Chapter 1: The Ball
May 2006 - Eight Years after the fall of Voldemort
Arthur slowly made his way to the Minister's office. He'd had trouble walking since the stroke he suffered shortly after the end of the war and at times he struggled to find the correct words, but he felt he had improved so much. These days he only worked two or three days a week as a consultant for the Muggle Liaison Office. It was fun work and he enjoyed getting out of the house.
Hestia Jones looked up as Arthur approached the office. "Good morning, Arthur. How are you? How's Molly?"
"I'm well, thank you," Arthur smiled at the friendly witch. "Molly is thrilled to be spoiling the grandchildren and she's still strongly encouraging our unmarried boys that they would be happier if they were married."
Hestia laughed. "Who's left unmarried?"
"Charlie – he's still in Romania and I don't see him settling down anytime soon," Arthur smiled. "Ron and Hermione have been dating for almost eight years now and they've been living together for the last five years. Molly keeps the pressure up, but they are both stubborn. Hermione has a career and life plan and doesn't plan to get married until her career is firmly established."
"I bet Molly will win out eventually."
"No doubt," Arthur agreed.
"If you don't mind waiting just a few minutes, his current appointment is running a bit long."
"Not at all," Arthur smiled. He sat down in the extremely comfortable chairs and looked at the array of magazines. Choosing a gardening magazine, he settled back to wait. As he flipped through the pages, he had to smile. The Burrow would never look like these beautiful, orderly gardens and he was happy about that, but he rather liked looking at the gardens.
He'd flipped through half the magazine before Kingsley's door opened. Arthur nodded to Gawain Robards as he left the Minister's office. Robards nodded briefly, he'd never been an particularly friendly man.
"Arthur," Kingsley called from his doorway. "Come on in."
Soon Arthur was settled into Kingsley's office with a cup of tea and one of those small cakes he was supposed to be cutting back on. Kingsley joined him at a low table near the window.
"So what can I do for you?" Kingsley asked after taking a bite of a rather decadent looking éclair.
Arthur sighed. "I need your help, Kingsley. It's been eight years since I've seen my daughter. She'll be twenty-five years old in August and I don't know where she is or what she's doing. It's so frustrating. By the time Molly and I recovered and returned home our baby was gone."
Kingsley frowned. "We searched for Harry and Ginny. For over six months I had three Auror teams on them full time and we couldn't find any sign of them. We still follow up on any leads, but it's like they fell off the face of the earth."
"You're sure they left of their own accord?"
"It seems so," Kingsley replied. "As you probably know, we were holding a ball to honour Harry. He was supposed to receive an Order of Merlin that night. I didn't realize until later that there was any issue with Ginny accompanying him to the ball. Robards and your son, Percy, decided that it wasn't appropriate for Ginny to accompany Harry as she was 'too young' and it wouldn't look right for a hero to be accompanied by a school girl."
Arthur swore softly. "I don't know what that boy was thinking. I would have not had a problem with Ginny accompanying Harry to the ball."
Kingsley nodded. "I didn't think you would have an issue with them dating. I certainly didn't have a problem with it. Harry was devoted to her and they seemed quite happy together. Apparently, Percy went to the lengths of securing a date for Harry when he refused to ask anyone other than Ginny."
"He neglected to mention that to me," Arthur frowned.
"I asked him about it, but he was certain that he had done nothing wrong. He felt Harry should have a date for the ball, but in his mind Ginny was not the appropriate person so he found another attractive young girl who he felt was more appropriate for Harry to take. I've spoken to the girl as well. She met Harry a week before the ball when Percy set them up on a lunch date. Harry was nice and polite, but he was quite clear that he had a girlfriend. He'd agreed to take her to the ball, but he was not happy about it. I gather that Percy and Robards had given him the impression that he had to go to the ball and take someone, but no one from Hogwarts was allowed to attend."
Arthur frowned. "I thought Hermione went with Ron."
"I've often wondered if that set this whole thing in motion," Kingsley admitted. "Ron and Hermione admitted they didn't tell Harry she was coming to the ball. Harry was under the impression that Ron was in the same boat as him – unable to bring his girl to the ball. He found out the afternoon of the ball that Hermione was attending whilst Ginny was still unable to attend."
"How could they be so thoughtless?" Arthur wondered aloud.
"I don't know," Kingsley sighed. "I found out later that Harry attempted to contact me the day of the ball, but I didn't get any messages until it was too late. I have my suspicions that the messages were deliberately delayed, but I can't prove anything. Harry said he needed to talk to me and his first message mentioned the ball. He left two more messages. In his last one, he said he was sorry."
"Do you know how Ginny left Hogwarts?"
"We believe she left through the Shrieking Shack," Kingsley explained. "We didn't know that it connected to the grounds of Hogwarts. It was Madam Pomfrey who finally told us. It was built for Remus when he was in school. He would be secured in the Shrieking Shack during the full moon. Hermione told us that Ginny was upset – furious was the word she used – about not being allowed to go to the ball. Apparently she'd purchased a dress in anticipation of going, they didn't find out until three weeks before the ball that she couldn't go. Hermione reports that Harry was upset to discover that Hermione was attending. He asked and Ron told him he'd been given permission to bring her and Harry should have tried the same thing. Apparently, Harry did try and wasn't granted permission. I'm furious with the lot of them. If Harry had come to me, I would have granted permission in a heartbeat. The ball was to honour him."
"So Ginny snuck off to meet him and she took a fair number of her belongings," Arthur commented. "Minerva returned her trunk and it had mostly robes and schoolbooks."
"So they obviously had time to make a plan," Kingsley agreed. "We searched wizarding transports and Muggle transportation options and found nothing. As far as we can tell they didn't fly or take the train anywhere. We scoured the docks at Southampton, Plymouth, Dover, Liverpool, Portsmouth, and Aberdeen – honestly, I can't even tell you the places we looked, but I know we searched as many options as we could imagine. Our initial searches were focused on London and the surrounding areas as Harry was most familiar with the area."
"As I understand it, to travel on Muggle transportation one requires documentation of some sort," Arthur said.
"That is true," Kingsley agreed. "Harry definitely had the correct documentation. We provided it to him. He had a driver's license and a passport, but we can't find that it was used. If he used his passport, it would have shown up. The Muggles keep excellent records on that sort of thing. I can't imagine Ginny would have had such documents, but they could have made them or even used a charm to make the Muggles think they'd seen the correct documents. They even could have used magic to make the Muggles forget they were there or not enter their information. Harry knew a lot more advanced magic than most people realized and they were both of age so no longer had the Trace upon them."
He eyed Arthur compassionately. "I have no problem ordering a new investigation into their disappearance. I've always wondered why they left and if there was anything I could have done differently, but you realize we might not like what we find."
"What do you mean?" Arthur asked.
"They left the wizarding world, we don't know why. There have been whispers of illegal activity and all sorts of things. I don't believe them to be true, but I can't explain their absence."
Arthur nodded, he'd also heard outlandish whispers and rumours. "I need to know. We will deal with the fallout whatever it may be."
"Very well," Kingsley nodded. "I will order a new investigation. If you would do me a favour and not mention it to anyone, not even your family. I don't want anyone talking and getting their stories straight or anything. I want their first recollections."
"Of course," Arthur said. "I will, of course, tell Molly, but she won't say anything. You realize we've all talked about this many times over the years." He hesitated for a moment before adding, "I think the kids know something or suspect something. I don't know what it is or if it is even significant, but I get the feeling they are trying to shelter us from something."
The Minister nodded. "Of course. What makes you think they are hiding something?"
"I can't put my finger on it, but the way Percy and Ron spoke about Ginny's disappearance it seemed like they didn't want me to know something. I don't know if it was simply the fact that they'd had a hand in it or they didn't want me to hear some of the wilder rumours."
"There were a lot of rumours flying around," Kingsley agreed. "If you hear anything, please let me know." He frowned briefly. "Have you all discussed the disappearances recently?"
Arthur shook his head.
"Good, that will work to our advantage. I will keep you updated on the investigation."
Seamus Finnegan and Terry Boot waited a bit nervously outside the Minister's office. Neither of them had ever been up here before and really had no idea why they'd been summoned, but they had been summoned up to the Minister's office first thing in the morning.
The Minister's secretary smiled at them and gestured them to the door. "The Minister will see you now."
The two Aurors soon found themselves sitting across the desk from the Minister for Magic. Seamus found it a bit intimidating to be in such close quarters with the man who had done so much for the wizarding community. Minister Shacklebolt had pushed through a lot of reforms and made things better for Muggle-borns and evened out the playing field for all.
"Mr Finnegan, Mr Boot, I have asked Auror Robards to assign you to a special task force for the next few months."
Seamus sat up straighter and exchanged a look with Terry. This sounded interesting.
"I have been asked to reopen the investigation into the disappearance of Harry Potter and Ginny Weasley," Kingsley revealed. "If you are interested in participating you will be pulled from other investigations and you will report to me, not the Auror office. Both of you knew Potter personally, correct?"
"Yes, sir," Seamus replied. "I roomed with Harry for six years and knew Ginny fairly well. She dated my best friend for most of our sixth year."
"And you Mr Boot?"
"I knew Harry from the DA and Ginny dated one of my best friends most of our fifth year."
"Excellent," Kingsley said. He looked at the two of them. "Do you have any thoughts? Did he say anything to you in the days prior to his disappearance or give you any idea why he might leave?"
Seamus and Terry exchanged another look. "If I may be candid, sir," Seamus said after a moment, "I wouldn't have been surprised if Harry quit the program, but I'm very surprised he disappeared. Harry was always very responsible and did what was expected of him. Of course that could have been part of why he left."
"Really? I thought he wanted to be an Auror and he seemed to enjoy the classes," Kingsley observed. He watched the two boys and noticed they seemed uncomfortable about something. "Please, if there is anything you know."
Seamus sighed. "Auror Robards was not at all happy about our Auror class – he made it clear that he thought we were a publicity stunt and didn't deserve our place."
"Did Harry complain about that?" Kingsley puzzled. "I know Gawain was not happy about your class, but the rest of you made it through your training. Your class did exceedingly well during training, much to his dismay."
"Mr Robards didn't like us and never let us forget that he thought we didn't deserve to be here. With most of us, he would simply make comments about our fitness or abilities, but he hated Harry. I felt like I was back in Potions class with Snape picking on Harry. Robards would ridicule him and magnify any mistake Harry made. Harry's work had to be perfect. Mr Robards made Harry work almost every weekend; sometimes, even if he'd been promised the weekend off, he was called in at the last minute. Harry had to make up the time that he worked with you," Seamus explained. "Robards told him that if he didn't put in the proper amount of time training, he would be kicked out of the program."
"What?" Kingsley was shocked. "Why didn't Harry say anything?"
"That's not how Harry operates," Seamus said quietly. "He gets angry, but he doesn't complain and he'd never file an official complaint. Did you ever see the writing on his hand?"
Kingsley nodded. "It said, 'I will not tell lies.' I wondered about that."
"He had several weeks' worth of detentions with Umbridge and she had him writing lines with a blood quill," Seamus revealed. "He never complained. He even hid it from Ron and Hermione at first."
Kingsley frowned. "I will speak to Gawain. Don't worry, I won't let him know you mentioned anything."
He looked at the two young men. "If you need anything, please let me know. I've spoken to the equipment manager and you will have access to whatever you may need. Re-interview their family and friends, if you have trouble speaking to someone please let me know. I have taken the liberty of securing a search warrant for Mr Potter's home. I don't know if you will find anything after all this time, but it is possible. Mr Bill Weasley is the Ministry-Gringotts liaison and he will be able to answer questions about Mr Potter's account.
"Please keep me updated, gentlemen. I feel we somehow failed Harry all those years ago and I'd like to make up for it."
Seamus looked up from the rather thick file on Harry's disappearance. "I thought this was going to be helpful, but it's a lot of tips and not a lot of information."
"What do you have there?" Terry asked sitting back in his chair.
"As you know, Harry was scheduled to receive his Order of Merlin, First Class the night of the ball. Robards and Percy Weasley didn't approve of Ginny as his date for the night. They gave some crap about it not being proper for a schoolgirl to attend the ball. I remember Harry bitching about it after they told him she couldn't go, but he still had to."
Terry nodded. "I remember him being upset about that. He told me no students would be allowed to go to the ball, but Hermione was there."
Seamus frowned. "You're right." He found Hermione's statement. "Hermione says that Ron applied for and was granted an exemption. They didn't tell Harry so he didn't find out until that day when he came home and found her at his house."
"I bet that didn't go over well," Terry remarked. He thought about it for a few minutes. "How was the friendship between the three of them?"
Seamus frowned. "I think it was good. They had their problems over the years. I know the paper has made it seem like they had a perfect friendship, but it wasn't always so perfect."
"What do you know about their friendship?"
"Harry and Ron became friends on the train on the way to school. Hermione was a bit – well, she was rather a bossy, know-it-all when school first started and she didn't really make friends. Remember when the troll was let into the school Halloween our first year?"
"Rumour has it that Hermione was trapped in the girls' loo with the troll and Ron and Harry saved her. They were friends from that day on. Ron and Hermione always argued, but they were still friends. Third year was really bad, I don't know any details, but there were times when the boys didn't talk to her at all. Fourth year, Ron was rather a git and he didn't talk to Harry for the first month after Harry was named Triwizard Champion."
"I remember that," Terry said. "He thought Harry cheated or lied or something."
Seamus nodded. "He was a real git about it for a while. Then there was the fiasco with Lavender."
"I never understood that whole thing," Terry said. "Lavender must have known that Ron and Hermione were crazy about each other."
"She did, but she had a crush on him and as she saw it Hermione never did anything about it so he was fair game," Seamus explained. "I was really surprised the three of them managed to regain their friendships after that year. I felt for Harry. Ron was always attached to Lavender and Hermione was always in the library, but Harry is very forgiving. I was a huge git to him at the beginning of fifth year. My mum was going nuts with all the articles in the paper over the summer and I …well, I accused him of being an attention seeking idiot. Obviously, I was the one being the idiot – I apologized to him and he never held it against me."
The two spent the next two hours going over the thick file. Finally Seamus said, "I don't think we will learn anything new from this. I say we visit Ron and George at the shop and then go to Gringotts. We can stop by Harry's house tonight and search his room and talk to Hermione. I can't imagine we'll find much at the house. Ron and Hermione have been living there for the past eight years."
Terry nodded. "I also think we need to talk to Professor McGonagall."
Ron looked up as the rather rude noise that indicated someone entering the shop sounded. It was mid-afternoon on a cool spring afternoon and there were very few customers in the shop. He broke out in a smile when he saw his old roommate, Seamus.
"Seamus, mate!" Ron set down the Quidditch magazine he'd been perusing. He rounded the counter the shook hands with the sandy-haired wizard.
"Ron, it's good to see you," Seamus replied with a smile. He gestured to his companion, Terry Boot. "Ron, you remember Terry, right?"
"Yes," Ron said shaking the other man's hand. Terry was a tall silent man. He was even a few inches taller than Ron's six foot three inches and rather muscular. Both Terry and Seamus were wearing the black robes of the Auror Department in vivid contrast to Ron's bright magenta robes.
Stepping back, Ron surveyed the two men. They were not the usual type of customer of the very popular joke shop. "What can I do for you gentlemen?"
Seamus stepped forward. "Actually, mate, we need to talk to you and George if you have a moment."
"Sure," Ron said in surprise. "Give me just a minute."
Ron headed into the back of the shop. It was much larger than it looked from the outside. Off to the right was the production portion of the shop. There were half a dozen employees chopping ingredients, mixing potions, and packing up Wheezes as the joke products were called. In the centre was the highly profitable defensive section of the shop. While the sale of defence items had declined after the war, they still sold quite well in some sectors. The Ministry of Magic was their biggest client.
On the left was Ron's destination, the administrative offices so to speak. George and Ron shared a large office and their bookkeeper had an office next door. Looking into the staff tea room, Ron said, "Verity, would you mind watching the front for a few? There are some people here to speak to me and George."
"Of course, Boss," Verity said with a smile.
Ron grinned as she stood and straightened her bright magenta staff robes. Verity was the employee who had been with the shop the longest. She was a pretty, bubbly blond and she was very friendly. When Ron had first started working at the shop, he and Verity had indulged in a bit of a flirtation. Nothing serious, but enough that Ron's long-time girlfriend, Hermione, still didn't like the witch.
As Verity headed out to the front of the shop, Ron knocked on the open office door. "George, there are some people here to see us. Is it okay to bring them back?"
George looked up from the parchment he'd been working on. "Of course, who is it?"
"Seamus Finnegan and Terry Boot, I don't know what it's about."
As George straightened the office a bit, Ron returned to the front of the shop to bring Seamus and Terry back to the office. Once greetings had been exchanged, Seamus and Terry settled into chairs across from George's large desk. George was seated behind the desk while Ron was leaning against the wall behind him.
"What brings you two gentlemen to our lovely establishment?" George asked.
Seamus leaned forward. "We are actually here in an official capacity."
George raised an eyebrow. "Really? What can we do for the Auror Department?"
"We have been asked to start a new investigation into the disappearances of Harry Potter and Ginny Weasley," Seamus stated.
Both brothers look surprised at the announcement. "Why?" Ron asked after a moment.
"Don't you want them found?" Seamus asked, rather shocked at the brothers' reaction.
"Of course," Ron retorted, "but the last investigation was really hard on my parents and came to nothing. I'd hate to see them upset for no reason. The last investigation dragged on for months and other than starting new rumours about them, didn't seem to accomplish much."
"We will try to avoid upsetting them," Seamus assured him. "Can you tell me what you remember of that night?"
"It was the night of the ball," Ron began.
Ron looked around the ballroom in awe. He'd heard his mother rave about Ministry Balls in the past, but he could never have imagined how elegant the Ministry could look. The thought of his parents dampened his spirits slightly, they were both still in St Mungo's over six months after the final battle had been fought at Hogwarts. They were both improving, but the Healers felt his mother would need another few months in hospital.
As he looked around, Ron determined that he would go visit them tomorrow and tell them all about the ball. Remembering the line of photographers at the red carpet, he realized that there might be pictures of them as well. He would ask Hermione to frame a nice picture of the two of them to take to his parents.
He looked over at his date and felt like he was the luckiest wizard in the world. He'd been crazy about Hermione Granger for years – he remembered way back in his fourth year suddenly realizing that one of his best friends was not only a girl, but a pretty one at that. It had taken him years to gather up his courage to ask her out, but now they were dating.
Hermione had taken the time to do something to her hair and it looked beautiful. He rather liked her bushy hair, but he knew she didn't like it. She was wearing some flowy sort of dark blue dress that highlighted her curves. He was so proud to be her date for the night.
"This is amazing isn't it?" Hermione leaned over to whisper.
"It is," Ron agreed.
"What's he doing here?"
Ron turned at his brother, Percy's, question. It was their oldest brother, Bill and his wife, Fleur. They had been in France for the past month with Fleur's family and hadn't been expected for the ball.
Ron watched his brother with a touch of jealousy. Even with the horrific scarring on his face, Bill was a good looking man and Ron thought Bill was still the height of cool. Fleur was elegant and incredibly beautiful in a set of rather expensive looking dress robes. As the couple walked past they definitely attracted attention.
"Ron, Hermione," Bill greeted them, hugging them both before greeting Percy and meeting his date for the evening, Audrey.
"We didn't expect you tonight," Percy said a bit stiffly.
"We didn't want to miss seeing Harry get his Order of Merlin," Bill said. "I talked to Kingsley the other day and he got tickets for us." Looking around the room he asked, "Where is Harry?"
"I'm not sure," Ron spoke up. "I talked to him earlier. He's not looking forward to this ball for some reason."
"He better show up," Percy fussed. "If he dares to skip out on this ball, there will be sanctions against him. He can't get away with ignoring the Ministry."
"Why would he skip the ball?" Bill asked looking from Percy to Ron.
Ron squirmed a bit. "Harry got upset when he found out he couldn't take Ginny to the ball."
"What? Why in Merlin's name couldn't he bring Ginny?"
"It's not appropriate," Percy said pompously. "He is the most famous wizard in the world and he is being honoured for his epic defeat of You-Know-Who. It isn't appropriate for him to bring a schoolgirl to the ball. Mr Robards agreed with me. We told Potter that he would need to bring another date."
"Why would you do that?" Bill asked outraged at the thought. "What do you have against Harry?"
Percy sniffed. "I'm not convinced their relationship is appropriate. I've heard rumours that there is something unsavoury about their relationship. There are rumours of love potions and all sorts of things. I felt it wasn't appropriate that she attend the ball."
"But she got a dress for the ball," Fleur said.
Ron's stomach dropped when he heard that. He hadn't realized she had done that. He glanced over at Hermione. "When did she get a dress?"
"Harry came to see her a few weeks ago and took her to Hogsmeade. They came back with a dress," Hermione explained. She sighed. "Hopefully she will be able to return it. He really should have asked first. Mr Robards told them that their dates had to be cleared by the Ministry."
"So it was Robards and your brother who decided that Ginny couldn't accompany Harry to the ball," Seamus clarified. At Ron's nod, Seamus asked, "What did you think about that?"
Ron looked a bit discomfited. "I don't think Ginny was the best person for Harry to be dating."
"You mean Hermione didn't think so," George broke in.
Ron flushed. "Yes, Hermione thinks so, too, but I agree with her. Ginny's…she's always had a crush on Harry and she's not shown the best judgement in the past. I just think Harry could do better."
"I wish you and Hermione weren't so down on Ginny," George said angrily. "Hermione holds a grudge longer than anyone I know."
"What does Hermione hold against Ginny?" Terry asked.
"Ginny's involvement in the Chamber of Secrets," George replied.
"George!" Ron yelled.
"What?" George asked. "It's not exactly a secret." Looking at the two Aurors he said, "You two remember the Chamber of Secrets?" Both men nodded and George continued, "Ginny had somehow been slipped an old diary that belonged to You-Know-Who. It somehow controlled her and made her open the Chamber."
Terry was shocked, but Seamus had heard the rumours. "So Harry really did kill a Basilisk and rescue her from the Chamber of Secrets?"
The brothers nodded. Ron said, "I just think she should have used better judgement. She never told anyone what was happening and she didn't question a diary that answered her. When she realized that strange things were happening, she should have told someone. She didn't ask for help or tell anyone what was going on. She's just lucky that no one was killed."
"She was eleven and we were ignoring her," George rounded on his brother. "It's not like some first year enchanted the diary – it was You-Know-Who! Who knows what kind of compulsion charms or whatever he may have put on the diary. How was she supposed to fight off a memory version of You-Know-Who? She didn't realize what was happening. Besides, Harry told me she tried to tell the two of you the morning she was taken into the Chamber and Percy scared her off."
"It was a little late by then," Ron retorted. "Hermione was already Petrified and she could have died. Harry almost did die and it would have been her fault."
"Harry never blamed her," George said.
Ron rolled his eyes, but didn't respond verbally. Once it was clear neither brother was going to say anything further, Seamus asked, "When did you realize Harry wasn't going to show up?"
"When Mr Robards came to look for him," Ron replied.
Ron's attention was recalled to the present when Mr Robards, the head Auror, arrived at the table.
"Percy," Mr Robards said. "Where is Potter?"
"He's not here yet," Percy said fussily.
"Damn, that boy better not mess things up," Robards warned.
"He's hardly a boy," Bill said with an edge to his voice. "The purpose of this ball is to honour him."
"This ball is fulfilling the people's need to fawn all over that boy," Robards returned. "As if he doesn't get enough attention, the Minister wants to give him a medal." Turning to Percy he snapped, "Make sure he is here! I swear he will be working nights and weekends for the next decade at this rate."
Bill glared at the retreating wizard before turning to Ron. "What did Harry say to you this afternoon?"
Casting his mind back Ron tried to remember if he had even talked to his best mate that day. He'd been so excited about seeing Hermione he'd rather ignored Harry. He glanced over at Hermione and of course she was able to come to his rescue.
"Harry was rather surprised to see me," Hermione said. She blushed. "He was rather upset that I was allowed to attend the ball, but Ginny was not." Giving Percy a rather embarrassed look she said, "I'm sorry to say he had some rather uncomplimentary things to say about both Percy and Mr Robards. I scolded him a bit and he calmed down. He gave me a hug and said he had to get ready. We didn't see him again. I could hear him in his room, but we didn't see him. When we left he called through the door for us to go ahead. He wasn't quite ready to leave."
Ron watched as Bill and Fleur exchanged a look. They were obviously upset. Fleur was speaking rapidly in French so Ron had no idea what she was saying.
At that moment a beautiful and rather exotic looking young lady approached Percy. She reminded Ron of Parvati Patil, one of their school mates who Harry had dated briefly in their fourth year. This girl had long black hair and big dark eyes with caramel coloured skin. She was dressed in bright turquoise dress robes that showcased some rather impressive curves.
