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Ginny's House

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Ginny sat on the grass, a few yards off the path to Hagrid’s cabin, late on a warm spring afternoon. She sat hunched over, her knees pulled up, her eyes closed, listening to the tinkling and splashing of water cascading in the fountain behind her, and to the cooing of two doves perched in the rowan tree growing next to the fountain.

A happy thought filled her mind and she lifted her head. Harry was striding towards her. He waved and she smiled and waved back.

He plopped down next to her and she leaned over and kissed him. “Hey, sweetie, did they set the date?”

He grinned. “July 1 next year. Ron’s promotion will be the same day. He and Hermione are coming over Friday for dinner to celebrate.”

“Oh, Harry! We can start to make plans.”

“Right, and I talked to Stan before I came, and he doesn’t see any problem with buying the inn next summer. Harriet’s due in October, so by the summer they’ll be able to handle it.”

Harry meant The Hog’s Head Inn, which he himself had bought six years ago, two days after the Battle of Hogwarts. He had wanted a place for him and Ginny to be together while she finished her last year at school. He had renovated it, of course, being that it had been a dump and a hangout for shady characters, unfit for habitation let alone a love nest. Stan Shunpike became his barman, and after Harry joined a new Auror training program at the Ministry of Magic, Stan took over running the inn. He later married Harriet Smythe, a waitress at The Three Broomsticks.

The renovations included a three-room flat on the second floor, and during the first year that Harry lived there it had been a place of refuge and romance for him and Ginny. They had intended to move out after their wedding the following summer, but life has a way of changing even well-laid plans.

Harry was being groomed to become Head Auror, and became engulfed in all the political and administrative intricacies of running a department in the Ministry. Ginny had successfully tried out for the all-witch Holyhead Harpies Quidditch team, and her

 role on the Harpies grew with each match as her skills blossomed and her passionate spirit infused the whole team. Her popularity with fans grew too, and soon, as one of the best Chasers in the British and Irish League, she became as well-known and maybe even more popular than her husband.

Weeks, months, and years slipped by, and the small flat over The Hog’s Head became cozier and more comfortable, if a little crowded with the accumulations of five years of marriage. Moving out did not seem as urgent, and besides, as Ginny often said, she liked being as close as possible to her sweetie.

Now, sitting on the Hogwarts lawn at the end of a lovely day, listening to the sounds of the fountain, Ginny was silent. She looked up at the doves; they had built their nest on a branch a dozen feet up, and the female was sitting in it. Ginny knew from Hagrid, who checked the nest every day, that there were three eggs.

She leaned her head on Harry’s shoulder and he put his arm around her. “I knew you’d be here,” he said.

Ginny sighed. “I wanted to spend some time here alone. It will be too crowded on the second.”

Next week would be the annual memorial ceremony for the Battle and the fountain, which marked the spot where Elizabeth Derby, a fifth-year Ravenclaw, had died. Ginny had found her here, horribly wounded, her face mutilated, her limbs broken, and had held her hand in the last moments of her life. The fountain was a memorial to Elizabeth and all students who had been killed. It was magical, filled with colorful fish and beautiful water lilies. Water fell out of two cupped hands held aloft above the basin. Flowering vines grew up around the white marble pedestal and around the basin. The fountain and the rowan tree had been created by Ginny and her Hogwarts professors, and the fish, the flowers, and the doves would live there as long as Hogwarts stood.

Ginny liked to come here when the weather was fine. The sounds of the water and the doves were soothing. Sometimes Hagrid or another professor or a curious student would stop by and they would sit in silence for a while, but mostly she sat or lay on the grass alone. She didn’t even want to be with Harry at those times.

Today he had expected her to be at the flat when he got home from work because he was bringing news: the date he would officially become Head Auror, the job he had been preparing for these past five years. But he could tell that something else was on Ginny’s mind, something that Harry couldn’t see clearly. He knew it was not Elizabeth, but Ginny was not letting him see what it was.

They shared a connection, a link between their minds and their hearts that opened up every thought and every emotion; it allowed them to be with each other in total, engulfing intimacy. They often did not have to speak in order to communicate, especially about strong feelings or an important thought.

But along with total intimacy came the need to hold back, to keep from hurting the other with a sudden, uncontrolled emotion, or when they needed privacy. Minor annoyances were not a problem; after five years of marriage they knew each other well enough not to be bothered by a tub of ice cream left to melt on the kitchen counter, or a wad of long red hair clogging up the shower drain. They handled problems like those with magic. But right now, sitting on the Hogwarts lawn in front of the magical fountain, something more important was bothering Ginny, and Harry sat quietly without trying to intrude.

Her hand rested on the grass, and he put his over it. She looked at him, and instantly he knew what she was thinking. A fraction of a second passed, and Harry looked away.

“I don’t like the idea. In August you could be three months along and still playing.”

“You don’t know that.”

“You will be playing. There’s no way they won’t pick you. And what if you got hit with a Bludger? Can’t we wait three months?”

Ginny frowned. “I only got hit in my middle once, ever, and that was five years ago at my tryout.”

They looked at each other and were silent again as the conversation went back inside. Another fraction of a second ticked, and Harry stood; they had decided. He gave his hand to Ginny and pulled her up into a hug.

“April is a good month to have a baby,” Ginny said as they walked away from the fountain, their arms around each other. “But if we don’t start trying until July we’ll have to go at it hot and heavy.”

He smiled down at her. “Maybe you’ll finally wear me out.”

“What are you talking about, Potter?” Ginny pulled away from him. “Don’t you remember Paris last year? You couldn’t walk for a week.”

Harry laughed and pulled her back. They strolled through the tall pillars of the castle gate and continued on past Hogsmeade Station, up the High Street, past The Three Broomsticks, the post office, and Honeydukes. Passing Zonko’s Joke shop, they glanced in the window but didn’t see George or Angelina. They went around The Hog’s Head and up the back stairs to their flat.

#  #  # #

What concerned Harry about Ginny’s becoming pregnant too soon was the Quidditch World Cup. The tournament was to be held this August in Ireland, home of the two-time champions. The manager of the British National team, Philbert Deverill, who had moved over from managing Puddlemere United, would be choosing the team members any day now, according to the Daily Prophet. Ginny was First Chaser for the Harpies, and Harry and everyone else were confident that she was a cinch to make the National team. She was the current league scoring champion, and a sure bet to win it again this year. She and the Harpies’ Second Chaser, Ginger Beale,  a feisty former East-Ender, had led the team to two straight league titles.

During their meal that evening Harry and Ginny talked about having babies and names they liked. When they went downstairs to the inn’s dining room, as they usually did after dinner, they saw George and Angelina sitting at a table near the front door. George waved and they went over and joined them.

“Congratulations!” George held out his hand and Harry shook it. “Let me buy you a drink and be the first to attempt a bribe of Britain’s new Head Auror.”

“Thanks,” said Harry. “I don’t drink, but you’re welcome to try gold. And how the hell did you find out?”

“I have sources, my lad. As for bribing you with gold, I draw the line. Honestly, how corrupt do you think I am?” George grinned. “Seriously, it’s brilliant news. And little brother is moving up with you, I assume?”

“He’ll be my Chief Assistant. And Saliyah is becoming the first director of Intermagic,” Harry said, referring to Saliyah Ushujaa, Kingsley Shacklebolt’s wife, and Head Auror since the days following the Battle of Hogwarts.

“The international magical police bureau?” Angelina asked. “I thought someone from the States was getting that job.”

Harry shook his head. “People are soured on the Yanks at the moment because of that Muggle war.” He frowned. “I really hate politics. Thank Merlin for Kingsley. He knows all the right buttons to push and all the right hands to shake. He just keeps smiling, and of course it helps to have a voice that can overpower everyone else’s.”

“It wasn’t just Kingsley,” Ginny said. “Sal knows a few tricks herself. She really wanted that job.”

“I imagine there were a few conversations behind the bedroom door at the Shacklebolt residence,” George said with a grin.

Angelina frowned at him. “She deserves the job, and I don’t think her competence has anything to do with her living arrangements.”

“Just kidding, as usual,” George said with a slight roll of his eyes.

Angelina grinned at Ginny. “Weren’t you going to teach me that bat-bogey hex?”

George put his arm around Angelina. “Now, now. Ginny is way too busy with Quidditch to be teaching you stuff like that. Aren’t you?” He looked at his sister hopefully.

Ginny laughed. “The season ends on Friday, so I will have some free time, and if Angelina does too . . .”

“No, wait! What about the Cup team? You’ll be starting that soon, I’m sure.”

Ginny reached across the table and patted his hand. “Relax, Brother. No one would dream of hexing you; your history of retaliation is too well known. But no one’s told me anything about the Cup team. Deverill hasn’t talked, and there are at least four other Chasers who—”

“No way!” Harry, George, and Angelina cried at the same time; everyone laughed.

“You are way too modest, Sis,” George said. “The Quidditch writer at the Prophet predicts that you’ll be First Chaser, and he’s supposed to have all kinds of inside information.”

“I read that article,” Ginny said, shaking her head. “Herbert Hailfellow, he’s the worst Quidditch writer I ever read. I could write a better piece with my eyes shut. He interviewed me and Ginger last December. All he wrote about was how nice we looked in our uniform robes. He’s a bloody lecherous old git.”

“Blimey, I didn’t realize you liked him that much,” George said.

The front door opened and two young witches walked in, obviously identical twins. They had curly, light brown hair; their complexions were fair, and their blue eyes danced as they swept the dining room. They were wearing school robes sporting the Gryffindor colors and crest, but instead of regulation blouses and neckties, they wore tee shirts with the logo of Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes blazoned across their chests.

The twins were Emma and Claire Athair, Muggle-born sixth-years who had started at Hogwarts in Ginny’s seventh year. They became fast friends with her and Harry during that year, and had also started working with George when he and Lee Jordan bought the old Zonko’s building and re-opened it as a branch of the Diagon Alley joke shop. The girls distributed advertising and operated a small joke outlet in the sixth-year boys’ dormitory in Gryffindor Tower.

They were standing right next to the table where Harry and Ginny sat with George and Angelina, and didn’t notice them at first. But Emma glanced around and grinned. “Hey, Boss,” she said to George. “Who’s minding the shop?”

“Chico. He can almost speak English now, so I figure he’s perfect for the job.”

“Is he there by himself?” Claire asked.

“Now why do you want to know that?”

Chico Tomás was an immigrant from Argentina who had come to Britain six months earlier to work for the local Hogsmeade building contractor, Tony Trostle. Tony had done the renovations on the inn for Harry; he had also led the villagers who had attacked the Death Eater army from the rear at the crucial moment during the Battle. He often hired immigrants, but George had taken a liking to Chico after he had come to do some work at his and Angelina’s home, a few miles outside the village. Now Chico was an employee of Zonko’s and had shown an interest in learning English from Claire.

Claire blushed and George laughed. “Pull up a chair, both of you. I know you two don’t go to bed early, and Señor Chico will be at work for a while.”

“I wasn’t planning on stopping by there,” Claire insisted. “We knew you’d be here, so we came directly.”

“Can I go see him if you aren’t?” Emma said with a sly grin. “I’ll tell him I’m you.”

Claire scowled. “Ha, ha, he knows the difference.”

“So,” Harry cut in, “is this a new school policy, letting sixth-years out on weeknights?”

Emma glanced around and lowered her voice. “We told McGonagall we were conducting a sociological survey of attitudes in Hogsmeade toward the school.”

“It’s a cover we invented a month ago in History of Magic,” Claire added.

“That’s why we’re wearing robes,” said Emma.

“But we really needed to talk to George,” said Claire.

Ginny was listening with an amused expression. “Why not send a message? You both have owls that roost in your room.”

The twins’ owls, Rosie and Mocha, were the offspring of Harry and Ginny’s owls, McPherson and Bailey. By now several generations of Barn owl descendants were living at Hogwarts. Rosie and Mocha were from the first clutch of eggs that Bailey had laid five years ago.

Both twins looked askance at Ginny. “You of all people are asking why we don’t stay at school?” Emma said. “As I recall, you had about twenty-five detentions our first year because you were off the grounds hanging out and otherwise occupying yourself with a certain green-eyed lad.”

Ginny laughed. “It was only four, and besides, I was bringing criminals to justice.”

“Well, times are better these days,” said Claire. “We don’t have any Death Eaters to fight, so instead we sell jokes.”

“A much more worthwhile activity,” said Harry. They all nodded in agreement.

“So what’s on your mind?” George asked.

“Two Hufflepuff second-years had to go to the hospital wing this afternoon,” said Emma. “I think one of the Skiving Snackboxes got jinxed. The Puking Pastille started working from the other end. It wasn’t pretty.”

George frowned. “I wonder if Chico got them mixed up with Reverse U-No-Poo. Someone needs to inspect the inventory. We might need a product recall.”

“I’ll go check it out.” Claire jumped up and headed for the door.

“I’d better help,” said Emma. “It sounds like a big job.”

“I can handle it.”

Claire tried to close the door behind her but Emma put her foot between the door and the jamb.

“But can you handle him?” Emma pulled on the door, and finally Claire gave up and the two girls left for Zonko’s, up the lane and across the High Street from the inn.

Ginny shook her head. “What a pair.”

“Did you hear what they did to the statues in the Ministry?” Harry asked.

They all looked at him. “You mean the Fountain of Magical Brethren?” Ginny said.

After the defeat of the Death Eater regime five years ago, the hideous black statue in the Atrium of the Ministry of Magic, Magic Is Might, was replaced by statues of four children—two girls and two boys—holding hands. The models for the girls were the Athair twins.

Harry nodded. “No one noticed at first because the magic they used was so slow. But they charmed the statues to grow. Now they look like they’re around thirteen years old. No one can figure out how to stop it. It’s hilarious. They had half the Ministry up there yesterday, all these pompous wizards and witches from the Improper Use of Magic Office waving their wands, and no one could get rid of the spell.”

“How do you know it was the twins?” Angelina said. “It could have been anyone.”

“Ron saw them hanging around the fountain during the Easter holiday. It has to be them.”

They all chuckled, and George looked at the clock over the bar. “Time to get going, love,” he said to Angelina. “It’s a long walk back to the house.”

“Then why don’t you Apparate?” she said. “That’s what I’m going to do.”

George put his arm around her. “You’re not being very romantic. Let’s take a leisurely stroll arm-in-arm through the moonlit vale.”

She smiled and took his arm. “Okay, lover, you sweet-talked me into it. Good night.” She waved to Harry and Ginny as they left.

Harry watched them go and took Ginny’s hand. “He seems to have gotten over a hump. He’s lost that melancholy air he used to have.”

“You’re right. It’s really nice to see him getting back to being George, after all these years.”

They sat in silence for a few moments, until the door from the kitchen opened and the house-elf Kreacher shuffled in. The old elf was moving a little slower and his shoulders were a little more stooped than when he had first become Harry’s elf, but he refused any of Harry’s pleas to take some time off. He was the only waiter in the inn aside from Harriet. Ginny had told Harry long ago that the work was what was keeping Kreacher alive, in addition to threats from their other house-elf, Winky, that if he up and died she would revive him in order to beat him back to death with one of the ladles that always hung from a rope belt around her waist. Kreacher had scowled but didn’t argue.

Winky had been disowned by the Crouch family, but Harry had rescued her from her despair when he offered her the job as cook for the inn, at the same time that he had hired Stan. Winky had gratefully accepted, and now she was the Potters’ second house-elf.

Kreacher approached the table where Harry and Ginny sat. He bowed and his huge bat-ears brushed the floor.

“Miss Winky is asking Mistress Ginny Potter if she wants her usual breakfast in the morning.” He reached up and adjusted the red cap on his head, the gift that Harry had given him making him a free elf.

“Tell her no, Kreacher,” said Ginny. “I have to be in Holyhead at five in the morning. Winky doesn’t have to get up that early.”

Kreacher bowed again and shuffled away. They watched him go over to the bar.

“I hope he’ll be okay when we move out of here,” Ginny said.

Harry looked at her in surprise. “What do you mean, move out? Stan doesn’t want to move into the flat.”

She stared at him. “I mean when we move someplace with more room. A year from now we might have a child. Where is it going to sleep? In the bathtub?”

Harry blinked and looked away. Stan and Harriet were both behind the bar chatting with customers and pouring drinks into glasses sitting on a tray. When they were done, Stan leaned over the counter and handed the tray to Kreacher, who shambled off to a table of customers in the back.

Harry turned to Ginny. “But a little baby doesn’t need all that much space. He can sleep in our bedroom for a couple of years.”

“Harry!” Ginny looked worried and a little upset. “When you have a baby, you still need some privacy. I won’t mind if he—or she—sleeps in our bed for a while. My mum did that with all of us, and she always said it made us closer.” She paused and giggled. “Maybe too close. But why on earth wouldn’t we get a bigger place? We’ve always talked about it, and the flat is filling up. There’s junk everywhere.”

Harry glanced at two witches sitting at the next table. He knew them well—regular customers, and pleasant enough—but now they were openly staring at him and Ginny with eager looks. When Harry stared back they quickly turned their heads and pretended to talk to each other.

“Let’s go upstairs.” He finished off his butterbeer, they said goodnight to the Shunpikes, and walked into the kitchen. Winky was sitting on a stool next to a counter polishing silverware. Her eyes moved as she watched them cross the room to the back door.

“Harry and Ginny Potter has a good night’s sleep,” she called. “House-elves is never making big decisions in the middle of the night.”

They paused at the door; Ginny smirked and Harry raised his eyebrows. “Goodnight, Winky, and what big decisions do house-elves ever make?”

“Harry Potter would be surprised if Winky told him what they was.”

“No, I probably wouldn’t. But you’re always asleep and snoring very loudly whenever I’m down here in the middle of the night.”

Winky smiled sweetly, bowed, and resumed polishing.

They went upstairs and Harry lit a fire. Their cozy sitting room had a thick red rug in front of the fireplace, a love seat behind the rug, and several comfortable chairs around the room. Shelves lined the walls, filled with books about magical law enforcement, spells, Dark Arts, and Quidditch. Three broomsticks stood in a rack next to the fireplace. A large picture window looked out over an open field behind the inn; a lone elm tree about thirty feet away was just visible in the light from the window. Beyond the field, too far to see in the night, a rail fence and a lane led past farmhouses with lights glowing from their windows; George and Angelina were walking home on that road.

On the other side of the parlor was a closed casement window. Harry went and opened it and a moment later a large Barn owl flew in and alighted on a perch just inside. McPherson clucked and pecked at a sack of owl treats hanging next to the perch. Harry gave him a handful and stroked his back.

He turned as Ginny came in from the little kitchen that opened off one end of the parlor, carrying tea service on a tray. She set it down on the red rug and Harry joined her, leaning back against the love seat, sipping Magical Moments—a quiet blend—and watching the flames.

The silence was typical of their private conversations. Their thoughts and their feelings were completely open to each other. They spoke out loud because they loved to hear each other’s voice or when they wanted to slow the conversation down, but they didn’t need it to communicate.

After a few moments of silent intimacy, Ginny took another sip, set down her cup, and spoke. “We need a house. We need a place that will be a home for us and our children. You never had such a thing, but I did.”

Harry sighed. “It’s just that there are so many memories here. I—”

He stopped in mid-sentence; it was as if his mind had hit a brick wall. Ginny turned a baleful eye on him.

“Memories? Of course there are memories, good and bad. Sweetie,” her voice softened and she touched his cheek, “there will always be memories wherever we live. I love the memories we have of this place. Do you remember that I wanted to stay here after our wedding? I wanted us to be close together, so that all I had to do to touch you was reach out my hand. I still want that.”

“But?”

“No, silly, there are no buts.” She got up on her knees and faced him, taking his hands in hers. “There will be children. I said at our wedding that our children would come from inside me, and believe me, I can’t wait to start trying. We’re moving on, love, in the biggest way that anyone can move on. There will be another human being who will be one hundred percent dependent on us for everything, including love.”

“Well, yeah, of course . . .”

Ginny sat back on her haunches. “And love includes a home. A proper home, not three rooms over a pub.”

Harry sighed again and looked around. He had built this flat almost six years ago for Ginny. The fireplace was a copy of the one in the Burrow; the bedroom with its elegant four-poster was their sanctuary, their place of supreme closeness and joy; the elm tree in the back was the roost for their owls. There were photographs on the mantel of their wedding, his parents, his godfather, and all of Ginny’s family, including Fred.

Harry peered at his parents’ picture; he had taken it from the album that Hagrid had given him at the end of his first year at Hogwarts, one of the first photos he had ever seen of them. His father smiled at him, but his mother had a different expression, and when he looked from her to Ginny he realized that it was the same one his wife was wearing.

Ginny glanced at the photo and giggled. “See, your mother agrees with me.”

Harry smiled. “I can’t fight two of you. Okay, we’ll look for a house. When should we start?”

Ginny leaned forward and took his face in her hands. She kissed him and sat back. “After the tournament. I just decided I’m going to resign as soon as we win the Cup. I won’t go back to the team; I want to stay home with our baby.”

“Resign!? For good? Merlin! And now you’re certain you’ll be picked?”

“Herbert Hailfellow says I will, and who am I to argue with the best pervy Quidditch writer in Britain?”

Harry took her hand and Ginny looked at him expectantly from under her eyelashes; they both knew what the other one wanted. They took their teacups into the kitchen and strolled back to the bedroom with mutual thoughts filled with anticipation of the night.

#  #  # #

Ginny awoke well before dawn the next morning and went into the shower. Harry got up a few minutes later and stumbled yawning into the kitchen to brew a pot of coffee. A copy of the Daily Prophet wrapped in a mailer lay on the kitchen table, and Harry smiled when he saw Molly Weasley’s handwriting on it. Whenever she sent them a newspaper or magazine, it contained either an article about himself or Ginny, or else a discount coupon for something that Molly thought they should hurry out and buy, like underwear or toilet paper. Sometimes she had even circled an advertisement for a crib or a pram.

Harry ripped off the envelope and opened the newspaper. There were no interesting stories on the front page, only Ministry gossip and a brewing scandal about cauldron imports again. He turned to the sports section on the back page.

“Ginny!” he shouted, and ran into the bedroom. He heard the shower and dashed into the loo. He threw the shower curtain back and Ginny looked at him with a full head of shampoo about to run down into her eyes. He shoved the paper at her.

“The Cup team! You’re in! They announced it last night! Second Chaser!”

Ginny grabbed the newspaper and stared at the headline as water spattered over it. Molly had circled in red ink, National Team Selected. Below it the subhead read, Power and quickness in the attacking line with Donahue, Weasley, and Brandon augur a plethora of goals. “Weasley” was underlined in red three times.

She grinned and gave it back to him. “Mum sent it?” She put her head under the water and started rinsing her hair.

“Right,” Harry answered. “I’ll put it on the bed for you.”

Ginny finished showering, and Harry took his turn while Ginny got back in bed and drank coffee and read the story. Harry joined her in a few minutes. It was a routine they followed on mornings when they were both leaving early for work; it gave them a few more minutes together in their favorite place.

“Seeker is Forrester Salinger of Chudley,” Ginny read. “Gwenog is First Beater and Pastorini the other. That’s a surprise, but I guess they’re going for quickness at all positions.” Gwenog Jones was captain of the Harpies, and this would be her third World Cup tournament. “Keeper is Jim Leyting from Wigtown. That’s bloody brilliant, he’s the best in the league, no doubt.”

“The papers were calling for you to be First Chaser. I guess it doesn’t matter much, but how come you’re Second? You’re scoring champion, for goodness sake.”

“I don’t care. I suppose it’s politics. Danny Donahue is a sweet flyer and he’s been in the league eight years longer than me. He deserves the first spot.”

“So what do you think?” Harry was reading over her shoulder with one hand around her back and his chin resting on her shoulder. “Do you have a shot at the Cup?”

“We do. We’re going to score a lot of goals and Forrester is at the top of his game. I think we’ll be the favorite.”

“This is going to be fun. Do you know what the schedule is, who you’ll be playing?”

“I’ll try to find out today. What time is it?” She glanced out the door into the sitting room where she could see the clock on the mantel. “Time for work.” She paused and looked at him quizzically. “What’s wrong?”

In the excitement Harry had managed to keep to himself his second thoughts about a new home. “I need to think some more about moving. I’m not saying I don’t want to, but I don’t think I’m used to the idea yet. Let’s talk about it again, okay?”

“Sure,” Ginny said, but with some obvious irritation.

“I promise we’ll settle it by the weekend. But it wasn’t fair. I just had a few hours to think about it. It’s too big a deal to decide so fast.”

Ginny chewed her lip for a moment, but the furrows on her forehead disappeared.

“That’s true. We’ll take our time, okay. I know we’ll make the right decision.”

Harry laughed, and Ginny couldn’t help a smile. “No, I will listen to reason. You’re right, it’s too important to decide quickly.”

They kissed, got out of bed, and dressed. Harry donned his Auror robes and Ginny put on a pair of jeans and a Harpies tee shirt. They ate a quick breakfast, and Ginny took her two brooms from their rack next to the fireplace—a Firebolt 21 that was her seventeenth birthday present from her parents, and an Ion One, her wedding present from her entire family and still the fastest model on the market. She went into the fireplace first and Harry followed a moment later. When the green flames died, the flat was quiet.

#  #  # #

Ginny stepped out of the fireplace in the clubhouse of the Holyhead Harpies. She knew what was coming, but the screams and shouts still startled her. A dozen grinning, laughing witches surrounded her. She was hugged and pummeled; a few of them planted kisses on her face. The most boisterous celebrant was a small witch, almost as petite as Ginny, with sandy hair and a cocky smile.

“I knew it! I knew it!” Ginger Beale cried over and over. “I tol’ Deano this mornin’ that I ‘ad a feelin’. It’s in the bag, I says, from the very beginnin’. Bloody ‘ell, Gin, this is brilliant!” Ginny laughed with her. They held each other at arm’s length and looked at each other for a moment, their eyes sparkling.

Ginger and Ginny had tried out for the Harpies on the same day, near the end of Ginny’s final year at Hogwarts. They had become true friends almost instantly, despite the huge difference in their backgrounds. Ginger grew up in a tough London neighborhood and had barely heard of Hogwarts; she learned her magic on the streets. Her mother had been the sole support of the family, and her father had been killed in a drunken duel when Ginger was only twelve. She had moved out of the East End five years ago when she became a Harpy, and for the past three years had been living with Dean Thomas, who she met at Ginny’s wedding.

Ginger had arrived at Holyhead on the day of their tryouts with an obsolete broom that her brother had “found” for her, but her toughness and natural ability had won her the last open spot on the squad. Now she and Ginny were the Second and First Chasers, and their talents had led the Harpies to two consecutive British and Irish League championships; they were about to make it a hat-trick if they beat Kenmare later in the week.

Ginny took pats on the back from the rest of the players and coaches, and she and Ginger went into the locker room to change into their practice robes.

“Where’s Gwenog?” Ginny asked. “I didn’t see her.”

“She’s already out at the pitch. I guess she’s used to it,” Ginger laughed. “But, Gin, I never thought I’d see a day like this. I’m so ‘appy for you. ‘Ow did ‘Arry feel?”

“He was the one who saw it in the papers and showed it to me.” She looked around; nobody else was in the locker room, but she lowered her voice. “I’m resigning from the team as soon as the tournament’s over. We’re going to try to have a baby. Keep it to yourself, okay?”

Surprise followed by chagrin appeared on Ginger’s face. “Well, that’s bigger news than gettin’ picked for the National team. Bugger me, Gin, ‘ow’re we gonna win another championship without you?” Then she smiled. “Merlin, what am I sayin’? Congratulations! That’s wonderful!”

“Shh!” Ginny glanced at the door. “I don’t want to say anything before the last match. We just decided yesterday. Harry’s promotion is going through a year this July, and we want to have the baby before then.”

“Will you stay in ‘ogsmeade? You’re not gonna ‘ave a kid in that tiny flat, are you?”

Ginny’s brow creased. “He doesn’t want to move. He can be as stubborn as he bloody well wants, but I’m not having my baby there. I want a proper home for it, and I want it picked out before winter.”

They looked up as more teammates entered. Everyone was boisterous; everyone was excited about having two starters on the national team, and they were also looking forward to the season’s finale and another first-place finish. Soon they began leaving the clubhouse and heading down to the practice pitch, about two hundred yards away, overlooking the Irish Sea. Ginny and Ginger joined Samantha Semonova, a dour witch, the Third Chaser. She rarely smiled, but no one noticed when she was flying. She was relentless and immovable on the attack, a perfect complement to Ginny and Ginger’s lightning-quick thrusts.

They talked about the upcoming match. It was almost fifty years since a team had won three championships in a row, and they all knew that they would never get this chance again. Kenmare was not strong, but no one could predict what the Golden Snitch would do in a match, so they wanted to run up the score as high as possible.

Gwenog was waiting when they walked onto the pitch. She came right over to Ginny and wrapped her in a hug. “I’ve never had a teammate with me in the Cup,” she said. “This is brilliant.”

“I want to know all about it,” said Ginny. “Did they announce the groups yet?”

“We’re with Finland, Spain and Togo. That should give us a clear shot into the knockout round.” She gazed out to the west, across the nearby water. “My guess is that we’ll practice here, it’s so close to Ireland. Too bad you don’t live around here.”

“Why? What difference does it make where I live? I’ll just Floo home during the breaks.”

Gwenog shook her head. “You can’t Floo or Disapparate during the tournament. They don’t want people going back home. There have been too many scandals with jinxes and crap like that. They say it’s for our own protection, but they want people close by so they can keep an eye on us. We’ll charter a Muggle boat to take us back and forth.” She grinned. “The Games and Sports folks at the Ministry didn’t think of that. But you’ll be sacked if they find out you Floo’d back to your home.”

Ginny looked the other way, to the east. There was a pleasant wizard inn not far away, within easy reach by hired automobile or even by broomstick. She had stayed there once or twice when Harry was not at home and she didn’t feel like being so far from Holyhead while she was alone. Maybe she and Harry could let a room there for the four weeks of the tournament.

There was a problem, though, with the village where the inn was located: Godric’s Hollow. Harry had refused to go near it ever since Christmas six years ago when he and Hermione had almost been caught and killed there by Voldemort.

#  #  # #

Two hundred miles due east, Harry was sitting behind his new desk in his new office on the second level of the Ministry of Magic. Several large trays of pastries sat on the desk, put there by Harry for the crowd he had asked to join him. Ron sat next to him, squeezed against the wall, listening to the conversation but doodling on a parchment; a plate stacked high with Danish and crullers was perched in his lap.

The other people in the room included members of Dumbledore’s Army who were now Aurors: Seamus Finnegan, Ernie Macmillan, Katie Bell, Parvati and Padma Patil, Susan Bones, Justin Finch-Fletchley, Dennis Creevey, and Anthony Goldstein.

They and several others, all jammed together in front of and next to the desk, had been in the first classes of the Auror training program that Kingsley and Saliyah had begun in the fall of 1998, after the final battle of the war. That program was the most important part of the Minister’s visionary plan to re-make the Ministry of Magic, and he had always known that Harry Potter would be one of the keys.

In the ensuing years, Harry had built a cadre of followers who trusted, respected, and loved him. It was all based on Dumbledore’s Army and the trials and battles that followed the death of the old Headmaster and Voldemort’s takeover of the Ministry. The loyalty of his little band was shown during the Battle of Hogwarts when they all returned to fight; two had died and others had been injured.

But the thing that had sealed the bond between Harry and his people was the sacrifice he had made when he walked into the Forbidden Forest to seek death. No one ever talked about it, but no one forgot it. It had created a fierce, almost savage loyalty. Kingsley had anticipated that, and he had no qualms about using it for what he believed was the just cause. He believed in his vision of the wizarding world, and he believed in Harry Potter.

For now, though, Harry sat in a stuffy, windowless room with a dozen of his best friends. He had moved into this office that morning and had not had time yet to order a magical window. Until today he didn’t have an office; he was Saliyah Ushujaa’s assistant and he did all his work in her office. But when they announced the date for Harry’s promotion to Head Auror, Kingsley decided that the importance of the position, if not Harry’s needs, dictated that he have a space of his own.

Harry was answering a question from Ernie. “I don’t have any plans to change any part of the organization. Sal and I worked together to get us to where we are, so I’m completely comfortable with it. Nothing is etched in stone, of course. What we need will decide what we do.”

He didn’t want Ernie to get cranked up; he was hard to stop once he got on a roll. But even if not many people in the department would want Ernie to lead them, there was no one more dependable. The only person Harry would trust more at his back was Ron.

“If you have any ideas, Ern, we’ll sit down later and talk about them,” Harry went on. “For right now I just wanted to let you all know that everything is official, and that I want everyone in this room to move up with me.”

Seamus spoke. “Harry, is anything big going on that you can tell us about? If some of us are going to take over units, won’t there be things we need to know?”

“Yes,” said Harry with a grin. “Dung announced his retirement, and we need someone with a lot of free time to sort through his booty.”

Everyone chuckled. Mundungus Fletcher had been working for the Auror Department as an unofficial, undercover, all-purpose snoop who knew everything there was to know about the wizard underworld. It helped that he had a very soft spot in his heart for Ginny Potter, the result of kind treatment at her seventeenth birthday party. On several occasions Harry had been able to appeal to Fletcher’s limited sense of honor because of that soft spot.

“So who’s going to be the official snitch now?” Seamus asked.

“We’re working on it,” Harry replied.

“But we can’t say anything yet,” Ron said, looking up from his doodling and a raspberry Danish. “Besides, we’re trying to talk him into staying on as a consultant.” The chuckles were louder this time.

They talked for another half hour about Harry’s new job and other goings on in the Auror Department. When everyone had left, Ron moved around to the front of the desk, leaned back in his chair, and put his feet up on the desk. Harry glanced at the shoes and Ron quickly put them down.

“Sorry, mate,” he said sheepishly. “Hey, at least I waited until they were all gone.”

“Well, just keep them polished, and be sure to scrape off the dog dirt first.”

Ron grinned. “How’s Ginny? I think even Hermione will want to go to the matches. Do you know if there’s a schedule out yet for the tournament?”

“I don’t know. Mum sent a copy of the Prophet to the flat this morning with the article on the back page circled in red. Usually she only does that if there’s a sale on nappies.”

“She sends us those, too.”

Harry was silent for a moment, and Ron looked at him. “What is it?”

Harry frowned down at the desk. “She wants to move.”

“From your flat? Out of those spacious quarters? Imagine that.”

Harry gave him an annoyed look. “I like it there. If we had decided to move right after we got married, I would have jumped at it. A lot of great things happened there, but so did a lot of bad things. But now I like it. I like being able to drop in downstairs when Tony’s there, or Ros, or George. I like being near Hagrid, and . . .” He paused. “And the Tomb. It makes me nervous when I go away for too long. I don’t like leaving it unguarded.”

Ron knew that by “it” Harry did not mean the White Tomb itself, he meant the Elder Wand. But it was no longer Harry who was master of the wand, it was Ginny. During the first year that Harry lived over the inn, there had been a series of incidents orchestrated by Dolores Umbridge, who hated Harry more than she hated being locked up in Azkaban. She had surprised him inside a house outside Hogsmeade and had taken his phoenix wand, but Ginny had been there under the Invisibility Cloak and had disarmed the witch a moment later. So now Ginny was mistress of the Elder Wand.

They had not told anyone except Ron and Hermione, who had performed a complicated Obliviate on Umbridge. She would be in Azkaban for the rest of her life because she had killed at least seven people in her obsession to get Harry, but now she would never know how she had got there.

“For God’s sake, mate,” Ron said, “you can’t spend the rest of your life watching over the damn thing. It’s safer there than it would be in Gringotts. Let it go. Besides, even if someone did manage to break in and take it, they couldn’t use it against you or Ginny. You’ve already proved that.”

“Yeah, I know.” Harry looked grumpily at the desk. “But I’m trying to think of reasons not to move.”

“Ah, it’s starting to become clear. Ginny has a reason for wanting to move other than she keeps knocking into you on her way to the loo.”

