked around and saw Ginny lying on the floor, he grinned at his charge. "You did it. With work like that, I know you can beat Voldemort now. And what is it with you and Tickling spells? You hit me with one every time." Harry smiled and lazily flicked his wand at Ginny to wake her.

She slowly got up and glared at him. "That flash of light was not nice, Harry, I swear I'm still seeing spots. Where did you learn that anyway?" She came over and sat in a chair, though she filled her tea cup with water from her wand.

"From a book from Dumbledore's shelf. Do you know how few spells there are that are useful for groups of people or have an area effect so you could use it on multiple people? It's really shocking how few there are."

"Thank you, Professor Potter," she mocked him.

Sirius claimed the third chair. "No matter how fun this all is, we still have a goal, Harry, and I think it's time we go for the last push in training, if you know what I mean." Harry nodded. "I think it's time for the rest of our training session to be just you and me. I'm sorry Ginny, but Harry needs to practice for something else for awhile."

"Yes, the final battle, the fulfilling of the Prophecy." He stared at her wide-eyed. "Oh please, you know I know about the Prophecy, and I know Harry found the last Horcrux. So what else is left but the actual dirty deed?"

"But you are wrong in this case, Sirius," Harry corrected him. "Ginny needs to be here to train with me because she's going too, as much as I don't like it."

"Harry, she can't go."

"I'm sorry, but she must go. I know I can't win unless she is there," Harry stated very matter-of-factly.

"How can you know that? Have you turned seer or something?"

"No, Sirius, but I know the same way you just told me awhile ago that you knew I would beat Voldemort. How do you know I will? Have you ever fought him to know how to compare me against him?"

"No, I've never fought him," the teacher said, "just many of his followers."

"But I know Ginny must be there. She made me well when I was sick. I was broken and couldn't do a spell to save my life when we had a fight and I thought she was going to break up with me. She makes me complete and gives me confidence and motivation. And now, don't ask me how, I know that with her I can win, and without her, I will not. I don't have an option in this, because if I did, she wouldn't be going because I don't know if I can protect her well enough." Harry stared at his godfather, who flinched after a few seconds of looking in the deep green eyes of his godson.

"Look, Harry, you know the reason Dumbledore was able to get you on all this don't you? What was the first thing said to you when you went home and who said it to you?" Sirius decided to try an appeal for fear of Molly Weasley he did not know what else would work.

"Yes, and it doesn't matter. Even Mrs. Weasley can't deny the logic, no matter how she detests the circumstances."

"Harry, you're ignoring the forest for the trees. With Molly and her children, there is no logic. The only reason she didn't hex Albus and stop you was because she knew you weren't officially hers. Ginny has no such way to hide."

Harry laughed, "You're making the assumption she knows Ginny is going beforehand. I suspect I'll have to tell the Headmaster, but there's no reason for it to go beyond the four of us. I have an invisibility cloak or I can Disillusion her. As soon as Mrs. Weasley is, ah, unavailable, then Ginny can come out. I know her dad will be shocked if he sees her, but by that time, things can not be stopped."

Sirius sighed and thought about it some more. He could not deny the logic the boy put forth, but there was going to be hell to pay when Molly Weasley found out. And no matter how much he protested that it was all Harry's idea and doing, he knew Molly Weasley was going to blame him, Sirius Black. "Then you're telling Albus at your lesson tomorrow night, not me." He blew out a deep breath and wondered how this was all going to work out.

Standing he Vanished his chair and the table. "Come on then, you two, get off your lazy arses. We have more work to do. And Harry, you said you've been learning to throw that knife, I want to see that before you leave tonight."

***

[Tue Dec 3]

Harry and Ginny trooped up to Professor McGonagall's classroom. They had come to a decision and had a plan. It was risky, very risky. You did not cross McGonagall lightly. Yet, that was what they were about to do.

"Good evening Mr. Potter, Miss Weasley. Have a seat on your cushion." They took their usual seats on the floor. Sitting was preferred in case a change did occur. "Now, how has your meditating been going?"

"Very good Professor," Harry answered. "It's like I can feel the magic in me now. I've also started doing some wandless magic as well."

Her eyebrows went almost all the way up to the brim of her pointy hat. "Really?! My, that is progress. Do you know what your animal is yet?"

"No Professor. I still only have a feeling of fur, well and something powerful."

"Hmm, that could describe a number of animals," the teacher replied. "Ms. Weasley, how about you?"

"I can find my center easily. I haven't tried wandless magic yet, but I definitely feel a powerful and aggressive animal inside, fur seems to be strong as well."

"Very good, I believe you are both getting closer. Now, it sounds like both of you will be a four-footed animal of some sort, so please meditate and concentrate on transforming your left hand into a paw or a foot."

They both quickly found their centers. Harry called up his magic and felt it flow through him, all of him. Opening his eyes, he saw Ginny looking at him so he nodded. He closed his eyes and slowly counted to three. At the magic number, with all the resolve he could muster, he willed himself to an animal.

Minerva was grading the first paper from the stack in front of her when a lion roared in her classroom, causing her to leap out of her chair and fall to the floor, which caused her hat to fall over her face. Just as she was straightening her hat to stand up, another lion's roar answered the first. Her wand was out as she peeked over her desk from behind it.

There in front of her was a full grown male lion, golden except a large black mane around it's neck. Next to it was a full grown lioness which was also golden, except for a reddish tinge to the fur on the top of her head which blended into the golden fur on her neck. Both were trying to stand and were a bit wobbly, but they were getting used to it quickly.

With as stern a voice as she could muster, she told the two animals, "Stay where you are, get used to just standing first." They complied. She could see them shifting slightly to get used to the muscle movements, but they were basically standing there, which was good as it showed the human mind was in control. "Now, think hard about your human form, what you looked like with all your clothes and other things on you, and change back."

It took maybe three seconds, but suddenly there stood her two students again, though on their hands and knees. "Yes!" Harry shouted, while Ginny started laughing.

McGonagall was impressed as she had never seen anyone complete the full transformation in three months before, but still, "What on earth did you think you were doing trying the full transformation at this stage? Have you forgotten your common sense, not to mention all the warnings I drilled into you when we started?"

Harry was grinning like it was Christmas morning. "I'm sorry, Professor," though he did not sound it, "but we just knew it was the right thing to do. We knew we could do it." Ginny looked just as happy and had an "I agree" look on her face.

The professor felt like she should be more upset with them, but it was incredible. "Very well then, change again. You must practice." She watched them change back to lions; it only took them a couple of seconds to do so. She noted that Harry had no scar shape on his forehead, but the green eyes would definitely be his identifying mark. Ginny had several small reddish spots of fur on her face, which would be her identifying mark. An hour later, they both could change in about a second and had learned to let the animal take care of the walking. They had also changed one at a time so each could look at and pet the other's head. It was amusing to see.

"Good job both of you. Five points each for you. I'd give you more, but you scared the wits out of me when you first changed." They grinned at her; their risk had been worth it. "Go on back to the tower and finish your other homework. Also, I'd advise you to practice only in private as this is a very real advantage to you in the war. I won't make you register until afterwards."

"Thank you, Professor," Ginny told her. Harry added his own thanks.

As they left to go back to the Tower, Mrs. Norris strolled into the doorway of the classroom. She walked up to Harry and paused to sniff him. Harry wanted to kick the stupid cat, but McGonagall was right there. He also never would have had the chance, because the cat hissed, arched its back, then turned around and ran. They saw it run to Argus Filch who had come up behind the cat. The cat extended her claws and ran up Filch's leg, chest, and shoulder, before jumping over his back and running away. Trying to rub his puncture wounds, Filch turned back to accuse the students of doing something to his cat when he saw McGonagall there. Growling, Filch turned and went after his familiar

The students heard McGonagall quietly laughing behind them. Turning to look at her, she said, "I never liked Mrs. Norris either." They laughed about it all the way back to the Tower.

Once there, they huddled in the corner and decided that they would get up a half hour early every day and find an empty classroom to practice being a lion in.

***

[Fri Dec 20]

Harry was pretty happy right now. He had finished his last exam for the first term less than half an hour ago and he was now heading off to dinner. The exam had been for Charms, which he had aced.

The written portion he had considered to be a joke, though maybe that was only because he seen it before, but all of his extra work made it just that much easier. The practical portion had not been difficult either. Like earlier in the term, Professor Flitwick made them animate a teacup, as well as change its colour twice - a solid color, then a second time to be two-toned. He had done both with ease.

Just because he could, he decided to have fun and asked the Professor if he could try something, though that was a bit misleading because he had already done this on his own; he only wanted to impress Flitwick. So he animated three teacups at once and had them chase each other, and then they played leapfrog. Flitwick was delighted. Harry then changed the color on all three simultaneously, which earned him a smile. For the big finale, he charmed all three to have new decorations, one a rose, the second a lily, and third a daisy, all changing simultaneously again. That got him applause from the teacher.

Flitwick was also ecstatic in his praise. "Most excellent! You do realise that after a few bonus points that your score becomes meaningless, don't you Mr. Potter? You can't go beyond Outstanding."

"I'll take what I can get, Professor," Harry replied. He turned around to go sit down and let the next person do their practical. The next person was Ginny, who after watching what he did, wiggled her head back in forth from side to side silently mimicking him. Her lips were obviously saying "I'll take what I can get Professor." She ended her mocking by sticking her tongue out at him.

"Don't stick it out Ginny unless you plan to use it," he smirked at her. He had come to love Sirius' line and used it on her as often as possible.

Ginny had also gone beyond the exam requirement, but was able to only do two teacups at the same time. Yes, it had been a fun way to end a term, Harry thought.

After they dropped off their books in the Tower, they had headed to the Great Hall for dinner, walking hand in hand, as usual. Just as they came down the stairs and were entering the large foyer, Harry saw what looked like a small phoenix ghost fly into him and he heard a voice in his head.

Ginny looked at him with wide eyes. "Was that what I think it was?"

"Yeah, we've got one minute. Damn! There are no Floos nearby either." Looking around him, the first familiar Gryffindor face he saw was Colin Creevey's. "Colin!" He shouted, "Get over here now!" Harry started yanking his robes off to leave him with his jeans, a long sleeve shirt and his school jumper. They had planned what to do. Ginny was also taking her robe off.

Harry was miffed for this to happen in the winter when he would freeze, but he supposed he could not force his battle to happen in the comfortable spring time. Warming charms would have to suffice.

Colin came running over at Harry's shout. It was obvious to Colin that something was amiss. "What, wrong Harry?"

"We've got an emergency and have to leave. Take our robes. Hang on to them until we get back." Harry had pulled out a miniature knife and expanded it. He continued giving orders while tying it onto his right thigh. Colin was mesmerized by the jewels in the handle. Ginny was using her wand to charm her jeans, jumper, and shirt black, then she did the same to Harry's clothes.

"If anyone asks, we're helping Dumbledore on a project on his orders." With the knife on, Harry Disillusioned it then pulled out his broom bag, from which he took out his broom. School rules did not matter to Harry now, nor did he care about the small crowd that had stopped where they were, and were watching and listening to the trio. The last thing Ginny did before getting onto the broom behind Harry was to charm her hair; she charmed it and her eyebrows black, as well as charming her long hair to go up into a large bun on top of her head.

When they had both mounted the broom, Harry took off and flew as fast as the corridors allowed him to. Fortunately, they had high ceilings, so he could go nearly five feet above the tallest of the heads and still not worry about the beams holding up the ceiling. As they came to the end of the corridor and flew over Ron and Hermione, whom they did not notice, flying became even more advantageous as he flew up two floors and did not have to worry with the moving stairs. The last stretch to the Headmaster's office was short, so they arrived quickly. Harry even flew them up the stairs there, ignoring the gargoyle such that they dismounted on the landing outside the Headmaster's door.

Ginny opened the door and ran into the office; Harry followed, putting his broom up as he ran. "You're almost out of time!" Sirius told them. He was standing by the fireplace waiting for them.

"Sorry, we weren't near a fireplace!" he rushed over and took some Floo powder from Sirius and shouted, "Number twelve Grimmauld Place!". The Floo Network seemed to take forever to get him there. As he came out, he noticed another person running out of the kitchen, which told him the Floo Network was overworked coming to this address right now.

He stood aside and waited. A few seconds later, Ginny came out. As soon as she did, he grabbed her right hand with his left, so he would not lose her, and cast a Disillusionment spell and a Deafening charm on her. The Disillusionment spell would not be perfect like his Invisibility Cloak, but it should be good enough -- except for Mad-Eye. He would have to warn the old Auror. He started running out of the room to head upstairs as Sirius came out of the fireplace.

Coming into the dining room, which had the big table and all the chairs shrunk and moved to the side, he found Mad-Eye off to the side and walked up to him. Mad-Eye turned on him and drew his wand as they arrived; his special eye had obviously seen Ginny. Harry stood in front of her and talked quietly. "Mad-Eye, yes I brought an extra person here, but Dumbledore has approved her and she can't hear anything right now. She must be here or I can't win. We're going to go into a silenced area over in the corner to wait." The old Auror growled but did not hex him, so Harry went over to the corner that Sirius said Dobby would make for them.

There was a white arc on the floor in one corner with a simple wooden chair in it. It stood a couple of feet from the wall, enough room for someone to stand in. Harry went over to it and let Ginny stand in the corner behind the chair as he sat down. When he crossed the line, all sound from the room went away; it was completely quiet except for their breathing. He cancelled the Deafening spell on her, but left the Disillusionment charm.

Looking around the room, he saw Remus and Tonks off in another corner, Mad-Eye and Hestia Jones still at the side, Molly and Arthur on yet another side hugging and talking, while most of the people where gathering around the edge of a white circular metal disk that was nearly ten feet in diameter in the middle of the room. The ring of people was mostly complete by now, everyone was waiting. The last special person he saw was Sirius, who came over to his corner and stood in front of him. It was Sirius' job to tell him when the countdown began and to protect them from anyone coming over.

"Time to find our center, Ginny. Are you ready?" Harry quietly asked.

He felt her hands on his shoulders; it was a very comforting feeling and he used it to think of her and relax.

"As ready as I'll ever be, Harry. And Harry? Don't forget that the most important thing in all of this is that I love you. I love you more than I can possibly tell you."

Harry felt more relaxed and more focused. He was where he needed to be. "I love you too, Ginny. I love you with all of my life." It was simple, but how he felt.

He sat and stayed at the center of his magic while reviewing the many spells he could use, or would have to deal with. In many ways, it was one of the most comfortable places he could be. That reminded him of his earlier thought of flying and snogging at the same time. He wondered if he could get into this state then do both of those things. He smiled and returned to thinking about Ginny, and how eager he was to spend more time with her. To spend the rest of his life with her, he suddenly realised. Yes, that would be the ultimate love, he thought.

"Harry, it's started. Let's go!" Sirius' voice entered his thoughts. Harry held out his hand and felt Ginny put her hand into his. He quickly walked forward through the gap in the circle of people to the center of the large metal disk. Everyone was facing the outside of the circle; their backs were to him.

As he reached his place and saw Sirius take his place in the gap he had just walked through, his brain recognized Dumbledore's voice saying, "Four ... Five ..." He heard a small whoosh behind him as Remus and Tonks left. "Six ... Seven ..." Another whoosh as Mad-Eye and Jones left, and when Harry tapped Ginny on the top of her head with his wand to cancel the Disillusionment charm. "Portare!" Dumbledore spoke and flicked his wand at the large disk they were all standing on. Harry felt the familiar hook behind his navel and the dining room of Grimmauld Place disappeared.

---

Severus Snape answered his summons. As he Apparated in, he immediately recognized Malfoy Mansion, a familiar gathering place. He was one of the last to arrive, due to the fact he could not Apparate out of Hogwarts. He had to Floo somewhere first, then Apparate from there.

Walking into the large ballroom, he realised there were nearly fifty other Death Eaters with him. This could be it, Snape thought. The chance to end it all and be done with the madness of leading a double life. He wanted to touch his watch to activate the Portkey, but he waited to make sure his Master was here first. He should touch it anyway as his Master was the only one who could activate the Dark Mark to call them, but he waited for a better confirmation.

He stood alone, off to the side. No one thought it odd, he had always done that. It was extremely convenient now. He also stood with his left hand in his pocket; a habit he had picked up a couple of months ago and one people were also used to. Then he heard a door open and a unique voice issue from it. He checked the time on his watch and pushed a button on it. The door closed and still they waited for their Master. This was good, Severus thought, while he rechecked his mental shields. A leak now would be disastrous.

In his pocket, he held two knuts in his left hand, held apart by a finger. He dared not play with them, as he had already pulled one of them out of the small bag it stayed in to keep them apart. How long had it been since the door had opened earlier? Five minutes, maybe seven? He could not check his watch again; that might look suspicious. Still, it must be getting close to time.

Looking around, he realised Lucius Malfoy and Bellatrix LeStrange were not there. One of them must have gone through the door earlier; the door which was now opening. He had a preferred time, a time that would be perfect, if this meeting was like many of the others. It was getting close to time.

The two top lieutenants came in, together with their Master. "Let us assemble," his Master called. It was the standard greeting. Everyone gave the standard response, they knelt with their heads bowed to Him. No one moved, Severus barely dared to breathe. It was almost time. "Rise, my Death Eaters and let us plan for our first important step into the leadership of the Wizarding World."

It was time. Snape brought the two knuts together which stuck as if glued. As everyone rose, he quickly flicked the object off to his left so it landed in an open area near a corner and several feet behind a few of his brethren. The sound of many shoes and boots scraping the floor masked the sound of the device hitting the floor -- almost.

His left hand quickly went back into the pocket of his robe and found the quill in there that had never seen ink. Just as he found it, he heard his Master calmly ask, "What was that noise?" That calm voice was very dangerous, Severus knew. He very carefully curled the fingers of his right hand inside of his cloak sleeve to touch his wand, but he did not dare draw it yet. Snape silently counted as he watched his Master scan the room.

At the count of five, at the edge of his peripheral vision, Severus saw two people come into the room, off to his left side. As swiftly as he could, he snapped the shaft of the quill to bring up an Anti-Apparation ward; he hoped it worked as it had in practice. What he had not been prepared for was how loud it would be; the snap was very audible. He could only hope the sound would be attributed to the intruders.

Remus Lupin and Nymphadora Tonks were only slightly facing the wrong way; that they did not have their backs completely to the assembled Death Eaters and could see their objective was a minor miracle. Snape saw Tonks toss something to the side as her wand started moving; Remus was also casting a spell. Severus quickly drew his wand and conjured a shield, a shield that faced the center of the room instead of the intruders. He did one more spell, right as Remus finished his own. The result was spectacular.

The area concussion spell Remus had cast ended up near the center of the room, which had been his target. Its blast had knocked everyone but the three Order members off their feet. Unfortunately for Tonks, Snape was not the only one to have a wand into his hand quickly. Several spells were shot their way, the one from the Dark Lord was a bright green one and took Tonks' shield down and kept on going.

Then Snape saw Mad-Eye appear right behind a Death Eater, along with Jones at his side. Moody grabbed the Death Eater and held him in from of himself with one hand while throwing an object towards the middle of the room. Snape heard a scream from his right and looked over to see Rookwood fall to the ground, his top half suddenly severed from his bottom half. The extra spell Snape had cast was effective; anyone who tried to Apparate now would be automatically splinched.

The metal disk Moody had thrown had barely hit the floor when the middle of the room filled with a ring of people and two more in the center of the ring. Severus took in the fact that Potter and whoever was with him had the good sense to dress in form-fitting black clothes. Now it was time to see if Potter could live up to his hype.

"Potter, behind you," Snape shouted. He saw Potter, with his wand already drawn, turn around just in time to see the Dark Lord turn and head back for the door he had come through a moment before. Apparently the Dark Lord was still a true Slytherin and want to run away to fight another day, as He had not planned for this battle.

Harry turned and saw his target, as he thought of Tom Riddle now, attempt to leave. He had a real problem in that there was a row of Order members and a row of Death Eaters between him and his target. He did not have time, nor did think he would be successful if he tried for his broom. Then another idea came to him and he did not bother to think any more, he just did it.

He took one step and transformed into his Animagus form while on the run, then took one more step in his lion form before he jumped over his fellow Order members. Landing, he took two more running steps before he came to the Death Eaters in front of him. These he did not jump over but instead jumped through, hitting them in the chest with his front paws and claws extended. As he came down on a Death Eater with long blond hair, he roared, which distracted a large number of people in the room. He did not break stride as he trampled the Death Eater and heard another roar behind him. With the animalistic joy of a good hunt, he continued towards his prey.

Damn! Sirius thought as he saw Harry transform and take off. That boy's got another trick up his sleeve he didn't tell me about. To make matters worse, or better, he was not sure which, he saw Ginny transform into a lioness and bound off after Harry. Those kids have a lot of explaining to do, he thought as he too transformed and started chasing after them. The large black dog knew this was faster than running as a human, but he was still slower than the lions.

Harry ran through the doorway and bounded on top of a long dining room table that could have seated fifty. He could see Tom at the other end of the room about to go through a far door. Harry could tell he would not make it in time, even as a lion. With a practiced small jump, he transformed back into a boy, wand in hand. As quick as he could, he sent a transfiguration spell at the door that turned the wooden door into a slab of solid lead while Tom was only a few steps from it.