"Mr Weasley," the girl said rather uncertainly looking around the table.
Percy stood as he answered, "I am Percy Weasley. You are Noor Sehgal, correct?"
"Yes, sir," she answered with a smile.
"Thank you for agreeing to help us out," Percy said with a smile. "Unfortunately Mr Potter is not here yet, but I'm certain he will be joining us soon. Why don't you sit next to my brother, Ron?"
Ron nodded in acknowledgment. Percy went around the table introducing everyone. Once he'd introduced them all he announced, "Miss Sehgal is to be Harry's date for the evening."
Ron's eyes widened and the thought briefly crossed his mind that Harry had all the luck. While Ron wouldn't have given up Hermione for anything in the world, he couldn't help but acknowledge that Noor was gorgeous. He watched proudly as Hermione immediately set about making Noor feel welcome. She was always so good at doing that. Out of the corner of his eye he could tell that Bill and Fleur were not happy with this turn of events. He knew that if Bill or Charlie had realized the Ministry wasn't allowing Ginny to accompany Harry they would have filed a complaint and requested an exemption – one that probably would have been granted.
"Have you met Harry?" Hermione asked.
"Oh yes," Noor replied with a beautiful smile. "We had lunch together the other day. It was a lovely luncheon and he was very kind."
"Wonderful," Hermione said with a smile. She looked over at Ron who could tell she was hoping Harry was actually interested in Noor. Noor was certainly much better looking than Ginny.
Bill stood abruptly. "I'm going to see if I can get in touch with Harry."
Seamus raised an eyebrow. "Percy found a date for Harry?"
Ron nodded. "He needed a date and he wasn't making any effort to find a suitable date, so Percy found one for him. I don't know why Harry was complaining. She was really beautiful – much better looking than Ginny."
"Did your brother discover anything?" Terry asked.
"No," George answered. He looked rather discomfited at the memory. "I was in a bad place back then. I didn't really want to be there and probably had too much to drink. As usual it was Hermione who noticed there was something wrong."
"Something's wrong," Hermione whispered to Ron.
He looked at her in confusion. Everything seemed fine to him. Hermione looked beautiful, he'd danced with her several times, and the food was great – what could be wrong?
"Of course something's wrong," Bill said with a bite to his words. "Harry is missing."
"He's not missing," Ron protested. "We saw him this afternoon."
"Right," Bill returned. "That's why no one has seen him all night."
"He's just upset about Ginny," Hermione fussed. "I can't believe he didn't come. He's going to be in so much trouble."
Ron jumped when the Minister for Magic addressed him. "Yes, sir."
"I understand you don't know where Mr Potter is."
"No, sir," Ron said. "We saw him before we left and thought he was following us."
"He's not at Grimmauld Place," Bill said, glaring at his siblings. "I checked, he's not there."
"We will find him," Kingsley said, "but for now I will need you to accept his medal, Ron."
"Me?" Ron paled.
Kingsley nodded. "You and Hermione can accept it together if you want."
Ron relaxed slightly, if Hermione was with him it wouldn't be too bad. She spoke up. "We will, sir."
Ten minutes later Ron stood back as he let Hermione accept Harry's Order of Merlin. She said a few words, he honestly wasn't certain what she said, but he knew whatever it was it would be the right thing.
By midnight, they were all back at Grimmauld Place – the Weasley brothers, Hermione, Fleur, and Kingsley. Ron and Hermione were searching through Harry's room – he'd taken over Sirius' room.
Ron swore softly. "Hermione, some of his things are missing."
"What?" Hermione asked anxiously. "Are you sure?"
"Pretty sure," Ron said. "He had a framed picture of Ginny next to his bed. His photo album that Hagrid made him is gone and his wardrobe is practically empty."
"What are you talking about?" Hermione scoffed. "It's full of robes."
"But all of his Muggle clothes are gone," Ron said.
"Are they in the laundry?"
The pair hurriedly made their way down to the laundry room. After a minute of rummaging through the baskets, Ron shook his head. "No, this is all mine"
"Ron, you really need to keep up with your laundry better," Hermione scolded.
"What did you find?" Kingsley asked, interrupted before the couple could start arguing.
"His things are gone," Ron said. "He left his robes, but his Muggle clothes are all gone."
"Damn!" Kingsley swore. "Did you find a note or anything?"
"No," Ron said.
"It is just the two of you who live here, correct?"
"Yes, Kreacher was killed during the last battle," Ron said.
"Kingsley," Robards ran into the room. "I've just heard from Minerva McGonagall. The Weasley girl is missing too."
"What?" Hermione was appalled. "She must have convinced him to run away. I was afraid something like this was going to happen."
"Why?" Kingsley asked.
Hermione looked over at Ron; for once she seemed unsure of what to say.
"Miss Granger," the Minister said. "Why were you afraid she would do something?"
Wringing her hands Hermione said, "I've never really thought they made a good couple. He never really mentioned her or even seemed attracted to her. In our sixth year I thought he fancied Luna Lovegood."
"Luna Lovegood? Xenophilius' daughter?"
Hermione nodded. "They had a lot in common and I know they talked quite a bit. They'd both lost parents and at times they were both treated as outcasts by the other students. I thought he didn't say anything because he was afraid Ron would make fun of him." She glared at her boyfriend. "Ron tends to make fun of Luna – calling her Loony."
Ron had to grace to blush under the sudden scrutiny from everyone. "She is a little odd, but if she makes Harry happy I don't have a problem."
"Anyhow, Harry finally got enough nerve to ask her to Professor Slughorn's Christmas party in our sixth year and they seemed to have a lot of fun. I saw the two of them together around the castle for the next few months. They would talk and eat meals together – I thought it was very sweet and that Harry was just shy. His first relationship, with Cho Chang, was a bit of a disaster and I thought he didn't want a repeat of that so he was taking things slowly. Then the day of the Quidditch final, Harry had been in detention and missed the match. He came into the common room afterwards and Ginny ran up and kissed him. Suddenly he was crazy about her and they were dating."
"Isn't it possible he fancied her and just didn't say anything?" Kingsley asked.
"It's possible," Hermione admitted, "but I don't think he did. He's not that good at hiding his feelings. He broke up with her at Dumbledore's funeral and I thought it was the end of this nonsense, but they started dating again this past summer. I don't have any proof, but I think she is using love potion."
"You believe she is using a love potion long term?" Kingsley clarified. "You realize that is a very serious accusation."
Hermione nodded. One of the new laws had outlawed long term use of love potions – it was still available as a joke product for one time or short term use, but repeated dosing of the same person was against the law. "She has a handwritten book of charms and potions. She told me it was a tradition for girls to collect charms, spells, and potions that they will need to start their own family. In her book, she has several love potion recipes."
"How is she dosing him?" Robards asked. He seemed to be taking the allegations more seriously than Kingsley.
"I think she is applying something to his letters," Hermione explained. "I've seen her spray something on her letters to him and Ron's seen him sniffing the letters. I think she might be using several different potions. Harry has a very strong will – it would probably be difficult to keep him under her spell."
"I don't believe that," Bill said angrily. "Harry is in love with her. He's not under a love potion. He's spoken to both me and Fleur about his feelings for her. She has the potion recipes because Harry has been threatened with love potions in the past. She also has several recipes for love potion antidotes."
Looking over at Robards, Bill asked, "Are Ginny's belongings gone as well?"
Seamus was shocked – both by the allegations and Ron's obvious contempt for his sister. He knew they didn't get along well, but he'd never imagined anything like this. He glanced at Terry who seemed surprised as well.
"So your theory is that Ginny was dosing Harry with love potions," Seamus stated.
"Yes," Ron said. "Hermione confronted Ginny with her suspicions the day of the ball and we think that's why Ginny ran away. Obviously, she convinced Harry to go with her. He never would have left on his own. He had no reason to leave."
Terry addressed George. "What do you think?"
"I don't know," George admitted. "I always thought they'd make a cute couple, but Harry didn't seem to notice her. They became friends, but I thought that was all it was. I thought she'd moved past him and was over him. I know she dated a few other guys, so I was really surprised to discover she had dated Harry. She seemed worried about him while he was on the run, but he didn't make any effort to keep in touch with her. It really shocked me that she started dating him again."
"Is she any good at Potions?" Terry asked.
"She is," George replied. "She helped us out here at the shop two summers in a row. I know she knew how to make a love potion. I've seen her eyeing our Wonder Witch products before, but I never let her buy any of them. Things were in such a shambles after the war, she could have found our recipe or hell, she could have taken some. Our records were pretty much destroyed."
"Would she really be that desperate?" Seamus asked. "It's not like she couldn't get a boyfriend."
"She always had a crush on Harry, though," Ron said. "Hermione thinks that when Harry asked out Luna, Ginny became nervous. Harry and Cho never had much in common or anything – that wasn't going to last, but Luna was a friend of his. Hermione thinks Ginny saw Luna as real competition and she went after Harry before he and Luna could become too involved. I mean the whole year we're on the run Harry never once mentioned Ginny to either me or Hermione. We went to Luna's house at one point and he was very upset that she'd been taken. After we were able to rescue Luna from Malfoy Manor, she and Harry spent a lot of time together. I honestly thought he fancied her. We figured he was over Ginny, but then a few weeks before she was to return to Hogwarts we discovered that they'd started dating once again."
"You can't tell our parents about the love potion," George said. "We never told them about our suspicions and it would just kill them."
"Your parents were injured in the battle, is that right?"
"Mum was," Ron said. "She was held under the Cruciatus by Bellatrix Lestrange and then Voldemort. It was horrible." Both brothers shuddered at the memories. Ron shook his head. "I don't know what happened. It took Harry long enough to end it."
Seamus was surprised to hear a touch of bitterness towards Harry. "Harry was hit with a Killing Curse and several Cruciatus Curses that night himself."
"I know that," Ron said hastily. "I'm not blaming him – I just wish he'd ended everything sooner and spared my mother. He knew he was the only one who could end it."
"The Healers at St Mungo's put her in a coma so she could recover," George explained. "She was in hospital for almost ten months. Dad had a stroke – from the stress the Healers thought. It was lucky he was in hospital when it happened or he might not have made it. Harry was the one who found him."
"It about killed my parents to hear that Harry and Ginny had run away and we didn't know where they were," Ron said. "We didn't have the heart to tell them about the love potions."
"But Minister Shacklebolt knew of your suspicions."
"Yes, Hermione told him right away," Ron said. "I think she feels guilty that she didn't say anything sooner. Hermione was suspicious of their relationship, but I didn't know what she suspected until the night of the ball. Hermione didn't want to make any accusations until she was sure. She was trying to get a sample of whatever Ginny was spraying onto her letters, but she couldn't find any. Ginny hid it really well. Hermione asked me to find one of Ginny's letters, but I couldn't find any. I hate the idea of her controlling him. It makes me uncomfortable to think about – I know I made a fool of myself under a love potion, but he never seemed to be acting crazy. We really didn't think it was a big deal until they ran away. We wanted to handle it ourselves so Ginny wouldn't get into trouble. She could have gone to prison if she'd been caught dosing him. I didn't like the idea of her controlling him, but I guess I underestimated her."
"So no one has heard from them at all?" Seamus persisted. "No notes that weren't signed or anything?"
Both brothers shook their heads. "I was hoping she would send something when my parents got out of hospital," George admitted. "I even tried sending them an invitation to my wedding, but the owl returned after five days with the invitation still attached."
After a few more questions it was obvious the brothers didn't have any more information or at least information they were going to share. The Aurors stood and thanked the brothers for their time.
Leaving the shop, both Aurors were lost in thought. "Where do you want to go?" Terry asked.
"Why don't we talk to Bill Weasley now," Seamus said. "It seems like maybe he wasn't on the same page as his brothers."
The two fell in step as they headed toward the large white building that dominated the Alley. "I'm sorry," Seamus said after a few minutes, "I can't see Ginny using a love potion on Harry."
"I think Ron is a little blind," Terry laughed. "He doesn't seem to realize that she's not only grown up, but gorgeous as well. I could tell Potter was watching her and I didn't even know them all that well."
Seamus nodded. "Dean hated it. I don't know what Hermione was seeing, but Harry was definitely crushing on Ginny not Luna. I don't doubt he was friends with Luna, but I didn't see any attraction between them."
"Doesn't sound like there's much love lost between Hermione and Ginny," Terry observed.
"Yeah, I have to say I never really noticed them as being overly friendly. Honestly, Hermione wasn't friendly with anyone but Harry and Ron. She talked to Neville a bit, but she mostly talked to Harry and Ron."
Together the pair climbed the steps to Gringotts and shortly afterwards found themselves in Bill Weasley's office. Seamus remembered meeting Bill once years before and of course they both remembered his beautiful, part-Veela wife, Fleur Delacour-Weasley, from the Triwizard Tournament.
Both Aurors stood when Bill entered the office and shook hands with him. Seamus found Bill much as he remembered. The older wizard was tall and fit with shoulder length red hair that he wore pulled back in a ponytail. Bill had blue eyes and Seamus was surprised to see he was wearing a dragon's tooth earring. There was a large photo of the Egyptian pyramids on the wall behind Bill as well as a photo that Seamus thought showed the interior of a tomb. On the desk there was a large picture of Fleur on her wedding day as well as pictures of all of the Weasley siblings. Included in there was a nice picture of Harry and Ginny together, Seamus thought it might have been taken after the war. They introduced themselves and explained why they were there.
"Thank Merlin," Bill exclaimed. "I hate the thought that they were run out of town by some well-meaning or maybe not so well-meaning family members."
"We've just spoken to Ron and George," Seamus said.
"Great, you got the Ginny is using love potion story," Bill said disdainfully. "I don't think either of them see Ginny very clearly. Ron will faithfully repeat whatever outlandish tale Hermione spins and George was pretty messed up back then."
"So you don't believe Ginny was using a love potion?" Seamus clarified.
"No," Bill replied firmly. "I don't know if they were in love, but they obviously fancied each other and enjoyed each other's company. They could talk to each other. Ron and Hermione basically ignored Harry that summer. In a way I don't blame them, they'd just started dating and they needed to spend time as a couple. They'd spent the previous year on the run with Harry and needed to learn how to be just the two of them instead of three of them. The thing I didn't like was the way Hermione kept throwing Luna his way. It hurt Ginny and it hurt Harry. I think that is a big part of the reason that he moved out."
"Moved out of where?" Terry asked.
"My parents' house, the Burrow," Bill explained. "At the end of the war he came to stay with my family, but once my parents were both in hospital I don't think he felt entirely comfortable staying there. He moved into his godfather's old house in London. Ron moved in there with him once Hermione and Ginny went back to school."
"What about Ron and Ginny? What was their relationship like?"
Bill sighed. "Not good. He resented being 'stuck' with a sister close to his age. He never wanted to include her in anything. I can't count the number of tears I dried when she was little – 'Ron was mean' or 'Ron wouldn't play with her'. I think the twins didn't help. They were great fun and great pranksters, but sometimes they didn't know when to stop."
Seamus nodded, having lived in the same house as them for five years, he was familiar with the twins. Bill shook his head. "They used to tease Ron about having a baby sister. If he played with her, they said he was too girly."
"You wouldn't say he was protective of her?" Seamus asked.
Bill shook his head. "Definitely not," he said emphatically. "I know my mum wanted Ron and the twins to look out for her, but they never wanted to and I can't tell that they did at all. Percy's idea of looking after someone was to tattle on them. He never really had much time for Ginny. Her first year at Hogwarts was a disaster, as I'm sure you know."
The two Aurors nodded. Bill continued, "I thought it appalling that she had four older brothers at Hogwarts and it was Ron's friend who had to rescue her. I don't know what happened. Ron definitely didn't want Ginny to become friends with Harry or Hermione. I think as the youngest boy, he felt a bit overshadowed. He guarded his friendships rather jealously."
"Were Hermione and Ginny close?" Seamus asked.
Bill looked at the two Aurors. "Normally I wouldn't say anything, but Hermione doesn't like Ginny."
"Do you know why?"
Bill shrugged. "Not really. I think she still holds the events of Ginny's first year against her. Hermione thinks that Ginny should have known better and she should have shown better judgement. She never has liked Ginny and that's just fine with Ron. Ginny wasn't overly fond of Hermione either – I know they hated having to share a room during the summer. I always thought it was just they were very different girls with very different interests, but I didn't realize until after Harry and Ginny left just how much Hermione and Ginny didn't get along."
"Did Ginny leave any message for your parents?" Seamus asked.
Bill shook his head. "No, that's one of the reasons I think they hadn't really planned to run or they left in a hurry. Harry was one of the few people who regularly visited my parents. My wife and I visited, but we travelled quite a bit that autumn. George wasn't in any shape to visit and Percy and Ron both said they didn't like hospitals. My parents would have done anything for any of us, but my brothers couldn't be bothered to visit them in the hospital."
"That's too bad," Seamus commented.
"Harry visited them weekly or sometimes more frequently," Bill said. "Ginny visited almost daily before she had to go back to school. I know Professor McGonagall allowed her to come visit them several times once she was back at school."
Seamus frowned. "No one in your family has had any word from them?"
"My wife and I received a baby blanket for each of our children shortly after their birth," Bill revealed. "There was no note or anything, but we've always thought they were from Ginny."
Pulling out a sheet of parchment, he quickly sketched a figure. "This is a protective Egyptian rune. I gave Ginny a pendent with the rune on it after her first year and she wore it all the time."
Seamus nodded; he remembered seeing Ginny wearing it. Bill continued, "All three of the blankets had this symbol knitted into the corner."
Seamus and Terry sat up a bit straighter. Bill nodded when he saw their reaction. "I know. The blankets appeared within a few weeks of their birth announcements in the paper. They were all sent by postal owls, but we couldn't trace where they were sent from or who sent them. I had some friends from work helping me, but we didn't discover much. All three were sent from different cities – Victoire's was mailed from Paris, Dominique's was mailed from London, and Louis's was mailed from Leeds. They were all sent during very busy times in the post office and no one remembered seeing who sent them. I showed the employees pictures of Harry and Ginny and they didn't recognize them. "
"There were no cards or markings on the boxes?" Seamus asked, impressed at the amount of work Bill had put into investigating the gifts.
Bill shook his head. "There were no cards and the boxes were plain cardboard boxes."
"Has anyone else in your family received anything?" Seamus asked.
"No," Bill replied. "We've asked and kept an eye out for anything that we thought might be from them. The one thing they did do is make arrangements to pay for my parents' hospital bill. A few weeks before they disappeared, Harry spoke to the billing department. Because some of the treatments used for my mother were experimental, they weren't covered. Harry made arrangements to pay for everything WHS didn't cover."
Seamus nodded as he made a note to speak to St Mungo's. The Wizarding Health Services (WHS) in many ways mirrored its Muggle counterparts and often experimental treatment was not fully covered. "So it seems they planned something."
"I don't know if that was an indication of planning or just Harry trying to help out," Bill said. "Money was a bit of a concern for a while. You remember how uncertain everything was at the end of the war. I think Harry just wanted to take care of the bill and not let anyone know what he'd done."
That did sound like Harry, Seamus had to admit. "Do you have any theory on why they left?" Seamus asked.
Bill shook his head. "I wish I knew. I've been kicking myself for the last eight years for going to France when my sister obviously needed me. I never would have left if I'd known. I don't know if Hermione's accusations played any part in their running, but I think it's a distinct possibility."
Seamus nodded. "If Harry thought she was in trouble, he would do whatever he could to help.
"Bill, what can you tell me about Harry's Gringotts account?" Seamus asked.
Sitting up straighter, Bill said, "Gringotts policy allows me to answer some questions, but there are some things that I cannot answer."
Seamus nodded; he was familiar with Gringotts restrictions. Bill said, "Harry has two vaults at Gringotts – his student vault and his family vault. Upon the death of his godfather, Sirius Black, in 1996, Harry inherited the Black family vault which was incorporated into the Potter family vault. Upon the deaths of Remus and Nymphadora Lupin, their infant son, Teddy, as well as Mrs Lupin's parents, Harry inherited a modest estate from them as well. I don't know if you recall, but the Lupins were living with her parents and Death Eaters attacked the home killing all of them – even the baby."
Bill shook his head in disgust. "I can't imagine why they had to kill Teddy, he was only a few months old."
"That's awful," Seamus said. "I didn't realize what had happened."
Bill nodded. "I won't bore you with all of the details, but due to the order of their deaths, Mrs Lupin inherited her parents' estate which then went to Mr Lupin. Harry was his only living heir. I understand they planned to make Harry their son's godfather. As the Lupins' only living heir, he inherited the Lestrange estate as well. He owns the home in London, where my brother and Hermione still live, as well as his parents' home in Godric's Hollow. The Lupins' home was destroyed in the attack that killed them. Harry inherited the Tonks' home which he sold shortly after the end of the war. He donated the proceeds from the Tonks home as well as the estate he inherited from them to the Lupin Wolfsbane Initiative. Harry established it to provide free Wolfsbane to any werewolves each full moon. The Lestrange estate he donated to the Marauders' Childrens' Home. That is another charity he established to provide for war orphans. The Lestrange's manor home is being used as an orphanage.
"Shortly before his disappearance, Harry made arrangements to transfer a sizable amount of money to a Muggle account at Barclays. Since that time, he has made occasional transfers from his Gringotts account. We do not have access to his Barclays' account, but as I'm sure you are aware you can obtain permission from a Muggle judge to view his account."
"Can you tell us how much money he transferred to Barclays?" Seamus asked.
"I am not at liberty to divulge that," Bill replied regretfully. "I can tell you that neither of them needs to work if they do not choose to do so. They did not remove even half of Harry's vault total. Due to the investments that have been made on his behalf, the vault that remains has been increasing in value. Harry also set up a perpetuity to pay for Council taxes and other payments on his Grimmauld Place home."
"So Ron and Hermione are living in London for free," Terry spoke up.
Bill simply nodded.
The two Aurors left Diagon Alley troubled by all they'd heard. They returned to Auror Headquarters to review their findings.
"I just can't see them leaving simply because of the allegations against Ginny," Terry commented. "It would be easy enough to disprove them."
"Playing the devil's advocate, is there any chance that Ginny could have been drugging him?" Seamus asked as he settled into a chair in the small conference room off the main Aurors' room.
Terry thought about it for a minute. "I don't think so. First of all, I don't see the need to drug him. I saw him watching her for most of our sixth year. Most love potions produce an exaggerated lust or longing for the person – they can't stand to be apart from the object of their desire. I didn't see any of that in Harry before he left. He missed her, but he wasn't going crazy."
"Have you ever heard of an aerosolized version of love potion?" Seamus asked curiously.
Terry shook his head as he considered the matter. "I will speak our potions makers and see what they think. I imagine it could be done."
"I'd like to speak to St Mungo's," Seamus said. "I think we should drop by Grimmauld Place tonight and tomorrow head out to Hogwarts. I'd like to hear Professor McGonagall's thoughts on the matter."
Hermione was puttering around the kitchen supervising the reheating of the Shepherd's pie Mrs Weasley had sent over earlier in the week. She was rather glad that Mrs Weasley sent over care packages so frequently. Cooking was one thing that she'd never really taken the time to conquer.
She could cook, of course, but often she would lose track of time or get lost in a book. She couldn't count the number of meals she'd burned or that simply had turned out poorly because she hadn't been paying attention to what she was doing while she was cooking. Ron was worse in the kitchen than she was, so she was thankful his mother was well aware of that fact. Usually they would get take away from somewhere or eat one of the many meals Mrs Weasley prepared. Hermione often thought that one day she would take some holiday time and really try her hand at cooking, but for now she didn't see the necessity.
Certain that dinner was well underway, she hurried upstairs to change out of her Ministry robes. She smiled as she walked through the house. It was much altered since her first glimpses of it almost ten years earlier. Now instead of darkness and gloom, it was decorated in soothing cream and beige colours.
Once she'd moved in full time after finishing at Hogwarts, she convinced Ron of the need to hire a decorating company to redesign and renovate the old Black home. As a result, it was a stunning masterpiece of modern wizarding design. The ground floor had been opened up and the portrait of Mrs Black removed. Instead of a long gloomy hallway, there was now an open floor plan. Walking in the front door, you could see clear to the back of the house.
The kitchen had stayed the same, but now there was a walk out to the small secluded garden in the back. On the first floor, the library had been cleared of the dark texts and Hermione had been happily adding to the collection. It now featured several seating areas and was one of her favourite rooms in the house. The only rooms that hadn't been redone were Harry's room and Regulus' old room, both on the top floor.