Harry smiled in spite of himself. “We’re going to start trying for a baby.”

Ron said nothing; he just looked at him.

“Well, we are!” said Harry. “She’s going to quit the team right after the tournament.” He got a dreamy look for a few moments. “It’ll be nice to have her around. Half the time when I get home from work she’s still down there practicing or else the team needs her for some barmy fundraiser. Last month they were in Diagon Alley and she had to dress up like a Snitch because she’s the smallest one on the team.”

“I saw that in the paper,” Ron chuckled, but he still didn’t respond to Harry’s announcement. Harry waited, but Ron just continued to look at him with a slightly amused expression.

“Aren’t you going to say anything?” Harry finally gave up and asked.

“About what? I’m already an uncle three times,” referring to Bill’s children Victoire and Dominique, and Percy’s daughter Molly. “It’s getting boring.”

“You bastard!” Harry threw a jelly donut at him. Ron ducked and it hit the door behind him, stuck there for a moment, then oozed to the floor.

Ron jumped up, reached across the desk and pulled Harry into a hug, pounding his back. “This is brilliant! Did you tell anyone else yet?”

Harry grinned back as he Scourgified the purple mess on the door and floor. “No, and I don’t even know if she wanted you to know. Please don’t tell Mum or Dad or anyone else, and especially don’t tell George. He’ll start inundating us with jokes for the kid, and the place is already too cluttered, there’s junk everywhere . . .”

Ron just nodded as Harry trailed off. He shot Ron another annoyed look. “Okay, so we need more room. I can get Tony to add on a storeroom or something.”

“I’m sure he’d do a top-notch job.” Ron kept nodding.

“Will you stop bobbing your head like that. You look like you did when you got jinxed in the Department of Mysteries.”

“Okay,” Ron nodded, and Harry picked up another donut. Ron leaned over and snatched it. “Don’t waste good food,” he mumbled as he stuffed it into his mouth. “Face it, mate, you need a bigger home. If you like Hogsmeade so much, build one there. You have enough gold to do whatever you want.”

“What I want is things to be calm. I hated moving from Sal’s office. I like things to be nice and steady.”

“Well, you already married Ginny, so there goes that idea.”

Harry smiled. “So true, so true.” He looked at the clock on the wall, and at Ron with concern. “Are you okay? The cafeteria opened for lunch ten minutes ago.”

“I’m fine,” Ron grinned as he stood and reached for a cheese Danish. “In my new position as Chief Assistant to the Head Auror I need to act dignified as befits my rank.”

“I’m not Head Auror and you’re not Chief Assistant for another fourteen months, so you can cut the crap.”

Harry followed his friend into the crowded corridor, where they joined the stream of wizards and witches on their way to lunch.

Chapter Text

The subject of a new home was not broached in the Potter household for the next two days. Both Harry and Ginny had more than enough to occupy their thoughts, but Harry could tell that it was on Ginny’s mind. She wasn’t ready to talk about it again, though, because the match with Kenmare was coming up, and she assumed that it would be followed immediately by preparations for the Cup tournament.  On Tuesday and Wednesday, when they went down to the dining room after dinner for a few hours of socializing, Ginny had to repeat her story whenever a another customer came over to congratulate her.

The news of Harry’s promotion was not as riveting, apparently, so he was spared the ordeal. On Thursday, however, the day before the Kenmare match, a reporter from Witch Weekly was sitting at the bar when they came down. She glanced at them but kept talking to Harriet, who was describing a potato soup recipe that Winky liked to serve on cold, wintry days.

Harry took Ginny’s arm and guided her to a table at the far end of the dining room, but it was no use. The witch got up from the bar and made her way towards them, smiling and nodding to other patrons who recognized her. Both Harry and Ginny ignored her as she stood next to them, but finally she slapped her mug of mead down on the table and they had to look up.

Harry blinked at her. “Maggie Molar, what a surprise. I didn’t see you when we came in. How are things at the rag?”

“They’re extraordinary, Harry. Can I sit?” She pulled a chair back and dropped into it without waiting for his reply. “So, there’s big things going on in the Potter family. Ginny’s been called up to the National Quidditch team, and Harry’s taking over the Auror Department next year. Quite a change in your life situation, isn’t it?”

Harry gazed at her as Ginny put her hand on his. The contact guaranteed that whatever one of them was feeling, the other would too. And right now Ginny was feeling very annoyed. He tapped his fingers under her hand.

“I don’t know, Maggie. Is it? I’ve never been Head Auror before. Maybe it’s not so different as, oh, being an obnoxious, pushy reporter.” A warm feeling came from Ginny’s hand, but she was still annoyed. He knew she just wanted the reporter to leave.

“But,” he interrupted the dark-haired witch who was about to speak, “I’ll tell you what. I’ll give you an interview tomorrow at the Ministry if you’ll take your drink and go back to the bar. I’m sure Mrs. Shunpike has more of Winky’s delicious recipes to tell you about.” Ginny unobtrusively squeezed his thumb.

The reporter took a gulp from her mug, put it down on the table, and smiled. “No, she doesn’t. We don’t print house-elf recipes anyway.”

“You should,” Ginny said with a little snap in her voice. “Winky’s the best cook I’ve ever met except for my mother, and sometimes she gives Mum a run for her money. Her recipes would improve the rag’s content, which actually wouldn’t be difficult.”

Molar looked a little taken aback. “Sorry, I didn’t intend any offense. It’s the, uh, the rag’s policy, not mine. If you let me tell my editor that they’re your recipes and not a house-elf’s, then he’ll probably print them. In fact, being that they’re from Ginny Potter, I guarantee he will.”

Ginny frowned at her for a moment, and then looked away. Harry watched her brow crease and her mouth form a thin line.

“Look,” he said to the reporter, “we just want to have a little quiet time for a bit, and besides, our personal lives are none of your business. I’ll talk to you tomorrow at ten o’clock in my office—”

“You have an office? That’s new, isn’t it?”

Ginny’s ungracious retort was in Harry’s mind, so he abruptly stood. “Good evening, Miss Molar. It’s been a pleasant conversation.”

They walked away, leaving the witch to watch their backs. Up in the flat, Ginny went to the kitchen, but Harry stayed in the sitting room. He knew her mood and knew to leave her alone until she was ready to talk. After a minute she came in with two slices of chocolate cake on plates. Harry smiled and pulled out their magical table; it had an embossed picture of a blowfish on it, and when you touched it with your wand the table expanded or contracted to the size you needed.

“I’m sorry,” Ginny said as they sat. “I’m nervous about the match and the tournament. She’ll probably roast me in her magazine.”

“It’ll be okay. I don’t think either of us said anything interesting enough to get it printed.”

They were silent for an instant, then Harry sat back: Ginny wanted to talk about a home.

“I told Ron this morning,” he said, “but he promised not to tell anyone else, especially Mum and Dad.”

Ginny smiled briefly. “That’s good. We’d be swamped with nappy coupons. And I told Ginger.”

“So . . . you’re set on moving out of here.”

“Don’t you think we have to?”

“You know I don’t, but if that’s what you really want . . .”

“I want you to want it too.”

“I guess it depends on where you want to move. Why don’t we stay up here in Hogsmeade?”

“Because our children should grow up where there’ll be Muggles around, not just magical types. If they grew up here, they wouldn’t get to know any Muggles at all. We had friends in the village, shopkeepers, the fire department . . .”

Harry laughed. “That’s because Fred and George were always setting something on fire. You don’t think our kids will be like that, do you?”

“You never know,” Ginny grinned. “It may be in the blood. Instead of purebloods, they’ll be pure jokesters.”

Harry shook his head. “Not my kids. They’ll be decent, law-abiding citizens, enjoy gardening . . .”

They smiled at each other, and Ginny came around and Harry sat her in his lap. She put her arms around his neck and kissed him. “It’s settled then. We’ll start trying in July, and we’ll start looking in September.”

“And where will we look?”

There was an instant’s pause, and Harry’s grin faded and he pulled his head back from Ginny’s arms. A frown replaced his smile.

“Ginny, you know that’s impossible. I will never agree to that. Why there? There are hundreds or thousands of places we could live and be happy. Why are you bringing this up?”

He set her on the floor, then rose and walked to the picture window and stared into the darkness. Ginny came and put her hand on his arm.

“Harry, why do you get so angry whenever I mention it? Why are you so vehement?”

He turned to her. “You know why. Twice I almost died there.”

“And that’s why we have to live there. Love,” she put her arms around him and looked up into his eyes, “I see inside you, just like you see inside me. You’ve buried it, but I know that you still have dreams where you hear her scream. Harry, I don’t want the father of my children to be afraid.”

Harry looked down at the floor and shook his head. “I won’t go back there.”

Ginny walked to the table, picked up the plates and took them into the kitchen. Harry heard her put them in the sink and murmur a charm to start a scrub brush. He went to the kitchen door and stood there.

“I’ll move anywhere except Godric’s Hollow. And I don’t understand why you’re so set on it. Why don’t we build near Ottery St. Catchpole? Wouldn’t you like to live near your parents?”

Ginny didn’t answer right away, and she kept her mind closed. She wasn’t angry, exactly, but she was more than upset. She took the clean dishes from the sink and put them in the drainer, then turned to face him.

“Would you like to live near my parents?” she asked pointedly. “If you think getting an occasional newspaper clipping from her is funny, wait till you see what she does when I’m preggers. Why do you think Fleur wanted to live on the other side of the country?”

“Your mum’s not like that. She wouldn’t meddle.”

“Right.” Ginny rolled her eyes. “She’s the best mum in the world, but when she finds out her only daughter is pregnant, you’d better stay out of her way.”

“Okay, fine. So now I’ve made two suggestions and you’ve shot down both of them.”

“And you’ve shot down one of mine.”

Harry came into the tiny room and sat at the little table that took up most of the space. Ginny moved to sit across from him, but when she pulled out the chair, she hit her elbow against a bowl of fruit sitting on the counter. It crashed to the floor and shattered; oranges and mangoes rolled everywhere; a few splattered messily.

Harry jumped up with his wand out. “Are you okay? Here, I’ll take care of it.”

He came around the table and Ginny stood aside. The bowl was fixed in an instant with a Reparo charm, then Harry waved his wand across the floor, Summoning pieces of fruit. When they were all back in the bowl, he put it in the sink and ran water over it. He turned back to see Ginny looking at him with a half-smirk on her face.

“You did that on purpose,” he frowned, but couldn’t keep it on his face when he saw the twinkle in her eyes. “Yes, you did! I know you did!”

“No, it was an accident,” she said innocently. “There’s just not enough room in here.”

They stood looking at each other for a moment before Harry fell back into his chair. He ran his hands through his hair while Ginny came around and forced herself into his lap, just where she had been ten minutes ago. She took his face in her hands.

“Dearest, let’s not talk about it tonight. I need to get ready for the match. But I promise I’ll be ready to talk afterwards, and I want you to promise you’ll listen to me.”

“I always listen to you. I don’t think that’s what the problem is.” He was about to go on but stopped himself. “I’m sorry, you’re right. We’ll talk later. Remember, Ron and Hermione are coming up for dinner, and I’ll bet you twenty Galleons they’ll want to know when and where we’re moving.”

Ginny stood. “You’re probably right, so I won’t take that bet. Will you be willing to tell them what you just told me, about not wanting to move to Godric’s Hollow?”

“Of course, and I’ll tell them why.”

Ginny kissed him. “I need to wax my brooms. Want to give me a hand?”

They spent the next half hour getting Ginny’s broomsticks ready for the match, and Harry decided to give his own a work-over as well. It was also an Ion One, his wedding present from the Weasley family just as Ginny’s was. When they finished, it was still early, but Ginny wanted to go to bed. They lay quietly in their four-poster for a while, holding each other, talking and listening with their minds and their hearts. They fell asleep, as they often did, in each other’s arms.

#  #  # #

The Kenmare match was scheduled for ten in the morning at the Exmoor pitch. “It’s not too far from Holyhead,” Ginny said over breakfast, “so we’ll change in our clubhouse and Portkey there. And they finally sorted out that Ministry fog, or whatever they call it. Do you remember last year when we played Tutshill there? The magic cut in just as Ginger was taking a shot and she hit Davey Finwick right in the kisser.”

The Exmoor pitch had experienced technical problems after its construction about fifteen years ago. The original Invisibility spells that hid it from Muggles could never be fine-tuned, which meant that magical people could not always find the stadium either. The Games and Sports Department had then tried something called “Ministry Fog” to keep it hidden, but it was erratic and often cut in at inopportune moments during matches.

“I remember,” Harry grinned. “Ginger was mad because she didn’t score. It was an interesting save, though.”

They finished eating, and Harry gave Ginny the usual pre-match good-luck snog before they went their separate ways. Harry was going to attend the match, but he had business at the Ministry first. He met Ron in the Atrium and they talked as they went up to the second level.

“It’s kind of a strange request,” Ron said as they walked along the corridor to Harry’s new office, a few doors down from Saliyah’s. “McGonagall wants the Department of Mysteries to check out that old Pensieve of Dumbledore’s. She says it’s acting weird.”

Harry chuckled. “Everything about it is a little weird. You never used it, did you?”

They entered the office and Harry went to his desk and shuffled through a stack of parchments in his in-box. He tossed them back and took two mugs from a desk drawer, peered into them, and sniffed; he grimaced and took out his wand. “Scourgify,” he muttered. He went to a coffee pot sitting on a shelf and swirled its day-old contents. When he put his nose to it, he shook his head.

“We’ve got to remember to clean this thing before we leave. It’s disgusting.” He put it back and sat down behind his desk. “So what does the Pensieve have to do with us?” he asked Ron, who was sitting in front of the desk.

“They want us to escort it here. They’re afraid to use magical transport because they don’t know if that will affect it. They asked Dumbledore’s portrait, but he said he had never moved it out of the castle, so he couldn’t vouch for its safety.”

“So how are we supposed to get it here?”

Ron shrugged. “That’s what we have to figure out. We could get a Ministry car or hire a Muggle car ourselves.”

Harry frowned. “How fragile is it? What about the memories? When do they want us to move it? Why can’t they examine it up at Hogwarts? Does anyone but Dumbledore know anything about it? And why did McGonagall think it was acting weird?”

“I don’t know the answers to anything. Why don’t we send someone up there?”

Harry thought for a moment. “Parvati and Anthony are free, aren’t they?” He glanced at the clock. “How much of a rush is this?”

“She didn’t say. Should I send her an owl?”

“Yes, let’s get some answers before people start Flooing all over the place.”

Ron left and Harry went through his in-box. By the time Ron returned ten minutes later the in-box was empty and the coffee pot was bubbling happily on the shelf.

“Ah, good work, boss.” Ron picked up a mug and poured himself some coffee.

“It’s not done yet.”

“Close enough for government work.”

Harry smiled. Coming into the office every day had never been a chore; not only did he love his job, but there was nothing he enjoyed more than spending the day with Ron.

“Ginny’s match is in an hour. Are you going?” Harry asked.

“Of course. They’ll clinch the championship today. It’s historic. Hermione will be there too. In fact, I think the whole family is coming.”

“Good. I invited Andromeda and Teddy; he and Victoire are funny as hell when they’re together.”

“Has he proposed yet?”

Harry laughed loudly. “It wouldn’t surprise me. She’s a beauty, that’s for sure.”

An hour later they were sitting in the grandstand at Exmoor, the newest and most up-to-date Quidditch pitch in Britain. It had an elaborate magical scoreboard and a giant, magical instant-replay screen. The latter, however, could be erratic; sometimes the players on it would decide to do something different instead of showing a replay of what had actually happened. The stadium also had luxury skyboxes that floated in the air and could move around just outside the bounds of the pitch. They were controversial because several Seekers had crashed into them while pursuing a Golden Snitch. The Games and Sports Department had built the boxes in order to make more gold, but then had been forced to install special hexes that jolted the occupants with a sharp electric shock if they got too close to the play. Beaters also occasionally conspired to direct Bludgers into the skyboxes, providing and additional deterrent to their wandering inside the pitch.

The stands were packed. Everyone wanted to see the Harpies make history by winning their third straight championship. There was also great interest in Ginny. She was closing in on the scoring title, and now she was also a starter on the National team. The press section was crowded, including even some foreign correspondents.

Harry and Ron found the rest of the Weasleys sitting in two rows near the top of the stands. George and Lee Jordan had arrived early and hexed the seats so that anyone who sat in them except a member of the family or their friends would have to get up immediately and visit the restroom for an extended period.

Harry gave Molly a kiss and shook Arthur’s hand, waved to everyone else, and sat next to Andromeda Tonks. Teddy Lupin was on her other side and he pushed past her legs. The five-year-old was wearing a tiny version of a Harpies green uniform, complete with a golden talon on the chest.

He pointed proudly to the crest. “See, Uncle Harry? I’m like Aunt Ginny. Grandmum wouldn’t let me bring my broom. When you come to visit, can we go flying again?”

Harry tousled his godson’s green hair, which was the exact shade as his robes. “Sure, as long as your grandmum says it’s okay.”

“Yay!” Teddy jumped up and down and clapped his hands.

“Ouch.” Harry picked him up and lifted him onto his lap. “You stomped on my foot. You’re getting so big now, you need to watch where you put your feet down.”

“I’m sorry.” Teddy looked abashed for almost a full second, but he put his mouth to Harry’s ear and cupped his hands around it. “I have a secret to tell you,” he whispered. “I’m going to marry Victoire when we grow up.” He pulled back and nodded solemnly. “Don’t tell anyone, okay?”

“Your secret is safe with me,” Harry said just as solemnly. “And it’s a wise decision. You’ll be very happy together.”

“I know.”

Teddy slipped off Harry’s lap and went back to his seat between Andromeda and Victoire, who was sitting next to her parents. Harry grinned at Fleur and Bill They smiled back, and Harry thought he detected a gleam of perception in Fleur’s eye. He stared at her for a moment, caught in her gaze. She knew, Harry was certain, she knew that he and Ginny had decided to have a baby.

He didn’t know how she knew, but he was used to the mysterious veela magic that let her see into his heart. She probably also saw into others’  hearts, but ever since he and Ginny had become lovers, two days after the Battle of Hogwarts, Fleur Weasley had taken an extraordinary interest in them. She seemed to take special delight in their love, and she had helped it along. Harry had proposed to Ginny at Shell Cottage and they had honeymooned there. It was one of their favorite places to visit and spend weekends. It had many attractions—memories, a beautiful view of the sea, Dobby’s grave—but most of all it was imbued with the love that Fleur radiated like the sun.

Harry glanced back at her, but she was now looking the other way, talking to Bill. His brother-in-law’s scarred and disfigured face no longer seemed shocking or even strange. Except for Ron, Harry was closer to Bill than any of Ginny’s brothers. He was more like an uncle than a brother-in-law; he and Harry had talked on many occasions about things that were irksome or troubling to Harry. He had advised Harry about purchasing the inn; he had listened to Harry when uncertainty struck him about his choice of a career; and he had always made sure that Harry felt that he was a full member of the Weasley family.

Harry blinked and looked out over the pitch. At this moment, when Ginny was about to make history flying for a team she had supported since she was a little girl, when she was about to go into the Quidditch record books, he could feel the enveloping love of her family. It was a palpable sensation, and he wondered that no one outside the family could feel it, the emotion was so strong.

Ron was on his right, talking to Hermione. Harry was about to say something to them about dinner, when a great roar went up. He looked out and saw the Harpies emerging from the dressing room tunnel. As each player appeared, she kicked off in a streak of dark green. Ginny liked to be the next-to-last out, just ahead of Maura Robinson, the Keeper. When she appeared the roar doubled, and all of the Weasleys stood clapping and shouting. Teddy, Victoire, and her sister Dominique jumped up and down, screaming at the tops of their lungs.

Ginny gave a quick wave of acknowledgment to the crowd and kicked off. She soared up into the sky, then dove and circled the stadium. She passed over the Weasleys and gave another wave. Her eyes locked on Harry’s for an instant, as they always did when he was at her matches, and in that blink of an eye Harry saw himself looking up at her with a huge grin, and he knew that she had seen her own face through his eyes.

Then they both closed the connection. They would not reconnect until the match was over. They had been doing this since Ginny’s first match five years ago, because they did not want the slightest hint that Harry was helping her. Ginny zoomed away, circling the pitch, weaving in and out with her teammates, passing a practice Quaffle with Ginger and Samantha, taking practice shots at Maura.

The Kenmare Kestrels emerged from the tunnel and took to the air in their white visiting robes. Hundreds of people in the stands stood and brandished small Irish harps, and soon the stadium was filled with the beautiful strains of “Our Beloved Kestrels,” the team’s fight song. Harpy fans were silent for a few minutes, but soon they began to chant, “Harpies! Harpies!” and the Kestrels’ song was drowned out.

The referee came out onto the pitch and walked to the center where the box of balls sat. He blew his whistle, the teams flew down to join him, and after a moment he released the balls, blew his whistle again, and the match began.

The crowd noise was deafening; Teddy and the other children put their hands over their ears and scrunched up their faces. Most of the crowd were Harpy fans, and there was great anticipation of another first-place finish. But Ginny was the center of attention. It almost didn’t matter what the other players did, whenever Ginny had the Quaffle the noise level jumped. She was leading the second-place scorer, Farnham Flagrant of Wimbourne, by fifty points, and it was generally thought that if she scored at least three goals she would have the title locked up.

The Holyhead attack was relentless; they were taking no chances in case the Kestrel Seeker caught the Golden Snitch. Ginger scored two quick goals, then Ginny scored on a brilliant set-up pass from Samantha. The stadium rocked; the entire Weasley family were on their feet screaming, and Ron pounded Harry’s back until he tumbled into the row in front, almost smashing the harp of the Kestrels fan sitting there.

Ron and Andromeda helped Harry back into his seat while Fleur placated the offended wizard with her ample supply of charm. Everyone in the family was watching the incident when the crowd roared again; Ginny had scored another goal. Molly, sitting behind Ron, swatted the back of his head with her program. “Leave poor Harry alone!” she yelled. “Stop distracting me! I missed the goal!”

Ron grinned at Harry as he rubbed his head, but Harry was watching the match. He had never seen Ginny fly so beautifully. She couldn’t be stopped; Bludgers missed their target and several crashed into the skyboxes, forcing the fans inside to dive for cover. One of them, an apparently intoxicated wizard, dove out a window by mistake and plunged toward the pitch fifty feet below. He would certainly have been killed, but a thousand wands caught him with various Levitating charms that caused him to shoot up a hundred feet into the air. The referee blew his whistle, pausing the match while the poor blighter floated to the ground. Several Healers in the crowd ran out to attend to him, but when they remained bent over him, delaying the match, the crowd began to whistle and jeer, so they Levitated him to one side and left him there to sleep it off.

The match resumed, but the interruption did not slow the Harpies or Ginny. She quickly scored two more goals, and then her teammates each scored. The score ran up, and it was 110 to nil before Kenmare finally broke through. But that only served to motivate the Harpies even more, and by the time their Seeker, Velda Vermeer, captured the Snitch, Ginny had eight goals. The Harpies won the match by two hundred ninety to thirty.

A large crowd waited outside the dressing room after the match, and a loud cheer went up when the team walked out to greet their fans. The Weasleys were in the back, and when Ginny and Ginger finally made their way through the well-wishers, they were surrounded by a sea of red hair. Harry stood aside with Dean, who had joined him, until finally Ginny stood in front of him carrying Dominique on her hip and holding Victoire’s hand.

Harry kissed her and picked up Teddy who was clamoring for attention; his hair was half green and half red. “You look like a Christmas gnome,” Harry told him.

“This is for the Harpies,” he pointed to one side of his head, “and this is for Aunt Ginny. She’s the champion, Uncle Harry!”

“That she is.”

They chatted with Ginger, Dean, and the rest of the family while the children ran around pretending to score goals with imaginary Quaffles. Ginny and Ginger were still flushed with victory, and while Ginny talked to other people, she and Harry were having a constant exchange of feelings. They both loved the moment when they opened their connection after a match; no words passed, only emotions. He had his arm around her shoulders and held her close so that everything they felt in their minds was magnified by their physical contact.

“I’ll be home by five,” she told him when the Harpies’ head coach, Happy Field, called from the dressing room door. She gave him one last kiss, hugged her nieces and Teddy, said goodbye to the rest of the family, and followed Ginger back inside.

“Dinner will be at one o’clock Sunday week,” Molly announced before they all began to leave, “but I’d like everyone to get there by ten.”

In nine days was the sixth anniversary of the Battle of Hogwarts and the death of Fred. Harry knew that Molly couldn’t say it, but she wanted everyone to arrive as early as possible to help her get through the day.

“We’re coming early in the morning, Mum,” he said as he kissed her goodbye. “I just hope they don’t call a meeting of the Cup team.”

“How could they do that on the anniversary of the . . . the battle,” she scowled. “If they do, I’ll have a little chat with Philomena. She works at the hospital, you know.” After Ginny had started her last year at Hogwarts, Molly had become a Healer’s Aide at St. Mungo’s Hospital, along with the wife of the National team’s manager.

Harry gave hugs to the children, and he, Ron, Hermione, Percy, and Arthur Portkeyed back to the Ministry of Magic. Professor McGonagall’s reply was waiting in Harry’s in-box. He and Ron read it together, Ron peering over Harry’s shoulder as they stood in front of his desk.

“She doesn’t know anything. So it’s basically a big mystery,” Ron said.

“Hence her request to have the Department of Mysteries check it out,” Harry observed as they headed out to the cafeteria. “But it means that someone will have to spend some time researching it. I don’t want to send anyone up there without knowing everything ahead of time. If so many people know so little about the thing, then there’s bound to be a surprise.”

The lunch hour had already begun, so the corridors were not crowded. Harry punched the lift button, but when it came, he paused while Ron held the grille. Harry looked at him thoughtfully. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Or, more accurately, are you thinking about the same person I am?”

Ron grinned as they entered the lift. “She won’t be in the cafeteria. She always eats in her office.”

“I know. Let’s grab some take-away and surprise her.”

Hermione was indeed in her office in the administrative section of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, at the other end of level two from the Auror Department. She glanced up from a parchment she was writing when Harry and Ron walked in, but put her head back down and continued writing.

The office was large, as befitted the Chief Researcher and Executive Officer of the Department, but there was not much room to maneuver in it. Bookshelves jammed to the limit took every inch of wall space, and the overflow spilled onto tables, chairs, couches, and the floor. One whole side of the room was taken up with an assortment of magical objects, charmed Muggle objects, a large collection of wands, and a beautiful silver samovar, which Ron always scowled at because it was a gift from Viktor Krum.

“I’m busy,” she said without ceremony, still bent over her desk. “I lost a couple of hours at the match and I need to get this report done right away.” She continued writing.

“You mean the Polyjuice inventory for Kingsley?” Ron asked. About a year ago Saliyah and Kingsley had asked Hermione to quietly survey the stocks of Polyjuice Potion ingredients kept by various departments of the Ministry. Kingsley wanted to have better control over the Potion since experience showed that immense damage could be done, and almost undetectable crimes committed, by someone using it.

“Yes,” Hermione said, still without looking up. “Like I said, I’m busy.”

“Sorry,” said Harry as he and Ron stood in front of her desk, holding their sandwiches. Ron took a bite from his and Hermione sighed.

“Okay.” She waved her wand and two chairs appeared in the small space in front of her desk unoccupied by a stack of books. “What do you want?”

“And a gracious good afternoon to you, my darling,” Ron said, sitting.

She looked at him and Harry for a moment while her face softened. “I’m sorry. I was totally distracted.” She indicated the parchment on her desk. “I didn’t mean to be so rude. I know you wouldn’t drop in just to say hello. What’s up?”

“What do you know about Pensieves?” Harry asked.

She looked at him in surprise. “Not a thing. There’s only one in Britain, as far as I know. Why?”

Harry explained the Headmistress’s request, and repeated the questions that he wanted answered. Hermione listened with interest.

“I wonder what’s wrong with it,” she mused. “Mixed up memories? Lost memories? You’re right, you need answers before you can plan anything. Do you think there’s a security risk?”

“I’ve been thinking about that,” Harry answered. “It depends on which memories are still stored in it. If all of Albus Dumbledore’s memories are there . . . well, I wouldn’t want some of them to fall into the wrong hands. And I have no idea if anyone has used it since he died, except me, of course.”

“But,” Ron said, “even if the thing is empty, if a bad guy only thinks that there are valuable memories in it, he might want to nick it.”

“True,” Harry nodded. “So, what do you think?” he asked Hermione.

“There’s one question Professor McGonagall could have answered, but she didn’t. She didn’t say why she thinks it’s broken.”

Harry thought for a moment. “It sounds like she didn’t want to put it in an owl. Something is going on up there. Why is she being so reticent?”

They sat in silence for several moments, each one considering the question. Finally Hermione spoke. “You’re reading too much into this, Harry. I understand why we should be careful about a Pensieve that used to belong to Dumbledore, but what could possibly be going on, as you say?”

“I don’t know, but either she’s becoming forgetful or she has a reason for not answering the question, and I’ve seen no sign of the former. I was up at Hogwarts a couple of weeks ago, and she was perfectly fine. I think I’ll go see her tomorrow and try to get to the bottom of this.”

“That’s an excellent idea,” Hermione said. “Meanwhile, I’ll start looking into it, or maybe I’ll give it to Hector and Orla, they’re not too busy—”

Harry shook his head. “Please don’t do that. I don’t want this becoming general knowledge. At the least, when we move it we’ll want it to be as quiet as possible. And if there’s more going on than you think, we may not want a whole lot of people to know.”

Hermione raised an eyebrow. “If you say so. You’re responsible for security, so I defer. But if you don’t mind, I’ll wait until you see the Professor before I start taking up my own time to research it.”

Harry got up. “Okay, we can bat it around tonight, if we want to.”

He and Ron left; Hermione gazed at the door for a moment, before returning to her parchment.

“She uses a lot of Ravenclaws,” Harry remarked as they walked back to his office. Hector Freeman and Orla Quirke were two Ravenclaws, Hector from Ginny’s year and Orla two years younger. There were several others, as well.

“She goes for brains,” said Ron. “That’s why she married me.”

“Right,” Harry said with a straight face, “and that’s also why you’re working for me.”

Ron seemed to be at a loss for a response, but when they entered Harry’s office he went directly to a cupboard. Inside on a shelf was large cylindrical tin. He took it to his chair in front of the desk, sat, and pried off the lid. He reached in and came out with a fistful of popcorn. “When you can’t come up with a quick comeback, eat. That’s my philosophy. Want some?” He offered the tin to Harry.

“I bought it for you,” Harry said, not looking at him. He was reading a parchment from his in-box, and frowned. “McGonagall sent another owl. She wants to see us at Hogwarts on Monday.”

He looked at Ron, who had just stuffed a handful of popcorn into his mouth. “Thmm, mmm,” he said, before swallowing. “I mean, that means you’re right, something’s going on.”

“Yeah.” Harry sat and put the parchment on his desk. “And when we see her, I want Hermione there.”

“Don’t we have to ask Saliyah if we want to bring in someone from outside the Auror Department?”

But Harry didn’t answer. He was staring off into the distance, his eyes unfocused. Ginny was sitting in a small room, her hand over her eyes, and even though it was a happy occasion, tears of loss and finality were pouring down her cheeks.

#  #  # #

Ginny Portkeyed with the rest of the team back to Harpy Heaven, as they called their clubhouse. Someone popped a bottle of Muggle champagne and Ginny had a sip, but she sat off to one side with Ginger and watched the boisterous party without joining in. She felt content and satisfied, but also sad because she knew she had just played her last match as a Holyhead Harpy. Her Quidditch career had been a dream come true, especially with the team finishing first three years in a row and her winning the scoring championship twice. And now, the World Cup. She had made a name for herself in the Quidditch and wizarding worlds, but it was time to move on.

Ginger sat with her, nursing a butterbeer, watching her. “When are you gonna say somethin’?” she said softly.

“I should do it soon, I expect, but it’s hard. The team has been so good to me.”

“You’re not lettin’ anyone down, if that’s what’s botherin’ you. You’ve given us everything you ‘ad to give, plus a lot more. These last five years will be the Ginny Weasley years for the ‘arpies. I’ll bet they retire your number.”

“We don’t have numbers,” Ginny laughed.

“They’ll make one up for you and retire it.” Ginger took a swig and looked up as Gwenog pulled up a chair and sat.

“Not joining in the fun, girls?” she smiled. “Don’t tell me you’re used to it. You should savor every championship. You never know when it’ll happen again.”

“This is my last,” Ginny blurted. “I’m retiring after the Cup tournament.”

“No!” Gwenog stared at her. “Don’t joke about that, Ginny. Wait!” She leaned forward so that she was only a foot from Ginny’s face. “You’re serious. Are you . . .?”

Ginny grinned. “Not yet, but maybe soon.” She grabbed the captain’s hand. “Please don’t say anything. Only a couple of people know, and not even my parents. Promise! If you blab I’ll jinx your broom, I swear.”

“Okay,” Gwenog laughed. “Your secret is safe. But everyone will guess that’s the reason. It’s happened before, plenty of times, just not with someone who means so much to the team.”

“I’m sorry,” Ginny said, “but Ginger is staying, and Samantha will be fine as Second Chaser. You’ll win a few more matches, I’m sure.”

Gwenog shook her head. “It won’t be the same team without you, Gin. I know you want to get on with your life, and who wouldn’t with a man like Harry around? When will you make the announcement?”

“How about right now?” Ginny looked around the clubhouse. The party was winding down and players were starting to move towards the locker room. She stood up.

“Hey, guys!” she yelled; everyone turned to look at her. “I want to say something.”

The room fell silent, and Ginny suddenly grew self-conscious. She felt Ginger’s hand on her shoulder, and turned to face the room.

“I’m not sure how to say this, so I’ll just say it. I’m retiring from Quidditch as soon as the Cup tournament is over. It’s been a great ride with all of you, and I’ll never forget it, but there’s things I want to do, and . . .”

She felt herself blush, and turned her head. The room was quiet, until Maura Robinson said, “I bet she’ll have green eyes and red hair.”

Everyone laughed while Ginny held up her hands in protest. “No, no! It’s not that, it’s just that Harry and I want . . . I mean, we need to do some things . . .  Oh, crap.” She sat down and grinned at Gwenog. “I just hope my mum doesn’t hear about it in the papers.”

“We’re a very discreet bunch,” Gwenog laughed. “If you tell her within the hour I’m sure it’ll be your own scoop.”

More teammates gathered around Ginny, along with Coach Field. “It’s the best way to go out, on top,” the coach said. “You’re doing the right thing. Have your kids when you’re young, then you’ll still have time for a good career, if that’s what you want. We will miss you, though.”

“Thanks.” Ginny was starting to get choked up, and she wiped her eyes. “I’ll miss all of you, too.”

Someone called from the back of the group, “When you have a girl, bring her here and we’ll make her an honorary Harpy.”

“Sure.” Ginny smiled as tears started flowing down her cheeks. “She’ll be a Harpy too.”

She got up and walked into the dressing room, closing the door behind her, and while her teammates in the clubhouse pondered the future of their championship team without its star player, Ginny sat on a stool in front of her locker, sobbing her heart out.

Chapter Text

Harry shook his head as if to clear it; he blinked and focused his eyes on Ron. “Damn, I’m sorry,” he muttered. “That wasn’t supposed to happen.”

“Is Ginny okay?”

“I think so, but she’s upset about something.”

Harry knew that it had been important. In both of their occupations it was critical that they not be distracted by strong feelings coming from the other, so they had learned how to control what they let out. Whatever had happened to Ginny had overcome her containment and had poured over the dam into his awareness.

He glanced at the clock. “Can you go tell Sal what we’re thinking about? I can’t imagine she’d have a problem if we include Hermione.”

“I’ll go right away. What are you going to do?”

Harry stared into space for a moment, then stood. “I want to be home when she gets there. I’ll see you tonight. You can tell me then what Sal says.”

