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The Hog's Head

Chapter Text

Ginny picked her way across the rubble in the entrance hall and walked out the front doors. She glanced back to be sure no one had seen her and slipped into the shadows that extended out across the lawn.

She had to get away from the body of her brother, and from George who was holding Fred’s head in his lap, pressing his forehead to Fred’s, his unending tears bathing Fred’s bloody face. He would not move away, nor would Percy, kneeling at Fred’s feet, also hunched over but with his arms extended as though trying to ward off the wall of stone that had collapsed on them, crushing the life out of his brother. Her parents simply sat, next to the body, holding each other, Molly sobbing uncontrollably, Arthur staring into space with tears streaming down his face.

Ginny had felt paralysis creeping into her heart, joining the grief there, and that was when she knew she had to get away: she could not let herself succumb to that paralysis.

She had not seen Harry for hours, ever since he and Ron and Hermione had disappeared into the Room of Requirement on their mysterious mission. She had followed Tonks downstairs to the Great Hall where she fell in with Luna and Dean, fighting up and down the corridors until the disembodied voice of Voldemort had filled the halls with its seductive message of false peace and its lies about Harry, and had called a truce.

She and her companions had gone back to the Great Hall a few minutes before Percy staggered in carrying the body. Ginny had screamed and thrown herself at Percy, beating her fists against him in a rage, trying to will away the death that stared from eyes that had always been laughing but now saw nothing. Bill pulled her away and she flailed at him but he held her close until her screams had become sobs. That was when she had felt herself falling into the pit of defeat, but when Ron and Hermione returned without Harry, she pulled herself up from the floor where she had collapsed next to Fred, and told herself what she had been telling herself all year: she had to be ready for Harry; the time would come when he would need her and she had to be ready. She walked out of the Great Hall, wiping her face and taking deep gulps of air.

Now she was moving across the lawn into the darkness. Bodies were strewn everywhere, many of them students, and she stopped at each one to see if she could do anything. Most were dead, and she began to weep again as she recognized faces and saw their wounds. She tried wiping away the blood from their faces with her sleeves, until they became soaked and could not absorb any more, so she just wiped as much blood off as she could with her hands, and cleaned them on the grass.

One or two were still alive, but she was afraid to move them; she didn’t trust herself to use a Levitating charm, and she could not have physically lifted them. She called to some other students who were also out on the lawn looking for friends or relatives, and told them to hurry back to the Great Hall and get help. They did what she asked; maybe her role in Dumbledore’s Army and her reputation as Harry’s girlfriend lent her a bit of authority.

She left the body of a sixth–year Hufflepuff boy, Joseph Pierce, who was in her Herbology classes and a friend of Neville’s, and walked on. She was now about two hundred yards from the castle and it was very dark, but she did not dare light her wand. There were not many bodies here, but she heard moans off to her left, and hurried towards them.

She found a crumpled form, its limbs twisted gruesomely, lying near the path to Hagrid’s cabin. She knelt next to the body, but it was so dark this far from the castle that she could see almost nothing. She moved to be between the body and the outer walls of the grounds, and lit her wand but kept it as dim as she could.

She cried out and turned away when she saw the girl’s bloody, mutilated face. Her stomach churned; she had to fight down the impulse to vomit that rose in her craw, but forced herself to look. There were bloody gashes on the girl’s cheeks and forehead, and her nose seemed to have been torn away. She was gasping through her mouth with a rasping sound. Ginny thought of Fenrir Greyback, but it also looked, because of the positions of her bent limbs, as if someone had deliberately broken both of her arms and legs.

The girl’s eyes were open and they looked up at Ginny, unfocussed and glassy. Ginny steeled herself and tried to wipe the blood from her face—what was left of it—and bent low over the girl. With some of the blood gone—although it kept oozing from her nose and the gashes—Ginny recognized Elizabeth Derby, a fifth–year Ravenclaw. Elizabeth’s hair was long and blond. Ginny knew that she was very popular, and was considered one of the more beautiful girls at school; there were even rumors that she had veela ancestors. Ginny was also quite certain that she was only fifteen, and so she must have sneaked back into the Great Hall during the evacuation of the underage students. She had decided to stay and fight, and she had ended up like this.

Ginny caressed her forehead and leaned down closer to her disfigured face. She did not know if Elizabeth could hear her, but she began to speak.

“It’s going to be all right,” she said. “We’ll get you back inside. You’ll be all right.”

Elizabeth turned her eyes to Ginny, and they seemed to focus. The girl’s arm, which Ginny thought had been twisted into an impossible position, somehow moved and her hand reached up and grabbed Ginny’s. “I don’t want to go back there. I want to go home. Mummy. Where is Mummy?”

Ginny wiped more blood from her forehead to keep it from running into her eyes. “It’s all right. We’ll get you back inside. You’ll be okay.”

“But I want to go home. I don’t want to fight anymore.” Tears began running down her face, mingling with the congealing blood from her nose.

“I know,” Ginny said, her voice breaking. “It’s going to be all right.”

Ginny looked up; she thought she had heard footsteps, but no one was near. She peered into the night and then she did hear steps, but they were moving away. She held her wand up, but there was nothing.

Elizabeth’s grip suddenly tightened and Ginny bent down again. The girl was now staring up at the sky, her eyes filled with terror. Her rattling breath came in choking gasps. She turned her head to Ginny and her hand went limp. Ginny let it drop and slumped on the ground next to the lifeless body. She did not try to stop her racking sobs.

She didn’t know how long she sat there weeping, but she knew that it was getting close to the time of Voldemort’s deadline, when the attack would resume. She doused her wand and stood; she had to get back to the castle. She had to be with her family, and she wanted to see Harry, even if she could not speak to him. She had no illusions about how this was going to end; all she had to do was look down at the broken, mutilated form at her feet.

She heaved a sigh that caught the last sob in her throat, and started to walk towards the castle. On the third step the darkness around her suddenly vanished and a blinding vision filled her head. She was in her Quidditch robes in a crowded common room, and she was running towards the portrait hole, but all she could see there were two emerald green points of light. She flung herself at them and kissed Harry’s lips, wrapping her arms tightly about him, and now it was not a vision but she was kissing him and her entire body was anchored to his. He started to move backwards, away from her, but she held onto him even more desperately, refusing to let him go.

The vision vanished as suddenly as it had appeared, and she was alone on the lawn in the darkness.

Ginny stood rooted to the ground, unable to move or even think. The sky spun above her, and she swayed dizzily with her heart pounding. She could feel the wetness of the kiss on her lips, but putting her hand to her mouth she tasted blood and spat it out. The euphoria vanished. Here she was, and there was the body of Elizabeth Derby, and she had no explanation for what had just happened.

She began walking again, but stopped when she heard distant bangs, and turned to peer through the darkness at the Forbidden Forest. Spells and sparks were rising above the trees. A spell would rise into the air, and a few seconds later she heard the bang that accompanied it. She also thought she heard far off shouts and cheers. They must be coming, she thought.

She turned and started walking again, then began to run and didn’t stop until she reached the steps to the castle, where a few people stood, gazing towards the Forest. She passed through them and went into the Great Hall, looking for her family.

Molly was on the platform at the back of the Hall with the rest of the Order; Kingsley Shacklebolt was in the center of the group, and leaned towards Molly and said something to her as Ginny entered the room. Molly turned and jumped down from the platform and came running to her, weaving through the knots of people standing and sitting on the floor.

She stopped in front of Ginny. Her eyes were red and puffy, and strands of hair kept falling in her face. She took Ginny’s hands in hers and stared at them, horror–stricken. “Where were you? What happened?”

“It’s not my blood,” Ginny said in a strangled voice. She looked at her mother. “Clean them, Mum, please, please!”

Molly Scourgified the blood, and Ginny dropped her hands. “They’re coming. I was outside looking for people on the lawn. The Death Eaters are sending up signals.”

“Yes, it’s almost time,” Molly said distractedly. “And no one knows where Harry is.”

Ginny looked quickly away; she did not want her mother to see how frightened she had suddenly become. Now she knew whose footsteps she had heard in the darkness. But there was the vision, she thought in desperation. Had it been a farewell? She stumbled blindly to the door and back into the entrance hall.

A small crowd was there, and in a moment Ron and Hermione joined her. “Have you seen Harry?” Ron asked, glancing around anxiously. Ginny looked at them wordlessly, but turned; she did not want to speak of her vision, not before she knew what had happened to Harry.

The voice of Voldemort rang out again. When it began speaking of the death of Harry Potter, Ginny listened for an instant, but began to shake her head violently; she put her hands over her ears and looked down, squeezing her eyes shut. She would not believe it, she would not believe that Harry was dead, no, not with the claim coming from the mouth of the master deceiver, not with the feel of Harry’s lips on hers still so real. She would have to see it with her own eyes before she would believe it.

Voldemort’s voice stopped, and for a few minutes there was silence. Ginny glared at Ron and Hermione, daring them to believe what Voldemort had said, but they would not look at her.

Someone standing on the steps outside shouted, “They’re here!” People poured out of the Great Hall, moving towards the doors. Ron pushed them open, and Ginny stepped through with him and Hermione. When she came out onto the steps she saw Death Eaters spreading out before the castle in a long, menacing line.

Suddenly Professor McGonagall screamed. Ginny jumped, as startled by who it had come from as much as by the piercing sound. But she pushed forward and came to the front of the crowd on the steps at the same moment as Ron and Hermione.

Before her stood Voldemort, a great snake wrapped around his shoulders. Next to him, with a waterfall of tears pouring down his face, stood Hagrid cradling the limp form of Harry Potter in his arms.

The world tilted under Ginny’s feet, and she, Ron, and Hermione all screamed. Voldemort glanced at them, his red eyes momentarily gleaming, but Ginny clapped her hand to her mouth. Her mind was reeling, but she would still not believe it, she would not accept what her eyes saw. She flashed back to the vision, and her lips suddenly moistened again, and Ginny knew, beyond any doubt, with her entire being, that Harry was alive.

People around her began shouting curses, screaming at the Death Eaters, until a loud bang and a flash of light from Voldemort’s wand silenced them. He spoke to Hagrid and gestured, pointing to the ground at his feet, and Hagrid gently placed Harry’s body there. Harry lay still, he did not move, and Ginny could feel Ron trembling next to her and hear Hermione crying on his other side. But Ginny did not cry. Tears were not needed for Harry. She would save them for those who needed them, for Fred, and for Elizabeth.

Voldemort spoke in mocking tones to the throng on the steps, but Ginny no longer cared about his words. She did not take her eyes from Harry. There was movement around her, people shifting, taking out their wands, muttering. Someone near her shouted, and she saw out of her peripheral vision that Neville was charging forward, only to be stopped a few yards from Voldemort, his wand blown away. Ginny’s eyes stayed fixed on Harry.

Then, for an instant, the two emerald green points of light that she had seen in the vision appeared again, but this was not a vision, and a shock like a magical spell jolted her body. Ron reached to hold her, thinking that she needed support, but she stood rock steady. For the tiniest moment, the two points of light had appeared where Harry’s eyes were.

Ginny knew that no one else had seen that blink of green; everyone was looking at Neville and Voldemort. Neville was shouting at Voldemort, who responded with contemptuous sneers. He waved his wand, and Neville stood straight and rigid, unable to move.

Ginny still had not taken her eyes from Harry, and she saw the green points again, but this time his eyes stayed open. Voldemort waved his wand, and those around Ginny looked up as something soared out of the castle into Voldemort’s hand. Another jolt coursed through Ginny when she recognized the Sorting Hat, and the hope which had already been rising inside her, now flared into certainty: she remembered five years back to the Chamber of Secrets, and knew that Voldemort himself was about to deliver the tool of his own destruction into the hand of his enemy.

Voldemort walked forward and placed the Sorting Hat on Neville’s head, and Ginny, still staring at Harry, leaned towards Ron and whispered, “Watch Harry.”

Ron turned to her, total incomprehension on his face. But as Ginny began to say more, the world exploded around them. The Sorting Hat burst into flames, there were distant shouts and the sound of thundering hooves from the edge of the grounds, a rush of wings from the sky above, and the booms of a giant’s footsteps to her right.

Voldemort looked around, and a moment of alarm passed over his face. It was instantly replaced with rage, and he looked back at Neville, but too late. Ginny had seen Harry jump up and throw his Cloak over himself, and she saw the Shield charm come up between Neville and Voldemort. Silver and red flashed, and a giant snake head flew into the air.

Chaos erupted. Ginny shot a Stunning spell at Voldemort but it missed and struck a Death Eater standing behind him. Voldemort whirled, looking for the source of the spell. People shouted and screamed. Ginny tried to get closer to where Harry had been, but there was now a mob of defenders and Death Eaters in front. A deep booming voice from behind shouted, “Fight them! Fight them!” and spells and jinxes filled the air.

Ginny was pushed back through the entrance hall and into the Great Hall along with the rest of the castle’s defenders. She stood for a moment, uncertain, as Death Eaters too were forced into the room. But Hermione grabbed her. “Stick together!” she shouted over the roar of voices and the explosions of spells. Luna was with her, and Hermione pointed her wand at a tall female Death Eater only a few yards away. But as Hermione’s spell shot towards her, she whirled with a maniacal screech, parried it, and sent what seemed like dozens of hexes back at them. Ginny recognized Bellatrix Lestrange, and a fury that she had never felt rose in her. This was the witch who had killed the only family that had been left to Harry.

The three girls had their hands full. “Spread out!” screamed Hermione, and in the instant that Ginny was momentarily distracted, a sheet of green flame passed just in front of her, barely missing her face; she could feel its heat and jumped back. She heard another scream, and thought that someone had been hit, but a hand threw her aside and her mother stood in front of her, shouting curses at Bellatrix and firing spells so fast that Ginny could not follow them.

She had never seen her mother like this, a madwoman with murder in her eyes. She seemed to have grown taller, and her hair was a flaming red mane. Bellatrix began taunting, and Ginny saw her mother’s face become colder as her wand became a blur. Bellatrix let out a shriek of insane laughter. Ginny heard her mother snarl like an animal, and her next spell hit the Death Eater square in the chest. Bellatrix dropped to the floor, dead.

A shriek of rage and a loud bang came from the other end of the Great Hall. Ginny saw three bodies fly through the air and crash to the floor. The shriek had come from Voldemort, who was in the center of a large circle of people. Ginny looked around and saw no Death Eaters standing, but to her amazement there were dozens of house–elves around the room, some with bloody knives and cleavers in their hands; she could also see centaurs waving their bows, shouting and stamping their hooves.

A Shield Charm appeared in front of Voldemort, and Harry was standing there, and the room erupted in cries of “Harry!” and “He’s alive!” Hermione grabbed Ginny’s arm, an expression of total joy spreading across her face. Ginny just looked at her and smiled. “I knew he wasn’t gone,” she whispered. “I always knew.”

The room went totally silent, and Ginny turned to see what was happening.

Harry and Voldemort were circling each other, wands raised. Ginny pushed to the front of the circle they were prowling, watching their dance, a dance of death. She watched Harry as he circled. When he was in front of her, his back only a few feet away, she lifted her wand a few inches, closed her eyes, and willed her love, her total love, into his body. When Voldemort was in front of her she stared at the back of his hairless head and emptied her mind of everything; she did not want to give him a hint of her presence or what she was feeling for Harry.

The dance continued, and Ginny sensed the climax approaching; she saw it in Harry’s eyes as he circled across from her, and she saw his wand come up a fraction of an inch. As he approached her again, she listened to what he was saying.

“It’s your last chance, it’s all you’ve got left,” Harry said. “I’ve seen what you’ll be otherwise.” He was directly in front of her now, and she sent a wave of emotion towards him. He hesitated for a fraction of a second. “Be a man . . . try . . . Try for some remorse.” Ginny saw uncertainty in Voldemort’s eyes, but it was instantly gone, and he and Harry continued to circle.

Ginny only watched Harry. They were talking about wands, when suddenly the ceiling overhead burst into light as the sun rose, and a massive explosion filled the Great Hall when red and green flames met in the center of the circle, and Tom Riddle lay dead at her feet.

She stared at the body for a moment, then looked across at Harry. Their eyes met. but Hermione was charging across to Harry and jumping on him and screaming as Ron was hugging them both, and Ginny found herself next to Harry with her arms around him for the first time since last summer, and they were surrounded by a mass of screaming people and house–elves and centaurs and Hagrid.

As Ginny finally relinquished her place next to Harry, he glanced at her again and she knew what his eyes were saying: today was for the rest of the world, but tomorrow would be hers. She smiled, but as she started to pull her hand from his, the cheering, jostling crowd pushed them momentarily together again, and his palm pressed into her thigh. He left it there for a longer moment than he had to and Ginny felt a flush of heat rise into every part of her body, radiating from the place where his hand was touching. They were separated by the mob, and Ginny moved slowly away.

When the cheers and the celebrations had died away, and the tables had reappeared and people began to sit, Ginny found herself back with her family. She didn’t try to look for Harry, content this day to leave him for others. She rested her head on her mum’s shoulder and looked towards the side of the room where the bodies of fallen friends and family lay. Her eyes began to fill with tears. George and Percy were with Fred again, and Ginny knew that as today wore on and when she awoke tomorrow his death would not seem real. She did not know what the world would be like without Fred.

She saw Ron and Hermione walking towards the door, separated by a space of about two feet, and Ginny knew that Harry was between them under his Cloak. She watched them leave, and heaved a sigh and took her mum’s hand. Molly squeezed it and put her arm around Ginny and pulled her to her bosom, weeping.

Ginny put her arms around her mother. Her heart had filled with pain again, but it was also now buoyed by a glorious feeling of hope and anticipation. Harry would be sleeping in his room in Gryffindor Tower, and Ginny would be sleeping in hers, only a few yards away, under the same roof. Today and tomorrow and for a long time there would be days of grief, but starting tomorrow would also be an endless time of rediscovered happiness. She knew that all would be well.

Chapter Text

The second day after the battle dawned overcast and warm. When Ginny awoke in her four-poster she was momentarily disoriented and did not recognize where she was. But as soon as she looked up at the red and gold canopy, she remembered: Fred was gone, and it was as if a massive weight fell on her. She closed her eyes again, and everything flooded back, swirling images of explosions, bodies, spells, blood, destruction. Over it all was the face of her dead brother.

But there was also another face, a face with green eyes looking at her from the middle of a screaming, joyous mob. Even as tears for her brother spilled down her cheeks and onto her pillow, she realized that she was hugging herself and, more than anything except the return of Fred, wanting Harry to hold and comfort her.

Low voices came from the room; she wiped her face and pushed back the hangings. Three cots lined the wall next to her bed, and she remembered that the seventh-year dormitory room was unusable. The only serious damage sustained by Gryffindor Tower was a large hole in the peaked roof, and the uppermost girls room now had an open-air skylight. The house-elves had set up cots in the sixth-year room, and Hermione, Lavender, and Parvati had moved in. Hermione’s cot was un-slept in; Ginny assumed that she, Ron, and Harry had stayed up with the teachers and the Order, deciding what to do next, making plans for taking back the Ministry of Magic, doing whatever it was you did after you won a war.

“’Morning, Gin, how are you?” Parvati called. She and Lavender were still in their cots, and a white bandage was wrapped around Lavender’s head.

Ginny shrugged. “Not great.”

Parvati nodded. “I’m sorry.”

Parvati’s question had brought a lump to Ginny’s throat, and she took a breath. The two girls looked at her, and Ginny noticed that Lavender’s eyes were red and swollen. “I cried all night for Colin,” she said. “They made him leave, but he came back . . .” She couldn’t go on but turned her back to the room and began sobbing softly. Parvati put her hand on her shoulder.

“Did you see Hermione last night?” Ginny asked as she got up and began dressing. “Was she here at all?”

Parvati glanced at Lavender. “Uh, no . . .” She hesitated.

“I heard that that Room of Requirement with the hammocks was still open,” came the voice of Sarah Brushmore, one of Ginny’s sixth-year roommates, from behind the hangings of her four-poster. “I also heard that a bunch of people stayed there last night.” Parvati sent a dirty look in Sarah’s direction, and Lavender’s sobs became louder.

“What about the prefects?” Ginny asked.

A giggle came from the four-poster. “Some of them were prefects.”

Ginny was puzzled for a moment, but a light came on and she looked sympathetically at Lavender, adding her own scowl to Parvati’s, directed at the invisible Sarah. And she also smiled tightly to herself: if Ron and Hermione had slept in a hammock together last night, she would remember, if it turned out that Ron still believed he had the right to make comments about her own love life or bust into her own room again without knocking.

She finished dressing, went down to the common room and looked around for Harry, but he wasn’t there. She hurried out the portrait hole and down to the Great Hall, passing piles of rubble and damaged furniture, portraits, wall hangings, and suits of armor. Students were wandering around looking at it; many of them were holding hands, and many had tear-stained faces. The damage to the castle itself was terrible: holes blasted in walls, windows shattered, timbers splintered, bloodstains everywhere.

But the most remarkable thing that Ginny saw, in every hallway and corridor, were the house-elves. She had never seen so many outside the kitchen. They were everywhere, scurrying about sorting damaged items, carrying stones and lengths of timber, sweeping floors and cleaning walls. She didn’t see anyone directing them, but they all seemed to know exactly what to do. She also passed through corridors where damage had already been repaired; Hogwarts was starting to recover.

The Great Hall still showed major signs of damage: blast marks scorched the walls, and most of the windows were broken; but the enchanted ceiling was intact, showing a cloudy sky, and all four House tables were set up with many people eating at them. The bodies that had lain along the wall were gone.

Ginny spotted Bill and Fleur at the Gryffindor table with their backs to her. She walked over and put her hand on Bill’s shoulder, and when he turned his head and she saw his grim face her tears began to flow again. He took her in his arms and Fleur pressed her hand to Ginny’s arms, wrapped around Bill’s neck.

When Ginny was finally able to stop weeping, she wiped her face and dished porridge into a bowl, which she proceeded to attack; meals had been sketchy yesterday, and she hadn’t realized how hungry she was. Bill put his hand on her shoulder. “Harry was here,” he said. “He asked for you, but he had to go see Kingsley up in McGonagall’s office and he said he’d be back as soon as he could.”

Ginny nodded, remembering the rush of heat through her body when Harry put his hand on her thigh in the middle of that raucous crowd of celebrants after the battle. She bit into a slice of toast, swallowing with difficulty, and glanced around the room. “Where are the . . .”

“They set up a big marquee on the lawn, right outside the doors. All the bodies were moved last night. Mum and Dad are there.”

When she was finished Ginny went outside. The marquee stood just off to the side of the drive, and was not as big as she had thought—or feared. It was light gray with a peaked roof and only one opening. She walked inside and saw coffins set in rows on tables. Each one had a large bouquet of white flowers on it, which Ginny recognized from Herbology: syntle, a small white flower that was said to grow on land where the dead were buried. Professor Sprout had only one planting of it, since it was quite rare, but here, somehow, there were hundreds of them bringing a touch of beauty into a somber place.

There were many people in the marquee, in small and large groups gathered around coffins. The Weasleys were standing next to one in the front row, and just behind them Ginny saw Andromeda Tonks with an infant in her arms, sitting next to a table on which rested two coffins. Kingsley Shacklebolt was with her, and another woman Ginny did not recognize: she was slender and dark-skinned, wearing white robes and a white turban.

Ginny walked towards her family; they were all there—including Hermione leaning on Ron’s shoulder—except Bill and Fleur. Her mother detached herself from the group and met Ginny as she approached. Molly looked exhausted, haggard. Her eyes were puffy; her hair pulled back and tied, but it was uncombed. Her clothes looked like they had been slept in, but Ginny didn’t think her mum had slept at all. Molly took Ginny’s face in her hands and stared into her eyes; the ferocity Ginny had seen when she had killed Bellatrix was gone. In its place was a distant confusion, as if she were lost.

Her mum embraced her, and Ginny could feel her trembling. Molly held Ginny tightly, almost uncomfortably, for a long time. Her father finally came and led them back to Fred’s coffin. George was leaning on it, his head bowed. Ginny stood on her tip-toes and kissed his cheek. He hugged her, but began to weep and turned away.

Percy, Ron, and Hermione were sitting in chairs on the other side of the table, facing Ginny, and they looked up as footsteps stopped behind her. She turned to see four strange wizards looking at her.

“Excuse me, Miss Weasley,” the man who appeared to be the oldest said. He was dressed in simple robes, with a rough-hewn face and eyes that might have been kind except for the pain in them. His hair was graying, but may have been blond at one time. They all nodded to Arthur.

Ginny looked uncertainly at her father. “How can we help you?” he asked the wizard who had spoken.

He dropped his eyes. “I’m sorry to bother you, sir. I know you lost your son. I’m sorry.”

Arthur nodded. “Did you want to ask Ginny something?”

“Actually, we wanted her to show us something.”

Arthur frowned, and Charlie moved to stand next to Ginny. The wizard noted his muscular bulk. “If you don’t mind, that is.”

“What do you want?” said Arthur. “You know who we are. Who are you?”

“Forgive me. My name is Jensarod Wilson, this is my brother Herlo, and these are John and James Derby. We thought that maybe—”

“You’re Elizabeth’s brothers,” Ginny said to the two Derby wizards.

“No, Miss,” the one named James answered; his hair was dark, but Ginny remembered that Elizabeth’s eyes were blue like his. “Lizzie was my niece, we’re all her uncles. We heard that you were with her when she . . . at the end.” His voice broke. “We were hoping you could show us where it happened and maybe tell us something about it.”

Ginny leaned back against the table. She didn’t really want to go back there, nor did she want to talk about what she had seen. But she also saw the pain in the four pairs of eyes looking a her. “I’ll do it,” she said in a low voice.

“Ginny, you don’t have to go down there,” her father said.

“No, it’s okay, I’ll go.” She looked around at her brothers. “Can someone come with me?”

Charlie stepped forward immediately and took Ginny’s arm. As they started to walk away she paused and turned to Ron and Hermione. “If Harry comes, tell him I’ll be right back.”

She let the uncles lead her and Charlie out of the marquee but turned them off the drive and started across the lawn towards the Forbidden Forest. She walked slowly, trying to retrace her steps of two nights ago. After about ten minutes, she stopped next to a spot where the grass was stained brown. She looked at the Forest and back at the castle, then pointed to the bloody grass.  “This is it. She was here when I found her.”

The four men stared at the spot. “What was she like?” Jensarod said to Ginny.

Ginny looked at the sky. It was overcast, and was beginning to appear stormy; a small breeze had sprung up. She could hear birds singing in the trees at the edge of the Forest. Charlie put his hand on her shoulder. “You don’t have to talk about it,” he murmured.

She swallowed and forced herself to speak. “No, I want to.” She gave Jensarod a blazing look. “I want everyone to know what she looked like, what they did to her. Her face was bleeding. She had big gashes on her cheeks and forehead. Her nose was . . . was gone, it just wasn’t there. It was just a . . . a bloody hole. And her arms and legs were broken. They did what they wanted, and then they threw her away.” Ginny’s eyes brimmed and she began to shout. “She wanted her mum! She was scared and she wanted to go home!” The wizards leaned back from the force of her voice.

Her voice dropped. “I was holding her hand and it went limp. That was all.” She looked at the bloody grass, and at Elizabeth’s uncles. They looked as if they had been clubbed over the head. “Didn’t you see her before they closed the coffin?”

Jensarod shook his head. “They had already sealed it. They told us they couldn’t undo the magic.”

“Let’s go back,” Charlie said.

“Miss Weasley,” John Derby spoke as Ginny was about to leave. “Thank you for being there. It must have been . . . really hard.” Ginny just looked at him, but he continued. “Tell Harry Potter that as far as I’m concerned he’s the greatest wizard who ever lived. We heard what he did, how he walked into their camp. Tell him that.”

Ginny turned and started walking, just as she had two nights ago, except that now Charlie was holding her arm, keeping her from stumbling. She counted her steps, and at the third one put her hand to her lips and closed her eyes. She had kissed Harry, even though it was just a vision. She ached for him, and a sob escaped through her fingers. Charlie tightened his hold and they soon came back to the marquee.

Everyone was still there, except Ron and Hermione. Her father told her that Harry had shown up and waited, but Neville had come and said he needed help right away with something up in the Room of Requirement, and Harry had left with Ron and Hermione. “Harry said he’ll be down for lunch,” Arthur finished.

They all stayed in the marquee for another hour, talking quietly, bringing Andromeda into their group after Kingsley and the dark, slender witch left. Percy told Ginny that she was Saliyah Ushujaa, Kingsley’s companion and an Auror. Ginny walked around inside the marquee and found Elizabeth’s coffin and saw her parents. Her mother bore a resemblance to Fleur, and Ginny realized that the rumors about Elizabeth’s veela ancestry were true. Elizabeth’s father talked to her and thanked her for trying to comfort his daughter, but his wife sat in a chair next to the coffin and did not take her eyes from it and did not speak.

“She was our beauty,” Mr. Derby said through tears. “Now she’s gone.” Ginny could bear no more, and left the marquee.

The Great Hall was filling up for lunch, and Ginny sat at the Gryffindor table, facing the door so she could see Harry when he came. But when Neville appeared with Luna and Dean, Harry was not with them. They all sat across from Ginny.

“Harry and Ron and Hermione had to go into Hogsmeade,” Neville reported. “Something’s going on at the Hog’s Head between Aberforth and some goblins. Shacklebolt wouldn’t say what it was, but he wanted Harry there.” Ginny sighed and poked at her food; she was no longer hungry.

Luna glanced at the Ravenclaw table. “Let’s eat over there tonight,” she said. “That would be a nice treat for them, they’d like that. Harry was really angry.”

“Huh?” Ginny was pouring herself a glass of pumpkin juice, and looked at Luna.

“Yeah,” said Neville, as he reached across Dean and grabbed a chicken leg from a serving dish. “He was really pissed off. He said you were waiting for him at lunch, but McGonagall and some bloke from the Ministry showed up and whatever was happening in Hogsmeade was getting worse, and they really needed Harry. Dunno why, though,” he shrugged.

Before Ginny could question him further, Neville was distracted by two sixth-year Hufflepuff girls who Ginny knew from her classes. They stopped behind him. “Hi, Neville,” said one, a very pretty dark-complexioned brunette; she smiled at him. “How’s your big sword?”

Ginny gagged on a mouthful of pumpkin juice, splattering it all over Luna, who seemed only mildly surprised by the orange shower. Neville turned bright red, and Dean nudged him, grinning at the two girls.

“It’s, uh, it’s fine,” Neville stammered, a drumstick suspended half-way to his mouth.

“Can you show it to me?” the brunette asked in a throaty voice.

There was a thump under the table, and Neville scowled at Dean. But he dropped the drumstick on his plate and stood.

“Sure, it’s up in my room. Come on, I’ll get it.” He looked at Dean again, who nodded encouragingly, and after another second Neville turned to the girls. “Why don’t you wait, uh, wait up on the seventh floor in front of that big tapestry with the dancing trolls?”

The one who had spoken took Neville’s arm. “We’ll wait anywhere you want.” They walked towards the door, but just before they reached it the girl on his arm glanced at her friend, who peeled off and went the other way, back to the Hufflepuff table. Neville and his new friend disappeared into the entrance hall.

Ginny watched them leave and Scourgified Luna. “Has that been happening a lot?” she asked Dean.

“Yup. At first he ignored it, but I had a few words and now it looks like he’s right on top of it.” He grinned at Ginny.

“Well, I wish him luck,” Ginny said as she got to her feet. “By the way, did Harry know when he would be back?”

“No. Sorry, Ginny. But like Neville said, he was really ticked off.”

Ginny left the Great Hall and went back outside to the marquee. Her parents and George were still sitting by the coffin, so she pulled up a chair and stayed with them, mostly holding her mother’s hand, occasionally weeping. She saw Elizabeth Derby’s uncles come in, and noticed that there were a very large number of people gathered around that coffin, plus a young female house-elf who was holding the bouquet of syntle. As Ginny watched, Elizabeth’s father helped her mother stand, and one of the uncles took his wand out and the coffin rose off the table and floated ahead of the family as they moved out of the marquee. John Derby nodded to Ginny as he left and she bowed her head in return. And even though she tried not to, she remembered the blood on the grass.

Ginny decided to leave, also; she followed the Derbys outside and went up to the common room feeling tired and dispirited; she did not know if she even wanted to see Harry right now. House-elves were still bustling about, and she was surprised at how much progress they had made. All of the windows were repaired, there were no longer piles of furniture or other damaged items in the hallways, and she did not see any bloodstains on the walls. It was amazing, she thought, almost a miracle. Her spirits rose, and she entered the portrait hole hoping against hope that Harry would be there.

He was not, and Ginny’s mood collapsed. None of her friends were there either, so she slowly climbed the stairs to her room, hoping now that it would be empty, wanting to be alone and not have to talk to anyone. This hope was fulfilled, and she lay down on her bed, pulled the hangings shut, and, feeling thoroughly sorry for herself, had a good cry and fell asleep on her wet pillow.

When she awoke and opened the hangings she saw that she had slept away most of the afternoon and the sky was darkening; she could hear distant rumbles of thunder echoing in the hills. Her roommate, Christina, was standing in front of a mirror adjusting her clothes and primping her hair. “Hi, Ginny,” she said when she saw Ginny in the mirror. “Harry Potter was just in the common room looking for you.”

Ginny jumped out of bed, ran a brush through her hair, straightened her blouse, and rushed downstairs. She didn’t see Harry, but Ron was standing next to a table glancing through a copy of the Prophet. He looked up when Ginny came over and showed her the headlines: Shacklebolt Takes Over Ministry read the first, and below it: Prison Conditions Worsen As Azkaban Fills Up.

“No matter what happens,” he grumbled, “no matter how good things are, they’ll always find something to complain about. I mean, who gives a rat’s ass if they pack a hundred of them into one cell?”

Ginny ignored his rant. “Where’s Harry?” Ron frowned, and Ginny’s spirits sank once more.

“He and Hermione got called up to McGonagall’s office—again. Some Muggle git found the tent we were using and got lost in it. Harry asked me to wait here and tell you he’ll meet you at dinner.”

Ginny’s frustration had turned to resignation. Maybe they would have better luck tomorrow. “Come on, then,” she sighed, “let’s go eat.”

They trudged down to the Great Hall—even more damage had been fixed in the hallways—and joined the rest of the family. But of course Harry and Hermione did not show up. They all went outside to the marquee after the meal and stood around the coffin in candlelight, holding hands. Bill told Ginny that they would be taking Fred home tomorrow to be buried the day after at the Burrow. When she heard that, she broke down. It was final, totally final. Fred would be in the ground; she would never see him again. She would visit his grave and cry, and that would be the closest she would ever get to him, ever. Bill held her as she sobbed inconsolably, until finally, gasping for breath, she tried to pull herself back together.

Ginny knew that it wasn’t just the finality of the impending funeral that was turning her into a weeping mess. She needed Harry. She had waited almost a year, and now that he was in her grasp he kept slipping away. She was constantly touching her lips, feeling his kiss, but now she wanted the real thing, not the after-image of a vision. She had never known such longing, not even in the darkest days of last winter when Harry was somewhere out in the cold world running from death and she didn’t know if she would ever see him again.

She found herself alone back in the common room, waiting for Harry, curled up in a chair under a window being pelted by rain as lightning flashed and thunder rolled. The storm was perfect as far as she was concerned; let it rain on everyone, why should she be alone in her misery? As the hour grew late, Ginny slipped lower into the chair and dozed.

A peal of thunder awoke her. She sat up and looked around; the common room was empty, the fire almost out. She heard a noise and saw the door to the boys’ stairwell closing behind someone; she thought she saw a shock of black hair and a lanky body.

She jumped up, but as she called, “Harry!” a loud clap of thunder drowned her voice. She ran to the door, opened it a few inches and peered up. She heard footsteps and called again, but whoever it was kept climbing.

She pushed the door open and stepped into the stairwell. She had been in the boys tower only once, and felt a little awkward; she did not want to run into anyone in his skivvies, even though she had long ago got used to it at the Burrow.

She started quietly climbing, but met no one and heard no one. At the top she hesitated. What if it wasn’t Harry? Still, the worst that could happen was that she would find one of his roommates in his underwear, and she had seen worse things than that.

She knocked softly. “Harry?” After a short moment she heard footsteps. The door opened, and Dean stood in front of her in his pajamas holding up a lit wand; behind him was Seamus also with his wand alight.

Dean blinked. “Blimey, Ginny, what are you doing here?”

“I thought I saw Harry come up. I fell asleep in a chair and someone came up the stairs, and I . . .” She felt herself blush, and Dean smiled.

“He hasn’t been here all day, as far as I can tell.” He turned to Seamus, who shook his head. “But if we see him, should we tell him . . .?”

“No, no, that’s all right. Tell him I’ll see him in the morning. Thanks.” She turned and started down the stairs, but stopped at a window half-way down and looked out. Flashes of lightning lit the hills across the lake. Below was the marquee, illuminated in a ghostly fashion by dozens of candles. The shadows of a few people moved around inside, still mourning, still unable to leave their loved ones. Harry was like one of those shadows. He had been moving about all day as she looked down from above, unable to reach him, unable to . . .

She stopped herself. This was silly; she would see him tomorrow. But still, it was frustrating that a whole day had gone by, a day that she had been anticipating for almost a year. Everyone else had wanted Harry, and everyone else had got him, except—

The door at the foot of the stairwell opened and closed and someone began climbing. Ginny turned, her heart pounding, and Harry stood before her, looking tired and surprised.

“Blimey, Ginny, what are you doing here? I was looking for you everywhere. Hermione went up to your room but you weren’t there and . . .”

“And?” Ginny was trembling; she was sure Harry could tell.

He walked slowly to her. “Why did you come up here?”

“I was looking for you. I fell asleep in a chair, and I thought I saw you go upstairs, but Dean said you weren’t there and . . .”

“And?”

He put his arms around her and kissed her mouth. She kissed him and he was crushing her against him and his hands clutched her hair and his mouth was kissing her face, her eyes, her nose, her chin, her lips. She was digging her fingernails into his back and he was kissing her fiercely and she was beating her palms against his back, wanting to rivet their bodies together. They were on their knees, their thighs and bellies and chests pressed together. Harry’s hands were all over her and she was crying out and Harry pushed her down.

“No, no, Harry!” she gasped. “Not—not—”

“Not what?” He was breathing fast; his mouth was on her neck, his hands on her shoulders, pressing her to the floor.

“Not here. Someone might come.” She sat up and leaned against the wall, panting. Harry was on his knees in front of her. Their breathing gradually slowed.

He got up and held his hand to her and pulled her up. “Come with me, I know where.”

They made their way to the corridor outside the Room of Requirement, and when it opened for them and they stepped inside, Ginny saw dark velvet curtains all around lit by dim candles, and a thick carpet on the floor. It was very quiet, not in a sinister way but hushed.

The carpet muffled their footsteps as Harry led her along a curtained, silent corridor. They came to a break in the curtains; Ginny saw a chamber, walled by more curtains, with a large hammock suspended in the air, and candles glowing with a soft yellow light.

Harry pulled her inside, and the curtain closed behind them; the world was quiet and still. “Someone found this the morning after the battle,” he whispered. “I guess they needed some privacy. I don’t think the teachers know about it yet.” He grinned.

“It’s lovely. It’s perfect.” She sat on the hammock and when he sat next to her they rolled into it. It was made of a fine, soft silky material, and when they put their heads down, puffy satin pillows appeared underneath them.

Harry reached down and pulled both of their trainers and socks off. They lay back, wiggling their toes. Ginny turned to him, but before she could speak they heard a clanking noise nearby, and high, giggling laughter. They heard a deeper voice, and even though it was muffled, they both recognized it.

“Neville?” said Harry, a little surprised.

“Sounds like. I think he’s taking advantage of his new rep.”

“Good for him. I was thinking of doing the same thing myself.”

“Oh, so you think you have a rep?”

“I’m hoping. Do I?”

“Yes. And I was also hoping you would take advantage of it.”

They did not sleep at all, and between caresses they talked for hours.

 

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Author’s Note

Readers of Professor Tolkien will recognize a reference in this chapter to a plant he described that has come down to the wizarding world from Middle Earth. It was known through the Third and Fourth Ages of Middle Earth as symbelmyne, but wizards know it by a different name, syntle. The Professor’s history does not tell us how it managed to survive so long as a magical species in Britain, and I will not speculate here.

Chapter Text

At breakfast the next morning Ginny noticed that two people kept glancing at her. One of them, Ron, had a crease in his brow and didn’t speak to either her or Harry. The other, Fleur, smiled at her and spent a lot of time pushing food at Harry, saying he needed to keep up his strength. Ginny thought that what Fleur didn’t know might surprise her, but she said nothing. Maybe Harry’s yawns were giving the wrong impression.

As for Ron, the two-faced git could go stuff it, as far as Ginny was concerned. If all he did was throw looks at her and Harry, things might be okay, but if he went any further, she would have it out with him, even though she sincerely hoped he would not say anything during the next few days; neither she nor her parents nor any of her brothers, especially George, needed a family row right now.

But these unpleasant thoughts didn’t linger. Harry was sitting next to her, and even though his head kept drooping, he kept offering to fill her glass from the pitcher of pumpkin juice, and would not let her serve herself; it was sweet, if a little annoying, but he had never behaved with such determined chivalry before, so she let him do it. Her brothers and parents definitely noticed, and she saw quick smiles sent her way.

There was one other thing that especially kept Ginny from stopping Harry’s attentions: it really seemed to please her mum. She smiled at Ginny for the first time since the battle, and ate a normal breakfast, not leaving most of her food on the plate as she had been doing. Ginny just hoped that she wouldn’t find out about last night.

The plan for the day was to Portkey to the Burrow as soon as everyone could get ready. Ginny, Ron, Harry, and Hermione went back to their rooms after breakfast and packed whatever they would be needing for the next day or two, since their trunks might be delayed because most of the house-elves were still busy repairing the castle. Ginny said goodbye to her roommates and hugged her friends with more than a few tears, not only because of the deaths of Fred, Colin, and all the others, but also because some of them were leaving Hogwarts and would not be back at school in September.

She gave Dean a special goodbye hug. “Maybe we’ll run into each other in Diagon Alley,” Ginny said to him as she was about to leave the common room. “Or maybe we’ll have a D.A. reunion at the Burrow.”

“That would be fun,” he smiled. “Good luck, Ginny. I’ll see you around.” As she was climbing out the portrait hole Ginny looked back one last time and saw him sit down with Parvati, Lavender, and Seamus; Parvati had her arm around Lavender who had been weeping again over Colin Creevey.

Ginny hadn’t seen Neville in the common room, and kept a lookout for him and Luna on her way downstairs. He appeared around a corner as she was about to descend the marble staircase to the entrance hall, with the Hufflepuff girl who had spoken to him at lunch yesterday.

“I’m glad I saw you,” Ginny exclaimed. “We’re leaving soon. I wanted to say goodbye. I don’t know when I’ll see you again.”

Neville stood awkwardly, his hands jammed in his pockets. “Well, I guess . . .”

“I’m Keesha Baker.” The girl held out her hand. Ginny shook it and they grinned at each other. “We’ve been in a few classes together, but we never talked.”

“Maybe we can next year,” Ginny said. She turned to Neville. “Take care, Neville. I’m sure we’ll run into each other. I told Dean we should have a D.A. reunion some time. Do you think your Gran will mind?” She laughed.

Neville also smiled. “Not any more. ‘Bye, Ginny.” They stood looking at each other.

Ginny threw her arms around him and hugged him tightly. She was not surprised that they both had watery eyes. “You were my first date,” she whispered.

“But not your last,” he laughed. Ginny gave him a quick peck on his cheek, squeezed Keesha’s hand, and hurried down the stairs before she started bawling. She didn’t see Luna, but knew that she and her father would be at the funeral.

Many other families were also leaving, and a large pile of traveling bags filled the entrance hall. Ginny went outside and found the Weasleys gathered around Fred’s coffin in the marquee; Harry and Hermione were also there. Ginny gave Harry a quick kiss with all of her brothers watching. Harry glanced around, and they all looked away except Ron; he just stared at Harry. Ginny’s mouth was about to open when Bill stepped between her and Ron; he looked at Ginny, put his finger to his lips, and shook his head.

George led the family outside with the coffin floating before him, directed by his wand. Arthur and Molly came next. Ron and Hermione were behind them, and then Charlie and Percy, followed by Ginny and Harry; Bill and Fleur brought up the rear. It seemed to Ginny that Charlie had deliberately put himself between her and Ron. When she looked at Harry he was staring ahead at Ron. She took his arm and he put his hand on hers.

The Department of Magical Transportation had set up tables on the other side of the drive where families could place the coffins; officials from the Department were processing them and scheduling Portkeys, and as each family Portkeyed away, a coffin blinked out and disappeared.

George set Fred’s down, and they all walked to another table on which lay dozens of battered old shoes, dust bin lids, dented pots, and other assorted objects. An old witch with yellow teeth sat behind it; a sign next to her read, “Portkey Office. Please Form A Single Line. Thank You.” The Weasleys joined the queue. When they reached the front they saw that Professor McGonagall was also there, and she hugged both Molly and Arthur.

“We’ll see you tomorrow,” she said, then turned to Harry. “Professor Flitwick asked me to tell you that he will be there and you can discuss the matter with him.”

Ginny looked questioningly at Harry. “I wanted some private tutoring,” he said under his breath. “We missed a whole year.”

Ginny was puzzled. “But how will you do that? He can’t leave Hogwarts just to teach you, can he?”

Harry smiled. “I’ll tell you later.”

The Portkey Office witch greeted them as she shuffled through a stack of parchments and placed an old rabbit-ears antenna in front of them. Everyone put a hand on it, and as Hermione was explaining to Arthur exactly what a television channel was, they were all in the yard of the Burrow, and Fred’s coffin was on the ground next to the door. As soon as Molly saw it she stumbled over and collapsed, pressing her head against it and sobbing.

The entire family rushed to her side. Harry and Hermione hung back, uncertain, as they watched Bill and Arthur help Molly to her feet and take her inside. The rest followed, leaving the two alone in the yard.

Hermione was twisting her fingers, and Harry noted the nervous twitch. “It’s going to be hard,” he said.

Hermione nodded. “Yes, I can’t imagine what it’s like, burying a . . .” She looked at him. “But you can imagine it, can’t you? Your parents and Sirius all died.”

“Yeah, I can.” He frowned. “Look, Hermione, what is it with Ron? Ginny and I did the exact same thing you and he did. He’s starting to get on my nerves.”

Hermione’s hand-wringing tempo increased. “I’m sorry, Harry,” she said, looking at him apprehensively. “I’ve talked to him, but he’s got this thing about his baby sister. He was always treated like he was the baby. You’ve seen Fred and George tease him and ridicule him. So Ginny was the only one he could be, you know, higher than. He means well, he just wants to protect her.”

“From me?”

“No, no!” Hermione was close to tears. “That’s not it. Oh, please, Harry, don’t be angry with him, not after everything we’ve gone through. I’m so happy that you and Ginny are together. Give him some time to get used it. Please?” She had started crying, and Harry put his hand on her shoulder.

The door opened and Ginny and Ron walked out. “Sorry,” Ron muttered. “We kind of forgot about you. Are you okay?” He took Hermione in his arms and held her, patting her back as she sobbed on his shoulder. “I know, I know. We all miss him.”

Harry turned away and shook his head, but only Ginny saw it. “So what’s going to happen now?” Harry asked her.

Ginny shrugged. “We have to get the house ready. There’ll be a big crowd tomorrow. And we have to dig a grave.”

Harry thought of the other grave he had dug only a few weeks ago, although it seemed like years. “It’s not really my business,” he said, “but I think you should dig it without magic. That’s what I did for Dobby, and it felt right.”

Ginny giggled in spite of herself. “Dad would get to use a Muggle spade.”

“That’s not a bad idea,” Hermione sniffled; she had stopped crying and was wiping her face with a handkerchief that Ron conjured. “I’d like to help, if that’s what you decide to do.” She looked at Ron.

“Sure.” He regarded the cluttered yard. “But I don’t even know where they want to put it.”

“Beyond the garden, next to that big oak,” Ginny said. “I heard Dad talk about it this morning.”

“Sounds like a good spot.” Ron looked back at the house. “I wonder what’s for lunch?”

Ginny laughed and took his arm and they all went into the kitchen. To their amazement, Molly was bustling about with her wand out. Dishes and utensils were flying in all directions, and an aromatic stew was bubbling on the stove. The rest of the family were seated at the table.

Molly’s wand flashed, and a large loaf of fresh bread soared out of the oven and onto a cutting board, where a knife started slicing it.

“Hey, Mum, that’s a killer wand you’ve got there,” Ron called.

He froze as his mother whirled on him, her face contorted, her wand pointing at him. “Ronald Weasley,” she hissed between clenched teeth, “you will not joke about that, not if you know what’s good for you.” Her voice quivered with anger, and Ron took a step back.

“Molly!” Arthur said sharply. “He was joking. Put your wand down, for goodness sake.”

She quickly lowered her wand and slumped into a chair. The bread knife clattered to the floor. “I’m sorry, darling,” she blurted to Ron, holding her arms out. “Come here, I’m sorry.” Ron walked slowly around the table and bent down as his mother hugged him. He just as slowly walked back to his seat between Hermione and Bill; his face was white. Bill patted his arm.

Charlie got up and finished setting the table and putting out the food. They ate, mostly in silence. Molly left the table with her meal untouched and went upstairs without speaking. Arthur followed, and the rest looked at each other.

“I never saw her do anything like that,” Percy finally said.

“No one ever died before,” George said. Again there was silence.

Ron stood and left without a word. Hermione jumped up and followed him upstairs, and Harry also rose. He glanced at Ginny and followed Hermione. When he entered Ron’s attic room, Hermione was sitting on the bed next to Ron with her arm around him. Ron looked up as Harry sat on his cot, but said nothing.

“It’s all right, sweetheart,” Hermione said. “She loves you, you know that. You just startled her.”

Ron bowed his head; he looked miserable. “I can’t take much more of this. Everything is a disaster.”

Hermione squeezed his shoulders. “Not everything. Voldemort is dead, you and I are here together, and so are Harry and Ginny.”

Ron looked balefully at Harry. “Maybe that’s part of the disaster.”

“Ron, no!” Hermione cried.

Harry stood, glaring at his friend. “And what exactly is that supposed to mean?”

Ron also rose to his feet. “You know damn well what it means, mate.” Ron spat out the last word. “She’s underage. I know you spent the whole damn night in that room with her. What did you think, no one would notice?”

“Ron, no!” Hermione again cried. “I’m sure it wasn’t what you think!”

“Yeah, right.” Ron shrugged her hand from his arm and scowled at Harry. “It was bad enough you led her on before we left!” he shouted over Hermione’s cries of protest. “What if you hadn’t come back? Where would that have left her? And then, right into the sack as soon as you could get your hands on her. You didn’t waste any time, did you?”

Harry pointed his finger at Ron. “You’re over the line, mate, so watch it. And Ginny makes up her own mind, in case you haven’t noticed after sixteen years.”

“And you helped her right along, didn’t you?”

“Yeah, I did, because we love each other. What’s your excuse?”

“Harry!” shrieked Hermione.

Harry put up his hand. “I’m sorry,” he said to Hermione, “I didn’t mean that.” He took a breath and let the scowl drop from his face. “Look, Ron, Ginny and I are together, whether you like it or not, so why don’t you just accept it?”

Ron ground his teeth. “I told you. She’s too young. She doesn’t know what she’s doing.”

“Oh, come off it,” Harry scoffed, his anger rising again. “She knows what she’s doing better than I do, and sure as hell better than you do.”

Ron took a step towards Harry, his face livid. Hermione grabbed his shoulder, even though she was crying hysterically. “Please, stop it, both of you!” she shouted. “You’re both acting like babies!”

“Fine,” said Harry. “I’ll stop.” He pointed his finger at Ron again. “You just leave Ginny alone, understand? If you have any more problems, come see me. You know where I live.”

“She’s my sister!” Ron yelled. “I’ll do whatever the bloody hell I want—”

The door was flung open and Charlie and Bill strode into the room. Ron stepped back from Harry.

“What in the name of Merlin is going on here?” Bill demanded. “We can hear you all over the house. Mum is in tears again. What are you trying to do, Ron, destroy her?”

Before Ron could answer, Charlie took Harry’s arm. “Ginny’s down in the parlor, Harry. Why don’t you go?”

Harry turned on his heel and stomped out. He heard Hermione follow, and the door close. He could hear Ron start to speak and Bill’s voice cutting him off, but the words became indistinct as Harry descended. He passed Ginny’s room and that door opened and closed behind him as Hermione went in.

Percy was sitting alone at the kitchen table and stared at Harry passing through into the parlor. Ginny was there, standing in the middle of the room, an angry look on her face. Fleur was sitting on the couch. They both looked at him.

“‘Arry, what is wrong?” Fleur began, but Ginny was crossing the room. She took Harry’s hand and, ignoring Fleur, pulled him out the back door. She continued past the garden and into the woods, and didn’t stop until they were well out of earshot of the house.

She turned to face him. “What happened? Why were you yelling? Mum’s hysterical again.”

Harry looked into her eyes and remembered how much her mother’s had reminded him of Ginny. “I’m sorry. Ron said some things, and then I said some things I shouldn’t have. He’s furious that we spent the night together.”

Ginny’s nostrils flared slightly and her eyes flashed; Harry had to suppress a smile, knowing that she had just validated everything he had said to Ron. She grimaced. “Harry, tomorrow is Fred’s funeral. Please don’t let Ron get to you. It’s making it hard on everyone. We don’t need this.”

“I know. I’m sorry.” He put his hands on her shoulders and Ginny came into his arms. “I won’t let it happen again. But he’s obsessed. We weren’t even talking about us and he started yelling.”

Ginny sighed. “That’s why Bill and Charlie went up. If they can’t talk sense into him, at least they’ll make him shut it until after the funeral.”

“But?” Harry could tell that she wanted to say more.

But . . . I don’t know. He’ll get over it, I’m sure he will.”

“I hope so. He’s my best mate. And my girlfriend’s brother.”

She smiled up at him. “I like the sound of that.” They kissed, and Harry absentmindedly ran his finger along her neck and inside the collar of her blouse. Ginny stopped his hand with hers. “What is it?” she asked. “Is something bothering you?”

“Now how do you know that?”

“You’re trying to say something, aren’t you?”

Harry turned and started walking back and forth in front of her. He put his fist over his mouth and coughed “I, uh, I wanted to ask . . . about last night.”

Ginny put her hand on his arm and stopped his pacing. “What about it? Harry, it doesn’t matter to me what Ron thinks.”

“No, that’s not it. I mean, I do care what he thinks, but . . . I want to know what you think.”

Ginny had a coy smile. “Couldn’t you tell last night?”

“Ginny, that’s not what I meant, either. I never did anything like that before, and I guess I need to know if it was the right thing to do.”

“I repeat, couldn’t you tell last night?”

Harry had a slight frown on his brow, but he quickly smiled. “How do you know so much? No, no! I don’t mean it like that. I mean . . . how do you . . .?” He stopped. “I’m saying this all wrong.”

Ginny laughed. “No, you’re not. Harry, do you think I would have sat down in that hammock if I thought it was wrong? If I had the slightest doubt? Did you have any doubts? You didn’t act like you did.”

“No!” Harry almost shouted. “No, I didn’t. And I don’t now. Damn, I don’t know how to say this. It’s just that your family were all watching us at breakfast, so maybe they know, or they figured it out. And now Ron . . .”

Ginny walked to a nearby tree and sat next to it; Harry joined her. “Well,” mused Ginny, leaning against the trunk, “Fleur knew, and maybe Bill, and obviously Ron. But I didn’t get the impression that anyone else knew. They all thought you were adorable, though.” She laughed as Harry blushed.

“What do you mean? What did I do?”

“You were very attentive to me. It was sweet.”

“Did you mind?”

Ginny traced his face with her fingers. “I liked it, but don’t start smothering me.”

Now it was Harry’s turn to laugh. “How could anyone smother you? Isn’t that what Ron’s trying to do?”

“I guess you could say that. But, Harry, my whole family loves you. I don’t think it would be good if my parents found out about last night, though.”

He kissed her. “You’re beautiful. Let’s go back.”

They walked back to the Burrow holding hands, and just as the house came in sight they saw the back door open and a parade of the entire family emerge, except for Molly and Fleur. They were all carrying either a shovel or a pickaxe. Arthur was holding his spade straight in front of him like a flagpole; the others held theirs at their sides.

“They’re not using magic to dig the grave,” Ginny exclaimed, “just like you said.”

They followed the procession to the foot of a huge oak tree about a hundred yards from the house. When Harry and Ginny got there, George was taking up the first shovelful of sod. They all stood back and watched him dig methodically and without expression, until they all saw that tears were streaming down his face. Percy joined him. The others took turns two at a time, and the grave deepened.

When Charlie and Ron stepped into the hole, Ron began wielding his spade furiously. He glanced up once and Harry caught his eye, but Ron looked quickly down again. Harry walked to the grave and stood as close to Ron as he safely could, but Ron still didn’t look up. When the hole was about two feet deep, he paused and wiped his forehead. Harry moved closer.

“Ron,” he said quietly. Ron looked up and Charlie stopped digging; all the others turned towards Harry. Ron stared at him, his face red and sweaty. It was very quiet; Hermione had her hand to her mouth.

“Ron, I’m sorry,” Harry said.

Ron nodded. “Me too.” He spoke just as quietly as Harry, and resumed digging, but not as violently as before. Hermione let out her breath with a sigh that everyone heard. Charlie cleared his throat and went back to work.

Chapter Text

With everyone working in shifts, the grave was soon finished. Bill Levitated the last two diggers, Charlie and Ron, out of the grave, and they all walked back to the house. Molly watched from an upstairs window; as they approached she turned away.

The rest of the day was spent preparing the house and grounds for the funeral. Bill thought there might be as many as three hundred coming, and since they could not possibly fit all of them in the house, they decided to hope for good weather and keep everyone outside. Arthur was nervous about this decision, since he did not think it would be a good idea to use a weather charm in the event of rain; it might draw too much attention from the Muggles in the village. But they had no choice, so Bill put Ron to work using Geminio on an old umbrella that Charlie retrieved from the ghoul’s attic.

“Six years of an overpriced education, then one year of defeating the most powerful Dark wizard in the world, and this is what I end up doing,” Ron grumbled. “Just because I scream at people sometimes doesn’t mean I always have to get stuck with the worst jobs.” He scowled at Bill.

Bill patted him on the back. “Your job is vital, bro’. Oh, and Percy will tell you when you have enough umbies. And just conjure one at a time. We don’t want to be stuck with any extras.”

“It probably won’t even rain!” Ron yelled at Bill’s departing back, after telling him under his breath to go perform a certain physically impossible act on himself.

Ginny and Fleur took over the kitchen and tried their best to keep Molly out, but when she kept poking her head in and telling them which cooking spells to use, Fleur went and got Bill, and he stayed with his mum the rest of the day to keep her out of their hair.

Charlie attacked the huge mass of clutter in the front yard, and for a while he was having a bad time of it. Most of the broken old Muggle objects had been hexed, charmed, and jinxed so many times over the years by his father that the lingering magic was often hard to detect and would pop up at inopportune moments. An old automobile engine that had been in the yard for decades, and had no discernable source of power, started running as soon as Charlie Levitated it. Instead of floating gracefully out of sight behind the old broom shed, it zoomed loudly out the gate and down the lane. It might have kept on going except that Hermione happened to spot it just before it disappeared around the curve, and she managed to hit it with Finite.

Charlie promptly drafted her into the cleanup operation, and the yard was soon cleared. The rest of the family marveled; no one remembered ever seeing it so pristine. “That was a lot more trouble than dragons,” Charlie muttered to Hermione.

Percy took charge of the funeral notices and seating arrangements. He spent all afternoon owling the Ministry workers they expected to show up, plus merchants from Diagon Alley, joke suppliers and manufacturers, Hogwarts staff, Fred’s former classmates, and even some of his foreign contacts. Since Hermes, Errol, and Pigwidgeon had no hope of handling even part of the load, he Apparated into Diagon Alley and rented a dozen fast owls from Eeylops. He returned with them to the Burrow—Errol was indignant when he saw the flock—and soon had an efficient system set up whereby, as soon as an owl returned with a response, another notice was ready to go. He ran his operation from a table next to the garden, but soon Molly came out and made him move farther from the house; the owls were perching on the roof and making a mess.

George retreated to his room. Ginny went looking for him after no one had seen him for an hour, and she found him sitting on the floor surrounded by cartons of surplus Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes stock, with their contents scattered around him. He refused to tell her what he was doing, and Ginny decided that she’d better not tell either her parents or any of her brothers what she had seen. When the door to George’s room closed behind her, she heard the squelching sound of a Colloportus charm sealing it.

Harry wanted to help, but no one would let him. First, Fleur pushed him out of the kitchen when he went there simply to be with Ginny. When he tried to help Percy he accidentally switched two invitations out of order on Percy’s master list, and was told rather officiously that his services were no longer required. By the time he went out into the front yard it was almost completely cleared, and when Hermione told him to go clean out the spiders from the old shed, he looked at her blankly. “How?” he said.

“Your wand, Harry, your wand,” she clucked. “Honestly.” Harry gave her a sour look and went back into the parlor.

He found Bill and Mrs. Weasley sitting on the couch looking through an old photo album. Molly was crying and laughing at the same time. Harry sat down with them. There were old photos of the children, and Molly sighed as she peered at each one. The ones of Ginny caught Harry’s eye; he saw a mischievous little girl looking back at him, and occasionally there was even a photo with that blazing look that he would never grow tired of.

Molly smiled at his reaction. “You know, I don’t recall her pictures being quite so animated before. Here, look, she’s winking at you in this one. I’m sure she never did that before.” Molly handed him the album and pointed to a picture of Ginny sitting in a swing hanging from a tree; she looked to be about six years old, and was wearing shorts and a tee-shirt with the words, “I’m Magical” inside a large heart-shaped design. She had a big grin, and waved as the swing went back and forth. Harry couldn’t take his eyes from it.

Molly dabbed at the corners of her own eyes, and put her hand on Harry’s arm. “Harry, I want you to know that I’m so glad you’re here. It’s a huge comfort to Ginny. And to all of us.” She looked at Bill, who grinned, and she patted Harry’s arm again.

Harry turned the page. There were pictures of Ron and Percy, but before he could get a good look at them, a loud thud and two shrieks came from the kitchen. “Mum, help!” came Ginny’s cry, and before Bill could stop her, Molly shot out of the parlor and was on her way to the rescue.

Harry flipped through a few more pages, looking at photos of the Weasley family on holiday, around the Burrow, in Arthur’s cramped office at the Ministry of Magic, and at Hogwarts. The children were always laughing and had their arms around each other; the Hogwarts pictures showed Quidditch teams and leaving ceremonies, with Arthur and Molly—the proud parents—standing nearby or hugging someone. Ginny was in most of them, always smiling and hamming it up for the camera.

Bill watched Harry’s face. “You have nothing like this, do you?” he asked. Harry shook his head. “I’ve been talking to Fleur,” Bill continued, “and we’d like to have you and Ginny come stay with us at Shell Cottage for a week or two after the funeral. There’s enough room, as you know.”

Harry nodded; he suddenly had trouble finding his voice. He cleared his throat. “Yeah, that would be nice. I’d like to do that. Did you ask Ginny yet?”

“No, I haven’t had a chance. But it’s okay with Mum and Dad. She was cooped up here and at Muriel’s for two months, and she’s never been to the Cottage. I know she loves the sea.”

Harry didn’t get a chance to talk to Ginny before dinner; it took quite a while to remove the congealed bread pudding from the ceiling. The kitchen table was laden with the dishes and serving utensils for tomorrow, so they ate outside next to the garden. Ginny was busy bringing food in and out, and didn’t have time for conversation.

After dinner Harry walked with her down the lane to the village. He had never been in Ottery St. Catchpole, and they wandered down the streets and into the village square. Ginny mentioned Bill and Fleur’s invitation. “I’m not really sure I want to go,” she said. “I don’t want to leave Mum alone. And I don’t think George is planning to go back to the shop yet. I feel funny about leaving him right after the funeral.”

Harry was disappointed. He had wanted to go back to see Dobby’s grave, as well as spend time with Ginny away from the constant buzz of her family. But mostly he just wanted to be with her, so if it had to be at the Burrow, that would be fine. “Maybe I’ll just go for a few hours by myself. I kind of wanted to visit Dobby’s grave.”

“Oh.” Ginny hadn’t thought of the grave. “I’ll come with you, if you want.”

Harry took her hand. “I’d really like that. I miss him.” They walked back to the Burrow hand in hand.

When they got there they found Lee Jordan in the parlor talking with George, Bill, and Charlie. They greeted Lee, and went out back where Hermione and Ron were sitting at the table that Percy had used as headquarters for his owl operation.

“We’re going up to London after the funeral,” Hermione announced. “George said we could stay in the flat over the shop. Ron’s going to start applying for jobs at the Ministry, and I have to see someone at the Institute.”

“The what?” asked Harry as he conjured two more chairs; Ginny had been about to do it but her father, who was sitting under a peach tree behind the garden, called out and warned her not to do magic; she pouted as she put her wand away.

“The Arithmancy Institute," said Hermione. "They owled me with an invitation to come in for an interview. They have an intern program that I’ve been interested in for a while. It would be a fabulous place to work. They do the most advanced research in the world there.”

Harry glanced at Ron. “Yeah,” Ron said. “I’m hoping Dad can get me into the Games and Sports Department, but anything would be okay. I just want to get away.”

Suddenly Harry felt a wave of sympathy for best friend. Ron was the baby, as far as most of his family were concerned. Ginny might be the youngest, but she was also special because she was the only girl. Ron was just the brat, always tagging along, always the butt of insults and teasing. “That’s brilliant, Ron,” he said, “and living in Diagon Alley too. That’ll be great.”

“Yeah, it’ll be good to get off on my own. This family can be a load, if you know what I mean.”

“I do know what you mean,” Ginny said and leaned across the table and took his hand. She looked at Harry. “Maybe we all need to get away for a while. Or at least a week or two.” She smiled.

Later, after dark, Harry and Ginny strolled down the lane again; Ginny didn’t want to walk behind the house and the open grave. It was peaceful and quiet except for insects chirping and frogs croaking. It had gotten cooler and they wore light jackets; Harry had borrowed an old one of Ron’s that fit him.

“What made you change your mind about Shell Cottage?” Harry asked as they looked up at the stars.

“I was thinking about Dobby, and I suppose I didn’t realize how important that was to you. And I’ve never been to the Cottage. Maybe Fleur and I could even become friends.” She chuckled and leaned her back against him and he put his arms around her. “Ron’s moving out also made me think. If Mum and Dad said it was okay for me to go, they must figure that they’ll be all right.” She turned to face him, and he saw tears on her face. “I don’t usually cry this much, you know. Maybe we won’t be so sad if we’re someplace else for a bit. I think Fred would want us to be a little happy, don’t you?” She played with the collar of his jacket. “I also got a little annoyed at Dad when he told me not to use magic. I mean, who cares? I bet there’s no one at the Ministry even bothering with Traces right now.” She giggled despite the tears on her face.

Harry stroked her hair as she put her head on his chest. “We’ll come back and spend the summer here, if your folks will let me stay, and—”

Ginny interrupted him with a laugh. “You must be joking. Mum’s already planning how to fatten you up.”

“That sounds like the summer of my dreams,” Harry grinned. “But that reminds me, there’s something else I wanted to tell you. Remember what you asked about Professor Flitwick, and how could he teach me next year?” Ginny nodded expectantly. “Well,” Harry said slowly, “I’ve decided to live in Hogsmeade when you go back to school.”

Ginny’s jaw dropped. “How can you do that?”

“That will be a surprise. You’ll find out all about it on your birthday when you’ll be old enough to know things like that.”

Ginny smacked him on his chest. “You’re mean! Why can’t you tell me now?” She tried to sound petulant but she couldn’t hide the light in her eyes.

“I knew you’d see it my way.” Harry grabbed her hand and kissed it before she could hit him again. “It’s going to be your birthday present.”

Now she was smiling. “You’ll be living in Hogsmeade . . . Oh, Harry, that’ll be brilliant! Seventh–years can leave the grounds on weekends whenever they want. How will I get any school work done?”

“I’ll help you,” Harry laughed. He put his arm around her and they walked back to the Burrow.

# # # #

Ron’s weather forecast held, and the day of the funeral was like the day before, clear with a few clouds and not too warm. Mourners started arriving early; there were going to be more funerals around the land, and Fred Weasley’s was the first of the day. Percy greeted the arrivals at the front gate as they Apparated or Portkeyed in, or were dropped off by Muggle taxis whose drivers left as quickly as they could turn around; the sight of people appearing out of nowhere seemed to upset them.

Yesterday’s work of preparation was no longer there to distract the family, and the Weasley household—including Aunt Muriel who arrived before sunrise—moved moodily around the Burrow, eating, dressing, preparing themselves. Molly and Ginny already had red and teary eyes.

Arthur did not look very steady and he kept staring at the coffin now resting on trestles near the back door. The rest of his sons stood in the parlor speaking quietly. When Harry walked in, George came over to him; he was somber but calm.

“Harry, I’d like you to be a pallbearer. We’re not using any magic, mostly.”

“Oh, sure.” Harry was surprised; Ginny had told him that her five brothers and Lee would carry the coffin, so he had not expected to be asked. “Is there room for seven?”

“Lee won’t be a pallbearer. I’ve asked him to help in other ways.”

Harry nodded, and thought about what Ginny had told him she had seen in George’s room yesterday. Harry was sure it would be memorable, whatever it was.

Percy finally came in and announced that the number of arrivals had reached the ninety–five percent threshold of expected attendees—he never explained why that number was a threshold—and that, given the tight schedule of funerals planned for the day, they should begin.

They all proceeded to the back door. Bill, Charlie, Percy, George, Ron, and Harry lifted the coffin and carried it out. Arthur, Molly, and Ginny followed; Molly walked unsteadily between them and they each held her arm. Behind came Fleur and Aunt Muriel. Even in black mourning robes Fleur was stunning; sadness seemed to make her even more beautiful. Her silver hair streamed down her back and the tears flowing down her face glistened like rivers or diamonds.

They walked slowly past the garden, and a hush fell over the gathering seated in chairs placed in rows to face the grave. Harry saw dozens of people he knew or recognized, some from the Ministry, some from Diagon Alley, and many from Hogwarts. All of the staff were there, even, to Harry’s utter astonishment, Argus Filch. Neville was sitting between his Gran and a Hufflepuff girl; a wizard and a witch who appeared to be her parents sat next to her. Luna and her father were there. Angelina Johnson, Alicia Spinnet, and Katie Bell, already in tears, sat with Oliver Wood and other members of the Gryffindor Quidditch teams who had played with Fred. There were many students from other Houses, wearing their school robes.

He saw Madam Malkin, old Ollivander, even Mr. Borgin, who gazed at Harry with an impassive expression. Maybe, thought Harry, this purveyor of Dark objects believed that his business was going to suffer because so many of his best customers were either dead or in prison thanks to him.

Many people stared at Harry and whispered to their neighbors as he walked slowly down the center aisle with the coffin, so he stopped looking around and fixed his eyes on the back of Ron’s head. He also heard weeping from all sides, but he was mostly aware of the uninhibited sobs coming from Molly and Ginny behind him. His own eyes began to fill, and soon he felt his own tears running down his face.

They came to the grave where Kingsley Shacklebolt stood, looking more imposing and magnificent than Harry had ever seen him; he was wearing formal black robes and a high wizard’s hat. He walked to Molly and took her hands, then Arthur’s, and greeted Ginny, Fleur, and Aunt Muriel.

The pallbearers set the coffin down next to the open grave. Harry was unsure what to do next, so he followed Ron and moved behind the grave and stood with Fred’s brothers facing the seats. Hermione was in the front row; she had her hand to her face and was sobbing loudly. At the end of the row behind her sat Hagrid, also bawling. All the other dozen or so seats in that row were taken by a bereft bevy of young witches wearing the shop uniform of Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes.

Kingsley helped Molly, Arthur, and Aunt Muriel sit in chairs at the side of the grave; Ginny and Fleur sat next to them. The Minister for Magic stepped in front of Fred’s coffin, and silence fell. He began speaking, standing still but gesturing occasionally with his hands and arms. His voice rang out, and all other sounds ceased.

My friends! This is the first of too many funerals at which I will officiate in the next days. Each service stands for a tragedy, a disaster, a calamity. Each one of those tragedies is different because each one ended a different life, the life of a unique human being who lived in the center of a unique circle of loved ones. Each one is poignant in its own way.

“Fred Weasley fought for his family, for freedom, for life. You’ll notice that I do not say that he died for any of those things, because I don’t believe that. Fred did not die because he was noble, he died because he was murdered. He wanted to fight, oh yes, he wanted to fight, and that’s why he returned to Hogwarts when he learned there was going to be a fight. But don’t tell me that he sacrificed his life. I knew him too well to believe that. Fred fought to live, to make life better, not to die.

“He was willing to risk injury or death, but he did not want to offer up his life as a sacrifice. Do not insult him or what he fought for by believing that, at the instant before he was murdered, he was happy to be giving up his life for a cause or even for his family. He fought for life, not for death. That is what makes his loss such a tragedy, a disaster, a calamity.

“He joined the battle against evil and malice because of what he believed in, because his mother and father, his brothers and his sister, and he himself, were a family that lived for love and idealism. They strived always for everything that is good and worthwhile in this world. Fred was fiercely loyal to his family, but not blindly loyal. Blind loyalty to a cause or to a family or to a person or to a country is false loyalty, and Fred knew that. Do you think that the foulest man or woman who attacked Hogwarts was anything but loyal to the cause of darkness? Their kind of loyalty led to acts of the most awful cruelty, including the deaths of children. No, if we give our loyalty to someone or something, we must be loyal like Fred was. We must first decide in our hearts what is good and beautiful, and then give our loyalty and every ounce of our strength to the good and the beauty that our hearts have shown us.

“If you want to honor a life that was full of love and joy and a spirit that was willing to fight for love and joy, then this is what you must do. You must look inside yourself and find one thing, one thing that you could have done differently that would have made it harder for evil to come to such power that it could take the life of Fred Weasley. Even those of us who did fight alongside him, who lost loved ones, who were injured or even maimed, we also must look inside ourselves to find that one thing that would have made a difference.

“The world is what we make it. To honor Fred we must make a world where love and goodness and beauty, the things that he fought for, will triumph. And then there will be no more funerals like this one.”

When Kingsley stopped, the only sounds were those of weeping. The Minister turned and nodded to Molly and Arthur, then to the brothers standing behind the grave. With his back to the seats he took out his wand, flicked it, and the coffin rose and descended into the grave. Harry watched it disappear, and he saw in his mind the body of Fred, inanimate, cold, lying in the dark. He felt Ron shaking next to him, and he saw Ginny and her parents holding each other. He wiped the tears from his face with his hand.

George stepped forward, holding a spade. He dug into the mound of earth beside the grave, lifted it into the air above the opening, and turned it over. The soil dropped very slowly and hit the coffin with a rattling sound. For a moment all was silent.

A low rumble, followed by a louder roar came from the direction of the house. People in the seats turned their heads; the family around the grave all looked up; Harry braced himself.

A huge flock of white birds rose over the Burrow; there were hundreds, maybe thousands. Each one trailed a colored streamer, like a small banner. As they climbed into the sky, the birds began to swirl and the banners to merge. The flock climbed and moved towards the grave, and as the thousands of birds hovered above, a gigantic image of Fred Weasley formed from the streamers. He was grinning and holding a firecracker.

First gasps, then shouts, then cheers rang out. Angelina, Alicia, and Katie were on their feet, jumping up and down and screaming. Hagrid had knocked over all the chairs around him as he also leaped up. The Wheezes witches were picking themselves off the ground and pointing at the image, shrieking at the tops of their lungs.

Harry looked at the family. Ginny and her mother both had their hands to their faces in identical gestures. Ginny was laughing; Molly’s mouth and eyes were open wide and she looked to be almost in shock. Arthur peered up with a small smile on his face. Fleur was pointing at the image and laughing like Ginny, but Aunt Muriel was glaring at it as though she wanted to shoot it down.

Ron nudged Harry. “Great sendoff. Promise you’ll do me like that.”

“Deal and ditto,” said Harry. “Just leave off the scar.”

Charlie and Bill were clapping George on the back. Only Percy—along with Aunt Muriel—disapproved, but when Kingsley turned to George with a grin, Percy’s look softened.

George himself gazed up in silence. He smiled briefly at his parents, dug another shovelful of earth and dropped it into the grave. When it hit the coffin the image and the streamers vanished with a thundering “whoosh!” and the flock of white birds soared off into the sky, turning and swirling like eddies in a river running over rocks.

After several moments of buzzing, the crowd fell silent. George stepped back, waved his wand, and the pile of earth fell into the grave, forming a perfect mound. Another rushing sound filled the air, and a gray stone slab came hurtling through the sky from the Burrow, soared high into the air, and plunged straight into the earth at the head of the grave. George pointed his wand and these words were chiseled into it:

Fred Weasley

1978 – 1998

He Is Ours

Again there was silence, punctuated by the sounds of weeping and noses being blown. Finally, George went to his parents and hugged them; he came around to the front of the grave, shook Kingsley’s hand, and started back down the aisle. Arthur and Molly stood—Molly unsteadily—and followed him. The brothers filed past the grave and Bill took Fleur’s hand, Charlie and Percy took Aunt Muriel’s arms—she glared at them—and Ron walked to Hermione and took her arm and they went after the others.

Ginny had waited in her seat; she and Harry were the only ones left at the grave, except for Kingsley who was waiting for them to leave. Harry felt scores of eyes on him as he walked to Ginny and took her hand. Her eyes brimmed, but they also had a strange joyful look. She gripped his right hand tightly with her right and took his arm with her other hand. They nodded to Kingsley and started back down the aisle.

Around them were unabashed stares and not so quiet whispers. Harry tried to ignore them and sped up slightly, wanting to get away from the attention. But Ginny held him back and slowed her pace. Harry peeked at her from the corner of his eye; her head was high and now her eyes were ablaze. She turned to him, and Harry saw, mingled with grief, that radiant joy. He put his hand on hers and their fingers laced tightly together.

Chapter Text

Harry and Ginny followed the family into the house where everyone had gathered in the parlor. Several strangers from the Ministry were also there, speaking with Lee Jordan. Aunt Muriel sat on the couch complaining about George’s “disrespectful prank.” When she saw Ginny walk in with Harry, she called loudly, “Ginevra! Come here!”

Ginny pretended not to hear. She hugged George and went to stand with her parents in front of the fireplace. Molly embraced her, sighed, and said to Arthur, “I knew he would do something, but I suppose it could have been worse. That firecracker could have exploded.”

“Father!” Percy called from a window looking into the front yard. “The Muggle police are coming up the lane.” He scowled at George. The contingent from the Ministry hurried out, and everyone watched through the window as they waved to the officers, whose vehicle had stopped in front of the gate.

“They’re from the Muggle-Worthy Excuse Committee,” Lee said to Arthur. “I asked Minister Shacklebolt to bring them along, just in case. I told them what we were planning and they said they could pass it off as a weather anomaly, whatever that is.”

Percy issued a disapproving grunt and peered out the window again, but everyone else turned and took up their conversations.

Molly glanced out a window into the back yard where people were standing in knots or gathered around the food tables. “We should go out,” she said to Arthur.

“Ginevra!” Aunt Muriel snapped again; this time Ginny couldn’t pretend not to hear.

“Yes, Aunt Muriel?”

“When you marry that young man there—it’s Harry Potter, isn’t it? We meet at last, Mr. Potter—you will have my tiara. It is goblin-made, you know.”

Percy turned from the window and stared at Muriel; George and Charlie exchanged glances, then Charlie grinned at Harry, as did Fleur; Bill shook his head; Hermione poked Ron who was about to say something but instead cleared his throat; Lee noticed that the ceiling was very interesting; Molly pulled on Arthur’s elbow and he sighed. Harry did not dare look at anyone, so he let his eyes unfocus on the blank wall behind Muriel’s head.

Ginny smiled sweetly. “That’s very kind of you, Aunt Muriel. We have no plans to get married, though. I’m still a little young, and I have another year of school left, so—”

“I know all that,” Muriel said, dismissing the contradiction. “But it’s quite obvious that you two will marry, whether sooner or later. And do you understand my meaning? You shall have my tiara and you will pass it on to your own daughter when the time comes.”

“Let’s go outside,” said Arthur. He took both Molly and Ginny’s arms and led them out. Bill put his hand on Harry’s back, waking him from his fascination with the wall, and steered him towards the door; Fleur trotted after them. “Au revoir,” she trilled to Aunt Muriel. “See you at ze wedding.” Everyone else quickly left. Only Percy stayed behind; the police car had driven off, and he sat down next to Muriel.

“I’ve never planned a wedding,” he said. “Have you?”

Aunt Muriel looked at him in disbelief. “I wish to join the party.”

“No, wait. I have some ideas . . .”

The family moved out among the guests. Some had already departed, and others had wandered back to the chairs or to the grave, carrying their plates of food and goblets of drink. Harry, still a little befuddled, didn’t know what to do; he didn’t really want to mingle with celebrity hounds, and he wasn’t sure what to say to Ginny as a follow-up to her great aunt’s pronouncement. He sought out his friends from school; Neville introduced him to Keesha Baker, and everyone pulled chairs around and talked about Kingsley Shacklebolt’s eulogy.

Ron and Hermione joined them, and Ron sat next to Harry. “Sorry about the old bat,” he said. “She says all kinds of barmy things.” Harry was afraid of protesting too much or too little, so he took refuge in silence.

Parvati Patil described the repairs to the roof of Gryffindor Tower, and how house-elves had been climbing on the outside and startling everyone inside. Harry happened to look towards the house and saw Ginny staggering inside under a load of dirty dishes. He got up, intent on helping her; if she could not do magic herself, at least he could do it for her. But as he made his way through the crowd, ignoring all the curious looks, he had another idea.

He looked for Bill and saw him and Fleur talking to another witch, attracting the surreptitious glances of all the wizards in Fleur’s vicinity. She saw Harry approaching.

“‘Arry, Ginny says zat you will be coming to stay wiz us. I am so ‘appy. We can remember Fred wiz a bottle of ze best Bordeaux gold can buy.”

Harry grinned at her, and put his hand on Bill’s arm. ”Sorry, can I ask you something?”

Bill stepped away from the witch, who stared at Harry. “What’s up?”

Harry explained his idea. Bill thought for a moment and nodded. “Sure, I don’t see why not. It’s only for today, right? Go ahead.”

Harry went around to the front of the house and out the gate. He walked down the lane until he was out of sight of the house and stopped. “Kreacher,” he called, “I need you.”

The house-elf appeared with a loud crack! and bowed low to Harry, his locket on its chain dangling to the ground. “Master Harry Potter, it is so good to see you well. How may Kreacher be of service?”

“Kreacher, I need a big favor.” He explained what he wanted, and Kreacher bowed again.

“It will be an honor to help the noble Weasley family in their hour of need. Kreacher lives to serve.”

Harry led the elf into the kitchen where Ginny and Charlie were piling fruit into a large bowl, but they stopped when they saw Kreacher. “Merlin’s beard!” cried Charlie. “Who brought a house-elf in here?” He looked at Harry. “What’s he doing here?” Ginny frowned.

“This is Kreacher,” Harry said. “I asked him to help out. He’ll be happy to, won’t you?” He looked down at the elf.

Kreacher’s bat-ears quivered and he bowed to both Charlie and Ginny. “Kreacher has heard many tales about the brave and honorable House of Weasley. Kreacher considers it a great honor to serve them, as he does Harry Potter and also the House of Black, rest in peace.”

Charlie and Ginny looked at each other. “We’ve never had a house-elf,” Charlie said. “We don’t really want one.”

“But I asked Bill,” Harry said. “It’s just for the day. I saw Ginny carrying a load of dishes, and I thought she could use some help.”

“Harry, it’s okay,” Ginny said before Charlie, clearly dubious, could answer. “Kreacher, you will be a big help. We really appreciate it.”

“Ginny Weasley is a beautiful and perceptive witch,” Kreacher croaked. “Yes, Harry Potter has done the correct thing.”

Ginny took Harry’s hand and pushed Charlie out of the kitchen in front of them. They avoided the parlor where Percy was still holding forth with Aunt Muriel about the best source of wedding invitations, and went out back. She pulled Harry to the garden and turned to him. “That was nice, Harry, and I know you were trying to help, but I really don’t need it.”

Harry felt deflated. “But I saw you with those dishes. I wanted to do something.”

“Remember I asked you not to smother me? You need to ask before you do something like that.” She saw his crestfallen look. “It was really sweet, Harry. Just ask me first.” She took his hands and glanced around; several people were watching. “I shouldn’t kiss you now,” she whispered, “but I really want to.”

Harry perked up. “I just thought it would help.”

“It will. But the other thing is that we never wanted to own a house-elf. Mum doesn’t believe in using them the way most people do. She’s a little like Hermione.” Ginny giggled. They stood holding hands. “What is it?” Ginny asked when she saw a hesitant look on Harry’s face.

“I wanted to ask you something. When we were walking away from the grave you kind of held me back. You had a weird look on your face. Happy. It was strange.”

Ginny smiled. “I remember. One minute I was so sad, and the next minute we were walking together in front of all those people and I had my arm in yours, and it felt so good.”

Harry couldn’t help himself; he kissed her. She pulled away, startled, and glanced around; more people were staring. “Harry! What was that for?”

“You said the same thing once before, remember?” He laughed. “In the hammock.”

Ginny blushed. “Oh. Yes, I remember.”

“I’m sorry I just kissed you. I hope I don’t need permission to do that.” He didn’t really look sorry, and Ginny laughed.

“Never.” She kissed him quickly, and they both turned as Ron and Hermione approached.

“Don’t let us interrupt anything,” Ron said, “but we’re cutting out soon.”

“How come?” Harry asked. “I thought you wouldn’t be leaving until this evening.”

“Hermione’s parents are coming back today, and we want to meet them at the Muggle portair. Then we figured we might as well just pop back down to the flat. We’ll see you tomorrow at the Tonks’s.”

“Right,” Harry nodded. “We’re going to Shell Cottage for a couple of weeks, so I guess we’ll be going to the other funerals from there.”

Ron looked down and scuffed the ground with his shoe. “Uh, there’s another room in the flat, so if you guys feel like it . . . I mean, we could have a good time in town together. What d’you think?”

“Sure,” Harry mumbled, and stared at Ron’s scuff mark. “That would be great. Maybe we’ll do that.” Ginny and Hermione grinned at each other.

Ron and Hermione said goodbye, but as they were walking away Kreacher came trotting around the house carrying, somehow, three large serving dishes filled with dessert cakes, fruit, and whipped cream; a case of butterbeer; and two full pitchers of pumpkin juice from which not a drop was spilling.

Hermione’s mouth fell open. “What on earth! Kreacher! What are you doing here?”

The house-elf nodded to her and said, “Good day to you, Miss Hermione Granger,” without breaking stride and continued on into the back yard.

Hermione watched him go and turned to Harry. “Where did he come from?”

“I thought he could help out. Bill said it was okay.”

“It’s a great idea!” Ron exclaimed. “Now no one in the family has to clean up. I’ll even bet he knows how to get rid of two hundred eighty-five useless umbrellas.”

Hermione laughed. “I think it’s a good idea too. Your mum will have one less thing to worry about.” With that, she and Ron hurried off to say goodbye to the others.

Harry glanced at Ginny, who looked at him wryly. “I guess it is a good idea. Thanks.”

“Well, it’s not me, it’s Kreacher. Thank him.”

“I will. We all will.”

More people were leaving, and Harry and Ginny went to say goodbye to the Hogwarts students, who were Portkeying back to school together. They all agreed to have a Dumbledore’s Army reunion later in the summer. “I can’t wait,” said Luna holding up her message Galleon. “I’ll have Dad print up the owls, and we’ll make it a memorial service for Colin too.” She suddenly started crying, and both Neville and Dean put hands on her shoulders.

“She’s been kind of weepy,” Dean said to Harry, “but it doesn’t last long.”

Luna wiped her face and looked at him, puzzled. “Why should it? I’ll be able to cry again any time I want.”

“That’s true,” Dean agreed. “Everything you say is true, Luna.” She stopped crying and beamed at him.

Harry told Ginny that he had to find Professor Flitwick before he left, and went looking for him. The Professor was usually hard to locate, being so short, so Harry listened for his squeaky voice and looked for anyone peering at the ground. But he found him sitting on a stool talking to a Healer from St. Mungo’s who introduced herself as Hestia Derwent. She thanked Harry for helping at the funeral service, and left him with Professor Flitwick.

“Now, Harry,” Flitwick said, “if I understand what you want, I’ll be tutoring you in Charms on an advanced level.”

“That’s what I’d like. Can you do it?”

“The question is, can we do it. I can’t very well leave the school, even on most weekends.”

“Well . . .” Harry looked around; no one he knew was nearby. “I’m planning to live in Hogsmeade, at least for the school year, so I could come up to the castle pretty much any time.”

“You’ll be letting a house or a flat?”

“No.” Harry glanced around again and lowered his voice. “I bought the Hogs Head Inn, and I’m going to fix it up. But please don’t tell anyone.”

The Professor looked surprised. “Aberforth sold the Inn? Why? Well, I don’t’ mean to pry. I’m sure he had his reasons.”

“He just wanted to get away from things. I think he’s going abroad for a while. Actually, he sold it back to some goblins who used to own it, and then I bought it from them.”

“From goblins . . .” Flitwick gave Harry a thoughtful look. “Have to be careful when you’re dealing with goblins, but I heard you have some experience.”

“I do, but it didn’t help very much. I’m sorry Professor, but I’d rather not talk about it now. Can we start the lessons around the middle of September? I should have the inn up and running by then.”

“That’ll be fine, Harry. And I’m looking forward to it.”

They shook hands and Harry went through the thinning crowd looking for Ginny; he found her sitting with her family in a circle of chairs near the garden. They were talking quietly, and also watching Kreacher clear off the serving tables.

“I understand that is your house-elf,” Aunt Muriel said to Harry as he sat next to Ginny.

He wasn’t sure if she was angry or not, her demeanor was always so stern. “Yes, ma’am. He was my godfather’s family’s elf, and I inherited him.”

“Yes, the Black family. A very mixed bag, politically. I’m sorry about your godfather.” Harry nodded.

Aunt Muriel went on. “And you brought him here to help with the catering and cleaning. That is a very thoughtful gesture.” She turned to Ginny. “Ginevra, this one is definitely a keeper.” She pointed at Harry.

“Actually, Aunt Muriel, he’s a Seeker,” Ginny said before she could stop herself.

When everyone had stopped laughing, even Molly and Aunt Muriel were smiling. Only poor Harry didn’t know what to do with himself; he sat befuddled once again and wishing he was somewhere else. Ginny took his hand, and Charlie, who was sitting on his other side, put his arm around his shoulder. “Welcome to the family, Harry,” he said sympathetically.

By noon all the guests were gone. The house and the grounds seemed very quiet. George and Lee went to sit by the grave; Bill and Fleur had gone up to their room; Percy was organizing the condolence cards that people had left; Charlie sat by himself near the garden looking towards the grave; Aunt Muriel was napping in the parlor; and Ginny and Harry were in the kitchen with her parents. Occasionally they heard sounds from around the house, and Molly glanced at the stairs.

“What is he doing?” she asked. “I thought he would leave when everything was cleaned up.”

“I think he’s straightening up the house, dear,” Arthur said. They heard furniture scraping the floor above, and Molly looked at the ceiling.

“He cleaned off the pudding!” she exclaimed. “There was a big stain after we got it down, but it’s gone.” They all stared at the ceiling, and at that moment Bill came down the stairs and stopped as he saw them looking up. “What is it?” He also peered up.

“Kreacher is sanitizing the house,” said Ginny.

Bill chuckled and sat at the table. “Well, Dad, what did you think of Kingsley’s speech? It was pretty political for a eulogy.”

“That it was, and deliberately so,” Arthur said. “He asked me before we left Hogwarts if I minded. He’s saying more or less the same thing at all the funerals.”

“What’s he up to? It was a lot different from what Rufus Scrimgeour would have said, let alone Fudge.”

Harry spoke before Arthur could respond. “I’ll tell you something. Everyone from school was talking about it, and everyone thought it was brilliant.”

Arthur looked pleased. “That’s also Kingsley’s idea, or maybe I should say his hope. He wants to change things, but it will take a long time. It’s going to be up to you, Harry, and your friends, to see it finished.”

“That’s great,” said Harry, “but all I want to do right now is recover from sleeping in a tent for a year.”

“You’re staying here,” Molly declared as though it had been decided long ago. “You’ll have Ron’s room all to yourself. The house will be too empty.” She stared at the wall, lost in her thoughts; Arthur took her hand, but she stood up. “It’s all right, Arthur. This day has been too long. Let me be alone for a while.” She went into the parlor but almost immediately came out and went upstairs.

“I wanted to leave for the Cottage right after Remus and Tonks’s funeral,” Bill said to his father. “Are you sure Mum is okay with it?”

“She will be, She really wants all of you to get away from this for a while, and she needs some quiet time for herself. She has other things on her mind besides Fred,” he added grimly.

Bill nodded and Harry looked at Ginny; in his mind he saw a green flame pass within an inch of her head, and he saw her mother’s face with a look of murderous fury on it. Ginny stared at her father, and stood too. Before Harry could say or do anything, she was gone up the stairs. Harry rose half-way from his seat.

“Leave her be for a bit,” Bill said, holding up his hand. “She’ll be okay. She’s the strongest one in the family, you know. She had to be to survive us.”

The rest of the day passed very slowly. Harry managed to avoid Aunt Muriel and any more comments about him and Ginny by spending most of his time in Ron’s room getting ready to leave for Shell Cottage. When he wandered downstairs again, Muriel was gone, escorted home by Charlie and Percy.

Arthur, Molly, and Ginny were at the grave and Harry went to join them; they were sitting on a blanket between the grave and the oak tree. Ginny had picked a bouquet of wild flowers that lay in front of the headstone. Harry sat next to her and they stayed there until the sun began to set beyond the river.

They walked back to the house in the dusk and found Kreacher standing in the kitchen; Bill and Fleur were sitting at the table. Kreacher bowed to Harry and Molly.

“Kreacher’s work here is done,” he croaked. “He must return to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to help finish what was begun three days ago.”

“Thanks, Kreacher,” said Harry and Ginny at the same time; Ginny giggled. The elf bowed to her and Disapparated.

“That was very considerate of him to help out,” said Molly. “Thank you for thinking of him, Harry.”

Bill cleared his throat. “Mum, you’ll want to take a look around the house. He cleaned everything. Every room is spotless, he cleaned all the dirty clothes and put them away, changed all the linen, cleaned all the windows, straightened up everything in the kitchen—”

Molly jumped up and began opening cabinets. “I didn’t want anything in here touched!” she said angrily. “Someone should have told him . . . ” She stared into a cabinet filled with stacks of dishes, then looked back at Harry. “I’m sorry, Harry. It’s all in perfect order. Amazing. Well, time to fix dinner.”

Ginny leaned towards Harry. “That was so special,” she whispered in his ear.

After dinner Ginny went to pack for Shell Cottage, and Harry went up to the attic. He was tired, and the stairs seemed steeper and longer, as though the melancholy effects of the day had sapped his strength. When he opened the door, though, he wondered for an instant if he was in the right place. Kreacher had cleaned and organized the room to the point of being unrecognizable. There were no clothes scattered on the floor or the beds, all the Quidditch magazines were stacked neatly on the dresser, and all of Ron’s textbooks were put away in his rickety board-and-brick bookcase, arranged by subject and year. The floor was swept and scrubbed, the beds were made, and the windows sparkled in the dim light of Harry’s wand; gone were the streaky dust and cobwebs.

He went to the window at the end of the room and peered out into the darkness. When he turned back he bumped his head against a chain that hung from a hook in the ceiling. He grabbed the chain to stop it from swinging, and suddenly remembered that he used to hang Hedwig’s cage from it whenever he stayed at the Burrow.

He went back to his cot and fell onto it, covering his eyes with his arm, and saw a still, small, white form in the falling side-car of Hagrid’s motorcycle as it exploded into nothingness. He saw Fred and Dobby and Mad-Eye and Colin and Remus and Tonks, and all the others in a blur. He himself had once been dead like them—that sounded almost funny, but here he was, breathing, staring up at Ron’s orange walls. It could have been him in the coffin this morning, aware of nothing, not even the blackness encasing him, just not existing. He suddenly felt utterly spent, yet he had done nothing today; he had sat and eaten and wandered around, talking about dead people.

He was a wanderer, lost, rootless. He looked at Ron’s posters, Ron’s books, Ron’s furniture. What did Harry have that was his own? A run-down derelict of a house in a London slum? A filthy, rat-infested hangout for drunks and petty criminals in Hogsmeade? What good were they? He had no home, no room of his own with garish walls and posters of his boyhood heroes. He had no boyhood heroes; he wasn’t even sure if he had had a boyhood. Maybe he should find the Dursleys, to tell them that their lives were no longer in danger and they could go back to their home and forget about their seventeen-year nightmare, forget that Harry ever existed.

He had just spent months and months as a fugitive, unable to stay in the same place for two nights in a row. When he had found a place with friends where he could sleep in the same room for more than one night—even if it was on a couch—he still would have been murdered on the spot if his enemy had found him. He felt like a loose stone inside a tin can rolling downhill, tossed and banged against the sides, never able to rest, never knowing when he would hit bottom.

What should he do? Where could he go? He couldn’t pretend, like the Dursleys, that seventeen years had not happened. Too many people were dead. There were going to be more coffins, all cold and dark inside. He didn’t know if he could face more funerals, more weeping, more grief.

He closed his eyes, exhausted, but afraid to sleep, afraid that the morning would come and those seventeen years would still be there.

Light footsteps tread on the landing outside and there was a soft knock on the door. “Harry? Are you still up?” Ginny peeked in. “Let’s go out.”

They walked to the tall oak out back. The moon had not yet risen, and Harry lit his wand as they stood looking at the grave. After a few minutes Ginny turned and put her arms around him. “Why are you trembling?” she whispered.

Harry doused his wand and slid it in his belt behind his back. When they kissed, he could taste salty tears mingled with the moisture of her lips. Ginny leaned her head back and looked up at him. “I’m not crying for Fred. I’m crying because I’m so crazy for you.”

Harry pulled her back to him almost violently and kissed her, feeling her heart beating against his, her arms squeezing his back, her body pressed to his.

By the time they left the grave the half-moon was over the treetops, but the light that showed Harry the way was coming from the girl walking beside him.

Chapter Text

The weather turned, and the next morning was cool and cloudy, promising rain. The Weasleys and Harry Portkeyed to the Tonks’s house and joined Ron and Hermione who had arrived earlier. The graves and the funeral were in a large field behind the house, and almost as many people were there as at Fred’s service.

Kingsley’s eulogy made the same points: look into your heart to find what is right, and act on it. He also spoke of accepting differences as something that could enrich and strengthen the wizarding world, not divide it. Ginny nudged Harry and pointed to a few people sitting together off to one side; they had the shabby, hang-dog look that Remus often wore.

“Werewolves,” Harry whispered.

When the ceremony was over Andromeda Tonks intercepted Harry as he was leaving his seat. She was holding her sleeping grandson swaddled in blankets. Harry looked at Andromeda, unsure what to say or do.

“Your godson,” she smiled. “I thought you might like to hold him.”

Harry looked in panic at Ginny. “Here,” she said, “you take him like this.” She took the bundle from Andromeda and handed it to Harry. “Don’t drop him.”

“I think I figured out that part.”

Harry looked down at Teddy Lupin. The baby sighed and rubbed his mouth with his tiny fist. Suddenly an old emptiness seized Harry. This baby was an orphan, and even younger than Harry had been when he became one. What would this one’s life be like? Surely not as brutal as Harry’s. He looked at Andromeda and blinked away tears.

She smiled again. “He’ll be fine, Harry. Ted had lots of relatives. The little one will have a family around him, maybe not a perfect family, but he’ll be loved.”

Harry nodded. “I—I’ll try to see him too, whenever I can.”

“It’s all right. Don’t worry about it. You have plenty of things going on yourself.” She smiled at Ginny and took the baby back. “Here we go. So sweet.” She walked away, gently rocking the bundle in her arms.

Ginny took Harry’s hand and they joined Ron and Hermione who were standing nearby, watching. Ron put his hand on Harry’s shoulder as Harry wiped his face on his sleeve. “I’m fine,” he mumbled. “Let’s get something to eat.”

They stood holding platters of tasty cooked vegetables and cold cuts and goblets of pumpkin juice. “Things are already picking up in Diagon Alley,” Ron reported. “Lee is trying to get George to come back to the shop, but meanwhile he’s going to run it with the witches, the ones who were at the funeral. They all went back to the shop yesterday afternoon. I think each one of them thought Fred was in love with her.” He looked over at the two fresh graves in the middle of the field but turned quickly away, as though he was hiding something from the others.