Since they didn't really know if Harry planned to return, they simply left his room as he'd left it. The top floor went unused. Hermione had cast stasis charms on the rooms so they didn't collect dust or require cleaning. Honestly, she and Ron had more room than they needed as it was, so they didn't need the rooms on the top floor.
After changing into jeans and a blue t-shirt, Hermione headed back downstairs. She expected Ron home before long and he always liked to have dinner on the table when he arrived home. Hermione didn't mind – in some ways it felt like playing house. Once they'd eaten, they usually spent their evenings in the library or on the ground floor. He might listen to a Quidditch match or read a journal whilst she read or did research. Several times a week they would go out with friends and family; they enjoyed living in London.
Ron arrived home and they sat down to eat. Hermione was enthusiastically telling him about a new exhibit opening up at the British Museum that she wanted to see.
"It sounds nice, Hermione," he commented.
"What's wrong?" she asked after a few minutes. Ron was unusually quiet tonight.
He sighed. "Seamus Finnegan and Terry Boot came to the shop today. They are reopening Harry and Ginny's disappearances."
"What?" Hermione was surprised. "Why?"
"That's what I asked," Ron replied unhappily. "They didn't really say why. I mean I'd love to see Harry again, but I have to admit I'm upset that he'd just up and leave like that. Do you know how upset my mum has been? I could kill Ginny for putting my mum through all of this. I heard my mum saying the other day that she's lost three children to the war." He shook his head. "Why couldn't she have left Harry alone?"
"Do you think that's why they're looking?" Hermione asked her mind racing. "Could your parents be looking for answers?"
"Maybe," Ron said uncertainly. "We never mentioned what we suspected Ginny of doing. My parents didn't need to suffer because my sister made poor decisions."
The pair finished their dinner in silence, each of them thinking about the disappearance of their best friend. Neither really knew what to think about it. They'd had no indication that Harry might leave. They'd spoken to all of their friends and tried to discover where Harry may have gone, but they'd not made any headway and it was upsetting for both of them. How could Harry and Ginny have vanished so completely? It didn't make sense. Harry had no reason to run, Hermione was certain of that. He'd been doing well at the Ministry and he'd always talked about wanting to become an Auror. That was one of the reasons she was so convinced Ginny must have influenced him.
Once they'd cleaned the dishes and tidied up the kitchen, they settled into the ground floor living room. Ron was reading the latest Quidditch Weekly, while Hermione read the Daily Prophet. The WWN played softly in the background.
It was just past seven when the doorbell sounded. Hermione was only slightly surprised to find Seamus Finnegan and Terry Boot on their doorstep.
"Hello, Hermione," Seamus said.
"Hello," she replied, stepping back so both of them could enter. "Ron told me you called at the shop today."
Seamus nodded and exchanged pleasantries while he and Terry divested themselves of their light jackets. Hermione hung up their jackets while Ron ambled over and greeted the pair.
Looking at his former roommate, Seamus asked, "So have you thought of anything else?"
Ron shook his head. "George and I talked after you left, but we couldn't recall anything that might help you."
Sitting in the living room, Seamus and Terry asked about the night Harry disappeared. As they'd expected, Ron and Hermione's version of events matched the account they'd given eight years earlier. After questioning the pair for close to an hour, Seamus asked to see Harry's room.
Hermione led the way. "We've redone most of the house, but we've left the top floor as it was in case Harry returns."
"I understand the house was a bit of a dump before," Seamus commented recalling Harry talking about the house.
"That's putting it mildly," Hermione replied. "Harry's godfather, Sirius Black, came from a Dark family. The house sat neglected and abandoned except for one poor, deranged house-elf for years. When we first came to stay here, ten years ago, it was awful. There were doxies in the curtains, mould, mildew, rot – it was dreadful. I think Sirius wanted to just burn the place down, but it had many charms that made it difficult to find. It was a perfect headquarters from which to fight against Voldemort."
"It looks really nice now," Seamus said.
"Thank you," Hermione said proudly. "We hired a company to redo the house once I moved in full time after finishing at Hogwarts. Ron had already been living here. It's so convenient having a house in London so close to everything."
"How much does a place like this go for a month?" Seamus asked.
Hermione stiffened slightly. "Harry inherited this house. It's more than paid off. We pay utilities."
"Nice," Seamus commented. Hermione flushed, but didn't respond.
The search of Harry's room didn't turn up anything. All of Harry's Muggle clothing was gone, as well as most personal items. There were some robes and a few Auror texts, but it was obvious that Harry had taken anything important to him. After thanking Ron and Hermione, the Aurors left.
Chapter 2: The Investigation
Seamus and Terry start their investigation. For the first time, we see what happened to Harry and Ginny.
Thanks to my amazing betas StephanieO and Arnel. Thanks to Mark for Brit picking.
December 1998 – Seven months after the fall of Voldemort
"Are you sure about this?" Harry asked.
Ginny nodded. "Positive."
He grinned for the first time that evening. Leaning close, he kissed her deeply. Resting his forehead against hers, he said, "I love you, Ginny."
"I love you, too," Ginny said as she ran her fingers though his hair. The couple held each other tightly for a few minutes.
"Let's go," Harry said. He looked at the bag Ginny had brought with her. "Do you need anything else?"
She shook her head. "No, I brought everything I want with me."
A few strategically cast glamour charms altered their hair and eye colour and covered Harry's scar. Harry examined her critically for a minute.
"What's wrong?" Ginny asked.
He blushed slightly and shrugged. "I'm just not used to seeing you without your beautiful hair. You are still beautiful, just in a different way."
"Thank you," she said as her own colour mounted. She didn't get many compliments and it still thrilled her to hear Harry compliment her.
"Do you have a handbag?"
She nodded and pulled her green dragon skin bag from her larger bag. "Charlie gave me this for my birthday."
"Okay, just remember from now on it's a leather handbag," Harry laughed.
She laughed a bit nervously. The Muggle world was very different from the wizarding world, what if she messed up? He must have seen the confusion on her face for he said, "Don't worry so much. If you say something wrong, I'll help you out. One thing I've learned is the wizarding world seems to think that the world will end if they say the wrong thing, but it won't. If you let something slip, don't freeze, just laugh it off."
She nodded as she thought over what he'd said. It did make sense. He reached into his own bag and pulled out a zippered pouch. Opening it he showed her the contents – her birth certificate, some sort of photo ID card, and a red British passport.
"Where did you get these?" she asked in wonderment as she examined the documents. She didn't think she'd seen her birth certificate before and she was certain she'd never seen the other documents before.
Harry grinned. "That is an official copy of your birth certificate – I ordered it from the General Register Office. Once I had that, I applied for your passport. I just copied your signature from the copy of Bill and Fleur's marriage certificate. That's the only place I've ever seen you sign your full name. The driving license is the only thing that's not legitimate. It's official – we learned how to create them in Auror training – but of course you've never applied for a driving license."
A warmth filled her, he really had planned this out and wanted to take her with him. He wasn't going to leave her behind again. Impulsively she hugged him. "Thank you."
He looked pleased if a little confused. "You're welcome." He glanced at his watch. "We better get going."
Several minutes later after Harry had Apparated the two of them out of the Shrieking Shack, the couple were walking hand-in-hand towards a large ship. Harry leaned down and explained quietly, "This ferry goes to Holland. I booked tickets for us under the names of James and Molly Evans. I have the documentation to back it up, just keep your real documents out of sight."
Ginny nodded and held his hand just a little bit tighter. This was going to be quite an adventure. Several long minutes later, they were standing at the rail of the large ship. Ginny watched in fascination as cars, trucks, motor bikes, and even buses drove onto the ship and disappeared into the lower levels.
"That makes so much sense," she whispered as she leaned into his arm. "So now people have their cars with them wherever it is they are going."
"Exactly," Harry said with a warm smile.
Once they tired of watching the loading of the ferry, they turned to explore the boat. There were game rooms, several cafeterias, shopping venues, and other forms of entertainment including a casino and a cinema.
"This is amazing," Ginny said as she looked around the casino. "I never would have imagined such things took place on a ferry."
"I know, this is beyond what I imagined as well," Harry said. "What do you want to do?"
"I'm hungry," Ginny said.
"Me too," Harry replied. After looking at the board describing the restaurants, they decided upon a steak restaurant.
Ginny started to relax more as she ate. It was different being among so many Muggles, but looking around at her fellow travellers she saw young couples on romantic getaways and families traveling on holiday. They weren't so different than wizards after all.
As if realizing that Ginny was finally relaxing, Harry smiled as he tucked into his steak. "What do you want to do after dinner? I saw they have films playing in the cinema. I think you'd like that."
"Okay," Ginny said feeling a bit more insecure that she sounded. "That does sound fun."
Reaching across the table, he squeezed her hand. "I know you're not used to being in the Muggle world, but don't worry, I'll help you."
May 2006 – Eight years after the fall of Voldemort
On the second morning of their investigation, Seamus and Terry were strolling down the path from Hogsmeade to Hogwarts. Seamus grinned. "Damn, this brings back some good memories, doesn't it?"
"I loved Hogwarts," Terry admitted. "Well, at least until that last year. Have you been back?"
"I came back one of the Hogsmeade weekends," Seamus said. "Dean was still at school and I came and spent the day here with him. It was fun. I haven't been back to any of the memorial services or anything. I know I probably should, but I just can't bring myself to come."
"I've been back a few times," Terry revealed. "When I started dating Melanie I came to the Hogsmeade weekends and I've been to a few Quidditch matches."
Seamus nodded. Terry's younger brother had been a very good Chaser for Ravenclaw and was now on the reserves of the Appleby Arrows. As they approached the gates they saw Hagrid waiting for them.
"Hagrid!" Seamus greeted him joyfully. Terry was a bit more reserved, but was happy to see the huge former groundskeeper.
"How are yeh doin?" Hagrid asked. "Look at the two o' yeh, Aurors."
"We just have a few questions for Professor McGonagall," Seamus explained.
Hagrid nodded. "I have ter get back. Yeh can find yer way ter the castle."
As they approached the castle Seamus stopped. On the flat area outside the entrance was a large monument to those lost in the Battle of Hogwarts. It was a large white marble obelisk. On one side were the names of all of those lost in the battle and on the other side was a plaque that read, 'On 2 May 1998 a group of students and staff joined together in defending the castle from attack by Lord Voldemort and his followers. Lord Voldemort was defeated by Harry Potter and the attack was repelled. Our thanks to all of those who gave their lives in that effort and we pray that they did not give their lives in vain.'
Terry looked at his partner. "What?"
Seamus sighed. "I don't know. It just makes it seem like Harry was just some random person who happened to defeat the greatest Dark Lord of our time. It seems like he doesn't always get his due."
"I know," Terry said. "I heard Granger talking the other day and she never said anything bad about Harry, but she didn't say anything good about him either."
"I wish I knew what happened," Seamus said. "One minute he's in class with us and everything seems to be going well and then he's gone. What made him disappear?"
"Maybe we'll finally get some answers."
Professor McGonagall was waiting for the young men in her office. "Welcome! Mr Finnegan, Mr Boot."
"Thank you, Professor," Seamus said with a smile.
Soon the two men were seated across from the Headmistress with a cup of tea and a tin of biscuits. She looked at them. "Your message was rather vague. What can I do for the two of you?"
"We've been tasked with re-opening the investigation into the disappearance of Harry Potter and Ginny Weasley," Seamus explained.
"Thank Merlin," the older witch said. "It has always upset me that they disappeared like that. I fear we somehow failed them."
Seamus nodded. "We've discovered some disturbing allegations. Hermione Granger claims that Ginny was using a love potion on Harry."
Professor McGonagall stared down at the desk for a moment. Seamus couldn't tell exactly what she was thinking. Finally she looked up. Seamus was shocked to see her eyes were bright as though with unshed tears.
"Yes, there were accusations of love potion use," she said softly. "I didn't believe the allegations then and I don't believe them now. Miss Granger came to see me shortly before the ball. She was extremely concerned and she believed that Miss Weasley was using a love potion on Mr Potter."
"Did she have any proof?" Terry asked.
"No," Professor McGonagall answered angrily. "She felt she did, but I felt she had strung together unrelated events and come up with the wrong answer. Miss Granger thought that Miss Weasley and Mr Potter were poorly suited for each other and I believe she allowed that to colour her judgement. Miss Granger felt that Mr Potter was attracted to Miss Lovegood and Miss Weasley was threatened by their friendship. Miss Granger believed this was the impetus for the love potion, but she had no proof that love potions were being used. I spoke to Miss Weasley and she denied the use of love potion and she readily let me search her trunk. There were no vials of love potion among Miss Weasley's belongings. I found no evidence to support Miss Granger's accusations and I informed both young ladies of my findings."
"I'm betting Hermione didn't like that," Seamus observed.
"No, she did not," Professor McGonagall replied. "Miss Granger reiterated her belief that Miss Weasley was using an aerosolized form of love potion on the letters she was sending to Mr Potter. I believe it was Miss Granger's continued and untoward accusations along with Auror Robards' treatment of Harry that led to their disappearance."
"What was Robards doing to Harry?" Terry asked.
Professor McGonagall sniffed. "That man was doing his best to denigrate Harry. It was the morning of the first Hogsmeade visit of the year. I was sitting at my desk when Harry Floo called me. He told me what had happened that morning. As I'm sure you are aware, Harry and Mr Weasley were sharing a house. Mr Weasley was looking forward to his date with Miss Granger and was rather surprised to discover that Mr Potter was planning to see his sister."
Harry had just finished getting ready and headed downstairs when Ron yelled up the stairs. "Harry, there is a Floo call for you."
"Okay," Harry replied as he headed for his study. His heart sank when he saw Head Auror Robards in the fireplace. Kneeling down in front of the fire he said, "Yes, sir."
"Potter," the Head Auror snapped. "You need to come in today."
"What?!" Harry was incensed. He had requested this day off as soon as Ginny had sent him the dates of the Hogsmeade visits. "I have the day off. I requested it months ago."
Robards arched his eyebrow. "Perhaps you shouldn't have skipped so much of your training to curry favour with the Minister. You haven't put in the required hours this month. If you don't wish to continue with the training then by all means please take the day off. Otherwise I expect to see you here within the hour."
When Robards withdrew his head, Harry wanted to scream and cry at the same time. It wasn't fair. He didn't know exactly why Robards hated him, but he certainly did. It felt like being taught by Snape all over again. He glanced at his watch. It was now half eight. Ginny should be up and getting ready by now.
Biting his lip he tried to decide what to do. Finally he threw some Floo powder into the Floo and after a brief conversation with Professor McGonagall he was allowed to step through into her office.
"Thank you, Professor," he said as he dusted himself off.
"Of course," she replied. "Miss Weasley should be here in a few minutes. I find that I am suddenly hungry and will be headed to breakfast."
He grinned at his former Head of House who to his surprise smiled at him in response. "I hope to see you during our first Quidditch match," she said as she prepared to leave. "I hear that Miss Weasley has put together quite a team."
"I will be there," he said with a smile.
"I left at that point, but I've pieced together what happened from what Miss Weasley shared with me and the stories the portraits shared," Professor McGonagall said as she gestured to the portraits on the wall.
Harry paced nervously while he was waiting. Eventually, he heard the sound of the stairs turning and suddenly Ginny was standing in the doorway.
"Harry!" She squealed as she threw herself into his arms. "You're finally here! I've missed you so much!"
Harry swung her around so as to steady them so they wouldn't fall over. He looked down into her warm chocolate eyes and felt himself getting lost in them. Before he even thought about it, he leaned down and kissed her deeply.
He threaded his hand through her hair and the other he wrapped around her waist. His heart started racing when her hands crept up his chest and one tangled in his hair. After several long minutes he pulled away.
"What are you doing here so early, sweetie? I haven't even finished getting ready." She said as she gestured to her hair that she had pulled into a rather sloppy pony tail.
"You look gorgeous," he said tenderly. Then he sighed. "Robards just called me in to work today."
His heart sank when he saw the hurt look flash across her face. "I'm so sorry, baby. He said that I've been putting in too many hours with Kingsley and not enough hours in my training."
"That's ridiculous!" she raged as she paced across the room. "He's just being a total wanker and making you do stupid things because he knows you're a much better wizard than him. He's such an idiot!"
"Do you want me to quit training?" Harry offered. "I will."
She smiled gently at him even though he could see unshed tears shining in her eyes. "No, sweetheart, you've wanted to be an Auror for a long time and I think you will be very good at it. Robards is an idiot, but don't let him take this from you."
He held open his arms. "I need to hold you for a few minutes. I've missed you so much."
Eagerly heading in his arms, Ginny sighed and she relaxed in his hold. "I've missed you." She glanced at her watch. "How much time do you have?"
He looked at her watch and made a face. "Ten minutes."
Looking around at all of the past Headmasters watching them with unabashed interest, Ginny led him out of the office. They sat down cross legged on the floor of the small landing outside of the door. He automatically reached for her hand as they sat down.
"So what are you going to do today?" he asked.
She thought about it for a minute. "I think I'll still head into town for a little bit. I love looking around. Maybe I'll find Luna and we can have lunch together or something."
"That sounds like fun," he said trying to be positive. "How was Quidditch practice last night?"
Her eyes lit up as she described the team. She, Demelza, and Dean were the only returning members of the team, but to her delight they had found several younger players who were good and very enthusiastic. Harry listened to her gladly. He loved hearing her voice, but especially when she was so happy.
To their dismay their ten minutes flew by and all too soon Harry was kissing her goodbye and heading to London. The tears Ginny had held back while Harry was there poured out. She sat down on the floor near the fireplace, her knees pulled up to her chest and her arms wrapped around her knees.
"That is how I found her when I returned to my office," the professor explained. "I felt so badly for her. She was crying her heart out. Once she was able to calm down, she told me that she thought Head Auror Robards hated Harry for some reason. Apparently, he felt that Harry shouldn't be in the program and was only there for publicity. Miss Weasley felt that Mr Robards resented Harry's close relationship with Kingsley and he resented the fact that the Minister liked and listened to Harry."
Professor McGonagall shook her head. "How Robards became Head Auror, I'll never know. He was never the brightest boy and he always did have a tendency to be a bit petty."
"He did seem to have it in for Harry," Seamus agreed. "Professor, do you recall who else was in the dorm room with Ginny and Hermione?"
"I believe Demelza Robbins, Sarah Richardson, and Freya Morrow," she replied after a moment of thought. "I'm fairly certain that Miss Robbins and Miss Weasley were close."
The two Aurors stood and shook hands with the Headmistress. "If you discover what has happened to them, will you let me know?" she asked.
Seamus met the eyes of his former Head of House and he could see the toll this had taken on the older witch. "I will, Professor."
"Did you know that Robards was dogging Potter like that?" Terry asked as they left the school. While he'd known Harry from school and the DA, he had never had the relationship with the man who had saved them all that Seamus had. "I thought he'd cancelled a weekend off, I didn't realize he'd specifically targeted a Hogsmeade weekend."
Seamus shook his head wordlessly. He seemed a bit lost, but he pulled himself together. "The first Hogsmeade weekend that year I was supposed to work. It was just reviewing testimony, nothing big. I didn't really care, Dean had invited me up, but it wasn't that big a deal. That morning I get a call from Robards giving me the day off. He took away Harry's day off and gave it to me." He looked over at his partner. "Why the hell would he do that?"
Terry shrugged. "I thought Robards resented Harry because…well, because he's Harry Potter. I had no idea he'd taken it that far."
Without really discussing it, the pair made their way down to Hogsmeade.
"What do you remember about that weekend?" Terry prompted.
Seamus frowned as he thought back. "It was Halloween. The shops were all decorated and Dean was going on about the Halloween feast. I saw Ginny briefly that afternoon. I remember that she seemed a bit down, but she didn't mention Harry was supposed to be there."
"What about Ron?"
Seamus snorted. "He and Hermione were all over each other. He certainly wasn't broken up over the fact that Harry wasn't there." Seamus thought back to that crisp Halloween afternoon. "Ron was acting a bit proud of himself. I thought it was because he had finally screwed up his courage to ask Hermione out."
He shook his head. "I've never understood the pair of them. They were crazy about each other for years, but neither one wanted to make a move on the other."
Terry laughed. "I know. There were a few blokes in my house who had a little crush on her, but none of them made a move because of Ron."
"Really?" Seamus smiled. "I never…I never got the attraction. She can be pretty at times, but she's always struck me as very abrasive and bossy. Poor Neville was a bit scared of her when we were second years."
By this time the two had reached the village of Hogsmeade. It had been largely re-built since the end of the war and, as at Hogwarts, there was a war memorial at the centre of town. Seamus led the way to Honeydukes.
"I heard that Demelza was working here," Seamus said by way of explanation. "I don't know if she still is, but I figured it's a good place to start."
It turned out that Demelza was indeed working at Honeydukes. She remembered the two Aurors when they introduced themselves.
"Demelza, we are re-opening the investigation into the disappearance of Harry Potter and Ginny Weasley," Seamus said once they were seated in the small employee tea room.
"Good!" Demelza replied. "I hate that they had to leave and I really miss Ginny. She and I were very friendly."
"When was the last time you saw her?" Terry asked.
"That day," Demelza said unhappily. "Would either of you like something to drink? I'm going to have some hot chocolate."
Seamus could tell she was thinking about what to tell them as she bustled around the tea room. She prepared a pot of hot chocolate and a pot of tea which she served with some pastries. Once she was settled at the table once again, she looked over at Seamus.
"Have you heard Hermione's version of events?"
"That Ginny was using a love potion?" Seamus asked. He nodded. "We did, but we don't believe it."
"Thank Merlin," Demelza said. "Ginny was always so nice and she really cared about the rest of us. She never minded helping us with homework or explaining things. She really loved Harry. I don't know why Hermione didn't like her, but she hated Ginny."
She sighed and sipped her hot chocolate. "I entered the dorm room as Hermione was leaving that day. She was all dressed up in a beautiful gown. Poor Ginny was sitting on her bed looking devastated. She'd really hoped to go to the ball with Harry. When she'd come back from Hogsmeade with the dress for the ball, she was so excited. It just wasn't fair."
"Where is she going?" Demelza demanded as she entered the room that Hermione had just left.
"She's going to the ball," Ginny snarled. "Apparently, it's okay for her to go to the ball with Ron, but I'm too young and immature to go with Harry."
"What?" Demelza sat down on the end of Ginny bed. "That's ridiculous."
"It gets worse," Ginny said as she wiped away angry tears. "She thinks I am using a love potion on Harry."
Demelza started laughing. "For Merlin's sake, how ridiculous can you get? It is obvious to anyone with a brain that Harry is crazy about you."
"No, that's where you're wrong," Ginny said sarcastically. "It seems that Harry is in love with Luna. I couldn't stand it and started using a love potion on him. I'm such a potions whiz that I've developed a spray that I spray on my letters and that is what's keeping him under my control."
"Please tell me you're joking."
Ginny shook her head. "Hermione broke into my trunk and found my notebook with love potion recipes. I have those because he's been targeted by love potions in the past, not because I wanted to use any of them on him. She even reported me to Professor McGonagall. The worst part is Hermione has managed to convince at least two of my brothers that she's right and even George is on the fence. Some love potions from the shop have gone missing so now they think I stole them and I'm using them on Harry."
"Can't they test him?" Demelza asked. "Or test his letters?"
"I hope so," Ginny said. "I just…I don't know why she hates me so much! She's always held my first year against me. I've apologized a million times, but she…she won't accept that I'm sorry and I'm not evil."
When Ginny looked up, Demelza could see the pain in her friend's brown eyes. "She doesn't think I'm 'worthy' of Harry. I don't know if Ron convinced her or she convinced Ron, but both of them think I'm not worthy of Harry and I don't really love him. Hermione is convinced that I don't know him and I still have a fan-girl crush on him. She can't decide if I'm after Harry for his money or the fame, but she is certain that it isn't because I love him."
"I am so sorry," Demelza said gently. "Do you want to come down and listen to the Wireless with us?"
Ginny shook her head. "No, thank you. I just want to be alone for a while."
Demelza nodded and reached out to hug her friend. "You know that we don't think that, right? Harry is crazy about you and there is no potion involved."
"You didn't see her leave?" Terry asked.
Demelza shook her head. "I was trying to keep an eye out for her, but I never saw her leave the girls' dorm. I've always wondered if she flew out the window. Ginny was a great flyer and she could have easily done that."
Seamus nodded in agreement. "Demelza, Professor McGonagall just told us how Harry had to cancel the morning of the Hogsmeade visit. Did Ginny say anything about that?"
"It wasn't a one-time thing," Demelza replied. "He had to cancel the morning of our first Quidditch match as well. Ginny was really upset about it. I guess Harry's boss really had it out for him and called him both mornings and threatened his job if he didn't go into the Ministry. He offered to quit, but she kept telling him not to. I've always wondered if something else happened."
"What do you mean?" Seamus asked.