He left without another word. Ron shook his head, wondering whether the kind of intimacy between his best mate and his sister was a blessing or a curse.

Harry hurried down to the Atrium and Floo’d back to the Hog’s Head. He stepped out of his fireplace into the flat and looked around. Now what? He could only wait, because if Ginny had wanted him to come to her she would have let him know. If he had stayed at the Ministry he would have been distracted and useless, so it was better to be here. But he was worried; when he officially became Head Auror he wouldn’t be able to do this.

He didn’t know how he and Ginny could stop it, though. They did not want to keep such strong emotions from each other. Their closeness was precious, a priceless treasure. How could he ask her to keep such a thing to herself? It was impossible and neither of them desired it.

He fell into a stuffed chair next to the picture window. The elm tree looked fresh, covered in its cloak of new green. He saw Bailey perched in one of the upper branches. The owl blinked at him and stretched her wings; Harry smiled and shook his head, and she settled down on the branch again.

Ginny had told him that she would be home at five, so Harry had three hours to kill. He got up and cast his eye around the room and thought about having a baby here. It was cluttered, no doubt, with five years worth of acquisitions. In addition to the half-dozen bookshelves around the walls, a trophy case with a dozen Quidditch trophies stood next to the bedroom door. Sitting on the floor near the casement window was a chest filled with gifts—some of them quite strange—from Luna Lovegood who was traveling the world and sending them things from wherever she happened to settle down for more than a couple of weeks, usually in a far-off country Harry had never heard of.

He continued gazing around the room. Another cabinet next to the kitchen door contained a full sterling silver service and a set of fine china, gifts from Molly and Arthur that did not fit in the kitchen because that room was also stuffed with gifts from them. They hardly ever used any of it, and Harry had suggested a magical storage bin but Ginny wanted to keep everything out where her mother could see it when she visited.

At least Molly never Floo’d in unannounced anymore. That habit had ended four years ago when she had stepped out of the fireplace and tripped over the naked bodies of her daughter and son-in-law as they lay making love on the red rug. She had scrambled back, scarlet-faced, and in her confusion had Floo’d to St. Mungo’s Hospital instead of returning to the Burrow. She had to explain to her co-workers why she was bringing a set of nested copper bowls, a set of tea towels, and a toilet paper cozy to the hospital. Harry and Ginny had laughed for a week and continued to shag on the rug.

There were other things scattered about that Harry knew should be put away, magically or otherwise, or even got rid of. The only wardrobes in the flat were in the bedroom, and they were full of clothes and shoes, mostly Ginny’s. All of their outdoor jackets and cloaks hung on hooks next to the door; boots and Wellingtons stayed in a box out on the landing.

They never seemed to have the time or the inclination to really fix up their flat. Ginny liked things to be snug and cozy; she liked “warm fuzzies,” as she put it, and Harry liked to give them to her. One of the by-products of warm fuzziness seemed to be a messy home, but was it unlivable? Harry thought not. Certainly it should be possible for Tony to build an addition that would give them enough storage space so that Ginny could have both a cozy home and a neat one.

He went to the love seat and sprawled in it, draping his leg over the back and resting his head on the arm so that he was staring up at the ceiling. Maybe it hadn’t been such a good idea to leave the Ministry when there was no emergency at home, but he didn’t feel guilty. He and Saliyah occasionally took Friday afternoons off and sent home the rest of the staff, leaving only two or three Aurors on duty to handle emergencies. Hell, half the Ministry did the same thing.

And now he was glad that he had had this time to himself to think things through. He felt confident that he could convince Ginny that they did not have to move from the flat, that they could fix the things she didn’t like and they could continue to be happy here.

Because in fact they were very happy. The closeness that came from being able to experience each other’s most intimate feelings and thoughts was beyond description. They truly lived each other’s lives. Harry closed his eyes and smiled as he thought about the joy that came with their closeness, from the physical sensations of love-making to the mental pleasure of sharing a good book. Yes, he was happy and he did not want to change anything that might jeopardize his and Ginny’s happiness.

He awoke with a start when the fireplace flamed green. Ginny stepped out and stopped when she saw him laid out before her on the love seat.

“What are you doing home?” she said, pleasantly surprised. “Did you take off early from work?” She stood her broomsticks in the rack next to the fireplace and tossed her Harpies duffle bag onto a nearby chair. Harry swung his legs aside and she sat, then he put his legs in her lap.

“I must have dozed off. What happened this afternoon? I came home because I knew I wouldn’t be any use at work, but I didn’t want to bother you as long as you didn’t want me there. Where were you?”

Ginny smiled and rubbed his leg. “Oh, sweetie, that was nice of you. I was in the locker room at the clubhouse, and it just hit me that I wasn’t a Harpy anymore. Everyone was so very understanding, and then someone said that I should bring my daughter back and they’ll make her an honorary Harpy. I felt sad and happy and I started crying.”

They both reached out and took each other’s hand. Harry pulled Ginny down and she lay on top of him; her head rested on his chest and she sighed. “When are they getting here?” she said without looking up; her hands slipped inside his shirt.

“Around seven, I think.”

Ginny scooched herself up until her face was level with his. She kissed him and whispered, “Make me feel good.”

#  #  # #

Ron and Hermione Floo’d into the flat early in the evening. Harry was setting the table in the middle of the sitting room when they arrived. Hermione went into the kitchen where Ginny was carefully lifting a soufflé out of the oven, a dish she had learned from Fleur; it was one of Harry’s favorites.

“Is everything okay?” Ron asked Harry.

“Fine.” Harry Summoned two butterbeers from the kitchen. He handed one to Ron, pulled two chairs up to the table, and they sat. “I’ll let her tell you.”

Ron glanced into the kitchen where they could hear their wives talking. “Sal wants to talk to us on Monday morning before we head up to Hogwarts. You, me, and Hermione.”

Harry nodded, and looked up as the wives came in carrying the soufflé and a salad. Soon they were eating, drinking, and talking. The first topic was babies.

“It’s wonderful news!” Hermione exclaimed. “We’ve been thinking about it too,” she glanced coyly at Ron who grinned back, “and you may have made us decide.”

“Wouldn’t it be cool for the cousins to be the same age?” Ron said to Ginny.

“Mum would be beside her herself. She wouldn’t know which way to turn first. But we didn’t tell you something else that you probably figured out. I’m retiring from the Harpies after the Cup tournament. That’s what was going on this afternoon,” she added to Ron.”

“We guessed,” said Hermione. “I’m sorry, Ginny. It must have been hard.”

Ginny shrugged. “It was, but it’s time to move on, and we don’t want to take any chances when I’m pregnant. That’s why I was so upset.” She smiled at Harry. “My sweetie left work early so he’d be here when I got home.”

“And I fell asleep in front of the fireplace,” Harry grinned. “Some sweetie.”

Ginny reached over and patted his hand. “I’ll be plenty busy, even before the baby is born,” she continued speaking to Hermione and Ron, but looked out the corner of her eye at Harry. “We’re going to move.”

Harry glanced around the table; Ron and Hermione looked back a little uncertainly, but Ginny’s gaze was firm, even a bit challenging. Harry spoke even though his mouth was full. “Well, I’ve been thinking, and it’s possible we can clean up the place and get Tony to put an addition, and—”

“We already talked about that.” Ginny scowled. “The baby needs a room of her own, or his own. Harry, it’s not a proper house for a family.”

Harry had no response. He now realized that, during his reveries that afternoon about the flat, he had incomprehensibly forgotten about the baby. He stared at Ginny, silently acknowledging her rebuke.

“Okay,” he said aloud, “you’re right. But I’m not agreeing to the other thing.”

Ron and Hermione exchanged glances, and Harry answered their unspoken question.

“Ginny thinks we should live in Godric’s Hollow. I won’t.” His eyes were locked with Ginny’s as thoughts flew back and forth. For a moment there was contention, but sadness came into Ginny’s eyes, and she took his hand again.

“I know it hurts, and it hurts me too,” she said softly.

“Ginny, please don’t ask me to do it,” Harry spoke just as softly. Ginny sighed and let go his hand.

Hermione watched Harry, biting her lip. Her hands were clasped; she had an old habit of twisting her fingers together when strong emotions took her.

“Harry,” she said as her fingers worked, “I was there with you. It was horrible, but we lived. You lived. Ginny is right, you should tear down that house. If it’s still standing when your children are old enough to understand, they’ll wonder why you left it there. Just think how much it would mean to them if you build a real home on that spot.”

“Hell,” Ron interjected, “it would mean a lot to everyone. Isn’t that sign still there, the one with all the slogans on it?”

“I don’t know,” Harry replied without looking at him.

There was silence for a long moment, then Ginny said, “Harry, please talk to us.”

There were many blandishments that Harry could resist, but two he could not were Ginny’s blazing look and Ginny’s face when there were tears in her eyes, as there were now.

“I’m sorry,” he said, looking down at the table, “but if we lived there, I would always be reminded of two things: my parents being murdered, and that snake. I’ve dealt with both of them. I can live my life quite well without having to be constantly reminded of them.”

He looked defiantly around the table. Ron and Hermione had care and concern on their faces. Ginny was hovering around the edges of his mind, giving him space, waiting for him to let her in.

“I’ve been a good husband, a good friend, and a good Auror. I’ll be a good father. I just don’t see why I have to prove anything by going back to Godric’s Hollow.”

“No one is asking you to prove anything,” Ginny said. “We’re—I’m—asking you to be strong.”

“You don’t think I’m strong?” Harry said in a quiet voice.

“You know I do. But I think you’re not being strong now. It’s your home, you have ancestors buried there. Right now that house is a scar.”

Harry bowed his head and put his right hand to his forehead. He could not feel his scar as he ran his hand over it; it was as smooth as the rest of his skin.

Suddenly Ginny came flooding into his heart and his mind. It only took an instant, but in less than a blink of an eye he heard her voice. I love you. I will always love you.

Harry glanced at Ron from under his hand, then at Hermione. A small smile played on his face. “Don’t mind us, we’re having one of those moments.”

The mood was broken and everyone laughed. They had all stopped eating, and now they picked up their forks and spoons and passed the serving dishes around and helped themselves to seconds, Ron to fourths.

“I still say you have to teach us that trick,” Ron said between mouthfuls of tossed salad. “I would so love to know what’s going on in that brain of Hermione’s.”

“It’s a good thing you don’t know, “she responded archly, “because you’d never get over the humiliation of total incomprehension.”

“See?” Ron said to Harry, pointing his fork at Hermione. “That’s why I’ll never want your job. I’d have to be constantly telling her what she’s doing wrong.”

Everyone knew that in a few years, maybe sooner, Hermione would become Head of Magical Law Enforcement and Harry’s nominal boss. And the four friends knew that Ron was only half-joking about not wanting to be Head Auror. He would have to report directly to Hermione, and that could send their marriage onto rocky ground.

“You’ve always been good at telling people what they were doing wrong,” Ginny said dryly. “How many times did you tell me who I could date and who I couldn’t?”

“That was different,” Ron replied airily. “You were my baby sister. I was allowed to do it. In fact, I was required to do it by the elder-brother-little-baby-sister laws.”

Ginny snorted; she picked up her wand and pointed at him. Ron involuntarily flinched, but Ginny laughed and turned it to the table. The serving dishes flew into the kitchen, followed by all the plates and utensils.

Ron sat back and grinned at Harry. “Elementary bat-bogey avoidance. Did I ever tell you about the time she aimed one at me but hit Dad instead?”

“Only five or six times,” said Harry, standing. “I’ll get dessert.”

He pushed Ginny back into her seat and went into the kitchen. He was soon directing a large chocolate cake on a platter through the air. He set it down on the table, went back, and came out with four mugs of coffee floating before him.

“Bravo!” cried Hermione, clapping her hands. Harry grinned and set the mugs down. “Let’s talk about the Pensieve,” he said.

‘What about the Pensieve?” Ginny asked. “It’s been on your mind all week.”

Harry proceeded to tell her what they knew about Dumbledore’s old Pensieve. When he finished, Ginny was frowning slightly.

“It’s a little disturbing that Professor McGonagall won’t tell you what the problem is. And why didn’t she just tell you right from the beginning that there was a problem? Why did she wait until you had to ask all those questions? Didn’t she think you would wonder what was going on?”

“Excellent questions,” Harry nodded. “We never wondered about her motives, actually, but we should.”

“It’s not like her at all. he’s worried about something.”

“Or someone,” Ron said.

Harry stared at him. “First thing on Monday, ask Parvati and Tony to start checking Death Eaters who were released in the past year. I know there were a few who got short sentences after the war. And tell them to send a query to Intermagic. I want to know if someone is rattling around out there who might have just been released from a foreign prison.”

He chewed on his lip for a moment and then looked at Ginny. “How would you feel about talking Mundungus Fletcher out of retirement?”

Ginny smiled. “I’d be happy to. He’s such a puppy.”

“Are you sure? We might need him, but I feel funny about using you.”

“It’s fine. He’ll be flattered that both of us want him back.”

Harry nodded and took a sip of coffee. Ginny cut the cake—she had been ignoring Ron’s pointed looks for the past five minutes—and for a short time they were silent as they enjoyed one of Winky’s special desserts.

Harry covered his mouth to hide a belch and pushed back his plate. “Okay, let’s throw out ideas. What could go wrong with a Pensieve?” He looked at Hermione.

“A memory can’t be retrieved.”

“A memory can’t be stored,” said Ginny.

“A memory has been damaged,” Ron said.

“Deliberately?” Harry asked.

“Or accidentally.”

“There’s a difference. In the first case, someone is trying to hide something, like Slughorn did with that Horcrux memory, and it’s my problem as a potential crime. In the second case, it’s a repair job for the Department of Mysteries.”

“If they know how to do it,” Ginny put in.

“If they do or they don’t, it’s still not a criminal matter.”

“I don’t agree,” Ginny demurred. “Maybe a Pensieve uses Dark Magic. You said we don’t know anything about it. Aurors know more about Dark Magic than anyone, so you could be asked to fix it even if it broke accidentally.”

“Okay, but it’s not too likely.”

Hermione leaned forward. “What about Professor McGonagall? Why is she playing this so close to her vest?” She looked at Harry.

“Because it’s a serious matter and she doesn’t want every Tom, Dick and wizard in Britain to know about it.”

“Because she’ll be embarrassed,” Ron said.

“Because she simply doesn’t know what’s wrong,” said Ginny.

Hermione sat back. “I think it’s all of those.”

“Why do you think that?” Harry asked. He knew that Hermione must have been giving this problem a lot of thought.

She ticked the answers off on her fingers. “First of all, it’s obviously a serious matter. Why else would she ask the Department of Mysteries and Aurors to get involved? But more basic than that, a Pensieve in and of itself is a serious matter, especially if it’s unique, as I believe this one is. It was a source of power for Dumbledore. I don’t think it’s quite as critical for McGonagall, but it still must be very important to her.

“Second, we all know that even with that stoic Scots attitude of hers, she’s been a worrier ever since Dumbledore died. And how could she not be? In ten years she may get over the circumstances of how she became Headmistress, but I don’t think enough time has passed for her to relax completely. She’s a perfectionist as far as her own performance is concerned, and if there’s even a remote chance that she messed up the Pensieve, she’ll be mortified.

“Third, if she knew what was wrong with it she would either fix it herself or bring someone in who would knows how. She—”

“Wait a minute,” Harry interrupted. “Who would that be? Who’s left from before the war who might have that kind of knowledge?”

“I don’t know. Someone in the Wizengamot? There are wizards all over the world. Do you know all of them?”

Harry ignored the question. “That was a good summary of what we know, but I’m skeptical. I just have a feeling that something else is going on here.”

“I’ll never argue with your intuitions, Harry,” Hermione smiled. “But I think I’m right.”

“We’ll find out on Monday.” Harry looked around the table. “Is there anything else? Any brilliant ideas? No? Good. Let’s go see who’s downstairs tonight. And I think Winky has done more baking.” He clapped Ron’s shoulder.

“Why do people always do that to me?” Ron muttered as they trooped downstairs. “I’m not the only person in the world who eats a lot, or even eats the most.”

“No, you’re not,” agreed Ginny who was right in front of him. “But it’s a close run thing.”

“My own sister hates me.”

They entered the downstairs kitchen and saw Kreacher lifting three large pies onto a tray. Ron looked at them longingly, but ostentatiously straightened his back and walked slowly past them and into the dining room. The others followed; Harry took Ginny’s hand and grinned at her. He never grew tired of the Weasley family.

The dining room was full with the usual Friday night crowd. Stan was busy behind the bar, and Kreacher and Harriet were in and out of the kitchen with food orders. Harry waved to Tony Trostle and his foreman Carlos, sitting with their wives at their customary table near the back. Other regulars from the village called out to Harry and Ginny. A few strangers were also there, as well as one or two Aurors.

Harry glanced to his right and was surprised to see Hagrid sitting at a table off to the side of the bar; he would have been out of sight from the rest of the room except for his being a half-giant. The gamekeeper didn’t come to the Hog’s Head often because the ceiling was too low; he preferred The Three Broomsticks, which had more headroom.

Hagrid had a large mug of his favorite mead in his hands, and he nodded at Harry. “Gimme a minute when yer free,” he said in a low rumble; the words also surprised Harry. He could think of no reason why Hagrid should be secretive or even if he could be secretive. Whenever he did show up at the inn he was always his boisterous, outgoing self. He seemed thoughtful now, almost worried.

Harry nodded and went with the others—who had stopped and had also heard Hagrid speak—to the table next to Tony. On their way people called out congratulations to Ginny, and someone waved the Prophet’s late edition at her. On the back page was a photo of her scoring a goal, and a large headline about the Harpies’ record-breaking championship.

The contractor greeted them warmly. Ron went back to the bar for butterbeers and Ginny and Hermione started chatting about a planned shopping trip to Diagon Alley.

Harry was silent; he glanced at Ginny occasionally, but she didn’t give any sign of knowing what was on his mind. He shifted his chair so that he could talk to Tony without turning his head. Ginny glanced at him when he moved, but then did a double-take and stopped talking to Hermione. Her brow creased as Harry said to Tony, “How would you go about putting an addition onto the inn so that we could have more storage space in the flat?”

“Harry!” Ginny spoke before Tony could answer; the burly contractor looked at her, then at Harry.

“I’m not sure,” he said slowly. “Why do you need more storage space? If you don’t need it long-term, just use magic.”

“If we do it, it would be for long-term,” Harry replied without looking at Ginny.

The conversation paused as Ron returned with glasses and a pitcher of butterbeer on a tray which he put on the table. He glanced around at the silence. “Don’t let me interrupt anything,” he said.

Ginny glared at Harry until he finally looked at her. A second later he turned to Tony. “Never mind, I was just wondering. It’s nothing important.”

“I need some air,” Ginny said to Hermione, and stood. The two women walked between the tables and out the front door. Harry and Ron watched them go while Tony turned away.

“That was stupid. Why did I do that?”

“Do what?” said Ron as he sat.

“I asked Tony if he could make storage space for us upstairs.”

“Ah, I see. I don’t know why you did it, but I agree it was totally stupid.”

“Thanks for the support,” Harry said, a little morosely.

“No problem. I’m sure the love seat is very comfortable to sleep on, especially if you’re alone.”

“Well,” Harry sighed and heaved himself up, “we might as well see what Hagrid wants.”

They went back to the table next to the bar and sat. Hagrid was fiddling with his mug, and still had a serious expression behind his bushy beard. After a moment he looked around, leaned across the table, and began speaking in a whisper.

“It’s Perfessor McGonagall. I’ve never seen her so worked up, not since she had to put up with them Carrows. She doesn’t come to meals half the time, and she asked Perfessor Flitwick and Olympe—I mean Perfessor Maxime—to teach some of her classes. And what’s worst of all, every time I’m in the castle at night, I can hear Firenze stompin’ around in his classroom, the one on the ground floor with that magical ceilin’.”

He gave Harry a troubled look. “I don’t know what’s goin’ on, Harry, but I heard that she sent fer you.” He sat back with his mug, took a long drink, and leaned over the table again. “Don’t tell me nothin’ that yeh aren’t supposed to, but if somethin’s happenin’ at the school, the teachers need to know.”

“Something is happening,” Harry said, also in a very low voice. “I can’t tell you what it is because I don’t know much myself. We’re meeting with her on Monday, so I’ll know more then. I can’t promise anything, but I’ll let you know what I can.”

Hagrid nodded. “I’m glad yer on it, both of yeh. We’ve had smooth sailin’ fer so long it’s hard to remember how bad things used to be.” He frowned. “Yeh don’t think it’s Death Eaters, do yeh? I know some of them just got out of jail.”

“Only the ones who weren’t in Azkaban,” Harry said. “The ones who got out were low-level types who never committed any crimes, other than being a Death Eater.”

“I don’t trust none of ‘em,” Hagrid scowled. “Yeh should have kept ‘em all under lock and key.”

“What about Firenze?” Harry said before Hagrid could go on. “What’s he upset about?”

“Don’t know, but it’s not like him.”

Hagrid looked over their heads; Harry turned and saw Ginny and Hermione re-enter the inn. Ginny’s face was blank and Harry knew that she didn’t want him in her mind.

“I’m tired,” she said when she got to their table.

Harry got up. “I’ll let you know what happens,” he said to Hagrid. “And thanks for the information.”

The four of them went back upstairs, and Hermione and Ron left immediately. The green flames in the fireplace hadn’t died down when Ginny turned to Harry; they were standing in the middle of the room, behind the love seat.

“Why did you do that?” She was calm and her voice didn’t reveal any anger, but the fact that she was keeping her mind closed told Harry all he needed to know.

He spread his arms wide. “I’m sorry. It was stupid, I know. It just came into my head and I asked Tony. I don’t know why I did it.”

“I know why. You’re a stubborn git, that’s why.”

They stared at each other in silence for a moment, but they both began to giggle, first Harry, who tried to suppress it but couldn’t, and then Ginny, for whom it felt like a tickling in her mind.

“It was stupid,” she said, putting her arms around his neck. “When we got outside, I told Hermione you were the most stubborn man I ever knew, except I didn’t exactly say ‘man’.”

Harry put his hands on her waist. “I am sorry. Tony was sitting right there, and we had been talking about it earlier, and—”

She put her hand on his lips. “Don’t get yourself into more trouble. I know we haven’t decided anything, and I think we should give it a rest for at least a few days. What do you say?”

They were now sharing completely; feelings and thoughts sped between them, and in only a few seconds they were in each other’s arms and kissing. As he pressed his lips to hers, Harry felt what he often did at these moments when there had been a disagreement, or someone—usually he—had done something to upset the other. He had nothing to hide from her, nor she from him. She knew his regret for his untimely words was total and without reservation. He knew that her acceptance of his apology was also total and she bore not even a trace of resentment. All that was in their shared hearts was their love for each other, which in fact fed on scraps like this and grew more encompassing because they saw each other’s heart so clearly.

Finally the snog ended, and Harry leaned his head back and gazed down at her. “So should I make up the love seat to sleep on?”

“What are you talking about? Oh! I see,” Ginny giggled. “That’s Ron’s typical reaction because it happens to him so often. No, don’t make up the love seat, unless you want to share it with me.”

“I do have something I want to share with you.” Harry kissed her, which began another snog and a happily shared night.

#  #  # #

On Saturday morning they decided to take their brooms to Hogwarts and do some flying. Harry didn’t get to fly with Ginny very often because by the time the weekend rolled around, Ginny had been flying in practice or in matches every day of the week and wasn’t interested. This morning he was pleasantly surprised when she proposed it.

“We haven’t done it for a long time,” she said as they strolled down the High Street; her arm was through Harry’s and he was carrying both brooms. “I just want to go as high as I can and look at the world with you.”

“Does last night have anything to do with this?” Harry grinned. “You know, when you were Levitated underneath the canopy and I was—”

“I won’t confirm it and I won’t deny it,” Ginny giggled. “Can we just say I’m feeling on top of the world, and leave it at that?”

Harry put his arm around her waist and they walked on, exchanging their thoughts in silence. Ginny’s high spirits were not only the result of last night’s acrobatics, but also because she was now starting to feel the excitement of moving on from the Harpies. She was beginning something that she had wanted as far back as she could remember: a family with Harry. She was more excited about that than being on the Cup team. It felt so good, that for a brief moment last night she had formed the thought in her mind to skip the birth control charm, and to send Bailey with a letter to Philbert Deverill containing her regrets and declining her position on the National team. Harry, catching the thought, had become momentarily distracted, but Ginny had quickly dismissed the idea. Harry had just as quickly regained his firmness of purpose, and the night had proceeded apace.

She had briefly raised the subject in the morning over breakfast, but Harry knew that it was not what she really wanted, and it ended there. But Ginny couldn’t help thinking about it again as they passed The Three Broomsticks and descended the street to the train station. She got an image in her head from Harry of herself lumbering along on her Ion One with her huge belly protruding from her Quidditch robes, and she punched his ribs with her free hand.

Harry grabbed the hand. “I thought you looked beautiful,” he chuckled. “The first visibly pregnant witch to score a goal in the World Cup.”

“I’m glad you said ‘visibly,’” she smiled. “I can’t imagine that no one’s been preggers during the tournament before.”

“You will be, I hope.”

“Yes, I hope so too.” She leaned her head on his shoulder as they continued up the lane to the castle gates.

“What on earth—?” Harry stopped in his tracks as the tall pillars with the flying boars loomed ahead. The gates were closed, and Hagrid was sitting on an enormous stool just inside. He saw them and stood as they hurried forward.

“What in Merlin’s name are you doing?” Harry said to him through the bars. “When did this happen?”

“Harry, Harry!” Hagrid said in a state of high agitation. He was sweating in the cool morning and kept wiping his brow with one of his oversized handkerchiefs. “I’m sure glad yer here. McGonagall, I mean Perfessor McGonagall, sent yeh an owl. She wanted to know if yeh could come see her.”

With a screech, a small, dark red owl swooped down from the direction of Hogsmeade. Harry extended his arm and the bird alighted; there was a sealed parchment in its beak, and Harry took it. He handed the owl to Ginny, opened the message, and quickly read it.

“I’ll go back,” she said. “I can wait at the flat.”

“No, come with me. I want someone else to hear this . . . whatever it is.”

Their eyes met and Ginny’s appreciation washed over Harry’s mind. He turned to Hagrid, who had opened the gates.

“Why are the gates closed?” Harry asked as they passed through. “Are the rest of the grounds sealed?”

Hagrid gave a massive shrug. “I don’t know, Harry,” he said, becoming more and more agitated as he spoke. “I ain’t been told nothin’, just get down to the gates and don’t let no one in unless yeh know ‘em. Blimey, she might as well have sent Filch. She tells me, don’t wait fer nothin’, just close the damn gates an’ wait fer Harry Potter. I don’t got my umbie or nothin’. Might as well be naked.”

Harry stared at Hagrid. He had never known Minerva McGonagall to act hysterically, but that’s what seemed to be happening. He and Ginny stood aside as Hagrid swung the gates closed.

“And why did she send you here?” Harry asked, even more puzzled as he thought about it. “Professor Flitwick or Neville or even Slughorn could have done it.”

“No one else is here,” Hagrid grunted as he took his seat again. His brow creased. “Lessee, Olympe is shoppin’ in Diagon Alley with Pomona an’ Poppy; Neville is off at the other end of the lake collectin’ specimens; Sibyll is useless, as everyone knows; Filius had business at the Ministry; Slughorn is never here Saturday mornin’, Merlin knows where he goes; Binns is . . . well . . .”

“I get the idea,” Harry interrupted the recital. “What about Firenze? Yesterday you said he was out of sorts.”

“Yeah, yeh might say that. When I left the castle about an hour ago he was makin’ an unholy racket in his classroom, neighin’ and shoutin at the top of his voice. I wasn’t about to ask him fer help.”

He looked at Harry, who was standing with Ginny staring at the gamekeeper. Hagrid’s eyes shifted toward the castle and Harry gave a start. He had been lost in thought, but now realized that he needed to get going.

“Okay, we’ll be back as soon as we can, and I’ll try to get someone to take over here for you. Don’t be a hero, Hagrid. If someone threatens you with a wand, just leave.”

“Now, yeh know I’m not about to do that,” Hagrid scowled. “Go on now.” He waved his hand at them. “Fin’ out what the heck is happenin’ with Perfessor McGonagall.”

They walked quickly up the drive to the front doors. “This is totally bizarre,” Harry said. “I wonder if everyone’s being away at the same time is a coincidence?”

“That’s what you were thinking about just then?” Ginny asked.

Harry nodded; they were climbing the steps to the oak doors. “What do you think?”

“It is a coincidence, but there’s nothing sinister about it. Neville doesn’t do things on the spur of the moment. I’m sure he and Professor Sprout had his outing planned weeks ago. And Madam Pomfrey couldn’t just up and go shopping on a whim. She’d have to plan ahead for someone to cover for her.”

As they entered the castle they were greeted by what sounded like a herd of horses thundering in the distance. Hooves beat on a floor; they heard both loud neighs and angry cries. It all came from a corridor off to the left, across from the marble staircase. The sounds echoed down the corridor and around the entrance hall, becoming magnified as they reverberated off the stone walls. The House hourglasses above their heads vibrated and shook. The entranceway was empty; there were no students in sight.

Harry took a firm grip on Ginny’s hand and they crossed quickly to the stairs. They saw no one as they climbed, and the halls they hurried through were also empty. Even many of the paintings hanging on the walls were vacant. They could hear the violent noises from Firenze’s classroom even as they arrived at the corridor that led to the Headmistress’s office.

They had another shock when they stood before the stone gargoyle guarding the door. It was open. The gargoyle was standing aside, and it stared at Harry as he stood with his wand in his hand. He pulled Ginny through without taking his eyes from the creature, and was not surprised when it snapped shut behind them with a loud crash.

“I hope she knows how to open it,” he muttered as they spiraled up.

“This is getting interesting,” Ginny said; she also had her wand out.

Harry stared at her for a moment, then they both chuckled. “As I’ve often said, you should have been an Auror. Cool as a cucumber.”

“Well, it is interesting. Where is everyone? Where are all the students? Did they all go shopping in London too?”

“Maybe it’s a whole-school outing to Buckingham Palace.”

No, no! To Scapa Flow. They’re going to Levitate the Muggle navy.”

Harry chuckled. “Or to Kent. They’re turning the white cliffs of Dover pink and green.”

They reached the top of the stairs before Ginny could top that, and their grins faded at the forbidding sight of the heavy wooden door bound in iron. Harry knocked, and it swung open.

The Headmistress’s office had changed since Professor Dumbledore was alive. It now featured a tartan motif, with coats of arms, crossed swords, pikes and other weapons, and portraits of fierce Scottish chieftains on the walls next to former headmasters. Only a few of the tiny silver machines remained, smoking and spinning, and several cats lay sleeping on chairs and on the large inlaid mahogany desk that dominated the room.

Professor McGonagall was standing near a window with her back to the door, leaning over the Pensieve, which sat on a small table. The Headmistress was peering into it with her hands resting on the rim. Harry and Ginny could see the silvery glow from the swirling memories reflecting off her face and spectacles. When she heard them, she turned her head, and they received yet one more shock: her face was tight with fear, almost terror. Ginny sucked in her breath and Harry’s grip on her hand tightened.

The professor slowly raised herself to an erect position. “Harry,” she said in a shaky voice. “You’re here. And Mrs. Potter—Ginny. I’m glad you’re here too.” She took a deep breath and gazed at them for a moment, then walked, a little unsteadily, to her desk and sat. Harry and Ginny watched her wordlessly.

The Headmistress gave them an uncertain, tight-lipped smile. “I apologize deeply for this. The past few days have been a struggle. Please sit.” Two chairs appeared in front of her desk, one with a ginger tabby asleep in it. McGonagall smiled again, this time more cheerfully. “He finds his way into the most unlikely places. Just put him on the floor.”

They put their wands away, Harry leaned their brooms against the wall, and Ginny picked up the cat and put it in her lap as she sat. The animal didn’t seem to object, but curled up and closed his eyes again. Ginny stroked his back and glanced at Harry; they both felt the uneasiness that filled the room. Harry noticed that Professor Dumbledore’s portrait frame behind the desk was empty.

“Professor,” Harry said, repeating the question that Ginny had asked a few minutes ago, “where is everyone? Where are all the students?”

“I have requested that everyone stay in his or her common room, at least until the other Heads of House return. By sheer coincidence, most of the staff are away from the castle this morning. A remarkable coincidence, I might add. I can’t recall it happening in many years, so many of the staff being absent at the same time. I did send owls and I expect most of them back soon.”

“But . . . why did you ask the students to stay in their common rooms?”

“I actually didn’t have to request it of too many of them. Most haven’t been out in the corridors since early this morning when Professor Firenze began to carry on. You must have heard it.”

“It was impossible to miss, and Hagrid told us at the gate.”

McGonagall’s face tightened. “That was a precaution. I don’t really expect anything to come from the outside, but I have several hundred children in my charge, and I must be careful.”

Ginny moved in her chair, and Harry glanced at her. “What do you mean by ‘something from the outside?’” he said in a quiet voice.

McGonagall abruptly stood, causing the cat in Ginny’s lap to jump down and scoot under the desk. “I have to show you the Pensieve, Harry. Or rather, I have to show you what has happened to it.”

Harry stayed in his seat; he wanted to keep her as calm as possible. He had never seen Minerva McGonagall this discomposed, not even on that day five years ago when he had surprised her in the Ravenclaw common room while she was contending with Amycus Carrow

“Professor,” he said, again quietly, “is there an owl nearby I can use? I want to send for assistance from the Ministry.”

As he spoke a large barn owl flew down from a perch that he hadn’t noticed near the high, vaulted ceiling. It landed on the desk and bowed its head to Harry. The Headmistress opened a drawer, handed him writing gear, and he quickly scrawled a note to Ron: Bring four people to Hogwarts immediately with yourself but quietly. Talk to no one.

He didn’t have to show it to Ginny; she knew exactly what he had written. He sealed the parchment, tied it to the owl’s leg, and took the bird to the window next to the Pensieve. Ginny opened it and the owl flew off, disappearing into the cloudless sky that Harry and Ginny had themselves planned to fly in.

Footsteps came up behind them and Professor McGonagall stood there, one hand on the Pensieve. The watery mist cast its translucent light, swirling, fading, clearing. She took out her wand and plunged it into the roiling memories, then quickly pulled it out. “Look!” she said to Harry.

Ginny’s hand took his arm, and her concern filled his mind. He grasped her hand firmly, and carefully lowered his face into the Pensieve.

The mist cleared, a scene came into focus, and he heard himself cry out. His heart lurched. He was looking down into a small chamber with stone walls that glistened with moisture. A few torches guttered and cast flickering yellow light. A bier draped in black velvet stood in the middle of the room. On it, under a white shroud pulled back from her deathly white face, her eyes closed, her hands resting on her protruding belly, lay Ginny.

Harry jerked back and his face emerged from the Pensieve. He gasped for breath and looked around frantically. Ginny was at his side, looking at him in alarm. As the image he had seen entered her mind, her eyes grew wide and she turned pale.

“What was it?” she whispered.

Harry looked at Professor McGonagall. She wore the same grim, fearful expression she had when they first entered her office.

“What did you see?” she asked, then quickly said, “No, I don’t need to be told. I am certain it was Ginny. Am I right?” Despite the fright in her eyes, she spoke firmly.

Harry nodded. His throat had suddenly become dry and he had trouble saying the words. “Is . . . is it always her?”

McGonagall quickly shook her head. “No, no. Put your mind at ease on that score. If Ginny looked she would certainly see you, not herself. When I look into it, I see Madam Rosmerta, a dear friend, as you know. Yesterday I asked Filius to look and he saw a cousin with whom he is very close. What concerns me is that this Pensieve has been true for centuries. It has never shown anything that was not truly in a preserved memory. A memory could be altered, but then it would always appear in its new form.”