“Anyway,” he continued after a few moments, “the flat’s really nice. When can you come up?”

Harry looked at Ginny. “I guess after we get back to the Burrow, in a couple of weeks.”

“If Mum and Dad let me,” Ginny grumbled. “If George is there, maybe it’ll be okay, but I don’t know if you’re their model of a chaperone,” she said to Ron.

“Now why would that be?” Ron chuckled. “But you can tell them I never touched Hermione once while we were cooped up in that tent.” Hermione scowled at him, but also blushed.

You can tell them that one, Ron,” Ginny snorted.

They spent the rest of the morning talking with Remus’s old students who had come from school, and with Kingsley Shacklebolt and his new Head Auror, Saliyah Ushujaa. She was a native of east Africa, and also a dancer—very accomplished, according to Kingsley—who performed in a wizard African dance company. She invited them all to a performance scheduled for the end of summer in London. “It will be a celebration of the lives of all those who died,” she said. “African dance is very emotional, as all dance is. I think you will enjoy it.” They agreed to come.

Kingsley asked Harry what his plans were. “We’d love to have you join one of our intern programs. We’ll be reorganizing all of them and putting some good people in charge. What do you say?”

“It sounds like you’ve been busy,” Harry grinned. “I also wanted to tell you that a lot of my friends thought your speech yesterday was brilliant. I did too.”

Kingsley returned Harry’s grin. “You didn’t answer my question, but being the consummate politician that I am, I won’t press you. But the offer is there if you change your mind.”

Hermione and Ron cast looks at each other as Kingsley and Saliyah walked away, and Ginny looked at them suspiciously and poked Ron in his ribs. “What’s going on? You know something that I don’t.”

Harry came to Ron’s rescue. “I told you it would be your birthday present. You already know I’ll be living in Hogsmeade. Ron and Hermione made an Unbreakable Vow not to spill the beans,” he grinned.

Ginny scowled for a brief instant, but sidled up to Harry, batting her eyes at him. “So you think you can resist me while we’re alone in a little cottage by the sea for two weeks? I’ll bet you ten Galleons that you can’t keep it from me.”

“You’re probably right. I’ll have to keep Bill or Fleur nearby all the time to protect myself.”

“Well, then I’d rather not try to squeeze it out of you. Three’s a crowd.”

Ron had stopped paying attention and was watching people. “Look,” he indicated with a nod, “Shacklebolt’s talking to those werewolves. I wonder what they think about all this. Remus was always complaining about their attitude.”

“They’re like the rest of us,” said Hermione, “wondering what’s coming next, what Kingsley is going to do. It all happened so quickly, if you think about it. One day Volde- I mean Riddle, has a complete grip on power, and the next day he’s dead and someone from the Order of the Phoenix, for goodness sake, is Minister. It takes some getting used to, and it’s only been four days. Everyone is wondering about you too, Harry. Did you notice? They’re all watching you.”

Harry made a face. “Yeah, but I’m so used to it, I really don’t think about it. What am I supposed to do, anyway? Lots of people fought him.”

“But not like you, mate,” Ron said. “You killed him. That makes you different.”

“Let’s not talk about it, okay? It doesn’t bother me when people look at me.”

“They’re also looking at Ginny,” Hermione said.

Ginny tossed her head. “So let them. Maybe they’ll leave Harry alone.” Harry gave her an appreciative smile as Charlie walked up; he had come from a conversation with a wizard in Ministry robes.

“That’s Gawain Robards,” he told them. “He’s acting Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. Do any of you know him?” They all shook their heads. “He just told me some bad but not surprising news. They found eight bodies in Malfoy Manor, all dead by a Killing Curse except—”he looked at Harry “—Peter Pettigrew. He was strangled, apparently by his own hand, or what used to be his hand.”

Ron whistled. “Eight? Who were they?”

“He wouldn’t tell me. But he thinks there are more than eight. They also found the belongings of Charity Burbage, the teacher the Prophet said had resigned from Hogwarts.”

Hermione turned pale. “Oh, no! She disappeared, but no one knew . . . Damn him!” She had tears in her eyes as well as anger, and her fists were balled. “She was just a nice person. Why?”

Ron put his arm around her. “She taught Muggle Studies and she wrote an article,” he told Charlie. “I guess it figures that Riddle would go after her.”

“They’ll probably find bodies all over the country,” Charlie said, shaking his head. “Sorry to bring you more bad news.” He left them all in a somber mood.

“That won’t be too good for Malfoy,” Ron said. “But who cares? We saved Draco’s ass twice in the castle and I don’t remember being thanked for it.”

“His mum saved mine,” Harry murmured, looking at the ground.

Ron grunted, but Hermione nodded. “It’s got to stop somewhere, Ron. At the end, Lucius cared more for his family than for Riddle.”

“Okay, okay,” Ron said. “I’ll let him live this time, but after this, no more mister nice guy.” They all laughed and looked up at the sky as it began to rain.

The Weasleys returned to the Burrow in the early afternoon, and soon afterwards Harry and Ginny Disapparated to Shell Cottage with Bill and Fleur. They came out on top of the cliff, and Ginny exclaimed in delight when she saw the pink and cream-colored shells embedded in the walls. It was not raining there, but the skies were spitting and a damp breeze was blowing in from the sea. They hurried inside with their bags and Fleur threw back the curtains and opened some of the landward windows. “It gets so stuffy. I suppose it will be very cozy in ze winter, but I like a breeze to come in now. Come, I will show you your rooms.”

Harry had the room that Ollivander and Griphook had stayed in, and Ginny the room that Hermione and Luna had shared. Ginny and Fleur took her bags inside and Harry went downstairs, where Bill had started a fire.

“I think we’ll eat lunch soon. This time you’ll experience some really good French cooking,” he grinned. “I’ve been totally spoiled. She even makes some of my mum’s food seem ordinary.”

Harry went to the front window and looked out at the water. He had spent a lot of time sitting and looking out at the sea when he stayed here before their foray into Gringotts. Was that only a week ago? What a difference a few days make, he thought, as he turned and watched Ginny come down the stairs.

“Let’s go outside,” she said, and took Harry’s hand. “Fleur said she’ll call us when lunch is ready.”

It was raining lightly and they took cloaks from hooks near the door. They walked around back and stood at the foot of Dobby’s grave and Ginny read the epitaph.

“Oh, Harry, you didn’t tell me you had written that. It’s beautiful.” She went to it and ran her hand over the words. “Poor Dobby, I never really knew him. And he was killed at his old master’s house.”

Harry stared at the grave. “I’m glad Bellatrix Lestrange is dead,” he said quietly. “I don’t think I could have come back and stood here if she was still alive.” Ginny put her arm through his and leaned her head on his shoulder.

A window open and Fleur called to them, “Lunchtime! Come inside!” They went back and found Bill seated at the kitchen table. A steaming meat pie was ready at each place, with a basket of hot rolls and a bowl of greens in the center of the table.

“I am so sorry, but I have not got ze candles out yet,” Fleur said as she sat. “We will ‘ave zem at dinnertime. It will be very romantic.” She smiled at Ginny and handed Bill a bottle. “Do ze honors, darling.”

Bill uncorked the wine with a flick of his wand, poured the ruby red liquid into their goblets, and raised his own. “To our family, to our best friends—” he nodded to Harry “—and to our brother and our friends who are gone.” They clinked their goblets in silence.

Harry’s experience with wine was limited to the toast that Bill had offered to Remus Lupin just a few weeks ago upon the birth of Teddy. He took a sip; it tasted very smooth and fruity. He took another sip and glanced at Ginny as she held up her empty goblet for Bill to refill.

“Take it easy, Sis,” Bill laughed. “It’ll put you right out unless you’re used to it.” He poured her a half-goblet.

Harry poked his fork through the crust of his meat pie and a delicious aroma wafted up. He took a fork-full. “Mmm! Fabulous,” he said to Fleur.

She waved her fork in the air. “Oh, it is not’ing. I just t’rew zem in ze oven for a few minutes. Zey are not’ing special. Ginny, would you like me to show you ‘ow to make zem?”

Ginny looked at the beatific expression on Harry’s face as he nodded enthusiastically. Ginny laughed. “Sure. My mum makes them sometimes, but this is delicious.”

It started to rain harder during lunch but let up later in the afternoon and Harry and Ginny took a walk along the cliff. They looked out over the sea and listened to the waves crashing on the rocks below. About a quarter mile from the cottage they found a path through a cleft leading down to the water and a beach about twenty yards wide that continued into the distance. The wind was blustery with a heavy overcast.

They took their shoes off and walked in the cool sand with their cloaks and Ginny’s hair billowing behind them. Waves broke a few yards out, and Ginny ran into the wash but came shrieking right back out. “It’s freezing!” she cried. Harry laughed, and bent down and lifted her right foot and started rubbing it; she grabbed his shoulder to keep from toppling over. “Use a warming charm. It’ll work faster.”

Harry grinned up at her. “This is more fun.” He kissed her foot, then took the left and rubbed it. He put it down, rose, and took her in his arms and they stood together in a long, long, deep kiss.

Harry put his hands inside her cloak and moved them down her back and lower. Ginny took them, though, and held them in both of hers between herself and Harry. She looked down and shook her head.

“Harry, no, not here. I don’t feel right about it, not while we’re staying in their home.” She put her forehead against his collar bone and they were silent.

“It’s okay,” Harry said after a moment. “You’re right. I’m sorry.”

Ginny still looked down at the sand and brushed her toes against his instep. “Don’t be sorry.” She finally looked at him. “That night in the hammock wasn’t a mistake, and it wasn’t something I wanted to do only because I just spent a year and a day waiting for you. It was a whole lot more than that.”

“It was for me too. You know that, don’t you?” She nodded. “So when I do something like I just did, when I think about you that way . . . I mean . . .” He peered at their feet and put his toes on top of hers. He said, without looking up, “Ginny, there’s something I didn’t tell you. It’s sort of the same as this, and it’s a little embarrassing.”

“It’s fine, love, you can tell me anything and I won’t laugh.” Harry looked at her, startled; Ginny had never used that word with him. He tried to think of a response, but came up blank. She grinned. “What didn’t you tell me?”

He took a deep breath. “When we were out there in that tent in the middle of winter, sometimes I would take out my map and look for you. It was usually at night, so I knew you would be in your room. There would be a little tag next to your bed with your name on it. I know it sounds stupid, but it helped keep me going. A lot.”

“Why is that embarrassing?”

“That’s not it. There’s more.”

Ginny giggled, and turned a little pink. “I wasn’t in the bathroom, was I?”

“No, no! Of course not. I’m sorry, I probably shouldn’t have told you.”

Ginny kissed him. “Don’t tell me if you don’t want to, but I’m glad you had that map and it makes me feel good that you were watching me.”

“Well, I would also imagine myself in that bed with you,” Harry said in one rush of breath.

Ginny pulled him closer. “Ooh, now I do like that. Maybe next year when you’re in Hogsmeade you can do it again, but let me know before.” She laughed wickedly.

‘You are a shameless witch,” Harry also laughed. “And you drive me crazy.”

It was starting to grow dark and the clouds were lowering, so they walked back to the cottage. They were going into the wind and they put their heads down and leaned into it. They climbed the path up the cliff and saw the lights of Shell Cottage in the dusk and hurried towards them.

Dinner rivaled any meal they had ever had at Hogwarts. Course followed delicious course: soup, fresh bread, salad, poultry, fish, pasta, dessert. Harry drank a little more wine this time and felt better and better with each course and each goblet. Ginny also had more than one goblet of wine, but Harry noticed that her face wasn’t flushed, as his felt.

The small table was set with white linen and a beautiful silver candelabra; the candles burned with a silvery, shimmering glow. “It belonged to my gran’mama,” Fleur said as they ate dessert: triple chocolate cheese cake. “She was veela, you know. Zat is why I am so beautiful, it all comes from ‘er. And zis candelabra is magical, veela magic. It inspires love.”

“I heard that veelas like to bewitch men into loving them, and then they leave them heartbroken,” Harry said; he was feeling very talkative.

Fleur’s eyes flashed. “Oh, zat is nonsense! Men are saying zat because zey fall in love wiz us but we are not always falling in love wiz zem. So zey blame veelas for zere own foolishness.”

Harry looked at Ginny.

Her eyebrows arched. “What are you looking at me for? You were the one who kissed me after the Quidditch match, not the other way around.”

Harry giggled. “I thought you kissed me back.” He leaned over and kissed her. “Yes, you did kiss me back, I remember it very clearly.” He grinned at everyone.

“Hah! You see, ze candelabra, it is working,” Fleur proclaimed. “Or maybe it is ze wine. Who knows?” She shrugged.

After dinner Bill stoked the fire and it became very warm and cozy in the small cottage. Harry dozed in a love seat, leaning on Ginny’s shoulder and snoring quietly. When Bill and Fleur got up from the couch and went upstairs, Ginny nudged Harry and whispered into his ear, “Wake up, love, we’re alone.”

He opened his eyes. “Did you just call me that again?”

Ginny put her arms around him. “Yes, and it won’t be the last unless you object.”

“No objections from this quarter.” Harry stood, stretched, and pulled Ginny up. He kissed her softly and caressed her hair. “‘Cause I feel the same way.” When they climbed the stairs, Ginny paused at her door, blew him a kiss, and went into her room.

Next morning at breakfast both Ginny and Harry looked tired. “Did you sleep okay?” Bill asked Harry. “You look a little peaky.”

“New bed, I guess. I’ll get used to it.” He glanced at Ginny who was yawning. “Are you okay?” he asked her.

“I couldn’t fall asleep for a while. I was thinking about Fred, and . . . things. What about you?”

Harry looked quickly at Bill; he was immersed in the Daily Prophet and Fleur was busy at the water basin. “I was thinking about things too,” he said in a low voice.

Bill left for work after breakfast. He had not been at Gringotts for quite a while and was uncertain about what he would find there and what kind of reception he would get.

“They’ll know it was my brother who helped you break into the vaults,” he told Harry as he was about to leave. “They won’t be too happy about it.” Harry felt a pang of guilt; he didn’t want to be responsible for Bill losing his job.

“Will they let you back?” he asked. “Maybe you can tell them that the Hufflepuff goblet was stolen, and we were trying to get it back for Hogwarts.”

Bill laughed mirthlessly. “They won’t care about the goblet. If they ever find out what it was, they’ll probably be glad someone got it out of their bank. No, what’s going to upset them is that you broke in so easily.”

“It wasn’t so easy. We almost got killed, more than once.”

“And they won’t care about that, either. To them, it was easy because you succeeded. But don’t worry, Harry. I won’t lose my job because they know how close I am to Kingsley. When you killed Riddle, the world went topsy-turvy for goblins as well as everyone else. They won’t want to antagonize me, at least not until they know which way the wind is blowing.”

Harry shook his head. “Too much politics for me. I’ll walk on the beach and sit by the fire until it all goes away.”

Bill laughed. “That should be everyone’s philosophy. You do that, Harry, you and Ginny. That’s why we invited you here.” He kissed Fleur goodbye, stepped outside, and Disapparated.

Ginny spent the morning in the kitchen with Fleur, cooking up the menu for the rest of the day. Harry looked in on them once, but left after being ignored for five minutes while Fleur was teaching Ginny the French names of the ingredients for a cheese and bacon soufflé. He had already finished the copy of the Prophet that Bill had left, so he went up to his room and started reading Theory of Advanced Spells which Bill had lent him.

He was dozing when Ginny came to get him for lunch. She served the soufflé, which was delicious, and afterwards they went out for a walk. They decided to visit a small Muggle fishing port about two miles up the coast that Fleur told them about.

“Very quaint, at least for an English village,” she said as she gave them some Muggle money to spend. “Oh, and ‘Arry, Bill sent an owl. He is coming ‘ome a little early. He wants to talk wiz you, but he didn’t say why.”

It was still overcast and cool, but the breeze had died down. They pulled on their cloaks and set out along the cliff-top to the path down to the beach. They walked barefoot in the sand again, stopping often to watch gulls dip into the waves for fish, to pick up shells, and to chase each other in and out of the frigid wash.

It took them about an hour to reach the village, which was set back from the beach on a low bluff. Just past it, under sheltering cliffs, was a cove where small boats were moored to a few piers. They wandered through the village, poking into shops that sold fishing tackle and boating supplies. The Muggles looked at them curiously, but were friendly and nodded or briefly wished them good day. They bought two chocolate bars in a tiny grocery and headed back.

They had finished the chocolate and were almost at the path that led up the cliff when they saw, ahead of them on the beach, a small fire burning in a shallow pit in the sand, and six young Muggle men standing around it. As they drew nearer, they also saw several cases of beer lying nearby, one of which was open, and empty beer bottles scattered about; each of the Muggles had a bottle in his hand. They were talking and laughing loudly, but fell silent and turned to watch Harry and Ginny as they approached.

Harry nodded as he and Ginny passed within a few feet of them between the small fire and the waves. One of the Muggles, a large, muscular, arrogant-looking fellow who was about six inches taller than Harry, took a swig from his bottle and belched loudly; his friends laughed.

“Hey, reds,” he called, leering at Ginny, “your boyfriend’s kinda scrawny. Why don’t you try something more manly?” His mates laughed again, and one of them whistled.

Ginny tensed and took Harry’s hand. Harry glanced at the man, but kept walking. The Muggle stepped in front of them, blocking their way. Harry put his hand inside his cloak.

“Don’t, Harry,” Ginny said, “he’s just drunk.” But she tightened her grip on his other hand.

“Harry is it?” The man folded his arms on his chest and looked over at the others. “Looks more like Harriet to me.” There was more guffawing, and he leered at Ginny again. “Why don’t you lose the fairy, reds, and we’ll show you how real men do it.” The others moved towards them, hemming Harry and Ginny in along the water’s edge.

Harry put his arm around Ginny and looked at the Muggle. “I’ll give you some advice,” he said quietly, “and you’d better take it. Shut your mouth and move and let us pass.”

Harry could sense the men behind moving closer, and he could feel Ginny pressing herself against him. The Muggle in front of them took another swig of beer as his eyes narrowed.

“Move for you, you little faggot? I think we’ll see how well you swim and how well your girlfriend—”

Harry’s wand was out. There was a loud bang! and a flash of red light. The man flew in the air towards the cliffs and landed in the sand with a heavy thud; he did not move. Harry whirled and the five behind him backed away, incomprehension and fear on their faces.

Ginny was also pointing her wand at them but Harry pushed it down. He drew Ginny back, and the Muggles did not see several dozen bottles of beer rise out of the cases and hover over their heads. They did, however, hear them all burst simultaneously and they looked up at the shower of pale ale that completely drenched them.

”Stupefy!” Harry shouted, and all five slumped into the large, sudsy pool of beer they were standing in. He pointed his wand at the Muggle lying unconscious near the cliff, and he rose off the sand and floated towards his five inert companions. Harry let him drop from about three feet up, and he fell with a splash and another thud into the beer bath.

Harry pointed his wand at the pile of Muggles. ”Obliviate!” he called, and started to pull Ginny toward the cliff. “Come on, I’ll clear our tracks and no one will ever figure out what happened.”

Ginny had an angry, blazing look, and shook off his hand. “Wait,” she said curtly. She walked to the big Muggle and pointed her wand, but Harry yelled, “Ginny! No!”

She looked back at him and scowled, but lowered her wand. “You do it, then, or else I will.”

“No problem, love,” he grinned, and in an instant the Muggle’s face was covered with small brownish lumps that had large, fiercely beating bat wings attached. Ginny looked down at him. “That’ll improve his looks for a while,” she said between clenched teeth. “Bastard!”

They climbed the path and at the top turned back. Harry raised his wand and all the footprints within fifty yards of the Muggles disappeared. He raised his wand once more. ”Finite!” he called, and the Muggles began to stir in the puddle of beer. Harry and Ginny watched for a moment, then Harry put his arm around her and they started back for the cottage.

Harry sauntered along, laughing and joking about how the six morons would have to explain their bruised, beer-soaked, and befuddled condition to their families and maybe to the Muggle police. But Ginny was silent, and after a few minutes she pulled away and walked in more silence, ignoring his banter, looking straight ahead.

“What’s wrong?” Harry said; he tried to take her hand, but she wouldn’t let him. “Ginny, if you had done magic there would be an owl from the Ministry waiting for you at the cottage. And they’d want to know why you used it on a Muggle.”

She strode along without answering. Harry grabbed her hand and forced her to stop. She turned and glared at him. “I asked you to stop protecting me, Harry. I’m getting tired of it. I can take care of myself, even from sods like them.”

“But—but—” Harry stammered, and had to run to catch up to her. “Ginny! What are you talking about? I kept you from getting into big trouble. Please, don’t—”

She ignored him. In a few minutes they were at the cottage, and Ginny brushed past Fleur who was waiting for them inside the door. She watched Ginny stomp up the stairs and turned to Harry.

“Mon Dieu, ‘Arry, what ‘appened? Why is she angry?”

Harry, looking confused, told her what had happened. Fleur took his hand. “But you are not ‘urt? Or Ginny?”

Harry shook his head. “No. But I don’t understand. I was afraid if she did magic she would get into trouble.” He thought about how Ginny had moved closer to him as they were standing in front of the Muggle. “I don’t understand . . .”

He turned away, looking out a window. Fleur turned him back and put her hand gently on his cheek. “You were very brave, ‘Arry. I will speak to ‘er. I t’ink I know why she is angry.” Harry looked back out the window and heard her climb the stairs, then a soft knock, low voices, and a door opening and closing.

When Fleur opened the door, Ginny was also looking out a window and did not turn or acknowledge her. “Ginny,” Fleur said gently, “why do you treat ‘Arry like zat? ‘E was just trying to protect you from ‘arm.”

Ginny let out her breath. “I asked him not to do that, to stop smothering me.” She faced Fleur. “I don’t like it when—”

“When a man acts like a man?” Fleur finished the sentence.

“What do you mean?” Ginny said angrily. “I just want him to let me make up my own mind. If I want help I’ll ask for it.”

“Ginny, ‘Arry was right. If you do magic against a Muggle you will get into a lot of trouble. And ‘e was doing what any man does when ‘e loves a woman. ‘E is not trying to smozer—ah, smo-ther you.  ‘e is showing ‘ow much he loves you. Zere is a difference between not letting you pour your own pumpkin juice, and fighting a bully who wants to ‘urt you.”

Ginny sat on the bed and thought back to the beach, remembering the bolt of fear when the Muggle looked at her with nothing but evil in his eyes. She also remembered Harry putting his arm around her just at that moment; it had felt very good. She looked at Fleur. “Is he okay?”

Fleur smiled, and magical delight filled the room. “If ‘e isn’t, I t’ink ‘e will be when you ask ‘im zat.” She opened the door and stood aside as Ginny went out.

Harry turned from the window when he heard footsteps coming down the stairs. Ginny stopped at the bottom. “Are you okay?” she said.

Harry nodded and smiled briefly. “I’m sorry.”

Ginny walked towards him. “For what?”

Harry shrugged. “I don’t know.”

Ginny put her arms around his neck. “What you did was brilliant. What I did was stupid. I’m sorry.”

“Oh.” Harry couldn’t say more because Ginny had put her mouth over his. Before he closed his eyes he saw Fleur slip into the kitchen and quietly close the door behind her.

Chapter Text

Bill came home half an hour later and found Ginny sitting in front of the fireplace and Harry reclining with his head in her lap. Harry was holding his wand, examining it and turning it between his fingers. They both looked up when Bill came in.

“Don’t get up,” he grinned. “I’ll be right back.” He hung up his cloak and went into the kitchen, where Ginny and Harry heard him talking to Fleur. They both came out into the parlor and Harry sat up.

“Fleur said you ran into some Muggles this afternoon,” Bill said. “I think I know who they were. We’ve seen them along the cliff a few times.”

“But zey never bozered us,” said Fleur. “I t’ink zey are scared by Bill’s face.”

Bill ran his finger over his nose. “There’s one big bloke who’s the worst troublemaker. Derrick Roach. His father is a magistrate in the local Muggle government and owns quite a bit of property, so his kid gets away with a lot.”

“Not this time,” Harry said. “He opened his mouth one too many times and said a couple of things to Ginny. He now has a face-full of bat wings.”

Bill looked at Ginny in alarm. “You didn’t use your Bat-Bogey hex, I hope.”

“Not to worry,” she said cheerfully. “Harry did the honors. But I was thinking I’d come back after my birthday and cut off his ba—”

“Okay!” Bill laughed. “I get the idea.” He turned to Harry. “Did you get an owl from the Ministry? They usually want to know when someone uses magic on Muggles.”

“Not yet. But Fleur said you wanted to talk to me?”

Bill’s brow furrowed. “I overheard some things at work that I wanted to ask you about. A goblin who works in the Property Office mentioned that—”

“Wait!” Harry waved his hands in the air. “Can we talk about it somewhere else? It’s . . . it’s . . . um . . .”

“I think it has something to do with my birthday present,” Ginny said.

“I didn’t say that. It . . . um . . . probably has something to do with the mess that dragon made.”

“Right,” Ginny said. “Go ahead and talk. I like rubies, I never had any, you know. Oh, and chocolate cake.”

Harry grinned, and he and Bill went outside. As they walked around the side of the cottage Bill asked Harry about his wand. “Is something wrong with it? I saw you looking at it.”

“I don’t think so, but it acted a little differently this afternoon. Something happened to it after the battle that might have affected it. It’s fine, though.” They sat on the low stone wall near Dobby’s grave. Harry changed the subject, not wanting the matter of the Elder Wand to come up. “What about the goblin?”

“I heard you bought the Hog’s Head Inn,” Bill began. “The goblins are all talking about how they got some revenge for the theft, as they’re calling it. What happened?”

Harry was momentarily nonplused. “Yeah,” he said after a moment “Aberforth sold it to the goblins the day after the battle, and—”

“Why did he sell it? That really surprised me. He’s owned it for years.”

“I think he wants to get away for a while. He said he was going abroad. The goblins were arguing with him about the price. They said that goblins had built the place, so it was rightfully theirs.”

Bill snorted. “That’s rubbish. Every building in Hogsmeade was built by an old family of wizard carpenters that lives right outside the village. I did a research paper when I was a student,” he explained when Harry gave him a questioning look. “Professor Binns was teaching a course on the history of magical places.”

“Must have been interesting. Anyway, they were pretty steamed about it, and then they started talking about wizards attacking Gringotts and stealing their dragons and breaking into vaults. They mentioned me, of course, so someone went and got Kingsley, and then he went and got me. So I was kind of stuck in the middle.”

Bill sat, thinking. “Hmm. The last thing Kingsley would want the day after the battle would be a mini goblin rebellion. They probably realized that, and thought they could pressure him and Aberforth into giving the inn away.”

“More politics,” Harry said with distaste. “But I had an idea.” He glanced at Bill. “I had already decided that I wanted to take some classes at Hogwarts next year, even if I couldn’t do my seventh year again. And I also had some ideas about, um . . . well . . .” he hesitated.

“You wanted to be near Ginny,” Bill grinned.

Harry nodded, thankful that Bill understood. “I thought she’d like that. I know I would,” he said softly.

“Everyone in the family would, Harry.” Bill looked over at the cottage and Harry followed his gaze; they could see Ginny and Fleur through the kitchen window, sitting at the table and talking. “I don’t think I’m giving anything away by telling you how much she worried about you all year,” Bill said. “And Fred . . . She needs lots of comfort.”

Harry was not surprised to hear this from Bill. He had seen how Bill had become like a father to both Ginny and Ron since Fred’s death, while Arthur was preoccupied with Molly’s grief. But Harry had started to feel that Bill was also filling a need for himself, a need he was quite familiar with. He had lost Sirius and Dumbledore, and Remus had stepped in; now Remus was gone. It felt good to talk to Bill, to have someone who understood him. It was quite different from talking to Ron, even though Bill was only ten years older.

Of course, it was complicated by Bill’s being Ginny’s brother, but Bill had none of the possessive protectiveness that Ron had shown. It never seemed to occur to Bill that Harry would ever do anything to hurt Ginny. In fact, Harry sensed that Bill expected that, someday, Harry would become the one whom Ginny looked to for shelter in a storm. It made Harry feel part of the Weasley family, like Ginny’s love and Ron’s friendship.

Harry picked up his train of conversation. “I kind of blurted out that I’d like to buy the inn. So we went into another room, and I asked Ron and Hermione to come with me because there were five of them and only one of me. I think I still ended up paying too much, but what the hell, it’s only money.”

Bill laughed. “It’s great that you can say that. No one in the Weasley family can, although I suspect that George . . .” He trailed off and sighed. “Anyway, yes, you did pay too much, at least as best as I can tell. And that won’t make goblins feel any better about wizards. But I’ll go out on a limb here, since somehow I can’t see you as a barkeep for the rest of your life. My guess is that you’ll sell it back eventually, and if you do, remember that you have a few cards of your own to play.”

“Like what? Goblins can be pretty intimidating when they want to.”

“And they know it. It sounds like they pulled that act on you. But there’s two things you need to remember. First, you have a substantial fortune stored in their vaults, and they wouldn’t like to see it go someplace else.”

“Like where?”

“Like to another wizarding bank, even a bank overseas. Fleur has relatives who own a bank in France, did you know that? The goblins do.”

Harry glanced at the cottage again; Ginny and Fleur were still sitting at the kitchen table but now vegetables and chunks of meat were flying off the table towards the stove.

“The other thing you need to remember,” Bill went on, “is that you are Harry Potter, nemesis of the Dark Lord. A lot of goblins expected Voldemort to win. They would have ended up regretting it, but they’ve been treated so badly by wizards in general that they were receptive to his lies.”

He paused and looked off into the distance. “Kingsley wants to change that. I think that’s why he got involved when he found out that Aberforth wanted to sell. He saw a chance to open up a dialogue.”

“And I blew it,” Harry said ruefully. “I told you I’d never understand politics.”

“You could have done better, that’s true, but many, many others have done worse. Don’t undersell yourself, Harry. You are somebody. Don’t over-reach, but don’t under-reach, either.”

“Why are you telling me all this?” Harry asked. He had always gotten advice from Dumbledore, Sirius, and Remus, but Bill’s frank, friendly, and warm style was a little different; Harry liked it.

Bill grinned. “I have a very dear sister who is head over heels in love with you. And I think she has very good taste.”

Harry went scarlet and Bill laughed again. “I thought only Ron could turn that color. Sorry, Harry, I didn’t mean to embarrass you.” He stood. “I think we should see how dinner is coming along. I don’t want that meat to get overcooked. And don’t worry, I won’t say anything to Ginny about the inn.”

After dinner Harry and Ginny were sitting outside on the edge of the cliff watching the waves, when an owl from the Ministry finally arrived. They didn’t see it until it literally fell out of the sky and plopped at their feet. It lay sprawled on the rocks, looked up at Harry with a feeble, pathetic hoot, and lifted its leg in the air.

“No wonder it took so long,” Harry said as he removed the parchment. “This one’s more decrepit than Errol.” His remark seemed to upset the owl; it clucked a few times and struggled to its feet, flapping its wings erratically.

Ginny stroked its head feathers. “There, there. Don’t listen to nasty old wizard. I understand.” The owl took heart and managed to flap up to Ginny’s shoulder, where it perched contentedly, nibbling on her ear and pecking at Harry whenever it thought he was getting too close.

Harry began perusing the parchment, and Ginny transferred the owl to her other shoulder and read over Harry’s. It was an Official Notice from the Improper Use of Magic Office.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Mr. Potter. Greetings. We are advised that you performed five (5) or six (6) charms and/or spells and/or jinxes and/or hexes upon as many as six (6) Muggles on the current date, at a location along the Channel coast in Essex.

In addition, we are advised that you may have performed a combination Levitating and Separating charm and/or spell and/or jinx and/or hex in the presence of said Muggles on said date at said location.

While there is no evidence at this time of any violation of Magical law on your part, this Office is nevertheless conducting a routine investigation to determine whether or not additional action by the Ministry of Magic may be required with respect to the events alluded to herein above.

We are, therefore, respectfully requesting that you provide us with any information you may possess about the events alluded to herein above, including the names of any non-Muggle witnesses, and the specific charms and/or spells and/or jinxes and/or hexes you may have used during the events alluded to herein above.

Furthermore, we respectfully request that you provide the information requested herein above within thirty (30) days of your receipt of this Notice.

Respectfully yours,

Priscilla Pompard

Improper Use of Magic Office, Department of Magical Law Enforcement, Ministry of Magic

“Blimey, does Kingsley have his work cut out for him,” Harry remarked.

“Yeah,” said Ginny. “First throw all the solicitors into Azkaban.”

Harry chortled. “Well, I might as well do it now. Come on, bring the bird.”

They went into the cottage—the owl still perched on Ginny’s shoulder—and into the kitchen, where Fleur was cleaning up from dinner. They sat at the table and the owl flew up to the top of a cabinet and peered down at the room.

“If zat bird makes a mess in ‘ere, I will cook ‘im for dinner tomorrow,” Fleur said darkly and pointed a large cleaver at it. The owl squawked and hopped along the cabinet away from Fleur’s menacing knife.

“Fleur, do you have a quill and some ink?” Harry asked as he laid the Notice on the table; the Ministry had conveniently left space at the bottom for Harry to write his response. Fleur fetched the writing materials from a drawer while keeping an eye on the owl. Harry and Ginny reviewed the events of the afternoon, and Harry wrote down the details.

“Don’t forget the Bat-Bogey charm and/or spell and/or jinx and/or hex,” Ginny said.

Harry laughed, “I won’t, but that’s the one most likely to get me in trouble. They’ll have to send someone from the reversal office or whatever they call it to sort him out.”

“Then why don’t you wait the whole thirty days,” Ginny suggested.

“Hmm, that’s not a bad idea. But we’d have to keep the owl here so we’d have a way to send it back.”

“Non, non, non!” Fleur waved the cleaver in the air, and the owl squawked again and hopped along the cabinet as far from her as it could get. “Absolutely not! ‘e must get out of zis ‘ouse, now!”

Harry laughed again. “Okay. Here, it’s ready.” He rolled up the parchment and took it to the cabinet where the owl was perched. When he reached up to take the bird down, it pecked at his hand. “Ouch! Damn bird! Here,” he handed the parchment to Ginny. “He likes you. You do it.”

Ginny took the parchment, and the owl flew down to her shoulder; it lifted its leg and Ginny tied the Notice on. They walked outside and the owl flew off, wobbling a bit but on a steady course to the southwest, and disappeared into the dusk.

They went back to the wall where they had been sitting and watching the sea. The horizon was shrouded in darkness but they could still see whitecaps as waves crested near the shore. Harry put his arm around Ginny and she moved closer.

The door of the cottage opened and Bill stepped out holding a small rug. He waved at them and tossed the rug into the air; as it floated, Bill pointed his wand and dust flew off and wafted away. He grabbed the rug and took it back inside.

“Bill is a great guy,” Harry said, thinking about their talk earlier in the day.

Ginny looked up at him. “He is. Why do you say that?”

“He makes me feel like I’m part of your family.”

Ginny put her head back on his shoulder, but didn’t speak. When Harry turned his head and kissed her brow, she put both arms around him. “I’m glad,” she said into his chest. “He does have a way of making you feel welcome, if that’s the word. Maybe wanted is the right one.” She looked up at him again and Harry could see her smile in the candlelight glowing through the windows of the cottage.

“Yes,” he agreed, “that’s how I feel.”

#   #   #   #

Several days passed and the weather turned warmer and sunnier. Harry and Ginny spent most of their days on the beach, talking, reading, napping on a blanket, building magical sand castles. They never saw Muggles again. They took several long walks to the fishing port and beyond, and became acquainted with the owners of the grocery where they bought candy. Once they overheard a conversation between two other customers about a strange rash that one of the local youths had come down with. The clinic in the nearby town had not been able to treat it and had sent him down to London to see a specialist.

“They better send him to a specialist at St. Mungo’s,” Ginny chuckled as they walked back. “Or to the bat house at the zoo.”

“I wonder why they haven’t sorted him out yet,” Harry said. “I hope that owl got back to the Ministry.”

“It’s probably lost in someone’s inbox and/or trash bin.” They both laughed.

Although their days were fine, they both were waking up every morning not well rested. Bill commented on their drowsiness at breakfast and suggested a sleeping potion, but Fleur shook her head and smiled to herself. In fact, both Harry and Ginny were lying awake almost every night thinking about the person just on the other side of the wall separating their tiny bedrooms. But neither one said anything. Harry did not want to go past the limit that Ginny had set, although it was becoming harder and harder for him to stop himself. Ginny did not want to put Bill in the position of having to confront her about a rule that her parents might have insisted on before allowing her to come to his home with Harry, although it was becoming harder and harder for her to stick to her conviction. In the close quarters of Shell Cottage, always in each other’s presence, they thought and dreamed about each other.

Eleven days after they came to Shell Cottage an owl arrived before lunch from Hogwarts addressed to both of them. Ginny read it sitting at the kitchen table while Harry stood behind her, brushing her hair.

“It’s from Professor McGonagall. This explains why we haven’t heard anything about Colin’s funeral. His parents are asking his friends to have a memorial service for him at school. They buried him a week ago but the service was for family only.”

“They didn’t want any wizards or witches showing up in weird clothes,” Harry guessed. “It’s okay with me. I wasn’t fancying another funeral.”

Ginny rolled up the parchment. “Me either. I was thinking that we could have a D.A. reunion at my birthday party and make it a memorial for Colin too. Luna suggested it. I like the idea.”

“So do I.”

Harry continued to brush; he loved the silky feel and flowery scent of her hair. And when he was finished, Ginny always turned around for a long and enjoyable snog.

This time was no different, but just as their tongues were becoming involved and their breathing heavy, and Harry’s hands were straying down her hips, the kitchen door opened. Their tongues and then their mouths disengaged; they were surprised, since Fleur always left them alone when she knew this activity was occurring. They turned and saw Ron standing in the doorway, his hand on the handle, and Hermione behind him peering around his side.

Ron stared at them; his mouth worked but nothing came out. Harry started to pull away but Ginny tightened her hold and wouldn’t let him go. Hermione glanced apprehensively up at Ron’s face.

Ron finally put his fist to his mouth and cleared his throat. “So, how are you blokes? We can wait in the parlor if, uh, if you’d like.”

Harry could feel Ginny relax. She gave him a quick squeeze, flew to Ron, and, with a big smile, gave him a sloppy kiss on his cheek. “We’re fine! It’s great to see you.” She hugged Hermione and pulled them into the kitchen. “Why are you here?”

“We both had some time off,” Hermione said, “so we just decided on the spur of the moment to pop up here.” She sounded as though it had been a momentous decision. “It’s so much—”

“I got hired at the Ministry!” Ron interrupted, unable to contain his news. “It’s not the most exciting job, but it’ll be a regular paycheck and, Harry, get this. Shacklebolt is setting up a whole program for anyone who wants to take the Auror exams. It’s three years, but they don’t care about all those Acceptables I got at Hogwarts, or any of that crap. Pass the exams and the practicals and you’re in!”

“Don’t be so restrained, Ron,” Hermione said as Harry grinned at Ron’s enthusiasm. “And don’t be surprised if the exams are a lot harder than O.W.L.s.”

Ron waved away her caution. “Yeah, but this time I won’t have all that other school stuff to distract me.”

“No, just a shop full of free jokes right underneath your feet. But you’re right. It’s a brilliant program. Harry, you should really consider it. You would ace it.”

Harry shook his head. “Maybe later. I have other plans for the immediate future.”

“Right,” said Ron. “Well, what have you two been up to, aside from imitating thrashing eels?” He grinned at Ginny who stuck her tongue out at him.

“Not much, aside from that,” replied Harry, fending off Ginny’s punch. “Walks along the beach, naps, meals, naps, walks along the beach, you get the idea.”

“Busy schedule,” Ron chuckled. He looked around the kitchen. “How’s the food?”

“Much better than last time. I think Fleur was pretty unprepared when we showed up and she also didn’t like having to feed Griphook. And Ginny’s learning French cuisine. She knows all the French names for everything,”

Oui,” said Ginny. “Le fromage, le vin, la viande, les pommes de terre. What else does a young witch need to know?”

They decided to take a walk down to the beach, and Ginny went to tell Fleur who was up in her bedroom and hadn’t heard Ron and Hermione arrive. She came downstairs with hugs and kisses for both; Ron only blushed a little.

“Do not be too long,” she said. “I will ‘ave lunch ready in an hour.” They decided to stay near the cottage and take a longer walk afterwards. They went out and sat near Dobby’s grave; it was covered with sprays of flowers that Harry and Ginny had placed on it. They talked about Colin’s funeral—Ron and Hermione had received the same owl from Professor McGonagall—and liked Ginny’s idea of a D.A. reunion. Ron told them that Dean, Neville, and Neville’s girlfriend Keesha were frequent visitors to Diagon Alley and talked about getting the D.A. back together somehow. George had also shown up at the shop once, but didn’t stay long.

“I don’t think he’s ready yet,” said Ron. “Lee and the witches are keeping it going, and we help out in the evenings.”

Harry asked about his new job in the Ministry. “The International Magical Office of Law,” Ron said pompously, and laughed. “I wanted Games and Sports, but so did everyone else, and they had all finished their seventh year.”

“You mean all the boys wanted it,” Hermione corrected him.

“Well, some girls too. Angelina Johnson’s already there.” Hermione shrugged.

“So what does your office do?” Harry asked.

“Haven’t a clue, and I’ve been there for four days already. But it doesn’t matter. I won’t be there after the Auror program starts.”

“They help set up conferences and coordinate legal activities,” Hermione said. “They liaise with other magical governments.”

“Okay, that’s what they do.”

Ginny turned to Hermione. “What about you? Have you started at that institute yet?”

“You’ll be sorry you asked,” Ron grinned.

Hermione jumped up, ignoring him. “Oh, it’s fabulous! You wouldn’t believe what they’re doing! I’m working directly under Septieme Geneva, she’s the witch who wrote all the Arithmancy textbooks. She’s world famous, and she’s brilliant. And Kingsley asked her to set up a special project, and she put me on it!” Hermione beamed, her arms outspread, and looked at them expectantly. Her face fell when Ginny and Harry just stared at her blankly.

“Tell them what the project is,” Ron prompted.

“Oh right. Kingsley wants to set up an office in the Law Enforcement Department that can trace every use of an Unforgivable Curse. He wants to know who used it, when, where, and who it was used against. I think he wants to abolish them somehow, eventually. Isn’t that brilliant? So we’re doing all the theoretical groundwork. It’ll take months, maybe years, but it’s so exciting. I’m doing exactly what I’ve dreamed of doing for years and it’s going to make such a difference!”

“It’s not like she loves the job,” Ron said. “I have to check her every morning before she leaves to make sure she didn’t forget to put her shoes on.”

“That’s not true. I did forget to tie them once.”

At that moment Fleur called them in for lunch. Afterwards they walked along the cliff to the path down to the beach. Ron wanted to see the fishing port, and as they traipsed over the sand Harry and Ginny told them about their confrontation with the Muggles.

“Hey,” Ron interrupted Harry when he was describing the Bat-Bogey hex, “I heard about that bloke. They had him in St. Mungo’s for two days. So that was you?” He peered at both Harry and Ginny. “I wish I had known. I would have gone and cut off his ba—”

Uh, uh,” Ginny interrupted. “I have dibs on them. After my birthday.”

“You are one ferocious family,” Harry observed. “Hermione, we’d both better be careful.”

You’d better be careful,” Hermione said. “I don’t have those.” Harry and Ginny both laughed and looked at Hermione in surprise; she had never joked like that before. Harry noticed that Ron was looking at her with an amused expression, and decided that they were both becoming a good influence on each other.

The village was quiet as usual but they attracted a little more attention this time. The locals had got used to seeing two teenagers wandering around in cloaks, but here were two more, and one of them another redhead. It was good for gossip, though, so everyone was friendly, especially the grocery proprietor after he sold out his entire stock of chocolate candy to Ron, who borrowed all of Ginny and Harry’s Muggle money.

The sun was shining brightly, and low waves were breaking off-shore as they walked back. A warm land breeze dropped as the cliffs on their right gradually rose. They climbed the path in the cleft and were only a few hundred yards from the cottage when Ginny noticed a figure coming towards them.

“Bill is home,” she said, shading her eyes. “Something’s wrong.” They hurried to meet him, and saw his worried expression when he got closer.

“Good, you’re here,” he said, looking around nervously as he spoke. “We’ve got to get back. Ginny, Mum wants you home.”

“What! Why? What happened?” Ginny exclaimed. “Is anyone hurt?”

“No, no. Everyone is fine. But Fenrir Greyback has broken out of Azkaban.”

They were silent until, after a moment, Ron swore. “What the hell is going on? Did the dementors screw up? The Ministry was supposed to have this under control.”

Bill started shepherding them along. “I don’t know. There’s all kinds of rumors in town. But everyone is freaked, especially Mum.”

Fleur was waiting just outside the door. She had a small traveling bag with her and was holding her wand, looking worried. “I started to pack your t’ings,” she said to Harry and Ginny. “Do we put ze Fidelius back on ze ‘ouse?” she asked Bill.

He thought for a moment and nodded. “No point in taking chances. Go pack,” he said to Harry and Ginny. “The charm is going to take a while and I want to get going.”

They went upstairs and were back down in a few minutes. Ginny was biting her lip, looking worried, and Harry took her arm. “We’ll be fine,” he told her. “There’s no way he can get into the Burrow.”

“I know, it’s just that I thought we were finished with this. I thought all we had to worry about were drunken Muggles on the beach.”

Harry smiled. “Well, we’ll all be together.”

“And this time you’re with us.”

“We’re coming too,” Ron said. He had his arm around Hermione who was pale.

“Good,” said Bill; he was facing the cottage, casting the complicated spell. “Mum and Dad will appreciate that.” He glanced at Hermione, who was now looking ill. “Are you all right?”

Hermione just shook her head, and Ron said, “That’s why we’re coming.” Fleur quickly came and also put her arm around Hermione’s shoulder.

“Zat monster t’reatened you, didn’t ‘e? Don’t worry, darling, no one will let zat ‘appen again. You are safe wiz us.”

“Thanks,” she whispered. She put her hand over her eyes and Ron put both of his arms around her. They all stood next to her as her body shook and muffled sobs came from Ron’s chest where her face was buried. She lifted her head.

“I’m sorry,” she said in a choked voice. “It—it all just came over me again.” She looked at Ron as though pleading. “But she’s dead. I saw Bellatrix die. She’s dead.” Ron stroked her hair

“Okay, it’s time,” said Bill. He set a battered copper kettle on the ground and they all knelt and put a hand on it. In seconds they were in the lane just outside the Burrow’s front gate, and as they hurried towards the house, Charlie opened the door. He was almost bowled over by Molly who charged past him and ran to Ginny. She hugged her so hard that Ginny grunted. “Mum, you’re strangling me!” She extricated herself and Molly went down the line, hugging and kissing the others.

When they had all gone inside, where the rest of the family were gathered in the kitchen, Molly sat next to Arthur, who took her hand; he looked drawn and tired.

“Thank goodness,” Molly said in a no-nonsense voice, “now we’re all here, and we’ll stay here until they catch him.” She glared at Charlie. “I don’t care. He has as good a reason to come here as anywhere.”

Charlie looked at Bill and raised his eyebrows. “He probably went into hiding. Every Auror in England must be looking for him, plus dementors.”

“No,” said Arthur quietly, “no dementors. Kingsley is not using them for that kind of thing anymore.”

“He should be!” Molly snapped. “People’s lives are at risk.”

“Does anyone know what happened?” Harry said. “Bill said there are rumors, but do we know what actually happened? How do we know he really got out? Maybe that’s a rumor too.”

Everyone started talking at once, until Percy shouted, “Quiet!” and the room went still; everyone turned to him. “Gawain Robards sent me an owl thirty minutes ago and—”

“He sent you an owl?” Bill interrupted, somewhat incredulously.

“I’ve been helping him straighten out the mess that Rufus Scrimgeour left when he was in charge of the Department,” Percy said testily. “I never worked there myself, though,” he added smugly. “In any event, Robards owled me. He said that four Death Eaters disguised as Aurors showed up at Azkaban this morning an hour before Greyback was to be picked up and taken to the Ministry for his trial. They bluffed their way past the guards and took him. Neither the imposters nor Greyback have been seen since.” He paused and looked around. “Anything else you hear is unofficial and probably a false rumor.”

“Okay,” said Bill into the silence, ”what about protection? What about the house and the grounds? We Portkeyed in without any problem.”

“Taken care of,” George spoke from the back of the room. “We’re as safe as can be without a Fidelius.”

“I don’t think we need one,” said Charlie. “Can’t we wait for more information before we go whole hog and keep anyone from finding us? For Merlin’s sake, it’s only one man.”

“It’s at least five men,” Molly snapped again. “And they could be right around the corner of the lane, just waiting.”

Arthur put his hand on Molly’s shoulder. “Dear, we have ten excellent wizards and witches here. No one would be so foolish as to—”

“Wait!” Fleur, who was standing by the window, held up her hand. “I just ‘eard somet’ing.” She peered out the window and most of the others crowded around to see. Two people were standing outside the gate: Head Auror Saliyah Ushujaa and another witch, also in Auror robes.

“That’s Laura Lovegood,” Percy said. “I know them both quite well.” He started to open the door.

“Percy!” Molly shrieked, and everyone jumped. “Be careful!”

“Yes, Mum.” He rolled his eyes at Bill, who was standing next to him at the door. They stepped out, along with George and Charlie, who motioned everyone else to stay inside. “Auror Ushujaa, my apologies,” Percy called, “but we need to be certain that you are really you.” He shook his head and muttered under his breath, “That sounds intelligent.” He called out, “What is Department Directive Number Eighty-Seven?”

The Head Auror stared at him. “Percy, this is nonsense. We’ve come with news. Let us in. Oh, all right,” she said crossly as Percy shook his head once more. “There is no Directive Eighty-Seven. The last one was Forty-Two.”

Percy nodded to George, and he waved his wand in a wide circle. There was a loud ringing sound, and the gate swung open. The two Aurors crossed the yard, and Percy shrugged apologetically as Ushujaa glared at him. Charlie opened the door and they entered the crowded kitchen. People moved and shuffled around to make room; Harry found Ginny and stood next to her. Some of the family were sitting, the rest stood around the table. Hermione was staring at the Aurors with a look that Harry thought resembled a cornered rabbit, except that no rabbit could ever be so terrified. Molly was glaring at the Aurors. Percy was trying to arrange people into some kind of order, but everyone ignored him. Finally, Saliyah found a spot next to the stove where everyone could see her, and looked around at each face.

“Fenrir Greyback is dead,” she said. There was total silence; Hermione began to weep.

“Just a moment,” said Arthur, who was sitting in front of the Auror; he turned to face her. “Why in Merlin’s name would the Head Auror come here to tell us that? An owl would have been perfectly sufficient, and if that wasn’t secure enough you or Kingsley could have sent a Patronus.”

“Because there is a crime involved,” replied Saliyah, “and we think some of you may be able to help us.” She looked directly at Ginny, and all the others followed her gaze.

“Me?” Ginny said, startled. “I think I only saw the bast— the blighter two or three times, ever.”

“Yes,” said Saliyah, “but let me explain. Greyback’s body was found this afternoon, about two hours ago, in one of the large rubbish bins next to the public entrance of the Ministry. Fortunately, we found him before the Muggle authorities did. He was mutilated. His face was gone, there were large gashes on his forehead and cheeks, and we found his nose in his pocket.” There were noises from around the room. “Sorry,” she said, “but we don’t know if that’s significant. And all of his wounds were made by a knife, not by fangs or claws or a wand. Also, both of his arms and legs were broken, crushed actually. He probably suffered horribly before he died.”

Ginny had put her hand to her mouth. Harry felt her shaking and put his arm around her. The Aurors were watching her.

“Miss Weasley . . . Ginny,” Saliyah said, “we think that relatives of a Hogwarts student who was killed in the battle, Elizabeth Derby, did this. Greyback may have deserved everything they did to him, and more, but if they did it, they committed a murder themselves. Can you tell us anything?”

Ginny glared at the Auror. “I was holding her hand when she died. It was horrible.” She put her face on Harry’s shoulder and he turned her away.

“Does anyone else know anything?” Saliyah asked, looking around the room. “Minister Shacklebolt asked me personally to come here because he knows what you have gone through. I’m asking for your help.”

There was silence for a long moment. Charlie gripped the back of the chair he was standing behind that George was sitting in. Others shifted on their feet. Then Percy spoke.

“I know you all think I’m a pompous stuffed shirt, and at times I do too. But I wonder if you were listening to Kingsley when he spoke at Fred’s funeral. Do you remember? He said we’ll never have a better world until we make it better ourselves. If we don’t help bring murderers to justice, no matter how deserving of death their victim was, then what is there to keep someone whose motives aren’t as noble as ours—” he looked at Ginny “—from protecting another murderer, maybe a murderer as vile and terrifying as Fenrir Greyback?”

Again there was silence. Harry looked down at Ginny; she was staring at Percy, but she glanced up at Harry. Her eyes were troubled, but she was no longer angry, as she had been a few seconds ago. She looked at Charlie and when he nodded, almost imperceptibly, she turned to Saliyah.

“Yes, that’s how Elizabeth died. She had identical wounds, that’s what it sounds like.” The Aurors looked at each other, and Saliyah put her hand on Arthur’s shoulder.

“Thank you, thank you all.” She glanced at Percy. “Minister Shacklebolt will give all of you his personal thanks, I’m sure. Ginny,” she looked at her, “I doubt that anyone will need to talk to you again about this. We’re fairly certain of the names of those who did it. And if they are caught and tried, frankly I can’t see any jury of witches or wizards sending them to Azkaban. They’ll probably get Ministry detention, maybe for a few years, but it would be nothing like a sentence to Azkaban.”

The family moved into the yard as the Aurors left. Saliyah spoke quietly to Percy, who nodded solemnly. They went out the gate and Disapparated. Bill patted Percy’s back and smiled at him, and they all went inside.

Dinner at the Burrow that evening was a quiet affair. Afterwards, Harry, Ginny, Ron, and Hermione walked down to Fred’s grave and Ginny took the flowers lying on it. “I’ll pick fresh ones tomorrow,” she said. Ron and Hermione left to bid goodbye to the others before returning to London. Later, Bill and Fleur came and told them that they were staying for the night. Harry and Ginny walked back in the darkness and decided that they would remain at the Burrow and not return to Shell Cottage tomorrow with Bill and Fleur.

“You know what?” Ginny said when they stopped near the house and looked up at the stars. She leaned against Harry, and he put his arms around her and pulled her close so that her back was against his chest; he kissed her neck and she giggled. “I’m really glad we’re home. I loved it at the cottage, but . . .”

“But what?”

She paused for a moment. “Do you know what you discover when you live in the same house in the countryside for sixteen years?”

“That’s totally outside my life experience. What do you discover?”

“You discover lots of places where you can go and hide and no one can ever find you.”

Harry felt his pulse speed up for some reason. “And do these hidey places have room for more than one person?”

“Just,” Ginny whispered, and turned her head and kissed him.

Chapter Text

A warm breeze carried the aroma of a baking peach pie out the open kitchen window of the Burrow and into the pleasant early August afternoon. The fragrance wafted across the garden, where a dozen ugly gnomes looked up from their grubbing and began to salivate. They gazed mournfully at the house, around which, they knew, lay a highly unpleasant—to them—anti-gnome jinx, cast by the Burrow’s newest resident, a very talented young wizard with a tricky wand. They smelled and they yearned, but they could not have it.

The fruity fragrance drifted on its tantalizing way past the garden and the drooling gnomes, over the lawn, and into the nostrils of that young wizard. Harry was lying on a plastic Muggle-made lawn chair recliner in a sunny spot near the very tree from which, that morning, Ginny had picked the peaches—while being Levitated by Harry—that were now baking in the kitchen.

The chair in which Harry was sleeping on his stomach had been plucked a few days ago from a rubbish bin in front of a nearby Muggle house. Arthur Weasley had thought, when he picked it out of the heap of trash, that it would prove a handsome example of traditional Muggle furniture that he could proudly display in the Burrow’s parlor. But Molly had forbidden its presence anywhere inside her house, and Harry had told him that it was supposed to be used outdoors anyway.

Harry was dressed the way he had been dressed most of the summer: in a pair of cut-off jeans, shirtless, and barefoot. His hands dangled down off the chair onto the ground; his wand was tucked through the back of his belt. He was occasionally aware of voices coming from the kitchen, but the warm sun on his back and the indolent mood of the day—in fact of the whole summer—kept him from waking up completely. He turned his head towards the house when the smell of the peach pie reached him, but only to get a better sniff at it during the brief moments when he drifted up out of his nap. He sighed and began snoring quietly into the webbing of the chair.

The voices from the kitchen stopped, and for a while there were no sounds but the peaceful rustling of trees in the light breeze, the buzzing of small insects outside the repellent spell Harry had cast around himself, and bird songs from the nearby woods. Then something began to tickle his left hand, and he reluctantly opened one eye and peered down. A fuzzy, green caterpillar was inching its way up his wrist, looking fuzzier than it really was because he did not have his glasses on. He casually flicked his hand, turned his head, closed his eye, and sighed again.

He felt the tickling again, looked, and flicked the insect off his hand once more. But before he closed his eye, he saw, even without his glasses, the caterpillar rise through the air and disappear over his head. He felt it land in his hair, and at the same time someone behind him giggled. He reached up and took the caterpillar out of his hair, picked his eyeglasses off the ground, put them on, and sat up. Ginny, wearing shorts and a halter top, was peeking out from behind the peach tree, a grin on her face and a wand in her hand pointed at the fuzzy bug. She was barefoot like Harry, and her hair was pulled back and gathered with a red and gold clip in the shape of a griffin.

“You’ve got a hair-piece now,” she said.

Harry wagged his finger at her and stood up, trying to look stern. “You’re not supposed to be doing magic. Your birthday is still a week away. Levitating insects will get you six months in Azkaban, and no time off for good behavior. As if you knew what that was.”

“Why don’t you come and arrest me, then?” She put her hands on her hips and wiggled.

“I’ll do better than that.” He put the caterpillar in the grass and started walking towards her, leering.

“Catch me first!” She laughed and turned and ran, flying around the garden, past the house, and down the lane. Harry went after her, but as he turned into the lane he suddenly yelped and pulled up, hopping on his left foot and holding his right with both hands.

Ginny came running back. “Stub your little toe?” She was still laughing as Harry hopped around the lane, swearing and trying to rub his foot.

“I stepped on a rock. Dammit.” He fell over and Ginny knelt next to him.

“Here, let me see.” Harry lifted his foot and watched as she brushed his sole off and examined it. “Whatever you stepped on wasn’t sharp. There’s just a little bitty mark here.” She pulled her wand from the waistband of her shorts and touched the ball of his foot. “Livor est,” she said softly.

“Hey, what did you do?” he exclaimed. “It stopped hurting.”

“I’ve got the magic touch,” Ginny laughed. She stood and took Harry’s hand and pulled him up.

They walked fifty yards down the lane and Ginny pushed aside the branches of the thick hedgerow that lined it. Bending low, they came out the other side in a large, overgrown field. They walked into the middle and Harry conjured a blanket and they sat in a small cleared space, surrounded by waist-high grasses and flowers; they were invisible to anyone who was more than a few yards away.

While Harry lay with his head in her lap, Ginny wove a garland of grass and flowers; she did not use magic, but made it with her own hands. For a while they talked, but when Ginny leaned over to kiss him, he pulled her down and they made love under the open sky with a gentle breeze whispering around them.

Molly Weasley and Saliyah Ushujaa stood at the front door of the Burrow, watching Ginny and Harry disappear down the lane. They had stepped out of the parlor where they had been sitting when they heard Harry’s cry as he trod on the stone. When she saw Ginny touch the sole of Harry’s foot with her wand, and the smile on his face that followed, Molly sighed.

“I wish she wouldn’t do that. Arthur gets a note from the Improper Use of Magic Office every time she does magic here. Well, it’s only for another week.”

Saliyah had a smile on her face. “I’ve never seen two people their age like that. They’re always together, and they’re always having a good time. Ginny’s aglow every time I see her.” Molly glanced at her, and her eyes went back to the empty lane.

“So how’s the party coming along?” Saliyah asked as they returned to the parlor. Preparations were almost complete for a grand bash on the Saturday after Ginny’s seventeenth birthday. The guest list was long, and included all the Gryffindor students from last year, all the members of Dumbledore’s Army, and everyone from the Order of the Phoenix.

“Well,” said Molly, “I hope the house is still standing the next day. And it’s going to be a problem keeping the Muggles from noticing. Someone’s bound to use some kind of loud magic. I’ve warned George, but you know him.” She thought about his parting farewell to Fred.

“It’ll be fine,” Saliyah assured her. “Kingsley and I will help keep it down to a dull roar.”

“That will help, I suppose. But you know that Ginny invited the entire Order, and that unfortunately includes Mundungus Fletcher. I don’t like the idea of him wandering around the house with those sticky fingers.”

“Why don’t you get Harry to put a spell on everything lighter than the couch,” Saliyah laughed. “I heard that he can do some interesting things with his wand.”

“I don’t want to bother Harry. It’s as much his party as Ginny’s. We gave him one last year, but things were so unsettled. Alastor had just been killed, and Harry’s poor owl. Ginny’s going to want him to be with her most of the time.”

“Yes, it’s like they’re Spellotaped together.”

Molly looked out the window which gave a view down the lane; Harry and Ginny were nowhere in sight. “Sometimes I think they’re too close. She’s still so young . . .”

“But Molly, they’re in love. What were you and Arthur doing when you were seventeen? It’s sweet and it’s beautiful. And I’ll bet you ten Galleons that the next big to-do you have here will be a wedding.”

“A wedding? We just had one last year.” Molly pulled a lace handkerchief out of the air and dabbed at her eyes.

She cried easily these days. The weeks since Fred’s funeral had been hard, and the house felt empty even with Ginny and Harry spreading feelings of young love. George had decided that he needed to stop spending hours every day at Fred’s grave, and went back to work; Charlie had left for Romania for a few weeks and would return for Ginny’s birthday; Percy was in London, his career apparently rehabilitated under Saliyah’s sponsorship; Ron had left home right after the funeral and seemed to have time for nothing but Hermione, his job, and the joke shop; and Bill and Fleur came to visit only on weekends. Molly was coping, but barely. Saliyah tried to come down to see her as often as possible, but her duties were heavy and her free time scarce. Moments like these were when Molly missed Tonks the most, when an empty nest loomed and the only child left at home would be the one in his grave.

Saliyah wanted more details about the party, and Molly described the food, catered by Madam Rosmerta from the Three Broomsticks; the entertainment, supplied by a band that had been started up over the summer by a group of Hufflepuffs, the lead singer of which was a friend of Neville Longbottom’s; and the present they had bought for Ginny. Molly had tried to restrain her husband, but Arthur would not be denied the pleasure of completely spoiling his only daughter one last time.

“I think he’s afraid that Harry will outdo him,” she smiled, adjusting the knitting needles that were hovering next to her; they had just begun the first of a platoon of maroon sweaters for this year’s Christmas presents. “His little witch has found her wizard.”

“Here they come.” Saliyah pointed out the window, and a few minutes later the front door opened. They could hear a chair being pulled up at the kitchen table, and Ginny poked her head into the parlor.

“Is it pie yet?” she asked. “We’re hungry.”

“Goodness, you just ate lunch,” said Molly, getting up from the couch. “What on earth were you doing to give you such an appetite?”

“Nothing, Mum.” Ginny turned away so that her mother wouldn’t see her blush, and Molly looked at Saliyah, who just shrugged.

Saliyah and Ginny joined Harry at the table; he was wearing a garland of yellow flowers on his head. Molly peered into the oven, and, with her wand, directed the pie off the rack and onto a trivet in the center of the table. A knife cut it into slices that whisked themselves onto plates that had flown out of a cupboard to a spot in front of each person. Saliyah observed Harry’s crown of cowslip, but took her cue from Molly and did not remark on it; it seemed to be nothing out of the ordinary to Mrs. Weasley.

Molly watched approvingly as Harry immediately tucked in. Her supreme and distracting pleasure of the summer, in addition to observing the happiness of her daughter, had been feeding Harry. Harry, for his part, was enjoying the bounty of Molly Weasley’s home cooking as his second-most pleasurable part of the summer, the first being the company of Molly’s daughter. He finished his piece of pie and waved his hand at the dish in the middle of the table; another slice floated to his plate.

Saliyah observed with professional but slightly awed interest. “What was that, Harry? How did you do that?”

Harry grinned. “Magic.”

“But your wand is . . .  Where is it?”

Harry pulled his wand from his belt. “As long as it’s touching me I can do things. It’s very convenient,” he smiled. “I think Dumbledore could do it.”

“And Voldemort. But how did you learn it?”

“When Riddle used the Killing Curse on me in the forest, he transferred some of his power to me again, like when he gave me my scar.”

Harry was not telling the truth. Even though he didn’t mind if people knew that he had acquired some unusual powers, he did not want anyone except Ron, Hermione, and Ginny to know the real reason. He had begun to notice earlier in the summer that his wand could do some interesting magic. It had first happened when he and Ginny encountered the six unfriendly Muggles on the beach. Harry had only pictured in his mind a shower of beer, and the bottles had risen into the air and burst, seemingly of their own accord. The only reason he could come up with for it was that his wand had been repaired by the Elder Wand. And even though many people were aware that there was something unusual about the wand that Harry had taken from Riddle, he did not want to advertise it and give people reason to think about it.

Saliyah frowned. “Really? So what can you do besides Summon a piece of pie?”

Harry grinned mischievously. “So far that’s the most important thing.” He Summoned a third piece as he finished the second. “So,” he changed the subject, “how are the Death Eater trials coming along? By the way, Mrs. Weasley, this pie is beyond delicious.” She smiled appreciatively.

“They’re coming along,” said Saliyah, but she was still looking at his wand. “They’re all claiming Imperio of course. And we don’t—Merlin’s belly! That’s your fourth piece, Harry! Where are you putting it?”

“It’s those new powers I was talking about,” Harry said. Ginny, whose mouth was full, burst out laughing and had to catch chewed-up peach pie in her hand to keep it from splattering all over herself and the table.

“It’s all right, dear,” Molly said to her. “There are plenty of peaches left. Harry, would you like another pie?”

“Mrs. Weasley, you are spoiling me rotten,” he sighed. “Not now. I’m stuffed.” He sat back in his chair and looked at Ginny. “You woke me up from my nap with your bug trick. I think I’ll go lay down again.” He stood, but Ginny pouted and folded her arms on her chest, although there was a glint in her eye.

“You’re no fun. All you do is eat and sleep, eat and sleep. You’re turning into an old man.” She stood up, bent over from the waist and moved haltingly across the kitchen. “Old man wizard, that’s you, Harry Potter,” she said in a cackling, screechy voice. “I guess I’ll have to become an old hag meself before you’ll pay me any attention.” She took out her wand. “Now, what was that spell to turn me into a hag? Oh, dearie me, my mind must be going, I can’t remember a thing.”

Harry and Saliyah were roaring with laughter, and even Molly was smiling. Harry wiped his eyes.

“Okay, okay, don’t turn into a hag, at least not yet. I want to waste my youth on you first.” He turned red, and glanced at Mrs. Weasley, whose eyebrows were raised. “Uh, I mean, we mustn’t waste our youth on . . . uh . . . Sorry.” He ducked his head at her, took Ginny’s hand, and pulled her out the door. Saliyah and Molly soon heard their laughter as they headed down the lane again.

“Give it up, Molly,” said Saliyah, “They’re both happy, and isn’t that what you want? What we all want, a little bit of normality?” Mrs. Weasley nodded, but her eyes teared as she waved her wand and the plates and dishes floated off the table and into the sink.

# # # #

A hundred and fifty miles away in London, on level two of the Ministry of Magic, Arthur Weasley sat in his cramped, cluttered office, frowning at an official parchment that had just been handed to him by the short, stout wizard standing in front of his desk. The wizard was nervous, and wore an apologetic smile. Arthur was reading the parchment, on which was written a long list of magic that had been performed illegally at the Burrow in the last two months.

The wizard was Ferdinand Forthfield. He was the same age as Arthur, and in fact they had been classmates at Hogwarts and had entered service in the Ministry at the same time. He worked in the Improper Use of Magic Office, on the same level as Arthur’s Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Office. After the death of Tom Riddle, Arthur had returned to his old job, although keeping his higher salary grade at the insistence of Kingsley Shacklebolt.

“I’m really sorry, Artie,” the wizard said, brushing his hand over his nearly bald, sweating pate. “Everyone knows who she is and who she’s with, and that her birthday is next week, but sixty-one violations in fifty-nine days—we just couldn’t ignore it. I was able to get Hopkirk to let me hand it to you in person, rather than send an official owl to your home. She’s sympathetic too, but it wouldn’t look good, it would seem like we were playing favorites, and . . .” He trailed off, and his apologetic smile took on a pleading quality.

“Of course, of course, I quite understand, Ferdie, it’s quite understandable, and I appreciate your handling it this way, I really do.” Arthur sighed as he ran his finger down the list. “You know how kids are these days. And she . . . well, she had a rough year.” He looked up, hoping for sympathy, and Ferdinand nodded in agreement.

“Like I said, Artie, everyone understands, but we had no choice. Sixty-one in less than two months!” He chuckled. “Rather extraordinary, actually. She’s quite a talented witch already, judging from this, uh, this activity.” He indicated the parchment in Arthur’s hand.

Arthur was frowning again as he re-read the list. “What are these, here at the top? ‘Medical charms?’ What exactly does that mean? My goodness, there are more than a dozen. I know she’s used a few healing spells, she’s quite good at them,” he added proudly. “I mean, in the proper context, of course. Certainly not outside the confines of Hogwarts.”

“Well, those, Artie, those are something we usually let the parents deal with. I, uh, I don’t know much about it.”

Ferdinand had suddenly turned red, and become interested in a poster hanging on the wall only inches behind Arthur’s head. The poster showed a man with a moustache, wearing a band director’s hat, and the entire poster was in numerous garish colors. Across the top were the words, “Sgt. Pepper.”

“Well, what do you tell the parents to do?” Arthur asked, a little annoyed at Ferdinand’s reticence.

“They, uh, they usually contact a Healer. It’s a medical charm, you see.” He pointed to the parchment. “Well, I’ve got to run. That’s a nice poster you’ve got, but I never heard of that wizard. It’s been brilliant talking to you again, Artie. Must try to stay in touch, righto?” He backed out the door—there wasn’t enough room to turn around—and was gone before Arthur could open his mouth.

He sighed once more and looked down the list again. The two at the bottom were dated today, just this afternoon, in fact. One was a Levitating spell and the other a Healing charm, but the latter was different from the dozen-odd ones listed at the top. They had a strange name that he had never seen before, and there were one or two of them each day for the first week and a half that Ginny had been home after she got back from Shell Cottage. After that, though, they did not appear on the list again. He rubbed the bridge of his nose, then stood and peered out the office door to a wizard sitting at a desk in a room across the hall that was even tinier than his.

“Perkins!” he called to his assistant; the wizard looked up. “Send an owl to St. Mungo’s for me, will you please? Send it to Healer Derwent, and ask if I can come see her this afternoon, preferably right now.”

Perkins departed, and Arthur gazed at the parchment and sighed yet again. But he couldn’t help smiling a little as he went down the names of the magic Ginny had done: levitating, vanishing, transfigurations, tickling, a few healing spells. It was the record of a young witch having a good time—except for the mysterious “medical” charms at the top. He couldn’t figure those out. Well, he thought, how bad could they be? Obviously no one got hurt.

In a few minutes Perkins was back and handed him a small parchment. “Come any time,” it read, “my office is on the fourth floor. Just come right up.” After a moment’s thought, Arthur stood and took his hat from a hook on the door. “I might not be back today,” he told Perkins. He put the parchment from the Improper Use of Magic Office inside his robes and left. In fifteen minutes he was standing in the waiting room of St. Mungo’s.

There were only a few people there, and only one of them had a particularly bizarre affliction—a witch who was barking loudly and whose bushy tail wagged vigorously as she scratched herself behind the ear with her foot. Arthur went up to the Welcome Witch’s desk.

“I’m here to see Healer Derwent,” he said when the witch failed to look up from her magazine. She waved vaguely at the doors to her right. “Fourth floor.”

“Thanks,” Arthur muttered as he walked away. On the fourth floor it took him a minute to find the room with a metal nameplate announcing, “Healer Hestia Derwent.” He knocked and entered when the witch inside called out, “Come in.”

Hestia Derwent, an attractive, motherly, middle-aged witch, an old friend of the Weasleys’, was sitting behind a desk in her Healer’s robes studying a medical chart. She rose with a smile and came around her desk.

“Arthur, it’s good to see you. How is everyone? How is Molly doing? I hope this isn’t a medical visit.” They shook hands and Hestia led him to a couch under a window where they sat.

“We’re all fine. All the boys have gone, but Harry Potter is staying with us. It’s been a real boon, especially for Molly after . . . after what happened to Fred.”

“Yes. That’s a wound that may never heal, unfortunately. But it sounds like she at least has something to distract her a bit.” They talked for a few more minutes, exchanging gossip about people they both knew. Finally, Arthur drew the parchment from his robes.

“We’ve been having sort of a problem with Ginny this summer,” he began. “Not really a problem, she’s just been a little rambunctious with her magic. She’ll be seventeen next Tuesday, but she’s been doing some extra-curricular magic at the house. Nothing serious, but quite a bit of it.” He laughed nervously. “I actually just got handed this at the office. Oh, I don’t think there’ll be any trouble,” he assured Hestia, who looked concerned. “But there is something on the list . . . The wizard who gave it to me, someone from the Ministry, seemed reluctant to explain it. Here, these.” He pointed to the charms listed at the top of the parchment as he handed it to her.

Hestia began to read, and her eyebrows immediately rose and a look of surprise came over her face. She glanced at Arthur over the top of the parchment and smiled briefly, biting her lower lip; she seemed to be trying not to laugh.

“So you don’t know what this is?” she asked. Arthur shook his head. Hestia perused the list again, counting as she read down. She took a breath and looked at him. “It’s a birth control charm. She used it fifteen times in eleven days.”

Arthur’s eyes bulged. “Fifteen?! In eleven days?! Merlin’s ba—!“ He closed his mouth and stared at her. He swallowed several times, trying to comprehend what the Healer had said. “Does that mean that she . . . and Harry . . . fifteen times in eleven days?”

Hestia nodded. “Probably. It’s a simple charm, very effective,” she added and Arthur looked relieved, “but not long lasting. It’s the one they teach all fifth-year girls at Hogwarts just before they turn sixteen. Very smart of them, if you ask me.”

But Arthur was barely listening. He looked angry, terrified, bemused, and astounded all at once. Hestia put her hand on his. “She’s not the first sixteen-year-old witch to fall in love, Arthur, and she obviously knows what she’s doing. She’s being careful. Didn’t you suspect anything?”

Arthur nodded, but after a second or two shook his head. “They’re off by themselves all the time. Fifteen?”

Hestia laughed. “I’m sorry,” she patted his hand again. “I shouldn’t laugh, but it is quite something, don’t you think?”

Arthur scowled and took the parchment back. “No, I don’t think it’s ‘something.’ She’s not of age, and Harry is our house guest, for goodness sake. How could he do this to us?”

“Pardon me, Arthur, I know it’s none of my business, although you did come here and ask me to explain this to you, but Harry didn’t do anything to you.” Her voice softened. “Think about his life, about what he’s had to do just to keep from being murdered. Now, suddenly, he’s no longer in danger and he’s found someone who’s bringing out all the love that he could never show to anyone. It’s almost a miracle.”

Arthur looked at the parchment again. On one level he knew that Hestia was right, and that Ginny was both smart enough and capable enough to make her own choices, even if she was a week short of seventeen. But on another level he wanted to lock her in her room forever. He didn’t know what he should do. “Do you have any daughters?” he asked.

“Two,” the Healer replied. “Both married. And I have three grandchildren.”

“We don’t have any grandchildren yet,” said Arthur. “I can see them coming, though.”

Hestia burst out laughing. “I’m sorry again,” she said. “But what I see every day, all day long, is suffering. Hearing about happiness is a tonic.”

“I suppose. Still . . .” Arthur stood and started towards the door, but paused. “She stopped using it after eleven days.” He looked at Hestia, puzzled. “Surely they didn’t stop doing—I mean . . . what do you think happened?”

She thought for a moment. “Maybe she taught it to Harry. It wouldn’t register on the Trace if he did it."

Suddenly Arthur turned pale and put his hand to his head. “Good God, I just realized, what am I going to tell Molly? She’ll go berserk.”

“I can’t imagine she doesn’t already suspect something, but can I make a suggestion? Don’t say anything. In a week it won’t matter, and why ruin a perfectly good birthday?”

He stood thinking, and chuckled. “That would be the peaceful way out, wouldn’t it? I don’t know though . . . Well . . .” He came back to Hestia and took her hand. “I appreciate the advice. And what are you doing a week from Saturday? It’s going to be a stupendous party, assuming we’re all still talking to each other.”

“I’ll try to be there,” she laughed. They shook hands and Arthur left.

# # # #

Since they had returned from Shell Cottage, Harry and Ginny had created an internal world of their own. They did not deliberately exclude anyone from it—they interacted with the rest of the family and house-guests—but things happened between them that only they were aware of, and it simply did not occur to them to tell other people what was going on.

For example, they anticipated each other’s needs without being asked. Ginny would get up in the middle of a conversation and bring Harry a butterbeer from the kitchen, and he would take it and smile at her, and everyone else in the parlor would glance at each other, wondering how Ginny knew. Then Harry would get up while describing how Professor Flitwick was going to give him advanced tutoring in Charms, and he would walk over to Ginny and scratch her back, and when he was finished Ginny would take his hand and give it a pat.

Molly and Arthur had gotten used to these kinds of things, but it was new to Saliyah and Kingsley; the latter had come down from London that afternoon with Arthur to join Saliyah as the Weasleys’ dinner guest. After the meal and after Molly’s second peach pie of the day was devoured, the two men went outside and sat near the garden, sipping butterbeers. Kingsley watched Harry and Ginny—who had gone to the field down the lane—soar above the treetops on broomsticks; their whoops and laughter could be clearly heard from the backyard of the Burrow.

“What is it about them?” Kingsley wondered aloud. “I’ve never seen a couple like that. There’s some kind of magic going on, don’t you think?”

Arthur wasn’t listening and didn’t answer. He was sitting in the Muggle lawn chair—which he had forced into an upright position after a titanic struggle—watching the two flyers. He was also thinking about what he had learned that afternoon from Hestia Derwent. He had not told Molly about the list of violations; in fact he had used an Unnoticeable charm on it and hid it under a pile of old work shirts in his dresser. He had trouble looking at Harry, though. He was uncomfortable, but not angry; how could he be, after all? At dinner he could see the Weasley family clock on a counter right behind Harry, with it’s hands pointing at normal activities—At Home, Traveling, At Work. Only a few months ago they had all pointed to Mortal Peril, and it was thanks to Harry that it was no longer so.

And if he had any thoughts about cracking down on Ginny, all he had to do was look at her. He had never seen her so happy in her life. Molly always liked to say that she and Arthur were made for each other, but Ginny and Harry made that observation look like an overstatement.

He knew that he did have to talk to her; he was her father after all, and he had a responsibility. But then again, watching the two of them together had been a pleasure of his and Molly’s all summer. They spread good feelings, somehow; he always felt happy when he was around them.

“It’s contagious,” said Arthur, watching Ginny do three quick barrel rolls over Harry. “The boys used to bring girlfriends home, but they were never like that, and it never made me feel . . . well, I don’t know.” He laughed self-consciously.

“Younger?” Kingsley suggested with a smile, and took a swig of his butterbeer. He was glad to be out of town, if only for an evening. The war might be won, but the effort to move the Ministry of Magic off of its bureaucratic bum in the direction he wanted it to go was often frustrating and always tiring. But tonight he was relaxed; it was a beautiful evening in the middle of a peaceful summer, and he enjoyed watching Harry and Ginny together as much as he enjoyed the company of the Weasleys.

‘I heard that Ron and Hermione Granger went to France with Bill and his wife,” Kingsley said. “When will they be back?”

“Saturday. They want to be here in time for Ginny’s birthday and the party.”

“That will be a blow-out.” Kingsley finished his butterbeer and got to his feet. “Can I get you another one?” Arthur shook his head, and Kingsley walked back to the house and went inside.

At that moment Harry and Ginny appeared around the side of the Burrow with their brooms slung over their shoulders, both of them barefoot and in tee shirts. They stopped underneath the window of Ginny’s room, leaned their brooms against the side of the house, and Ginny pointed her wand. Two hoodies flew out the window of her room and dropped into her hands. She gave one to Harry and they turned and continued across the lawn towards the woods in back of the house.

“Ginny!” her father barked. “Where are you going? Don’t stay out late!  And no magic! How many times do I have to tell you?”

“Oops. Sorry, Dad,” she called as she and Harry passed the gate at the end of the lawn. “I didn’t see you there.” They now had their arms around each other, and soon they disappeared down a path that led into the woods.

“Sixty-two,” muttered Arthur, frowning.

Kingsley reappeared as Harry and Ginny were walking out the gate. He watched them go and sat down. “You’re right,” he said thoughtfully. “They make you feel younger.” They sat in silence for a moment, and Kingsley stood. “How about we go see what the witches are up to?” Arthur grunted, and they went into the Burrow.

Chapter Text

Arthur lay awake most of the night, thinking about Ginny. He had decided to talk to her in the morning—he knew that Harry would be gone for the day—and the more he thought about the list of illegal magic, the more he realized it was silly to think that he could keep it from Molly. She was bound to find out, and it was wrong anyway to keep her in the dark about something so important. But he was unsure what to do about the birth control charms. So, at three-thirty in the morning, after endless tossing and turning, he lit a candle and woke Molly. After she finished grumbling about the hour, he showed her the notice from the Improper Use of Magic Office; next to the first “medical charm” he had written “birth control.”

To Arthur’s surprise, all Molly did was sigh and hand the parchment back with barely a glance at it.

“It’s what I expected,” she said. “They spend so much time off by themselves. How could we not expect something like this to happen? Although, so many . . .” She took the parchment back, counted the charms, and put her hand over her mouth to suppress a giggle. “Thank goodness they teach that at school. They certainly didn’t when we were there.”

Arthur snatched the notice back. “That’s fine,” he said peevishly, “but what do we do now?”

Molly shrugged. “What do you think we should do? What would you do?”

“It can’t continue. They can’t use our house for this.”

“For what? Don’t you remember what we did when we were seventeen?”

“As I recall, we were both seventeen.”

“That’s a technicality. The issue is . . .” She paused. “I don’t know, what is the issue? That it makes us uncomfortable? That it’s wrong? How can it be wrong for two young people who feel like they do, as long as they’re careful? I don’t know what the answer is, Arthur.”

“Well, the magic has to stop. At least admit to that.”

Molly pushed the covers back and sat on the edge of the bed. “Yes,” she said with her back to him, “I agree. It’s a violation of the law, and it’s embarrassing you. But,” she turned to face him, “we’ve known about it for weeks and haven’t done anything. If we don’t handle it right, she’ll just throw it back in our faces.” She got back into bed. “I don’t know what I’m doing. I was about to get up and make breakfast, so how can I know what I’m saying? I’m half asleep. It’s way too early or late or whatever it is to be talking about this.”

She lay down and yawned, looking thoughtfully at Arthur, who still had a small crease on his brow.

“There’s something about them, something different.” She put her hand on his. “I can’t put my finger on it, but there’s some kind of magic there. I don’t mean just the romantic kind. Ginny acts like a giddy teenage witch, but there’s a power underneath it. Sometimes it frightens me, but it’s a wonder to behold.” She squeezed his hand and pulled the covers up. “Dearest, she’s your own little witch, but now she’s about to become a grown-up witch, and someone else’s grown-up witch at that. I know how hard it is, believe me. I nursed her, I changed her nappies, I watched her grow. But just think of who she chose, and how happy she is.” She yawned again and, smiling, reached up and put her hand on Arthur’s cheek. “They make me feel good.”

Arthur put out the candle and sat in the dark, letting the images of Ginny that Molly had evoked run through his mind. He turned to her and was about to speak, but she was asleep.

He settled down and dozed until the sun came up. Molly awoke and went downstairs to make breakfast, and Arthur followed a few minutes later; Molly was clearing Ginny and Harry’s breakfast dishes. “They’re already outside,” Molly said as she dunked two small bowls in the sink. “He’s leaving.” She nodded towards the window over the sink and Arthur joined her.

Ginny and Harry were standing near the gate. Ginny had her hands on his chest, and Harry was holding a tiny silver cylinder that hung by a silver chain around his neck. He pressed the cylinder to his lips, closed his eyes and smiled. Ginny kissed him, and they talked for a moment; Harry said something that made Ginny grab his hands and jump up and down while her face broke into a gleeful grin.

Arthur turned from the window. “He’s wearing it,” he said to Molly as he sat. He took the notice from his shirt pocket, placed it on the table, and looked up. Molly was watching him. “I don’t know what to do,” he muttered.

“You’ll do the right thing. You always do.” Arthur smiled wanly and gave her hand an appreciative pat as she sat next to him. The minutes passed and they waited silently for Ginny to come inside. He gazed at the door, and remembered the first time he had shown the silver cylinder to Ginny, almost seventeen years ago . . .

The little cylinder was an ancient and magical heirloom, the Bouquedelle of the Weasley family. It had been passed to Arthur from his father, and he had given it to Ginny, as was the tradition, on the day she was born. He had put it, along with the other family heirlooms that would be hers, in a magical chest that was kept under her crib and later under her bed. It was to be worn by her beloved, but only when they were separated, and whenever he pressed it to his lips, it gave off her unique scent. Since no female had been born into the family for hundreds of years, the Bouquedelle had not been used for scores of generations, and it carried no scent since the aroma always faded away upon the death of its wearer.

When Ginny was seven, Arthur took the Bouquedelle from its chest and explained to his daughter that some day she would gift it to the love of her life, and he would keep it with him always, to remind him of her when she was not near. She held it up to the light, letting it swing back and forth on its chain. "What if I never fall in love, Daddy?" she asked.

He smiled. "You will, darling, and whoever the lucky wizard is will have no choice. His heart will be bewitched, and you will give him this and he'll be yours forever. And you will be his forever." They solemnly put the silver cylinder and its chain back into the chest and put the chest back under her bed. Then, seven years later, when Ginny was fourteen and about to leave for her fourth year at Hogwarts, Arthur told her to take it out again.

"It's yours now, to do with as you please," he said. "Remember, it will be your true love's until he dies, and then it will come back to the family, and it will be passed on to the next Weasley daughter."

Ginny examined the heirloom, turning it over and holding it up to the light; she had not looked at it since putting it away seven years ago. It was made of loosely woven, finely filigreed silver threads that bent slightly when she pressed them between her thumb and forefinger. The threads were flexible, yet the cylinder kept its shape even when the threads were bent. Through the threads she could see the pink stone that filled the space inside.

So Ginny put the Bouquedelle in her dresser drawer and left it there almost three more years, and the day after she and Harry came home from Shell Cottage at the end of June she went to her room and opened the dresser. The Bouquedelle was lying on top of a tangled pile of brassieres, and Ginny stared at it for a moment, certain that she had left it under the bras. She picked it up and swung it on its chain; it flashed in the sunlight coming through her window. She watched it swing for a moment, closed the drawer and went to find her father.


He was sitting near the garden reading the Daily Prophet, and looked up when Ginny stood in front of him. "What is it, honey?" he asked, putting down the paper. She glanced around to make sure no one was watching, and opened her hand to show him the Bouquedelle. Arthur leaned forward and looked at her closely. "I've been wondering when you would bring it to me. Ginny, I have to ask you this. Are you absolutely certain? The magic won't work unless you are."

"I've never been anything but certain, Daddy," she replied. "I want to give it to him on his birthday.”

Arthur looked at her intently and she met his gaze. Finally he smiled and held out his hand. "I'll take care of it. It will only take a day or two." She passed it to him and, without thinking, jumped into his lap and hugged him tightly. He laughed and patted her back. "Let's go find your mum. We need a few strands of your hair."

Molly was alone in the kitchen. She looked up from the bowl of vegetables she was washing in the sink, and beamed at Ginny when Arthur held up the Bouquedelle on its chain. "Darling!" She wiped her hands on a towel that flew from a hook on the wall. "Are you sure? Oh, silly question!" She threw the towel down and pulled Ginny into a smothering hug. "Come, I'll cut a lock of your hair. Oh my, this is wonderful. We've been talking about it for a year, at least. Some good news at last. Just wonderful!"

She bustled up the stairs, pushing Ginny ahead of her into the bedroom while Arthur trailed after. Molly took a pair of scissors from her sewing chest and, as Ginny held up the hair at the back of her neck, snipped off a few strands at the root. She held them up, bright red and silky, then twirled them tightly around her finger and put them into a little brass box that she retrieved from a jewelry case on her dressing table. She snapped the box shut and handed it to Ginny.

"This is so important to your father," she said, glancing at Arthur. "I know you realize that, Ginny, but your Bouquedelle has not been used for hundreds of years. This is a very special moment for the Weasley family." Ginny hugged her.

Arthur took the silver cylinder and the brass box to the Ministry the next day, and when he gave the Bouquedelle back to Ginny two days later, the pink stone inside was darker, almost red, and the cylinder was slightly heavier. Ginny put it back in her dresser—under the bras—and left it there.

Two months later, on July thirty-first, as the sun was rising, Ginny tip-toed up to Harry’s room, quietly went inside, and awoke him with a kiss. He sat up with a start when he saw her. “Happy birthday. Get dressed,” she said and giggled at his obvious disappointment. She waited for him on the landing, and when he came out she led him outside and down to a small clearing in the woods near the river that was enclosed by thickets of yew; it was one of the many places in which they had spent hours together, hidden from the world. She gave him the Bouquedelle while they sat on the short grass facing each other.

Harry started to put the chain around his neck, but Ginny put her hand on his and stopped him.

"No, it's only for when I'm not with you. Put it to your lips, you'll see."

Somewhat self-consciously, Harry pressed the cylinder to his mouth; he drew back, startled, as Ginny's magical fragrance—the one he had first inhaled in a Potions class two years ago—filled the air of the little clearing. He held the cylinder up and looked at Ginny in wonder.

She leaned towards him. "This is yours to keep forever."

"It's going to torture me. Whenever I smell that, I want you."

"Do you now?" Her eyes bright, she leaned back on her hands and Harry came to her. "Happy birthday," Ginny murmured into his ear as he put his hand behind her back and lowered her to the grass.

The sun was higher, sending flittering beams of light through the branches of the trees that sheltered them. They were lying on their backs listening to the wind in the leaves. Harry fingered the Bouquedelle, rolling the cylinder between his thumb and finger. "Where did it come from?" he asked.

Ginny told him how it had been in her family for generations, and how it had become hers. "It's yours for the rest of your life. Then it comes back to the family until the next girl is born."

"What if you have a daughter?" He gave her a suggestive grin.

"No. It goes through the male line. If one of my brothers has a daughter who isn't married when you . . . when you're gone, she'll get it."

"And she'll give it to . . .?"

"The love of her life."

Harry sat up. The breeze ruffled the hairs on his chest and Ginny reached up and ran her fingers through them. Harry took her hand and held it. "Is that what you did?" He leaned over her, his head haloed by the sun shining through an opening in the branches above them.

"Of course," Ginny smiled.

Now, on another early morning five days later, out in the yard, Ginny watched Harry walk through the gate and Disapparate. She whirled around, hugging herself and laughing. Not only was Harry wearing her Bouquedelle for the first time, he had told her that this was the last mysterious trip he would be making by himself. He had gone away every Wednesday for most of the summer, without telling her where. But next week, the day after her birthday, he would take her with him and give her his birthday present. And, she would be able to go without asking permission; she could Apparate there with Harry, she could fly there, she could do whatever she wanted. She felt a tingling, excited anticipation, and laughed aloud again.

Smiling happily, she walked back to the house, thinking that today would be a good time to start sorting her clothes for school to see what needed mending. She opened the kitchen door and saw her parents sitting at the table; her smile faded when she noticed the official-looking parchment in front of her father and the frown on his face. When she looked at him closely, she could tell that he had not gotten enough sleep.

She knew that the parchment had something to do with underage magic; he had yelled at her about it just yesterday. Her mind raced, and she thought back to the early summer, when in her stupidity she had done the birth control charms herself. But it didn’t matter; she didn’t care what they said, she was not going to stop loving Harry. She would be seventeen in six days, so what difference did it make? And from all the stories she had heard about her parents, they had certainly done the same thing when they were her age.

She stood in the doorway, waiting for them to speak, balling her fists and clenching her jaw, her eyes shifting from the parchment to her parents. The morning’s tide of joy had receded.

Her father passed his hand wearily over his eyes. “Ginny, I got this notice yesterday at work. It says you’ve committed sixty-one acts of illegal magic this summer—sixty-two, counting the Summoning spell yesterday evening. That’s got to stop.”

Ginny’s hands and jaw unclenched. Was that it? Maybe the birth control charms hadn’t registered before Harry started doing them. If that was all, then no big deal.

“Okay,” she said. “I’ll stop. I’m sorry, Dad, I didn’t mean to cause you trouble.”

Her father nodded. “I know you didn’t, honey. It wasn’t really any trouble. But . . .” He looked down at the parchment, and Ginny’s insides flipped. “There are some spells on this list that your mum and I have to ask you about.”

Ginny swallowed and looked from one to the other. Her jaw tightened again, and she felt her temper rising. “Harry and I are in love,” she said defiantly, “and we’re not going to stop. It’s none of your business, anyway.”

Arthur scowled. “It’s our house and it’s our business, Ginny. You may not do—”

“We never did anything in the house!” she yelled. “What do you think we are, stupid?”

Molly spoke for the first time. “Ginny, that’s the last thing anyone thinks of you.”

“Then let me make up my own mind! Why are Harry and I different from you and Dad before you were married?” Her eyes flashed at them.

They were silent, and Ginny started to turn away and go back outside.

“Ginny!” her father said sharply. She stopped; it was rare to hear him speak that way. She turned back, subdued, and was surprised to see him looking at her calmly. “You’re not different.”

Ginny’s temper evaporated; she did not know what to say. Her father took the parchment from the table, rolled it up, and stood. “I got about two hours sleep last night,” he said to Molly. “I’m going back to bed. If I get any owls from work, write back that I’ll be in later.” He paused on the stairs and pointed his finger at Ginny. “No magic.”

After he left, Ginny came and sat across the table from her mother. Ginny waited, feeling awkward and embarrassed, but Molly just looked at her with a gentle smile.

“I’m sorry, Mum,” she finally said as her eyes brimmed. “I love him so much, I can’t help myself. When we’re—you know—together, I feel like the whole world is lit up and I’m holding the sun in my hands. I can’t explain it and I don’t really understand it.”

“I do, darling,” Molly whispered; she couldn’t control her own voice. She reached across the table and took Ginny’s hands, and both of them had tears running down their faces.

Chapter Text

Harry Apparated in a small field behind The Hog’s Head Inn. Off to his right was Dervish and Banges’ magical equipment shop. Beyond it the High Street ran down through the village to Hogsmeade Station. Behind him and to his left stretched a cleared, fenced-in field, and beyond it the orchards and meadows of nearby wizarding farms.

He looked up at the back of the inn. The trim had been painted a bold red, and the walls were freshly whitewashed. Sitting on the ground, leaning against the wall off to one side, was the gruesome sign with the bloody hog’s head that had hung over the front door. When he had bought the inn the goblins asked if he intended to rename it, and he answered that he wasn’t sure, but no matter what, he would be getting rid of the sign. They asked for it, and he told them they were welcome to it. They hadn’t removed it yet, so there it sat.

Harry had been coming to the inn once a week all summer, directing the changes he had ordered, which were extensive. He wanted to create a bright, friendly, cheery place where he could bring Ginny, a place that she would want to come to. He knew what she liked: cozy rooms, fireplaces, friends about her. He had kept the image of her foremost in his mind while the walls were being stripped and re-paneled, while a real floor was laid, while new furnishings and a new bar with an ornate mirror behind it were installed, and while crystal chandeliers with hundreds of candles were hung. It would be a place of light and camaraderie; Ron and Hermione would visit often, and maybe it would even become the post-war headquarters of Dumbledore’s Army.

Harry stepped through the back door and found Tony Trostle—the wizard contractor he had hired to do the work—putting finishing touches to the kitchen. Tony was broad-chested and muscular, with a large, black handlebar mustache and a head of bushy black hair. He was directing hammers that were pounding brackets into the walls of the fireplace from which the cooking cauldrons would hang.

“‘Morning, Harry,” Tony called over the clanging hammers. “The cauldrons got delivered two days ago. They’re in the back cupboard. I’ll have ‘em all hung before lunch.”

Harry nodded and looked around. He saw spiffy new counter tops, stoves, shelves, racks of utensils, a large sink, and other kitchen accouterments. He walked around, inspecting knives, opening drawers, running his hand across marble cutting boards. Tony was a proud craftsman; he took his time and he supervised his workers carefully, and it showed in the final result. “This is all beautiful, Tony,” Harry said.

“Did you find a cook yet?” Tony asked as the hammers flew through the air and slipped neatly into the loops on his belt. He pulled on the bracket in the fireplace; it held securely and he turned to Harry. “We’re just about done in here. Carlos found some loose flashing around the middle chimney, he’s up there now taking care of it. We had a thunderstorm come through on Sunday and it leaked into the attic a bit. Nothing serious, though.”

Tony liked to hire workers who had recently immigrated to England; his wife had come to the country from South America, and Tony felt a kinship with people who were experiencing in a new land what she had gone through. His current crew were mostly from Argentina. Harry found them interesting, although he knew no Spanish and they spoke little English. When Tony wasn’t around to translate they communicated with gestures and smiles. They had all heard of Harry Potter, though, and Tony told him they all considered it an honor to work for him.

“No, no cook yet, or barkeep, either,” Harry replied to Tony’s question.

He left Tony in the kitchen and went up the back stairs to the flat on the second floor, where he would live. The stairway led to the door of the flat, which opened into the sitting room; it was in this space that Harry, Hermione, and Ron had spoken to Aberforth Dumbledore after they had Apparated into Hogsmeade just before the battle. But that shabby room had been transformed. A large fireplace now faced the door, and across from it, to Harry’s left, a large picture window looked out over the field in back. The walls were paneled in lightly stained walnut, and a new hardwood floor was laid. The portrait of Ariana Dumbledore was gone; Aberforth had taken it with him when he vacated the inn. In its place was a landscape showing the Black Lake with Hogwarts Castle in the background. The tunnel leading to the Room of Retirement was also gone; Harry, with magical help from Tony and Professor McGonagall, had permanently closed it.

Harry had spent a lot of money on the fireplace. He had sneaked out a photo of the one in the Burrow’s parlor, and Tony had used it to design and build this one. The only difference between the two was the mantelpiece. The one in the Burrow was discolored with decades of soot and candle drippings, and was gouged with dozens of scratches and dents. This one was a smooth and polished slab of oak, stained a rich dark brown that glowed when the room was lit by candlelight. Harry couldn’t wait to show it to Ginny. He was going to put a love seat in front of it, just the right size for two people to snuggle in.

Next to the fireplace a smaller casement window opened over the front of the inn. To its left was a door into the bedroom which had its own fireplace. And today Harry would move the bed in. It was a surplus four-poster from Gryffindor Tower in mint condition; it had been ordered for the castle a year ago but had never been used because so many Muggle-born students had been expelled or never showed up. The canopy coverings and the hangings were a deep velvety red with threads of gold running through them. Professor McGonagall was perfectly willing to sell it to Harry, especially after the thrifty Scotswitch heard his offer. But Harry still had to put up with Argus Filch’s scowls and muttering while he Levitated the unassembled bed out of its storage locker and into the Great Hall, where it would be out of the way until he brought it to the inn.

At the other end of the parlor was a door to the kitchen, a smallish affair with a stove, fireplace, sink, some cupboards, and a small table. Harry intended to take most of his meals in the dining room downstairs, but he anticipated late night snacks and late breakfasts on the weekends when he had company.

He wandered around the flat, admiring Tony’s detail work and testing the water supplies in the kitchen and bathroom, which was located off the bedroom. He found himself looking out the picture window and day-dreaming about lazy weekends in the flat with Ginny. He fingered the Bouquedelle inside his shirt and was about to take it out, when a wizard in work clothes floated down past the window and waved at him. It was Carlos, who had finished patching the roof and was descending with the help of Wingardium Leviosa from Tony, standing on the ground below.

Harry went downstairs and out back, and spoke briefly to Tony about the arrival of the bed. He walked back through the inn, out the front door, and proceeded down the High Street to the Three Broomsticks.