As the spell hit the door, Voldemort knew someone else was in the room and turned to find ... "Harry Potter," who was standing near the middle of the room. "Is it time for us already? Well, maybe I shouldn't be in such a hurry to leave since you saved me the trouble of coming to you."

Suddenly there was incredible pain in his forehead and Harry had trouble focusing. Not knowing what else to do, he activated a stone on his necklace, which brought instant relief. That moment of vulnerability was covered by a lioness that came into the room, running on the table as well. Voldemort sent an Avada Kedavra at it, but the lioness had already jumped off the table before the spell went through that space. The animal turned into another student.

"Well, Harry, I see you brought a friend. I guess you want both of you to die." He started to fire another spell at Harry's friend when Harry started flicking his wand.

Spell after spell came out of Harry's wand as fast as he could cast them. He was mad, but he was also very focused. Fast spells were the first cast, Tickling and Tripping spells; these were stopped by a shield Voldemort put up. But the monster was also having to defend himself from Ginny, who was at an angle from Harry and so he could not use the same shield to defend himself from her. Harry tried to use that to his advantage and started casting harder spells that took longer to cast, but were much more devastating when they hit. He also animated a number of the chairs and sent them after Voldemort. They were not dangerous per se, but they were very distracting to the evil wizard, who had to destroy them one at a time.

Voldemort was actually having to work hard for the first time since his fight with Dumbledore in the Department of Mysteries. Potter was showing himself to be more capable than expected; and his friend was almost as good. A friend, who he just now realised was female. He should have realised the significance of that when he saw the lioness. She must be his girlfriend or someone equally special. She would be the boy's weakness. He would defend against Harry just enough to maintain parity, but concentrate his efforts on her.

Sirius finally made it into the dining room. His cousin Bellatrix had demanded his attention, which he was only too happy to provide. That she was bleeding all over the floor with a broken wand beside her did not bother him in the slightest.

Standing only a couple steps inside the long room, Sirius could hardly believe what he saw: devastation. Most of the dining furniture was destroyed, as was most everything on the walls as deflected spells had hit them. But the most important thing was Harry was still alive, as was Ginny, and they seemed to be holding their own. He smiled at the thought that he might be what tipped the scales in the good guy's favor.

Tom sent a bludgeoning spell towards the girl, but she deflected it and it broke up what was left of the large table. Side-stepping a Stunner from Harry, he summoned the girl, "Accio girl!" He watched her start to come to him when a large piece of the table came flying towards him and he had to stop the summons to defend himself again. "Accio Ginny!" he heard and saw the girl being pulled towards Harry as the boy tried to protect her. With a smile, he cast Avada Kedavra! at where the girl had landed knowing she did not have time to do anything to save herself.

Then Voldemort's wildest dreams came true: in an effort to push her out of the way and save Ginny, Harry stepped into the path of the Killing Curse and it hit him in the middle of his chest knocking him backwards. Voldemort, Ginny, and Sirius looked in amazement as Harry lay there unmoving. Finally, Voldemort broke the silence by laughing with delight. Then with an evil glint in his eyes, he summoned Harry's wand and with both of them pointed at Ginny, he shouted, "Crucio!"

{A/N: The Prophecy quote was from JKR's book 5. An evil cliffie there, huh? :-) For those who are wondering, there is a logical answer to the dilemmia I've created. If someone can correctly guess in a review, I will say so.}

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Chapter 11: Chapter 11: Love

Author's Notes: {A/N: Well, here's the chapter you've all been waiting for. :-) I should have done more cliffies, I got the most reviews on the last chapter. :-) The answer to the most important question comes from book 1. If it's not obvious as it happens, pay very close attention to the conversation with Dumbledore. After this, only 1 more chapter to go. (that's so sad) -- kb}


Chapter 11: Love

{A/N: Lots of parallel POV and action, bear with me, they do come together.}

[Fri Dec 20 - continued]

As Albus Dumbledore finished his Anti-Portkey spell, he was greatly surprised when he heard the loud sound of a lion's roar. The animal landed with its considerable weight on top of Lucius Malfoy's body, and its claws left the man's cloak in tatters, blood seeping through the gashes. Malfoy never had a chance to move because a lioness followed the lion's path and as she ran over him too, her claws ripped his body, allowing his entrails to spill out.

Dumbledore should not have been surprised to learn his two star pupils had managed to become Animagi, but he was. He was going to have to have a long talk with Minerva about withholding this kind of information from him. Still, he used the distraction to dispatch the two Death Eaters in front of him, and then he engaged a third who had recovered from the shock of seeing a lion in a house. He hoped the other Order members had kept their wits and used the distraction to their advantage.

Being outnumbered fifty to thirty was a bit of a problem. Fortunately, Remus' Area Concussion spell had helped greatly, but it also had not done as much damage to the Death Eaters as he had hoped. Dumbledore stunned and tied up his current opponent, and finding no one immediately in front of him, did another quick survey of the room. The Order was doing well and was now only slightly out numbered. They had been there for nearly two minutes and no Aurors had shown up yet. That was slightly worrying and he wondered if there were other wards on the house preventing them from joining the Order, but there was not much he could do about it right this second.

Deciding that strategically, he needed to ignore his own instructions and go help Harry, he turned back towards the door the lions had run through. He saw Sirius limping away from an all-but-dead Bellatrix Lestrange. The fact that Sirius was not with his godson yet boded ill. Dumbledore rushed to join the fight against Voldemort.

In his hurry to leave, Dumbledore did not see Antonin Dolohov drop Dedalus Diggle's limp form before shooting a cutting spell at the Headmaster, who was saved only because he was in motion. Nevertheless, Dumbledore paid for not following his own instructions when the spell grazed him, leaving him with a deep cut on his hip. The old man fell and watched a green Killing Curse go over his head. From the floor, he hit Dolohov with a Body Bind and also tied him up with magical ropes.

Pulling his robes back so he could see the damage, he did a minor healing spell on himself. That will have to do, he thought, at least until Poppy could do more for him. Struggling to his feet, he looked around and saw he had to take care of two more Death Eaters. Finishing the task, he then limped to the doorway the others had gone through.

Passing into what must have been a dining room at one time, Dumbledore saw very little of the furniture remained intact; the room itself was in shambles. Sirius was on the floor with a major injury, and Ginny appeared to be unconscious. Voldemort had two wands in his upraised hands and was laughing.

But what really gave him pause and stole his fighting spirit was seeing Harry Potter lying on his back on the floor with a burned spot on his chest. He did not seem to be breathing.

Albus Dumbledore closed his eyes and bent over trying to catch his breath, wondering if his heart would keep going.

---

Sirius saw Harry and Voldemort dueling, with Ginny helping out. A grin came over his face as he readied himself to join the fray; his broken right ankle courtesy of his cousin was not going to stop him.

Hoping to either hurt Voldemort badly or at least distract Him for Harry, Sirius raised his wand to cast a spell at Voldemort when suddenly, his lower right leg seemed to be on fire, before it felt like someone was trying to rip it off. Looking down, he saw a large black snake with its mouth firmly clamped over his right calf.

The first spell that came to mind was a Freezing spell. Sirius quickly froze the snake, but the stupid reptile was still attached to his leg and he needed to remove it. The idea of a Reducto came to mind, and that spell caused Nagini to explode into hundreds of snake ice cubes. Reaching down, he carefully pulled out two frozen fangs from his leg that were over an inch long apiece.

The good news was that the snake was now gone forever; the bad news was that Sirius could feel the venom making its way up his leg. Sirius grimly recalled that when Arthur Weasley had been attacked by the same snake last Christmas, the only reason he had survived was because Harry got help to him almost immediately. Knowing that the Anti-Apparition and Anti-Portkey wards would stay in place until the battle was decided, Sirius searched his memory frantically for anything that might help him out of his dire predicament.

Another of Remus' Muggle movies came to mind. He had no idea if it would work, but it was either that or cut his own leg off, just as Dumbledore had had to cut his own finger off. Sirius shot a few ropes around his leg just below the knee, then he stuck his wand under the rope and did a half twist. That hurt like hell, but after a few seconds, he did notice that the burning sensation from the venom was decreasing. So he grit his teeth and held his wand where he was, even if it left him defenseless.

Looking back up to see what was happening to the battle, he saw Voldemort try to summon Ginny. Sirius almost pulled his wand out, damn the consequences, when Harry attacked with part of the destroyed dinner table. Then he watched Harry summon Ginny to him instead of pressing the attack. Voldemort shot a Killing Curse, and Sirius was horrified to see Harry take the curse meant for Ginny.

He stood there in shock. His godson lay on the floor, a hole in his jumper, not moving a muscle. Harry was dead. Sirius did not want to believe it, but he could not deny the fact that Harry had definitely been hit by the Killing Curse. To add insult to injury, Voldemort began laughing, summoning Harry's wand as he did so. Using both wands, he cast "Crucio!" and two brown spells shot at Ginny.

That action snapped Ginny out of her paralysis. She dived out of the way and came up cursing Voldemort's ancestry while going on the offense. She did not bother with shields, Sirius could tell she had only one goal on her mind: kill Voldemort.

One more idea came to Sirius, it was not as good as the rope, but he could see Ginny was not going to make it without help. Pulling his wand out, he cast a Freezing spell on his leg, which hurt more than when the snake had bit him, but it would have to do for now.

With his wand free, Sirius cast a shield in front of Ginny. Because of the long distance, it took precious time getting there, but if she was paying attention, she could use it to her benefit.

Voldemort sent another Killing Curse at her and she had to dodge by diving out of the way. That pause in her attack was all the advantage Voldemort needed and with the extra time, he cast a more complex spell; one Sirius was unfamiliar with. Ginny's luck finally ran out; she crumpled as the spell hit her and did not get back up. Voldemort laughed again and raised both of his hands in triumph.

Sirius slumped to the floor in defeat.

---

Ginny felt herself be Summoned twice in about that many seconds. The second time it happened, she went towards Harry. That thrilled her because she had really wanted to be with him, she was scared to death right now. Yet, that also scared her because the analytical part of her mind knew that standing together made it more likely one of them would get hit with a spell. Their training sessions had proved that to her.

As she landed, she glanced at Harry to see an utterly frightened look on his face, not the confident fighting look he had started out with. Knowing she could not dwell on that, Ginny turned her attention back to Tom, and saw something she had never wanted to see: a green bolt of light coming towards her. She knew she would never get out of the way in time. That thought had barely ended when she felt herself be shoved to the side. Ginny stumbled, but kept on her feet. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the green bolt hit her boyfriend.

Ginny was so shocked she did not even scream. All she could do was look at him and the hole in the middle of his chest. She vaguely registered that someone seemed to be laughing and watched blankly as Harry's wand flew towards Voldemort. When Ginny heard Voldemort shout "Crucio!", however, she knew it was meant for her, and she threw herself to the side, rolling and coming back up to face the monster who had killed her boyfriend.

"You bastard! I'm going to kill you myself!" With all of her power and might, she started throwing every spell in the book at the monster. She only needed one of them to connect; she was sure she could finish him and she would do so without any hesitation or second thoughts or guilt. Reducto's, Freezing charms, Fireball charms, Bludgeoning hexes, Cutting curses, they were all thrown at Tom and either were blocked, deflected, or missed; but she did not give up. She was going to see him dead even if it killed her.

A shield suddenly appeared in front of her. Ginny had no idea where it had come from; in fact, its appearance almost distracted her. Still, she did her best to use it to her advantage when she could. Then suddenly, Voldemort changed tactics and shouted, "Avada Kedavra!" and she had to dodge again. That gave her an idea and she hit him with a Foot Sticking charm just as he released some spell at her. There was no shield in this new position and the strange spell hit her full on and she fell to the floor.

Suddenly, she was in a familiar fight for her life, one she had experienced in her first year at Hogwarts, only this one was much stronger as it was cast on her instead of projected by an artifact. There was something attacking her mind and it was not Legilimency. It was draining her, exactly like what had happened in the Chamber. Her body no longer mattered, only her mind. Drawing on every bit of will power she had, she fought the draining force. She fought it because she knew that to give up was to die, but it was a losing battle. She felt her life slipping away.

---

Harry suddenly felt free. There was no more hurt, no more stress, in fact there was no more anything: no sight, no sound, no feeling. He just was. Yet, he knew he was not alone; there was comfort here.

Then he had a thought with a familiar feel. "Harry, it's not time."

Where have I heard that before? It is familiar.

"Return Harry, you must return; return for the ones you love."

I know that voice. Yes, it is the voice I hear in my nightmares; it is the one that screams, "No, not Harry," just before the flash of green light -- Mum?

"Return to the ones you love Harry, my love protects you ..."

Harry's eyes fluttered open, though he still lay where he had fallen, while he tried to figure out what was going on. His first complete thought was, "Damn my chest hurts!" Glancing down he saw a hole in his clothes in the middle of his chest.

The second thing he noticed was a high-pitched evil laugh. Sitting up, he saw Voldemort with his hands raised in victory and what looked like his wand in the monster's hand. Turning his head slightly, Harry saw a pale Ginny lying motionless on the floor.

Ginny! No, not Ginny! What am I going to do with no wand? he thought. I could get one spell off wandlessly, but I can't fight that way. I need a weapon!

As the last word went through his mind, he remembered he had one and un-strapped the catch holding it in the sheath. Harry rose on one knee, pulling Gryffindor's knife out by the handle as he did so.

Unfortunately, that was also when Voldemort noticed him. "No, that's impossible!" Not one to take any chances, Voldemort shot a Reducto! at the boy.

Harry saw the spell coming as the knife left his hand. As he rolled to the right to try to avoid it, the spell hit his left knee and shattered it. Pain upon pain entered his world. Somehow, he managed to look up to see a glorious sight: the handle of the long and magically sharp knife buried up to the finger guard in Voldemort's chest.

Voldemort looked down as he felt something hit him. The jeweled handle was very familiar. He had spent over a year looking for this one treasure before he had found it in a secret hiding place in the old castle that used to belong to the Gryffindor family. That knife was now sticking out of him and twitching slightly to the beat of his heart. He looked up at the boy who was staring at him with both pain and elation.

"Say good-bye, Tom. That was the sixth and final Horcrux. I shall not mourn your passing."

Tom Riddle looked back down at the knife. How could they have found them all? Then he noticed that the knife had stopped twitching and he felt himself falling, though he never felt himself hit the floor.

Now that his destiny was over, Harry only had one thing on his mind: Ginny. He tried to crawl to her and gave a sharp cry from excruciating pain, as his knee would not allow the movement. He could summon his wand, or his girlfriend. To save time, he ignored his wand. Trying to block out the pain and the world around him, he went back to his magical center. Finding his magic, he willed it to his hands as he reached out towards Ginny. He was relieved when she began to move in his direction. When she reached him, he grabbed her and wrapped her in his arms. With his magic still flowing through him, Harry started searching for any sign that she was still alive; he thought that he could detect a heartbeat, but he could not find Ginny's essence.

Anger at what Voldemort had done and his love for Ginny removed all limits from Harry. The outside world faded away; only he and Ginny existed. Finally, he saw the problem and understood. There was a spell draining her, or had been as it had stopped working when the caster had died; but the damage had already been done. Ginny's magic had been removed, and with it her life force. She was alive only because her body had not stopped working yet, but it would surely fail as Wizard-kind was unable to live without their magic.

In his focused state, Harry only saw one thing to do, though he did not know if it would work. They had read about a procedure in Muggle Studies where a person could give some of his blood to another person who was low on blood to help them survive, as Muggles did not have Blood Replenishing potions. He wondered if he could do that with magic too. Deciding that if Ginny died, he did not want to live either, he started expanding his magic even more as he tried to push it to Ginny to give her at least the minimum amount to live. As far as Harry was concerned, she could have half of his magic and more. He sought to make that happen.

He continued to push magic at her and thought it was working, though it was hard to tell. When he began feeling drained and was not sure he could go on, he looked into her again and saw a small magical core in her. Hoping it was enough, he stopped pushing and the world went black.

---

When both Sirius and Albus heard Voldemort's laugh change to an incredulous, "No, that's impossible!", they both looked up to see Harry pull himself to a sitting position. Sirius had no thoughts at all; his brain seemed as frozen as his leg. Albus was sure he was going to have a stroke as his heart restarted, but at double the speed. Breathing was still difficult for the old man.

Then the most wonderful thing happened, Harry threw the knife and it embedded itself into Voldemort's chest; that Harry had been hit by a Reducto did not seem to faze the boy as he did not make any noise other than his body hitting the floor. The two men felt hope return as they heard Harry's voice again, then jubilation as they saw Tom Riddle fall over and remain motionless.

As Harry bowed his head after completing his ultimate task, Dumbledore took that time to drop the Anti-Portkey ward. He had barely finished that when he was surprised by Harry for the third time that night. He watched Harry wandlessly summon Ginny to him and engulf her in an embrace. That the girl still did not move on her own worried Albus greatly, as he feared what would happen to Harry if she died.

Hearing steps running up behind him, Albus turned and saw Molly Weasley run into the destroyed room. "Where's Harry? Did he do it?" Her wand was drawn and she looked ready to take on Voldemort herself.

Without thinking, he pointed to the other end of the room. "He's over there tending to Ginny." They all saw a bluish white aura suddenly appear around Harry, but only the two men understood what that meant.

"What?!" she screamed and Albus realised his mistake. Molly immediately started running for the teens before either of the two men could stop her. When she reached the young man and tried to touch him, the aura surrounding Harry sent a spike of energy towards the woman and she went flying backward to land in a crumpled heap.

Now more people started coming in, including Arthur Weasley. "Molly?" He was stunned to see her lying on the floor.

Even in his fatigue, Albus understood he needed to take control of the situation or others were likely to get hurt as Harry did not know what was happening. "Everyone," he called out in the strongest voice he could muster, which was barely above his normal volume, "do not attempt to touch Harry. His magic will protect him at all costs right now. Help the wounded, I've taken down the Anti-Portkey ward. Voldemort is dead." There was silence for several seconds before shouting broke out, shouts of joy and congratulations. Arthur rushed over to his wife, but did keep his distance from Harry.

Without warning, Harry's aura grew brighter and expanded, taking in Ginny so she too, began to glow. Many of the people stopped celebrating and wondered at this. What was Harry doing?

"Please, everyone help those that are wounded get to the Hogwarts hospital or to St. Mungo's. Please do not worry about Harry, he is busy and we can not interrupt him until he is done. Also, make sure the Aurors take custody of all the Death Eaters," Dumbledore instructed. Then grabbing a small piece of the splintered table, Dumbledore turned the piece of wood into a Portkey. "Here Sirius, take this." A few seconds after the man had taken it, he disappeared.

Despite the painful cramp in his left side and his shortness of breath, Dumbledore struggled to a standing position and turned to find Kingsley Shacklebolt there. "Kingsley, take charge please." The bald man nodded and turned to start directing people.

The old Professor slowly walked over to Arthur. "If you think you can restrain her, an Enervate will wake her; but you must not let her get near Harry or Ginny, or this will happen again."

"Ginny?! What's she doing here?" Arthur looked shocked and angry at Dumbledore when he heard that.

There were a couple of other questions about "Ginny" from behind him, from the Weasley boys, Dumbledore assumed, though he did not turn to look. "She came to help Harry fight. She would not leave him and he said she had to be here for him to win." None of the anger had left Arthur's face. "You may be angry at me if you wish Arthur, as ultimate responsibility for Order operations ends with me, but please understand that even if I had forbidden it, she would have come anyway. I have been surprised several times tonight by both of them with their power and abilities. Also, to be honest, even though I knew she planned to come, I have no idea how Harry got her here without anyone seeing her or triggering the Unbreakable Vows, but he did." That gave Ginny's father something to think about.

The two men looked at the teens and noticed that the aura was pulsating slightly now, but it was still very strong. Standing up and giving Harry a wide berth, Albus walked over to Tom Riddle, or what was left of him. The body had seemed to shrivel up on itself, like a mummified body after hundreds of years. Albus assumed that was because all the magic Tom had done to himself was now gone, but he supposed it really did not matter why. Reaching down he grabbed the handle of the long knife and pulled it out. After cleaning it with Tom's cloak, he very carefully put the knife under his belt and beneath his robes. Seeing the two wands on the floor, he Summoned them. Ginny's wand was also nearby, so he also Summoned it and placed it with the others in his pocket for safe keeping.

Turning back to Harry, Albus noted the pulsing was becoming more pronounced and that each pulse was of longer and longer duration. Assuming Harry survived, he was sure there would be a very interesting conversation with the boy on magical theory. Hoping he would have a need for it, the old man Summoned a broken chair leg and turned it into a Portkey. It was almost another minute before the pulsing stopped and the aura finally faded away. When it did, Harry fell over with Ginny sprawled on top of him.

Ignoring the increasing stitch in his side, Dumbledore quickly walked over to the pair before either of the elder Weasleys could get there. Grabbing one of their hands in each of his, he activated the Portkey. A couple of breaths later, he was in the middle of the Hospital Wing at Hogwarts with his two star students. He looked up at Poppy to tell her what had happened, when he felt like he had been stabbed in the chest himself. Albus reached for the spot that hurt and then fell over unconscious too.