Demelza took a sip of her chocolate and shrugged. "It's just always seemed strange that Hermione starting rumours could chase them away. It would be easy enough to prove that Harry isn't under a love potion. I wondered if maybe something else happened or if they just got tired of the scrutiny and left."
"Did she ever complain about the rumours?"
Shrugging, Demelza said, "Not exactly. I know she was aware of them. Hermione would happily read aloud any rumours about Ginny. She got really indignant if there were rumours about Harry, but she didn't mind the rumours about Ginny."
Demelza told them everything she could remember about Ginny's last few months at Hogwarts.
"I understand that she took most of her things with her," Seamus commented. "Did she take her trunk?"
"No," Demelza replied. "She took her private things – her books, journals, photo albums, letters, and most of her Muggle clothes. She left all of her robes. Actually she left a note on top of them that anyone could have the robes if they needed them."
"So it makes sense that they planned to head to the Muggle world," Terry said.
She nodded. "That's what I always thought."
"What about the gown she bought for the ball?" Seamus asked curiously as they were getting ready to leave.
"She took it with her," Demelza said. She smiled. "I hope she found the opportunity to use it."
Seamus and Terry returned to the Ministry both thinking about everything they'd learned that day. Before returning to their office, they stopped by the Floo Network Authorities and picked up Harry's Floo records for October through December of 1998.
Once in their office, Seamus cast privacy and security spells. Terry raised an eyebrow and Seamus explained, "Something is going on and I don't want to take the chance that we'll be overheard."
Seamus looked through the Floo records and swore softly when he found the records for Halloween.
0815 – Floo call from 12 Grimmauld Place to Percy Weasley at 25 Victory Lane London
0820 – Floo call from Head Auror Robards to 12 Grimmauld Place
0830 – Floo call from 12 Grimmauld Place to Professor McGonagall's Office Hogwarts
0831 – Floo transport from 12 Grimmauld Place to Professor McGonagall's Office Hogwarts
0900 – Floo call from 25 Victory Lane London to 12 Grimmauld Place
0930 – Floo Transport from 12 Grimmauld Place to the Three Broomsticks Pub in Hogsmeade
1730 – Floo Transport from Three Broomsticks Pub in Hogsmeade to 12 Grimmauld Place
1830 – Floo Transport from the Ministry of Magic to 12 Grimmauld Place
Flipping through the documents, he found the records for the next week and found a similar pattern on the day of Gryffindor's first Quidditch match.
"Please tell me there is some other explanation," Seamus said.
Terry looked at him sorrowfully. "I'm sorry, mate. It appears that Ron called his brother who then called Robards who cancelled Harry's day off."
"Why the bloody hell would he do that?" Seamus wondered angrily. "Harry was crazy about Ginny and he has been since the beginning of sixth year. It drove Dean nuts the way Harry looked at her. I mean Harry didn't make his move until after Ginny had broken up with Dean. Dean grumbled, but even he knew they would end up together."
Terry continued to flip through the file in front of him. Troubled, he looked up at Seamus. "Do you know anything about Williamson? He was in charge of the search for Harry and Ginny."
Frowning, Seamus tried to remember everything he'd heard about Williamson. "I don't know much about him. He left the department shortly after the end of the war. I think he had a hard time dealing with all of the changes and rumour had it he hated working with Muggles."
"Not exactly the best person to be put in charge of a high profile case where he would be required to work with Muggles, is he?"
Seamus swore. "We probably need to go back and review everything."
"We might be better off starting all over again," Terry said. Seamus agreed and Terry said, "I'm going to check the papers and see if I can find anything. Why don't you put in the request to search their passports?"
A little over an hour later, Seamus was in the office of the Magical liaison of the National Missing Persons Bureau. Detective David Pitts frowned as he listened to Seamus' request.
"You want me to search our records for a couple who have been missing for almost eight years? You do realize we probably won't find much information."
"I know it's a long shot," Seamus agreed, "but we don't think the original investigation was conducted properly."
Detective Pitts nodded. "I can understand. I will certainly do my best. Let me start by running their names and seeing what pops. I'll let you know what I discover."
Terry looked up as Seamus entered the tiny conference room they'd been assigned for the duration of their investigation. He smiled when he saw Seamus had two cups of coffee from the café down the street.
"Thanks, mate," Terry said as he took the cup. Taking a sip of the fragrant drink, he said, "I don't know why Potter left, but after the crap I've been reading I really don't blame him. The level of scrutiny he was put under is ridiculous."
"What do you mean?" Seamus asked.
"He was in one paper or another every day. Some of the stories in the Daily Prophet and Quibbler were fairly complementary and seem fact based, but as the summer wore on and Potter wasn't giving any interviews the articles grew more and more crazy. Ginny was portrayed as a gold digger and trust me that was the nicest thing they had to say about her. Poor Harry – he was accused of being a new Dark Lord in training or he was cheating on Ginny or he was gay and in love with anyone from Ron to Draco."
"What?" Seamus was shocked. "I never saw any of that."
"Most of it was in the scandal rags, but sometimes 'rumours' made their way into the Prophet," Terry said. "When he moved out of the Burrow it was speculated that he was planning to have wild parties or start a harem or the ever popular Ron caught Harry and Hermione together and kicked him out. I think the fact that he wasn't giving interviews and wasn't seen out much, people felt free to make up whatever they wanted about him."
"He must have hated the scrutiny," Seamus said.
"I'm starting to wonder if he just didn't want to deal with it anymore," Terry said.
Seamus and Terry spent another week interviewing those in their Auror class and in Ginny's class without discovering anything new. Hermione's antipathy towards Ginny had seemingly increased when the two had been in a dorm together. While Hermione's spot at the top of her classes was safe, Ginny was also smart and wasn't intimidated into silence by Hermione's reputation.
"I spoke to St Mungo's," Terry said. "First, I discovered from the Apothecary that an aerosolized version of love potion wouldn't be stable. They didn't see how one could be created. The Aurors' Apothecary agreed. I also spoke to Professor Slughorn. He said that of the two of them, Harry was the better Potions student, but Ginny was good. He also didn't believe an aerosolized love potion was possible.
"Even better luck, we found a letter from Ginny to Harry in his desk. It had slipped behind the drawer and he must not have realized it was there. It was analysed in the Questioned Documents division and they found it was lightly scented with a floral scent, but there was no love potion or even any type of magic used."
"Brilliant," Seamus said. "That will hopefully quiet the love potion rumours."
"Hopefully," Terry agreed. "I spoke to some of the Healers and nurses who cared for the Weasleys. Harry and Ginny were the most frequent visitors with Bill and Fleur coming in a close second. Harry actually saved Mr Weasley's life. Mr Weasley had a stroke from the stress and grief after the war. He was visiting his wife and luckily Harry arrived just as he collapsed."
"I didn't realize that," Seamus murmured. "Harry told me about Mr Weasley's stroke, but of course he didn't mention his part in saving him."
"That seems very typical of Harry," Terry remarked. "I spoke to the billing department and as Bill told us, Harry paid Mrs Weasley's bill. He also donated over twenty thousand Galleons for research and to help those who needed expensive treatment as Mrs Weasley did."
"That sounds like Harry," Seamus agreed. He sighed. "I don't know what to think. I'm certain the love potion accusation was baseless, but why did he leave?"
"No idea," Terry sighed.
Seamus nervously knocked on the door to the Burrow. He'd never been to the Weasley family home before, but he really felt it suited the unusual family.
The door was answered by a man he recognized as Ron's father. "Mr Weasley, I am Seamus Finnegan and this is Terry Boot. We would like to ask you a few questions."
"You are conducting the investigation for Kingsley?" Arthur Weasley asked shrewdly.
Taken off guard by the man's knowledge, Seamus faltered for a moment before he realized what was happening. "You requested that the Minister re-open the investigation."
Mr Weasley nodded. "I would appreciate if you would keep that to yourself."
"Of course," Seamus said. "We would like to interview you and your wife."
"Certainly," Mr Weasley replied. He opened the door wider and gestured for them to enter even as he called to his wife.
When Molly Weasley entered the room, he introduced the two Aurors. "They are here to ask us a few questions."
Mrs Weasley hurriedly put on a kettle and in short order brought a tea tray with cakes to the table. She smiled as Seamus. "I remember you, dear. You were in Ron's dorm."
"Yes, ma'am," Seamus said. "I shared a room with Ron and Harry. Terry was in our year as well, but he was in Ravenclaw."
"It is nice to meet you," Mrs Weasley said to Terry with a smile. "What can we do for you?"
"Mrs Weasley, we are re-opening the investigation into the disappearance of your daughter and Harry Potter."
Mrs Weasley gasped and covered her mouth with her hand even as her eyes filled with tears. "Do you think there is a chance of finding them?"
"We hope so," Seamus replied honestly.
Dabbing her eyes, Mrs Weasley smiled tremulously and reached for her husband's hand. "How can we help?"
"I understand that both of you were still in hospital when they disappeared," Seamus said as he looked at his notes.
Mrs Weasley nodded. "I was still in a medically induced coma. By the time I awakened, they had been gone for several months."
"I was aware a little," Mr Weasley said, "but certainly not of any details. When I woke up enough to realize what was going on, they'd already been gone for a month."
"Do you have any idea why they may have left?"
Mrs Weasley shook her head helplessly. "I don't and I can't imagine why they haven't contacted us in eight years. The only thing I've been able to come up with is there must have been some danger. They both visited us regularly whilst we were in hospital. They were the most faithful visitors we had."
"Mrs Weasley, what can you tell me about the relationship between Harry and Ginny?"
She smiled automatically as she thought back. "Ginny started mentioning him more seriously during her fifth year. She was so torn because she thought she was over him and suddenly he starts showing interest in her. She didn't really trust her feelings at first. Once she and Dean broke up, she and Harry started dating. She was so happy.
"Ginny told me that she never really considered them broken up. She worried over him during the year they were apart. Of course I didn't see them back together, but Bill and Fleur told me they were quite happy together."
The older woman frowned. "I know that Hermione and Ron have some reservations about their relationship, but I think they are wrong." She shook her head sadly. "I wish my Ginny and Ron had gotten along better. They never had a close relationship even as children. Once they arrived at Hogwarts, their relationship deteriorated badly. Ron felt that Ginny was trying to intrude on his friendship with Harry and he resented that."
"I don't believe Hermione helped matters much," Mr Weasley spoke up for the first time. "She and Ginny never really got on well. They are almost two years apart and they don't really have much in common. Hermione has always held Ginny's part in the Chamber of Secrets against her so they never really developed a friendship."
Seamus looked between the two parents. "It seems as though Hermione disapproved of the relationship between Harry and Ginny."
"For some reason, Hermione had it in her head that Harry fancied Luna," Mrs Weasley explained. "Harry told me about taking Luna to that Christmas party and how Luna was a good friend, but there wasn't more to it than that. Luna lost her mother and I know she and Harry talked about that. I don't think that poor boy was ever really given a chance to grieve for his parents. I know talking to Luna helped. Luna and Ginny were such good friends."
Seamus nodded. "Yes, ma'am. We've tried to get in touch with Luna, but we haven't had any luck so far."
"I believe that she and her father are on an expedition in India," Mr Weasley spoke up. "I can't quite remember what they are searching for – some kind of rare red elephant or something."
Seamus laughed. "That sounds like Luna." As he looked over at Mrs Weasley, he could see the toll this had taken on her. She was much slimmer than he remembered and her vibrant red hair was liberally sprinkled with white and she had a careworn look on her face.
"Did Ginny have any experience in the Muggle world?" Seamus asked.
The Weasleys exchanged a look and slowly shook their heads. "Not really," Mr Weasley explained. "Ginny loved going into town, but she didn't have any Muggle friends or anything like that. She took Muggle Studies, I think, mostly because of me. She did well, but Hermione told me the class wasn't entirely accurate."
"Is that what you think happened?" Mrs Weasley asked. "Do you think they are in the Muggle world?"
"That is one possibility," Seamus allowed.
Seamus watched impassively as Ron nervously entered the room and sat down.
"Thank you for coming in," Terry said smoothly.
"Of course," Ron replied. "Anything I can do to help."
Looking at his former roommate, Seamus raised an eyebrow. "Really?"
Swallowing nervously, Ron nodded. "I may be upset at my sister for what she did, but I want to see Harry. My mother wants to see my sister."
"We've discovered that there was no love potion," Terry revealed. Seeing Ron about to protest, Terry continued, "We've found a letter from your sister to Harry and there was no love potion on the letter. Additionally we've discovered that there is no such thing as an aerosolized love potion. I've spoken to our Matron and Harry was checked for potions several times in the months before he disappeared and he didn't have a trace of love potion in his system."
Ron opened his mouth and closed it. He looked between the two Aurors. "Are you sure?"
"Are we sure?" Seamus exploded. "What the hell, mate?! You betrayed Harry and treated your sister horribly and all you can ask is are we sure?"
"I never betrayed Harry!" Ron yelled, outraged. "He's been my best mate since first year. How dare you say that I betrayed him?"
"What do you call telling your brother that Harry was going to Hogsmeade with your sister so he'd get called into work?"
Ron faltered. "I just didn't want him hanging around with me and Hermione. Honest, it wasn't anything else. I knew if Harry came Hermione would have endless questions about his classes and how he was doing and we wouldn't have any time alone. I just wanted some time with Hermione."
"I might buy that if it was only that once," Seamus said scornfully. "You also called your brother the morning of Gryffindor's first Quidditch match. Do you know how hard he worked? He really deserved the time off and you made sure he didn't get any. Didn't you notice he was working late most nights?"
"He worked a lot, but he never complained about it," Ron said defensively. "Percy didn't think it was appropriate that Harry and Ginny were seeing each other and he asked for my help. Harry never complained or asked me about it so I figured he was okay with it."
"So you betrayed Harry," Seamus restated calmly.
"He didn't care about her! I don't know why you don't believe me," Ron said. "He never mentioned her the whole year we were on the run. He and Luna spent plenty of time together."
"For Merlin's sake," Seamus exploded. "Your sister is gorgeous and Harry was watching her all of sixth year. Dean hated it. Everyone noticed it, except for you and Hermione. Of course he's not going to mention Ginny to you and Hermione – all the two of you did was complain about her!"
Seeing the look of shock on Ron's face, Terry spoke up. "Ron, try to think of it from his point of view. What would happen if Harry decided you and Hermione weren't right for each other?"
"He would never do that!" Ron said outraged at the suggestion.
"Why did you?" Terry asked quietly.
Ron sank back in his chair, deflating under Terry's word more than Seamus' accusations. He sat quietly for a minute appearing to think about his actions. "Do you really think he liked her?"
"Yes!" Seamus and Terry replied emphatically.
"Mate, he watched her all year. Luna is a good friend to him, but they were never involved," Seamus said more calmly. "That last year at Hogwarts was…awful, but we all became very close. Ginny talked to us – they broke up because he didn't want to put her in any danger. She never really considered them broken up. Luna thought of him like a big brother. He looked out for her from those who made fun of her and they talked. She'd lost her mother and especially after his godfather died they spoke frequently."
Ron frowned. "He never talked to us about Sirius."
"What would you have said?" Seamus asked. Seeing the discomfort on Ron's face, he pressed on. "Ron, I know you, you hate talking about emotions and feelings. What would you have said to someone who'd lost his parents and godfather?"
Grimacing, Ron agreed, "I would have hated to talk about it, but I would have listened to him if he wanted to talk."
"Ron, if there was no love potion, why would they have left?" Terry asked, trying to get the conversation back on track.
"He had no reason to leave!" Ron protested. "That's why I thought Hermione must be right. Harry was working as an Auror, which is what he always wanted to do, You-Know-Who was no longer after him – he had no reason."
The two Aurors exchanged a telling look. "Ron, did Harry ever mention Robards to you?"
Frowning Ron thought about it. "He didn't like him. I guess Robards was on his case, but Harry's used to that."
"Maybe he was tired of putting up with it," Terry suggested.
Ron shook his head. "No, he wouldn't have left for that reason. Besides, he had enough money that he probably could have not worked for a while – he could have changed jobs if it was really too much for him."
"Did you ever talk to Robards?"
"Me, no," Ron said. "Except the night Harry went missing, I never actually talked to Robards."
"What about your brother, Percy?" Seamus asked.
Seamus nodded. Ron shrugged. "He asked me about Harry, but he was just concerned. Percy's like that. He's a real stickler for the rules and he doesn't like the fact that Harry doesn't always follow the rules. He wanted to make sure Harry didn't perform any Dark magic or anything. I told him that Harry wouldn't do that."
"Percy accepted that?" Terry asked.
Ron nodded. "Percy's a bit of a prig and he's not a huge fan of Harry's, but in the end he just wanted to make sure Harry hadn't done anything wrong."
Standing, Seamus and Terry shook Ron's hand. After Ron left, Seamus looked over at his partner. "What do you think?"
"I remember rumours that Robards was looking to bring charges against anyone using Unforgivables who wasn't already an Auror," Terry said thoughtfully. "Remember how he and Percy kept grilling us about what went on at Hogwarts?"
"Like that came of anything," Seamus said contemptuously. "Zabini, Harper, Goyle, Crabbe, and Parkinson all used Unforgivables. Malfoy may not have had the stomach for torture, but the rest of those little Death Eaters did. What did they all get? A slap on the wrist – a fine. Did any of them even serve any time?"
"I think Zabini served six months and Malfoy served eight months, but the others just paid a fine," Terry said. "They all should have been thrown in Azkaban for life. Harper's a little sociopath – he loved torturing them. When I think of Michael spending the night chained in the dungeons…it doesn't seem like enough."
"I know," Seamus sighed. "At least they are barred from the Wizengamot and most Ministry jobs."
"True," Terry said. He grinned. "The first day I saw Malfoy working at the Apothecary was great! He always acted as though he was going to rule the world."
Seamus laughed. "I will admit there was a lot of satisfaction in watching him slice up dandelion roots."
Chapter 3: Lavenham
We get our first glimpse of what Harry and Ginny are doing now.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
June 2006 – Eight years after the downfall of Voldemort
Terry poked his head into the small office he was sharing with Seamus. "I've heard from Detective Pitts. He wants to see us."
The two Aurors headed down to the in the office of the Magical liaison of the National Missing Persons Bureau. Detective Pitts was waiting for them.
"Did you find something?" Seamus asked excitedly after they took their seats.
Pitts nodded. "They left the country the night they disappeared – 12 December 1998. They took a ferry from Hull to Rotterdam in Holland. They used the names of James and Molly Evans."
Seamus frowned. "Why didn't the original investigation uncover this?"
"I can't tell that there was an initial investigation. The notes were spotty and incomplete. They did a cursory check for the names Harry Potter and Ginny Weasley, but when those names didn't show up it doesn't seem as though they investigated further," Pitts said. "I generated a possible list of aliases and they used the most basic – middle names and his mother's maiden name. Unfortunately, once they arrived in Holland, I lost them. He may have started with the most basic alias, but they quickly changed their names."
"So we don't have anything more recent," Terry said.
David Pitts laughed. "Come on, lads, I wouldn't have called you for nothing."
With a wave of his wand, he queued up a picture that had been taken from cctv footage. It clearly showed Ginny Weasley and she was accompanied by a dark haired man who was facing away from the camera. It could have been Harry, but they couldn't see enough to verify his identity. "This image was captured at Heathrow Airport, four years ago – 24 June 2002. I did some investigation and discovered that Jerry and Jenny Black flew to America." Glancing down at the parchment on his desk, David continued, "They flew to Boston, Massachusetts and stayed for almost three weeks before flying back to London. I haven't discovered any other flights, but they many have used different names. I didn't expect him to use the name Black."
"That was his godfather's name," Seamus explained.
"Sirius Black," David murmured. "Of course, I didn't connect it with Potter for some reason."
"Harry was also close to Remus Lupin," Seamus recalled. "After the war, Harry told me that Remus was also a good friend of his father's. I don't know if he'd use that name or not, but it might be worth checking into."
"That's helpful," David said as he made notes on the parchment. "I will run some of the other names."
Looking through the files on his desk, David said, "I did discover some other information."
He handed the two an official looking piece of parchment. "This is a copy of a German marriage certificate for Harry James Potter and Ginevra Molly Weasley. They were married in the town of Freiburg, Germany on 14 August 1999. They waited until she was old enough to marry in the Muggle world and they had a Muggle ceremony. A copy of their marriage certificate was sent to the UK, but because it wasn't flagged as a wizarding ceremony, it wasn't sent to the Ministry of Magic."
"Smart," Seamus murmured.
"It was," David agreed, "especially since the investigation had long since gone cold. I don't know how long they stayed in Germany, but one of my investigators talked to someone in the area who remembered them as a sweet couple. It took me almost three weeks to find the marriage certificate. I'm continuing to look for any home or land ownership records as well."
"Do you think they are back in Britain now?" Seamus asked.
"It's a distinct possibility," David said. "I'm scanning the cctv footage from the past year to see if we can spot them. It's a bit time consuming, but we can search for their image and magical signature – that helps eliminate a lot of people."
"Thank you," Seamus said. "If you find anything else, please let us know."
"Of course," David replied.
June 2006 – Eight years after Voldemort's defeat
It was a beautiful, crisp, clear, late spring morning as Tilda hurried down the street. She'd been a bit delayed in leaving the house this morning, so she had to hurry to make it on time. Even though she had to hurry, she admired the bright colours of the summer flowers that were just starting to bloom.
High Street in the market town of Lavenham hadn't changed much in the past several hundred years. It was a beautiful medieval town with Tudor style homes, timbered homes, and narrow streets. Tilda's family had lived there for generations and after a short stint in London, Tilda had been glad to return to the quiet charm of her home town. Turning off High Street, she turned onto Waters Street and approached her destination – the old Lavenham Priory.
The building was one of her favourites in the town. While the building dated back to the thirteenth century, it had fallen into disrepair over the years. The whole town started buzzing five years ago when a young couple bought the property. Most of the old biddies in town had given them less than six months before they gave up. Over the years several people had bought the place with a mind to restoring it, but they always gave up in the end. But this young couple, the Evans, had persisted and now the house was nearing its former glory.
Tilda had befriended Mrs Evans or Jenny as she asked Tilda to call her, when she'd called at Tilda's family antique shop. Tilda had helped Jenny and her husband, Harry, find several period pieces to furnish their home. The two women had become very close friends and Tilda was going to the Evans' this morning to provide moral support for her friend.
Knocking on the door, she heard Jenny calling for her to enter. Following the sound of her friend's voice, she found her in the large spacious kitchen. Tilda took one look at her friend and burst into laughter. Jenny's shirt was covered in flour and her beautiful red hair was falling out of its ponytail. As Tilda entered, Jenny straightened up and pulled a tray of scones from her beautiful cranberry coloured aga cooker.
Tilda had helped Jenny find the perfect modern cooker with antique finishes. The whole kitchen was a masterpiece – a merging of modern amenities and antique sensibilities. The cranberry coloured appliances complimented the crisp white and soft yellow cabinets and dark, hardwood floors. She had to admit, she was rather jealous of her friend until it came time to pay for it. It had rather shocked her when Jenny handed over a small fortune without batting an eye. The cost of the appliances alone had been astronomical.
"What happened?" Tilda asked as Jenny set the pan down on the counter.
Jenny made a face. "What hasn't happened this morning? My little prince decided to wake me up several times over night with a stuffy nose. He didn't want to eat breakfast so I spent forever just getting some eggs into him. I'm fairly certain I'm wearing some. I thought I'd make some simple scones for tea and somehow I wasn't paying attention and forgot the baking powder. I had to throw away the first batch."
Tilda dissolved into laughter. "I'm sorry, Jenny."
Shrugging Jenny joined in the laughter. "I don't know why I'm so nervous, but somehow Mrs Painter just makes me feel like I'm getting called to the headmaster's office after getting caught playing a prank red-handed."
Tilda nodded. "I understand, she can be a bit intimidating, but she's thrilled that you have managed to restore the house. She and my granny are great friends and their families have been here forever. I guess they used to walk by the house and imagine living here someday."
"I can understand that feeling. When we first saw the house, I don't think we saw what it looked like, but more that we saw what it could look like." Jenny flashed a grin at her friend. Tilda nodded her understanding.
"Thank you for agreeing to be here," Jenny said sincerely. "I'd be ever so nervous on my own."
Together the two young women put together a tray of scones, clotted cream, and jam as well as a tea tray. Once everything was prepared, they headed out into the garden. The Evanses had been busy out here as well as in the house.
"It is so lovely out here," Tilda sighed as she set down the tray she was carrying in the gazebo. From the small white, wooden structure, they could see the formal, laid out garden as well as the smaller herb and kitchen gardens. On the other side of the gazebo was a path leading down to a very picturesque pond. Geese and ducks played in the pond filling the air with the sounds of quacking and honking.