Madam Rosmerta had been helping him organize the business end of things, showing him how to order supplies, plan meals, and all the other little details that had never occurred to him when he got the inspiration to buy the inn. He found those details exceedingly tedious; he just wanted to wave his wand and have all the food and drinks and settings appear on the tables. At first Rosmerta had been sympathetic, but after a while, when Harry’s mind kept wandering from the task, she began scolding him, telling him that if he wanted to run a business he would have to do some work, even if it was boring.

Harry had tried. He told himself that it was for Ginny, and for a time that was sufficient motivation. But soon his interest in all those annoying, grubby little details flagged again, and Rosmerta yelled at him again, and Harry tried once again to apply himself. So it went for several weeks, Harry’s interest and energy rising and falling, until finally Rosmerta had told him, two weeks ago, to leave her alone until he decided what he really wanted.

In desperation, Harry went to the only businessman he knew, George Weasley. He told him in confidence about the inn and his problems getting it set up, and George was only too happy to help. Firstly, he was eternally grateful beyond measure for Harry’s gift of the Triwizard gold; and secondly, he and Fred had kept their eyes on the old Zonko’s shop, so anything that might attract customers to Hogsmeade, like another decent inn, would make a joke shop there more likely to succeed. George suspected that Harry’s real motivation was to be close to Ginny, and that also pleased him.

Last week George had met Harry at the inn, and by the end of the morning Harry had acquired a large, leather-bound ledger book from Scrivenshaft’s with neatly labeled columns for income and expenses; a meal plan for the first month; and a list of contacts in Diagon Alley and other wizarding shopping districts who could sell him the supplies he needed. They ate lunch at the Three Broomsticks, and when Harry showed Rosmerta the ledger book and the meal plan, she relented and offered to help him find a barkeep and a cook.

So now Harry was on his way to meet the friend of one of Rosmerta’s waitresses who had worked in a tavern, and also a local witch who was looking for work and was interested in becoming Harry’s cook. The Three Broomsticks was almost empty, and Harry saw Rosmerta sitting at a table with two other witches. She waved him over and he greeted her and one of the witches, her waitress Harriet Smythe.

Rosmerta cleared her throat. “Harry, this is Turquoise Southeby,” and indicated the third witch sitting across the table. He turned to her; she was young, maybe a few years older than him, blond, very pretty, and was wearing a frilly blouse cut a little too low around the neckline for the occasion, in Harry’s opinion. But she took a deep breath, in and out, and smiled, and Harry had to reconsider the neckline and its purpose.

“Hello,” he said, trying to be friendly despite his instinct, which was to tell her to get lost. “I’ve seen you in Hogsmeade before, haven’t I?”

Turquoise nodded enthusiastically. “Yes, and of course I’ve seen you, Harry.” She giggled. “Madam Rosmerta told me you’re looking for a cook at your inn. It’s just beautiful, what you’ve turned it into. It looks very inviting on the inside.” She giggled again. “I haven’t been in it, of course, but I’ve peeked through the windows. Everyone has.” She fluttered her eyelashes and smiled.

Harry didn’t know how to deal with her, although her demeanor was very familiar; he had gone through many periods at Hogwarts, before he and Ginny started dating, when gaggles of girls would stare, giggle, and whisper as he walked past in the hallways and even in the Gryffindor common room. Their looks and behavior were identical to this witch’s. He did not want to be rude, but he wanted nothing to do with her. She might be a good cook, but he wouldn’t be able to stand her for five minutes, and he would not consider for five seconds what an insult it would be to Ginny if he hired her.

“Well,” he said, and turned to Rosmerta for help. She saw immediately his look of dislike.

“Turquoise, what Harry is saying is that he has a few more people he wants to talk to before he decides who to hire. He’ll be getting back to you, won’t you, Harry?”

“Oh, sure.” He turned to Turquoise. “I’ll let you know, but it’ll be a few more weeks till I decide.” He tried to sound pleasant, but he wished she would just leave.

Turquoise looked at him for a moment and brightened. “That’s great, Harry. I can wait. And thank you for talking to me, I really enjoyed it.” She stood and curtseyed, which looked strange in jeans that were a size too small. At the lowest point of her dip she leaned forward and Harry couldn’t help but notice the large amount of cleavage on display. She glanced up at him and smiled sweetly, nodded to Rosmerta, and left.

“I’m sorry about that,” Rosmerta said to Harry after they watched Turquoise sway her tightly clad hips out the door. “I knew her parents. She worked in a hotel restaurant in York until this summer, and I thought she might be able to help. Obviously not, at least not in the kitchen.”

“I remember seeing her on Hogsmeade weekends,” Harry said. “She is kind of noticeable. What does she do here?”

Rosmerta frowned. “That’s another reason I thought you might be interested in hiring her. Her parents were killed during the first war when she was a couple of years old. They got caught in a cross-fire. Incidental non-combatant damage, the Ministry called it. More like Ministry stupidity, if you ask me. She had older relatives who took her in, and they retired here a couple of years ago, but they died last year and she’s lived alone ever since.”

Harry shook his head. “I’m sorry to hear that. Maybe if she wasn’t so . . . so . . . “

“So obvious?”

“Yeah. I guess I still need a cook.”

The whole business with the Southeby witch had been unpleasant. He disliked the fawning attention that strange females tried to pay him, and this one didn’t act as if she would give it up so easily. It made him a little angry, because he knew that it would upset Ginny if the witch started showing up at the inn and behaving the way she did just now. It was aggravation he didn’t need.

“Well.” Rosmerta glanced at Harriet who had sat silently through Turquoise’s interview. “Harriet has a friend who needs a job. He worked at the Leaky Cauldron for a while, and, well, you know him. We told him there might be a . . . a problem, but he wanted to see you, and . . . and, well, please, just hear him out.”

Harry was puzzled as he listened to Rosmerta’s stammering, and he noticed Harriet, who he knew fairly well by now, fidgeting in her seat. “Who is it?” he asked.

Harriet stood and went to the kitchen door behind the bar. She gestured inside and a moment later a lanky, pale-faced wizard, holding a tattered cap in his hands emerged. Harry did a double-take when he recognized Stan Shunpike.

Stan looked down at the floor, but after a moment raised his head and looked at Harry. He did not have the blank, Imperiused expression that Harry had seen last year in the skies over the English countryside, but Stan was frightened. He quickly averted his eyes, glanced at Harriet, looked down again and started twisting his cap in his hands.

Harry rose and walked quickly to him. There was no question in his mind that Stan had been under Voldemort’s control, and the Ministry must also be certain of that, otherwise Stan would be in prison, not standing here.

Harry put his hand on Stan’s arm. “How are you, Stan.”

Stan looked up. “‘Arry, I’m sorry. I never would ‘ave done that to you, but they put an Unforgivable Curse on me. I—I couldn’t ‘elp it. I’m sorry.” He lowered his eyes again.

Harry took Stan’s shoulders. “You don’t have to apologize to me. You didn’t get hurt when I shot that spell at you, did you?”

Stan shook his head. “No, but when you did it, they knew it was you and not one of those decoys, ‘cause you didn’t kill me. Maybe you should ‘ave.”

“No, never! I could tell you were Imperiused. I didn’t want to hurt you.”

“Harry,” Rosmerta called from the table; both men turned. “There was something else. They had Harriet. They told Stan they would kill her if he didn’t cooperate.”

Harry gazed at Harriet and touched the Bouquedelle under his shirt. What would he have done if Voldemort had taken Ginny?

He took Stan’s arm again and led him to the table. Stan sat.

“‘Arry, they were using everyone who might ‘ave some kind of connection to you. They knew you tried to get me out of Azkaban so they figured we were mates. Then they found out that me and ‘Arriet were . . . good friends, and they . . . they kept ‘er locked up in a cellar somewhere and wouldn’t let me see ‘er.”

“It was a nightmare for everyone,” Harry said, “but it’s over.” Harriet took Stan’s hand and he bowed his head.

“You worked at the Leaky Cauldron?” Harry asked.

“For three years, before I started on the Bus. Tom’ll tell you I was the best barman ‘e ever ‘ad.”

“I don’t need Tom’s word. If you have the experience, the job at the Hog’s Head is yours.” Harry smiled at Stan; half of his staffing problem was solved. Something had gone right, and he had a barkeep who he liked and who would be working with him for more than just a paycheck. Stan and Harriet grinned at each other, and Harry’s smile grew wider when he saw the look between them.

His next task for the day was to get the bed to the inn. He thanked Rosmerta and bid her and Harriet goodbye, and asked Stan if he wanted to come with him to the castle. Stan eagerly accepted; he had never been inside Hogwarts, although he had seen it from the gates many times when he worked on the Knight Bus.

They left The Three Broomsticks, passed the train station, and walked up the lane to the castle. Stan didn’t speak, but gawked at the soaring towers and pitched roofs, at the hundreds of gargoyles perched everywhere. All the damage from last spring’s battle was repaired, and the castle stood intact and solid against the blue sky. Harry saw the awe on Stan’s face, and thought to himself that it was an impressive sight, one that he might have come to take for granted over the years. He could remember his own open-mouthed wonder when he had first set eyes on it.

They climbed the steps and came into the entrance hall. Stan’s head swiveled as he tried to take it all in. “I never saw anything like it,” he finally said. “I wish I could ‘ave come ‘ere to study, but it didn’t seem to work out somehow.” Harry didn’t ask why. He knew there were funds available for students whose families couldn’t afford tuition and expenses, so it probably meant that Stan didn’t come because of family problems, or maybe inability—academic or magical. But it didn’t matter, and Harry wasn’t about to pry into Stan’s personal life.

They walked up the stairs to the Headmistress’s office. The portraits all turned to look as they passed, and many greeted Harry. In front of the office Harry called out, “Firth of Forth!” and the gargoyle sprang aside. Stan was a little shaky on the spiral staircase and seemed glad when they reached the top. Harry knocked on the massive door and they entered.

Over the summer Professor McGonagall had begun to transform the office into a place more to her own taste, and things were taking on a tartan motif. The furniture and rugs, the crossed swords and shields decorating the walls, and many of the portraits—aside from the former Heads—all lent a Scottish flavor to the room. Most of Professor Dumbledore’s tiny silver objects and whistling devices were gone. In their place were many of the objects that Harry recognized from the Transfiguration classroom: assorted tea cups, match boxes, goblets, and several live cats sleeping on tables and chairs—including a gray tabby stretched out in the middle of McGonagall’s large, mahogany desk.

The cat was purring contentedly on top of a parchment that the Headmistress was trying to extricate from underneath it as Harry and Stan came in. Harry also noticed that the cabinet in which Professor Dumbledore kept his Pensieve was still there, and he could see a silvery glow around the edges of the cabinet doors. The Sorting Hat was still perched on top of a cabinet, inside which lay the sword of Godric Gryffindor, its inlaid rubies sparkling in a beam of sunlight streaming in a high window.

The Headmistress, sitting behind her desk pulling at the parchment, smiled at them over her square spectacles. “Are you here to take your bed, Mr. Potter?”

“Yes, Professor. And this is Stan Shunpike. He’s working for me at the inn now. I just hired him.”

“Welcome to Hogwarts, Mr. Shunpike.” McGonagall extended her hand and Stan took it, but quickly let go, totally overwhelmed by the office and its contents. McGonagall continued. “Most of us were very upset about your incarceration and your misadventures with Tom Riddle, and it’s good to see you well. You’ll be moving up north?”

Stan nodded and visibly relaxed at McGonagall’s friendliness. “Yes, ma’am. I understand it gets cold up here,” he said without a trace of his accent, and Harry smiled to himself when he heard Stan speak.

“That it does,” agreed the Headmistress. “But from what I hear about your employer’s work on the inn, you will be quite snug there.” She smiled at him again and turned to Harry. “The bed is where you left it. Will you be needing an elf to help you?”

“That’s what I was planning,” Harry replied. “Kreacher is here, and he was going to handle all the arrangements.”

“You may find him a little preoccupied at the moment. It seems that one of the other house-elves had a breakdown of some kind, and Kreacher has been caring for her since none of the others will.”

Harry knew that it must be Winky, and felt a twinge of annoyance; if Kreacher could not help out today, he would have to find another elf. This was part of the pattern: every other day of the week was always smooth with nothing but an occasional insect bite to annoy him. But every Wednesday brought a fresh irritation, even if something good also happened, like finding Stan. All he wanted was a cozy place to bring Ginny, where they could be together, but there always seemed to be an obstacle, or at least an irritation.

He frowned and started to leave, but caught the expression on Stan’s face as he was taking a last look around at the wonders of the room. He paused, and an idea came into his head. It was completely unrelated to the problem at hand, but he knew it would please Stan. He leaned across the reclining cat and beckoned to Professor McGonagall. He whispered in her ear, and she nodded. “It will be done by the time you get there,” she smiled. “Good day to you, Mr. Shunpike, good luck with your new employer. And I will be seeing you from time to time, I’m sure, Harry.”

Harry nodded. “That’s right. I’ll be taking private lessons from Professor Flitwick once a week.”

“I was thinking more of your friend in her seventh year, actually. But I know Filius is looking forward to the lessons. Well, good day.”

As they made their way to the Great Hall, Stan gawked at the portraits, suits of armor, and moving tapestries. Harry paused at the doors to the Hall and grinned at Stan. “Look up at the ceiling,” he told him.

He pushed the doors open and Stan gasped as he gazed upward at the enchanted ceiling, which Harry had asked Professor McGonagall to activate. Stan gaped at the deep blue sky and white clouds sailing across. “That’s beautiful,” he murmured.

“It shows the weather outside,” Harry explained. “No need even to look out the window. Very convenient.”

Stan nodded. “Beautiful,” he repeated.

To the side of the door was a neat stack of bed parts: head- and footboards, slats, side rails, posts, box spring, mattress, canopy, and hangings. Next to it stood Kreacher. As he bowed to Harry, he cast a nervous glance at the bed. Harry looked and saw, lying on the edge of the box spring which was leaning against the wall, the rumpled form of another house-elf. He recognized Winky, asleep, snoring loudly, with one arm dangling down the side of the box spring.

Harry frowned at the sleeping form. “Hello, Kreacher. Has she been drinking again?”

The elf sighed. “Kreacher must say yes, Harry Potter. Winky has learned that two nieces of her former master, Mr. Barty Crouch, will be starting this year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Kreacher is afraid that Winky still is wanting to be taken back by that family.”

There was a loud hiccup, and one of Winky’s large, brown, bloodshot eyes opened. Harry's frown deepened. “Winky, what are you doing up there?”

She hiccupped again, closed her eye, rolled over, and with a shriek fell off the box spring and thudded to the floor. Harry, Kreacher, and Stan rushed to her. They helped her sit, and Winky looked hazily at Harry with her eyes crossed. He took out his wand and pointed it at the large, egg-shaped lump forming on top of her head. He muttered the charm he had learned from Ginny for healing bruises, hoping it would have the same effect on a house-elf’s lumpy noggin.

Winky rubbed her eyes and her head. When she took her hand away the lump was gone. She smiled at Harry and hiccupped again.

“Thanks you, Parry Hotter. Harry Pro- Plo- Potter is too kind to Winky, and she . . .” Her eyes closed and she began snoring again, still in a sitting position but slowly sinking down into a green heap, hiccupping between snores.

Kreacher sighed again. “Poor Winky. Kreacher does not know what will become of her.”

But Harry had been thinking, and a wild idea had occurred to him. “Kreacher, she has to get away from Hogwarts or she’ll just drink herself to death. Do you think she would come work for me?”

Winky snapped to a sitting position, her eyes wide open, and everyone jumped back. She hiccupped once and pulled herself up next to the box spring until she was standing more or less erect. She swayed forward and backward, pushed herself away from the box spring, and fell against Harry, peering up at him, clutching his jeans to keep herself upright.

“Winky will come with Sparry Spotter . . . Potter, and be his house-elf, if Sp- Spa- if he wants her.” She stood up straight and let go of his leg. “Winky is the best cook at Hogwarts!” she shouted at the enchanted ceiling, then fell backwards into the box spring and slid down to the floor. Her eyes closed and she began snoring again, but now quietly; a tiny smile was on her lips.

Harry stared at her for a moment; he looked at Stan who was gaping at the house-elf with his mouth hanging open. Harry smiled at the expression. “What do you think? She’s really quite sane when she isn’t drinking. Do you think you could work with her?”

Stan nodded, although he was still bemused. “Sure, why not? I never ‘ad problems with ‘ouse-elfs on the Bus. Good folk, if you ask me.”

Harry felt very satisfied; this had worked out perfectly. He had got his staff for the inn with almost no effort on his part. Maybe this would turn out to be a trouble-free Wednesday, after all. He turned to Kreacher.

“Let her sleep it off, and when she wakes up tell her to go to the inn and fix a place for herself wherever she wants. We’ll set up something permanent next week when I come with Ginny. I’ll go talk to Professor McGonagall now. I’m sure there won’t be a problem with her leaving the school.”

“Uh, ‘arry.” Stan had a somewhat concerned look. “What about that Turquoise bird? She won’t be ‘appy about losing ‘er job to a house-elf.”

Harry frowned; he had completely forgotten about the tart. “That’s her damn problem. I never promised her anything.” Stan looked skeptical, but said no more.

Kreacher cleared his throat, and Harry turned, fighting down the irritation that Stan’s remark had evoked. The elf was peering up, looking very serious. “What is it?” Harry asked, sensing trouble.

“Does Harry Potter know what he has done? Winky is now Harry Potter’s house-elf. That is why she sleeps so peacefully. Mr. Barty Crouch’s family is no longer her master. Harry Potter is now her master.”

Harry turned again and stared at Winky. She was stretched out on her side, her hands tucked under her cheek, her breathing coming in a slow, steady rhythm. Harry swore. “I don’t want another house-elf. I want a cook. Kreacher, tell her she is working for me. She is not my house-elf.”

Kreacher shook his head. “No, Harry Potter, there was only one elf who worked for wizards and witches, because he wanted to, your friend Dobby.” He spoke the name with evident distaste. “Winky does not want to work for someone, she wants to be Harry Potter’s house-elf. She is Harry Potter’s house-elf.”

Harry raised his eyes to the ceiling, ran both hands through his hair, and shook his head. Why can’t it be simple? He looked at Winky and sighed and turned to Stan.

“Well, we have an inn-elf now. Help Kreacher get the bed ready, if you don’t mind. He’ll show you what to do, you won’t have to lift anything. I’ll go talk to McGonagall about this one.” He looked at Winky and sighed again. “All I bloody want is a place for me and my girlfriend to live,” he muttered as he walked out the door. Stan and Kreacher could hear him grumbling as he walked away.

Kreacher piled the bed parts in a neat stack, first lifting Winky and moving her onto one of the dining tables, where she continued to snore peacefully. Stan offered to help, but Kreacher ignored him and produced a large rug out of thin air, which he flung over the bed. He walked to Winky’s table and sat on the bench.

Stan joined him. “You’ve been ‘Arry’s mate for a long time, aincha?” he asked. “I knew ‘im since ‘is third year ‘ere. ‘e’s quite a bloke, ain’t ‘e?”

Kreacher glanced at him, but looked away without answering.

“You really ‘elped ‘im, they say,” Stan continued. “You ought to be right proud of that.”

“We is.” Kreacher looked up at Stan with narrowed eyes for a moment, got up from the table and went back to the pile of bed parts and put the slats, which had been leaning against the wall, on top of the box spring. He went back to the table, and he and Stan sat silently for ten minutes until Harry returned.

“It’s done,” he announced. “She can come as soon as she wants.” He peered at the sleeping elf. “Tell her there’s no rush. I’m not planning to open until school starts.”

He took out his wand. “Ready? Get the doors. I don’t want to try opening them while I’m holding this bed up in the air.” He flicked his wand and the bed parts rose and the rug wrapped itself snugly around them. Harry directed it with the wand and it moved towards the door, which Stan had opened. The large bundle sped across the entrance hall ahead of Kreacher and crashed loudly into the large oak doors. “Whoops!” called Harry, running after it. “This wand . . . It doesn’t take much . . .” He grinned at Stan as Kreacher rushed to open the doors.

The package floated down the drive and through the gates, followed by Harry, Stan, and Kreacher. The procession went down the lane, across the train tracks, and up the High Street through Hogsmeade. People stepped outside to watch, grinning at each other when they recognized what was under the rug. Harry ignored them and directed the bed around to the back door of the inn, where he set it down on the grass. “We’ll carry it up from here,” he said. “I don’t want to take a chance on damaging anything.”

They brought the parts up to the bedroom one at a time. When they had assembled it Harry stood back and smiled; he knew that Ginny would love it. He touched the Bouquedelle inside his shirt and, blushing, glanced at Stan and Kreacher.

“Uh, okay guys, thanks a lot. Why don’t we go downstairs? You can start figuring out how you want to set things up,” he said to Stan, ushering them out of the bedroom and down the stairs.

Loud clanking noises and shouts suddenly sounded from the kitchen. They looked in and saw Winky and Tony contesting a cauldron, whose handle was banging against its side as each tried to wrestle it away from the other.

“You is not the cook!” shouted Winky. “Let Winky have it!”

Tony looked up and saw Harry. “She says you own her,” he said, holding off Winky who was now trying to beat him with a ladle. “But I never saw her before.”

“Winky! Stop!” Harry and Kreacher both called at the same time.

“She is my elf,” Harry said to Tony, now thinking that maybe Winky’s entertainment value might outweigh the trouble of owning another house-elf. “Winky, this is my contractor, Tony. Let him finish setting up the kitchen, then it’s all yours.”

Winky yanked the ladle away and stomped into the open fireplace where she sat with her arms folded, scowling at Tony.

“Sorry,” Harry said to him. “She’s a little temperamental.” He glared at her but she returned the glare and smacked the ladle against her palm. Harry sighed and turned to the others.

“I’ve had a long day, and I need to get home. I’ll be back next week with, uh, with Ginny, so . . .” He blushed again, “so I’ll see you then. Just do whatever you feel like doing around here today, okay?”

Stan, Kreacher, and also Winky looked at him uncertainly, but Harry was now ready to leave. At the moment he didn’t want to think about what needed to happen at the inn, or whether it would be ready to open on time, or anything else. It didn’t take much to start him missing Ginny, and seeing the bed in the bedroom had done the trick. He hesitated, though, when he saw his new employees looking at him strangely. “Well, just take the week off, then. We’ll worry about it later.”

“Okay, ‘Arry,” said Stan. “I’ll be moving up ‘ere over the weekend. ‘arriet’s putting me up in ‘er folks’ ‘ouse until I get a place of my own.”

“Fine. Sounds great.”

Stan nodded to Tony and left through the dining room. Kreacher bowed to Harry and vanished with a loud crack. Winky lay down in the fireplace, curled up, and started snoring.

Tony hung the cauldron on a hook next to the fireplace and picked up a toolbelt from the counter. “I have a couple of things to take care of in the dining room,” he said, grinning at Harry. “You go on home. Someone’s waiting for you.”

“Right.” Harry’s mind was already on dinner at the Burrow, Ginny, and wandering around the countryside with her on a warm summer’s evening. He went out the back door and turned to take a final look at his inn before Disapparating.

He froze, staring at a spot above the door. His heart hammered and he couldn’t seem to get enough air into his lungs. “Tony!” he shouted, and drew his wand. “Come here!”

Tony appeared in the doorway, and for an instant stared at Harry’s wand. He took a step out the door and turned to see what Harry was pointing the wand at. There, in black paint on the newly whitewashed wall, was the image of a skull with a snake emerging from its mouth. The carpenter gasped. “Harry, that’s . . . that’s . . .”

“The Dark Mark,” Harry said in a low growl. “Scourgify!” The Mark vanished.

Chapter Text

Harry stared at the blank spot above the door and took a deep breath, trying to control his anger and a roil of emotions such as he had not felt since Fenrir Greyback’s supposed escape from Azkaban. He had wanted to forget what it was like to feel the weight of foreboding, dread, uncertainty, fear. That was all supposed to be done with, finished. Riddle was gone and all of his followers either dead themselves or in prison. Kingsley Shacklebolt was Minister for Magic, trying to create a world where people felt safe and free. Harry had just spent two months being totally happy for the first time in his life; he did not want it to end and he had never thought it would.

He lowered his wand and tried to think. The Mark must have been put there after they had moved all the bed parts upstairs, since either Stan, Kreacher, or he would have noticed it. The Mark itself, now that he thought about it, was crude; it was drawn on the wall, not etched into the stone or the lintel or burned into the door. It was high enough that it most likely had been put there by magic, by someone using a wand, not by being painted by hand. But why didn’t they conjure it into the air above the inn, as Death Eaters always did during an attack on one of their enemies’ homes?

Tony was watching him, and Harry thought he saw both fear and anger on his face. “You didn’t hear anything?” Harry asked. “It must have been done while we were putting the bed together or when we were in the kitchen with you.”

“I couldn’t hear anything over the racket that elf was making.” He suddenly scowled. “You don’t think she was in on it?”

“No, that’s impossible. She became my house-elf at least two hours ago. But Winky has no reason to help a Death Eater, she . . .” Harry fell silent. He tapped his wand against his hand and looked up at the wall. “I don’t think it was a Death Eater,” he said slowly. “It’s not the way they show the Dark Mark. They want to make it visible so that it terrifies everyone. This one might not have been noticed for a week if I hadn’t come out back to Disapparate.”

Tony scowled again. “Maybe it was just a kid having his idea of a joke. If that’s it, a lot of people will be plenty ticked off.” He went to the doorway and squatted down, examining the ground. “I guess these could be from a ladder.” He pointed to two scuff marks about eighteen inches apart.

Harry had not considered a ladder, but he didn’t think it was relevant. The more he thought about it, the more he was convinced that this Mark was not the work of a real Death Eater, but of someone who wanted to frighten him or maybe just ruin his day, and although he couldn’t see why anyone would want to, they had come close.

He put his wand away. “Maybe you’re right, maybe it’s just some stupid kid. Maybe you should mention it to Rosmerta and a few other people in the village.”

“I’ll do that. It won’t be good for business, though, and that’ll make some people unhappy.” He shrugged and looked up at the wall. “Well, too bad. I know lots of other people who aren’t going to stand for this crap.” He turned to Harry. “Look, don’t you worry about it. If it’s not Death Eaters, then we’ll take care of it; I’ll take care of it. Go home and let Molly Weasley make dinner for you.”

Harry nodded his appreciation. He felt a little better now that he was pretty certain it was not Death Eaters, and Tony’s reassurances made him also realize that he was not facing this—whatever it was—alone. Some of the leaden weight inside him lifted. As he stepped back, his hand went to the Bouquedelle. He spun on the spot and was back at the gate of the Burrow in a few heartbeats.

He paused with his hand on the latch. Ginny would be tearing out of the house in a moment—she always seemed to know when he was about to return, and went to the kitchen to wait—but this time his mood was different. He knew that there was a cloud on his face, and he did not want her to see it. He could not tell her about the Dark Mark without ruining her birthday surprise, but if he had learned one thing this summer, it was that neither he nor Ginny could hide feelings from the other. Just as she always knew when he was coming home, she always knew when he had something on his mind, whether it was good or bad.

He tried to put on a happy face—it wasn’t really that hard since he knew he was about to have Ginny in his arms for a lengthy snog—and went through the gate. The kitchen door burst open and Ginny came flying across the yard, her arms outstretched, her hair streaming behind, the blazing look on her face. She launched herself onto him and wrapped her arms and legs around him. Harry was ready, since she had done the same thing every time he returned from his weekly trips, and she had knocked him down only the first two times.

They kissed longer than they usually did, and when they broke apart they both said at the same time, “I missed you,” and laughed together. It had become a ritual, and it was always followed by Harry spinning around with Ginny in his arms, and then carrying her to the kitchen door. This time, however, Ginny stopped him after he had whirled her around. “Wait!” she said excitedly. “I want to show you something. Let me down.”

Harry put her down and saw that she was clutching a large, familiar-looking brown envelope embossed with the Hogwarts seal. “It’s my Hogwarts letter, and look!” She waved it in front of Harry’s face and did a dance in a little circle. “I’m Quidditch captain!”

“Ginny! That’s so brilliant! Let me be the first to congratulate you.” He took her back and they had their second extended snog of the afternoon. After several minutes his hand slipped down her back and onto her bottom, and he pressed her closer, but stopped. He knew that something was wrong. “What’s the matter?” he whispered into her ear.

Ginny looked down and rubbed her hands over the front of his shirt. She glanced back at the house. “Let’s go for a walk.”

She took his hand and led him back out the gate to their hiding place in the field next to the lane. They sat in the little clearing and Ginny frowned.

“My parents found out about the birth control. Dad got a notice at work of all the magic I’ve done this summer, including those. Mum showed it to me this afternoon after Dad left.” She giggled. “I think she was impressed how many times . . .” She turned a Weasley crimson and Harry laughed.

“I’m sorry,” he said, when she looked at him crossly. “It isn’t funny, I know. What did they say? Did they ground you? Your birthday is so soon.”

“No, they didn’t do anything, especially after I brought up the fact that they did the same thing when they were still at Hogwarts.”

“How do you know that?”

“I overheard a conversation between Tonks and Remus when they were visiting us before they got married. Remus was always pretty straight-laced, you know, and Tonks actually had to persuade him to make love to her. One of the arguments she used was that my parents had a great marriage even though they did it before they were married.”

“So there’s hope for us,” Harry said. Ginny smacked him and he grabbed her arm, so she swung her other. He tried to kiss her but she turned her head.

“Harry, wait, I feel funny about it. My mum’s . . .”

Harry sat back. “But I do have my wand with me.”

“Please don’t joke about it. I’m sorry, I really am.” She stood and he also got up.

Harry put his arms around her and gave her a hug. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have been so pushy.” Ginny sighed, and he kissed her gently.

Dinner that evening was a little on the quiet side. There were only four of them, and the two adults cast frequent glances at Harry when they thought he wouldn’t notice, and they were constantly asking him and Ginny to pass the potatoes or pour them some pumpkin juice. Ginny was unnaturally un-talkative, not looking up from her plate much, and Harry alternated between flashes of embarrassed self-consciousness and inexplicable, barely controllable urges to laugh during the lengthy moments of silence. No one spoke about Ginny’s list of illegal magic or, needless to say, her use of birth control charms. Molly jumped up when they were finished and cleared the table, washed the dishes, and put them away before anyone else had moved. She and Arthur retired to the parlor, and Ginny and Harry went for a walk.

“I think they’ve decided to pretend nothing happened,” Ginny said as they strolled down to Fred’s grave. “As of Tuesday they can officially ignore it. Parents are weird.”

Harry chuckled. “Wouldn’t know. I guess that’s something good about being an orphan.”

“That’s not funny. And weird isn’t necessarily bad. Look at Luna and her dad.” They had reached the grave and were standing at the foot, looking at the headstone and the epitaph. Ginny fell silent. They stood there for several minutes and she turned away.

“I can’t forget him,” she said as they walked back to the Burrow, “but now when I look at his grave I get the feeling that he’s asking me to stop feeling sorry for him, because I’m really just feeling sorry for myself.”

“I know what you mean,” Harry replied. Ginny suddenly looked at him.

“Of course you do. That’s stupid of me. I’ve had one brother die. You’ve had . . . how many?”

“Don’t talk like that. It’s different for both of us. You knew him and lived with him for almost seventeen years. I never lived that long with anyone who died. I guess I knew Dumbledore the best, but I felt closest to Sirius, and I only knew him for a couple of years. And Dobby . . .” He said no more, and looked down as they walked.

Ginny took his hand and leaned her head on his shoulder. “I just thought of something else that’s weird. We’ll never forget what Fred looked like because George is still here.”

“You’re right, I hadn’t thought of that.”

They reached the Burrow and took two folding chairs that were leaning against the side of the house—one of them Arthur’s Muggle lawn chair—and set them up next to the garden. Dusk was falling and they could hear the chirping of night insects and could see bats and swallows zooming across the darkening sky. A light breeze came up.

Harry sighed, and Ginny glanced at him, but he didn’t notice. He was lost in thought about the events of the day: the Dark Mark and the news that Ginny’s parents knew that they were having sex. The latter created one advantage: it made it easier to hide his worries about the former. He didn’t like keeping it from her, but he had been working so hard to make a perfect birthday present, and he wanted it so badly to be perfect, that he didn’t feel guilty at all about not telling her. He could tell Ron and Hermione on Saturday when they returned from their holiday in France, and maybe by then Tony would know who had done it. He could ask Ron to send an owl up to Hogsmeade without making Ginny suspect anything.

The more he thought about it, the more the Dark Mark puzzled him. There just weren’t enough Death Eaters out of jail to pose a danger, and all the most powerful ones were accounted for, dead or in Azkaban. Everyone in Hogsmeade knew that what he was doing with the inn was for Ginny; he had not kept it a secret, but now he wished he had. Was someone trying to get to him through her? That’s what he had feared after Dumbledore was killed. He thought about Stan and Harriet, and glanced at Ginny.

She had been watching him, and when Harry looked she did not avert her eyes. “What’s wrong?” she said. “Something’s bothering you.”

“Oh, nothing.” Harry tried to sound nonchalant, but he knew immediately that it wouldn’t work. Ginny sometimes scared him with her witch’s intuition—or whatever it was—that allowed her to read his emotions so accurately.

She opened her mouth, but Harry spoke first, thinking that a partial admission of the truth might let him keep the main secret. “Okay, you’re right, as usual,” he smiled, but she did not return it. “Something happened today, but if I tell you it’ll ruin your surprise. You’ll find out next Wednesday. There’s no big problem.”

“It is something serious,” Ginny frowned. “It’s bothering you.”

“It is bothering me, but I really want this to be a surprise. Look, Gin, you’ll really love it, I’m sure you will. Please, just wait another week. Please?”

A small smile replaced her frown, and she leaned over and took his hand. “You’re sweet. Okay, the surprise is sounding better all the time. I’ll wait.” She squeezed his hand and sat back, but Harry didn’t let her go; he was pleased with himself for being able to convince her. He pulled her over into his lap for an extended goodnight kiss.

Ginny did not raise the subject again, and for the next two days things at the Burrow remained quiet. During the day, when Arthur was at work, Molly was pleasant with Harry, but she was also preoccupied with preparations for Ginny’s two parties, the one for the family on her birthday, and the big bash for dozens of friends on the following Saturday. During the evenings Arthur and Harry avoided each other after dinner, but that had been the pattern all summer: Arthur relaxed with Molly in the parlor while Harry and Ginny took walks around the countryside, usually coming home just before her parents went to bed.

#   #   #   #

On Saturday morning the rest of the family began to arrive. Bill and Fleur came early, Fleur unleashing a torrent of intermixed French and English as she described their holiday on the Riviera with Ron and Hermione. Later in the morning Percy Apparated and immediately sat down with his mother to get up to speed on the arrangements for the big party. George, Ron, and Hermione all came together from Diagon Alley; Ron and Hermione had gone to their flat first upon their return from abroad. Hermione looked positively exotic in a tan that darkened her skin several shades, while Ron’s sunburn triggered a lecture from Molly on the dangers of too much sun; she wondered out loud how she could have raised a wizard who didn’t know enough to use UnSun, or one of the other well-known sunburn remedies available at any wizarding apothecary. But she admitted, with a look at Fleur, that she didn’t actually know if there were any such establishments in the less civilized parts of the world. She went to a cabinet and pulled out her well-worn copies of Common Magical Ailments and Afflictions and Pocks’s Home Health and Herbal Helper, found a charm that cleared up the sunburn, and extracted a promise from Ron—after warning him not to roll his eyes—that he would be more careful next time.

Charlie was due in from Romania on Sunday, and nobody wanted Aunt Muriel to come before Tuesday.

Harry waited for an opportunity to talk to Ron and Hermione about the Dark Mark, but never got a chance: someone was always nearby, especially Ginny. He had to wait until late at night, when they all finally went to bed, for he and Ron to be alone in the attic bedroom.

Ron had started grumbling when he first saw the pristine condition of his room, and he was still upset. Most of it hadn’t been touched since Kreacher had cleaned the house after Fred’s funeral, and Harry had messed up only his side of the room, around his cot.

“Remind me never to have a house-elf,” Ron muttered as he tossed his shirt onto the bookcase. “They do more damage than they’re worth. Where did all my Quidditch World’s go?”

Harry was lying on his cot, leaning back against the pillows, watching Ron scatter the magazines that Kreacher had so carefully organized on top of the dresser. “I doubt that Hermione would want one, either,” he grinned.

“You’re right.” Ron lay down on his bed with the latest issue; the cover photo showed the Harpies’ Seeker, Velda Vermeer, whizzing around a practice pitch chasing a Golden Snitch.

“Something happened up in Hogsmeade,” Harry said.

“Uh, huh.” Ron kept flipping pages while Harry described his day in the village, but as soon as Harry mentioned the Dark Mark he put down the magazine and stared at him. When Harry finished, Ron looked worried.

“The obvious candidate is that Tangerine witch, she could have—”

“Her name is Turquoise.”

“Whatever. She sounds like a piece of work. She probably saw Winky in the kitchen and figured you had hired her, and got pissed off and made a crude attempt to scare you.”

“That doesn’t make any sense, unfortunately,” Harry said, thinking about the “interview.” “She was a total air-head. I wonder if she’s even heard of the Dark Mark.”

“Who else could it be? Shunpike was with you the whole time, it couldn’t be him.”

“It was not Stan,” Harry declared firmly. “He was Imperiused to begin with and the Ministry released him. He didn’t do it.”

“So maybe Tony Trostle was right, it was just a stupid prank by a juvenile delinquent who got pissed on Firewhiskey.”

“That reminds me. Can I use Pig to send Tony an owl tomorrow? I want to know if he’s found out anything before I go up there with Ginny.”

The plan was for Harry to Apparate with Ginny early Wednesday morning, and for Ron and Hermione to join them later in the day. And with Stan and Winky now there, Harry figured it would be a festive occasion. The thought that someone would ruin it for him—for Ginny—was still angering him. He was becoming more and more impatient to bring her there, and less and less tolerant of anyone who got in his way.

“If it is Death Eaters,” Harry said, scowling at the window and the night outside, “I’m having a talk with Kingsley Shacklebolt. I thought they were all taken care of.”

Ron shook his head. “Uh, uh. What I heard at the Ministry before we left was that maybe a dozen are still out there somewhere. No one knows if they left the country or went underground. They could be anywhere.”

“Well, I don’t want them in Hogsmeade.”

Ron looked over at him. “It’ll be fine, mate. We’ll all be there. They’d be idiots to try anything.” Harry grunted, blew out his candle, turned over, and slept. In the morning when he awoke, Harry went to Ron’s desk and wrote out a quick message for Tony. He gave it to Pigwidgeon and the owl flapped off into the brightening morning sky.

Now that he had spoken to Ron about the Dark Mark and knew that he would be receiving some news directly from Tony, he felt more relaxed and spent the day with Ginny, Ron, and Hermione. Ginny, for her part, saw that Harry’s mind was eased, and she also relaxed. As the day of her coming of age approached, her anticipation was growing. On top of that, she suddenly realized that here she was, by Harry’s side, as he conversed with his best friends of seven years, and she was being included. Even back at the end of her fifth year, when she and Harry had first started dating, she knew that he had kept her in the dark about many things having to do with Dumbledore and Voldemort. Now he told her everything. Ron still occasionally talked to her like his little sister, which Ginny found irritating, especially since Hermione was, as always, treating her as an equal. But she enjoyed being included in parts of Harry’s life that she had previously been excluded from.

They made plans to get together in London; they speculated about changes at the Ministry, and about the Auror training program that Ron was signed up for; they talked about Hermione’s research at the Arithmancy Institute—after she had finished an enthusiastic description of the art museums and historical sites of southern France; and Harry, Ron and Ginny in turn bored Hermione with a long discussion about Ginny’s Quidditch captaincy and the Gryffindor team’s prospects for the Cup. No one mentioned Harry’s future plans.

On Sunday Charlie arrived from Romania, sporting a new scar on his cheek. “Horntail,” he explained, refusing to let Molly touch it or cut his hair again. Late in the afternoon Pigwidgeon returned with a parchment tied to his leg. The family were sitting outside under the peach tree, and the owl landed in it.

“Ron,” Percy pointed, “there’s your owl with a message.” Ron held up his hand and Pig flew down. Ron took the parchment, moved off a few yards, and read it. Harry watched him, and Ginny watched Harry. In a moment Ron was back, but didn’t look at Harry or say anything.

Harry didn’t know what to do. If he asked about the owl, Ginny would instantly know that it was about Hogsmeade. He fidgeted in his chair, until finally Ginny stood.

Harry looked at her in alarm, thinking she was going to ask Ron about the owl, but she turned to her mother. “Mum, can you show me that Quidditch robe pattern you were telling me about? I’d like to get started on it after the party.”

“Of course, dear.” Molly jumped up, and the two of them went into the house.

Harry was positive that Ginny had done it deliberately, so that he could read the owl without worrying about her. After making a mental note to worship her even more devoutly in the future, he turned to Ron, who handed him the parchment. He, Ron, and Hermione walked off as Harry started reading. It was indeed from Tony Trostle.

 

 

 Harry,

Ros and I talked to everyone who was in the village Wednesday afternoon, but no one saw anything. Ros told me about your meeting with Turquoise Southeby, and I told her about your elf, and we both thought we’d better talk to Turquoise. She was at the Post Office, and she told us that she had been there all afternoon after she left you at the Three Broomsticks. She’s been working there a few hours a week since she came back from down south. We saw Rathbone Rastlebuck, the postwizard, and he confirmed it.

We don’t have any other ideas. Some people are asking questions about Stan Shunpike, but he was with you the whole time, as I understand it, so he’s out as a suspect.

I still think it was kids. Carlos and a couple of the crew volunteered to keep an eye on the inn, so I don’ think anything else will happen.

So don’t worry, Harry. Have a good time at Miss Weasley’s party, and I’ll see you on

Wednesday. Your little couch was delivered on Friday, and I put it in front of the fireplace like you wanted.

Regards, Tony

Hermione read over Harry’s shoulder and frowned. “It is worrisome, but I agree with Ron that it wasn’t a Death Eater. Why would they want to draw attention to themselves? It would just make the Ministry look for them even harder.”

“But if no one in Hogsmeade did it, who did?” Ron asked.

“Obviously, whoever did it left.”

“But,” said Harry, “if it was someone who didn’t live there, they would have been noticed. When I was in the Three Broomsticks in the morning it was almost empty. No one was around. A stranger would have been obvious.”

Hermione shook her head. “They could have been hiding, or using magic to disguise themselves.”

“Polyjuice Potion? That seems like a lot of trouble to go to.”

“Well . . .” Hermione thought for a moment. “It does sound too sophisticated, especially when you consider how crude the Mark was.”

“I’ll go back to what Tony says,” Ron said. “It was some idiot git who lives in the village and thought he was being funny. And there wasn’t that much time between Harry’s going inside with the bed and going back outside to Disapparate. So it wasn’t like whoever did it had to account for hours of his time.”

“Good thinking, Ron,” said Hermione—he grinned and tapped his temple—“and Tony’s right about not letting it bother you, Harry. Lot’s of people will be around, just relax and have a good time.”

It sounded like good advice to Harry as they walked back to the peach tree. It felt nice that so many others wanted him and Ginny to feel safe, but part of the problem was that he did not want lots of people around. He wanted to be alone with Ginny. In spite of all the intimacy they had shared this summer, none of it had happened in a place they could call their own or just relax in for as long as they wanted. There had been some late night snogs in the parlor, but Ginny was very clear that, inside the house, things could go only so far and no further.

Outdoors was different, and it was in Ginny’s hiding places that they had become so close and the sometimes eerie feeling of being inside each other’s mind had started to happen. Being with Ginny that way, under the sky, or enclosed in a bower of trees, or underneath an archway of a hedgerow, was indescribably glorious. But it was obviously not an option when the weather was cool or when it rained. Beyond that, the moments always ended too soon. Ginny didn’t want to worry her parents, so there was always the knowledge that they had to get back to the Burrow for dinner or for bedtime.

No, Harry wanted a place of their own, a safe and homey place for his Ginny, where they were free to do whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted, to live their lives together. And no matter how reassuring his friends were, no matter how logical their arguments, he could not shake the feeling that the Dark Mark was an omen of something that would keep him from having the happiness he craved.

The back door of the Burrow opened. Ginny came out carrying a tray of cinnamon buns and tea, and as she walked toward the family, she smiled at Harry.

#   #   #   #

Monday was hot and cloudless, and preparations for the two parties continued. The Burrow bustled with activity: food preparation, decorating, cleaning. Ginny’s brothers would not let her help with anything, but George spent several hours with her by Fred’s grave, talking quietly. Harry at first felt ignored, but as he was drawn into the party activities by the rest of the family, even by Molly and Arthur, the feeling quickly passed. Ginny’s parents seemed relaxed with him again, as though now that Ginny’s adulthood was only hours away, the adult part of her relationship with Harry had become acceptable.

He helped Charlie, Ron, Fleur, and Hermione decorate the entire house in red and gold magical decorations: streamers, bunting, lanterns, balloons, and paper cutouts. The day passed quickly and when Ginny kissed him goodnight near the gate late in the evening, she could not contain her excitement.

“I can’t believe it’s finally happening!” she exulted. “It’s just so wonderful to have everyone here, and Bill has Fleur, and Ron has Hermione, and I have you . . .”

They said goodnight again on the landing in front of Ginny’s room, and Harry went up to the attic where Ron was already in bed. He changed into his pajamas and fell asleep immediately.

The night was very quiet. Ron and Harry slept soundly, not awakening or even stirring when, shortly after midnight, the door slowly opened and an arm in a frilly nightgown poked inside. The wand in the hand waved, but they did not hear the whispered ”Accio  wands,” that caused their wands to rise from their night stands and float to the door, where the charmer’s other hand grabbed them in mid-air. And after the door closed, they did not hear the sucking sound that followed a whispered, ”Colloportus longeva.” After that, the night became even quieter, and Harry and Ron continued to sleep peacefully.

August 11 dawned clear. Birds in the forest were the first to awaken, but as the sun was climbing above the horizon, Ginny and George appeared around the side of the Burrow and gazed up at the attic window. Ginny looked at George who grinned and nodded.

Inside their room, Harry and Ron were still sound asleep, but they both jumped up when the window banged open. Ron was the first to reach it. Looking down, he saw his sister and brother standing on the ground thirty feet below, Ginny with her wand pointing directly at him. “Wake up, sleepies!” she cried. “It’s my birthday!”

Ron sprang back, colliding with Harry who had come to the window behind him; they both crashed to the floor in a heap.

“She’s doing something!” Ron shouted. “Let’s get out of here!” He untangled from Harry, ran to the door, and yanked on the handle, but the door didn’t budge. “We’re locked in! Where’s my wand?” He scrambled to his nightstand and looked around frantically. “She took them! We’re trapped!”

Harry watched Ron ricocheting around the room before turning back to the window. At that moment came a loud whoosh, and he ducked as dozens, then hundreds of small objects streamed in through the open window. Some were red and some were green. Harry retreated, knocking into Ron again, and they both fell onto his bed. The flying objects, filling the room, began circling the two of them. As they whirled, they separated themselves; the red ones surrounded Harry while the green ones circled Ron, forming little tornados, spinning and fluttering.

Harry reached up and snatched one of the red objects. It was soft and smooth; he looked closer, and saw that it was a tiny heart-shaped silk pillow. He stood and walked slowly to the window; the red tornado stayed with him. As he passed Ron, he saw that Ron’s little whirlwind was made of hundreds of green paper lips, all puckering furiously. He reached the window, still surrounded by red hearts, and leaned out.

“I surrender!” he called. “How do I get out of here?”

Ginny raised her wand. ”Wingardium Leviosa!” she cried. Harry rose out of the window and into the air, floating gently to the ground and landing gracefully next to Ginny. She waved her wand and the flying hearts disappeared, except the one in Harry’s hand.

He grinned. “Enjoying your seventeenth birthday, are you?”

“Immensely,” she grinned back.

They heard a shout from the attic window. “Oi! Witch! Get me out of here, now!”

“Oh, dear,” tisked Ginny, “Ron’s still up there. Can’t you get down?” she shouted. A string of swear words issued from the cloud of lips.

“I don’t think that’s the correct response, Brother,“ George called up. “Remember, you’re dealing with an adult.”

“What’s the magic word?” Ginny shouted.

“Please! Dammit!” Ron waved his arms furiously and futilely at the lips. It only made them swirl faster, and now, every few seconds, one would zoom in and attach itself to Ron’s mouth. As soon as he ripped it away, another one took its place.

“Okay, here goes!” Ginny called. She pointed her wand again and, with another Wingardium Leviosa, Ron floated out the window and descended. By the time he touched down his face was covered with green lips, all making smacking noises as he ripped them off.

“What the bloody hell are you doing?” Ron roared; his face was bright scarlet underneath the green. “Get rid of them! Okay, please get rid of them!”

“Okay,” Ginny answered cheerfully, “now that you know how much snogging I did after every time you yelled at me for doing it.”

Ron laughed despite himself, but began flailing at his face again as a dozen paper lips took advantage of his open mouth and zeroed in on it. “I’m sorry!” he spluttered. “I’ll never yell again, I promith.” One of the enchanted lips had attached itself to his tongue, and he spit it out.

By now the entire family, including Arthur and Molly, were outside, gathered in a highly entertained circle around George, Ginny, and her victims, both of whom were still in their pajamas. Ginny’s wand flicked and the lips vanished, except for one that was kissing the top of Ron’s head; he swatted and caught it, and it, too disappeared. Ginny tossed Ron his wand and handed Harry his, as everyone applauded.  She curtseyed and turned to Harry. “Do you still have my heart?”

Harry held it up. “Can I keep it?”

“Forever,” she giggled.

George put his hand on Harry’s shoulder. “Mate, you should be the first to wish happy birthday.”

Harry looked around; everyone was watching. He took Ginny’s shoulders and she fixed him with her blazing look. Telling himself to ignore two parents, five brothers, one sister-in-law, and one girlfriend, he said loudly, “Happy birthday, Ginny,” and kissed her.

Ginny’s eyes went briefly to her father, who was smiling with the rest. When Harry finally let her go—to another round of applause—she called, “Well, Dad, there are a few people at the Ministry with nothing to do now.” He and Molly laughed, as the others looked puzzled. “I’ll tell you all later,” Ginny said to them, “much later.”

Chapter Text

After breakfast Percy and Charlie fetched Aunt Muriel, who took up where she had left off at Fred’s funeral. She cornered Harry and Ginny while they were sitting in the parlor looking at an album of family birthday photos. They looked up when Muriel came in, followed by Charlie who was trying unsuccessfully to steer her past them and out into the garden.

“Well, Ginevra,” she said loudly, “that’s quite a dress. Do you really think Mr. Potter needs all that stimulation?”

Ginny was wearing a new dress from Madam Malkin’s that she had picked out from a catalog. It was a very short, light-weight summer dress, creamy white with red roses embroidered around the hem; it was gathered with elastic under the bust, had a plunging neckline, and spaghetti straps. Her mother had managed not to register an opinion aside from raised eyebrows. Her father had stared at it with objections on the tip of his tongue, but Molly had quickly started talking about the weather.

Harry removed his arm from around Ginny’s shoulders and shifted on the sofa so that their thighs were not plastered together. Ginny moved her leg, however, to keep it firmly against his.

“How are you, Aunt Muriel?” she smiled. “I’m so glad you could come to my party.”

“So am I. You only come of age once, after all. My own was ninety years ago, if you can believe it, and I certainly wasn’t wearing a dress like that.” She appraised Ginny and her eyes traveled the short distance between hemline and neckline. “More’s the pity,” she muttered. “Charles,” she turned with an annoyed look as he tugged on her elbow, “is there something I can do for you? Perhaps a haircut?”

Charlie mouthed an apology to Ginny and finally managed to get Muriel moving towards the door. “We’re all set up outside, and the weather is perfectly beautiful,” he said in an attempt to get her out of the room.

“Yes, I’m aware of that,” she said testily. “I’m not senile, you know.”

Ginny reached over and put Harry’s arm back around her shoulder as soon as the door closed. “That’s the first time since I was four that she liked what I was wearing.”

“It is stimulating,” Harry noted and put his hand on her knee. He started moving it up her leg and Ginny slapped it.

“Why do men always grope?” she mused.

“What do you mean, ‘men’? Who else groped you?”

“So you admit that men grope.”

‘I admit that I do, especially when I’m stimulated.”

“You’re always stimulated.”

Harry’s hand stayed on her knee and they went back to the photo album.

The festivities began in earnest after lunch. When the cake and ice cream had been devoured and the dishes cleared, everyone moved their chairs into a semi-circle; Harry sat next to Ginny. George stood in the center and all fell silent.

“It’s time for the presents,” he announced. “But first I want to say something. This is the seventeenth birthday of my sister, Ginny. She was our baby for years, which she hated. Well, no more calling her ‘baby.’ She’s now a woman, and a brilliant, beautiful woman. There is no one else I would have wanted as a sister, and she’s the best thing that ever happened to this family. When someone finally takes her—” he gave Harry a thumbs up, and there were a few chuckles and Fleur said something in French while Harry tried to sink into the earth “— he’ll have to take all of us, because Ginny comes with the Weasleys and she always will.”

There were cheers, and Ginny jumped up and hugged and kissed him. Harry tried to hide his embarrassment by taking a swig of butterbeer, but Charlie clapped him on the back at that moment and the resulting mess on the front of his shirt only made the embarrassment worse.

“Okay!” George called while Molly Scourgified Harry. “Enough of my eloquence. Let’s do presents.” He waved his wand and with a loud bang a small table appeared in front of him, covered with a golden cloth. “The first one is from Harry Potter, and given his immense wealth, especially compared to the rest of us, it had better be good.”

“Wait,” said Ginny, “he’s giving me his present tomorrow.”

“Correct and incorrect,” George answered. “Tomorrow morning you and he will Side-Along Apparate to a mystery location that only he and thousands of others know about. You, Ginny, in the entire wizarding world, are the only one who does not know where it is. But no matter. Harry has a present today, so unless you want him to give it to me instead—”

“Forget it!” said Harry. “It’s for Ginny.”

“Have it your way, then.” George waved his wand again and with another bang! a small box wrapped in red paper and bound with silver ribbon appeared on the gold cloth. Harry took it to Ginny and handed it to her.

“I wanted to give you something today,” he said. “Happy birthday.”

She slowly untied the ribbon and pulled the paper off, glancing at him, happily relishing the anticipation. Inside the wrapping was a dark red velvet box with a hinged cover. She opened it and her mouth dropped; she sucked in her breath with a drawn out, “Oh!” and held up a heart-shaped gold locket on a delicate gold chain. Three small rubies were embedded in the locket, one in each lobe of the heart and one at the bottom. Harry pointed to them. “These two are you and me, and this one is us.”

“Harry, it’s beautiful. Thank you. Rubies!”

“Open it.”

She opened the locket with her thumbnail, and grinned at him. “Your picture.” She passed the locket around, and everyone oohed and aahed.

“C’est magnifique!” Fleur exclaimed. “‘Arry, it is a lovely gift.” Ginny put it around her neck, grabbed Harry, and snogged him; she wouldn’t let him go until all of her brothers started clearing their throats in unison.

“Okay,” George continued, ”Ginny got a present and Harry got a present. Next, we have a gift from my baby brother and his lovely girlfriend.” Ron scowled. “Just joking,” George said. “Ron’s already had his comeuppance for the day. Any hickies left from this morning?”

“Not from this morning,” Ron said; Hermione turned pink.

George waved his wand again; another present appeared on the table. It was a small, flat box wrapped in dark green paper embossed with a golden talon. Ginny ripped the paper off and opened the box.

“Yes!” She punched the air with her fist, then showed the gift to Harry: a five-year season’s pass for two to all Holyhead Harpies home matches. She gave Ron and Hermione each a wet kiss and sat back down, grinning at Harry.

“Next, and probably most verbosely, we have—” George waved his wand and produced another loud bang and gift “—another season pass, from Percy. No, it only looks like a season pass.” Percy’s gift was in a box like the one from Ron and Hermione, but the paper was black and the symbol printed on it was that of the Ministry of Magic. When Ginny opened it she bounced out of her seat and ran over and hugged and kissed Percy.

“This is fantastic!” she exclaimed. “Look.” She showed it to Harry. “Free Apparition lessons from Wilkie Twycross himself, plus Percy will fill out all twenty-six forms I need for the license! Thank you!” She grinned at Percy who smiled appreciatively, and she gave him another kiss. Aunt Muriel, sitting next to him, patted his knee.

George shook his head. “Amazing. Percy had nothing to say. We’re all grateful, my silent brother.”

The next present, appearing with the usual bang! was from Bill and Fleur, wrapped in magical silver paper with points of gold that glowed in the sunlight. When Ginny opened the box she just stared at its contents, then slowly held up a silvery necklace. A single thin strand of the material held the clasp, but the front was about an inch wide, made up of silver-white filigrees of the same metal, braided and woven together. A single diamond was embedded in the center of the woven strands.

“It is a veela necklace,” Fleur said into the silence; its beauty seemed to hold everyone in a spell. “It is made from a very ancient metal zat can no longer be found in ze eart’. All ze mines are lost. I do not know ‘ow old zis one is, Ginny, but maybe t’ousands of years. It is very special jewelry for a very special woman.”

“It’s so light,” Ginny said softly. “I’ve never seen anything so beautiful. See how light it is.” She handed it to Harry. It was feather-light, yet the strands seemed to be hard and very strong.

“Let’s see what it looks like,” he said. He undid the clasp and put it around Ginny’s neck; she lifted her hair and he fastened it. The silver strands and the diamond lay on her bosom, and when she looked up at Harry, he saw sparks of light deep in her eyes. He stared into them until Fleur laughed.

“Zat is veela magic, ‘Arry. You will never be able to resist.”

“Don’t want to,” he said. Ginny went to Bill and Fleur and kissed them both. Fleur whispered something in Ginny’s ear that made her blush. When she got back to her seat everyone gazed at her until self-consciousness overcame her.

“Go on, George,” she said. “Who’s next?”

George jumped as if coming out of a trance. “Right. Um, let’s see. Okay. Charlie!” He flourished his wand and a larger box appeared, wrapped in scarlet paper bedecked with fire-breathing dragons. Ginny ripped it open and took out a black dragon-hide jacket. She put it on and pranced around the circle, letting everyone admire it and caress the supple leather. She stopped in front of Charlie and gave him a hug and a kiss.

Aunt Muriel stood and held up her hand to stop George. “I don’t need your blabber or your circus tricks. You already know what my gift to my niece is.”

She went to Ginny and handed her an unwrapped, tattered velvet box; she took the top off, lifted out the tiara, and placed in on Ginny’s brow. “Your garrulous brother said one truthful thing, Ginevra. You are more than special to your family. I give you this tiara, which has come down from my ancestors, and you shall pass it on to one of your daughters or granddaughters. Wear it with pride, and remember that you imbue it with beauty, not the other way around.”

“Thank you, Aunt Muriel,” Ginny whispered. “I promise you I will do that.”

Aunt Muriel bowed her head to Ginny and walked back to her seat, her carriage straight and stiff. She sat and glared at Percy when he patted her knee.

“Okay,” George continued. “The older generation has been heard from—”

“Watch it, Mr. Weasley!” Muriel snapped. “My wand still works just as well as anyone’s.”

“—the mature generation, as I was saying. Next, and almost last, is Ginny’s gift from Mum and Dad.” A bang! and a long, thin package appeared. Ginny grinned at Harry as she tore the paper off and opened the box. Everyone cheered when she removed a brand new Firebolt 21, the latest, fastest, and smoothest broomstick on the market. Ginny gave a shout and ran to her father, throwing her arms around him and then her mother. She went running around the garden, holding the broom over her head and whooping, as everyone laughed and shouted. She returned breathlessly to her seat and hugged Harry.

He examined her broom; it was clearly a more advanced model than his own lost Firebolt. “Wow, this is brilliant. You’ll fly circles around everyone at school.”

Arthur spoke. “We heard from Minerva that you would be named captain, and we couldn’t let you go back with one of those old sticks from the broom shed. How long have you used them?”

“I don’t know, Dad,” Ginny answered. “When was I born?” Everyone laughed.

“They aren’t quite that old,” Arthur said, “but almost.”

George flourished his wand. “And now we come to the final and best gift, if I do say so myself—mine.”

This time the package appeared without sound effects; it was large, about two feet high and cylindrical. It was standing on end, and noises came from it. Ginny unwrapped it; a large, russet-colored barn owl blinked at her and hooted loudly from inside the cage. Ginny jumped into George’s arms and they embraced.

“Her name is Bailey, and now you have no excuse not to write,” he said in a high voice that was a perfect imitation of their mother’s.

“Bailey,” Ginny crooned, and opened the cage. The owl hopped out onto the table. Ginny leaned closer and received a gentle peck on her cheek. Bailey turned her head completely around and peered at everyone, then ruffled her feathers and flapped up on top of the cage, where she sat watching Ginny.

George raised his hand again. “Folks, that concludes the acquisitive portion of our party. But before you all go take your naps, Ginny has one more thing to say. Miss Weasley.” He bowed and Ginny walked to the little table and looked around, smiling.

“This was the greatest party I’ve had in all my long, seventeen years. You are the best family in the world. Everything you gave me is perfect, I love it all. I want to do one more thing, though. I want us all to go tell Fred how beautiful things are and how much he would have loved it.”

She and George led the way to the oak tree; Ginny was wearing her tiara and the necklace and locket around her neck. At the grave she conjured a bouquet of roses and placed it against the headstone. Molly and Fleur wept and they all held hands and stood in silence for many minutes.

Late in the evening, after dinner and when most of the house had gone to bed, Harry and Ginny stood in the dark by the front gate, holding each other. “What a day,” Ginny sighed. “I wonder how Mum and Dad could afford that broom. It must have cost a month of his salary.”

“You deserve it,” said Harry as he stroked her hair. “But there’s something else I want to show you. I didn’t want anyone but you to see it.” He picked up the locket and, leaving the chain around her neck, put it on his palm. “Open it again.”

She did so.  In the growing darkness she could barely make out the picture of Harry grinning at her, but from its eyes came two pinpoints of green light like little emeralds gleaming in the dark.

Ginny looked up and her hands began to shake. “What . . .?”

“Ever since you told me that you saw my eyes when I was lying on the ground in front of Riddle, I knew I wanted to get this made and give it to you.”

Ginny’s whole body trembled. In that night that seemed so long ago on the lawn outside the castle, a night of so much death, she had stood over Elizabeth Derby’s body and there had been that vision of two green points of light. But an hour later that other moment had come, a fulcrum of her life: the instant when she saw Harry’s eyes open as he lay on the ground. The fear that had been impossible to bear had vanished in a blink of green. The world had been stopped and it had started again. There had been nothing but the certainty of death, and his eyes had brought the certainty of life.

Ginny bent over and looked again at the green sparks in the locket. She closed it, then without looking at Harry, took his hand and led him down the lane. Her sudden need was so great, and her desire so overwhelming, that she had to fight herself to keep from dragging him down in the middle of the road. She found the hidden gap in the hedge, and in the cleared circle in the middle of the field, shaking almost violently, she gave him every atom of her body and soul, and he took it. It was beyond passion, it possessed them both and they became something different, something that was not two separate people, but was more than one.

Afterward, they lay in each other’s arms, gasping, wondering what had happened. They didn’t speak, since words were useless for feelings that they hadn’t known even existed.

They dressed in silence and went back to the house that was now dark and still, and on the landing outside Ginny’s room they parted wordlessly, both of them still unable to verbalize anything about the past hour.

It was still dark when Ginny awoke the next morning. She had slept soundly, but as she started to drift up out of sleep she felt as if something was pulling her towards wakefulness, something that she wanted badly. As soon as she opened her eyes she sat up and knew why she was so instantly, completely awake. Today was the day she would go with Harry, and she was free, an adult, a woman. She put her hand to her chest and felt the locket.

Like a clap of thunder, the memory of last night came back. She fell back on her pillow and stared at the darkness. The thing that had happened to them was like a mountain compared to the anthill of turning seventeen. She didn’t understand it, but the experience was stuck in her, implanted, cemented. She knew that it would never leave her.

She took the locket from inside her nightgown, felt the inlaid rubies, and opened it. The green sparks shone in the dark. She closed it and tucked it back inside; she was going to wear it under her clothes, next to her skin, wanting to be constantly reminded of the picture inside and the two green sparks and the clearing in the center of the field.

A rustling noise near the window interrupted her reverie. Ginny lit a candle and two yellow eyes blinked at her. She jumped out of bed, went to Bailey’s cage, and opened it. The owl hopped onto Ginny’s outstretched forearm and gave her elbow a tickling peck. Ginny brought her arm up to her face and Bailey nibbled her lower lip.

“You’re beautiful, Bailey. Do you want to hunt? I’ll be gone all day, so you can stay out as long as you want.” She laughed. “We both can.” She carried Bailey to the open window and watched for the few seconds she could see the winged form as it flew into the darkness.

A soft knock and Harry’s loud whisper came from the door. “Ginny? Are you up?”

Ginny ran to the door and threw it open. Harry looked her up and down; he was already dressed. “I’m ready . . .” He suddenly seemed to have lost his train of thought.

Ginny laughed at his expression. “Yes, but for what? Never mind, I’ll be down in a minute.” She quickly closed the door before he could speak again, and leaned her back against it, listening. She heard a deep sigh and, after a few seconds, footsteps descending the stairs.

She dressed quickly, with her mind racing just as fast. This was the day, the day she had been waiting for since she had come home from Hogwarts. She had been anticipating it for so long, she was almost afraid it would be gone before she could experience it. She knew that Harry’s surprise had something to do with his living in Hogsmeade, but she had no clue otherwise. It couldn’t be something as mundane as a flat over one of the shops on the High Street; that would be too boring. It had to be something special.

She finished dressing and ran downstairs. Harry was at the table and her mum at the stove. Ginny smelled porridge, sausages, melon slices, and fresh coffee.

“’Morning, Mum. Hi, sweetie.” She kissed Harry’s cheek and sat next to him. Molly put their breakfasts in front of them and sat down across the table.

She looked from one to the other. “Now you’ll be careful, won’t you? I know you’ve done lots of Apparating, Harry, so I know you will be careful. Just remember, destination, determination, deliberation.”

“We know, Mum,” Ginny mumbled through a mouthful of porridge. “Harry Apparated all over the countryside last year. We’ll be fine.”

“Well, yes dear, I know, and I’m sure Harry will be careful, but you didn’t get a chance to practice at school, so just be sure you hold on tightly.”

“Mum! We will be fine.”

Molly sat back, opened her mouth and closed it. She looked from Ginny to Harry and back.

Harry smiled. “Really, Mrs. Weasley, it’ll be okay. All the time I was Apparating last year I was always looking over my shoulder for Death Eaters. It’ll be a lot easier now, so don’t worry.”

She gazed at him, and Ginny glanced at him too. He looked a little uncomfortable at first under her mum’s eye, but he smiled again. “I’ll take care of Ginny, Mrs. Weasley, I promise.”

Molly blinked. “I know you will, Harry. I think you’ll take better care of her than anyone ever has.” She got up and turned her back, but Ginny had seen the tears in her eyes.

Dawn broke, and people drifted downstairs. Hermione came down just behind Arthur, and soon Ron appeared, yawning and scratching his back where the worst of his sunburn was peeling. Fleur tripped brightly into the kitchen, flouncing her long silver hair just for the pleasure of it, and Ginny wondered if Fleur’s cheerfulness so early in the morning ever annoyed Bill.

As soon as there was enough light, Harry and Ginny went outside; both were wearing light traveling cloaks against the possibility of weather. Molly hugged them—Ginny was sure it was the first one for Harry since the notice from the Ministry had arrived—and Ron told them that he and Hermione would meet them in time for dinner. Ginny’s father gave her a kiss and took Harry’s hand in both of his. “Have a good time, son,” he said. Ginny took Harry’s left elbow, but watched her dad walk back to the house.

Harry put his right hand on Ginny’s right, the one holding his arm. “Ready?”

Ginny nodded vigorously. Thoughts of her parents vanished and she had to restrain herself from bouncing on her feet. She tightened her grip, felt Harry turn, and a crushing sensation pressed the air out of her lungs. She whirled with him, concentrating on the elbow in her grip, but Harry’s hand was also holding her tightly. In only a moment the crushing feeling was gone and they were standing in a lane in front of a building. It was cooler than it had been at the Burrow. She looked around and recognized Hogsmeade, but as she dropped Harry’s arm, she was momentarily disoriented; the building in front of them was strange, and she did not recognize it.

Ginny looked at Harry; he was grinning, his green eyes sparkling. He made a sweeping gesture with his arm. “Happy birthday again. Do you like it?”

“I . . . sure, yes . . . but, what is it?”

Harry laughed. “I was hoping you’d say something like that. It’s the Hog’s Head! I bought it last spring and I’ve spent the whole summer fixing it up for you. Do you like it?”

Ginny’s jaw dropped; she stared at the pristine, whitewashed walls, the bright red trim, the window boxes bursting with red, yellow, purple, orange, and pink blossoms. She turned her head and saw Scrivenshaft’s and Gladrags down the lane, the back of Dervish and Banges off to the side, and behind her, across an open field, the back of the post office and, past that, the Three Broomsticks. The railroad station was down the hill out of sight.

She pointed to the empty bracket over the door. “Where’s that horrible sign? Are you getting a new one?”

“I told the goblins they could have it.”

“The goblins?”

“I bought it from them. They used to own it before Aberforth, then right after the battle he sold it back, and it’s a long story, but I ended up with it.”

Ginny shook her head. “I still don’t understand. Why did you buy it? Who’s going to run it?”

“Me.”

Ginny was now totally perplexed. “Harry, you’re going to run it? You’re going to run an inn? Is that what you want?”

“Ginny! Wait! I think it’ll be fun, maybe . . . I hope . . . But I did it so I could be here, with you. It’s a place for both of us, don’t you see?”

Ginny could tell that Harry had started to worry, but she still didn’t understand. “It’s . . . it’s a great idea, it really is. But . . ." She looked up and saw the open casement window on the upper floor with bright yellow curtains hanging in it. Suddenly she understood. “Harry, is that a flat up there?”

He followed her look, and laughed again, this time in relief. “Yes. Oh, Merlin, you thought it was still like it was before, when you went through the portrait into Hogwarts.”

Ginny took his hand. “I think I’m beginning to get the idea. Show it to me!”

He opened the front door and they went inside. Harry waved his wand, and hundreds of candles flared in the two chandeliers, in brass candlesticks lining the mirrors behind the bar, and in dozens of sconces lining the walls. The room was flooded with light from the candles and from the glittering crystals of the chandeliers. Ginny gasped and put her hands to her mouth. After a moment of wide-eyed wonder, she went to the bar and looked behind it, at the mug and glass racks above and at the ornate mirror, encased in a gilt frame with inlays of stained glass that reflected a rainbow of colors from all the candles.

Harry led her through a door next to the bar into the kitchen, and Ginny couldn’t help the “Oooh” that escaped her. “Harry, this is beautiful! How did you do all this?”

“It wasn’t me, no way. I hired a contractor that Bill told me about, Tony. You’ll meet him. He lives right outside the village and he’s—”

“Wait! Is that Tony Trostle?”

“Yes. Do you know him?”

“No, but Dad told me that he was the one who organized the village to fight.”

“At the battle? Last spring? I never knew that.”

“I can’t wait to meet him! He helped save all our lives. And he can do this too.” She gestured around the kitchen. “Amazing.”

Harry’s demeanor suddenly turned sober. “Ginny, that problem I didn’t want to tell you about? I think I should now. Tony’s been helping me with that too.”  He paused. “Someone put a Dark Mark over the back door. I found it just before I went home last week. Tony tried to find out who did it, but no one saw anything and we still don’t know anything. It looked like it was painted on the wall, and I don’t think they used magic to put it there.”

“A Dark Mark?” Ginny felt a chill, even though the room was pleasantly warm. “Well what kind of effing moron would do that? It wasn’t a Death Eater, they’re all in jail. It had to be a prank.”

“Yeah, that’s what I think, but I’m sorry, Gin, I wanted it to be perfect.” He leaned against a counter and heaved a sigh.

Ginny hated to see the disappointment in his face, so different from the pleasure that had been there a moment ago. She put her arms around him.

“Love, it’s all right. They can’t do anything to us. We’re so much stronger, can’t you feel it? And people like Tony aren’t afraid anymore. We aren’t alone. The inn is beautiful. Come, I want to see the upstairs.”

She pulled him away from the counter and kissed him. When he pressed himself to her, Harry felt the locket under her blouse. “Ah, there it is.” He put his hand on it. “I was wondering if you had worn it.”

“I like where it is,” she smiled. Harry knew that she meant his hand as well as the locket.

“Come on,” he grinned, “there’s more to see.” He led her out the back door to the small vestibule, with the stairs on the right climbing to the flat, and in front of them the door to the field behind the inn. “I want to show you where it was.” He opened the door and suddenly stopped.

Ten yards away under the spreading elm tree, Winky was getting to her feet. Next to her was a blanket and a large copper ladle, the same one she had tried to clobber Tony with a week ago. She looked at them, blinking away sleep.

“Good morning, Harry Potter,” she squeaked. “You is back with Ginny Weasley.”

“Winky,” Harry said, “what are you doing?”

“Winky is waking up. She will make breakfast for Harry and Ginny Pott– for Harry Potter and Ginny Weasley, if they wants.”

Ginny giggled. Harry glanced at her, uncertain how or if to react to the elf’s slip of the tongue. He said to Winky, “No, I meant what were you doing out here? Have you been sleeping under that tree?”

Winky rose to her full height of a little over two feet and looked at them sternly. “Winky has been guarding this door, and no one has come to put the evil sign on it.”

“Where was it?” Ginny asked, and Harry indicated the spot above the lintel. “Winky,” she said to the elf who had come to stand next to them, “you’ve been sleeping out here every night?”

“Harry Potter’s home will not be harmed while Winky is here.” She folded her arms and glared at them. “Does you want breakfast?”

Ginny laughed and Harry grinned. “No, thanks,” he said. “We already ate. But we’ll have lunch later, okay? Do you have anything for lunch?”

The elf looked at him as though he was crazy. “Of course Winky does.” She bowed to them and looked sideways at Ginny. “Winky will be in the kitchen all morning.” She went past them through the vestibule and closed the kitchen door behind her.

“She’ll be in the kitchen all morning,” Ginny told Harry; she swayed ever so slightly, and waited. Harry was lost in thought and didn’t move for a moment, so Ginny gave his hand a tug. “When did you get another elf?”

“What?” he suddenly said; he hadn’t heard her. “I was just wondering how she knew we would want lunch.”

“Don’t ask me, I never had a house-elf. But from what I’ve seen of Kreacher and now her, I’d say they can read minds.”

“Merlin, I hope not,” Harry muttered, and looked guiltily at her.

She laughed. “Come on, show me the flat.”

They climbed the stairs, but before Harry opened the door at the top, he paused. “I hope you like it.”

“I already love it.” Ginny had no trouble sounding enthusiastic; everything from the brilliant dining room to the perfect kitchen to finding a house-elf standing guard was fantastic. She could not imagine that Harry’s flat would be different.

The first thing she saw when he opened the door was the fireplace, and she immediately recognized it as a copy of the one in the Burrow. She walked around the love seat that faced it and stood on the brick hearth, running her hand along the smooth, dark mantel as Harry watched.

“How did you do this?” she asked. “It’s beautiful. It’s perfect.”

“So you like it?” Harry was still by the door, grinning.

“Like it? Harry . . . Yes, I love it. You made it like the one in the parlor.” She came to him and hugged him. “It’s the best birthday present ever! Except for the locket, I mean. But this one’s great too. They’re both . . .” She stopped as Harry kissed her. “Mmm, where’s the . . .”

“Over here.” Harry led her to the bedroom. The magnificent four-poster with its red and gold hangings stood there, solid, stately, grand. “This is what I especially wanted for you.”

“Harry . . .”

His mouth was on hers and his hands were everywhere as they fell onto the bed. “Harry, Harry,” was all Ginny could say, except, “Yes.”

Around noon they wandered into the small kitchen, which Ginny hadn’t seen yet. “Cute,” she said. “Cozy. Perfect for late night snacks.”

“Wait a minute. How do you do that? That’s exactly what I thought a month ago when I told Tony what I wanted.”

She laughed. “It seems like a good idea.” She went through the cabinets and cupboards. “Um, Harry, there’s nothing here. What were you planning to eat with?”

“I wanted you to pick it all out. I don’t know anything about that stuff. Can you?”

“Of course. You need more furniture too, and some rugs. How about a big, furry rug in front of the fireplace?”

“Absolutely. And can you help me pick out some pictures and decorations? The only picture I have is that one of Hogwarts, but I want to put up more.”

“You have some photos, don’t you, of your parents? You can put one or two on the mantel.”

“And I need one of you, for the bedroom.”

Ginny blushed. “Well, I need one of you for my dorm.”

“That’s settled, then. We’ll go into Diagon Alley and get pictures taken and buy everything we need for . . . for our home.” Harry paused. “Well, Winky’s probably ready. Wait here, I’ll go see.”

Ginny walked around the flat while Harry was gone. She noticed the painting of Hogwarts on the wall for the first time, and stood in front of it, wondering where in Merlin’s name he had found something so awful. She ran her hand over the mantel again, and walked to the casement window, pushed the curtains aside and looked out. She could see the Astronomy Tower at Hogwarts over the roofs of the village, and thought that it would be fun to visit the castle today. She had never been there during the summer, when few people were around; it would be interesting to see it like that, and to see if all the damage was repaired.

She went into the bedroom and made the bed. This morning was the first time that Harry had loved her in a proper bed, and it had been beautiful: warm, snug, and safe. The outdoors had its virtues, but she preferred this. And the bed itself was perfect, like everything that Harry had done here.

Back in the sitting room she went to the picture window and gazed across green meadows at the purple hills in the distance. It was a nice view, not grandiose but pretty and quiet. Perfect, again.  It was almost too good to be real, like a children’s fairy tale. And she knew why Harry wanted to make everything perfect, why he constantly asked if she liked it: it was the other side of the coin of his insecurity. She could sense all too painfully when he had his moments of doubt and loneliness, when he thought that he could never be happy or that he didn’t even have a right to be happy. This inn and the nest he had built in it were his reach for that happiness. Some parts of it, like the pathetic painting of Hogwarts and the empty cupboards in the kitchen, were endearing in their clumsiness, but if his goal was to achieve happiness by pleasing her, he was well on his way.

Still, Ginny knew that they—she—had to be careful. Harry’s victory over Riddle and his craving for happiness sometimes combined to make him a charging, fire-breathing dragon, capable of accidentally incinerating anything and anyone in his way. She herself could be consumed. It wasn’t that she didn’t want him or want to live with him, or couldn’t imagine any future better than a life with him, but sometimes Harry’s ferocious needs took her breath away, as had just happened in the bedroom.

Some of it was her own doing, her inability to stop herself, as she had told her mother the morning her father had brought out the list of underage magic. But she was not sorry for it. There were girls at school who said they would not have sex before marriage because it was wrong. But how could what happened last night, after Harry showed her what was in the locket, be wrong? How could it be wrong to give and receive so much joy? How could it be wrong to feel so close to someone? The question was not whether it was right for them to be so close, but whether the closeness could hurt them.

Harry’s longing for happiness could easily devour them both. She might be desperate for him sometimes, but she was not, like him, desperate for happiness. In the past, some of her “friends” had warned her about him. He was “damaged goods,” they said, he would hurt her. Everyone knew he had been raised by Muggles who hated him: he had come to Hogwarts looking like a starved rat. There was an element of truth in what they said. Ginny looked on it, though, not as a danger, but as a problem that had to be dealt with and solved, and the crux of her concern about the inn was whether Harry had created a solution or an obstacle.

She heard him coming back up the stairs and turned to face the room. This inn and her being there meant so much to him, and he had done it so well! She was not surprised that he seemed to know exactly what would please her, what kind of chivalry would melt her heart, even though he had so little experience at it. They had both noticed how tuned in to each other’s feelings and thoughts they were, and here was another example.

The door opened and Harry was back, and Ginny instantly knew that whatever fears she harbored about the inn could never stand up against the feelings that flooded her when she saw his smiling and eager face. She would keep her concerns in the back of her mind, but she would embrace her birthday gift.

“Lunch is ready,” he said, “I hope you’re hungry.”

Winky was standing on a stool next to a cutting board with a knife in each hand chopping walnuts; the blades were moving so fast they were just blurs, making a rapid clacking sound. She put the knives down, and ushered them into the dining room. The chandeliers were still lit and the shutters closed; it made the room seem intimate and private. A single table for two had been placed in the center, covered with a white linen tablecloth. A silver candelabra with a single candle stood on it. All the other tables had been pushed back to the walls.

Harry led Ginny to the table and held a chair for her as she sat. Winky served a luncheon delight: cold potato soup, tossed salad, baked salmon with a buttery lemon sauce, string beans, finished off with ice cream sundaes smothered in chocolate syrup and walnuts. When they were done, Ginny leaned back and put her hand on her stomach. “I’m stuffed. That was as good a meal as my mum ever made.”

Winky cleared the table—there was definitely magic in how quickly the dirty dishes disappeared, and Harry wondered if the elf had brought some techniques with her from Hogwarts. He and Ginny went back to the kitchen, but Winky shooed them away.

“Don’t get in Winky’s way,” she scolded. “Harry and Ginny Pott—Ginny Weasley has their own kitchen upstairs. They should go clean that one if they wants.”

“Let’s go for a walk instead,” Harry laughed. They went out the back door, and Harry glanced up at the wall above the lintel. Ginny watched his face.

“There must be some kind of protection you can put on the building,” she said. “Why don’t you ask Professor Flitwick? We could walk over to Hogwarts and see him.”

Harry chewed on his lip, thinking. “No, I don’t want to get everyone all worked up about it. I don’t think anyone outside the village knows. But you’re right, there must be something, I’ll ask Hermione. The problem is that it wasn’t put up there with magic. They may have used a magical brush, but the Mark itself was only paint. They could have bought it at a Muggle store. And the brush spell wasn’t even Dark magic. What if Tony has to touch up the paint or repair something? I’d have to undo the spell and then put it back on. I’m damned if I I’ll let them keep me from doing what I want.”

To Ginny it didn’t seem like that much trouble, but Harry was clearly adamant, and she didn’t want to argue about anything today. She pulled his arm. “Let’s go, I want to see the castle.”

They walked down the High Street, but as they passed The Three Broomsticks Madam Rosmerta opened the door and waved to them. “Harry! Ginny! Someone said they saw you. Come in for a drink.”

Harry looked at Ginny; she nodded, and they followed the proprietress inside. It was crowded, and Rosmerta led them to her table in the back. As Ginny passed between tables the customers all greeted Harry and smiled at her, but she suddenly felt the hairs on the back of the neck stand up, and a simultaneous urge to pull out her wand.

She glanced around. The inn was full of people enjoying their meals and their drinks, talking and laughing with friends. Something made her look at a table near the door where four younger patrons were sitting, three wizards and a witch. The witch was staring at Harry, and Ginny now knew why her hackles had risen. She stopped and studied the witch with narrowed eyes.

The word that came to Ginny when she looked closely was “slut.” She could only see her from the chest up, and there was plenty to see. Besides her extremely low-cut blouse, she was wearing neon-red lipstick and heavy mascara; her long blonde hair hung loosely, and when she noticed Ginny she tossed it with a casual shake of her head. She picked up a shot glass and flung its contents down in one gulp without taking her eyes from Ginny, then put the glass down and deliberately looked away.

She was now staring at Harry again, who had moved to the back with Rosmerta. Ginny glared at the witch until the hussy looked at her, and held the blonde’s eyes with her own ablaze before turning and joining Harry. She still felt the urge to throw a hex, but decided it wouldn’t be good for Rosmerta’s business if a customer’s face suddenly blossomed with bat bogeys. She sat in a chair with her back to the blonde witch.

A waitress brought over three butterbeers, and Harry introduced her to Ginny. “This is Harriet Smythe, and she’s the one who got me my new barkeep, you’ll never guess who: Stan Shunpike. He worked at the Leaky Cauldron before the Knight Bus.”

“Harry, that’s brilliant!” He had told Ginny all about his confrontation with Stan during his escape from Privet Drive, and she knew how upset he had been. “So you’re a friend of Stan’s?” she asked Harriet.

“Well, maybe a little more than that,” Harriet laughed. “At least I’d like to think so.”

Ginny grinned. “It will be good to see him. I only met him the one time I took the Knight Bus three years ago, and I’m glad he’s not in trouble.”

Harriet left to serve other customers, and Harry and Rosmerta talked business; Rosmerta was trying out some new drinks that had just come on the market, and she offered to sell Harry a sample for the Hog’s Head. Harry accepted, and they were about to leave when Ginny leaned towards Rosmerta.

“Who is that blonde witch sitting near the door?” she said, turning to point her out, but only the three wizards were still there, looking morose; their companion had left.

Ginny looked from Rosmerta to Harry. He was frowning slightly, and Ginny knew that he had either seen the woman when they came in, or had met her before.

Rosmerta was also frowning. “That was Turquoise Southeby. She wanted the cook’s job at Harry’s inn, and she was here for an interview last week.”

“I should have told you,” Harry said, “but she was so ridiculous. Some people even thought she might have put the Dark Mark up because she didn’t get the job, but she had an alibi. I still wouldn’t put it past her.” He looked at the door, and suddenly the inn went quiet and most of the other customers also turned.

Ginny knew without looking who it was, but she was still unprepared for what she saw. Turquoise was about to sit at the table she had left, but she paused, undoubtedly to make sure everyone noticed her. Now she was wearing very tight white shorts and a matching, skimpy halter-top. Before she took her chair, she gazed directly at Harry, and her manner was so brazen that several customers also looked at him.

Ginny heard Harry’s chair scrape the floor and she rose with him. Rosmerta muttered an apology, but Harry waved it off, took Ginny’s arm, and walked her through the crowd to the front of the room. Neither of them looked at Southeby, but when they were a few steps from the door, Harry put his arm around Ginny’s waist and pulled her close. Outside, as they turned towards the railroad station and the lane to Hogwarts, Harry said, without looking at Ginny, and in a voice as angry as she had ever heard from him, “Bitch!”

Chapter Text

Harry dropped his arm from Ginny’s waist and took her hand as they crossed the tracks and headed up the lane. He started to speak but snapped his mouth shut, and after a moment said, “I was just about to say something nasty, but I thought, that’s exactly what she wants. The hell with that. This is your day, and nothing’s going to spoil it.”

Ginny let out her breath, which she had been holding in anticipation of an explosion. “We should talk about her,” she said tersely.

“What for? She’s trash. As long as she’s not bothering you, I don’t care.” He stopped and turned to her; they were near the gates. “Is she bothering you? I’ll go back and make her stop.”

“No, don’t, Harry. It’s not that. She’s not just trash.” Ginny couldn’t forget the prickly feeling on the back of her neck when she walked into The Three Broomsticks.

“What do you mean?”

“I can’t explain it, but even before I saw her, something made me want to throw a hex.” She smiled a little. “I’m used to your admirers, they don’t bother me, although this one’s gone a little beyond what any girl at Hogwarts ever did, at least as far as I know.”

They started walking again, and both of them looked up at the winged boars perched atop the pillars. Ahead was the castle. Ginny could see no external damage; the hole in Gryffindor Tower’s roof was repaired, in fact it didn’t look like there had ever been a hole.

“Is everything fixed?” she asked.

“I was there last week and I couldn’t see any damage. It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”

Ginny smiled. “I love it.”

“So why did you want to hex her?”

“I don’t know, but I don’t think she’s just a simple tramp.”

“Do you think she painted the Dark Mark?”

“You said she had an alibi. But she’s doing things no normal woman would do in public. Either she’s crazy, or she has other motives.”

“Yeah, but what?”

“I don’t know. Does Rosmerta know anything about her?”

Harry told her what he had learned, and Ginny shook her head. “I can’t figure it out.”

“Well, let’s forget about it. As long as she’s not bothering you, I don’t want to think about her.” They were at the bottom of the steps, and could see the entrance hall inside the open doors. Harry grinned. “They left the doors open. Professor McGonagall must not think she’s a problem, either.”

Ginny laughed. Her spirits had risen again after the brief unpleasantness, and she put her arm through Harry’s as they passed the doors. Looking around, everything seemed exactly as it had been before the battle. The House hourglasses were intact, the upper halves filled with colored jewels. The balustrades were repaired, as were the marble stairs, the walls and the floor. They looked into the Great Hall; the enchanted ceiling was inactive, but sunlight was streaming through the high windows and falling on the four tables, empty now.

They climbed up to Gryffindor Tower, but the Fat Lady refused to let them in without the password. She had a smirk on her face as they tried some random phrases. “Go get it from the Headmistress, if you’re so anxious to go inside. You’ll never guess it.”

They decided to see first if Professor Flitwick was in his office, so they walked around to the West Tower and knocked on his door. When there was no answer they traipsed through the corridors and down several staircases to Professor McGonagall’s office. The portraits along the way greeted them, and the wizards bowed to Ginny, flourishing their hats. The password that Harry had used last week—“Firth of Forth”—still worked. They were carried up the spiral stairs, and knocked on the door.

“Come!” the Headmistress called. Inside, McGonagall was standing at a bookshelf, perusing a large, leather-bound volume, but she put it back on the shelf and smiled when she saw them. “Mr. Potter and Miss Weasley, it’s good to see you.” She went to her desk and sat. “Have a seat. Harry, there’s something I want to discuss with you.”

They took seats in chairs that appeared behind them. “We were wondering if you could give us the password for the Fat Lady,” Harry said. “She wouldn’t let us in.”

“‘Everything’s fine’,” said the Headmistress.

“It is,” smiled Harry. “I’ve got the inn all set up, and we had Winky’s first meal this afternoon.”

“I’m glad to hear that, but I was giving you the password.” Ginny tried to hide a laugh with a hand over her mouth.

“Oh,” said Harry; he grinned at Ginny. “Got it.”

McGonagall also smiled. “Did you just stop by for a visit, then? Well, as long as you’re here, I need to talk about the Dark Mark on your inn, Harry.”

“Oh,” Harry said once again, unpleasantly surprised. He had not wanted news about the Mark to go beyond Hogsmeade, but now he realized how unlikely that hope had been, and wondered who else knew. “It was probably just a prank.”

“Why do you think that?” McGonagall asked. “There are still people out there who wanted Riddle to succeed. Since you are the one who destroyed him, they have a motive.”

“To do what? It was crude, and it was on the back wall where no one would see it. I got rid of it with a simple cleaning charm.”

“Perhaps, but remember, his leaders and his most talented followers are all dead or in prison. The ones remaining are not capable, at least not yet, of doing much more than annoy you.”

Ginny spoke up. “If they’re so inept, why get all worried? Harry is ten times the wizard any of them are. What could they do to him?”

“Probably not much. But word spreads, and others who are not so clumsy but may harbor similar feelings will hear and become encouraged. But that is not my primary concern right now. Whatever happens in Hogsmeade affects Hogwarts. Students go there on weekends. Parents and other visitors often stay there. It is one of our windows into the wizarding world. Do you see why someone’s defacing your building with a Dark Mark concerns me?”

“Yes,” Harry admitted, “but if it was just a kid trying to be funny, I still don’t see why all the fuss. They had their fun, and that’s the end of it.”

He was growing annoyed. Ever since he had arrived in Hogsmeade with Ginny he had wanted to put the Dark Mark behind him. If the perpetrator was nothing more than a local truant, he knew that he or Tony or Rosmerta could deal with it. He did not want headmistresses or Aurors or anyone else sticking their wands into it. It would mean nothing but problems and interference with him and Ginny.

McGonagall peered at him over her eyeglasses, eyebrows arched. “I am not making a fuss, Harry, I am doing my job, which is first and foremost the safety of my students. Surely you were aware that one of the few things that made Professor Dumbledore irritable was questioning his commitment to the security of Hogwarts. Maybe it was just a ‘kid’ as you say, but maybe it was someone with more serious intentions.”

Harry glanced at the wall behind McGonagall and saw that Dumbledore’s portrait was empty, and realized that contention was counterproductive because, simply, he would not be able to keep the Headmistress’s nose out of The Hog’s Head if she wanted it there. He tried deflection.

“What I was thinking of doing was to ask Professor Flitwick about protective charms, maybe even some detection spells to let me know when someone is out back."

“It’s an excellent idea to see Professor Flitwick. Maybe he can even make it an assignment as part of your private lessons.”

Harry glanced at Ginny; they both stood. “He wasn’t in his office when we stopped by,” Harry said. “Maybe we’ll look for him later.”

McGonagall nodded and wished them good day. “But remember, Harry, whatever happens in Hogsmeade concerns me.”

Back in the corridor Ginny grinned at Harry. “Yes, an excellent Idea,” she repeated the Headmistress’s line.

Harry shrugged. “I didn’t want to fight with her. She’s good friends with Rosmerta, so she’s going to know whatever happens in Hogsmeade. And she’s right, too. It’s her job. I just don’t want a lot of official-types sticking their noses into the inn. Just leave me the hell alone!”

Ginny looked at him in surprise. “What’s wrong, Harry? No one’s trying to meddle. If there are followers of Riddle still out there, people need to know.”

“Yeah, I know,” Harry said more calmly as they stood again in front of the Fat Lady. “It’s just . . . Ginny, don’t you see? I just want to be with you. That’s the reason I’m doing all this, and every time someone or something gets in the way, I get frustrated. My whole life, I’ve been told what to do. The Dursleys, Dumbledore . . .” He shook his head.

“Don’t, love,” she said softly. “It will all be wonderful. It will be just you and me, and I can’t wait for school to start. I’ll be Quidditch captain and I’ll be with you. I don’t care about anything else.” She kissed him, and the Fat Lady coughed. They both looked at her. “Everything’s fine,” said Ginny. “It really is.”

“So it seems,” the portrait sniffed. She swung back and they climbed through into the common room.

Harry stood before the fireplace and gazed around. Everything was in its place and ready for school to begin; there was none of the clutter and disorder that marked the term from day one, after the first students had arrived. There was no fire in the fireplace, but Harry’s favorite battered old easy chair was there and he put his hand on it. “I’ll miss this place. I missed it last year.”

Ginny had hesitated by the portrait hole. “Harry, let’s go back to Hogsmeade.”

Harry turned. “Okay, but I thought you wanted to see the castle.”

”I did, but . . . I have an idea.”

Harry’s plaint out in the hallway had disturbed Ginny. His words recalled her thoughts up in the flat before lunch, just an hour or two earlier. The day had been so special, so full of happy things and love, that she didn’t want his spirits to slide into a pit—or even a little hole—and ruin an almost perfect day. Instead, what she had in mind would help Harry complete his dream of a home for them.

They left—the Fat Lady “toodle-ooing” them off—and started down the corridor to the stairs. “What’s your idea?” Harry asked. “Do you want to go back to the flat?” He looked at her hopefully.

“Not right away,” Ginny giggled. “I thought . . . maybe . . . we could Apparate to Diagon Alley and buy some things.”

“A shopping trip?”

“Yes!” Ginny took his arm. “There’s so many new shops there. Hermione was telling me about some of them. We could get almost everything we need, and have our pictures taken. We’d still be able to get back in time for dinner.”

“Okay, if that’s what you want. Should you tell your . . .” Harry didn’t finish the sentence when he saw her frown, but he laughed. “Sorry, I forgot. We’re on our own.”

They walked back to the inn and told Winky what they were doing, and left her with a message for Ron and Hermione in case they arrived first. Ginny took Harry’s arm and in a moment they were in Diagon Alley in front of Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes. They went in and saw Lee Jordan behind the counter. He waved and they pushed their way to him through the crowded store.

“Happy birthday, and how was the party, Ginny?” he greeted them.

Ginny told him about her presents as Harry looked around. The shop appeared to be thriving with a few dozen customers and their children wandering around or buying jokes. Two of the young witches who had been at Fred’s funeral were also behind the counter. Ginny chatted with Lee for a while; he knew about the inn, and congratulated Harry and told him he would be up for a firewhiskey after it opened. They told Lee they would stop back before returning home, and went out into the busy street.

Hermione was right, there were many new businesses, and all of the Dark Arts shops that Harry had seen when he broke into Gringotts were gone. Ginny pulled him into Kolarovski’s, a rug emporium specializing in Persian rugs, and Harry walked out poorer by several hundred Galleons but the owner of two new floor coverings, an intricate Persian for the bedroom and a very thick, red shag for in front of the fireplace.

Next door was a new bookstore called The Crooked Mile, and they went inside to compare their prices with Flourish and Blotts. But when the owner saw Harry, she shrieked and threw herself at him and began sobbing on his chest. He looked at Ginny in bewilderment. When they finally got her calmed down, she told them that she was one of the Muggle-borns who Harry had rescued in the Department of Mysteries. She had been cowering on the floor outside the hearing room with the others when Harry and Hermione had burst out, wielding their Patronuses and driving the dementors away.

After she escaped from the Ministry, she found her family and they went into hiding in Ireland where her husband had relatives. Now they were back in England, and she had opened the bookstore with gold from a compensation fund set up for people who had been persecuted by the Death Eater regime.

“Bless Kingsley Shacklebolt,” she said as she wiped tears from her face, “and bless you, Harry Potter. You saved my life and my children’s lives.”

Harry mumbled his thanks, and asked if she had any books on advanced charms and spells. The witch took them to a small section of charms books. “I don’t carry too many of these,” she said. “I can’t compete with the big boys down the block. I specialize mostly in sports. My husband used to play Quidditch, and my two boys love sports.” She glanced at Harry as though she wanted to ask him something, and when he had finished looking over two or three volumes, she spoke to him.

“Mr. Potter, do you know what happened to that witch who was running those hearings? She looked like a fat little toad.”

Harry snorted. “That’s her exactly. Dolores Umbridge, evil personified. I don’t know where she is. I never asked, but I suppose she’s in Azkaban.” He frowned for a moment. “I’m sure she is, otherwise I would have heard that she had escaped.”

“Are you certain? I’m asking because my children still have nightmares about her. She questioned them when I was arrested, terrorized them is more like it, and when she comes to trial I want to testify against her.” The woman was close to tears again.

Harry touched her hand. “I’m glad you all got away. I’ll try to find out where she is.”

They left the store with Ginny’s arm in Harry’s. “How quickly we forget,” he said as they walked along. “It was bad enough for me and your family, but for someone like them, they had to choose between leaving the country and maybe dying or losing their children.”

As they strolled down the Alley, they began to notice people looking at them, and heard a few whispers as they passed. They ducked into Hippolites’ Home Furnishings, next door to Gringotts, and Ginny started picking out kitchenware. The clerk recognized Harry, and hovered over them in a most irritating way, constantly asking if they needed help or offering advice for the young couple setting up house for the first time. That got Harry extremely annoyed, and he wanted to leave, but by then Ginny had already selected dishes, utensils, pots, pans, mugs, glasses, and even a few small, framed pictures of magical British landscapes, and she told the clerk, kindly but firmly, to leave them alone or else lose the sale. He retreated behind his counter, but watched them until they came to pay.

“Find everything you were looking for?” he asked cheerfully. “We can always special order, you know. Have you seen our catalog? We have other stores in Lancaster and Plymouth, if you ever happen to be there.”

He chattered on, obviously not wanting the famous Harry Potter to leave. Other customers began to drift over, gawking, until Harry decided to lure them away so they wouldn’t bother Ginny. He started walking aimlessly around the shop, the crowd following him, until he saw that Ginny was finished. He went to the counter, quickly paid, and they left.

“Let’s just get our pictures taken,” Harry said. “This is getting on my nerves.”  They walked past Gringotts, and Harry saw that the damage caused by the escaping dragon was repaired. The goblin guards standing in front recognized him, though, and one of them scurried inside. “Probably warning them to beef up security,” Harry laughed. They continued on to the apothecary that stood near the entrance to the Leaky Cauldron; in a photographer’s studio in the back they had their pictures taken. They bought frames, conveniently on sale in the front, and steeled themselves for the walk back to Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes.

“This is so strange,” Ginny said as they walked as quickly as they could without actually running, attracting stares. “No one ever paid any attention to me like this. I guess it goes with the territory.”

Harry grinned. “So you’ll stick it out with me?”

“Through thick and thin. I just furnished our flat, so I have to.” They laughed together until they got to the joke shop.

“Did you get waylaid?” Lee asked them. “People were coming in talking about seeing you out there.”

“Yeah, but there was only one really obnoxious one,” Harry said. They showed him the photographs and, as dusk began to fall, Disapparated back to Hogsmeade, appearing in the kitchen where they had left from.

Winky was not there, but light came from the dining room. Ron and Hermione were sitting at the bar and Winky was behind it on a stool, trying to get the butterbeer keg to work. She was vigorously pumping the handle, sweat pouring down her face and dripping onto the bar, muttering to herself and surprising Harry with some of the words coming out of her mouth.

“There’s nothing in the keg yet,” Harry said as he and Ginny joined them. “We won’t be getting any butterbeer or anything else in for another couple of weeks.”