Harry walked shakily to his chair and dropped into it. Ginny came and stood behind him with her hands on his shoulders. The Headmistress returned to her seat behind her desk.

“So what is it showing, then?” Harry asked. “And why?”

McGonagall’s grim smile reappeared. “Why do you think I want to send it to the Ministry of Magic, specifically to the Department of Mysteries?”

“Of course.” He thought for a moment. “But why all the precautions? Why did you post Hagrid at the gates?”

“Because of Professor Firenze. I don’t know why, but I can’t help feeling that his agitation is connected to this.” She gestured at the Pensieve. “He won’t open his door. Harry, you are quite aware of the powers that centaurs possess. Firenze is a potent Seer, even if his pronouncements are always obscure and difficult to understand.” She leaned forward and peered at Harry through her square spectacles. “If he is as distraught as he sounds, then something is happening here at Hogwarts, or is about to happen.”

She leaned back. “Putting Hagrid by the gates was mostly for show, in case a parent or a board member wants to know what I’ve done to protect the school, even if I don’t know what to protect it from. I don’t want to do anything that will alarm the students any more than they are, but I could not just do nothing.”

Harry glanced out the window. Ron should be here soon; he might even already be in Hogsmeade, or just outside the grounds. This was all a puzzle, but he agreed with the Headmistress that unsettling things were happening. He reached up and took Ginny’s hand and linked their fingers. He was glad she was here, standing right behind him. If she had not been, he would have certainly run from the room and out of the castle to find her, to make sure she wasn’t lying dead in that cold room.

The picture of death shimmered in his mind. He took a breath and slowly let it out as he felt Ginny’s kiss on the crown of his head. He closed his eyes and let her soul fill and comfort him.

Chapter Text

Fifteen minutes later, down at the end of the curving drive, Harry and Ginny, who had come to wait there with Hagrid, heard five loud pops. Ron, Parvati, Tony, Katie, and Seamus stood in their Auror robes outside the gates, their wands at the ready. Hagrid swung the gate open and they entered.

“What’s up?” Ron asked, looking around the empty front lawn and up to the castle. No one was in sight. “Why are the gates closed? Where is everyone? It’s a beautiful Saturday morning. The kiddies should be out frolicking.”

“They’re all in the common rooms,” Harry replied. “McGonagall has them locked down. Come on, we need to get up to her office. I’ll answer your questions there. Katie and Seamus, stay here. Don’t let anyone in unless you know them, and ask questions to make sure they’re not Polyjuiced.”

“Merlin, Harry,” Katie exclaimed as the other Aurors gaped at him. “Are two of us enough? It sounds like the castle is being attacked.”

“It isn’t. I’ll fill you in later, but this is just a precaution.”

He turned to Hagrid. “You don’t have to stay here. Why don’t you come back to the castle with us? Maybe you can talk to Firenze.”

Hagrid shook his head. “Perfessor McGonagall told me to stay here, and here’s where I’ll stay until she says I can leave.”

Suddenly Seamus pointed to the castle. “Look!” he cried.

Everyone turned. A palomino centaur, his white hair streaming behind him, was galloping across the lawn towards the Forbidden Forest. He carried a bow and a quiver of arrows strung over his shoulder. In a few moments he was over a small rise and disappeared from view.

“No talking to Firenze,” Harry said dryly. “At least the kids can come out now.”

“Do you still want the gate guarded?” Ron asked.

“I think so,” Harry said after a moment’s thought. “I told McGonagall I’d put Aurors on it.”

“Have you told Saliyah?” Ron spoke again.

“Sent an owl just a few minutes ago. Let’s go.”

“We can still get some flying in,” Harry told Ginny as they walked up the drive. “This doesn’t feel like a real emergency. Once Minerva calms down we’ll head over to the pitch. I still want to see how high you can go.”

“Sure.” Ginny’s eyes looked in the direction where Firenze had gone. “We could do a little aerial surveillance while we’re up there.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to be an Auror?” Harry laughed. He looked back at Ron. “Do you think Sal would let me hire my wife?”

“Why not? Her husband hired her.”

“They weren’t married then,” Ginny said, “so it’s too late for us. I’ll have to be the power behind the throne.” She grinned at Harry.

Harry returned the grin. “Have you been taking lessons from Slughorn? That’s fine with me. But I still want to see how high you can fly.”

They mounted the steps into the entrance hall, which was eerily quiet and still empty. As they walked upstairs and through corridors to the Headmistress’s office, several portraits called out to Harry, asking about the Divination teacher, but he just waved at them.

“They were empty a few minutes ago,” Ginny observed. “They must have been lurking. Someone ought to go let the students out. It’s almost lunchtime.”

“That’s for McGonagall to decide,” Harry said. “If the staff are back . . .”

They all stopped in the middle of a flight of stairs. Footsteps and voices from above echoed off the stone walls, and several portraits looked up apprehensively. The Aurors drew their wands, but Ginny stepped forward.

“It’s all clear,” she called.

“We thought so,” came the answering voice of Emma Athair. A moment later she and Claire appeared at the top of the flight; they both had their wands out. “What happened? Professor McGonagall told us to stay in the common room. Is the castle being attacked?”

Harry stowed his wand. “No, the castle is not under attack, and Professor Firenze has left. Why did you leave the common room, and did anyone else come out?”

“Nope,” Claire said, ignoring Harry’s first question. “Only us. What was he so angry about?”

“Firenze? No one knows. But come with us. If the Headmistress says it’s okay, you can go tell everyone else they can go to lunch.”

They heard more voices, but these came from below, and soon Professors Flitwick and Longbottom came up the stairs. Flitwick was out of breath as he ran to keep up with Neville. The Charms professor leaned against the banister and puffed.

“My goodness,” he squeaked. “What’s happening? Your Aurors were somewhat hard-nosed, Mr. Potter. They wouldn’t let me pass until I recited the names of all their classmates, and Professor Longbottom had to tell Mr. Finnigan who he had taken to the Yule Ball.”

“I’m sorry,” Harry smiled. “Those were their orders. Better safe than sorry at the moment, Professor, but I’d rather explain things in Professor McGonagall’s office, if you don’t mind.”

The group, now numbering nine, proceeded up the stairs and down the corridor to the Headmistress’s office, but before they reached the gargoyle they heard more people coming from downstairs. This time it was Professor Sprout, Professor Maxime, and Madam Pomfrey. They joined the procession after a brief apology from Harry for the situation at the front gate. He gave the password to the gargoyle, but as the others were passing through the stone door, he stopped Emma and Claire.

“Sorry,” he told them, “I can’t invite you up, but would you mind waiting here? I’ll come back down as soon as I talk to Professor McGonagall.”

“Sure,” they chorused cheerfully.

“We’ll figure out on our own what’s happening,” Emma said.

“And we’ll let you know right away what you need to do,” Claire added with a grin.

Harry left them outside the door and smiled to himself as he ascended the spiral stairs. They probably would figure it all out on their own, and long before anyone else did.

The office was crowded. Professor Maxime took up a corner all by herself, and the others stood uncertainly, watching Harry as he entered. The Headmistress stood next to the Pensieve, looking unsure of herself.

Ginny was just inside the door, and she put herself into Harry’s mind as soon as he was in the room. Her eyes were bright and Harry felt a rush of pride coming from her, telling him that as far as she was concerned, he was handling things superbly. He gave her a smile and turned his attention to McGonagall.

The Headmistress walked to her desk and all heads turned to follow. She picked up a long-haired cream-colored Persian cat from her chair and put it on her desk as she sat. She spoke—with a strange hesitation—to her staff, who had gathered to one side.

“Professor Flitwick knows . . . why I called . . . you all back to Hogwarts. I will tell. . . . the rest of you now, but I must . . . ask you to keep this amongst yourselves. I do not want the students to know.”

Harry glanced at Madam Pomfrey who was leaning forward, looking at McGonagall with her brow knit. Harry coughed into his fist. Everyone looked at him.

“Professor, I understand your concern, but it’s bound to get out soon and besides, you have no control over Firenze. He could say or do anything. Also, I have to say, having been a student here when, um, things happened, the rumors were always worse than the facts. My advice is that you speak at lunch today and tell everyone that—”

“Mr. Potter!” McGonagall placed her clenched fists on the desk; she spoke at first without the little hesitations. “I not only beg to differ with you, I must insist on reminding you that the Department of Magical Law Enforcement has no jurisdiction here. When you are on the grounds of Hogwarts you are subordinate to me, unless there is imminent danger of physical harm. And there appears to be no such danger now that . . . Professor Firenze is gone.”

Harry glanced at Ron who was shifting his gaze from Harry to McGonagall and back. Harry felt Ginny around the fringes of his mind, not wanting to interfere, but gently pressing caution on him. When he looked quickly at Parvati and Tony, they made small hand movements, signals that they understood the tension that was now in the air.

Harry smiled at Professor Sprout who was standing next to him, and pulled a chair up for her. As she sat, he turned his smile to the Headmistress. “I’m sorry, Professor. Of course I’m subject to your authority here. I’m just offering my professional opinion. I’m at your service.”

She stared at him for several seconds and nodded. “Thank you, Mr. Potter. Professors, I apologize for . . . this.”

“Minerva, are you feeling well?” Madam Pomfrey said, moving closer to the desk. “I’m sure there’s no need to apologize.”

McGonagall shook her head several times. “No, no, of course, that’s not what I meant. As I . . . said, I’m sorry for calling you back here. But . . .”

She stopped and stared down at her desk. She seemed to be struggling for words. When she didn’t speak for a long minute, Professor Flitwick stepped forward.

“Minerva, are sure you’re well?” He looked at the nurse who now was watching McGonagall with concern.

Harry leaned forward. “Professor, did you look into the Pensieve while we were gone?”

“No . . . Yes, I—I think . . .” She leaned back in her chair. Her frightened eyes darted around the room and her voice dropped to a whisper. “I can’t remember.”

A shocked silence filled the air. Madam Pomfrey moved quickly around the desk and took McGonagall’s hand. She felt her pulse and peered for a moment into her eyes. She patted the Headmistress’s hand. “It’s fine, Minerva. Why don’t you lie down for a few minutes? I’ll get something for you to drink. Pomona?”

She motioned to Professor Sprout, who joined her behind the desk. Everyone else stood stock-still. Pomfrey and Sprout helped the shaky Headmistress stand and led her to the back of the office and through a door that opened before them. They went inside and it closed.

Harry suddenly found Ginny’s hand in his. She was standing next to him and he looked at her. Their eyes mirrored the identical fear in their minds: It’s the Pensieve.

Professor Flitwick moved around the desk and stared at the closed door for a moment. When he turned to the others, his face was as white as his bushy eyebrows and hair. “I agree with the Headmistress,” he said looking at Harry. “We must keep this quiet until we know more. This is so sudden. I can’t imagine what has happened.”

“It’s the Pensieve, Professor,” Harry said. “I won’t argue with you about Professor McGonagall’s wishes, but if the Pensieve caused that, then there is Dark Magic inside Hogwarts, in which case, I have to tell my chief immediately. There will be a dozen Aurors poking around plus, I’m sure, half the Board of Governors. You won’t be able to keep it or them quiet.”

“Harry.” The booming voice of Madam Maxime spoke from the corner where she was standing, her head slightly bowed to keep from scraping the ceiling. “What is going on with this Pensieve? Why do you say it’s the cause of Minerva’s behavior? And why did Firenze leave the castle? Does he no longer fear the other centaurs?”

Harry looked at Professor Flitwick, who nodded. “Please tell her.”

Harry thought for a moment while Ginny pressed his hand briefly. “The gist of it is that three people, I think, have looked into the Pensieve since Professor McGonagall discovered that something was wrong with it, and each one of us saw a loved one lying dead instead of a memory. I looked once. Professor,” he turned to Flitwick, “how many times have you looked?”

“Just once.”

“Then Professor McGonagall is the only one who’s looked into it more than once.”

“I don’t understand,” Neville said, a puzzled look on his face. “Can a Pensieve be tampered with? It’s just some kind of a storage container, isn’t it?”

“I don’t know,” Harry said. “I asked Hermione about it, but she doesn’t know much, either, which means that there might not be anyone who knows much. But Professor Flitwick, Hagrid is at the castle gate with two of my Aurors. There’s no need for the gates to be guarded now, so I’m going to bring the Aurors up here. Can I tell Hagrid that he doesn’t have to stay there any longer?”

“Why, I . . . Of course,” The professor looked a little uncertain. “Are you sure? What about the centaurs?”

“They’re inside the grounds, in the Forbidden Forest. Keeping a guard at the gate is a waste.”

“Well, of course. Yes, please tell Hagrid he’s relieved, or whatever it is you say in a situation like this.”

Harry smiled. “We just tell him to go do whatever he wants.”

He walked over to the Pensieve and looked down into the swirling silver mist. It looked exactly as it always had: translucent, mysterious. He beckoned to Parvati who nodded and took a stance to one side of the little table, her back to the wall. Harry looked at Tony; he walked wordlessly to the door and stood next to it, facing into the room.

“My apologies,” Harry said to Professor Flitwick. “I can’t leave it unguarded. The rest of the office is yours or Professor McGonagall’s to use, but until Saliyah Ushujaa gets here and tells me differently, the Aurors have to stay.”

Flitwick bowed his head and was about to speak, when the door behind him opened and Madam Pomfrey hurried out, an alarmed look on her face.

“We must get her to St. Mungo’s,” she said to Flitwick. “I don’t know what’s wrong, but it’s affected her mind.” She cast a glance at the Pensieve, and noted Parvati standing next to it. “I hope you are guarding it, Miss Patil.”

“She is,” said Harry. “But don’t concern yourself with that, just do what you have to.”

Tony opened the door for her and her footsteps rapidly descended the spiral stairs.

Harry ran his hand through his hair. He looked at Ginny and she gave him a quick smile. He had been on dozens of cases during his five years of training and apprenticeship, but this was the first time he had encountered real danger, or what felt like real danger. There just was not much Dark Magic being practiced any longer, at least not in Britain. Most of the old Death Eaters were still in prison, many of them for life. The British wizarding world, under the leadership of Minister Shacklebolt, was prosperous and secure. Now, however, he was being tested.

He looked at Ron. “Outside,” he said quietly, and they went onto the landing outside the door. When it closed behind them, he took Ron’s arm.

“Send another message to Sal as quick as you can,” he said quietly. “Then get Katie and Seamus up here. Put them right here. We’ll have two inside and two outside. That should do it, don’t you think?”

“You don’t think this is overkill? I doubt Firenze will be back soon, and it seems like the damn thing hasn’t affected anyone else.”

“I’m not concerned about something coming out of the Pensieve. I don’t want anyone else touching it. We have to get it out of here and quickly. It’s dangerous.” He thought for a moment. “Send a message to Hermione too, but get the other two first.”

Ron ran down the steps and a moment later Harry heard the door at the bottom open and slam shut.

Back inside the office only Ginny, the two Aurors, and Madam Maxime remained. The door to the back room was open and Harry could see Neville and Professor Flitwick with Professor McGonagall and Madam Pomfrey. Maxime was bent over next to the door, peering in.

“Now what?” Ginny asked.

“We wait.”

Harry sat in a chair in front of the desk. The Persian cat appeared and jumped into his lap; it began to purr loudly and Harry scratched behind its ear. After a moment he got up with the cat in his arms and walked over to Madam Maxime.

She turned to him, worried. “Harry, this is quite serious. The Pensieve must not stay in Hogwarts, but when it is moved it must be handled with extreme care.”

“Do you know anything about it?”

“There was once one at Beauxbatons, but it disappeared several hundred years ago. They are extremely rare. Do you know where Professor Dumbledore got this one? Was it always here at Hogwarts?”

“I hope to know the answers to those questions shortly.” A smile briefly played on his face as Hermione came to him from Ginny.

Neville emerged from the back room, followed by Professor Flitwick. “There’s no need for me to stay here, Harry,” Neville said. “Professor Flitwick wants me to go to the common rooms and tell everyone they can come out.”

Harry looked at the Charms teacher. “Do you still want to keep this quiet?”

The tiny professor sighed. “I think that would be best for the moment, at least until we know more about what happened to Minerva.” He looked back into the room where Harry could see one end of a settee and the Headmistress’s legs lying on it. “Poppy gave her a draft that seems to have calmed her agitation. Dear me.” He signed again. “We’ll have to say something to the students about her, won’t we?”

“Tell them that she’s ill,” said Ginny. “That’s the truth, isn’t it?”

“Yes, yes, it is. I agree, Mrs. Potter, in moments like these it’s certainly best to stick to the truth.”

“The Athair twins are waiting downstairs,” Harry said. “They always seem to know what’s really going on, so if you tell them anything, be careful.” He shot a thought to Ginny that made her smile: I’ll bet you a Sickle that by dinnertime they’ll know everything.

“Emma and Claire?” Flitwick chuckled. “I’ll wager a Galleon that those two know everything by dinnertime.”

Ginny put her hand to her mouth, suppressing a giggle. Harry kept a straight face, but before anyone could say more they heard voices and heavy footsteps outside the door. Hagrid barged in, followed by Madam Pomfrey and a Healer who Harry recognized as Hestia Derwent, an old friend of the Weasley family and the witch who Molly worked for at St. Mungo’s. Behind her came Katie, Seamus, and Ron, who nodded to Neville as he left.

The nurse and the Healer hurried into the back room. Hagrid looked around; when he noticed Parvati standing guard over the Pensieve, his brow furrowed above his thick eyebrows. The brow went up when he turned his head and saw Tony next to the door.

“Harry, what’s goin’ on in here? Ron told me there wasn’t no danger. And didja get yerself a cat?”

Harry looked down at the contented Persian in his arms and let it jump down. It went over to Hagrid and rubbed against his boot. The gamekeeper peered down at it. “He’s a friendly ‘un, ain’t he? He’ll make yeh a fine pet.” He picked the cat up, nuzzled it, and cradled it in his massive arms. The cat closed its eyes and resumed purring.

“Oh, Hagrid,” said Madame Maxime, “that is Professor McGonagall’s animal.”

“Ah. Sorry. Here.” He handed the cat back to Harry. “So . . .” He looked around again, and into the back room where he could see Madam Sprout standing at the foot of the settee. “Is Perfessor McGonagall okay?”

“She is ill,” Madam Maxime said.

“Hagrid,” Harry said, “you need to know what’s happening.” He told the gamekeeper about the Pensieve, and how it appeared that something had affected the Headmistress. “This has to be kept from the students for the moment.”

Hagrid nodded. “Of course. But I’ll bet ten Galleons that them Athair twins downstairs already know everythin’. Is the Perfessor gonna be okay?”

Nobody answered.

“Professor,” Harry said to Flitwick, “would it be possible for everyone to leave, at least for the time being? We need to deal with it—” he indicated the Pensieve “— and it’ll be easier if we’re alone.”

“Of course. My dear,” he said to Madam Maxime, “it’s almost the lunch hour, so would you and Hagrid mind . . .?”

The two professors left, after casting anxious glances into the back room. Harry gave Katie and Seamus a signal to follow them and stand guard outside the front door. He handed the cat to Ron and went to the open back door and glanced in. Hestia Derwent was bent over Minerva who was lying on the settee with her eyes closed. The Healer moved her wand slowly over her patient’s head, which was cradled in the lap of Professor Sprout. Madam Pomfrey noticed Harry and came to the door.

“We’ll be Portkeying to St. Mungo’s as soon as Hestia thinks it’s safe,” she said in a low voice. “This is terrible. Poor Minerva, she doesn’t know where she is or who any of us are.” She wrung her hands and there were tears in her eyes. “It’s that thing, that Pensieve, isn’t it? Can you get it out of here? It mustn’t be allowed to stay in the castle.”

Harry patted her clenched hands. “It will be gone as soon as possible. We have to figure out how to move it.” He paused and said, “You don’t remember Professor Dumbledore ever talking about it, do you?”

“He wouldn’t have spoken to me about it. He hasn’t come back, has he?”

“No. He has another portrait in the Ministry, so maybe he’s there.”

“This is terrible,” she repeated distractedly. “Poor Minerva.”

Ginny had come over, and now she put her arm around the Herbology teacher. Harry went inside the room and Healer Derwent turned to him and stood.

Harry stared at the pallid face of Minerva McGonagall. Her jaw, in fact her entire face, was slack. Professor Sprout wiped a dribble of saliva from her chin. Her breathing was shallow and came in short gasps.

“Can I have a word?” Harry said to the Healer. They stepped away from the settee. “We must get the Pensieve out of Hogwarts as quickly as possible,” Harry said quietly, “but since no one seems to know anything about it, I can’t say how long it will take or how much effort or how disruptive it will be. How soon do you think you can move her?”

“Harry, I just don’t know. The only time I’ve seen this,” she indicated the Headmistress, “is in quite elderly people. It looks like senility, but it came on so quickly. If it’s something in the Pensieve, then it’s very dangerous. I strongly advise that no one use it.”

“I agree with that completely,” Harry said grimly.

Ginny came and knelt by the sofa. She took one of McGonagall’s hands and stroked it. After a moment the Headmistress heaved a deep sigh and began to breathe evenly and quietly. Ginny kept caressing her hand. McGonagall’s mouth closed and a bit of color returned to her face.

Ginny stood and looked at everyone staring at her; only Harry did not register amazement.

“I saw my mum do that once,” Ginny said. “Aunt Muriel tripped over a gnome in the garden and hit her head. She was unconscious for a while and she started to drool, and Mum rubbed her hand like that. Of course when she woke up she was still just as barmy.”

Hestia leaned over McGonagall and put her hand on her forehead. She smiled at Ginny. “She’s better. I think we can move her now. You’ll tell Filius that we’re taking her?” Harry nodded.

Madam Pomfrey picked up a battered old bedpan sitting on a table; the initials SMHFMMAI were stamped on it. She placed it on the settee next to the Headmistress, and when Ginny frowned, Healer Derwent said, “It’s a Pinch Portkey.”

“A what?”

“We can use it in a pinch. It schedules itself with the Ministry.”

Harry put his finger to his lips. “We use them too, but we don’t like to advertise it. And you have to get them authorized ahead of time.”

The Healer touched the bedpan with her wand and murmured, “Portus.” She pressed Professor McGonagall’s hand to it, and, as she and Madam Pomfrey grasped it, it glowed blue for a moment and the three of them vanished.

Harry, Ginny, and Professor Sprout returned to the office. Harry told Professor Flitwick that the Headmistress was on her way to St. Mungo’s.

“I’d better get down to the Great Hall,” the Charms teacher said. “The rumors are sure to be flying.” He and Sprout left, and Harry breathed a sigh. Only Aurors and Ginny were left in the office and he felt a little less tense.

“Do you have any idea when Sal’s getting here?” he asked Ron, who was peering into a cabinet containing various kinds of bowls, brushes, small round cans of cat food, and a large sack labeled “Poopy Pan Sand.”

“She was at a Muggle event with Shacklebolt,” Ron said, turning. “I sent a couple of people to look for them. Hermione should be here—”

There was a knock on the door and Katie poked her head in. “It’s Hermione.”

Harry beckoned and Hermione entered. She looked worried. “I came as quickly as I could. Did something happen with the Pensieve?”

“A lot.” Harry walked to the Pensieve and Hermione followed. Ron and Ginny joined them. “McGonagall is in St. Mungo’s. A Healer came and took her there. It looks like something in the Pensieve affected her mind. I was going to ask you to try it, but I can’t let you now.”

Hermione put her hand to her mouth. “Does anyone know how it happened?”

Harry shook his head. “We’ll have to take it to the Ministry, but I haven’t the foggiest idea how.”

They started examining the magical device. Harry and Hermione squatted and examined it from underneath. The under surface was smooth and metallic-looking.

“Look at this.” Hermione pointed to a flat, circular piece of wood, like a slice taken from a large tree trunk, which was sandwiched between the Pensieve and the table. It was about an inch thick. “Has this always been here?”

“I never noticed it before.” Harry ran his finger over the smooth, polished circumference. “I never looked underneath, though. Dumbledore must know.”

“We’ll have to ask him.”

“I just thought of something else,” Harry said, standing. “This thing was in Professor Snape’s office when he was giving me Occlumency lessons. That means you can move it out of here and not damage it.”

“But it was working correctly then. If it’s somehow attacking people now, moving it might make it worse.” Hermione bent over and peered into the swirl of memories. “It’s fascinating, isn’t it? There are probably thousands of memories here, going back Merlin knows how far. What a trove of knowledge.”

“What a load of trouble,” Ron muttered.

“From your point of view, yes, a load of trouble,” said Hermione. “My point is, let’s not do anything to jeopardize what’s in it.”

“We’ll try our best,” Harry said, “but if it’s dangerous, safety comes first.”

“Of course, I was just saying that we should try to keep—”

Hermione stopped in mid-sentence when Ginny pulled on her sleeve and pointed to the wall behind Professor McGonagall’s desk. They all looked up. The portrait of Headmaster Dumbledore was no longer empty. He was sitting in his throne-like chair, with a worried expression quite different from his usual serene gaze.

Harry walked around the desk until he stood before the portrait. “Professor, is something wrong?”

Dumbledore gave a start and sat up straight. He looked out into the room and momentarily fixed his gaze on the group standing next to the Pensieve. After a moment he turned to Harry. “Be careful, Harry. Something is happening . . . I’m not certain what, but you must be careful.”

“Is it the Pensieve?”

“Yes. You must be careful.”

“Professor, we have to get it out of here, take it to the Ministry. Do you know how to move it? How should we transport it? Didn’t Professor Snape take it to his office when he taught me Occlumency?”

“He taught you Occlumency?” The old Headmaster chuckled, his mood suddenly changing.

Harry frowned, annoyed at the bad joke. “But the Pensieve was in his office.”

“It may be moved anywhere inside the castle, but as far as I know, it has never been taken elsewhere.”

“But we can’t leave it here. It’s already driven Professor Firenze away and attacked Professor McGonagall.”

Dumbledore took off his spectacles and rubbed his nose, a gesture so familiar to Harry. ”I’m sorry, Harry. I can’t help you. I inherited the Pensieve from Headmaster Dippet. I used it as he instructed me, and then I passed those instructions on to Minerva. My knowledge of it is limited, I’m sorry to say.”

Harry gave an exasperated sigh. He had been hoping for something more than this from the old man, who was speaking in what was for Harry an all-too-familiar, cryptic fashion. Harry needed help, not riddles. He scowled up at the portrait.

Someone moved around the desk, and Harry sensed Ginny standing next to him. “Hello, Professor,” she said. “I was wondering if you knew anything about Professor McGonagall. Can you find out if she’s recovering?”

The blue eyes twinkled. “You should be a diplomat, Mrs. Potter, and run around the world defusing unpleasant international confrontations. No, I do not know how Minerva is doing, but you point me to where my duty lies.” He rose from his chair. “I don’t have direct access to St. Mungo’s Hospital, but I have friends who do. I will ask them to look in on her and I’ll report back as soon as I know something.”

“I might not be here,” Harry replied.

“But surely someone will, perhaps Professor Flitwick, I would hope.” He nodded and walked out of the frame.

“He was getting on your nerves, wasn’t he?” Ginny said with a wry grin.

Harry laughed. “Thanks, love. There’s no point in being annoyed at a portrait, is there? But he didn’t waste any time leaving.”

They turned back to the room where Hermione and Ron were watching them. “Well,” Harry said, “can anyone think of anything else to do? We can’t move it until we know more about it, and I wouldn’t do that anyway without talking to Saliyah and probably Kingsley.”

“So what are you going to do?” Hermione asked. “And why didn’t you ask him about that thing underneath it?”

“I was planning to, but he left kind of quickly. As for what I’m planning to do now . . . ” He grinned at Ginny. “Go flying. We came here this morning to get a little flying in. The weather’s still fine, so let’s do it.”

Ron nodded knowingly but Hermione frowned. “You’re taking a spin on your brooms while the castle is in an uproar? Harry, that’s—”

Ron put his hand on her shoulder. “It’s fine, babe. I think Harry has more than recreation in mind.” He looked at his boss

“I think we might make a detour over the Forbidden Forest,” Harry said. “But yes, we’re taking a spin on our brooms. It’s the weekend, after all.”

“Actually, you’re right,” Hermione mused. “I think I’ll go relax in the library. There’s bound to be something there about the Pensieve.”

“Atta girl!” Ron put his arm around her. “But how about some lunch first?”

“Of course, I should have thought of that.” Hermione took his chin between her thumb and forefinger, and kissed him.

“Hey, I’m on duty.”

“Your boss just said it’s the weekend, so I’m allowed to kiss you.” Hermione smiled and planted another kiss.

Harry told Parvati and Tony to go down to the Great Hall for lunch. The four friends waited in the office, speculating about the Pensieve, discussing next weekend’s family gathering at the Burrow, and the upcoming anniversary of the Battle of Hogwarts. Half an hour later the two Aurors returned and took the places of Katie and Seamus, who went to lunch. When they returned and took up their posts, Harry spoke to all four Aurors.

“I’ll be back in a couple of hours. If Saliyah comes and wants me, I’ll be over the Forbidden Forest or the Quidditch pitch.”

Lunch was over and the tables in the Great Hall had been cleared, so the four went down to the kitchen and ate with the house-elves, who were a little awe-struck but pleased that Harry Potter and his friends had come to join them. They cooked up a fresh, delicious meal of steamed oysters in a spicy white clam sauce over linguine—one of Ron’s many favorites—with warm garlic bread and tossed salad.

When they were finished, the Weasleys went to the library and the Potters headed outside and down to the Quidditch pitch. As they walked hand-in-hand in brilliant sunshine, Harry noticed two people flying in slow circles above the Forbidden Forest. He pointed and squinted. “Is that the twins?”

Ginny shaded her eyes. “I think you’re right. What on earth are they doing?”

Harry chuckled. “Probably what we’re going to do, look for Firenze. But if they’re doing that, then somehow they know that he left the castle and went there.”

They continued on down to the pitch, took off their cloaks in the warm sunshine, and flew upward in large spirals. Off to the south, on the other side of the castle, they could see Emma and Claire zigzagging over the Forest, about fifty feet above the tree tops.

“They shouldn’t be flying that low,” Harry said. He and Ginny were hovering a few feet apart, both of them shading their eyes against the sun. “They’re within arrow-shot.”

Ginny turned to him. “What! Centaurs wouldn’t shoot at students!”

“Normally I would agree. But Firenze wasn’t acting normally or rationally. Let’s go get them.”

They bent low over their Ions and in a few seconds swooped down on the startled twins. Ginny stayed about twenty feet above them while Harry approached.

“Pull up!” he shouted as he came from underneath and placed himself between them and the treetops. “You shouldn’t be flying this low over the Forest. Centaurs don’t like humans flying above them.”

They looked at him with identical defiant expressions, but when he put on what he called his policeman’s face and pointed to where Ginny was moving in a circle above them, they climbed to join her, although not too swiftly. Harry stayed close, herding them upward.

“Were you looking for Firenze?” he asked when they were all together and moving away from the Forest.

“How did you know?” Emma said. “We saw him galloping across the lawn from our dorm window, so we decided to see where he went.”

“I’ll give you some unofficial advice,” Harry said seriously. “Don’t stick your noses into centaurs’ business. They won’t hurt students, probably, but they won’t like it, they’ll let you know they don’t like it, and they’ll make trouble for Professor McGonagall.”

“Where is she?” Claire said, making Harry regret bringing up the Headmistress’s name.

“She’s not feeling well. What did Professor Flitwick tell you?”

“She’s not feeling well.”

“Well, she isn’t.”

Emma smiled slyly. “And that’s all you’re telling us? We have ways, Mr. Potter. Hogwarts holds no secrets from us.”

“Tell me about it,” Harry muttered under his breath. He glanced at Ginny when her silent laughter flittered through his mind. She was grinning, but quickly dropped the grin when the twins’ heads snapped to look at her.

“We saw that!” they said in unison.

“I’ll bet she’s at St. Mungo’s, isn’t she?” said Claire.

“Because of Firenze,” added Emma.

Harry decided that the truth was better with these two than an official lie. “Yes and no. No one knows why he left the castle, or why he was so upset this morning.”

Without the twins’ realizing it, Harry and Ginny had herded them down onto the lawn a few yards from the castle entrance. They landed and looked around.

“That was a dirty trick, Harry,” Claire frowned. “We’ll stay away from the Forest, but we’re allowed to fly over the castle.”

“Sorry, not today. That’s an official order from the Department of Magical Law Enforcement.”

“Since when do you give orders around here?” Emma demanded, her hands on her hips, standing over her broom. “Professor McGonagall rules here, not you.”

Another wave of mirth from Ginny’s mind rolled over Harry.

“Not when you break the law,” he said, “and fly over the Forbidden Forest at a height deemed less than safe by an observing officer of the Department.” He put his own hands on his hips and glared back at Emma.

But neither of them could keep a straight face, and all four laughed. “Seriously,” Harry said, “what you did was not a good idea. They wouldn’t hurt you, or even try to hurt you, but it could easily have angered them.”

“Sorry, then,” said Emma. “We’ll go and apologize.”

“No, you won’t!” Harry scowled, but stopped when Ginny laughed again. He grinned at Emma. “You two are worse than Fred and George, and that’s about as high a compliment as I can give. Now, Ginny and I want to do some flying, so don’t you have homework to do?”

“No, but we’ll stay out of your hair,” said Claire gaily as she and Emma skipped away toward the front doors.

“At least until next time,” Emma called over her shoulder. They ran laughing up the steps and disappeared into the entrance.

“Were we like that?” Harry said as he and Ginny looked at each other.

“No one was ever like that.” She handed him his broom. “Come on, I still want to look at the world with you.”

They kicked off from the lawn and flew straight up. The Scottish Highlands rolled away into the purple distance, folds and ridges and the silver glint of long lakes. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. When Hogwarts was no more than a collection of tiny buildings below, they stopped and took each other’s hand. Ginny closed her eyes and lifted her face to the sun as the wind whipped through her hair.

“It’s so peaceful up here,” she said, opening her eyes and smiling at Harry. “Sometimes I wish we never had to go back down.”

He leaned over and kissed her. “I have an idea. Let’s live up here. No Pensieves, no centaurs . . .”

“When it rains, no roof,” she laughed.

“Oops, I forgot about that.”

He kissed her again and they slowly descended in large spirals, heading for the Quidditch pitch, and when they got there they took a few turns around the stadium. Ginny spotted a Quaffle box on the ground next to the stands, and they tossed the ball back and forth for a while. Harry was rusty, and he dropped quite a few passes, while Ginny, at the top of her professional form, caught everything that Harry threw at her.

After half an hour they put the Quaffle back, climbed to about a hundred feet, and flew over the castle to the Forbidden Forest. They circled for another half hour but saw nothing. The sun had moved half way down the sky when they returned to the Quidditch pitch and landed.

“You didn’t expect to see anything, did you?” asked Ginny on their way back to the castle.

“I thought maybe we would, since the leaves aren’t all out yet. But I suppose if he wanted to stay out of sight it wouldn’t matter.”

“Do you have any idea what Firenze was doing?”

“No idea. I was wondering though if we should talk to Professor Trelawney.”

Ginny snickered. “She’s as likely to say you’re about to die as to answer your question. Doesn’t she hate Firenze?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t kept up with divination politics.” His brow creased. “I wonder if she’s been acting strange.”

“If she was, how could you tell?” Ginny grinned.

Harry chuckled as they climbed the steps and entered the castle. Students were now coming and going in the entrance hall, and many of them looked curiously or apprehensively at Harry and Ginny as they made their way through the corridors. Outside the Headmistress’s office they gave the password and went upstairs. Katie and Seamus were at their posts, but Katie put her hand up before Harry and Ginny could enter.

“Saliyah and Kingsley,” she said quietly, indicating the door with her eyes.

Harry nodded and they went in. Professor Flitwick was behind the desk, sitting on a stool. Dumbledore’s portrait frame was empty. Ron stood next to the Pensieve with Parvati and Tony. Saliyah and Kingsley Shacklebolt were bent over the Pensieve peering into it. They looked around at the newcomers.