Set back from the path on the right hand side was an enclosed chicken coop with their brood of Ancona chickens already out pecking at the ground. Next to the chicken coop was a small enclosure for a small tribe of pygmy goats.
Tilda laughed as she watched the little white and caramel coloured goats run about the yard. Most of the Evans' goats were still young so they were only ten to twelve inches at their withers. They seemed very content in their pen, either running around the pen or sleeping in the shade of the trees. "I still can't believe Harry just came home with goats."
Jenny flashed a smile. "That is so him. He saw pygmy goats at another farm and he wouldn't stop talking about them. I wasn't surprised to find him out here building a little pen for them."
"He's not going to get pigs or cows, will he?"
"Good Lord, I hope not," Jenny said. "The ducks and geese seemed to make sense with the pond and my family always had chickens when I was growing up. I wanted a cat and he wanted a dog and the next thing you know we have a whole menagerie going on here."
She shrugged as she started tidying up the gazebo. "I love it."
Looking out over the gardens, Jenny heard their dog, Gryffin, barking and her husband's voice answering. She smiled as she surveyed her land. She'd never imagined when they'd left home eight years earlier that they would have anything nearly as wonderful as what they had. She pushed those thoughts away for now. Mrs Painter was on her way and Jenny wanted everything to be perfect.
She looked over at Tilda. "How does everything look?"
"Lovely," Tilda reassured her as she looked over the table they'd set up in the gazebo. She glanced at her watch. "Mrs Painter should be here in about ten minutes. She's never late."
The pair walked back into the house and Jenny ran up to her room to change and clean up while Tilda explored the sitting room. While she'd helped the Evanses procure many of their pieces, Jenny always managed to decorate and display the pieces to their best. There was a wall of windows that overlooked the gardens. Tilda smiled, she knew that Mrs Painter was going to be thrilled to see what the Evanses had accomplished. The wall adjacent to the wall of windows contained one of the largest fireplaces she'd ever seen.
Harry had refaced the fireplace and cleared the flue. They'd had to practically rebuild the chimney, but it was now working. The size of the fireplace always astonished her. Someone could stand in the opening if they had a mind to – not that she could imagine why they would, but it was big enough, nonetheless. Today, Jenny had set a small fire and set a small cast iron cauldron filled with potpourri over the fire. It sent a lovely scent through the space. Jenny tended to decorate with candles. It always amazed Tilda how well Jenny managed to light her house using candles and period gas lamps.
When the Evanses first bought their house, some parts of the house hadn't even been wired for electricity and throughout the rest of the house there had been a mishmash of old-fashioned and modern wiring. Jenny had confided that they'd had an electrician out at their house for several weeks re-wiring the whole house. The light switches and outlets were well hidden and at first glance the house appeared to not use electricity at all.
After several minutes, Jenny reappeared at the top of the steps. She was wearing a sleeveless yellow sundress and golden sandals. The bodice of the sundress was fitted while the skirt flared out over the hips and fell just above her knees. Tilda watched her friend a bit enviously. Jenny was a very beautiful woman and she managed to look so good so easily.
"You look wonderful," Tilda commented. "I love your hair. There are so many colours in it."
"Thank you," Jenny replied, blushing slightly.
The doorbell sounded and Jenny hurried to open the door. As she expected, Mrs Gayle Painter was exactly on time. "Mrs Painter, please come in. Welcome to our home."
"Thank you, Mrs Evans." Mrs Painter was a rather formidable older woman. She was short, an inch or two shorter than Jenny's own five foot two inches. Her silver white hair was neatly coiffed and she wore khaki coloured trousers with a flowered blue blouse and sensible shoes. Her blue eyes were surprisingly friendly as she tried to take everything in.
After Tilda and Mrs Painter exchanged greetings, Jenny led them out to the garden and to the gazebo. Mrs Painter looked around admiringly. "You've managed to work miracles here, Mrs Evans."
"Thank you," Jenny replied proudly.
"I hope you will consider participating with our hidden garden event later this summer," Mrs Painter said eagerly.
"Tilda was telling me about the event and it sounds interesting. Can you tell me a bit more about it?" Jenny asked as she poured tea for each of them.
Accepting her cup of tea, Mrs Painter explained, "As I'm sure you are aware, Lavenham is a premier medieval town. We have over three hundred buildings of architectural and historical interest in the area. On the weekends, we attract many visitors to our beautiful town. We try to put together an interesting calendar of events that will entice visitors to spend the day or weekend exploring everything we have to offer. With the hidden garden tour, we charge a nominal amount and have a tour of the beautiful gardens. Some of the houses offer tea or cakes, but that is not a requirement. We would simply ask that you allow people to explore your garden."
Jenny looked over the grounds. "Is it for one day or one weekend?"
"It is one day," Mrs Painter replied. "I believe the hours this year are to be from eleven in the morning until five in the afternoon. Sometimes it runs a bit late, but it's usually wrapped up by evening. We ask that you and/or your husband be available to show people around and answer questions."
"It sounds wonderful," Jenny said. "My husband, Harry, and I have talked it over and we would love to participate. We've both so enjoyed restoring both the house and grounds and we'd be thrilled to share what we've managed with the public."
"Thank you," Mrs Painter said very sincerely. Helping herself to one of Jenny's freshly baked scones, she said, "I've lived in Lavenham my whole life and my family's been here for generations. Your house was used as a children's home during the Great War and again in the Second World War. My brothers and I befriended some of the children and we played here quite often."
The older woman smiled fondly. "We had fun with the London children. My brothers tended to tease them a bit – they made up several stories about ghostly monks and of course a spurned bride haunting the grounds and such, but it was all in fun."
Jenny laughed. "Ghostly monks? We've not run into any, but we'll be sure to keep an eye out for them."
"May I ask, what made you decide to purchase and restore this property?" Mrs Painter asked.
Jenny smiled as she looked over her house. "I grew up in a ramshackle old home out in the country – in Devon. Harry grew up near London, but he always wanted to live in a smaller town. We married right out of school and travelled quite a bit. Harry's parents died when he was a baby and he inherited their estate, so we didn't have to worry about work right away. As we travelled, we realized we were both drawn to older homes. We took courses together in restoration and renovation with an eye to restoring a home of our own someday.
"Harry has always enjoyed working with his hands. He's done some construction work and landscaping. We decided we wanted to settle down and were looking for a bit of a challenge."
The other two women laughed. Tilda remarked, "This place was certainly a challenge."
"It has been," Jenny agreed, "but it's been fun as well. Harry and I have visited several renovated homes and we've even worked on a few. Luck played into it as well. Just after we started looking around, this place came up for sale. Harry and I kicked the idea back and forth and we talked to another family who restored an old Tudor home at great length. They were wonderful in sharing their experiences and help."
"I think it is wonderful," Mrs Painter said. "How many acres do you have here?"
"Three acres," Jenny replied.
Mrs Painter nodded. "I love what you've done with the grounds. I saw an herb garden, a kitchen garden, and the formal garden."
Jenny nodded. "Again we lucked out. In one of the outbuildings we found what we believe were records of what the gardens looked like in the seventeenth or eighteenth century. There was a sketch of the original formal garden and a record of what plants and flowers were used. We haven't followed that completely faithfully, but it was a great jumping off point. Harry is working on a small maze. We also have a small orchard."
Noticing Mrs Painter's gaze, Jenny asked, "Would you like to see what we've done?"
"Very much," Mrs Painter said as she stood. Tilda and Jenny rose and Jenny led the women into the garden. Mrs Painter was not nearly as stern as Jenny had supposed and as an avid gardener, she had many questions.
As they walked down to the pond, Jenny said, "I've been thinking about the visitors. Maybe we could set up something so children could feed the ducks – I could provide torn up bread. I know children love the idea of feeding the duckies."
"That is a wonderful idea," Mrs Painter said. "I think that would work out well."
The three women walked back up to the garden. Jenny led them around the house so they could enter the garden without going through the house. As they walked past the house, Jenny had to smile at the scene in front of her.
Two new stone lions were being placed at the entrance to garden. Her husband had obviously been working in the garden that morning. He was dressed in older and rather snug jeans, a t-shirt, and well-used work boots. She thought he looked extremely sexy. His shoulder-length black hair was pulled back into a ponytail and his green eyes were happy and relaxed. Here in Lavenham, he was known as Harry Evans, landscaper and house restorer, but in other circles he was known as Harry Potter. Jenny, or Ginny Potter, and he had left the wizarding world behind years earlier and were happily settled in Lavenham.
Harry didn't notice them at first as he was intent upon his task. He'd dug into the ground and the base of the statues had been firmly secured in the hole. Now Harry was packing gravel around the base of the statues. He wasn't alone either. His helper was the first to notice Jenny and her visitors.
Ginny smiled at her young son, Jamie. Jamie was just shy of his third birthday and while he'd had a stuffy nose during the night, he was full of energy and playful now. His black hair was almost to his shoulders and curly. He'd inherited his father's green eyes and a sprinkling of freckles across the nose from his mother.
"Hi, sweetheart," Ginny laughed at the picture the two of them made. Harry was so good with Jamie.
"We plantin' 'ions, Mummy!" Jamie informed her happily. He scrunched up his nose adorably. "But 'ions doesn't grow like plants. They is going to watch over us."
"You're doing a wonderful job," Ginny said as she crouched down next to them. Jamie was scooping up tiny handfuls of gravel and patting them around the base of the lion.
Harry stood when he saw Ginny and her guests. She couldn't help but lean over and kiss him briefly in greeting. Setting her hand on his arm, she turned and said, "Mrs Painter, this is my husband, Harry Evans."
Harry pulled off the work gloves he'd been wearing and extended his hand. "Mrs Painter, it is nice to meet you."
"It is nice to meet you, young man," Mrs Painter said pleasantly. "I've heard wonderful things about you."
She smiled down at Jamie, who was watching the adults, before addressing Harry. "Your helper seems very capable."
Harry smiled proudly. "Thank you, I think he is."
"He loves working out here with his daddy," Ginny said with a smile. Jamie reached his hands up to his mother who automatically picked him up and cuddled him closely. "Jamie, this is Mrs Painter and you remember Miss Tilda."
"'Lo" Jamie said uncertainly, burying his head in his mother's neck.
"I like the lions," Mrs Painter said kindly.
Jamie smiled widely. Wiggling out of his mother's arms, he toddled over to the closest white marble lion and petted it on the head. Looking up at the women, Jamie said, "'ions roar. Rawr!"
All of the adults burst out laughing. Harry smiled at his son. "Well done!"
Leaving Harry and Jamie to their task, Ginny led the other two into the formal garden proper. Harry had done most of the work out here, but Ginny had done her fair share of planting, watering, and weeding. Harry had designed and laid out the garden. The flower beds circled around a small water feature that was in the centre of the garden.
The basin was a manmade stone structure with mosaic tiles along the bottom and a fountain in the centre spraying water several feet in the air. The mosaic tiles formed a picture of a large shaggy dog and a grey wolf standing next to a magnificent stag and doe with a beautiful snowy owl flying above them. Along the edge of the pond, there were decorative statues that had been designed to spit water at certain intervals – the statues depicted figures from Greek mythology. There were two benches facing the pond, one on either side.
"This is lovely," Mrs Painter said as she watched the fountain. "Is that Medusa?"
Ginny nodded. "Medusa, a Cerberus, a unicorn, and dragon. We noticed a lot of famous fountains took characters from Greek or Roman mythology so we chose mythical creatures in that tradition."
"Very well done."
"Thank you," Ginny said. "We weren't sure about this. It's not really in keeping with the time period of the home, but we enjoy the sound of the water. Harry wants to add fish. We had some fish in there last summer, but they were stolen by some birds. At least we think it was birds, it might have been another animal. Harry's been reading up on how to protect your fish. It's very nice out here."
"It is," Mrs Painter said. "I must say, Mrs Evans, I am very impressed with how well you and your husband have managed your home. I was quite sceptical when I heard the place had been sold again. Several people have bought the property over the years with the intent of restoring it and they've given up once they realized the scope of the work required. Many of us were beginning to fear it would end up being torn down."
Ginny laughed. "Trust me, we heard from many people how crazy we were for buying the property, but we were committed to making it work. Harry and I both fell in love with the town and the medieval vibe. We went to a boarding school in Scotland in an old castle and, as I said, we discovered how drawn we are to older buildings. We've been trying to discover some of the history of this place. We've discovered some old documents and we've worked with Mr Ruggles, the town historian. We're certainly not finished. We've restored the great hall and dining room, totally redone and modernized the kitchen. We're slowly redoing the bedrooms and adding bathrooms. There was only one bathroom in the whole place and it was very old fashioned. That was one thing I insisted Harry work on right away. I did not want to be reduced to using the old garderobe."
The women laughed as they returned to the house. Ginny led the way into the great hall. Mrs Painter was quite interested in what they'd discovered about the house and its history, so Ginny was happy to share that with her.
As the women talked, Ginny heard a wail from the upper floor followed by creaking footsteps. She smiled at the two women. "Excuse me for a moment, please."
Hurrying upstairs, she smiled to see her baby daughter being tended to by her child minder, Ella. Ella was a local girl in her mid-teens who loved caring for the Evans children. Harry and Ginny had her in several times to watch the children while they worked on the house. It was too dangerous to try to renovate and keep an eye on the children at the same time. Ella was always happy to help.
"She's fine, Mrs Evans," Ella said with a smile as she fed baby Lily her bottle. "She just woke from her nap."
"Thank you," Ginny said as she leaned over and kissed her daughter on the top of the head. "We're almost done downstairs. She hasn't shown any signs of the cold Jamie had, has she?"
"No, she's been fine," Ella reassured her.
Reassured that her daughter was in good hands, Ginny hurried back downstairs.
Once the lions were firmly set into the ground and the gravel set, Harry smiled over at his son. "What do you think, kiddo?"
"Good, Daddy," Jamie replied happily. "I wike the 'ions."
"Me, too," Harry said.
"We see goats?" Jamie asked hopefully.
Laughing Harry quickly put his tools away before heading over to the goat pen with his son. He knew that many people thought he was a little crazy for buying the goats, but he'd seen them at another farm and thought they were very fun. He was still considering a few sheep – he really didn't know what was involved in raising sheep so he hadn't done anything yet.
As he watched his son chasing the goats around, he felt a deep sense of contentment. It was something he would have never thought possible just a few short years earlier. From the misery of his childhood, to the life and death struggle he'd faced as a teen, he was determined that the rest of his life was going to be of his own choosing, not someone else's.
A noise caused him to turn. He broke into a smile as Ginny approached carrying with her, their daughter, Lily. The sight of his two favourite girls never failed to make him smile. Ginny was still wearing her sundress, but she'd changed into more practical flat shoes. Her red hair was pulled back in a sloppy ponytail; he imagined that Lily had been pulling at her hair.
Lily was dressed simply in a dress decorated with large multi coloured polka dots. Harry thought she looked absolutely adorable. At eight months old, she only had a bit of hair, but the hair that she did have was bright red like her mother's. Her bright green eyes on the other hand had come straight down from her namesake, her grandmother, Lily Potter.
"Hello, beautiful," Harry greeted his wife as she approached. When she arrived at his side, he leaned down to kiss her even as he stole the baby from her arms.
"It looked like everything was going well this morning," he observed after greeting his daughter.
Ginny smiled happily. "It did. Mrs Painter isn't nearly as scary as I'd heard. This hidden garden tour sounds great."
"It does," Harry agreed. He looked around the garden trying to assess it with a neutral eye. "I think it looks good." He grinned. "I guess I'll have to make sure our 'special' greenhouse is well hidden."
Ginny laughed. "Yes, I don't know how I would explain our pineapple plants and coconut trees."
Harry joined in the laughter. "No, I don't think that would be easy to explain." He shrugged. "I'm amazed we've gotten away with mixing magic and Muggle methods to the extent that we have. I'm glad that the Ministry isn't as all powerful as we were raised to believe it to be."
"I know," Ginny said as she watched her son happily petting his favourite goat. "The way my parents always talked, the Ministry knew all of the wizarding families and could instantly detect when and where magic is done. It was rather a shock to discover that the Ministry only knows about a fraction of those practicing magic."
"I think people just believed that the list of magical births was infallible and assumed if a person wasn't listed then they weren't magical," Harry said. "I am forever indebted to everyone who's helped us."
Harry fell silent as he thought back to the last desperate weeks before they'd left wizarding Britain. The thought of leaving hadn't been a new thought, but it seemed more and more enticing as the autumn of 1998 had worn on. He vividly remembered the day he decided to talk to Ginny about his plans. He'd been going to see Percy to gain permission to take Ginny to the ball.
Harry reviewed all of the points of his argument logically as he made his way to Percy's office. It had come as quite a shock when he'd submitted Ginny's name as his escort and it had come back with a rejection. Surely once he explained the depths of his feelings for Ginny, they would relent and let her accompany him to the ball.
Once he reached Percy's office, he paused outside the door. Taking a deep breath to steady himself, he prepared to knock when he heard Ron's voice inside his brother's office. What was Ron doing here? He hadn't mentioned visiting his brother.
He heard Percy's voice. "Here is the exception for Hermione to attend the ball with you. Don't forget, you cannot tell Potter!"
Harry fell back against the wall in confusion. He listened in growing horror as Ron agreed. "Don't worry," Ron reassured his brother. "I won't say a word."
"Has he made any effort to find himself a proper date?" Percy asked.
"No," Ron replied unhappily. "I don't know why. I wish Hermione was here, she would be able to find a proper date for him and he'd forget all about Ginny. I don't really know who to suggest he date."
Percy frowned. "I recall that Parvati accompanied him to the Yule Ball and he dated Cho Chang, correct?"
Ron nodded. Percy smiled. "Excellent, I know a lovely young woman who would be thrilled to accompany Potter to the ball. She is of Indian descent so she is his preferred type. I imagine that once he meets Miss Sehgal, he'll forget all about Ginny. I must say, I didn't think you would agree with my assessment."
Ron squirmed a bit uncomfortably. "Harry is my best mate and he has been since we first set foot on the Hogwarts Express. I think he can find someone much better than Ginny. She's alright, but she wants to monopolize his time and spend time with us. I don't want to spend all of my free time with my little sister. I don't think she's the best person for him."
In the corridor, Harry was furious listening to his supposed best mate. How could Ron be plotting with Percy to keep him and Ginny apart?
"When I heard that Potter went to visit her at Hogwarts, I thought maybe you'd had a change of heart," Percy commented.
"No," Ron replied. "I would have let you know, but he didn't let on that he was going to Hogwarts. I never thought that he'd ask for special permission to visit her on a non-Hogsmeade weekend. Honestly, I thought she'd be so angry that he'd missed the Hogsmeade visit and her first match that she'd have dumped him."
Harry turned and walked away from Percy's office a feeling of betrayal coursing through him. How could Ron be working against him?
Jamie's shrieks of joy as he chased his favourite goat brought Harry back to the present. Lily started laughing at her brother's antics.
Seamus looked up at the knock on his door. To his surprise, it was Bill Weasley. "Bill, please come in. What can I do for you?"
Taking the seat Seamus offered him, Bill sighed. "My brothers and I had a meeting last night. Ron told us what you said about the love potion. It took a while to convince Hermione to let go of her pet theory, but even she eventually realized she had been wrong."
"That's a relief," Seamus murmured. "I know how difficult it can be for Hermione to change her mind."
Bill nodded. "So we started talking about why they might have left."
When Bill didn't continue, Seamus asked, "Did you come up with anything?"
"It took a while, but Ron admitted that he'd told Percy about Harry going to Hogwarts. Percy still doesn't think he did anything wrong."
With a frown, Seamus asked, "What does Percy have against Harry?"
"Many things," Bill replied wearily. "He thinks that Harry got away with too much while he was at school. I know Fudge has been proven wrong, but Percy still holds the opinion that Harry was seeking attention and that due to our friendship with Harry our lives were unnecessarily put on the line. I also think that Harry's easy relationship with everyone contrasted a bit too much with Percy's strained relationship with all of us."
"There's something else, isn't there?"
Bill nodded. "It took some time, but Ron eventually admitted that Percy and Robards had been trying to discover if Harry performed any Dark Magic." He shook his head almost in disbelief. "I can't believe that they would try to discredit the man who saved us all. I don't know if it was jealousy or they believed he was at risk of becoming the next Dark Lord, but they definitely had it in for him. Ron swears he told Percy that Harry didn't use any Dark Magic during the final battle with Voldemort and Hermione backs him up."
"But they don't deny that he used Dark Magic," Seamus said.
Bill shook his head. "Hermione can't lie convincingly and Ron is easily baited into revealing what he knows. They won't confirm it, but what they have said leaves the impression that Harry may have used Dark Magic at some point in time. I don't believe he did any more than use some of the Unforgivables which many people did while fighting the Death Eaters and Kingsley has said they will not be prosecuted.
"I'm afraid that Harry may have somehow discovered Percy, Robards, and Dawlish were investigating his activities. Percy told me that they would have arrested him if they could have. They were afraid he would become another Dark Lord or some such nonsense. Kingsley is going to be furious when he finds out."
Seamus swore. "You're right. Robards interrogated everyone in the DA to make sure no one was taught Dark spells or any such nonsense. He didn't believe that we managed to resist the Death Eaters without resorting to Dark magic. Professors McGonagall and Flitwick backed us up completely and Robards had to let it go."
"I think you should talk to Professor McGonagall," Bill said. "Percy hinted at something to do with one of the Carrows. Of course, he wouldn't give me more information, but I think she knows something about it."
Seamus and Terry stood impassively as Minister Shacklebolt swore colourfully. "So those idiots thought I would stand by and let them make an example of Harry because they were jealous of his abilities?"
Nodding, Seamus said, "It appears that way, sir. I spoke to Professor McGonagall. Robards and Dawlish interviewed Amycus Carrow. He accused Harry of using the Cruciatus Curse on him and said Professor McGonagall was a witness. She denied it took place and was quite adamant in her defence of Harry. Robards wanted to pursue the matter, but no one felt that anyone would believe Carrow over McGonagall."
"So you think Harry got wind of this investigation?" Kingsley asked as he took a seat behind his desk. He gestured for the Aurors to sit down.
"I think he must have discovered something," Terry said. "Ron and Hermione made it sound that Harry just decided to run that night, but I don't believe that to be the case. He had time to make preparations. He had documentation and a plan. Ginny was also ready to leave – she took what she wanted with her and wasn't detected leaving the school. I don't think Harry was surprised by Hermione going to the ball with Ron. I think he used that as a pretext. He obviously knew he wasn't being dosed by love potion."
"You've proven that?" Kingsley asked as he scribbled notes on a sheet of parchment.
"Yes, sir," Seamus replied. "The Auror's Matron examined him several times because of his surviving the Killing Curse again. She wanted to make certain there was no permanent damage. He had no potions of any kind in his system."
"Good," Kingsley said. "It never made sense to me. I've seen plenty of people under the influence of love potions – they all act foolishly and can't stop blathering about the object of their obsession. Harry never acted like that."
"No, he didn't," Seamus agreed.
Kingsley sighed. "So my Head Auror and two other Ministry officials conspired to implicate Harry Potter in the use of Dark magic even after I specifically gave orders giving everyone who fought on our side in the final battle blanket immunity."
"It appears that way," Terry said. "I don't know if Harry believed he was in danger of being arrested or if he was just sick of being treated so poorly. He was called into work at the last minute twice simply to prevent him from going to Hogwarts. Robards and Dawlish were dogging him in class and Ron and Hermione were on him about Ginny. I think he felt he had no options."
"Damn!" Kingsley swore. Sighing he looked at the two Aurors. "I understand you have made some progress in the search for them."
"Yes, sir," Seamus replied. "We've discovered that Harry and Ginny left the country the night they disappeared." Pulling out the documents and photos he'd received from Detective Pitt, Seamus reviewed the information the detective had discovered.
"So they are married?" Kingsley asked with a smile.
"Yes, sir," Seamus smiled.
"Arthur will be pleased to hear that," Kingsley remarked. "Have you found anything more recent?"
"Not yet," Terry said, "but Detective Pitt is continuing to check the cctv footage and combing through the records looking for any real estate purchases or any other flights."
"Very well," Kingsley said. "Please keep me informed."
As Seamus and Terry left, Kingsley called out to Hestia, "I want Robards, Dawlish, and Percy Weasley in my office – now!"
A/N: I hope everyone likes the first glimpse of Harry and Ginny. Lavenham is a real town - part of Deathly Hallows Part 2 was filmed there. The Lavenham Priory is a real place, in the real world it is a hotel. The pygmy goats are for my son - we saw them at a farm and he loved them. Thanks again to my betas Arnel, seekers_destiny, and StephanieO as well as my Brit picker Mark!