***

[Tue Dec 24]

Harry slowly awoke, struggling to regain consciousness. When his eyes at last opened, he could see the weak sunlight streaming through the windows, so it was either near dawn or dusk. Other than the light level, everything else was blurry. Turning his head slightly, he thought the object to his right might be a table, or at least there normally was a table there when he was in the Hospital Wing, where he assumed he was. Reaching over, he found his glasses there, but in retrieving them, he knocked his wand off and it clattered to the floor. He heard a gasp from his left and then a, "Harry?" He knew that voice. Putting his glasses on, he asked, "Yes, Mrs. Weasley?"

"Oh Harry dear," Molly exclaimed as she engulfed him in a hug. "I'm so glad to see you're awake," she said into his shoulder as she continued to hold him for several more seconds before letting go. "How do you feel? Can I get you anything?"

"Some food would be good; I missed dinner last night."

His surrogate mother smiled at him. "I'm sure you are hungry dear, but that's because you've missed dinner for the last four evenings. It's Christmas Eve, Harry."

He was thunderstruck. I've been out for four days? Then another thought came to him, one more important than food. "How's Ginny? Where's Ginny?"

Her face fell at that. "She's here in the bed next to you Harry, on my other side." Molly scooted her chair back towards the foot of the beds while Harry propped himself up on his side. There he saw Ginny lying in the next bed as if asleep.

"Is she only sleeping? Has she woken up yet? Is she OK?" he fired off in rapid succession.

"No Harry, she hasn't woken up yet. Madam Pomfrey doesn't know what's wrong with her, other than magical exhaustion. You two are the only ones still here from the battle."

It was an effort, but Harry managed to sit up. He felt so weak. "I need to see her."

"She's right here where you can look, Harry, but you need to stay in your bed and rest. You're very weak as you were magically exhausted too."

"No," he contradicted her. "I need to get to her." He was starting to panic; he could not lose his Ginny! Struggling against his sheet and blankets, he managed to swing his legs out of bed before Molly could stop him. Rushing past the woman, he made it to Ginny's bed and sat down on it and he grabbed her hand. He felt something there, something that made the world right. He smiled and his panic left him.

Molly noted his smile. "What is it Harry?"

"She's still here," he told her.

"How do you know?" Molly wondered what he meant. There was no question that Ginny was on the bed in the room, so he must mean something else she reasoned.

"I can tell. Let me look closer." To Molly's surprise, he closed his eyes. Harry found his center for more focus. She was easy to find now. He felt her respond when he pushed on her essence. The response was a relaxed one. He sent a feeling of love and got one back. He was not sure how he could send love in a wave of magic, but he was sure that's what he had sent and received. Withdrawing, he opened his eyes. "She's resting and just needs a little more time. She'll wake up by tomorrow," he told her mother. "I have to lie back down, that was tiring." Without thinking, he lay down where he was, on Ginny's bed next to her. Before Molly could say anything, his eyes were closed and his breathing had slowed down.

She noticed he still held her daughter's hand, though the grip was very loose. Molly almost tried to move the boy back on her own, but he was now taller than her and she was not sure she could move him without magic.

"How'd he get over there?" Molly looked up to see Madam Pomfrey.

"He woke up and wanted to check on her. He did something and then told me she was resting and just needed a little more time before she woke up. Then he said he was tired and all but fell over right where he was. I was about to levitate him back."

The nurse came over and did a diagnostic spell on each of them. "No real change. Near as I can tell, they're both low on magic and only asleep, though neither appears to be magically exhausted anymore. Very strange. I'd say to just cover him with a blanket and leave him there. One of us will always be around and he's in no shape to be doing anything you wouldn't approve of," she said with a smile. "Since you're awake, I'm going to go get breakfast. When I return I'll sit here and let you go." Receiving a nod from Molly, the nurse walked out.

Picking up a blanket and putting it over Harry, Molly Weasley sat back down and contemplated what she was going to say and ask when a longer conversation was possible. It was slightly amusing that even though Albus and Sirius had been in the room for the last part of the battle, neither had seen all of it, as they had thought it was over when Harry had appeared dead, and they had stopped watching when Ginny had been hit with what they thought was a fatal spell.

She also found it interesting, though maddening, that no one knew what the aura around Harry was, other than to say it was his magic. That was not a satisfying answer to her. And while she wanted to know that, there were two more pressing questions. One, why was Ginny there? She did not find Albus' answer to Arthur on that, or as to how Ginny had got there, satisfying either. She could not come up with a good answer herself. Two, what had happened when Harry had the aura around him, and why had it extended to Ginny too? Though she had not seen it go around Ginny, Arthur had told her it had after she had been knocked out by the aura. Even if Ginny woke up right now, neither of them would be going anywhere for the next several days. She would have time to ask her questions.

***

Having been moved back to his bed a few minutes ago, Harry was eating a bowl of soup for what he assumed was lunch. He had recently awakened for the second time today, the first time being about four hours ago. When he finished eating, he handed the tray to Madam Pomfrey. After taking care of that, she started performing more diagnostic spells on him. When she was done, she handed him a Strengthening Potion and told him, "Bottoms up, Mr. Potter. With luck, you'll be out of here in a couple of days, and by the New Year for certain."

He groaned; he had never spent Christmas confined to the Hospital Wing and did not really want to do it now. As he handed the empty bottle back to her, his Potions teacher came in with a box full of phials. "Here you are, Poppy. Each is labeled and I even put a few more in than you requested."

"Thank you, Severus. Enjoy your holiday. I think these will last me until well after you return."

"You're welcome and Happy Christmas to you." He then noticed his student was awake. Turning to the boy, he took a step forward. "Mr. Potter ..." Harry was shocked; Snape never used "Mister" -- it was always just his last name. "I wanted to tell you -- thank you," the man seemed to struggle over the words, but they did come out, "for defeating the Dark Lord. I can not express how much I appreciate you doing that."

Harry was starting to wonder if this was the real Snape. He wondered even more at Snape's next words and was glad he was sitting in bed or he was sure he would have fallen over.

"I also want to apologize to you for some of the things I've done to you over the years. While I'm sure you will not appreciate my saying that much of it was to prepare you to face the Dark Lord, that was indeed my intent. For if you could handle me, I knew it would be easier for you to handle the Dark Lord."

Harry was not sure what to do, but somehow managed to say, "I, uh, I understand, and you're welcome." Snape would never be a friend, but Harry did appreciate the apology.

Snape nodded in acknowledgement. "I had not realised just how much the Dark Mark on my arm influenced me, but now that it is gone I can see many things in a different light." He turned and walked away, but as he reached the doors, he stopped and looked back at Harry. "And Mr. Potter, if you'll continue to apply yourself and have Miss Weasley coach you, you should do well enough on your Potions OWL to be in my NEWT class next year." He resumed his exit from the Infirmary and was soon gone from sight.

That was the most normal conversation Harry had ever had with the man. He began to wonder just what effect the Dark Mark really had on the Death Eaters. A few minutes later, Harry fell asleep sitting up against his headboard.

When Molly returned from lunch, she saw him that way and gently pulled his glasses off. Picking up her latest copy of Witch Weekly, which had arrived that morning, she saw that Harry had been voted the Most Eligible Bachelor. She was aghast they would do that, the boy was not even seventeen yet.

***

The next time Harry woke, he found Sirius sitting in the chair next to him; Mrs. Weasley was not there. A quick look showed Ginny had not moved, so he assumed that he had not missed her regaining consciousness. "How ya doing, kiddo?"

Harry looked at his godfather and smiled. "Fine. I'm doing really fine."

"Except for missing someone?" Sirius had not missed the quick glance.

Caught, Harry blushed slightly. "There is that, but she'll wake soon."

Sirius' eyebrows went up at that. "How can you know? Poppy isn't even sure what was wrong with you two."

"We were just tired and needed to rest. The fight was very exhausting magically."

That raised a question Sirius wanted to know about. "So Harry, what happened at the end? I saw you kill Voldemort by throwing the knife, then you wandlessly Summoned Ginny, before that aura came over you again. How did you Summon her and what happened with the aura?"

Harry was not sure just how much he wanted to talk about the last part, and decided to answer the first part of Sirius' question. "Once you understand the nature of magic, wandless magic is not all that hard. You do it, so you must understand too."

"What are you talking about? I can't do wandless magic Harry."

"You can too -- Padfoot."

Sirius rolled his eyes. "OK, technically you are correct; but I'm not talking about that and you know it. While I'm not totally certain, because you hid it well, I now think you've been doing spells wandlessly in our training sessions, haven't you?"

Harry nodded. "A few here and there for the last three or four weeks. It's harder than with my wand, as a wand focuses your magic more easily, but there's nothing I can't do wandlessly if given the time and the ability to concentrate."

A shocked look overcame Sirius. "Seriously? Any spell, even the hard ones like a Patronus charm?"

"I don't see why not. Think of all the accidental magic little children do. It's possible for every wizard if they can learn to control it. Or is that your point, that most people can't learn that degree of control?"

"No clue Harry, this sounds more like something for Dumbledore or Flitwick. Tell me though, are you really feeling well?"

"I suppose I'm not totally all right as I still get tired easily, but otherwise I just wish things could go back to being normal."

A bark of laughter came out of Sirius. "Now that's a wish Harry, but I understand. Still, it will be a while before you find a new normalcy in your life."

"What do you mean by that?" he asked slowly and carefully.

Grinning, Sirius told him, "Because you're more of a celebrity now than you ever were. And," his smile became even bigger, "Molly tells me that according to Witch Weekly, you're now the Most Eligible Bachelor in the Wizarding world."

Harry groaned and slumped down in his bed and let out a sarcastic, "Brilliant, just brilliant."

"Of course it is, Harry," his godfather told him brightly. "Just think, all those girls throwing themselves all over you. You can have your pick."

"I don't need that. I've already made my choice," he informed the man.

"Oh ho! So you do have plans for Miss Weasley. Do I need to get Arthur to come visit you so you can make arrangements?" Sirius jested with him, though deep down, he thought Ginny would be a fabulous choice. Deciding to have a little bit of fun, he pulled out his wand and charmed Harry's blanket red with pink hearts.

That earned him a death glare. "Shut it, Sirius. I'm only sixteen, I've got plenty of time." He slammed his hand on top of the offending blanket, which turned green. "I'm tired. Bye, Sirius," he announced and turned over.

Sirius knew the boy was not really mad at him and it had been fun talking to him. Though he could not prove it, he was almost certain that Harry, and maybe Ginny, had been the reason for his pink robes at the beginning of the term. Though he had not pranked Harry much this term, he decided one now might help the boy's spirits. Pulling his wand back out, he barely whispered the spell to again turn Harry's blanket red with pink hearts. But to his surprise, it stayed green.

"Why is his blanket green instead of white?"

Sirius looked up to see Poppy looking at him accusingly, then he realised he still had his wand out. "I haven't a clue," he replied as he got up and walked away. He considered that it was a good thing Harry was almost grown and seventeen. With that kind of power at his disposal, he would be a trial for any parent, even Molly Weasley.

Harry lay there with his eyes closed, listening to Madam Pomfrey accuse Sirius for the blanket's new color, and he smiled. As he heard his godfather walk way, he relaxed his grip on the edge of the blanket and let himself fall back to sleep. Vague images of more pranks on his godfather roamed through his head as he drifted off.

***

Harry woke for the fourth time that day, though it was really turning into night now. After the dream he had just had, coupled with the conversation with Sirius, he realised he needed to do something, but it was going to be very hard while being stuck in the Hospital Wing. Still, with a little discreet help, he thought he could pull it off. Telling Mrs. Weasley he would be right back, he slowly made his way to the little bathroom attached to the Infirmary. Inside, he closed the lid on the toilet and sat down; he was not going to be able to stand the whole time. "Dobby," he called in a whisper, "come to me, I need your help."

The little elf popped in and Harry quickly put his hand over Dobby's mouth. "Ssh, not a sound". It was great that his godfather had an elf in service as that meant Dobby had to answer to him too, since Harry lived in the same household.

"Dobby, I need you to do something for me and it needs to be done quickly and discreetly. In my dorm room, you'll find a small red velvet bag in the front right corner at the bottom of my trunk. Bring it to me. Oh, and you'll need to whisper 'Ginny is the best' to the lock for the trunk to open. Be sure you lock it again when you're done." Dobby nodded and popped out.

Harry decided that since he was already in the bathroom, he should take care of his needs. Washing his hands afterwards, he looked in the mirror and saw something that surprised him. A quick look showed him a new scar. While not happy about it, he supposed it was a small price to pay to be alive. With a sigh, he sat back down and resumed waiting.

Almost three minutes later, Dobby came back and handed him the bag. "Very good Dobby, you're a great help!" The house-elf beamed. "Now go on back to where you were, and not a word to anyone about this please. They'll find out later." Dobby nodded and left; Harry flushed the toilet. Tucking the little bag under his pyjama bottom's waistband, and then making sure his top covered it, he returned to his bed. Molly Weasley seemed to be none the wiser to what he had just done.

***

[Wed Dec 25]

Harry saw light from the three quarter moon streaming through the window as he woke up once more. After retrieving his glasses, a glance at his watch showed him it was no longer Christmas Eve. Smiling at that, and feeling a bit stronger, he decided to make a few things happen.

Looking around, he finally saw Mrs. Weasley, who the nurse had let stay because it was the holidays, sleeping on a bed on the other side of Ginny. Grabbing his wand, he shot a Sleeping spell at her and then surrounded her bed with an Imperturbable charm to further ensure she would stay asleep. He put his wand back as he would not be in a hurry anymore. Then he got out of his bed and crawled onto Ginny's, lying on top of the covers, just in case someone else should come in. Next, he thought about what he wanted to do very carefully and sent a transformation spell at the bed across the Infirmary. He watched it turn into a medium-sized Christmas tree. A few more spells added ornaments and a dozen candles. That gave the room a soft warm glow. It was enough to see by, but he also hoped it was not enough to wake Mrs. Weasley when the sleeping spell wore off. Finally, he pulled out the little red bag. Digging a couple of fingers in, he found what he was searching for and hid it in the crease between the bed and his leg, away from Ginny.

With all the preparations complete, he reached down and touched Ginny's cheek. That wonderful feeling came back to him; the feeling that all was as it should be. Focusing on his magic, he sent a small pulse of magic into her as he watched her eyes. Eyes that suddenly popped open and found his looking down at her. She smiled at him and slowly stretched. She tried to move to join him in his half sitting position against the headboard and had trouble making her muscles move, so he reached down and helped pull her up so she could lay her head against his chest and shoulder. "Hi beautiful. It's good to see you again."

"Hi," she whispered back. He watched her swallow several times. "I need water."

"Oh right, sorry." He held out his hand and conjured a glass of water for her, which she greedily drank, sighing in satisfaction when she finished it. He Vanished the empty glass. Harry leaned forward to kiss her, but hesitated when he noticed his mouth tasted funny from just waking up. Sirius had showed him a small spell for occasions just like this. He put his fingers to his mouth and willed the spell. His mouth now felt clean and fresh. He loved magic like this. "Hold still and I'll help you with something," he told her. Putting his fingers to her lips, he did the spell again.

Ginny looked at him in surprise. "Hey, I like that spell. Where did you learn it?"

"It's a Breath Freshening spell that Sirius taught me. I think he mentioned that my father came up with it after a night of drinking. He wanted to make my mum think he hadn't been."

She giggled. "Did it work?"

Harry grinned. "He said it didn't, but it's still a useful spell for getting rid of morning breath."

"Hmm, let's find out," she suggested and lifted her lips to his. Harry bent down slightly to meet her in a kiss. After a few moments they broke apart and she commented, "Yes, it does work wonderfully. You taste slightly minty."

He laughed lightly. "So how are you feeling?"

"Surprisingly well, though I wouldn't mind another nap later. By the way, how did we get a Christmas tree in here?"

"I just transformed the bed over there before I woke you up. I thought we should have one for Christmas, that way the elves will have a place to put our presents."

"Presents? You make it sound like it's Christmas already."

"As of about half an hour ago, it is."

She thought he had to be teasing her, but he did not sound like it. "Seriously? It's Christmas already?"

"Yes, but don't worry about it. I just woke up yesterday morning and this is only my fifth time awake, so I've slept most of the day away too. I'm sorry I didn't have time to get you a present. I was going to do that when I went home after the term ended."

"That's OK, Harry, I haven't gotten you one either, and for the same reason. So we're even," she smiled.

He smiled back at her. "Well, then this is going to be easy." For some reason, he was not the slightest bit nervous; maybe that meant this was the right thing to do. "I've had a little something in my trunk for a few months that I'd like to give you. Your present to me can be accepting it."

"You make it too easy Harry; it doesn't seem fair."

"Oh, it will take a lot to accept it." He reached down and found the little present next to his leg. "Ginevra Molly Weasley," she looked at him strangely for using her full name, "because you make me feel complete and I can't imagine life without you, will you marry me?" He held up his mum's engagement ring in front of her. He noticed her eyes had widened and that she was not breathing. "Ginny?"

"Harry, are you serious?"

"Yes, Ginevra, I've never been more serious about anything in my life, not even the battle we just went through. This was my mum's, but if you don't like it, I'll be happy to buy you one that you do like. So, will you marry me?" He was growing concerned she had not answered.

After a few more seconds, he saw her slowly reach out to slip the ring he was holding over the fourth finger of her left hand. Harry sighed with relief and slid the ring in place. "Yes," she told him as the ring was in position, but she did not say anything more because she pulled his head down and started kissing him. "I can't believe you just did that, but for some reason I can't explain, I know it's the right thing to do. I don't think I would have said it last week, but you too, make me feel complete," she said.

He smiled at her. "Well, it's been a busy week and a lot of things have happened," he joked with her.

Her face suddenly became pensive. "Harry? What happened? Did we win?"

He leaned down and kissed her soundly. "You were magnificent, and yes, Tom is dead for good."

She hugged him tightly. "So what happened, Harry? When I saw you take the Killing Curse for me, I thought you were dead."

"Um no, not really, though I can only guess as to what happened."

A new voice cut into their conversation, "I'd love to hear what happened as well."

They both looked up in shock at being caught like this, though they were not technically doing anything wrong. The Headmaster walked over and sat down on Harry's bed. He was also wearing his dressing robe. "I was about to retire for the evening when I looked out my window and saw a Christmas tree where I hadn't seen one before." He pointed out the window and the teens saw the Headmaster's Tower off to the side. After a moment of silence, he prompted, "You were about to explain what happened at the end? I'm afraid I was so distraught at thinking you were dead, that I didn't pay attention to the situation for a period of time."

"Well," Harry slowly said, "I, uh ... it was like I was dead but I wasn't. Something told me I needed to return to my loved ones. It uh, sounded a lot like what little I've heard of my mum's voice. She also said her love protected me."

Dumbledore's eyes widened and one eyebrow went up. "I see. I'm not sure that explains it well enough though."

"I do have one more clue. I found it yesterday in the bathroom." Harry unbuttoned the top two buttons of his pyjama top and pulled the sides back. The others saw a lightning bolt-shaped scar in the middle of his chest; it matched the one on his forehead perfectly.

"Ah, I believe we can now know what the 'power he knows not' is." Harry looked at him quizzically. "You have resistance to Voldemort's Killing Curse, or at least that's how I'd explain it. I'd theorize you got the power when your mother sacrificed herself for you. So that explains that part. I'll guess that you, Ginny, then took up the fight by yourself?"

"Yes," she admitted. "I was so flaming mad from him killing Harry that I only had one thought on my mind."

"I completely understand, Ginny. But as I also saw you unconscious on the floor, I take it Tom got the better of you?"

"Yes," she answered sadly. "He hit me with a spell like the one the diary did in my first year. It tried to possess me and take my life, to give it to him, I assume."

"And then you woke up, I presume, Harry?"

"Yes sir. I saw Tom gloating over his victory and that Ginny was very still. He had my wand and the only weapon I could think of was my knife. Fortunately, I had planned on having it just in case I needed it."

"As you can see Harry, good planning solves many problems. Now, that point in the story is where I started paying attention again, and I understand everything except for three things. First, I saw you Summon Ginny to you without your wand. I'll assume that was because your shattered knee, which Poppy has expertly repaired, prevented you from going over to her. Was that summons planned or something akin to accidental magic because you wished it hard enough?"

"I did that on purpose sir."

Dumbledore sat up straighter at hearing that. "Would you explain how you did that then?"

"In practicing to become an Animagus, I found I could feel my magic. With some practice, I learned how to control it. Working with a wand is easier and faster because the wand helps me to focus the magic, but I don't really need a wand to do magic in general, at least if I'm not in a hurry and am able to focus on what I'm doing."

"Very interesting, Harry. I think we should talk more about this later. I'm thinking of writing a book on Magical Theory. Perhaps I should get you to help me write it as a co-author."

"Seriously?"

"Quite. Having both of our names on it should also ensure it's an instant best seller," he said with a chuckle. "Now, my second question. You produced another aura after bringing Ginny to yourself. Did you realise that and what happened during that time?"