Kingsley straightened; he looked worried, as had so many others today. “What’s going on, Harry?” he said. “Tell us everything.”

Chapter Text

They stood around the Pensieve while Harry recounted the day’s events. Neither the Minister nor the Head Auror spoke until Harry was finished.

“How do we get it out of Hogwarts?” was Kingsley’s first question.

“The best I can tell you,” Harry answered, “is that we simply pick it up and carry it to the Ministry in a lorry. But I know there are a hundred questions and I can’t answer any of them.”

“We should bring in someone from the Ninth Level,” said Saliyah to Kingsley, referring to the Department of Mysteries. “That’s what Minerva wanted in the first place.”

The Minister turned his gaze back to the Pensieve. Harry noted that he and Saliyah were wearing formal Muggle attire, a very elegantly tailored suit for him and a form-fitting dress for her. Saliyah noticed Harry observing them. “We were at a reception for the Muggle Minister at The Tate,” she said. “It and he were quite boring, so thanks for getting us away.” She grinned.

“What about all these guards?” Kingsley waved his hand to include Parvati and Tony. “Isn’t it a bit too much? Is it all right with you, Filius?”

“It’s true that there are times when privacy is needed in here,” the professor said. “On the other hand, it would be terrible if even more unpleasant things happened.”

“I would strongly object to removing the guard,” Saliyah said. “We’ll be moving the Pensieve as soon as possible, and if Professor Flitwick has to hold a private conversation, I’m sure he can devise a way to keep the guards from hearing.”

Flitwick bowed his head, and Kingsley grunted. “Fine, you two work it out. Meanwhile, I’ll talk to Croaker.”

An Unspeakable, Harry shot back to Ginny when her question came into his mind. I’ll tell you later.

Shacklebolt and Flitwick discussed the events of the day for a few more minutes. The Minister took Saliyah’s arm and started to leave, but the Head Auror held back. “I need to talk to Harry, Kingsley. Give us a minute.”

Shacklebolt went down the spiral staircase while, outside the door at the top, Saliyah pulled Harry aside; she beckoned for Ginny to join them. “You did extremely well, my friend,” she said to Harry. “When we first got here, I was puzzled by the double guard, but it’s exactly what the circumstances call for. Can I suggest that you get more people up to Hogsmeade and rotate the watch?”

Harry couldn’t help but feel pleased by Saliyah’s words, and he felt as well as saw Ginny’s eyes smile. “I was considering that. I’ll also have Ron check out the room for anything out of the ordinary.”

“Good. You concern yourself with that and with keeping the castle secure. Let the Mystery folks worry about the Pensieve itself. When they decide how they want to move it, though, you’ll be in overall charge. We’re returning to the Ministry now and we’ll make the arrangements.” Saliyah sighed. “Things have been so quiet for so long, and it’s too bad that when something happened, it happened here. This is the last place we need trouble.”

She left, and Harry and Ginny went back inside. Harry told the two guards to rotate with Katie and Seamus every two hours, and to mix up the parings if they wanted. Professor Flitwick asked if he could supply the guards with chairs and refreshments, and Harry accepted with thanks. He and Ginny left after promising that other Aurors would relieve them later in the afternoon.

On their way down to the library Harry told her that Amander Croaker was one of only two Unspeakables who survived the Death Eater regime six years ago. There had been four at the time: Croaker; the unfortunate Broderick Bode who was assassinated in St. Mungo’s with Devil’s Snare; Demetrius Cawper who was killed by Voldemort himself as he tried to defend the locked room in the Department of Mysteries, the one that Dumbledore had told Harry contained the most powerful magic of all, love; and Julia Sprout, a cousin of Professor Sprout’s.

“I was surprised that Riddle tried to get into that locked room,” he said, “but Dumbledore told me he probably wanted to destroy whatever was in there.”

In the library they found Ron snoozing at a table with his head on his folded arms, next to Hermione who was hidden behind a huge stack of books.

“I remembered something in Hogwarts, A History, which led me to a couple of other sources.” She indicated the pile in front of her; there were at least a dozen leather-bound tomes, most of them old and well-worn. She glanced around and lowered her voice. “I haven’t found anything about its origins yet, but the Pensieve seems to have appeared and disappeared from Hogwarts several times over the centuries.”

Harry’s eyebrows rose. “That’s interesting. Professor Maxime said there was a Pensieve at Beauxbatons once, but it disappeared and they never got it back.”

Hermione stared at him. “That’s too coincidental. It has to be the same one.”

“And, she also said they were rare, just like you thought.”

“I’ll have to talk to her.”

“What about all those . . . malfunctions?” Harry asked, searching for a word. “Is there anything written about the Pensieve going nutters.”

Hermione chuckled. “I haven’t found anything, but I’m just getting started.”

Harry poked Ron, who sat up with a start. “Dinner time?” He looked at Harry. “I’m not officially on duty, so you can’t report me for sleeping.”

“It’s official now. Call your team together and give McGonagall’s office a complete going-over.” He put his hand on Ron’s shoulder. “I’m sorry, mate. I know it messes up your weekend, but we have to do it as soon as possible.”

“On those who lead falls the heaviest burden.” Ron heaved himself up with a sigh. “Just think, I could have been my Dad’s assistant and spent all my weekends charming Muggle you-pots to work without batteries.”

“Those are iPods, dear,” Hermione tisked, “and you don’t have any music to play on them, anyway.”

“That’s what magic is for.” He stretched and yawned. “Well, it’s off to work. Should I use school owls?” He looked at Harry, who had sat down and was writing on a parchment taken from a stack in front of Hermione. He handed it to Ron.

“Ernie is duty officer at the Ministry. Send this to him. It’s instructions to organize a detail so we can rotate the guards upstairs. And use Post Office owls. The paperwork will be easier when you apply for reimbursement for the postage.”

“When I apply? I have to lay out the gold? What kind of leadership is that? Honestly.”

Harry laughed. “Hermione, he’s sounding more like you every day. Good work.”

“It’s my pleasure,” said Hermione, smiling slightly but not glancing up from the book she was leafing through. “My gift to the wizarding world.”

“My own wife hates me,” Ron said loudly as he left the library. The other three grinned at each other.

“Now what, sweetie?” Ginny asked after a moment.

“I want to take a look at Firenze’s classroom. Why don’t you come with me?”

Hermione waved from behind her wall of books and they went up to the Divination classroom on the ground floor, off the entrance hall. The door was not locked. Neither of them had been there for years, but they remembered it vividly. It felt like being in a forest. A soft breeze rustled the leaves in the overhead branches. Under their feet, however, the grass was trampled into the ground, which was scarred with deep hoof prints as though a centaur had tried to tear it up. When they looked closely at the trees, they saw that many branches had been ripped down and flung across the room.

They walked to the cleared space in the center where Firenze would gather the class to observe the stars and planets on the magical ceiling. But when they looked up, it was blank. It looked like the sky of a cloudy, overcast day. It was almost solid gray with a few darker patches.

“That’s a little scary,” Harry said as they peered up. “I wonder if that’s the cause of his anger.”

“Or the result.”

“Maybe we—I should try to find him.”

Harry didn’t need to look at Ginny to know what she thought of that idea. “Okay,” he said, “you’re right. That wouldn’t be too smart. So let’s go find Trelawney.”

They climbed to the base of the North Tower on the seventh floor. The ladder was there, dangling from the open door above, but Harry took out his wand and in a moment Ginny was floating upward. She scrambled through the door and returned the favor for Harry.

They stood at the entrance to the Divination classroom and tried to see into the dimly lit chamber. They could see the shelves that lined the walls holding teacups and other Divination materials. There were a few dozen small, round tables with armchairs and pouffes around them. In a chintz armchair next to the fire, humming loudly and waving a bottle of cooking sherry in time to the music, sat Sibyll Trelawney.

After a glance at each other, Harry and Ginny entered. They were immediately hit by the old, familiar fumes billowing from a copper kettle bubbling on the fireplace. Harry waved his hand to dissipate the saccharin-sweet odor as they wended their way around the tables. The professor didn’t notice them until they stood directly in front of her.

“Ah, Mr. and Mrs. Potter.” She peered at them through her thick eyeglasses; her words were slurred and she swayed in the chair. She waved her bottle at them and several layers of shawls fluttered in the air. “Am I to assume that this is a social call? I don’t remember seeing either of you here in, hmm, let me see . . . seven or eight years. But vague as my memory is of the past, the future is absolutely clear to me.”

She staggered to her feet and pushed past them, stumbling to one of the round tables on which sat a crystal ball. She bent over for a moment, moving her hand across it, then looked back at Harry and leered. “As I expected. The void opens up before you and eternity awaits.”

She straightened, but lost her balance and collapsed into a chair. Harry sighed and walked to her. “Professor.” He tapped her shoulder and her head, which had been drooping to her chest, snapped up.

“Yes, my son? How are you feeling?”

“I’m fine, Professor. Thanks for asking. I was wondering if you knew anything about what happened to Professor Firenze. He left the castle—”

“Hah! It’s not a social visit!” She sprang up, causing Harry to jump back and bump into Ginny who was standing behind him. They both stumbled and almost fell onto a table, but Harry caught her and steadied them both.

Trelawney raised her arms in a gesture of triumph, and the bottle flew out of her grasp. With a speed that startled her visitors, she whipped out her wand and stopped it in mid-flight just as it was about to smash into the wall. She Summoned it back, snatched it out of the air, and drained it in one long chug as Harry and Ginny watched, fascinated.

“Ahh.” She wiped her mouth, hiccupped, and fell back into the chair. “Off to the glue factory, I expect. Or maybe it’s opening day at Ascot. Yes, that’s it. The first race goes off at two o’clock if I remember correctly, so he had plenty of time to get there for the paddock parade.” Once again a wave of mirth from Ginny washed over Harry’s mind.

“Do you know why he was so angry?” Harry asked the professor. He didn’t expect a coherent answer, but he had to try.

“Probably because he hates being a horse.” She threw her head back and broke into hysterical laughter, but suddenly went silent and started snoring loudly. She was sprawled in the chair, her legs splayed in front, her arms falling over the sides; her eyes were closed and her mouth was open. The empty bottle lay on the floor next to the chair.

“That was entertaining,” Ginny giggled.

“Why the hell does she still teach here?” Harry wondered as they Levitated each other back down to the foot of the ladder. “She doesn’t need protection anymore.”

“She was always close to Professor McGonagall,” Ginny said.

“I suppose. Well,” he grinned at her, “that lead didn’t exactly pan out.”

“What now?”

“I have to get back to Professor McGonagall’s office. Ron should be back soon.” They stopped in front of the stone gargoyle. “Why don’t you go back home? Nothing else is going to happen here.”

They decided to ask Ron and Hermione to stay for dinner, and Ginny left after a goodbye kiss. Harry watched her until she disappeared around a corner, and went up to the office.

The four guards were sitting on chairs chatting outside the door. They greeted Harry and told him that Ron had returned with his investigators and was inside. Harry went in and found his friend with two other Aurors, Tom Trenton, a Hufflepuff two years older than Harry, and Dennis Creevey, in his third and final year as a trainee. The three of them were walking around the room, pausing every few feet to make a pass with their wands over furniture, walls, portraits, and cats. Professor Flitwick was not there. Harry didn’t enter the room but stood in the doorway. He greeted Tom and Dennis, and asked Ron if they had found anything yet.

“Nothing,” said Ron. “It’s clean as a whistle. The only spell we can clearly identify is under the desk and has something to do with hairballs.”

Harry chuckled. “What about the Pensieve? We used it just this morning. There has to be something there.”

Ron frowned. “That’s the big puzzle. There’s no trace of magic, except what’s actually inside the thing. As far as we can tell, no magic was used near it within the last week.”

“That’s impossible.”

“I know. We’ve used every technique and Revealing spell I know. Maybe we should get Remington up here.” Anna Remington worked for the Wizengamot but taught Evidence Analysis in the training program for the Auror Department. She also occasionally helped out with investigations in the field.

Harry stepped back outside the door. “Parvati, go to the Post Office and send an owl to Anna Remington and ask her to come up as soon as she can. And send one to Ernie too. Tell him we’ve asked Anna to come.”

Parvati left and Harry went inside the office. He went over to the Pensieve and used Specialis Revelio at several places around the object. He came up blank.

“That’s exactly what we got every time,” Ron said.

“Why did Flitwick leave?” Harry asked. “Maybe he can try.”

“He said he was expecting a visitor.”

“A visitor? Who?”

“He didn’t say. But certainly there’s nothing unusual about that.”

Harry gave him a little smile. “One of the things you told me before I joined the program was that there are no coincidences. Let’s go see the visitor. Keep looking,” he said to Dennis and Tom.

Upstairs at Professor Flitwick’s office they knocked on the door and heard the squeaky voice bid them enter.

Harry had been in this office only a few times, all of them during Ginny’s seventh year when he took private Charms lessons from the Professor. It had a high, vaulted ceiling with bookshelves lining the walls, except for the back end near the desk, where windows went all the way up to the ceiling. Where there were no bookcases there were dozens of paintings of fairies, all of them flitting in and out of their frames. Most of them watched as Harry and Ron walked to the desk.

Flitwick was sitting behind it on a high stool. In front sat a stocky wizard with thinning hair dressed in informal robes. He rose when they came into the room and smiled; he looked vaguely familiar to Harry. He glanced at Ron and knew that Ron also had seen him someplace.

Flitwick stood up on his stool. “Harry, have you found anything, any explanations? Oh, I beg your pardon. This is Mr. Chadwick Chamberlain, an old colleague and friend. Chad, meet Mr. Harry Potter and Mr. Ronald Weasley. They were both students of mine, and excellent ones at that.” His voice trailed off slightly when he gestured at Ron.

Mr. Chamberlain bowed and extended his hand, first to Harry then to Ron. “I am delighted,” he said, shaking both of theirs enthusiastically. “We are related, you know. Do you recognize me?”

“Ah!” Ron snapped his fingers. “You were at Fleur’s wedding. Weren’t you there with one of her aunts?”

Chamberlain beamed. “Yes! My wife Patience, Patience Delacour, or I should say Chamberlain,” he laughed a little self-consciously.

“Pleased to meet you,” Harry said.

He studied the man’s face for a moment. He liked to memorize faces and tie them to a name; it was a trick he had learned from one of his professors in the Auror training program. This face was open and friendly. Chamberlain had blue eyes and contrasting dark hair, and he seemed relaxed and happy. Harry smiled to himself, thinking that any normal man married to a veela would probably be happy most of the time; Bill Weasley certainly was.

Harry turned to Flitwick. “I’m sorry Professor, we haven’t found anything yet. We were wondering if you could give us a hand sometime today.” He didn’t want to say more than he had to in front of the stranger.

Chamberlain looked at him curiously and was about to speak, but Harry said, “It’s an investigation, Mr. Chamberlain, and I’m not at liberty to talk about it. I’m sure you understand.”

“Of course.” He inclined his head again and sat. “Filius, if you need to go help these gentlemen, I can wait. I can even come back later. As you know I’ll be in Britain for another week or two.” He gave Harry a smile.

“Would you like me to come right away?” Flitwick asked Harry.

“I would appreciate that. It shouldn’t take more than half an hour.”

The Charms professor climbed down from his stool and gestured to a bookshelf. “Make yourself at home and browse while I’m gone, Chad.”

He followed Harry and Ron to the door. As soon as it was closed behind them Harry gave Ron a signal not to talk and turned to Flitwick.

“Professor, you said he was a colleague. Where do you know him from?”

“Yes, he used to teach Charms at Beauxbatons. That’s where he met his wife, I believe. He was an excellent teacher and is a fine wizard. We collaborated on several papers for various journals, both in Britain and France.”

“He was a teacher?”

“He retired a few years ago, I believe it was after the marriage of your brother, Bill. It was rather strange, actually. He decided to go into the joke business, of all things. I’m sure your brother George knows him.”

They were rising up the spiral staircase and Harry remained silent. Three guards stood outside the door; Parvati had not returned from Hogsmeade yet. Inside, Tom and Dennis were still moving around the room, inspecting with their wands.

“Still nothing,” Tom announced. “There are traces of some medical charms back there,” he indicated the room where Professor McGonagall had lain on the settee, “but nothing in here.” He looked at Harry and Flitwick.

The professor took out his wand. “Tell me all the Revealing magic you’ve used,” he said. After Ron recited the spells, he grunted. “That’s a complete list. The only thing I can do is try them myself, but,” he glanced at Harry’s phoenix wand, “if you haven’t found anything, I doubt that I will.”

A dozen or so people knew that after the Battle of Hogwarts Harry had used the Elder Wand to repair his own. Afterwards, Harry noticed that his wand had become stronger. When he took private lessons from Professor Flitwick, he learned how to control and maximize that new power. It had helped him on more than one investigation during the past few years, but not this time, apparently.

“I didn’t really try many myself,” Harry said, fingering his wand. “I just poked around the Pensieve.”

Flitwick proceeded around the room muttering charms and spells under his breath. After he made the circuit he put his wand away and shook his head. “Nothing. I’m sorry.”

Harry stared at the Pensieve. “It doesn’t make any sense. Professor McGonagall used her wand at least twice to activate it. Why doesn’t that register?”

“Try another spell,” Dennis said. “Then see if there’s a residue.”

Harry turned his stare on Dennis; he heard Ron snicker behind him. “Merlin, what a brilliant idea.” Harry grinned at Ron. “We’re dunces.”

Shaking his head at how easily he had overlooked the obvious, Harry pointed his wand at the creamy Persian cat sleeping on a chair next to the desk. As the cat rose in the air, it opened its eyes, peered down at the floor and at Harry, and closed its eyes again. Only the tip of its tail twitching slightly betrayed any concern. Harry Levitated it six feet and let it back down onto the chair. The cat shifted a paw so that its head rested on it, but continued to sleep.

Harry turned to Flitwick. The professor waved his wand ”Specialis Revelio,” he said softly. He waited for a moment and repeated the spell. He gave Harry a frown. “Nothing. This is not normal.” He looked around the room. “Something in here is suppressing the echoes that magic leaves. Harry, I think we need to keep everyone out of here.”

Harry tensed. “Do you think that what happened to Professor McGonagall wasn’t caused by the Pensieve? Did something else do that to her?”

“I don’t know.” Flitwick spoke almost in a whisper. “But can we take that chance?”

“And will whatever it is, stay in here?” Ron spoke up. “Or will it spread to the rest of the castle?”

Flitwick looked from Ron to Harry, took out his handkerchief, and wiped his entire face.

Harry took a breath. “That’s easy enough to figure out. Dennis, ask the others to come in.”

In a moment the guards, including Parvati, stood around Harry. “I sent the owls twenty minutes ago,” she said when Harry gave her a questioning look. He nodded, and spoke to them all.

“We just discovered that something in this room is suppressing magical residues. We can’t detect even a spell that was cast seconds ago. I want teams of two to go around the castle trying simple spells, like Levitating or Summoning, and then test for Revelation. Organize it,” he said to Ron.

Ron took a step toward the door, but Flitwick spoke. “Wait! We can’t give the students the idea that something is amiss without telling them. And . . . if we do that, we’re bound to start hearing from parents. Oh dear. We need to get the staff together. Harry, this is getting out of hand.”

The professor was right. Harry knew that he had been doing the right things, but the right things seemed to be leading him down a path of more complications and more potential dangers. He was reluctant to call Saliyah back; he wanted to handle this himself, but he knew that the instant the first parents learned that something untoward was happening at Hogwarts, something that might be a danger to their child, he would have no choice but to bring in the Head Auror—and her husband.

Ron was watching him with narrowed eyes. He gave Harry the hand signal for “get help.” Harry knew that Ron was right, and that for a moment he had been about to fall into a bad old tendency: wanting to do everything by himself.

He turned to Flitwick. “We need to scan the castle. I know we might get some parents wondering what’s going on, but I have to do this. Meanwhile, I think we ought to close off this room.”

“Of course. I’ll gather the staff in my office. I think I can do that quietly enough.” He hurried out and they could hear his high voice muttering as he descended the spiral stairs.

“Harry,” Seamus said, “why don’t we check out the staircase? If it’s clean, we can be pretty sure that this . . . whatever it is, is confined to this room.”

Harry picked up the cat. “Here, he doesn’t seem to mind.”

Seamus took the animal with a grin and walked onto the landing at the top of the stairs. He set it on the floor; it sat on its haunches and looked around and up at Seamus. He pointed his wand and the cat rose into the air. This time it seemed annoyed; its tail swished back and forth. As the cat passed within a few inches of Seamus’s wand it swung a paw and slashed at it with extended claws. Seamus quickly let the cat down and it scurried back into the office, weaving under the feet of the Aurors standing around the door watching. It jumped up on the Headmistress’s desk and started washing itself.

The Aurors looked back at Seamus. Ron pointed his wand and muttered the Revelation charm; he smiled. “It’s here.”

“Good.” Harry led them all back into the office. “Let’s check out a few of the corridors as best we can. But,” he turned to the Pensieve and pointed to it, “I think it’s all about that.”

Ron left two guards outside the door and sent the rest into the castle. When the Aurors had left, he went to the chair behind the Headmistress’s desk and sat with his feet up and his hands clasped behind his head, while Harry leaned back in a chair that was turned halfway toward the Pensieve. Ron watched the cat watch him.

“What was going through your mind when you asked Flitwick about that Chamberlain bloke?” he asked Harry.

“Nothing, really. He just showed up at the same time strange things began to happen. It never hurts to ask questions.”

The cat walked across the desk to Ron’s feet, climbed onto his legs and balanced its way to his lap. It lay down, curled up in a ball, closed its eyes, and started purring. Ron said, “I wonder if he’ll be at Mum’s next weekend.” He scratched behind the cat’s ear and its tail swished.

There was a knock on the door. Parvati put her head in and announced that Saliyah had returned. Ron took his feet off the desk, causing the cat to jump down and disappear underneath it again. Harry stood, surprised that she had returned, but also relieved.

She looked concerned. “Ernie Macmillan told me you asked for Anna Remington. What’s up?”

Harry told her about the vanishing magic. “It’s okay just outside the door, and my people are checking the corridors. I feel a little at a loss. I’ve never heard of something like this.”

Saliyah bit her lip, and her brow furrowed. “That is strange.” She swore. “If you find it happening anyplace else, we may have to evacuate the castle.”

Harry and Ron looked at each other, something close to shock on their faces. “What will you do with them?” Ron said. “Where will they go?”

“I don’t know. Let’s just hope it doesn’t come to that. Why did you want Remington?”

“She taught all of us everything we know about evidence analysis,” Harry answered. “I thought maybe she could help.”

“Possibly.” She appraised him. “You’re uneasy about all this.”

Harry only partly suppressed a defensive reaction; Saliyah’s comment was not meant to be critical. “It’s getting complicated. We’ve already taken over the most important location in Hogwarts. We’ve got Aurors poking around in the corridors. We might have to evacuate hundreds of children. And we have no answers. A lot of people could become upset.”

Saliyah turned to look at the Pensieve. Dusk was falling, and she watched the reflection of the silver glow flickering on the window behind it. “Let’s wait and see what we find.”

She took a seat and they talked quietly for a few minutes about setting up a watch; whether they needed to patrol the corridors and the grounds; and Professor Flitwick’s visitor. Saliyah was interested in what Harry and Ron knew about him. “I’ll have him checked out, but don’t worry about him.”

That was fine with Harry; he had enough to concern himself with. Several things worried him: the safety of the school; the safety of his Aurors; making the right decisions; and not exceeding his authority. He was also starting to get hungry, and he wondered if he would be home at all tonight. That thought brought Ginny’s face up in his mind, which he knew was no coincidence. She was at the inn, either up in the flat or down in the dining room, but she was also thinking about him, reaching out to him.

“What is it?” Saliyah asked. She was looking at him with a quizzical smile.

Harry realized that he was smiling too, at Ginny’s quiet, soothing mental caress. “Nothing. I was just thinking about dinner.”

She glanced at Ron, who was now all ears. “As soon as your Aurors report back, set up the night-watch schedule and then you two go eat. Why don’t you go back to the inn? It’ll do you good to get away for a bit. I’ll stay.”

On cue there was a knock on the door and Seamus walked in. He nodded to Saliyah and turned to Harry. “Everything is clean, boss. We Levitated, Summoned, Cleaned, and Dennis even animated a suit of armor.” He chuckled. “The damn thing started running down the hall and freaked out a couple of first-years. It’s back on its pedestal,” he assured Saliyah, “and the kids thought it was pretty cool. But anyway, we were able to Reveal every spell. We also detected other spells in the corridors that weren’t ours, pimple hexes, stuff like that, the same things we used to do.”

I never did those,” Harry grinned. “But thanks, Seamus.”

Ron went out where the rest of his little detail was waiting and set up another watch rotation. Harry gave everyone the option of eating at Hogwarts or going into Hogsmeade to The Three Broomsticks or The Hog’s Head. He and Ron fetched Hermione from the library and left, trudging through the deepening dusk back to the village.

As they approached The Hog’s Head, Harry felt the quickening anticipation that he always did when Ginny was waiting for him. They went around back and up the stairs to the flat. When Harry opened the door Ginny flew at him and flung her arms around him. He kissed her uplifted face. They barely noticed Ron and Hermione, who were used to these displays, pushing past them.

“Everything’s okay?” Ginny asked.

“Let’s eat. We’ll tell you all about it.”

The table was already set and Ginny had prepared a dinner of juicy lamb chops with mint sauce, saffron rice, and steamed vegetables. An opened bottle of cold butterbeer was at each place. Harry sat and sighed. He gazed at the food and across the table at his wife. I love you. She   reached across and poured his butterbeer into a frosted glass. I love you too.

While they ate, Harry told Ginny and Hermione everything that had happened. When he was finished, Ginny said, “I know who Uncle Chadwick is. I remember after their wedding, Fleur was worried that he might be arrested, but he got out of the country with the rest of her family. I think he was teaching at Beauxbatons at the time.”

“Why would they have arrested him?” Harry asked. “He was just here to go to a wedding.”

“I don’t know. I remember Fleur talking about it, though. They wouldn’t let anyone leave the Burrow until they had torn it apart.”

She frowned and bent over her plate. It had been a hard time for her, Harry knew, and she did not like to talk about it. The Death Eaters had questioned her relentlessly, knowing full well that she and Harry had been dating at the end of the school year. Neither of them understood why she had not been taken away and used as a hostage, the way Luna had been used later in the year. They were just thankful that it had not happened.

Ginny looked up at Harry and smiled. “He was sweet, very attentive to Aunt Patience and Fleur.”

“I’m sure his being here is a coincidence,” Harry said. “I’ll just check with George to see if he knows why Monsieur Chamberlain went into the joke business.”

“Will you have to go back to Hogwarts tonight?” Ginny wanted to know.

“Yes, and probably tomorrow too.”

They ate in silence for a few minutes until Harry asked Hermione what she had found in the library.

“Very little,” she said, pushing her plate away. “The Pensieve was definitely at Hogwarts by the middle of the eighteenth century, but there’s nothing about how or when it got there. I went through all the histories, and now I have to start searching for information about how it works and what kind of magic it uses. I’m not very optimistic about finding anything, though.”

They talked about the Pensieve for another half hour. After Ginny served coffee, the two husbands had to return to Hogwarts. Hermione decided to stay with Ginny for the rest of the evening, and Harry and Ron departed.

The castle was quiet. Although it was a Saturday night and not late, only a few students were in the corridors. Parvati and Tony, outside the door to McGonagall’s office, told Harry that there were no new developments, and that Anna Remington had come and gone. “I don’t think she found anything,” said Parvati.

Saliyah and Flitwick were inside. There was only one guard on the Pensieve, Seamus. “We set up a base in a classroom down the hall,” Saliyah informed Harry. “Cots, a couple of Pinch Portkeys, a house-elf, owls.”

“The students have been informed about the situation,” Flitwick added. “We had all the Heads of House make the announcement in the common rooms. Professor Longbottom is acting Head of Gryffindor. And I’m going to transfer the functions of this office to my own. That will leave you free to operate without interfering with the school.”

Saliyah stood. “So, Harry, I’d like to get back to the Ministry. There’s a lot to do there,” she said as he walked with her to the door. “I’ll be back in the morning, I hope with at least one of the Unspeakables. Anna drew a blank when she was here, but she’s going to keep working on it tonight in London. Just keep things under control up here. Don’t try to do anything with it.” She glanced at the Pensieve, sitting under the window, the silvery mist inside it now reflecting clearly in the glass. Seamus was a motionless shadow a few feet away.

Professor Flitwick came around from behind the desk after the Head Auror had left. “Harry, there is a certain amount of magic having to do with the office that I must transfer. I don’t think it will affect you or your Aurors, but . . . “ He hesitated. “But one can never be sure, especially since so many strange things have happened.”

“Do what you have to do, Professor, we’ll be fine. How long will it take?”

“About twenty minutes. Oh, and when I’m finished, the gargoyle will respond to any Opening spell, not just the password.”

“Well, keep that under your hat. I mean,” Harry added, “please don’t tell anyone.”

Harry and Ron watched while the Professor went around the room, muttering incantations and gesturing with his wand. In less than half an hour he was finished. He bowed his head to Harry and left.

Harry looked around the room. He had been here so many times as a student when the dominating presence of Albus Dumbledore made it clear, without any question, that it was his domain, controlled by him. Now it felt like a piece of broken Muggle machinery, purposeless, without an intelligence directing it. It was just another room with walls, a floor, and a ceiling. Even the portraits now seemed like Muggle paintings, lifeless, motionless. He noticed that there were now no cats in sight.

He went behind the large desk and looked up at the empty portrait of the old Headmaster. “Has he been back?” he asked Seamus.

“Not while I’ve been here, which is an hour and a half.”

“Hmm.” Harry looked at Ron. “As far as I know he has only one other portrait, in the Department of Mysteries. Well . . .”

He walked to the Pensieve and stared into it; he could hear Ron shifting nervously behind him. Harry turned to him. “I want three guards in here and two outside the door. The outside guards will be responsible for the staircase. Set passwords on the gargoyle.” He frowned. “I hope the House Heads told everyone to stay away. If students start poking around we’ll have to shut off the corridor. What do you think?” he asked Ron.

“Why do you want three in here?”

“It’s too damn quiet. Three will keep each other calmer than two. I don’t want any accidents.”

“That makes sense. It’ll mean more shifts, though.”

“I understand, but hopefully it’ll be only one night.”

Ron nodded. “I’ll go set it up.” He went out, stopped to tell Parvati and Tony what Harry’s orders were, and hurried down the stairs.

“Why hasn’t Dumbledore come back?” Seamus said from next to the Pensieve. He stepped forward so that his face was in the candlelight.

“Don’t know, but it doesn’t matter. It’s our problem, not his.”

The sound of several sets of feet on the stairs interrupted them. The door opened and Ron came in followed by Dennis Creevey, Susan Bones, and a tall, muscular, older Auror with a goatee. “The rotation is set,” Ron said. “These three are first up.”

“What’s the drill, Harry?” the older man said. He was Alexander Popandreyu, known to everyone as Popeye. He had been an Auror for more than twenty years, and despite his seniority, he had come to accept wholeheartedly Harry’s leadership. Harry’s idealism reminded him of his own youthful enthusiasm, and Harry’s powerful wand obtained his respect. Harry was grateful because Popeye had convinced most of the other older Aurors that Harry deserved to be Head Auror and would be a damn good one. Some of them could not be convinced, but Saliyah Ushujaa and Kingsley Shacklebolt wanted it and the discontented had no choice but to accept or retire. A few had left, but not many. Their replacements from the training classes had no problem with Harry Potter as Head Auror; they would have been disappointed if he had not got the job.

Harry pointed to the Pensieve. “That’s the drill. Did Sal explain what’s been happening?” Popeye nodded and Harry continued. “No one goes within five feet of it. No one touches it. No one uses magic of any kind on it. It’s highly unlikely that anyone will try to break in here, but with a few hundred students in the building we can’t take any chances. There will be two guards on the stairs. Now,” he paused and looked at all three of the Aurors, “Popeye is in charge of the detail. If anyone starts to feel strange or starts to act funny, get out immediately, send for me, and wait on the stairs. Professor McGonagall became confused and had trouble remembering things, and then she passed out. That’s what I’m talking about. Clear?”

They all nodded.

“What about the portraits?” Ron said in a low voice.

There was a stirring from around the walls and some throats were cleared. None of the portraits of the old headmasters had spoken while Harry was in the office, but he knew they had been listening and observing.

“If they have anything to say, they’ll have to say it to Professor Flitwick,” he said loudly. He dropped his voice to a normal level. “If Professor Dumbledore comes back and wants to talk to me, wake me up.”

Harry glanced around the room. “Make yourselves as comfortable as you can. I don’t know what happened to the cats.” As he spoke, three of them materialized on the desk in front of him, including the Persian. “Good,” he smiled, “you have company.”

Outside, two third-year trainees stood on the stairs, Mya Goshdon and Elaine Goldberg. Harry spoke to them, and he and Ron went down the corridor about twenty yards to a classroom across from a large painting of young dragons frolicking in a meadow. They were sending puffs of fire and smoke at each other; it looked like a game of tag. Inside the room the desks had been shoved aside and a dozen or so cots were set up. There was a curtain down the middle, suspended magically from the ceiling, that divided the room in two, but for now it was pushed back. The teacher’s desk held several trays of pastries and a case of butterbeer. There was a large window at the back that looked onto the east wing of the castle. Harry heard the rustling of wings outside and saw the silhouettes of several owls perched on gargoyles.

All the Aurors in the room looked up from what they were doing—reading, playing cards and wizard chess, or just talking. Harry waved and walked with Ron to the front of the room.

“I’m sorry I had to ruin your weekends,” he said, smiling a little, “but I don’t think we’ll be here long. Any questions? Oh, you can eat in the Great Hall or go into Hogsmeade. I hear the food at the Hog’s Head is pretty good.”

There was laughter, and he and Ron went to the two cots behind the desk. Harry fell onto one and covered his eyes with his hand.

“We should tell the girls that we’re sleeping here tonight,” Ron said as he leaned back on his cot.

“You’d better not let Hermione hear you call her a girl,” Harry said dryly. “But they already know.”

“Oh, right, that mind thing with Ginny.”

Harry sighed and closed his eyes. He was exhausted. It had been an unexpectedly long and stressful day. Yes, he had “that mind thing” with Ginny, and right now it felt like her fingers were caressing his thoughts and her lips were brushing his heart. Her arms were around him and her fragrance enveloped him as he fell asleep.

Chapter Text

After Harry and Ron returned to Hogwarts, Hermione helped Ginny clean up and then went home. The two wives had joked about sleeping alone, and Ginny smiled to herself when she considered that her best friend was no stranger to an empty bed, given Ron’s penchant for aggravating the hell out of her with his uncontrollable mouth. Ginny had often teased him about the depression in the couch where his rear end often lay.

But tonight as she put on her nightgown and sat in front of her mirror braiding her hair, Ginny fretted and pondered her own empty marital bed, because it was rare for her to sleep alone; she or Harry had had to spend a night away from home only a few times over the years. There was no depression in her couch. Yet she felt an unfamiliar loneliness.

She went out into the sitting room and, feeling a little absurd, opened the casement window next to the fireplace. A few moments later Bailey and McPherson both flew in. They landed on their perch and Ginny handed out treats. Normally the owls stayed outside at night, but tonight Ginny wanted them inside. McPherson made a noise, mildly protesting being cooped up, but Bailey gave him a yellow-eyed stare and he settled on his perch. Ginny returned to the bedroom, moved the photograph of Harry that she kept on her night stand so that she could see it without lifting her head, tucked her wand under her pillow, and blew out the candle.

As soon as the light went out she knew why she was so jumpy. The room was perfectly still; the sheets were not rustling and the sounds of quiet breathing next to her were missing. Worst of all, she was alone in her thoughts because Harry was asleep.