“Well, why doesn’t Harry Potter say so?” Winky glared at him, wiped her face with a bar towel, threw it down on the counter and jumped off the stool. When she appeared from behind the bar she threw Harry another dirty look and stalked into the kitchen, slamming the door behind her.

“I never told her to tend bar,” Harry said apologetically to Hermione. “I hope she’ll cook dinner.”

“So you went to Diagon Alley?” Ron asked as they moved to a table and sat down together. Harry showed them the photos they had taken in the apothecary. “Why didn’t you tell us? We could have come along.”

“We were shopping,” Ginny answered when Harry hesitated. “For the flat. It was fun.”

“Really?” said Hermione. “Where did you go? Did you see that cute new clothing store next to Eeylops? I saw a dress there I wanted to try on, but this one—” she pointed at Ron with her thumb “— didn’t want to be late for your party, which we got to three full days ahead of time, in case you didn’t notice.” She said the last directly to Ron, who shrugged.

“I hate shopping,” he said to Harry. “I never knew I did until I had to wait an hour and a half in Madam Malkin’s while she tried on robes for her new job. I actually thought I had died. I think my heart really did stop beating, I was so bored.”

“It was only twenty minutes, and the reason you waited was because those two witches were running in and out of the dressing room without bothering to close the door. I told you if you waited in the Quidditch store I’d stop by for you.”

Ron shrugged again. “Anyway, I do hate shopping, so more power to you, mate, if you actually liked it.”

“I did, except for the people following us around. Wait till you see the great rugs we bought. And we can eat up there now. Ginny picked out plates and stuff.”

“We’ve never seen your flat,” Hermione said.

“That’s right! Come on!” Harry jumped up and they all followed him through the kitchen where Winky was busy at the sink and didn’t look up, and into the vestibule. Harry opened the back door and stepped outside. “Here’s where the Dark Mark was.” He pointed above the door. Hermione looked at it, also around at the field behind the building, and pointed to Dervish and Banges at the top of the High Street.

“There’s a clear view from there,” she said. “Did you ask if they saw anything?”

“I didn’t myself, but I assume Tony did. That would be an obvious place to start. I’ll ask him.”

Harry led them back inside and up to the flat. Nothing had been delivered from Diagon Alley, so Ginny described the rugs and the kitchenware they had bought. “All we need now is some furniture, easy chairs, a few end tables, and dressers for the bedroom.” She smiled as Harry put the two photographs on the mantel.

Ron looked at Harry. “Dressers?” he emphasized the plural, but Harry didn’t hear.

“Ginny’s fabulous,” he was saying. “I had no idea what to get or where to buy it. And everything is perfect! The Persian rug is five hundred years old, and it’s beautiful. I can’t wait to get it, it’ll go right in there.” He pointed through the open bedroom door, Ginny smiled again, and Ron looked at Hermione with a slight roll of his eyes.

“Don’t you love domestic bliss?” he said. “Seriously, if Harry Potter has nothing to worry about except where to lay his rug, then all must be right with the world. Voldemort is truly dead.”

“We were up at the castle today too,” Ginny said. “It’s all fixed. It’s as good as new.”

“They ought to put up a monument to all the house-elves who repaired it,” Hermione said. “It shows how loyal they are.”

“They showed that when they jumped the Death Eaters in the Great Hall,” Ron said. “I think it’s more than loyalty. I wonder if elves were the ones who built Hogwarts in the first place, the ones who did the actual work.”

“I’m sure they were. They must have . . .”

Hermione stopped and looked at Harry and Ginny; Ron was watching them too. They had completely tuned out the conversation; Harry was holding Ginny’s hand to his lips, and she was talking to him in a whisper while her hand caressed his face. They were oblivious to Ron and Hermione’s stares. Ron pulled out his wand, conjured a small silver bell that floated above their heads and started it to ring.

For a moment nothing happened. Finally, the loving couple both glanced up at the tinkling sound, but only for a moment; they quickly went back to gazing at each other until Ron and Hermione started roaring with laughter.

“You two were completely alone there, weren’t you?” Ron chortled. “Come on, lovers. We came here for dinner. You shouldn’t keep your guests waiting. Winky is probably sulking because we’re ignoring her.”

They went downstairs to find that Winky had indeed finished preparing dinner. She pushed them into the dining room, where this time a table for four was set, again with white linen and silver service, including the candelabra. The chandeliers were blazing, and the whole room radiated light. The shutters were open, and they could see that the lights from inside lit up the dark lane in front of the inn. Harry peered out a window. He was smiling when he turned back. “It’s exactly what I want. This place was so gloomy, but now look at it.”

“It’s lovely,” said Hermione. “You did a perfect job.”

Winky began serving, and soon the table was overflowing with a fried clam appetizer, salads, hot dinner rolls, and butterbeer. The main course was thick, juicy slices of roast beef and steamy baked potatoes with sautéed vegetables. Before she brought out dessert, Winky placed four blue bottles on the table and brought four glasses from the bar.

“Madam Rosmerta sends us this new drink,” said the elf as corks flew out of the bottles. They tilted and their frothy red contents poured into the glasses. Harry took a sip.

“Mmm, delicious. What’s it called?” He picked up a bottle and read the label. It showed a smiling young witch holding a glass of the same drink; she raised it to her lips, chugged it down, and winked. Above her picture, in bright red letters, were the words, “Potio Vitae—A Drink For Life.”

“A couple of joints in Diagon Alley are selling it,” Ron said as he also took a sip. “It’s very popular, but I don’t like it that much.” Ginny agreed by making a face after she tasted it, but Hermione drank hers down.

“I like it,” she said. “It’s fruity but not too sweet.”

“I guess it’s not a Weasley thing,” Harry said as he finished his. He leaned back in his chair. “I wonder what’s for dessert?”

Ron also kicked back and put his hands behind his head. “So, Harry,” he said, “are you keeping the name, or will you pick a different one?”

“I can’t make up my mind. Even if I keep it, that sign is gone. I’m open to suggestions for a name and a new sign.”

“How about Gin’s Joint?” Ron said with a sideways glance at his sister.

“How about you try on some bat bogeys for a month.” Ginny made a spell-casting motion with her finger.

“Don’t you want your picture up over a door with hundreds of people going in and out?” Ron laughed. “You could be famous.”

“Very funny, but no thanks. I’ve seen what happens when you’re famous. If you want it, you can have it. We’ll repaint the sign with your head on it instead of the pig’s.”

There was a loud crash of breaking glass and a large rock bounced off the bar onto the floor. Shards of glass flew across the room and they all ducked and covered their heads with their arms. Before anyone could move, a small brown object sailed through the broken window and landed with a soft thud on the floor near the table, almost under Ron’s feet.

Harry jumped up, his wand in hand, and ran to the door. He flung it open. ”Lumos!” he cried. In the flare of his wand he could see several figures running around the side of the inn.

“Out back!” he shouted to Ron, who was right behind him. Ron turned and ran to the kitchen door, followed by Hermione. Harry darted out front with Ginny at his heels, and they tore after the shadowy shapes. A loud bang and a flash of red filled the air. Someone screamed, and there were more red flashes. Harry came around back and saw the shadows running across the field. He sent a Stunning spell at them, but he swore as it flew high. A red flame shot over his shoulder and one of the figures flew through the air and crashed into a tree, hit the trunk and slid to the ground, motionless. The others disappeared across the field into the night.

“Nice!” Harry grinned at Ginny, whose wand was still pointing at the body.

They looked towards the back door. Hermione and Ron stood in the light from inside, their wands in their hands. Hermione’s was now lit, illuminating a wide area behind the inn. Doors in nearby buildings opened, and people peeked out.

“I got one!” Ron called. “He’s right here.” He pointed to a form on the ground near the elm tree.

“Ginny, too,” Harry said. “A good night for the Weasleys. Did you see how many got away?”

Ron and Hermione joined them, and they all looked down at the Stunned body of a young man. His clothes were rough and shabby, and he needed a shave; his boots were worn, with holes in the soles.

“I think there were two others, maybe three,” Hermione said. “Does anyone recognize this one?” She pointed her wand at his face.

Harry looked closely, and turned to Ginny who was also bent over the man. She shook her head. “I don’t think he was one of the blokes sitting with Southeby. What about the other one?”

“Wait here,” Ron went back to the elm tree and Levitated the inert form; it floated towards the others, its arms and legs dangling, and Ron set it on the ground. He went through the pockets of both men, and pulled a wand from the one that Ginny had hit. “I don’t think this one has a wand.” He looked puzzled. “Did anyone see a wand lying around?”

“Maybe he’s a Squib,” Hermione said. “That would be strange, though, a Squib tagging along with wizards to do something like this.”

Harry and Ginny had examined the second one, who was as scruffy as the first.

Ginny put her wand away. “Nope. Neither one was at The Three Broomsticks.”

“What happened there?” Ron asked. Ginny told him about meeting Rosmerta, and Turquoise Southeby’s performance.

“There were three men sitting with her, but not these,” Ginny finished.

“Blimey, I’m surprised Rosmerta puts up with her.”

“So what do we do now?” Ginny said. “Why don’t we wake them up?”

“We should notify the Ministry,” Hermione stated. “They committed a crime. Maybe they’re the ones who made the Dark Mark.”

They all looked at Harry; he had already decided to do that. Things were starting to get out of hand, and he wanted to resolve it all as quickly as possible. He glanced first at Ginny, who was watching him, frowning, and then back at their two captives. A surge of anger took him; he was not going to allow thugs like these to ruin this place he had made for him and Ginny.

“I’ll go to the post office and send an owl. Someone should go inside and check out the dining room. And see if Winky is okay.”

He went off at a trot up to the High Street, thinking about Hedwig. It only took a minute at the post office to write a note and hand it to the night clerk. “Got a helluva fast one all ready to go, Mr. Potter,” the old witch said cheerfully. “He’ll be back pretty damn quick too.” Harry thanked her and headed back to the inn. He found the others still standing over the bodies, but Ron was holding something in his hands, and Harry recognized the brown lump that had been thrown through the window.

“It’s a dead weasel,” Ron said in a tense voice when he saw Harry. Ginny was looking off into the darkness, but when she turned he saw sadness and hurt in her eyes. His anger surged at the sight, and he turned to the inert forms on the ground and pulled out his wand.

Ginny grabbed his arm. “Harry, don’t! You’ll just get in trouble. Remember what you told me on the beach? Let the Aurors handle it. They’ll be here soon.”

Harry took a deep breath and walked off a few paces until his anger subsided. “I’m okay,” he said after a moment, but through clenched teeth. He pointed his wand at the first man. ”Petrificus totalus! Rennervate!” The man went rigid and his eyes opened, looking up blankly.

“He’s Imperiused!” Harry exclaimed. He did the same to the other, who also looked around as though he was seeing nothing. “Dammit! These two are just stooges, we’ll never learn anything from them.” He looked at Hermione. “Can we lift the Curse?”

“Maybe,” she said doubtfully. “I know it’s possible, but it depends on how well the Curse was placed, and how good you are, if you want to lift it. But you can hurt them if you do it wrong. I think we should just let it wear off, or wait until someone from the Ministry gets here.”

“Harry, look at this.” Ron had been examining the dead weasel, turning it over and running his fingers through its fur. He now held the animal up, cupped in both hands. “There’s no mark on it that I can see. Its eyes are open, but it doesn’t look startled or frightened. I think someone used a Killing Curse on it.”

For a moment they stood in silence. Harry looked at the Stunned bodies on the ground. “These two didn’t do it, even if they’re both wizards. They can’t even keep themselves clean or patch their shoes. Someone else did it and gave it to them to toss into the inn, someone around here.”

He looked at his friends, his inn, the captives, and the dead weasel. Ginny took his hand, but he wouldn’t meet her eyes and pulled his hand away. She grabbed it back.

“Harry, we’re all here with you. The Ministry can find out who put these two up to it. We have one of their wands, and they can also use Veritaserum—”

“They won’t,” Ron interrupted. “Kingsley banned it, at least until the Wizengamot decide what to do. He says it’s wrong to force someone to talk.”

“Well, that’s great,” Harry said. “These two get off because they’re Imperiused and I get my inn destroyed. Wonderful.”

“But Harry,” Hermione spoke, “it’s like Percy said when Greyback was killed. If you want justice, you have to apply it the same way to everyone, otherwise there’s no justice for anyone.”

“Spare me the lecture, Hermione. What’s so wrong with making someone you know committed a crime tell the truth? I’m pissed off, can’t you understand? I—we have plans, Ginny’s party is in three days and—” He scowled down at the captives. “Ginny, I don’t think I can go back to the Burrow tonight. I can’t leave the inn alone.”

Ginny eyes blazed. “I’m staying with you.”

“Ginny! That’s ridiculous, you can’t—” Ron started but Harry cut him off.

“Ginny, you don’t have to do that,” he said, but Ginny ignored him and glared at her brother.

“Shut up, Ron. If you don’t want to tell Mum and Dad that I won’t be home, then I’ll send an owl. But I’m staying with Harry.”

Ron gave Harry a disgruntled look, while Harry shook his head. “Ginny, it’s my problem.”

She whirled on him, thrust her face to an inch of his, and started poking his chest with her finger, making a point with each stab. “Oh, so you did all this—” she waved her hand at the inn “—for me, as you’ve been telling me all day, and now you think you can pack me off home like a child? I just spent an afternoon helping you make a home here, which you told me was our home, but now it’s your problem? I don’t think so, Harry.”

Harry had never been the object of an explosion of Ginny’s temper. On the beach at Shell Cottage she had seethed and had spoken angrily, but without such righteous vehemence. He looked at her, chagrined.

“No, I didn’t mean—Ginny!” She had turned her back on him; he grabbed her shoulder and spun her around, took her face in his hands and before she could speak again, kissed her. She slowly put her arms around him; Ron and Hermione looked at each other and Hermione giggled nervously.

“I’m sorry,” Harry said, letting her face go. “Please stay with me?”

She peered up into his eyes. “I will always stay with you. Please never ask me to go away again.”

“Never, I promise.” He kissed her.

“Well, I’m glad that’s settled,” Ron grunted. “I’ll just stop by the Burrow and announce that Ginny is spending the night at the Hog’s Head Inn with Harry. If I only tell Dad, maybe I can be in Albania before he tells Mum. If I don’t make it, you can bury me next to Fred.”

The others laughed, although Ron didn’t look like he thought he had made a joke. “She’ll be fine, Ron,” Ginny said. “We’ve talked about things.”

“Easy for you to say, three hundred miles away.”

There was a loud pop, and an Auror Apparated next to the inn. He was tall and lanky, with reddish-blond hair and a handsome face; he looked quite young. He peered around, taking in the two bodies on the ground and the four standing over them.

“Weasley,” he said with a nod, and walked over to join them. “We got an owl at the office from Mr. Potter—” he nodded to Harry “—about a disturbance up here. Did these two do it?” He pointed to the figures on the ground. “Any wands?”

“Um, this is Pester,” Ron mumbled to Harry, as he handed the wand to the Auror. “I mean, Auror Pester. Auror Morequest Pester, I mean. Uh, these are Hermione Granger and my sister, Ginny. I mean, this is Hermione and this is Ginny. Uh . . .” He stopped his fumbling and turned red. The Auror shook his head.

“What happened, Potter? What kind of disturbance? Your owl mentioned a broken window. Was that all?” He spoke brusquely, almost as if he was bored, and looked at Harry.

Harry was taken aback by Pester’s patronizing attitude. “Well, yeah, but—”

“And what is that?” The Auror indicated the dead weasel cradled in Ron’s hands.

Ron plucked up some courage. “It’s a weasel, a dead weasel. They threw it into the inn after they broke the window. I think it was killed with an Avada Kedavra.”

This got the Auror’s attention. “Let me see that,” he said, still brusquely but no longer bored. He took the weasel, examined it, then stuffed the carcass into a leather sack which he took from a pocket, and hung it from a hook on his belt.

“What are you going to do with it?” Ginny asked.

“Sometimes you can trace the wand from the spell. But Unforgivables do no physical damage, and the Killing Curse leaves no magical trace, so it’s not likely we’ll find anything. But we’ll try. So tell me, Miss Weasley,” he said without pausing, “have you heard from Elizabeth Derby’s uncles?”

Ginny glared at Pester. Harry wondered if the Auror saw the danger in her eyes, and hoped Ginny would keep her cool. As Ginny hesitated, he held his breath, Hermione looked alarmed, and Ron gritted his teeth with a scowl. “If I do, I’ll let your boss know right away,” she said steadily. “I wouldn’t want to add to your heavy workload.” Her eyes went to the sack at his belt.

Pester’s eyes flicked from her to Harry and back. “That’s considerate of you,” he said with a sardonic smile. He turned to Harry. “May I see where this all happened? Weasley, stay here with these two.” He indicated the prisoners. Ron looked at Harry and Hermione in disbelief and started to protest, but Pester had already turned away.

Without a word, Harry led the Auror through the back door and into the kitchen. He heard Ginny following, and smiled to himself. Don’t mess with Weasley women, he thought. Some of them only skewer you, but some of them kill.

Winky wasn’t in the kitchen. They found her standing in the middle of the dining room armed with her trusty ladle. Pester went to the broken window and peered through it. After a moment he took out his wand and walked around the room, gesturing at the walls and the floor and muttering incantations. Harry and Ginny glanced at each other; neither one recognized any of the spells. The Auror touched the rock lying on the floor with his wand, and it briefly glowed yellow; he picked it up, put it in his pocket and kept walking.  Finally he stopped in front of Winky.

Winky wasn’t in the kitchen. They found her standing in the middle of the dining room armed with her trusty ladle. Pester went to the broken window and peered through it. After a moment he took out his wand and walked around the room, gesturing at the walls and the floor and muttering incantations. Harry and Ginny glanced at each other; neither one recognized any of the spells. The Auror touched the rock lying on the floor with his wand, and it briefly glowed yellow; he picked it up, put it in his pocket and kept walking.  Finally he stopped in front of Winky.

“Where was the elf when this happened?” he asked Harry.

“She had nothing to do with it. She’s my house-elf.”

“That’s obvious, Potter. She’s not a suspect. Sometimes elves see things that people don’t.” He looked disdainfully at Harry.

“Oh. Sorry. She was in the kitchen.” Harry felt Ginny behind him, and wished he had been as quick-witted with the Auror’s arrogance as she was. He glanced at her and she touched his hand.

Pester went outside, leaving the door open behind him. Harry started to follow, but had to take out his wand and put up a repellent spell when a small cloud of moths and other insects flew into the room towards the chandeliers. When the Auror came back through the departing bugs he waved his hand at them, but left the door open. Harry scowled and flicked his wand at the door, which slammed shut. Pester ignored it and waved his own wand at the shards of glass that still littered the floor. ”Reparo,” he said offhandedly, and the pieces of glass floated back to the window and formed a new pane in the empty frame.

“That’s it, then,” he said. “You’ll get a copy of my report. I’m taking the prisoners.” Without another word he went back into the kitchen; Harry and Ginny had to scramble to follow. He went outside to the two captives, not looking at Ron or Hermione, grasped the men by their arms, and all three disappeared.

“What an arrogant twit!” said Ginny. “How does someone like that get to be an Auror?”

Ron barked a short laugh. “Despite his personality. He’s one of the best, otherwise he’d be sleeping on a vent in Diagon Alley. Everyone hates him.”

“I’ve heard of him,” Hermione said. “They say he worked at the Institute for a few months but nobody could stand him.”

“One thing about him, though,” Ron added, “he’s Muggle-born, and they say that when the Death Eaters took over, some of them wanted to arrest him right away, but Riddle himself wanted to keep him. They say he told Thicknesse to shove his wand up his digestive tract and walked out.”

“How come he knows you?” Harry asked.

“The Auror training program. He runs it.”

“Well, there’s an incentive not to sign up,” Harry grunted. “The next time Kingsley asks me to join, I’ll tell him Mr. Pester thinks I’m too stupid.”

They trooped back inside, where Winky was cleaning up in the kitchen. “Is they wanting dessert?” she squeaked.

Harry looked at the others. “Not tonight. I’m sorry, Winky. It’s late.” She shrugged and went back to scrubbing the counters.

“Yeah, we need to be going,” Ron said. “Uh, Ginny, should I tell Mum and Dad when you’ll be home?”

“Before noon.” She looked at Harry and he nodded. “And thanks, Ron. I owe you.”

“You sure do.” He took Hermione’s arm, they both waved and Disapparated.

“I’d better check the dining room,” Harry said, feeling strangely nervous now that Ron and Hermione were gone. Ginny, too, seemed jumpy. They went to the dining room and Harry strode from window to window, flicking his wand and closing the shutters. He sealed each one and the door. “That’ll keep thugs out, at least. We’ll have to tell Winky not to sleep outside.” He lit his wand and extinguished all the candles.

They went back to the kitchen, but Winky was not in sight. They poked around and finally found her curled up inside a small cupboard near the fireplace, snoring quietly on a blanket and pillow. They tip-toed out of the kitchen into the vestibule; Harry sealed the back door, and, with his wand still lit, led Ginny up the stairs. Inside the parlor they looked at each other.

“I don’t know why I’m nervous,” Ginny giggled. “Let’s sit for a bit.”

When they walked around the love seat, Ginny gave a squeal. “The rug! It’s here!”

The red shag was on the floor between the hearth and the love seat. Ginny took off her shoes and socks and stepped onto it and wiggled her toes in the plush pile. “Ooh, this is nice. Hey, I wonder if the kitchen things came too.” She went into the kitchen with Harry right behind and opened a drawer. “It’s all here! We can eat up here tomorrow morning.” She looked at Harry. “Let’s see if the other rug came.”

“Yes, let’s.” He took her hand and they crossed the parlor to the bedroom. Harry held up his wand, pushed the door open and they looked in. The Persian rug was on the floor, covering most of it, a perfect complement to the four-poster.

Ginny started to walk into the room, but Harry held back. “I thought you wanted to sit for a while.”

Ginny came back, put her arms around him and pulled him into the bedroom. “No, you must have mis-heard me.”

“I must have.” He kissed her. “Um, we don’t have pajamas. Do you want me to conjure up a pair for you?”

Ginny kissed him back. “That’s a terrible idea.” As they kissed again, they both reached out at the same time and pushed the door closed. Tonight there would be no Dark Marks, no broken glass or dead animals, no world. Tonight would be only the bed and themselves.

Chapter Text

Neither Harry nor Ginny slept much that night, but it was not because they were troubled about the inn or an intruder. Nor was it out of frustration, which had kept them awake when they were staying at Shell Cottage. It was because whenever either one moved in his or her sleep, the other awoke and could not fall asleep again, but lay there in wonderment—almost disbelief—knowing that they were sleeping together for the first time, knowing that their lover was under the same snug covers in their magnificent bed, and could be touched simply by reaching out a hand.

Whenever they awoke in the night, they reveled in that closeness, in watching the other’s quiet, rhythmical breathing, in touching the face lying so close on the pillow. The presence of the other, so intimate, so vulnerable, was magical.

Once, when Harry awoke, Ginny was lying on her side with her back to him. He put his face into her hair and breathed her smell, losing all sense of anything but her body next to his. His hands wandered, and she woke with a long sigh and turned over to face him.

Later, and after they had fallen asleep again, Ginny awoke and found Harry sleeping on his back. She rested her head on his chest with her hand across his stomach, tickling his navel until he opened his eyes and pulled her on top.

They slept late and were awakened by the aroma of bacon and coffee.

“Smells good,” came Ginny’s voice from under the covers as Harry sat up and yawned. He pushed the covers back and got out of bed; Ginny pulled them back up to her chin. “Get me some breakfast.” She wiggled her feet under the covers.

“I’ll be right back.” Harry went into the parlor where the sun was streaming through the picture window; it looked like another gorgeous day, and he felt no dark mood lingering from yesterday. He walked to the window and looked out, but suddenly realized he was standing there stark naked. He hastily retreated into the bedroom.

“That was fast,” Ginny laughed, sitting up. “Did you forget something?” Her tousled hair kept falling onto her face and she pinned it back with two barrettes she retrieved from the night table. She looked up and saw Harry watching, his eyes on the locket resting on her bosom. “Hey!” She covered her chest with her arms. “My breakfast!” Harry picked his jeans off the floor and pulled them on, grinning at Ginny, and left the room again. “I hope no one was up in that tree!” Ginny called after him. “Don’t be long, I’m starving!”

Harry followed his nose into the little kitchen and found two trays on the table laden with breakfast: pumpkin juice, slices of toast, bacon, sausages, fresh melon slices, home fries, and mugs of hot coffee. A pitcher of pumpkin juice and a tub of butter sat on the counter and a pot of coffee was warming on the stove

Marveling at the magical powers of an ordinary house-elf, Harry carried one tray into the bedroom—in his haste he had left his wand next to the bed—and put it on Ginny’s night stand. He went back with his wand and Levitated his own tray, the coffee pot, the pitcher of pumpkin juice, and the butter, and followed them out of the kitchen, across the parlor, and into the bedroom. Ginny had put her blouse on—to Harry’s sorrow—and was sitting up and eating. He passed her the butter and a knife, and sat down in bed to attack his own breakfast. As he devoured it, Ginny recalled Fleur’s comments at breakfast in the Great Hall two days after the battle, urging Harry to keep up his strength.

Harry finally sat back with a satisfied belch and patted his stomach.

“How does she do it?” he wondered. “It was all waiting on the kitchen table, and it was still hot.”

Ginny took a left-over slice of bacon from Harry’s plate. “I’m beginning to change my mind about house-elves. If Mum had one—” she stopped and put a hand over her mouth. “Uh, oh. What time is it? They’ll start worrying pretty soon if I don’t get back.”

As if in answer, they heard the chirping of an owl and scrabbling noises at the window next to Ginny’s side of the bed. Harry got up and pulled back the curtains; Pigwidgeon was perched on the sill outside, his leg lifted with a message attached.

“Hello, Pig,” Harry said as he opened the window. The owl hopped inside and peered around the room while Harry took the message and read it. “Ron says your mum and dad are okay, but your mum says you should come home as soon as possible. You have a party to prepare for, quote unquote.”

“She’s right,” Ginny said. “You might as well send Pig back, though, we don’t have anything to write with.” The owl hooted once and flew off,

They dressed and Harry took the trays to the kitchen. When he came back into the parlor he saw Ginny in the bedroom making the bed. He started to open the door to the stairs, but she called out, “Where are you going? We didn’t say good morning yet.”

They stood in front of the picture window and she took his hands. “I just spent the best night of my life with you. Good morning, Harry Potter.”

“Good morning, Ginny Weasley. Me too.” He brushed a wisp of hair from her face, and she put her arms around his neck. Harry glanced out the window. Fields and meadows lay gleaming under the early morning summer sun and leaves on the elm tree rustled in a gentle breeze. “Things sure look better in the light of day, especially after a night like that.”

Ginny broke the long silence that followed with a sigh. “I really need to get back. You can come later, if you want to stay.”

“I don’t need to stay. There’s nothing I can do. Winky will be here and now the Aurors know something’s going on.” He thought for a moment. “If anything does happen, it’ll just give us more clues as to who’s doing it.”

“Unless they do some real damage.”

“I don’t think that’s what they want, and that would take a lot of people and a lot of effort. I think what they’re after is just to get at me, maybe through you, but it’s me they want, not the inn.”

Ginny pressed her lips together and frowned. “Through me? Do you still think that?”

“No, Gin. I’m not saying it’s too dangerous for you.” He grinned. “I already learned that lesson. I’m just saying it because it makes sense.” He pulled her close and held her as he stroked her hair. “I’m not afraid for you anymore. I just want to be with you and help get ready for the party.”

The events of the past twenty-four hours had driven Harry to two conclusions. One, it was more important to him to be with Ginny than to stand guard over a building, even if he had put so much time and effort into making it a special place for her. And two, her burst of anger last night, followed by her quick and total forgiveness, brought home how much Ginny felt the same about him. And the magic of the night they had just spent together was something he would do anything to preserve. The magic didn’t need a specific place, it only needed her.

“Let’s go then.” Ginny gave him a peck. She wasn’t sure if they should be so quick to leave the inn unguarded, but she looked into his face and saw what she was certain was a mirror of her own feelings: it didn’t matter where they were. The inn was perfect—that word again—but she had been separated from him for almost a year after their kiss in her room had sealed the bond, and it had taught her that being alive and being together were the only things that mattered. Whoever was attacking the inn was attacking them both. If the inn didn’t exist, she and Harry would create another place; wherever their home was, they would both fight for it.

Harry got the trays from the kitchen, piled the pitcher and the coffee pot on top, and they went downstairs. Winky was sitting on a stool, and pointed to the sink. “Is Harry and Ginny Pott- Harry Potter and Ginny Weasley going back to her house?”

“Yes,” Harry answered as he deposited the trays. “It’s Ginny’s birthday party on Saturday. I’ll be back sometime next week, and I expect that Stan will be here this weekend.”

“Happy birthday, Ginny Weasley,” Winky smiled. “Next time Ginny is here Winky makes a chocolate birthday cake.”

“How did you know I like chocolate?” Ginny said.

“Winky knows.” She slid off the stool and looked up. “Harry Potter must not forget to remove the magic, or else Winky cannot sleep outside tonight.”

“You don’t have to do that,” Harry said. “Please, Winky, don’t do anything dangerous. That’s what the Aurors are for. If anything happens, go tell Rosmerta or Tony.”

“Yes, Winky tells them, and Winky sleeps under the tree and guards the door.” She scowled at the floor. “Aurors,” she muttered. “They is not polite.”

Harry looked helplessly at Ginny; she smiled and shook her head. “Okay,” Harry gave up, “just promise you’ll be careful.”

“Winky is always careful. That is why Winky is such a good house-elf.”

“I’ll just be a minute,” Harry said to Ginny. He hurried into the dining room and unsealed the door and the shutters, which he left closed. Back in the kitchen he took Ginny’s hand.

“‘Bye, Winky,” Ginny said. “Thanks for everything. Can you put strawberry icing on it?” Winky nodded, gave a bow, and jumped onto the sink; she stood on the edge, and as Harry closed the vestibule door behind them, he saw a cloud of soap bubbles rise from the sink and engulf the elf.

He unsealed the back door and took a last look at the inn. “I hope it’s still standing in a week.”

“I hope that’s a joke.”

“Yeah, it’s a joke.” Harry grinned. “Maybe a half-joke.” He put her arm on his elbow, gave her a kiss, and they Disapparated back to the Burrow.

Molly was in the kitchen with Charlie when Harry and Ginny entered. “There you are,” Molly said pleasantly. “Did you have a good time? You don’t have to answer that.” She didn’t see Charlie grinning behind her back. “Ron didn’t say why you decided to stay, but . . .” She sighed. “I suppose you had a good reason.” Charlie nodded vigorously, again behind her back.

“Sorry we’re late, Mum. Yes, we did have a good reason. How’s everyone?” she said, changing the subject.

“Fine. Your father is at work and everyone else is getting the house ready for your party.” She eyed their rumpled clothes and disheveled appearance. “If you give me your dirty clothes I’ll start a wash.”

Ginny grabbed Harry’s arm and headed for the stairs. “Right away, Mum,” she called over her shoulder as she hustled him up the steps. Harry glanced back once and saw Charlie watching them, grinning again.

They stopped on the landing outside Ginny’s room. “I think we’d better be on good behavior for a bit,” she said. “Go to your room and change, there’s a good lad.” She patted the top of Harry’s head.

“You won’t recognize me, I’ll be so good. Your mum does know the subtle uses of guilt, doesn’t she?”

“It’s one of her strong points, and I don’t want to experience any of the others if I can help it. So no hands.” She pushed his hand away from her hip and started into her room, but turned back and quickly kissed him, then jumped inside, closing the door firmly behind her.

Harry climbed to the attic, but as he started to open the door, he heard Ron swear, followed by scrambling noises from the far end of the room. He paused and, after counting to five, pushed the door open.

Ron and Hermione were lying side by side on Ron’s bed; Ron was reaching for a Quidditch magazine from his dresser, and Hermione was struggling to hold up a thick book in one hand and button her blouse with the other. Their faces were flushed and Hermione’s hair, barely controllable under normal circumstances, was in a state of total disorder.

“Why, Harry, how are you?” she said with excessive cordiality. “When did you get back? Is everything all right at the inn? Oops.” She lost her grip on the heavy book and it fell to the floor with a thud. She started to bend over to pick it up, but glanced up at Harry, lay back on the bed and, abandoning all pretense, finished buttoning her blouse with both hands.

Harry couldn’t help grinning. “Sorry. Mrs. Weasley wants our dirty clothes.” He stood for a moment, and Hermione jumped up.

“Oh, I’ll just—” She picked up the book. “Advanced Theories 0f Arithmancy,” she said breathlessly, and pushed her hair out of her face. “I was just telling Ron about it, and—oh hell, Harry, can’t you knock first?”

Harry was still grinning, “Uh, it is my room, and it’s only the middle of the morning.”

“Hey,” Ron called from behind the magazine, “that never stopped some people I know.”

Hermione put her hands on her hips. “That’s right, and what difference does it make, anyway?” She gave Harry an exasperated look, and pushed past him out the door.

“Sorry, mate,” Harry said as he started to change his clothes. “Maybe we need a signal.”

“Maybe you need to knock. And don’t pull that crap about my busting in on you and Ginny last year. I already paid for that. Green lips, remember?” He put down the magazine and sat on the edge of the bed. “Did anything else happen last night?”

“No, I sealed the place up before we—I mean I sealed it up and nothing happened.” He gathered up the clothes he had been wearing since yesterday, plus a few more that were scattered on the floor. “Your mum said that everyone was getting the place ready for the party.”

“Did she? Are they?” Ron glanced out the window. “Oh, yeah, there’s Fleur. I think she’s making decorations.”

Harry came and looked past Ron out the window; he saw Fleur sitting on the grass near the garden, moving her wand slowly over a blanket covered with pieces of colored paper. Shapes and figures of various kinds formed as her wand passed over. “I wonder what’s for lunch,” Ron said, and dropped his magazine on the floor. “Let’s go see.”

They headed downstairs, and in the kitchen Molly took Harry’s clothes and disappeared into the laundry room. When Harry and Ron sat at the table, Ginny appeared from the parlor.

“Is everything okay, my lad?” she asked Harry. “Hermione said she saw you, and she says we should talk about the inn.” She closed her mouth when her mother re-entered the room. “Later?” Harry nodded.

After lunch they went down to Fred’s grave. George and Charlie had put a bench next to the oak tree facing the headstone, but they sat on the grass. Ginny picked wildflowers and replaced the sprays lying on the grave. When she joined them, Hermione started speaking.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about it, Harry, and I—”

“Wait,” Harry said, “it’s Ginny’s too. It was my birthday present to her. It’s our inn.”

“Oh.” Hermione looked at Ginny. “That’s—that’s really nice. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but sure.”

Ginny and Harry smiled at each other, and as Harry reached his hand to her, Ron clapped once, loudly. “Oi, you two! Pay attention!”

“Okay,” Hermione said as everyone sat up straight and looked at her. “Both times that something happened, you were there, Harry. They could have left the Dark Mark or broken a window at any time, but they chose to wait until you were there.”

“Or we all were there,” Harry pointed out. “They broke the window while we were eating dinner.”

“Yes, well that’s my point. If they were simple vandals, they would have waited until no one was around. As it was, two of them were caught. They waited until you—we—were there. The question is, why, when it was so much riskier?”

“Because they’re dunces,” Ron said.

“The ones who threw the stone were dunces, but whoever Imperiused them is not a dunce. He or she was actually quite subtle. He knew how badly Ginny would feel about the death of a weasel, and how much Ginny’s being upset would affect Harry. And it almost worked. What would you have done to them, if Ginny hadn’t stopped you?”

“Something stupid,” Harry admitted. “I probably would have hurt them.”

“That’s what it looked like,” Hermione said. “And if Pester had shown up and found a couple of prisoners that you had injured, he wouldn’t have bothered with the broken window or the dead weasel. He might have arrested you. You would have got into trouble, Harry.”

Harry had no answer to Hermione’s logic, but he still had questions about the bigger issue. “So what’s your theory about all of it, the stone, the Dark Mark, and the two Imperiused blokes? I think someone is out to get me, not the inn. After the Dark Mark, I thought that maybe someone else had had his eye on the inn and wanted to buy it, and got mad when I bought it instead. But to go to all this trouble just because of that? It doesn’t make sense to me.”

Hermione looked troubled. “I have to admit I don’t see any motive, either. It’s almost as if someone just wants to annoy you. That could change if the attacks become more serious, but right now it’s a puzzle.”

Harry looked at Ginny. “What do you think?”

“Frankly, I don’t care what their motives are,” Ginny replied; she had her arms around her knees and had been looking down at the grass. Now she looked at Harry. “Don’t get me wrong, I love knowing it’s there, and I can’t wait to go back, but as long as no one is hurt, even if they blow it up, I’ll be sad but it wouldn’t be the end of everything.” She glanced at the headstone a few feet away. “We have to be like Fred. We have to fight them, but if we’re always afraid or if we walk around looking over our shoulders, then they win.”

She smiled and picked off a fuzzy green caterpillar inching along Harry’s leg. “You know what I haven’t done yet?” She looked at Harry. “I haven’t flown my birthday present.” She grinned at Ron and Hermione. “Who wants to play some two-a-side Quidditch?”

Only Hermione didn’t look happy with this suggestion, but Ron pulled her up and dragged her to the old shed where the family’s Cleansweeps were stored. Ginny ran up to her room to fetch her Firebolt, and they were soon soaring over the clearing with Ginny literally flying circles around the others. They switched off to give everyone a go on the Firebolt, and even Hermione grinned when she pushed off and felt the acceleration. She and Harry lost the match badly to Ron and Ginny, and Ginny couldn’t help making a few jokes about it.

“So,” she asked Harry as they trudged back to the house, “is it the wizard or is it the broomstick? What makes someone the best Quidditch player at Hogwarts? Or is it that his Quidditch-loving girlfriend made him powerful?”

“Let’s see you captain a Cup winner before you start bragging,” Harry laughed. “You weren’t my girlfriend until after the Ravenclaw match.”

“Ah, but I should have been.”

“I won’t argue with that.”

“And a wise decision that is,” came from Ron, walking behind them with Hermione.

But Ginny noticed, through all the banter, that something was bothering Harry. She had an idea what it was, but as they approached the Burrow and before she could pull him aside to ask, her mother opened the door.

“Less than two days to the party,” she said, standing aside to let them in. “It’s good of you all to come back and give the rest of us a hand.”

They spent the rest of the day helping with party preparations. Ginny had invited several dozen guests, so there was plenty to do: food, house cleaning, getting the marquee ready, and sending owls out with various kinds of orders—it was the first time Bailey got to deliver a message for Ginny, and she took to it enthusiastically. Dinnertime came and went, and Ginny finally had a chance to ask Harry what had been troubling him.

Dusk was starting to settle and they lay in the small circle in the middle of the field down the lane; fireflies blinked around them and bats flitted overhead. Ginny’s head rested on Harry’s stomach and she heard an occasional gurgle as her mother’s eggplant lasagna was digested.

“You miss Hedwig, don’t you?”

Harry stroked her hair with one hand while Ginny held his other firmly in place on her collarbone; his fingers had been tracing her lips, but had started to stray southward. “Why do you ask?” he said. She didn’t answer, and finally he grunted. “How did you know?”

“You were a little bit sad after we played Quidditch, but I didn’t think it was because of the broomstick you lost. I know that Sirius gave it to you, but I think it was more than that.”

“You’re right. Thinking of the broom made me think of Hedwig. I lost them both at the same time. But it wasn’t just your Firebolt that made me think of her. It’s Bailey. She looks at you the same way Hedwig used to look at me.” His voice broke and Ginny lifted his hand and kissed it.

“Do you think you’d ever want to get another owl?” she asked softly.

“It certainly would have been helpful last night at the inn.”

She turned her head and smiled up at him. “If you do, get a barn owl, a male.”

“Why on earth would we want to have boy and girl barn owls?” Harry chuckled as Ginny punched his leg. “So tell me, have I been a good lad today? You said it would only have to be for a bit. Is it a bit yet?”

Ginny kissed his hand again and put it on her breast and let go. “Look,” she pointed up at the sky, “the stars are coming out. Don’t you love it when the stars first start to . . .mmm.” She could no longer speak because Harry had stopped being a good lad.

# # # #

Saturday, the day of the big bash, finally came. The weather was not perfect—it was mostly overcast—but George and Charlie told Ginny that if it started to rain, one of them would distract their father while the other cast a weather charm to keep the Burrow dry. The marquee that Bill, Hermione, and Arthur had prepared was standing behind the garden. It was very large, covering about a quarter of the area of a Quidditch pitch; the sides were rolled up for now. The roof was painted in stripes of vivid colors: red, yellow, blue, green, orange, and silver. A bandstand stood at one end and extended outside onto the lawn so that the band could play to both the inside and the outside. Magic lanterns, streamers, balloons, and thousands of Ginny’s favorite red paper cutouts hung from trees and poles all around the grounds. Tables were set up to hold the food and drinks.

The band arrived around ten o’clock to set up and run sound checks. Five Hufflepuffs had started it a few months ago, including Neville Longbottom’s girlfriend, Keesha Baker, who sang and also played drums; they called themselves The Huffle Badgers. Ginny stayed nearby as they worked so she could chat with Keesha; all of her close friends except Luna had left Hogwarts, and she hoped that she and Keesha could hit it off. They talked during breaks, and discovered that they had much in common. Keesha had five brothers—although she was not the youngest—and she loved Quidditch, although she had learned, much to her disappointment, that she just wasn’t that good a flyer. Ginny also liked the idea that she, Luna, and Keesha were each from a different House.

Guests started arriving in the late afternoon. Neville, Dean, Seamus, Lavender, and the Patil twins arrived together; Lavender’s battle wounds had healed, but she had a scar on her forehead that she and Harry joked about all night. Luna and her father drifted in. Dennis Creevey showed up without anyone noticing him for several minutes, until Percy bent over with his hands on his knees and asked if he was lost and needed to find his parents. After Bill had reversed the ensuing Conjunctivitis curse and repaired Percy’s eyeglasses, Ginny came over and lifted Dennis in a Molly-like hug that left the tiny boy breathless for ten minutes.

Dennis wanted to see Fred’s grave—he had not been at the funeral—and all the students who had arrived joined Ginny, Harry, Ron, and Hermione at the oak tree. Dennis put a single rose on the grave, and took photos with Colin’s camera of everyone standing around it.

Soon members of the Order of the Phoenix began arriving. The Floo Network Authority had set up a special interchange for the party, and for a while George and Percy had to stand on either side of the fireplace and hustle the arrivals out of the way to keep the passage from becoming clogged. Kingsley Shacklebolt and Saliyah Ushujaa were both magnificent in their colorful robes; Kingsley wore the largest gold earring anyone had ever seen.

Molly and Bill intercepted Mundungus Fletcher as he emerged from the fireplace and frightened him so much with threats of retribution if so much as a napkin was missing after the party, that he spent the next hour cowering in the garden with the gnomes. Ginny saw him and took pity; she brought him some birthday cake, which by then had been cut. Dung swore on the head of the gnome sitting next to him that he would not touch anything, and Ginny’s gesture so moved him that he started following her around like a puppy.

As it grew dark, it also began to drizzle. True to their word, Charlie lured his father into the house with a false report of a drunken Muggle wandering into the front yard, while George coordinated the casting of a weather charm with an extremely loud crescendo from the band to cover up the noise. The charm worked and the drizzle stopped, but the magically amplified chord broke most of the windows on the side of the house facing the marquee. Arthur and Charlie came running outside to see why shards of glass had just rained on them, and Charlie and George had to spend a good deal of time repairing the damage.

The band was loud and excellent, and everyone danced under the marquee and out on the lawn. The butterbeer flowed, the tables were laden with food, and the cake was massive, almost four feet high, with alternating layers of chocolate and vanilla, covered with dark chocolate icing. There were gallons of ice cream with buckets of strawberries and whipped cream. Ginny had told everyone not to bring presents because there would have been too many, but a few people did anyway, and Harry snuck them up to her room while Molly wasn’t looking.

During a band break, Harry and Ginny rounded up Ron and Hermione and went over to a table in a relatively quiet corner of the marquee where Kingsley, Saliyah, and Professor McGonagall were sitting. They all greeted Ginny with birthday wishes, and Harry asked if they could speak about something more serious for a moment.

“Do you mean the incidents in Hogsmeade?” Saliyah asked. “Auror Pester hasn’t given me his report yet.” She frowned slightly. “The Imperio that was worked on the two men you Stunned is proving difficult to break, and we think it was cast in conjunction with an Obliviate, so even if we can lift the one, the other may keep us from learning much.”

“Then whoever put them up to it is very talented,” said Hermione.

Saliyah nodded. “But if someone is going to that much trouble for such a petty thing as throwing a rock through a window—”

“I don’t think it’s petty at all,” Ginny said warmly. “You weren’t there. And they killed a weasel.” She looked around; she had spoken louder than she had intended, and hoped her parents hadn’t heard. She knew how upset it would make her mum, and she didn’t want an argument about her spending time at the inn.

“We can’t say anything about motives until we know who is behind it,” Saliyah said calmly, “but in itself, all they did was commit the minor crime of petty vandalism. If there is anything more sinister going on, we’ll just have to wait and see.”

“But,” Harry said, “who would go to the trouble of doing pretty complicated magic on those two vagrants just to commit petty vandalism?”

Saliyah smiled. “In my business, Harry, you see all kinds of strange behavior. For example, earlier in the afternoon of that same day, there was some strange behavior in The Three Broomsticks, apparently directed at you. Do you think there could be a connection?”

Harry scowled. “She’s just a tramp. I hired a house-elf instead of her and she got angry. She’s ill, if you ask me.”

“From my point of view she’s interesting. Why would a simple village girl start exhibiting herself in public when she has no previous history of deviant behavior?”

Professor McGonagall had been listening with interest, and now she spoke. “I have to say, Saliyah, that, bizarre as Miss Southeby’s actions were, I’ve seen it happen before. Simple, sweet, uneducated witches are sometimes drawn to Hogsmeade because of the presence of so many young and talented wizards at the school. This one has taken her attempts to attract Harry’s attention to an extreme, but if you come to the village on a Hogsmeade weekend, you would be astonished at the parade along the High Street.”

“I’ve heard about that, Minerva,” Kingsley said. He laughed and his earring shook and glittered in the light from the magic lanterns hanging in the marquee. “But I never saw it when I was there. Born too soon, I suppose.”

The Headmistress smiled. “You should be glad of that, Minister. Every fall we have to deal with the products of the previous year’s liaisons. It would serve a social purpose if the Ministry would soften its opposition to the public teaching of certain medical charms to unmarried and sometimes under-age witches.”

“I agree with you completely, but rural Scottish wizarding society is a little, shall we say, conservative, especially about sex. Keep pushing your agenda, though, Headmistress. You won’t get any resistance from me.”

Harry cleared his throat. “This is all extremely interesting, and I mean that,” he grinned. “But I’d like to know who is vandalizing my inn.”

“We will find out, Harry,” Saliyah said with arched eyebrows, “but I can’t say when. When Auror Pester has finished with the two men you captured, we will know.”

“How will you do that?” Ginny asked. “We heard that you’re not using Veritaserum any more.”

The Head Auror’s brow creased, and she hesitated slightly. “Well . . . there are other ways to get at the truth.” She glanced at Kingsley.

“I’ve temporarily banned it from the Ministry,” he said. “There are those who disagree with me,” he nodded to Saliyah, “but my feeling is that if the case against someone is not strong enough to stand on its own, a suspect should not be forced to speak against his will because of our inability to prove him guilty.”

“But that’s not—” the Head Auror snapped her mouth shut and looked peevishly away from the Minister. She smiled tightly at Harry. “You see we have our differences.”

“And in our kinder and more civil government we can speak about our differences without fearing an Unforgivable Curse.” Kingsley smiled broadly, put his hand on Saliyah’s, and she shrugged.

The band played a loud flourish and everyone looked towards the bandstand. The last set of the night was about to roll, and Ginny jumped up. “Come on, Harry, let’s party! It’s my birthday, remember? Thanks, Saliyah.” She nodded to the Minister and the Headmistress and pulled Harry out of his seat. He waved goodbye and followed Ginny to the dance floor, along with Ron and Hermione.

The band rocked on into the night. By midnight all the older people had departed except Mundungus, who sat next to the stage right under the drum set, tapping his toes and nodding his head to Keesha’s beat. A half hour later the final chord blasted a few more windows out of the Burrow, and a loud and long cheer rang from the tired and happy crowd. Ginny jumped up on the stage and, after hugging all the band members, raised her arms and everyone grew quiet; the silence sounded strange in their ringing ears.

“First of all,” she said, and everyone cheered. “Wait! I haven’t said anything yet,” she laughed.

“It doesn’t matter,” Luna called; she hadn’t gotten down yet from her perch on Dean Thomas’s shoulders, where she had ended up during the last dance. “You talk, we scream.” Everyone cheered again, and Ginny laughed again.

“Okay, but there is something serious I want to say.” Again there was quiet. “We’re all going down to my brother’s grave, and we’re going to have a remembrance for Colin Creevey and everyone else who died.”

Now there was dead silence, and all the faces looking up at her were somber. “I want everyone to think of someone who we lost, and we’re going to say all their names, and if anyone has a story about them, they can tell it. We were also going to have a reunion of Dumbledore’s Army—” a huge roar went up and didn’t stop until Ginny turned to the band, and they broke three more windows in the house. “I know that not everyone here was with us at the beginning,” Ginny continued, “but everyone was with us at the end!” She lifted her arms as she shouted out the last words, and an even louder roar threatened to lift the roof off the marquee.

She stepped down from the stage, and she, Harry, and Dennis, with Ron and Hermione, led everyone in a silent procession to the grave. George, Lee, Luna, Neville, Dean, Seamus, Parvati and Padma, Terry, Ernie, Michael, Lavender, Angelina, Katie, Hannah, Justin, Susan, Alicia, Anthony, and Cho Chang—who had come to the party because Harry, at Ginny’s request, had sent her a special invitation—all followed. Behind them came the rest: The Huffle Badgers with Keesha in the lead, Ginny’s other brothers, and the other students and friends who she had invited to the party. There were about fifty altogether, and they gathered around Fred’s grave.

George had left a large box of candles on the bench under the oak tree, and everyone took one and lit it with their wands. The light of fifty candles illuminated their faces and the headstone. Ginny kissed Dennis’s cheek and he stepped into the middle of the circle; tears streamed down his face.

“I—I want to say something about m—my brother Colin,” he said in a choked voice. “He’s d—dead. I’m not sure what that means, because whenever I look into his camera, I think I s—see him there.” He stopped and covered his eyes with his hand as his body trembled. Ginny came and hugged him. He looked at her and shook his head as he sobbed. “I c—can’t,” he said, and turned and walked through the silent crowd; he sat curled up on the bench, crying quietly.

Harry saw tears on other faces as well. He stepped forward and spoke. “When I think of Colin, I remember a funny first-year kid with a camera glued to his face, always taking pictures. He was Muggle-born, and he had his first taste of the war pretty early on. He always used to say, ‘All right, Harry,’ whenever he saw me. I guess sometimes it got on my nerves a little, but he was a funny guy, like I said, and he was always laughing. He was one of the reasons we won, because he never gave up. He might have been shorter than some of us, but he showed us all how to be tall.” He placed his candle on the grave, and when he turned back his face was wet.

After a few moments of silence, Ginny raised her candle. “I want to talk about someone I didn’t know very well until a few minutes before she died. Her name was Elizabeth Derby, and she didn’t have to stay at the castle because she was only fifteen. But she did stay, and I was with her when she died. I was holding her hand, and I’ll never forget it as long as I live, and I won’t forget her, either.” Tears streaked her face and she bowed her head, then. looked up again. “My brothers and my best friends know that I don’t cry very much, but whenever I think of her, I can’t help it.” She put her candle on Fred’s grave and stepped back; Harry put his arm around her.

Luna moved into the center and stood over the headstone. She smiled at it and looked around, appearing surprised to see everyone there.

“This is so nice,” she said cheerfully. “I think all of our dead friends would like this too, and they’re probably watching us and thinking, I wish I was there with them. I know that I would.” She paused, gazing dreamily up at the sky. “I knew Elizabeth. She was very pretty because she was a veela, and she was very beautiful because she was a nice person. I miss her. I think she would have liked this party, even though she didn’t like loud music.” She bent down, put her candle on the grave, and walked back into the crowd, smiling at everyone.

Others stepped forward and talked about friends and family who had died or been injured in the battle. George was the last, and by the time he walked forward, there were dozens of candles on Fred’s grave. He sighed and sat on the headstone, looking around at the faces lit by candlelight.

“I appreciate what everyone is doing here,” he said, “and I confess that I still have moments, lots of moments, when I can’t believe that my brother isn’t here anymore. Those times are tough to handle, and sometimes I don’t know how I can go on with my life without him. But then I think of something, and I’m going to tell you what that is. What I think is, if Fred could see all of you now, he would do two things. First he would laugh, and then he would set off a Weasleys’ Whizz-Bang inside your pants.”

“Oh, no!” said Ron loudly, and at that instant the remaining candles in the box on the bench, plus all the candles on Fred’s grave, shot into the air and burst into the most brilliant display of Wild-Fire Whizz-Bangs since Fred and George’s departure from Hogwarts two and a half years ago.

Dennis leaped up from the bench with a shriek. People still holding candles threw them into the air where they joined the conflagration to cheers and screams of delight. Ginny flung herself at George, knocking him off the headstone, and they tumbled on the grave holding each other, unable to stop laughing.

Chapter Text

The skies lightened in the east on an overcast Sunday morning, and the denizens of the marquee began to stir. No one had gone home after the pyrotechnics. They had pulled the sides of the marquee down and slept scattered about on conjured cushions, on the grass floor, or sitting in chairs. Ginny and Harry had dozed with their backs against the bandstand, surrounded by their friends.

Ginny was one of the first to rouse and stagger outside into a damp and blustery morning that felt like it would become a rainy day. She went into the Burrow, where her mother was in the kitchen brewing large pots of coffee while Fleur and Charlie prepared trays of warm pastries. They Levitated the assembled breakfast out to the marquee, and the aromas gradually awoke everyone who was not already up; Harry took coffee and a cherry Danish from the platter that Ginny passed around.

“This was a great party,” said Luna as she picked the cheese filling out of a croissant with her finger. “It’s a good way to end the summer.” She stuffed the empty shell into her mouth and stood holding the cheese in her hand. “Does anyone want this?”

Dean scraped the cheese off her hand and deposited it onto his plate; he put it down and wiped off his hands. “So Harry, when will the Hog’s Head open?”

“When the Hogwarts Express pulls into Hogsmeade Station on September 1. We’ll be there to meet it.”

“Who?” said Luna.

“Me and Ginny. We’ll have snacks and drinks for everyone. For free.”

Luna nodded and looked around; Ginny was on the bandstand talking to Keesha, who was packing up instruments with the rest of the band. “Okay,” Luna said, “I guess I’ll see you then. ‘Bye everyone.” She waved to no one in particular and Disapparated.

“When did she learn how to do that?” Neville asked, staring at the spot Luna had just vacated.

“Two weeks ago,” said Dean. “She’s a natural. She got her license three days ago.”

Soon the rest of the young people who had stayed overnight followed Luna. The marquee was struck, the decorations taken down, and quickly the Burrow was back to normal. Bill and Fleur left early in the afternoon, and by evening Percy, George, Ron, and Hermione had also departed. Charlie would be staying for two more days to take care of some business he had at the Ministry with a dragon conservationist in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures.

It would have been depressingly quiet for Ginny, except that she had to begin getting ready for school. She had procrastinated with everything—cleaning, books, supplies, clothes, robes—and now she had only two weeks. Harry had to be at the inn, getting it ready for the grand opening, so they decided that Ginny would spend the next week preparing for school, and Harry would likewise concentrate on the inn. They would at least get to see each other in the evenings, and they hoped they could spend the final week of summer together.

“Maybe we can stay at the inn all week.” Harry had a suggestive smile as they lounged on the sofa in the parlor late Sunday evening; the remnants of the party had finally been cleaned up, and Ginny’s parents and Charlie had gone to bed. It had rained all day, and it was still coming down hard, so a ramble in the countryside was not in the cards.

“I’d like that,” Ginny purred with her head in his lap; Harry was tracing her freckles with his fingers. “Let’s make that our goal. Percy was telling us last night that everyone should have goals.”

“Good, that’ll be our goal, then. And we can tell Perce that he helped bring purpose and achievement into our lives.”

Ginny chuckled, but then grew serious. She took his hand and laced their fingers together.

“What is it, love?” Harry asked.

She smiled at his endearment. “Nothing. I was just thinking about us. What do you think will happen after the school year?”

“You said it exactly, Us.”

“I know, but what do you think will happen? Do you really want to run an inn, always? I’ll have to figure out what to do too. There wasn’t much career counseling last year.”

Harry began combing her hair with his fingers; he did it whenever he got the chance. “I guess I haven’t thought about it. I just knew, the day after the battle, that I wanted to be with you, whatever I did.”

“Maybe you should start thinking about it, at least a little.”

“Sure.” Harry’s fingers slid gently through her hair. “But let’s get through this week first. Our goal, remember?”

“Olay,” Ginny smiled. “I suppose we have plenty of time to think about next year.” She pulled his head down and they kissed until Harry leaned too far and they rolled, giggling, onto the floor. There was some intense snogging until Ginny enforced the house rule—no love-making inside—and they forced themselves upstairs and into their separate beds.

# # # #

The rain never let up all week, which made their chores that much more unpleasant. Ginny spent a soggy day in Diagon Alley rounding up books; a new cauldron and advanced potion-making equipment for Professor Slughorn’s N.E.W.T. class; writing supplies—she planned to send an owl to Harry in Hogsmeade every night—and a broomstick servicing kit that Harry insisted on buying for her. She had to get it all back home in a drenching downpour, and when some of the Floo powder flamed in her hand, she came crashing out of the fireplace in the kitchen and sprawled on the floor at her mother’s feet with her parcels scattered everywhere. She spent the rest of the day organizing her textbooks, mending clothes, and coaxing Bailey to go out hunting even though the owl clearly disliked the rain. But mostly she stared moodily out her bedroom window, missing Harry and counting the hours and minutes until he returned.

Harry spent his days ordering supplies, planning meals, helping Stan organize the bar, and keeping Winky out of Stan’s hair. The elf had definite territorial notions about the inn, and she often tested Stan’s good nature with forays behind the bar. She lectured him on how to organize the glasses and mugs in the overhead racks, the best temperature to keep mead at, and how to fold napkins properly so they stood up like little white tents on the table tops. Harry tried to keep her out of the dining room, but he eventually gave in to her mulish persistence and told Stan he would deal with her later.

Harry also had to buy furniture for the flat. He talked it over with Ginny on Monday evening back at the Burrow, and they decided that she would make another trip into Diagon Alley. She went back on Thursday morning and found a tiny storefront, a branch of Hippolite’s Home Furnishings across from Gringotts, next to Fortescue’s old ice cream store, that magically opened up inside into a huge furniture warehouse. The manager, a brisk young witch, was a Metamorphmagus, judging from the ever-changing shapes of her nose and ears. The constant shape-shifting finally became too annoying for Ginny, and she walked out having bought only a set of dressers. She figured that they had chairs for the kitchen, the love seat for the parlor, and the bed for the bedroom, and that was enough for the time being.

Harry came home tired every night, usually after dinner and in the rain. The weather kept them indoors, and they stayed up late until Molly and Arthur had gone to bed so they could have some privacy in the parlor. This made Harry even more tired the following day, and by Thursday Ginny was becoming worried about his Apparitions. The rain slowed to a fine drizzle in the evening, and when the usual feeling came over her that he was on his way, she went out and waited by the gate. When he finally popped into the lane, he staggered and Ginny ran to meet him.

“Are you all right?” She started counting his fingers and feeling his face; everything was intact, and she kissed him. “Is everything okay at the inn?”

There had been no more incidents, but Ginny worried, and she also had it in the back of her mind that Turquoise Southeby would show up, especially since the tart probably knew that Harry was alone there all day.

“Everything’s fine,” he said wearily. “Nothing happened, and that’s a problem. We were supposed to get a shipment of that new Potio Vitae drink, but the supplier sent an owl. They’re having problems with the quality, which doesn’t really inspire confidence, does it?”

They walked back to the house as large raindrops began splattering around them. Harry put his traveling cloak over Ginny’s head and his arm around her shoulder. “God, I missed you. I had to use this all day, just to keep myself sane, but instead it drove me crazy.”

He laughed and pulled the silver chain from inside his shirt and pressed the shiny cylinder to his lips. Ginny’s scent filled the damp air, and Harry stopped and put his arms around her. He kissed her fiercely, lifting her off the ground. They stopped kissing only when a simultaneous flash of lighting and clap of thunder made them jump. They ran through the pelting rain to the house, and Harry started to open the door but Ginny stopped him. They were soaked and getting wetter as she took his face in her hands.

“Harry,” she whispered, “come to my room tonight.”

“What?” Harry wasn’t sure if had heard her right through the rumbles of thunder and torrents of rain. “I thought you didn’t . . .”

“Just be very quiet. You’ll have to pass my parents’ room.” She kissed him again and opened the door.

Her mother was waiting with her wand, and quickly had them dry and warm. She also had a large bowl of hot vegetable soup and a loaf of fresh bread ready for Harry, and bustled him to the table. He sat with a sigh and smiled up at her.

“You’re the best, Mrs. Weasley.” She tousled his hair, which was still damp, and turned to the sink before he could see her blush.

The storm continued. Rain drummed against the windows, and sometimes the flashes of lightning were so close together that it seemed like daylight outside. Harry and Ginny stayed with her parents in the parlor in front of a crackling fire; they lay on the hearth side by side, poking at the logs with sticks of firewood.

“Harry,” Arthur said in a lull of the storm, “have you heard anything from the Ministry about the rock-throwing incident?”

Harry rolled onto his elbow. “The two chaps we caught were Obliviated, so they didn’t learn anything from them. And no one’s reported a missing person that fits their descriptions, either. And it looks like one of them is a Squib.”

Molly shook her head and clucked. “It sounds to me like a practical joke. I should think they could tell something from their clothes or their accents.” She reached up and replaced a skein of yarn for one of her enchanted knitting needles; another maroon jumper was finished.

“Nope, nothing,” Harry rolled back onto his stomach. “I wish it was just a joke, but I don’t think so.” He put his head down on his arms and yawned, and Ginny began to massage his shoulders. “I’d better go to bed,” he yawned again. “I have to get back early tomorrow. The beverage bloke will be there at eight.”

“I think it’s time for everyone to go to bed,” said Molly. She plucked her knitting project out of the air and got to her feet. “Come, dear, it’s a good night for snuggling.”

Ginny and Harry smiled to each other as her parents left the room. They knew that Arthur and Molly were giving them time alone, but now Harry wanted to get upstairs as soon as possible.

“Are you sure?” he whispered on the landing in front of Ginny’s room. She nodded. “How long should I wait?”

“Until you’re desperate,” she giggled. “But maybe you can wait until the thunder gets loud. I don’t think they’d hear a herd of dragons through that.”

Harry gave her a quick kiss—he didn’t trust himself to do more—and hurried upstairs. He put on his pajamas and lay on top of his covers, trying not to think of Ginny. He considered getting out his Invisibility Cloak, but decided he didn’t want her parents to suspect that he was sneaking around their house. If they caught him in the clear, he would just have to think of an excuse.

Finally, after an hour of agony, the storm, mirroring Harry’s emotional state, intensified, and he slipped out of the attic room and crept downstairs as quietly as he could. On the first landing, he waited until several flashes of lightning appeared within a few seconds of each other, and started toward Ginny’s room. Just as rolls of thunder began to peal, he reached her door and went inside.

He stood for a moment and when the thunder died down, he heard Bailey moving on her perch.

“Come here!” Ginny said in a loud whisper. He walked to her bed, and she lifted the covers, inviting him in. “Why are you wearing pajamas?” she whispered.

# # # #

Harry was eating breakfast the next morning with Arthur and Molly when Ginny came sleepily downstairs in her dressing gown and with totally disheveled hair; she was running her fingers through it, trying without much success to untangle the knots. Arthur was reading the Prophet and briefly looked up and greeted her, but Molly surveyed her with slightly raised eyebrows.

Ginny dropped into the chair next to Harry, who was trying not to look at her, certain that if he did his expression would give away everything. It didn’t help when she put her hand on his leg under the table, but he managed not to choke on the slice of toast in his mouth.

Ginny yawned. “Is it still raining?” she asked, staring groggily straight ahead at the wall.

“Look out the window, dear,” her mother tisked. “It never stopped.”

Ginny glanced outside and patted Harry’s hand. “I’m sorry. This weather is awful. You’ll be careful, won’t you?”

“Sure, and if I can take care of the beverage delivery and a couple of other things, I’ll be back early.”

“Good. Do you have it?” She put her hand on his chest and felt the Bouquedelle under his shirt. Harry smiled and held her hand against it until he became aware of her mother staring at them. He got up, put his dishes in the sink, and took his traveling cloak from its hook by the door. He said goodbye to the parents, and Ginny followed him into the parlor; he had decided to Disapparate there because of the weather. He kissed her goodbye, a little more hotly than his usual morning farewell, and vanished.

Ginny dragged herself back to the kitchen but didn’t sit. “I think I’ll skip breakfast right now, Mum,” she yawned again. “I didn’t sleep very well. All that thunder kept waking me up.”

Molly watched her go upstairs, waited until she heard the door close, and began clearing the table. “Did you see them?” she asked Arthur.

He put the paper down. “Yes, they both seemed a little tired. The storm, I suppose.”

Molly snorted. “There was a storm all right.” She clattered the dishes in the sink, but stopped and said, without looking at him, “What do you think about Ginny’s staying at the inn next week?”

“What? When did that happen?”

“Don’t you listen? She told us two days ago she might do it. It bothers me. They’re moving along too quickly.”

Arthur sighed; he did not want to start this conversation five minutes before he had to leave for work. “Can we talk about it later? But,” he added hastily, seeing her scowl, “it won’t be the end of the world if I’m fifteen minutes late. And speaking of which, it won’t be the end of the world if Ginny lives with him for a few days, either.”

“I’m not talking about death and destruction,” Molly said irritably. “I’m talking about what’s sensible and what’s not.” Her face softened. “I have no doubt about their love for each other, it’s just that they’re moving along so fast. Were you aware that Harry spent a good part of last night in her room?”

Arthur passed his hand over his eyes and shook his head. “No, and I’m not sure I want to know.”

“Are you saying you want to hide your head in the sand?”

“Of course not. It wasn’t the smartest thing for them to do, but on the other hand . . . You might not like my saying this, Molly, but to be totally honest about it, they couldn’t get outside by themselves all week, and we both know what they do out there. A couple of weeks ago you said you didn’t know what the right thing to do was. Well, you were right then, and you would still be right if you said the same thing now.”

Molly sat down and dabbed at her eyes. “She’ll be gone in less than two weeks. I suppose for her it’s not happening fast enough.”

Arthur got up and put his arms around her. “I’ll say to you what you said to me. Just consider who she chose, and look at what he’s doing for her. Could we ask for more?”

She shook her head wordlessly, and her eyes teared. “Go to work, you’ll be late.”

Ginny went back to bed and burrowed under the covers. Harry’s scent was still on the pillow and she buried her face in it. She felt a little guilty about violating her “house rule,” but only a little. When he came home last night she had seen discouragement and weariness in his eyes. He was working so hard just to please her, and she couldn’t stand to see him like that.

But the night in her bed had quite changed his mood, because when she finally pushed him out her door just before dawn, he was joking about cutting his four-poster in half down the middle so that they could be as close together there as they were in her narrow bed. She had stood on the landing outside her room, gazing up the stairs for minutes after he had gone into his room, and had barely closed her door in time to avoid being seen by her mum, who was just coming out of her own room.

As Ginny now lay in bed hugging her pillow, she thought about the coming year and wondered how she was going to get her schoolwork done, with Quidditch practices on top of that. She knew that Harry would not be helpful; he would want her to be at the inn as often as possible. Somehow, they would have to work it out; she didn’t know how, but it was, after all, a nice problem to have.

She drifted off to sleep under snug covers while the rain beat on her window.

At that moment Harry was sitting at a table in the dining room of the Hog’s Head Inn, scowling at a parchment he had just taken from a wet and disgruntled owl that had arrived a short time ago. The message was from Jake Sipper, the owner of Sipper’s Beverage and Tea Emporium, informing Harry, regretfully, that the shipment of butterbeer, mead, tea, coffee, and the new drink that was all the rage in the wizarding world, Potio Vitae, had been delayed again because of the weather and continuing “quality” problems. He apologized, and assured Harry that it wasn’t his fault but that he was working as hard as he could to resolve the problem.

Harry slammed the parchment on the table and stood. Stan looked up from behind the bar where he was cleaning the inlaid mirror and its ornate gilt frame. “No shipment this morning, ‘Arry?”

Harry shrugged. “Who knows? He doesn’t say when it’ll come. I’ll have to wait all day until either it comes or he tells me it won’t be coming. And if he wants to deliver it on the weekend, I’ll have to stay here the whole damn time.” He swore again. “Why can’t it be easy, or at least not so bloody aggravating? He’s been promising this shipment for three days now.” He sat back down as abruptly as he had stood.

“I told you before, ‘Arry, I can sign for it if you want.” Stan put down his polishing cloth. “I don’t mind. ‘Arriet can take some time and wait with me.”

Harry looked out a window at the steady rain. It was cooler and damper here in the north, a thoroughly dismal day. He could leave the inn in Stan’s capable hands and return to Ginny—his hand strayed to the Bouquedelle under his shirt—but he knew that would be wrong. He had been admonished by Rosmerta and lectured by George about taking responsibility if he wanted to own a business: that was the only way to make it succeed, they both had assured him.

Besides, he felt guilty about dumping it all on Stan. Harry had begun to realize that Stan was so grateful to him for giving him a job while he still bore, in some people’s minds, the stigma of being a Death Eater, that he would do almost anything for Harry. Harry didn’t want that, did not like that kind of devotion, had never asked for it. He liked Stan a lot, and was grateful himself for a barkeep so competent and so easy to work with.

“No, thanks, Stan,” he sighed. “I really appreciate it, but Sipper’s expecting me to be here. It’s all right. I’ll just have to wait.” He stood again and walked to the front door, opened it and saw teeming rain. Above his head hung the empty brackets from which had hung the sign of the beheaded boar, and he realized that he needed to make another decision.

He turned back to Stan. “Okay, it’s time to pick a name. I’ve put it off too long. What shall we call this place? Do we keep the old name? Do we name it Harry’s Hangout, or Heaven Inn Hogsmeade, or the Eight Broomsticks, or what? What do you think?” He closed the door and went to the bar and sat on a stool.

Stan began polishing the counter, which he did constantly, no matter that he hadn’t served a single customer yet. “What about Ginny? ‘As she told you what she likes?”

“She doesn’t like Gin’s Joint, which was her brother’s brilliant idea, but she does like Harry’s Cozy Little Inn, which isn’t on my short list. So she told me to pick a name, and if she doesn’t like it, she’ll decide for me.”

Stan chuckled. “I’ve told you, keep the old name. Everyone knows it, that’s what it’s been called since forever. If you change it, I bet people will still call it the ‘ogs ‘ead, or the old ‘ogs ‘ead. You won’t get anyone to call it anything else, I’ll bet a week’s pay on it.”

Harry laughed, glad to be cheered by Stan’s good humor. “But we also want people to know that it’s new, that it’s cheerful. I want people to come here and have a good time.”

“If the food is good and the drinks are big, word will get around. Then you’ll ‘ave the best of both. Everyone will know the name, and everyone will know it’s not a dump anymore.”

Harry pondered for a few moments. “Well, that’s possible. It would be the easiest thing to do. What about the sign? I refuse to put up anything remotely like the old one.”

“‘Arriet’s a good artist, did you know? She’s done lots of things for Ros, like signs, pictures for the walls, stuff like that. I can ask ‘er it she has any ideas.”

“Okay, I like that too. Why don’t you ask her to paint a sign for us, but something a little less gruesome than a decapitated pig.”

Stan grinned. “She’ll like that too, ‘Arry. Thanks.”

Harry was starting to feel better. “So we accomplished at least one thing today. Now we just need the beverage man to show up.” He stretched and yawned. “Do you mind watching the place for a bit? I need a nap.” Stan waved him off, and Harry left; he didn’t see Winky in the kitchen, but he heard her snores echoing from inside a cabinet near the fireplace.

Upstairs, he took off his shoes and lay on the bed, thinking about Ginny and last night. They had lain close together all night, and there were times that he had thought it would drive him crazy, just having their flesh being in constant contact. There were a few moments when, as he looked into her eyes, he almost thought he was seeing out of them, seeing himself looking back at her. It was strange, almost scary, and in a way a little funny because everything was in perfect focus, not slightly blurred as it always was without his eyeglasses on.

He missed her, even after only a few hours; he felt alone. He thought back to the times in the past year when he had really been alone, sitting watch in the tent entrance on some forlorn moor, listening to Hermione and Ron talking inside, looking up at the stars, trying to ignore the kernel of fear that was a constant presence in the pit of his stomach. Whenever he had thought of Ginny at those times, he had not felt the flaming desire that he did now. It was more like a longing for something that seemed impossible, something that would never happen. It had always brought a melancholy sorrow to his spirit, along with an additional fear: that the happiness he had experienced in their few weeks together would never be more than a memory.

But then he would remember the words she had spoken on his birthday, the day before the fall of the Ministry: “There’s the silver lining I was hoping for . . .” Recalling those words was always a tonic, a tiny jolt of hope that, if he could survive and somehow win, she would be there. The words meant that Ginny was true to him, she was thinking about him as he was thinking about her. He would look up at the stars again and see the beauty of the universe and know that he would see her again.

He pressed the Bouquedelle to his lips and fell asleep enveloped in Ginny.

He awoke to loud knocking on the parlor door. “‘Arry?” he heard Stan call. “‘e’s ‘ere, that Sipper bloke with the drinks. ‘Arry?”

Harry jumped up. “Come in, Stan,” he called, pulling on his trainers. The door opened and Stan poked his head in.

“They’re downstairs. I’ll tell them you’ll be right down.”

Harry hurried after him and found Stan, Winky, Sebastian Sipper, and one of his workers in the dining room, surrounded by kegs, cartons, and cases of bottles.

“Sorry for the delay, Harry,” Sipper said, mopping water from his hair with a bright orange towel. He was a squat, burly wizard with a head of hair that was almost as red as Ron’s, and a large red handlebar mustache that was also dripping rainwater. Harry looked at the puddle on the floor, but Sipper continued. “I don’t understand why they held up the order.” He waved at the stack of cases with the Potio Vitae label. “They said they had a bad batch, but I think they miscalculated how popular it is, and just ran out. I opened a bottle to check it, and it’s fine. Great stuff, I have to say.”

“Well, at least it’s finally here.” Harry tried to stop Winky from mopping the puddle of water, but she shrugged off his hand and glared at Sipper as she mopped it up with a bar towel.

Harry walked around the pile of cartons. “And it’s all here, the whole order?”

“Yep. Do you want a hand putting it away?”

“No, we can handle it. Where’s the receipt?”

Sipper produced a long parchment, handed it to Harry, and pulled a quill out of his pocket. “Just sign right here, Harry. Got another overdue delivery down in Edinburgh, and the weather’s getting worse.”

Harry signed, and Sipper and his man left. Harry heard them Disapparate, and he turned to Stan. “Let’s take care of this and then I think I can be off.” He and Stan began separating the delivery and Levitating the items into the storeroom behind the bar. After a moment, Stan frowned and began counting.

“‘old on a minute, ‘Arry,” he finally said. “Let me see the invoice.”

“Now what?” Harry handed it to him with a scowl. Stan ran his finger down the parchment.

“They shorted us eight cases of butterbeer. We only got sixteen.”

“God damn it!” Harry shouted, and the carton of tea suspended in the air in front of him shot forward and slammed into the wall; it fell to the floor, split open, and tins of tea spilled out. “Who the hell does he think he is? I’ll—”

“Wait!” Stan said. ‘’ere, at the bottom, it says ‘e owes us eight. It’s all right, ‘Arry, we’ll be fine with the ones ‘e delivered.”

Harry grabbed the invoice and peered at it. He put his hand to his temple. “I have a headache,” he groaned. “I can’t take much more of this. Why does this have to happen? Why doesn’t he tell us the truth? Why can’t he just deliver the damned things? When I fought Riddle, all I had to do was shoot a spell and it was over. This is way harder, and a lot less satisfying.”

“Harry Potter is a wizard,” said Winky from behind the table where she had ducked when Harry propelled the carton of tea into the wall. “Harry Potter is not learning how to run an inn at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. When Winky has been at the House of Crouch, she has been seeing these things happen all the time. Mrs. Crouch has always laughed when it happens. Harry Potter should laugh too.” She paused for a moment. “And Harry Potter should not waste tea that he is already paying for.”

Harry dropped his hand—his wand had been raised—and gave Winky a wry look. “Who needs a mum when he has a house-elf?”

“Good advice,” Stan laughed. “Now look, ‘Arry, why don’t you just go on ‘ome, ‘ave a nice long weekend with Ginny, and next week the weather will be good and everything will be great.”

‘Stan Shunpike is being right for once,” Winky said, and Stan looked at Harry with a grin. “And Harry Potter must remind Ginny Pott— Ginny Weasley about her chocolate birthday cake.”

“I’ll do that,” Harry laughed. “We may both be back here next week,” he said to Stan. “That, uh, that won’t bother you, will it?”

“No, no. Why should it? That’ll be brilliant. She’s a swell girl, and ‘Arriet likes ‘er, too.”

“Then let’s get the rest of this put away. I’ll send an owl to Sipper to tell us exactly when he’s planning to finish the order, and then . . . that’ll be it.”

Harry repaired the smashed carton, put the tea tins back inside with a Pack spell, and they quickly stored the last of the order. He hurried to the post office and sent an owl to Sipper, feeling buoyant despite the continuing downpour, knowing he would soon be with Ginny. He said goodbye to Stan and Winky, and Disapparated back to the Burrow.

He Apparated in the parlor, startling Molly, who shrieked and jumped off the sofa where she had been helping her knitting needles untangle two skeins of yarn. “Harry! My goodness! I didn’t expect you—”

The door burst open and Ginny flew in. “I knew you would be home early! Is everything okay? You didn’t get wet, did you?”

“Everything is fine, and it’s impossible not to get wet. It’s raining just as hard up there. The order came late, and then Stan told me to go home, so here I am.”

“Did you eat lunch yet?” Ginny and Molly both said at exactly the same time.

“No,” Harry grinned. Ginny waved her mother to sit back down and led Harry out the door. The instant she closed it they embraced in a long, tight snog.

“What do you want for lunch?” Ginny said when she finally had to take a breath.

Harry straightened his eyeglasses and brushed the hair back from her face. “The usual. Do you think you can cook it up for me?”

“Anything you want is yours,” she giggled. “Later. Now eat. Since I knew you’d be home early, I waited.”

They ate the soufflé that Ginny had learned to make from Fleur, and talked. Harry asked Ginny again if she could spend the last week of the summer with him at the inn, and Ginny told him she had already started to pack. The only problem was that she still had things to do to get ready for school, so Harry offered to help, and when everything was done, they would go on up to Hogsmeade together.

They even made plans for what they would do during the week. Ginny wanted to help get the inn ready for its opening on September 1. She also wanted more shopping trips to London to finish furnishing the flat, and to begin the Apparition lessons that Percy had given her for her birthday. The African dance concert that Saliyah had told them about was also scheduled for that week.

They set to work with a will, spending the afternoon cleaning Ginny’s room, packing her trunk, and sorting her clothes and robes. Molly looked in on them once, sitting on the floor, trying to figure out the best way to pack her potion-making supplies so that the delicate scales would not be damaged. Molly smiled and closed the door.

“I think she’ll be okay with it,” Ginny said as they both looked at the closed door. “I hope Dad is too.”

Harry stood up. “I think we’re finished.”

Ginny examined the cauldron one last time and grinned at him. “We did it. We met our goal. Percy will be so proud.” She went to her desk and took out a box of letter parchment, ink, and a quill. “I’ll just send an owl off to Mr. Twycross and then we can pack this.”

Bailey hopped from leg to leg on her perch, hooting eagerly. Ginny wrote out the note and tied it to Bailey’s leg. She opened the window, and the owl hesitated just for a moment when she saw the steady rain, but hooted again, sprang up, and disappeared into the gloom.

They packed up the rest of the desk into her trunk, and Ginny closed the lid and sat on it. “Come here,” she beckoned to Harry.

“Can’t we sit on something softer?” He looked hopefully at the bed. “This will be very uncomfortable to sit on.”

“There’s a rule, remember? Just because I let you break it once, doesn’t mean you can break it whenever you want. Now sit here.” She patted the trunk.

I broke the rule? If I remember correctly, you were there too.” He sat on the trunk, put his finger on his cheek, and screwed up his face. “Yes, I definitely remember that you were in the bed with me, I’m one hundred percent positive.”

“There’s nothing wrong with your memory, I see, even if your poor bum can’t take a little hardship. But if we sit on the bed, we’ll never get off. I’m one hundred percent positive.”

Harry nodded solemnly. “That’s true, and dinner is so close. We have to keep up our strength.”

They both laughed, and Ginny moved closer. “So we’ll leave tomorrow and stay until next Saturday, then we’ll come back for a few days, or at least I will. You can stay at the inn if you have to, and you can meet me when the Express gets in on Tuesday evening.”

Harry looked puzzled. “When the Express gets in? What do you mean?”

Ginny looked just as puzzled. “What do you mean, ‘what do I mean’? The Hogwarts Express. It’ll get into Hogsmeade around nine o’clock, like it always does.”

Now Harry looked disturbed. “The Hogwarts Express? Why will you . . . but . . . I thought you would be here—I mean at the inn, with me.”

Ginny frowned. “What are you talking about? I’m taking the train from King’s Cross Station on September the first, like I always have.”

But I thought . . . I assumed . . . Oh.” Disappointment replaced bewilderment on Harry’s face. “I guess I assumed you would just stay at the inn and go to school with the other kids when the train got in.”

“Why would you assume that? I never said I wanted to do that. I want to take the train with Keesha and Luna. I talked to them about it at the party.”

“Okay, okay! It’s fine, I understand.”

They sat on the trunk and didn’t speak or look at each other. Ginny turned to the window, away from Harry, and he looked down at his hands.

“I’m sorry,” he finally said. “Can I come to see you off?” She turned back and he took her hand. “I shouldn’t have assumed.”

“I should have said something.” Ginny looked at their hands. “Yes, please, I want you to come to the station.” She chuckled. “That way you can see me off and meet me when I arrive.”

“I guess that’s kind of stupid, but I want to see you off, anyway.”

The sat in silence until Ginny rubbed her shoulder against him. “Let’s see how dinner’s coming along. And we’ll have to tell them we’ll be gone all week.”

“Oh, yeah.” Harry stood with her. He wasn’t sure what had just happened, but he was glad that they had resolved it so quickly. He also felt like picking Ginny up and taking her to the bed, but she had moved to the door. She paused before opening it and looked winsomely back at him.

“I feel the same way, but let’s wait till tomorrow. It will just be the two of us for a whole week.” She smiled in a way that made Harry’s knees weak, but she opened the door before he could reach her and skipped out. As she ran laughing downstairs, Harry took a breath and followed.

Molly greeted them with a smile when they entered the kitchen, and nodded when Ginny told her about their plans. “You’ll be back in time for the King’s Cross taxi, won’t you, dear?” she said almost disinterestedly.

Ginny looked at her uncertainly. “Um, of course. And Harry will come see me off.”

“Good. Well, did you finish packing, and cleaning your room, and—”

“Everything’s done, Mum. All I’ll have to do is pick up my trunk. I’ll come back on Saturday, anyway, so I’ll have a couple of days to take care of anything that comes up.”

Molly nodded again. But as Ginny and Harry looked at each other, somewhat surprised at her mild reaction, Molly spoke again. “There’s nothing wrong with what you two are doing, but it’s not a trivial thing, either. Not many people do it when they’re your age, wizards or Muggles.” She smiled at them. “There, I’ve finished my lecture. That wasn’t so bad, was it?”

Ginny just stared at her and Harry looked at the floor. Molly laughed, and kissed them both, which embarrassed Harry even more. “Go on, both of you. Dinner will be ready when Arthur gets home.”

They waited in the parlor, sitting side by side on the sofa. Harry didn’t know what to say, and Ginny smiled at his confusion.

“They’ve always been like that. And I told you that they did the same thing when they were our age. They must have really been in love, don’t you think?”

Harry finally smiled. “That’s a trick question, isn’t it? Of course they were in love, just like us.”

“Ooh, now that’s an interesting answer. So who was more in love, them or us?”

“No one could be more in love than I am.”

Ginny moved into his lap and put her arms around him. “Harry, why do you always say the right thing? How am I supposed to wait until tomorrow to jump you again?”

“Lady, that’s a tough problem you have, but I’m not going to help you solve it.”

At that moment they heard Arthur Apparate next to the front door, and a moment later voices in the kitchen. “Thank Merlin!” Ginny laughed. “It’s time to eat.”

The next morning they Side-Along Apparated into the dining room of the inn, carrying duffle bags and wearing backpacks with the clothes and belongings they would need for the week. Stan was not there yet, and Winky was puttering in the kitchen and ignored them as they came through from the dining room.

“She’s making my cake,” Ginny giggled as they climbed the stairs. They stepped into the sitting room, dropped their luggage, and threw themselves at each other. Harry picked Ginny up and carried her into the bedroom. Somehow, Winky knew not to disturb them, so they were two hungry people who came downstairs for dinner in the early evening. They ate a candlelight dinner, and for dessert Winky proudly served chocolate cake with strawberry icing.

# # # #

The week was a blur of delight and happiness. Everything seemed to go well; even the weather turned sunny and warm. On Tuesday they Apparated into Diagon Alley and finished buying furniture for the flat; they got a large mirror and an easy chair for the bedroom, two small tables and some comfortable chairs for the parlor, and several more pieces of artwork to hang on the walls. Ginny took her first Apparition lesson from Wilkie Twycross at the Ministry while Harry visited with Ron, and in the evening they attended the African dance concert that Saliyah Ushujaa had invited them to at Tonks and Remus’s funeral.

It was held in the Atrium of the Ministry, and was intended as both a memorial to those killed in the war, and as a re-dedication of the Atrium and the Fountain of Magical Brethren. The grotesque, sinister black statue was gone. In its place were the simple figures of four children, two boys and two girls, standing on a pedestal. It was not even clear if they were magical; they were just holding hands and smiling at each other.

“That’s beautiful. Does anyone know if they used real models?” Ginny said as she and Harry stood looking at it with Ron and Hermione; they were all wearing dress robes, including Ron who made sure that everyone knew he had bought new ones to replace the embarrassment he had worn years ago to the Yule Ball.

“The two girls are twins, and they’re actually starting at Hogwarts this year,” said Hermione. “Their parents are Muggles, friends of my folks. I’ve known them since they were born, when I was about seven.”

“What are their names?” asked Harry.

“Emma and Claire Athair. You should try to find them on the Hogwarts Express,” she said to Ginny. “They’re adorable.”

They wandered around the Atrium until the concert began. A stage had been erected in front of the lift to the public entrance, and the Atrium was filled to overflowing with wizards and witches dressed to the hilt. The drums were electrifying, driving and pounding into the audience and the dancers. The costumes were sensuous, elegant, or stately, depending on the theme of the dance. The dances were, as Saliyah had described, emotional and riveting.  By the time the concert ended, everyone in the audience felt as exhausted as the dancers.

Afterwards, Harry, Ginny, Ron, and Hermione took a cab back to the Leaky Cauldron—Ron wanted to show off how well he got around Muggle London—and after a few drinks they went up to the flat over Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes. They talked long into the night about the summer that had just ended and the upcoming year. Harry and Ginny Apparated back to the inn when the eastern sky was beginning to lighten, and fell into bed and into each other’s arms.

When they got up the next afternoon, they found that their new furnishings had arrived and were sitting in the parlor. They spent the rest of the day moving furniture and hanging pictures; that is, Ginny decided where to put everything and Harry moved or hung it. By evening the flat had a homey, comfortable feel that delighted them both. After dinner they lit a fire and luxuriated on the rug in front the fireplace, and ended up falling asleep there once again in each other’s arms.

Everything went smoothly at the inn. With Ginny’s help Harry was able to keep Winky out of the dining room, and Stan finished his preparations in peace. Harry was becoming nervous about the grand opening and actually having to serve customers, but all the supplies were delivered on time and both Stan and Winky had their respective domains well under control.

And, much to everyone’s relief, there were no more incidents of vandalism. The only occurrence that bothered Ginny was that every morning and every evening she felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand, and she saw Turquoise Southeby walking through the field behind of the inn, on her way between her home outside the village and the assortment of part-time jobs she held. She never looked at the inn, but as Ginny watched from the picture window, there was no doubt in her mind that the witch had chosen that path because she could parade in full view, swinging her hips as she walked. Ginny never mentioned it, and Harry never saw it. At least she was wearing clothes, thought Ginny.

Ginny and Harry took long walks through the fields and down country lanes near the village, and also spent a long, sunny afternoon visiting places on the Hogwarts grounds that were familiar and dear from their brief moments together before Albus Dumbledore’s death. They visited Hagrid, Fang, and Grawp, who were all delighted to see them, and Hagrid made Harry promise to come watch him teach some of his Care of Magical Creatures classes.

And so the week passed all too quickly, and on Saturday morning Ginny packed her bags and they Apparated back to the Burrow. Harry stayed for an hour or so to collect the rest of his belongings from the attic room, and returned with them to the Hog’s Head.

As she stood in the yard with her parents and watched Harry Disapparate, Ginny pressed her hand to the locket underneath her blouse, and realized that a wonderful moment in her life had ended. A wave of melancholy passed over her, but a hand squeezed her shoulder, and she turned to see her mum, also with a sad expression.

“It was a wonderful summer, darling,” Molly said. “I’m so happy he was here with us—with you.”

Ginny nodded, and suddenly her gloom passed as quickly as it had come. “And it’s going to be a wonderful year, Mum. Look, I never showed you what’s in the locket he gave me.” She took it out and opened it, and as Harry smiled at them, cupped her hands over it, and Molly peered into them.

“It’s those eyes, isn’t it?” she said, looking up with a slightly wicked grin. “He does have the eyes.” She laughed, and they walked back to the house arm-in-arm.

The weekend passed uneventfully, except that four or five times a day, every day, Ginny sent a love-owl to Harry and he sent one back. It was the first time since the day after the battle that they had been separated for so long. The notes back and forth became so hot that Ginny joked to Harry in one that Bailey was too young to be carrying such explicit messages; Bailey didn’t seem to mind, though, and the passionate letters continued.

Finally September 1 arrived and a taxi took Ginny and her parents, for the last time, to King’s Cross Station. When she came through the barrier to Platform Nine And Three Quarters, Harry was there. She let go her luggage trolley and ran to him, and until the engine’s whistle blew, they were completely unaware of the hundreds of people jostling around them, more than a few of them staring.

Her parents somehow got her trunk and Bailey’s cage onto the train, after which they had to interrupt the snog to say goodbye. Ginny looked around, and saw Keesha grinning at her from a carriage window; Luna was next to her, gazing serenely in another direction.

“This is it, love,” Ginny whispered. “But I’ll see you in a few hours.”

“I miss you. I love you,” Harry whispered back. “I haven’t stopped using the Bouquedelle. What will I do until Friday?”

“We’ll see each other again in a few hours,” she repeated with a laugh. “I love you too.” Her eyes were ablaze as she kissed him once more and ran to the train; it began to move just as she boarded. Leaning out the window next to Keesha and Luna, she looked back until she could no longer see him.

Chapter Text

Keesha hugged Ginny’s shoulders. “Come on, we have a compartment just down the corridor. And cheer up, he’ll be waiting on the platform when we get to Hogsmeade.”

Ginny sighed. “We had such an incredible summer, Keesha. I wish it had never ended.” She followed her friend into a compartment. “I get these bluesy moments, but there’s nothing really to be sad about. We’ll be seeing each other all the time, and I’ll be with him on the weekends. Hi, Luna,” she said as she and Keesha Levitated her trunk and Bailey’s cage onto the overhead. “Harry’s going to be only half a mile away in Hogsmeade, and I can send him an owl every night. Still . . .” She sighed again as they sat. “We had such a good time.”

“Maybe you’re pregnant,” Luna said as she sat and opened the latest issue of The Quibbler.

Keesha’s jaw dropped and Ginny stared at the magazine in front of Luna’s face. “Merlin, Luna,” she said when she had recovered her composure, “if I am, my parents should get a tuition refund. I used the charm Pomfrey taught us.” She looked at Keesha and giggled.

“I was just asking,” Luna said from behind her magazine. “If you are pregnant, I’d be interested in knowing what it’s like.”

Ginny shook her head and looked out the window; the outskirts of London were passing. She heard a noise in the corridor, and turned to see two young girls pulling large trunks past the compartment. She jumped up, opened the door and called to them, “Are you looking for someplace to sit? We have empty seats.”

They were the twins whose statues stood in the Fountain of Magical Brethren. They hesitated for a moment looking uncertainly at each other. “Come on,” Ginny smiled, “we won’t hex you.” They walked slowly back to the compartment, trailing their trunks, and Ginny stepped aside to let them in. Keesha smiled at them, and moved across to the other bench, leaving room for them to sit together. Luna gazed over the top of The Quibbler, and the girls stared back, not sure what to make of her lima bean earrings.

Ginny closed the door. “Here, let’s get your trunks out of the way.” She and Keesha Levitated them up and into empty spaces on the overhead, and the two girls watched their rising luggage with their mouths hanging open. Ginny sat next to Keesha and pointed to the empty seats; the girls sat. “I’m Ginny, this is Keesha, and that’s Luna. Don’t mind her jewelry, it’s harmless.”

“Why would anyone wear harmful jewelry?” Luna asked.

“You’re first-years, aren’t you?” Keesha said after a moment. The twins both nodded. “What are your names?”

“Wait!” Ginny grinned. “You’re Emma and you’re Claire, right?” She pointed to one, then the other.

They giggled. “No,” said the second one. “I’m Emma, she’s Claire.”

Ginny laughed. “I have—had twin brothers who looked exactly alike. They were always pranking everyone, and we never knew which one had done it.”

“How did you know our names?” asked Claire. “Did you do magic?”

“No, I saw your statues in the Ministry of Magic. They were very nice. They look just like you.”

“Well,” said Emma, “we know who you are. You’re Ginny Weasley. We saw you snogging Harry Potter on the platform.”

Ginny and Keesha broke up in guffaws, and Luna lowered her magazine and peered at the twins.

“Touché!” said Ginny. “You two are pretty smart. I guess you’ll be sorted into Ravenclaw. Luna here is a Ravenclaw. She can show you around.”

The girls had identical expressions of horror on their faces, and Ginny and Keesha broke up laughing again, while Luna smiled briefly and raised the magazine in front of her face.

“Not Ravenclaw?” Ginny was still chuckling. “Which House then. Surely not Slytherin.”

“Gryffindor!” they exclaimed in unison. “We want to be in the same House as Harry Potter,” said Emma.

Ginny looked at Keesha. “Oh my, now that’ll embarrass him.” She turned back to the girls. “You can tell the Sorting Hat which House you want, but you don’t always get it. There’s nothing wrong with Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff, either. Keesha is in Hufflepuff.”

They shook their heads. “Gryffindor,” they said together.

“Okay, it’s Gryffindor, then. I’ll tell you what. If the Hat puts you both in Gryffindor, you can sit next to me at the Feast tonight, and I’ll help you get settled into your room.”

The girls looked pleased and a little relieved. “We’ll be sitting with you,” Claire said with certainty.

The train was passing through suburbs and towns, and the five girls settled in. The twins were full of questions, not only about Hogwarts, but also about the wizarding world. The afternoon passed into early evening, and when the tea trolley came along, the twins were delighted at the assortment of magical candies. They picked out two of everything and returned to their seats as Ginny and Keesha made their selections. Luna was still immersed in The Quibbler, but reached absentmindedly into her pocket, took out a cucumber and started eating it.

As Ginny was waiting for Keesha to pay for her Chocolate Frogs, four boys sauntered through the door from the next carriage and started down the corridor. Ginny glanced at them and recognized four particularly obnoxious Slytherin seventh-years. She knew that they had all been in the Great Hall last spring before the battle, and had all walked out behind Pansy Parkinson when their entire House was dismissed by Professor McGonagall. Ginny moved to let them pass, but kept her eye on them.

They stopped at the trolley and looked over the selection. “Same old garbage,” said one as he picked up a Pumpkin Pastie and tossed it back into the wrong bin. He looked at Keesha with a sneer. “But why would that surprise me. The same old garbage collectors are buying it.”

“Excuse me, young man,” said the tea trolley witch sharply. “If you’re going to buy something, then do so and pay for it, otherwise move along and leave my customers alone.”

The boy glanced disdainfully at her, and contemptuously at Keesha. He looked her up and down, and Ginny saw her jaw tighten and her eyes narrow; Ginny moved her hand to her wand. The Slytherin’s voice dripped with loathing. “If it isn’t Mudbloods, it’s . . .”

“Do you have a problem with something?” Keesha said softly. “Like talking politely to someone who isn’t a traitor?”

“Traitor!” he snarled. “You mean a blood traitor like Potter’s little pet?” He turned and froze; Ginny’s wand was pointing at him.

Ginny spoke as quietly as Keesha had. “Move along like the lady said, and if I see you along here again, I’ll hex you into next week.”

The boy’s face had gone white and he backed up, but jumped when he bumped into Keesha’s wand. All four of the Slytherins moved quickly away; as they walked down the corridor the one who had spoken looked back, and Ginny raised her wand and glared at him. They went through the door at the end of the carriage and out of sight. Ginny and Keesha watched until they were gone, and put their wands away.

The witch handed each of them a cauldron cake. “Here, that’s for your trouble, and here’s three more for your friends.” She nodded at the twins and Luna. “Such rudeness. You’d think that people would learn from all the killing and fighting, but there are some who never will.” She sighed and pushed the trolley down the corridor to the next compartment.

Ginny and Keesha stepped inside, and as Ginny handed cakes to the twins, she had to stifle a laugh. They were huddled in the corner next to the window, looking both fearful and bewildered, and both had their wands out.

“What were you planning to do with those?” she grinned as she sat. “Maybe you should put them away. You could hurt someone, you know.”

“What did those boys want? What did they say to you?” Emma asked Keesha, lowering her wand. “Why were they so mean?”

Keesha didn’t reply at once; she scowled out the window before turning to Ginny. “He’s said things to me before, that one. I’ll cut his damn tongue out one of these days.”

Ginny grimaced, and the twins recoiled, looks of shock on their faces. “He called you a Mudblood, didn’t he?” Claire said. “I know what that is. Are you parents Muggles? Ours are.”

Keesha shook her head. “No, but it doesn’t matter. He made a comment about my skin. I swear, Ginny, I’m not going to take it again. Jace Kleinhead. With Crabbe and Goyle gone, he’s probably the worst one they’ve got. I was hoping he wouldn’t be back, but no such luck.”

The twins were listening avidly, while Luna, who had been watching everything with what was for her a great deal of interest, went back to her magazine. Ginny looked around at everyone. She didn’t want to say anything to the girls she would regret later; they might, after all, be Sorted into Slytherin, unlikely though that seemed, but she saw no reason not to tell them what reality was. Both she and Harry had almost died fighting people like those boys, and she was damned if she wouldn’t fight them now.

“They’re bullies from Slytherin,” she said to Emma and Claire. “Last spring they walked out of the castle right over to the Death Eaters while the rest of us stayed and fought. And some of us died. Remember I told you about my twin brothers? Well, one of them was killed, and now he’s buried in our back yard. If those four had their way, we would all be dead, and you two wouldn’t be on this train.”

“Because we’re Mudbloods,” Emma said.

“Don’t use that word!” Keesha snapped. “It’s ugly, and ugly people use it.” Emma cringed back in her seat, and Keesha’s face softened. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you. But don’t put yourself down because of who your parents are. That’s what those pigs are trying to do, so don’t do it for them.”

Emma and Claire sat in their seats, subdued. Suddenly, Luna spoke from behind The Quibbler. “We did win the war, you know. They lost the war.”

Ginny laughed. “Correct as usual, Miss Lovegood. That’s why you’re a Ravenclaw and we’re not. We need you to point out things like that.” The twins laughed, albeit a little uncertainly, and everyone relaxed. “Tell me,” Ginny asked, “how did you know who I am, and where did you learn that word—you know, Mudblood?”

“From Aunt Hermione,” Claire said. “She talks to us a lot.”

“Aunt Hermione?” Ginny’s eyebrows rose. “Hermione Granger is your aunt?”