Just as with Sirius, Harry was not sure how much of this he really wanted to discuss. He supposed a vague answer would be good enough. "No sir, I really have no recognition of when I produce my aura as you call it. I suppose that's when my world seems very focused or narrow, but I'm unaware of it."

"And what happened, Harry?"

"I could see that she was very injured from the spell, so I reversed it."

"Excuse me?" Dumbledore could not believe what he was hearing. He thought he knew the spell that had been used on Ginny. It was very Dark Magic and always fatal unless the caster was quickly killed. While Harry did kill Tom, he had not done so immediately and the boy had said he had reversed the spell, not just stopped it. "You did what?"

"Well, I essentially healed her. I'm not sure I can explain what I did; my magic just did the right thing because I did not want her to die." That was the truth, though maybe not the whole truth, but as much as Harry was going to tell.

"I see. I do hope we get to have several conversations about Magical Theory soon. My last question should be simpler." Even in the low candlelight, his eyes seemed to now have an extra twinkle. "Is that your mother's ring on Ginny's hand?"

Harry laughed at the question; he had been expecting something much harder. "Yes sir, I gave it to her only a few minutes before you got here. It's a little more than a year and a half before we can get married, but I thought I'd let her know how much she means to me now. And to prevent other boys from asking her out."

"As if I'd even give them the time of day," said Ginny, giggling.

The Headmaster chuckled at that as well. "Well, congratulations to both of you. I shall leave then as I really don't want to be here when Molly wakes up, and I must say that I'm quite surprised our conversation didn't wake her. Did you, uh, help with that, Harry?"

Harry reddened slightly. "Yes sir. Just a Sleeping spell and an Imperturbable charm to help with the sound. I'll take it off soon."

"Very good then," Dumbledore told them as he rose. "I look forward to our talks and to see what happens between the two of you. It should be most interesting."

"Sir?" asked Harry, confused.

"What happens with your connection. Aren't you aware of it?" Dumbledore looked at both of them and waited for an answer.

Harry glanced at Ginny who also had a puzzled expression. "I'm afraid I don't. Would you explain what you mean?" he asked.

"I'm not sure what's happening between you, but I can show you what I see. Continue holding hands for a moment." Dumbledore pulled out his wand and waved it in a circle and muttered a word. Darkness came over them as if they were in a closet. Dumbledore's voice cut through the blackness. "Look at your hands."

"Wow!"

"Look at that!"

There was a faint glow where their hands touched, which faded out near their wrists. Dumbledore spoke again. "Let go of each other." They did and the faint glow disappeared and the darkness was complete.

Dumbledore removed the darkness with a "Finite Incantatem". "My glasses helped me to see it in the first place," he explained, rising to his feet. "Good-night."

"Professor?" Harry called before the old man had taken a step. "Since Ginny will be seventeen before we start our last year, are there rooms for married students?"

Dumbledore chuckled at the question. "I wondered if you'd ask me that." Both students blushed slightly. "Yes there are, though they are seldom used. However, that may not be needed for you two."

Harry looked puzzled, but Ginny gasped, quickly understanding what the Headmaster meant. "You don't mean ... I mean, how can you know now?"

The Headmaster smiled at the girl. "I see you understand. If you both work hard and keep up your excellent marks, there's a good chance you both would be picked and so would have both rooms to yourselves, which also have private bathrooms."

Ginny looked at Harry in delight. "No slouching on your schoolwork next term or next year Harry."

"Hey!" he protested. "I have an Outstanding in every class right now except for Potions and History, and I have an Exceeds Expectations in those two."

"That's a good start, Harry, but I'll help you bring those two grades up, and you can help me with Muggle Studies. I want those rooms," she said with determination.

Dumbledore laughed at the two. "Work hard, but no promises right now. Good-night." The Headmaster finally left.

"Harry, I mean it." At that moment, he thought she sounded a lot like Hermione.

"Yes, Ginny," he said, knowing it was the only answer he could possibly give and not get himself hexed. She also sounded like her mother now that he thought about it.

"Very good, Harry. Now what do you think about what Dumbledore said about us?"

"I guess it would explain why you make me feel complete, though I have my own theory on it."

"Oh, explain then, but make it quick; I'm getting sleepy again."

"When I first brought you to me after I'd killed Tom, I couldn't find you."

"But you had me in your arms Harry."

"No Ginny, I mean I couldn't find your essence, what made you -- you. It made me very angry at Tom, as well as frightened at the thought that I had lost you. I'm guessing that's what triggered the aura Dumbledore mentioned. That seemed to give me a power boost or something because I then found you, or whatever fragment was left. I figured out he used the spell like the diary had, though I'm not sure how I knew that. I also figured out that what it had done was drain your magic. The Magical Theory books all say wizards can not live without their magic, so by taking your magic he was killing you."

"Wow, maybe I should read those books too, they sound interesting. So what did you do to me to keep me alive?"

"You remember the discussions about blood transfusions in Muggle Studies?" he asked her.

"Yes, it all sounds barbaric, but it does seem to work for them."

"Well, that's basically what I did for you," Harry explained, "except that I gave you some of my magic, apparently enough that you had the minimum amount to keep you alive and allow you to start to regenerate your own again. You had less magic than I did, so it took you longer to wake up."

"OK, that all makes sense and also explains why I sensed you were all right even though I had thought you were dead. But what does that have to do with this feeling we have? Why are things different now?" she asked.

"The Magical Theory books all say our magic is unique to us, like a fingerprint. My theory is that since you had no magic, when I gave you my magic, you took on my magical fingerprint. So when my magic," he took her hand again and again felt the small feeling of rightness, "touches or connects with your magic, it recognizes the same fingerprint and everything just feels right, or complete."

"Oh, you mean like that e-lek-tricy stuff and completing a cir-cut we talked about in Muggle Studies?"

"I suppose that's a good analogy; at least I can't come up anything better. Not that I want her to know about this, but Hermione might have a better way to put it."

"Hmm, we might have to tell her and Ron anyway. They're going to wonder why we're always holding hands, because I like this feeling."

"Maybe. We'll see. I just want to get out of here and be normal again."

"That sounds nice, Harry. Let's talk about that in the morning. I'm ready to sleep again." She snuggled in closer to him and let his hand go so she could place it on his chest next to her face. That also let her look at her new ring in the dim candlelight. She was going to be Mrs. Harry Potter one day. Ginny closed her eyes and thought about that.

Harry guessed she was all right with sleeping in a partial sitting position. He was comfortable enough with it and he liked her with him anyway. Yes, he thought, I could get used to sleeping with her like this every night. With a wave of his hand, he removed the Imperturbable charm from around her mother and soon drifted off himself.

---

Albus Dumbledore slowly shuffled into his office. The last part of the walk from the Hospital Wing had worn him out again. Poppy had said he had to take it easy for a couple of weeks when she had released him two days ago, but he really had not expected to still be this weak after his heart attack. He amused himself with the thought of flying through the halls as Harry had done over the summer.

Another thought entered his mind, one much more sobering. At one hundred and forty seven years of age, (or was it one hundred and fifty seven? He could never remember), he had a will which had been prepared for quite some time; nevertheless, there were a few other things that ought to be taken care of now so they would be handled his way. That seemed a little more important as he considered a few friends he would never see again. For some reason, Alastor Moody and Hestia Jones had been particularly targeted. Remus Lupin and Nymphadora Tonks had also been hit very hard, but at least those two would recover eventually. He had also watched Dedalus Diggle die, and he had found out later that another Order member, Jonathan Herbert, had also not made it out alive. As sad as that was, he supposed most leaders would have called those a small loss in light of their victory over Voldemort; but then most leaders did not know those people and their families personally.

To get rid of those morbid thoughts, he got on with his tasks and called Frolly the house-elf. After he had sent her on an errand, he picked up his quill and some parchment to make a few lists, as well as to write a few instructions.

Frolly returned about ten minutes later with a number of boxes, several of them filled with potion phials. After the elf left, Dumbledore pulled out his wand and began pulling memories out of his head. Each memory went into a phial, which was corked and a single letter went onto it to categorize the memory. The little glass bottle was then put into the proper box. There was a box for Minerva, which contained not only memories from himself, but some from previous Headmasters that had been given to Dumbledore in this same manner. A smaller box had Ginny's name on it, which had some memories of her various family members Albus thought she would like to see. The final two boxes, and these were bigger than the first two, were marked "Harry (soon)" and "Harry (later)".

Completing that task, he slowly made his way over to his glass display case and pulled out a small slender item and also put it into the box. It would be nice victory present, and a small part of him was also curious to know how it would work for Harry.

Calling Frolly back, he had the elf pull a heavy item out of his cabinet and load it into the fifth and last box, as Poppy also told him not to do any heavy lifting. When that was done, Frolly took all the boxes way. Through a secret door, Albus slowly made his way to his chambers, where he took another potion before slipping into bed. His last conscious thought for the night was that he hoped he had time for those discussions with on Magical Theory with Harry.

***

"HARRY!"

Harry's eyes snapped opened at the sound of his name being yelled. Then he saw Mrs. Weasley sitting on the next bed over glaring at him in the dim early morning light.

Once he realised she was only upset with him and there was no danger, he tried to calm his racing heart. Looking down, he saw Ginny's eyes were open, but she had not moved. Chicken, he thought at her. "Good morning Mrs. Weasley."

"Harry, what are you doing in Ginny's bed?"

"Technically, I'm only on her bed, she's in it, Mrs. Weasley. I did that on purpose. And I'm here because it was easier for us to talk this way last night."

"She's awake?"

"I don't think she was a minute ago, but she is now," he said with a bit of teasing in his voice.

"Mum," Ginny complained, "I was having the most wonderful dream ..." but she never got to finish as her mother had rushed over and squeezed the air out of her in a hug. Harry barely managed to avoid being hit as the woman's arms went around her daughter, it had been close.

Molly let go and moved to the foot of their bed to talk to them, but then she saw Ginny's hand on Harry's chest and her eyes narrowed. "That looks like an engagement ring on your hand, young lady."

Ginny gave a dreamy smile. "Yes, it is. Harry asked me to marry him last night. It's a wonderful way to wake up, don't you think so, Mum?"

"Now Ginny, I know you two like each other, but you've only started dating and you're only fifteen!"

"Mrs. Weasley," Harry jumped in, "I know we've only been dating for about six months, but we've been friends for over five years, so we know quite a bit about one another. And after all we've been through together, we both know it's the right thing to do. But you don't have to worry about us rushing into things; we'll wait until Ginny is seventeen."

"But Harry, neither one of you will be out of school yet. That's not practical, not to mention unwise. I don't have a problem with the two of you getting married someday, but you're still so young."

"You're wrong, Mum," Ginny contradicted her. "Professor Dumbledore said it was possible for us to marry and finish our last year of school here. We do know it is right for us and there is no better choice for either of us."

Molly glared at her daughter for disagreeing with her, and Ginny quickly wilted and ducked her head, but when Molly fixed Harry with the same glare, Harry tranquilly returned her gaze. Molly looked into his eyes and saw calm resolve, and something more, something that appeared to stare right through her as if she was not there. Those were eyes that looked as if they were older than she was. She broke his gaze and turned to her daughter. "You stay right here, I'm going to go get your father to talk some sense into you." She stormed into the nurse's office to use the Floo.

"I can't believe you did that, Harry, you actually out-stared my mum; nobody out-stares Mum."

"I'm not sure what to say, except that after some of the things I've done, I have little fear of people, especially those whom I know wouldn't hurt me anyway. Why are you scared of your mum?"

"Harry, you just saw her temper."

"Sure, but all she did was look at you and yell a little." He thought of the Dursleys for the first time in a long time. "She doesn't raise her hand to hit you or her wand to hex you, so what's so fearsome?"

Ginny thought about that for a moment. "When you put it that way, it does seem like it's nothing to be frightened of. Well, not if you're not in trouble; but if you really did something wrong, she's like the fire of truth burning away the lies. That's scary."

"All right, I understand that I guess, but since I don't consider us to have done anything wrong, and we're not doing anything wrong now, then we have nothing to fear. Right?"

She twisted a little and gave him a quick kiss. "That's another reason I love you, Harry. You seem to have a way of looking at things the way they really are and working out what's important and what's not."

As they continued to sit waiting on her bed, they heard the sound of stomping feet coming from the nurse's office. Ginny felt better about it all now after hearing Harry's perspective.

Ginny saw her mother come back and she did not look as if she had lost any of her motherly concern. On the other hand, her father was carrying Christmas presents and merely looked sleepy. That was a good sign. She watched him deposit the presents under the tree with a few others that were already there.

Her dad came over and stood at the end of the bed her mum had slept in, standing next to his wife. "'Morning Ginny, Harry."

He sounded very normal. "'Morning, Dad."

"Good morning, Mr. Weasley." Harry stood; it seemed the proper thing to do. "Thanks for coming, you saved me a lot of trouble," Harry told him. Ginny stood too, though Harry had to help her up. He put his arm around her waist to help hold her up.

"I did?"

Harry felt he should get this out of the way first, and hope it would defuse the mini-crisis. "Yes sir. I wanted to come ask you for you for your blessing to marry Ginny. It has become clear to both of us that this is the right thing to do, though we both also know we'll need to wait until she's seventeen."

"Well, I thank you for being willing to wait until then, but perhaps we should discuss getting married when you're so young." The man continued to be calm, though perhaps the early hour and lack of caffeine contributed to that.

"Yes sir, I understand, but we are very sure of this. Ginny makes me feel complete and is the only person who can do that, so it seems only right to marry her."

"And Dad, Harry makes me feel complete too, and since he is the only person who can do that, I agree we should get married. Why wait when you've found the only person for you?"

"Ginny, you can't know that, you're only fifteen," her mother objected.

"Mum, when did you know Dad was the right man for you?" her daughter asked.

"I was seventeen, more than a year older than you are now," her mother answered defiantly.

"So why is it a big deal that I figured it out who the right person is for me a year sooner? Would you willingly give up a year of being married to Dad?"

Her mother kept silent, but the answer was on her face as she looked at her husband with love. Her anger was gone now. "I -- I love you both, but I just want to make sure you don't make a big mistake, Ginny."

Harry exchanged glances with Ginny. He turned to her and put his other arm around her waist, and she held onto him. "There is no mistake..."

"...for us..." Ginny continued without a pause.

"...we know..."

"...what is right."

Harry started again, "It is only you..."

"...who makes me..."

"complete." They said in unison. Arthur and Molly looked at each other; it was like listening to the twins who completed each other's sentences, but these two had not grown up together.

Now Ginny was the one who spoke first, "I know that the world..."

"...is right when you're..."

"...with me," they completed in unison and put their foreheads together and closed their eyes. Arthur thought they were experiencing something only they could feel, then he realised they were. He and Molly could see what was happening between the Harry and Ginny -- there was a soft glow around both of them, similar to the aura he had seen during the battle, just not as big or as intense.

Arthur's trance was broken by the sound of the hospital door opening, and he turned to see Sirius, Ron, and Hermione come in. They all stopped walking when they took in the sight in front of them. "What the bloody hell are they doing?" Ron asked.

Harry and Ginny both turned to look at their friends and the glow went away. "We're holding each other, what does it look like we're doing?" Harry thought a dumb question deserved a dumb answer.

"That's not what he meant, Harry," Sirius told him. "You two were glowing. It wasn't much, but it was visible."

The young couple looked at each other and started laughing. "So much for not telling anyone," Ginny teased him.

"Yeah, what was that?" Hermione asked.

Harry shook his head and guessed that the Christmas presents were going to be waiting awhile longer. "Ah, just a minute Hermione, I'm still waiting on an answer to my question." He glanced over to Arthur.

Arthur looked at Molly who seemed to be at a loss for words. He looked back at Harry. "I, uh, I think I see what you mean Harry. You have our blessing, though I believe Molly would prefer you wait until you both finish school."

"Thanks Dad!" Ginny let go of Harry for a moment and hugged her dad, then her mother. Harry shook Arthur's hand, then gave Molly a hug and whispered, "Thank you."

Molly barely returned the hug she was still in shock at seeing her little girl displaying a magical connection like that.

A bark of laughter from Sirius made everyone turn to look at him. "Harry, I was just joking yesterday. I didn't expect you to take me seriously."

"But you're always serious," Harry told his godfather and smirked at the man.

"Ginny, really?" Hermione asked. When Ginny smiled and vigorously nodded her head up and down, the brunette ran to her friend and gave her a big hug.

"What? I know I'm missing something here. What's going on Harry?" Ron asked.

With a grin Harry told him, "You told me once you wouldn't mind having me for a brother. Would me being a brother-in-law be all right?"

Ron looked dumb-struck. "You mean you ... Uh, Ginny and ... Really?"

"Yes Ron, getting married is the right thing for us," his best friend assured him.

"So Harry, what was the glow? Is it like the aura Sirius told us about at the battle?" Hermione asked again.

"Honestly, all we can say is that it has something to do with our magic. I would guess the glow and auras are related, but even Dumbledore doesn't know."

"Harry, since you're answering questions, what happened at the battle? Why did your aura push me away and what did it do to Ginny?" Molly asked him. She appeared calmer to Harry, though still not totally happy.

"I'm sorry, Mrs. Weasley, but again no one knows. I don't know when I'm projecting my aura, or what my aura does to others, and I didn't know we were glowing until you told us. But to answer your last question, at the end, I was trying stop the spell Voldemort hit Ginny with and heal her."

"You can heal?" Hermione asked amazed.

He supposed an answer like the one he gave to Dumbledore would do. "Ah, not specifically. I was just telling my magic what needed to be done and it did it; I wanted to make her better so she wouldn't die and it did the right thing." It was not quite the truth, and not really a lie either, he thought; but it was the version he was going to tell.

"One more, Harry," the matriarch said. "With all the precautions, vows, and people all around, how did you get Ginny there?"

Harry grinned at her. "That was simple, really. I Disillusioned her and we walked slowly. That and the fact that everyone was so busy and not expecting an extra person made it easy to sneak her into the room. Then she just stood very still in the corner behind me until it was time to go. I took the Disillusionment spell off of her one second before we left. As for the Unbreakable Vows which would have been triggered if she'd heard anything, I got around that by making sure she couldn't hear or was standing in an area that didn't let her hear what was going on in the room. The only thing she heard was the Headmaster counting, which wasn't a problem."

Molly looked dumbstruck that he had done that, and Hermione was grinning from ear-to-ear. "That was excellent planning, Harry," his friend told him, "but I don't understand why she was there and we didn't get to go?"

Harry knew why she had asked the question. "I'm really sorry, Hermione, and you too, Ron, that you weren't included in the adventure. It would have been very hard to have included you in without all the special training Ginny and I had. And even if you'd had that, I'm reasonably sure you would have been told you couldn't go."

"You got that right," Sirius agreed. "You kids have to understand that that mission was extremely dangerous. No one except for Snape, whom the Death Eaters did not know was a spy, and Molly, who got there after the major fighting was done, left without any injuries. Even Dumbledore was injured. Harry would not have gone if it wasn't for the Prophecy, and Ginny wouldn't have gone if Harry hadn't blackmailed me."

"I never ..." Harry started.

"OK," Sirius interrupted, "maybe you didn't officially do it, but close enough."

Harry grinned at that. "Hermione, you can go on the next one, but I truly hope all my adventures are done with. I just want to be normal."

"Right Harry, you normal? Not likely, but if you want to try, you should start by opening presents," Ron told him.

"Sure, sounds good to me." Harry was tired of answering questions anyway. One thing caught his attention though, the two of them were the only ones still in pyjamas. Pausing to focus, he put a hand on Ginny's shoulder and transformed her top into a brown sweatshirt to match her eyes, and then touched her waistband and turned her bottoms into jeans. He did the same for himself, except that his sweatshirt was green to match his eyes. When he was done, everyone but Sirius and Ginny were staring at him. "What?"

"You can do wandless magic?" Hermione was incredulous.

Not being able to resist, Harry casually told her, "Sure, can't you?"

Ginny started laughing and the rest joined in. Hermione got embarrassed, but eventually smiled broadly.

Ron passed out the presents, while Harry and Ginny apologized. "Sorry everyone, we haven't had time for shopping."

"Nonsense," Molly replied, "you both have already given us the best present of all: no more Tom Riddle." There were lots of "Hear, hear's" tacked on.

There were the usual jumpers and sweets, all gladly received, but the most interesting gift was from Hermione. When Harry and Ginny opened their presents from her, they both found a book titled, Training to Be an Animagus. Harry looked at Ginny and smiled. She tried to smile back but a small giggle burst out of her instead.

"What's so funny?" Hermione asked. She was a bit hurt. "You told me you were having trouble, so I thought these might help."

"I'm sorry, Hermione," Ginny tried to be apologetic, but she still found the book humorous.

"Ginny, I think we're going need to explain better than that." He winked at her as he put his book down. He thought about what he needed and changed. Ginny changed a split second later.

"L-l-lions?" Ron stuttered.

"Very good, Ron," Sirius sarcastically congratulated him.

"Ginny?" her mother asked, and the lioness gave a small roar.