In a way, she felt better because now she knew what was bothering her. She wasn’t used to it; it seemed unnatural. Where there was nothing, Harry should be. Where there was silence, a voice should be whispering to her. Where a green-eyed smiling face should be, there was a cold pillow. Where gentle hands should be reaching out and caressing her, arousing her, there was only an unsatisfying recollection.

She sat up and re-lit the candle. The room filled with wavering shadows and she looked hopefully into each one, but Harry was not there. She got out of bed, put on her robe, put her wand in a pocket, and carried the candle into the sitting room. The owls clucked softly, and she smiled at the two pairs of glowing eyes that watched her set the candle on the table. She went to the perch and let Bailey nibble at the palm of her hand.

“Do you miss him when he’s out at night?” she murmured.

Bailey turned her head to McPherson, then looked back at Ginny.

She sighed and sat in the love seat. This was not good. There were going to be too many times after Harry became Head Auror when he would not be home at night. She couldn’t live her life depending on Harry’s presence, either physically or in her head.

Maybe she wasn’t listening carefully enough. Maybe she was just too jumpy because she was alone. She lay down in the love seat, closed her eyes and emptied her mind. The owls seemed to sense her need for stillness, and after a moment of moving about on the perch, they settled and remained motionless. Soon, there were no sounds in the room and all Ginny could hear was the beating pulse of her own heart.

With a jolt, Harry was there. He was in a dark place outside in the open air, shivering in a chilly breeze. A large open space spread before him but the darkness swallowed up any details. At least there was no danger; it was peaceful where he was. All Ginny felt from him was his worry for her.

The tension in the room evaporated as the warmth of Harry’s care filled Ginny’s heart. The owls shifted, and Bailey clucked twice. Ginny sat up and looked at the birds. They were ignoring her, preening and grooming themselves. And now she knew where Harry was: standing on the front steps of Hogwarts. He had left the castle because he thought she was in danger, but as soon as he had felt her heart, he knew that she was fine, she only missed him.

Ginny let out her breath and lay back on the love seat. She hugged herself and let Harry know that all was well; she was just being a silly girl. She pressed her hands to her sides and moved them down to her hips and back up. She wanted Harry, and she let him know, even though she knew he could not come to her.

I’m okay. Try to sleep. I love you. She didn’t know who said that, or if they both said it. All she knew was that the darkness was not so black anymore. She got up and opened the window in case the owls wanted to go out. They shuffled around on their perch but stayed. “Thanks,” she whispered.

She got into bed, blew out the candle again, pulled the covers up to her chin, and slept.

#  #  # #

Harry came home shortly before lunch the next day, Sunday. The two Unspeakables, Amander Croaker and Julia Sprout, and three of their trainees had arrived after breakfast. Anna Remington was also back, so Harry decided that he could send some of his people home since so many skilled wizards and witches were there watching the Pensieve. When Seamus, Ron, and Parvati volunteered to stay, Ron told Harry to go home and relax for a while. Then Ernie Macmillan and Justin Finch-Fletchley showed up; it was their day off, but they decided to pop up to Hogwarts and see what was happening. When Neville appeared at the Headmistress’s office it turned into a Class of 1998 reunion, at which point Harry decided he would rather spend the day with Ginny.

Ginny was standing at the owls’ perch near the window when Harry turned down the lane from the High Street. She saw him and waved, then went into the little kitchen and started brewing a pot of tea. She had thoughts of a romantic afternoon in the four-poster, but Harry was exhausted. He hadn’t slept well, mostly because he was nervous and tense, but also because of Ginny’s earlier bout with her own restlessness. He dropped into a chair at the kitchen table and Ginny set tea and scones out.

“Merlin, what a day. What a weekend.” He yawned and took a sip of tea. “Mmm.” He smiled; it was one of his favorite blends, Euphoric Wizard.

Ginny sat across from him munching a scone. “Did anyone figured it out?”

“No, and I’m betting we’ll have to take it back to the Ministry. Remington and Saliyah decided that we’ll move it tomorrow unless they can get to the bottom of it today.”

He took another sip and frowned. Ginny knew instantly that something else was bothering him, besides the Pensieve. She reached across the table and took his hand. “What?”

Harry shrugged, hesitating; Ginny retreated from his mind and waited. Finally he spoke. “You were wondering about the Unspeakables yesterday.”

“Yes. It’s strange, but I’ve never met one. Pretty much all I know is that they work in the Department of Mysteries.”

Harry nodded. “They keep to themselves, and even when you meet them, they don’t talk about what they do, or much else for that matter. It’s hard to hold any kind of conversation with them.” He chuckled. “Very mysterious. Sometimes if a problem comes up at work that we can’t figure out, we ask them, but unless it has to do with a big question,” he extended his arms wide to illustrate how big, “they don’t like to get involved.”

“So what’s a big question?” Ginny leaned her chin on her fist, but kept hold of Harry’s hand.

“Think about those rooms we saw when we were there. Time, space, thought, death, love. The big questions.”

Ginny wasn’t sure, but she thought that Harry started to put his hand to his scar. Instead, he scratched his ear and quickly dropped the hand. He fiddled with his cup and spoke without looking up.

“One of the Unspeakables is Professor Sprout’s cousin, Julia Sprout. It turns out she was good friends with my mother at Hogwarts and also after she and my father got married. She got Pomona to put in the garden where we lived before Godric’s Hollow, and then she planted trees behind the house to give them some privacy if the Fidelius charm was ever lifted.” He paused; Ginny kept her mind quiet, but sent a gentle request. Look at me.

Harry looked up and smiled. “Sorry. What happened was kind of unexpected. We were all in McGonagall’s office and Professor Sprout walked in and then the cousin got all chatty and started talking about my parents and the house and the garden and the trees.” He sighed. “This is the first I’ve spent any significant amount of time with Unspeakables, and they don’t have many social graces, at least not this one. I guess they’re cooped up with each other down on the ninth level and don’t see many other people. Or maybe she’s getting senile; she was pretty strange. Professor Sprout tried to get her to stop, but the witch kept prattling away. And then she wanted to know about the protection, the, ah, you know . . .”

He dropped his eyes again and put the fingers of his right hand to his scar. He held them there, staring at the table, until Ginny came and sat in his lap. She put her arms around him as he blinked away tears.

She brushed a lock of hair from his forehead. “Oh, my love, I’m so sorry. I’m sure she didn’t mean to be unthinking. It’s like you said, she just doesn’t know how to act around people.”

Harry snorted. “Maybe, but she wouldn’t stop, even though Flitwick was also trying to make her, and Ron started a coughing fit. She went on about experiments they’ve done in that locked room, the one where they study love. She said that no one ever did what my mum did, protect someone else from a Killing Curse.”

“Well, you knew that!” Ginny exclaimed. “What on earth was she getting at?”

“She wants to study me. She wants to figure out why it worked, and how.”

“And what did you tell her? Ah!” Ginny laughed at the epithet that Harry hadn’t spoken out loud.

“Not really,” he grinned. “Just then Saliyah walked in and rescued me. She saw what was going on and asked me to step outside. When I went back in a few minutes later, someone must have set the witch straight, because she ignored me after that.”

Harry became silent, staring into space, but now his heart was open. Ginny kissed his cheek and brushed his face with her hand, then rested her head on his shoulder. They didn’t need to speak as, after a moment, Harry led her into the bedroom.

Later, Ginny slipped quietly out of the four-poster and put on her robe. She looked back at Harry, smiling at his peaceful, sleeping face. He was on his back with one hand on the spot where she had been lying. She pulled the covers up to his shoulders and he sighed and turned onto his side. Ginny leaned over and kissed him, then went out into the sitting room, quietly closing the door behind her.

She spent a quiet day by herself, straightening up around the flat, paying bills, servicing her broomsticks, answering a stack of fan mail. Ron stopped by late in the afternoon on his way home to talk to Harry, but when he learned that his boss was asleep, he told Ginny not to disturb him. He also told her that the Department of Mysteries had decided that the Pensieve should be moved to the Ministry of Magic as soon as possible, and that the safest way would be in a Ministry lorry.

“Of course, the Ministry doesn’t have a lorry,” he noted, “and the Department of Magical Transportation won’t take care of it because a lorry isn’t magical. So either today or tomorrow morning someone has to hire a lorry from somewhere, and someone has to drive it down to London. I guess Hermione knows how to hire the damn thing, but no one knows who can drive one.”

“Percy drives Ministry cars,” Ginny said. They were sitting in the kitchen with the door closed so they wouldn’t wake Harry. She put two scones and a slice of chocolate cake on a plate in front of Ron and poured tea for both of them. She turned to get him a fork, but when she turned back he was already shoving the cake into his mouth with his fingers.

He nodded and finished the cake. “Pretty good. Did you make it or Winky?”

“I did,” Ginny smiled. “But it’s Winky’s recipe, the same one she used for our wedding cake. It’s leftover from Friday.”

He licked his fingers. “I thought of asking Percy, but he’ll say yes even if he hasn’t a clue how to drive one.”

“How different can it be from driving a car? And why don’t you get it a couple of days ahead and let him practice?”

“Because the Unspeakables said we should move it tomorrow.”

“Harry told me about the one who talked about his mother.” Ginny took a sip of tea and scowled. “He was really upset when he got home.”

Ron rolled his eyes. “I couldn’t believe it. The woman wouldn’t shut up. After Saliyah got Harry out of the room, Professor Sprout started yelling at her. But you know what? I don’t think she’s giving up. She didn’t even seem to understand that she was being so rude. When Harry came back she kept looking at him when she thought he wouldn’t notice. I’m going to talk to Sal about it. Harry doesn’t need that crap.”

“Damn.” Ginny’s mouth formed a thin line as she put her cup down.

She looked up when they heard footsteps in the sitting room. The kitchen door opened and Harry stood there tucking in his shirt, his hair tousled. There wasn’t enough room in the kitchen, so he stayed in the doorway.

He grinned at Ron. “Which particular crap don’t I need?”

“What that Sprout witch was talking about. She was going on and on. She wouldn’t shut up even though everyone else in the room could tell that she was getting on your nerves.”

“She wasn’t getting on my nerves. I just didn’t see why it was so important.”

Ron looked at him in surprise. “You can’t see why they would want to know how it happened?”

“No, I don’t!” Harry yelled. Ron sat back startled, and Ginny stared at Harry, her cup stopped halfway to her mouth. Harry sighed. “I’m sorry, mate. I guess she was getting on my nerves.” He turned back into the parlor and sat in an armchair next to the picture window.

“Hermione’s waiting. I’ll see you next week at the house,” Ron said to Ginny as he got up. “Can I use your fireplace?”

She followed him into the other room and watched as the green flames swallowed him. She went to Harry and stood next to his chair. His mind was closed, but it was obvious from the scowl on his face what he was thinking about. Ginny put her hand on his shoulder but he didn’t react.

“I’m sorry, sweetie,” she said. “This is bothering you a lot, isn’t it?”

Harry stared out the window. Heavy clouds looking like rain were rolling over the inn towards the hills in the east. He turned his head and looked up at her. Help.

She sucked in her breath and fell to her knees next to the chair. Their hands clenched with their fingers laced together. There were no words for several minutes until Harry rose, pulling her up with him. But then he dropped her hands and walked to the fireplace. He picked up the photograph of his parents from the mantel and gazed at it.

“It’s no good,” he said in a low voice.

“What?” Ginny followed him; his back was to her, and she hadn’t heard him.

He turned. “It’s no good. I thought it was all gone, but it’s not. First you brought up Godric’s Hollow, then this. I was angry that you started talking about living there, and then that stupid twit wanted to study me.” He carefully put the picture back on the mantel. “Why did you do it, Ginny? I really don’t understand. Why do we need to live in the place that almost destroyed me? In fact, it did destroy me. Not only did I lose my parents, but then I had to live in a hell-hole for ten years with three idiots who hated me.”

He stopped and bit his lip. “I’m sorry. It’s not your fault, it’s no one’s fault but Tom Riddle’s. But why do you want to live there, Ginny? I really don’t understand.”

“Maybe I don’t understand either, but it just seems right.” Her voice was calm. She glanced at the photograph. “I think they would like it.”

Harry stared at her, fearing that somehow she was right. Things like this had occurred before. Ginny seemed to understand and see things that he couldn’t or wouldn’t. She had never met his parents, except perhaps as an infant, but then again, neither had he, really. There was no way she could know what they might have thought about their son living in Godric’s Hollow, but Harry couldn’t deny that something inside him was telling him it was true.

He looked from Ginny to the photo. His father had a quiet smile, his eyes crinkled behind his glasses as they usually were. His mother’s grin was much more animated, and she kept glancing at her husband while waving at the camera. In the background was the house in which, a few short months after Sirius took this picture, they were to die. Harry took a deep breath, turned and walked to the love seat. He sat and Ginny joined him.

He didn’t speak at first, and knew that Ginny was waiting for him. “I’m not my parents,” he finally said. “Even if they were alive and wanted me to live there, it would be my decision. And you still haven’t told me why you think we should live there.”

“Well . . . for one thing it’s a nice village. It’s not that far from the Burrow, and it’s not too close. But mostly I believe that if you do nothing about that house, the one that’s standing there falling apart, it will end up like the Shrieking Shack. And then, when you and I are dead and gone, it will be a curiosity and silly strangers will walk through it and stick their noses into it, and start telling silly ghost stories about it, just like the Shrieking Shack. It will be a place where children go to play games, to see who can frighten who the most.” She took a breath. “The place where your parents died should be more than that.”

“It’s only a house, a building. I don’t want it to be a shrine.”

“But that’s what it is now. People are still writing slogans and messages on the gate and on the sign out front. Did you know that?”

Harry shook his head and his brow creased. “How do you know? When were you there?”

“I’ve been there a couple of times with Ginger. Do you remember two years ago when she was looking for a flat to let for her and Dean? She didn’t want to live in Holyhead any more, so she asked me if I knew of anyplace. I told her about Godric’s Hollow, and I went with her to check it out.”

“And you went by the house?”

“Of course. Why wouldn’t I?”

Harry didn’t answer. He was totally torn inside. He felt discomfort at the idea of seeing that house, his parents’ house, get torn down, but Ginny’s prediction of it becoming the Shrieking Shack of the West Country also disturbed him. In one room his father had been murdered in cold blood. In another shattered room his mother had died standing in front of him. Did he want those rooms to become playgrounds for total strangers who knew nothing about the reality of his life?

“I could just tear it down,” he said.

Ginny shrugged. “You could do that. Then it would be a vacant lot. That’s a perfect place for a shrine.”

“I can’t stop people from doing what they want to do. If they want a memorial to . . . to . . .” He stopped and looked at Ginny in confusion. She took his hand and kissed his fingers.

“It’s a lovely spot, you know. There are woods in back and a stream with a little waterfall. I was there in the wintertime and the snow looks very pretty on the rocks. Our children would love a place like that.”

“That’s not fair!” He frowned, but paused thoughtfully for a moment. “You actually walked around it? How much ground is there? Are there any—” He suddenly stopped and looked accusingly at Ginny.

She laughed. “I’m sorry, sweetie. I didn’t mean to be tricky. But it is a beautiful piece of land.” She gave him her best smile, the one she knew he could not resist. “We could go see it right now, if you want. There’s still plenty of daylight.”

“Well . . . I don’t know.”

“Whatever you want. I haven’t heard from Coach Deverill yet, so as of now I don’t have to get up early tomorrow. It’s up to you.”

“Well . . . What exactly did you have in mind?”

“I know where we can Apparate near the house, and there’s a very nice pub on the square where we could have supper.” She smiled again.

“You have no scruples,” Harry said, standing. "I’m putty in your hands and you know it.”

“Oh, no, no, no.” Ginny also got up and put her hands on his chest. She stood on her tiptoes and kissed him. “No one melts like I do when you look at me with those green eyes.”

Harry rolled his green eyes and returned her kiss.

#  #  # #

They Apparated into a woods next to a short but steep hill, at the bottom of which ran a small stream, no more than three feet across. The water flowed swiftly over small rocks and a few larger ones, all smoothly rounded and glistening in dappled sunlight filtering through the new leaves of spring. Underfoot lay a tangle of low shrubs and a thick carpet of dead leaves from countless autumns. The woods had the look of an area gone wild.

Harry let go of Ginny’s arm. He had Side-Along Apparated since Ginny knew where she wanted to take him: behind the house in Godric’s Hollow. The water babbled pleasantly as it rushed over the rocks, and Harry saw, a few yards upstream from where they stood, a waterfall about five feet high. Flashes of bright sunlight reflected from it as the  leaves overhead moved in a soft breeze and their shadows flitted over the falling water. Across the stream the gully rose to the same height as the side they were standing on. Through the trees he could see the back fences of a row of cottages. The fences were slatted and high; only a few dormered windows and peaked roofs were visible.

“The property goes up to those fences,” Ginny said when she saw where Harry was looking.

Harry turned to her in surprise. “How do you know about the property line?”

“I asked some of the people who live there.”

He frowned a little. “Why did you do that?”

Ginny looked away at the houses and shrugged. “I was curious, but . . . it seemed like it would be good to know.” She turned to him, and their conversation went inside, communicated more as feelings than as thoughts. It lasted for barely a second.

“It’s okay.” Harry moved to her and put his arms around her. He kissed her as they stood amongst the trees. “You know me better than I do. I’m starting to like this place.”

Ginny grinned and hugged him tighter. “Come on.” She took his hand and moved away from the gully. “Let’s go see the house.”

They started to make their way through the trees and undergrowth. Before them was a row of yews, thick and tall enough to completely block the house from view. The Potters’ house was for all intents invisible from the back. The yews weren’t quite as tall as the house yet, but they would be in a few years.

“They must have been lower when we lived here,” Harry observed.

“Yes, I think they were the ones Professor Sprout planted. Oi!”

They both stopped. They were only feet from the yews and were looking for a way through. There was a tiny gap right in front of them, and they both saw through it and through a window, movement inside the house. They froze for an instant. Then wand light flared briefly and for those few seconds they could see a cloaked figure move past the window. It paused and seemed to be looking at something on the floor.

Harry’s wand flashed and an opening appeared in the hedge-like barrier. He plunged through with Ginny right behind. He pointed his wand, intending to send a body-binding spell through the window, but at the violent movement of the yews, the person inside looked up and vanished with a pop that was clearly audible outside.

They rushed to the window and peered in, seeing a small sitting room. A small couch faced a fireplace, and there were a few other pieces of furniture—an easy chair, a coffee table, and, off to one side a tiny wooden rocking chair, only about eighteen inches high.

Harry sucked in his breath, and Ginny looked at him fearfully. She started to pull back from the window, but he grabbed her arm. “No, I want to go in.”

He took her hand and they walked around to the front door. He paused there. He had seen the front of the house from the gate six years ago. The weeds didn’t seem much higher now, as best as he could recollect. The hedge along the lane that led past the house was also about the height he remembered.

“We just stood at the gate,” he said as Ginny moved next to him. “Then Bathilda came. . .”

He abruptly turned and gazed at the door. “I know what’s inside. When we escaped from Riddle he had a flashback to the—the night that—that it happened. I saw everything, my dad . . . everything.”

He leaned his arm on the jamb and rested his head against it with his eyes closed. Ginny put her hand lightly on his shoulder but there was no need for speech; Harry’s mind and heart were open. After a long moment he took a breath, stood erect, and pushed the door open.

They entered a small vestibule. A flight of stairs in front of them went to the upper floor. A door on their right opened into the sitting room they had seen through the window. The vestibule was empty, and the floor was covered with a thin layer of dust; footprints led into the door on the right. A small crystal chandelier hung from the ceiling and swayed slightly as the air moved with the opening of the front door; the crystals were oddly dull and colorless.

As they gazed around, they saw that the walls were dark but in some places darker. Then they both saw it at the same time: a rectangle on the wall behind the stairs where the paint was lighter than the rest of the vestibule. “What’s that?” Harry whispered, pointing to the rectangle.

They stepped inside and Harry pulled the door closed. They both lit their wands. Ginny walked to the stairs and peered up, then looked back at Harry. He was still staring at the rectangle.

Suddenly he went pale, and Ginny sprang to his side. She grabbed his arm as he staggered forward towards the wall, pulling her along. When he was a foot from the wall he reached out and touched it. “This is wallpaper.” He moved his hand along the wall until it touched the blackened part. “This is burnt.”

He turned to Ginny, and she instantly knew what he knew. They were looking at the reverse shadow of a piece of furniture, perhaps a wardrobe, which had stood in the vestibule. Now that they were close, they could see that the walls had been scorched and the wallpaper turned black. The Curse that had killed James Potter had left its mark. It had burned the walls but not what was behind the wardrobe. Later, someone had taken the piece of furniture away and the undamaged wallpaper was exposed.

Harry stepped back. He looked at Ginny with a sick, grim face.

“Love,” she said, tears in her eyes, “maybe I made a mistake. Maybe we shouldn’t be here.”

“Maybe.” He looked through the door to the sitting room and indicated it with a nod.

Inside, they quickly found what the cloaked figure had been looking at. A thin cylinder of wood lay on the floor in front of the small couch. It was about three feet across and about two inches high. It was not attached to anything; Harry shoved it with his trainer and it slid a few inches across the floor. It was not painted or stained in any way, but was covered with runes etched or carved into it. It had not been here long because they could see when it moved that there was dust underneath it.

“Very odd,” said Ginny.

“Can you read the runes?”

She bent down with her wand held close to the cylinder and peered at it for a minute. “This is a different language from what I learned. Some of the runes are similar to ones I studied, but it’s been so long . . .” She stood and shook her head. “I can’t remember half the stuff I learned in Ancient Runes. I haven’t used any of it since then. Not much need when you’re playing Quidditch.”

Harry turned from it and looked at the little rocking chair. It was next to the fireplace and it too was covered with dust. He squatted down and brushed one of the arms clean. Ginny raised her wand, but he pushed it down. Let me do it.

It was painted deep green, and as Harry swept the dust off with his hand, they saw that it was decorated with pictures of wizards and witches on broomsticks and gesturing with wands. One of them, a wizard with a very long beard and a tall, pointed hat, moved his hand feebly.

“It must have been charmed,” Ginny whispered, once again putting her hand on his shoulder.

He nodded and stood, picking the chair up. Ginny saw that his hand trembled slightly.

“You’ll keep it?” she said, still in a whisper.

Harry sighed deeply. He gazed at the child’s chair for a long time while Ginny held her breath. When she let it out, he glanced at her and set the chair down. “No.” He did not look at Ginny, but glanced around the room. “What do you think? What was he doing here?”

Ginny didn’t answer. She closed her eyes and bowed her head. Love, it was a miracle to find it. Our child could—

Harry cut her off with a quick gesture. “No,” he repeated.

Ginny didn’t answer. For the moment, she had lost the argument and she knew not to pursue it. His pain had been growing ever since their realization that the burn-flash of Riddle’s Killing Curse was still present in the vestibule. And the rocking chair only made everything from that long-ago, murderous night even more real. She could think of nothing that would change his mind, but even if she could, it would be wrong of her to try.

After a long silence she pointed to the wooden disk. “It’s a puzzle. Maybe you should bring Ron here and have him check it out. Did you get a look at that person’s face?”

“His hood was up. All I really noticed was that his cloak was blue.”

“Lot’s of cloaks are blue. What about getting Ron?”

Harry shrugged. “The only suspicious thing about it was that someone was here at all. We didn’t actually see him do anything.”

“Then why did he Disapparate when he saw us?”

Harry looked at her keenly. “I still say you should become an Auror. But . . . maybe we just startled him. Okay!” he laughed shortly when Ginny opened her mouth again. “I’ll send Ron to sweep it . . .” His voice trailed off.

It will be hard, Ginny spoke with her mind. Aloud she said, “That man should not have been here. If he was up to no good, then you’ll find out what it was.”

“I suppose . . .”

They looked around the room for another minute, after which Harry led the way back into the vestibule. He turned and gestured with his wand; the door to the sitting room sealed and disappeared.

He glanced up the stairs, but Ginny knew even before she felt it that he would not go up. They went outside into the early dusk, and Harry walked to the front gate. He put his hand on it and they looked back into the yard. The same sign which he had seen that Christmas day with Hermione popped up from the weeds. They gazed at the words engraved on it—the memorial to Harry’s family—and the graffiti covering those words. The good wishes and words of support were still sharp and clear, but something new had been scrawled over everything: Thank You Harry Potter.

Harry told her that he didn’t feel like eating supper at the pub in the village, so after checking to make sure no one was in sight, they Disapparated straight back to the Hog’s Head.

#  #  # #

The next morning, Monday, Harry left for Hogwarts and Ginny waited in the flat to hear from the National team. She didn’t have long to wait. An owl arrived shortly before ten o’clock bearing a parchment from the Department of Magical Games and Sports, her official invitation to join the English National Quidditch team. If she was interested in doing so, she was requested to attend a team meeting tomorrow morning to be followed by a press conference in the afternoon.

After she had danced around the room twice, whooping and waving the parchment in the air and causing the poor Ministry owl to retreat outside the window in alarm, she scribbled her acceptance, gave the parchment back to the owl, and debated whether to go see Harry. She was certain that he was aware of her exhilaration, but she wanted to share it with him in person. She dashed off a note and gave it to Bailey, who, along with McPherson, had ignored the Ministry owl with haughty indifference. Her owl returned shortly with Harry’s reply telling her to meet him in the entrance hall at noon.

It was only ten o’clock, and Ginny was too excited to sit still in the flat. She thought about Flooing to the Burrow for an hour, but remembered that her mother would be at work at St. Mungo’s. So she went downstairs, waved at Harriet behind the bar in the dining room, and walked up the lane to Zonko’s. But George wasn’t there. Chico, the Argentine immigrant who worked as an assistant while learning English from Claire Athair—Ginny wondered what Claire was learning from Chico—was minding the store. He managed to convey in halting English with help from a Spanish-English dictionary, that George and Angelina were home and would be at work in a couple of hours.

She ended up in The Three Broomsticks, sitting at the bar in back chatting with Madam Rosmerta. The proprietress listened patiently with an amused smile while Ginny went on about Quidditch, the team, and the tournament, until it was almost noon. She left and hurried past the train station and up the lane to the tall pillars, but stopped suddenly when she saw Susan Bones and Padma Patil in their Auror robes sitting on chairs just inside the closed gates.

They stood when they saw Ginny and waved at her to approach. “Harry said you’d be coming,” Padma told her. “You just have to tell us what the tattoo was that you said was on Harry’s chest during your fifth year. Sorry,” she giggled, “we’re supposed to ask everyone a question just in case they’re Polyjuiced or Imperiused.”

“How on earth did you find out about that?” Ginny asked, wide-eyed. “I don’t remember telling anyone except Hermione, Ron, and Romilda Vane.”

“Harry told us,” Susan laughed. “He said only those three knew about it.”

He told you? I’ll have to talk to him about that.” She looked at them thoughtfully. “How do you know I’m not Romilda?”

“Because she works for the Ministry now, and I know for a fact that she’s in London.” Susan grinned wickedly. “Come on, Ginny. What was the tattoo?” Padma, standing beside her, was also grinning.

“Okay, okay. A Hungarian Horntail.”

The gate swung open and she walked through, glaring at the grins on the Aurors’ faces. “By the way, where in the Ministry does Romilda work? I’m going there tomorrow and I’ll want to avoid her.”

“Games and Sports,” said Padma cheerfully. “She’s a groupie—er, I mean a publicity assistant. I figure she took the job so she can meet famous athletes. As long as they’re men,” she added, giggling.

“Sounds like her,” Ginny grumbled, not pleased at the prospect of meeting the woman at the press conference tomorrow. “So,” she frowned, “why are you keeping the gate closed? Did anything happen in the castle?”

“It’s a precaution,” Susan said. “They’re getting ready to move the Pensieve and since no one knows anything about it, everyone’s nervous.”

Ginny hurried up the drive, but stopped short again when she saw something that she had never seen before. Parked in front of the steps leading to the front doors was a white Muggle lorry, about fifteen feet long. The blue lettering on the side read, Nationwide Vehicle Rentals.

Ginny stared open-mouthed. It must be for transporting the Pensieve, she thought, but why did they need such a big one? She walked slowly towards it, and was not surprised to see her brother Percy sitting in the driver’s seat inside the cab, wearing a chauffeur’s cap and reading the Daily Prophet.

“Oi, Percy!” she called as she approached. He looked up and smiled.

“Ginny, how are you? I was hoping to see you. Congratulations on the Quidditch selection. You must be very excited.”

She returned his smile. “I am.” She stood on her toes and Percy leaned out the window and she gave him a kiss. She stepped back and looked up and down the lorry. “What is this?”

“A Volvo FL.” He patted the steering wheel. “She’s a beauty, isn’t she?”

“What’s a Volvo effell? It looks like a lorry.”

“That’s a Muggle car company. They make lorries too. Hermione helped me hire it last night in London, but I drove it here by myself.”

“It’s huge.” Ginny walked around it, examining it carefully; there was a fairly large smear of black paint on the left front bumper. She opened the passenger door and climbed up into the cab, blinking at the shiny dials and buttons, the mirrors and levers. “How on earth did you drive it? It looks so complicated.”

“It is,” Percy said a little smugly. “But basically you step on the accelerator and turn where you want to go.”

“I saw a smudge of paint on the side. Did you hit something?”

Percy frowned. “There was a stupid Muggle driver who got in the way. Fortunately I was able to repair his vehicle without stopping.”

Ginny gazed at him, but he wouldn’t look at her. She nodded. “I guess it was lucky there were no Muggle policemen around.”

Percy grinned. “I guess so. But at least I got here on time. They’re bringing the Pensieve down now.”

Ginny gave him another kiss, jumped down from the cab and ran up the stairs. Parvati and Justin Finch-Fletchley stood at the top in front of the closed doors. Parvati greeted her and let her in.

Half a dozen Aurors, but no one else, were gathered in the entrance hall. Two Aurors, Seamus and Popeye, stood with their backs to the closed doors of the Great Hall. Ginny could hear a low rumble of voices from behind the doors, and guessed that the entire student body were sequestered there while the Pensieve was being moved. The other Aurors stood at the foot of the marble staircase looking up.

As Ginny watched, a group of people appeared at the top of the flight. She saw Harry, Saliyah, Professors Flitwick and Maxime, several Aurors including Ron, and a witch and wizard she didn’t know, but assumed were the Unspeakables who had come to examine the Pensieve.

The Pensieve itself was being carried by Hagrid. His massive arms encircled it, and a heavy blanket covered it; a thick dragon-hide strap was wrapped around the basin and held the blanket in place. It was clear that no one was taking any chances.

Hagrid moved slowly to the top step. Professor Flitwick stood on one side, his wand at the ready. Harry was on his other side with his wand out. Madame Maxime hovered just behind Hagrid, her arms outstretched, ready to support him if he stumbled or tripped. The others stayed back a few feet, following behind.

Harry looked down into the entrance hall. He caught Ginny’s eye briefly, but turned his head to the two Aurors standing in front of the Great Hall. Popeye glanced back at the doors, and nodded to Harry. He said something to Hagrid and the gamekeeper started down the stairs.

He took the steps one at a time, not letting the Pensieve tilt. Professor Flitwick talked as they descended, guiding Hagrid with each step. In a few minutes they were at the bottom and Hagrid gently lowered the Pensieve to the floor. He steadied it, then took one of his huge handkerchiefs from his pocket and mopped his brow. Madame Maxime took it from him and, with a smile, wiped his whole face. No one except Ginny, who had to suppress a laugh, saw the Athair twins peek around the balustrade at the top of the staircase.

Harry walked over to Ginny. He had a stunned look, and as he opened his mind Ginny’s eyes widened.

“How can that be?” she whispered when he was standing in front of her. “Do the others know?”

Harry nodded. “Flitwick was the first to notice, and then Dumbledore confirmed it.”

“And it was like the one we saw in the house?”

“Almost like.”

Harry didn’t have to say more; Ginny saw it all in his mind. An hour ago in the Headmistress’s office, when Hagrid cautiously lifted up the Pensieve, they had for the first time been able to examine the wooden disk underneath it. It was identical to the one on the floor in Godric’s Hollow, but this one was not covered with runes; it was blank.

Chapter Text

Ginny’s plan to celebrate her letter from the Games and Sports Department was forgotten in the swirl of activity and the tension that surrounded her. She wasn’t really part of it, but Harry let his mind stay open as he and Saliyah organized the two parties of Aurors and Unspeakables that would be setting out. One group of Aurors, led by Harry, and one Unspeakable would accompany the Pensieve on its journey to London. Harry was to ride in the cab next to Percy. Hagrid, Amander Croaker, and two Aurors would ride in the back with the Pensieve.

Meanwhile, Ron and his team would Apparate down to Godric’s Hollow together with the other Unspeakable, Julia Sprout, to investigate the house and the room where Harry and Ginny had found the mysterious wooden disk. And now they knew what it was. When Hagrid had lifted the Pensieve off the table where it had been sitting, Professor Flitwick had let out a loud squeal and ordered Hagrid to put it back down. Harry saw immediately that the object was identical to the one in Godric’s Hollow, except that there were no runes on it. Flitwick did not know the purpose of the disk or the missing runes, but he knew that something was wrong.

Head Auror Ushujaa asked several of the portraits to find Professor Dumbledore, and he returned a short time later from the Ministry of Magic where he had been receiving reports from St. Mungo’s about Professor McGonagall. He frowned when the Charms professor told him what they had found under the Pensieve, and turned pale when Harry told him what Ginny and he had seen in the house in Godric’s Hollow.

“The runes are intended to strengthen protective spells around the Pensieve and keep the memories intact,” he said. “A few months ago, after Minerva began to use it on a regular basis, I suggested that she create the disk.” He thought for a moment. “I think we have found the explanation for how it has come to be so erratic and unstable. But who did it, why, and how it ended up in your parents’ house, Harry . . .”

Ron and the Unspeakables examined the blank disk and found it to be completely devoid of magic; it was a simple slab of pine. They decided that they could move the Pensieve without risk since it had already been without its protection for an unknown length of time.

So now they were down in the entrance hall preparing for trips to London and the West Country. At a word from Harry, Hagrid lifted the Pensieve and proceeded out the oak doors and down the steps to the waiting lorry. Everyone followed, including Ginny. Hagrid stopped a few feet behind the rear of the vehicle and gazed at the latch holding the doors closed.

“Does anyone know how to open this?” he called out.

There was silence as the assembled talent pondered the back doors of the Volvo FL. Justin was about to reach up to turn the handle, when someone from the rear called out, “Alohomora!” and the doors flew open, knocking Justin and both of the Unspeakables aside and smacking Ron on the side of his head. As the affected parties picked themselves up, everyone else looked back and saw Emma and Claire grinning in the doorway. Emma’s wand was still pointing at the lorry.

Popeye strode from the doors of the Great Hall toward the twins with a furious look on his face, but Harry waved him away.

“It’s fine,” he laughed. “They’re Unstoppables.”

Popeye glared at them for a moment while everyone else snickered, except both of the Unspeakables. He retreated to his post by the Great Hall and muttered something to Seamus, who just grinned.

Justin and Ron climbed into the cargo compartment and Hagrid lifted the Pensieve gingerly onto the tailgate; he pushed it inside where the two Aurors steadied it. Hagrid heaved himself up and maneuvered the Pensieve to the front of the compartment, bending double under the low ceiling. He sat with his back to the front partition and braced the Pensieve with his legs.

“She’s all set, Harry,” he called. “Tell Percy not to hit any bumps.”

Ron climbed down and Parvati joined Justin inside; they sat on the floor near the back doors. Harry and Ron helped Amander Croaker up. He crawled to the front, conjured a cushion for himself and sat warily next to Hagrid, his wand in his hand resting on his lap.

Harry turned to Ron who stood with his team of Dennis Creevey and Tom Trenton. “You have the counter-charm for the seal I put up?”

“I know your magical style, mate. It’s as good as broken.”

“Thanks,” Harry muttered. “You’re fired.”

“No problem. Ernie Macmillan is next in line for my job.”