Chapter 4: Discovery
Kingsley deals with Percy, Dawlish, and Robards. Seamus finds Harry and Ginny.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
June 2006 – Eight years after the downfall of Voldemort
Percy looked over at Robards and Dawlish. "Do you have any idea what this is about?"
Robards shook his head. "No idea."
The three men entered the office area for the Minister of Magic. Hestia gave them a look of disgust that Percy found very disquieting before she said, "You may go in."
Kingsley sat impassively behind his desk. "Gentlemen, please sit down."
Once they had been seated, Kingsley looked down at a file on his desk. "A few months ago I authorized an investigation into the disappearance of Harry Potter and Ginny Weasley."
A frisson of fear travelled down Percy's spine at the coldness in the Minister's tone of voice. Robards seemed oblivious to Kingsley's tone of voice. "Why? We investigated it at the time and didn't find anything."
"Interesting that you mention that," Kingsley said. "I have reviewed the previous investigation and find that not much was done. There was every indication that they fled into the Muggle world, yet you chose to assign Williamson. You knew he hated having to deal with Muggles. His attitude is the reason he was forced to take an early retirement."
"Sir, we didn't have a lot of choices at the time," Dawlish broke in.
"Almost any other choice would have been preferable," Kingsley said witheringly. "Williamson didn't do any actual investigating. When we restarted the investigation eight years later, we picked up their trail. If we'd had that information then we might have found them sooner."
"We'd lost many Aurors in the war and many others were tied up in training the new group," Robards protested.
"Yes, the new group that included Harry Potter." Kingsley surveyed the men in front of him. "Gawain, I have received many complaints about your treatment of Harry."
When Robards made to interrupt, Kingsley erupted. "I did not give you permission to speak!
"You repeatedly and methodically denigrated the man responsible for ending the war. You denied him leave and cancelled his days off telling him he needed to make up for the time he spent with me." Glaring at the Head Auror, Kingsley barked, "Did I not specifically tell you that Harry was working with me and it was to be considered part of his training?"
Now pale and sweating slightly, Robards said, "I know he was helping you, but Potter had a habit of getting special attention. We didn't want him to think he could get away with whatever he wanted."
"Potter got special attention?" Kingsley asked in what was clearly a rhetorical question.
Nonetheless, Percy spoke up, "He did, sir! Professor Dumbledore always gave him a lot of leeway. Even Professor McGonagall broke the rules for him, allowing him on the Quidditch team during his first year. Potter repeatedly flaunted the rules and was rewarded for it. We wanted to make sure he understood that would not continue!"
"You were using the power of the Ministry to right schoolboy wrongs?" Kingsley asked incredulously. "If Harry received special attention, he deserved it. In his time at Hogwarts he faced Voldemort numerous times; he rescued your sister from the Chamber of Secrets, evaded a trap set by Ministry employees, and finally defeated Voldemort while on the run from a corrupt Ministry. This is the man who needed to learn his place?!"
Leaning across his desk, Kingsley glared at the trio. "Gawain, why did you allow this travesty to occur?"
"Weasley had some good points," Robards defended his decisions. "I've heard all about his attitude and he was rude and dismissive to both Ministers Fudge and Scrimgeour. I thought he needed to learn a lesson in humility."
"A lesson in humility?! What in the hell are you talking about? Have you ever even talked to him?" Kingsley stood pacing behind his desk. "Harry is one of the most humble people I've ever met. Obviously, he didn't complain to me about your treatment of him; that should have told you something. He never asked for special treatment. He gave away at least half of what he was awarded for defeating Voldemort. He didn't even want the Order of Merlin."
Turning he pinned Robards with a glare. "I understand that even after I gave specific orders that there would be no charges brought for any actions taken in defeating Voldemort, you investigated Harry for the use of Dark magic. Did you think I meant everyone except Harry Potter? Do you really imagine I would allow you to prosecute him?"
"Sir, he did use Unforgivables," Dawlish broke in.
"SO WHAT?!" Kingsley roared. "Many people used Unforgivables during the war. He never used the Killing Curse. Like many others, he did what he needed to do. He didn't go around indiscriminately attacking people.
"Time after time he went above and beyond to do what was expected of him. He did it even when he was being mocked and ridiculed by our Ministry. After he went on the run and managed to defeat the most dangerous Dark Lord in centuries, the three of you decide he's not good enough to be an Auror. If that wasn't ridiculous enough, you wouldn't allow him to take his girlfriend to the ball honouring him."
Percy opened his mouth, but Kingsley cut him off. "I don't want to hear it, Weasley.
"The three of you have made one mistake after another," Kingsley continued. "Robards and Dawlish, I am appalled at the mishandling of the Auror trainees. You have made no attempt to improve your training methods and you haven't kept up with the latest developments in law enforcement. You are both fired. You have until the end of the day to clear out your desks. Gawain, you will bring Proudfoot up to date. He will be acting Head Auror until I can make a full appraisal of the department."
"No, Gawain," Kingsley said. "You have repeatedly made poor decisions as Head Auror. You have a history of rewarding your friends regardless of their abilities. I have been concerned about your performance, but I've let Amos handle it as the head of Magical Law Enforcement. I can't ignore this."
Turning to Percy, he said, "I don't know what to do with you. I gave you an opportunity to redeem yourself after some very poor decisions under my predecessors. I can't have someone so petty and unreliable working for me. You are fired as well."
July 2006 – Eight years after the fall of Voldemort
"How's your investigation going?" Hannah asked Seamus as he sipped his coffee.
"It's frustrating," Seamus said. While he never discussed confidential information, he did sometimes talk about some aspects of his investigations with Hannah and Neville. "If we'd pushed this hard eight years ago we could probably have found them, but starting so many years later it is difficult to find any recent leads."
"You'll find something," Hannah said. "You're quite persistent."
Seamus laughed. "I guess that has to come in handy for something."
"Well, if there is anything Neville and I can do, please let us know. We can help search or whatever."
"Thank you," Seamus said gratefully. "I will let you know."
"Please do, we would really like to help," Hannah reassured him. She reached out and patted his arm. "We don't see enough of you, Seamus. You've been so busy lately."
Another patron called out for Hannah, she nodded at the man and turned back to Seamus. "Just let me or Neville know, we'd be thrilled to help you."
Seamus watched her walk away as he finished his coffee. He never would have imagined when he first started Hogwarts that Neville would be the Gryffindor roommate he'd be the closest to. Dean had been his best mate the first six years at Hogwarts, but then his seventh year came along.
Dean had been forced to go on the run and Seamus found himself in the thick of Dumbledore's Army. While Dean was still one of his closest friends, Neville and the others with whom he'd shared that last year had a bond that was much stronger than friendship. Shame swept through him once again as he realized he'd not fought hard enough to find Ginny once she'd gone missing. Pushing aside the guilt for his past inaction, Seamus headed into the Ministry to see what he could do to rectify the situation.
Entering the Auror Department, Seamus headed into the small office he was sharing with Terry.
Terry looked up as Seamus entered. "Did you hear what happened?"
"Robards and Dawlish were fired," Terry said with quiet satisfaction. "Proudfoot is the acting Head Auror."
"Wow," Seamus said. "The Minister really followed through. Proudfoot is good."
Terry nodded. "He's much more up on newer procedures and he doesn't have any hang ups about working with Muggles."
He handed Seamus a note from Proudfoot that stated he was aware of their investigation and to reiterate that anything they needed, all they had to do was ask.
"Excellent," Seamus murmured as he read the note.
"Pitts just sent an owl," Terry said. "He wants to see us."
A short time later they were in Detective Pitts' office. "Come in, gentlemen," Pitts said cheerfully.
"Did you find something?" Seamus asked eagerly.
Pitts nodded as he pulled up a screen shot. It showed Ginny walking down a street with a blond young woman who was pushing a young child in a push chair. The two were talking and laughing as they looked into various shop windows.
"Where and when was this?" Terry asked as he watched the images.
"Ipswich," Pitts replied. "It was taken almost a year ago."
He pulled up several other images – most of them were of Ginny, but there were also some of Harry. Sometimes they were together, other times they appeared to be with friends. "I used Ipswich as a starting point and found images in other towns nearby. They seem to be somewhere in Suffolk. I haven't found any deeds or property ownership, but I am still looking.
"Based on the frequency of their images in certain towns, I think they are most likely near Sudbury, Long Medford, or Lavenham. I'm concentrating on those towns and searching property records – nothing thus far, but I'm still looking."
"So you are fairly certain they are in England?" Seamus asked.
Pitts nodded. "I spotted Mr Potter at West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmonds almost three years ago. I'm trying to go through hospital records, but it is slow going and I haven't found anything yet. I've seen them at several nurseries and some DIY shops."
"Mr and Mrs Weasley are very upset with me," Hermione explained to her mother tearfully as they sat out in the Grangers' back garden. "Last night after supper…it was horrid. They feel that Ron and I helped run Ginny and Harry off. Ron is…well, I've never seen him so upset before. I don't think it really occurred to him to try and accept his sister as a friend. Bill really laid into him for him for not being there for her.
"Ron has always had issues with being the youngest boy, but I don't think he ever thought about what his older brothers do for him. Bill and Charlie especially try to look out for the younger ones and Ron told me that it never occurred to him to do the same for Ginny."
Hermione frowned as she watched a starling making a nest in their large oak tree. "He's always seen her as a tag along who got in his way. The twins used to tease him about playing with a girl, so I think he took that to heart. Now he's feeling he let his sister and his family down."
"I think he might have," Mrs Granger said quietly.
"He didn't mean to," Hermione defended him automatically before sinking back into her chair. "I'm afraid I may have influenced him as well. After the Chamber of Secrets, I never really gave her much of a chance. But, I never intended to them to leave."
Mrs Granger watched her daughter thoughtfully as she reached for her tea. "But you did intend to break them up."
"Yes," Hermione agreed.
"Ginny has always had a crush on the Boy Who Lived, not Harry," Hermione explained as if that explained everything.
"I seem to recall you being rather smitten with him yourself," Mrs Granger observed.
Blushing, Hermione looked down for a moment. "I had a brief crush on him my first year. He just seemed so amazing and heroic and he is, but as I got older I realized that while admired him, he wasn't what I wanted. We ended up with more of a brother/sister relationship."
"So you grew out of your crush, but you don't think Ginny did."
Hermione stared at her mother in confusion. "What do you mean?"
"I know Ginny had a huge crush on the Boy Who Lived," Mrs Granger explained. "Molly told me about the bedtime stories and I saw Ginny blushing around Harry when she was younger, but I also saw a change in their relationship."
"What?" Hermione gave her mother a look of total betrayal.
Mrs Granger shrugged. "I'm sorry, dear, but it did change. Ginny was a typical silly schoolgirl when she first started Hogwarts, but I saw a change in her after her first year. I think she was truly affected by what happened."
Glaring at her mother, Hermione shook her head. "I don't think so. She blushed and stuttered around him for years. She's just not the kind of girl Harry needs."
"But it seems as though she's the one he wants," Mrs Granger pointed out gently. "Sweetheart, I know you love Harry like a brother and you wanted to pick out his prospective bride, but he has a mind of his own. I know you thought he fancied another girl, but once he made it clear he didn't, you should have taken him at his word."
She watched her daughter as she teared up. "Why were you so convinced she was using a love potion?"
Wiping her eyes, Hermione said, "It just seemed to make sense. Mrs Weasley had once told us a story about trying a love potion and the twins sold love potions in their shop. Several girls talked about trying to slip Harry a love potion and when he suddenly kissed Ginny in front of the whole house it made sense to me. He didn't talk about her the whole time we were on the run, but once they were back in the same house he was suddenly enamoured of her again."
"I can't imagine he would have found it easy to talk about her if you and Ron were so disapproving," Mrs Granger observed. "Hermione, you have held a grudge against Ginny since your second year. You need to get past that, or get used to not seeing Harry. I understand that Ron and his sister had issues – siblings don't always get along, but I always thought he was afraid Ginny would steal his best friend."
Mrs Granger raised an eyebrow and Hermione blushed. "Why couldn't you share him? Harry didn't have a problem when you and Ron started dating. Why couldn't Harry pick who he wanted to date? You will need to think about your actions and the results. For years you have thought she drugged him and dragged him away, but that is obviously not what happened. Your actions, along with Ron's and Percy's, helped chase him away. He chose to leave and you will have to come to grips with that."
Tears flowed down Hermione's face. "What can I do?"
"I don't know," her mother replied. "Molly told me they are hopeful they may find them. If they do, you have a lot of work to do. You've treated Ginny poorly – it doesn't matter if you don't like her. You didn't get along with Fleur at first either, but you learned to accept each other."
Standing, she patted her daughter on the shoulder. "Think about it, love. You can make this work, but you and Ron will have to change your attitudes."
Hermione stared out over her mother's well-kept garden which was quite a contrast to the Burrow. Could she really have contributed to Harry's decision to leave? She thought back to the end of her second year.
Thirteen-year-old Hermione was one of the first to awaken after being administered the Mandrake Draught. As she woke up, she looked around in alarm.
"Professor, it's a Basilisk! That's what's been Petrifying all of the students."
"Thank you, Miss Granger," Professor McGonagall said warmly. "I understand that even whilst you were unconscious you helped your classmates figure out what was happening."
Pleased with the compliment, Hermione was gratified to learn that Harry and Ron had figured out what was happening. Looking across the hospital ward, Hermione was surprised to see not only Ron, but his also sister, Ginny, and his parents. That was odd. Had the Basilisk started going after Purebloods? Why would they be here? Had so much changed in the month she'd been Petrified?
Luckily for Hermione, Ron soon realized she was awake and made a beeline over to her bed. "Hermione! You're awake. Are you okay?"
Hermione nodded. "I'm fine." She looked around and realized that all of the people who had been Petrified were now awake.
"What happened?" Hermione asked as Ron pulled up a chair next to her bed. "Why are your parents here? And your sister?"
Ron rolled his eyes. "Would you believe it's all her fault?"
"What?!" Hermione looked back across the room at the rather shaken family. Ginny was already in her bed with her weeping parents at her side.
"Someone slipped an enchanted diary in her books," Ron explained. His face scrunched up in an effort to remember the whole story; honestly, much of what had been said in Dumbledore's office didn't make a lot of sense. "Apparently the diary was enchanted by You-Know-Who and she's been doing his bidding all year. She killed the roosters and she's the one who wrote the messages on the wall. She let the Basilisk out."
"So you figured out it was a Basilisk?" Hermione asked.
"No, you did that," Ron said a touch proudly. "Harry saw the note in your hand."
"I was coming back to tell you when…" Hermione's voice drifted away.
"I'm sorry," Ron said hoping Hermione wasn't going to get upset; he never knew what to do with upset girls. Ron shook his head angrily. "My stupid sister almost got both you and Harry killed. Harry and I went down there because we thought she was in trouble. I didn't realize she was the one causing it. I wouldn't have made so much of an effort if I'd known it was her fault."
Hermione's eyes were wide as she tried to take in everything. "So you went down to the Chamber of Secrets?"
Ron's eyes lit up at the excitement of a remembered adventure. "Me and Harry, we followed the spiders just like Hagrid told us to." He recounted his and Harry's adventure in the Forbidden Forest with the huge Acromantulas. He may have glossed over Harry's actions in favour of his own, but he was the one telling the story so he was allowed a little literary licence.
"So how did you figure out where the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets was?"
"That was all thanks to you," Ron said earnestly. "We saw your note about the pipes and Harry finally realized that the girl the Acromantula was talking about was Moaning Myrtle." Blushing slightly, he said, "I'm sure you would have figured it out much earlier, but we were left to our own devices and we aren't as clever as you."
Hermione blushed, pleased with Ron's compliments. "I'm so glad I could help." She looked over to where Madam Pomfrey was giving Ginny some sort of potion. Mr Weasley was fussing over his daughter while Mrs Weasley was watching her daughter with a mixture of concern and horror.
"So what happened in the Chamber of Secrets?" Hermione asked. She was a bit jealous that she had missed that adventure. To see a chamber created by one of the founders of Hogwarts – what an honour…that must have been incredible.
"Lockhart happened," Ron said in disgust. He quickly explained how Lockhart had faked his books and then ended up with his own memory wiped after trying to Obliviate Ron and Harry.
"He was only pretending? He never really did all of those things he wrote about?" Hermione was shocked. Professor Lockhart had seemed like such a larger than life hero. She had been so impressed with his bravery and clever solutions to problems. She'd read all of his books at least twice and hadn't noticed any inconsistencies. It was a bit disheartening. She blushed slightly as she recalled the crush she'd had on the handsome professor.
"No," Ron replied a touch smugly. "He was a fake." He shrugged. "Anyhow, I was stuck outside in the tunnel while Harry went through and got Ginny. It seemed like forever, but he came back with Ginny and they were both covered in blood and Harry had this big sword and the Sorting Hat of all things. They also had a phoenix with them, that's how we got out of the tunnels."
Hermione gasped. "A phoenix? It's a great honour to be acknowledged by a phoenix. It must be Professor Dumbledore's phoenix."
Ron shrugged. "Harry said the phoenix cried on him after the Basilisk bit him."
"The Basilisk bit him?" Hermione asked shocked. "I read that a Basilisk bite was immediately fatal."
Ron recounted Harry's tale as best he could remember it. Hermione listened in amazement her eyes kept going over to Ginny. "Why didn't she say anything?"
"I don't know," Ron said rather disgusted. "I can't believe her. Dad has told us many times not to trust anything that thinks for itself if you don't know where its brains are. She was so stupid…she writes in the stupid diary and then when Harry gets it she steals it back because she was afraid that it would tell him all of her stupid thoughts. She was whining about being lonely and everyone ignoring her." Ron shook his head. "She has roommates; she should have been able to make friends. Harry thinks she was going to tell us this morning, but I don't know about that."
Hermione felt a flare of anger. "So I missed almost a month of school not to mention a month in the hospital wing at the beginning of the term because your sister was lonely and wrote in an enchanted diary?"
Ron nodded. Before he could say anything else, his mother called to him. Smiling at Hermione he headed over to his parents.
Hermione lay there in silence digesting everything she'd heard. She couldn't believe all of this was because Ginny wrote in an enchanted diary. The younger girl should have known better, Ginny had been raised in the wizarding world, and she should have been able to resist its thrall.
Looking over at the smaller girl, Hermione shook her head in disgust. She'd hoped when Ron's sister came to Hogwarts they could be friends, but to her dismay Ginny turned out to be another empty-headed girl with a crush on the Boy Who Lived. Hermione honestly didn't know how Harry put up with it all. He never seemed to get angry with her, not even when she sent that incredibly embarrassing Valentine.
Before Ron and his parents left, they stopped by to see Hermione and make sure she was okay. Mrs Weasley seemed very apologetic while Mr Weasley seemed anxious to defend his daughter. A while later, Harry came in and as Ron had mentioned he was covered in blood. He looked around and to Hermione's displeasure he settled on Ginny and went over to talk to her.
The two talked for quite some time before Madam Pomfrey came and led Harry over to his own bed. Hermione was rather put out that Harry hadn't come over to check on her, but she would be able to talk to him in the morning.
Turning Hermione was happy to see Harry drop into the chair next to her bed.
"Harry! How are you? Ron told me everything that happened. Are you okay? Did you really get bitten by a Basilisk? How on Earth could you survive a Basilisk bite? Was that Professor Dumbledore's phoenix?"
Laughing Harry told her the same story Ron had told her the night before, but with a few more details. He described his encounter with the shadowy figure from the diary. Hermione was a bit sceptical about the whole encounter, but she listened to the story without interrupting.
"So this memory was forcing Ginny to do things?" Hermione asked in disbelief. She shook her head. "I don't understand why Ginny didn't just tell someone what was going on. She should have given the diary to Professor Dumbledore or even one of her brothers."
Harry's eyes widened. "The diary was a very powerful magical object. Somehow Riddle was trying to drain her soul and he was going to kill Ginny and come back to life."
"Harry, you can't bring someone back from the dead," Hermione said a bit condescendingly.
"I don't understand all of it," Harry admitted, "but Voldemort was a very powerful Dark wizard. Professor Dumbledore said that Voldemort studied all kinds of Dark magic and he said that it wasn't Ginny's fault."
"She should have told someone," Hermione objected. While this argument worked on Ron, Harry didn't agree so easily.
"She thought he was a friend of hers at first," Harry explained. "She talked to him and confided things to him. She didn't even realize at first that he was forcing her to do things. By the time she realized what was going on, she couldn't resist. His hold on her was too strong."
Realizing that continuing to argue the point would only anger Harry, Hermione nodded. "So what happened with the Basilisk?"
Harry launched into the story of his fight with the huge beast. Hermione tried to keep an open mind, but honestly a fifty foot Basilisk? She couldn't recall what the beast looked like, but it hadn't been that big, had it? When he held out his arm to show her where he'd been bitten, Hermione couldn't hold back.
"Harry, there's nothing there. Not even a scar. If you'd really been bitten by a huge Basilisk with foot long fangs, you would have a scar."
"I told you," he said patiently. "Fawkes, Professor Dumbledore's phoenix, healed me with his tears." Before she could say anything, he asked, "How are you feeling? Are you better? I felt so horrible when Professor McGonagall told us you were Petrified."
Mollified by his concern, she smiled. "I'm fine, thank you. Madam Pomfrey will be releasing all of us this afternoon. Everyone's Head-of-House was in to work out a program to catch everyone up on the work they missed."
"That's good," Harry said. "Poor Colin, he missed most of his first year."
"We will be taking correspondence type courses over the summer. Professor McGonagall explained that they will send us the assigned reading and set any essays for us to work on. For the practical work they will bring us to Hogwarts so we can work on any work that needs a wand or special supervision. In a way I'm sorry I only missed three weeks," Hermione explained enthusiastically. "Can you imagine getting one-on-one instruction from our professors? I can't wait for that part."
Harry thought it sounded awful, but he didn't say that out loud. Instead he said, "That sounds like something you would like."
Madam Pomfrey bustled over to the two of them with a smile. "How are the pair of you doing?"
She had her wand out and was scanning them as they both replied they were fine. She nodded at Harry. "You seem to be fine, Mr Potter. Amazingly enough, the Basilisk venom did not appear to harm you in any way."
"I'm glad Fawkes was there," Harry said fervently.
"Indeed," the matron replied. "Phoenix tears are an extremely potent treatment, especially fresh Phoenix tears. He must have found you worthy to provide tears for you."
"What do you mean?" Hermione asked curiously.
The matron transferred her gaze to Hermione. "Phoenixes are extremely intelligent and exceedingly particular as to whom they help. They don't provide tears for everyone who needs them. They somehow judge the person in need and if they find them worthy, they will cry in the wound. Mr Potter here, while he might have a bit of his father's trouble-making ways, also has a pure heart."
Harry ducked his head, blushing at the unexpected praise. He didn't see how what he did was all that special. Anyone who could have helped would have, right?
Chuckling lightly at Harry's modesty, Madam Pomfrey turned to Hermione. "You are free to go, Miss Granger." She handed the girl three vials of potion. "These are nutritional potions. Please take them for the next three days, you were given the nutritional supplement while you were Petrified and it is a good idea to complete the course."
Hermione took the vials. "Of course, Madam Pomfrey."
Hermione recalled something Bill had said the previous evening. He'd asked why she so readily forgave Ron for his actions under the influence of a Horcrux when he'd been seventeen and well aware of what the locket was, but she couldn't forgive Ginny when she'd been eleven years old and completely unaware of the diary's true nature.
She suddenly couldn't stand sitting still. Standing, she shrugged off the light jacket she'd worn and headed over to her mother's flower garden. Rolling up her sleeves, she pulled on her mother's gardening gloves and started pulling weeds. It had been one of her chores when she was younger and she liked to garden when she was trying to figure out a particularly difficult problem.
Looking back, Hermione realized that she'd been jealous that Harry was concerned about Ginny after the Chamber of Secrets. Flushing, she acknowledged that while she'd told her mother that her crush on Harry was only during their first year, that wasn't entirely accurate. She'd had a crush on him for most of their first two years and even once she'd gotten over her crush, she'd rather liked his dependence upon her. He always turned to her when he was in a jam or needed help with his schoolwork. She'd been the most important female in his life for most of their school years.
Sitting back on her heels, Hermione thought back over the years and realized that she had thought that she would always have a say in Harry's life. Was that why she'd reacted so badly to Ginny? With Cho, Harry had no idea what he was doing and he needed her help, but somehow she knew that Harry didn't need her help with Ginny.
She thought back to her tumultuous sixth year. It had been probably her worst year at Hogwarts – even worse than her third year when she'd argued with both boys. In her third year, she hadn't sorted out her feelings for the boys, but in her sixth year Ron had broken her heart.