Harry changed back. "So sorry, Hermione, but we learned to change about three weeks ago. Professor McGonagall told us to keep it secret, but I guess we can register now that the war is over." Ginny pushed at him with her head, so he reached up and scratched the back of it behind her ears. She proceeded to give him a big sloppy lick up his cheek. "Oh gross, Ginny, cut it out," he admonished her.

She changed back too. "But Harry," she told him so sweetly, "you always like my kisses." He just glared at her. "Come on Harry, open your big present," she encouraged him as she also opened her last present.

Harry had one big present left. He ripped off the paper and opened the top. Inside, he saw two medium sized boxes and a small box on top as well as a note. He saw Ginny also reading a note that apparently came with her present, as well as a box of a number of little bottles of silvery stuff. Unfolding his letter, he saw Dumbledore's loopy writing.

Harry,

This is more of a Victory present than a Christmas present,
but think of it as you wish. I have a few possessions I'd like
you to have before I lose the chance to give them to you.
One box has memories and information that will help you in
the near future. The other is for knowledge you probably
won't need for a while, but will be very helpful to you eventually.
You might want to look at a few of the ones marked "F" in the
"soon" box today. The last little present is my congratulations
on a job well done.

A. Dumbledore

At the bottom of the sheet was a chart, where "F" was shown to stand for "Friends and Family".

He looked over at Ginny to see her staring at him. "So what is it, Harry?" Ron asked.

Opening one of the medium sized boxes, he saw a number of little phials with a silvery substance in them, like in Ginny's box. "It looks like a bunch of memories from Dumbledore," he explained.

"Mine too," Ginny chimed in. "He said they were of my family here at Hogwarts."

"That's interesting," Hermione remarked, "but what good are they without a Pensieve? Pensieves are hard to come by and are terribly expensive."

On a hunch, Harry pulled out the boxes on top and smiled when he saw a large item at the bottom of the big box. He pulled it out and set the large stone basin on the floor for everyone to see. "Apparently, the Headmaster thought of that too, Hermione." The girl was speechless.

"Let's try one out," Ginny suggested and grabbed one of hers.

"OK," Harry agreed. "There's an instruction sheet in here I should look at, but I know you need to dump that into the bowl." While she did that, he scanned the sheet. A moment later, he pulled out his wand and tapped the basin. The group watched a picture of the Great Hall come out of top and project itself for their viewing. It was a Sorting Cermony.

Nearly halfway through it, Molly Weasley gasped. "I can't believe this." Arthur Weasley started chuckling.

"What Mum?" Ginny asked.

They watched the next new student, a redheaded girl, be called by Professor McGonagall, "Prewitt, Molly." She went to Gryffindor, and a few minutes later a redheaded boy was called, "Weasley, Arthur," who also went into Gryffindor. They all were amazed.

When that ended, Harry suggested, "One of mine?"

Ginny put the memory back into the bottle and into her box. "I guess we should mark these and index them."

"That is a good idea, Ginny," Hermione agreed, "especially for any that are for knowledge, or so you can come back and watch favorites later." Harry dumped one in and started it.

The scene was again in the Great Hall, and the Headmaster was eating fried chicken that day, as that was on the plate that was being projected. As a fork entered the scene, so did little white flakes that looked a lot like snow. A bark of laughter suddenly came from Sirius. "I remember this day." A very broad smile stayed on his face.

The picture changed as the Headmaster looked up and across the Hall. Snowflakes were descending lazily all over the large room from the rafters. From there, his vision moved first to the Gryffindor table, and then to four Gryffindor boys that appeared to be in their sixth or seventh year. "Those are the Marauders, right?" Harry asked quietly.

"Yes," Sirius told him, though he really need not have answered, as one of the boys could have easily passed for Harry. "And the girl next to him is your mother, Harry." They continued watching the snow fall for a few moments while all the students started laughing and pointing. Suddenly, large amounts of snow fell out of the rafters and onto the tables, as if someone had shoveled a snow drift off. With that much snow suddenly available, the inevitable happened: someone made a snowball and threw it. For the next five minutes or so, they all watched a combination snowball-food fight. When it ended, everyone was laughing. With a smile on his face, Harry put the memory up, but he also did not get any more out.

"More?" Ron asked.

"Later," Harry replied. He realised these could be a two edged sword, and he wanted a bit more privacy to watch them. Perhaps just him, Ginny, and his godfather -- his immediate family, at least until he knew what was in here.

Grabbing the small narrow box, Harry opened it to find a wand. Curious, he picked it up and gave it a wave and a large number red sparks came out the end. On a lark, he handed the wand to Ginny and told her, "Give it a wave and see what happens." She gave it a good wave and also got a large number of red sparks.

"Why does that wand work so well for her?" Hermione asked.

Harry did not answer, but instead handed Ginny his wand to try. She also got a large number of red sparks from it. Before Hermione could ask another question, he suggested, "Why don't you try your normal wand and see what happens now?"

Ginny gave him a strange look, but pulled hers out and gave it a wave too. Now only a few red sparks came out. "What happened? I got a much better response in Mr. Ollivander's shoppe."

"Keep and use the trophy, Ginny," Harry told her, but did not say anything more, not even when Hermione asked him.

They all continued on with Christmas morning; it was a wonderful time for family, both immediate and extended.

***

As lunch time approached, Arthur left through the nurse's Floo and Molly started conjuring tables and chairs. "What are you doing, Mum?" Ginny asked.

"Setting up for Christmas dinner, dear. I made arrangements with Professor Dumbledore yesterday to have dinner here. The castle elves will be bringing it soon." She seemed to sigh as she created the twelfth chair. "I can't believe I'm not making it this year but since we can't be at home, being together is the best we can do."

Her husband came back in and told her, "Four more are coming the long way. I'll go get the last one." He left the Hospital Wing through the double doors.

"What does he mean 'the long way'?" Ron asked.

"They aren't cleared for the Floo, dear, so they're having to Apparate to the gates and then fly to the castle," the matriarch explained. "Boys, would you please move those two beds over? I think we need a little more room around the table."

As Harry and Ron moved a few of the hospital beds over, the elves started popping in with trays of food. Molly, Ginny, and Hermione helped relieve the little creatures of their burdens and thanked them for their help. Just as Molly was satisfied everything was in place, the double doors opened and the five missing Weasley brothers and Mr. Weasley all walked in.

The second oldest son was there too, and Ginny ran to him with open arms. "Charlie, I'm glad you could make it again."

"Well, sis, it is Christmas. I'll be here for a couple of days before I have to go," the dragon handler told her. "So how is my famous sister doing?"

Ginny blushed and let him go. "Fine, I'm ready to go home but they won't let me."

Everyone laughed. "If that's anything like Harry's fine," Ron spoke up, "you'll be here for a least another week." Everyone laughed harder.

"Let's eat," Molly called and everyone started taking a seat. Arthur took one end of the table and Molly took the other. Harry and Ginny sat beside each other as did Ron and Hermione. The rest of the brothers and Sirius took the first seat they could find.

As conversations started with the food being passed around, Harry noticed no one was antagonistic towards Percy, but he was not quite as warmly included either. He shook his head and wondered how long it would take before Percy was completely accepted again.

It was not long until Ginny reached to grab her goblet for a drink with her left hand. When she did, she heard an, "Oh ho! Ginny! I gave you those great quills for letters, and while you have written me, you seem to have left out the most important piece of news," Bill accused her. Those in the know started smiling.

"What?" Charlie asked.

"Look dear brother," George pointed at Ginny's left hand.

"Yes, we're about to get a black-haired Weasley," Fred finished.

"How did that happen, do you suppose?"

"Perhaps more importantly, when did that happen?"

"Yes, Ginny," Bill jumped back in, "when did this happen?" He looked at her very accusingly.

She smiled at him then looked at her other brothers before answering. "This morning. Would you like me to write you a letter about my best Christmas gift?"

"But Ginny," Bill started and because he was the oldest felt like he had to say, "you're only fifteen." Her mum looked very pleased at the point being made.

"That's true, Bill," Harry told him, "but there's nothing that says I can't make my reservation early and then wait for a year and a half for the wonderful event."

Bill looked gobsmacked, while Charlie started chuckling. Percy's mouth twitched slightly, while the twins joined everyone else in a full out laugh. "No ... I suppose not, Harry," Bill finally got out. He studied the young hero for a moment as if judging him before he smiled warmly. "More mashed potatoes, Harry?"

***

The sun was going down and the sky was coloured with multiple shades of reds and purples. Ginny was looking out the window when Harry came up behind her and wrapped his arms around her. "Whatcha thinking about, Ginny?"

"Getting out of here. I want to go to the Burrow; I miss it. Madam Pomfrey said we can't go until tomorrow."

"How about first thing in the morning?"

"That sounds good because I'm enjoying feeling you hold me right now." She gave him a light laugh. "Your arms feel so good, I like all the weight lifting you've done." He laughed at her. "I'm serious Harry, don't stop." He agreed to keep working out. "So what are you thinking about?" she asked.

"I'm just imagining you with black hair."

"Why? I thought you liked my hair."

"I do," he told her, "but what if we have a daughter that looks like you but has my hair?"

"That's a fun thought. What if we have a boy that looks like you but has red hair?"

"That could be interesting too."

"Can we have several of each?" she asked hopefully.

He laughed, "As many as you like."

"You're OK with a big family? I know you didn't grow up in one."

"I know, but the only place I've ever been completely happy is when I'm with your family," he told her.

"Thank you, Harry." She twisted around in his arms to hug and kiss him.

Arthur and Molly stood and looked at the young couple from across the room. "They look happy together," he pointed out.

"They do, don't they? Oh look, Arthur," she quietly said, "they're starting to glow again."

"I know I'm not in Dumbledore's league, but I do believe that indicates something specific."

"Like how the feel about each other?"

"Yes, or maybe how much they love each other. They only seem to do that when they lose themselves in each other. Maybe we should let them get married sooner."

"No Arthur, absolutely not. A year and a half from now is soon enough."

Arthur was not going to argue now that he had gotten Molly to that point, but he wondered if Harry could convince his wife if he really tried. But whatever Harry did, Arthur was sure Harry would find happiness with Ginny.


{A/N: This was the original end to my story. However, my pre-beta GinnyMarie, talked me into an epilogue. Therefore, you get one more chapter to see how the famous couple deals with their new situation, a few family moments, and how they start off the rest of their life. }

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Chapter 12: Chapter 12: Epilogue

Author's Notes: {A/N: Here is the last chapter of this story... (how sad) And the longest chapter. :-}


Chapter 12: Epilogue

[Thu 26 Dec 1996]

Though it had seemed like forever to Harry, in reality, it was only the third day after waking from his injury, and only six days after the Final Battle. Ginny had been up one day less, but was just as eager to leave as Harry was.

As they readied to go home, Harry talked Sirius into letting him go home to number twelve Grimmauld Place via The Burrow. With their trunks shrunk to lunch box size, the two youngest Weasleys, their mother, Harry, his godfather, and Hermione Flooed to The Burrow. Hermione's parents were to come over and pick her up that evening, as Molly had invited everyone over for dinner.

They had barely come home to an empty house when a flash of light came from the back door. Purely on instinct, Harry's wand came out and he cast a Bludgeoning spelling towards where the light had come from. The spell went through the back door, breaking the glass in it, and hit a man who had been standing there. The man had not even finished falling when a Stunning spell from Ginny hit him in the face. When the man thumped to the ground, and the tinkling of broken glass came to a halt, Harry and Ginny were the only two with their wands out, though the others quickly drew theirs afterwards.

Carefully walking over to investigate, Harry found the man had a camera. Well, he still had one if a person counted all the pieces on the ground. The photographer was out cold. Just because he did not like the invasion of privacy, Harry Vanished all the pieces of the camera.

"Does anyone recognize him?" Harry asked.

"My guess would be a photographer from the Daily Prophet," Sirius suggested when no one else said anything. "I think we should Obliviate him and send him off somewhere." No one objected to that either, so Sirius did the spell. Harry and Ron carried the unidentified man to the fireplace, while Sirius did a Reparo on the back door.

"So, where are you going to send him?" Ginny asked.

"How about the Leaky Cauldron?" Harry suggested.

Sirius smiled as he grabbed some Floo powder. "No Harry, let's not bother Tom with this." As he threw the powder into the fireplace, the Defense teacher spoke "Knockturn Alley" and the boys hurled the photographer in.

"Hey, good thinking," Ron said. Harry and Ginny agreed.

"Sirius?" Harry asked in a thoughtful voice. "Could we disguise ourselves and go shopping this afternoon? I'd really like to pick up some Christmas presents. Harry did not think he would get the same answer he had received at the beginning of the school year, since Voldemort was no longer alive, but he was not totally sure.

"Sure, Harry. Though I would strongly suggest you and Ginny become brunettes, and you should hide your scar." Sirius looked thoughtful as he considered the possibility some more. "You should also probably not give your name out to anyone you don't already know, just to be safe."

"You make it sound like it's still unsafe for me to go," Harry said.

"Well, there's unsafe, then there's unsafe," his godfather said with a grin. "Now that Voldemort is gone, mortal safety is no longer an issue. But since you're the ones that offed him, you should be prepared to be surrounded by people wanting your autograph, trying to shake your hand, and so forth. Of course, there are a few odd Death Eaters on the loose, but there's not many and they weren't the good ones anyway."

Ron spoke up. "Why don't we eat lunch and then we can all go?" That got a few chuckles over Ron thinking with his stomach, but everyone agreed to that plan.

"Ah, Sirius? Something else just ocurred to me." Harry's godfather raised an eyebrow at his godson's quizzical look. "Ginny and I just did some major magic and no owls have come with notices for use of Underage Magic. Why not?"

Sirius grinned. "You noticed that, did you? Well, after Arthur started reading all the articles about you two, he realised that you would be having some difficulties not experienced by the normal underage wizard and witch. So, he convinced Minister Bones to grant you waivers on that restriction, as long as you don't abuse it." Harry's face lit upon hearing that, while Ginny looked shocked.

Ron muttered, "Some people have all the luck."

A hearty laugh came from Sirius. "Ron, you're about to be seventeen in a few months, so you're not missing much. Harry will be seventeen not that long after this next school term is over, so no big deal for him either. But Ginny, she's reaping the reward."

Ginny's smile became larger as she considered her good fortune, but she was quickly brought down to earth by her mother. "Don't even think of using that privilege for cleaning, young lady. That is to help you protect yourself when you're out. Here at home, it will be life as usual." Despite her protests, Ginny was unable to change her mother's mind.

After lunch, Sirius escorted Harry, Ginny, Ron, and Hermione to Diagon Alley. Molly stayed home as security wasn't a big deal, and she had to make dinner tonight for everyone. The couple walked around in disguise, no one being the wiser. Harry and Ginny decided to buy Christmas presents together, to help get everyone used to them being seen as a couple. They all even went by to see Fred and George at their shoppe, which was doing a booming business. It was hard, but they managed to get the twins not to blurt out their names.

By late afternoon, everyone wanted a snack, so they stopped by Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour. It was all going well until Dean Thomas and Seamus Finnigan saw them and came over.

"Hey Ron, Hermione. Hello Professor Black," Dean called out as the two boys walked up. Seamus also greeted them. Then Dean looked at Harry and Ginny; although it took a few seconds, he figured out who they were because of their friends' presence. "Harry, Ginny, I didn't recognized you at first."

"Ssh, Dean," Harry told him. "You weren't supposed to immediately recognize us." The damage was already done as a few heads were looking over their way, looking for the famous "Harry and Ginny".

"Oh, right, sorry about that," their friend replied. "Hey, I'm glad to see you're all right though. It was really pretty sad to go home for Christmas knowing you two had been hurt in the Final Battle."

"Thanks Dean," Ginny told him. "We just got away from Madam Pomfrey this morning."

The boy looked at his ex-girlfriend and smiled, until his eyes caught sight of the ring on her finger. "Ginny? Is that ring for real?"

She looked down at it, slightly embarrassed. "Uh, yeah. Harry proposed to me and gave it to me on Christmas." It was a bit awkward with her former boyfriend, but Harry squeezed her right hand, which gave her more confidence and allowed her to smile and look up.

"Right," Dean said a bit nervously as he was feeling a bit awkward too. Looking over to his friend, Seamus just smiled and clapped Harry on the shoulder as he offered his congratulations. Dean offered his too, "Yeah, Congratulations you two. I hope it goes well for you. Take care of her Harry. Ginny's a great person."

Harry smiled at Dean and did his best to not remember how he had felt about Dean asking Ginny out first. "Thanks Dean, and don't worry, I'll take very good care of her, though it will be a while before we get married."

Dean nodded. "Well, we gotta go. We'll see you all back at school." He and Seamus left.

"Shall we go too?" Sirius suggested. Everyone agreed, so they all got up and left.

They were barely outside when they heard, "There's Harry and Ginny!" Instantly, people started walking towards them calling their names and wanting their autographs. There also seemed to be a few that wanted to shake their hands, or maybe it was just to touch them as Harry felt several hands touch him that weren't Ginny's.

Learning to Apparate had never been a big deal to Harry, but he wanted to know how very badly right now. He really wanted to get away and he could easily see Ginny felt the same way. Sirius, as well as Ron and Hermione, were all trying to help keep people back, but it was very difficult.

Not knowing what else to do, Harry pulled his Firebolt out of his Magical Broom Bag. Ginny saw what he was doing and moved to stand behind him, so they could mount the broom at the same time. Harry did his best to hover straight up without hurting anyone, and then he quickly flew above the crowd and over a few buildings, and landed in an alley behind the shoppes.

"Now what?" Ginny asked as Harry put his broom back into the bag and into his pocket.

Harry put his hand on her head, then on his and they both disappeared. "Since we're now Disillusioned, we can walk around the corner and go into the twins' place and use their Floo to go home. I was careful to fly over their shoppe so we'd be near it."

"We should probably tell Sirius so they don't worry," Ginny's disembodied voice told him.

"Yeah, good idea. I'll send a Patronus message." He did that, and they walked back out into the main street. It was easy to follow the plan, and they were back at The Burrow in a few minutes. The other three took another ten minutes to make it back to The Burrow, by which time Harry and Ginny had filled Molly in on what had happened.

"Wow, that was a madhouse!" Ron exclaimed when they arrived.

"You're telling me." His best mate sounded really put out. "I can't believe all that."

"Why not Harry?" Hermione asked. "You heard what a big deal it was the first time you stopped V-Voldemort. Now that you two have killed him for real, you shouldn't be surprised at the reaction. There's been at least one story about you in the Daily Prophet every day since it happened. The day after the Final Battle, as they called it, almost the entire paper was about the battle, the Order of the Phoenix, and most especially, you two."

Harry and Ginny both snorted at the same time, which also caused them to look at each other and laugh a little. Harry finally looked back at his friend and told her, "That's easy for you to say Hermione, but we haven't seen all those papers."

"Oh, that's not a problem, Harry," Molly told the boy. "Arthur saved a copy of them all for you, as he thought you'd like to see it." The woman also looked a bit proud about it too. "In fact, why don't you sit down and read them for a while. You should be able to look at most of them by dinner time."

Molly went into the other room and came back with almost a week's worth of issues of the Daily Prophet. Harry and Ginny took them into the living room and sat down to start reading them. Sirius also glanced over them a bit, though he had already read them. Ron challenged Hermione to a game of chess. Except for the occasional exclamation from Harry and Ginny, it was a quiet room.

A little after six in the evening, the Grangers came over to fetch Hermione. They greeted everyone pleasantly. Arthur came home a few minutes later. The topics of victory and the returning peace occupied most of the dinner conversation. Everyone seemed to enjoy it, except for Harry and Ginny, who were quiet for most of it. They just wanted to go sit by the fire in the living room, and enjoy each other's company, as well as the peace and quiet of the evening. They did not really want their new celebrity status.

One thing did nag at Harry though, and he decided he needed to know. "I know almost everyone got injured in some way, but did everyone in the Order make it out?"

Arthur looked at him with a grave face. "No, Harry. I'm sorry to say that you won't be seeing Alastor Moody, Hestia Jones, Dedalus Diggle, or another chap you probably didn't know, Jonathan Herbert. On the other hand, almost everyone who was injured is well now. Tonks left St. Mungo's yesterday, and Remus Lupin should get out tomorrow. He had a few complications from his, er, condition." Arthur wasn't sure if he should say "werewolf" in front of the Grangers.

Harry looked at him and nodded, before he got up and left for the living room with a long face. Ginny also rose, but softly said, "If you'll excuse us," before she went after Harry to comfort him.

"I don't understand. Harry knew and kept telling us it was a war; and in war these things happen," Ron said.

"Yes, he knows that," Sirius said solemnly, "but that doesn't change how much he cares, or the fact that he didn't want anyone else to die before he could get rid of Voldemort. It's easy to forget there can be sadness even in victory."

***

[Sun, 5 Jan 1997]

The Sunday afternoon before the second term of the year was to start, instead of taking the Hogwarts Express like everyone else, the Gryffindor foursome Flooed back to school. Sirius had made the arrangements so they would not have to deal with reporters and others on Platform 9 ¾.