“Not our real aunt,” Emma said. “We call her Aunt because she talks like a grownup.”

“And she talks a lot,” came from behind The Quibbler, “just like you said.”

“I guess she does,” Ginny grinned. “And she told me about you when I was at the Ministry and saw your statues. How did you get to pose for them?”

“We were in Diagon Alley buying our school things, and Minister Shacklebolt saw us,” explained Claire. “So he took us to the Ministry of Magic and they made the statues. It was fun, they gave us lots of candy too.” She and Emma giggled.

“He’s my uncle, you know,” Keesha said.

Ginny looked at her in surprise. “No, I didn’t know. Things must have been hot for you last year. Did the Death Eaters go after your family?”

Keesha shrugged. “Not really. They probably would have eventually, but I think they were too busy trying to find Harry.”

Ginny looked out the window. They were speeding past open fields in the deepening dusk; she could just make out orchards and tall stands of wheat. A village with its lights glowing appeared and fell behind out of sight. She thought about Hogsmeade, and wondered how Harry was doing, and whether he would be able to greet the arriving train with treats and drinks. She suddenly missed him, and regretted not staying and helping him get the inn ready; he was doing it for her, after all. She leaned her head back against the cushion and stared up at the overhead. If she sent him a note, would Bailey get to Hogsmeade before the train? She wasn’t sure, so she looked out the window again, and waited for the time to pass.

The others in the compartment also fell silent, perhaps as a reaction to the altercation with the Slytherins. Luna finally finished The Quibbler and just sat and looked across at the twins with her serene gaze. But her bulging, unblinking eyes seemed to disconcert them, and they looked away after a few moments, lost in their own thoughts, glancing at each other occasionally. Ginny had seen Fred and George like that, and knew there was some kind of communication there that only twins like them could understand. Her moodiness deepened, and she sighed and sank down, slouching more than sitting.

“Are you okay?” Keesha asked quietly. “We’ll be there soon. Do you know what Harry’s going to be giving out?”

Ginny shook her head, and straightened. “I should have stayed with him. He wanted me to, but this is my last time going to school on the Hogwarts Express, and I didn’t want to miss it. Now I miss him.”

“I know what you mean. I miss Neville. I saw him this morning, but he couldn’t come to see me off. He said he had something to do. I was a little angry, actually, especially after I saw how Harry said goodbye to you.”

Ginny returned her wide smile. “Yeah, that was pretty nice.” She looked at Luna and the twins; they all seemed to be lost in their own worlds. “He told me he loved me,” she said in a low voice, and giggled. “I already knew it, but he never actually said the words before.”

“He was right to say it.” Luna suddenly came out of what had looked like a trance and smiled at Ginny. “It’s so obvious. That’s why I wondered if you were pregnant.”

“Luna! I’m not pregnant! Will you please stop it?” Ginny glanced at the twins, who were looking from her to Luna, clearly hoping for more.

“Sorry,” Luna said, but kept smiling. “I won’t talk about it any more.”

Ginny saw Keesha grinning and finally smiled back; it was pure Luna, and it was impossible to stay angry or even annoyed at her.

The train had climbed into the Highlands, and dark woods slipped by; trees stood tall near the tracks. Soon the whistle blew and they started to slow. “We should put our robes on,” said Keesha, and they spent the next few minutes maneuvering between the seats and jockeying their trunks from the overhead. The whistle blew again and they saw the lights of Hogsmeade above the tracks. Ginny thought she recognized the Hog’s Head, set slightly off to one side, its chandeliers blazing through the open shutters. She suddenly wanted to hold Harry.

The train was moving slowly, and the platform came alongside. It was crowded with the usual wizarding porters, and Ginny also saw Hagrid standing near the tracks, waiting to lead the first-years to the boats on the lake. She was glad to see that Grawp was not with him; she couldn’t imagine what effect that would have on everyone, let alone the first-years.

The Hogwarts Express halted. Doors slammed open and students piled into the corridors, jostling and shoving. The twins suddenly looked apprehensive, and Ginny smiled at them.

“You have to go out now. Do you see that large man there?” She pointed out the window to Hagrid, but suddenly froze. At the back of the platform were about a dozen people, but they were in the shadows and she couldn’t see their faces. They were all wearing identical tee shirts with writing on them that she couldn’t make out, and they were standing behind a row of tables set up in front of the station house. She could see that the tables were piled high with the treats and drinks that Harry had promised. A banner stretched across the wall of the station behind the table, reading, “Dumbledore’s Army, Still Serving.”

“Come on!” Ginny cried and pushed through the others who were crowding at the window behind her. They joined the throngs in the corridor, and when Ginny stepped down onto the platform, a hand fell on her shoulder; she was spun around and found herself in Harry’s arms. As they kissed, they were buffeted by the crowd exiting the train and pushed aside as everyone surged towards the tables. They staggered and almost fell but Harry held her up, and Ginny grinned with delight.

“I missed you,” they said together, and laughed. But something was bothering Harry, and Ginny looked at him closely. “What is it?”

“Another Dark Mark.”

Ginny sucked in her breath. “No! When?”

“While I was in London. No one was at the inn except Winky. She was in the kitchen and heard something and ran out back. There were two of them, and she says one was a witch, but she didn’t see their faces. They Disapparated.”

“Turquoise Southeby!” Ginny scowled. “It has to be her.”

Harry shook his head again. “She was at the Three Broomsticks when it happened, and the witch was shorter than her. We’ll need a new ladle too. Winky chucked it at them and hit the elm tree. She was so angry, she did some kind of magic to it and Reparo doesn’t work.”

“Oh, Harry, I’m so sorry. If I had stayed with you, this wouldn’t have happened.”

“I’m sorry you weren’t here too, but I’m not sure it would have stopped them.”

“But you would have been here, not in London.”

He blinked and caressed her face. “But then I wouldn’t have got to snog you on the platform in front of all those people.”

“That’s silly, but I’m not sorry for it. Was the Dark Mark in the same place?”

“On the back wall again, but higher. That’s a puzzle, too. They didn’t use a ladder, and this time it wouldn’t go away with a scrubbing charm. I had to get, uh, well,” he grinned. “Come on, I’ll show you.”

He led a slightly confused Ginny to the row of tables. Students were crowded around, taking pastries and candies, as well as small bottles of butterbeer and Potio Vitae. Harry led her around the crowd where she could look down the tables, and when she saw who was there she gave a shriek and began laughing. Behind the tables, serving the free treats, were a half-dozen members of Dumbledore’s Army. At the far end were Ron and Hermione; Ginny also saw George, Dean, Parvati and Padma, Neville, and Ernie. The tee shirts that Ginny had noticed had the same slogan as the large banner—“Dumbledore’s Army, Still Serving”—and on the back of each shirt was a picture of a grinning boar, and above it, “The Hog’s Head Inn.”

Neville was the nearest server, and he waved at her; Keesha was standing next to him sporting a large grin. Ginny walked down behind the tables until she came to George, and poked him in the back. He turned and hugged her. “We fight on,” he said, “the endless war.” He laughed and handed her a bottle of Potio Vitae.

She handed it back. “No thanks. I tried it, but I don’t like it.” George gave it to a fourth-year Hufflepuff boy who was stuffing his pockets with brightly wrapped chunks of chocolate. “That’s not something from your shop, is it?” Ginny asked.

“Ah, sister, how could you say such a thing? These poor, innocent children. I would never slip them a Nosebleed Nougat. It would reflect poorly on Harry.”

“Right.” Ginny saw Hermione waving to her from the end of the table.

“Isn’t this brilliant?” Hermione gushed when Ginny walked down. “Harry asked me to send the message out, and all these people responded. Did he tell you about the Dark Mark? It was a real professional job this time. Whoever did it was very skilled, and I’ll bet it was the same person who Imperiused those two we caught. I had to use a pretty advanced variation of Evanesco to get rid of it, and it was tricky, because it could have taken the whole wall with it.”

Harry had come up behind Ginny, and put his arm around her and pulled her close. “Stan and Tony are standing guard, and I sent an owl to Pester, but he hasn’t answered yet. I’m wondering if he thinks it’s beneath his dignity.”

“He’s a busy man, I expect.” Ginny rolled her eyes.

The crowd was starting to thin as students made their way to the row of horseless carriages. “So how was the train ride?” Harry asked. But as Ginny was about to answer, she heard Hagrid’s booming voice.

“‘All right, everyone, it’s time to get to the castle. Harry, shut it down, we’ll be late an’ they’ll be blamin’ me.” He began herding students away from the tables. “Hurry up, Ginny,” he called to her, “them carriages won’t be waitin’ fer long.”

Ginny threw herself at Harry. “I wish I had stayed with you. I’m sorry,” she whispered in his ear. “Can you come to the castle tomorrow? At least we can see each other.” She put her arms around his neck and held herself tightly against him. “I’ll send Bailey with a letter tonight. I wish I was staying. I can’t stand not being with you, especially when things happen.”

He kissed her, put his hands into her hair, and pulled her head back to see her eyes. “I’ll be fine. George is staying tonight. He says he can sleep on the rug. And I will be at the castle tomorrow. Professor Flitwick came by the inn after we found the Dark Mark, and he wants to show me some spells that he says may help.”

“Good!”

They embraced again, and Ginny turned away, but stopped when she had gone a few steps, and turned. “Harry,” she called; he was walking towards Ron, who was throwing handfuls of candy at the backs of the departing students. “Your map. Don’t forget it.” He grinned and waved.

Ginny hurried to the row of horseless carriages and climbed into the last one. Three seventh-year Ravenclaw boys and two girls were already sitting in it. “Hey, Ginny,” Hector Freeman said; he was tall with black hair, and Ginny knew he had fancied Elizabeth Derby. “That was brilliant. Is Harry running the Hog’s Head? From the train it looked a lot different.”

Ginny nodded, and as the carriage began to move they all looked at the thestrals silently pulling them along. She suddenly realized that they all could see them, and knew why: everyone who had fought in the castle last spring had seen someone die. She sat back in her seat and a wave of grief wash over her.

“Are you okay?” Hector asked.

“I—I just realized we can all see thestrals now.”

Hector looked away. They rode the rest of the way in silence.

Ginny walked into the entrance and the Great Hall feeling very strange. Thinking about all the deaths had also brought to her mind the things that were now different for herself here at school. She was the only—and the last—Weasley child at Hogwarts; most of her best friends were gone, although she still had two very good ones with her, and Harry was close by; she had responsibilities beyond her schoolwork because she was a Quidditch captain; and it was her last year. And all the memories of the battle and its aftermath would be floating in the air like new ghosts, springing up unexpectedly and evoking unexpected feelings.

She sat at the Gryffindor table and waved at Dennis Creevey who was sitting a short distance away. Jimmy Peakes and Demelza Robins came over and congratulated her on becoming Quidditch captain. She greeted her roommates, Sarah Brushmore and Christina Shepherd, with whom she had nothing in common, but maybe because of that she didn’t mind living with them since they left her alone and pursued their own interests, which revolved around gossip and hairdos. Romilda Vane did not look at her, and Ginny hoped they could somehow avoid each other all year, because she was certain that if she cast a Bat-Bogey at the girl she would lose her Quidditch captaincy.

She spotted Luna and Keesha at their House tables, and noticed that the Slytherin table was not full. Jace Kleinhead was there, and he seemed to have taken the place of Vincent Crabbe and Gregory Goyle at the center of a group of thuggish boys and their female hangers-on. But a few Slytherins, sitting at one end of the table, looked like they were trying to set themselves apart from Kleinhead and his gang, and Ginny wondered if it augured some kind of change in that House.

The staff table was full except for Professor Flitwick’s seat; he would be escorting the first-years in at any moment. Hagrid waved to her, and she smiled back. Looking down the row of teachers, she felt a shock when she saw, sitting at the end in the position usually taken by the teacher with the least seniority, Auror Morequest Pester.

She quickly looked up and down the staff table, and was able to account for every teaching position except Defense Against the Dark Arts. She realized, with not a little distaste, that Pester must be the new holder of that post. She sighed and thought that at least he seemed to be knowledgable, and maybe it was a good thing for Ron; Pester could not possibly hold two full-time jobs at the same time: Professor at Hogwarts and head of the Auror training program. And now she knew why he had not answered Harry’s owl.

She turned as the doors were flung open, and Professor Flitwick led the first-years down the center aisle. Ginny saw the twins, Emma and Claire, right behind the Professor, looking as awe-struck and nervous as the others, holding hands as they tried not to tread on Flitwick’s heels; he was a good deal shorter than they were, and their longer strides made it difficult for them to stay behind him.

The first-years reached the front of the Hall and stood in a tight bunch before the stool on which the Sorting Hat was perched. Ginny had not seen it since Riddle had set it on Neville’s head and ignited it, but it seemed no worse for that experience, meaning that it was still battered and barely able to keep its shape.

Professor Flitwick began to read the names of the new students. “Abigail Abernathy!” he squeaked, and a blond girl stepped forward. It took the Hat only seconds to put her into Slytherin, and she scowled fiercely as she walked to that table. Ginny watched her sit near the group around Jace Kleinhead, but she ignored their greetings and sat with her arms folded and her scowl intact.

The next one was a black boy named Sean Allen. He was also Sorted into Slytherin, but as he approached their table, the only ones applauding were the group sitting apart at the end; the others, except for the new girl, seemed almost shocked. Ginny sought Keesha, and when their eyes met, the Hufflepuff girl grinned and lifted her thumb.

“Claire Athair!” said Flitwick. Claire looked anxiously at her sister, climbed onto the stool, and sat with the Sorting Hat completely covering her face.

“Gryffindor!” it shouted, and Ginny clapped and welcomed her to the cheering table with a smile and a hug. She moved aside and Claire sat, holding Ginny’s hand and her breath until the Hat once again called out, “Gryffindor!” and Emma came running to join them.

The next name grabbed Ginny’s attention from her celebration with the twins. The Charms professor called out, “Zoroaster Black!” and a lanky boy with a shock of black hair stepped forward. Ginny had never heard of him; she would have to ask her father about this distant cousin. She watched him climb on the stool and be Sorted into Slytherin.

The ceremony continued, and finally James Yancey was Sorted into Ravenclaw, and the feast began. Ginny chatted with the twins, but found herself looking around every few minutes for the old seventh-years from last year; she had been friendlier with them than with her classmates, and it indeed felt strange without them. She began to think of Harry, and her mind wandered back to the inn and the rug and the four-poster. . . .

She was glad when the dessert dishes disappeared and Professor McGonagall rose to give her opening speech. Ginny had been composing a letter to Harry in her mind, and now wanted only to get up to her room and send Bailey off. She turned towards the front as the room grew quiet.

“Welcome to another year at Hogwarts,” the Headmistress began, “and a year which I fervently hope will not be as memorable as the last one. But we are in a new era now, and the great fear that hung over the entire wizarding world is gone, thanks in part to many of you. In some respects last year was a lost year, academically, but it was a year that those of you who were here may look back on as the most significant of your lives. Only time will tell. Meanwhile, the true function of Hogwarts resumes, and I expect everyone to buckle down and live up to the school’s reputation that was so bravely added to last year.”

She looked at the Slytherin table, and her face became even more serious and stern. “I will not sweep under the rug the circumstance that not every student did his duty last year. That is a fact. But, as the Head of this school I offer my hand to everyone in this Hall, and I expect my offer of reconciliation to be accepted with the same good grace in which I make it. I will not mention this again, nor do I wish to hear that anyone at Hogwarts, student or staff, has mentioned it. I urge everyone to find it in your heart to forgive, and to accept forgiveness.”

She looked around the room and smiled. “Enough. I welcome everyone back to school. I welcome all the new first-year students to the beginning of a great seven-year adventure.

“I have only three announcements. First, I wish to welcome Professor Morequest Pester to the post of Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher.” She turned and gestured to him, and he stood and off-handedly waved.

“Second,” McGonagall continued, “Quidditch sign-up sheets will be posted in each common room tomorrow. And third, Professor Hagrid wishes to inform everyone that his half-brother Grawp likes to sleep in on weekends, and requests that no one enter the forest behind his cabin before ten o’clock on Saturdays, Sundays, and bank holidays.” A murmur of both disbelief and amusement went through the Great Hall, but Hagrid beamed at McGonagall and nodded.

The Feast ended, and Ginny helped herd the first-year Gryffindors—four boys and four girls—up to the common room. The password was still “Everything’s fine,” and when the Fat Lady swung aside and Ginny entered with the rest, she felt another wave of melancholy strike her. Now she knew why she had not wanted to stay here when she and Harry had visited the castle on the day after her birthday, and she had somehow anticipated these feelings back then. The common room was to be her home for ten months, but for the past two she had shared her home with Harry, and it had come to feel that it was not home if he was not there with her. She had become accustomed to having him next to her, joking with her, taking meals with her, talking to her; accustomed to reaching out and caressing him and have his hands and his lips respond . . .

She tried to put those thoughts out of her head, they would only make her crazy. It was only three days until Friday, she would see him tomorrow, and meanwhile she could send owls. And she also had the locket with Harry’s eyes that, under the covers, were always the last thing she looked at before she slept, or at least when she slept alone.

Her spirits lifted somewhat, and she looked for Emma and Claire and saw them sitting at a table, talking to the two other new girls. She went over to them. “Come,” she smiled, “don’t you want to see your room?” They all jumped up.

“Is your room near ours?” Emma asked as they climbed the stairs.

“Mine is at the top, and yours is right here.” Ginny opened the door on the second landing. “This will be your room for seven years.”

The four girls walked in, excited anticipation on their faces as they saw the grand four-posters with their trunks lying next to them. On one trunk was a cage with a large gray owl. “Hans!” exclaimed one of the girls, and ran to it. The others found their beds, and Ginny left them happily exploring their new home.

She hurried upstairs; seeing the owl had only increased the urgency to send a note to Harry. She entered her room and saw Christina lying in bed, reading a magazine. She looked up.

“Ginny, there’s an owl outside that keeps scratching on the window. I think it’s for you, ‘cause it won’t come in for me.” She pointed to the window next to Ginny’s bed. Ginny saw a barn owl sitting on a gargoyle just outside, and when it saw her it hopped down to the sill and tapped the glass with its beak.

For a moment Ginny was confused. “Bailey? What are you doing out there? Why aren’t you . . .”

She looked around, and saw Bailey in her cage on her dresser, jumping around, trying to get a better look at the owl outside. Ginny opened the window and the owl flapped in and landed on the dresser, next to Bailey’s cage. It looked at her with a great deal of interest, puffed out its chest and hooted several times. Bailey slowly and deliberately turned her head completely around so that she was facing away from it.

Ginny turned to Christina. “When did it get here?”

“It was here when I came up, about fifteen minutes ago. Is that your owl?” She nodded towards Bailey. “She’s a nice one.”

“She was a birthday present from my brother. Her name is Bailey. But who sent this owl?”

She looked at it, and noticed for the first time a parchment tied around its leg. The owl didn’t seem interested in handing it over, though; it was still engrossed with Bailey, who continued to give it the cold shoulder.

Ginny watched the flirtation and, suddenly understanding, put her hand out. The owl pecked at it once and lifted its leg. She took the parchment and the owl went back to preening for the unmindful Bailey. Ginny sat on the bed and, with her heart beating faster, opened the letter. She lay back on the pillows while a very warm feeling washed over her.

 

 

My darling Ginny,

Meet McPherson. He is my new (barn) owl. You wanted me to get one, and so I did. I bought him in Diagon Alley after I saw you off at King’s Cross, and I wanted to surprise you and Bailey when you got to Hogwarts.

I miss you so much, I can’t stand it. I never stop using the Bouquedelle, and I am both thankful and sorry for having it. Thankful because when I use it you are here with me, and sorry because you are not really here with me, and I can’t show you how much I love you and it drives me mad. I have not been able to think of anything but you since I saw you at Hogsmeade Station, and when Friday evening comes I want you to be here instantly, and I am not going to let you go until Sunday evening. So prepare yourself for a long weekend of making love. Of course I am smiling when I say that.

Ginny took a breath and looked over at Christina; she was immersed in her magazine—some kind of fashion publication—and was no longer paying any attention to either Ginny or the courting owls. Ginny pulled her hangings closed and continued reading.

 

 

Everything is fine at the inn, except that you are not here to share it with me. The place seems empty and useless without you, even though George is out in the parlor snoring on the rug. This is truly your place, and I am so happy that I was able to buy it so that you could come to it and make it a home for us.

I am lying in our bed having daydreams about you, and I know that I will dream about you tonight. I love you so much.

Harry

PS. At midnight I will look for you on the map. Wiggle your toes at midnight and I will know you are thinking of me as I will be of you. I love you.

Ginny pushed back part of the hanging and peeked out at the clock on Christina’s dresser; It was fifteen minutes until midnight. She quickly got out of bed, opened her trunk, and took out her writing kit. She sat on the edge of the bed and used the trunk to write on.

 

 

Harry my love,

At midnight my toes will be yours, and on Friday the rest of me will be yours, for as long as you want, just as long as I can have your toes too, and the rest of you as well.

McPherson is a beautiful owl, and he is trying mightily to impress Bailey, but I think she will take her time and make him prove himself. But I have confidence in him, and I’m sure in the end he will get his girl. Thank you for buying him, it makes me know even more how chivalrous and thoughtful you are. When I start to feel that way it becomes very difficult to stay here and not fly over to Hogsmeade where I can be with you and let you sweep me off my feet. Where did you say that secret passageway was under the Whomping Willow?

The Feast was very interesting, and I will tell you all about it when I see you, unless there are other things you would rather do than talk, that is. Those two girls whose statues we saw at the Ministry were Sorted into Gryffindor, and Morequest Pester is teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts (can you believe it!!??).

It’s getting close to midnight, so I’ll give this letter to McPherson, and I will tell him to speed it to my heart’s love as fast as he can. I will fall asleep tonight looking at your picture in the locket under my covers, so that I can see the lights of your eyes, the lights that are more precious to me than life.

I love you.

Ginny

She quickly tied the parchment onto McPherson’s leg, but had to pick him up—while he squawked in protest—and carry him to the window and toss him into the air. He gave a wistful look back at Bailey and sped off into the night.

Ginny changed into her nightgown and dove into bed, pulling the hangings closed after her. As the castle clock struck midnight, she pulled the covers over her head and opened the locket. Green points of light sparkled, and she was sure that she could sense a magical presence as she moved her feet up and down, giggling as she did.  When she stopped, she looked at the locket one more time before closing it and tucking it inside her nightgown. She drifted off to sleep with a tingling in her breasts, and knew that a half-mile away Harry was dreaming of her.

Chapter Text

Ginny lay in bed for a long time after she awoke the next morning. She had slept soundly and had dreamed, but she couldn’t recall them clearly. She could remember being with Harry and being very happy; they had done things to make each other laugh. In her dreams there was no need for anything or anyone else.

The yearning she had felt in her dreams echoed in her waking heart. Was it possible that she needed only Harry to be happy? If so, what was she doing here? Why did she need to be at Hogwarts sleeping alone in a room with two people she might never see again after she left school? She could walk out and walk down the lane to the village, up the stairs to the flat, and Harry would be there. Their life together would begin, and everything would be perfect. She felt the locket next to her skin and put her hand on it.

She pushed back the hangings and sat on the edge of the bed. Bailey was clucking in her cage, ducking her head up and down. Ginny got up, let her out the window, and watched her circle up until she disappeared over the castle in the direction of the Owlery. She would be happy there, and maybe McPherson would visit her, and the two owls would get on with their lives.

Ginny sat on her bed again and stared at nothing as the emotional wash of her dreams ebbed and flowed. She knew that she couldn’t just leave school: her parents, her friends, even Harry would not want that. Luna and Keesha would wonder how she could do such a thing after all the excited conversations they had had about the upcoming school year; they might even be hurt.

As she took the locket out, opened it, and smiled back at Harry, something made her glance at the window. He was coming.

She threw open her trunk—she had not unpacked it last night—and quickly dressed. She heard her roommates stirring behind their hangings and hurried out before she had to start listening to the morning’s news report about last night’s social activities in the common room, including all the new romantic pairings. She hurried downstairs, out the portrait hole, and came down the marble staircase into the entrance hall just as Harry was closing the great oak door behind him.

Ginny stopped on the bottom step and grinned. He beamed back and walked over to her; students on their way to breakfast gave them a wide berth but unabashedly gawked.

Harry took her hands. “Good morning. You didn’t eat breakfast yet?”

Ginny shook her head and moved closer. “Did you?”

“Yeah, Winky insisted, but I’ll join you.” They walked into the Great Hall and Harry sat on the end of the bench with his back to the table and his elbows resting on it. Ginny sat next to him and started serving herself.

“I had a dream last night,” she said.

“Oh?” Harry grinned again. “About what?”

“Us. When I woke up I wanted to leave school and go to the flat.”

Our flat. Why didn’t you?”

“Harry, I have classes.” She took a slice of bacon and slowly chewed it. “It did cross my mind, just to drop out and . . . and go to our flat.”

Harry nodded to Professor McGonagall as she passed on her way to the staff table. He saw Professor Pester, who was already there, eating breakfast with his head buried in a large notebook. “Looks like he’s boning up. Do you know yet when you have his class?”

Ginny glanced at Pester. “No, but I expect I’ll be getting my schedule pretty soon. So . . .” She took a sip of pumpkin juice, put the glass down and looked at Harry. “What do you think of my idea?”

“I think if you had shown up I would have opened the door, pulled you inside, and dragged you to the bedroom. But I don’t know what would have happened after we woke up.”

“Neither do I.” She pushed her plate away, and Harry rubbed the back of his hand against her arm. She leaned towards him and their lips came together. They heard giggling, and looked up to see Emma and Claire sitting down across from them.

“Hello,” said Harry. The twins giggled again and squirmed in their seats. “You’re Emma and you’re Claire, right?”

“No!” Claire laughed, “you got us wrong, just like Ginny did.”

“Okay, well, I’m Harry Potter. Ginny told me you both got Sorted into Gryffindor. Welcome.”

They blushed. “We know who you are,” said Claire. “We’ve seen you snog Ginny twice now.”

“Claire!” Emma frowned. “Don’t say things like that.”

Harry laughed. “So,” he arched his eyebrows, “that’s how you know who I am, because I snog Ginny?”

“Of course not,” Claire replied. “Aunt Hermione showed us your picture in the Daily Prophet, and we can also see your scar.”

Emma poked her ribs. “Shush!” she whispered. “That was rude.”

“No, it’s all right,” said Harry. “It is my scar. I didn’t put it there, but it will never go away.”

While the twins considered this, Ginny said to Harry, ”They also told me that they wanted to be Gryffindors because of you.”

“That’s very flattering,” Harry said to the girls, “but you must be true Gryffindors because the Sorting Hat put you here. I didn’t have anything to do with it.”

He was saved from further revelations of the twins’ involvement in his personal life by the arrival of Professor Flitwick, who was passing out class schedules; he handed one to Ginny.

“I’ll be in my office at ten,” he said to Harry. “Will I see you then?”

“Yes, Professor. I just came to the castle a little early to, um—”

Flitwick laughed, a high, tinkling bell-like sound that caused nearby students to turn and look. “A very good reason to be here,” he chuckled. “I’ll see you then. And I’ll see you in class tomorrow morning, Miss Weasley.” He waved his hand and two schedules floated over the table to the twins, who snatched them out of the air and began looking them over. He proceeded down the table handing a parchment to each student.

“So what do you have?” Harry turned around and looked over Ginny’s shoulder as she examined her schedule; he put his hand on her thigh under the table and began moving it up her leg.

“Harry, not here. I have a nine o’clock Herbology.”

He leaned so that his chest was pressed against her back. “I dreamed about you, too. I can’t tell you here, but I’ll show you on Friday.” He moved his hand again.

Ginny smiled at the twins and took the errant hand firmly in hers, pushing it away but not letting go. She stood, stepped over the bench and leaned down with her mouth next to Harry’s ear.

“Go get your cloak before you see Flitwick,” she said in a low voice. “I’m free from noon until two. The hammocks must still be there. I’ll meet you in the entrance hall.” She quickly moved away and was out the door before Harry could do more than open his mouth; he watched her figure disappear around the corner.

He glanced around and saw the twins watching him raptly. He cleared his throat. “When is your first class?”

“We have Transfiguration with Professor McGonagall in fifteen minutes,” said Emma. “What were you and Ginny talking about?”

“Nothing.” Harry rose. “I have to get back to the inn now. Have a good class. It was nice meeting you.”

Harry was back in an hour with his Invisibility Cloak tucked inside his pocket. He went up to the seventh floor and waited outside Professor Flitwick’s office, sitting on the floor leaning against a pedestal on which stood a suit of armor that made occasional creaking noises as it shifted its legs or moved its head. His mind wandered back to that frustrating day-long search for Ginny the day after the battle, and the passion of their sleepless night in the hammock. He stared at the opposite wall and could not divert his thoughts from the upcoming rendezvous with Ginny. When Professor Flitwick arrived and stood in front of him, he had to tap Harry’s knee with his wand to get his attention.

Harry awoke from his reverie and jumped up. “Oh, sorry, Professor.”

“That’s all right, Harry; I’m running a little late, and I have another class in less than an hour, so why don’t we get to work.” He led the way into his office.

Harry had never been in it. It was located in a high corner of the castle and had large windows on two sides. One of the windows extended up into the ceiling, creating a skylight. It gave the room a high, open feeling, which Harry found interesting, given the Professor’s tiny stature; it also reminded him of the Ravenclaw common room. The walls were covered with dozens of small picture frames, and those that were occupied contained portraits of fairies, flitting in and out of the frames and chattering in high, melodious voices. As Harry walked past, he saw a few of them wink and blow a kiss at him.

Where there was empty wall space there were bookcases, crammed with books, reaching to the ceiling. At first Harry wondered why Flitwick would stack shelves so high—he couldn’t reach anything more than four feet off the ground—but decided that a wizard as talented as he could either Levitate himself or Summon any book he wanted.

The room was dominated by a large gilt frame hung on the wall behind the Professor’s cluttered desk. In it, Rowena Ravenclaw sat in a throne-like chair and watched Harry as he approached. Flitwick ignored her, climbed onto a stool behind the desk, and waved Harry into a chair that suddenly appeared right behind his legs. As Harry sat, he was very conscious of being inspected by the portrait.

Flitwick peered at a parchment sitting on the desk, but pushed it aside and looked up; he noticed Harry’s furtive glances at the portrait. His blue eyes twinkled under bushy brows.

“Ah, yes. She’s been impatient to meet you ever since last spring.” He glanced back. “But we can talk later, if you don’t mind, my dear. Harry has some urgent business with me, and my time is limited.”

Ravenclaw frowned, nodded curtly, and walked out of the frame; she had not spoken a word.

“Don’t mind that,” the Professor said. “She has a rather haughty nature, and maybe resents the fact that a non-Ravenclaw found her lost diadem. But no matter, I think when you do talk to her, you’ll find her charming and, it goes without saying, very intelligent.”

Harry nodded; he wasn’t sorry that Rowena Ravenclaw had left. Her eyes seemed to penetrate his thoughts, and since those consisted mostly of a jumble of Ginny and a room full of hammocks, he would just as soon not have anyone read them.

“Is there anything I can do about those Dark Marks, Professor?” he said as he tried to put the distracting images of Ginny out of his head. “I’m starting to think that it’s not anyone from Hogsmeade, which means that it’s a lot bigger than a prank. And whoever is doing it is pretty talented.”

“I agree with all that.” Flitwick leaned back and put his stubby legs up on his desk and his hands behind his head. For an instant Harry feared that he would topple backwards onto the floor, but a backrest appeared on the stool. “But those are questions for the Aurors. How strongly do you want to protect the building? There’s a trade-off, you see. The better it’s protected, the more difficult it is to enter, or even find. The most effective protection is the Fidelius, but that prevents almost anyone from finding it at all. And you’ve seen what can be done with multiple layers of protection, which is what Professor Dumbledore put on your house at Grimmauld Place.”

“Well . . . can’t we put something up that will just keep the Dark magic off? Or maybe just detect when someone writes something on the wall?”

“That is a sound idea. The situation, as I see it, is that some of the vandalism has been caused by non-magical methods, like painting graffiti. If you put up a spell to prevent that, every bird that perches on your chimney will set the alarm off. But . . .” He thought for a moment. “Yes, it should be simple enough to detect something being written on an outside wall.” He jumped down from the stool, and walked past Harry into the center of the room.

“Come here,” he beckoned. “Stand next to me.” Harry came and stood by the Professor and took out his wand; Flitwick was already holding his. “It’s a type of shield charm that surrounds and covers something, like the wall of your inn. It warns you when something touches it, like a paintbrush or a stone being thrown. When that happens, the wand that cast the protective spell—yours, in this case—will vibrate, or warm up, or cool off, or light. You can set it to whatever kind of warning you like.”

He pointed his wand at a window, made a circular motion, and called out, ”Proeido!“ The window glowed a dim bluish color, then cleared. Flitwick took a quill from his robes and handed it to Harry. “Write something on the window.”

Harry took the quill, dipped it in an inkpot sitting on the desk, and went to the window. He wrote The Hogs Head Inn, and a moment after he was finished he heard a low humming sound. Professor Flitwick held up his wand.

“The type of notification is determined by the hand movement. The incantation is the same.” He pointed his wand again and said, ”Finite,” and for a moment the window glowed again. “Now you try it.”

Harry moved away from the window and pointed his wand, but before he could move it or say anything, one of the panes in the center, where his wand was aimed, glowed. “What happened?” he blurted.

Flitwick stared at the window, then at Harry. “Were you going to say the spell? Was it in your mind?”

Harry wished that this had not happened. It was another example of his phoenix wand’s new potency that was, he was certain, a result of its being repaired by the Elder Wand, something he did not want to talk about.

He raised his wand again, and before Professor Flitwick could react, he made the circular motion and said, ”Proeido!” This time the entire window glowed, as it had for the Professor. Flitwick tilted his head and peered up at Harry for a moment, then took the quill and went to the window. He stood on his tiptoes, reached up, and wrote Wand magic and Harry heard his wand hum in his hand.

Flitwick climbed back onto his stool and tossed the quill down, “You are a fast learner, Harry, but then you always were.”

Harry tried to think of something to get Flitwick’s mind off what had happened. “So do you think it will work on the entire inn?”

“I think you can make it work,” Flitwick said wryly. “If you take a look at Fillmuck’s Portable Spellery you’ll find all the wand motions there, as well as some refinements that should keep animals from setting it off.” He looked at his watch, “It’s time for my next class. Do you still want to take lessons from me this fall?” His look made Harry uncomfortable, and he wondered briefly about Legilimency, but quickly dismissed it; the Professor had no real reason to use it.

“Uh, yeah, I do, Professor. I missed my last year of school, and I don’t have the brains that Hermione has to learn things by myself, so yes.”

“Good.” Flitwick smiled. “It will be interesting.” He nodded again, and Harry said goodbye and left.

He headed down to the library to look up the book Flitwick had mentioned, but he also wanted to think about his wand. He hadn’t done much serious magic with it since the battle—aside from dealing with the Muggles on the beach—mostly fun things with Ginny during the summer and, of course, the birth control charms. When he had tried to Stun the vandals behind the inn, the spell had flown high, and he was sure it was because he was not used to controlling the wand. He needed someone to help him learn how to do that, but he realized he hadn’t thought it out well, because now he might have to tell Professor Flitwick about the Elder Wand.

Maybe he could come up with another fib for why his wand was so different. He had told Saliyah Ushujaa last summer that it was because Riddle had passed more power to him with the Killing Curse in the Forest. He doubted Flitwick would believe that, just as he had seen skepticism in Saliyah’s face. He had a couple of weeks to think of something better, though, and he could get Ginny’s help.

That thought put his mind on a different tack, and he forgot completely about his wand and the Charms book. He found a deserted aisle, slipped under his cloak, and made his way back to the entrance hall. He had to wait only a few minutes until classrooms began to empty, and people began streaming into the Great Hall for lunch. He spotted Ginny coming up from the dungeons with Luna and Keesha; she said something to them, and they went on into the Great Hall, while Ginny stood near the marble staircase.

He walked over to her and called her name. She looked around and smiled briefly as Harry stuck his foot out from the cloak so she could see it. She glanced around, nobody was looking, and ducked under.

He kissed her, which was not too comfortable because her book bag was between them. “How were your classes?” he whispered, as they started climbing the stairs.

“It’s going to be tough. I just had Potions, and Slughorn is having us do the last five chapters of Advanced Potion Making all over again because the term ended early last year. We’ll have to catch up and finish this year’s textbook.” She sighed and looked down.

“I’ll help, if I can,” Harry said, putting his arm around her waist.

“That’ll be nice.”

They didn’t speak until they were standing in the seventh-floor corridor in front of the wall where the door to the Room of Requirement would appear. Harry waited until two Ravenclaw girls passed, and, with a grin, squeezed Ginny’s waist. “Here we go.” They started walking up and down, and on the third pass they stopped. Nothing had happened.

Harry’s brow furrowed. “What’s wrong? I was asking for the same thing I did after the battle.” He started walking again, pulling Ginny along. Again nothing happened. “Maybe it’s this cloak.” He looked down the corridor; no one was in sight so he took off the Cloak and began walking again as Ginny watched, but no door appeared.

“I don’t get this,” he said irritably. “Why doesn’t it work?” He stopped and looked at Ginny; she had a small crease on her forehead. “Is something wrong?”

She said nothing for a moment, but then seemed to make a decision and came and put her hands on his chest; he put his on her shoulders.

“Harry, it’s me. I . . . I don’t feel right about this. I’m sorry,” she added quickly as Harry’s hands dropped and he looked at her in dismay. “I shouldn’t have said what I did at breakfast. You were making me crazy, I wanted you so much when you touched me and . . . and I said something I shouldn’t have. I’m sorry.”

“But I’ve been thinking about you all morning! Why don’t you want to? What’s wrong?”

“Harry, love, nothing is wrong. No, that’s not true. We shouldn’t be creeping around like this, under your Cloak. I love you too much. I’m not saying we should advertise it, but I don’t want to sneak off someplace every time we make love. And . . .” she hesitated. “Harry, I have to concentrate on schoolwork. If I don’t, I’ll fail every class. Please, don’t be angry.”

Ginny reached to put her hand on his crestfallen face, but Harry took a step back, lifted his hands in a shrug, and let them drop to his sides. He looked away from her down the corridor, and when he looked back he was scowling. “I really wanted this.”

He abruptly started to stride away. Ginny was speechless for a moment, but before she could hurl angry words, he suddenly stopped and turned back. Her anger vanished when she saw his eyes.

“Ginny,” he said in a strangled voice, “what am I doing? That was so stupid. Of course you’re right.” He held his hands out to her and she came. He took her face in his hands and kissed her. “You’re always right. I’m sorry, I’ve been a git all day.”

She smiled up at him. “No, you were gallant, and it was partly—no, mostly my fault. I shouldn’t have said what I did, and how could I expect you not to jump at it?”

“It would be impossible.” He looked down. “I’d have to be dead.”

“Don’t say that. Listen, I’m still free until two, so let’s have a quick lunch and go for a walk down by the lake. It’s beautiful out, and I need to clear my head before Defense Against the Dark Arts.”

“Ah, peacock Pester,” Harry laughed. “Ask him about the owl I sent yesterday.” He put his cloak back in his pocket and they started down to the Great Hall. “I got a spell from Flitwick to use on the inn. But,” he glanced around and lowered his voice, “my wand went nutters and he noticed, of course. I still want to take lessons from him, but I don’t know what to tell him about the Elder Wand. Here, give me that.”

Ginny smiled and handed him her book bag. “Still the gallant one. You don’t want to tell him about the Wand, do you?”

Harry shook his head, but didn’t answer as they were now in the crowded entrance hall. They found seats at the Gryffindor table, and ate while Ginny fended off questions from Jimmy Peakes about the Quidditch team; he told her that the sign-up sheet had been posted just before lunch, and there were already twenty names on it.

“We’ll talk about it this afternoon,” she said. “I can’t say anything until I see who’s on it.” She and Harry finished eating and left the Hall. They passed Emma and Claire on their way out, but the twins were having an excited conversation with four other first-years about the Wingardium Leviosa spell they had just learned, and didn’t notice them.

It was sunny and warm outside as Harry and Ginny walked down the lawn to the lake. Harry noticed that she steered them away from the path to Hagrid’s cabin; he didn’t say anything, but knew that she was avoiding the place where Elizabeth Derby had died.

They found one of their favorite secluded spots at the edge of the Forest not too far from the White Tomb, and when Ginny pushed him down on the soft grass, Harry wondered for a moment if she had changed her mind. She kissed him passionately and moved her hands under his shirt, but after a moment rolled off and took a breath. She lay on her back and Harry leaned over her on his elbow and caressed her face. She started to speak, but he put his fingers on her lips.

“I’m fine waiting until Friday,” he said. “We’ll have a dinner party, just the two of us, catered by Winky, and it will last all weekend.”

She took his hand. “That sounds like a very nice party. Should I bring anything?”

“Dessert. I mean, yourself.”

“Yum.” She laughed and started to pull him down again, but Harry stopped her.

“No, I mean it. You have work to do, your classes, and organizing the team. You’ll have to deal with everyone who thinks they’re the next Viktor Krum. Here, sit up.”

He sat behind her and started running his fingers through her hair. “Wait,” she said, and reached into her book bag and took out a comb. “Use this.”

Harry combed her hair as she sat between his legs. They didn’t speak, but listened to the leaves rustling in the breeze. After a moment Ginny turned her head and looked at him. “I love you so much.”

Harry smoothed her hair with his hand. “Your hair is the second most beautiful thing in the universe. When we have kids, I want them to have your hair.”

Ginny laughed. “Ordering up your children already? Okay, I want them to have green eyes.”

“I’ll do my best if you will.”

“That means lots of desserts.” She leaned back against him and closed her eyes; Harry put his arms around her, and they were still, until Ginny finally sighed and sat up. “My mind is as clear as it will ever be. I think I’m ready for Morequest Pester.” They stood, but he stopped her as she started to walk.

“I didn’t get to tell you that I love you too.”

They kissed, and Harry picked up her book bag and they walked back to the castle. They parted on the steps outside the oak doors, and Harry waited until she started up the marble stairs in the entrance hall before turning down the curving drive, wondering how he was going to survive until Friday.

Professor Pester had put his own decorative stamp on the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, as had all his predecessors. Ginny walked in and saw posters lining the walls, but these were not photos of tortured, agonized victims of the Dark Arts like the ones Professor Snape had displayed. These were famous Aurors from the past and present. The first one she noticed was Alastor Moody, whose disfigured face glared at her from behind the desk. Rufus Scrimgeour was there, as was Kingsley Shacklebolt with his gold earring. She recognized a few others, but most were unknown to her, and she could tell from the style of robes some wore that they had served in the distant past, maybe even thirty years ago. She looked for Nymphadora Tonks, but her friend was not there: too young to have been noticed by Morequest Pester, Ginny assumed.

She sat next to Keesha, and soon Luna wandered in and joined them. She looked at the posters and smiled.

“Hi, Ginny. Hi, Keesha. I’m glad it’s redecorated. I hated all those Death Eater masks that the Carrows put up. Did they stay up for the whole year? I wasn’t around, you know.”

“They stayed up,” Keesha said, “until Harry got here.” She smiled at Ginny. “I heard that you already met Professor Pester.”

“Yeah. He seemed to be very impressed with himself, but I think he does know his stuff. Sort of Gilderoy Lockheart with brains.” Keesha laughed, and Luna stared at the posters.

Ginny looked around at the other students, and saw, to her displeasure, that Jace Kleinhead was sitting in a back row with a few other Slytherins. He wouldn’t look at her, even after she deliberately stared at him for almost a minute. As she turned, the door opened and Professor Pester entered. The room fell silent as he walked to the front, placed the notebook Ginny had seen him with at breakfast on the desk, and turned to face them. He did not smile, but had a very serious, business-like expression.

“Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Professor Morequest Pester, and I will be teaching you Defense Against the Dark Arts. This is a N.E.W.T. level class, and I will have N.E.W.T. level expectations of each of you.” He looked slowly around the room; his eyes paused on Ginny, and he nodded to her. “The subject matter will be from your seventh-year textbook, but it will be liberally supplemented with material from my own extensive and excellent experience as a professional Dark wizard hunter. We have a problem, however.”

He started walking around the class, his hands clasped behind his back. “As far as Defense Against the Dark Arts is concerned, your last year here was a total waste. The person who taught it was a criminal who taught criminal behavior.” He stopped in front of the Slytherins in the back row; everyone else was turned around to look at him. “We will have to cover two year’s worth of material in one year. Don’t expect any slack time here, and don’t expect me to tolerate even a hint of anyone’s practicing Dark Arts.” He said the last directly to the Slytherins, and Jace Kleinhead glowered at him.

Pester turned on his heel and marched back to the front, looking at each student as he passed. He paused next to Luna, who was gazing serenely up at the ceiling. “Excuse me, Miss, are you listening to me?”

She blinked and fixed her bulging eyes on him. “No, not at this moment,  Professor, because you aren’t saying anything.”

A titter passed around the classroom, and Ginny could see Keesha’s sides shaking as she suppressed a laugh. Pester gave Luna an annoyed look and continued on to the front; he sat behind his desk, opened his notebook, ran his finger down the first page, paused a moment, and looked directly at Luna. “Non-verbal incantations. Who can tell me what they are? Miss Lovegood?”

Luna smiled at him. “Is this a trick question?”

Pester stared at her for a moment. “I can assure you, Miss Lovegood, I do not ask trick questions. Can someone answer?”

“It’s where you say the incantation in your head,” Hector Freeman called out.

“Yes, that’s right!” Luna exclaimed before Pester could continue. She turned to look at Hector. “Ten points to Ravenclaw!” She was the only one who laughed, and turned back to the front. “I’m sorry, Professor, I was just trying to lighten things up a bit.”

“Wands out!” said Pester sharply. “Pair up! I want you to take turns using Expelliarmus and Protego on each other, non-verbally.”

Ginny nudged Keesha. “You take Luna,” she whispered, “otherwise no one will.” Keesha nodded and tapped Luna on her shoulder. Luna turned with a surprised and then a pleased expression. “Thanks, Keesha,” she said, and smiled again.

Ginny paired with a Hufflepuff girl who she knew only from classes, Ruth Madison. She wasn’t very good at first, and Ginny had no trouble Disarming her almost every time she cast the spell. She wasn’t sure why she herself was so adept with a non-verbal spell, though. She had a tiny suspicion that it had something to do with Harry, who was very good at it.

Professor Pester walked around the room, giving instructions and correcting hand movements. When he stopped to watch Ginny and Ruth, Ginny glanced at him, and he nodded to her with the same sardonic smile he had used behind the inn. Ginny frowned, and at that moment Ruth cast her first successful non-verbal Expelliarmus and Ginny’s wand flew up into the air and sailed across the room onto the floor, where Jace Kleinhead sneered at her and kicked it under a cabinet.

“Never let yourself be distracted, Miss Weasley,” Professor Pester said, and walked away.

Ginny looked ruefully at him while he was helping two other students. “Did you see where my wand went?” she asked Ruth.

She nodded at the cabinet. “Under there. Kleinhead kicked it.”

“Give me your wand for a second,” Ginny said quietly. She walked with it to the side of the room where the Slytherins were attempting to cast their spells; they all smirked at her. Without taking her eyes from Jace, she pointed Ruth’s wand at the base of the cabinet. ”Accio wand,” she said inside her head, and when it was in her hand, she pointed it at Jace, smiled sweetly, and the next instant he was thrown across the room against the wall. He slid down and thudded to the floor, lying there, dazed, and looking at her fearfully.

“I didn’t realize you were paired with Mr. Kleinhead,” Professor Pester said from behind her. “It does seem as though you’ve mastered the technique.” He walked to the Slytherin boy, who was gasping for breath, picked up his wand, pulled him off the floor by his arm and handed him the wand. “Protego. That’s the shield charm. Are you familiar with it?”

Kleinhead glared and pulled his arm away, then turned his glower on Ginny and went back to his seat, where he was joined by the rest of the Slytherins who looked daggers at Ginny until she blew them a kiss and they looked away.

“Seats, everyone!” Pester said; Ginny and Keesha grinned at each other as they sat. The Professor continued. “The first part of today’s homework assignment will be to read the first four chapters of your text, and write twelve inches summarizing them. By the end of next week everyone must be proficient at non-verbal spells, so we can move on.”

He glanced at his watch. “We have about fifteen minutes left. I want to discuss the subject of Unforgivable Curses. Please take notes.” Ginny perked up; was he doing this because of the dead weasel? She took out parchment and quill, and bent over her desk as Pester began.

“You all know what an Unforgivable Curse is, and you all know that it’s illegal to use one. A few years ago, as I’m sure you all remember, an imposter disguised as Alastor Moody demonstrated them in this classroom, and he would have got into a lot of trouble if Headmaster Dumbledore had not supported him. Mad-Eye Moody was one of the greatest Aurors, and he captured more Dark wizards than any Auror ever, but personally I do not think what the imposter did here was right. Now, part of my job as teacher of Defense Against the Dark Arts is—”

He stopped and everyone looked up. He was staring at Luna, who was again gazing up at the ceiling. Her quill was lying on the desk; she had not written a single word. Pester cleared his throat. “Miss Lovegood, would you care to join us?”

She looked around. “Where are we going?”

Pester ignored the sniggering. “I have been talking. Can you recall for me what I said? It was important, I think.”

“You said, ‘You all know what an Unforgivable Curse is, and you all know that it’s illegal to use one. A few years ago, an imposter disguised as Alastor Moody demonstrated them in this classroom’—”

“Thank you, Miss Lovegood!” Pester cut her off.

“You’re welcome, Professor,” she said cheerfully. “Is there anything else you forgot that you want me to tell you?”

“Class dismissed!”

Ginny and Keesha controlled their laughter until they were in the corridor with Luna where they fell into each others arms and couldn’t stop, until Professor Pester came out of the classroom and swept past them. He strode quickly down the hall and around a corner.

“Luna, that was brilliant!” Ginny chortled and wiped tears from her eyes. “I didn’t know you could memorize things like that.”

“Oh, yes,” she said seriously, “I can remember all kinds of things. I learned how to do it from my dad.”

Keesha burst out laughing again, followed by Ginny. Luna smiled uncertainly, but also looked pleased with herself.

“You got us out of more homework,” Keesha said, trying to catch her breath. “Yes indeed, that was brilliant!”

“I did? That’s probably for the best. He didn’t seem to know what he was doing.” Luna waved and turned up the spiral staircase leading to the Ravenclaw tower.

Ginny also waved to Keesha. “See you later. I’ve got to start organizing the Quidditch team.” They parted, and Ginny headed for the common room. She came through the portrait hole and saw a small group of students gathered around the notice board; Jimmy Peakes saw her and beckoned. “Let me put my books away,” she called. “I’ll be right back.”

When she returned, the crowd had grown, and they all turned and opened a path to the notice board. She took the Quidditch sign-up to a table and sat. Jimmy, Demelza Robins, and Ritchie Coote also took seats as the rest crowded around. Ginny ran her finger down the list; there were only four experienced players, including herself, which was not necessarily bad, but she noticed that no one had signed up to play Keeper.

She looked at the faces around her. “No one wants to try out for Keeper?”

There was silence, until a small voice spoke from the back. “I will.” Dennis Creevey pushed his way to the table and stood grinning at Ginny.

“You’re too small,” Jimmy said. “You couldn’t even block one goal, let alone all three.”

“I am not too small!” Dennis exclaimed. “Giulio Delucca on Napoli United is an inch shorter than me, and he’s the best in the Italian league.”

“He’s at least two inches taller, and that’s the weakest league on the continent,” Jimmy said. “We need someone with a little range.”

“If no one else is going to try out,” Ginny cut in, “then Dennis is the tallest Keeper we have. Quickness is just as important as reach.”

“I’m extremely quick,” Dennis said before Jimmy could object. “Small is quick.”

Ginny chuckled. “And small is also feisty, like my brothers used to say. Okay, I’ll pencil you in.” She looked around. “I want to get started with tryouts as soon as possible, since we’ll have at least three new players on the team. I’ll see about scheduling the pitch for this Satur—” She paused. “Um, next Saturday. Meanwhile, I’ll keep the sheet up on the board. The more sign-ups we have, the better.”

Ginny felt satisfied, except for the small difficulty she saw coming with her weekends. They could have short practices on weekdays, but they would need weekends for the longer sessions of intricate passing and blocking drills. She would also have to come from Hogsmeade to meet up with the team at the pitch on those days, since she was not going to impinge on the time she and Harry had alone.

She also felt excited. She had never been the Quidditch leader; even when she played Seeker in place of Harry two years ago, it was understood that it was his team, and she was just playing his position. And last year had been a joke, with the Carrows not allowing the teams to have captains, and controlling everything; they had rightly suspected that the Quidditch teams, except for Slytherin, were hotbeds of rebellion, perfect covers for subversive activities. Now she was running the show, and she already had ideas percolating in her mind: tactics, training methods, signals. She suddenly realized that, as much as she loved playing Quidditch with Harry, she also loved the idea of running the team by herself.

It was getting towards dinnertime, and Ginny also had to check some Herbology and Potions books in the library, so she decided to eat early. Leaving through the portrait hole, she heard her name called, and saw Emma and Claire following her. They went down to the Great Hall together. “How was your first day of classes?” she asked.

“Transfiguration was awesome,” said Emma. “I almost changed my matches, but they kept lighting and burning up. Herbology was okay, but some of those plants she talked about were disgusting.”

“I liked Care of Magical Creatures best,” Claire chimed in. “I love Hagrid. He’s funny.”

“He is wonderful,” Ginny agreed.  “So it feels good to be learning magic?”

“Yes!” they sang out together. “There are two Muggle-borns in Hufflepuff, and I think we’ll be friends,” Emma added. “Even thought they’re boys.”

Ginny smiled. “Boys can be okay. I grew up with six brothers. You just have to know how to handle them.”

“Will you teach us?” Claire said, dead serious. “We don’t have any brothers.”

Ginny laughed. “I’ll be happy to talk to you, but you’re on your own when you’re with them. They don’t like it when someone’s analyzing them.”

“What does that mean?” Emma asked.

“Don’t talk about them in front of other people, and that’s all the advice I’m going to give you.”

Ginny looked at the staff table when they entered the Great Hall and saw Professor Pester sitting by himself at the end, his head once again buried in his notebook. The teachers sitting near him—Madam Hooch and Professor Sprout—were engaged in conversation and seemed to be ignoring him. Ginny wondered if he even wanted any friends here.

She ate and spent the next few hours in the library, working on her parchment for Pester and doing research for Potions and Herbology. She went back up to Gryffindor Tower tired from her first day of real studying in six months, flopped down on her bed, pulled the hangings shut—both of her roommates were sitting on their beds chattering loudly about a new liaison between a Hufflepuff fourth-year girl and a Ravenclaw sixth-year boy—and took out her locket; it was dark enough that she didn’t have to cup her hands over the picture to see Harry’s green eyes sparkle and glow. She would be with him in his—their—four-poster in only two more days.

This had been an eventful day, but the thing that stood out in Ginny’s mind was the look in Harry’s eyes when he had turned back to her outside the Room of Requirement. He had been hurt—and very frustrated—but had taken her face in his hands and kissed her. Her heart had utterly melted, and for the rest of the time they were together she would have done anything for him.

She pushed the hangings back and got up, intending to go to the Owlery and send Bailey to him with a letter; at least she could tell him how good she had felt. But as she was slipping her shoes back on, there was scratching at the window, and she saw McPherson perched on the sill, a small bundle tied to his leg and a mouse dangling by its tail from his beak.

Her roommates were staring at the owl and Sarah made a face. “Eww, don’t let that thing in here. It’s got a dead something in its mouth.”

“It’s a mouse, owls eat mice.” Ginny opened the window, but McPherson didn’t come in; he extended his leg and Ginny took the package. “Is that tidbit for Bailey?” she said. The owl puffed his chest and hooted. As he flew off, Ginny called, “Come back later! I’ll have a message for Harry!” Smiling, she closed the window and returned to her bed, ignoring the curious looks of Sarah and Christina as she pulled the hangings shut.

Inside the package was a small box wrapped in pink paper with the Honeydukes label, and inside the box were three Chocoballs. There was also a piece of parchment. Ginny bit into one of the Chocoballs and let the strawberry mousse and clotted cream fill her mouth; she closed her eyes and savored the heavenly taste.

The parchment was a short note from Harry.

 

 

 

 

 

Ginny my love,

This is my gift for you tonight, since I can’t be with you. You are the most precious person in the world, and I love you so much I can’t stand it. I will dream of you again tonight.

Love, Harry

Ginny leaned back on her pillow, feeling here, at the end of the day, the same desire to chuck it all and go to Harry as she had had this morning. She reached out of the hangings and took parchment, quill, and ink from her nightstand and wrote.

 

 

 

 

 

Beloved,

Chocoballs are my favorite! As I am eating them, I imagine that I am in heaven, but I can never really be in heaven unless I am with you, and that is where I truly am when we are together.

Tonight I will love you in my dreams.

Your dessert,

Ginny

PS—Don’t forget to find me on your map.

When McPherson returned half an hour later, Ginny gave him the note and went to bed, wishing that Harry was there to comb her hair and kiss her goodnight.

Chapter Text

Harry sat in the love seat in front of a cold fireplace re-reading Ginny’s letter. McPherson had just delivered it, and was now on his perch, preening and cleaning his downy chest feathers. Harry didn’t know why, but his owl looked very pleased with himself.

Despite the open window, the room was permeated with the flowery scent of Ginny’s Bouquedelle. Harry tried not to use it too often, since it sometimes made him yearn for her so much that he couldn’t function. Once, before Ginny had arrived on the Hogwarts Express, Stan had knocked on the flat’s door with business about the inn, right after Harry had received a particularly hot owl from Ginny and had used the Bouquedelle. Stan couldn’t help but notice Harry’s condition; he thought his boss was drunk.

But tonight, Harry had given in when he read Ginny’s salutation: “Your dessert.” He kissed the Bouquedelle, and let the essence of Ginny engulf him.

It wasn’t only the provocative words that drove him to use the heirloom. Harry was feeling very alone, facing another night by himself. He didn’t like it when it was this quiet and he, McPherson, and Winky were the only creatures in the inn. Ginny was in her bed in Gryffindor Tower—the Marauder’s Map lay open on the love seat next to him—but Harry was sitting by himself in front of an unlit fire. The Bouquedelle was the only answer he had.

When the scent finally dissipated, he waved his wand—carefully—and three sticks of wood floated from a bin next to the door and into the fireplace. Another flick and the logs burst into flame. He watched the fire crackle and dance, until Ginny’s red hair started waving and swirling in the flames; he jerked the wand and the fire went out with a loud pop.

He got up and went to McPherson’s perch. The owl stopped preening while Harry stroked his back. “You know what I think? I think you went to see Bailey tonight. I’ll bet you had a date.” He sighed. “Lucky bird.”

He wandered aimlessly around the room, adjusting pictures on the wall, peering at the old photos of his parents and the Order that sat on the mantel, looking into the kitchen for no particular reason. He sat back down in the love seat and tried to read The Portable Spellery which he had ordered that afternoon from Flourish and Blotts, but he put it down after reading the same sentence about micro-weather charms four times.

Staring at the wall, he wondered how he was going to last until Friday evening, let alone until the end of the school year. Now he wasn’t worried just about missing Ginny, but how he would pass the time when he was stuck here by himself week after week. Maybe it would be different after the inn opened, which was happening this Saturday. He could spend his evenings sitting in the dining room, sharing cheer and conversation with Stan and Tony, Ron and Hermione, and all the members of Dumbledore’s Army who had been so enthusiastic about the inn when they helped him meet the train.

Cheered somewhat, Harry lit the fire again, opened his new Charms book, and read for an hour, finally dozing off in the love seat. He awoke when the sun came in the picture window the next morning, feeling stiff and not well rested. McPherson’s perch was empty.

In the Gryffindor girls’ dormitory, Ginny bounced out of bed with a feeling of great anticipation. She had enjoyed all of her classes yesterday, and she was looking forward to more of the same, including double Defense Against the Dark Arts. If nothing else, there was the hope of more entertainment courtesy of Professor Pester’s inability to get the better of Luna; Ginny was sure that a self-important prat like Pester would not be satisfied until he had got the upper hand, and Ginny didn’t think that very likely.

And her dreams had once again been filled with Harry, but this time they didn’t leave her with the almost desperate yearning for him that the dreams of the night before had. This time she felt only a tingly expectation of what would happen when they saw each other again.

She decided to go up to the Owlery before breakfast and send a note to Harry, so after getting dressed she wrote out a quick love letter, telling him what she could remember of her dreams. But then she paused and thought for a moment. Grinning wickedly, she wrote in delicious detail all the different kinds of desserts Harry could expect after their private dinner tomorrow.

Feeling a little more tingly, she took the note to the Owlery. There, perched side by side on a ledge about half way up the wall, were Bailey and McPherson. Bailey’s head was tucked under her wing, while McPherson looked benignly down at Ginny. She laughed with delight.

“You don’t waste any time, do you?” she called. “I have a letter for Harry. Who wants to take it?”

Neither owl moved. After a moment, Bailey lifted her head, stepped sideways towards McPherson and gave him a nudge. He clucked loudly, but after a more insistent head butt from Bailey he flew down to Ginny and extended his leg.

“Thanks for the enthusiasm,” she said. “I guess it is a little early, but this should make my sweetie happy.” He flew out a window, and Ginny went to breakfast.

Emma and Claire had saved her a seat, and as soon as she took it they began pelting her with questions about their upcoming Defense Against the Dark Arts class.

“It’s the most important subject you’ll take,” Ginny told them as she began eating a large stack of waffles drenched in butter and maple syrup.  “You have to study hard, and you have to pay attention. Things out in the world are much better than they used to be, but—”

“You mean Voldemort,” said Emma. “We heard about him, but Harry killed him.”

“Yes, but there are still people out there who think like him. You saw those prats on the train. Why do you think Keesha and I pulled our wands? It wasn’t to tickle them.”

The girls nodded soberly. “Would they have done something to you?” Claire asked.

“Yes, if they thought they could get away with it. They’re bullies and cowards, and if they think you’ll fight back, they’ll probably leave you alone.” She speared a sausage with her fork. “But there are a lot fewer wizards and witches like them than there used to be, and nobody is scared of them like it was before Harry killed Volde—I mean, Riddle.”

“Why do you call him Riddle?” Emma said.

“Because that was his name. He gave himself the name Voldemort because he hated his father and he thought his new name would frighten people.” She smiled. “But we don’t have to worry about him anymore, thanks to Harry.”

The twins nodded, and Claire got a mischievous look. “So, are there really tickling spells?”

Ginny laughed. “There sure are. Do you want me to teach you some? It wouldn’t have anything to do with two certain Hufflepuff boys, would it?” They blushed and started eating.

Soon it was time for the twins’ class, and Ginny went back to her room. She was free until her Charms class at ten o’clock, and was hoping for a reply from Harry. But there was none, so she packed her book bag and went to the library to finish her parchment for Professor Pester.

Back at the inn, Harry was in the dining room when McPherson arrived with Ginny’s letter. He heard the owl hooting and opened the front door; McPherson was perched on the new sign hanging above the doorway. Harriet Smythe had painted a smiling pig with an oversized head, the same picture that the crew meeting the train had worn on their tee shirts. Harry held out his arm and the owl flapped down.

“Thanks,” Harry said as he took the parchment; he raised his arm and McPherson flew back up to the sign, where he flexed his wings and peered down at Harry. “I can’t write an answer right now,” he called to the owl, “so why don’t you wait upstairs. When I’m done with Stan I’ll be up.”

McPherson flew to the open casement window and Harry walked slowly back inside, reading the letter and smiling at Ginny’s description of her dreams. He stopped when he got to her list of “desserts,” and glanced at Stan who was working on a column of numbers on a long parchment, a list of supplies Winky needed for the inn’s first week. Harry jammed the note into his pocket. He would have to wait until he got upstairs to finish it; from the little he had read, it seemed that Ginny’s wonderful imagination had been working overtime.

He managed to concentrate on the task at hand—ordering supplies—for another hour, but the letter was burning a hole in his pocket, so as soon as they had totaled up the last column and Harry had written out the order for Stan to take to the post office, he hurried upstairs.

Ginny had outdone herself in provocation, and Harry wondered where she had got all these spectacular ideas. He wrote a single line in reply: “I’ll lay in a large supply of chocolate syrup,” sealed the parchment, and tied it to McPherson’s leg. “Try to give this to her when she’s alone,” he told the owl. McPherson ducked his head and flew out the window.

Harry leaned on the sill and watched the bird as it became a speck and disappeared into the distance. He could see the Astronomy Tower above the rooftops of Hogsmeade. Over there was Ginny, and over there was the only place, until now, where he had felt at home, even if it was only a bed in a room he shared with four other boys. As much as he was welcome at the Burrow, he was really only a guest there, if a well-loved guest. He looked back into the parlor and wondered if this was now his home. He loved the way Ginny had decorated and furnished it, but he had to admit that it was Ginny that made it feel like a home. Would any place he lived be a home without her?

He looked at the parchment in his hand and couldn’t help smiling. How had he come so far so fast with this bewitching girl? He had never thought that he could be so incandescently happy, that making her happy would be such a consuming passion, a need really. And everything that Ginny did told him that she wanted only the same for him. He read the letter once more with its scandalous suggestions, and laughed. He had never imagined, while out hunting Horcruxes and Hallows, that life could turn so quickly from terror and misery to peace and joy.

Back in the Hogwarts library, Ginny finished her parchment and looked around to see if Luna or Keesha had come. She found them back in a corner also working on Defense Against the Dark Arts. They went up to the classroom together, and by the looks everyone gave Luna, they were all hoping for more entertainment. Luna was completely oblivious, and when Professor Pester walked in he collected their homework, told them to pair up again, and ignored Luna.

Ruth was getting better at non-verbal spells, and Ginny had to concentrate to keep from being disarmed. When an hour was up, Pester made some general remarks about their progress, and immediately launched into the lecture he had begun yesterday on Unforgivable Curses. He never looked at Luna, and she once again sat placidly gazing up at the ceiling.

After about fifteen minutes, Ginny began wondering what the point of the lecture was. Pester was describing Tom Riddle’s use of the Imperius Curse, which everyone already knew about. She glanced at Keesha who rolled her eyes and mouthed, “Boooring.” Ginny nodded in bleary agreement and started drawing little hearts with arrows through them on her parchment.

Pester droned on. By the time the hour was almost over, Ginny was struggling to keep her eyes open, as were most of the class. Only Luna looked wide-awake as she continued to stare at the ceiling, blinking every few minutes.

“So!” Professor Pester picked up a copy of their textbook from his desk and dropped it from about two feet up. Everyone jumped at the loud noise—except Luna—and several students looked around as though they had just awoken.

Pester glared around the room. “Today’s homework is another twelve inches on the topic we’ve been discussing: should Unforgivable Curses be made Traceable? I expect you to use at least two of the cases I mentioned today as support for your arguments.” He gave them his best sardonic smile. “Dismissed.”

“That wasn’t very fair,” Keesha complained as they left the classroom. “How am I supposed to use his examples if I was sound asleep when he gave them?”

“I can help,” said Luna. “I think I was the only one listening, although Tiberius Rookwood was snoring so loudly I had trouble hearing sometimes.”

Keesha took Luna’s arm. “That would be a life-saver. Can we get together after dinner?”

“I loved the way he said we were discussing,” Ginny said. “If that was a discussion then I’m Merlin. He just likes to hear himself talk.” They all chuckled, and agreed to meet in the entrance hall at eight o’clock and find someplace to study together.

Ginny returned to her room and found McPherson perched outside on the gargoyle. She opened the window and took Harry’s message. She laughed when she read it, and quickly wrote out a reply: “Don’t forget the cherries and whipped cream.” McPherson dutifully took it and flew off.

The rest of Ginny’s day was spent in Ancient Runes and Muggle Studies classes. All students were required to take Muggle Studies for the first semester; Headmistress McGonagall was determined that every student should learn about the persecutions that had taken place. The course was being taught by Professor Samantha Sweetwater, a pureblood who had been thrown into Azkaban by the Death Eaters when she refused to renounce her Muggle husband.

Ginny also spent a good amount of time sending and receiving messages from Harry. She enlisted Bailey in the operation, and by late evening, after Ginny had returned from studying with Keesha and Luna, the two owls were flying between Hogwarts and Hogsmeade every fifteen minutes. Harry started making his own suggestions for dessert, and for the other courses too, and Ginny had to closet herself inside her bed hangings to hide her mirth from her roommates; they had become more and more curious about the owl traffic in and out of their room, and some of Harry’s suggestions were making Ginny howl with laughter.

His last message of the night was not another dessert recipe, but another little Honeydukes package with a good night note inside. Ginny sampled one of the toffees and decided to eat only one of the candies every night and save the rest for the next day. She fell asleep with a smile on her face and feelings of anticipation in the rest of her; tomorrow was Friday.

# # # #

Harry slept well that night—in his bed—and as soon as he awoke the next morning he looked at the Marauder’s Map and located Ginny in the common room. She soon left with Dennis Creevey and went to breakfast. Harry went downstairs for his own breakfast, which was waiting on the counter in the kitchen. He greeted Winky, who was bent over with her head in the oven, shifting something around inside.

“What’s in the oven?” Harry asked, sitting on a stool in front of a bowl of cornflakes.

Winky peered back at him. “Winky’s head,” said the elf; Harry laughed. She backed out and straightened. “Winky is cleaning. Winky’s oven must be ready for tomorrow.”

“Right. Our first night. I’m a little nervous”

Winky’s large eyes twinkled. “Harry Potter must not worry. When Winky was at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, she was learning how to make meals for hundreds of students. Besides, she has done something last night which Harry Potter must not be angry about.”

“You did something?” This was an interesting confession; Winky wasn’t exactly a passive creature, but he had never known her to do anything out of the ordinary on her own.

Winky nodded. “Winky is asking Kreacher to come help her.”

“Kreacher? Winky, that’s brilliant. Why didn’t I think of it?”

“Yes, Winky is wondering the same thing. But Harry Potter’s mind is on other things.”

“You’re right.” It was true, and he knew it, and he wasn’t sorry for it; Ginny was usually on his mind. “I’m glad you asked him to come. How would you feel if he stayed here?”

Winky shrugged. “Kreacher is Harry Potter’s house-elf, so Harry Potter can do that.” She smiled. “Kreacher is a nice elf. He treats Winky like his daughter. He helped Winky when she was drinking too much butterbeer.” She filled a bucket with water at the sink, went to the oven, and started cleaning the top burners.

“Why don’t you use magic to do that?” Harry asked. “It would be faster.”

“Sometimes Winky is wanting to do it herself,” was all the elf would say.

Harry took his dishes to the sink and went out into the dining room. Today he would meet Stan at The Three Broomsticks to look at two paintings Harriet had done for him. Before he left, though, he took out his map and looked for Ginny; she was in the library, and he saw Keesha Baker and Luna sitting at a table with her. He tucked the map in his pocket and headed out the door.

He walked down the High Street, waving to people he knew in Honeydukes, Scrivenshaft’s, and the other shops along the way. It was a pleasantly cool morning, slightly overcast. He passed the post office and someone looked at him through a window. He knew who it was, and picked up his pace: he did not want to encounter Turquoise Southeby.

Stan was in the back of the main room talking to Harriet, and Harry could see the two paintings propped against the wall behind the bar. As he walked towards Stan and Harriet, the back door opened and Turquoise entered.

Harry thought it a little strange. She had arrived no more than a few seconds after him, but she was not breathing fast, and did not look as though she had been running. She smiled at him, but he ignored her and joined Stan and Harriet in front of the large paintings. One was a scene of The Hog’s Head itself, viewed from the side but with the new sign visible; the other was a view of Hogsmeade Station and the crowded platform with porters and other witches and wizards standing there; Harry could even see Hagrid back in the shadows.

“These are beautiful, Harriet!” he exclaimed. “They’ll be perfect in the dining room. You’re a genius!”

She turned red. “Oh, they’re nothing really. But I’m glad you like them.”

“I love them.” He stepped back to get a better look and bumped into someone. He turned and saw Turquoise standing inches from him, smiling. “Excuse me,” he said, “I didn’t see you.” He turned back.

She moved to stand next to him. “Oh, Harriet,” she gushed, “how do you do it? I could never be so creative. Don’t you think she’s creative, Harry?”

Harry glanced at her. At least she wasn’t dressed like a whore, probably because she had been at work in the post office when she saw him. But she made up for it with the simpering look on her face and little swaying movements of her hips and shoulders.

He looked at Harriet. “We’ll take them up to the inn now,” he said, ignoring Turquoise. “Do we have something to wrap them in?”

Harriet disappeared into a back room while Harry waited, irritably aware of Southeby only a foot away. He put his hands on the bar and tapped his fingers until Harriet returned with a large cloth. Stan placed the two paintings back-to-back against each other, and Harriet slung the cloth over them. Harry took out his wand and the paintings rose a few feet into the air.

As he directed them towards the door, Turquoise ran ahead. “Let me get the door, Harry.” She held it open while the paintings, Harry, Stan, and Harriet went through. Harry nodded curtly to Turquoise and began walking quickly back up the High Street with the covered paintings floating before him. The door closed, and Harry heard Turquoise following. He gritted his teeth; if she tried to follow them into the inn, he would just tell her to leave. But she turned off at the post office. “Goodbye, Harry!” she called; Harry once again ignored her.

They arrived at the inn and Harry directed the paintings inside. He had already decided where to hang them. The picture of the Hog’s Head would be at the end of the dining room facing the bar, and Hogsmeade Station would hang on the wall opposite the door, so customers could see it as they entered. He had Stan and Harriet hold them and adjust their positions one at a time, and when he was satisfied he applied a sticking charm.

Winky came out of the kitchen and they all admired Harriet’s work, watching people moving about on the platform in the one painting, and going in and out of the inn in the other.

Harriet left, and Harry went upstairs. He sent an owl off to Ginny about the paintings—but not mentioning Turquoise— and he checked the Marauder’s Map. Ginny was in her Potions class—Professor Slughorn was standing next to the desk at the front of the room—and three other girls were at the same table with her: Keesha, Luna, and Ruth Madison, who Harry barely knew. The only other students, sitting at a table next to Ginny’s, were three boys: two Ravenclaws—Salvador Chambers and Hector Freeman—and Jace Kleinhead.

Harry scowled when he saw the Slytherin’s name on the labeled dot. Ginny had told him in one of her letters about her confrontation with him on the train and in Defense Against the Dark Arts, and Harry did not like seeing him so near her while they were all handling potentially dangerous potion ingredients. There was nothing he could do, though, so he decided to keep the map out and check it more frequently.

With the map tucked into his belt, he went back to the dining room and helped Stan set places on the tables in preparation for tomorrow’s first public dinner. Harry couldn’t get the hang of magically folding a linen napkin so that it stood up like a tent, so he moved bottles of butterbeer, firewhiskey, and Potio Vitae from the storeroom into their racks under and behind the bar. Every few minutes he checked the map, but nothing had changed.

He was in the storeroom when the class ended and he watched Ginny move out of the dungeon with Luna and Keesha; a few yards behind them came Jace Kleinhead. They passed a corridor that led to the Slytherin common room, and there three more Slytherins joined Jace: Serpens Lestrange, Olbert Schmidt, and Tiberius Rookwood. Harry’s stomach muscles tightened.

The three girls walked on, and when they got to the entrance to the Hufflepuff common room, they paused and Keesha went inside. Ginny and Luna continued down the corridor, apparently unaware of the four boys, who stayed far enough back to remain unnoticed.

Ginny and Luna rounded a corner and the boys stopped. For a moment, as Lestrange and Schmidt turned down a side corridor, Harry thought that they were going to stop following the girls. But suddenly their dots sped up, and Harry saw what they were doing: taking a short cut to the end of the curving corridor down which Ginny and Luna were walking. They were going to surround them in a neat little trap, deep in the cellars of Hogwarts.

Harry ran out of the storeroom, banging against the bar, and tore outside. “‘Arry!” Stan called in astonishment. “What’s wrong?”

Harry didn’t answer; he stood in front of the inn, just outside the door, unsure what to do. He could Apparate to the castle gates, but he would still have to run up the drive, up the steps to the entrance, and descend at least one flight of stairs to the corridor in the cellar. By the time he got there, anything might have happened. He stood stock still for a moment, then drew his wand.

”Expecto Patronum!” he shouted. His stag burst from the end of the wand, glanced back at him once, then rose like a shot and was gone, a silver streak across the sky.

Stan was standing next to him, watching the Patronus disappear over the rooftops. “Bloody hell! Is that your Patronus?”

Harry nodded; he was breathing hard, even though he had been motionless for a minute. “Something’s happening down in the cellar of the castle. Ginny’s being stalked by four Slytherins.” He started to open the map, but hesitated when Stan looked at it curiously. “It’s an old map of Hogwarts. I’ll be back as soon as—I’ll be back later!” Stan jumped back as Harry Disapparated with a loud crack.

He Apparated in front of the open gates of Hogwarts, and fumbled with the map. It took a moment to find Ginny and Luna, apparently back to back, each facing two Slytherins. With no way of telling whether his stag was there, he crumpled the map in his hand and started running. He was out of breath by the time he got to the castle, and had an agonizing stitch in his side as he plunged down the stairs to the dungeons, jumping down the last five steps. He flew down the corridor trying desperately to remember which turns Ginny and Luna had taken, until he skidded around a corner and came to a sudden halt, his heart pounding and his breath coming in labored gasps.

What he saw almost made him laugh. His stag was standing in the middle of the corridor between Ginny and Luna. Two of the Slytherins lay on the floor in front of Ginny, clearly having been hit with full Body Binding curses. A third, also Bound, was floating in the air a foot above the floor, moving slowly to join the other two. Luna, gesturing with her wand, placed it on the floor next to them; Harry thought she was entirely too gentle. She smiled at him, turned, and began to move the last body.

Harry watched, bent over with his hands on his knees, catching his breath. “Are you all right?” he managed to gasp.

Ginny grinned. “The situation is well in hand. They never stood a chance.” She stepped over Jace Kleinhead and, still holding her wand, put her arms around Harry and looked into his sweaty face. He took a final deep breath and straightened. “It’s all thanks to the best Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher I ever had.” She glanced at the stag. “And thanks for looking out for us,” she whispered.

Harry pulled her into a kiss, and suddenly did not want to wait until this evening to be alone with her. It felt as though she didn’t, either, but they heard footsteps and voices behind him. Professor McGonagall was hurrying down the corridor with Professor Pester at her side and Professor Slughorn huffing after them. Harry touched the map with his wand, muttered, “Mischief managed,” and jammed it into his pocket.

“What is going on here?” The Headmistress stopped and glared at the four boys piled on the floor; they all looked up, fury, bewilderment, and humiliation in their eyes. “Mr. Potter, that is indubitably your Patronus. What is it doing here?” She fixed an eye on Harry, and he noticed that she, Pester, and Slughorn all had their wands out.

Harry pointed to the bodies on the floor. “They were stalking Ginny and Luna. Two of them came up this way and the other two got behind them. I guess it wasn’t much of a surprise, though.” He and Ginny grinned at each other.

Professor Pester stepped past McGonagall. “Mr. Potter, you didn’t answer the question. Why is your Patronus here?” He tilted his head and raised his eyebrows, but Harry looked at him steadily. Ginny had taken his hand and squeezed it.

“I thought they might need help,” he said. The professor gazed at him without expression, but McGonagall and Slughorn had quizzical looks.

“And how did you know that?” Pester asked.

“I had a feeling.”

Harry looked at the stag and it vanished; Luna blinked and lifted her hand, as though to touch the empty space where it had been. “But you need to ask these chaps a few questions.” He indicated the Slytherins. “They tried to attack two students.”

Professor McGonagall, tight-lipped, pushed in front of Pester. “Thank you, Professor. For the present we will handle this as a school disciplinary issue. If we need further assistance, I will let you know. Professor,” she turned to Slughorn, “I leave it to you to deal with these four.”

She waved her wand and the Bound boys began to move. They slowly stood, but none of them raised his eyes from the floor.

“Let’s go,” Professor Slughorn said roughly, and took Jace Kleinhead’s arm and shoved him down the corridor. He waved the others along with his wand, and they shuffled away. Harry could hear Slughorn muttering under his breath as he kept pushing the four boys along. He watched with the others until they were out of sight.

“Are you two all right?” McGonagall asked Ginny and Luna.

They both nodded. “We heard them coming,” said Ginny. “Two of them were running down this corridor—” she pointed to an opening a few yards from where they were standing “—and then we saw Jace and Tiberius coming behind us. So,” she smiled at Harry, “we just used some of the skills you taught us three years ago. I know we’ve got some practice since, but somehow the way you taught always seemed the best.” She shot a quick glance at Professor Pester as Harry grinned.

“They ran right into our curses,” Luna said. “Still, it was nice to see your stag, Harry. It’s beautiful.” She looked at her wand thoughtfully.

“Miss Lovegood,” the Headmistress said quickly, “if you don’t mind, one Patronus a day is enough. We’ve had enough excitement for a while.”

“That’s a very interesting Patronus you have, Mr. Potter,” Professor Pester said. “Are you sure you don’t want to tell me how you knew where to send it?”

“I told you, I had a feeling,” Harry said evenly. “By the way, Professor, you never answered the owl I sent you three days ago. Someone put another Dark Mark on my inn.”

A puzzled look appeared on Pester’s face. “That’s strange, Potter. Are you sure? I’ve never had an owl not find me. I was right here in the castle on Tuesday, setting up my classroom. Even if the owl first went to the Ministry, it should have known to come here.” He stared at Harry for a moment before abruptly turning on his heel and striding away.

Harry looked from Ginny to Professor McGonagall, who was frowning. She glanced around and lowered her voice. “I’m also wondering, Harry, how you knew what was happening down here, but I don’t mind that you did. However, I would like all of you to keep this incident quiet, and also not to talk to anyone about what Professor Pester just said. Obviously he is here at Hogwarts to do more than teach, but please keep it amongst yourselves. Can you do that?” They all nodded. “Thank you. Well, I can’t see any more use in standing here. Good day.” She turned and walked off down the corridor.

Harry, Ginny, and Luna stood for a moment. Finally Luna spoke. “This is quite interesting. First we get attacked but by people who seem to be pretty stupid about what they’re doing, then Harry’s stag jumps out of the wall, then Professor Pester can’t answer a simple question. I’m beginning to wonder about his competence. He asks some very silly questions in class too.”

“Where were you two going?” Harry asked.

“Keesha told us about a short cut to the library,” Ginny said. “It’s supposed to be along this way.”

Harry turned to Luna. “Can you wait up ahead? Ginny will be right along.”

“Sure.” Luna stared at them for a moment with her large, unblinking eyes before walking off.

Harry waited until Luna was out of sight before kissing Ginny; he held her tightly, and their bodies moved against each other. Finally Ginny gasped.

“Love, I have classes this afternoon, and I need to start a parchment for Potions.”

Harry took a deep breath. “I just wanted to say hello properly. Okay, go do your work, it’ll give us more time over the weekend.”

She rubbed her hands slowly over his chest. “It was wonderful to see your stag. I didn’t mind at all that you sent him.”

“I saw them following you on the map. I knew I couldn’t get here quick enough, and the Patronus was the first thing I thought of.”

“It was perfect.” Ginny kissed him again.

“How about if I meet you in the entrance hall this afternoon? We’ll walk back to the inn together.”

Ginny shook her head. “No, what I want is for you to be waiting for me there. I want to fly to you, and I want you to sweep me off my feet.”

“Oh.” Harry thought for a moment and smiled. “Okay, but don’t be surprised if something happens before, during, and after you’re off your feet.”

“That sounds very romantic.” Ginny kissed him quickly. “Go home and think about it until I get there.” She laughed and pushed him away. “I love you,” she called over her shoulder as she trotted off.

Harry’s eyes stayed riveted on her retreating figure, then he sighed and turned the other way. But as he walked upstairs and through the castle and back to Hogsmeade, he felt light on his feet, and the world seemed lit up in glorious colors. He had been afraid that Ginny would be angry because he had tried to protect her, just as she had been on the beach at Shell Cottage. But her gratitude had made his spirits soar, and doubled his anticipation of tonight and the rest of the weekend.

People in the village smiled at him as he walked up the High Street, and at first he didn’t understand why, until he realized that he had a huge grin on his face. The thought made him laugh, and he didn’t even mind when Turquoise poked her head out the post office door and waved.

Stan had finished setting up the dining room and was sitting at the bar with Tony Trostle. He looked questioningly at Harry. “Is everything okay?”.

Harry nodded. “Four Slytherin prats tried to ambush Ginny and Luna, but their odds weren’t very good. I don’t think they’ll try it again.”

Tony handed Harry a bottle of Potio Vitae. “Don’t they know the war is over and they lost?”

“Some people will never change. But forget about it. Here’s to the inn.” He raised his bottle and Tony clinked his against it; Stan opened a butterbeer and toasted with them.

“This stuff’s not bad,” said Tony. “You’ll sell lots of it.”

Harry chugged his down. “It’s weird, Ginny and Ron don’t like it, but Hermione and I do. Maybe you have to have Muggle grandparents to like it.”

“Maybe. I have a Muggle grandmother. How about you, Stan?”

“Nope, no Muggles as far back as I know. And I don’t like it, either.”

“Maybe we’ll do a study,” Harry mused. “I can ask Hermione, she’d love something like that.”

Tony laughed. “But maybe it’s red hair. Stan’s hair is a little red.” He grinned at Harry. “You can test it on your kids.”

It was almost noon, so Harry, self-conscious at Tony’s joke, went into the kitchen and asked Winky to make lunch for three. A few minutes later she appeared with a tray of cold meats and cheeses, bread, pickles, and apples. Afterwards, Tony and Stan left and Harry went up to the flat.

Bailey was there, sitting on the perch next to McPherson, a note on her leg.

 

 

 

My love,

It felt so good when your stag appeared. I wanted to hug it. Instead I’ll hug you. I will leave the castle as soon as my last class is over at 5:00. I’m already packed. I sent an owl to the Ministry, and Wilkie Twycross can give me another Apparition lesson tomorrow, so let’s go into London in the morning. I think I am pretty close to being able to pass the test and get my licence. Once I can Apparate, I can get to the inn much quicker; I thought you’d like that.

It’s only a few hours until I see you again, and when I do give you that hug, I’m never letting you go.

I love you so much.

Ginny

Harry wrote back:

 

 

 

Ginny love,

You drive me crazy with what you write. My stag and everything else I have is for you. I love you so much.

Harry

Harry sent Bailey back with his note, and flopped down on the love seat. It wasn’t even one o’clock yet. He knew he would have to find some way to occupy himself, so he took The Portable Spellery outside and practiced combinations of wand movements with Proeido. After an hour he finally had it tuned so that only writing on the wall would set off his wand.

He looked around, again wondering what to do with himself for three hours.

He went into the kitchen, thinking he might as well talk to Winky about dinner arrangements, but before he could open his mouth the elf stopped him.

“Harry Potter must not worry about dinner,” she said firmly. “He and Ginny Pott— Ginny Weasley will eat upstairs in the parlor, and Winky will serve them from downstairs, just like she used to do at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Harry Potter should not bother poor Winky anymore, or else his dinner will not be ready on time.”

Harry obediently left the kitchen and went into the dining room. Gazing at the table settings, he thought of something he could do. He went out the front door and up the lane to Dervish and Banges. The proprietor, Monitor Twohill, a very nearsighted wizard with a bushy head of white hair and a nervous habit of constantly licking his lips, squinted as Harry entered the shop, and after a moment recognized him.

“Ah, Mr. Potter.” His tongue flitted in and out. “What can I do for you this afternoon?”

“Do you have any veela candelabras?” Harry asked, looking around. “I saw one last summer at Bill’s house, Bill Weasley, I mean. It was very nice.”

“Ah, veela silver is very special indeed. They say it has romantic, perhaps even aphrodisiac qualities. Hmm . . .” He wrinkled his brow and licked his lower lip. “I don’t think I have any candelabras, but let me just look over here . . .”

He came from behind the counter and opened a large cabinet standing against a wall. Inside were several shelves of candlesticks and sconces. He picked up two silver candlesticks and turned to Harry with a smile. “Yes, two veela candlesticks. They were sold to me almost ten years ago by a love-stricken seventh-year who probably stole them from his dear beloved. But the lady in question never returned for them.”

He handed them to Harry. They were very solid and felt warm to the touch, and they shimmered as they caught a beam of sunlight from a window. As he stared at them, Ginny’s face seemed to be looking back at him from the curved surfaces.

He smiled at Mr. Twohill. “I’ll take them, and I need some candles too.”

The proprietor took four candles from a wooden box next to the cabinet, and went back behind the counter. He put the whole order in a cardboard box and secured it with Spellotape. “And you will deposit one hundred thirty-five Galleons in my account at Gringotts?” he said as his tongue flicked several times.

“One hundred thirty-five? Oh.” Harry had not thought about the price, and it seemed a little steep, but he thought about sitting with Ginny at a table with the candlesticks set in the middle, or lying with her in the four-poster as they cast a low glow in the bedroom. “Okay, that’s fine. I’ll send an owl right away.”

The wizard thanked him, and Harry took his purchase back to the flat. After a moment’s thought he took the candlesticks to the bedroom and put one on each nightstand.

He sent McPherson off to Gringotts with his draft and spent the next two hours walking around the flat, trying to read again and, finally, ten minutes after five o’clock, as he looked out the casement window, he saw a small figure running up the High Street, red hair flowing behind her. He raced downstairs and stood outside in front of the door. Ginny came around the corner of the lane, dropped her satchel, and threw herself at him. He caught her and twirled her around like he had done all summer when he came back to the Burrow from Hogsmeade.

He kissed her while her feet were still off the ground, then put her down and they held each other in a crushing embrace. Harry moved his hands well below her back, and she whispered breathlessly, “Upstairs! Dessert first!” He picked up her bag, and they went around to the back door and up to the flat. In seconds there was a trail of clothes into the bedroom and they were in the bed with the hangings pulled closed. The flickering candles made dancing shapes and shadows on the fabric. Veela magic and the soft yellow glow of the flames suffused the room.

Chapter Text

They got out of bed late in the evening and found dinner waiting on a small table set up in the parlor. Ginny put on her dressing gown and Harry wore a bathrobe. He brought the candlesticks in and put them on the table, where the candles continued to cast their magical glow. He also lit a fire, and they dined on steamed mussels in a spicy white sauce, whole lobsters—an adventure, since neither of them had eaten one before—linguine in clam sauce, and a crispy green salad. Warm slices of garlic bread kept appearing in a wicker basket as they ate. They drank with caution from a small carafe of wine, remembering the last time they had drunk wine at Shell Cottage. By the time they were finished, they could barely move; they lay down on the rug in front of the fireplace and fell asleep in each other’s arms.

Just before midnight, Ginny awoke and nibbled on Harry’s lips until he opened his eyes. “Hi,” she smiled. “I feel like a midnight stroll. Let’s go down to The Three Broomsticks. I heard there’s always a late crowd on the weekends.”

Harry rolled over and sat up. He looked around and saw that the table was gone. “Efficiency is her middle name,” he said as he stood and pulled Ginny up. “I’d love a midnight stroll. But can it wait?”

“No!” she laughed, extracting his hands from inside her dressing gown where they had strayed. “We have all weekend for that. I want to go have a good time with some people, then come back here and . . .” Her own hands wandered over his robe. “And then sleep late tomorrow.”

She hopped back before Harry could grab her again and ran into the bedroom. She closed the door behind her, giggling while she made Harry promise not to touch her while they were getting dressed. He kept his fingers crossed while he solemnly vowed to keep his hands in his pockets.

“How can you get dressed with your hands in your pockets? And your fingers are crossed,” Ginny said through the closed door.

“Okay, okay, now they’re not crossed. And I’ll just look, I won’t touch, I promise.”

She let him in and made him sit on the bed while she took off her dressing gown and slowly put her clothes on.

Harry leaned back on his elbows and watched the deliberate, reverse striptease. “You are evil. Here I am, the former Chosen One, and this is the thanks I get for saving the world. Do your brothers know that you treat me like this?”

“Merlin, I hope not,” Ginny laughed as she donned her dragon-hide jacket, Charlie’s birthday present. “But they’d probably take your side. They’re all males, after all.”

“And so am I, but I think you know that.” Harry grinned as he dressed, and heaved a loud, dramatic sigh. “I’ll force myself to wait, since you’ve been so nice up until now.”

“So have you.” After a kiss, Harry took her arm and they went downstairs and out the back door. The sky was clear and a full moon was high overhead, lighting up the village. Arm in arm they walked down the High Street to The Three Broomsticks.

The lights inside were blazing, and they could hear laughter and loud voices as they approached. When they entered, Rosmerta came and hugged them both. They saw Stan and Tony, and most of Tony’s crew; everyone called to them and they waved. Harry glanced quickly around and was glad not to see Turquoise Southeby. But to his delight, back in a corner sat Hagrid, several empty tankards in front of him and a broad smile on his face.

“Harry! Ginny!” he boomed. “Come sit! Harriet, two butterbeers!” Harry and Ginny came and sat. Hagrid beamed. “How’s it goin’?”

“Not bad,” Harry answered; he looked at Ginny and grinned. ”Actually, great. It’s hard to see how things could be better.” Ginny leaned over and kissed him softly.

“Aww, sweet! That’s a beautiful jacket, Ginny. Did Charlie get it fer yeh?”

“Yes, it was a birthday present.” She held her arm out and Hagrid rubbed the leather between his fingers.

“I’d say Ridgeback.” He frowned, but quickly laughed. “Yeh don’t think it’s Norberta, do yeh? Charlie wouldn’t do that.” He laughed again and took a drink from his tankard. “Harry, why don’tcha come to one of my classes next week? Remember, yeh promised? Did yeh hear, I’m teachin’ first and second years fer the first time. They’d be tickled if yeh showed up. They’re always talkin’ about yeh, ‘specially them two little twins, what’s their names?” He frowned and swayed slightly in his seat.

“Emma and Claire,” Ginny said. “They’re adorable.”

“Yeah, that’s them. They’re really takin’ to it. They love them little Pygmy Puffs.”

Ginny bounced in her chair. “Is that what you’re teaching? I love them.” She turned to Harry. “Tell me when you go, if I don’t have a class I’ll join you.”

Harry nodded. “When’s that class?” he asked Hagrid.

“Tuesday at eleven, right afore lunch. That’ll be brilliant, Harry.” He drained his mead and started to rise, but Harry put his hand on Hagrid’s massive paw.

“Hagrid, wait, can I ask you something about a teacher?”

Hagrid’s brow creased, but he sat back down. “If it ain’t too confidential, sure. But there’s some stuff I can’t talk about.” His voice dropped to a dramatic whisper. ‘There’s things I can’t discuss. You know, personnel stuff.”

Harry also dropped his voice. “I was wondering if you knew why they hired Professor Pester to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts.”

“Ah, well . . . Harry, that’s one a’ them things. But, seein’ as it affects you direc’ly, you have a right to know.” He leaned toward Harry, and Harry and Ginny leaned in so that their heads almost touched; Hagrid’s breath was pungent with the smell of mead. “They wasn’t gonna have anyone teach Defense Against the Dark Arts at first. McGonagall, Flitwick, an’ Slughorn were gonna split up the job. Seems they couldn’t find anyone to take it, even with Riddle dead an’ that curse gone, you know the one. Everyone who taught it’s been dead or gone after one year.”

Harry and Ginny both nodded. Hagrid grabbed another mug from a tray that Harriet was carrying past, took a large gulp, and leaned his head in again. “But then that Dark Mark showed up on yer inn, an’ McGonagall got worried. She didn’t want to seal up the grounds again, like it was last year, so she asked the Ministry to send someone to take the Defense Against the Dark Arts job, kinda undercover, yeh might say, an’ help keep an eye on things.”

He sat back and frowning, took another drink. “But don’t tell anyone I told yeh, Harry. Or you, Ginny. Someone around here’s up to no good, an’ if they don’t know about Pester, it’ll make it easier to nab ‘em.”

“That’s pretty interesting,” Harry said, looking at Ginny.

She nodded. “And it explains that notebook he’s been studying. He even looks at it in class. He didn’t have a chance to prepare, so he’s teaching it on the fly and doing a poor job of it so far. That’s crummy.” She looked at Harry. “I’ve had lousy teachers in that class almost every year I’ve been here. What I said this morning about you being the best teacher I’ve had is true.” She grinned. “I’ll ask McGonagall to fire Pester and hire you.”

Harry shook his head. “Please, don’t even joke about it. But I wonder what happened to his job in the Auror training program.”

“Ask Ron tomorrow.” Ginny glanced at the clock on the wall over the bar. “Today.”

Hagrid stood. “Well, I’m glad to see yeh, and don’t ferget to come on Tuesday.” He shook his head and smiled as he walked to the door. “Them kids’ll be tickled pink.”

After Hagrid left, Harry and Ginny joined Stan and Tony. They drank butterbeers for another hour, until Harry pressed his leg against Ginny’s under the table, and she broke off her conversation with Tony about Potio Vitae. She turned to Harry. “Love, there’s something I need to do at the inn, so can we go back now?”

Harry grinned, and some of Tony’s crew, who had joined them, chuckled to each other. “If you insist, love,” he said. They made their goodnights and, again arm in arm, walked quickly back to the inn. Upstairs, after leaving another trail of clothes between the door and the bedroom, they made leisurely love and talked, and made love again. They spoke in low voices about school, the inn, themselves.

Harry told Ginny he was worried about being alone during the week, and wondered if he had made a mistake when he bought the inn. Ginny wondered what she would do after leaving school. Harry worried that the Slytherins might seek revenge, but Ginny scoffed at that. She talked about the Quidditch team and told him how Dennis Creevey had pushed his way onto the tryout list. She talked enthusiastically about her classes, except Defense Against the Dark Arts, and they speculated about Morequest Pester and the Dark Marks.

Harry told her how his anger grew whenever anything came between him and what he wanted most: to have a place for themselves. Ginny told him that no matter what happened, she would be with him. The candles finally flickered out and they slept.

They awoke just a few hours later, dressed and ate quickly—breakfast was waiting on the kitchen table—and Disapparated to the back storeroom of Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes. George greeted them and they went upstairs to the flat. Hermione was at her desk in a small room next to the sitting room, and she went to wake up Ron. He came into the sitting room, yawning and rubbing sleep from his eyes.

“What are you doing here so early,” he grouched. “I just went to bed.”

“That was ten hours ago, Ron,” Hermione said. “It’s ten o’clock. In the morning.”

“Seems like it was ten minutes.” He yawned again. “So what’s happening?”

“Ginny has another Apparition lesson in an hour,” Harry said, “and if she and Twycross think she’s ready, she’ll take her test. Percy’s agreed to be there and fill out all the paperwork.”

“Cool.” Ron yawned once more, stretched, and scratched his stomach. “So,” he said to Ginny, “I heard that Morequest Pester is teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts. That must be a real treat.”

She rolled her eyes. “Absolutely, and the best part is that he hasn’t a clue how to deal with Luna. I think she’s driving him nutters.”

Ron laughed. “Good for her. She’s the perfect person to chap his ass. I’ll tell you, no one in the training program misses him.”

“So he’s not doing both jobs?” Harry asked.

“How could he? We have three hours of classes and two hours of practice every day.” Hermione called them into the kitchen and they sat around a small table while she served tea.

Harry looked at her with a smile. “You two are keeping a nice place.”

“Only because I clean up after him. If I didn’t, the whole flat would look like his attic room, and we’d need a bulldozer to walk anywhere.” She smiled at Ron. “I shouldn’t tease. The program is quite rigorous, and he works so hard. It’s wonderful to see you do so well, sweetie.”

Ron grinned at Harry. “It is tough. I still say you should sign up. People talk about you, mate. And it isn’t just because of what you did to Riddle. Seamus and Susan and the Patils and Katie are also there, and they’re always telling everyone how much you taught us.”

Harry glanced at Ginny, and she raised her eyebrows as if to say, “I told you so.”

“Well,” Harry said, “I’m pretty busy with the inn right now, and Ginny is just starting the term—”

“Harry,” Hermione interrupted, “that’s all very well, but . . .” she glanced at Ron, “but there are things happening and, well, people think they still need you.”

Harry scowled. “I need things too. After those people spend seventeen years under a death sentence, then they can tell me they need me. I want to be where I am. Can’t Kingsley take care of business?”

“Good question,” said Ron, taking a biscuit from a tin sitting on the counter behind him; he offered them to Ginny and Harry. “You would not believe how much resistance he gets from all those stupid little bureaucrats. Now I know why Dad’s lost so much hair.”

“But that was actually a blessing when the Death Eaters took over,” Hermione picked up when Ron reached for another biscuit. “Things would have been a lot worse if they had really been able to control the Ministry. There was resistance to them on principle, but a lot of it was the same idiotic inertia that Kingsley is facing.”