Harry thought it best not to respond, so he said to Ginny, who was at his elbow, “I’m sorry, sweetie, it’s great news about the team. But if you can wait up, I should be home before midnight.”

“That’s okay.” She gave him a hug and a quick kiss. “I’ll make us a nice late supper and we can talk.”

“Good. How about that macaroni and cheese recipe? I love it.”

“Sure. I have all afternoon. It’ll be ready when you get home.”

Harry smiled and held his wife for a moment, closing his eyes and inhaling her fragrance. At moments like this, when Ginny’s happiness and enthusiasm for pleasing him filled his heart, he marveled that, as bizarre as so much of his life had been, he had ended up with the perfect woman as his mate.

Hardly perfect. Ginny giggled in his arms, but she was pleased with his thought. “Be careful,” she said.

“You know I always am. Besides, all we’re doing is taking a spin down to London.”

“That’s what I’m talking about. Percy. He hit a Muggle car on his way up here.” She pulled Harry to the side of the lorry and pointed to the smudge of paint on the front bumper.

Harry grimaced. “Brilliant.” He took out his wand and repaired the damage. “Well,” he sighed, “I think there’s enough room in the cab for two passengers, so I’ll keep someone else with me to help look out.” He looked back at the group of Aurors standing around at the foot of the steps. “I’ll put someone else inside and have Justin sit with me. He’s most likely to know the Muggle traffic laws.”

Saliyah approached them and Harry nodded to her. “I know, we need to get going.”

“Right,” the Head Auror said. “Professor Flitwick doesn’t want to keep the students locked up much longer.” She glanced at the Athair twins, still standing at the top of the steps watching everything with avid eyes. “Those two are going to be filthy rich someday. They’ll either be wealthy businesswomen or wealthy criminals.”

Harry and Ginny both laughed. Harry kissed her once more, told Ron to wait for him at the Ministry after he finished at Godric’s Hollow, and checked the passengers inside the back of the lorry.

“Go get Seamus,” he said to Dennis. “Tell him he’s coming with us. Justin.” He beckoned to the Muggle-born Auror. “Sit in the cab with me. We need help with Muggle traffic.”

In a few more minutes everything was set. Justin climbed into the cab and sat next to Percy. Madame Maxime handed Parvati a sack of sandwiches and several flasks of water that she had Summoned from the kitchen, and finally Harry closed the rear doors and got in the cab. Ginny came around and kissed Percy goodbye as he revved the engine loudly, producing a scowl from Harry.

They pulled away from the castle steps and proceeded slowly down the drive to the gates, which Susan and Padma opened as soon as they spotted the lorry. They rolled down the lane to the train station and bumped across the tracks into the village. Several dozen people on the High Street and in doorways gawked as they passed.

“I got here around five in the morning,” Percy said as he navigated up the street, “so nobody saw me. I guess they’ve never seen a lorry in the High Street before.”

Harry peered ahead toward Zonko’s, idly wondering if George would be outside, if for no other reason than to shout a few choice insults at Percy. Suddenly Justin jabbed him in the side.

“Look!” He pointed to a figure hurrying into Honeydukes. “He was standing by the road and ran inside when he saw us.”

“Who?” Harry had not seen the person’s face, but now he sat up when he saw a blue cloak disappear inside the shop.

“Dung. Is he living up here now?”

“Stop!” Harry cried and was out the door before they had completely halted. He ran into the sweet shop and looked around but saw only two or three customers, residents of the village who he knew well. “Where did he go?” he shouted. “The man in blue?”

“Out back, I think,” said one, a stout witch who, Harry knew, spent a lot of gold in Honeydukes. “I think it was Mundungus Fletcher. Hildegard!” she called to the witch behind the counter. “You’d better check your inventory. Mr. Fletcher just ran out the back door.”

Harry dashed through the room and down a short hallway. As he banged open the door at the end and looked out onto the back field, he heard a loud pop and knew that Fletcher was gone.

Swearing, he turned back and met Justin inside the shop. “Too late. He Disapparated. This is not good. I need to get a message to Saliyah and Ron, if he hasn’t left. Get back to the castle as fast as you can and tell them both to come here.”

Justin turned on the spot and vanished. Harry went back to the lorry and saw Percy standing next to it; Seamus and Parvati were by the open back doors, watching Harry.

“A short delay,” he told them. “Mundungus Fletcher was here. I have to tell Saliyah and Ron. I think Ginny and I saw him at Godric’s Hollow yesterday.”

“Speaking of whom . . .” Parvati pointed behind Harry, and he turned to see Ginny hurrying towards them from the direction of Hogwarts. She arrived a moment later, out of breath and looking concerned.

“What happened? Why are you still here?” She peered inside the lorry. “I thought you’d be out of the village by now.”

“Mundungus Fletcher was loitering outside Honeydukes,” Harry said, “wearing a blue cloak.”

Ginny put her hand to her mouth. “No! Do you think it was him at the house?”

Harry nodded. “When you left the castle, were Ron and Saliyah still there?”

“Saliyah was. Ron and his team walked down to the gate with me and Disapparated. They’re in Godric’s Hollow by now.”

Harry swore again. “This is turning messy. We’ll have to send someone or . . .” He looked across the street at the Post Office. “Close it up,” he ordered Parvati and Seamus, pointing at the lorry. “I don’t want anyone to see what or who is inside. You two stay here and keep people away. Damnation! And Percy, take that idiotic hat off!” Percy ignored him and climbed back into the cab.

Harry pulled Ginny towards the Post Office. “Come, we’ll have to send an owl.”

“Why not your Patronus?” Ginny asked as they crossed the street. “Or someone could Apparate.”

“We’re only supposed to use Patronuses for emergencies, and I can’t spare anyone.”

“And this isn’t an emergency?”

They were almost at the Post Office and Harry was about to speak, when the door opened and Chadwick Chamberlain walked out, almost bumping into them.

“Harry!” he exclaimed, smiling broadly. “How are you? I was just sending a letter off to my wife. And this must be Mrs. Potter. How delightful! I am Chadwick Chamberlain, husband of Patience, a dear aunt of Fleur’s. I remember you from her wedding. Your dress was very beautiful. I believe we will have the pleasure of visiting your charming home this weekend.”

Charming indeed, Harry thought, making Ginny smile. The man was bubbling with as much cheerfulness as he had displayed two days ago in Professor Flitwick’s office. He took Ginny’s hand and kissed it.

“I’ve heard about you from Fleur,” she said, curtseying and returning his smile. “Pleased to meet you. I hadn’t heard that you would be coming.”

“Ah. I will have to speak to Mrs. Chamberlain. She must have forgotten to return the invitation. But Fleur will know. She and my wife are very close.”

Ginny nodded. Chamberlain was still holding her hand, smiling; he seemed to be expecting a response of some kind. Ginny looked at Harry who was holding the door open. “I’m sure it won’t be a problem. Fleur’s family is always welcome at our—my parents’ house.”

They heard a window opening around the side of the building, and an owl shot past, its wings laboring as it rose into the air. It swerved to avoid the lorry, climbed, and disappeared towards the south.

Chamberlain lowered his eyes from the sky where he had been following the bird, and released Ginny’s hand. “Well, I must be off. I have an appointment with your brother, you know.” He directed his smile at Ginny for a moment, and hurried away. Ginny started to walk inside the Post Office, but stopped when Harry stood at the door, watching Chamberlain until he sprang up the steps to Zonko’s Joke Shop and went inside.

“Why were you watching him?” she asked.

“That owl was carrying quite a large parcel to be just a letter to his wife.”

“Ask Mr. Rastlebuck what it is.”

Harry came inside and closed the door behind him. “I can’t do that. The post is private, and besides, he hasn’t done anything wrong. But that reminds me. I wanted to talk to George or Angelina about him. They might know why he became a joke merchant.”

He stopped talking when they heard a window closing, and the ancient Postmaster, Rathbone Rastlebuck, appeared from a back door.

“Mr. and Mrs. Potter, how are you?” He walked a little shakily to the counter. “What can I do for you? Official business?”

“I need a really fast owl to take a message to the West Country. And yes, it’s official.” Harry took a parchment from a stack sitting on the counter and wrote his message while the Postmaster returned to the back room. He came out a moment later with a Tawny owl perched on his arm. Harry finished writing the message and handed it to Rastlebuck. “It’s for Ron Weasley. He’s in Godric’s Hollow, and it’s very important.”

The owl raised its leg and, while Rastlebuck tied the parchment on, puffed its chest at Harry, who had to smile at the bird’s sense of self-importance. When he was done, Rastlebuck carried the owl to a window, opened it, and tossed it out. For a few seconds they could hear wings beating as it flew off.

Back outside they found Justin, Saliyah and Popeye standing with Seamus and Parvati next to the lorry. Harry told them what had happened.

“Do you really think it was Dung you saw inside the house?” the Head Auror asked. “I can’t imagine why he would be there or what he could be doing with that disk. Merlin, he’s supposed to be retired.”

“Yeah, but retired from what?” Popeye growled. “Maybe from the Department, but not from lining his own pockets with shady deals.”

Saliyah looked at him thoughtfully, and said to Ginny, “We might need you to pay him a visit. Do you think you can put the charm on him again? I know you’ve done it in the past.”

“I’d hate to get him in trouble.” Ginny spoke to Saliyah, but also directed her reluctance at Harry’s mind. “Maybe it was someone else we saw.”

The Head Auror sighed. “Well, you have to get on the road. You’ve lost time and you’ll be traveling a good deal of the way in the dark. I’ll send Popeye down to join Ron. At least he’ll get there before the owl does, if not Mr. Fletcher.”

The Aurors climbed into the back of the lorry, Harry closed it up, and gave Ginny yet another goodbye kiss. He motioned Justin to get back into the cab.

“See you tonight,” he said to Ginny. “I’ll probably be Flooing in from the Ministry.” He slammed the door shut, waved to her, and turned to Percy who was sitting in the driver’s seat looking out the front window. “Let’s go, Percy. We’ve already lost too much time.”

Percy gave a start; he nodded and revved the engine, as he had when they were leaving the castle. Harry just grinned out the side window at Ginny. She waved and blew him a kiss as the lorry pulled away.

They drove to the top of the High Street and turned right, down the lane that led past The Hog’s Head. They continued slowly past it, bumping over rough, grassy ruts until they came to the lane that led away from Hogsmeade towards the east. Percy stopped the lorry.

“What’s wrong?” Harry asked. “Turn left.”

They followed the lane that led past the field behind the inn and some outlying wizard farms for about two miles until they came to a two-lane Muggle motorway. Percy stopped again. He hadn’t said a word since leaving Hogsmeade.

Harry looked left out his window. “It’s clear this way.” When the lorry didn’t move, he looked across Justin at Percy who, once again was staring out the windshield. “Look, I’m sorry I yelled at you. I’m a little on edge, that’s all.”

Percy nodded. Justin nudged him and pointed to the right. “South,” he said. “We want to stay on this road until we meet the A9 above Perth, and then we just follow the signs to Edinburgh.”

Percy revved the engine and whipped the lorry across the road to the southbound lane. There were shouts of protest from the back, and Harry scowled at Percy. “Take it easy, mate, there’s fragile cargo back there.” Percy grunted but said nothing. Harry shrugged, knowing that his brother-in-law could be a bit touchy at times.

“So you know the roads pretty well?” he asked Justin, more to pass the time than because he wanted to know.

“Yep,” the curly-haired Auror replied. “Mum and Dad were a bit, well, snobbish about taking the Hogwarts Express up to school. They drove whenever they needed to be here, so I learned the roads. I had to ask Dumbledore to work a few spells so they could see the lanes when they turned off this road.” He grinned. “Once one of those hippogriffs that Hagrid keeps buzzed them just outside Hogsmeade. Scared them half to death.”

Harry chuckled. He appreciated Justin’s down-to-earth attitude. His parents were wealthy, well-meaning Muggles who kept their only son well-supplied with all kinds of gifts that he didn’t need or want. He often gave the electronic gadgets and other Muggle artifacts to Arthur Weasley for his collection. Harry knew from his visits to the Burrow that Molly was not happy about it, because the overflow from the shed in the yard was starting to find its way into the house. She was constantly dropping obvious hints to Ginny to get Harry to stop Justin from “donating” his parents’ largess to Arthur. Both Harry and Ginny figured that it was her father’s problem, not theirs.

Harry and Justin passed the time chatting idly for half an hour, until finally they fell silent and watched the glorious Scottish Highlands pass by. An hour later they heard banging from the back.

“Time for a rest stop,” Harry said. “Pull over, Percy.” He indicated the shoulder a few yards up from a small petrol station.

They rolled to a stop by the side of the road, and Harry and Justin got out. Harry went around back and opened the doors. Parvati and Seamus jumped down, but Hagrid and Amander Croaker remained sitting.

“Don’ worry about us,” Hagrid’s booming voice echoed in the compartment. “We’re havin’ a nice chat about all the lovely creatures in the Forbidden Forest.” He winked broadly at the Unspeakable, who smiled at Harry.

“Mr. Hagrid is an illuminating gentleman,” he said. “I’m glad I had this chance to make his acquaintance and spend some time with him.”

“We don’t want to stop too often,” said Harry. “There’s a place right down the road, and if you have to use the facilities . . .”

They waved him off, so Harry went around the lorry and asked Percy if he wanted to stretch his legs. He just shook his head. Harry waited for a moment, but when Percy ignored him, he returned to the back where Justin was waiting.

“Keep an eye on Percy,” Harry said quietly. “He’s acting funny.”

Justin shrugged dismissively. “He’s always standoffish, as far as I can tell.” His face flushed. “Sorry, Harry. It slipped out.”

“It’s okay,” Harry smiled. “He’s actually a decent chap as long as you let him think he’s in charge. He’s probably annoyed because I’m the one giving the orders.”

Seamus and Parvati returned from the petrol station, and Harry and Justin walked down to use the facilities. Harry also took a water flask to refill. A few minutes later they were back on the road.

The miles slipped by, and now both Harry and Justin watched the road and Percy. He had pulled his chauffeur’s cap down low and sat erect with both hands on the wheel, looking neither left nor right. Harry kept glancing at him, trying to get a closer look at his face, but Percy just stared straight ahead.

There was nothing wrong with his driving, at least. He followed Justin’s directions, although Harry was pretty sure that Percy knew the roads, since he had come north on them just a few hours ago. He kept within the speed limit and followed all the traffic rules, as far as Harry could tell.

They passed through villages and one or two small towns. Harry wanted to avoid the larger cities, and happily Justin knew a way to skirt Perth. They halted every hour for a few minutes to let everyone stretch their legs, but other than that they pressed southward without stopping.

Hagrid and the Unspeakable never left the cargo compartment, even after they had been driving for several hours. Harry didn’t know how they could go that long without needing a loo, but since they didn’t complain and didn’t take advantage of any of their rest stops, he didn’t ask.

Hagrid seemed relaxed, sitting with his back against the front partition, the Pensieve braced between his legs, and Amander Croaker always had a serene smile whenever the back door was opened and Harry looked in. Maybe, thought Harry, these Unspeakables stayed inside the Department of Mysteries for days on end, and had trained themselves to abjure bodily functions. Now that he thought about it, he didn’t remember ever seeing a loo on the ninth level of the Ministry.

They approached Edinburgh in the late afternoon and crossed the Firth of Forth at Queensferry. They zipped around the capital city and rolled on towards England. The monotony started to put Harry to sleep; the day had been long and stressful. He conjured up a pillow and rested his head on it, leaning against the window. He closed his eyes and dozed off.

He awoke with a start when something poked him in the side. He looked around into the gloom; a glow of sunlight on the horizon was all that was left of the day. He looked at Justin who also seemed to have just awoken. His wand was in his hand, and he had just jabbed it into Harry’s ribs.

“Where are we?” Harry peered out the side window, but he couldn’t see any buildings or lights. They had pulled off the road; cars were speeding by in both directions.

“We’re lost,” said Justin, and indicated Percy with his eyes.

“What? Weren’t you watching the road?”

“I couldn’t keep my eyes open. We were on the main trunk south, so I told him—” he jerked his thumb at Percy “—to stay on it and wake me when he started seeing signs for London. But here we are . . .”

The lorry was stopped on a hard, broad shoulder. Harry stared past Justin and Percy out the driver’s side window, across the motorway, and across a wide beach. In the twilight he could see open water stretching into the distance. It took a moment to sink in, but then he said, “If that’s the sunset, then that’s the Irish Sea. How in the effing name of Merlin did we get this far west?”

Percy didn’t move. He was staring, once again, through the windshield. In the deepening gloom Harry could not see his face, partly hidden by his cap.

“I think he’s Imperiused,” Justin said very quietly.

A chill went up Harry’s spine and a jolt of panic filled his belly. He reached over, turned the engine off, and removed the key. Percy did not move or look at him.

Harry opened the door and jumped down. “Open the back and tell everyone what’s going on,” he ordered Justin, and stepped back to let the Auror clamber out of the cab. Justin ran to the rear and Harry heard the doors bang open. A moment later Amander Croaker was standing next to him, peering into the cab at Percy.

“This is very inconvenient,” he muttered.

“It’s at least that!” Harry snapped. “I’ll have to use my Patronus now, and there’s no bloody cover. Every Muggle on the motorway will see it.”

The Unspeakable turned and waved his wand in a large circle. Suddenly a mist formed around them. It grew thicker until Harry could not even see the lorry in front of him. The fog became almost like a wall, blocking out the remaining twilight in the west, enveloping everything in an impenetrable murk.

He faced away from the road with his wand extended, pictured Ginny the last time he had made love to her, and called, “Expecto Patronum!” His stag shot out of his wand, paused for a split second as Harry formed a mental picture of Saliyah Ushujaa sitting in her office at the Ministry of Magic, and flashed across his mind the message he wanted to send. The stag shot away and disappeared into the fog.

Tires squealed loudly behind him on the motorway. A car horn blared, more tires squealed, and a loud metallic crunch caused everyone to jump. Harry raced around to the road and waved his wand. It took a few seconds for the fog to clear, but as it rolled away towards the sea, he lit his wand and his heart sank.

Before him were two automobiles. One, about ten yards down the pavement, had its boot caved in. The other, right in front of him, had its front completely smashed. Steam rose from under its crumpled bonnet and a green liquid ran from underneath onto the road. Other cars passing in both directions slowed and steered around the damaged cars. The passengers peered out, but no one stopped. As Harry watched, a dazed Muggle opened the car door and stumbled out. Harry rushed to catch him before he fell.

“Are you alright? Is anyone else inside?” He peered into the car but could see no one. “Here, sit for a moment.” Without thinking, he conjured a chair and sat the man to it.

“Sodded dog,” the Muggle said, sitting and taking a breath, “I’ve seen fogs along here but never like that. Where in bloody hell did it come from?”

Harry glanced at Croaker, who was standing next to the lorry, his eyes wide, a stricken look on his face. The other Aurors had gathered at the back of the lorry holding up lit wands. Hagrid was also there, peering out from the shadow of the cargo hold.

Footsteps sounded on the motorway as another Muggle ran towards them from the other car. “Is anyone hurt?” he cried, but skidded to a stop on the road and stared at the wizards in their robes, their raised wands lit like torches. His eyes bulged when he saw Hagrid with his wild hair, bushy brows, and bushier beard staring back.

At that moment, another figure came from around the side of the lorry. “Percy!” Harry yelled. His brother-in-law leaped into the cargo compartment, his cap flying off. As Hagrid turned, a loud, echoing boom came from the hold. Hagrid shouted. His head disappeared and the whole lorry bounced on its tires. Seamus and Parvati jumped into the compartment, but they were all too late. The sound was still reverberating inside the lorry, and Harry knew that the Pensieve was gone.

Amander Croaker shrieked and ran to the lorry. He held onto the lip of the tailgate, swaying dangerously until Justin put his arm around his waist. Hagrid appeared and shook his head.

“He Disapparated, Harry, an’ he took it with him.” Seamus and Parvati also stood in the opening. Everyone, including the two completely befuddled Muggles, looked at Harry.

He took a deep breath. He was engulfed in disaster, but he had to keep his head and prevent things from getting worse. “Everyone get inside!” he said loudly. “Justin, you’re driving. Get him in, now!” He pointed to Croaker who was leaning against Justin, trembling, his eyes glassy, muttering incoherently. Hagrid reached one hand down and grabbed him under his armpit and lifted him effortlessly. He moved out of sight into the compartment, dragging Croaker with him.

Harry heard a distant siren; the police would be here soon. He needed to get his team away, as quickly as possible. He looked at the Muggles. Their mouths were hanging open, their eyes wide. Harry realized he had no choice.

He yanked the first Muggle out of the chair, pulled him to the side of the road, and before the poor man could utter a word, pointed his wand at him. “Obliviate!” he muttered. The Muggle swayed and started to fall; Harry Summoned the chair and plunked him down. As he looked around wildly, Harry quickly hexed the other one, ran around the front of the lorry and jumped into the cab.

“Get us out of here!” he shouted as he slammed the door closed.

Justin stared at him in panic. “Harry, I haven’t driven for almost five years. And I never drove one of these.”

“Just do it!”

Justin took a breath, threw it in gear, and floored the pedal. The lorry’s wheels spun and squealed as they fishtailed onto the motorway. He kept the pedal down, and the engine roared as they picked up speed.

“Careful.” Harry pointed ahead at the rapidly approaching flashing lights. In a moment a police car sped by going the other way, and Harry breathed a sigh of relief.

They drove in silence for five minutes. Harry leaned his head back against the headrest and closed his eyes. He tried not to think about what had just happened; Saliyah would not want him to dwell on it right now. There would be time later to analyze the catastrophe, to figure out what had gone wrong. Now he needed to get them back to the Ministry without more of the sky falling down on them.

It was almost completely dark, and their headlights lit the road in front. Justin glanced at him. “Where do we go?”

“Back to the Ministry, but we have to make sure we don’t get stopped by the police. Someone was bound to have noticed us, and it won’t take them long to realize we must have seen the accident.” He peered out the windshield. “Pull over as soon as you see someplace that’s sheltered from the road.”

They kept driving, but now houses started appearing and traffic became heavier. Soon they were in the middle of a small town. Harry kept looking around anxiously for the police, wondering what he would do if they were stopped. A patrol car passed them and he held his breath, but the officer inside gave them no notice. They kept on for twenty more minutes until they came out on the other side of the town. Justin accelerated, and Harry again breathed a sigh.

They were moving roughly east, away from the sea, through suburban estates. They were passing a cluster of larger buildings that looked like an office complex, when Harry pointed towards one of them. “Pull in here. Those offices are closed and no one’s around.”

Justin jammed on the brakes and swerved into the driveway. The tires squealed and the lorry swayed. There were thumps and cries from inside the cargo compartment, and Justin swore. “Sorry,” he mumbled. “You didn’t give me much warning.”

They came to a stop in a dark corner of the car park, in the shadow of the building. Harry jumped out and ran to the back. The door was already open and Parvati climbed down.

“Bit of a rough ride,” she grinned. “It’s a good thing you stopped. Mr. Croaker needs to relieve himself.” Seamus got out after her, and he helped Croaker to the ground. The Unspeakable stood there rubbing his head and looking uncomfortable.

“We’re in a car park,” Harry said to Parvati. “We’ll have to put up a wall or partition of some kind for him.”

“Don’t trouble yourself,” the Unspeakable scowled. He stalked away until he was lost in the shadows.

“He’s pretty angry, Harry,” said Seamus. “He figures you lost the Pensieve.”

“Bugger him. If he hadn’t cast that damn fog we would have been fine.”

Seamus nodded. “That’s what we all think, and Hagrid called him a bloody old fool to boot.” He chuckled. “If you hadn’t stopped I think he would have peed himself.”

“Why did we stop?” Parvati asked.

“I want to disguise this.” Harry pointed to the lorry. “I’m afraid the police will be looking for us. Hagrid! I need to close the doors!”

As the Hogwarts gamekeeper clambered out, Harry couldn’t help noticing his dark look. He stared off in the direction of Amander Croaker, who was just a dark shape next to the wall of the building about thirty yards away.

Harry shut the rear doors, took out his wand, pointed it at the vehicle, and began walking around it. As he moved, it changed from white to pale green with light blue trim, the same color as the lettering on the side. He finished up back at the rear doors.

“Harry,” said Parvati with a smile, “I didn’t know you were such a talented decorator. That’s a very attractive color scheme.”

He acknowledged her with a roll of his eyes and walked over to Hagrid, who stared off into the night, not looking at Harry.

“Don’ try to sweeten it fer me.” He turned and glared fiercely at Harry. “It was my responsibility, and I screwed up.”

“It was not your responsibility,” Harry shot back. “It was mine. But regardless, it wasn’t your fault. And it also doesn’t matter whose fault it was. We don’t work that way. No one will point a finger at you or anyone else.”

Hagrid heaved a giant sigh that sounded like a foghorn. They saw Croaker look at them as he adjusted his robes and started walking back. He paused when he was a few feet away, but not within reach of Hagrid, and pointed his finger at Harry.

“This is your doing, Mr. Potter,” he said angrily, his eyes flashing. “There will be repercussions, and your reputation will not help you. Someone will pay for this, do you hear me?”

Hagrid stepped in front of Harry and grabbed the extended finger in his huge fist. Croaker’s eyes bulged in fright and he tried to pull away, but Hagrid yanked him back. The Unspeakable yelped and cringed as Hagrid bent down and thrust his bearded face directly at him.

“Ye’ll do no such thing!” he bellowed, and Croaker’s head snapped back as though he had been punched in the nose. “Harry’s in charge here, not you, yeh pathetic, brainless fraud. No one told yeh t’ put up that stupid fog. If yeh hadn’t, none of this would have happened.” He let the finger go and Croaker stumbled backward, tripped on his robes, and fell on his back.

Hagrid bent over and picked him up, set him on his feet, and brushed off his clothes. Croaker pushed his hand away, glowering at both him and Harry. He stalked back to the lorry, pointed his wand and the doors flew open, almost banging into Justin who had to quickly step aside. The Unspeakable clumsily and with difficulty pulled himself up and disappeared inside.

“You shouldn’t have done that,” Harry said to Hagrid in a low voice, “but thanks.”

“Yeh didn’t do nothin’ wrong, Harry.” Hagrid frowned under his bushy eyebrows at the lorry. “He was pleasant as sunshine until somethin’ went wrong, then all he was innerested in was coverin’ his own bum.”

“Well, we’d better get going. I think we’re near Liverpool, which means we’ve still a long way to go.”

He gathered the Aurors together. “There’s room up front for another person, but given the mood around here, I think it’s best if you two ride in the hold,” he said to Seamus and Parvati. “I expect he’ll behave, but I don’t want to take any chances.”

“Do you think he’ll Disapparate?” Seamus asked. “Maybe we should Bind him.”

Harry shook his head vigorously. “Merlin, no! Let him, if he wants to. But, Hagrid, don’t sit next to him. You two sit between them,” he said to the Aurors.

Harry watched as the seating arrangements were worked out, then he climbed into the cab and soon they were on the road again. They drove through another suburban estate and came out on a wide motorway.

“I know where we are,” Justin said. “We’ll hit the ring road around Liverpool soon and we can cut off on the M46 and straight down the M1 right into London.”

“How long?” Harry asked, biting his lip. The longer they took, the more likely it was that Saliyah would send someone out to look for them, and he didn’t want that to happen, he didn’t want this to become any more complicated. They needed to get back as quickly as possible and start looking for Percy and the Pensieve.

“Maybe four hours, maybe a little longer,” Justin replied after a moment. “Unless we hit traffic, but it’s getting a little late for that.” He paused for another moment. “There’s one other thing. The way I’m thinking of going is the fastest, but part of it’s a toll road, just before we get to Birmingham.”

“That’s okay. I always have Muggle money with me.”

They sped on into the night. Traffic picked up as they neared Liverpool, but it wasn’t heavy and they were soon past it. They navigated the M6 toll road, drove by Birmingham and a few smaller cities, and entered London just before midnight. At last they pulled into the deserted street where the old telephone box stood, the public entrance to the Ministry of Magic. Harry indicated a run-down warehouse a few buildings down, and Justin rolled to a stop. He maneuvered the lorry so that they were backed against a battered overhead door covered with graffiti. Harry pointed to the ignition, and Justin turned the engine off.

Harry breathed a final sigh into the silence and closed his eyes for a moment. “Thank Merlin this is over. The road trip from hell.”

He climbed down and walked to the building. He looked up and down the empty street, pressed three bricks in succession with his wand, and the door vanished. The lorry, with its motor off, rolled silently into the warehouse. As soon as it was completely inside, Harry followed it and touched the wall next to the metal jamb with his wand. The door reappeared; they were inside.

The cargo doors swung open and the Aurors and Hagrid climbed out. Amander Croaker held back until everyone else was on the ground. Waving away Hagrid’s offer of assistance, he stepped off the tailgate and floated to the floor. Without a word he strode stiffly away into the dimly lit warehouse.

As he disappeared into the shadows, three figures appeared, walking towards them. Saliyah Ushujaa stopped and looked back at the Unspeakable. Hermione and Ron almost collided with the Head Auror when they also peered at Croaker’s back. They hurried to the group standing next to the lorry.

“What—” the Head Auror began, but Hagrid cut her off with his booming voice.

“He’s a screw-up!” he bellowed, pointing into the dark. “And Percy Weasley was Imperiused! That one there fouled up this whole operation!” He took a step so that he was between Harry and Saliyah. “He’ll be blamin’ Harry fer this, sure as a Skrewt smells like a rotten carp. But I’m tellin’ yeh, Sal, he’s the git that lost us the Pensieve.”

“Lost what?!” The Auror’s mouth fell open and she stared at Hagrid. Ron murmured a very audible swear word, and Hermione’s hand flew to her mouth.

Harry pushed past Hagrid. “Let’s not talk here,” he said as calmly as he could. “We need to get to the office, now.”

Saliyah nodded and turned on her heel. Harry waved to his Aurors and they followed. He took Ron’s left and Hermione’s right arm and walked with them a few yards behind the others. Hagrid brought up the rear, muttering loudly to himself.

“Wasn’t that lorry white?” Ron asked, glancing back. Their footsteps echoed in the empty warehouse.

“Yeah,” Harry said grimly. “I had to change it, and I had to Obliviate two Muggles. Their cars were wrecked also.” He sighed. “It’s a total mess.”

Ron and Hermione glanced at each other. “Where is Percy?” Ron said in a low voice.

“Dunno. He Disapparated.” Harry didn’t look at his best mate. He had lost a member of his team, which was bad enough, but that it was Ron and Ginny’s brother made it ten times worse. “With the Pensieve.”

Ron swore again. “Does anyone else . . . Does Audrey know?”

Harry shook his head, but didn’t answer. They had caught up to the others in front of a lift. He didn’t want to say anything else without Saliyah being able to hear it, but he was also silently letting Ginny inside, letting her know what had happened. He had kept his thoughts quiet throughout the day, not wanting to be distracted while events needed his full attention. That was what he normally did while at work, especially when he was out in the field. But now he had a moment of quiet, and he needed Ginny to know.

At first Harry felt only stillness and gentleness from her, but she reacted when he showed her with his thoughts what Percy had done. Imperiused, came back at him instantly. Percy would never do that. Impossible.

Harry knew she was right. Even if Justin hadn’t also said it, Harry could see now that all of Percy’s actions today were completely out of character. He would not have cared about Harry’s yelling at him about his chauffeur’s cap; he would have stiffened his back and flaunted it. He would have been talkative during the ride. And he would not have got lost.

Harry felt a gentle nudge in his mind. Percy was not Imperiused when you left Hogwarts. It happened in Hogsmeade.

He frowned at that. He had left Percy alone in the cab while he chased Fletcher, and again when he went into the Post Office. Dung could have done it, but Justin hadn’t said anything about the man using his wand. The perpetrator could have been anyone; someone could have been hiding in any building along the High Street. Or, it could have been Chadwick Chamberlain.

Harry’s frown deepened. He had intended to ask some questions about the former Beauxbatons professor, but it had slipped his mind; it had not seemed all that important. And although any motive Chamberlain could have for doing something like this was totally unobvious, Harry did not like the fact that he had shown up just at the time the Pensieve started to go haywire, and he had also been at the scene where Percy was most likely Cursed. If Harry could get his hands on the man’s wand, it would be easy enough to find out if he was the culprit.

A lift came and they rode it down to the second level of the Ministry. Everyone was silent except Hagrid. He squatted and bent over to fit under the ceiling until Saliyah waved her wand and the ceiling rose another fifteen feet. He stood and started muttering ill-disguised imprecations against the entire Department of Mysteries. As they stepped out into the corridor, Saliyah fixed a scowl on him and he stopped speaking, although Harry could tell that his friend had not said everything he had to say.

They filed into Saliyah’s office. The antechamber was empty and Saliyah waved them into her inner room where they all took chairs in front of her desk. Hagrid sat heavily on the floor off to one side, leaning against the wall.

“When did you eat last?” the Head Auror asked, looking around. Ron started to speak, but Hermione, anticipating him, jabbed her elbow into his side.

“A while ago,” Harry said as Ron massaged his ribs. “We needed to make time after the, um, accident.”

Saliyah fixed a questioning look on him, but said nothing. A moment later two house-elves came through the door, bearing trays piled high with sandwiches, pastries, and bottles of butterbeer. They put the trays down on the desk and bowed themselves out. Hermione whispered thanks to them, but everyone else tucked into the food.

No one spoke much while they ate. Hermione kept glancing at Harry, and Ron, who waited until everyone else had taken food before helping himself, kept his head down although he was clearly upset. Harry didn’t notice, though; he was lost in his own thoughts. With Ginny’s help, he was trying to re-create every moment of the two times he had been in the presence of Chadwick Chamberlain. He also didn’t notice that Saliyah was watching him.

After a few minutes the Head Auror cleared her throat. “We’d better start. We have a missing person and a very valuable missing object to find. Harry, tell me everything that happened.”

He felt Ginny withdraw, leaving his mind clear. He recounted the entire trip, even the parts at Hogwarts and Hogsmeade where Saliyah was present. He did not emphasize his encounter with Chamberlain inside the Post Office, leaving it to Saliyah to draw her own conclusions. When he described Croaker’s invocation of the fog, her lips tightened for a moment. She glanced at Hagrid when he issued a rumbling growl, but she said nothing.

Harry finished and leaned forward. “I’m positive that Percy was Imperiused, and that it happened in Hogsmeade. He definitely was okay before we left Hogwarts, and it was only after we were on the road that he started acting strangely.”

“But Harry,” Hermione said, “there was no one around to direct him. Or . . .” She hesitated and said almost fearfully. “Or was there?”

“Croaker?” Harry looked at her intently, then at Saliyah.

Hagrid jumped up, almost smashing his head into the ceiling. “There yeh go! I knew that half-brained slug was up to no good! He put that bloody fog out there just to give hisself a chance to make poor Percy skeddadle with the Pensieve. If I—”

“Hagrid!” Saliyah had to bellow to be heard over him. “Thank you! We’ll consider that possibility! Please!” She motioned him to calm down, and he dropped to the floor with a thud.

“Sorry,” he mumbled. “But I ain’t gonna let him pin this on Harry.” He glowered at the Head Auror.

“No one is pinning anything on Harry or anyone else,” she said. “But we all need to hear everything that happened. Ron?” She nodded to him.

Ron looked at Harry. “We spent two hours at your house in Godric’s Hollow. The seal you put up was still there, still intact. Someone had tried to break in, though.”

“Who?” Harry asked sharply, sitting forward and staring at Ron. “Could you tell?”

Ron nodded. “Mundungus Fletcher. He left enough magic around to kill a dragon. It was definitely him.”

Harry felt both his own and Ginny’s dismay. Mundungus was a sticky-fingered scoundrel, no doubt, but the Department had managed to keep him on a leash for the past five years, ever since he had developed that puppy-like attachment to Ginny when she handed him a slice of cake at her seventeenth birthday party. He was an invaluable go-between to the magical underworld. Now, not only did it appear that he had stepped over the line again, but Harry was beginning to wonder if Fletcher, as well as an unknown number of others, was involved in Dark Magic.