After they put their trunks up in their dormitories, they went back down into the common room. Harry looked at his other two best friends and asked, "So, what did you plan to do until everyone else gets here?"

"Don't know," Ron said. "How about a game of Exploding Snap?"

Harry closed his eyes and slowly counted to three before he would allow himself to speak. Ginny squeezed his hand and rescued him. "No Ron, he was asking what you and Hermione plan to do for the afternoon. I think he was was planning on us sitting here by the fire, though we could go somewhere else if you two are going to be here."

"Why?" her brother asked.

"Because," Harry said with a slight note of exasperation in his voice, "I want to spend some time with my fiancèe. I haven't had the chance to snog her senseless recently." Ginny giggled and Ron looked less than pleased to hear that.

Hermione rescued her boyfriend. "No problem, Harry. You two enjoy the fire. Ron is going to explore the dungeons with me while there are no Slytherins here."

"I am?"

"Yes, you are. Let's go. See you two in a few hours." She practically dragged Ron out the portrait hole.

"Finally," Harry said as he pulled Ginny over to the couch and onto his lap. She giggled softly, threaded her hands thru his hair, and silenced him.

---

Several hours later, Hermione and Ron returned, along with a number of other Gryffindors who had arrived on the train. They made much ado about Harry and Ginny's feat, and how it had taken a Gryffindor to take down Slytherin's heir. Harry and Ginny did their best to get through it all quickly, and they were relieved when it was time to go to dinner.

The Gryffindors followed their famous couple down for dinner. Ron and Hermione were also at the front and chatting with their friends. As they descended the last of the stairs, they saw the rest of the houses coming towards the large foyer in front of the Great Hall.

Harry was thinking about dinner and how hungry he was when he heard, "Avada Kedavra!" After the first word of the curse, he shoved Ginny forward, while doing his best to step backwards and to hold his other friends back. The green bolt went right in front of his face, hitting the wall off to his side. It would have hit him or Ginny if he had not reacted as quickly as he had. Without thinking, he wandlessly shot a Banishing spell at the blond Slytherin pointing his wand at them from the top of the stairs leading down to the dungeons.

The look of livid anger on Draco Malfoy's face stayed as a Freezing hex from Ginny hit him before the Banishing spell had moved him more than a few feet. A large thud and tinkling was heard a few seconds later as the frozen boy landed at the bottom of the stairs.

Harry now pivoted towards Ginny, to stand back to back with her. His wand was menacingly moving back and forth as his eyes scanned for more danger. He particularly watched the other Slytherins who had stopped motionless on the stairs. Harry was also sure Ginny was scrutinizing those that were behind him and in front of her.

The entire area was silent as everyone regarded the scene; a silence which was broken by several sets of feet, which belonged to Professors McGonagall, Dumbledore, and Flitwick.

"Mr. Potter? What's going on?" Any other question Professor McGonagall had froze on her lips as she saw the intense and dangerous look on Harry's face -- a look that promised immediate and deadly action if the wrong thing happened. She had no doubt this was the look that had faced down Tom Riddle.

As gently as she could, Minerva McGonagall tried to calm the boy. "Harry, you and Ginny are safe now. There are three teachers here who will not let anything else happen." She saw his intense gaze leave her and sweep the area one more time, before he looked over his left shoulder to meet Ginny's questioning look. The girl nodded and the two students relaxed, although their wands were not put away. It was obvious to the professor that while Harry trusted her, he trusted his and Ginny's safety only to themselves.

Harry slowly walked over to the top of the stairs and looked down. McGonagall noted his expression hardening again, and he trained his wand at the Slytherins. Before she could say anything else, she heard him say, "Cover me." Ginny turned and moved to the top of the stairs. As Harry reached a seventh year boy, he pointed his wand at him and demanded, "Show me your forearms."

The boy looked outraged, but it was Professor McGonagall that spoke. "Mr. Potter, you can't do that."

"Yes, he can," Ginny contradicted her Head of House. Her non-wand arm pointed, though she did not remove her gaze, or her wand, from the Slytherins. "Look."

Minerva moved over to the stairs near the first Slytherin and looked down. She was aghast to find that Draco Malfoy was now nearly a dozen chunks of ice, never more to be a living human being. After she got over her shock, she looked at where Ginny was pointing and saw Draco's frozen arm. She finally understood; there for all to see was a crystallised Dark Mark.

When the boy in front of Harry did not move, Harry wiggled the end of his wand and thought about a Levitaion spell. The robes moved from his arms to show clean skin. Harry moved down the line to the next student in either the sixth or seventh year.

Pansy Parkinson made a scene, but finally showed clean forearms when Harry threatened to stun her and look himself. Harry was a bit surprised when Crabbe, Goyle, and Nott also came up clean. Near the end of the line was one last seventh year boy who refused to roll up his sleeves: Marcus Turtledove.

When Harry started levitating his sleeves, Marcus roared and rushed towards Harry, but he never made it. He was hit with a stunning spell. Harry looked up and smiled at Ginny, who winked at him, though her wand was still pointed downward to cover him. As Harry moved the boy's robes aside, he saw another Dark Mark. Binding the Slytherin in ropes, he levitated the prisoner back to the foyer and deposited him at McGonagall's feet.

"Yes, well, perhaps you're not really paranoid after all, Mr. Potter," the professor said softly, mildly shocked. "Filius, if you would please, place a fire call to have some Aurors come to take custody of these Death Eaters. I'm sure they will also want a statement from Mr. Potter and Miss Weasley."

After a short pause, McGonagall pulled out her wand and placed it on her throat and spoke, "Sonorus. May I please have your attention. I was going to use the feast to announce this evening that I am now Headmistress of Hogwarts, while Professor Dumbledore will teach Transfiguration for the rest of this year." Murmurs broke out at that announcement. "But I believe the start of term feast will have to wait until tomorrow evening. Mr. Malfoy and Mr. Tutledove have committed criminal acts which will not be tolerated at Hogwarts. There will also be no retaliation against Mr. Potter or Miss Weasley for defending themselves. If you do, you will face suspension at the least, and quite probably expulsion and criminal charges for attacking another student. Everyone, please return to your houses. Dinner will be brought up to you shortly. Quietus."

McGonagall waved Sirius over, who had only just come to the foyer from the Great Hall with the rest of the professors. They had already been in the Hall ready for the feast. "Albus, will you please accompany the Gryffindors back to their Tower. I know Sirius should do that as their new Head of House, but I think he will probably want to be here."

"Certainly, Minerva." Dumbledore helped the prefects herd the students to their appropriate place.

"Sirius, please keep Mr. Potter and Miss Weasley here. They will need to give a statement before they return to the Tower. If they ask, please impress upon them that they are not in trouble for defending themselves, but we do have to follow the proper legal procedures."

"Yes, Headmistress." Sirius went over to Harry and Ginny, who were still standing over to the side, trying to decide if they needed to go or stay.

Minerva turned to see what else needed to be done, when Filius returned with three Aurors, two of whom she already knew. "Kingsley, Ms. Tonks, and ..."

"This is Victoria Goolsby," Tonks introduced. "She's my new partner."

"Vicky Goolsby, Professor." She shook hands with the Headmistress. "I'm Nymphadora's new partner."

"Right Vicky, sorry, I guess we're even," said Tonks, but it was obvious that she had done that on purpose. "What happened here, Professor?"

McGonagall told them about the attack, as well as the result of Harry's impromptu search for the Dark Mark.

Tonks looked at her teammates. "Kingsley, why don't you take the mess down there. You're a man, and beside I'm theoretically related to him in some people's eyes. Vicky, I'll let you take the statements from the heroes. I'll take this one tied up here and any other statements."

Sirius was watching it all with interest. Harry and Ginny were fine, so he did not need to do anything there. Instead, he watched the Auror with dirty blonde hair who looked only slightly older than his cousin as she approached them. He had vague memories of a young witch with her name four years behind him when he was a student at Hogwarts.

"Hi, I'm Vicky. You're Sirius Black aren't you?"

He laughed. "Yes, though hopefully I look at lot better than the picture on my poster."

She smiled back. "Actually, I had forgotten about that. I was thinking about the article in the paper over the summer about you being cleared."

"Oh yes, that was a much better photo of me, but the real me is better still. Perhaps we could discuss that and anything else you'd like over dinner sometime soon?"

The two looked at each other for a few seconds, until a polite cough interrupted them. "Uh, don't we have something to do here?"

Sirius looked down at his godson. "Don't interrupt a man at work Harry. You should know that by now."

A light laugh interrupted their conversation and they turned to look at the Auror. "Harry is right, but I think I am free this Saturday evening."

Harry was not sure which he was happier about: giving their statements so he and Ginny could go back to the Tower and eat, or his godfather finally starting to date again. Even Ginny agreed that Sirius was quite the charmer.

It was not until the next day that Harry and Ginny found out why Draco had attacked them. Because of the Final Battle, Draco had been made an orphan. His father had been killed by Harry and Ginny in their lion forms, while his mother had been killed by Bellatrix Lestrange. A Killing Curse meant for Sirius had missed and hit Narcissa Malfoy, her sister, by mistake.

***

[Sat 25 Jan 1997]

Harry was dressed in his new dress robes, and he was waiting in the common room for his favourite combat partner -- who was about to be seriously late if she did not hurry up. While he contemplated which girl in the room to ask to go up and get his partner, he noticed a vision of loveliness in dark blue dress robes coming down the stairs. Her hair was swept back, and it cascaded down her neck in soft waves. She also seemed to have a small amount of make-up on, just a hint to enhance her natural beauty. He suddenly did not care about a stupid awards ceremony; he wanted to take his Ginny away and spend time with only her.

Ginny smiled prettily at him and kissed lightly him on the cheek. "You're looking pretty good yourself Harry, though you probably should close your mouth."

He had not even realised his mouth was open, but he closed it while he continued to stared at her. Harry finally found his voice. "I -- I didn't think you could be any prettier Ginny, but then you do this. You're absolutely gorgeous."

"Thank you Harry, but wait 'til you see me in a long white dress."

"I'd rather see you without the dress," he replied.

She laughed and grabbed his arm so he'd escort her out the door. "Harry, I think we should leave before we corrupt anyone here." She nodded at her brother, who was shooting daggers at his best friend. Hermione had to cover her mouth to keep her laugh in.

"That's all right, I can take care of him with one arm behind my back," Harry bragged as they walked out the portrait hole. Ginny laughed again, while Hermione almost had to bite her fist to contain herself, lest she upset her boyfriend even more.

At the Headmistress' office, they, along with the Professor McGonagall and Sirius, Flooed to the Ministry of Magic. They were seated at a table up front, along with Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, Professor Dumbledore, and Severus Snape, of all people.

Snape was an interesting character now. Harry still considered him to be a greasy git, but he was actually tolerable most of the time. The Potions master still ignored Harry and Ginny, which was fine with the pair. More importantly, the teacher actually kept the peace in the classroom and did not let the Slytherins have an advantage. Still, all of that new found goodness did not stop the Head of the Slytherins from disparaging Gryffindors from time to time.

When the ceremony started, Minister for Magic Bones made a speech about what a wonderful time this was with the war over. Every member of the Order of the Phoenix was brought up and given an Order of Merlin, Third Class.

Albus Dumbledore received an Order of Merlin, Second Class award for his leadership. Severus Snape also received that same award for his work as a spy and being instrumental in starting the Final Battle.

All too soon, the moment Harry had dreaded arrived. He and Ginny were called up to receive their Order of Merlin, First Class award. The number of flashbulbs going off was insane and he was completely blinded. A part of him considered this would be a wonderful opportunity to off him and Ginny, but he trusted all the Order members in the room would protect him. Both he and his fiancèe were relieved to return to Hogwarts.

***

[Fri 27 Jun 1997]

As breakfast ended, all the students in the castle hurried to their dorm rooms to bring their trunks down, and in some cases, finish packing too. It was time to go home for the summer.

The carriage ride to Hogsmeade was quite delightful. Everything along the way was green, the birds were singing, the sky was blue with only an occasional wispy cloud making an appearance. It was the type of day that demanded you enjoy it. Harry was only too happy to oblige.

Harry happily helped Ginny with her trunk before getting his into place. He knew they had some minor prefect duties on the ride home, but nothing too strenuous. He planned to spend most of this time with his fiancèe on his lap and talking with his friends one last time before they went home.

Ginny did not have to be told to sit on Harry's lap -- that was her favourite place. She loved being near him. Touching him still made her feel "right" and "complete"; she never tired of it. As soon as Harry made himself comfortable, she made herself comfortable on him.

Ron dropped onto his seat, with Hermione next him. "I still can't believe you said your OWLs were easy, Ginny."

His sister laughed. "OK, some of the electives were a bit difficult, especially the Ancient Runes one, but the core classes were easy, Ron. All you had to do was study for them." He snorted his disagreement.

"Ginny, you're forgetting something," Harry added. "We've already learned most of what we'll cover in the rest of our school years for those classes already. If it hadn't been for all of our tutoring last summer and most of this year, it would have been a lot harder."

"That's right Harry," Hermione agreed. "You also worked with Dumbledore on the Theory of Magic book. The work you've done in the draft I read shows me you understand it better than everyone else here except maybe for Professor Dumbledore. That's bound to help you. Is the book going to be on sale soon?"

Harry smiled at her. "I suppose you have a point, Hermione. Yeah, I think they said it should come out on the 25th of August, if I remember correctly. Dumbledore told me they already have pre-orders for over five hundred copies, and that doesn't count school orders."

Neville and Luna joined them at that point. Harry found it amusing that the two always seemed to hang out together, but did not date. Still, he considered them friends and was glad they were around. The six had a fun time until they arrived back in London.

As the train started to slow down at the end of their journey, Ginny leaned over and kissed Harry. He sighed with pleasure. That was also when he realised for the first time that Ron had not given him a hard time about that at all. Harry was happy that his best friend had finally come to terms with Harry being Ginny's fiancè, and had let go of his protectiveness for his sister. It was helpful Harry was feeling good, he was about to need all the help he could get.

The scene at Platform 9 ¾ was even more chaotic than normal. In addition to all the parents waiting to meet their children, there was a small army of reporters. Harry groaned and again wished he knew how to Apparate. As he would be turning seventeen this summer, he knew he would be learning how to do so soon, but if he had his way about it, it would be in the next two weeks so he could avoid situations such as this.

Still, that did not help his current situation. In fact, almost anything he could think to do would cause problems, generally because people would panic and cause a stampede.. He looked at Ginny.

"I think we should stay here until it calms down, Harry. Once the platform isn't as crowded, we can disillusion ourselves and go out," she told him.

"Yeah, that would work, but they know who our families are and are bound to be watching them," he argued as he looked discretely out the window.

"Then we just get them to leave and meet up with them later."

"You really think your mum will do that?" He looked at her expectantly.

"OK, you've got a point," Ginny admitted. "She won't want to leave until she has all her children with her, you included."

"Why don't you have her come onto the train and Side-Along-Apparate you home one at a time?" Hermione suggested. "I plan to Apparate home from here." She was proud of herself for having already passed the test.

A smile came over Harry as he turned to his friend. "Neville, mate, good friend of mine. Would you give a message to Mrs. Weasley on your way to your Gran?"

"Sure Harry, I'll tell her to come find you here."

"Thanks Neville!" Harry and Ginny both told him. Unbeknownst to each other, they were both thinking, I hate being a celebrity.

***

[Fri 4 Jul 1997]

Harry had been home for a full week, but that had not stopped him from seeing Ginny every day. Usually, he went to her house, at her mum's insistence. That normally worked out best as she had to finish her chores first, and Harry could use wandless magic to help her get done faster. He had learned that wandless magic could not be tracked. That also encouraged her to start trying to learn it for herself.

With Sirius' help, he had also started working on Apparating. He had already managed moving a few feet, so he felt he would have that skill mastered in another week or maybe two.

But there were no lessons today. Today Sirius was going to take them to a Muggle beach. Harry hoped that they could avoid their celebrity status there. By ten in morning, the two of them and a friend were Flooing over to Ginny's, with two beach umbrellas and blankets in hand. Ginny had lunch in a picnic basket all ready to go. She was in a long T-shirt and sandals waiting for them.

"Ginny, this is Vicky," Sirius introduced the woman with him when they arrived. "If you don't remember, she was the one who took your statement after the incident with Draco Malfoy."

The blonde Auror smiled. "Hi Ginny. It's good to see you again."

"Hi Vicky. I do remember you. You're going with us, I take it?"

"Yes. Sirius invited me. I hope you and Harry don't mind." Both teens shook their heads. They both also wondered how much Sirius had been seeing her, as the older couple seemed to be on pretty friendly terms.

"Great," Sirius said as he reached into his pocket and pulled out a sock. "If everyone will grab onto this, we'll go." When everyone touched the sock, he activated the Portkey. A few seconds later, they were in a stand of trees at the edge of the beach. "Let's go find a nice spot." Sirius led them toward the beach and the water.

When they were fully on the beach proper and had found a spot away from most people, they put their things down. Sirius put up the umbrellas, while Harry and Ginny spread out the blankets. To Sirius' amusement, the second blanket was a good twenty feet away from where Vicky was standing and waiting. He decided not to make a big deal out of it, as he probably would have done the same thing if he had been in Harry's shoes.

Once they were settled, T-shirts and sandals came off. Sirius was quick to notice Vicky's purple bikini. They had started spending time together after they had met six months ago, and both considered themselves "attached", though no formal dating arrangement had been made. Because he was watching Vicky, Sirius missed Harry's reaction.

Harry had just pulled off his T-shirt, when he saw Ginny pull her long T-shirt cover-up off. He froze, mesmerized by her yellow bikini. He'd seen her in a one-piece suit the previous summer at The Burrow when they had gone swimming in the nearby river, but she had filled out since then.

Ginny coyly looked at him and softly said, "If you like what you see Harry, then you should follow me." Kicking off her sandals, she turned and started walking towards the water. That caused Harry to come back to life; he kicked off his own sandals and ran after her.

Harry caught up to her in waist deep water and tackled her. They came up grinning at each other just as a wave broke over them. There was no longer a dry spot on them. Harry grabbed her about the waist and pulled her over, so they could share their first kiss of the day.

After playing in the water for nearly half an hour, Ginny jumped up in front Harry and wrapped her legs around his waist and her arms around his neck. She clung to him as they bobbed in the waves.

"I'm having fun today. Are you Harry?"

"Hmm, let's see. Nothing to do today but hold onto a beautiful girl... yeah, I'd call that fun." He kissed her again.

"I'm glad. I have an idea that could make it more fun. If you're brave enough," she teased him.

He grinned. "Now that sounds like a challenge. I've fought dragons and Dark Lords, so I can't imagine not being able to handle whatever you throw at me."

She laughed. "Do you think you can handle my mum?"

"Sure, I got her to agree to let us get married when you turn seventeen, before you finish school. I'd say that means I can 'handle her'."

"Ah, but Mr. Potter, can you convince her to let us get married when I turn sixteen?"

Harry looked a bit shocked at that. "What? Like in, ah, five weeks?"

"Yes. Do you think you can convince her?"

"Don't know. Other than the one obvious benefit, why?" Another wave came by and pushed them a little, so Harry shifted his grip on her by grabbing her bum to help hold her up.

"Hey now Harry, none of that. You haven't fulfilled your end of the deal yet," Ginny lightly protested.

"Ginny, I've touch that before, and what deal are you talking about?"

"I thought that if you could talk my mum into letting us get married this summer, I'd let you touch anywhere my bikini doesn't cover." She gave him a questioning and coy smile.

"Hmm, since I've already touch everything but the few important parts, I'm not sure what that really gets me. I'm not afraid of your mum, but I don't know that the reward justifies the risk." He smirked a dare at her to answer the unspoken question.

She answered the question by appealing to his hormones. "Harry, the only way you are going to get me into bed with you, or anything more than what you have now, is if those other two rings are on our fingers after a proper ceremony. So if you want that soon, you're going to have to convince my mum to let us get married this summer. Otherwise, you're going to have to wait a whole 'nother year." To put more pressure on him, she wiggled around so he could feel more skin to skin contact, before she applied the final leverage. "And I know how much you like feeling us touch, the rightness of the feeling. Can you imagine what it will be like when we make love, Harry?"

Harry groaned at that thought, and dropped his head down. That put his forehead at the top of her chest and the view reminded him of something else he'd like to have. "You don't fight fair Ginny," he finally said.

Ginny laughed at that, but she also grabbed his head and lifted it up so he could look her in the eyes. "I'll tell you what Harry, you promise me you'll ask her tonight, and I'll let you spread lotion all over me now, everywhere that's not covered by my suit."

He gulped at that. "All right, deal," he told her somewhat breathlessly as he thought about that. He started walking her back towards their blanket to collect on her promise, while he thought about how to convince Mrs. Weasley. After all, it sounded like he did not have to make her mum say yes; he just had to ask the question.

---

As Sirius finally took his eyes off Vicky and started to settle in under their umbrella, he noticed that Harry and Ginny had reached the water and had started playing. "You know, this Muggle beach was a good idea. They can be normal teenagers here. No one knows anything about 'Harry and Ginny' here."