“Yeah,” said Ron, “but that’s not all.” He cast a look at Hermione, and she nodded. “Remember I told you a while ago that there were a dozen or so Death Eaters that they couldn’t account for? Well, there are now a few more. There was a breakout from Azkaban about three weeks ago.”

“What!” Ginny and Harry exclaimed at the same time.

“How could that be?” Harry was astounded, and Ginny put her hand on his. “So those Dark Marks could actually be from Death Eaters?”

“Could be,” Ron said.

Ginny looked at him in disbelief. “How did they escape? Why wasn’t there any news about it? That’s criminal! They have to let people know about things like this.” She turned to Harry. “Maybe that’s another reason why McGonagall hired Pester.”

‘Huh?” Ron looked surprised. “What do you mean? He told us he had been hired right after the battle.”

“That sounds like his cover story,” Harry said, and proceeded to tell Ron and Hermione about the conversation with Hagrid. “But I still don’t understand why Kingsley would keep the breakout a secret.”

“He didn’t,” said Ron. “The Office of Magical Law Enforcement did. Somebody got careless and there aren’t any dementors around anymore to do the dirty work. They hushed it up, but someone finally leaked it yesterday.”

“That’s where Percy is working,” Ginny said quietly.

Ron nodded, his lips pressed together. “I haven’t seen him for a couple of days. I don’t know what happened to him.”

They were all silent for a moment. Finally Harry said, “So how many got out and who were they?”

“I don’t know. I couldn’t find out. I think they’re still trying to figure it out. But Gawain Robards was sacked, and Kingsley has taken over that job himself.”

“That poor man,” Hermione said. “Why can’t people see what he’s trying to do and just help him?”

They all looked at Harry, who pushed away from the table. “Come on, Gin, you’ll be late for your lesson.”

They were at the Ministry in a few minutes. Many people were in the Atrium, standing in small groups in animated conversations. Harry and Ginny heard snatches of talk, all about the breakout and the sacking of the Head of the Office of Magical Law Enforcement.

After a brief stop at the fountain to smile at the statues of Emma and Claire, they took a lift to level six and Wilkie Twycross’s office. The ethereal wizard greeted them warmly, and gave Harry his personal thanks for his deeds during the war. While Harry waited in the office, he took Ginny into a room across the hallway, and when they came out an hour later, Ginny was bubbling and Twycross was beaming proudly.

“She’s the best student I ever had,” he said. “A normal course of group lessons is twelve weeks, and of course individual lessons usually go faster. But Miss Weasley is very gifted.” He looked at his watch. “The Test Center is open until two this afternoon, so you have time to see your brother and get a start on the application. I think,” he said knowingly, “they’ll let you take the test even if not all the paperwork is quite ready. Mr. Weasley has a reputation for reliability.”

Ginny thanked him profusely, and left him with a kiss on his cheek that pleased him very much. He shook Harry’s hand and with a wink wished him luck. Outside in the hall, Ginny skipped in a circle around Harry, then took his hands and did a dance with him. “Come, let’s go find Percy. Then we’ll go back to Diagon Alley and celebrate with everyone at the Leaky Cauldron.”

“If Percy is still here,” Harry said.

They rode a lift up to level two, which was crowded with witches and wizards—many with scowls on their faces—hurrying up and down the corridors. Some recognized Harry and nodded to him. Ginny took his hand and they went down several long hallways that became more and more congested and noisy with a sense of crisis and urgency. They finally came to the Head’s office; the large sign over the door read Office of Magical Law Enforcement, but the plaque on the wall was blank.

They could hear loud voices from inside, and dominating them was the deep, booming bass of Kingsley Shacklebolt. They could also hear Saliyah Ushujaa speaking angrily, and also Percy. Ginny squeezed Harry’s hand; he looked at her and saw relief on her face. “He sounds okay,” she whispered.

A witch pushed past them and went inside; they recognized the Auror who had been with Saliyah when she came to the Burrow the day Fenrir Greyback was killed. They followed her in and saw Kingsley pacing behind a desk. Saliyah was seated in front of the desk, and the witch who had just come in was handing her a parchment. Percy, standing next to the desk, was the first to notice them.

“Ginny! Harry! Did you pass your test?”

Kingsley looked up, and Saliyah and the Auror turned. Shacklebolt stared at Harry for a moment, and a sly grin crept onto his face. “Did you come here for the job, Harry?”

Harry looked at him in confusion for a moment, and, as Kingsley burst out laughing, he blushed. “Uh, no sir. We . . . uh . . .” He looked at Ginny for help.

“We’re here to see my brother,” she said quickly. “I’m supposed to take an Apparition test this afternoon. But we can come back later if it’s not a good time.”

Percy looked at his watch, then at Shacklebolt, who nodded. “Why don’t we have lunch now,” the Minister said. “It seems like a good time to take a break. I’ve been up since four, and I never got breakfast.”

“I tried to feed you,” said Saliyah with a shake of her head. “And you’ve been grumpy ever since.”

“I’m grumpy because nine Death Eaters are somewhere on the loose,” he scowled. “But let’s not rehash that.” He waved his wand and a large table appeared at the side of the room. Two house-elves came out a door behind the table, and in a minute lunch was ready.

Harry and Ginny, feeling a little diffident, joined the Minister of Magic and the others, and Saliyah smiled at them warmly. “How are things in Hogsmeade and at Hogwarts?” she asked. “I heard you’re Gryffindor’s Quidditch captain, Ginny. I won’t wish you luck, I still always root for Ravenclaw.”

They made small talk for a few minutes, but Ginny couldn’t contain her curiosity, and in a lull she turned to Percy, who was seated next to her. “What happened?” she said as quietly as she could without seeming surreptitious. “Were you the one who leaked the story?”

Percy glanced at Shacklebolt, who was watching them. “It wasn’t exactly a leak, but yes,” he said firmly. “I didn’t find out about it until Thursday. I went to see Gawain, and at first he denied that anything had happened. But I had completely reliable information from one of the guards. He finally admitted it, and I insisted that we go to the Minister immediately.” He was trying not to sound smug, but Ginny had to smile to herself: he was, after all, Percy.

There was silence at the table as Kingsley looked down at his plate and pushed his food around with his fork. “There were actually ten,” the Minister said to Ginny and Harry. “We’re positive that they left the country, we got a report from a contact in France who saw them. But they could be anywhere in the world by now. We sent messages to every wizarding government, and I’ve spoken to the Muggle Prime Minister.” He looked at Harry. “One of them is an old friend of yours, Dolores Umbridge. Technically, she isn’t a Death Eater, but she did some terrible and brutal things—I think you witnessed some of them. We were holding her with the same level of security as the Death Eaters. At least I thought we were.”

“How did they escape?” Harry said hesitantly, unsure how much he could expect Kingsley to tell him.

“I’m sorry, I can’t say.” Shacklebolt grinned. “Unless you take the job.”

This time Harry laughed. “I think I’d need a little experience first.”

Saliyah leaned forward from across the table. “Then join the training program, Harry. Ron Weasley is doing very well, and a few of your other friends who are also in the program have told us what you did at Hogwarts when Umbridge was there. Harry, we need you.”

Harry felt everyone looking at him, but he felt Ginny’s eyes the most. He looked at her and she smiled, but there was never any doubt in his mind what his answer would be.

“Maybe someday,” he said to Saliyah, “but not right now. I’m sorry, but I wonder if you know what it’s like to have someone as ferocious and powerful as Tom Riddle be after you with nothing on his mind but your own death. I lived with that for seventeen years and I need a break.”

Saliyah sat back, disappointed, but Kingsley nodded. “That’s fine, Harry. You have a right to that, and undoubtedly a need. I only ask that you don’t forget that there will always be a job here if you want it.”

“I know, and I appreciate it, and I won’t forget.”

They finished eating, Percy excused himself, and he took Ginny and Harry back to the Department of Magical Transportation. Ginny passed her Apparition test with flying colors, and a half hour later she walked out of the office clutching a framed Apparition license in her hands. Percy took them back to the Atrium where Ginny bestowed a grateful hug and kiss on him.

Percy shook Harry’s hand as they were departing. “Don’t forget Kingsley’s offer,” he said solemnly. “It’s an honor to be noticed by the Minister and the Head Auror like that.”

“I know. And Percy, thanks for doing what you did, I mean telling the truth. It was a great thing to do.”

Ginny gave him another kiss. “I’ll second that. You did proud by the whole family.”

Percy waved his hand dismissively, but looked pleased. “You two take care, and say hello to everyone at the shop. And don’t worry about the paperwork, Ginny. If you have to sign anything, I’ll owl it to you.” He walked away and Harry and Ginny returned to Diagon Alley.

They met Ron and Hermione in the shop and told them that Percy was fine. Harry was about to add that they had more news about the breakout, but George and Lee came over, so he said nothing. Everyone walked down to the Leaky Cauldron where they celebrated Ginny’s success with a few rounds of butterbeer, and when they were finished Ginny Disapparated back to the shop by herself. She met them at the front door, and Harry gave her a well-deserved snog, to the avid interest of George’s customers inside and a small crowd of onlookers outside.

It was now the middle of the afternoon, and Harry and Ginny had to return to the inn to start preparing for the evening’s festivities. They held hands with their fingers entwined, and for the first time Disapparated together. They appeared in back of the inn, and Ginny went upstairs while Harry made a brief stop in the kitchen and dining room to see how the preparations were coming along. When he got back upstairs he found a trail of clothes leading to the bedroom. He followed —adding to it—and it was only an hour before the opening that they came back downstairs.

Stan, Winky, and Kreacher—who had arrived earlier in the afternoon from Grimmauld Place—were all busy with last-minute things to do, but they were all relieved to see Harry. Stan had been worried because of Winky’s reproachful attitude, and Harry felt guilty. He gave Ginny a penitent glance and set to work helping Stan and Kreacher in the dining room and behind the bar; he was afraid to venture into the kitchen and face Winky’s displeasure.

At five forty-five he noticed that Ginny had disappeared; Kreacher told him she had gone back upstairs, and Harry was somewhat annoyed that she had not stayed with him. He was becoming increasingly nervous, and kept up an agitated pacing between the front door and the bar. But at five minutes to six, the kitchen door opened and Ginny came through wearing the dress she had worn on her birthday, the one that had won the admiration of Aunt Muriel for it’s daring neck- and hemlines. But what made Harry’s—and Stan’s—breath catch was the veela necklace with the solitaire diamond lying on her chest above her plunging neckline. She looked so beautiful and desirable that Harry was afraid for a moment that he would lose all control.

He put his hand on the bar to steady himself. “Ginny,” he said in an unsteady voice, “you are . . . I mean, you are . . . you are—” She put her hand on the diamond, and, with her eyes ablaze, walked towards him. She seemed to glow, just as the candles in the veela candlesticks had, with a magical radiance.

At that moment the clock behind the bar struck six, and a steady string of loud pops sounded from just outside the door, accompanied by shouts of greeting and voices calling from the lane near the High Street. Harry took a final look at Ginny, together with a deep breath, and opened the front door.

There stood Ron and Hermione, Bill and Fleur, George and Lee—each with a young witch on his arm—Percy, Neville and Keesha, Luna and Dean, Dennis Creevey—Harry wondered how he had snuck out of school—and a dozen others, mostly members of Dumbledore’s Army.

More people were streaming down the lane: Rosmerta, Tony with a witch Harry assumed was his wife, a few other shopkeepers and residents of Hogsmeade, Hagrid but thankfully not Grawp, Professors Flitwick, Sprout, and Slughorn, and Madam Hooch.

The dining room was soon full, and Stan got busy serving drinks and taking orders from Kreacher; the elf was constantly running between the kitchen, the bar, and the tables. Harry and Ginny stood together by the bar, but Ginny was the center of everyone’s attention. She cast a glow of beauty over the entire room; Harry himself couldn’t take his eyes from her, and was barely aware of Ron sitting on a stool on his other side, chatting with Stan and throwing down firewhiskeys. Fleur got up from the table where she was sitting with the rest of the Weasleys, and spoke to Harry as she also admired Ginny.

“You know, ‘Arry, I said to Ginny at ‘er party zat when she put on ze necklace she became veela, and I ‘ave never seen zat before. I do not understand it, I ‘ave to admit.”

Harry took a breath. “I guess I know how Bill feels now. Thank you for giving it to her. It’s . . . it’s . . .” He struggled for a word. “It’s indescribable.”

Ginny was talking to Professor Slughorn, but she turned to Harry and Fleur. “I love it, and,” she grinned at Harry, “I love the way you look at me.”

Fleur nodded knowingly. “‘Zat is ‘ow it is supposed to work. It is all about love.” She kissed Harry’s cheek, hugged Ginny, and smiled at Slughorn, who turned a light shade of pink and followed her with his eyes as she returned to her table.

The Professor cleared his throat. “Well, Harry, my boy, you have done a top notch job here, and with Miss Weasley at your side you make a remarkable impression, the two of you. Don’t be a stranger at the castle, and do stop by and see me whenever you’re there.” He gave Ginny another appreciative glance and joined the other Hogwarts professors at their table.

Ron had been listening, and leaned toward them. “Two veelas in the family? Mum’s gonna have kittens.”

Harry laughed. “Where are your folks, anyway? I was hoping to see them.”

“They’ll be along. Mum’s really anxious to see the place, especially the kitchen.”

“She’d better stay out of Winky’s way,” Ginny said. “That elf won’t stand for anyone to butt in.”

“That’ll be interesting to see.” Ron set down his shot glass and looked around; Hermione was watching from the Weasley table and gave him a little wave of her hand. “That’s all for me, it’s butterbeer for the rest of the night. The place is brilliant, mate.”

Harry and Ginny spent the next hour visiting tables, chatting with their friends and family, enjoying the congratulations that everyone offered. Kreacher and Stan bustled back and forth, serving drinks and food. Molly and Arthur finally arrived, late because Molly had spent so much time on a cake she had baked for the inn.

Dumbledore’s Army were sitting at three tables they had pushed together in a corner, and when Harry and Ginny got to them they all stopped talking, and Harry noticed that the rest of the room had also fallen silent. Hermione, Ron, George, and Lee came to the table and Lee cleared his throat as the others took seats. Harry had been leaning over, talking to Neville about Keesha and Ginny’s encounter on the train with the Slytherin boys, when Ginny tapped his shoulder. He straightened and saw Lee holding two polished wooden tablets, each with a brass plate attached.

Lee nodded to Harry before turning and facing the silent dining room. He waited a few dramatic seconds, and spoke.

“Almost three years ago a small group of Hogwarts students met in this very room and formed an organization. At that time the place was a dump—no offense to those of us who wasted many a Hogsmeade weekend in it, savoring its unsavoriness. But we didn’t care. Something bad had happened at Hogwarts, and one of those students, Hermione Granger, had one of her many brilliant ideas. She asked Harry Potter to lead a rebellion against the people who wanted to disarm us and leave us defenseless against the evil that was about to come.

“At first Harry didn’t want to take up the mantle; he had never asked for it. But he decided to do it, and because of what he and the rest of us did as a result of that meeting, a lot of people are now not living in terror, not in jail, not dead. During that meeting, a certain fourth-year, red-haired girl suggested that we call our new group Dumbledore’s Army.” He nodded to Ginny and continued.

“Tonight we’re celebrating a new venture for Harry—”

“And for Ginny,” Harry called.

Lee grinned. “And for Ginny, because we know who is Harry’s inspiration.” Harry put his arm around her waist as Lee went on. “Well, here we are, having a grand time at Harry’s expense.” Everyone laughed, and several people called out, “Thanks, Harry!” and “Hear! Hear!”

Lee held up his hand. “As I was saying, here we are, and it’s not just because of Harry’s deciding to turn The Hog’s Head into this wonderful place. It’s also because he and a bunch of teenage rebels decided to stand and fight. So, Harry, on behalf of Dumbledore’s Army and everyone else in this room, and especially for two who lost their lives—” his voice caught, and for a moment he couldn’t speak; Molly Weasley and a few others wiped their eyes “— who lost their lives fighting for life and for freedom, I present to you, and to all of us, these two plaques. They’ll make sure that everyone who comes here never forgets what happened here.”

He handed them to Harry, who read them silently; Ginny peered over his shoulder. “Read them out loud,” she murmured.

He held up the first one. “It says, ‘In this room on October 5, 1995, the movement known as Dumbledore’s Army was founded by a group of Hogwarts students as an act of rebellion against tyranny. The inspiration for the D.A. came from Hermione Granger. The leadership was provided by Harry Potter. The name was given by Ginny Weasley. The fighting was done by everyone.’ And then it has a list of everyone’s name.”

He handed the plaque to Neville; he pointed out his name to Keesha and passed it on to Dean, and to the rest.

Harry cleared his throat. “The second plaque is a memorial. ‘In honor of the two members of Dumbledore’s Army who gave their lives in the fight for life and freedom.’ And then it says,” he paused and blinked, and Ginny put her hand on his back. “It says, ‘Fred Weasley, 1978 - 1998' and ‘Colin Creevey, 1981 - 1998'.”

In the silence that was broken only by the quiet sobs of Dennis Creevey, he handed the plaques back to Lee. Lee pointed to a spot on the wall behind the tables where the present members of Dumbledore’s Army were sitting, and Harry nodded. Lee took his wand from his pocket, and in a moment the plaques were affixed to the wall.

After a few more moments of silence, George Weasley stood. “Come on, people,” he said loudly, “Fred would be disgusted with this. It’s a party, not a funeral.” As everyone cheered, he walked over and clapped Dennis on the back. “Dennis, I know you didn’t sneak out of Hogwarts just to sit here and bawl. Colin is out there with Fred, and as long as you’re like this, he’s having a better time than you are.”

Susan Bones pushed a bottle of Potio Vitae in front of Dennis. “Thanks,” he said. “I’ll try to remember that.” He took a swig and looked at the label on the bottle. “Good stuff.”

The party went on. Harry spent most of his time at the DA table, trading stories about Dolores Umbridge and Cornelius Fudge. He was glad to notice that Cho and Michael Corner were having a good time together, and once, when he caught Ginny also looking at them, he smiled and she turned to him with the identical smile.

Ginny was sitting with her family, and most of the men in the room seemed to find an excuse, at one time or another, to visit that table. Harry was bedazzled when he saw Ginny and Fleur together; the veela necklace gave Ginny the same radiance that Fleur carried naturally, but he didn’t care how she came by it. Her beauty had grown to an almost unbearable level.

The hour grew late, and people started leaving. The Hogwarts teachers left first, except for Hagrid who was sitting with Tony and some other Hogsmeade people, regaling them with tales about all the nefarious characters he had met in the old Hogs Head. Molly Weasley tried unsuccessfully to find out from Ginny when she would be getting back to her dorm room that night, but Arthur finally pulled her away, and they could be heard arguing outside until they Disapparated.

Michael and Cho left together early, as did Bill and Fleur after Fleur kissed Harry and Ginny goodbye, and by midnight everyone was gone except Ron and Hermione. The four plus Stan sat together at a table; they had all helped Kreacher and Winky clean up, even while Kreacher complained non-stop about wizards who didn’t know where anything was supposed to be put away, and Winky’s similar grumbling whenever anyone had the temerity to step into the kitchen.

“Do you think we can go into Diagon Alley tomorrow morning for a couple of hours?” Ginny asked; she was holding Harry’s hands in hers, more to keep his off herself than anything else. “Hermione wants to show me that new dress shop.”

“Don’t you have homework?”

“I can do it in the afternoon, and I’ll also have some time when I get back to school.”

Harry yawned. “Sure, why not? Is that okay?” he said to Stan. “If we get there around ten, we can get back here by one or two in the afternoon.”

“Sure,” Stan nodded. “We’ll just be serving sandwiches. Take your time, ‘Arry, it’ll be fine.”

“Okay.” Harry frowned for a moment and looked at Ginny. “What about that, um, what Percy told us. We haven’t talked about it yet.”

Stan got to his feet. “I’ll just see what Kreacher needs doing in the kitchen. See you all tomorrow.”

As soon as he was gone Harry told Ron and Hermione about their luncheon in the Ministry that afternoon. “It’s getting late, so maybe we can talk about it at your place tomorrow. If those Death Eaters are all out of the country, though, I don’t see how they can be connected to the Dark Marks here in Hogsmeade.”

“I’m not sure,” Hermione said. “But that’s a lot to think about.” She poked her finger into Ron's side. “Come on, Ronnie, time for a little snuggly. Did you know your brother was ticklish?” She grinned at Ginny.

Ginny laughed. “It’s a well known family secret. I’m glad to see you’ve discovered it.”

“It wasn’t hard.”

“Okay, okay.” Ron took Hermione’s hand. “Knock it off, Ginny, or I’ll tell Harry about some of your own little secrets.”

“He already knows all of them.” Ginny stuck her tongue out at him.

They all walked to the front door, and Harry and Ginny watched as their friends Disapparated. They looked up at the sky; it had clouded over, and it was starting to feel a little cool. They put their arms around each other and Ginny sighed. ”That was a good party. I’m really glad you did this. Everybody had a great time.”

Harry lifted up the veela necklace. “Do you have any idea how beautiful you are? You made Fleur look like an old hag.”

“Oh, Harry,” Ginny giggled, “that’s sweet, but it’s not true. No one can make Fleur look less beautiful than she is.”

“So she’s not Phlegm anymore?”

“No, I was bitchy then. Well, maybe she was a little stuck up too. But I really like her, and I think she likes me. She loves you.”

“She loves all of us.” Harry put the necklace slowly back on her skin and ran his finger over it. “I think that when she talks about love, it isn’t just man-woman love. She’s talking about the kind of thing that Dumbledore used to harangue me about.”

They heard the kitchen door open in the dining room and Stan came out. “I’m off,” he announced. “You two ‘ave a good time in Diagon Alley tomorrow.”

Harry waved to him as he walked up the lane and turned onto the High Street. “And we need to be getting to bed too.” He smiled at Ginny, and she batted her eyes.

“Sleepy?” she asked.

“Maybe. Let’s go find out.”

Winky was snoring inside her cupboard, but there was no sign of Kreacher—Harry supposed he had found his own place to sleep—and they went upstairs. Harry lit the two remaining candles, and when he had put the second candlestick on his nightstand and turned around, Ginny was standing on the other side of the bed wearing nothing but the Veela necklace.

“Sleepy?” she repeated.

Harry could not speak. After staring at her for several moments with his breaths growing shorter and shorter, she took pity on him and pulled the covers back. They fell into bed, and as they made love, the veela necklace that lay between their bodies seemed to bind them together with a magical force. They slept entwined, and the sun was well up when they awoke.

Ron and Hermione were already up when Harry and Ginny arrived at their flat. They talked over tea about the escaped Death Eaters and the new situation in the Ministry.

“They were spotted in France, for God’s sake,” Ron declared. “How could they be in Hogsmeade and France at the same time? They’re too far apart to Apparate, and the Ministry would have known if they used a Portkey. There’s no way any of them could have put up those Dark Marks or killed the weasel.”

Hermione frowned. “But if not them, then who? Two Dark Marks, the dead weasel, those Imperiused men, Turquoise Southeby’s behavior, those Slytherin prats . . . It just seems like a lot of things are going on up there.”

“You can’t lump the Slytherins in with the Dark Marks,” said Harry. “They’re just a pack of gits. One of them’s a Lestrange, another one’s a Rookwood. Doesn’t that say it all?”

“I agree with Harry,” Ginny said. “Kleinhead is just a bully. He’s too stupid to plan something as complicated as finding two homeless wizards—or one wizard and a Squib—Imperiusing them, and killing a weasel just to spook Ron and me. What they did in the cellars was pathetic. I think that either Luna or I could have handled them alone.”

Hermione shrugged. “I can’t explain a lot of it, I admit, but it’s all too coincidental. I still think someone is out to get Harry.”

Harry huffed a breath. “They wouldn’t be the first. So far it’s just been annoying. Except,” he added quickly as Ginny raised her eyebrows, “for what the Slytherins tried to do. But that’s actually a clue that they didn’t have anything to do with the Dark Marks. You’re right, Gin.”

“And that proves how stupid they are,” Ginny smirked.

“Okay, so we know squat about what’s happening in Hogsmeade,” Ron said, “but what about the Ministry? I guess Percy is in for a nice promotion.”

“And he deserves it,” declared Ginny. “He did the right thing, even though his boss was the one who was screwing up.”

They talked around the Ministry’s problems for a few more minutes, but only Hermione thought there was a connection to what was happening in Hogsmeade. Finally she stood. “We just don’t have enough information, so,” she grinned at Ginny, “let’s go shopping.” Harry and Ron decided to stay in the flat, and Ginny and Hermione left.

Diagon Alley was crowded; the weather was cool and it looked like it might rain later in the day, so people were taking advantage of a few clear hours. Ginny and Hermione had to push through the throngs, but were in no hurry. They window-shopped along the way, looking into a jewelry shop and a few shoe stores. The dress shop was past Gringotts. They stood outside for a few minutes looking at the displays before going in.

The owner was a tall, elegant witch with a graceful way of moving. She turned out to be an old friend of Molly’s, and was also the designer of most of the dresses and robes in her store. She and Ginny got into a discussion about some of the newer styles that witches were now wearing. Hermione was at the front of the store browsing a rack of winter robes, when she heard, “Miss Weasley, are you all right?” She turned to see Ginny leaning on a counter, staring at the door with an alarmed expression.

“Ginny, what is it?” she cried, and rushed over to her.

“Harry,” said Ginny, and pushed past Hermione. “Something’s happened. We have to get back to the inn.”

“But what . . . how do you know?”

Ginny was already out the door trying to move through the crowd when Hermione caught her. “Ginny! Wait! What are you doing?”

Ginny stopped and looked at her, wide-eyed. “I don’t know how I know, but I know. I don’t think he’s in danger, or Ron, but something happened and he wants me.”

She began forcing her way past people who were stopped at a vendor’s cart; they sent annoyed looks at her and Hermione, and a few yelled at them. When they were in sight of the Wheezes, they saw Harry and Ron standing in the doorway, looking over the crowd. Ginny jumped and waved, and Harry spotted her and waved back; he watched anxiously until Ginny and Hermione were there, and pulled them into the shop.

Ginny could hear a low humming sound, and Harry held up his wand. “Something set off the spell. The inn was attacked again. We have to get back.”

Chapter Text

Harry and Ginny were the first to Apparate into the field behind the inn, but a quick succession of pops followed as Ron, Hermione, George, and Lee Apparated. Harry and Ginny ran hand-in-hand towards the inn, and saw in dismay a large Dark Mark leering at them from the back wall. But Ginny suddenly gasped and almost stumbled; Harry pulled her up and followed her finger pointing at the roof line. “No!” he screamed. “God damn them!”

The middle chimney was gone. A few bricks lay on the ground next to the back door, but there had to be a larger pile of rubble on the other side.

“God, I hope no one was hurt,” Ginny said almost as a moan. Everyone stopped and stood a few feet from the building looking up at the wall and the roof.

The back door burst open and Stan came out, his face white, holding his wand.

“‘Arry, thank Merlin you’re back. They ‘it the inn back ‘ere, then they went around front, but someone saw them and they Disapparated. It was just a couple of minutes ago.”

Harry raced through the inn, pulling Ginny after him. The front door was open, and the dozen people standing just outside moved aside when they saw him. He stepped past them and swore again. A large pile of bricks, stones, and chimney pipes lay in a heap next to the front wall.

He walked over to it, feeling a lump form in his throat. He looked at Ginny and saw his own anger and fear mirrored in her face. As Hermione and Ron appeared from the dining room, Harry looked up at the sloped roof and saw what was left of the chimney. Somehow the crashing debris had missed the sign; the smiling pig gazed down on them unscathed.

“George and Lee stayed out back,” Ron said. “I told them to wait there, just in case.”

Before Harry could respond, he heard a familiar voice call his name. He turned and saw Luna walking with Keesha towards them from the High Street; both of them had their wands out.

“Hi, Harry,” Luna said matter-of-factly. “I think I winged one, but they got away. There were three. It was such an elegant chimney too. Maybe you can repair it.”

“Luna!” Harry cried. “What are you doing here?” Everything was becoming confused, he couldn’t think straight.

“Oh, we finished our homework and decided to pay you a visit. And here we are.” Luna smiled. “Hi, Ginny, it’s too bad to see you like this, but all things considered, it was lucky we got here when we did. I think they were going to do more damage.”

Harry was finding it difficult to keep from screaming at Luna’s maddening calmness. “Who? Who were they? Did you see their faces? Luna!” His nose was inches from her smile, and he felt a tug on his arm as Ginny pulled him back.

“Keesha,” Ron said calmly, “what exactly did you see?”

Keesha took a breath. “We had just turned off the High Street and we heard an explosion, and then the chimney came down. I thought at first it had just collapsed, but then we saw three people run around this side. One of them pointed his wand at the roof, but Luna shot a Stunning Spell, and they Disapparated.”

“Excuse me,” said another familiar voice; everyone turned to see Turquoise Southeby standing a few yards away in the open field next to the inn; somehow, no one had noticed her. Harry’s jaw clamped shut, and he could feel Ginny’s grip on his arm tighten. He glanced at her; she was glaring at Southeby and her wand was pointing half-way between the ground and the blond witch.

“What?” said Harry curtly, feeling another surge of anger rising in his craw; he partly raised his own wand, hoping it would give her an inkling of his state of mind.

“Oh, Harry, please,” she laughed and gestured at their wands. “I just wanted to say that I saw those people too and there were only two of them.”

“No!” exclaimed Keesha. “There were three. I saw them.”

Harry stared at Southeby, unable to fathom what she wanted or what she was talking about. He turned to the people standing nearby who had been in the inn; a few of the wizards were eyeing Turquoise, whose bodice was tight and low-cut. “Did anyone see who did this? Or how many there were?”

They all shook their heads. Luna turned and fixed a steady gaze at Turquoise, who lost her smile. “You are mistaken,” Luna said. “How could there be only two when I saw three?”

“Well, I’m not . . . I mean, I did see them. I was right up there in the post office.”

“On Sunday?” Luna’s eyebrows arched.

The silence was suddenly broken by a loud crack, and Morequest Pester Apparated directly in front of Luna. She jumped back, startled, but quickly gave him her most serene smile.

“Hello, Professor,” she said in a tone as close to sarcasm as anyone present had ever heard from her, “we need some defenses against the Dark Arts.”

Pester’s appearance snapped Harry out of the fog that had enveloped his brain. He yanked his arm from Ginny’s hand and pointed his finger at the Professor.

“Well look who’s here. How nice of you to show up,” he snarled. “A little late again, though, aren’t you? Did the owl get lost this time, or was your head stuck in your lesson plan? Got to keep one jump ahead of the class, don’t you. Or maybe your head was stuck up someplace else.”

A few of the patrons sniggered, Turquoise giggled, and Hermione gasped. Pester’s face darkened. He started to speak but closed his mouth and looked at the pile of rubble and the roof.

“You’re upset, Potter,” he said quietly. “But you should watch what you say, it could get you in trouble.”

Harry pointed to the roof. “I’m already in trouble. A man’s supposed to be able to live his life in peace, especially after he—” He stopped and looked at Ginny; she took his hand, which was in the middle of a gesture at Pester, and laced her fingers through his.

Harry turned to Pester. “Just do your job,” he said tersely, and walked a few yards away, shaking with anger. Ginny came with him and they both stood silently.

Everyone looked up the lane at Tony Trostle and his foreman Carlos, running towards them. “Harry!” Tony shouted, “I heard the explosion, but I didn’t think—Merlin, what did they do?” He looked at the pile of bricks, and up at the roof and swore. “Was anyone hurt? Did anyone see them?”

“No one was hurt,” Harry answered, “and Luna and Keesha saw them. There were three.”

“No, no, Harry, there were only two,” Turquoise said. She moved closer to him, smiled, and took a deep breath; her bosom rose and fell.

Ginny had had enough. Ignoring everyone and everything, she stepped in front of Harry and poked her finger hard against the witch’s collarbone. Turquoise stepped back; she was several inches taller than Ginny but seemed to shrink as Ginny spoke.

“Listen, Southeby, I don’t care what you saw and I don’t care what you wear or don’t wear. You mind your own fucking business, understand?” She brought her wand up between them and fixed Turquoise with a glare beyond blazing.

Turquoise stepped back again, but incongruously smiled, then turned wordlessly and walked away, swaying her hips. Ginny pointed her wand at her back, but at that instant Hermione pushed the wand down. “No,” she whispered, “she’s only trouble.”

Ginny glared at Hermione, but put her wand away, and Harry put his hand on her shoulder. Turquoise stopped and stood next to Pester.

“Well, Weasley,” said the Professor, smiling slightly at Ron, “do you remember anything from your training?”

An hour later, Harry and Ginny were sitting at a table in the dining room, not speaking. Harry played with a fork and kept his eyes down; Ginny watched him with her lips pressed into a thin line. Ron and Hermione were at the same table, morosely looking at each other and the other two. Behind the bar, Stan silently wiped the counter over and over. Kreacher sat on the floor next to the kitchen door with his back against the wall; his ancient, wrinkled face was blank as he stared into space.

There were no customers in the dining room. George and Lee had returned to Diagon Alley after Harry told them there was no point in standing watch behind the building any longer. The only sounds were the voices of Tony and his crew foreman, discussing in Spanish how to repair the chimney.

Morequest Pester had questioned Luna, Keesha, Turquoise, and a few of the customers who had been in the inn. No one had seen or heard anything until the explosion and the crash of the chimney on the roof; everyone had ducked under tables when the avalanche of debris came down. Some of them said they heard a scream just as the culprits were Disapparating, but not everyone had. Turquoise insisted that there were only two attackers; she said she saw them run in front of the building, and saw the spell that Luna had shot at them; it had missed, she said.

Luna didn’t say much after Pester had arrived, except to answer his questions; she just stared serenely at him until he seemed to become annoyed and asked what her problem was. She smiled and told him there were no more problems, since she had finished her homework.

Keesha was positive that she had seen three attackers. She became angry at Turquoise who told her she didn’t know what she was talking about. Pester had to step between them and asked Southeby to wait back at the post office so he could talk to her again later.

Keesha and Luna left, and Pester walked around the inn and stared at the Dark Mark. He gestured at it with his wand to no effect. He also went inside, looked into all the storerooms and cupboards, and said that he wanted to see the flat. Harry refused, and Pester stared at him for a few moments before turning and, without a word, walking across the field to the post office.

Now Ginny, Hermione, and Ron sat unhappily in the dining room, waiting for Harry to speak or do something. But it was Tony who broke the silence. He came inside, his face grim.

“I can’t repair it magically,” he said. “Whatever they hit it with put some kind of jinx on it and we can’t get rid of it. We’ll have to rebuild.”

Harry stood and strode to the door, pulling out his wand as he walked outside; everyone followed. He pointed his wand at the rubble. ”Reparo,” he said in a low voice. Some of the bricks moved slightly and Tony’s eyebrows went up.

Harry glared at the debris and flicked his wand. ”Reparo!” he shouted, and everyone jumped back as bricks, stones, shingles, and pipes suddenly soared up to the roof in a cloud of dust. In five seconds the intact chimney was back in place.

“How in the hell did you do that?” Tony muttered, almost to himself. He looked at Harry’s wand. “How did you do that?”

Harry’s smile was tight-lipped and brief. “My wand broke last year, but I repaired it and for some reason it got stronger.” He put it back inside his belt and avoided looking at anyone.

“What about the Dark Mark?” Ginny said.

“Oh, yeah, that.” Harry gave her the same mirthless smile. “Might as well get rid of it. Or maybe not. Maybe if I leave it they’ll leave me alone.” His voice was bitter.

“Harry.” Ginny reached for his hand; he let her take it and looked at her in misery and frustration. Ginny felt a stab in her heart; it had been a long time since she had seen that look. “Come.” She put her hand on his chest, knowing how much he liked that. She glanced at Ron, and he led the way around back. Ginny held Harry’s hand tightly, and gradually he returned the pressure.

The awful mark covered about twenty feet of the wall and extended almost to the second story. The skull seemed to mock them, and the serpent it was vomiting was almost too realistic with its mouth gaping and its fangs extended. Ron pointed his wand and tried a simple Scourgify, an Erasing spell, and a few variations he had learned in the training program. Nothing worked. Hermione, Ginny, and Tony all tried, unsuccessfully. Finally they looked at Harry. He was glaring at the Mark.

“Your Reparo worked brilliantly,” Ginny said. “Ron, what was that last spell you tried? I thought the Mark faded a little.”

“Yeah, I thought so too. Depero. It’s a little like Evanesco, but it’s supposed to be stronger. You have to give your wand kind of a stuttering movement.” He showed the motion to Harry, who looked at him dubiously.

‘I never even heard of it. Show it again.”

Ron repeated the motion and stood back as Harry faced the wall.

”Depero!” he said loudly; the Mark faded perceptibly and everyone cheered, but it came back as clear as before. Harry looked at Ron, his brow furrowed.

“You stuttered the wand twice. You have to do it at least three times.” Ron held Harry’s hand and showed him.

Harry pointed his wand. ”Depero!” The Mark disappeared, and everyone cheered again. Harry clapped Ron on his back. “Nice spell, mate. You’ll have to teach me some more of those.”

Ron looked proud. “Maybe I should break my wand and get it fixed by—ouch!” He grabbed his shin where Hermione had kicked it and started hopping in place.

“Come on,” Harry said before Tony could ask questions, “I’m hungry.”

Winky served sandwiches, and Stan put out bottles of butterbeer and Potio Vitae. Tony told Harry he was going to organize a village watch to keep an eye on things. “After everything you’ve done for us, it’s the least we can do for you. No!” he put his hand up to stop Harry’s protest. “It’s true, and it’s also good for business. If this keeps up, people will start to be frightened again. When the Death Eaters took over the village last spring, no one went anywhere or spent any money. It was a disaster. I will not let that happen again.”

“Well, thanks, Tony,” Harry mumbled. “I really appreciate it.”

“So now what?” asked Ron after Tony and Carlos left; he finished off a butterbeer and set the bottle down. “Do you want us to stay? I don’t have to be at the Ministry until tomorrow morning.” He looked at Hermione, and she frowned.

“I was supposed to go back to the Institute for a few hours, but I can owl Madam Geneva. This is more important.”

Harry looked gratefully at his friends. “I really think it’ll be okay. I’ll put wards on the building tonight. I don’t know what I can do in the long run, though, except find out who’s doing it.”

“I was thinking about that,” Hermione said. “I thought it was very interesting that Turquoise Southeby was in the post office, just when they attacked. She never answered Luna’s question about why she was there on a Sunday.”

Ginny scowled fiercely. “If that bitch had anything to do with it, I’ll give her bat bogeys in places she never even knew existed.”

They all laughed, and Harry leaned over and kissed her. “That would be a treat. I agree with Luna and you,” he said to Hermione. “I don’t’ trust her.”

“Well, there’s something else,” Hermione said. “When you sent the owl to Pester last week, was she at the post office?”

“Of course she was! That explains why he never got it.”

“I didn’t know you could sabotage owls,” Ron said skeptically. “I never heard of it. You can intercept them, even kill them, but if you give an owl directions, it will follow them no matter what someone else tells it. I’m sure of that.”

“Why are you so sure?” Hermione said. “And maybe she told someone else about it, and they intercepted it somehow.”

“I guess,” Ron said reluctantly. “But that would be tampering with the post. Very un-British, if you ask me.” Hermione rolled her eyes.

“You have to admit, though, she’s a prime suspect,” Harry said to Ron.

“Well, she does act bloody weird sometimes, but maybe she’s just nutters.”

The afternoon passed, but no customers came. A few people wandered down the lane to look up at the roof and stare at the wall in back, but they all left.

Harry became more and more glum; he sat at the table and glanced at the door whenever anyone appeared out front, but when they went away he slumped lower in his chair and the look on his face became darker. Ron and Hermione talked quietly to each other, but Ginny watched Harry and became more anxious as he became more gloomy.

Winky brought in a large tureen of thick vegetable soup and a large loaf of sourdough bread. Kreacher dished out bowls to each of them, and both elves returned to the kitchen. Harry ate only a few spoonfuls and a small piece of bread, then sat back again and stared at the table with his arms folded.

Ron finished his bowl of soup and tore off half the loaf and started on it. “So, what about those wards, mate? If you want to use them, I’ll give you a hand, but we’ll have to leave if we’re going back to Diagon Alley tonight.”

Harry glanced at Ginny. “Everyone will have to leave, Stan and . . . you have to get back to school, Gin. You said you have homework.”

Ginny shook her head. “I’m staying. I can do it tomorrow morning.”

A look of utter relief spread over Harry’s face. “Are you sure? Won’t you get in trouble.”

“I don’t care. Besides, the worst they can do is give me detention.”  She smiled. “I decided a while ago. I should have told you, I’m sorry.”

Harry’s eyes brimmed, and he blinked rapidly. “Thanks.” His voice faltered. He looked at Ron. “Let’s do it now.”

Stan closed up the bar, closed the shutters, and said goodnight. The four said goodbye to each other and Ron and Hermione stepped outside. Ron and Harry put the warding spells on the building, and Ron and Hermione Disapparated back to London.

“Well, that’s that,” Harry said as they stood by themselves in the stillness and the dim light of a few candles. Harry put them out and felt his way to Ginny and embraced her; he held her close, but not tightly. She raised her head and he kissed her gently; she lay her head on his chest and Harry stroked her hair, saying nothing, and after a moment Ginny felt his tears on her forehead. She looked up.

“It’s going to be okay,” she whispered and wiped the wetness from his face. “We’re safe. No one can touch the inn now.”

“Ginny, I feel like you’re the only thing I have in the world.” Harry’s voice shook. “I know Ron and Hermione will always be there, but they have their own lives now. They always came when I needed them, but I can’t ask them to be that way anymore. If I didn’t have you, I don’t know what I would do.”

“And I will always be here. I told you that last night.”

Harry was silent. “I know you mean that,” he said after a moment, “but tomorrow night I’ll be alone, and I hate that. It’s not your fault, I chose to buy the inn and to be here.” He wiped his face with his sleeve and sniffled. “This is stupid. I really don’t need you to be here all the time.” Ginny could just make out the tiny twitch of his smile in the gloom. “Well, actually I do,” he admitted, “but I know you can’t.”

She put her hands on his chest. “That’s how I feel. I want to be here but I can’t.”

There was a long pause. Ginny put her arms around him again and this time they held each other tightly. The room was completely dark.

Ginny sensed a change in Harry’s mood, and he began to speak hesitantly, haltingly. “Maybe we can, you know . . . sometime . . . maybe after school is out . . . get . . . you know . . .”

“Married?”

“Well, yeah, that’s what I was thinking.”

“That won’t make a difference now, Harry. I’ll still have to live in the dorm.”

“I know, but . . .” He suddenly let her go and groped for a chair. He lit his wand and sat; Ginny came to the table and sat across from him. Harry tapped the base of his wand on the tabletop and the tip flared. “I shouldn’t have said that. I’m sorry, Ginny. I love you, but that wasn’t the right thing to say, at least not now.”

“I love you, too. I did like the question,” she grinned, “so save it for later, okay?”

He finally smiled. “Sure.”

“Let’s go upstairs.”

Ginny came and pulled him out of his chair. They went through the kitchen and heard both Kreacher and Winky snoring from cupboards on opposite sides of the room. Up in the flat, Harry lit a fire and they sat in the love seat, staring at the flames, holding hands, hearing nothing but the occasional flutter of McPherson stretching his wings. Ginny moved closer to Harry and climbed into his lap. After a few minutes of heavy snogging, Harry picked her up and carried her into the bedroom.

The next morning after breakfast Harry removed the warding spells from the inn, and decided to go back to Hogwarts with Ginny and talk to Professor Flitwick again about protective spells. They walked through Hogsmeade and up the drive to the castle. They kissed goodbye at the portrait hole and Harry went around to the Professor’s office, but Flitwick was not there. He borrowed a quill and a piece of parchment from a passing student and wrote out a message and shoved it under the door. He thought for a moment, and, with a smile and a glance in the direction of Gryffindor Tower, headed downstairs to the library to see what he could learn on his own about protective magic.

When Ginny came through the portrait hole into the common room, Ritchie Coote, one of the Gryffindor prefects, was waiting for her with a note from Argus Filch, countersigned by Professor McGonagall, informing her that any more late weekend returns would cost her a detention. As soon as Ritchie turned his back she balled it up and threw it into the fireplace.

She hurried upstairs to her room to dump her dirty clothes and pick up a few books and rolls of parchment. Sarah and Christina both stared at her, but didn’t dare ask any questions, and Ginny went back downstairs and headed for the library.

She spotted Harry as soon as she got there, and plunked her book bag on the table in front of him. He looked up, startled, but returned her grin. “I thought you’d be coming down here,” he said. “Have a seat.”

“What are you doing here?” she asked in a low voice. “I thought you were seeing Flitwick.”

“He wasn’t there. I decided to do some research on my own. See?” He held up a thick, well-worn copy of Perlman’s Passive and Protective Charms.

Ginny smiled and sat next to him with a quick kiss. They held hands as they studied, even after Madam Pince passed behind them and cleared her throat loudly. They glanced around and she stood for a moment glaring at them, but when they both smiled back she hmmphed and strode away.

Ginny left Harry in the library at ten o’clock for her first class, Transfiguration. Professor McGonagall looked at her for a moment when she came in, but said nothing. Ginny took a seat next to Keesha.

“Are you okay?” Keesha asked. “Did you come back last night?”

Ginny shook her head. “Harry was in pretty bad shape, I couldn’t leave him. He’s better now, but I don’t know what he’s going to do about the inn.”

“If you ask me he should hex that bitch. I guarantee you she’s at the bottom of it.”

“I’m not sure about that,” Luna said from behind; she had just come in the classroom and sat next to Ginny. “But there is something wrong with her. I never saw anyone behave so dreadfully.”

“Whatever is wrong with her can be cured by large quantities of strategically applied Bulbadox powder,” Keesha said. Luna was about to respond when Professor McGonagall called their attention. For the rest of the hour they were busy trying to Transfigure a photograph of a cat into a real one using non-verbal incantations, and they had no time to discuss Turquoise Southeby.

Ginny went back to the library after class, but Harry was gone. She worked on a Muggle Studies parchment, and at noon went to lunch. She entered the Great Hall, saw Emma and Claire waving at her, and sat across from them. “Hi, girls, how was your weekend?”

“Excellent,” said Emma. “We were down by the lake and saw the Giant Squid!”

“Always a treat,” Ginny grinned. “I think I’ve only seen it three or four times.”

“How is Harry?” asked Claire, and for a moment Ginny wasn’t sure what to say.

“Well,” she replied slowly, “he’s okay now, but yesterday someone drew a Dark Mark on his inn again and they also knocked over the chimney. But he fixed that, and got rid of the Dark Mark. He was pretty upset, though.”

“It couldn’t have been those Slytherin prats,” Emma declared. “They had detention all weekend. Everyone heard how you petrified them, Ginny.”

“I didn’t petrify them,” Ginny said with a small frown, remembering the trail of Basilisk victims. “I don’t even know how to do that. I used Petrificus totalus. That’s a body binding spell. It just sounds like petrifying.”

The twins nodded and Ginny began eating, but just then Jimmy Peakes sat down next to her

 “Hey, Jimmy,” she greeted him, “did anyone else sign up? I didn’t get a chance to check the list this morning.”

He looked at her a little askance. “You didn’t come back last night, did you?” When Ginny ignored the question he went on. “So when will you reschedule the tryouts?”

“What do you mean?” Ginny put down her fork; it was still holding several chunks of baked macaroni. “Why do I have to reschedule? I already reserved the pitch for Saturday morning.”

“McGonagall announced a memorial service for Saturday morning. Attendance is required. The pitch is still free in the afternoon, though.”

Ginny swore and slammed her fist on the table; the twins exchanged glances, and Jimmy moved away a few inches. “Well, I may have to postpone the tryouts,” she scowled at him. “My weekends are . . . busy.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t be captain, if Quidditch isn’t that important to you. It’s important to a lot of other people.”

Ginny glowered at her plate, then at Jimmy. “We’ll have the tryouts Saturday afternoon. All right?” He nodded and turned to his food, ignoring Ginny for the rest of the meal.

Ginny also ate in silence, not looking up from her plate. She could tell that the twins were watching her, and after a few mouthfuls of macaroni and cheese she smiled at them.

“Harry told Hagrid that he’d come to your Care of Magical Creatures class tomorrow. We heard you were studying Pygmy Puffs. Do you like them?”

The girls nodded enthusiastically.  “We sent an owl to our parents asking if we could get some as pets,” said Emma. “We know exactly how to feed them and take care of them now. Our mum and dad don’t know much about magical creatures, though. We wanted to buy an owl when we were in Diagon Alley, but they said the cat would eat it. Or was it that it would eat the cat?”

Her humor partially restored, Ginny spent the rest of the meal discussing Pygmy Puffs with Emma and Claire. The girls left for their next class, and Ginny left for Defense Against the Dark Arts. But by the time she got to the classroom she was again in a foul mood, for several reasons. She did not want to see Pester; she was afraid that Keesha and Luna would start talking about Turquoise Southeby again; and she now had to face the prospect of telling Harry that her entire Saturday was tied up. He probably would want to go with her to the memorial service, but he would also want her to be at the inn for the rest of the day. So did she, but she didn’t know now how it was going to work out.

Jimmy Peakes’ retort had stung. She had been appointed captain; it was her team. She was certain that Jimmy coveted the job; he was a good but not great Quidditch player, and there was no guarantee that he would make the team, unless he was captain.

She was one of the first to arrive in the classroom, and sat at an empty desk near the back. Keesha and Luna soon joined her, but no one talked about Turquoise. Luna just smiled, and Keesha only asked Ginny if she had finished her homework. When Pester entered he walked quickly to the front and told them to practice non-verbal spells again. Ginny and Ruth Madison both did well, and the Professor did not speak to them.

The Slytherin boys were also in class, sitting right behind Ginny, but Jace Kleinhead studiously avoided looking at her. Pester ended the practice session, and launched into another lecture about Unforgivable Curses, but this time he used examples from his own experience as an Auror, and Ginny actually found it interesting. He talked about a case from his first year as a professional Auror in which two witches had taken turns Imperiusing the same wizard because he had proposed marriage to both of them. But the case had ended tragically when he finally married one and the jilted witch, in a fit of hysteria, killed him and his bride with Avada Kedavras.

“She only omitted the Cruciatus from her list of crimes,” he concluded, “and she languishes in Azkaban to this day. These types of domestic disputes, if that’s what this was, rarely end with an Unforgivable Curse being used, but it does happen.”

The three girls went down to their Potions class together. “Pester is a strange duck,” said Keesha. “He certainly knows his subject, but he’s so full of himself that he gets in his own way.”

“I hope he talked to Miss Southeby,” Luna said. “She’s at least as full of herself as he is.”

Ginny kept her mouth tightly shut. This was a topic she did not want to discuss, and she was also wondering what their Potions class would be like, with herself, Jace, and Professor Slughorn together in the same room. And she was still worrying how Harry would react when she told him about Saturday.

Potions was uneventful as far as any problem with Jace was concerned—Professor Slughorn spent a good part of the hour in back, directly behind the table where Jace was sitting. But Ginny’s concerns about Harry and Quidditch distracted her; her Oblivious Unction came out of her cauldron a sickening shade of puce instead of milky blue, and she had to throw it all away at the end of the class. Jace smirked and she glared back. Slughorn followed the boy out of the dungeon, but Ginny went directly upstairs with Luna and didn’t see where those two went. She headed to Madam Hooch’s office and reserved the Quidditch pitch for Saturday afternoon, then went on up to Gryffindor Tower.

Back in her room she composed a love note to Harry but didn’t say anything about the memorial service or the change in Quidditch plans; she wanted to tell him in person when they met at Hagrid’s class tomorrow. Bailey flew off with the note, while Ginny went back down to the common room to see what the tryout sheet looked like.

There were only two more sign-ups, but neither was for Keeper. Now she was starting to worry about that too; Dennis’s enthusiastic aggressiveness would only take him and the team so far. Ron’s attitude had been similar to Dennis’s—at least when he wasn’t vomiting—but Ron had a height advantage. He was at least eight inches taller, and his arms were very long. She sighed; maybe the team’s experience at the Beater position could make up for Dennis’s deficiencies.

The twins came down and Ginny went with them to dinner. They had just had another Transfiguration class, and were full of bubbly exuberance about matchsticks and pins. Jimmy didn’t bother her at dinner, and after a few hours studying in the library with Luna and Keesha, she went back to her room.

Bailey was there with a hot reply from Harry. Ginny sent one back, asking when he would be looking at her on the Marauder’s Map. She became drowsy while awaiting his reply, so she sat in a chair by the window, and it was both Bailey and McPherson who woke her up; Bailey tapped on the glass while McPherson perched on the gargoyle. Ginny took the note without opening it—she wanted to read it in bed with her hangings closed—and the birds reversed their positions, McPherson giving her another small package from Honeydukes with more Chocoballs. Ginny ate one, put the others on her dresser, and got into bed; she closed the hangings and read Harry’s letter.

 

 

 

My Beautiful Ginny,

Enjoy the Chocoballs; I had one myself just to remind me of how sweet your kisses are, and how I can’t get enough of them. I heard that there will be a memorial service at the castle on Saturday morning, and I thought that afterward we could go back to London with Ron and Hermione and do some sightseeing, just like Muggles. They say that London is a great place for tourists. Or, if you want, we could go someplace else, like the village we used to visit near Shell Cottage.

It doesn’t matter to me where we go. I love you so much that the only thing that matters is being with you.

I will be looking at the map as soon as I send the owls off. I’ll probably fall asleep with it on the pillow next to me, where you should be but aren’t.

I will see you tomorrow at Hagrid’s class. I really like Emma and Claire.

Love, Harry

“Damn,” Ginny swore to herself; she did not want this to happen, she did not want to have to choose between Harry and Quidditch. Maybe there was some way to combine them; maybe she could convince him to come to the tryouts. But when she considered that option, she knew it would not work. She would be too conscious of his presence, and he would be a distraction to the others. The only thing she could do was postpone the tryouts for another week.

But the more she thought, the less she liked it. She shouldn’t have to make that choice, Harry should understand. And maybe he would; maybe she was making too much of it. And she could make it up to him in the evening.

That thought made her wiggle her toes, and she closed her eyes and smiled to herself. She remembered that Harry was looking at the map, and moved her legs and feet about under the covers. A warm feeling engulfed her and she knew Harry had seen her and was thinking about her—and she was pretty sure what the details of those thoughts were. She turned on her side and was asleep in a few minutes.

#  #  # #

Harry was waiting for Ginny in the entrance hall at eleven o’clock the next morning, and they went out into an overcast, slightly muggy late summer morning, to walk down to Hagrid’s class. Harry was in a buoyant mood, and he took Ginny’s hand and swung it back and forth as they walked.

“I got a new spell from Perlman’s Charms, and Professor Flitwick helped me refine it. It’s called Anapido. It sends whatever you throw at it back at you.” He laughed. “I tossed a rock at the wall after I put the spell up, and it came back and almost cracked my skull. Winky and Kreacher were watching and I thought she would die laughing. Then I tried a blasting spell on the rain gutter and I almost got hit when that flew back. Ginny, we may have found the answer. Now I’ve got Proeido to warn and Anapido to repel. Flitwick said that if someone is really persistent, they could penetrate it, but it would take time, and it would set the Proeido off. Isn’t that brilliant?” He took her other hand and whirled her around as she shrieked with laughter.

“It’s brilliant!” Ginny was delighted, but when her head stopped spinning she felt a pang, hoping what she was going to tell him about Saturday afternoon wouldn’t burst his bubble. She decided to wait until after Hagrid’s class to break the news.

When they reached the gamekeeper’s cabin, the Gryffindor and Slytherin first years were gathered around two tables outside the door. Ginny noticed that the three Slytherins who had been Sorted first—Abigail Abernathy, Sean Allen, and Zoroaster Black—were at the table with the Gryffindors, making it more crowded. There were about two dozen Pygmy Puffs sitting on the tables, raising quite a racket with their loud chirps; they were a variety of shades of purple and pink. Hagrid was walking around the tables, talking to the students who were feeding and watering the little creatures.

“Now don’t force ‘em to drink too fast,” he was saying. “It’ll just come out the other end, and they won’t be too perticuler about where they do it or who they do it on.” There was a burst of giggling, and Emma looked up and waved to the visitors. Hagrid turned and beamed. “Hey, everyone! Didn’t I tell yeh that Harry Potter would be comin’ to see us? And here’s Ginny Weasley too.”

Everyone turned. The Gryffindors cheered and swarmed around Harry and Ginny, but most of the Slytherins held back, uncertain. Emma and Claire pushed to the front of the crowd, gleeful smiles on their faces.

“Okay, okay, quiet yerselves down!” Hagrid boomed. “Now, Harry, would yeh mind tellin’ the kids about some of the magical creatures yeh learned about here.” He winked at him. “Maybe some a’ the friendlier ones.”

“Sure.” Harry smiled and turned to the students. “The best magical creature I ever met is right over there.” He pointed to the large enclosure down towards the Forbidden Forest. “He’s a hippogriff named Buckbeak. He saved my life a couple of times, and he fought during the battle last spring. You have to be very respectful of him, though. He’s very proud.”

“‘That’s right,” Hagrid said. “Yeh’ll be learnin’ about him in yer third year. Ginny, what about you, what was yer favorite magical creature?”

“Unicorns, no doubt. They’re so pure and beautiful. I love Pygmy Puffs too, especially to cuddle.” She took a Puff that Claire handed her and stroked it. “I used to own one named Arnold.” She grinned and some of the students laughed.

“Is everyone enjoying the class?” Harry asked. “How about you?” he said to the lanky, dark-haired Slytherin boy, who was watching him closely. “What’s your name?”

“Zoroaster Black,” the boy said into the sudden silence.

Harry stared at him. “Are . . . were you related to Sirius Black?”

“He was my second cousin. I never knew him, though, and my parents never talked about him.”

“He was my godfather,” said Harry. “Did you know that?”

The boy nodded. “I’m sorry he was killed.”

Hagrid cleared his throat. “Well, that’s nice, Zoro. Okay, everyone back to what yeh were doin’.”

Ginny and Harry wandered around the tables for a while, and even the Slytherins warmed up and chatted with them. Harry kept looking at Zoroaster, and finally Ginny said, “He does look a little like Sirius, doesn’t he?”

“He does.”

When the class ended, Emma and Claire walked back to the castle with Harry and Ginny. They talked about the Pygmy Puffs, and asked about unicorns and hippogriffs, but when they got to the front steps Ginny stopped. “Why don’t you two go on up?” she said to the twins. “I’ll meet you in the Great Hall.”

“I’ll be there, too,” Harry called as they disappeared into the entrance hall. He turned to Ginny. “What’s up? Did you like the Chocoballs? I told the people at Honeydukes to keep a good supply on hand. I’ll be buying a lot of them.” He took Ginny’s hands and grinned at her.

Ginny didn’t smile. She had decided just to say it.

“Something’s come up on Saturday afternoon. I have to hold the Quidditch tryouts then. I won’t be able to spend the afternoon with you. I’m sorry, I didn’t want to do it, but everyone wants the tryouts this weekend. There’s a lot of interest in the team, and . . .”

“That’s fine. I’ll come down to the pitch and watch. That’ll be fun.”

Ginny took a breath. “Harry, I’m not sure that’s a good idea. It’ll be kind of, you know, distracting. Listen,” she added hastily when Harry’s face took on a puzzled frown, “it’s only for this weekend. I had it scheduled for the morning, but then this memorial service came up, so . . . so I had to reschedule. I’ll go right to the inn from the pitch. We can go into London for the evening, how does that sound?”

Harry shrugged. “Okay, I guess. But I don’t see why it would be distracting for me to be at the tryouts. Maybe I could even help out.”

Ginny looked down, then off into the distance towards the lake; she felt like she was walking on eggshells, and didn’t like it. She turned back to him,

“Harry, love, I’ll feel funny if you’re there. Don’t you see? If I do something that someone doesn’t like, they’ll look at you and think, maybe even say, that Ginny’s an idiot and Harry Potter wouldn’t have done it that way. I dearly want you to come to the matches, and I might even ask your advice about some things, but I just won’t feel right about it if you’re at the tryouts.”

“Oh. Yeah, I can see that. Okay.”

“Are you sure?” Ginny peered at him carefully; he didn’t look sure, in fact he looked a little angry. “I can understand if you’re upset, but it’s important to me.”

He swallowed. “Yeah, it’s okay. I know how important it is. And I know how hard it is to be a captain. I’m just disappointed that I won’t see you until the evening. I guess we’ll have to make up the time somehow.” He drew close to her; their hands, which were still clasped, pressed into their thighs and Harry did a bit of massaging. Ginny closed her eyes and sighed.

“Dammit, Harry, how can I eat lunch now? You’re getting me hot and bothered. Oops.” She opened her eyes and looked at a group of students returning from the greenhouses; they had passed within a yard or two as she was speaking, and some of them laughed and whispered to each other. Harry glared at them, but Ginny turned pink. “I need to remember where I am when you do things like that. Come on, let’s eat lunch.”

They followed the students inside. Ginny was relieved that the conversation had gone the way it had, but when she glanced at Harry she saw a small crease on his forehead. She didn’t sense any darkness in his mood, but some of the upbeat feeling that had been there an hour ago was gone.

Chapter Text

The rest of Harry’s week was quiet. Nothing happened to the inn, either because of the new spells or simply because whoever was behind the attacks was lying low. Customers gradually returned—many of them urged on by Tony— and by Friday evening there was a nice crowd having a good time in the dining room.

But Harry was uneasy, although as the days passed uneventfully he became more confident that his combination of spells would do the trick. Perhaps he was nervous because the attackers were still out there, probably watching him, maybe waiting for the right moment when his guard was down. But as he thought about it, he found himself hoping that they would come out into the open and reveal themselves. If they did, if it came to a duel, it would be the end of whoever was causing his problems.

There was one unpleasant event on Tuesday evening when Turquoise Southeby came to dinner with one of the young wizards Harry had seen with her at The Three Broomsticks. Harry sipped Potio Vitae and watched them from the bar until Turquoise started casting blatantly suggestive glances at him and Harry left the dining room, telling Kreacher to let him know when she was gone.

That bit of overt offensiveness contributed to a feeling of disgruntlement—Harry didn’t like being chased from his own dining room by a tart who wouldn’t leave him alone—but something more serious was making him irritable and uneasy: he harbored a sour feeling about the Quidditch tryouts.

He reluctantly accepted Ginny’s desire to have him stay away, but it irritated him. He had tried to hide it, but he knew she sensed it. Even though it meant only a single weekend afternoon stolen from Ginny, his loneliness during the week made him long for her company even more, along with the comfort—not to mention the pleasure—it brought. He knew he was being unreasonable, but he couldn’t help his feelings.

He only used the Bouquedelle once, on Tuesday night. He didn’t sleep well afterward, awakening from dreams about Ginny and reaching for her in the bed. He was tempted to use it again the following night, but realized that if he used it out of desperation it would drive him crazy. He had to husband the magic, not because he would use it up, but because of its effect on him. He knew that there would be times when he would need it to strengthen himself when Ginny was really absent or far away; he didn’t want it to become an addiction feeding his moments of weakness.

The Marauder’s Map was different; it was a game they both enjoyed. Once, she put her trainers on her hands and walked around her room on both her hands and feet while her roommates gawked. She finally collapsed on the floor in hysterical laughter. That happened on Tuesday night, and on Wednesday morning she sent Harry a note asking if he had noticed anything different. He wrote back that he had been startled to see two dots on the map with her name next to them; he didn’t know what to make of it, and was glad to learn he was not going nutters.

She put the shoes on her hands again that night and asked Christina to pick up her legs and move her around the room like a wheelbarrow. This time Harry wrote that the map showed her dot moving around with Christina’s. Ginny concluded from all this that the map’s magic worked by detecting something touching the floor inside the castle, and she proposed, in her next owl, that she and Harry co-author a learned paper for the Annals and Proceedings of the Wizengamot.  Since the map was supposed to be a secret, Harry declined.

He enjoyed this playfulness, but it also drove home that Ginny was there, and he was here, and he was alone.

On Thursday morning Ginny owled him saying she wanted him to meet her at the castle after her last class on Friday and walk back to Hogsmeade with her. Harry’s spirits rose, but he still couldn’t shake the mood of unhappiness that dogged him and sometimes made him react testily to Stan or Winky. He thought hard, but couldn’t figure it out. It wasn’t Turquoise—even though she had come back Wednesday evening, she had not been so obnoxiously whorish, and Harry was pretty sure she would leave him alone when Ginny was around, now that Ginny had confronted her; and it wasn’t the inn—business was picking up and he felt more comfortable every passing day about the double spells that protected the building.

He needed someone to talk to, someone to answer the question which he could not seem to find the answer to: why did he have these depressing feelings when everything he had ever wanted was now his? He was free from the pain in his scar and the presence of Riddle in his mind, free from the burden of the Prophecy. He had the girl of his dreams who loved him and willingly shared his bed. He had good friends who would do anything for him, and he was surrounded at the inn and in Hogsmeade by grateful people and creatures.

These thoughts went through Harry’s mind on Thursday as he stood in front of the fireplace in the flat, holding Ginny’s message about Friday afternoon. He had just sent Bailey back with an enthusiastic reply, when his arm accidentally knocked over the photograph of his parents that stood on the mantel. He picked it up and thought for a moment as he looked at their faces, then put it back and went into the bedroom, got out another piece of parchment and a quill, and sent McPherson off to Gringotts. By the middle of the afternoon, Bill had replied, telling Harry to meet him at Shell Cottage.

An hour later Harry Apparated into the back yard of the little house by the sea. He spent a few minutes standing at Dobby’s grave before walking around to the front and looking out over the ocean, feeling the salt breeze in his face and remembering the walks on the beach that he and Ginny used to take. He turned when Fleur opened the door. She gave Harry a dazzling smile that immediately dispelled his lingering bad mood.

“‘Arry! Bill sent a message zat you would be ‘ere! ‘Ow good to see you. Is everyt’ing okay?”

“Hi, Fleur,” he smiled back. “Everything’s fine. I just wanted to talk to Bill about a few things.”

She moved aside to let him in. “I am so glad you t’ought of zat, to talk to Bill. ‘E loves you and Ginny so much. I’m sorry zat zere are problems.”

Harry suddenly felt embarrassed, and wondered how Fleur knew why he wanted to talk to Bill. “It’s nothing, really. We had some good talks last summer, so . . .”

Fleur smiled again, but said nothing and led him into the kitchen. She put out a  kettle, cups, and croissants, and they drank tea at the small table and talked about last Saturday’s party and the news that Molly Weasley was working part-time at St. Mungo’s as Hestia Derwent’s assistant. Fleur didn’t mention Harry’s “problem,” and after an hour Harry realized that he was laughing and feeling better than he had all week, aside from the moments when he was reading Ginny’s letters.

Bill arrived in the late afternoon. He kissed Fleur, greeted Harry, and went upstairs. In a few minutes he was back wearing jeans and a tee shirt, and he and Harry sat down in the parlor.

“So what’s up?” Bill asked. “Are you and Ginny okay? Are there still problems at the inn? I heard all about the Dark Mark and the chimney from George, but Ron told me that you repaired it.”

“Yeah, it’s fixed. I also learned a new protective spell, and I think it’ll be safe, at least for a while.”

“That’s good. So why did you want to see me?”

Harry’s hands fidgeted in his lap, then gripped the arms of his chair. “Sometimes I think I’m going crazy,” he said as he looked into the cold fireplace.

“What makes you think that?” Bill said quietly.

“I don’t know. On the surface, everything is great. It’s just that, if I have everything I always wanted, why am I miserable whenever I’m alone? My scar never hurts, I’m not looking over my shoulder for Riddle’s Killing Curse, I have Ginny . . .” He looked quickly at Bill, who just smiled. “Sometimes . . . sometimes when I think about Ginny, I feel like . . . like she’s a goddess and all I want to do is make her happy. She makes me so happy.” Again he glanced at Bill. “But when we’re not together, and I’m doing stuff at the inn or just sitting around up in my flat, things . . . gnaw at me. I can’t figure it out.”

“What things?”

“I don’t know!” Harry hit the arm of his chair with his fist and glared at the fireplace, then sighed and looked at Bill. “Can you be in love with someone, but your feelings about them change all the time?” He looked back into the fireplace. “There are times when I don’t feel like she’s a goddess, but I don’t stop loving her. Maybe it’s loving her in a different way. I don’t know.” His fingers were twisting in his lap again, and he kept his gaze on the hearth.

Bill shifted in his chair. “I think that’s exactly what it is,” he said. “Love changes. It doesn’t go away, but the more you get to know someone, the more ways there are to love them. Ginny’s like Fleur in many ways.” He chuckled. “That’s why she looks so beautiful when she wears that necklace. Fleur told me before we gave it to her that it would have that effect. But you have to be careful around a woman like that. Ginny is so strong, and when she decides what she wants, there isn’t much that can stop her. Fleur’s like that too.” He chuckled again.

“I can see that, about Ginny, I mean. In a way it makes me love her even more. Being with her is like a ride on a broomstick.”

Bill laughed. “That’s the best I heard anyone describe her. But,” he became serious, “you’ve also got to see your life with her from her point of view. Why does she love you? I don’t mean, what are the specific reasons. What I mean is that she loves you because of who and what you are, for you, yourself. What I think is happening has more to do with you than anything else. Your feelings about something have changed, and you’re afraid that you and Ginny will stop loving each other. If you two are at all like Fleur and me, then that will never happen. It’s just like you said, you’ll find new and different reasons to love her.”

Harry put his hands behind his head and leaned back in the chair; he felt restless, unable to hold still. “When we were at the Burrow during the summer, I only wanted to be with her. Now, I still want to be with her, but when I’m not, I feel like I’m not really doing anything. I feel useless. She’s got interesting classes, friends with her all the time, Quidditch . . . All I’ve got is that damned—”

He stopped and frowned at Bill. “I’ve got the inn,” he finished, and his hands gripped the chair again.

Bill looked at him sympathetically. “That’s what has changed. We talked about it, as I recall. What you’ve got to do is figure out what it is you want. I said before that I wondered if running an inn is the right thing for you. And so have lots of other people.”

“I know,” Harry said, “I had lunch with Kingsley a few days ago.”

“And I can imagine what he told you.”

“Actually, it was Saliyah Ushujaa who said it.”

“Whoever. But it’s your decision, you bought the inn, you decided to live there so you could be near Ginny. Listen,” he said before Harry, clearly nettled, could speak, “I know exactly why you did that. Can you imagine what it’s like to have a veela say that she loves you? It’s almost impossible to resist.” He smiled and got a dreamy look in his eyes. “Not that I tried very hard.”

Harry didn’t smile; he put his hands behind his head again and sighed. “I understand what you’re saying, but if I didn’t live in Hogsmeade, where would I go? Grimmauld Place? That would be like living in a mausoleum. And I do want to be near Ginny.” He dropped his hands and fidgeted with them again.

“Well, you’ll have to work that one out for yourself. Just remember two things. One, you have a lot of friends who would do anything to help you. And two, you have a girlfriend who will do the same. But think about it, would you want her to do something that was not true to herself? I have a feeling that Ginny knows better than most people that the most important thing is to be herself.”

Harry remembered what Ginny had said to him after Dumbledore’s funeral, when he had told her that they could not be together. He smiled. “That rings a bell.”

“And you have to want the same thing, you have to be true to yourself. You’ll never be happy otherwise, even if you’re with Ginny. You are with Harry Potter more than you’re with Ginny Weasley.”

Harry was silent for several moments, then he glanced at the clock on the mantel. “I guess I should be going. I don’t want to leave Stan alone for the dinner hour. Thanks, Bill, I feel better.”

Bill looked a little surprised at the sudden end of the conversation, but he smiled. “Any time you want to talk, Harry, just owl me. And if you and Ginny want to spend some time here again, you’re always welcome.”

As they got to their feet, Fleur came out of the kitchen. “So ‘ow did ze boys’ chat go?” she grinned. “You should be careful of Bill’s advice, ‘Arry. Remember, ‘e works in a bank, for goblins, no less. ‘Ow can you trust zat?”

Bill laughed. “We were talking about love—” Fleur smiled at Harry’s blush “—so anything I said I learned from you.”

“Ahh,” Fleur’s eyebrows rose, and Harry wondered if he had ever seen a woman’s face look so fetching. “In zat case, I know you gave ‘im good advice, because you ‘ave become very good at love.” She kissed Bill, and took Harry’s hand. “I will tell you one t’ing. Ginny loves you more zan her own life, and you love ‘er ze same way. And zat is ‘ow it should be, because zen you will grow old togezer and die ‘appy.”

Without realizing what he was doing, Harry hugged Fleur, but quickly let go as she laughed. “Goodbye, ‘Arry. You and Ginny must come for dinner. I will send you an invitation, okay?”

Harry returned to Hogsmeade just as Kreacher and Stan were starting to serve dinner. He felt better for having talked to Bill, but he wasn’t sure that he had got answers that would make things better. He was still stuck alone in the inn after closing time, and he still felt there were parts of Ginny’s life he was excluded from. He even couldn’t help thinking that someone as pathetic as Turquoise Southeby could get a date and not be alone just by winking at a wizard in the street.

Harry also felt a little embarrassed for ending the conversation so abruptly. Bill had noticed, but he had said something that made Harry uncomfortable, something about being himself. People were pushing him to sign up for the Auror training program, but that was exactly what he did not want. He had done his part, now let someone else do it for a while. It had made him angry, and he did not want Bill to see that, so he had decided to end the chat before Bill could mention the program; hopefully Bill would forget about it.

As he served customers, his thoughts went to what Fleur had said about him and Ginny. He knew it was true—he would stand in front of a Killing Curse to save her—but he still wondered how he was going to get through the next nine months before they would be wholly together, like they were during the summer. He wondered about his fear, his anger, his frustration, his dissatisfaction. How bad would it get? Only one thing was keeping it all at bay, and she was not here.

That evening he sent a packet of chocolates to Ginny, but no words except “Love” which he wrote on the red ribbon he tied it up with. She sent the ribbon back, tied around a few strands of her hair, and Harry’s resistance crumbled. He got into bed with the lock of hair and the Marauder’s Map, put the Bouquedelle to his lips, leaned back, closed his eyes, and let his mind go where it would. After a few minutes he looked at the map and saw Ginny’s dot in bed. He smiled; her theory was wrong: her feet were not touching the floor, yet the map knew where she was.

# # # #

Harry was in the entrance hall at four-thirty the next afternoon. He stood at the foot of the marble staircase and peered up each time someone came down. For some reason he was nervous, as if he was going out with Ginny for the first time. When she did appear, carrying her satchel and a book bag, his pulse quickened and he ran up the stairs and took the bags from her.

“Hi,” he said as she stood on the steps smiling, ”you look beautiful.”

“Well, thanks, so do you.”

They walked out with Ginny holding Harry’s arm. They were both silent as they walked down the drive and into Hogsmeade. Ginny’s grip on his arm tightened and her breathing became quicker when the inn came in sight. They climbed the stairs with Harry’s heart pounding, and when they entered the flat Harry dropped her bags and they stared at each other. Suddenly they were down on the floor and Harry was pulling off her clothes.

“Harry,” she laughed, “wait! The bed. Your floor is hard.”

Later they lay close together inside the warm coziness of the four-poster with the covers pushed back. Ginny’s eyes were closed but her finger was making circles on Harry’s chest; his arm was around her back, holding her against his side.

“This is the best,” she said in a dreamy voice. “If this was the only place in the world, I could be happy here.”

“I am happy here,” Harry kissed her forehead. “Are you sure you are?”

Ginny opened her eyes and blinked. “Yes. Why do you ask?”

“Oh, I don’t know. You have a lot of other things going on.”

She sat up on her elbow and looked at him; her hair hung down on his face and he smiled and blew a strand out of his mouth. His hand caressed her breasts.

“Other things?” Ginny said, puzzled. “What do you mean? Quidditch?”

“Well, yeah, but that’s fine. I just want you to be happy here. This isn’t my place, it’s our place.”

“I know that, and that’s why I love it, because you wanted it to be ours, and you made it ours.” She shook her head so that her hair swished across his face, and Harry giggled. She kissed him and he started to pull her down, but she lifted her head again. “Of all the things I have ‘going on’ this is the most important. I would give up everything if I had to, but not this.”

Harry pulled her down and they kissed; his arms were around her back and he held her tightly. “I don’t want you to give up anything,” he whispered into her ear. “I love you.” Ginny moved on top and their bodies were connected from their mouths down to their feet and they were both in heaven.

For dinner in the parlor that evening there was a juicy, thick-sliced London broil with baked potatoes and a string bean-and-almond casserole, illuminated by veela candlelight. Harry was thirsty, and drank two bottles of Potio Vitae, while Ginny stuck with butterbeer. They went down to the dining room afterwards and were greeted by Tony and other villagers. Harry and Ginny sat with a group of their friends near the bar, and they passed the evening with good conversation and Winky’s excellent desserts.

The Hogwarts memorial service started at ten o’clock the next morning. Harry and Ginny walked to the castle, Harry wearing his academic robes. The Hogwarts Express had just pulled in carrying magical people who wanted to travel with friends and family rather than arrive via magic, and Muggle parents who were joining their magical children for the service. Some people were climbing into the horseless carriages, and others were walking up to the castle. Harry saw Andromeda Tonks pushing Teddy along in a pram and he and Ginny went over to them. Andromeda looked around when he called her and smiled.

“Harry! And Ginny! You’re both looking very well. How is everything?”

“Okay,” Harry replied, gazing down at Teddy; the infant was sleeping with a pacifier in his mouth. Ginny squatted down and adjusted his blanket.

She smiled at Harry. “He’s beautiful, isn’t he? How are you doing?” she asked Andromeda.

“We’re fine. This is the first we’ve traveled anyplace. He’s still too little to Portkey or Floo. I came with your parents, but I think they’ve gone on ahead. I had to change him.” She laughed.

Harry offered to push the pram, and they walked up the lane together. Harry kept glancing at his godson, telling himself that he should visit them sometime. But Andromeda didn’t mention it, and when they arrived at the castle and Harry carried the stroller up the stairs, Andromeda went ahead into the Great Hall while Harry and Ginny went upstairs to the common room. Harry waited while Ginny changed into her robes, and they returned to the Great Hall.

The tables were gone and rows of chairs faced the platform on which the staff table usually stood; that table was gone too, but the chairs were still there and a large black curtain hung on the wall behind the platform. Harry and Ginny found seats next to Ron and Hermione, near Molly and Arthur. They saw all of their friends: Neville was sitting with Keesha next to Luna and Dean; Bill, Fleur, George and Percy were sitting together with Lee Jordan; every member of Dumbledore’s Army was there, most of them together near the front.

A shadow passed over a window, and they saw Grawp peering inside. There was a stir in the back and everyone turned at the clopping of hooves as a dozen centaurs entered and stood along the side of the room. Officials of the Ministry and the Wizengamot sat in their formal robes, looking properly somber. Several ghosts floated overhead; Ginny looked around in a moment of panic, but thankfully Peeves was nowhere in sight. Tony Trostle and his entire crew were there, and Ginny did a double-take when she saw Elizabeth Derby’s parents walk in. She scanned the Hall but did not see her uncles.

She turned to Harry, but a door opening in the side wall caught her eye; Hagrid was there, gesturing. She nudged Harry. “I think he wants you.”

“I was afraid of this,” Harry muttered. He shook his head at Hagrid, who nodded, pointed at Harry, and jerked his thumb backward. Harry sighed and stood. “I’ll see you later,” he said in resignation. Ginny squeezed his hand, and Harry excused himself down the row and walked over to Hagrid.

“Mornin’, Harry,” the gamekeeper said as he pulled Harry through the door and closed it behind them. “Perfessor McGonagall and the Minister was wonderin’ if yeh wouldn’t mind sittin’ up on the platform with the staff. They don’t want yeh to say anything, but they figure that yeh should be up there, considerin’ it was you that killed You-Know—I mean, killed Riddle and all. Yeh don’ mind, do yeh?” He peered down at Harry.

Harry sighed. “I really would rather not, but I know you won’t let me go, so . . . what do I do?”

“There,” Hagrid grinned, staggering Harry with a pat on the back. “I told ‘em yeh’d be happy to do it. Come on, they’re all waitin’ back here.”

He led Harry through a short corridor into a crowded room. All the teachers were there, plus Argus Filch in his best moth-eaten, ancient suit, together with a half-dozen people from the Ministry. As Harry stood there, he heard a bullfrog voice and, to his utter astonishment and delight, saw Kreacher talking to Professor Flitwick; the locket of Regulus Black hung from his neck. Harry started to walk towards the elf, but Kingsley Shacklebolt intercepted him.

“How are you, Harry.” He looked grim, and took Harry’s arm and pulled him into a corner; Saliyah Ushujaa followed and stood between them and the rest of the room. “We don’t have time to talk a lot,” the Minister said in a low voice, not letting go of Harry’s arm, “but I just wanted you to know that we have definite word that eight of the Death Eaters who escaped are back in England. Umbridge is still abroad, though. She was spotted in France just yesterday, and we’re tailing her. She probably knows that, so we don’t expect her to try to return. But we are aware of the problems you’ve had, Harry, and we don’t want you to think we’re ignoring them.”

Harry glanced at Morequest Pester talking to Professor Slughorn. “What about him?” Harry said tightly. “Isn’t he supposed to be keeping his eye on things?”

“Don’t worry about Professor Pester,” Shacklebolt said. There was a small edge to his voice, but it softened as he continued. “Just keep your own eyes open, and keep up those spells you put on your inn. They’re excellent ones, and,” he smiled, “an indication of your talents.”

He let Harry’s arm go. “Sorry about being pushy like that,” he said cheerfully. “Someone in my position is always supposed to have an agenda. You know what mine is as far as you are concerned.” He laughed in his booming voice, but quickly stopped and looked guiltily at Minerva McGonagall who was frowning at him.

In a few minutes the Headmistress led the assembled teachers and officials into the Great Hall. Harry sat between Hagrid and Professor Sprout, glad to be in the former’s shadow. He looked out over the Hall and smiled when Ginny blew him a kiss. He was also glad to see that two dozen house-elves had come up from the kitchen and were standing in a group along the wall.

There were speeches from Shacklebolt, McGonagall, Firenze, Slughorn, and a short one from Kreacher, who kept his hand on the locket while he spoke. There were several moments of silence, the last one accompanied by the tolling of the school bell fifty-four times, once for each person killed during the battle. When the final stroke sounded, the black curtain behind the platform rose to reveal a large, dark-gray memorial tablet, about fifteen feet square, attached to the back wall, holding the names in brass letters of the dead. Next to each name were their year of birth and the year of their death: 1998. Above it was the seal of Hogwarts, and at each corner of the tablet was the coat of arms of one of the founders.

Harry rejoined Ginny when the ceremony was over; she was standing with Ron and Hermione, and they—or at least Ginny and Ron—were discussing Quidditch. They stopped when Harry arrived, and he said, quietly, “I found out something I need to tell you. Let’s go outside.” They made their way into the entrance hall, exchanging greetings with others along the way, and walked outside and a few yards down the lawn. No one else was near, and Harry told them what Kingsley had said.

“So why didn’t they arrest them as soon as they came back?” Ginny asked. “Unless they still don’t know where they are?”

“They probably don’t,” said Ron. “From what I’ve heard, Kingsley is swamped with running the Ministry and the Law Enforcement office. He’s trying to find someone to take it from him, but, in case you hadn’t noticed, all the best candidates are dead—Moody, Tonks, Scrimgeour, Amelia Bones. He wants to keep Saliyah as Head Auror to make sure that office stays up to snuff.”

Hermione frowned. “So things are slipping out of control.”

“Yes, I think that’s what’s happening. If it comes down to it, I suppose he’ll promote Saliyah, but then he’d have to fill her job.”

“Merlin, you don’t think he’d give it to Pester, do you?” Ginny asked.

“Everyone would resign if he did that. Why do you think he sent the blighter up here?”

“Wait a minute,” Harry said, “are you telling us that he sent Pester up here just to get rid of him?”

“No, no.” Ron waved his hand. “McGonagall asked for help, and Kingsley saw a chance to keep the peace in the Auror Office and satisfy her at the same time.” He grinned. “Shacklebolt’s no slouch as a politician. He survived both Fudge and Scrimgeour even though both of them suspected he was in the Order. He’s pretty slick. I really like him.”

“So everyone in the Ministry hates Pester,” Ginny mused. “I’d feel sorry for him if I didn’t feel sorrier for myself for having to take his class.”

“Okay,” Harry said, “but what about the Death Eaters. If no one knows where they are, then they could be in Hogsmeade just as easily as anywhere else.”

“That’s what I think,” said Hermione. “Harry, you need to be careful. They’re powerless to do any real damage, except for an act of revenge. You’ve said that you think someone’s out to make your life miserable. I think that’s exactly what’s happening.”

“Revenge?” Ginny looked at Harry in alarm, but Harry shrugged.

“I’ve protected the inn as best I can, and I’m not going to stop doing what I want, especially after everything I went through last year.” He looked at Ginny. “And what I want is to be here.”

“I want you to be here too.”

“I have another question,” Ron put in. “What about the toad?”

“That is a good question,” Hermione said. “It almost sounds like she’s directing the whole thing from France while the others come back to do the dirty work.”

“As far as I’m concerned, “ said Harry, “the only questions are, what is the dirty work, who’s doing it, and what will their next move be?”

After a moment while they all considered this, Hermione spoke. ”I don’t think anyone can say. If they can’t directly attack the inn itself, it could be anything.”

“You’re right,” Harry agreed. “And since there’s nothing to be done, let’s go eat.”

They trooped back into the Great Hall. The four tables were set up again and were becoming crowded as students, parents, and other visitors sat down for lunch. Ginny saw Emma and Claire sitting between two Muggles, obviously their parents. The twins both waved, then spoke to the Muggles who turned and nodded to Ginny. They continued to look towards her, but after a moment Ginny realized that they were staring at Ron. He already had five empty serving dishes in front of him, and was reaching across Hermione for another; his prodigious appetite must be a wonder even in the Muggle world.

The four finished eating and left the Great Hall. Ginny had begun to grow nervous about both the tryouts and Harry’s state of mind; he hadn’t said anything about going back to Hogsmeade, and he seemed quiet. She told herself that his mood could have been caused by his conversation with the Minister, but just to be certain, she pulled him aside while they were standing inside the great oak doors, and asked him how he was doing.

“I’m fine,” he assured her. “I’ll go help Stan get ready for the dinner crowd. Do you still want to go into London tonight?”

“Yes, I do. Have you mentioned it to Ron yet?”

“Yeah, and he said they found a great Muggle restaurant that they want to take us to. When do you think you’ll be done with the tryouts?”

‘I’ll be back by five.” Then she smiled. “I’ll be back home by five.”

“Good.” He kissed her. “I’ll be waiting.” He waved at Ron and Hermione as he passed them and went quickly out the doors and down the drive.

Ron watched him and turned to Ginny. “Where is he going? Doesn’t he want to see the tryouts?”

Ginny hesitated. “Um . . . no. He has things to do at the inn. I told him I’d be back by five.”

Hermione looked at her questioningly. “Harry doesn’t want to watch Quidditch? That doesn’t sound like him.”

“Well, that’s what he wants. I have to go change and get my broom. What are you going to do?” She looked at both Ron and Hermione.

“I thought we’d watch the tryouts,” said Ron. “You didn’t say anything about closing them.”

Ginny didn’t like this. She didn’t want to have another argument about the tryouts, this time with Ron, but Harry would be sure to find out if Ron was there. At the same time, she saw no reason to keep Ron out; she would not be intimidated by Ron’s presence like she would by Harry’s. The only reason for barring Ron was because Harry might be upset.

“They aren’t closed,” she replied. “Just keep your opinions to yourself, got it?”

“Got it,” Ron laughed. “I don’t want to end up on the same list as Turquoise.”

“I’m sure you don’t. I’ll see you down there.” Ginny didn’t smile or laugh, but turned and walked away. Hermione watched her go up the stairs.

“That was a little odd,” she said to Ron. “I think they had a disagreement about something.”

“About what? Harry’s not the captain any more. He knows that.”

“Ginny may be insecure about her position. She seemed a little defensive.”

“That’s impossible. She’s never been defensive about anything in her life.”

Hermione laughed. “Okay, big brother, if you say so. Let’s go watch the tryouts. Maybe I’ll Confund someone again.”

“Oho! It finally comes out. You had the hots for me even then.”

“In your dreams, Weasley,” Hermione laughed again; she took his arm and they walked down to the Quidditch pitch.

Half of the Gryffindor students were in the stands when Ginny walked out onto the pitch, and the other half were gathered in a crowd near the center circle with their broomsticks. She stood in front of them and looked them over.

The first ones she noticed were Emma and Claire; they were holding fifteen-year-old Comet models that they must have dug up from a forgotten broom cupboard somewhere. Ginny wondered if they had even had any flying lessons yet. Two other first-years also looked nervously back at her. Dennis Creevey was bright-eyed and hyper, bouncing on the balls of his feet, anxious to begin. The rest, except for the veterans, stood in a cluster with uncertain looks, and Ginny hoped fervently that at least a handful of them could challenge the likes of Ritchie Coote and Jack Sloper.

“All right!” she said in a loud voice, deliberately glaring at them. “We have work to do. First, I want everyone to shut up.” She glowered at Jimmy Peakes who was whispering to his fifth-year girlfriend, Cindy Snow; he stopped talking and looked at Ginny.

“Sorry,” he said. “Go ahead.”

“Thank you, Jimmy,” Ginny growled, “I appreciate having your permission. Now listen, everyone.” She looked around the group. “This team has lost a lot of talent over the past two years. Last year was a waste for the whole school, so every House team has problems this year. Gryffindor was the best team in the school when—” She stopped; she hadn’t meant to say that Harry had made it the best team, even though it was true. They needed to move past him, past having an unstoppable Seeker.

“We were the best for six years,” she continued, “but it’ll be a challenge to keep it up. This is my last year, and I really want to keep the Quidditch Cup in Professor McGonagall’s office.”

People stirred and shifted. Emma and Claire smiled at her, and Dennis’s bouncing became so vigorous that Demelza Robins had to put her hand on his shoulder to keep him in place.

Ginny raised her Firebolt over her head. “First-years, I want you to mount your brooms and circle the pitch. Everyone else, sit.”

To Ginny’s surprise, the twins weren’t bad. They wobbled and had trouble turning so that they tended to bump into each other and the other first-years, Tommy Sobolow and Brian Hancock, but they managed to stay in the air for a complete—if slow—circuit of the pitch. Ginny thought there was a future for them on the team, but not this year. She thanked them and they left the pitch in good humor, and joined the rest of the House in the stands.

The tryouts for the Beaters went well. Jimmy and Will Reynolds—a sixth-year—beat out Ritchie, Jack and Andrew Kirke, the only Beaters who also had experience; a half-dozen rookies were completely inept, and Ginny wondered what such a shallow talent pool augured for next year’s team. But those worries were swept aside by worse ones when the Chasers took to their brooms against the lone tryout for Keeper, Dennis Creevey.

Demelza was a better than average Chaser, and she was clearly the best of the lot. But even the others had no trouble scoring against Dennis. He knew nothing about playing Keeper, and even though he was quick, he was never in position, and on the few occasions he guessed right, the Quaffle always passed just out of his short reach. The thought briefly occurred to Ginny that she might have to play Keeper. After she picked Frances Spangler—a fourth-year—and Meeta Bharathi—a sixth-year—as the other Chasers, she called a break and walked over to Ron and Hermione, who were sitting in the first row of the stands near the announcer’s box.

“We have a problem.” Ginny leaned on the railing and looked back at the teammates she had selected; they and Dennis were sitting on the grass in the middle of the pitch comparing brooms. “Did you see Dennis? The only thing I can say for him is that he’s not throwing up like you used to do.”

“I could give him some pointers if you want,” said Ron. “His big problem is that he’s always out of position, and that’s something that can be coached. Puking, however, cannot be coached.”

“Ha, ha, very funny.” Ginny felt a tightening in her gut. She wanted to say yes, she knew that she should say yes, but she knew that it would hurt Harry. She thought for a moment, and again made a quick decision. “I don’t think I have a choice. Unless someone else wants it, he’s our Keeper, and if he can’t play any better than that, we’re dead.”

“No, you’re not,” said Hermione. “You’re the best Seeker in the school. If you catch the Snitch every time, you’ll win all your matches.”

“Not if they score twenty goals against us first,” Ginny grunted. “Oi, Dennis!” she yelled. He looked up and she waved to him. “Over here!”

“I know I can do better,” he said when came over, and before Ginny could speak. “It’s a lot faster than I thought. I just have to get used to it.”

“You need to anticipate where the shot’s going,” said Ron. “If you—”

“Ron’s going to coach you,” Ginny interrupted, scowling at her brother. “You don’t have a problem with that, do you?” Dennis shook his head, and Ginny turned to Ron. “How often could you come up here?”

I can be here almost every weekend. We were more or less expecting to be here, or you and Harry being down with us on weekends, so I can spend an hour or so at the pitch without changing any plans.”

“And if I have something that I need to do,” Hermione added, “I can just join you all later.”

Ginny looked at Dennis. “If that’s all right with you, then you are the Keeper, but you have to be available for Ron when it’s convenient for him. Okay?”

Dennis nodded enthusiastically. “Okay! Thanks!” he pumped Ginny’s hand and Ron’s, and ran off the pitch waving his broom over his head.

Ginny put her hand on Ron’s, which was resting on the railing. “Thanks, Ron, I appreciate this.” Hermione looked at her closely, but didn’t say anything, and Ginny walked back out to the team. They scrambled to their feet.

“Dennis is Keeper,” she said; they glanced at each other and Jimmy scowled. Ginny ignored it. “We don’t have a choice, unless one of you wants to try out for it. And my brother Ron will coach him.” They all looked a little relieved—even Jimmy. “I’ll let you know about the first practice,” Ginny said, and smiled. “I think we have a pretty solid team, especially if Dennis improves.”

She walked with Ron and Hermione back to Hogsmeade, silently hoping that Harry would understand why she had asked Ron to help, but the closer they got to the inn, the more doubts she had about the wisdom of her decision. She could have asked for more people to try out for Keeper; she could have asked one of the players who had made the team to switch; she could have postponed the tryout for Keeper. But she had wanted to get it over with and push ahead, since the team would need as much work as it could get. So she had let herself be hurried along by Jimmy, and now she was afraid that, in her haste, she had made a bad decision. She was angry with herself for that, but it was now too late to change it.

Harry was sitting at the bar drinking Potio Vitae. Ron joined him, and before Ginny could say anything, he picked up a butterbeer and spoke.

“Well, mate, just in case I flunk out of Auror school, I’ve started my second career. You are looking at Gryffindor’s Keeper coach.”

Harry’s eyebrows shot up. “Keeper coach? What do they need a Keeper coach for?” He looked at Ginny and back at Ron.

Ginny pushed between him and Ron. “Harry,” she said quickly, “we need to talk. Let’s go upstairs.”

Harry got off his stool without a word and walked out of the dining room. Ginny followed, but not before seeing Hermione put her hand over Ron’s mouth and Ron sputter in surprise.

Upstairs, Harry did not look at Ginny, but walked to the picture window, watching shadows of clouds moving across the hills in the distance. Ginny came and stood next to him.

“It’s a nice view,” Harry said.

Ginny took his arm and leaned her head against his shoulder. “Harry, I’m sorry. I probably did the wrong thing. Ron wanted to come to the tryout, and, well . . .” She chuckled. “It’s not that hard for me to tell him to shut up if I have to, so I didn’t see any reason to say no. And then Dennis was dreadful, and Ron offered to coach him, and I said yes. That’s what happened.”

Harry nodded without looking at her. “I understand.” He turned to her. “I really do, Gin, and it’s okay. It’s just that . . .” He turned back to the view out the window. “Oh, for God’s sake, there she is again.”

Ginny looked out and saw Turquoise Southeby sauntering across the field towards the High Street; she looked, from a distance, like she was dressed for a big night in the village, wearing another short, tight dress with a low-cut bodice. Her long, blond hair fell in waves around her shoulders.

“If she’s so bad off, where does she get all those clothes?” Ginny said. “That stuff doesn’t look cheap, even if she does.”

“The hell with her.” Harry turned to Ginny. “Gin, I feel like I’m stuck in this place. I don’t like being alone here. I want to be with you.”

He looked out the window again, but Ginny turned him to face her, and she saw the frustration in his eyes. She put her hand on his cheek.

“Love, I’m sorry. I want us to be together all the time too. All week I thought about being here with you.” She took his face in her hands. “I love you. You’re the most important thing in my life.”

He looked down at the floor. “I dread Sunday night.”

“Harry, I can’t stay. I’ll get detention, and if I do it again, they might take the team away from me.”

“I know.” He took her and gently rubbed her back. “It’s my problem. I’m sorry for ruining your weekend and your tryouts.”

“You didn’t ruin anything.” She pushed away and looked at him fiercely. “Don’t say that! The tryouts went okay, and we’ll be together tonight and all of tomorrow.” She smiled. “I only have a little homework, so we can be lazy all day.”

“That sounds nice.” He pulled her back and did things with his hands as he kissed her.

“Harry,” she gave a little moan, “Ron and Hermione are waiting for us.”

“That’s right.”

They were back downstairs in half an hour. Hermione observed them as they sat at the table with her and Ron. “All set for an evening on the town?”

“I’m up for anything,” said Harry, leaning back and putting his arm on the back of Ginny’s chair. She turned a slight shade of pink and closed her mouth to suppress a giggle.

Chapter Text

Saturday night in town with Ron and Hermione was a blur of spicy Indian food, London’s night lights, loud Muggle music in a flashy club, and hair-raising rides in taxicabs driven by strange Muggles from all over the world. Afterwards, Harry and Ginny returned to the inn, had a late-night snack in the little kitchen, and dove into bed, where they remained until the middle of Sunday afternoon, making love, sleeping, talking, eating, and just lying together, savoring each other.

Ginny got up at three o’clock and worked on a Potions parchment, while Harry went downstairs to see how things were going and help Stan re-stock the bar from the storeroom. A new shipment of drinks had come in on Saturday, and Harry was annoyed when he discovered that some of the Potio Vitae and butterbeer bottles were a different size than the others; they wouldn’t fit into the storage racks, so he had to keep them separate.

He and Ginny ate a light supper, and at eight-thirty walked back to Hogwarts. Argus Filch was standing at the front door with Mrs. Norris at his feet and his pocket watch in his hand. He glared at them, but his jaw and the pocket watch both hit the floor as Harry and Ginny embraced in the middle of the entrance hall; the snog broke up only when Keesha and Neville walked through the doors just before nine.

Keesha waved at the bemused caretaker. “Thanks for waiting up for us, Mr. Filch. S’up, Ginny, hey, Harry.”

“We visited Keesha’s family in Birmingham,” Neville said. “Blimey, can her mum cook! Harry, did I tell you I was accepted at the College of Herbology in Lancaster? I’m starting next week, and I’ll be renting a flat a block away from campus. My parents have a pension coming, and Gran said I could use some of it to pay the rent.”

“And I’ll be visiting Lancaster a lot,” Keesha smiled. “Luna needs a boyfriend, otherwise she’ll be on her own over weekends.”

Ginny giggled. “That would be great, but it’s not too likely, unfortunately.”

“Yeah, that’s a shame,” said Neville. “She’s a really interesting girl, but she’s different.”

At that moment Filch snapped his watch shut and the castle clock struck nine. A double snog followed, until finally Filch ostentatiously opened the doors and cleared his throat. Harry and Neville said goodbye to their ladies and left.

Neville hummed a tuneless melody as he and Harry walked down the drive. “Harry,” he finally said, “you’ll never guess who was at Keesha’s house. Kingsley Shacklebolt, he’s her uncle, would you believe it? He was really cool to talk to.”

“He was there?” Harry had been preoccupied with thoughts of returning to an empty flat and an empty bed; he hadn’t really been listening, but now he paid attention.

“Yeah, I thanked him for the pension they’re giving to my parents, and he actually thanked me. Telling me to kill that snake was brilliant, Harry. It got me Keesha and it got me a handshake from the Minister for Magic.” Neville laughed.

“You deserve both. It took guts to do what you did.”

“Yeah, but it wasn’t anything like what you did.”

“But it was.” Harry stopped and put his hand on Neville’s arm. “Riddle was going to kill you just like he thought he had killed me.” He let go of the arm and they resumed walking; they had passed the castle gates and were in the lane. “You did a great thing, Neville. I couldn’t have done what I did if you hadn’t killed the snake.” Harry could almost feel Neville’s blush; as they passed the train station he glanced at his friend and saw his red face in the lights.

“Minister Shacklebolt talked about Seamus and Dean too,” Neville continued. “And also Ron. Did you know that Seamus is in the same Auror program? And Dean got a job as an intern at St. Mungo’s. Isn’t it brilliant how all of us in our year are doing really interesting things? I mean, it’s really cool what you’ve done to the Hog’s Head, it was such a dump.”