Pushing those awful memories aside, Hermione recalled her interactions with Ginny. Had she really misjudged the girl? Had Ginny really changed?
For most of her years at Hogwarts Hermione had very little to do with Ginny; after all, the two girls didn't share classes or any interests in common. She did share a room with the younger girl while staying with the Weasleys over the summer, but after rebuffing Ginny's timid overtures of friendship Hermione had managed to basically ignore the girl.
At Mrs Weasley's request Hermione tried to offer Ginny some help with school, but Ginny seemed to feel she had things under control. That Hermione doubted, but she accepted the girl's assertions. The one thing Ginny did seem to look to Hermione for advice on was Ginny's crush on Harry.
Hermione did everything she could to discourage Ginny's crush on Harry. If she played up Harry's crush on Cho a bit or advised Harry to ignore the younger girl she did so with only the deepest concern for Harry. She truly didn't feel that a relationship between the two of them was a good idea. Harry didn't need a girl like Ginny in his life. He needed someone stronger and not so flighty. After everything Ron had shared with her about Ginny, Hermione knew that Ginny was not right for Harry.
Hermione felt very badly that she had let her own problems during her sixth year give Ginny the chance she needed to sneak into Harry's life. The fact that she had allowed her trials and tribulations with Ron to leave Harry open to Ginny's seduction was a difficult thing to swallow. Hermione felt the timing of everything was rather suspicious.
Hermione frowned as she thought back to that autumn. While most of her memories were dominated by her issues with Ron, but she'd been under the impression Harry had a crush on Luna. Looking back now, she realized with a sinking heart that Harry did pay attention to Ginny. Had she totally misread the situation?
After Harry had broken up with Ginny, Hermione thought he'd come to his senses. During the year that they had spent hunting down the Horcruxes, Hermione had done her best to open Harry's eyes to the type of person Ginny was. If she had to exaggerate slightly or intimate that Ginny had done things with other boys she shouldn't have, Hermione thought it was all for the best.
Therefore, Hermione was shocked to discover one week before heading back to Hogwarts for her final year that Harry and Ginny had reconnected and had started dating once again.
"What? When did this happen?"
Ron shrugged rather unhelpfully. "I don't know. Harry doesn't talk to me about her for obvious reasons. I know they play a lot of Quidditch together. She's Quidditch captain for next year and I think he's been helping her with plays and what not." He made a face. "If I hadn't seen them snogging by the broom shed I wouldn't have even known they had a relationship."
Hermione nodded absently, her mind racing. "Do you think it's serious?"
Again Ron shrugged. "I don't really know. I don't think he's really serious about her. He's starting Auror training in a few weeks. He's only actually taken her out once."
He looked over at his girlfriend speculatively. "You don't like the two of them together, do you?"
A bit surprised at his insight, Hermione found herself at a loss for words. After a moment, she shook her head. "No I don't."
"You don't fancy him yourself, do you?" Ron asked nervously.
"No, of course not," Hermione reassured him. "Harry is like my brother. I just think…Ginny is a bit too flaky and too much of a fan girl. I know she's your sister, but I don't think she's strong enough to be what Harry needs."
Ron considered this and nodded. "She's always had a crush on Harry Potter. When we were little she would read his story over and over and pretend she was getting married to him. Harry hates when people want to be his friend just for his name and this is my own sister doing it. It's so embarrassing. I don't want her following us around and I don't want her embarrassing him."
"I agree completely," Hermione said, pleased that her boyfriend was able to see the damage his sister could cause.
"I've tried to get him to see her as an annoying little sister, but obviously that isn't working," Ron said in a rather disgusted tone of voice. "I don't understand how he could find her attractive."
"Hopefully with him in London and her in Scotland, they will find other people," Hermione said.
Hermione knew that Ron didn't like Ginny, but she never really stopped to analyse why. When she was younger, she'd just accepted that Ginny wasn't a nice person, but now she wondered – had she misjudged the girl? Was she jealous that Ginny had waltzed in and taken up most of Harry's attention while she had been there for Harry for years and felt she deserved unfettered access to him?
"Everything looks wonderful!" Tilda said as she replenished the torn up bread for the ducks. "The children love feeding the ducks."
Ginny laughed. "There is also a group near the goat pen. I'm really glad we did this. Harry is having a great time giving tours of the gardens."
The hidden garden tour was going very well. Ella and two of her friends were helping Ginny and Tilda watch the children that were feeding the ducks and admiring all of the other animals. While Harry had taken the precaution of casting a spell on the lake so no child would drown, they would rather not rely on that.
"Mrs Evans, this is lovely!" Mrs Painter gushed. "I've heard many positive comments about your gardens and the children seem to love the animals."
"Thank you," Ginny said proudly. "Harry and I have been working hard to make sure everything looks good for the tour."
Mrs Painter nodded.
Ginny held out a package of wrapped shortbread. "Would you like some shortbread? Jamie helped me make it in all sorts of animal shapes. We have all of the animals on our property including the lions."
The older woman laughed. "Of course, you wouldn't want to forget the magical lions."
"Magical lions?" Ginny asked a touch nervously.
"Yes," Tilda broke in. "Jamie was telling my parents that the lions are magical and they guard the house."
All three women laughed, Ginny a bit less heartily than the others.
"He wants to name them now," Ginny explained with a smile. "He hasn't quite decided on the names yet. His current favourites are Nala and Simba."
Tilda smiled. "I always liked that film."
"Jamie saw it at a friend's house and he loved it," Ginny said.
"As much as I'd love to stay, I must check in on the other gardens," Mrs Painter said. "We are hosting an evening tea at the teashop if you are interested. Many of the home owners come and talk about the event. It's really our way of thanking everyone for their hard work."
"Thank you," Ginny replied. "If the children cooperate, we would love to come."
Seamus, Neville, and Hannah walked down High Street in Lavenham. They'd visited Sudbury and spent the previous Saturday exploring Kentwell Hall. The owners at Kentwell Hall recognized the picture of Harry and Ginny and identified them as Jenny and Harry Evans. They thought the Evans had purchased an older home and were restoring it, but couldn't recall where.
On Wednesday, the owner of Kentwell Hall called to say she remembered that the Evans had purchased a home in Lavenham. Seamus had arranged for Neville and Hannah to join him in Lavenham. Upon arriving in town, they'd discovered Lavenham was hosting a hidden garden event. Thinking it might be a good way to find the Potters, they joined the tour. When Seamus inquired, they discovered that the Evans had restored the Lavenham Priory.
"This is it," Hannah said pointing ahead. Looking at the brochure they'd been given when they started the tour, she read, "Lavenham Priory is a Grade I half-timbered house dating from the thirteenth century. It was originally built by Benedictine monks and spent some time as a hotel. The current owners have spent the past five years restoring the home."
"It's well kept up," Neville commented as they approached the gates which were guarded by two marble lions. "The lions are a nice touch. The landscaping is amazing; I can't wait to see the gardens."
As the three entered the garden, they were greeted by a teen who handed them a small flyer with an abbreviated history of the priory and a map. "Welcome to Lavenham Priory. You can follow the path; if you have any questions the owners are both here to answer questions."
"This is breath-taking," Hannah said after a few minutes of walking. "If Harry and Ginny really restored this place, they do great work."
"I wonder if they had some sort of guide in planting the garden beds," Neville commented. "They have a lot of healing herbs – many that are used in potions, actually. That was very common in older kitchen gardens."
They could hear a man's voice answering questions up ahead. "I think that's Harry," Seamus commented, suddenly much more alert. He scanned the groups around the garden. "I think Ginny is over by the pond. I can't see her very clearly, but I see the hair."
"I think you're right," Hannah said.
Seamus turned his attention back to the group in front of him. He couldn't see Harry as he was in the middle of the group. With a wave of laughter, the group cleared off. Neville and Seamus stepped up in front of Hannah.
As he turned to face them, Harry's jaw dropped. "Neville?! Seamus?!"
Harry's face went from shocked to resigned. Looking around to make sure none of his neighbours were around, he asked, "Are you here to arrest me?"
"What?!" Neville and Hannah were shocked at the question. Seamus hastened to reassure him. "No, mate. We have been looking for you, but you aren't in any trouble."
"That would be a first," Harry replied. He gestured for them to follow him to the gazebo. Discretely he motioned for Ginny to join them.
"What about Percy and Robards?" Harry asked. "They were searching for a reason to arrest me and my so-called friends weren't doing me any favours."
"They've been fired," Seamus explained. "Kingsley was furious when he found out they'd continued to investigate you after he told them you weren't to be punished for anything you did in hunting for Voldemort."
"A little late," came a voice from behind them.
The three turned to find Ginny watching them. Like her husband, she looked resigned and anxious. She moved into the gazebo. "It wasn't just them," Ginny said bitterly.
"Ginny, we know about Hermione's accusations. We also know they aren't true," Seamus said earnestly.
"She does now," Seamus replied.
"Who's looking for us?" Harry asked as Ginny walked around her friends and joined her husband. Harry slid his arm around her shoulders as she slid hers around his waist.
"Kingsley reopened the investigation at your father's request," Seamus explained to Ginny.
"My dad – my parents are okay, aren't they?" Ginny asked anxiously.
"Yes," Seamus replied quickly. "I think he just wanted to know what happened to you."
"You actually spoke to them?" Arthur asked excitedly as soon as Seamus entered the Minister's office.
Glancing at the Minister who nodded at him to answer, Seamus said, "Yes, we spoke to them. They weren't exactly excited to be found. I think Harry is still waiting to hear what is expected of him."
"Damn," Kingsley said softly. "I never wanted to use him. I hope he knows that."
"Do they know you are here?" Arthur asked.
Seamus nodded. "Neville and Hannah stayed there. Ginny asked that we only let the Minister and you know – at least right now."
"It's probably for the best that my wife is spending the day with Percy's daughters," Arthur said ruefully. "I don't want to get her hopes up if things don't go well."
Looking straight at Seamus, Arthur asked, "Are they very angry?"
Shifting uneasily, Seamus said, "I think resigned is a better word. They were sure they were being hunted and they don't quite trust that nothing is wanted of them. Especially Harry." Turning to the Minister, Seamus said, "I think he wants to hear from you that no charges will be brought against either of them."
"Let's go," Kingsley said.
It took the three of them almost twenty minutes to arrive at the Potters' house as they'd had to Apparate to the edge of the village. With the number of visitors in the village, they didn't want to Apparate any closer.
"This is a lovely house," Arthur said as they neared the Potter home.
"Harry and Ginny have been restoring it," Seamus explained. "We heard about them at some of the other homes. Many people were very sceptical, but they've done a lot of work. Ginny said the event should be over by the time we returned so we will be able to talk."
Ginny rushed out from the gazebo as soon as they entered the garden. With tears streaming down her face, she threw herself at her father. He was likewise overcome with emotion.
"Ginny-girl," he whispered as he folded her in his arms.
After several long minutes, she pulled back. "You're okay, right? You and Mum have both fully recovered?"
"We've both recovered," Arthur reassured her. Kissing her on the cheek he said, I am so sorry, love."
She smiled happily. "You didn't do anything, Dad."
"I wish I'd realized how badly they were treating you," he said, his voice cracking with emotion.
Once Kingsley spotted Harry, he hurried over to the gazebo. "Harry!"
"Kingsley," Harry returned nervously as he shook the Minister's hand.
"Harry, I am so sorry about everything that has happened," Kingsley said sincerely. "I didn't realize what Robards was doing."
Harry looked at him as if trying to assess his sincerity. "I probably should have said something."
Arthur and Ginny joined them and after a flurry of greeting, Neville and Hannah took their leave while the others gathered in the Potter's sitting room. Ginny brought in a tea tray and some of the shortbread biscuits she'd made earlier. Once everyone was settled, Kingsley asked Harry, "Can you tell me what happened?"
Reaching for his wife's hand, Harry looked at the other three. "It wasn't really one thing. I really enjoyed Auror training and I thought that's what I wanted to do, but…Robards hated me. It was like Snape all over again. He criticised and mocked me daily. I could have put up with that, but then he started cancelling my weekends off telling me that I'd spent too much time helping you."
"He was awful to Harry," Ginny said her eyes flashing.
"I can't apologize enough," Kingsley said. "I had no idea Robards would act like that. I knew he wasn't thrilled with the new crop of Auror trainees, but I didn't realize he was so jealous of you."
"Thank you," Harry said. "At first I figured it was just something I had to put up with. He was a git, but I liked the classes. When he cancelled my day off the morning of the first Hogsmeade visit I offered to quit, but Ginny told me not to."
"I didn't want him to quit something he enjoyed doing," Ginny said. "I thought Robards or Dawlish was just showing him who was in charge, but when it happened the day of our first Quidditch match we started wondering what exactly was going on. He visited me on a non-Hogsmeade weekend and everything was fine."
"Robards and Dawlish kept hinting that they were going to have me arrested for using Dark Magic. They interviewed Ron and Hermione – I think they interviewed a lot more people, but I know they interviewed Ron and Hermione. Hermione gets so flustered when talking to authority figures – I think she must have slipped up about me using the Imperius Curse at Gringotts. I know she wouldn't have said anything on purpose, but she isn't very good at thinking on her feet.
"Once they started hinting they wanted to arrest me and Hermione accused Ginny of using a love potion," Harry shrugged, "I didn't want to get arrested, but I certainly wasn't going to allow Ginny to get arrested either."
Even so many years later his pain was obvious. "I don't know why Ron and Hermione don't like Ginny so much. Hermione kept trying to hook me up with Luna and both of them kept discouraging me from dating Ginny."
Toying with his shortbread biscuit, Harry continued, "I went to see Percy once my initial request to take Ginny to the ball was turned down. I overheard him and Ron talking about how it was inappropriate for me to take Ginny and they were trying to set me up with another girl. Ron was helping them somehow."
"I am so sorry," Arthur said. "I would have never had a problem with the two of you dating or going to the ball together. I don't know what those boys were thinking."
Harry nodded miserably. "I knew Ron had permission to take Hermione to the ball. I acted like I didn't, but I knew. I wanted…I just wanted to live my life – to go to the ball with the girl I loved. I was so angry at Ron. He was able to be with Hermione and date her, but I couldn't do the same with Ginny."
"When Hermione came up with her love potion theory – well, that was the last straw," Ginny said. "She actually broke into my trunk to see if she could find the potion she was sure I was using. She had Ron and Percy convinced and even George was wondering if I'd done something wrong."
"Once I saw Hermione at Grimmauld Place, I sent a message to you," Harry said to Kingsley. "Ginny and I had already talked about leaving, but I was hoping we wouldn't have to. When I couldn't get in touch with you, I wondered if maybe you were prevented from contacting me."
"I didn't get any of your messages until it was too late." Looking between both Potters Kingsley said, "I am so sorry I didn't realize what was happening. Please let me assure you that you are not going to be investigated or arrested. We have no plans to drag you back; we were just concerned about what may have happened to you."
Seamus leaned forward. "We know you went to Holland that night, what happened?"
Exchanging a look with his wife, Harry looked at Kingsley. "Could you invite Mrs Weasley and Bill and Fleur here? I think they should know what happened as well."
A/N: Thanks again to my wonderful betas StephanieO, and Arnel and my Brit picker Mark! Kentwell Hall is also a real place, it is a period home in Suffolk that has been restored by a family over a period of forty years. It inspired Harry and Ginny's journey. One more chapter to go!
Chapter 5: The Victory Ball
Harry and Ginny reconnect with the wizarding world.
Thanks again to my wonder betas - StephanieO, seekers_destiny, and Arnel as well as my Brit picker, Mark.
July 2006 – Eight years after the fall of Voldemort
Harry stood back, bemused, as he watched his wife sob in her mother's arms. He felt a twinge of regret for having separated them for so many years. He knew how much she missed her family over the years, but the two of them hadn't felt it was safe to reconnect with them.
It was quite some time before everyone sat down. Bill and Fleur were delighted to be included and Mrs Weasley seemed as though she never wanted to let go of her daughter. Finally, everyone was seated in the sitting room with a cup of tea and a tray of shortbread biscuits was on the table. Harry and Ginny sat together in an armchair that looked as though it might have been slightly enlarged. Molly and Arthur sat on the loveseat closest to the Potters while Kingsley was in the armchair matching the Potters. Bill, Fleur, and Seamus were seated on a long couch.
Everyone's eyes turned to Harry. Clearing his throat a little, he said, "Mr and Mrs Weasley, I want to say I am so glad you have recovered. Ginny and I hated leaving whilst you were still in hospital, but we didn't feel we had a choice."
"Arthur explained your conversation, Harry dear," Molly said soothingly. "I hate that the two of you felt so alone. I don't remember a lot of my time in St Mungo's, but I do recall hearing Ginny's voice reading to me. Arthur's told me how you saved his life and how you visited both of us. I am very thankful for that."
Harry ducked his head, blushing slightly as he still had a tendency to do when complimented. Ginny laughed and kissed him on the cheek.
Taking over she said, "We were so glad when we saw a small article in the paper when you were released from St Mungo's. Our family's increased fame after the war made it a bit easier to keep track of everyone. We heard when Bill and Fleur's babies were born and we read about George's and Percy's marriages. They each have children, right?"
Molly nodded proudly. "George and Angelina have Freddie, who is two. Percy and Audrey have Molly who is almost four and Lucy who is one."
Glancing at his wife, Harry steered the conversation away from children for the moment. "Seamus asked what happened. Based on everything that was happening with Robards, I'd thought about quitting the Auror program, but the thought of leaving the country came once I thought they might arrest me. I made tentative plans and made sure Ginny and I had appropriate documentation just in case. The night of the ball, we knew we had to leave. Hermione was making her claims and Robards and Percy were probing into my background. No one seemed to be listening to us. When Hermione managed to convince three of Ginny's brothers she was using a love potion, I knew she'd be able to convince more people. I've been through enough bad press and I know how people talk. We had to leave.
"We took the ferry to Amsterdam and stayed a few weeks there so Ginny could learn about the Muggle world and feel a bit more comfortable. Ginny was amazing," he said proudly. "She picked up everything so quickly."
It was Ginny's turn to blush. She smiled at her husband. "I had a great teacher. I had to learn a whole new world. It was a bit scary at first. As Harry said, we'd made tentative plans, but it was scary being on our own."
Harry nodded. "That first Christmas was awful. We were cut off from everyone and…felt really alone. I felt so badly for Ginny and was really second guessing our decisions."
Linking her hand with her husband's, Ginny squeezed his hand in support. "We talked about going back, but…there were too many unknowns. Were they going to arrest me? Were they going to arrest him? What were they going to try to force him to do next? The wizarding world always seems to expect something of Harry. While we were by ourselves, we weren't in the paper all the time. We could be anonymous. It was nice."
Smiling at her father, she said, "I really wanted to share everything with you. I knew you would be thrilled. We have some amazing photo albums."
"Ginny put in a lot of work on those albums," Harry put in. "She wrote a lot about where we were and what we were doing when the pictures were taken. She wanted to remember everything so that someday we could share it all with you."
Arthur beamed proudly at his daughter. "I will be thrilled to look at those with you."
Setting down his tea cup, Harry said, "During the spring and early summer we spent our time basically learning to live in the Muggle world. I may have grown up in the Muggle world, but I never was allowed to experience it. During that time we travelled a lot, we figured people would be looking for us so we didn't want to stay in one place for too long."
Pulling his wand, Harry summoned a framed picture from across the room. "We married in Germany in August 1999."
Molly teared up as she looked at her daughter's wedding picture. "You look beautiful, love."
"Thank you," Ginny said with a smile. "It was a bittersweet day. I was marrying the man I love. We were and are so happy together, but we wished you all could have been there."
Molly couldn't restrain herself; she jumped up and pulled her daughter and son-in-law in a big hug. After kissing each of them on the cheek, she said, "I wish things had been different, but I am so glad you had each other." Looking down at the framed picture she still held, she said, "I can see how happy you are together."
Once Bill finally got to look at the picture, he gasped. "Ginny, you look so beautiful. Mum's right. You look very happy as well."
"Oui, it eez good you 'ad each ozzer," Fleur said. Her accent was always more pronounced when she was feeling emotional.
"Where did you go after Germany?" Seamus asked. "We had a hard time tracking you."
Harry laughed. "Good. You were supposed to have trouble. We decided to treat our first year as basically a gap year. We spent three months in Africa – Morocco, Ghana, and Tanzania. It was amazing. We learned so much there – we got to work with people who really had nothing. We helped dig wells, build buildings, and we even got to teach some basic skills to children there."
"It was brilliant," Ginny concurred. "The people we met were wonderful and they taught us so much. Going there we thought we were helping them, but they taught us as much as we taught them."
"After our time in Africa we spent some time in France. We took some classes and tried to figure out what we wanted to do. Whilst we were there we worked with Doctors without Borders," Harry explained.
"Médecins Sans Frontières?" Fleur asked in surprise.
Ginny nodded. "We kind of stumbled onto it. We worked with them for a year as general logisticians. We were support staff basically. Most people don't realize that they have a small wizarding component and that is who we worked with. It was very difficult, but amazing. During our gap year we met some wizards who worked with the Doctors without Borders and they really encouraged us to apply."
"It was brilliant being able to help and being part of a team," Harry said. "I never really felt part of a team before."
"After we left Doctors without Borders, we worked with the wizarding arm of the International Red Cross," Ginny said. "We've mostly helped in Africa, but we went wherever we were needed. One of our first assignments was traveling to New York after the attacks there in 2001. We spent two months in New York helping with the clean-up and searching for any magical artefacts to ensure they weren't discovered by Muggles. We went to Thailand after the Tsunami in 2004."
"We've slowed down a lot in the past few years," Harry said. "After we bought this house we took some house restoration and conservation courses."
"Your home is beautiful," Kingsley said. "I understand you redid this house."
Harry nodded. "We did. We realized that we really enjoyed the conservation and restoration of old homes. It was something we could do together and not travel so much."
"How long have you been here?" Bill asked.
"We bought this house five years ago," Harry said.
As Ginny excused herself, Harry talked about some of the progress they'd made in the house. When Ginny came back downstairs she gave Harry a slight nod missed by most of their guests. Bill and Seamus both noticed, but weren't sure of the significance. Ginny showed them around her kitchen. Her father delighted in the melding of the Muggle and wizarding finishes.
A knock sounded at the door. Ginny smiled. "Excuse me."
Harry kept the others in the kitchen while Ginny answered the door. Just a few moments later she re-appeared in the doorway leading Jamie by the hand and carrying Lily. Molly gasped and covered her mouth with her hand. Smiles soon replaced the shocked looks on everyone's faces.
Harry walked over to his family and lifted Jamie in his arms. "This is James Arthur Potter. He was my best birthday present ever. Jamie was born on my twenty-third birthday."
Kissing Jamie on the cheek he said, "Can you say 'hi'?"
Initially the black haired tot buried his face in his father's shoulder, but he soon peaked over at the group of people in his kitchen. He waved before turning back into his father's shoulder.
"Good boy," Harry said as he cuddled his son. "It's been a big day for him."
Ginny stepped forward with a now wide awake baby in her arms. "This is Lily Danielle."
"Ginny, they are beautiful," Molly said with tears in her eyes. She walked over to Ginny and smiled at her granddaughter. "She looks so much like you, but those eyes."
"I know," Ginny said with a smile. "Both my babies have their daddy's beautiful eyes."
After glancing at her husband and receiving a smile, she looked back at her mother and said, "I hope this one does too."
Molly's eyes widened as she glanced as her daughter's waist. Ginny laughed and nodded. "I'm pregnant. Lily is eight months old now. I'm only six weeks along. We just found out last week. I'm due in March."
"Congratulations," Bill said emotionally as he swept his sister and niece into a hug.
"I agree, congratulations," Kingsley said. "Harry, I am very pleased you and Ginny are well. Seamus and I will leave you with your family. I would like to speak to you at some other time."
Harry nodded as his father-in-law enticed Jamie away. Shaking Kingsley's hand and sharing a hug with Seamus, he said, "Thank you. I've been a bit uneasy not knowing when someone was going to catch up with us. I'd appreciate if you let us decide who to contact."
"Certainly," Kingsley said. "We owe you more than you can imagine."
"If it is okay with you, I'd like to tell my partner, Terry," Seamus said. "He's been working with me to try and find you. It would look very odd if I suddenly shut down the investigation without finding you. I will talk to Neville and Hannah, but I know they won't say anything."
Harry nodded. "I trust you to keep things quiet. If there is someone who's been helping you, I don't have a problem with them knowing you found me. I'd rather no one knows where we are until Ginny and I have a chance to talk."
Both men agreed and took their leave. While Harry had been talking to Kingsley and Seamus, the others had returned to the sitting room. Ginny spread a blanket on the floor and soon they were all on the floor playing with the children. The evening was spent sharing stories and catching up.