"Yes," Vicky agreed. "I never thought about what it must be like to have everyone know you until you told me about when you all went to Diagon Alley after Christmas, and the chaos that ensued. Then seeing more articles in the paper on them, when they'd done nothing more than try to live normal lives really drove the point home. It must be really difficult for them."

"It is. They'll always have to careful where they go, and probably always have to live under a Fidelius Charm." Sirius sighed. "It really is unfair after all they have done for the Wizarding world; the wizards won't leave them alone to be normal."

"But from what you told me, they aren't normal. You make Harry sound like can do anything with magic, and Ginny is almost the same."

Sirius laughed. He watched his charges play and hold each other in the water for a moment. "While I know there are some things Harry can't do, I would not be surprised at anything he told me he did. Other than the Unforgiveable Curses, I think he could do anything he put his mind to. He's got the raw natural talent and power, and he's learned a lot over the last year. I'd swear there are some things he can do better than Albus Dumbledore."

"Are you referring to their new book?" she asked.

"You know about that?"

"Duh, I've already pre-ordered a copy. I can't wait to read it."

"Oh, right, you were a Ravenclaw, so I guess that makes sense," he admitted.

"Hey!" the Auror objected. "I thought you were the one who didn't like stereotypes? Beside, a girl has to talk about something on long stakeouts. Answering the 'who am I' and 'what am I' type questions are some of the best because they are so open ended."

"Sorry, you're right," he apologized. Then he brightened. "Would you like to see a beta copy of the book?"

"You have one?" she was amazed.

"I do indeed. One of only about three until they come out. It's what Harry was using to proof the book, and he asked me to help him. I brought it along, let me get it." Sirius dug it out of the small bag he had brought and handed it to her.

She handled it reverently and read the cover:

Advanced Magical Theory
By Albus Dumbledore and Harry Potter

When she tried to open it, it would not budge. "What's wrong with it?"

It would not open for Sirius either. "It worked for me last night. I was reading the most remarkable theories about the differences between Muggles, Squibs, and Wizards, and why the groups are different. It had something to do with DNA and code order, whatever that is." He puzzled over the book some more, but it would not open.

As he was giving up, he saw Harry leading Ginny by the hand back to their blanket. "Hey Harry! Something's wrong with your book, it won't open."

Harry grinned at him. "Nothing is wrong. It's merely charmed so you can only read it when you're alone." The smile quickly left his face when he felt two cool hands on his back. Ginny was rubbing something on him. "What's that?" he asked her.

"Suntan lotion. I got it from Hermione. She suggested it might be fun to use when I told her we were going to the beach." Ginny continued to run her hands all over him, and Harry had to agree that Hermione was correct. When she finished up, Ginny handed the bottle to Harry. "Your turn, and don't miss any places. I burn badly." She lay down on her stomach and made herself comfortable.

Glancing at his chaperones, Harry saw the two of them exchange amused looks. Harry did his best to figure out how he could have maximum fun with this, but not get into trouble. The first thing he did was to wandlessly apply a Sun Block charm on her just to be safe. He did not fully trust himself to get all the places that he needed to, especially while others would be watching him. He started on her back. When he got to the more intimate places, he decided to sit to her side and block the view of his hands with his body. Neither Sirius nor Vicky said anything to him, and Ginny was careful to keep her moans of pleasure very soft. Harry was looking forward to applying more lotion when she rolled over to lie on her back.

---

Dinner that evening consisted of four couples, as Mrs. Weasley had convinced Vicky to stay, and Ron had invited Hermione over. Harry really enjoyed it, especially as it gave him time to try and gauge Mrs. Weasley's mood. He thought he had an idea on how to convince her. Ginny had also given him one small idea. It would not be enough by itself, but it should help his idea.

After dinner, Harry made his first move. He pulled Ron aside and pulled five Galleons out of his pocket. "Ron, do me a really big favor and take Hermione out for some ice cream or something for at least two hours. Here, it's on me." Harry placed the coins in his friend's hand.

"What? You trying to throw me out of my own house? Why should I take her out for ice cream?"

"Ron, I don't care if you take her out for Firewhisky, you're both seventeen. But I need to have a conversation with your parents, and I need it to be just the four of us."

Ron was not upset, but he could not figure out what was going on. "Look Harry, you've already asked for her hand in marriage. What more is there?"

Harry sighed. "Tricky wedding details, mate. Please help me by going? You know you want to spend time alone with Hermione anyway."

After a moment, Ron reached down and separated three of the Galleons from the small stack, and put those back into Harry's hand. "OK mate, just for you. Good luck with mum." He then turned to get Hermione so they could Apparate away on an impromptu date.

As Harry turned, he saw Sirius standing there watching. "Do I get the rest so I'll leave too?" he joked with his godson.

"Sure, why not?" Harry joked back and offered the three coins.

Sirius laughed and ignored the offer. "Vicky, let's go. There's a great Muggle club I want to show you." He went over to his date to pull her away from helping clear the table.

Harry looked over and saw Arthur watching him. Deciding to test the waters, he went back over to the table and sat back down again.

"What's so special that you want to discuss it alone, Harry?" Arthur asked. It was just the two of them as Ginny was helping her mother in the kitchen.

"Well, Mr. Weasley... Uh, Ginny and I want to know if, uh, if you would," Harry paused before rushing to say, "give us permission to marry when Ginny turns sixteen this summer."

Arthur Weasley smiled. "I see Harry. Actually, I've been wondering if you would ask this."

"You were?" Harry was taken aback by that.

"Yes. It's not hard to tell that you and Ginny feel each other is very special. I suppose your 'glow' helps with that." Harry looked a bit embarrassed, but he did not look away either. "I also remember being seventeen and talking with Molly's dad. Once we got to the point of deciding we wanted to marry, it didn't seem to come fast enough." The father looked a bit wistful as he thought back in time.

"So you're all right with it?" Harry ventured.

"I didn't say that, Harry." The boy's face fell as his hope waned. "I said I understand your feelings." Arthur considered Harry, and he also thought he could have a lot of fun with the boy, but in reality, he could not bring himself to do anything of the sort. Harry had always been very candid with him, even asking if he could date Ginny. "To be honest Harry, while I would prefer you wait until next summer, I suppose I could allow it for a good enough reason." Harry perked back up. "I have one condition for you: if you can convince Molly, I'll give my permission too."

That was a bit devious of him, but he knew Molly would have all the same concerns he did, and Harry was going to have to convince her anyway, no matter what Arthur said. He was also curious if Harry could really convince his wife. Molly could be very stubborn, but then he had seen Harry do some amazing things.

"Yes sir," Harry finally replied. "I was expecting to have to do that anyway."

The older man smiled at him. "Why don't you sit here for a few minutes and gather your nerve. I'll retrieve some tea and the women, and we can talk about it." He got up and headed to the kitchen.

Harry took a few deep breaths. He had a plan. The question was, could he do it? It was very hard magic, the hardest he had ever done, but he had already done it once. As far as he was concerned, it was his only hope for success. A little more than a minute later, the other three came back to the table with cups and a teapot.

Ginny looked at Harry. He gave her a small smile and nodded. She sat beside him and kissed him lightly on the cheek before she whispered, "I know you can do it Harry."

Molly Weasley put a cup in front of everyone. As she poured, she addressed her future son-in-law. "Harry, Arthur tells me you have something you want to talk to us about."

Harry looked up at her with a nervous smile. He decided to employ Ginny's hint from the beginning. "Yes, Mum, I do."

The matriarch smiled at him. "That's nice to hear, Harry. I'm glad you think of me that way. What's so important?"

"Well, Ginny and I would like to get married at the end of this summer after she turns sixteen." Harry held his breath and hoped he could weather the initial storm, but he was surprised at Mrs. Weasley's reaction.

"Why do you want to do that, Harry dear?" Molly asked very pleasantly.

"We, uh, we know that we can only marry each other, and we so enjoy each other's company, that we'd like to go ahead and start our life together," Harry explained.

Molly looked at him, and did not fail to notice that they were holding hands, as was usual for them. In fact, as she thought about it, it was only the rare occasion when were not touching in some way. "I understand what you're saying, but I still don't see why you need to rush into this."

There was no getting around it; Harry was going to have to do his magic trick. "I can demonstrate if you'd let me."

"Demonstrate what, Harry?"

"I can show you what Ginny and I feel." Ginny gasped, so he turned to her. "I've done it once with Dumbledore during our research. I think I can do it again."

"If you're planning what I think you're planning, how can you?" Ginny asked.

"It's the most difficult magic I've ever done, but Dumbledore says I have the best grasp of Magical Theory of anyone he's ever met. I have to try, Ginny." He looked at her and waited for her consent.

"It won't hurt you?" He shook his head. "And you'll be back to normal when you're done?" He nodded. "All right, I trust you then."

He smiled at his fiancëe. "When I ask, please turn out all the lights in the room. OK?" She nodded. Turning to her mother, who had been silently watching them, he said, "Mum, I'm going to attempt to show you what Ginny and I feel. This is very difficult, so please be patient and follow my directions carefully."

"You won't get into trouble for doing this?"

"No, Mum." He took a deep breath. "Now, pull out your wand and let me hold your other hand. Can you do a Patronus Charm?"

"I only get mist, I can't do a full Patronus, but I can do the Patronus Communication Charm," she told him.

"That will do. Please send me a message; it can be anything you like."

"Very well." She went through the motions and cast "Communio Patronus!" With his eyes shut, he asked her to do it again, and she did.

"Put your wand down now," he said with some strain in his voice as he let go of her hand. After a few seconds, he held out his hand again and whispered, "Take my hand."

Molly slowly reached out, not sure what to expect. What she found surprised her: She felt a magical surge as she touched Harry's hand, and it felt good. In her surprise, she pulled away and suddenly felt sad. Harry's hand sought hers and grabbed her hand, she felt happy again. She felt the world become right; it was like she was seeing everything in a new way and it made sense like never before.

"Turn out the lights," Harry whispered and Ginny complied.

In the sudden darkness, Ginny made a startled noise. "Your hands!" There in front of her, where her boyfriend's hand touched her mum's hand, there was a glow like when she and Harry touched.

The glow went away, and Harry's tired voice called, "Lights?" Ginny relit the candles. Molly's face held disappointment and sadness, as Harry pulled his hand back from her and reached out for Ginny. The girl smiled and gave a satisfied sigh as she felt her boyfriend's normal touch again.

"What is it, Molly?" Arthur asked. He thought he understood what had happened, but he had no idea how Harry had done it. When she sat there and did not answer, he looked at Harry. "What did you do Harry?"

With a tired voice he explained. "I temporarily changed my magic to be like Mum's. That's why Ginny and I like to hold hands. Our magic is sympathetic, or you could say it resonates with the other. I showed Mum what it was like."

Molly finally looked up at her daughter. "Ginny dear, is that how you feel all the time?"

"Yes, Mum. It's wonderful, isn't it?" Her mother nodded. "The world is -- right -- when we we're together."

"And it was so sad when he left," she admitted. She was rubbing her hand that had held Harry's. Without realising it, she started reaching out to Harry again; but when she touched him, she suddenly found there was no special feeling. It was gone.

"I'm sorry Mum," Harry told her. "I hope I didn't hurt you."

"It will be all right in a while, Mum," her daughter added. "The feeling does eventually wear off, though you won't be able to forget the memory -- at least I haven't been able to forget."

Her mother nodded and sat very quietly for a few seconds, before she looked at Ginny. "I have one condition. You must not allow the family reputation to be tarnished. Your brothers and friends will understand, but many others may not. We may not have a lot that the outside world can see, but we've always had a good reputation. You must uphold that."

"You're afraid that people will say we're forced to marry because I'm pregnant, aren't you?" Ginny queried. She got a nod from her mother, who was still absently rubbing her hand.

"Thank you, Mum," Harry finally said. "We'll consider how to do that. How about you and Dad come over for dinner tomorrow night and we'll talk about it. Hopefully, Ginny and I can come up with something, or perhaps Sirius will have an idea." They agreed.

Ginny walked Harry into the other room, where the Floo was. "Thank you, Harry!" she whispered into his ear as she gave him a hug. "I knew you could do it. I'll come over to your house tomorrow and we can start planning." Harry left after a very lingering kiss.

***

[Sat 5 Jul 1997]

Ginny did not make it over during the day, her mother had sent her grocery shopping, as well as assigned her a few too many chores for her to get free. So Harry did not see her until she came over with her parents and brother.

Dobby did an excellent job on dinner, even Ron was complimentary. The wedding and Molly's restriction was the main topic of discussion. No decision was made, but Sirius came up with a very good point, or so Harry thought.

"Molly," Sirius looked at her as they started on dessert. "I fully understand why you're asking for the restriction you have on the wedding, but I think you're putting Harry and Ginny in an impossible-to-win situation."

"How's that?" Arthur asked. "It seems very straightforward to me."

"As I said, I fully understand. The problem is that in order to comply, these two would have to be able to control how others think, or what their opinions are. I've found thoughts and opinions to be like rumours, you can't control them."

"Oh, I see what you're getting at," Arthur commented. "Hmm, yes, very good point. I should have seen that myself. That would mean the restriction would have to be removed, or the wedding would have to be postponed until next summer."

Ginny was not happy with that, but she could not refute it either. After dinner was finished, she asked her parents, "Since I didn't get to come over today to talk to Harry, can I please stay after dinner to talk to him?"

Her father looked at his watch. "It is only a little after eight. I suppose you can, as long as you come home immediately after you've discussed this topic. No going on about everything under the sun. Understand?" He knew she and Harry loved to sit and talk; he had found them on the back porch swing late at night often enough to know.

"Thanks, Dad!" She gave him and her mum a hug before they left with her brother. Sirius let them grab a couple of Butterbeers and go the library. There, they cuddled on the couch and started talking about how to make Mrs. Weasley happy so they could get married soon.

***

[Sun 6 Jul 1997]

Arthur Weasley looked at the clock on the bedside table. It showed that it was six in the morning. There was no use fighting it; it had become a habit to get up at this time the other six days of the week. He put his bathrobe on before he went to get his morning tea. This was the one day of the week Molly slept in, so he would have an hour to himself.

As he was about to descend to the kitchen, it occurred to him that he had no idea what time Ginny had come home last night. He assumed that she had, but he also knew she could go up and down the stairs noiselessly, so he did not really know for sure if she was home. While he trusted her, he also felt he would not be doing his fatherly duty unless he checked on his little girl. Therefore, he went up to her room. Peeking through her open door, he saw an empty bed that had not been slept in.

He was not sure whether to be angry or disappointed, but he knew what he had to do. As quietly as he could, he went back down to his bedroom and grabbed the first set of external robes he could find, and put them on as walked down the stairs. In those and his slippers, he Flooed to Sirius' house.

Arthur did not really hold Sirius responsible for this, but he felt the man should have kept a closer watch on what went on in his house. On the other hand, Arthur realised he did not keep that close a watch on Ron, as he was now seventeen, and perhaps that was how Sirius saw Harry as he was about turn seventeen in a few weeks.

As he wandered around the house, he heard voices coming from the direction of the library, so he went that way. Once he arrived, he stood there amazed that both of the teens were still awake and going strong.

"I'm sorry, Ginny, I'm not going to do that. It's just not safe."

"But Harry, it would satisfy mum's condition."

"I don't care Ginny. Your safety is worth more to me. I'd rather wait a year than put you danger, possibly for the rest of your life."

"Then we're stuck, I can't come up with anything else. Yet, I don't want to wait."

Arthur felt like should step in, as he was not sure he wanted to hear what might come next. "Ginny?"

A redhead popped up over the back of the couch and he saw two brown eyes look at him. The eyes disappeared and her father heard, "Oh bloody hell. What time is it, Harry?"

"A little after six, Ginny," her father told her. "What have you two been doing? I told you that you could have one conversation. There is no way you could talk about one topic for nearly ten hours."

Two heads became visible as they both sat up straight. "Actually, there has only been one topic: 'How to make Mum happy'."

The man sighed as he walked over and sat on a chair to join them. "What have you come up with so far?"

Harry looked at Ginny, but she told him to go ahead. "Well, we think Sirius nailed the problem when he said the condition hinges on controlling other's thoughts. So in general, there is no direct answer to the problem. No matter what we do, some reporter somewhere is going to accuse Ginny of being pregnant. In six months, that will easily be shown to be untrue, but it will still take six whole months. Even then, the reporter can just say we married because of a false alarm about being pregnant. So how big a deal is it to you to wait six months to show the rumors to be false?"

Arthur thought about that for a moment. "I don't think Molly would be happy about that. What were you talking about when I came in?"

"Another thing we could do is to make our magical, ah, connection, known. That should explain to everyone why we're getting married now, and would satisfy Mrs. Weasley's condition. Of course, some people will claim we're making it up and will still accuse Ginny of being pregnant. Some people just think the worst of others no matter what. Take Rita Skeeter for example."

"You mentioned something about danger. Why were you thinking that?"

"Well, Dad, I'm afraid that if people knew about our connection, then some loony would try to hurt me by hurting Ginny. And once the cat is out of the bag, so to speak, our connection would be known for the rest of our lives, not for just the next year," Harry explained.

"Hmm, I see your point. Considering how long it takes to put a wedding together, I guess that means it will have to be next summer." the father commented.

"Oh no, Dad," Ginny contradicted him. "We're planning a very small wedding. Just family and a few friends. It could be here, but at The Burrow would be better, as some of our friends aren't cleared for the Fidelius Charm here. By having such a simple wedding, we probably only need a couple of weeks to get it all in order."

"I see, but your mother is still not going to give her permission without you making her happy."

"Though Ginny isn't too keen about it, there is one other possibility," Harry threw out. "We treat this like a rumour. You can't control a rumour, but you can redirect one and minimise the damage."

"Interesting... What did you have in mind?" Arthur had no idea what Harry could do.

"My thought was to instead of waiting for the reporters to come to us and ask tricky questions for which there is no right answer, we go to the reporters. Or really, we go to one reporter we can trust to help us."

"How about Luna's dad?" Ginny suggested. "Assuming we can trust any reporter," she added under her breath.

"Yeah, he helped me get the real story of Voldemort's return out. Maybe he'd help here too. Hmm..." Harry thought about that for a moment. "Anyway, the goal is tell people we're getting married because we want to, and to make sure we bring up the subject of children. And we're going to say that we do want some, but we want them in four or five years because we have some other things to do first. We don't even have to say what, just say that we have plans that are easiest carried out if we don't have children."

"Very interesting Harry. That just might work. Let's explore this some more later. Ginny, it's half past six, so if we hurry, we might make it home before your mum wakes up."

Ginny gave Harry a quick kiss and left. With the help of her dad, she avoided trouble with her mother, though she paid the price by being very tired all day.

***

[Thu 31 Jul 1997]

Ginny's alarm clock went off at fifteen before four in the morning. She slapped at it as she tried to remember why it had gone off that early. She vaguely remembered putting a silencing charm on her room so the alarm would not wake anyone else. She wondered what Harry was doing now, then she remembered.

Harry had told her to come over at four for an outing, though he had not said what they would be doing. All her pestering had got her was a "You won't be sorry" answer. Ten minutes later, she had done the bare essentials in order to leave. Besides him providing breakfast, he had also told her they would not be seeing anyone else, so she did not have to worry about looking extra nice.

A couple of minutes before the appointed time, she left a note on the kitchen table to tell her mum she would be back before lunch. She had told her mum yesterday she was going out with Harry for the morning, though she had purposefully failed to say it would be this early. That done, she Flooed to Harry's house.

"Happy birthday Harry," she told him just before she kissed him good morning.

Harry was waiting for her, along with a picnic basket and a blanket. "Thanks, Gin."

"Isn't it going to be hard to have a picnic breakfast in the dark?" She had to ask.

He smiled at her. "Don't worry. We have something to do, and by the time we're done, the sun will be coming up and we'll have a leisurely breakfast. Come on." He grabbed her hand and led her out the front door. Grabbing her tightly around the waist with one hand, he concentrated, and they Disapparated away.

As they came back into normal space in what looked like a park, Ginny rounded on him. "Harry, that wasn't nice. You should have warned me. That felt awful."

"Yeah, Apparition isn't nearly as pleasant when you're not the one in control, but it is nice to be able to go where you want, when you want."

"Hey, wait a minute. You don't have your license yet. I can't afford to get in trouble like this. Even Dad would have a fit about this." She was concerned about getting into trouble since he worked for the Ministry of Magic.

"It's OK, Ginny. I will get my license this afternoon. But when you think about it, licensing is to make sure you've received the proper training. They can't really track Apparition, or they would have caught the Death Eaters far too easily. Anyway, no talking above a whisper until we get back home," Harry cautioned her as he led her down the street.

"Where's here, Harry?"

"We're in Little Whinging. I'm about to have give a small birthday present to myself."

"What are you going to do?"

"I'm about to casually cause a nightmare," he confessed with a mischievous whisper. "We want to go over here," he said and pointed to a spot that was surrounded on both sides by bushes. Harry spread the blanket on the ground, then proceeded to make himself comfortable. "Come on, sit down," he commanded her.

She sat, though she also expressed her doubt. "Harry, we can't just have a picnic in some Muggle's yard."