They were now in Hogsmeade, passing The Three Broomsticks. Neville kept on talking, not noticing the change in Harry’s mood, nor his tight-lipped expression. “Have you thought about the Auror program?” Neville asked. “You would do great in it, Harry. You taught us so much in Dumbledore’s Army, and you’re so good at so many things.”

Harry stopped, anger and exasperation rising. Why was everyone always telling him about everyone else’s brilliant career, and telling him he should do something he didn’t want to do? “Neville, don’t you have to go home now?” he said tersely.

“Huh?” Neville looked at him blankly. “I was going to hang out at your place for a while. Is that all right?”

“Fine, just shut up about Ron and Dean and Seamus and yourself, okay?”

He left Neville standing open-mouthed in the middle of the High Street, but Harry took only a few steps before the stupidity of what he had said hit him. He had no idea what had made him speak like that. He turned around with an apology on his tongue, but Neville was not there. Harry stared at the empty street for several moments, wishing he could take it back, but there was no one to take it back from. He slowly walked on to the Hog’s Head.

He didn’t want to talk to anyone, so he went around back and up to the flat. He sat in the love seat in the dark, holding his head, wondering what had happened, where that cruelty had come from, until there was a scratch on the window and he saw Bailey with a message in her beak. He let her in and she hopped onto the perch next to McPherson and bent towards Harry, offering him the parchment. Harry took it and went back to the love seat, lit his wand and read Ginny’s note.

 

 

 

 

My darling Harry,

I had a wonderful day and a wonderful weekend. I am already looking forward to next weekend, when we can spend two whole days together. Keesha and I thought that it would be fun for the four of us to go someplace. She said there’s a beautiful park near her home where we could have a picnic if the weather is good.

I’ll be waiting in bed for you to use the map. Did I tell you that it makes me feel all warm and then I want you to be doing other things, too? When I see you on Friday I’ll tell you what those things are, but meanwhile, use your imagination.

I will love you forever.

Ginny

Harry crumpled the parchment in his fist and pressed it against his forehead. Now he felt sickened by what he had done to Neville. He went into the bedroom and threw himself face down on the bed, and lay there trying not to think about anything. He gradually became aware that the pillow smelled just like Ginny, and he also noticed that it was becoming damp from his tears.

He sat up, wiping his face, and went to his dresser and took up the photograph of Ginny in its gold frame, the one they had taken on their shopping trip to Diagon Alley. She blew a kiss at him, just as she had done at the Hogwarts memorial service yesterday, and Harry felt his eyes start to brim again.

“Damn!” he said out loud, and put the photo down. He got out a fresh piece of parchment and wrote.

 

 

 

 

Ginny,

I need to see you tomorrow morning. Something happened when Neville and I left you this evening, and I really need to talk to you. It’s very important. Please.

Love, Harry

He sent it off with Bailey, and as he watched the owl disappear into the night, he felt relief wash over him; he would talk to Ginny and she would help fix it with Neville.

He waited at the window until Bailey returned fifteen minutes later, and he snatched the note from her beak. She squawked indignantly and hopped away on the windowsill, watching suspiciously as he read.

 

 

 

 

Harry,

Are you all right? I’ll be in the library at nine.

Love, Ginny

Harry debated whether to answer her question, and decided on the truth.

 

 

 

 

Ginny,

No, I am not okay. I said something to Neville tonight that I wish I hadn’t. I don’t know why I said it, but I’m afraid I hurt him. I feel terrible.

Love, Harry

Bailey took it and flew away. Ginny’s answer came in a few minutes.

 

 

 

 

My darling Harry,

I’m sure it will be okay. Please don’t worry yourself, Neville is one of your best friends.

And I love you.

Ginny

Harry left it at that and joined the crowd downstairs. He stayed until midnight, locked up the inn after Stan left, and went to bed. He slept poorly, tossing and turning, burying his face in Ginny’s pillow, and getting up several times to stand in front of the picture window, trying to understand why he had become so angry. The sky lightened and the sun rose, and Harry had no answers.

Ginny was waiting in the entrance hall when he arrived at the castle and she took his hand. “Let’s go for a walk,” she said after giving him a kiss.

“How come you weren’t in the library? Don’t you have work to do?” Harry said as they descended the steps to the lawn.

“Nothing that can’t wait.” She steered them towards the lake, and they stopped at a large spruce and sat on the bed of needles underneath it; they could see Professor Sprout with a sixth-year Herbology class down at the water’s edge collecting specimens. Ginny was still holding Harry’s hand, and stroked it gently, waiting.

Harry looked into her eyes, and began speaking. “We were in the village, and Neville started talking about the guys in our year. We’ve all started . . . I guess you could call it careers. Dean is an intern at St. Mungo’s. Everyone is doing something except me, but Neville talked about the inn too, how nice it looks now. Then I got angry, and I told him to shut up.”

Harry swallowed; he looked at the lake and at Ginny again. “I wanted to apologize, but he had Disapparated, I guess. He was gone. I don’t know why I did that, why I got so angry. Ginny, I felt so bad. Neville wouldn’t hurt a fly, and there I was telling him to shut up.”

Ginny saw the frustration in Harry’s eyes that was appearing there more and more often. “He didn’t Disapparate,” she said, and Harry blinked in surprise. “He went into The Three Broomsticks and borrowed an owl from Madam Rosmerta. He sent a letter to Keesha, and she showed it to me this morning.”

“He did? She did?”

Ginny smiled. “Neville said something was bothering you, and that you were upset. He didn’t say anything about what you said. He wanted Keesha to ask me what was wrong.”

“He did?” Harry shook his head as though clearing it. “He wasn’t mad at me?”

“Oh, Harry, you just can’t accept that people love you. Neville knew that something was really bothering you, otherwise you would never have talked like that.”

Harry sighed. “Yeah, I’d like to believe that, but I stayed up half the night trying to figure it out.”

‘Isn’t it obvious?”

“The inn?”

“Of course it’s the inn. What else could it be?”

Harry leaned back against the tree and drew his knees up and frowned. “Are you saying I should get rid of it?”

“I sure would miss it if you did, but if it’s tearing you up . . .” She put her hand on his knees and leaned her chin on it. Harry looked at her beautiful face, only inches from his.

“I don’t want to sell it. It’s our home. Maybe . . . maybe I’ll take more classes. I’m supposed to start with Flitwick on Wednesday, and I’ll ask McGonagall if she can tutor me in Transfiguration. It’ll be something else to do, to help pass the time.”

“But you don’t want to take anything from Pester?” Ginny laughed and ducked as he tried to tap the top of her head with his fist.

“No thanks.” Harry also laughed. “He’s all yours.” Ginny moved closer and put her arms around him and they fell onto the bed of spruce needles. Harry looked up at her, and she planted a kiss on him.

“What should I say to Neville?”

“‘I’m sorry.’ Because you are.”

Harry pushed up and they both stood. “Let’s go back. I’ll see if I can talk to McGonagall, and then I’ll write to Neville.” He put his arm around her and they walked back to the castle. They kissed one last time in the entrance hall, ignoring the students there. “Thank you,” Harry said to her.

“Love, you don’t have to thank me. It’s what people do for each other when they’re in love.” She kissed him and trotted away, leaving Harry in the middle of the entrance hall with a dozen students smiling at him.

Professor McGonagall could not accommodate Harry because of her many duties as both Headmistress and Transfiguration teacher. He was disappointed, but his talk with Ginny had buoyed his spirits, and he left the castle feeling better. He even nodded at Turquoise Southeby when she waved at him as she was entering the post office. He thought that he might have stumbled on a good tactic for handling her, because she seemed so startled that she forgot to open the door and bumped her face against it. He laughed to himself and entered the inn still smiling.

“‘Morning, ‘Arry,” Stan said from behind the bar. Harry sat on a stool and took a Potio Vitae that was sitting on the counter. He popped the cork, but before he could take a drink, Stan put his hand over the mouth of the bottle. “Hold on, we ‘ave a problem.”

“Do I really want to hear this?” Harry sighed and put the bottle down.

“Mr. Sipper just owled. Every single bottle that we got in stock before yesterday that’s the old style bottle has to go back. That’s about seven cases.”

Harry closed his eyes for a moment. “And why the hell is that?”

“A bar down in Plymouth ‘ad a problem. Seems they found a bunch of dead rats in the bottles.”

Harry grimaced. “So we have to send the whole lot back? What about those new bottles? We can keep them?”

“Yeah, they’re supposed to be okay.”

“Bloody hell. Well, let’s get them out of here. I don’t want someone opening one and finding a rodent, dead or alive.”

Harry heaved himself off the stool and went into the storeroom behind the bar. He began pulling out cases of Potio Vitae and looking through them for the bad bottles; the new bottles were squared off, while the old ones were cylindrical. He held a few of them up to the light, but there was nothing in them except the dark red liquid. In a few minutes he had separated them, and found that only three cases were left of the new bottles.

“I’ll have to order more,” he said to Stan back in the dining room. “And we’d better get full credit for the bad ones or Sipper will have a big problem with me.”

Harry left Stan to sort out the remaining cases, and went upstairs. He wrote out a letter to Neville, apologizing for last night, and told him that he and Ginny would like to visit him and Keesha next weekend. He gave it to McPherson, and sat down in the love seat and thought about the inn, Ginny, and himself.

He couldn’t get away from the two-year old fact that, no matter what, he needed Ginny. Two years ago that beast in his chest had almost devoured him, insisting that he must have Ginny. He had won her and experienced a few weeks of an unfamiliar happiness. Then he had pushed her away but she hadn’t accepted it, and what she had left him with—the birthday kiss in her room—had been part of his sustenance during months of exile, isolation, and fear. Ginny had been the final thought in his mind the moment he believed that his life was ending. And then came their first night together in the hammock, where they had begun to discover the depth of their love; he had truly come back to life that night.

It was possible that buying the inn was a mistake. But it was a certainty that having a place near Ginny that was theirs was the best decision he had ever made. Their love-making, their quiet meals in the parlor, their visits with Ron and Hermione . . . He would not give up any of it. He would work through the problems, be they dead rats or whatever other obstacles the world flung in his way.

He got up, lit a fire, sat back down, and daydreamed about a house that looked like the Burrow, but some of the children in it had black hair. He saw his family sitting around a table laden with food; Ginny was putting out dishes and smiling at him. She was lying in their bed, looking at him seductively, her slim, lithe body underneath him. He was sitting in a parlor with a young boy on his knee; Ginny was in an easy chair next to the fireplace, knitting a maroon jumper. She smiled, and the boy reached up and hugged him.

Harry blinked, and the Hogs Head Inn re-appeared around him. The sun was no longer coming through the picture window; it must be after noon, and he must have fallen asleep in the love seat. McPherson was back on his perch, and when he saw that Harry was awake, he hooted and looked at the mantel. Harry retrieved the letter lying there and opened it. It was from Neville, and as he read it, Harry felt both guilt and gratitude.

 

 

 

 

Harry, It’s okay. Don’t worry about it. I know you’re having problems with Death Eaters, or someone who wants to make your life miserable. Please tell me if I can help you in any way. Keesha wants us to have a picnic on Saturday, so let’s get together.

Your friend, Neville

Ginny was right. He needed to be open to the people in his life, and take what they so willingly were giving him.

# # # #

On Wednesday morning Harry went up to the castle for his first private lesson with Professor Flitwick. He taught Harry some counter-curses which they practiced for an hour. When they were finished and Harry was walking down to the Great Hall to meet Ginny for lunch, he suddenly realized that he had just had a lesson in Defense Against the Dark Arts, not Charms. Better, he thought, from Flitwick than Pester.

Ginny was waiting at the Gryffindor table and jumped up and grabbed him; they had not seen each other since Monday. They both gradually became aware of the silence that was spreading around them as people turned to watch, and they finally broke the snog when Hagrid walked past on his way to the staff table and cleared his throat so loudly that, for a moment, Harry thought the ceiling was caving in.

“Enjoy the meal, Harry,” Hagrid said with a straight face while half the Gryffindor and Ravenclaw tables burst out laughing. The twins were also watching with interest from across the table.

“So what are you two looking at?” Harry grinned as he and Ginny sat; he dished up broiled chicken for himself and her, a recipe of Kreacher’s that he had sent over to the Hogwarts kitchen.

“You two are always snogging,” Emma said. “Do you ever do anything else?”

Ginny gagged on her drumstick, and started coughing while Harry pounded her back. “Sometimes,” she wheezed. “Sometimes we hold hands.” She broke out in another coughing fit, and ended up laughing. “You know, when I was a first-year I had a crush on Harry, but he didn’t notice. Do those Hufflepuff twins ever notice you?”

Claire put her hand up in dismissal. “They’re ancient history. They were kind of dull. We found some more interesting boys.”

Ginny looked at Harry, who nodded solemnly. “So which House has the most interesting blokes?” he asked the twins.

“I don’t know about all boys,” Claire answered, “but Slytherins are kind of neat.”

“Whoa!” Ginny began coughing again and Harry rubbed her back as she took a sip of pumpkin juice. “Slytherins? Which ones?”

The twins exchanged a glance and giggled. “Zoroaster Black and Sean Allen,” Emma said, and blushed. “They’re hot.”

This time both Harry and Ginny laughed, but stopped when the twins’ faces dropped.

“I’m sorry,” said Ginny, “it was just surprising. I don’t think anyone outside of Slytherin has ever dated one of them, at least as far as I can remember. Wow, that’s brilliant. Good for you and good for them.”

The twins continued to blush, pleased at Ginny’s approval. “We’re not really dating,” admitted Claire, “but we like to study together.” She looked around dramatically, leaned across the table, and lowered her voice. “Zoroaster says he’s going to learn how to be an Animagus, just like your godfather.”

“I see,” Harry said, also in a stage whisper. “Just make sure he registers himself, otherwise he’ll get in trouble.”

The twins nodded, looking very serious. “Okay,” Emma whispered, “we’ll tell him.”

Ginny went outside with Harry after lunch, and they talked about the upcoming weekend and their plans to spend Saturday with Neville and Keesha. Harry kissed her goodbye and walked back to the inn feeling good. When he got to the dining room, the new order of Potio Vitae had arrived, and he helped Stan unload and store it. He spent the rest of the afternoon sitting at a table near the two D.A. plaques, working on the ledger that George had helped him set up last summer. He added columns of expenses and income, trying to figure out if he was making a profit, but by the time patrons started arriving for dinner, he had broken three quills in frustration, and decided to try again tomorrow. He put the ledger away in the kitchen and went back into the dining room to greet his customers.

Turquoise Southeby was there, but this time alone, sitting at a table near the bar. She gave Harry a small wave, but he ignored it and sat at the bar with his back to her. He opened a bottle of Potio Vitae, but every time he looked up he saw her reflection in the mirror watching him, simpering. He finally nodded briefly and left the bar with his bottle and walked past her to a table where Carlos, Tony’s foreman, was sitting with his wife and another Argentine.

Carlos spoke in halting English while his wife, Martha, smiled at Harry; the other worker, Paulo, understood enough English to translate. While they talked about Quidditch and Wandball—a magical variation of American baseball played in Latin America—Harry wondered about Turquoise.

He could not figure out why she was so persistent, given his deliberate coldness and Ginny’s explicit threat. Today she was not dressed as provocatively as she usually was, although what she was wearing—jeans and a tight sweater—did nothing to hide her figure. As long as she behaved herself, Harry had no excuse to throw her out or forbid her from returning, but her attentions annoyed him, and when he had been sitting at the bar they made him uncomfortable. He couldn’t help but believe that she was somehow connected to the attacks on the inn, but she had always had rock-solid alibis for her whereabouts. He wondered what Morequest Pester had talked to her about after the last attack.

Suddenly he had an idea, and he all but smacked himself on the forehead for not thinking of it sooner: he could use his cloak to follow her home. If she was involved with Death Eaters, there was bound to be something going on at her house. This weekend, he told himself, he and Ginny would do it.

Pleased with his plan, Harry leaned back, opened another bottle of his favorite drink, and spent the rest of the evening with his guests. Turquoise left an hour before closing, and soon the inn was dark and Harry was up in the flat, playing “Marauder’s Map” with Ginny as the owls shot back and forth between them. On McPherson’s last trip before Harry and Ginny fell asleep, he carried a packet of honey nougats to Ginny, with a note telling her he was the happiest man on the face of the earth.

# # # #

Thursday passed uneventfully, but on Friday morning when Harry came downstairs and saw Stan sitting on a stool at the bar, he knew immediately that something was wrong. Stan was drumming his fingers on the counter next to a parchment bearing the letterhead of Sipper’s Beverage and Tea Emporium. He handed it to Harry. “You ain’t gonna like this,” he said.

Harry read it and looked up at Stan. “So he’s sticking us with those cases of bad PV? He can’t do that!”

“That’s what I would ‘ave thought, but there’s also a story in the Prophet this morning.” He reached over the counter and handed Harry a copy of he paper sitting on a keg of mead. He opened it to an inside page and pointed to a headline: It Doesn’t Seem Rat. Harry snorted and read.

 

 

 

 

The Potio Vitae rat race has not yet run its course. A special panel of the Wizengamot ruled yesterday that the manufacturer of the new beverage, which has been steadily growing in popularity, had proved beyond a doubt that it was not responsible for the recent rash of rats that somehow insinuated themselves into a large number of bottles of the ruby-red drink.

A spokeswitch for the company, Belinda Smoothie, told the judges, and later the Prophet, that although her employers, A Witches Brew Ltd, regretted the incident, the unfortunate rodents were introduced into the bottles after they left the bottling plant. When asked how that could happen, she shrugged and stated that “magic is as magic does.” She refused to respond to reporters’ comments about inane responses from public relations flaks, and Disapparated, thus ending the interview.

“This is utter crap!” Harry slammed the paper down on the counter. “So they pass it on to Sipper and he passes it on to me. Who am I supposed to pass it on to? I can’t make people pay for something they haven’t bought.” He ran his hand through his hair. “Where are the bad cases? He didn’t send them back here, did he?”

“No, he’s keeping them. He’s just not crediting us.”

Harry laughed. “And then he’ll sell them again, to us or some other poor sod. Great.”

He got off the stool and looked around. It was almost opening time, and he was of half a mind not to bother with it. Maybe he could just close down and live in the flat and not have any of this constant drip, drip, drip of irritation and exasperation. But when he looked at Stan, he could tell that his barkeep was guessing his thoughts. He couldn’t do that to him, not after hiring him only a month ago.

He got back on the stool and tossed the Prophet into a trash bin behind the counter. “How much Potio Vitae do we have? Is it enough to last until Monday?”

Stan looked relieved. “I think so. I’ll count them.”

He disappeared into the storeroom, leaving Harry to contemplate yet another reason to hate what he was doing. It was like a ride on a broomstick in a thunderstorm; he never knew from one second to the next whether he would be going up or down, whether he would be blown off the broom or spun around like a top. He leaned on his elbows and dug his knuckles into his temples. Where was the fun he thought he would be having? Where were the crowds of friends who were supposed to surround him with good times? If it wasn’t for Ginny and Stan, he would just pack it in and leave the inn to the Death Eaters, dead weasels, and drowned rats. It was remarkable how quickly his mood could swing from high anticipation to low dread. Two days ago he was gleefully planning a foray under his Invisibility Cloak with Ginny; now he wished he could throw it all away.

He went behind the bar and took a bottle of Potio Vitae from an open case. Before he realized what he was doing, he held it up to the light, looking for Merlin knew what; he laughed at himself and started to open it, but he stopped; maybe he shouldn’t drink so much, and leave more for his customers. Some of them drank more of it than he did.

He put the bottle back and sat on his stool. When Stan finished counting cases, they discussed how to handle the unexpected shortage of their most popular drink, and Harry got out the ledger again and, after an hour of smudged ink, more broken quills, and sweat, he balanced his books, or at least he told himself he had.

There were, thankfully, no more surprises that day, pleasant or unpleasant. Harry waited impatiently for four-thirty and hurried off to Hogwarts. He stood in the entrance hall, and when Ginny came he held her a little longer than usual.

“What is it?” she asked when Harry finally let her go.

He just looked at her. She had exactly the opposite effect on him that the inn did. Her smile made everything else go away, especially the bad things. It vanquished Jake Sipper, banished Death Eaters, and restored the inn to a place of sanctuary. She took his hands and put them around her back and kissed him.

He picked up her bags. “Let’s go, I’ll tell you on the way. It’s actually kind of funny, now that I think about it.”

He told her about the dead rats, Jake Sipper’s cheating soul, and his plan for following Turquoise Southeby. Ginny loved that idea.

“Harry, that’s brilliant. Let’s do it tonight. If she doesn’t come to the inn, we can put on the cloak and wait at The Three Broomsticks.” She squealed with delight and squeezed Harry’s arm. “And if we find a Death Eater at her house, let me try my non-verbal Stunning Spell. I got to use it on Jace yesterday. Pester had us pick new partners from a hat, and I lucked out and got him. He’s totally incompetent, I wonder how he passed his O.W.L.s.”

“Okay,” Harry grinned, “you get to take the first shot. But right now, maybe we could . . .” He paused as they reached the back door of the inn.

“What did you have in mind?” Ginny whispered into his ear while they climbed the stairs. Harry opened the door and dropped her bags in their usual spot, and staggered as Ginny launched herself onto him and wrapped her arms and legs around him. He carried her to the bed and, even when he fell on top of her, he was still wrapped.

They had dinner in the parlor again—juicy, rare hamburgers smothered in melted Swiss cheese and mushrooms, chips, and huge ice cream sundaes topped with mountains of whipped cream and nuts. Harry went downstairs, and when he came back he reported that Turquoise was there with two of her wizard friends; she was under-dressed as usual, and had watched Harry the entire time he was in the dining room. Kreacher was going to keep on eye on her, so they waited in the love seat until Winky knocked on the door and told them that “the yellow-haired witch” was leaving. They took the Invisibility Cloak, went out the back door where they threw the cloak over themselves, and walked around to the front.

After a few minutes Turquoise came out with a wizard on each arm and went up the lane; Harry and Ginny followed. At the top of the High Street Turquoise and her escorts had a short argument, and she pointed down the street. The two wizards turned and trudged unhappily away; she watched until they disappeared into The Three Broomsticks.

As soon as the door closed behind them, Turquoise pulled a short wand from inside her low-cut top and flicked it; a yellow shawl and a brown scarf with red stars and moons decorating it appeared. She put the shawl around her shoulders and drew it about herself, then put the scarf over her hair and tucked the long, blonde tresses underneath.  She took a look around and started off past Dervish and Banges and into the field that stretched behind the Hog’s Head.

Harry and Ginny had to stay far enough behind to make sure the sounds of their footsteps swishing through the long grass did not reach her. At the end of the field she climbed through the rail fence and turned into the dirt lane that led towards the hills. There were farmhouses along the lane—all of them dark at this late hour—but Turquoise kept going past them.

The road curved in several places, passing through groves of hemlock and spruce. Harry and Ginny had to hurry to keep her in sight, walking as quietly as they could, but Turquoise never looked back. A quarter moon had risen in front of them and gave them enough light to keep her shadowy figure in view.

They kept on for about a mile, past orchards and fields of ripening hay, and came to a two-lane paved Muggle road with a yellow line painted down the middle. Turquoise paused before crossing. Harry and Ginny stopped about fifty yards behind her and watched as she looked both ways and went on. The lane continued on the other side of the road, and Turquoise went down it.

When Harry and Ginny got to the motorway it was empty, and they hurried across. The lane now became rougher; weeds grew between the ruts, and the fences lining it were not well kept; rails were missing and some of the posts were leaning. The fields did not look well-tended, either; there were also no trees or farmhouses.

The lane was more curvy and they lost sight of Turquoise, so they walked faster. They came around a sharp curve, and saw her, stopped only a few yards away. There were no houses nearby, although another lane, more like a path, intersected their lane from both sides. Turquoise stood in the crossing and looked around.

Except for the moon there was no light. As Harry and Ginny watched from under the Cloak, barely breathing, Turquoise looked up and down the lane, up and down the cross path, and suddenly her figure seemed to shrink, as though it was receding into the distance. It grew fainter and vanished.

Harry and Ginny stared at the spot where Turquoise had been. They looked back down the lane, walked to the crossing, and peered up and down the path. They walked in both directions, away from the lane; there was nothing as far as they could see, not a fence, not a house, nothing. They walked another half-mile along the lane and back, but again there was nothing. Finally Harry threw off the cloak and they stared at each other.

“What on earth happened?” Ginny said. “I never saw anything like it. It didn’t look like she was Disapparating.”

“Or Portkeying, either.” Harry frowned. “There’s nothing around here, no buildings, no houses, nothing. Where the hell did she go?”

“And how did she do it?”

They stood in silence; not even a breeze rustled the weeds in the fields. Harry sighed. “Damn, I really thought we were on to something. I never expected some kind of deep, secret mystery. If she’s more than just a tart, then what is she?”

Ginny looked at Harry. “You said secret. What if it’s a—”

“Fidelius!” they both said at the same time, and they both grinned.

“That’s it!” Harry exclaimed. “That has to be it! We can’t see anything because it’s protected by a Fidelius charm. But it has to be nearby because she was about to enter a house or go down a path to it. Maybe this path.” He pointed to the one they were facing.

“Then who is the Secret-Keeper?” Ginny said.

“That could be anyone. Maybe one of those blokes who were with her tonight.”

“I don’t think so. If she went to all the trouble to cast a Fidelius, then the Secret-Keeper will be someone she can really trust. Those two didn’t look bright enough to light a match.”

They started back down the lane towards Hogsmeade. “We need to talk to Hermione and Ron,” Harry said. “I wonder if they know anyone who can break a Fidelius.”

“You can’t break it, Harry, not with Veritaserum or Imperio. Not even Tom Riddle could find your parents’ house until Pettigrew told him.”

They continued to talk until they arrived back to the inn. It was well after midnight; Stan had closed up and gone home, and Kreacher and Winky were both asleep. Harry and Ginny went up to the flat and lit a fire; they sat in the love seat, talking and thinking, but soon they were kissing and caressing, and soon after that they were in bed with candles burning in the veela candlesticks outside the closed hangings. They slept soundly, well into the morning, and awoke, as they had so many other mornings, to the tempting aromas of bacon, porridge, and fresh coffee.

Harry sent McPherson to Diagon Alley as soon as he got out of bed, and the owl returned with Hermione and Ron’s reply shortly after they were finished eating. An hour later Harry and Ginny went out back behind the inn to wait, and in a few minutes Ron and Hermione Apparated.

They started across the field while Harry told them about last night’s escapade. The trek didn’t seem as long in the daylight, and soon they were standing in the little crossing where the lane met the path. There were no houses in sight, not along the lane or across the fields. The nearest trees were about half a mile away.

“And she just kind of faded away?” Ron asked while Hermione walked a few yards on the path to their left.

“Right,” Harry replied. “I never saw anything like it, but then I’ve never tried to follow someone whose house was protected by a Fidelius.”

“I can’t think of any other explanation,” Hermione said, returning to the lane; she shaded her eyes and looked across the fields. “You didn’t hear a pop, and she wouldn’t use a Portkey unless she wanted to run the risk of the Ministry finding out.” She turned to Ron. “Have you done anything with the Fidelius in class yet?”

Ron shook his head. “No way. It’s so complicated, they made it a whole separate unit. But . . .” He thought for a moment. “Bill has used it a lot. I’ll bet he could tell us something.”

“Maybe you can go see him later today,” Hermione suggested to Harry.

Harry’s brow creased. “Maybe. We’re visiting Neville and Keesha later. I could see Bill tomorrow evening, if he’s free.”

“Hey, I heard Neville’s going to Herbology school,” Ron enthused. “That means every bloke in our year is in some kind of program—” He stopped in mid-sentence and looked guiltily at Harry, and then at Hermione.

Harry scowled. “That’s right, mate, everyone except me. Leave it alone, will you?” He turned away and jammed his hands into his jeans pockets. Ginny glared at Ron.

“Sorry,” Ron muttered. “I was warned not to talk about that—” he shot a quick glance at Hermione “—but my big mouth . . .”

Harry turned back. “Forget it. I’m getting used to it.”

Ginny spoke quickly. “So what do we do now? Is there any point in following Turquoise again?”

“Probably not,” said Ron, relieved to have the subject changed, “but this is making me think about something you said a while ago, Harry. Where did you say she worked before she came to Hogsmeade?”

“In a restaurant in York. Rosmerta told me. Why?”

Ron thought for a moment. “Well, the names of the escaped Death Eaters are starting to leak out, and one of them is from a place called Dringhouses. It’s a village just outside York where a few wizarding families live.”

“There’s probably hundreds of wizarding families around York,” Hermione said. “It’s a mathematical probability that someone would be a Death Eater.”

“Yeah, but this one’s last name is Parkinson, as in Pansy.”

“My top candidate for a facial decoration,” Ginny said darkly. “If I ever get a chance . . .”

Harry shrugged. “She’s definitely not my favorite person, but I don’t see what her connection is to Turquoise Southeby.”

Ron glanced at Hermione; he seemed a little flustered. “Well, maybe nothing. It’s just something I learned in the program.”

“Well, what is it?” Harry asked. “Look, mate, you don’t have to apologize to me about what you’re doing. Just tell us.”

“Um, they’ve been teaching us to look for coincidences. I know this one seems stupid,” he added hastily. “I guess Pansy couldn’t have anything to do with Turquoise. Forget it. They probably never met in their lives.” Ron’s face had gone pink,

“Does anyone know what Pansy is doing now?”

“I’d have to do some digging, but the Ministry might not have any information on her unless she’s done something naughty.”

They all chuckled; Harry took his hands from his pockets and took Ginny’s hand. “It’s nice out here, you know,” he said, looking around at the open fields. “Very peaceful.”

As they walked back to Hogsmeade, Ginny wondered about Harry’s reaction to Ron’s mention of Neville and his other classmates. Harry was still holding her hand as he described to Ron the problems he was having with his beverage supplier. She glanced past them and caught Hermione’s eye. They looked at each other for a moment, and Ginny could see that Hermione was also wondering about Harry and the inn.

Chapter Text

Ron and Hermione returned to Diagon Alley and Harry and Ginny went to meet Keesha at Hogwarts. She escorted them to her home in Birmingham where Neville was waiting. Keesha’s mother packed a picnic basket, and the four walked to a city park about a mile away. They sat under a large tulip tree and plunged into the food. Mrs. Baker had sent along a variety of bean and pasta salads, bread, chopped vegetables, and fruit.

“She’s into healthy stuff, vegetarian,” Keesha said with a grimace. “I have to get all my meat and good desserts at Hogwarts. When my parents came for the memorial I was afraid she would say something about what they served for lunch.”

Harry was unsure at first how Neville would react to him, but Neville never mentioned the incident in Hogsmeade, and after a few minutes Harry was able to forget and relax. It was good to get away from the inn and Hogwarts with Ginny; sitting under a tree in the early fall sunlight reminded him of last summer, when neither one of them had a care in the world and they wandered around the countryside like free ghosts, and everything was beautiful. Ginny looked very pretty in brown pants and a matching jacket with a flowery blouse; he could see the chain of his locket around her neck, and she smiled and touched it when she noticed him looking at her.

Neville waxed eloquent about the classes he would be taking at the College of Herbology. It was in the center of Lancaster near the old cathedral. His flat was over a Muggle bakery, and Keesha laughingly predicted he would end up as fat as Professor Slughorn.

“Not likely,” said Neville, smiling at her. “We’ll be out in the field most of the time. In fact they do a lot of collecting around the Black Lake and the Forbidden Forest.”

The weather was a little cool and breezy, and the sun kept going in and out of clouds. After they finished eating they walked around the park and Neville identified all the flowers and other plants.

“Professor Sprout is big on knowing everything, not just magical plants. She says you never know when you might discover something new.”

At the center of the park was a small pond, and they watched children playing with toy boats while their parents sat on benches and chatted. The boats seemed to move magically by themselves, until Harry explained that the children were aiming small boxes that sent wireless signals to tiny motors in the boats.

“I’d say that was magic,” said Keesha. “It’s invisible and it makes the boats do what the kids want. Mobilinavis,” she laughed.

“My dad collects junk like that,” Ginny said. “He can never make them work like Muggles do, so he ends up putting a spell on them. It’s all the same, if you ask me.”

As they watched, a young child pointed to her boat which was dead in the water in the middle of the pond. Her father and a few other parents came over; he tried fiddling with the signaling device but the boat wouldn’t move. Harry took out his wand, waved it, and the boat began moving in widening circles as the Muggles gaped. The father looked up at the sky and peered around the pond, but paid no attention to the four teenagers standing a few yards away, one of whom was holding a small stick. The boat soon reached the bank, and the girl retrieved it; the parents went back to their benches with another topic to talk about.

“See,” Harry grinned as they walked away, “it’s not the same. Magic is better.”

“What a talent you are,” Ginny laughed. “And modest, too. That little girl will never know that a wizard rescued her boat.”

They wandered around the park for another hour, then returned to Keesha’s house and sat at a large kitchen table with her parents who asked Harry polite questions about his adventures last year. Mrs. Baker insisted on sending them back to Hogsmeade with packets of her surprisingly tasty home-made veggie biscuits, and Harry and Ginny arrived at the inn not hungry at all. They went upstairs to the flat and sat in the love seat in front of a crackling fire.

“Let’s not do anything else this weekend,” Harry said between long, sensuous snogs. Ginny was in his lap, and one of his arms held her, leaving the other free to roam. At first Ginny’s response was a simple “Mmm,” but soon her demands became specific and her pretty brown outfit ended up next to her on the love seat. They rolled off the seat onto the rug, where Harry satisfied her requests.

On Sunday morning they decided to stay at the inn and not go see Bill. Ginny sent Bailey off to Shell Cottage with a note and she returned bearing an invitation from Fleur for dinner next Saturday, and a postscript from Bill that answered Ginny’s question about the Fidelius by saying it was too complicated to put in a short letter.

The day passed exactly as Harry wanted, just himself and Ginny with the outside world excluded. Stan, Kreacher, and Winky handled everything downstairs while Harry handled everything upstairs, and when the time finally came for Ginny to leave, Harry felt totally mellow about everything, even the inn. They walked back to Hogwarts and again met Keesha and Neville in the entrance hall. Three other seventh-year couples also wandered in just before nine o’clock. Mr. Filch slammed the oak doors closed behind Harry and Neville, and this time Neville did return to the inn with Harry.

As they approached they heard shouts from inside, and Harry hurried into the dining room. Stan was behind the bar with a stricken look on his face. Kreacher was standing near the kitchen door, which was ajar with Winky’s head poking out; the two house-elves also looked frightened. The customers, more than twenty, were all standing at their tables, except for two: a stout witch and a wizard who appeared to be her husband were at the bar. Her pointed hat was askew and she looked a little tipsy as she unsteadily waved a bottle of Potio Vitae under Stan’s nose. Her husband, short but just as stout, stood uncertainly behind her, trying to pull her away from the bar.

Stan saw Harry, and a look of relief replaced one of panic. Harry walked to the bar with Neville right behind. “What’s going on?” he asked Stan.

The witch, who was glaring at Harry, shoved the bottle at him. “Here’s what’s going on!” she shouted. “You’re trying to kill me! Look!”

She held the bottle up, and Harry could see a dark shape floating inside. His insides lurched, and he looked at Stan. The witch pushed the bottle into Harry’s face and he put his hand up.

“Ma’am, I’m sorry, there was a bad shipment, I thought we had pulled out all the bad ones, but—”

“But you missed one!” she screamed; her husband put his hand on her shoulder but she pushed it away. “Don’t try to deny it! This is outrageous! I’m going to report you to the Ministry, there will be consequences, Mr. Potter, consequences!” She turned to her husband. “Hercules, take me home, I’m going to be ill. Mr. Potter, you have not heard the last of this.”

She pushed past Harry, bumped against Neville knocking him into the bar, and stormed out. Her husband mumbled something to Harry and rushed after her.

Harry looked around; everyone in the room was staring at him. “What happened?” he said to Stan.

“We missed a case,” he said in a shaky voice. “There was one in the kitchen with the old bottles, and Winky gave one of them to Kreacher when he went to get the order for them two.” He nodded towards the door, which the departing couple had left open; Neville went over and closed it.

“And of course that’s the one that had the dead rat. Just my luck.” He turned to the rest of the diners, who had returned to their seats. “I’m sorry, folks,” he said in a loud voice. “We overlooked a case of Potio Vitae that had—that was contaminated. We’re throwing out every bottle from that case. We already returned several dozen, and we’ve been told that what we kept is okay. And everyone gets a free drink.”

A buzz of conversation followed, and Tony called out, “Thanks, Harry!” from the other end of the room. Harry turned to Stan. “Double-check what’s in the storeroom, and I’ll check the kitchen.”

Winky and Kreacher watched as he approached the kitchen door; Kreacher stepped aside and followed Harry in. Winky retreated to her stove and looked at Harry apprehensively; she was holding a ladle.

“Is Harry Potter angry with Winky? If he is, then Winky will punish herself.” She raised the ladle to her head.

“Winky!” Harry shouted. “No! I forbid you to punish yourself!”

This command seemed to perplex the elf, and Harry realized that he may have posed a dilemma for her. Her instinct was to punish herself if she disobeyed or harmed her master, which she apparently believed she had. But now, if she did punish herself it would also be disobedience and deserving of more punishment. Harry put his hand to his forehead to keep these thoughts from making him dizzy.

“Besides,” he said, “it wasn’t your fault. I didn’t check in the kitchen and I didn’t tell you about the rats.”

Winky looked relieved, and lowered the ladle. “Harry Potter is a kind master, if sometimes forgetful.” She hung the ladle on a hook next to the stove. “There is no more bottles of that drink in Winky’s kitchen. Kreacher has taken them all away.”

Harry sighed and went back into the dining room. Conversations were at their normal level, and several customers were chugging bottles of Potio Vitae or butterbeer, and everyone seemed content. He told Stan there were no more bottles of the drink in the kitchen, but Stan still looked shaken by the incident, and Harry decided to stay with him instead of going upstairs. He sat at the bar with Neville.

“Now I see what you have to deal with,” Neville said. “This is a lot tougher than identifying shrubs in the Forbidden Forest.”

“I’d rather be in the Forest than here. There you only have to worry about centaurs and giant spiders.”

“That woman was ridiculous. But, you know, I don’t even like that drink.” He pointed to a bottle of Potio Vitae sitting on the bar. “They say it’s very popular, but I can’t see why.”

Harry chuckled. “You’re not a redhead, so it must be that you don’t have any Muggle grandparents.” He laughed at Neville’s puzzlement. “None of the Weasleys like it, so someone joked that it’s because they have red hair. I don’t think that’s it, though. It has to do with Muggle blood.”

Neville looked skeptical and shrugged. “Maybe. Well, I have to be getting home. I hope you don’t have any more problems like tonight.” He said goodbye to Stan, and Harry walked him to the door and watched him Disapparate.

It was after midnight when Harry wearily opened the door to his flat. A pile of letters was stacked neatly on the mantel, but only McPherson was on the perch. Harry riffled through them; in the one on top, Ginny wrote that she hoped everything was okay, and she was going to bed. She asked him to send an owl right away if anything was wrong, but if not, to send one first thing in the morning.

Harry was disappointed and a little peeved that his own stupidity had cost him a night of long-distance entertainment with Ginny. He took the stack of owls into the bedroom and got in bed with them, reading the jokes, gossip, and suggestive comments several times. Finally, he took the Bouquedelle from its drawer in the nightstand, put it to his lips, and fell asleep with it in his hand and Ginny’s scent in his dreams.

In the morning Harry sent McPherson with a message to Ginny describing the incident with the dead rat. He followed it with an angry letter to Jake Sipper and took it to the post office, but there at the door he almost turned around and went back to the inn because Turquoise was standing at a section of cubbyholes, sorting mail. She looked around as Harry came in; she was wearing tight jeans and a loose fitting blouse, open at the neck. She did not smile, as she usually did when she saw him.

She seemed concerned, and Harry realized that he was scowling. “Harry, how are you?”

“Fine,” he said, trying to rearrange his face; this was the last person he wanted to know about his problems. “I have a letter for Jake Sipper, Sipper’s Beverage and Tea Emporium. It’s in London, down on the East End, I think.”

“Oh, I know Mr. Sipper,” Turquoise said breathlessly. She reached up and pulled her hair back, which caused her blouse to tighten around her bust. “He comes to The Three Broomsticks sometimes. There was a problem with the drinks he sent you, wasn’t there?”

Harry shook his head. “No,” he said curtly. “Just send this, please.”

“Whatever you want, Harry.” Turquoise curtseyed and turned with a smile. She walked slowly, swaying her hips, through a door into the owlery, and reemerged a moment later with a large Tawny owl on her shoulder and three buttons of her blouse unbuttoned. “He’s big and fast,” she breathed, batting her eyes. She blinked several times and set the owl down on the counter. It also blinked, and for a brief second Harry almost laughed when it and the witch were blinking in unison.

Turquoise noticed Harry’s quick smile and leaned on the counter, her breasts threatening to cascade out of her blouse. “He’ll be back with an answer in a couple of hours, at the most. It’s twenty-five Knuts. Is that okay, Harry?”

“Sure, it’s fine. Thanks.” Harry paid her and watched as she tied the parchment to the owl’s leg and carried it to the window. The bird took off, and Harry turned and walked to the door. He stopped when Turquoise called after him.

“Harry, I heard about Jessica Purloin, you know, the witch who yelled at you last night. She was in here this morning, just a couple of minutes ago. She sent an owl to the Ministry of Magic. I thought you’d like to know.”

Harry’s scowl returned. “Yeah, I . . . Thanks, Turquoise, I appreciate that.”

She beamed and breathed. “Any time, Harry. I’m here to serve you.” He nodded and left.

Harry’s anger built as he trudged back to the inn. He wasn’t concerned about getting into trouble with one of the Ministry bureaucracies; it had been an accident, and no harm had been done. But if he did get a visit or even just an owl from some overzealous official who saw a chance to gain some notoriety by persecuting Harry Potter, there would be bad publicity and a big stink to deal with.

Turquoise’s performance had not helped his mood, and by the time he reached the inn he was boiling. He slammed the dining room door behind him, and both Stan and Kreacher jumped; Kreacher was sitting on a bar stool and almost fell off. Harry glared at Stan who was polishing the mirror behind the bar.

“How many times do you have to do that?” he yelled. “It’s clean! Go check the PV, I don’t want to see anymore goddamn rats!”

Stan looked at him in shock, and Kreacher slid off the stool and backed away towards the kitchen, his mouth working wordlessly and his bat-like ears quivering. Harry looked from one to the other, and his anger evaporated. He slumped into a chair and put his hand over his eyes.

“Oh, damn, I’m sorry. Stan, I—I’m sorry. I just found out that bitch last night complained to the Ministry.” He looked up at his barkeep. “This is driving me insane.”

Stan glanced at Kreacher and stepped away from the mirror. “You’re right, ‘Arry, I do clean this thing a lot. It’s just something to do.”

Harry stood. “It’s not you, Stan, it’s me. Just go back to whatever you were doing. You too, Kreacher. I’m sorry I frightened you.” He turned and went out the front door and around to the back; he wanted to go up to the flat, but he did not want to face Winky. Upstairs, he slammed the door behind him, punched the wall—putting a large dent in it—and went into the bedroom.

He sat on the bed, not knowing what to do with himself. He hated the inn. It was nothing but trouble, but not the kind of trouble he could deal with by waving his wand. All it gave him was an agitated brain and knots in his stomach. He wished Ginny could leave Hogwarts; then they could live like normal people in a normal house and have a normal life, something that would be a pleasantly new experience for him.

Maybe he could find a job for Stan someplace and just walk away from this. But what about Tony and George and Rosmerta, and Winky and Kreacher? Why all of a sudden did he feel like he had obligations to everyone? After he destroyed Riddle, there had been a few loose ends to tie up—their lost tent, for example—but by the next day no one expected anything from him. Now, if he abandoned the inn he would also be abandoning all the people who had helped him, including a dozen members of Dumbledore’s Army.

He was trapped, at least until Ginny was done at Hogwarts. If he sold the inn then, everyone would know he was doing it because he and Ginny wanted to start their lives together; he wouldn’t be running away from anything. The question was, how was he supposed to last until then? He absolutely needed Ginny to be able to do it; that was a certainty. But could he do it if he saw her only once during the week and on weekends? Over the summer he had become so used to being with her all the time that two days without her seemed like an interminable separation.

He got up and went back into the parlor. McPherson was gazing at him from the perch next to the casement window; it could have been his imagination, but Harry thought the owl was looking at him askance, not totally sure about trusting him. Harry looked at the hole in the wall next to the door and understood; he took out his wand and repaired it, then went over and stroked McPherson’s back. “I’m sorry, old boy, I lost my temper. Can you take another letter to Ginny?”

But Ginny didn’t receive it until two hours later, just before lunch. She had just returned to her room from Herbology and sat on her bed reading it. It was not the news she wanted to hear. That morning, McGonagall and Sprout had assigned major research projects, and both had emphasized the importance to their N.E.W.T. students of taking their assignments utterly seriously. Classes at this level should be considered as just below professional grade, the Headmistress had said, and if they were serious about getting on with their careers, they needed to buckle down.

And before that, the whole Quidditch team had cornered her at breakfast. They wanted to get started. They all recognized that the team had weaknesses; the Slytherin match was less than two months away and none of them wanted to lose. Ginny agreed to start practices this week, and to get Dennis together with Ron on Saturday. She didn’t think it would be a problem if Harry came to watch; it would even be a chance for the two of them to fly together, which they had not done for more than a month.

But Ginny was apprehensive about Harry’s reaction to getting less of her time, especially since it looked like the inn was going to continue throwing problems up in his face. Dead rats and dead weasels, ministry investigations, Dark Marks . . . She wished she could make it all go away; she wished she and Harry could be together up in his wonderful flat and make love all day.

She had never dreamed, during those years of waiting and wondering, that she could feel this close to anyone, that she could love someone this much. Harry was in her heart the same way her family was. But, just as she had always had to defend herself against being overwhelmed by her brothers, she knew that she had to do the same with Harry. His needs were intense, and it worried her that he might not recognize the danger of being devoured by the fire-breathing dragon of their love. He had no experience in embracing the total love that someone was giving him, yet at the same time keeping his own love from becoming an obsession. And she was afraid it was happening.

She could not solve all his problems, especially where the inn was concerned. And she could not tell Harry what to do with his life. She knew as well as everyone else that he would never be happy as an innkeeper. He was so set on it, though, and it had been such a wonderful gift, and Harry had done it so perfectly, that she couldn’t help loving it.

Ginny suddenly looked up into the mirror over her dresser and saw her reflection next to the photo of Harry. Her train of thought had led her to a conclusion she did not expect: Ginny Weasley was stuck in the Hog’s Head Inn as much as Harry Potter was. If the inn was a problem, it was a problem for both of them.

She looked at the pile of textbooks teetering on her dresser, and at the Firebolt leaning against the wall next to it, two realities staring down the fantasy of a snug love nest in the flat. It scared her. She could never retreat behind the closed hangings of their four-poster and tell the rest of the world to go away; that would end up destroying their love. But rejecting that choice meant that she had to tell Harry to deal with his problems; she could do no more than support and defend him, but he had to do the heavy lifting.

She heard the school clock chime twelve; it was lunchtime. She looked at McPherson, waiting patiently on Bailey’s perch, sighed, and began to write.

 

 

 

 

My darling Harry,

It was awful for that witch to report the rat to the Ministry. I agree with you, though, that nothing will come of it. It wasn’t your fault that the bottle was contaminated, and she didn’t drink any of it. She was overreacting and had no business reporting you.

So try not to worry about it. I know that’s easy for me to say. I wish I was there to show you how much I care for you, and how much I wish your problems would go away. If all these bad things keep happening, I will always be here to help you and to show you how much I love you.

Maybe you could send an owl to Saliyah and tell her what happened. She will know that it’s all ridiculous and won’t let some half-wit in the Magical Law Enforcement office do anything stupid.

I will be very busy with schoolwork and Quidditch practice this week. When I get back to my room later tonight I will send Bailey to you with a message telling you how much I love you.

Your beloved Ginny

After she sent McPherson off with the letter, Ginny felt dispirited, unsettled. She wanted to be with Harry, but she needed to study. If she started to fall behind, she would have a hard time catching up, and that would make it even more difficult to spend time with him. Reluctantly, she got up and went down to the Great Hall.

She spent two hours after lunch immersed in advanced Transfiguration textbooks, and afterwards went back upstairs to her Defense Against the Dark Arts class. She let her mind wander during Professor Pester’s interminable and irrelevant lecture on Dark Arts during the Muggle Middle Ages—Luna would tell her if there was anything worthwhile in it—and thought about Harry. Was he moping up in the flat, wondering if her letter meant that she was leaving it for him to deal with alone? Was that what she actually meant?

As soon as Pester droned to a stop and dismissed them Ginny raced up to her room, but there was no owl waiting for her. That was worrisome; Harry had always answered quickly, especially when he was upset. She debated breaking a rule and going into Hogsmeade before dinner, but that would mean that she was running to his rescue. She didn’t know what to do, and her own frustration built.

At dinner Ginny felt distracted again; she couldn’t pay attention to the twins’ chatter about Transfiguring teacups, and she cut Jimmy off when he asked about the Quidditch practice she had scheduled for Wednesday afternoon. In an agitated state of mind, she went outside onto the lawn after dinner and walked down to the lake. Without admitting to herself what she was doing, she sat under a tree and, when dusk fell, walked along the lake to the castle gates. She slipped through and into the shadows of the trees lining the lane, cut into the woods past the Shrieking Shack and onto the High Street near Honeydukes.

Harry was sitting at the bar and looked up when Ginny came in. He slid off the stool with a broad smile and hugged her. “What are you doing here? Did they let you come?”

Ginny nodded to Stan who was polishing the counter, and he smiled. There were only four customers, but Ginny froze when she saw Turquoise at a table along the wall; she was alone and stared coolly back as she sipped a firewhiskey.

“Let’s go upstairs,” Ginny said to Harry. He led her out into the kitchen, and Ginny made sure that Southeby noticed them leave. Winky glanced at them from the sink but said nothing; Ginny thought that the house-elf’s expression was not as welcoming as it usually was, but maybe that was because Ginny was just unfamiliar with house-elves and their moods. When they got up to the flat Harry took her in his arms and kissed her.

“I’m so glad you came,” he said as she leaned her forehead against his chest. “It’s been nutters here.” He rubbed her back and his hands slipped down to her hips and he pulled them against himself.

“Harry, no, not now. We have to talk. Please.” She walked to the love seat, sat, and smiled at him. “Why don’t you start a fire, that’ll be cozy.”

“Okay.” He took his wand out and in a few seconds a small fire was burning. He sat next to Ginny; she took his hand and for a few minutes they were silent. She started to speak but Harry cut across her.

“Gin, I can’t keep her from coming here. She hasn’t done anything. If she did, I would toss her out.”

Ginny put her hand on his lips. “Harry, it’s not Turquoise Southeby. I don’t give a damn about her. It’s us. It’s this inn. If all you’re getting out of it is trouble, then leave it. You have enough gold to do anything you want.”

“It’s not the gold. What I want is to be with you. Here.” He waved his hand around the parlor. “This is our home.”

“Love, it’s a wonderful place, it’s perfect for us, except—”

“If it’s perfect, why do you want me to leave? Where should I go? Ginny, I need you, I love you. I . . .” He stopped and looked at the fire.

“I love you too, so much.” She took his hands and he turned back to her. “Harry, what do you want? I mean, what do you want to do after I leave school? Do you want to get married and have children and raise them here? Because I don’t. I mean,” she took his dismayed face in her hands, “I don’t want to raise a family over an inn.”

“What’s wrong with an inn? You meet people; it’s the real world. Okay, it’s not the Burrow, but it’s not leaning in twenty different directions like it’s about to topple over.” He pulled away with an irritated look and folded his arms across his chest. After a few seconds he looked at her. “I’m sorry, that was stupid. I love the Burrow, you know that.”

“I know, and I know that you’re having a bad time here. That’s why I came.” She snuggled closer. “It doesn’t make sense not to be happy. All we have to look forward to is each other, which makes me very happy.”

“Ginny . . .” Harry put his arms around her and they held each other. He began kissing her, and glanced at the bedroom. “So, shall we . . .”

“Harry, I wasn’t thinking about that. I need to be going, I’ll probably get into trouble for being out.”

“Oh, no! You should get back!” He jumped up, pulled her up, and held her for a moment. “Thanks for coming, it really made me feel better.”

‘I’m glad.” She kissed him, and they went downstairs. Winky was sitting on a stool at the counter, and this time she smiled at Ginny. Harry told Stan he would be back soon. He made a show of putting his arm around Ginny’s waist and escorting her to the door as Turquoise watched impassively. They walked out and Harry kept his arm around her through the village, down the lane, and up the drive to the castle. They climbed the steps and the door opened to reveal Argus Filch standing there, a triumphant leer on his be-jowled face. Ginny swore.

“Spending a little time out of the castle, are we?” He held up a parchment. “It looks like a detention to me, but you’ll be quite familiar with it, seeing as you’re spending so much time with Mr. Potter.” He turned his leer on Harry.

“Harry, no!” Ginny pushed him back as he was about to take a step towards Filch. “I’ll be fine. Ignore him, he’s not worth it.”

Harry glared at Filch, whose grin had grown more triumphant. Harry pulled Ginny to the side so that Filch couldn’t see them and embraced her. “I’m sorry, Gin, I love you.” They kissed until Filch stepped outside and stood in the doorway, staring at them. Harry shot him one more dirty look and walked away.

Ginny strode past Filch who waved the detention notice at her with a satisfied smirk. She snatched it from his hand and read it as she climbed the marble stairs to the common room. She would have to report to Filch’s office on Saturday morning immediately after breakfast, and remain there until she finished whatever chores he gave her. She balled the notice in her hand and threw it angrily into the fireplace when she entered the common room.

There were about a dozen students studying and talking, but everyone fell silent and stared as she stalked across the room. Ginny didn’t notice, however; she now had a stack of problems, and being the target of everyone’s morbid curiosity was not one of them.

Nor was this detention the worst problem. Her talk with Harry had accomplished exactly the opposite of what she wanted. She had gone there hoping to convince him that he had to make a hard decision, but she had let the moment slip away. She had asked him what he wanted to do with the inn, with his life, with their lives, and he had not answered.  Instead, he was now convinced more than ever that, whatever horrible thing befell the inn, Ginny would come to his rescue.

How could she have let that happen? She had succumbed to the warmth and closeness she always felt with Harry; thank goodness she hadn’t given in to his lust, or else she would have got back even later, maybe not until morning. She slammed the door behind her as she entered her room and fell on her bed; her roommates weren’t there, so she left the hangings open.

This was a disaster. Now she would have to reschedule Dennis’s lesson with Ron to Saturday afternoon after the detention, so there went half the weekend down the drain. Tonight she had lost an entire evening of study time, which meant that she would have to work twice as hard and stay up twice as late studying for the rest of the week. She really needed to get back to the library now, but her motivation had bottomed out; she did not want to look at a book tonight.

She heard scratching at the window, and for a brief moment considered ignoring it. But she thought of Harry sitting alone in his room waiting to hear from her, and she got up. McPherson was there with a Honeydukes package tied to his leg. When she let him in he clucked a greeting and perched on her arm. When he lifted his leg he also gave her ear a nibble, and Ginny giggled in spite of herself.

“Your owner drives me nutters, you know that, don’t you?” McPherson blinked and ducked his head; Ginny laughed. She opened the package and three Chocoballs rolled into her hand.

Ginny gave a sigh, popped one into her mouth, and closed her eyes as the strawberry cream squirted down her throat; Harry did know what made her happy. She sent McPherson back with a love note, put on her nightgown, and climbed into bed. In a few minutes she felt the magical warmth telling her that Harry was looking at her on the Marauder’s Map, and she fell asleep, a little less agitated than a few minutes ago.

Unfortunately, in the days that followed Ginny did not feel calm very often. Her teachers continued to pile on work, and she missed Harry at lunch on Wednesday because Professor Sprout kept the class outside for an extra hour and had the house-elves bring food to them down by the lake. On Thursday Professor Pester sprang a quiz, and afterwards everyone in the class except Luna agreed that the test had been completely unfair because it only covered the topics Pester had lectured about, and everyone—except Luna—had pretty much slept through them all. On Friday Pester passed the tests back, confirming their fears, and he gave everyone except Luna additional lengthy parchments to write, due on Monday.

“Either you take N.E.W.T.-level work seriously, or you take someone else’s class,” he said, glaring at them.

Ginny didn’t know when she would have time to write the parchments; she was starting to feel overwhelmed. She vowed to have the talk with Harry that evening, the one she should have had on Monday; she had to make him understand. Her detention was going to disrupt all her plans for the weekend, and she could not afford to let it happen again. Beginning on Monday, she vowed, Harry would have to accept that.

Chapter Text

Harry was very solicitous, almost apologetic, when he picked Ginny up on Friday afternoon. He was angry at Filch and at himself, as though it was his fault that Ginny had gotten detention. Ginny wouldn’t let him take the blame, and they had a humorous argument about it as they walked to the inn.

But in bed, when Harry began to make love to her, Ginny knew that she was holding back. In her mind was the speech she had rehearsed: he must decide about the inn, or else it could drag them both down. She had planned to wait until Sunday, after they had spent two nights and a day together, but her intentions were being ignored by her feelings.

Harry noticed; she had never responded less than totally, less than with her whole body and soul. “What’s wrong?” he asked. He rolled off and put his hand on her face. “It’s bothering you, isn’t it? Don’t worry, Gin, just get it over with and that will be the end of it.”

“It’s not the detention.” Ginny took his hand and kissed it. She looked into his eyes and involuntarily touched the locket lying between her breasts. Harry followed with his own hand and began caressing her, moving his finger in small circles. She closed her eyes, but opened them and reached up to his face, bringing his lips to hers. “Harry, I love you,” she whispered.

His face was over hers, only inches away. “What’s bothering you? Tell me.”

Tears welled up. “Harry . . .”

Harry abruptly sat up and stared at her. “Oh my God! You’re not . . . are you . . .?”

Ginny burst into laughter and pulled him back. They rolled over until she was on top. “No, I am not pregnant.” She grinned wickedly down at him. “And, to use my brother’s elegant expression, I don’t give a rat’s ass about detention.” Her grin faded. “I mean, I wish I didn’t have it, but—” The rest of her sentence was cut off by Harry’s kiss, and this time Ginny held nothing back.

Later they lay awake in the dark after the candles had flickered out. Harry ran his hand down her side, tracing the curves and the softness. “So, what was bothering you?”

“You have to make a decision about the inn,” Ginny blurted before she could think. She had been half-asleep, but her own words woke her. Harry’s hand stopped and she could feel him tense. She sat up on her elbow. “Harry, listen to me. What good is this place if it makes you unhappy, if it changes you. I can see it, it’s happening.”

“Do I really look unhappy?” He rolled onto his back and stared at the shadowed canopy. “Blimey, Ginny, if this is unhappy I can’t wait to see what happy is like.”

“You know what I mean. Of course I’m not talking about right now.” She put her hand on his shoulder, but he turned his head away. “You’ve blown up at Neville and Stan, two people who would lie down in front of the Hogwarts Express for you. That’s not you. Harry, the inn is changing you and you don’t need to let it happen.”

He looked at her, and his voice rose as he spoke. “I never wanted anyone to lie down in front of a train for me. All I ever wanted was a damned normal life!”

He pushed the hangings aside and sat on the edge of the bed. Ginny moved quickly to sit next to him; she looked at him apprehensively, but he took her hand. “I’m sorry, I guess I did it again. But don’t you see? When I’m with you, everything is fine, life is beautiful. That’s why I want to be here.”

“Yes, it’s fine,” she said in a low voice that trembled. She stood and pulled him up. “Let’s go downstairs and have a good time. It’ll keep me from thinking about detention.”

Harry grinned. “I thought you didn’t give a rat’s ass.”

“Maybe I do.”

They dressed, and Harry embraced her before they went downstairs. “I’m sorry,” he murmured. “Don’t be mad at me. I can’t stand that.”

“I’m not mad at you. But even if I was, it wouldn’t mean that I don’t love you.” He squeezed her again, and they went down and through the kitchen into the dining room.

There was a big crowd, including Keesha, Neville, and Luna. Ginny waved to them, but when she and Harry sat at their table, she suddenly felt the hairs at the nape of her neck stand and saw Turquoise at a table in the back with her two escorts, watching her and Harry.

Ginny turned to Harry and said in a low voice, “Has Southeby been coming all this time?”

Harry took a drink from his bottle of Potio Vitae and glanced around; he returned Turquoise’s smile with a blank face. “Yeah,” he said to Ginny, “she was here every afternoon and evening this week but she was never with anyone. All she does is sit there and drink firewhiskey.”

Ginny scowled at Southeby who looked away. “She’s up to something,” Ginny muttered, and put her hand on her wand.

“What are you doing?” Harry said, his forehead creasing. “I said she hasn’t done anything. She stares all the time, I’m used to it.”

Ginny sighed and let go of her wand. “There’s just something about her that’s not right. Look at how she’s dressed. No, wait!” she hastened to say as Luna, Keesha, and Neville turned to look; she sat back and frowned.

“She always dresses very provocatively,” said Luna as she smiled back at Southeby, who was watching them with her chin cupped on her hand. “She’s trying to seduce you, Harry.”

Harry’s eyes rolled and Ginny’s scowl deepened. “Let’s not talk about her, okay? She’s trash.”

“I thought you just said she’s up to something,” Harry said.

“Fine, she’s up to something. Let’s just drop it.”

“Why don’t you want to talk about it? If she’s up to no good, then let’s discuss it and then do something, like when we tried to follow her home.”

Ginny’s teeth clenched and she looked across the table at Keesha, away from Harry. “Okay, but can we do it later?”

Harry shrugged. “Sure, I was just asking.”

“Say, Ginny,” Neville said, “I heard you had your first Quidditch practice this week. How did it go?”

Ginny smiled, relieved that someone had changed the subject. “Okay. The Chasers need a lot of work, though. Demelza’s the only one who’s played before, so we’re not very coordinated. But it’ll come.”

“And Dennis?”

Ginny grimaced. “Yeah, well, Dennis also needs work. I’ll tell you, he’s making me nervous. He stopped absolutely nothing, zilch.”

They talked about Quidditch for another few minutes, but Harry sat silently. Finally Luna said, “Harry, you were always so knowledgeable about Quidditch. What do you think about your team this year?”

Harry had been slouched in his seat, fiddling with his bottle. Now he sat up. “It’s Ginny’s team. I don’t have anything to do with it. But she’s the best flyer in school and she has the fastest broom.” He grinned at her. “I think she would beat me out if I was still playing.”

Luna nodded solemnly. “That’s probably true. You’re out of practice and you don’t have your broomstick anymore.”

There was a thud under the table and Luna reached down and rubbed her leg. “You kicked me,” she said crossly to Keesha.

Harry just stared at Luna, but Ginny coughed loudly. “Does anyone want to eat? I’m hungry.” She beckoned to Kreacher who took their orders. They ate, but only Ginny, Keesha, and Neville talked; Harry sank into another slouch and ate almost nothing while Luna picked at her food and ignored everyone.

When the others finally left, Harry and Ginny went back up to the flat. Ginny went into the kitchen and sat at the small table. Harry lit a fire before joining her; Ginny watched him poke around in the small room for a minute, but then reached and took his hand. “You were quiet tonight. What’s on your mind? Did it bother you when Luna mentioned your broom?”

“Of course it bothered me.” Harry pulled his hand away. “My broomstick, Hedwig, almost getting killed . . . I don’t like to think about it.” He paused and sat heavily in the other chair and covered his eyes with his hand. “Oh, Merlin, I’m sorry. Why am I yelling at you? Luna is Luna, she says things . . . I’m sorry.” He looked at Ginny, and now she saw bewilderment in his eyes as well as frustration. She didn’t say anything, but came and sat in his lap; she knew what the reason for his gloom was, but she also knew he would not want to talk about it.

Harry buried his face in her hair. “I don’t know why I’m like this,” he said, his voice muffled. “I get angry and take it out on you. I hate myself.”

“Don’t.” She stroked his head. “I understand.”

They held each other for a long time, until Ginny led Harry into the bedroom where they made tender and comforting love.

# # # #

Manually repairing mops, brooms, and buckets, and counting cleaning supplies in a long series of dim, musty broom cupboards was not Ginny’s first choice of how to spend a Saturday morning. But the weather had turned cool and rainy, so at least she stayed dry. The rain stopped after lunch, although it remained overcast and blustery, and Dennis Creevey’s lesson with Ron didn’t go too badly. Ron only made a few cracks about Ginny’s detention, and he was remarkably patient with Dennis. Ginny, Demelza, Frances, and Meeta took turns attacking the goals, and after two hours Dennis had made small but noticeable progress.

Ron waited for Ginny to drop off her Quidditch robes and they went back to the inn, where Harry and Hermione were waiting. Harry had decided not to watch the lesson, and Ginny was a little disappointed; she had been looking forward to flying with him, but he didn’t seem very interested. Ron went upstairs and cleaned up before joining them in the dining room. Fleur had extended her dinner invitation to include Ron and Hermione, but had asked them not to arrive too early since Bill had to work and wanted to rest before dinner.

It was late afternoon and the dining room was empty. They sat at a table in the corner while Stan prepared the bar for the evening, and Kreacher shuffled in and out of the kitchen on sundry errands for Winky.

“He looks tired,” said Hermione as she watched the elf set tables.

“How old is he, anyway?” Ron asked. “Maybe he should retire.”

Ginny looked uneasily at Harry, who was leaning back in his chair with his hands clasped behind his head. He considered Ron for moment. “I’d have to replace him. It never occurred to me that I’d need a waiter, you know.” He shook his head and muttered, “A lot of things never occurred to me.”

“But it’s running so smoothly now,” Hermione said. “Stan really knows what he’s doing, and what Winky does in that kitchen is amazing. You hardly have to do anything, Harry.”

Harry cocked his head at her. “Are you suggesting that I let Kreacher retire and I should take his place?”

“What? Of course not. What are you talking about? Hire someone to replace him.”

Harry leaned forward and his chair set down with a loud thunk. “I don’t want to hire anyone else, okay? Kreacher is fine. He always looks tired, it’s the way he is.”

Hermione stared at him and glanced at Ginny. “He’s old, Harry, he can’t keep going forever.”

“All right! So he’s old!” Harry abruptly stood. “Isn’t it time to go?”

“What was that all about?” Ron asked Ginny as they walked outside while Harry talked to Stan about the evening’s schedule. “He seems awfully testy lately.”

“It’s this damn inn,” Ginny said bitterly. “He shouldn’t be here, he should be with you in the Auror program, but he’s too fucking stubborn to admit it. He yells at everyone, including me.”

Hermione took her arm. “Oh, Ginny, that’s awful. Is there anything we can do?”

Ginny shook her head. “If I try to talk to him, he bites my head off. Then he’s sorry, really sorry, but I don’t think he understands why he—why he does it.”

They stopped talking as Harry came out. “All set?” he said, and took Ginny’s hand. Ron took Hermione’s, and they Disapparated to the cliff next to Shell Cottage. Ron and Hermione walked towards the house, and Ginny started to follow, but Harry held her back. They stood watching the waves break on the sand.

“We had a great time here,” Harry said, putting his arm around her. “I wouldn’t mind living by the sea.”

Ginny looked at him; she could see the reflection of the whitecaps in his glasses and the eyes she loved so much blinking behind them. He smiled at her. “Let’s live near the sea.”

“Okay,” she said, biting her lip to keep it from trembling. They heard Fleur call and went to the house.

They ate dinner by the light of Fleur’s veela candelabra, and Ginny could sense a difference in Harry as the meal progressed. He told Fleur about his candlesticks, and laughed when Bill accused him of stacking the deck against poor, defenseless Ginny. Harry held her hand and Fleur smiled and poured more wine. She apologized to Harry for not having any Potio Vitae, but neither she nor Bill liked it, so they didn’t keep it in the house. After dinner they all crowded into the parlor where Bill lit a fire and they talked about Fidelius charms.

“You’ll never break it, Harry,” Bill said as he sipped a glass of sherry. “People have been trying ever since it was discovered, and that was a couple of hundred years ago. The only way you’ll find that house is if the Secret-Keeper tells you. And even then, you won’t be able to tell Ginny or anyone else yourself. You’ll have to get the Secret-Keeper to tell her.”

“Ginny is convinced that Turquoise is up to no good,” Harry said, “and I agree. She’s a pain in the ass, but I can’t keep her out of the inn as long as she’s just sitting there, even if she is batting her eyes at me and dresses like a whore.”

“Zat is not normal,” Fleur frowned, but since even her frowns were beautiful, Harry and Ron both smiled at her. “She is doing somet’ing while she is making eyes at you, you can be sure of zat.”

“Almost every time I see her I feel like pulling my wand out,” Ginny said; she was sitting in an overstuffed chair and Harry was perched on the arm. “I can’t explain it, though, I just get this feeling that there’s something wrong.”

“Trust your instincts,” Bill said. “But I’m afraid I can’t help you more than to give advice. You’ll just have to keep watching her and hope she makes a mistake.”

“What if she’s Imperiused?” Ron asked.

“I would know that,” Harry replied, “just like I knew last year when Stan was Imperiused. You can’t miss it, there’s a look in their eyes like they’re not completely there.”

“Harry’s right,” said Hermione. “We use the Curse on each other at the Institute as part of our project, and if you know what you’re looking for you can always spot it.”

“And no one has ever seen this Turquoise woman look like that?” Bill said.

“Zen she is acting on her own,” said Fleur, “and she does not want anyone to know why, and zat is why she ‘as a Fidelius spell.”

Bill looked at Harry apologetically. “Sorry, mate, it looks like we can’t help you.”

Harry shrugged, but smiled at Fleur. “At least we got a superb dinner out of it. And I’d like to go for a walk on the beach.” He gave Ginny his hand and she got out of the chair. “See you all in a bit,” he smiled back at them.

They walked to the path down through the cleft and onto the beach. They took off their shoes and walked to the water’s edge where their toes sank into the cool, wet sand. The stars and moon were not out, so Harry lit his wand very low and planted it in the sand a few yards back from the water; he spread his cloak next to it and they sat and listened to the surf. Ginny leaned her head on his shoulder and he put his arm around her.

“This is perfect,” Harry said. The soft glow from the wand seemed to flicker like the candles in the veela candelabra. Ginny pushed him down and lay on top of him and his hands squeezed her. She kissed him deeply and moved her body on his, until Harry was moaning and pulling at her clothes. She put her own cloak on top of them and the wand continued to glow.

Later, they sat back-to-back, leaning against each other and tossing pebbles into the water. Harry did it awkwardly with his left hand, and Ginny teased him about his pathetic tosses. When they saw wand-light moving along the cliffs, Harry waved his, and soon Ron and Hermione joined them. The four sat talking quietly for almost an hour.

Back at Shell Cottage they bid farewell to Fleur and Bill, but before they went back outside to Disapparate, Bill stopped them. He put his arm around Fleur and grinned.

“We have an announcement,” he said as Fleur blushed. Bill kissed her, and turned to the others. “Fleur is pregnant. She’s going to have a girl, and she’ll be born right around the anniversary of the battle. You are the first to know.”

“Oh, Fleur!” Ginny squealed. “That’s the best news! I’m going to be an aunt, Aunt Ginny!” She threw herself at Fleur and they hugged, laughing. “Do you have a name yet?”

“No, not yet,” Fleur said, and gave Ginny a wet kiss on her cheek. “It depends on ze exact birt’ date. Zat is very important to veelas, so we will wait.”

“Congratulations,” Hermione beamed. “So, it’ll also be Uncle Ronald.”

“Uncle Ron. You and Mum are the only ones who can call me Ronald.”

Harry also gave Fleur a kiss, and they all shook Bill’s hand; Ginny gave him a huge hug and kiss. “We’ll be telling Mum and Dad tomorrow,” Bill said, “so don’t say anything yet.”

“Wow! Their first grandchild!” Ginny was bouncing on her toes in her excitement. “Oh, this is brilliant!” She kissed Fleur again and took Harry’s hand. He was also smiling, and Ginny pressed his hand in hers. “Let’s go back and celebrate!” she bubbled. They waved goodbye, and soon were back at the inn with Ron and Hermione.

They went up to the flat, but Harry went back downstairs and brought up butterbeers. “I’ll drink what you drink tonight,” he said as he set them up.

They crowded into the tiny kitchen, and after Harry poured four glasses, Ron raised his. “A toast to the first Weasley granddaughter.” He looked at Ginny. “Another girl. You must have broken the logjam. Now we’ll probably get only girls for a couple hundred years.”

“I certainly hope not,” Ginny said. “How would the name carry on?”

“Oh, yeah, I forgot. Well, some of us will have to have boys.”

Hermione’s eyebrows arched. “Some of you? Which ones?”

Ron laughed and pulled her into a kiss and raised his glass again. “To the Weasleys, boys and girls.” They clinked and drained their glasses. Harry poured more butterbeer, and they sat around the cramped table and laughed and drank until long after midnight.

Ron and Hermione finally left for Diagon Alley, and Harry went down to check the inn. He came back into the bedroom where the veela candlesticks were lit and Ginny was in bed, wearing only her locket. Harry stood gazing at her, and for minutes they did not speak or move. He undressed and lay down next to her, and when he touched her, Ginny thought she would burst from happiness.

They awoke very late on Sunday morning, and Ginny left for the library right after a quick breakfast; she had to spend most of the day trying to catch up with a half-dozen subjects. Harry kissed her goodbye outside the front door and went back into the dining room to see what was going on. He swore to himself when he saw that the only customer was Turquoise Southeby, sitting by herself at a table towards the back; it seemed to be the one she preferred now, since she had also been there last night when Harry had briefly looked in.

Stan was polishing the counter, moving his rag in large slow circles, glancing up at Turquoise every few seconds. He motioned to Harry with his head and led him into the storeroom behind the bar.

“She’s been sitting there for two hours, doing nothing,” Stan said in a low voice. “She bought a firewhiskey, but hasn’t drunk any of it yet. I don’t get her. She dresses like a cheap Soho pickup but spends a whole morning alone.”

Harry took a Potio Vitae from a case; it was a round bottle and he held it up to the light. “She’s mental,” he said, pulling out the cork. “As long as she doesn’t bother anyone, just let her be. I’d rather have a quiet nutter than a noisy problem.”

“She bothers you, ‘Arry.”

Harry took a swig. “Not really. She bothers Ginny, and that bothers me, but we don’t have any grounds for chucking her out.” He drank the bottle down and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “That’s good.”

“Yeah, but ‘Arry, she’s giving the inn a reputation, if you take my drift. I’ve heard people talk about ‘er, especially when she bats those bedroom eyes at you.”

Harry sighed. “Okay, keep an eye on her. But I don’t think we can do anything.”

They left the storeroom and Turquoise obligingly smiled and waved at Harry. A few more customers had come in, and Harry noticed that they sat as far from her as possible. That didn’t necessarily mean anything, he reasoned; they might have sat where they did even if she wasn’t there. He went into the kitchen without acknowledging her and talked with Kreacher and Winky about the menu and what supplies he had to order. They were running short of a lot of staples, so Harry wrote down what the elves told him, took his ledger book from its drawer, and went back out into the dining room.

He set the ledger on a table at the very end of the room, behind Turquoise’s back, and opened it. He blinked several times at the columns and rows, trying to steel himself for the dreary task. He went down the rows looking for the items on Winky’s list, and calculated the costs. He came up with a total, then turned back a few pages and looked at the number at the bottom of the last column. He stared at it for a moment, then checked the cost of the supplies again, and slammed his palm down on the page and put his head in his hand.

Turquoise looked around. “Is something wrong, Harry?” He shook his head, but said nothing. “I’m good at figures, you know.” She touched her neckline with her finger. “It’s because I work at the Post, adding up all those Knuts and Sickles.”

“Thanks, Turquoise. I don’t have a problem with addition.”

“You must be quite good at it, I’m sure.”

“Thanks.” He shut the ledger and strode with it past her, back into the kitchen, waving Stan to follow. He set the ledger on a counter as Stan and the two elves watched him. “If we order everything on Winky’s list,” he said, “we’ll be a hundred and fifty Galleons in the red, and that’s without ordering anything that Kreacher needs or anything for the bar. I’ll have to take more gold out of my vault.” He passed his hand over his eyes. “I thought we were doing okay. Can anyone explain what happened?”

The three looked at each other, then at Harry. Kreacher shuffled forward a few steps and peered up with his bulging eyes. “My present master reminds me of my old masters, the Black family, rest in peace. The Black family had no sense for business—” his head twitched slightly as he said that “—so every enterprise the Black family attempted ended in failure.” He paused. “Forgive me, Master, Kreacher does not mean to criticize Harry Potter. Kreacher simply observes that none of the great wizards or witches knows anything about running a business.” He bowed and stepped back.

“Well, that’s interesting,” Harry said with a taut smile, “but it doesn’t really help.”

Kreacher bowed again. “Kreacher is sorry. Kreacher will try to help in any way he can.”

Harry turned to Stan. “Did we over-order? Are we paying too much?”

Stan shook his head. “I don’t think so. We ‘ave a three-day supply of drinks, and that’s about what we used to carry at The Leaky Cauldron. And we’re paying maybe twenty percent more than we did then, but that was seven years ago. I think we just aren’t charging enough.”

“Oh, brilliant. So we have to raise our prices after being in business less than a month.”

“We did have that shipment of bad PV that Sipper stuck us with,” Stan said hesitantly. “But that was only about thirty Galleons.”

“Well, that’s twenty percent of the hole we’re in. I guess there’s no helping it. I’ll figure out how much we have to bump everything up.”

Harry spent the rest of the day poring over the columns, trying to figure out what to do. The only place there was to lay out the ledger book and all the other paperwork he needed was at a table in the dining room. He debated whether to wait until after the inn closed, but that would mean a very late night and no long-distance games with Ginny after she went back to Hogwarts. He gritted his teeth, brought three bottles of Potio Vitae to the table, and tried to buckle down.

It didn’t help that Turquoise kept sniffing around him, offering her help and expressing concern whenever Harry grimaced over a particular sum or number. He tried to ignore her, but when she sat down at his table, his temper started to fray.

“Turquoise, just—” he began loudly, but it startled her, and Harry cut his anger off. “Please,” he said quietly, “I don’t need any help. Just . . . just have another drink, okay? It’s on the house.”

“Harry, that’s so kind of you,” she breathed, “but I’m not thirsty and—”

She stopped as Harry looked towards the door; Ginny was standing there, glaring. She strode towards them, and Turquoise jumped up and backed away.

“What are you doing here?” Ginny hissed at her; Harry had never seen her so angry, and he held up his hand and started to speak, but Ginny ignored him. “I told to you stay away from us.”

With one motion she reached for her wand and rammed it into Turquoise’s nostril. The witch’s head jerked back and she looked cross-eyed at the wand, her eyes wide with fright.

The room fell silent as all the customers turned to look. Ginny said, in a snarling whisper, “If I catch you whoring around here again I’ll blow your damn nose off. Now get out!” She pulled her wand from Southeby’s nose and shoved her. Turquoise stumbled over a chair, caught herself, and backed away, holding her nose with both hands. She stared at Ginny for a moment, then at Harry, then turned and walked out the door.

Ginny looked at Harry, put her wand away, pulled a chair out and sat.

“Why did you do that?” Harry asked angrily. “She wasn’t doing anything. I was telling her to leave me alone, you didn’t have to pull your wand on her.”

“Why are you defending her?” Ginny said loudly, but dropped her voice and leaned towards Harry. “She only wants one thing. Why won’t you kick her out? She’s a damned public nuisance.”

“I think I can decide who to kick out.”

“What exactly do you mean by that?”

“I mean—” He sat back and once again passed his hand over his eyes. “I mean, I’m sorry.” He reached across the table to take her hand, but she kept hers at her sides. “Gin, it’s been a bad afternoon. I’ve been losing a lot of money and I have to raise my prices. Please. I said I’m sorry. Why do you let her do that to you? She’s nothing. You’re making her into an issue, and she’s not.”

After a moment Ginny took his hand, still resting on the table. “You’re right. There’s my famous temper, red hair and all. I’m sorry.”

Harry slammed the ledger shut. “Screw this, I’ll do it later. Are you hungry? How did the studying go?”

“It went fine. Harry, are you sure you don’t have to do this now?” She pointed to the ledger. “When will you do it?”

He shrugged. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll just take more gold out of Gringotts and everything will be fine. Let’s get something to eat.”

Ginny followed him into the kitchen. Winky ladled a thick onion soup into large bowls, covered them, and handed them to Harry. Ginny led the way upstairs and they went into the kitchen and sat.

“Mmm, this is good,” Ginny said after five minutes of silence. “She is quite a cook.” Harry didn’t answer, but kept eating. After a few more minutes, Ginny put her spoon down. “Harry, we just had a little spat, that’s all. People do that. My parents do it, and they’ve been married for decades. It’s okay to have arguments.”

“I know.” He also put down his spoon. “But for a minute I was really angry at you, and I don’t know why. Ginny . . .” His eyes were puzzled as he looked at her. “We had such a beautiful time yesterday. It was so peaceful at the cottage and down on the beach, and what you did there . . . You drove me even crazier than you usually do.”

Ginny smiled. “I like making you crazy.”

“Then why was I so angry when you chased Southeby out?” He chuckled. “That was quite a wand maneuver. Where did you learn it?”

“I made it up on the spot,” she grinned. “It could come in handy some day, don’t you think?”

“Yeah, as long as you don’t use it on me.”

“Don’t give me a reason,” she laughed.

They finished eating, went into the parlor, and when they sat in the love seat Ginny started kissing him, but stopped after a moment. “What is it?”

Harry shook his head. “The stupid inn, what else? I’m in debt, Ginny, and I don’t like it. I’m going to have to raise my prices, like I told you.”

Ginny moved away and leaned against the end of the seat. “Harry, I just spent six hours in the library, and I’m still at least two days behind in Potions and Herbology. If I fall behind again, I’ll start missing deadlines for projects, and I mean big projects. They could all start giving me detention, and then I’ll—”

“What the hell does that have to do with me?” Harry interrupted, anger once again in his voice.  He got up and stalked to the front window; McPherson squawked and backed away on his perch. Harry glared at the bird and turned back to Ginny.

She was also on her feet. “I’ll tell you what has to do with you. Last Monday I got an owl from you about yet another problem with this inn of yours. So I came here to talk, and because of that I lost a whole night of studying, plus I got detention. That’s what has to do with you.”

“Okay, I’m sorry.” Harry came and sat back down. “I shouldn’t have said that.” He looked up at her. “Sit?” He patted the seat next to him.

“We need to talk first. Something is wrong here. I don’t mean between us.” She tried to give him a reassuring smile. “I mean here at the inn. You need to—”

“Stop it! Ginny, I don’t want people telling me what to do. I just want . . .”

“What do you want, Harry?” Ginny came and sat next to him. “Because if I can give it to you without hurting us, then I’ll give it to you. But there are some things that only you can give yourself. If you want to keep this inn, you also have to keep the problems that come with it. Didn’t Rosmerta and George and Bill talk to you about running a business?”

Harry’s back stiffened. “Don’t lecture me about running a business.”

She stood up again and went to the mantel. Harry’s parents gazed at her from their portrait; she moved it slightly and they smiled. When she looked at Harry his lips were pressed together and he was staring at the photograph. “Okay,” Ginny said, “I’m sorry if it sounded like a lecture. You haven’t answered my question. What do you want?”

Harry bit his lip. “I want you.”

“You have me, love, you have me in every possible way there is to have someone. What do you want from yourself?”

“What does that mean? Why should I want something from myself?”

Ginny sighed. “I think you know what I mean. What do you want to do?”

Harry’s mouth tightened and he abruptly stood up. “I told you not to lecture me.” He strode to the bedroom, turned at the door and pointed at her. “People have been lecturing me all my life. Don’t you start.” He stepped into the bedroom and slammed the door shut behind him.

Ginny stared at the closed door. She started to walk towards it, but stopped. There were no sounds from behind it. She looked around the room, feeling lost, her eyes tearing, and wiped them with the back of her hand. She turned and walked slowly to the door to the stairs, closed it quietly behind her, and went down. At the bottom she paused again and looked back up, but the door stayed closed and no footsteps came into the parlor from the bedroom. She pressed her forehead to the back door and began to sob. She opened the door and, as quickly as she could without attracting attention, went back to Hogwarts.

An hour later, as Ginny lay in her bed on a damp pillow, staring at the canopy, there was a scratching on the window. She scrambled up and raced to it, flinging it open so hard that it banged against the wall. McPherson hopped inside and lifted the leg that had the Honeydukes packet attached. Inside was a box of chocolate and a note. Ginny took them back to her bed and closed the hangings on her roommates’ stares. She put the chocolates on her pillow and opened the note. Many of the words were smeared by what were obviously teardrops. She wiped her own eyes and read.

 

 

 

Ginny,

How can I say I am sorry, after what I did? I can’t believe I did it, that I walked out on you, the most precious thing in my life. Can you forgive me? I can’t forgive myself.

I don’t know what is wrong with me. Everything is frustrating. You are right about the inn. What should I do?

I don’t know what else to say, except please forgive me. I only want for us to be happy and to be together. I love you so much.

Harry

Ginny could not control her own tears, but tried to keep her sobs under her breath so her roommates would not hear. When she finally stopped, she wrote her answer on the back of Harry’s note.

 

 

 

My love,

I don’t understand either why you did it, but you know that I will always forgive you, just as I know you will do the same. I love you too much to do otherwise.

Please, Harry, let’s talk about the inn. It must not come between us. Our love is the most beautiful thing in the world. Think about how we felt yesterday at Shell Cottage, and keep that feeling always in the front of your heart. That is what I will do.

Your Ginny

With tears running down her cheeks, she got out of bed and gave the note to McPherson. He clucked twice, nibbled her finger, and flew out the window. Ginny closed it quietly and went back to bed. After a few minutes, she could feel that Harry was watching her on the map, and the soothing magical warmth helped her fall asleep.

#   #   #   #

They did not see each other again until Harry’s lesson with Professor Flitwick on Wednesday. They exchanged several owls before then, and Harry assured her that he too wanted to talk. Ginny’s workload helped keep her mind from dwelling on the events of Sunday night and from wondering if Harry really meant what he said about talking. She was hopeful, but when she saw him at lunch after his lesson she had trouble controlling her reaction. He was haggard and moody.

“I haven’t slept much,” he muttered after they kissed in the entrance hall. “I had to take more gold out of Gringotts. It turns out I never paid for the dining room furniture.” He sighed and ran his hand through his unkempt hair. “I have no idea how I missed that.”

They stood facing each other for a moment before Ginny took his hand. “Come, let’s get something to eat.” They went into the Great Hall and ate quietly. The twins tried to start a conversation, but Harry didn’t respond to their questions about Skrewts, which apparently Hagrid had shown to their class. Ginny shook her head at them, and they finished lunch whispering to each other, wondering why Harry wouldn’t talk.

Things were not much better that weekend. Ginny had scheduled a full team Quidditch practice for Saturday morning, and Harry told her he didn’t feel like sitting for a couple of hours in the squally weather that had come up. They hung around the flat during the afternoon and met Ron and Hermione at The Three Broomsticks for dinner. Both Ron and Hermione mentioned Harry’s surliness to Ginny when Harry went to the loo, and she told them about their fight the previous Sunday. Ron stared at her in disbelief, and Hermione seemed close to tears.

Ginny herself felt a lump in her throat. “He just won’t admit that he made a mistake,” she said in a choked voice. “I tried talking about it last night. At least he didn’t get angry, but he won’t talk about it, either. And . . .” She hesitated, glancing at Ron, and said very quietly, “We haven’t made love this weekend.”

Ron looked away and said nothing; Hermione held her hand, and they all watched Harry as he made his way through the room back to their table. He sat and stared at the mirror behind the bar and responded to the rest of the conversation with grunts.

At least Turquoise Southeby wasn’t around, although Harry said she was at the inn every afternoon and evening during the week, sitting by herself or with one of her wizards. Ginny considered that piece of news, and decided that the bitch was being careful, appearing at the inn only when she was certain that Ginny would not show up.

The weekend ended on a better note. Once again, Ginny had to study at the library most of Sunday, and when she returned to the inn for dinner, Harry was, for some reason, in a better mood. He met her in front of the inn. “I saw you coming up the High Street. Do you want to go for a walk?”

Ginny was delighted, and they went back into the Hogwarts grounds and visited some of their old haunts around the Black Lake. Ginny didn’t want to ruin the moment, so she didn’t bring up anything about the inn, and Harry talked only about the Gryffindor Quidditch team and his lessons with Flitwick, and wondered why on earth Hagrid would show Blast-Ended Skrewts to a class of first-years.

They ate dinner in the flat and made love for the first time that weekend. Harry clung to her, almost hurting her, and became pathetically apologetic when he realized what he was doing. He seemed fearful when they parted in the entrance hall, and he clung to her again. McPherson came with Chocoballs, and Ginny lay in bed inside the hangings and wept when she felt the warmth of the Marauder’s Map envelope her.

The next several weeks followed the same pattern. Harry was morose and surly during the week and the first day of the weekend, but became almost himself again when Sunday afternoon came. He refused to talk about the inn, never mentioning any problems and brushing off Ginny’s tentative questions. Ron also tried talking to him but Harry was as unresponsive as he was with Ginny.

The only time that Harry really perked up was when Ginny sent Bailey to Shell Cottage with an almost desperate plea for another invitation. Fleur had them all back for dinner, and during the meal Harry once more became animated and attentive to Ginny. Fleur gave her some candles, and Ginny lit them in their bedroom back at the flat; their lovemaking that night was as passionate as ever, and Ginny decided to bring candles with her every weekend.

It seemed to work; Harry himself mentioned that he was in a better mood when the candles were lit, and for two weekends things were almost as good as they had ever been. But gradually the veela magic lost its effect, and Harry slipped back into his week-long funk, fueled no doubt by a stream of troubles that arose at the inn: disagreements with suppliers; dining room furniture that began to fall apart; arguments and a fistfight amongst customers; shortages of food and drink; and, probably as a result of all that, a decline in patronage.

Ginny could see that Stan, Kreacher, and Winky were all unhappy. She worried about Stan; if he became really miserable and didn’t think things would improve, he could leave, unlike the elves. She tried to talk to him once, at the beginning of November, but he just shook his head and kept polishing the counter. “‘Arry’ll get past it, just give ‘im some time.” Ginny didn’t know why Stan thought that; was he just a fatalist, or were his personal circumstances so shaky that he had no choice but to hope for the best?

Others besides Ron and Hermione became aware of the change in Harry. Professor Flitwick stopped Ginny in the corridor and asked if anything was wrong with Harry; his spells were becoming erratic and some of the more complicated ones were not working at all. Tony Trostle and Madam Rosmerta accosted her in the High Street one Saturday afternoon as she was returning to the inn from Quidditch, and told her that things were going badly at the Hog’s Head. But Ginny had no answer for them; she didn’t know herself what was happening.

“Well, he needs to do something pretty damn quick,” Rosmerta frowned. “He doesn’t have much time.” Ginny’s heart sank a little lower, and that night the love-making was desperate on both sides.

There were a few things that kept up Ginny’s spirits, at least a little. They still made love every weekend, and Harry sometimes opened up and talked afterwards. He also kept sending gifts of candy and chocolate every night during the week, and he also continued to use the Marauder’s Map. He stopped writing notes, though, and Ginny knew it was because he was afraid to say anything; the only thing he wrote was a short “I Love You” on the ribbons that bound the little presents. When the magical sensation from the map began to tingle and warm her, Ginny lay inside her four-poster cherishing the moment and wondering how it would all end.

She did catch up her schoolwork, and she still enjoyed her classes. Even Defense Against the Dark Arts became more interesting. Professor Pester was still a terrible teacher and he still gave boring lectures—they were mostly about himself—but he truly knew his subject and was very good at it, if not at teaching it.

What really kept Ginny going was Quidditch. The team was starting to jell, and the only really weak point was Dennis. Ginny herself was becoming more and more adept at controlling her magnificent Firebolt; she was sometimes a little scared at how fast and responsive it was; there was a feeling inside her when she flew that the broom was part of her. Whenever they practiced with a real Snitch it almost seemed that the broom itself was hunting it.

As the first match with Slytherin approached, Ginny’s excitement grew. And on Friday before the match, she heard the rumor circulating in the Great Hall and in the corridors: scouts from two professional Quidditch teams would be in the stadium, one from Puddlemere United and the other from the Holyhead Harpies.

Chapter Text

The entire school was at a high pitch of excitement on the day of the first Quidditch match. Last year’s matches were universally considered a joke, since Muggle-borns had been barred from school and the Carrows had tried to control the teams because they were hotbeds of rebellion. Most people also thought that the Quidditch Cup was now up for grabs since Harry Potter was gone from Hogwarts. All the present Seekers were judged to be pretty even, although most conceded that Ginny Weasley had an edge in experience. But that was counter-balanced by the Gryffindor Keeper’s complete lack of experience and, by many accounts, his total incompetence.

Ginny was nervous at breakfast, but when the twins entered she started laughing and couldn’t stop. They were both wearing full griffin costumes, and someone had charmed their voices so that they spoke only in screeches, growls and roars, which sounded rather strange coming from their beaks. Their tails swished vigorously except when they got tangled together, at which times the girls had to yank them apart, all the while screeching, growling and snarling. Soon the entire Gryffindor table was laughing and cheering. Ginny and the rest of the team left and trooped down to the stadium in high spirits.

The stands were starting to fill, and Ginny went out on the pitch to look around. She saw Harry sitting with her family and they all waved to her. She blew Harry a kiss and he smiled; George said something to him and Ginny could see him blush even from a distance.

She had not stayed at the flat last night, since she wanted to eat breakfast with the team; she did have dinner with Harry, though, and he had made an effort to be pleasant. He hadn’t heard about the professional scouts who would be at the match, and when Ginny told him, he became quiet. She asked him if anything was wrong.

“Nothing,” he mumbled. “It’s really great that they’ll get to see you play.”

“I’ll miss you tonight.”

Harry sighed. “I’ll miss you too.” He perked up a little. “I’ll be sitting with your family just below the Gryffindor section. Ron said that Fleur is starting to look pregnant.”

Ginny grinned. “And did you hear? The Healer said her due date is May second, the anniversary of the battle. Bill said that if the baby is born that day, they’ll name her Victoire. Harry, that’s a tribute to you.”

He laughed, which he hadn’t done all evening, and she smiled back. “But,” he said, “if they really want to do that, they should name her Harriet.”

“I think Fleur wanted a heroic name. Besides, Harriet would have an uncle Harry, and that might confuse her when she’s little.”

Harry nodded, but didn’t smile. They finished without talking much, and Harry walked her back to the castle, where they said goodnight in the entrance hall. It was the first Friday in three months that they hadn’t spent the night together, and Ginny wanted to say something about it, but Harry was distant and moody, so they kissed and Harry walked out the doors. Ginny watched him for a moment and, with a heart that was not light, put him in a corner of her mind and told herself to think about nothing but Quidditch.

So now it was the morning of the match, and she snapped out of her reverie when Jimmy Peakes called to her from the tunnel. After another quick wave to her family, Ginny went back into the dressing room and was glad to see Ron sitting next to Dennis, but with a sinking feeling she recognized the sickly look on Dennis’s face; she had seen it often on Ron’s. Her brother had his arm draped over the Keeper’s shoulder and was speaking to him quietly. Dennis glanced up when Ginny came in and tried to smile.

“Please get the Snitch as fast as you can,” he said. “I don’t want to be barfing all over the crowd for too long.”

Ron looked up and grinned. “This is my kind of Keeper. He has a sense of humor and he’s considerate of others.”

Ginny patted Dennis’s arm. “Don’t worry, just do your best and leave the rest to us.” It was lame, but she couldn’t think of anything else to say. They all finished dressing and walked out onto the pitch.

Ginny felt a rising surge of anticipation as she looked over the Slytherin team standing across from them around Madam Hooch. Their Seeker, Ophiucus Paltrey, was a wiry and strong sixth-year, but Ginny knew he was afraid of physical contact up in the air. She didn’t know much about the others since everyone else from last year had finished or not returned to school. They had the same Slytherin attitude, though, not bothering to hide their sneers and snide comments.

“How’s Potter?” one of the Beaters, Matilda Malfoy, asked; she was a hefty, distant cousin of Draco’s. A few of the other Slytherins guffawed, and Ginny stared back at the girl, wondering if she meant anything other than the obvious innuendo. But Madam Hooch was speaking, and Ginny turned her attention back to the match. Hooch released the balls, paused a few seconds, and blew her whistle.

Ginny kicked off and soared into the sky. She felt liberated, not only from the ground but also from all her problems down there. The wind whipped through her hair, which she had pulled back with a clip, leaving it free to stream after her. The crowd’s roar grew fainter as she flew higher, circling and searching for the Snitch. She watched her team attack the Slytherin goal and quickly score twice. After the second goal Demelza grinned up at her and raised her thumb high above her head; Ginny knew that it was an acknowledgment of her coaching. The Chasers were flying with confidence, and the Slytherin defense was no match for their smooth and well-honed attack.

Gryffindor pulled steadily ahead. It was fortunate, though, that the Quaffle was at the Slytherin end most of the time, because whenever Slytherin did break through, all Dennis did was wave at the Quaffle on its way to the hoop. Ginny could see him becoming more and more uncertain with each shot. After one particularly pathetic attempt at a save where the Quaffle actually went between his legs—something Ginny had never seen before—she flew down to him.

“Relax, Dennis!” she shouted over the cheers and jeers of the Slytherin supporters. “We’re going to win, so stop trying so hard. Just remember what Ron showed you.” She could tell from his glassy-eyed stare that nothing she said would help, so she pulled away.

At that moment there was a change in the crowd noise, and Ginny knew that Paltrey had spotted the Snitch. She twisted around and saw him diving towards the center of the pitch. She instinctively shot in the same direction, even though she didn’t see the winged ball yet. Suddenly her broom turned, seemingly of its own accord and veered towards the Slytherin end. Ginny realized that the Slytherin Seeker had tried to decoy her. Paltrey also veered as soon as he saw that his tactic had failed, but it was too late. Ginny saw the Snitch hovering above the wall near the goal posts; she accelerated at a speed that startled even her and beat him to it by a good ten yards.

The Gryffindor section cheered, but the match had been so lopsided that most of the crowd just got up and started to leave. There were even some boos and whistles from the Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff students. Ginny looked up at the stands from the celebration in the middle of the pitch to wave to her family, but her hand stopped in mid-air.

Harry, Ron, Hermione, Bill, and George were pushing through the crowd towards the exit; her parents, Percy, and Fleur were watching them anxiously. Her mother turned to the pitch, and Ginny saw her worried look. Molly shook her head at Ginny and pointed towards Hogsmeade, and Ginny guessed with a feeling of dread that something had happened at the inn.

She handed her broom to Demelza and left the celebration at a run. She tore out of the stadium and saw Harry as he and the others were running across the grounds towards the gates. She went after them at a trot, but had to slow to a walk near the train station when her breath gave out. Clusters of people stood in the street and in doorways, looking up the High Street. She started running again, but when she turned into the lane next to Dervish and Banges and saw the inn, she stopped.

The kitchen window on the second floor was broken in; all the panes of glass were shattered. She walked slowly down the lane, and as she looked up, saw that all the windows on the second floor were blown in. A large crowd was milling about in front of the door, many of them with their wands drawn, looking up.

Ginny felt a pang of fear. Bill and George were standing just outside the door, and Ginny pushed through the crowd, which parted for her; several people touched her shoulder and said her name as she passed.

“What happened?” she asked Bill. “Was anyone hurt?”

His face was grim and angry. “I don’t think anyone was up there. Harry’s owl just flew back. If it had been inside, it probably would have been killed.”

There was a commotion at the back of the crowd. Saliyah Ushujaa and Morequest Pester were trying to get through, but angry people blocked their way.

“Where the hell have the Aurors been?” one wizard shouted. “Someone could have been killed!”

Another wizard stuck his flushed face in front of Saliyah. “You think we’re a bunch a’ stupid country hicks up here! Don’t Harry Potter deserve a little help from the Ministry?”

The Auror put her hand up as more shouts and epithets were hurled at her. “That’s exactly why we’re here,” she said calmly. “We have not been ignoring you. We have had an Auror watching the inn for several weeks, and—”

“You mean this sod?” The first wizard pointed at Pester. “Stick one of your Sneakoscopes up in the room over the Post Office. He’s shacking up with that Turquoise tart, the same one that’s been stalking Harry.”

For an instant Saliyah’s eyes narrowed, then she stared at the man until he turned away, and walked past him to the door. Pester followed, looking straight ahead but when he passed Ginny his eyes flicked to hers.

“What are you laughing at,” George asked her.

Ginny watched Pester enter the dining room. “The Defense Against the Dark Arts curse strikes early this year. He’s not even going to last three months.” George snorted, and he and Bill went inside with Ginny.