Harry exited Kings Cross Station with a feeling of nostalgia. He'd not been in this part of London in many years. He could have easily Apparated, but he wanted to think about what he was going to say, so he took the train to London and travelled by tube from the Liverpool Street Station to Kings Cross. Shoving his hands in his pockets, he ambled towards Grimmauld Place. A smile crossed his face as he recalled Sirius scaring cats and chasing pigeons on their way to Kings Cross before his fifth year. If their new baby was a boy, Harry and Ginny were planning to name him Sirius. They hadn't decided on a middle name, but they both agreed on Sirius.
Turning onto Grimmauld Square, he could see it had improved much with time. The centre of the square was lush with green grass and planters with flowers. The wrought iron fence was new and the streetlights had been replaced as well. When Harry had first visited Grimmauld Place almost ten years earlier, it had been rundown and dirty. Now it had obviously been rejuvenated, many of the houses had new facades. There were no broken windows in this square. Out of curiosity, Harry walked down the street to the alley behind the houses.
In the parking spot for number twelve, there was a nice Vauxhall Corsa. He smirked; this was definitely Hermione's pick – a nice sensible car. Harry's first car had been a Jaguar. He'd always wanted one and Ginny hadn't objected. Of course with the children, now the Jag spent more time in the garage in favour of the Range Rover. A quick spell showed the house was empty. Harry wasn't sure if he should be relieved or disappointed. His feelings about Ron and Hermione were so jumbled. They'd been his first friends, but in the end they'd worked against him.
With a wave of his wand, Harry unlocked the door and entered the gleaming kitchen. He headed up the steps to ground floor. He stopped in surprise as he surveyed the changes to the main floor. Instead of the long gloomy hallway, it was now open. From the basement stairs he could see clear to the front door. The portrait of Mrs Black was now gone.
Harry explored the house. The dining room was no longer a separate room, but rather an eating area close to the kitchen stairs. The Black china and silverware still held of place of honour in beautiful, new china cabinet. It flowed into a sitting area in the front of the house. He made a face at the boring cream and beige colours on the walls and furniture. The Dursleys' house was full of such colour schemes. He was more in favour of bold colours.
He was surprised to find that even the front stairs had been re-done. Ignoring them for the moment, he explored the rest of the ground floor. The study and library were not open, but the doors looked like they'd been restored. He noticed that Hermione seemed to have cleared out the library and was staring to repopulate it. It was all tastefully done; there wasn't a snake decoration in sight. The troll-leg umbrella stand and elf heads were not missed.
Heading upstairs, he saw the restoration had continued upstairs. Everything looked cleaner and fresher. The drawing room on the first floor was nicely if a bit safely decorated. The Black family tapestry was long gone. The bedroom Hermione and Ginny had shared so many years ago appeared to be a guest room. He glanced in the rooms on the second floor, which all looked refreshed. On the third floor he peaked into the room Ron and Hermione must be using, he didn't look around, but headed for the top floor. He felt the wards, but as the owner of the house nothing could keep him out. He felt a surge of irritation and disappointment that nothing had been done to Sirius' and Regulus' rooms. He supposed Hermione had just kept it as it was.
Honestly, he'd been a bit surprised to discover that Ron and Hermione were still living in Grimmauld Place. He'd assumed they would have purchased their own home, but he could see staying in a rent free home would appeal to both of them. He couldn't quite decide if he was upset or not.
A noise sounded from below and Harry descended to the ground floor to find Hermione berating Ron about his manners. It appeared that they'd been visiting her parents and Hermione found his manners lacking. Ruefully, he shook his head. Somethings never changed.
He was halfway down the stairs when they noticed him. Hermione had just hung up her jacket when she turned and saw him.
Ron whirled around. For a moment the three stood there awkwardly, unsure of what they should do. Harry slowly continued down the stairs.
"You weren't home. I wanted to see what had happened to the place," Harry explained awkwardly.
Once he reached the ground floor, Hermione threw her arms around him. "Harry, I am so sorry. I didn't mean to make you leave."
Gently smoothing her bushy hair away from his face, he briefly hugged her back. "Hermione, I believe that you never intended for me to leave, but that doesn't change the fact that you hurt me deeply."
Hermione stepped back, tears shining in her eyes.
"I came here today to talk to the two of you," Harry said.
Nodding, Hermione led the way to the library.
"I was looking over the house," Harry said. "You guys have done a lot of work. It looks nice."
"How did you get in?" Hermione asked curiously. "I warded the doors myself and I didn't get any warning you were here. You shouldn't have been able to get in."
"It's my house," Harry said simply. "You can't keep me out, you can't ward against me here. I won't ask for eight years of back rent, but I will ask that you make several large donations to charity."
"What?!" Ron looked outraged at the thought.
"I invited you to live with me," Harry said. "I charged a modest rent, but a place like this in this neighbourhood – mate, you'd owe me almost 50,000 Galleons. I'm not asking for nearly that much, but I've had to buy and pay for a house of my own instead of living rent free in this one. It's only fair."
Hermione's face fell slightly, but she nodded. Ron looked between the two of them. He looked as though he wanted to say something, but he didn't know exactly what he wanted to say.
Once they were all seated, Harry looked at his two oldest friends feeling a bit at a loss now that he was actually facing them.
"Why did you leave?" Hermione asked. "If I was wrong about Ginny, why didn't you prove it to me?"
"Prove it to you? Why the hell should I have to prove to you that I'm not under a love potion?"
Hermione reared back as if struck. Harry shook his head. "Why were the two of you against Ginny so much? Why couldn't you be happy for me?"
"I…I just didn't think she was right for you," Hermione said. "I thought she had a crush on the Boy Who Lived."
"She may have at one point," Harry agreed, "but trust me that was a long time ago." Looking at Ron, he said, "She is your sister. How could you treat her so badly?"
"I was wrong," Ron admitted as he voice cracked on the last word. He took a moment to compose himself. "I am so sorry."
Harry stared at his oldest friend, surprised. He couldn't remember Ron ever apologizing.
Ron continued, "I was jealous. I know it sounds stupid and petty. I didn't even realize it. I always thought of Ginny as an annoying tag-along. I was angry that I got stuck with a sister instead of a brother. Bill and Charlie had each other, Fred and George had each other, and I had a girl."
He dropped his gaze to the floor. "We got on okay if no one else was around, but as soon as I had a chance to make other friends I did. That's how Ginny's first year happened. I ignored her and tried to get the two of you to ignore her as well. I didn't want her stealing my friends."
"I can understand in a way," Harry admitted, "but I love your sister. I have since I was sixteen years old. I hoped the two of you would accept her, but you wouldn't even give her a chance."
"Is that why you left?" Hermione asked, disbelief colouring her voice.
"It played a part," Harry said. "I thought once Voldemort was gone I'd be able to live my life. All I wanted to do was to become an Auror and date Ginny – I don't think those goals were unreasonable. I died so that everyone could live – I literally died and I didn't want medals or balls. I only wanted to be able to live my life and that wasn't allowed. Hermione was telling me lies about Ginny and Ron was getting Percy to cancel my days off so I couldn't go see Ginny."
Shaking his head he looked at his two friends. "Less than eight months after I defeated Voldemort I was worried that my girlfriend was going to be arrested on a bogus love potion charge and that I was going to be arrested for using Dark Arts."
"They weren't going to arrest you," Hermione huffed.
"I couldn't trust that," Harry replied evenly. He shrugged. "I was tired of dealing with all of the scrutiny. I was tired of being either the savoir of the wizarding world or the next Dark Lord. I did everything anyone asked of me – I rescued the Philosopher's Stone, I rescued Ginny from the Chamber of Secrets, I saved my godfather, I participated in the Triwizard Tournament…" he trailed off. "I did everything thinking that I would be allowed to live my life, but I wasn't allowed."
Looking directly at Hermione, he said, "How would you feel if I kept insisting that Lavender was really the one for Ron?" To Ron he said, "How would you feel if I thought Hermione was really in love with Cormac because she went to Slughorn's party with him?"
"I am sorry," Ron said emotionally. "I underestimated your feelings for her." Glancing over at his girlfriend, he added, "I think Hermione and I…we…I listened to her complaints and she listened to mine and neither of us gave Ginny a chance. Bill really made me think about my actions."
Subdued, Hermione nodded. "I am sorry. I didn't see…I didn't allow myself to see your feelings for her." She looked up and Harry could see the tears on her face. "I was wrong. I didn't mean to push you away."
Looking between his two oldest friends, he said, "I appreciate that you realize you were wrong, but I can't just forgive and forget. We were chased away from our home and family. It will take time. I wanted to come today because we will be seeing each other at the Burrow this weekend."
"How angry is Ginny?" Ron asked anxiously.
Harry raised an eyebrow. "I don't know that angry is the right word. Don't get me wrong, we've both had bouts of anger, but we didn't want to hold onto that anger. It could have been a lot worse – Ginny and I were together and free. We just hoped that someday we would be able to come home again."
Standing he looked at Ron and Hermione in turn and made a decision. "Would the two of your like to come over for tea? We would like to see the two of you before the rest of the family."
Harry sent a Patronus message to Ginny letting her know they were coming. He Side-Along Apparated both Ron and Hermione back to his house where they arrived in the back garden.
As he led them over to the gazebo, the back door opened and Ginny stood highlighted in the doorway. Harry smiled as he watched his wife come over to join them. As usual, he thought she looked amazingly beautiful. He knew she'd been struggling with her emotions towards both Ron and Hermione, especially over the past week. It had been her idea to have them over if Harry thought they might be open to some sort of reconciliation.
Glancing over at his companions, he could see Ron watching his sister with a great deal of trepidation while Hermione was much harder to read. At least the look of disdain that he associated with Hermione's past association with Ginny was gone. Ginny reached the gazebo and hesitated for a minute before going to her brother and wrapping her arms around him.
Ron hesitated for a moment before returning the gestured. "I am so sorry," he said as his voice broke.
As Harry watched, both siblings broke down. Gesturing to Hermione, he led her along the path towards the pond. "Let's give them some time."
"This is beautiful," Hermione breathed as she took in the house and garden. "The two of you did this all yourselves?"
Harry nodded proudly. "We've had help, but we designed and oversaw everything. We did a good bit of the work ourselves, but we've had electricians and plumbers in and we've had some historical experts come out as well."
"It's amazing," Hermione said. She sighed as they arrived at the pond. "Over the past few weeks I've been taking a hard look at my actions and I really am sorry. Ron didn't really like Ginny, so I figured he must have had a good reason for it. I held everything about the Chamber of Secrets against her without even thinking that she was merely a pawn in a much larger plot."
Sneaking a glance over at him, she realized he was listening intently. "My mother made me take a good hard look at my behaviour. I never gave Ginny a chance and I was furious that you did." Blushing, she added, "I think I was a bit jealous as well. It seemed as though I was losing my place in your life."
Shaking his head, Harry said, "Hermione, for many years you were like the sister I never had. You pushed and prodded and honestly, you made me a much better person. You helped me in so many ways. I felt so torn. You and Ron were my first friends and my best friends, we'd been through so much together, but Ginny…Ginny is my world. I couldn't give her up, not even for the two of you. I wish you hadn't asked me to."
"I didn't realize what I was asking of you," Hermione said as she took the handkerchief Harry proffered. "I am sorry I didn't take your feelings more seriously."
He nodded stiffly, but Hermione could really see for the first time how much she had actually hurt him. "Where do we go from here?"
"We're family now," Harry said. "I say we take it slowly and see what happens."
Looking over at the gazebo, Harry saw Ginny gesturing for him to return. They walked back to the others.
Ginny gazed coolly at Hermione. "Hermione."
"I don't want apologies from you," Ginny interrupted. "I would quite honestly prefer to have nothing to do with you, but as we will likely be family at some point I don't see a way around it. I want to make one thing perfectly clear. This is my home. I will not be lectured or belittled in my own house. If you cannot abide by that, you will be asked to leave."
Brought up short, Hermione stared at the younger girl. "I understand."
Nodding, Ginny reached for Harry's hand. He leaned in and kissed her briefly. "Let's go inside."
As they entered, Ginny looked up at Harry. "I need to go check…"
He nodded as she trailed off. "Of course, love."
Ron and Hermione followed him into the house. Hermione's curiosity got the better of her. "How old is this house?"
"Some parts of the house date back to the thirteenth century," Harry said. "It's obviously been added to over the years. We've discovered some records, but we're still trying to discover more of the history. It was used as the priory for centuries, but it had fallen into a state of disrepair."
"It's beautiful," Hermione breathed as she took in the timbered ceiling and walls.
Harry nodded proudly. "A lot of the wood is hand carved, we were lucky to find a local craftsman who helped us restore some of the damaged portions. We had to replace part of one of the staircases. It is a Grade I listed building so we had to work with our local planning authority and the historical officers to ensure that we weren't damaging the historical integrity of the house."
"Grade I?" Ron asked.
"It's a designation of a listed historical building," Harry explained. "Our house is on the National Heritage List for England which means it is a protected home. We couldn't come in and tear it down or change it radically. There are three different grades of historic homes. Grade I is the rarest type, it means the building is of exceptional interest. Lavenham is a very old town and there are over two hundred listed buildings here. That was actually one of the things that attracted us to the town – the pride of history here."
"I never realized you were interested in such things," Hermione said as Harry gestured them to sit down.
"I don't know that I ever realized that," Harry admitted wryly. "When I was in school, I never had time to wonder about the history or age of a place and Binns certainly didn't help instil any love for history in me. I think when Ginny and I started traveling is when I realized how interesting it could be. We travelled about the Netherlands, France and Germany. It was very eye opening."
The clacking of nails on the floor heralded the arrival of Gryffin who had been sleeping upstairs in the nursery. Harry smiled and petting the dog on the head. "Hello, boy. Have you come to greet our guests?"
The dog barked sharply before settling at Harry's feet. "This is Gryffin."
Ginny returned and sat down next to her husband. He smiled at her as he took her hand. "I was just telling them of our European travels."
She smiled. "It was amazing. I'd been to Romania and Egypt, but I'd never really seen much of the continent. We did a lot of sightseeing. It was a great way for me to learn to blend into the Muggle world. If I did or said anything odd, it was chalked up to me being a foreigner."
Harry sat back and let the others talk. He knew how difficult this was for Ginny and he truly hoped that Ron and Hermione would honestly try to give her a chance. Ron was certainly trying as he was asking about their adventures. Hermione wasn't asking as many questions as she normally did; Harry wasn't entirely sure what to make of that development.
A charm sounded indicating at least one of their children was awake. Harry stood up before Ginny could. "I'll go."
Ginny nodded a bit uncertainly, but resumed her conversation with her brother. Ron was actually not only talking to her, but listening as well. It was a nice change, if a bit unnerving. She wasn't at all sure about Hermione. Quite honestly if she'd had a choice, she wouldn't have invited the woman to her house, but given that Ron and Hermione were a couple she didn't feel she could avoid her forever.
It was rather nice to not feel left out of conversations. That was one of the things she'd always hated when she was in school. Harry would talk to Ron and Hermione and she would get cut out of the conversation. She didn't fool herself that their problems were all behind them, but she was hopeful that they could at least be civil around each other. Her parents deserved that much.
Hermione gasped as Harry returned with a toddler and an infant. Standing, Ginny took Lily from him while Jamie clung to his daddy's hand.
Smiling at his son, Harry turned to Ron and Hermione. "This is Jamie and that beautiful baby is Lily."
"You named them after your parents," Hermione said as she blinked away tears.
Harry nodded as Jamie peered up at their guests. Picking up the boy, he walked over towards Ron who had also stood up. "Jamie, this is your Uncle Ron."
"Hi, Jamie," Ron said a bit unsteadily.
Jamie scrutinized him for a minute before grinning. "Hello."
He easily went into his uncle's arms, but just for a minute before he squirmed and was set down. Once the adults sat down, Jamie climbed into his father's lap.
Ron kept staring at his nephew. "He looks so much like you, mate."
Harry laughed. "I know."
"How old is he?" Hermione asked.
Looking down at his son, Harry asked, "How old are you?"
Jamie looked down at his fingers and hesitantly held up three fingers, sneaking a look at his dad to make sure he'd done it right.
Harry nodded proudly. "Jamie will be three on Friday."
"You have the same birthday?" Hermione said in amazement.
"We do," Harry confirmed. Looking over at his daughter, he said, "Lily is eight months old."
"They'll have a lot of fun at the Burrow," Ron laughed. "I'm sure you know that Bill and Fleur have three kids, Percy has two and George has one. It's noisier than ever at the Burrow these days."
"Mum mentioned that," Ginny said as she summoned a blanket from across the room and covered both herself and the baby. Ron paled slightly and looked away as he realized that she was undoing her shirt to feed the baby. Ginny simply laughed at her brother. "Once I finish feeding Lily, I'll get tea ready."
Jamie climbed off his father's lap and began digging into a toy box that had been tucked away in the corner. He came up with a stuffed dragon and brought it over to show his new uncle. "Dragon."
"I see," Ron said as he admired the dragon. "It's a Hungarian Horntail."
Nodding solemnly, Jamie said, "Horntail."
He ran around the low coffee table holding the toy aloft as if it were flying. After a few minutes, he stopped in front of Ron and Hermione. Looking between the two of them, Jamie asked, "Who's her?"
Grinning, Ron started to say, "Aunt H-"
"That is Miss Granger," Ginny broke in firmly.
"Ginny," Ron protested.
"She is not his aunt," Ginny pointed out calmly. "She certainly has not earned the right to be his honorary aunt."
Ron looked at Harry as though he was going to appeal to him, but the look on Harry's face made him reconsider.
Ginny handed Lily to Harry who started patting her on the back. Turning her back to her company, Ginny quickly fastened her shirt and turned back. Looking at Hermione, she said, "I don't trust you. I will not have you around my children unsupervised nor will I have you acting like family when you are not."
"You're being ridiculous!" Ron yelled. "She wouldn't do anything to hurt your children."
"I never said she would hurt them, but I won't have either of you denigrating me in front of my children," Ginny said icily. "I've heard enough of her snide comments about me."
"For which you won't let me apologize," Hermione said as Harry tried to calm Lily who'd started crying at the raised voices. Jamie had scurried to his father's side when Ron yelled.
Ginny shrugged. "You've upset my children. If you can calm down, you may stay, but I will not have you yelling and scaring them."
Hermione backed down slightly, but Ron was still glaring at his sister. "You're really going to milk this for everything you can, aren't you? Making Hermione out to be a bad person and punishing her because you left. You made the decision to leave. No one made you."
"That's enough," Harry said firmly. "You will have to go."
Glaring at the other couple, Ron stormed out of the house followed by an obviously torn Hermione.
Ginny sat heavily on the sofa cuddling her daughter. "Was I too hard on them?"
Coming over to her side, Harry kissed her on top of the head. "No, I'm sorry. I thought they were ready."
"Ron and I had a great conversation," Ginny said blinking back tears. "I thought maybe we had a chance to start over."
"It will happen eventually," Harry comforted her. "He's so protective of Hermione, I don't think he realizes how much she hurt you over the years."
"I hope you're right," Ginny replied.
May 2, 2008 – Ten years after the fall of Voldemort
Pasting a smile on his face, Harry held an arm out to his wife as they walked down the red carpet to the Victory Ball. Of all of the things imported from the Muggle world, Harry really wished that the paparazzi weren't one of them. The staggering number of flashes from the cameras was a bit disorienting.
He didn't really blame them for wanting a picture of Ginny. She looked amazing in her form fitting gold gown that accentuated her curves. Fleur had done something with Ginny's hair and it was dotted with diamonds as it flowed down her back.
Harry smiled proudly as he watched his beautiful wife enter the ball. It had taken almost ten years, but Kingsley was insisting on throwing another ball in his honour. Ginny was thrilled to finally be able to attend a ball with him and for Harry that made it worth it.
With a sigh of relief, Harry was glad they'd reached the relative safety of the ballroom. There were only a handful of photographers allowed in the ball itself. A quick survey of the room showed that none of the other Weasleys seemed to have arrived yet. He spotted Seamus and Demelza standing with Neville and Hannah.
Seamus and Demelza had become closer when they'd kept running into each other at the Potter's house and had recently become engaged. After greetings, hugs, and kisses on the cheek with exchanged, Harry stood with his arm around his wife.
"I see Kingsley finally managed to get you to attend one of these things," Seamus teased.
Rolling his eyes, Harry replied, "Trust me I've been hearing that all week."
While neither Harry nor Ginny had chosen to take a job in the wizarding world, Harry had agreed to take his place on the Wizengamot. Due to familial obligations, he found that he controlled five seats. He'd been a bit reluctant at first, but he'd discovered that with Kingsley in charge of the Ministry, it was much less corrupt than it had been in his youth. Of course it was still not perfect, but it was nice to see a relaxing of the pureblood mania and allowing Muggle-borns into positions of authority.
"Are Ron and Hermione back?" Neville asked.
Ginny nodded. "I'm not sure if they are planning to come tonight, but my mum told me they arrived home two nights ago."
Seamus chuckled. "I can't believe it took him ten years to get married. It took him seven to work up the nerve to ask her out, I never thought it would be longer for them to get married."
"You know Hermione," Harry said, "She had a plan and she wanted to stick to it."
While the relationship between the two couples was still a bit strained, it was getting better. Ron and Harry had established a solid friendship and would go out together and had gone to some Quidditch matches. Likewise Ron and Ginny had gone a long way towards re-establishing their relationship.
Being Weasleys, they both tended to be quick to anger and there had been a few huge fights at the Burrow, but they were much closer than they had been. Hermione's relationship with Harry had taken some time, but they had lunch occasionally when Harry was in London.
Ginny's relationship with Hermione had taken a lot of work to get past the years of unfounded accusations and hurt feelings. They had a cordial friendship, but it wasn't a close relationship.
"I'm surprised with all of the Weasleys having kids that Ron didn't want in on that," Neville said. "He's great with kids."
Ginny laughed. "That's because he's just a big kid himself. Jamie thinks Uncle Ron can do no wrong." She shrugged. "Hermione has this idea that she shouldn't have kids until she's at least thirty."
Liberating two glasses of wine from a passing waiter, Harry handed one to Ginny and kept one for himself.
"That will cause a lot of gossip," Demelza laughed.
"What do you mean?" Ginny asked.
"There was a rumour you were pregnant last week when you and Harry went to the Harpies match and you didn't drink."
Ginny rolled her eyes. "For Merlin's sake, the match lasted thirty minutes. How much drinking was I supposed to do? The wizarding press is ridiculous. If I don't smile, I'm fighting with Harry. If I do smile, I'm covering my pain."
"So the fact that Potter switched your wine for water doesn't mean anything?" Terry asked as he arrived at the group.
Startled everyone looked at Terry for a moment before returning their look to Harry and Ginny who were looking rather sheepish.
"Good eye," Seamus complimented his partner. "I didn't see that."
"I think I was at the right angle," Terry replied modestly.
Ginny leaned in. "Please don't say anything. We haven't told my parents yet. After Audrey's miscarriage, I didn't want to say anything right away."
As everyone agreed, Seamus said, "I heard she's running the Lupin Wolfsbane Initiative."
Harry nodded. "She's really good at potions. When she heard about Percy's part in everything, she actually threatened to leave him. They left the country for a while and I know they went to therapy. He's much more relaxed than he used to be."
"He can still be a stuck up prat," Ginny added, "but he's my brother and he's really shown that he's sorry."
"Did you hear that Dawlish was arrested?" Seamus asked gleefully.
"What?!" Neville and Hannah looked astonished.
Seamus nodded. "He was arrested in France for performing magic in front of a Muggle. We haven't heard the whole story yet."
Harry smiled with a wicked gleam in his eye. "We heard that he performed magic in front of a group of Muggles."
"How did you hear that?" Terry asked.
Sliding his arm around Ginny, he laughed. "Ginny and I lived in France for a while and still have a lot of friends there. Dawlish made the mistake of crossing one of our good friends in Paris. Danielle was a woman we worked with while we were there – that's were Lily got her middle name.
"When Danielle realized who he was, she arranged a test for him. She asked him to unload a lorry. That's something that Ginny and I have done many times, but he was lazy and tried to use magic to speed it up."
"Couldn't have happened to a nicer person," Ginny said with satisfaction as everyone started laughing.
Eyeing the couples already on the dance floor, Ginny turned to Harry. "I've waited long enough to dance with you at a Victory Ball."
Smiling, he set their glasses down and held out his hand. "May I have the honour of this dance?"
Ginny happily moved out onto the dance floor in the arms of her husband. They were finally back in the wizarding world, but they also had their little oasis in Lavenham with James, Lily, and Sirius. She couldn't imagine anything better – except of course when baby number four joined them towards the end of the year.