"Sure we can," he told her confidently. "I'm going to do a few things, then I'll put an area Disillusionment Charm over us, and we can have breakfast and admire my handiwork." With that said, a look of concentration came over him, he held out his hands towards the house across the street and whispered a spell.

At first, Ginny did not notice anything different about the house, until she looked closely at the woodwork. The paint was now peeling very badly. "Harry, why are to doing things to that house? You're not going to be hurting any Muggles, are you? That will get you into very big trouble."

"No worries, Ginny. No Muggles will be physically hurt with my work, though I do hope mental and emotional distress will result." He next caused some of the roofing to disappear, followed by some shutters losing a hinge, which caused them to hang very crookedly.

"Harry, you didn't tell me why you're specifically targeting that house."

Another spell caused the bushes on one side of the house to grow wildly, while yet another spell caused some of the others to appear dead. "That, my dear Ginny, is the home of one Vernon Dursley -- abusive uncle extraordinaire." He put out his hand again and the grass in the front garden grew to be nearly two feet tall.

"Oh," was all she said. She had heard a few stories about his childhood. In some ways, she was surprised that he was not trying to physically hurt his relatives. She thought that perhaps he felt this to be a worse sort of punishment , so she just sat there and watched him work.

Large holes appeared in the front garden, while the pavement leading to the front door now undulated as if good-sized roots were underneath pushing up. The car in the front driveway took on multiple colors, one on each panel, as if it was put together with spare parts. She also noticed that all four wheels disappeared and the car was lowered to the ground. Harry had sweated to make that happen without too much noise. As he seemed to be finishing up, holes appeared in the windows, as if rocks had been thrown through them, and the front door opened and bent, so it would not close properly again. His last act was to conjure a sign for the front garden so everyone could see it. The sign read "Condemned".

"There, now some cover for us." He did another spell, and the world around them went slightly out of focus, though she could still make out most objects and read the new sign. "You want to walk out towards the sidewalk to make sure it all works?"

She got up and walked towards the street. A few feet beyond the blanket, she felt like she had passed through a cool barrier. Turning around, all she saw was grass and bushes. Smiling, she walked back to where she knew he was, and after going through the barrier again, she saw him and all their stuff. Sitting down beside him, she whispered, "Very nice Harry. I assume you plan to stay here and see their reaction."

"I wouldn't miss it. Want some juice?" He started digging in the picnic basket. The sky was starting to lighten.

It took another hour, but the neighbourhood started to wake up. Not long after lights started coming on in the surrounding houses, a few cars started to come down the street as they took their owners to work. Every one of them slowed in front of the Dursley's. Harry smiled to himself.

A little before seven, a shout came out from the house in front of them. There was Vernon Dursley standing red-faced while he looked out over his front garden. When he saw his car, his face became scarlet and purple, and he started cursing up a storm as well.

"Yes!" Harry quietly hissed. Ginny grinned with him. The next hour was priceless to Harry.

When all three of the Dursleys were outside, Harry whispered to Ginny. "Wait here, I need to do one last thing to the inside of the house, then we can go."

"What are you going to do, Harry?" she asked with a bit of worry in her voice.

"Pack up and wait for me," he answered, before he pulled out his Invisibility Cloak and put it on. Watching carefully, she saw a path being made in the grass away from where the Dursleys were arguing about what had happened and what to do about it. After a while, the front door moved slightly on its own, so she knew he was inside. She packed up all their things and put the blanket on top of the basket.

Deciding she could do more, she concentrated very carefully and wandlessly shrunk the basket and blanket. She put them into her pocket and continued to wait. All that work to learn how to do wandless magic was starting to pay off, though she was not nearly as good as Harry was.

A couple of minutes later, she heard a small explosion come from inside the house. That worried her greatly. She wondered what to do when she heard, "Ready to leave?" next to her.

"Harry?"

His head appeared. "In person, Gin. Where's our stuff? We can't leave any evidence behind."

"I wandlessly shrunk it and put it in my pocket."

"That's my girl. Here, let's get you under my cloak so I can take down our Disillusionment Charm and leave."

"Harry, what was the explosion?"

"Oh that." He smiled. "That was the sound of my, ah, bedroom for the first eleven years of my life being destroyed. They seemed to have stored some nasty cleaners in there that spontaneously combusted -- a shame really."

A minute later, they were back at Grimmauld Place. It was only half past eight. Sirius was not up yet, so they occupied themselves with each other for an hour before Ginny left him for the morning.

---

That evening, Harry and Sirius both Apparated to the Burrow, Harry having passed his Apparition test already. The new license was in his pocket. Inside, he found the Weasleys, including Bill, Fred, and George. Hermione, Neville, and Luna were there too.

He had a good time during dinner. It was the sort of evening he truly enjoyed: being normal with friends and family. Though he had requested no presents from everyone, he got a very small box from all his school friends.

"Go on Harry, open it," Ron encouraged him.

"Ron, I told everyone, no presents. I just wanted to spend time with people."

"It's really not much Harry," Neville told him. "Just a very small something for being our friend."

Not knowing what else to do, he opened it. He could have been knocked over with a feather. Harry turned it over several times, looking at it in wonder. "Is this for real? No, wait, you guys made this up."

"Why would we make that up, Harry?" Hermione asked. "You're famous. Surely you knew it was only a matter of time."

Harry did not know what to do with his own Chocolate Frog card, but there he was, receiving the Order of Merlin award and waving at himself.

"Here's something else for you, Harry." Ginny handed him a book wrapped in a ribbon and a bow.

This he had expected. He knew Ginny would get him something no matter what. That was just how she was.

Opening it, he found a large collection of newspaper articles. "It's every article I could find on you beating Voldemort, Harry, for both of your victories over him." As he quickly flipped thru it, he noted that the last page was not an article. It was a letter from Ginny.

He carefully closed the scrapbook, and then drew her into a hug. "Thank you, Ginny. Will you look at it with me later, and read your letter to me?" She agreed.

Harry loved them all. This is why he had defeated Voldemort.

***

[Fri 15 Aug 1997]

This was the day Ginny had dreamed of for so long, beginning when she was just ten years old, though it had been mostly a childish fantasy then. She was trying to finish getting dressed for her wedding, which was to start in half an hour. As she looked at herself in the mirror, she knew she was ready, except for the birthday presents from Harry.

She picked up the diamond earrings, necklace, and bracelets, and put them on. Harry would not say whether he had had help in picking them out, but she did like what he had got her. Looking down at her dresser, she saw her birthday present from all of her school friends. Leaning against her jewelry box was a Chocolate Frog card with her picture on it. Truth be told, she was really kind of proud of it. Not every girl got their own Chocolate Frog card. She was thankful they had used the photo from her Order of Merlin ceremony, as she thought that she looked nice in those robes.

Ginny wondered if she should go down yet, but Hermione had promised she would come get Ginny when it was time. After all, Hermione was the maid of honour.

Looking out her window onto the back garden, she saw all of her brothers, minus Ron, setting up things under her mother's watchful eye. Ron was probably with Harry.

She also saw Neville and Luna. That caused her remember the interview they had given to Mr. Lovegood yesterday. It basically went as planned, except for one small part. After Harry had "volunteered" the information about them not planning for children for at least five years, Mr. Lovegood looked at them thoughtfully for a few seconds before he asked, "Trying to prevent bad rumours Mr. Potter?"

With a smile, Harry had replied, "Just trying to make sure people know the truth, Mr. Lovegood." The newspaper owner had smiled at that and promised to help them as best he could.

As she saw a couple of her professors walk into the back garden, she heard a knock at her door. "Ready, Ginny?" Hermione asked as she stuck her head in. "Oh Ginny, you look fabulous. Harry won't be able to take his eyes off of you, not that he isn't that way all the time anyway."

Ginny giggled and went with her friend. She could see everyone assembled by the back door. Besides her whole family, Sirius and Vicky were there for Harry, as was Remus Lupin and Nymphadora Tonks. Both couples had just announced their engagement. Of course, Bill had also recently announced his engagement too. It was to the French Tri-Wizard Champion, Fleur Delacour. Professors Dumbledore and McGonagall, along with Neville and Luna, rounded out the audience.

At the wedding arch was a man from the Ministry of Magic to marry them. Her dad had arranged that. Her brother Ron was also there, standing beside the man who made her want to do all of this: Harry James Potter. He looked entirely too handsome in his black dress robes, with his messy and sexy black hair. He stood there, shifting slightly from one foot to another, his muscular power and grace evident to her. She had so many plans for him tonight, like ...

"Ginny, are you ready?" Her dad startled her.

She looked up at him and saw her teary-eyed father. "Yes Dad, I'm ready." They started their slow march down the aisle after Hermione.

Harry was not nearly as nervous as he thought he would be, but he could not stand still either. After glaring at Ron for his "Patience, Harry" comment for what seemed like the eighth time, he looked up to see Ginny standing at the back, her dad walking over to her. She was gorgeous. No, that was too mild a word. What came after gorgeous, he wondered. Stunning, yes, that was it. Just looking at her beauty almost knocked him over. And very soon, she would be his in a way that would bind her to him, and him to her. His forever. His Ginny.

As she started to come down the aisle, he reflected that he was glad he had had only one shot of Firewhisky last night. Ron and his brothers, along with Neville, had taken him out. Harry had one shot of the fiery drink, just so he could say that he had done so, then he had not drunk one more drop for the rest of the night. He almost had to hex Ron and Charlie though, in order for him to escape becoming smashed at their insistence. He had wanted to be normal and in complete control for this day; he had wanted this day to be perfect for Ginny.

As Arthur handed her to him, Harry almost lost himself in her beautiful brown eyes right then. He wanted nothing more than to sink into her eyes and live there. Before he realised it, the official was asking him something. Knowing there was only one question to answer, he said, "I do", even though he had not heard the question. Harry put his mum's ring on her finger.

Harry heard the official ask Ginny if she, Ginevra Molly Weasley, would take this man and become his wife. She also said, "I do." She put his dad's ring on his finger. He knew what came next, and so he slowly moved towards her as the official made the pronouncement that ended the ceremony.

Their arms went around each other, their eyes closing at the last possible moment, and then their lips touched. He was kissing his wife. Nothing else in the world matter to him at that moment.

Ginny saw those beautiful green eyes close, just before she felt the kiss. No matter how much practice they had over the last year, this was a kiss she would not forget. She felt the softness of Harry's lips against hers, and more importantly, she felt Harry's magic enter her, and she released herself to him, to become one with him.

Albus Dumbledore watched the two young lovers seal their ceremony with a kiss. He was not surprised to see an aura surround them, though he was surprised at the intensity of it; he could hardly look at it. He hoped they did not pass out and collapse. After nearly half a minute, he was starting to wonder if someone was going to have to go up and attempt to pull them apart, but he also knew that was something that was potentially dangerous to the person that tried it. Fortunately, he did not have to worry any longer, because they finally parted, though they still held one another.

Slowly, they turned to the audience and seemed to remember there were others present. With embarrassed grins, they walked back down the aisle to start the reception. Before they left on their honeymoon to a remote cottage in a Muggle resort in the Swiss Alps, Albus thought he needed to go have a short talk with the official. The man needed to forget the aura he had witnessed. Albus was sure Harry and Ginny would appreciate that.

***

[Mon 1 Sep 1997]

Harry and Ginny managed to make it onto the Hogwarts Express without being accosted by any of the small army of reporters on Platform 9 ¾, but only because of multiple glamour charms, and because they pretended not to be together. They had been back in the country for only two days, just enough time to get their supplies for school and otherwise get ready to return to Hogwarts. The two were to start their sixth year classes.

On the train, they found Neville already had a compartment, so they took off their glamours and joined him.

After putting up their trunks, the three talked until Ron and Hermione joined them. As usual, Luna soon arrived, as she felt more comfortable with them than with anyone else in her own house. Because she was Head Girl, Hermione left for the front of the train as soon as she could. Harry and Ginny waited until the train started moving to make their way to the prefects' carriage.

When they neared the front car, Harry saw Hermione standing in the hallway talking to what appeared to be a Hufflepuff boy. Harry could not remember seeing him before, though he looked to be about the size of fourth or fifth year. The boy was talking a bit loudly, and they started to overhear what he was saying.

"... tell me, I'm sure all she did was flip her long hair to get his attention, then got herself pregnant to make him marry her. I doubt she even did anything useful in the fight against You-Know-Who. I'd also bet I could drop a bag of Galleons in her hand right now and she'd start going out with me instead. She's easy."

Harry saw Hermione draw her wand, but he did not wait for her. Drawing up his magic, he pointed his hand the boy and willed a spell. The Hufflepuff boy immediately started making "Eh" and other sounds, as if his mouth would not work right.

Hermione looked at Harry, but he did not have his wand out, so he merely looked at her with his best innocent face, raised his hands up to chest level and shrugged. At that time, the boy started squealing like girl and clutching at his robes. The Head Girl look back at the boy, and noticed that he now had large breasts on his chest, and he seemed to be grabbing at his pants, as if something was wrong. She looked back to Harry who was frozen in his shrug, only to see the Hufflepuff's robes suddenly transfigure into a pink bikini. The Hufflepuff filled out the string bikini like a girl, and it was immediately obvious why he was looking at his pants as if searching for something that was missing. She looked at Ginny, but her friend was just standing there with her arms on her hips, a very angry expression on her face.

About that time, Ernie Macmillan came along and saw what appeared to be one of his housemates. "Martin? Is that you?"

The boy nodded and started making unintelligible noises, as he tried to say something.

"Here, let me try to fix him," Hermione said. She did a "Finite Incantatem!", but nothing changed. He still could not talk, and he was still a girl in a tiny bikini. "I don't understand, that should have made him talk at least."

"I guess he'll have to wait until we get to school for Madam Pomfrey to fix him," Harry suggested.

"Yeah, probably so," Ernie agreed with a small chuckle. "Come on, Martin. Let's go find you a place to wait until we get to school." The Hufflepuff prefect led Martin away.

Hermione stepped up to Harry so she could talk quietly. "Harry, I'm sure you did something. If nothing else, I've seen you use that clothes-to-bikini transfiguration before," Hermione accused her friend.

"Hey, I'm sure others know that spell. Besides, I didn't even have my wand out," he defended himself just as quietly.

"Right, like that's a problem for you. I know you can do wandless magic."

"But you saw my hands the entire time Hermione. And what was that in your hand as I walked up? Hmm?" Harry asked her.

Hermione glared at him for a few more seconds before she turned around and continued her interrupted journey to the prefect cabin.

As people started moving on, Ginny leaned over to him and whispered. "That tongue sticking spell was pretty lame Harry."

"I know, but it was the first thing I could think of to shut him up that wouldn't really hurt him," he whispered back. "Your gender transfiguration was brilliant though. I'd always wondered how that could be useful," he told her with a smile.

"Thanks. I will say that your bikini transfiguration spell was a nice recovery. It really showed him, and everyone else, his, uh, problem," she smirked. "Now we'll see how he really feels about girl's problems."

"Yeah, well, I'm going to catch Martin alone sometime in the next few weeks, and while I won't hurt him, he and I are going to have a talk, and I will put 'the fear of Potter' into him," Harry told her emphatically.

"You mean 'the fear of Potters', don't you? I better be there for that Harry. It was me he was talking about."

"As you wish Ginny, but remember, he doesn't get hurt." They had come to the prefect compartment, so they entered for their meeting.

---

The Potters walked to Gryffindor tower after the start of term feast. It had been a pretty nice feast, except for seeing Martin the Hufflepuff come in near the end of it, which reminded them of what happened on the train. Ron and Neville were walking with them. Hermione was off taking care of Head Girl duties, along with Terry Boot, the new Head Boy.

Sirius had told them to expect to find a new door near the portal door to the exercise room, which was still there. That new door also hid a portal, but to one of the smaller guest rooms in the castle. Also, only they had access to it. The new door was easy to identify, so they excused themselves to check it out.

Inside the room, they found a room not much larger than Ginny's at The Burrow. But this room also had a small walk-in closet and a small private bath. Both of the Potters found it very acceptable. Ginny went over to the window and opened the curtain. Looking out, she saw the half moon reflecting on the lake. She smiled to herself at the lovely view.

Turning around, Ginny saw Harry lighting a fire in their small fireplace -- mostly for effect since it was not that cool yet. "I love it, Harry," she said as she walked over to him.

"I do too, Ginny." He could tell she was already thinking about little things she could do to the room to personalize it. He was sure that by the end of the week, the dresser would have little trinkets all over it and a few of their pictures would be prominently displayed.

"What do you say we try out the bed, Harry? You know, to make sure it's comfortable." The smirk on her face let him know that sleeping was about the last thing on her mind right now.

"Of course Gin, whatever you want tonight." They had been married just a little over two weeks, so they were sort of still on their honeymoon, or so he thought.

***

[Tue 1 Sep 1998]

It had taken Harry and Ginny nearly an hour after the start of term feast to take care of everything. The prefects seemed to have a neverending supply of questions. Part of the problem had been the new seventh year prefects for Gryffindor: Colin Creevey and Violet McWilliams. Those two had taken Harry and Ginny's places, so they were new to the job. That was part of the trials and tribulations of the Head Boy and Head Girl, or so the Potters assumed.

They finally made their way to their new quarters for the first time. While there was a small change from last year, it was not as big a deal to see them this year as their special room had been last year. After all, they had visited Hermione here many times last year.

This year, the Head rooms were theirs. In addition to the common room, which would be their living room, the Head Girl's room would be their bedroom, and the Head Boy's room would be their study area. The bathroom for the couple was also much bigger than the one they had last year. Not that they were complaining, because they had loved their "little apartment", as they had called it.

Harry took off his robe and draped it over the back of a chair. The Quidditch Captain's badge stared at him from beside his Head Boy badge. Ginny also removed her robe and placed it, and her Head Girl badge, next to his robe.

"I'm glad that's over with. I hope things will be reasonably smooth and normal this year," Harry said.

"I don't see why not," Ginny replied. "Other than all the questions, it really wasn't all that bad today."

"I suppose you have a point. I mean, we didn't find anyone insulting you on the train this year," he pointed out to her.

Ginny laughed. "After we got a hold of Martin last year and you had your little talk with him, he could hardly speak complete sentences."

Harry chuckled at the memory. "Yeah, but by the time you finished, I swear his pant leg was wet and he couldn't manage more than a whimper."

"Yes," she sighed at the fond memory. "I think we got the message across to him. Your suggestion for him to apologise to me at lunch the next day in front of everyone was a good idea. I think any doubters who were left at that point were cured."

"Seems like it," he agreed. "You know, all the Slytherin prefects seemed to be almost pleasant this year. They didn't give us a hard time at all."

"Yes, that was nice. I think the younger ones don't have the biases the older ones did. I hope I'm not being overly optimistic, but I think it will all work out." She started for the bathroom to take care of her needs there before going to bed. Harry followed her.

"I'm a little bit surprised McGonagall made me Head Girl," Ginny admitted as she finished brushing her teeth. "There were a couple of Ravenclaw girls who also had really good grades."

"She didn't dare not make you Head Girl, Ginny. After you told her last spring how much you wanted to be Head Girl, plus the fact that she knows you could hex the bun off her head off without thinking twice about it, she really didn't have a choice, did she?" Harry put his toothbrush up as well, and followed her back to the bedroom.

"I suppose you have a point," she agreed with some pride about her accomplishments. Then she switched topics on him. "You know, Harry, I can't believe what you did on the train during the prefect meeting. I really hope we got all the information across to them all, but it was hard for me to tell because I was practically in stitches half the time." She started taking the rest of her clothes off to get ready for bed.

Harry grinned at her. "I promised myself that if I ever made Head Boy, I would not have a boring meeting on the train ride." He also started getting ready for bed.

"You did that. You know, it's going to be a bit boring without Ron and Hermione around this year." She crawled into bed with nothing on, her usual nighttime dress for the last year.

"It will be different, but I'll try to think of something for us to do during our free time." Harry got into bed dressed like she was. Rolling over towards her, he leaned over her and kissed her. "I love you, Ginny. You make life worth living for."

As they broke the kiss, Ginny waved her hand and turned off all the lights. "I love you too, Harry. And Harry?"

"Hmm?"

"Because you were such a good boy with your good marks and helped get us these rooms, this night is yours for you to do whatever you want."

Memories of his wedding night came to mind. "Whatever?"

"Whatever."

"I love you, Ginny Potter!"

[-: And they lived happily ever after. :-]


{A/N: I find it very sad the story is done, but it is. I really enjoyed wrting it, and I hope you enjoyed reading it.

Again, a big thanks to "GinnyMarie" for being my pre-beta, keeping me honest, and giving me a few ideas -- not to mention goading me into writing the Epilogue. :-)

Another huge thanks to "cwarbeck" for being by beta-editor. If you thought the story looked good or read well, it's because of her wonderful efforts to correct my "strange wording" at times. Any remaining mistakes were all mine.

While there won't be a sequel to this story, you can read another of my stories titled "Choices", if you aren't already. My third story is finishing "alpha" now, and as soon as I can find a beta-editor and get it going, it will start uploading. It looks to be a 20 chapter story at this time. -- kb}

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