The dining room was intact, and Ginny breathed a sigh of relief. Stan was behind the bar, his wand on the counter, speaking to the two Aurors—or to Saliyah, more exactly; Professor Pester stood behind his boss, staring blankly at one of the bar stools. Winky and Kreacher were huddled fearfully next to the kitchen door. The door was open, and Ginny could see Hermione standing just inside, her back to them. Harry must be upstairs, Ginny supposed, but she wasn’t sure if she should go to him. That reluctance, she realized bitterly, was the result of the way Harry had been treating her for a month. She swore under her breath, muttered, “The hell with him,” and walked into the kitchen.

Hermione turned when Ginny put a hand on her shoulder. “Oh, Ginny, you’re here! Ron and Harry went upstairs. They asked me to wait down here, just in case something else happened. Are you all right?”

“Fine. Saliyah and Pester are here. I guess they were at the match and figured that something went wrong. But Pester’s in trouble. Someone outside said he’s been sleeping with Turquoise.”

Hermione’s eyes widened. “No! What on earth was he thinking?”

“About the wrong thing,” Ginny chortled. “My guess is that he just lost two jobs.”

“Well, that’s also going to put Turquoise in the hot seat. That really makes her look suspicious.”

Before Ginny could speak, the back door opened and Harry and Ron walked in. Ron looked sober, but Harry’s face was black with anger, and Ginny clenched her jaw and sucked in a breath.

“It’s reparable,” said Ron. “We already fixed the bathroom window, but we wanted to leave the rest until the Aurors saw it.”

“The Auror,” Ginny said dryly. “Saliyah and Professor Pester showed up a few minutes ago, but some of the pissed-off villagers told Saliyah that he’s been sleeping with Turquoise.”

“You’re joking!” Ron exclaimed, but Harry looked even angrier.

“Well, that’s fucking great.” He turned away, put his hands on the stove, and leaned on his arms. “Kingsley Shacklebolt is worse than Fudge,” he said to the wall. He turned back to face them. “He’s got Aurors screwing the criminals, literally. What am I supposed to do, send Pester buckets of my gold so he’ll do his job? I can’t believe this.” He scowled at the door to the dining room where they could hear Stan still talking to Saliyah.

“Harry, that’s unfair, and it’s not true,” Hermione said. “Kingsley is doing the best he can. It’s not his fault if one of his Aurors can’t keep his pants on. And look at what Pester was up against. All she does is walk around flaunting it.”

“He was up against her pretty good, all right,” Harry replied. “If you want to defend him, Hermione, then do it someplace else. I can’t afford it.” He stalked out of the kitchen into the dining room. Ginny stared after him, fighting a lump in her throat; Harry had not even looked at her.

“What’s going on with him?” Ron said to Ginny after Harry had slammed the door behind him. “It’s like everyone is his enemy. He was having a great time at the match, but when his wand went off, he started swearing at everything and everyone. He even snapped at Fleur when she asked him what was going on.”

“I don’t know,” Ginny said as tears started flowing down her cheeks. She turned away and put her hands over her face. Her voice came out muffled and choked. “He’s not himself, he’s . . . he’s been changed by all this. He can’t admit that he messed up, that he should never have bought it.”

Ginny turned and threw herself at Ron as her shoulders shook with sobs; he held her, and Hermione also put her arms around Ginny. She and Ron gave each other worried, uncomprehending looks over Ginny’s head.

The dining room door opened and Harry stood in the doorway; he stopped when he saw them. “What’s wrong?”

Hermione, scowling fiercely, grabbed his hand and yanked him inside the kitchen. She stomped around him and closed the door. ”Colloportus!” she snapped, pointing her wand at it, and spun around to face Harry. He looked back at Ron and Ginny, who was wiping her face with her sleeve without looking at him.

Hermione glared at him. “You know perfectly well what’s wrong. Look at Ginny. Look at her, Harry! What in Merlin’s name are you doing? Have you lost every shred of sense?”

Harry turned. Ginny was no longer crying, but her eyes were wet. “Harry,” she murmured, “Harry, what’s wrong? Please tell me.”

A shadow passed over his face. “It’s . . . it’s this.” He suddenly slumped to a squatting position on the floor and put his arms over his head. Ginny made a move towards him but Ron held her back.

Harry looked up desperately, pleading with his eyes. “Ginny, I’m sorry. I know I’m always saying that. I don’t know why I take it out on you, on everyone.” He bent his head and they could barely hear his hoarse voice. “These things keep happening, and I can’t stop them. They broke the Anapido, but my wand started shaking, so I knew something was wrong. Then we got here . . . If McPherson hadn’t been out hunting, he would be dead, just like . . .” His voice broke and he fell back down, sitting on the floor.

Ginny squatted next to him and took one of his hands. He looked at her out of frightened eyes. She spoke in a clear voice. “Harry, we’re all here, everyone is here because they love you. People outside were yelling at Saliyah because she’s not protecting you. Harry, I love you.”

He nodded and put her hand to his mouth; a choked sob escaped. “I love you too,” he said, but he didn’t look at her.

Ginny stood and Harry also got up. He hugged her for a long time, and Ginny held him as tightly as she could. Finally he lifted her chin. “I love you,” he whispered.  He tried to smile, but it was more of a flinch. “Let’s go clean up.”

Hermione unsealed the door, Ron got Saliyah—Pester was gone—and Harry led them upstairs. Ginny gasped when she saw the shards of glass and pieces of splintered mullions covering the floor. “Oh, Harry!” she cried, grabbing his hand, “who would do this?”

“I wish I knew,” he answered, and gave her hand a squeeze. He walked over to McPherson, who was sitting on his perch looking outraged, and the owl hopped onto Harry’s arm. Saliyah walked around the flat, peering out each of the broken windows, and finally told Harry he could clean it up, and went back downstairs.

They all backed against the wall opposite the casement window and Harry pointed his wand. ”Reparo!” he said loudly and firmly. At first slowly, but with gathering speed, hundreds of tiny slivers of glass and wood began streaming through the air towards the shattered window, and in a few seconds it was once again intact.

They went around the flat, into the kitchen and the bedroom, and quickly all the windows were repaired. The bed hangings had been closed, but Ginny checked inside anyway. When everything was secure, they went down to the dining room and gathered around Saliyah who was talking to Stan again; they could see Bill and George outside with a few customers who had stayed.

“I’m going to set a guard, Harry,” Saliyah said, “until we get to the bottom of this. They’ll take their meals here and sleep in shifts someplace or other in the village or maybe at the castle. I promise you it won’t happen again.”

Harry stared at her, hard. “Where’s Pester? He never told me anything about the Dark Marks or the weasel or the chimney. Did he do anything in Hogsmeade besides shag Turquoise Southeby?”

“I’m sorry about that. Morequest is back in London. He’s going to have some disciplinary issues, but that’s between him and me. He’s good, Harry, he really is, but he’s also young and, well, I’m sure you noticed that he thinks very highly of himself. He was very brave during the war, he stood up to the Death Eaters and to Thicknesse, and maybe he got a little too much adulation for that, and maybe we pushed him along too fast.” She sighed. “I need to talk to this Southeby person. Do you know where she lives?”

They glanced at each other, and Ron cleared his throat. Saliyah looked from one to the other, and finally Harry spoke. “Ginny and I tried to follow her home, but we lost her about three miles east of here. We think she’s using a Fidelius.”

“What?! Are you sure?”

“Yes we are. We talked to Bill, and he thought so too.”

The Auror frowned. “That’s very interesting. Well, I’ll catch her at her work.” She turned to go, but paused and smiled at Ginny. “You were brilliant today. I heard there were scouts at the match. Don’t be surprised if someone comes to talk to you.”

As Saliyah walked out, the Weasley family walked in. Molly was highly indignant, and after crushing Harry with a massive hug, proclaimed, “This is outrageous. How many times has it happened now? Four? Five? I’m going to have a talk with Kingsley, they must do something.”

“They’re stationing guards, Mrs. Weasley.” Harry gasped for breath as George and Percy pushed two tables together and they all sat. “I’m hoping it’ll stop now.”

No one mentioned Harry’s outburst of temper at the match, and soon they were eating lunch. Stan brought drinks—butterbeers for everyone except Potio Vitae for Harry and Hermione. The conversation turned to the Quidditch match and Ginny’s outstanding performance.

“But it wasn’t just your flying,” George said as he polished off a corned beef sandwich. “I never saw a Hogwarts team so well coached. It was no contest, even with the, um, problems in goal. Ron, I heard you gave the poor bloke some tips. Well done.” He smirked at his brother.

“He didn’t puke, so I consider it a huge success,” Ron answered.

“Ronald!” Molly glared at him. “Not at the table, if you don’t mind.”

Ron looked at Hermione. “What did I say?”

“The usual.”

“Oh. Sorry, Mum. You should be proud of me, though. I now have two careers, Auror and Quidditch coach.”

Molly pointed her fork at him. “You won’t have any careers if you don’t watch your manners.”

“Yes, Mum.”

As they ate and talked, Ginny was aware that Harry remained quiet. He sipped his drink and ate his food, but didn’t look up from his plate. His response in the kitchen had perked up her spirits, as did the praise she was getting from her family, but she wasn’t sure what was bothering Harry right now, whether it was Quidditch for some reason or, once again, the inn. At least he had acknowledged her and accepted her attempt to comfort him.

Towards the end of the meal, while they were sipping coffee and tea and talking about Fleur’s baby, two witches walked in dressed in dark green robes emblazoned with a golden talon. They looked around and one of them caught Ginny’s eye and came over to the Weasleys’ table; the other sat at a table near the door. As the first witch approached, Ron’s eyes bulged and he reached over and clutched Ginny’s arm.

“Miss Weasley?” the witch said. “How do you do? I’m Gwenog Jones, captain of the Holyhead Harpies Quidditch club, and I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind speaking with us for a few minutes. That’s our scout, Brenda Touron.” She pointed to the witch sitting near the door, who smiled and waved.

Ginny’s hands were shaking and she wasn’t sure if her legs would hold if she stood. “Sure,” she said, her voice cracking. “Sure.” Everyone at the table was grinning at her; she glanced at Harry, and he smiled too. “I’ll be right back.” She put her hand on his shoulder as she pushed back her chair. They all watched as Ginny followed Jones and sat with the two witches.

“Awesome!” Ron said. “Dad, that Firebolt was the best thing you could have got her.” He turned to Hermione. “She won’t need those season passes now. Maybe she’ll give them back to us.” He fended off her slaps with his arm. “Just kidding! Just kidding!”

After ten minutes the witches and Ginny rose and shook hands. The visitors left and Ginny came back to the table, a huge grin on her face. Everyone looked at her expectantly, even Harry. “Well,” said Arthur, “when are you turning professional?”

Ginny blushed. “Oh, Dad, don’t say that. They just want me to come to a tryout next spring. I’m not the only one they’re asking. Two of their Chasers are retiring.”

“Darling, that’s brilliant news!” said her mother, taking her hand. “You are so talented. My goodness, I never thought we would have a professional Quidditch player in the family. This is so exciting!”

“I haven’t made the team yet, Mum. Please, it’s still a long way off. There’s lots of things that could happen between now and then.”

“Nope,” said George, “it’s a mere formality. Ronald,” he turned to his brother, “you can start repainting your attic room, and we’ll burn those ghastly orange pajamas of yours.”

“Okay, and I’ll paint your entire flat over the shop alternating rooms of green and orange. Split loyalties, so to speak.”

“You do any such thing and I’ll move out,” Hermione said darkly, “and then there won’t be anyone to clean up your messes and bring you tea in bed every morning.”

“Blimey! You do that for this git?” George pointed at Ron. “No wonder he’s so happy these days. I should raise your rent,” he said to Ron.

The laughter went around the table. Ginny was glad to see that Harry smiled, if only occasionally; hopefully, the only reason he was not completely enjoying himself was because of what had happened upstairs. She herself was as happy and excited as she had been in weeks—ever since Harry’s mood had started to change—and she vowed not to let his brooding ruin the occasion. She had always had fantasies about playing Quidditch for her favorite team, but she had never taken those dreams seriously. She couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be soaring through the sky experiencing the thrill of a Quidditch match and be paid for it, to be able to make a living at it.

Without realizing it, she took Harry’s hand and pressed it to her thigh under the table. He looked at her with a smile and started moving the hand. Ginny closed her eyes for a moment and hoped that the feeling would last.

The Weasleys returned to their homes, except Ron and Hermione who decided, after prompting from Ginny, to stay through dinner. She hoped their presence would help if Harry descended into another funk; she even held out a tiny hope that he might talk about the inn or the Auror training program.

They all walked back to the castle so that Ginny could change out of her Quidditch robes, and while they walked Harry described what he had pieced together after talking to Stan and some of the customers.

“Carlos saw someone go around to the back, but he didn’t get a good look, just that it was someone short. Do you remember the Dark Mark on the first day of school? Winky saw a short witch running away, and I’ll bet it was the same one.”

“Pansy Parkinson,” said Ron. “She’s the one.”

“She’s not that short,” said Hermione. “She’s taller than me.”

“No, she’s shorter by at least two inches.”

“Well, that’s not really short. You wouldn’t call me short, would you?”

“No, but I would call someone two inches shorter than you, short.”

“She’s taller than me,” Ginny piped up, “so just ask Carlos how the witch compared to me and Hermione.”

“How could he tell that?” Ron said. “He just saw her for a second.”

“Ginny and I can take turns running past the window, and Carlos can say who was shorter,” said Hermione.

“The three of you are mental,” Harry cut in before anyone else could speak. “It doesn’t matter because there are ten thousand witches in Britain who are short.”

“Well, maybe it was someone disguised as a short witch,” Ron said.

Harry stopped, and the others did too. “I don’t believe this. If that’s how they teach you to think in that Auror school, then I’ll be sure never to go there.” Ron grinned, and Hermione and Ginny chuckled and exchanged looks. Ginny felt good that Harry could joke about something—anything—so she took a chance and took his hand. He held it and they started walking again.

They went up to the common room together and a cheer went up when people saw them. Several came running, and Ginny felt Harry’s hand tighten; she looked at him and he grinned.

“You do know what I’m thinking,” he said quietly. “The last time I came in here after a Quidditch match, you made me kiss you.” His eyes twinkled and Ginny laughed, not just because of his little joke but because he was himself again.

After Ginny changed they went back to the inn and spent the rest of the afternoon sitting around a table sipping drinks, munching on a steady stream of snacks and sweets, and dissecting the Quidditch match. Harry suggested faking another dose of Felix Felicis for Dennis, but conceded to Hermione’s argument that it would be too obvious. They all agreed that, barring disaster, the Quidditch Cup was all but won for Gryffindor. Ginny had done such an excellent coaching job and her Seeker skills were so far above any other flyer in school, that they couldn’t see how any other team had a chance against them.

In the middle of the afternoon three Aurors walked in. They looked slowly around the room, which had become silent; two of them sat at the bar and one came over to Harry.

“Is everything okay, Mr. Potter,” she asked.

“Fine, and thanks for coming. Help yourselves to whatever you want. Just tell Stan or Kreacher, they’ll take care of you.”

“Thanks,” she smiled, “but that won’t be necessary. We’re on an expense account. Gold on the barrelhead for everything we eat or drink. I’m Sagittaria Slocum. I’m in charge of the detail.” She gave a nod and joined her companions at the bar. After a few minutes two of them went outside while the third sat at a table near the door. The two outside walked around the building and out of sight.

“Do you know them?” Hermione asked Ron.

He nodded. “I’ve seen them in and out of the Ministry, but I never talked to them.”

Ron and Hermione left after dinner. Ginny and Harry walked down to The Three Broomsticks and found Hagrid there; they had a drink with him, but Ginny spotted Turquoise sitting in a corner with friends. The blond witch kept watching Harry, whose back was to her, and every time Ginny caught her eye she picked up her glass of firewhiskey and took a sip. Finally, Ginny’s irritation grew too much and she told Harry she wanted to leave. Harry was grumpy about it.

“Why should we let her dictate what we do? I was having a nice chat with Hagrid,” he said as they returned to the inn.

“About Blast-Ended Skrewts? Actually, she reminds me of one. Besides,” she put her arm in his and leaned on his shoulder, “I was looking forward to being just the two of us.”

Harry grunted and Ginny tensed. “Okay,” he said.

As they walked around to the back of the inn and Harry opened the door, Ginny knew that his mood had again swung in the wrong direction; this was not Harry’s typical playfulness, let alone the passion she was hoping for. They did not speak as they climbed the stairs. Ginny went into the bedroom, but Harry went into the kitchen where Ginny could hear him rattling around. After a few minutes she joined him; Harry was standing with his back to the cabinets, leaning against a counter, staring into space.

“Is something wrong?” Ginny asked hesitantly, thinking here we go again.

Harry turned to look at her. “Not if you think it’s okay to have all your windows busted.”

“But the Aurors are downstairs. No one can get near the place now.”

Harry shrugged. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. I’m sorry, Gin, sometimes I just can’t seem to shake this sour mood.”

They stood there, and finally Ginny said, “Come, love, let’s go to bed.”

They went into the bedroom and Ginny lit the candles, but for the first time since they had started making love she didn’t enjoy it, and she wasn’t sure that Harry had, either. As soon as he was finished he rolled over with his back to her.

She put her hand on his shoulder. “Sweetheart, what is it?”

“Nothing. Put out the candles, will you?”

Ginny was still for several long moments. She took her wand and extinguished the candles and lay on her back, listening to Harry’s breathing. “I’ll be going to the library in the morning,” she said. “I’ll be back for dinner, if that’s okay.”

Harry didn’t answer, and Ginny thought that he was asleep. After a minute he muttered something that she couldn’t hear. “What?” she asked.

“I said fine, whatever you want.” He pulled the covers higher and Ginny turned her back to him, and they slept.

# # # #

Ginny got up early and hurriedly dressed. Harry didn’t wake, and she tried to be as quiet as possible. It was nearly the breakfast hour at Hogwarts, but she didn’t want to talk to anyone there, so she went down to the kitchen to make something for herself. Winky poked a sleepy head out of her cupboard.

“Does Ginny Weasley want breakfast?” she yawned. “Winky can make it.”

Ginny waved at the elf. “Please, don’t bother, I’m fine.”

Winky stared at Ginny, and for some reason it made her uncomfortable. “Ginny Weasley is fine?” Winky said, and cocked her head.

“Of course. What do you mean?”

“Winky means nothing.” She clambered out of the cupboard and took a bottle of cold milk from a shelf and handed it to Ginny. Ginny poured some over her corn flakes and began eating, while Winky puttered around the kitchen. When Ginny was done she put the bowl and her spoon in the sink and was about to walk out the door, but paused with her hand on the handle.

“Is Harry fine?” She turned and looked at Winky.

The elf frowned. “Winky must not say bad things about Harry Potter. Ginny Weasley should know the answer to that question.” Winky didn’t look at her, but disappeared into a large cupboard; Ginny heard pots and pans clattering, but after a minute, when Winky didn’t reappear, Ginny left.

It was almost six in the afternoon when she returned. She had finished a twenty-four inch parchment for Transfiguration and a slightly shorter one for Defense Against the Dark Arts, but now she didn’t know who would be teaching that class. The news about Professor Pester had reached the school, and several people approached her in the library to find out what she knew. She only told Keesha and Luna about Pester’s transgression, and they both went away shaking their heads.

Ginny walked into the dining room of the inn and saw Harry seated at the bar talking to one of the Aurors; each had a bottle of Potio Vitae in his hand. Harry didn’t notice her, but Stan looked at her. His eyes shifted toward the back of the room, and Ginny saw Turquoise sitting by herself, staring back at her with narrowed eyes. She was wearing one of the very low-cut tops that Ginny had seen before. Ginny glowered, and after a moment Turquoise got up and walked towards the door; as she brushed past Ginny, she gave a little smirk. Ginny waited until she was gone, and went to the bar. Harry had watched Turquoise leave, but turned away.

The Auror nodded to Ginny. “How are you, Miss Weasley? I saw you at the Quidditch match yesterday. You’re quite a flyer.”

“Thanks.” She smiled quickly. “Harry, what was she doing here? I thought we agreed she wasn’t welcome.”

Harry swung around and faced her. “I never said that. Why shouldn’t she come in here? She’s not bothering anyone.”

“She’s bothering me. Doesn’t that matter?”

Harry glanced at the Auror. “Let’s go upstairs,” he said to Ginny. He put his bottle down. “I’ll be back,” he told Stan.

They walked through the kitchen where Winky stopped mixing a bowl of salad greens and watched them. Upstairs in the parlor, Ginny went over to McPherson and let him nibble her hand. Then she turned to Harry. He was standing in front of the door, staring at her.

She walked towards him. “Listen, Harry, something is going on and I want to talk about it. You’ve been treating me as though I’m your enemy. That whore down there is your enemy, she’s—”

‘Now wait a minute, she’s a strange bird, but she hasn’t done anything. How can you call her my enemy?”

“Hasn’t done anything? She sits there with her clothes half off, broadcasting to the world that she’s available to you. How do you think that makes me feel?”

Harry shrugged. “Lousy, I guess, but what do you want me to do about it?”

Ginny gritted her teeth; she was standing only a foot in front of him. “I want you to do the same thing you should be doing about this stupid inn. I want you to talk about it. Harry, this is destroying us, don’t you see? Please! Talk!”

He glared, walked around her, and stood with his back against the love seat. “There’s nothing to talk about. It’s my inn and I’ll let in whoever I want.”

Ginny had turned to face him. She had a lump in her throat, and her whole body was starting to trembling. “I thought it was our inn.”

“My inn, our inn . . . you’ll be off playing Quidditch, so what difference does it make?”

“What? Is that what’s bothering you?” She walked towards him and put her hand on his face; Harry flinched. “Harry, love, what is wrong? Why are you saying these things? I thought you’d be happy that I have this chance. You know how important it is to me. Please, don’t say—”

Harry suddenly pushed her hand away, and Ginny backed up, shocked, beginning to be frightened. “What are you doing?” she whispered. “What is wrong with you?”

“Nothing!” Harry shouted, advancing on her with a look of fury that she had never seen before. Her hand went to her wand. Harry continued towards her, and Ginny backed up until she was against the wall next to the door. Harry put his arm on the wall, blocking her in. His green eyes flashed. “Why does something have to be wrong with me? Did it ever occur to you that the problem is you?”

“No, Harry. The problem isn’t me, it’s you.”

Harry swung, and pain exploded in Ginny’s head; his hard slap caught her just below her eye. As he pulled his arm back again, her wand came up.

Stupefy!” she screamed. Harry was flung back over the love seat and tumbled onto the rug in front of the fireplace. McPherson screeched and flapped his wings. Ginny yanked the door open and, pressing her hand to her throbbing cheek, stumbled down the stairs, out the back door, and ran.

#   #   #   #

Harry lay on his front, his face buried in the rug. He gradually became aware of where he was, but he did not move for almost an hour, only flexing his right hand, the one he had struck Ginny with. The room darkened, and finally he sat up. He looked at his hand and took the wrist in his left hand, holding it up as though it was detached from his body. Again he did not move.

When the room was in almost total darkness, he stood, swaying slightly. He looked at McPherson who was only a shadow in the dark, and walked unsteadily to the owl. He reached out with his right hand, but McPherson screeched again and pecked at it viciously. Harry did not react, but let the hand dangle in the air as blood dripped onto the floor. McPherson fluttered away and perched on the mantel.

Harry took out his wand. ”Lumos,” he said; the wand briefly sparked but would not light. He stared at it, dropped it on the floor, and walked slowly to the bedroom. The bed hangings, dully illuminated in the failing light from the window, were open and the covers thrown back; he had not bothered to make the bed when he got up that morning. He stared at it for several minutes, then walked slowly back to the parlor and sat on the rug, facing the cold fireplace, his back to the love seat. McPherson clucked and flew back to his perch.

Hours later, Harry finally fell asleep on the rug. He dreamt of cold empty moors, windswept cliffs, and frigid wintry forests where he wandered alone, looking for something that could not be found. He did not awaken until long after dawn.

Harry did not leave the flat that day. He ate nothing, and drank a glass of water only when his thirst became almost intolerable and his lips began to crack. He lay on the rug as fear overwhelmed him. The wound that McPherson had inflicted began to throb, and he went into the bathroom and ran water over it. The owl would not let Harry come near, so finally he opened the window and it flew out, hooting loudly. In the evening, Stan knocked on the door, but Harry called out telling him to go away.

He tried lighting his wand when it got dark, but it would not even spark. That night Harry huddled on the rug again and had the same dream.

Tuesday passed just as Monday had, except now Harry was alone with not even an angry owl for company. Again he only drank a few glasses of water, but in the evening Stan came upstairs with Winky and Kreacher. Harry was dizzy from hunger, and he opened the door and took the tray that Kreacher was holding. Winky scowled when she saw Harry’s swollen hand, and he let Kreacher go back down and get a potion of some kind that the old elf smeared on the wound; in a few minutes it was healed.

Harry felt better after he had eaten, but when he asked for something to drink Stan brought him a butterbeer.

“We got another bad shipment of PV,” Stan said, glancing at Kreacher and Winky. “People said it tasted real funny. No one wants it. Sipper said ‘e’ll send another batch on Saturday.”

On Wednesday morning Harry finally went downstairs. He had not slept in the bed, and he could not do any magic with his wand. Winky sent him back upstairs when she saw him, ordering him to shave and bathe. He didn’t object because he did not want to talk, and also because he did not care. Afterwards, he sat in the dining room with his ledger book open on the table, using it as an rampart to avoid conversations. The three Aurors stared and muttered to each other, but he ignored them, just as he ignored everyone else. He didn’t know why he sat there, rather than up in the flat; maybe he was hoping for someone to come see him, but he was sure that no one would.

Turquoise came early in the afternoon and sat at the table next to Harry, but when Stan spilled a tray of mugs filled with butterbeer down her front, she left with her hands covering her completely soaked blouse, and did not return.

Harry sat in the dining room by day and slept on the rug by night, and the week crept on. He talked to no one about what had happened or about anything else. He did not go to his Charms lesson, and by the time the weekend came, a black terror had engulfed his soul, worse than anything he ever felt in seven years of fighting Voldemort.

Chapter Text

The week that followed Harry's blow was the worst of Ginny’s life.

Her lesser anguish was having to explain the bruise on her face. At first she told people she had been hit by a Bludger, but her teammates wanted to know when it had happened; they couldn’t recall it. So she changed her story to say that she fell out of bed one night, but Sarah and Christina looked dubious and started asking questions about Harry.

She would not go see Madam Pomfrey, who could have made the bruise disappear in an instant, because she would have to explain it and knew the nurse would not believe any of her stories. She could have sent an owl to George asking for a jar of Wheezes Bruise Remover, but that would have prompted questions too. So she started using heavy makeup and ignored the questions and the questioners.

Then the whispered conversations behind her back began. She heard snatches in the common room and as she walked in the corridors: she and Harry had had a fight; Harry had pushed her around; Harry had beaten her up; there was going to be an investigation by the Ministry of Magic; she would be expelled; Harry would be arrested. She didn’t care what people said, but she knew that eventually someone on the staff would hear something and she would have to answer questions. Maybe Harry would get into trouble, and she was of two minds about that.

But she also faced a greater anguish: the questions she never stopped asking herself, and for which she had no answers. Why had Harry hit her? Why was he so angry all the time, especially at her? Did it have anything to do with Turquoise Southeby? His constant problems with the inn and his increasing unhappiness were hardly reasons—let alone excuses—for any of it. She would not—could not—see him again until those questions were answered, but how could she get answers without seeing him?

And did she even want to see him? No one had ever done this to her. The only person in her life who had struck her was her lover. When that thought occurred to her, the pit of despair deepened, and her desire to completely shut off the world became stronger.

She spent a lot of time  alone in her room, even during the day. It never occurred to her to confide in her roommates. The only people she could imagine talking to were Hermione and her mother, and maybe if they had been around she would have sought them out. But she was not even sure about that; the thought of the look on her mother’s face if she saw the bruise, and the shame of having to say who had done it, were beyond her imagination. In fact, when she pictured what her mother’s expression would be, it was the same murderous contortion of her face that had preceded Bellatrix Lestrange’s death. So instead of talking to someone, she lay on her bed for hours, staring at the canopy of her four-poster or crying, often sobbing, into the comfortless pillows.

What had gone wrong? The school year had started off so happily; every minute of the hours she spent with Harry was a new experience of joy. They had lain for hours in each other’s arms, laughing, arguing about who was crazier for whom, finding new ways to bring pleasure to each other. They had talked obliquely about marriage, about a family.

It was clear, now that she thought about it, that his unhappiness at being an innkeeper had been increasingly directed at her, as though it had not been his idea from the beginning. She hadn’t ignored it, but she had never really pressed him about it because she was afraid of his reaction. Well, now she had his reaction.

She remembered her giddiness when Harry first brought her to the inn after her birthday. She was so in love, everything seemed so perfect. She and Harry were starting an adventure that promised only romance and happiness. It now tasted like ashes in her mouth. Was it all gone? Was her eight-year dream of Harry Potter ending in a nightmare? Was it nothing more than an adolescent fantasy that she would look back on and shake her head at in disbelief?

She had never given up on him, neither before nor after she was only Ron’s little pest of a sister. A few of her friends had warned her that Harry was “damaged goods.” “Don’t invest yourself in him,” they said. Why had she still wanted him? And was the “damage” now manifesting itself in the violence of last Sunday? And what about Southeby? Ginny was never at the inn on weekdays; that woman could have been there for hours with Harry. But she would not go down that path yet. The thought of Harry being unfaithful was so painful that she could not see where the depth of that hurt would end. Her despair was paralyzing her; if it became any worse she did not know how she could stop herself from going completely insane.

She was missing meals and most classes—Defense Against the Dark Arts had been suspended, at least—and she had stopped spending any time in the common room. In the few classes she did attend, she noticed that the teachers were watching her. She completely avoided Keesha and Luna, and started being the first one out the door when each class ended, not wanting to be stopped and questioned. She fell days behind in her homework, unable to concentrate; whenever she opened a book she just stared at the pages, seeing nothing.

Her appearance became haggard and sloppy. She didn’t bathe or even brush her hair, and couldn’t look at herself in the mirror. One morning she picked up a ribbon from her dresser and started to put it in her hair, but stopped and stared at Harry’s photograph and at her reflection in the mirror. She put her hand on the bruise and suddenly began to sob uncontrollably. Sarah came and put an arm around her shoulder, but Ginny ignored her, her chest heaving, her hands covering her face. The girl finally went to breakfast, and Ginny did not leave the room that day.

The weekend arrived, and there had been nothing from Harry. McPherson had not tapped at her window with a love note in his beak or a little package of candies from Honeydukes tied to his leg—or a letter explaining why Harry had done it and begging for forgiveness. Her resolve to avoid thinking about Turquoise had finally collapsed, and all she had been able to think of for the past twenty-four hours was the flat over the Hogs Head, the four-poster in the bedroom, and Harry and Turquoise.

On Saturday, after having gone sleepless for the second night in a row, Ginny somehow found the motivation to drag herself to lunch; she was light-headed, and knew that it was because she had barely eaten for days. She also knew why people were staring at her as she walked to the Great Hall: she had not bathed in three days; her hair was a tangled, bedraggled bird’s nest; her eyes were red from both lack of sleep and weeping; and she was wearing the same clothes she had worn yesterday and spent the night in. Her bruise had not healed; it was now a sickly green. She didn’t care, and had neglected to cover it with makeup.

She slipped into the Great Hall, keeping her eyes down, and hurried to the Gryffindor table. She found a seat near the end. A third-year boy moved aside for her, wrinkling his nose and glancing at his friends.

Ginny ignored everyone, as well as the whispers around her. She looked at the food on the table, but nothing was at all appealing. She tore a small piece of bread from a loaf and started chewing on it; at least she would have something in her stomach, which had been growling all morning.

She kept her head down. Now no one around her was talking, they were all looking at each other, and a few cast glances at the staff table where, unnoticed by Ginny, Professor McGonagall was staring in her direction with a small frown.

Ginny swallowed the bread with difficulty. Her mouth and throat were dry; she could not seem to salivate. As she ate, surrounded by silence, the third-year boy passed a dish in front of her to the girl on her other side. It was piled high with broiled chicken, and Ginny recognized Kreacher’s recipe that Harry had given to the Hogwarts kitchen elves. Her eyes filled with tears and a lump blocked her throat. She put down the unfinished chunk of bread and stood. Everyone around her stared as she stepped over the bench, tears pouring down her face, and walked out of the Great Hall and down the corridor to the marble staircase. She was aware of nothing, including the sound of the doors to the Great Hall opening, and the footsteps of several people following her, and of the voices that called her name. A hand grasped her shoulder and brought her to a stop.

Ginny turned and saw, with a start, Keesha standing in front of her. Next to Keesha was Luna, and behind them were Emma and Claire, shock and fear on their faces. Behind the twins were three more students, and with a greater start, Ginny recognized three Slytherin first-years: Zoroaster Black, Sean Allen, and Abigail Abernathy; they kept looking back nervously at the doors to the Great Hall.

Keesha had her hand on Ginny’s shoulder. “Are you all right?” she asked quietly. “Nobody’s seen you for days.” Her eyes narrowed as she looked closely at Ginny’s face and the garish bruise. “What happened?”

“I fell out of bed,” Ginny mumbled. “I need to get back to my room.”

Keesha kept her hand on Ginny’s shoulder. “You fell out of bed?”

Luna scratched her chin and seemed puzzled. “I don’t think that’s true, Ginny. Young adults don’t normally fall out of bed. Are you sure?”

Ginny swayed on her feet, staring open-mouthed at Luna; she looked around at them all.

“What’s going on?” she said. “Do you mind—” She tried to turn away, but now Sean, tall for his age and muscular, moved so that he was blocking her way.

“Ginny,” Emma said timorously, “how—how is Harry? Don’t you usually stay with him on the weekends?”

Ginny glared at her. “Mind your own fucking business!” she snapped, but immediately felt chagrined as Emma stepped back, frightened.

Keesha’s grip on her shoulder tightened. “Ginny, we need to talk to you, but not here.” She looked back at the Great Hall; the doors were open, and they could hear benches scraping the floor as students got up from the tables. “They need to tell you something. About Harry.”

Ginny’s knees suddenly buckled; hands caught her as she lost her balance. She clutched at Zoroaster and Sean who were holding her arms. Emma still looked frightened, and Claire bit her trembling lip.

“Come on,” Keesha said as students streamed past them, “let’s get into a classroom. You can sit down. Emma, run back before the tables get cleared. Grab some pumpkin juice and anything else you can.”

Sean and Zoroaster helped Ginny stumble into the nearest classroom and set her down in a chair. She felt very shaky; her head was light, her throat was dry, and she was nauseous. It was stuffy in the room, and she gasped for air. The walls and the faces seemed to close in around her. “What—what about Harry?” she stammered breathlessly.

Keesha looked at Zoroaster, who was staring at Ginny. Ginny looked back at him, and at Sean and Abigail who were standing next to him. Moving her eyes made her dizzy, and she closed them.

The door opened and Emma came in carrying a glass of pumpkin juice. “It was all that was left,” she said, handing it to Ginny. “All the food was already cleared.”

Ginny took the glass and a gulp of juice, but gagged and spit it out. Emma jumped back too late, and the front of her tee shirt was splattered orange.

“Oh, God, I’m sorry,” Ginny gasped. She pulled out her wand, but Keesha pushed it down.

“Maybe someone else should do that.” She pointed her own wand, muttered, “Scourgify,” and the stain vanished.

She nodded to Zoroaster, and Ginny looked at him again. Everyone was silent. The Slytherin’s lips were a thin line; he pushed a shock of black hair back from his face.

“They’re poisoning Harry,“ he said.

“What?” Ginny whispered almost inaudibly; she was still dizzy, and the words had taken away what little breath she had.

“They’re poisoning Harry with something called Turntongue. They found out he really likes that new drink, that Potio Vitae—” he wrinkled his nose “—and they’re slipping poison into it before it gets delivered to the Hog’s Head. I guess it’s affecting everyone who drinks it, but he’s the one they’re trying to kill.”

“Who?” Ginny asked in a whisper again; she was beginning to tremble.

“I don’t know. They didn’t say.”

“Who? How do you know? How did you find out?”

The boy smiled grimly and glanced at Sean and Abigail; their faces were angry, defiant, frightened.

“We overheard two of the bastards blabbing in the common room,” Sean said. “Jace Kleinhead and Serpens Lestrange. They were talking to Tiberius Rookwood and they were all drunk. I think they’re running a firewhiskey still somewhere in the dungeons. They must have threatened the house-elves to keep them quiet. They’re a couple of sodding pri-“ He glanced at Abigail. “Anyway, they’re right bloody gits. They started off bitching about you getting to spend your weekends in Hogsmeade, and then they began gloating about Voldemort getting revenge on Harry even though he’s dead.”

Abigail murmured something under her breath and blushed. “Yeah,” nodded Sean, “they made a bunch of filthy comments about you too.”

Ginny waved her hand. She didn’t care what a pair of drunken Slytherins thought or said about her; she wanted to hear about Harry. “Please,” she croaked, “what did they say about the poison?”

“It’s very slow working, so he won’t suspect anything. And they said that it also makes you feel exactly the opposite of what you really feel.” He hesitated and glanced at Ginny’s bruise. “So if you love someone it makes you hate them. They figured that’s what happened. It’s supposed to be the only way you can tell if someone’s taking it. But eventually, it’ll kill him. That’s what they said.”

Ginny swayed in her chair; the room went in and out of focus and Claire grabbed her to keep her from falling on the floor.

“Why are you here?” Ginny whispered. “You and Emma?”

Claire was almost in tears. “Zoro and Sean came to us. We wanted to tell you, but we were scared, so we went to Keesha and Luna since they’re your friends.”

Ginny struggled to her feet, wobbling precariously. Sean caught her arm, but she pushed his hand away and staggered towards the door. The others went after her.

“Ginny!” Keesha cried, “you can’t—”

Ginny turned at the door with a wild look that stopped them all in their tracks.

“I have to get to Harry,” she said in a choked voice. She stepped out of the room, slammed the door, pointed her wand and yelled, ”Colloportus!” The door sealed and, somehow, Ginny ran. She was out the entrance and half-way down the drive before Keesha and the others appeared at the top of the steps leading from the castle. They stood and watched her tear towards the gates.

Ginny had no idea where her strength was coming from, but it didn’t last. By the time she reached the end of the drive she was gasping for breath and staggering more than running. She lurched to a stop and held onto the tall pillar as her chest heaved. Her initial burst was spent; her legs were shaking and everything in her vision was out of focus.

She pushed off from the gates and staggered down the lane towards the village. She tripped crossing the railroad tracks, but caught herself before she fell. She began running again as she passed The Three Broomsticks. People stared from doorways and called out to her. By the time she got to the top of the High Street her legs were about to give out and she thought her heart would burst from her chest. She turned down the lane and banged open the door to the Hog’s Head, leaning against the jamb as everyone in the room looked at her.

Stan was behind the bar filling a mug with mead from the tap. Two Aurors were sitting at the bar, and about a dozen customers sat at tables. Stan’s jaw dropped as he gaped at her and forgot what he was doing until the mug overflowed and mead spilled onto his hand. He put down the mug, and as he shook his hand his eyes went to the back of the room.

Ginny turned. Harry was sitting at his table, his ledger open in front of him. In his left hand he held a bottle of Potio Vitae that was stopped at his lips. He rose and stared at Ginny, a look of wild shock on his face.

“Don’t drink that!” she screamed. She took one step towards him, and her legs folded and she collapsed to the floor. The last thing she remembered was Stan and Harry peering down at her. Harry’s face was very close, and he was holding both of her hands in his. She noticed the Bouquedelle dangling from his neck on its chain, and all went black.

#  #  # #

When Ginny opened her eyes, she saw the red and gold canopy of a four-poster above her; she was in Harry’s bed. Her body felt strange, and she looked down at her arms lying on the comforter, which was pulled up to her chest. She was wearing something that was not hers: a soft, frilly, white flannel nightgown. This can not be Turquoise’s, she thought. I’m lying in his bed. He would not do that to me.

She raised her head and saw Harry sitting hunched over in a chair near the foot of the bed; his head was bowed, his elbows were on his knees and his hands were clasped against his forehead.

“Harry,” she said; his head jerked up. He stood and took a step towards her, but stopped.

“Are you—are you all right?”

“What time is it? How long have I been here?”

He glanced out the window and she followed his look; the sky was darkening, but there was still light. “It’s about six o’clock. You’ve been out for about five hours.” He looked at her. “Are you okay?” he asked again.

Ginny looked down at herself. She felt clean and a little rested, and her hair was washed and combed, but she was very thirsty. At that moment her stomach gave a loud growl. She giggled and looked at Harry, and he smiled briefly. He took another step towards her. “I’m thirsty,” she said.

He went quickly to his dresser where a pitcher and goblet stood; he filled the goblet.

“What is that?” Ginny said sharply. “It’s not Potio Vitae, is it?”

“It’s pumpkin juice.” He handed her the goblet and stepped back. Ginny drank it down; it tasted wonderful. She closed her eyes and sighed.

Harry moved a step closer, and Ginny opened her eyes. He was watching her, and it seemed to Ginny that he was shaking. When he spoke he sounded frightened.

“Ginny, I—I don’t know what to—what to say.”

She reached her hand to him, but when she saw the nightgown again she stopped. “Whose is this? I never saw it before.”

“Oh. It’s Rosmerta’s.” Ginny let out a breath, and suddenly her heart felt lighter than it had for a month.

Harry stared at his hands as he spoke. “We brought you up here. Stan and me, I mean. You, uh, you . . . you needed a bath, so Stan went and got Rosmerta and she washed you and put that on you.” He pointed to the nightgown. “Then we—uh, Rosmerta and I—we put you in bed. Then she went home, I mean back to the Broomsticks.” He paused and looked at her. “I hope it’s okay.”

Ginny smiled, and a light came into Harry’s eyes that had not been there. “So you didn’t bathe me?” she asked.

“Uh, no. I wasn’t sure if you would like that.”

She reached out her hand again. “Come here.” Harry took another step and held her hand; his was trembling. “Harry, it was poison. The Potio Vitae is being poisoned before it gets here. What happened wasn’t you, it was the poison. It changes you, it makes you just the opposite of what you were. That’s why you’ve been so . . . so angry.”

Harry stared at her, bewildered, and fell to his knees next to the bed.

“Ginny, Ginny. Oh, God, I wanted to cut my hand off.”

He put his head down on the bed and sobbed as though his life was ending. She sat up and put one hand on his heaving shoulders and stroked his hair with the other. She could hear his muffled voice between sobs, saying over and over, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” He would not—or could not—stop weeping. Ginny kept her hands on him. The sky outside and the room inside darkened, and still Harry wept.

Ginny finally moved the covers aside and put her feet on the floor. Harry looked at her, but in the darkness she could only see the outline of his face. She took it in her hands and found his lips with hers; they were wet and salty. He did not move, or try to stop her when she stood, but as she took a step and stumbled on rubbery legs, he jumped up and took her by the waist, steadying her.

She put her hand on his shoulder and said, “Light a candle.” Harry was silent; he did not move. “What is it?” she whispered.

“I can’t. I can’t even . . .” His voice choked and he began to weep again.

Ginny grabbed him and pulled him into her arms and kissed him as hard and as deeply as she knew how. Harry was startled, his arms were outstretched, but they slowly closed around her. They embraced for several minutes and their lips did not break apart. Harry finally pulled back with a gasp, and sat down in the chair next to the bed.

“Where’s my wand?” Ginny said in the darkness.

“On the dresser, next to the pitcher,” came Harry’s voice, a little breathless. Ginny walked carefully across the room, felt for her wand, and picked it up. ”Lumos,” she said quietly, and a soft light filled the room. She looked at Harry; he was watching her out of red-rimmed, swollen eyes, a dazed look on his face.

Ginny went to the nightstand next to the bed and lit the candle in the veela candlestick with her wand. She started to walk towards him, but suddenly went dizzy and half-sat, half-fell onto the bed.

Harry sprang up. “Are you all right? Lie down.” He helped her put her head on the pillow and pull her legs up onto the bed. Ginny was still for a moment.

“I’m okay. I need something to eat. I haven’t eaten for . . . I don’t know, I can’t remember when.”

Harry stared for a moment, then turned and ran out of the room. Ginny heard him charging out of the flat and down the stairs. Doors slammed; there was silence for a minute, and she heard footsteps come up the stairs more slowly and enter the parlor. Harry reappeared at the bedroom door, carrying a tray. He set it down on the nightstand and pulled the chair up to the head of the bed. “It’s a fresh batch of potato soup, bread, and Winky’s pudding. No.” He pushed her down. “I’ll feed you.”

Ginny smiled and dutifully lay still while Harry spooned hot soup into her mouth. The heat coursed down into her stomach and seemed to radiate instantly through her whole body. He broke off a piece of warm bread and fed her slowly. She finally put up her hand, and Harry put the bread down. Ginny smiled again, sighed, and sank down under the covers. She whispered something but Harry could not hear; he leaned closer.

“Love you,” Ginny murmured into his ear. “Got to . . .” She closed her eyes and was asleep.

Harry moved the candle away from the bed, picked up the tray and took it into the kitchen. He went back to the bedroom and looked down at the angel in his bed. Ginny was on her back, her head turned slightly to one side, her hand resting on the pillow; her hair glowed in the candlelight.

He went to the picture window in the parlor and looked out over the field; the waning moon, about half full, was rising behind it, and its pale light reflected off fences and the bare branches of the elm tree. His mind was filled with turmoil, but suddenly his heart was clear. He knew, at that moment, that he and Ginny would not be here after she left school. But that didn’t matter. It had been a good try, but it wasn’t the best idea for them. They still had to discover what that best idea was. Maybe Ginny would play for the Harpies, and maybe he would join Ron in the Auror program, even—Harry smiled to himself—if the git was a year ahead of him.

He felt a weight lift from his heart, and it was as if everything had become illuminated with a pure golden light. He realized that the terror that had been consuming him was gone. He glanced at the bedroom door and knew that because of the girl asleep in there, nothing in his life would ever keep him from being happy except himself. He had almost lost Ginny; he had done something to her that was beyond horror, yet here she was, asleep in his bed, trusting him completely. She had been trying to tell him for weeks what he needed to do so that he could be happy. It didn’t have anything to do with the inn or the Dark Marks or the dead weasel or the broken glass. It had to do with himself.

He still didn’t understand what Ginny had meant when she said that poison had made him strike her. He didn’t care, though. He only cared about what he had done. Maybe it would take a lifetime to make it up to her, to convince her that it would never happen again, that he would rather be dead than hurt her, but he would take that lifetime if he had to.

When he considered it, he realized that since he had not been drinking Potio Vitae for a week, he couldn’t remember why he had exploded in rage at her. He knew that he had been arguing ever more angrily about the inn and about other things, but he could feel no anger now. It was a puzzle, but he was certain that Ginny would reveal the answer when she awoke.

He walked back into the bedroom; Ginny had not moved. His eyes wandered to her clothes hanging on a hook on the wall. Rosmerta had taken them after she had bathed Ginny and wrestled her limp body into the nightgown—Harry would not touch her, and had left the room—and Rosmerta had cleaned the clothes and hung them up. They had been wretched, just like Ginny; he had never seen her like that: dirty, thin, pale, disheveled, utterly spent. Yet this afternoon she had burst into the inn with that blazing look that would never fail to pierce him like an arrow.

For a while, after they had brought her upstairs and put her in bed, he had feared for her life. He didn’t know what had happened or what to do. Rosmerta had calmed him. Ginny was just completely exhausted, Rosmerta said, she needed someone to take care of her. That, Harry realized, was something he had stopped doing. Whether it was because of this mysterious poison or something in himself was of no concern to him. Tonight he had started taking care of his Ginny again, and she had taken care of him.

He took his wand from his belt, walked over to the bed, and peered down at her. ”Lumos,” he whispered, and for the first time in a week the phoenix wand lit. He took the candle from Ginny’s nightstand, flicked the wand, and a vase of red and white roses in full bloom appeared on the little table.

Harry changed into his pajamas, took the candle around to the stand on the other side of the bed, pulled back the covers, and slipped in next to Ginny. Her head was turned away from him, but she murmured in her sleep and her head turned. Her eyes opened; she smiled sleepily at him and closed her eyes again. She rolled onto her side and pressed herself against him and put her arm across his chest; her breathing was deep and steady.

Harry lay in a boiling cauldron of longing and desire. He put his left palm on her hand, and the touch of her skin was like a bolt of magic. His whole body shook so violently he was afraid he would wake her. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply. Eventually he stopped trembling and opened his eyes again. He felt, next to him, the warm softness of the flannel nightgown and the curves of her body underneath. And then he realized he was engulfed in her fragrance, the utterly overwhelming, flowery scent of the Bouquedelle, which he had not dared to use all week.

Ginny had not moved. Harry looked at her, drinking in her eyelashes, her eyebrows, her nose, her lips, her cheeks. He nuzzled her gently and kissed her brow. As his tears began to flow, he knew that he was as happy as he had ever been in his life; beyond all hope, he had Ginny back. He turned and waved his hand; the candle went out and Harry fell asleep next to Ginny under the warm covers.

Chapter Text

Harry awoke at first light. He opened his eyes and saw Ginny’s face, inches away; she was still asleep, her mouth slightly open, breathing quietly. He did not move; he wanted the assurance that this was not a dream and his nightmare still a reality.

He remembered so vividly the horror of awakening every morning for the past week, often with the taste of the red rug in his mouth. He had not wanted to get up and look at himself in the mirror, but something compelled him to go downstairs and sit in the dining room all day; it was as if he needed to put himself on display, to punish himself, to force himself to become an object of hatred, exactly what he felt for himself. For long, dark, excruciating hours people watched him and whispered; some of them didn’t bother to whisper, and he heard sickening rumors from Hogwarts about Ginny’s suffering. But he could do nothing about it; fear had utterly paralyzed him, fear that he had lost her, fear of hurting her again, fear of staying alive with this black terror eating his soul.

The world had closed itself against him. Customers who normally spoke to him avoided him, and though he knew that Stan had made a half-hearted effort to defend him, his barkeep seemed to find excuses not to look at him whenever they spoke.  And McPherson remained angry, pecking and nipping aggressively whenever Harry came near.

But now he was lying in bed with Ginny, watching her breathe, seeing her eyes move under her lids; maybe she was dreaming. His hand moved down her side, but he stopped; he was desperate for her, but he didn’t want to awaken her. With an effort, he got out of bed and covered her up. She turned on her back; her hair was splayed on the pillow and Harry could not take his eyes from her. He stood like a statue, speared by her beauty, wanting her more with each passing second. He finally sighed and turned away.

He went into the bathroom and started washing—and thinking. He needed to talk to Stan and Rosmerta right away to warn them about the Potio Vitae, and he needed to think about this personal attack on himself. It should not have been unexpected. He had enemies and he always would; it had been foolish to the point of stupidity to think that they would leave him alone. It did not matter where he was, someone would always be after him; it didn’t have to be a Death Eater bent on revenge, it could be some crazed wizard trying to prove that he was better than the Chosen One. And he could never eliminate the possibility that someone would find out about the Elder Wand.

If he had learned one thing in those cold, dark watches outside that tent last year, or in the Great Hall at the end of the battle, it was that he needed his friends. He needed Ginny, and he needed something more substantial than this fantasy in a couple of rooms over The Hog’s Head.

He finally looked directly into the mirror over the washbasin and smiled at his reflection. He looked past it out the door into the bedroom; he could see the edge of the bed and Ginny’s hand lying outstretched on the pillow. He knew now what he was going to do.

But not right now. As he finished up, it occurred to him with somewhat of a sinking feeling that dozens of people, including Hogwarts students, had drunk poisoned Potio Vitae in either The Hog’s Head or The Three Broomsticks. He and Rosmerta usually split the shipments that came into Hogsmeade, and also traded cases if one or the other ran short. It had the makings of an unpleasant blowup. There was going to be trouble, and if Harry was any judge of wizarding public opinion, he was not going to be as popular in the coming days as he had been, especially in Hogsmeade.

He dressed quickly and went into the parlor, softly closing the bedroom door, and walked over to McPherson. The owl had come back from his night hunt and was preening on his perch near the window. Harry stroked his head. “Good morning, old boy. Ginny’s back, and she forgave me. Are you as happy as I am?”

McPherson clucked once, gave his hand a gentle peck, and went back to his tail feathers. Harry smiled; today everything was making him smile. He went into the kitchen, picked up the tray with Ginny’s unfinished dinner and went downstairs. Winky was well along with the day’s menu, but paused and looked up with a particularly broad smile on her face.

“Ginny Pott— Ginny Weasley is still asleep?” she asked. “Winky has made her favorite breakfast.” The elf shook her head. “Ginny Weasley should not stop eating like we knows she did.”

Some of the stories that Harry had heard about Ginny last week had come from Winky’s not very well concealed muttering whenever Harry was near; she somehow knew about every meal and every class that Ginny had missed. Harry knew that only the magical inhibition of house-elves kept her from saying anything directly. It had only made Harry feel worse, but since he believed that he deserved her scorn, he had just turned away from Winky’s accusatory frowns and gone back to his table in the dining room.

This morning Harry smiled. “You’re right, Winky. Where is Stan? Is he back from Rosmerta’s yet?”

“No, Harry Potter,” replied Winky, who had climbed onto a stool and was applying a tall mountain of whipped cream to the top of a large bowl of strawberries; they were also drenched in strawberry syrup, and there was a side-plate of sausages and bacon. “Stanley Shunpike has gone to see Harriet Smythe.”

Harry looked at the bowl. “That’s for Ginny?”

Winky smiled and batted her huge, brown eyes. “Yes. You takes it up to her when she wakes up. This is for Harry Potter.” She hopped down from her stool and took a plate full of eggs and bacon from the stove. Harry, who had realized he was starving when he saw the strawberries, took the plate and a loaf of bread from a breadbox, and sat next to Winky’s stool. The elf busied herself around the kitchen while Harry wolfed down his breakfast.

He got up and belched. “Thanks, Winky. ‘Scuse me. I’ve got to talk to Madam Rosmerta. If Ginny comes down, tell her I’ll be back soon.”

“Harry Potter should take breakfast to Ginny Weasley! Poor girl.”

“As soon as I come back, I promise.” Harry grinned and left the kitchen. The dining room was empty, the chairs still up on tables and the shutters closed. Outside, the fall morning was crisp and sunny; the weather was matching his mood as though it knew that Ginny was asleep in his bed and would be there when he returned. He waved at the Auror standing at the corner of the inn and went down the High Street, glancing at the Post Office on his way. It was closed, but he peered up at the windows on the second floor—he didn’t know if it was a room or a flat since, thankfully, he had never been up there.

Stan was sitting at a table near the bar when Harry entered The Three Broomsticks. Rosmerta and Harriet Smythe were with him, and Rosmerta was reading a parchment of orders. She looked up and grinned as Harry walked in.

“Morning, Harry. Had a good night’s sleep?”

“Best in a long time. But, um, something’s come up.” He went behind the bar and took an empty bottle of Potio Vitae from the bin where they were kept for return and placed it on the counter. “Someone has been slipping poison into the bottles before they get to Hogsmeade.”

The others stared with varied expressions of shock and disbelief. “Who?” asked Rosmerta. “And why?”

“To kill me. And I don’t know who. My guess would be Death Eaters out for revenge, probably the same crew who did the Dark Marks.”

“My goodness,” Harriet said, “we’ve been serving it to everyone.”

“How do you know all this,” Rosmerta asked grimly.

“After you left yesterday, Ginny slept for a few hours, and when she woke up, she told me. I don’t know yet how she found out. She’s still asleep. But that’s not all.” He came from behind the bar and sat at the table. “Ginny said the poison changes you before it kills you, it makes you hate what you love.” He lifted his right hand and looked at it. “That explains . . .” His voice faltered, and he put his hand down on the table. Rosmerta patted the hand.

“Sounds like Turntongue,” Stan said; they all looked at him.

“Turntongue?” Harry said. “What’s that? I never heard of it.”

“You ‘ear about a lot of things on the Knight Bus. We picked up plenty of blokes who ‘ad plenty to hide, and some of them were probably already on the lam by the time they caught the Bus.”

Rosmerta frowned. “We’ll have to spread the word. It’s not going to be fun, either. We had the Hogsmeade weekend—when was it, two weeks ago?—and there will be some angry parents.”

“I know,” agreed Harry, “but I don’t think any students were affected too much. We would have heard something. Someone would have gone to McGonagall or reported it to the Ministry. And besides, only people with Muggle grandparents or Muggle-borns drank it.” He tapped his finger on the table. “That’s very interesting,” he mused, but suddenly he turned pale. “Oh, Merlin, Hermione!”

“Harry!” Rosmerta grabbed his hand as he started to rise. “I’m sure she’s okay. Lot’s of people drank it, but only you were affected so badly. We would have heard if someone else had . . . I mean, if something really bad had happened.”

“Well . . . I suppose, but I’ve got to tell her.”

“We’ve got to tell everyone. And we’ve got to inform the Ministry right away.”

They batted it around for few more minutes and decided that Rosmerta would go see Professor McGonagall immediately, but would first send an owl to the Ministry of Magic. She went into the back room, and soon they heard an owl hooting away into the distance.  Harry and Rosmerta departed together, leaving Stan and Harriet to sort out the news about Potio Vitae. Rosmerta turned towards the school and Harry walked briskly back to The Hog’s Head.

Something was urging him on, and as he came in sight of the inn he knew what it was. Ginny was leaning out the upstairs parlor window in her nightgown, and Harry noticed, with an intake of breath, how pretty the neckline was. His pace and his pulse quickened and he waved; she smiled back. When he got below the window she leaned farther, and Harry looked quickly around.

“What are you doing?” he said in a loud whisper, pulling at his shirt front and looking around again; no one was in the lane.

“I’m waiting for you. I woke up and I was all alone.”

“I’ll be right there, don’t go away, I’ll be right there.”

Ginny laughed. “Don’t take long.”

Harry ran inside—nodding to the Auror sitting at a table eating breakfast—grabbed the bowl of strawberries and the plate of bacon and sausages, and tore up the stairs. He put the food down on the kitchen table, wiped the sweat from his brow, and walked into the bedroom.

Ginny was sitting on the edge of the bed, holding in front of her the vase of roses Harry had conjured last night. Rosmerta’s nightgown lay folded on the chair next to the bed. Ginny put her nose into the flowers, breathed deeply, and put the vase on the night stand and leaned back on the pillows; she was wearing nothing except her locket. Harry stared with his mouth open, his breathing becoming heavier. Ginny giggled and pushed the covers back. Harry walked to the bed and stood over her.

“I brought you breakfast. Do you want something to eat?”

Ginny nodded. “I’ve never been this hungry before.”

His eyes went up and down her body. “Me either.”

She suddenly stood, threw him down on the bed, and leaped on top of him. “Enough talk,” she said breathlessly, her mouth on his. “You’re wearing way too many clothes.” Buttons popped, zippers tore, fabric ripped, shoes and socks flew across the room, and they were locked together, rolling on the bed.

#   #   #   #

Later in the morning they sat at the kitchen table as Ginny devoured her breakfast; Winky had managed a complicated spell that kept the meat hot and the whipped cream cool. Ginny ate lustily, and Harry, with his elbows on the table and his chin cupped in his hands, watched with a satisfied smile. After a few minutes he got up and poured a glass of pumpkin juice. He gave it to her, sat, and resumed gazing at her. Ginny looked up and smiled. “What?” she said through a mouthful of whipped cream.

“When I woke up and saw you next to me, it was the best morning of my life. Your face was right next to mine, and—”

“Harry.” Ginny put her fork down. “I’m sorry, but that reminds me of something I need to ask you. Did you see anything on my face yesterday, like a . . .” She trailed off, suddenly realizing that this would be painful to him. But she needed to ask; what she had seen in the mirror this morning had been a shock.

“Like a what?” Harry said, puzzled.

She reached across the table for his hand. “Something strange happened. I had a bruise on my face—”

Harry looked aghast and started to speak.

“No!” Ginny cut across him. “Love, it’s okay. I had it all week, but . . . it’s gone.”

Harry looked down. “No, I’m sure I didn’t see anything. If I had, I would have . . .” He looked at her. “You had no bruises when we brought you upstairs. I’m sure Rosmerta would have said something if she had seen any.”

Ginny stared at him. “I’m positive that ten minutes before I got here there was still a bad bruise on my face.”

“What happened ten minutes before you got here?”

“That’s when I found out about the poison.” Ginny told him about being accosted outside the Great Hall, and all the details of the conversation the first-year Slytherins had overheard. “And they all looked at me.” She touched her cheek under her left eye. “Something had to be there.”

Harry put his hand over his face. “I’m sorry, Gin.” He turned away, and Ginny could see tears in his eyes.

“Harry, no.” She jumped up, came around the table, and sat in his lap, taking his face in her hands “It’s all right, it’s all right,” she whispered. “I’m fine, it wasn’t your fault.”

“I know,” he finally managed to get out, “but when I think of you like that, I just . . . I can’t . . .”

“Shush.” She began kissing his face. “Put your arms around me. Oh, I didn’t mean under the nightgown, but . . .”

They returned to the kitchen half an hour later and Ginny resumed her breakfast. The sausages were still warm and Harry took a fork and cut off a bite for himself. “Can’t understand why I’m so hungry,” he grinned.

“You’re insatiable,” Ginny giggled with her mouth stuffed. “You know what I mean.”

Harry sat back and watched her eat; he felt completely at peace, there was absolutely nothing in the world that troubled him right now, not even the mystery of the poison. He was going to find who had done this to Ginny—through him—and he was going to make them pay; he was certain beyond a sliver of a doubt that he would get to the bottom of it. He hadn’t felt this confident about anything since he had faced Tom Riddle in the Great Hall.

“So let me get this straight,” he said. “Zoroaster, Sean, and Abigail overhead those three pissed gits talking about Turntongue, but they didn’t say where they heard it. From what you’ve told me and from what I remember about Jace Kleinhead, there’s no way he could have planned and pulled it off himself.”

Ginny frowned. “Right. But since they’re seventh-years, they could have heard about it someplace outside of school, maybe in Knockturn Alley if they went there on a weekend.”

“Which means that someone out there is blabbing or boasting.”

“But who?”

At that moment there was a soft knock on the door to the stairs, and they heard Hermione’s tentative voice. “Harry? Ginny? Are you in there?”

They looked at each other, at Ginny’s nightgown and Harry’s underwear. Harry got up and called as he went into the bedroom, “Wait a second, we’ll be right there.” He put on the jeans he had been wearing, but had to find his wand to repair the zipper, then grabbed his shirt from the floor, but threw it back down when he saw there were no buttons left on it. He hurriedly found a tee shirt in his dresser and pulled it over his head as he stumbled back into the parlor. Ginny was pulling her hair back and fixing it with a barrette she had stashed someplace or had conjured. They were both barefoot and grinned at each other as Harry opened the door.

Hermione and Ron stood there, and on the stairs behind them were George, Percy, Bill, Fleur and—to Harry and Ginny’s shock—Charlie. They all had worried looks, except Fleur who, as soon as she saw Harry and Ginny, burst out laughing.

“You see?” she said as she pushed past everyone and walked triumphantly into the parlor, “I was right. Whatever trouble zere was is fixed. I have never seen two lovers so ‘appy in my life.”

Harry grinned and pulled Hermione into the room. “Come in, everyone. Charlie, it’s great to see you. We don’t have anything to eat or anyplace to sit, but—”

“Wait, Harry,” said Bill, peering at Ginny’s face for a moment. “We didn’t mean to crash in on you. If you were busy . . .”

“No, no. Ginny was eating breakfast, but—”

“I can finish downstairs,” Ginny said. “You all go, and let me get dressed. I’ll be down in a jiff.”

“Yes, zat is a good idea.” Fleur started shepherding the others out the door. “You and ‘Arry take your time, we will wait in ze dining room, yes?”

Ron was the last to leave, and Harry held him back as Ginny went into the bedroom and closed the door. “You all heard about it?” Harry said.

Ron nodded. “McGonagall sent an owl to Mum and Dad yesterday, and Dad told Bill and he told the rest of us.” He frowned. “What happened? Ginny had a big bruise on her face?”

Harry pressed his lips together. “Did you ever hear of Turntongue?”

“No. What is it? It doesn’t sound like anything nice.”

“It’s a poison. It was being put into the Potio Vitae and that’s why I was so . . . different. I . . . I hit Ginny.”

Ron’s face froze for an instant, and for that instant Harry was not sure how his best mate was going to react. Then Ron’s jaw clenched and his face turned red; he took Harry’s arm. “Who did it, Harry, who were the bastards? I’ll kill them.”

“I don’t know. But go wait downstairs. We’ll be right down and fill you in. Make sure Hermione doesn’t drink any.”

Ron sucked in a breath, nodded, and quickly left. Harry went into the bedroom and heard Ginny in the shower. He paused for a moment, as though torn between two conflicting thoughts. He undressed and went into the bathroom.

When Harry pulled the curtain back, Ginny was humming to herself, rinsing off, and Harry watched the stream of shampoo bubbles run from her bright red hair, cascade down her back and over her oh so attractive and dimpled cheeks. Ginny turned her head and simpered while water ran into her eyes; she blinked.

“Hello. Don’t we have to go downstairs?”

“Eventually.”

Ginny took his hand and Harry stepped into the shower. He pulled the curtain closed and pressed against her and kissed her, squeezing the dimples with his hands. She handed him a bar of soap. “There are places I couldn’t reach.” She closed her eyes, raised her face to the ceiling, and lifted her arms above her head as Harry slowly soaped her front. He put the bar down and ran his hands over everything he had washed.

“This side is nice and clean,” he said, a little hoarsely. “I think I should do your back.” Ginny slowly turned and Harry repeated the process.

“Now it’s my turn.” Ginny’s voice was unnaturally high-pitched. “Back first.” She soaped that side, then moved against him and washed his front with her arms around him. Harry turned to face her and they kissed deeply under the stream of warm water. Harry picked her up so that she was at the proper height, and Ginny wrapped her legs around him. Down in the dining room the Weasleys waited a little longer.

When Harry and Ginny—squeaky clean—went downstairs, the family were all sitting around tables near the Dumbledore’s Army plaques. Standing near the front door, however, was Saliyah Ushujaa in her Head Auror robes and pointed hat. She was talking to the same assistant who had been with her at the Burrow and in Kingsley Shacklebolt’s office. She intercepted Harry.

“I know you want to see your family,” she said quietly, “but can I ask you to spare an hour? It’s very important, in fact it’s urgent.”

“It’s Ginny’s family, but I assume it’s about Turntongue.”

The Auror nodded. “I promise it will be an hour at most.”

“I’ll be waiting,” Ginny said, and started to walk away, but Saliyah stopped her.

“Ginny, I’d like you to come too. If you don’t mind.”

Ginny went to tell her family that she and Harry would be back in an hour. They walked outside with the two Aurors and went across the field, into the back door of the Post Office. The building was closed, but Saliyah showed them into a small room with a table, around which were seated Professors McGonagall and Slughorn, the Auror Sagittaria Slocum, and Madam Rosmerta.

“You all know why I’ve asked you here,” Saliyah said as they sat. “Someone tried to murder Harry with Turntongue, a particularly nasty poison. You could justly argue that Ginny’s life was also in danger because the poison attacks the victim’s most strongly held feeling.” She looked around the table; her face was solemn. “There was a case about five years ago where a woman was poisoned by it and killed her own child, and a few days later she killed herself.” Rosmerta gasped, and Ginny took Harry’s hand.

“I can understand that,” Harry murmured.

“I’m sure you can,” Saliyah said. “Now, the present case has some strange angles, and that’s where I’m hoping you can help, Professor Slughorn. And,” she turned to the Headmistress, “I do want to see those students who were overheard in the Slytherin common room. They could give us very important information.”

“I will insist on being present when you question them,” McGonagall said. “They are under my care, and as far as I can tell they have not committed a crime.”

“That remains to be seen. I’d like to see them this afternoon, if I may. And of course you and Professor Slughorn may attend.” She leaned forward. “Kingsley asked me to gather as much information as I can. It’s urgent. A lot of people may be in danger. My first question is for Professor Slughorn. Why hasn’t anyone other than Harry been affected so dramatically? Forgive me, Harry,” she said to him, “a lot of people noticed how it changed you, but it doesn’t appear that anyone else became violent. I asked the professor to take a few bottles from your stock and from The Three Broomsticks and analyze them. Professor?” She looked at Slughorn.

He cleared his throat and pulled a parchment from his robes; he studied it for a few moments, then spoke.

“The Ministry—” he nodded to Saliyah “— asked me to analyze a few bottles of the drink, and I found something very interesting.” He paused and looked around the circle of faces.

“Yes?” Saliyah prompted.

Slughorn bowed his head to her and glanced down at the parchment. “As I was saying, it’s quite interesting. There are three foreign ingredients in the bottles I examined. One is a mild version of Turntongue. By itself, I don’t believe it was strong enough to cause anyone to become violent. The second is a substance that is commonly used in my profession to enhance the potency of other ingredients. It is called Crescerio, and when used in conjunction with another herb or, as in this case, a poison, it multiplies the effect of the first substance. There’s your answer.” He beamed at Saliyah and sat back, appearing very pleased with himself.

The Auror looked puzzled. “I don’t see how that explains anything, Professor. Dozens of people in Hogsmeade drank it. If it affected all of them the way it affected Harry, we would have seen duels in the streets.”

“Didn’t I mention? The Crescerio itself has to be activated by a spell. It’s ingenious, really. You put Turntongue into the drink, attenuated so no one will notice it, then add Crescerio, which is harmless by itself. And then you activate the Crescerio by casting a Crescendum spell, and the Turntongue becomes lethal.” He beamed again. “The only disadvantage is that the spell works only within a few yards of the Crescerio.”

In the silence, Harry looked at Ginny. “I know who it was.” All eyes went to him. “Turquoise Southeby," he said to the Head Auror. "She was always there, except on weekends because she was afraid of Ginny, and by the end of the weekend I always felt better, not as angry. Find her and test her wand for that spell.”

“I wish I could find her,” Saliyah said, “but no one has seen her for four days.”

“What about that third ingredient?” Harry asked Slughorn.

The Professor frowned. “It’s something I’ve never seen before. Perhaps someone at the Ministry can identify it.”

“I’ll ask them.” Saliyah nodded to her assistant who took out a quill and parchment and wrote on it.

“I have some questions,” Rosmerta said. “How did Turntongue get into the drink in the first place? And is it only in the shipments sent to Hogsmeade?”

“We’re talking to the bottler and to Jake Sipper about that,” Saliyah answered, “but it’s only been a few hours since you warned us, so I don’t have any answers yet.”

“I have a question,” Ginny said. “Why is it that only people with Muggle grandparents like it? Is that part of a plot against people like Harry?”

Saliyah turned to Professor Slughorn. “Any ideas about that? What about that third ingredient?”

“It does sound suspicious, but I have to say I never tried the stuff myself. But for someone to do that . . .” He shook his head. “It would take a very high level of skill.”

Saliyah’s assistant leaned over and whispered into her ear. She nodded and said to Slughorn, “I’d appreciate it if you would look into that, Professor. The Office of Magical Law Enforcement is also investigating it, but your skill and knowledge would be a great help.” He again bowed his head.

Saliyah stood. “If no one has anything else to say, I need to talk to some of your students,” she said to McGonagall. “May we go now?”

The Headmistress gave a short nod. “As long as I am present, as I said.”

“It’s your right as Head of the school.”

They went out the back door, but when Professor McGonagall and the others started around the side of the building, Ginny left Harry and ran after them. Harry watched as Ginny spoke to the Headmistress; they both smiled and Ginny came back. She took his arm as they walked across the field to the inn. “What was that about?” Harry asked.

Ginny looked at him mischievously. “I asked her if I could stay out of school tomorrow. She said yes.”

“Ah,” said Harry; he put his arm around her. “And what were you planning to do on your new holiday?”

“Wear you out.”

“You can try, witch, but I warn you, I’m a wizard of prodigious power. My wand is known far and wide.”

“Oh, really? By whom?”

He stopped; they were a few yards from the lane and the front door of the inn. Harry lifted up her chin and Ginny put her arms around him.

“Only you,” he whispered, “forever.” He kissed her.

“Oi, lovers!” George called from the door. “Can’t it wait? We’re all starving.”

Charlie was also at the door, and when Harry and Ginny walked in he stopped them and looked earnestly at Harry.

“Late last night I got a message from Bill. All anyone knew was that Ginny was hurt. You do understand why we came, don’t you?”

Harry nodded. “I do, and I’m especially glad you came.”

“Whoever did it, Harry, find them. Find them and put them away.”

“I intend to.”

Charlie put an arm around each of their shoulders and escorted them back to the rest of the Weasleys. Ron had told everyone what Harry had told him, and Stan had filled in some more details. When Harry reported what Saliyah and Professor Slughorn had said, heads shook.

“I remember that case of the witch who killed her own child,” Bill said. “It was done by a jealous wizard. He must have been deranged.”

“But what ‘appened to ‘Arry is not derangement,” Fleur declared. “It was vengeance. Someone tried to kill ‘Arry because ‘e ‘as destroyed ze Deat’ Eaters and zere leader. I ‘ate to say even ‘is real name.” Her eyes flashed.

“Don’t you think it was Tangerine Southeby?” Percy asked.

“Turquoise, Perce, Turquoise,” George snickered. “But there had to be others. She couldn’t have done it alone.”

“Pansy Parkinson,” said Ron; Hermione rolled her eyes.

“What is it with you and Pansy,” Ginny asked. “I didn’t know you fancied short girls.” Hermione guffawed.

Charlie banged his mug on the table. “Listen, brothers and sisters, I love spending time with the family, but Hagrid is holding my transportation for me inside a pen in the Forbidden Forest, and I’d like to start back while there’s enough daylight for the beast to land. The Carpathian Mountains can get pretty dark at night.”

Harry spoke to Stan and soon food started issuing from the kitchen. They were about to begin the first course of French onion soup smothered in melted cheese, but Bill stood and raised his bottle of butterbeer; everyone looked at him and silence fell.

“Before we eat his food,” he said, “we owe Harry an explanation.”

“No, you don’t!”  Harry tried to stand, but Ron pulled him down.

“Shut up, mate,” he growled. “No one asked you.” Harry sat, looking grumpy. “Go on, you can ignore him,” Ron said to Bill.

Bill smiled. “Harry, we all came here for one simple reason: we heard that Ginny was in trouble. So now you know what happens when a Weasley is in trouble. A mob descends, and whoever caused the trouble is in bigger trouble. But,” he looked intently at Harry, “not a single one of us ever thought for a moment that you were the cause, and no one thinks it now. We came here for both of you, Harry. For Ginny and you. I never want you to doubt for an instant that the Weasleys will be here for you if you need us.” He looked around the table. “I see two people whose lives you saved. You saved our father’s life. And we all know what you wear around your neck, that little cylinder that Ginny gave you. You may not have been born into this family, Harry, but it is your family.”

“Bravo!” Fleur clapped. She sprang up and ran around to Harry and, to applause and cheers, kissed him on the lips.

Harry grinned at Ron. “You don’t deserve one,” he said smugly.

Fleur kissed Ginny, and everyone started talking and eating. Charlie soon left, but not before giving Harry a rib-cracking hug; he also whispered something to Ginny who blushed a deep Weasley crimson. A half hour later they heard what sounded like a locomotive passing overhead, and knew that Charlie was on his way back to Romania. The rest of the family started leaving, but Fleur took Ginny’s hand before she and Bill departed.

“Can you come to stay wiz us next weekend?” she asked. “Maybe you would like to get away from all zis for a few days. We would love to ‘ave you.”

Harry squeezed his arm around Ginny’s waist. “That would be brilliant,” Ginny said happily.

“Thanks,” Harry grinned.

“No, ‘Arry, t’ank you.” This time she kissed his cheek, and she and Ginny hugged. Bill started to pump Harry’s hand, but stopped and instead gave him a hug only a little less vise-like than Charlie’s. Soon only Ron and Hermione were left, and they all went up to the flat.

They sat on the rug in front of a warm fire. Hermione’s head lay in Ron’s lap, and Harry and Ginny sat side by side leaning back against the love seat. They were all quiet; Ginny ran her fingers slowly through Harry’s hair. The fire cracked and popped, and occasionally McPherson shifted on his perch and made soft clucking sounds.

“Ron,” Harry said. Both Ron and Hermione looked at him.

“What is it, mate?” Ron leaned back on his hands.

“Do you think I could start the Auror program after Christmas?”

Hermione sat up, and Ginny’s hand stopped moving.

“Sure,” Ron said, “that would be bloody fantastic! You won’t have any problem with it, you’ll do great.”

“I don’t know about that, but I can’t stay here. I mean, I can’t run the inn. It’s what started all . . . the bad things.”

Ginny was looking at him with glistening eyes. She said nothing, but put her fingers on her lips and pressed them to his, then leaned her head on his shoulder.

“Don’t say anything yet,” Harry said. “Let me ask around Hogsmeade to see if anyone’s available to manage this place. Who’s running the program now?”

“Percy. And he’s doing a bang-up job. He’s not teaching, but he’s got everything so organized and running so well that Aurors are knocking each other over to get on the staff. He’ll bust when he hears you want to join.”

Harry looked at Ginny. “What do you think?”

“What do I think?” Ginny now had tears running down her cheeks. “I think you just made the best decision in your life. Thank you.” She took his face in her hands and kissed him.

Harry smiled. “The second best decision. The first was deciding to kiss you two years ago.”

Ginny put her arms around his shoulders and leaned into him. As the snog began, Ron and Hermione stood up together. “Well, I think it’s time to be heading on home,” Ron said. “Don’t get up, we’ll find the door ourselves.”

Harry pointed. “It’s over there,” he mumbled, but Ginny put her mouth back on his and they rolled to the floor as Ron and Hermione left; their laughter could be heard until the door closed behind them.

Harry was on top of Ginny; he put his hand on her breast and her eyes closed and her mouth opened. “Alone at last,” he said.

“If they hadn’t left, I would have had to Stun them. Take me into the bedroom, instantly.”

Harry picked her up and carried her to the bed. He started to light the candles, but Ginny pulled him back on top of her. “Not necessary,” she said into his ear. She pulled his shirt out and more fabric ripped. “I want you, Harry, I’ve never wanted you so much. I want you, I want you now.”

Chapter Text

“Harry?”

“Mmm?”

“Are you awake?”

“Mmm.”

“Can you get me something to drink? A glass of water would be nice.”

“Sure, darling. Do you want anything else?”

“Why don’t you get the water and when you come back I’ll tell you what else I want.”

“I meant, do you want anything else from the kitchen?”

“Not from the kitchen.”

“Then I’ll be right back.”

. . . .

“Thanks, love. I was really thirsty.”

“So, I’m back.”

“I noticed. Come here, kiss me.”

[Pause]

“You haven’t worn me out yet, you know.”

“I can tell. It’s a work in progress. I . . . mmm, oh, Harry!”

[Long pause]

“Ginny?”

“Mmm?”

“You’re so beautiful and you feel so good.”

[Giggle] “This is nice. This is the best holiday I’ve ever had.”

 “Ginny? Let’s celebrate the holiday again.”

[Giggle] “Not worn out yet? Oh, no, you’re not.”

[Long pause]

“Ginny?”

“Mmm?”

“Would you mind getting me a glass of pumpkin juice?”

“Not at all, sweetie.”

. . . .

“Here it is. What were you just looking at?”

“Everything. I love to watch you walk, coming and going. It’s the most beautiful sight on the planet.”

“Which do you like better, coming or going?”

“That’s not a fair question. I don’t want to hurt the feelings of either coming or going.”

“You’re quite the diplomat. Both my coming and my going are flattered.”

“That’s the idea, to have everything be grateful.”

“Everything is extremely grateful, so grateful . . .”

[Long pause]

“Harry?”

“Mmm?”

“Are you sleepy?”

“Mmm.”

“Me, too.”

“Mmm.”

#   #   #   #

They had no idea what hour of the night or day it was, nor did they care. Harry cast a dozen Orchideous spells in front of the picture window and blocked it completely with hundreds of roses, daffodils, carnations, orchids, and tulips. They drew curtains over the other windows and didn’t bother with clothes. Whenever they were hungry, there was food in the kitchen. They spent Sunday night and Monday making love, showering together, bathing each other, lying on the rug in front of the fireplace, or curled up in the love seat.

But things became even more intense when they noticed in the morning (at least they thought it was morning) that their minds and feelings had become connected again. The link had been there during the summer at the Burrow, but they now realized that it had vanished when Harry’s troubles began, when he had started directing his anger at Ginny. Now that the connection was coming back, they both realized how much they had missed it.

The best part was when they made love. They knew exactly what the other one wanted, what touch of the fingers or caress of the lips caused the most pleasure; they could tell the exact moment when the other was about to explode. They began to see as though looking through the other’s eyes. Harry saw the red and gold pattern of the bed’s canopy as Ginny saw it from underneath him, and Ginny saw her own sweaty face, grimacing with pleasure, slightly out of focus because Harry was not wearing his glasses.

They were up most of the night and morning, and in the afternoon they slept. Somehow Ginny awoke in time to take a quick shower, throw on her clothes, and for them both to hurry off to Hogwarts, where they beat the curfew by a few minutes. They clung to each other in the entrance hall, oblivious to Filch’s scowls, growls, and tapping of his foot. Harry watched Ginny climb the marble staircase, and just before she disappeared around the corner they both pressed their fingers to their lips at the same instant.

Harry walked slowly back to the inn. Ginny had actually come pretty close to wearing him out, but he had never been more happily exhausted, walking through the village with a smile on his face. He was surprised when people greeted him and asked how he was feeling. He had expected anger when news about the poison got out, but no one was hostile. When he walked into the inn, a wizard sitting at the bar got up and clapped him on the back, and Tony Trostle came up and totally surprised him with a bear hug. Harry mumbled an embarrassed thanks, but declined invitations to sit down for a drink. Up in the flat he fell face down on the unmade bed and was asleep before his eyes closed.

He didn’t awaken until very late the next day, and lay in bed for a long time remembering every detail of yesterday’s passion. Three days ago he had feared that his life had ended; now he couldn’t believe how happy he was. A load had been lifted the instant he decided to drop the inn, and the decision to enroll in the Auror program felt completely right, although he was concerned about starting it so late. Still, it gave him the feeling that he was taking his destiny back into his own hands. For three months he had been buffeted and manipulated by the plots and schemes of people who wanted to hurt him and Ginny. Now he knew exactly what he was going to do, and he knew that he would succeed.

It was Ginny, he realized with a smile, who had never doubted him, even after he had sunk into a miasma of despair and resignation. It was a wonder that she had remained faithful to their love, but she had always told him that her love for him would never die; now he knew what that meant.

He buried his face in the empty pillow next to him, smelling her fragrance and sweat; he wanted her again. Thoughts of her lips, her skin, her arms and legs, her breasts, swept him away, but he pulled himself back and took a deep breath. He had things to do, and he wanted to get them started.

After showering and dressing he rearranged the flowers that covered the picture window, put them into vases, and placed them around the room, on the mantel, the floor, and the little tables that he and Ginny had picked out in Diagon Alley. As he was standing in the middle of the room admiring his decorative skills, Bailey flew in the open casement window and alighted next to McPherson on his perch. She had a message in her beak, and Harry took it and scratched her head. Ginny had written it between classes.

 

 

 

 

 

My sweetest love,

I am still so sleepy. I had a nine o’clock Arithmancy this morning, and I barely made it. I hope you are more rested than I am, although I have to say that being awake is wonderful because I can think of you and remember how you touched me and how happy I was in your arms. That is where I want to be, and it is making it hard for me to concentrate in my classes.

I will be very busy today and this evening, catching up (except Defense Against, since they don’t have a teacher yet). I have heard some rumors about the Slytherins, which I don’t want to put into a letter, but since you will be here tomorrow, we can talk about it then (and...?).

I love you more than I can ever tell you, and I want to be with you so I can show you. I live for tomorrow when I will see you again.

Your Ginny

There was a lipstick smudge under her signature; Harry pressed it to his lips and wrote back:

 

 

 

 

 

Ginny,

I have been thinking of you ever since I woke up, which was later than you did, I think. I have some things to do today, too. It will be hard because I won’t be able to get you and your “coming and going” out of my mind. Do you know how much I love you? I will tell you again when I see you tomorrow.

But tomorrow is so far away! I want to touch you and squeeze you. I want to feel you, all of you, against me. I want to kiss you and never stop.

Writing this is making me crazy. I really need to get going. I love you.

Harry

He gave the letter to Bailey—who was busy grooming McPherson’s back feathers—and she flew off looking slightly annoyed. Harry stroked McPherson and smiled. “Sorry, mate, I know how it feels. Go after her if you want.” The owl flapped his wings, gave a loud hoot, and took off out the window. Harry heard his hooting and what sounded like answers from another owl; he turned away feeling satisfied.

He had lots of things he wanted to do today, and the first was to talk to Madam Rosmerta about the inn. He checked with his staff to see how things were going—Stan said they were running out of butterbeer since all the Potio Vitae had been confiscated yesterday by the Ministry—and walked down the High Street to The Three Broomsticks. People called to him when he came inside, and Rosmerta hurried from behind the bar, a butterbeer in hand.

She grabbed his arm. “Harry! Did you hear the news? No, how could you. Come!” She thrust the bottle into his hand, pulled him to a corner table, pushed him into a chair and sat down next to him, leaning forward and speaking in a low voice.

“I just got an owl from Saliyah Ushujaa. They traced the Turntongue. The whole thing was cooked up by Bella Lestrange last year. What a pervert! Molly should get an Order of Merlin.” She chuckled, and became serious again. “It seems that the idea was to make lots of people a little angry and a little frightened. It’s like Slughorn said, the poison wasn’t strong enough to cause violence, just to keep everyone mad at everyone else. Voldemort must have figured he could exploit all that fear and anger to keep people in line.”

Harry stared at her. “My God, that’s unbelievable. Poisoning the whole country, kids, everyone.” He thought a moment. “But they screwed up. Lot’s of people don’t like it, unless they have Muggle grandparents.”

“They didn’t screw up. That’s what Bellatrix wanted. They came up with a potion that somehow reacted to non-magical ancestry and put that in the PV too. It’s the third ingredient that Slughorn couldn’t identify. The funny part is, Saliyah said there’s a story floating around that Voldemort tried it and liked it.”

Harry snorted. “His father was a Muggle.” He shook his head. “It sounds like something Dolores Umbridge would dream up.”

“Exactly. She was head of the . . . what was that place?”

“The Muggle-born Registration Commission. I was there.”

“Well, they gave Potio Vitae to everyone in the Ministry, and if you liked it you were in trouble. Then the Death Eaters set up that fake company, A Witch’s Brew, and started making the Potio Vitae with the poison in it.”

“That doesn’t explain the Crescerio. Someone here in Hogsmeade doctored the PV, but if it was Turquoise, then she didn’t do it by herself. She didn’t have the knowledge, she’s uneducated. She must have had a partner.”

“But at least they solved the mystery of where the Turntongue came from.”

Harry sat back. “Ros, I need your advice about something.”

“Sure, Harry. Advice is free.” She grinned.

He smiled back. “Do you know anyone who could run the inn for me? I want to . . . to try something different.”

Rosmerta cocked her head. “Are you selling?”

Harry hesitated. “Probably, eventually. But . . .” He looked around and dropped his voice. “Please don’t say anything. I don’t want everyone to start bothering me. I just want someone else to manage it for now.”

“That person is right under your nose. Stan Shunpike. To be honest, he’s been running it for the last month. You weren’t in any condition to make rational decisions. Stan made sure you didn’t do anything stupid.”

Harry chuckled. “I did plenty of stupid things, but I guess Stan bailed me out with the inn, and Ginny with everything else.”

Rosmerta smiled. “You’re lucky to have people like that around you.” She shook her head. “No, that’s not true. It’s not luck. People want to help you.” She put her hand on his. “I’m glad you came and talked to me, Harry. I’ll do whatever I can.”

Harry squeezed her hand. “Thanks, Ros. I don’t really understand it. I figured that everyone would be mad at me for bringing all these problems here, but . . .” He looked around at the room. “I guess not.”

“No. Maybe a couple of idiots think that, but people know they can count on you. When they think about what you did last year, how could they be anything but grateful?”

Harry got to  his feet. “So you think Stan could do it? Do you think he would want to?”

She smiled. “Ask him.”

Harry hugged her. “Thanks, Ros, thanks for everything.”

Harry left The Three Broomsticks thinking about the news Rosmerta had told him. He was beginning to wonder about Dolores Umbridge and whether she could have had a hand in his troubles. Could the little toad have done all those things even if she was out of the country? Harry could certainly see that revenge might motivate her; he’d been a thorn in her side going back to his fifth year at Hogwarts.

And Stan as manager of the inn? Well, why not? There was a lot more to the man than a conductor on a wizard bus. He had a head for business, and Harry would certainly be comfortable knowing that he was in charge. Stan and Kreacher got along, and Winky hadn’t threatened him with her ladle lately. Harry decided to think about it for a day or two.

But now he had another task to take care of. He Disapparated to Diagon Alley, ran an errand and spoke briefly to Bill, and finally made a stop at Shell Cottage and talked to Fleur. He returned to the inn just before dinner and up in the flat saw the two owls perched in the elm tree outside the picture window. He opened the casement window on the other side of the room and in a moment Bailey flew in followed by McPherson. Bailey lifted her leg and Harry took the letter.

 

 

 

 

 

Darling,

I can’t believe it’s been less than a day since I saw you last. It seems like an eternity. I blew up my cauldron in Professor Slughorn’s class this afternoon because I was thinking of you instead of how many newt eyes to add. Poor Luna’s hair was singed, but she wasn’t hurt. You should stop making me do things like that!

Then again, I really don’t want you to stop distracting me. It makes me feel so close to you, and that is the best feeling in the world.

I can’t stop thinking of you. Let me know how your day has been, and everything you did so I can picture all those things in my mind. I love you so much.

Ginny

Harry sat down in the love seat and smiled to himself, thinking of the things that he liked to do to “distract” Ginny. Bailey roused him from his daydream with several loud chirps, and he penned an answer.

 

 

 

 

 

My beloved Ginny,

I was just thinking about what I like to do to distract you, and also about what you do to “wear me out.” I don’t know how I can get through the rest of the week without you. I’m sure that by the time you are here on Friday I will be completely insane and ready to be worn out again.

Today I talked to Madam Rosmerta about finding someone to run the inn when I start the Auror program. She had a great idea: Stan! But don’t say anything to anyone yet, until I think about it for a while. I like the idea, but I want to be sure. Rosmerta also told me that the Ministry has solved the Turntongue mystery, and the culprit was Bellatrix Lestrange! Riddle wanted to make everyone mad at each other so he could exploit all the discontent, and Bellatrix figured out a way to do it. I’ll explain it more when I see you tomorrow.

I will be spending the rest of today and all of tonight doing nothing but thinking of you and your “coming and going.” I hope that when I see you tomorrow I don’t do something too outrageous, but I probably will. So be prepared.

I miss you so much. I love you so much.

Harry

The two owls departed together, and Harry went down to the dining room where he ate with Tony and his wife. All the customers were full of the news that had appeared in the afternoon edition of the Prophet about the Potio Vitae affair.

“There’s gonna be a swarm of reporters up here,” Tony grimaced. “I’m surprised they haven’t shown up yet.”

“Patience,” Harry grinned. “They’ll be here just in time for dessert, you watch.”

Sure enough, an hour later as Kreacher was serving the first order of carrot cake, two young wizards and a witch walked into the inn; one of the wizards had a camera. They looked around the dining room and spotted Harry, now sitting by himself all the way in the back, having no luck balancing his ledger which was open in front of him. When the reporters descended on him he closed the ledger and waved at the chairs around his table; they moved backward in unison.

“Have a seat,” Harry gestured. “Can I get you a drink? Potio Vitae?”

They looked at each other, but the witch laughed. “Nice try, Mr. Potter, you won’t get rid of us that easily.”

“It was worth a shot. What can I do for you?”

The reporters interviewed him while the photographer snapped pictures of him, the dining room, the D.A. plaques, and Stan, who was busy behind the bar and wouldn’t show his face to the camera. Harry tried to steer the questions away from his own problems with Potio Vitae, but the witch kept coming back to them. Annoyance replaced tolerance as the witch pressed.

“So, Harry, how badly did you react to Turntongue, not being a pureblood yourself? And what about the rumors that you threw your girlfriend down the stairs after you went on a PV drinking binge?” She smiled sweetly; she had dark brown hair and didn’t wear much makeup, but her demeanor reminded Harry of another reporter.

“Is Rita Skeeter your mother or your role model?” he asked. “Or both?”

The witch clapped her hands. “Oh, I adore her! Did you read that marvelous book she wrote last year about Professor Duddlemore?”

“Yeah, I read that drivel, and if you ask me again about Gin—about what the Turntongue did to me, I’ll have to ask you to leave.”

The male reporter put his hand on her arm. “That’s okay, Mr. Potter, I don’t think we have any more questions.” He pulled the witch out of her chair and pushed her towards the door. “Sorry about that,” he said to Harry before following her. “Cub reporter, a little too impressionable. She’ll be okay.”

Harry followed them to make sure they left, and went to the bar. “I hope that’s over with,” he said to Stan.

The barkeep smiled and poured firewhiskeys that Kreacher reached up for and took to a table where three witches were having dinner. “You ought to be used to it.”

Harry shook his head. “I hate it.” He waited while Stan served butterbeers to two wizards. “Oh, by the way, Stan, I wanted to ask if you could handle things this weekend. We got invited to Shell Cottage, and I’d like to leave Friday evening and come back Sunday afternoon. Is that okay?”

“Sure, ‘Arry, that’s fine. You and Ginny need a vacation. I’m ‘appy to do it.”

“Good. I appreciate it.”

Harry wandered back to his table and the ledger, greeting customers along the way. He gave the ledger another try, but when his vision started to blur and the numbers began floating around on the page, he gave up, but noticed that he felt no frustration like he had in the past; in fact, he didn’t even care. He sat back in his chair and looked around; his customers, many of them his friends, were eating, drinking, laughing, having a good time. He closed the ledger, took it back into the kitchen, and put it in its drawer.

That evening Harry and Ginny exchanged love letters—lust letters, more accurately—and he sent a package of Chocoballs as a good-night present. He took out the Marauder’s Map and watched her dot do a little dance on her bed, wondering whether she was actually standing on it, but deciding she would be bashing her head on the canopy if she was; he would ask her when he saw her at lunch.

He didn’t have to wait until lunchtime to see her the next day. When he approached the castle for his morning Charms lesson, Ginny was waiting at the top of the stairs in front of the great oak doors, and came flying down the steps and threw herself at him. They kissed and stood gazing at each other until they noticed Emma and Claire standing in the drive, watching; they had just come from Care of Magical Creatures.

“At least you’re not snogging,” Emma said. “Hi, Harry. Doesn’t Ginny look good?”

Harry grabbed both girls at once and hugged them. They squealed and laughed as he planted a kiss on each of their cheeks.

“Yes, she looks great, thanks to you two very brave and very smart young witches. True Gryffindors.” He and Ginny both laughed as the girls turned bright red. “Sit with us at lunch,” he said. “You can tell me what’s going on.”

The twins promised and left Harry and Ginny on the steps. “I thought you would meet me at lunch,” Harry said. “Is everything okay?”

“I forgot that I had Defense Against the Dark Arts this morning. No teacher, no class.”

Harry took her hand and they walked into the entrance hall. “There’s no word yet on who’ll replace Pester? They can’t just let it go, it’s the most important class.”

“That’s what we all think. I talked to Hagrid yesterday, and he said they’re taking their time so that they can get it right.”

“They should give up and just hire someone for a year. No one in their right mind will take it for longer.”

“Maybe, but you’re right about it being the most important class. They need to get their act together, and soon.”

They were on their way up to the seventh floor. “What are you going to do while I’m with Flitwick?” Harry asked.

“Do you mind if I ask the Professor if I can watch? Maybe I’d learn something.”

“You just want to distract me. By the way,” he stopped a few yards from Flitwick’s office and looked up and down the empty corridor. “I love you.” He pushed her against a tapestry of a banquet hanging on the wall, and kissed her. Ginny kissed him back, and for several minutes they were oblivious to everything, including the wizards and witches on the tapestry who stopped eating to watch them.

“That’s what I missed,” Ginny cooed into Harry’s ear.

“Me too.” He brushed a lock of her hair from her face. “Well, time for Charms.”

Professor Flitwick was pleased to have Ginny watch the lesson. “And don’t feel shy about joining in,” he added.

“Professor,” Ginny said as Flitwick climbed onto his stool next to his desk, “what’s happening with Defense Against the Dark Arts? Do you know when the class will start again?”

The Professor shook his head. “Sadly, no. The position has a reputation that was unfortunately enhanced by the last holder. We’re trying, Miss Weasley, I assure you.”

“It’s not fair. All I’ve had since my first year is bad luck with that class. I do want to learn something.”

“I’m sorry. As I said, we’re trying. Now,” he turned to Harry, “where were we the last time you were here?”

As the lesson went on, Harry discovered that his spells were almost casting themselves, and Flitwick finally had him try to do all of them non-verbally. Harry glanced at Ginny and smiled when he saw the frown of concentration on her face as she tried to follow the Professor’s wand movements with her own. She looked up and smiled back, but gasped and looked past Harry. Flitwick yelped, and Harry spun around. He and Ginny sprang forward and caught the Professor just as he was about to topple onto the floor: Harry had inadvertently Levitated him without even using his wand, but Ginny’s smile had distracted him, and poor Professor Flitwick had dropped back onto the stool and lost his balance.

“Merlin, I’m sorry!” Harry exclaimed. “Are you okay, Professor?”

Flitwick straightened his waistcoat and cravat and peered at Harry. “I’m fine, Harry, but what on earth happened? You lowered your wand, looked at Miss Weasley, and the next instant I was two feet in the air, a rather startling experience.”

Harry looked at his wand, then at Ginny. “Uh, well . . .” He turned back to Flitwick, “I think I was thinking about . . . um, it’s a little embarrassing, actually.” His face turned red. “I’m sorry, Professor, I’ll be more careful.”

Flitwick eyes twinkled. “Maybe we shouldn’t have the lessons with such an attractive distraction present.” He sat on the stool and conjured a handkerchief which he used to wipe his forehead; when he was done it disappeared. “Let’s call it a day. I need to recover my equilibrium before my next class.”

Harry apologized again, and they hurriedly left. Out in the corridor Ginny burst out laughing. “Harry, what were you thinking? I thought he was going to float up to the ceiling.”

Harry grinned, embarrassed. “I was thinking about the map last night. I saw your dot dancing on the bed, then I imagined you jumping up and down and hitting your head on the canopy.”

Ginny laughed again. “I wasn’t jumping, but I was prancing around. I had to keep my head bent down so I wouldn’t smash it. But Harry, do you realize what you just did? You were imagining me, and you made Flitwick do the same thing.”

They were in front of the Fat Lady, who was reading a book, ignoring them. Harry scratched his head. “I don’t understand. How could that happen?”

“Ask him next time. I think he was too flustered to realize what you had done.”

The Fat Lady’s book snapped shut. “Either go inside or pipe down,” she said. “I’d like some peace and quiet, if you don’t mind.” She sniffed and opened the book again.

“Fried liver and onions.” Ginny made a face, and the portrait swung open. They went inside and Harry stood by the fireplace, leaning against the mantel while Ginny went up to her room to drop off her books. Nobody was there—lunch had already started—and Harry looked around the common room, feeling contented. They went down to the Great Hall and sat next to the twins who had saved two seats for them.

“So tell me how you found out about the Turntongue,” Harry said to them.

“We didn’t really do anything,” answered Claire. “Zoro and Sean told us what they heard those prats say, and we told Keesha and Luna.”

“Some people wouldn’t have done anything,” Harry said. “They would have been too scared, or decided it wasn’t any of their business. You helped fix something that was really bad.”

The girls squirmed, but smiled and looked at each other. “We’re glad,” mumbled Emma.

“So,” Harry turned to Ginny, “what happened to the Slytherins? Ushujaa talked to them, I assume?”

“She did, but there’s only rumors. People are saying that Jace and Serpens were in the Leaky Cauldron with an older cousin of Serpens, and they all got drunk and the cousin told them about the Turntongue. He must have been a Death Eater who got away.”

Harry thought for a moment. “I don’t think so. If he was a Death Eater on the run, he wouldn’t be in a public place like the Leaky Cauldron. Lots of Ministry types must hang out there and someone would spot him. Remember Ron told us that some Death Eaters may have gone underground? I’ll bet the cousin was working with Bellatrix on the Turntongue.”

“That explains everything except for one thing,” Ginny said. “How did this cousin know that you were going to be killed? Bellatrix’s original plot was to nark everyone, not kill you.”

<