Chapter Text

Ginny lay on top of the covers in the four-poster, staring up at the red and gold canopy. It was late, already past midnight, and Harry was still at the Ministry. There was no news of the Pensieve or, what was more distressing, of Percy. Ginny knew from the thoughts that Harry let through to her that Ron had Floo’d from the Ministry to the Burrow to tell Mum and Dad, but he hadn’t returned yet. Ginny could well imagine what was happening at home: Molly hysterical, Arthur calm and comforting, Ron trying to extricate himself from the tumult and get back to the Ministry. There was nothing Ginny could do about any of it but wait. She also wondered where her sister-in-law Audrey was, or whether anyone at the Ministry had contacted her.

She did not want to fall asleep. She wanted to be awake when Harry got home; he was going to be tired and stressed. Since he had become a full-fledged Auror, nothing like this had happened. He had not had to deal with a life being in danger, and certainly not the life of his brother-in-law.

That thought made her insides lurch, and she jumped off the bed. She stood for a moment looking at the candle flickering on the nightstand. An old scene of chaos flashed in her mind: Percy carrying the lifeless body of Fred into the smoke-filled Great Hall, around them people weeping, moaning, clinging to each other. It was a moment that Ginny would never forget, but it rarely came back to her with such vividness. And if she was re-living it like this, she could only imagine how her mother was taking it.

She stood in front of the fireplace, her hand on the flowerpot where they kept their Floo powder. She was torn between waiting for Harry—he would want her to be there when he got home—and running to her mother who would want her daughter to be with her.

A tendril of Harry’s mind touched hers. He and Saliyah were in Kingsley’s office, along with two others. The Unspeakables. Then Harry shut it off.

Ginny took her hand from the pot. She would not let Harry come back to an empty house. He had just let her sense his distress, which was disturbing enough, but then he had cut it off. Whatever was going on in the Minister’s office was serious. Either something very bad had happened or Harry needed to eliminate distractions. Either way, she wanted to—she had to—be here for him. If she went to her mother, her mind wouldn’t be at the Burrow, it would be wherever Harry was.

She went into the little kitchen and checked the macaroni and cheese casserole; she had left it in the oven with a charm to keep it warm. She cast another spell just to make sure, and set the dish back on the rack. It smelled delicious, and Ginny smiled when she thought about how much Harry loved it.

She had picked up the recipe from a Beater brought over from the States by the Chudley Cannons a couple of years ago. He hadn’t improved their dismal season, maybe because he was almost as wide as his broomstick was long. He acquired a nickname, the Yank Tank, which Ginny didn’t understand at first but Gwenog explained was a reference to a very large, very heavy army vehicle that Muggles used for shooting at each other.

He was friendly enough, though, and he knew all about Harry Potter. He and Ginny talked a few times after matches, and it turned out that both he and Harry shared a love of baked macaroni and cheese. It was the only thing, in fact, that Harry remembered from his childhood with anything but loathing. One day his aunt had handed him a box of the stuff and told him to feed himself. Sometimes he had eaten nothing but M and C for a whole week, and still he managed to remain a skinny runt. The Hogwarts kitchen elves occasionally made it, and Winky also included it on the Hog’s Head menu. But it wasn’t until Ginny learned that the Yank Tank knew a world-famous recipe from a restaurant in his home-town that she made bold to try it herself.

Now it was a special treat, comfort food for cold, rainy, winter evenings or after very long days at the Ministry. Harry liked it so much that Ginny didn’t even care that he usually ate himself to sleep, often dropping on the red rug in front of the fireplace. She would fetch pillows and a blanket and snuggle next to him, letting the fire burn down until, late at night, they would awaken at the same time and watch the embers glow orange in the dark, and make love until dawn came through the picture window behind the love seat.

Ginny didn’t think the dish in the oven would have the same romantic effect on Harry tonight, if he even got to eat it. Too much had gone wrong, and Percy was missing. She thought of her mum again, and also of Audrey and her daughter, little Molly. By now Audrey must know that something had gone horribly wrong, but Ginny could only hope that someone else in the family, maybe Fleur or Angelina, would go to her.

Ginny was pacing in the sitting room, but she abruptly stopped. How stupid! Why hadn’t she thought of that before? She stood still for a moment, concentrating her mind, but Harry was still silent. She took a pinch of Floo powder, knelt down in front of the fireplace, and said loudly, “The Jokery!” She cast the powder and thrust her head into the green flames.

She looked out on a small, tidy parlor with a couch on the left, two wing chairs opposite it, a few small tables here and there, and a single window behind the chairs. A half-dozen small landscape paintings adorned the walls, and several photographs sat on one of the tables. No one was in the room, as she had expected at this hour, so she crawled out of the fireplace and stood, brushing herself off on the hearth and lighting her wand.

She was in the house that George and Angelina had bought three years ago, after they had decided to move up to Hogsmeade so that they could be closer to Zonko’s. But Ginny had a connection to the house that went farther back. In her last year at Hogwarts the house had been taken over by Death Eaters led by Dolores Umbridge, all of them recently escaped from Azkaban. They had Imperiused a local witch who lived in the house and worked in the village. Out of vengeance and a deluded belief that Harry still carried a piece of Voldemort’s soul inside him, they had tried to destroy both him and Ginny. They failed, but in the process of capturing Umbridge and her gang, Harry had almost demolished the house.

Afterwards, the local witch moved away. Tony Trostle rebuilt the house, and George and Angelina bought it. Ginny and Harry spent a lot of time there, and she often took long walks with George through the countryside, even into a Muggle village about five miles away where the two redheads in strange-looking cloaks were the objects of discreet curiosity.

Ginny suspected that there was another reason for George wanting to live near Hogwarts besides Zonko’s, and it gradually came out during those extended walks. Fred’s spirit—or maybe even some other manifestation of Fred—had called George to be close to where Fred had died. As skeptical as Ginny was, she never questioned George’s belief. He did seem more at peace up here in the Highlands, and that was all Ginny cared about.

The house was now very quiet. Ginny went to the front hallway where the staircase led to the upper floor, and listened for noises. She heard nothing; George and Angelina were asleep. She hesitated, but decided that things were dire enough that the family needed to know. She raised her wand, thought of the last time she and Harry had made love, and whispered, ”Expecto Patronum.” Her doe appeared in a shimmer of silvery fog, looked back at her for a moment, and trotted up the stairs and disappeared into the dark landing.

Ginny returned to the parlor and sat in a chair. A minute later she heard a door open and footsteps running down the stairs. George burst into the room tying the sash of his robe, and stumbled to a stop when he saw Ginny. He said in a voice not quite awake, “Percy is missing?” He stared at her, blinking rapidly, trying to wake up.

Ginny stood as another set of footsteps descended from upstairs and Angelina appeared at the door, also in a robe and pushing hair from her face; the swelling of her belly was very noticeable under the robe. “Ginny! What happened? Percy is missing?”

George frowned. “I thought he was with Harry. Didn’t they get back to London?”

Ginny told them what she knew. “I can’t stay,” she finished. “I want to be home when Harry comes, but someone needs to go to Mum and Audrey. She’s probably alone with little Molly.”

George nodded. “I’ll go to Mum, and you can go to St. John’s Wood,” he said to Angelina, referring to the posh London neighborhood where Percy and Audrey lived. “If she’s at the flat you can bring her to the Burrow. If not, I’m sure the Burrow is where she’ll be. Ginny, go home. Harry’s going to be wiped.” Without another word he turned, pulling Angelina after him. Before they were upstairs Ginny was back in her sitting room.

It was still empty, but she could now feel something coming from Harry. It was not a thought, but a sense of frustration and exhaustion. She stood uncertainly in front of the fireplace, experiencing frustration of her own, trying to keep it from him; she did not want to give him something else to worry about. She started to walk to the kitchen to check the casserole in the oven, when the fireplace flamed green and Harry stepped out.

He smiled tiredly at her and slumped into the love seat. “No sign of Percy,” he sighed. “I’m exhausted.”

Ginny quickly came and sat with her arms around him. He gave her a kiss and toppled over so that he was lying across the seat with his head in her lap. She stroked his hair and held his hand.

“What a day,” he murmured, closing his eyes. “Half the Ministry knows by now, and half of them are up in arms. Kingsley is trying to keep the peace, but there’s already people running around screaming for my head.” He sighed again.

Ginny bent down and kissed his forehead. “Oh, love, I’m so sorry. What about Saliyah?” They both knew that as long as Saliyah was behind him, Harry was safe.

“She’s fine. I honestly don’t think there was anything different I could have done, except maybe pay more attention to Percy, but . . .”

“He was Imperiused, wasn’t he?” Ginny said as she continued to stroke Harry’s head.

“Of course. The question is, who did it?”

“Amander Croaker?”

Harry let out a breath. “I wish. That would solve everything. But I don’t think it was him. He’s been an Unspeakable forever, he was a war hero, and Kingsley wouldn’t hear of it, or rather he wouldn’t let Hagrid go on about it. And I think he’s right. I saw Croaker after Percy took the Pensieve, and he was genuinely upset.”

“I went and got George and Angelina,” Ginny said. “George went to Mum and Angelina went to take Audrey to the Burrow. Did anyone from the Ministry tell her?”

“It was the first thing Kingsley did. Merlin,” he said after a pause, “I’m so tired.” He put his arm over his eyes and closed them.

“Wait here.” Ginny moved his head from her lap and got up. She went into the kitchen and dished up a large serving of baked macaroni and cheese into a bowl and brought it back out. Harry was still lying with his eyes closed and his arm across his face. He looked up when she sat and passed the steaming bowl under his nose.

“Oh!” He sat up, a huge grin on his face. “My perfect wife! I completely forgot about this.”

He took the bowl from her, but also took her hand and stood. “Let’s at least eat a proper meal. One thing today should be cheery.”

Ginny got a small serving for herself and they sat at the kitchen table while she tasted hers and Harry wolfed his. He kept looking up and grinning at her.

“At least the day is ending well,” he finally said when he was done; he was still smiling.

“That’s the whole idea of being married to me.” Ginny pushed her bowl aside and leaned her chin on her hands, smiling back.

Harry sat back and belched. Ginny kept smiling innocently.

“I’m having a feeling that it’s going to end very well indeed,” said Harry. He picked her up in his arms and carried her into the bedroom, kissing her deeply as he walked. He put her on the bed and began unbuttoning and unzipping her, even as their kiss deepened. His hands and his mouth caressed her breasts and stomach, and lower. She lay still for several moments, letting the moment build while Harry’s hands moved down her legs and up between her thighs. But when he stood and took off his own clothes and lay on top of her, she rolled him over and covered him with her body.

“This one is for you,” she whispered, and went to work with her fingers and her tongue.

“No arguments from me,” he managed to gasp between moans.

Ginny made sure he completely forgot the troubles of his day.

#  #  # #

The next morning they both had to be at the Ministry, Harry to continue the search for the Pensieve and Percy, Ginny to attend the meeting of the English National Quidditch team and the following press conference. She was glad that she had an excuse to be there; she would be close by if Harry needed her, and they could also eat lunch together.

When Harry went into the sitting room while Ginny was showering, he found a note from George on the mantel.

Still no word about Percy. Audrey and Angelina arrived here a few minutes ago and we’ll all stay until we hear something. Bill will remain in town and keep in touch with Dad at the Ministry. We sent an owl to Charlie, but it will take a day or so to get there. Keep in touch.

Harry took it back into the bedroom, laid it on Ginny’s dresser, and went into the little kitchen to fix breakfast. Ginny was back in bed with the note when he returned bearing a tray with a pot of coffee and mugs.

He leaned down and kissed her. “I’m glad you’ll be at the Ministry. It’s gonna hit the fan. It’ll be all over the Prophet too.”

“I’m glad too. I guess Dad will go in as long as someone is home with Mum.”

Harry showered and joined her back in bed, and they slurped hot coffee for fifteen minutes, talking about the events of yesterday. “The problem is that just about anyone would like to have a Pensieve,” Harry mused, “so just about anyone could be a suspect. I’m wondering about that Chamberlain bloke.” He paused for a moment and frowned. “Damn. I keep forgetting to ask George if he knows anything about him.”

“You can try asking Fleur too. She must have known him back in France.”

“Yeah.” Harry’s frown remained. He put his mug on the nightstand and leaned back on his pillows. “The main thing right now is to find Percy. Finding him could also give us leads to the Pensieve, but whoever is behind this is bound to Obliviate him. Well,” he squinted through the door into the parlor, where a clock sat on the mantel. “It’s time to get going.”

They dressed, ate, and Floo’d to the Ministry of Magic. Harry was expecting the drove of reporters waiting in the Atrium, and had braced himself, but he wasn’t expecting the dozen Aurors who ran to the fireplace he emerged from. They formed a phalanx around him.

“Wait!” he called to Ron at the point. “Ginny’s right behind me.”

A second later Ginny appeared, and almost stepped back into the fireplace when she saw the mob. Harry grabbed her arm and pulled her close. “I thought you were used to this,” he grinned as they let themselves be moved along by their escort through the Atrium.

“I am,” she muttered, looking straight ahead so as not to make eye contact with a reporter or photographer. They were shouting questions at Harry, not her. “But this isn’t a Quidditch match.”

Harry put his arm around her and felt her draw close. The shouted questions grew louder and more insistent as they passed through the golden gates and headed towards the lifts. Other Ministry workers watched with a variety of expressions ranging from bemusement to disgust. Finally they arrived at the lifts and the Aurors formed a semicircle around Harry, Ron, and Ginny. Flashbulbs popped and reporters pressed against the protective ring.

“It’s a mess,” Ron said in a low voice with his mouth next to Harry’s ear. Harry saw that he was exhausted, and realized that his Chief Assistant must have been up all night here at the Ministry. “Croaker and Sprout want to convene the Wizengamot but Kingsley is trying to put them off to give us a chance to find the goddamned Pensieve. Not to mention Percy.”

A lift arrived, and Ron turned and threw the grilles open. Harry pulled Ginny inside and Ron called loudly to the crowd pushing towards them, “Thank you for your patience, ladies and gentlemen! We look forward to reading your well-informed and incisive stories in the papers later today.”

He jumped inside and slammed the grille shut. Harry punched the button for the second level and the lift shot up.

“Thanks,” Harry said. “I expected them, but not the bodyguard.”

“I figured that Ginny would be with you,” Ron said, looking at his sister.

She gave him a peck on the cheek. “You look terrible. Did you sleep last night?”

Ron shrugged, but smiled tiredly. “Someone had to mind the store. I’ll go home in a couple of hours.”

“Take ten minutes to fill me in, then get the hell out of here,” Harry said. “Gin, didn’t you want to get off at six?”

They had passed the level for the Department of Magical Games and Sports, but Ginny shook her head. “I don’t have to be there until ten. Can I wait with you?” Harry gave her a grateful nod.

The lift stopped at level two and they walked quickly to Harry’s office. A huge stack of messages had accumulated in his inbox, but he shoved it aside and sat. Ginny took a chair at the side of the desk, while Ron went to the shelf where the coffee pot stood and poured himself a mug. Ginny stared at it when he set it down on the desk. She bent over it, took a sniff, and made a face.

“You two are so gross,” she said. “How can you drink this garbage?” She got up and took the coffee pot from the shelf. Holding it at arm’s length, she waved her wand over it and the contents disappeared. She waved it again and the scummy residue at the bottom also vanished. “All it takes is a little magic. I’ll be right back.”

She went out the door and Ron sighed. “Sorry, mate. I didn’t mean to drag her up here to clean house for us. Merlin, I’m so tired.” He closed his eyes for a moment.

“Can you catch me up real quick?” Harry asked quietly. “Just tell me where we stand right now, so when I talk to Sal I’ll know something. Then I want you to go home.”

Ron opened his eyes; they were bleary and red. “I hope I make sense. Sal called another shift in, mostly older types, and some of them went back to the spot you sent your Patronus from, to see if they could trace where Percy went. They should be back soon.” He yawned. “We’re staking out places where Dung likes to hang, but since that includes every pub in Britain, there’s a fair chance he might somehow slip through the net.” He paused, his eyes closed, and he swayed in his chair. Harry was about to send a charm to steady him, but Ron opened his eyes. “And Professor McGonagall is back at Hogwarts. They figured out it was some kind of induced Obliviate that caused her confusion, but it wasn’t permanent, so they worked out a counter-hex. Anyway, she doesn’t have to be at St. Mungo’s so she’s back at, uh, school.”

Ron’s head fell onto his chest, but snapped up again, and he blinked several times. “Did I tell you that they’re looking for Dung? Oh, yeah . . .” He fell forward and, before Harry could do anything, his face hit the desk. He began to snore.

The door opened and Ginny came back in carrying a steaming pot of coffee. Hermione was right behind her. Ginny giggled when she saw Ron, and Hermione gently shook his shoulder.

“Wake up, sweetie,” she said bending over him. “Let’s go home.”

“Huh?” Ron sat up and smiled at her. “Hey, babe. Let’s go home.”

“There’s an echo in here.” Hermione grinned at Harry. “I’ll put him to bed and come back. I slept all night.”

With help from a gentle Levitating charm, she led Ron out. Ginny closed the door after them and poured a mug of coffee for Harry; he took a sip and smiled. “This is much better. I think that other stuff was poisoning us.”

The door flew open again and a parchment airplane soared in. It touched down in the center of Harry’s desk; he read it and glanced at the clock on the wall. “Sal is having a meeting in ten minutes, but she wants me to come now. I guess you’ll have to leave.”

“I guess,” Ginny sighed. “I wanted to stay with you. You don’t think there’ll be trouble, do you?”

Harry gazed at her for a long moment. He never tired of looking at his wife, the most beautiful creature in the world. She still had her freckles; her hair was, if anything, even more fiery red; her eyes still blazed at him, as they were doing now after he had been staring at her for only a few seconds; her figure was very lithe thanks to her athletic career, and also very curvy; her lips . . .

He closed his eyes and sighed in turn. “I don’t know.” He opened them. “Sal and I talked about the politics last night and she agreed that Croaker was way out of line. But he’s been around a long time, and he stood up to the Death Eaters even after they killed two Unspeakables. I had to send the Patronus but now Croaker doesn’t agree, even though he did yesterday. He also said I should have done something about Percy.”

“Should you have?”

“I don’t know,” he said heavily. “Probably. Everything that happened is ultimately my responsibility. Sal is still behind me, but she wasn’t too happy with the job I did, and I don’t blame her.”

Ginny frowned. “That’s not fair. Croaker did something stupid. You had every right to expect an Unspeakable to act with some brains. And whoever Imperiused Percy was obviously an expert.”

Harry’s eyes suddenly narrowed and he rose from his chair.

“What?”

He grabbed her hand, which was suspended in mid-air. “Come on! We’re going to the Burrow.”

“What about your meeting?” Ginny said as Harry pulled her out the door. “What about my team meeting? Harry!”

“You have more than an hour. We’ll be back in plenty of time.” He was practically running, almost dragging Ginny through the corridor, muttering apologies to people who jumped aside to avoid being run over. He skidded to a stop outside an office with a brass nameplate on the door, Head Auror. Ginny bumped into him as he stuck his head in.

“Laura!” he said to the witch in green Auror robes sitting at the desk. She looked up. “Tell Sal I’ll be back in less than an hour. I’m following up on a lead.”

She opened her mouth to speak, but Harry slammed the door and began pulling Ginny down the corridor again.

“Harry!” she laughed. “What are you doing? Tell me what’s happening.”

They arrived at the lifts and Harry kissed her as he pushed the call button. “There’s just something about you that inspires me, plus you said something that jarred my brain loose. You’ll see when we get there.”

“You’re being very secretive,” she pouted, but returned his kiss.

Three Aurors got off the lift and pushed past them. “No snogging on company time, Potter,” Popeye growled. The three walked away down the corridor, snickering.

Harry grinned and stepped into the empty lift with Ginny. “As I was saying . . .” He leaned over to kiss her, but she pushed him away.

“First tell me what’s going on. One minute you’re mooning at me across your desk, the next minute you’re dragging me through the Ministry, knocking people over along the way.”

“I’m always mooning at you. You’re beautiful.” He tried to pull her close, but she backed into a corner and, giggling, pointed her finger at him.

“You’re flashing those green eyes at me. You have no idea how dangerous you are when you do that.”

“As your husband I’m allowed to be dangerous.” He moved closer, but halted as the lift stopped at level seven and a witch got on. Ginny stiffened and dropped her smile when she saw Romilda Vane.

“Hello, Ginny.” The dark-haired witch smiled at her briefly without showing any teeth.  “Ready for the photo op?”

“Hello, Romilda.” Ginny didn’t return the smile. “I’ll be there.”

“Of course you will. You’re the star. Everyone is so excited about your being on the team. I expect a big crowd this afternoon.”

“I can’t wait.”

The grille opened on the Atrium and Ginny tried to step past her with Harry, but Romilda cut her off and moved between the two of them. Harry stopped dead in his tracks, and as Romilda took another step before realizing what was happening, he reached out and pulled Ginny next to him. In lockstep, they walked around the open-mouthed Romilda and strode quickly to the row of out-going fireplaces along the wall.

“What a pest,” said Harry as he took a pinch of Floo powder from the pot hanging next to the fireplace.

“She needs to find a man,” Ginny observed, “so she can leave everyone else’s alone.”

A moment later they both stood in the empty kitchen of the Burrow, but voices came from the parlor. Molly was standing there in front of the fireplace, a handkerchief wound around her fingers; her eyes were puffy and she looked haggard. George sat in a chair, while Audrey was on the couch flanked by Fleur and Angelina. Ginny felt a moment of satisfaction from Harry when he saw Fleur; apparently he was hoping she would be here.

Molly started weeping. She walked over to Ginny and took her in a hug. “Oh, Ginny,” she sobbed, “I’m so glad you’re here. No one knows where poor Percy is. This is so unlike him, I just know he’s been Cursed. Harry.” She let Ginny go and took Harry’s face in her hands. “They mustn’t blame you for this. There are still evil people out there doing evil things. Thank goodness you’re on the job.”

She kissed his cheek and dropped into a chair while Ginny bent over her and held her hands. Harry went to Audrey and put his hand on her shoulder. She smiled up at him although she looked as bad as Molly. “I’m so sorry,” Harry said. “We’re looking for him as hard as we can.”

She nodded and tears filled her eyes. “I know. Thank you.”

Ginny came to stand next to Harry. “Where’s little Molly?”

“Upstairs sleeping. She’s doing better than anyone.” She gave a hysterical laugh. “Better than me, anyway.”

Ginny knelt in front of her and took her hands, while Harry leaned over and spoke softly to Fleur. “Can I talk to you for a minute?”

As she stood, Harry gestured to George, and the three went into the kitchen. “What is it?” Fleur asked; the furrow that creased her forehead was somehow attractive.

“What do you know about Chadwick Chamberlain?” Harry said.

Fleur looked surprised. “Do you know ‘im? ‘E is married to Aunt Patience. ‘E used to teach at Beauxbatons, but ‘e is no longer zere.” Her frown deepened. “What does zis ‘ave to do wit’ Percy?”

Harry ignored her question. “Did you have him as a professor?”

“Of course. ‘E taught Charms and ‘e was very good. I t’ink he was friends wit’ your Professor Flitwick from ‘Ogwarts. Harry, why are you interested in ‘im?”

“Yes.” George said. “Why are you interested in him? He was at the shop yesterday around noon, by the way.”

Harry nodded. “I know. I saw him in the post office. I also saw him in Flitwick’s office a few days before we moved the Pensieve.”

They all turned their heads as the door to the parlor opened and Ginny came out. Harry waited until she stood next to him, and continued. “Chadwick Chamberlain taught Charms at Beauxbatons. Flitwick said he was an excellent teacher and wizard, and the two of them wrote articles together. A few years ago he quit his job and got into the joke business. He was at Hogwarts when something happened to Professor McGonagall while she was using the Pensieve, and he was in Hogsmeade just a few yards from where we had stopped the lorry with the Pensieve in it. I’m pretty certain that’s where Percy was Cursed.”

He turned to Fleur. “So, is there anything else you can tell me about your uncle? Did he ever express interest in a Pensieve or in anything else related to Hogwarts? And why would someone like him go into the joke business?” He addressed the last question to George.

“Just a moment!” Fleur’s eyes flashed in anger and she spoke sharply. “‘Arry, I know zat you are a wonderful Auror, but it is impossible zat Uncle Chadwick is a criminal. ‘E would never, never use an Unforgivable Curse. I ‘ave known ‘im since I am a small child. Ze whole family love ‘im. And I will tell you somet’ing else. You cannot keep a secret from a veela, non, non! And if you are married to one, zen it is doubly so. You are telling me zat if ‘e is a crook zen so is Tante Patience, et c’est impossible. ‘E is not your man, ‘Arry. You must find un autre, someone else.”

Harry blinked several times. The last time he had seen Fleur speak so vehemently was after Bill had been attacked by Fenrir Greyback at Hogwarts. She was formidable and her beauty helped her persuasiveness, but Harry was not convinced.

“Fleur, I’m not accusing anyone. But I can’t ignore coincidences. In my profession they don’t exist. There may be very good reasons for Mr. Chamberlain’s whereabouts and behavior, but one explanation is that he is responsible for all this. I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t ask you and George these questions.”

“Ah!” Fleur turned away, her eyes still angry, but she said nothing.

Harry turned to George who was watching Fleur appreciatively. “So do you have any idea why he took up jokes?” Harry asked.

George hesitated; he glanced again at Fleur whose back was turned. “I have to agree with Fleur, mate. I’ve known the bloke for three years, and he’s completely on the up and up as far as I’m concerned. He runs an owl-order operation out of Lyon and he has a very good reputation. You’ll have a lot of trouble convincing anyone that he would even think about using an Unforgivable Curse. I mean, why on earth would he want to risk ten years in Azkaban?”

“I haven’t got around to figuring out his motive.” Harry had become more than a little annoyed. No one had told him what else Chadwick Chamberlain could be doing in Hogsmeade. “So you don’t know why he quit teaching?”

“Gold,” George stated with a shrug. “How much do professors make? He’s talented and ambitious and obviously wanted more.”

“Ambitious?” Harry raised an eyebrow.

“Okay, so that’s an assumption. If he wanted more gold, that makes him ambitious.”

“You’re arguing in a circle,” Harry said. “If he wanted gold he must be ambitious in which case he would want more gold.”

“Okay,” George grinned. “I shouldn’t try dancing around a future Head Auror. But he’s never done anything I would consider shady, and believe me there are plenty of shady characters in my profession. And don’t you say anything.” He pointed at Ginny who smirked back.

Harry sent a silent appeal to Ginny, and she swallowed her retort. He pressed on. “Why was he in Hogsmeade yesterday? And if you don’t mind my asking, what did he want with you? He went to see you after we saw him at the Post Office.”

“I don’t mind at all,” George said affably. “You answered your own question. He was in Hogsmeade to mail a letter. I think he told me it was to his wife. He came to see me because he wanted to buy some samples.”

“Samples of what?”

“Jokes, what else?”

Now Harry was really annoyed. “Come on, George. What kind of jokes?”

“Let’s see . . . Invisible Hats and Nose Plugs, Pygmy Puffs, an Extendable Ear, some Whizz Bangs, um . . .” He furrowed his brow. “Oh, yeah, and some card games. Very suspicious, if you ask me.” He smirked at Ginny.

“What did he do with them?” Harry pressed. “Did you ship them someplace, or did he take them?”

“Chico boxed it all up and we took it over to the Post Office. I suppose he mailed it, but I don’t know for sure. We went back to the shop after that, and I haven’t seen the suspect since.”

Harry grinned wryly. “If he ends up guilty, I’ll bust you as his unwitting accomplice.”

“It will be an honor.” George gave him a bow.

Fleur turned from the window were she had been standing. “‘Arry, do you ‘ave any idea where Percy is?”

“No.”

They were all silent. Ginny took Harry’s hand. “We’d better be heading back. It’s almost time for the team meeting.”

Harry nodded. “Okay. Let’s go say goodbye to Mum and the others.”

As they went back into the parlor, Fleur put her hand on Harry’s shoulder. “I’m sorry,” she murmured when he looked back at her. “I should not tell you ‘ow to do your job.”

Harry smiled. It was impossible to be upset with Fleur Weasley. He wondered what Bill did when they had an argument; Fleur probably won all of them.

Molly jumped up from the sofa when they entered. “Harry, dear, can you stay for lunch? I know Ginny has to go, but I was planning to make a pot of that macaroni and cheese you like so much. Ginny showed me the recipe, and Arthur loves it too. It’s a very comforting meal, don’t you think?”

“Sorry, Mum. I’m already missing part of a meeting. I’ll take a rain check, though.”

“I made some for Harry last night,” said Ginny. “We have plenty of leftovers.”

Molly smiled at both of them. “Oh. Well, in that case I won’t bother bringing any over for you. I was going to stop by, while you were out, of course.”

Ginny and Harry both suppressed giggles, which was made harder by the mental image they shared of Molly Weasley stumbling over them as they shagged on the red rug in front of the fireplace.

“Of course,” Ginny mumbled. “We’ll be out all afternoon in case you do want to drop anything off.”

“Well, I don’t know if I will, but just in case . . .”

Harry noticed George grinning wickedly at them, and shot him a dirty look. He followed Ginny to the couch where Audrey was sitting, and they said a few words to her. She nodded distractedly and wiped her face, which was streaked with tears. “I know you’ll find him,” she said in a choked voice.

Harry squeezed her hand and Ginny hugged her and planted a kiss on her cheek. They went back into the kitchen with George following. He stopped them as Ginny was about to cast her Floo powder.

“I shouldn’t be so flip about all this,” he said apologetically. “Audrey is in a state, and little Molly was up all night. She knows something is wrong. She’s not as calm as her mum said. If you think this Chamberlain bloke had anything to do with it and you think I can help . . .”

“I don’t know anything for sure,” Harry replied. “But if you think of anything else, send me an owl right away.”

George nodded farewell. Ginny and Harry Floo’d back to the Atrium and hurried to the lifts. Ginny got off at the sixth level after a quick kiss. The lift clattered away with Harry, and she turned down the corridor. The Department’s auditorium was four doors along and she went in. It was empty now, but she knew that in three hours it would be filled with reporters and photographers. Romilda would be there too. Ginny’s nose wrinkled; some people from Hogwarts were unfortunately hard to forget.

She went behind the stage and heard voices down a hallway where the meeting room was. The door was open, and Ginny stood in it for a moment looking over the assembled team sitting around a table. She was the last one there except for Philbert Deverill, the manager. Someone noticed her and a cry of greeting went up.

“My nemesis!” laughed James Leyting, the Keeper from Wigtown. “Now I can watch you torment someone else.”

Ginny grinned at him. “There goes my favorite target,” she retorted.

Whoops of laughter filled the air, and Charles Pastorini, one of the Beaters, clapped the Keeper on his back. Ginny went to Gwenog Jones and gave her Holyhead teammate a hug. “Have they found your brother yet?” the Beater asked in a low voice. Ginny shook her head.

Danny Donahue pulled out a chair for her, and she sat between him and the other Chaser, Fitzwilliam Brandon. Insults and laughter filled the room and swirled around her. She exchanged banter with the others until the door opened and Deverill stepped in.

Ginny knew him, of course, but not well. He was of medium height with red hair and a small bottle-brush moustache, and on the rotund side. He had a well-known appreciation for food, and as the season wore on, his weight tended to rise and fall with the fortunes of Puddlemere. He was quiet and methodical, some said rigid. He was an intense student of the game, and Ginny had overheard him describing in detail to reporters matches that had been played years—even decades—ago. She knew that he liked a passing game; he preferred his Chasers to cover distance by throwing the Quaffle, not by flying with it.

He sat at the head of the table and looked over the team. His eyes lingered on Ginny for an instant, but moved away after a nod to her. He smiled at them all. “How is everyone?” He looked around once more, and they all murmured a greeting. “We’re not doing anything special today, just trying to get through the press conference in one piece. First practice is tomorrow morning at nine o’clock sharp. All of our practice sessions will be at Exmoor.”

A murmur, but this time of surprise, went around the room. Ginny looked at him with a raised eyebrow. As far as she remembered, in the past the National team had always practiced at the manager’s home pitch. She didn’t mind, though; Exmoor wasn’t that far from Holyhead, or, she suddenly realized, from Godric’s Hollow. She smiled to herself, thinking that here was another opportunity to get Harry back to the house there and for her to work on his reluctance to build their new home in the village.

“I know it’s a little unusual,” Deverill went on, “but that stadium is the closest thing we have to what the Irish Ministry is constructing for the tournament. It’s going to be state-of-the-art, with all the flashy gizmos that they can come up with. We all know how distracting instant replay or the floating skyboxes can be, so we’ll practice occasionally with all those things going full out. It might give us a leg up.”

“Makes sense,” said Forrester Salinger, the Chudley Seeker. He was Ron’s favorite player, and Ginny had lost count of how many favors her brother now owed her for all the autographs and Golden Snitches caught by Salinger that she had got for him. Ron didn’t seem to care that the rest of the team was so bad that they invariably lost anyway. “Personally, I can’t stand those bloody skyboxes. I was almost killed two years ago trying to chase a Snitch inside one of them.”

Everyone chuckled, but Ginny saw the wisdom of Deverill’s plan. The boxes didn’t affect Chasers as much as the Seeker, but her last match just a few days ago against Kenmare had proven how annoying the boxes and their occupants could be. Whatever advantage the team could get by practicing at Exmoor was worth the effort.

“I’d also like to keep us all together during practice weeks,” the manager continued. “The Department has located a boarding house near the stadium with about a dozen private rooms and plenty of other facilities where we can all live rather comfortably in the run up to the tournament. I realize that it means being away from our families for a good part of each week until the tournament is over, but we’ll have weekends off, and of course anyone with a special reason will be excused from a practice now and then. But we have only a few weeks to acclimate to each other, to learn each others’ skills, habits, and foibles. This will make us a closer team, in tune with each other. And I needn’t point out that many of the other national teams will be doing the same.”

Ginny didn’t like this, and she noted other frowns around the table. This would not make it easier for her and Harry to resolve the housing issue, especially since they wanted to do it before they started trying to get pregnant. She saw some benefit for the team, as Coach had pointed out, but she wondered if it was really necessary. They were all professionals; they all had plenty of experience in the British and Irish League; and they were all at least casually familiar with each other’s playing style. Her own frown deepened and some of her teammates started to look positively unhappy.

Gwenog Jones spoke, echoing Ginny’s very thoughts. “Is that really necessary, Guv? Eight years ago Ireland won and I know for a fact that they didn’t play house with each other while they were training. It’s going to be very inconvenient.”

Deverill looked at her impassively; he leaned back and gazed around the table. “We’re living together before the tournament. If anyone doesn’t want to do that, you can easily be replaced by someone who will.”

Gwenog’s eyes grew wide in disbelief. “Are you serious? No one wants to quit, why are you even suggesting it?” She glanced across the table at Ginny, then turned back to Deverill. “I’m sorry, but this is my third Cup and I’ve never heard anyone say anything like that. What the hell is going on?”

“Nothing is going on!” he snapped. “It’s the way I want it, and that’s how it’s going to be. I am not open to discussion about this. If you have a problem with my practice sessions or with my drills or with anything having to do with Quidditch, I’ll be happy to talk to you or anyone else here, but we’re going to stay together while we’re training.”

Gwenog stared at him, her lips tight, but no one else spoke. Ginny wasn’t sure if she wanted to say anything, even though she felt the same as Gwenog, and judging from the unhappy faces around her, the same as everyone else. But Gwenog was a grizzled veteranand had played on two other Cup teams. If Deverill could shoot down Gwenog Jones, there was nothing Ginny could say that would change his mind.

She kept her eyes on the table in front of her and tried not to let her displeasure pass to Harry, because suddenly, at that instant, Ginny knew that he was having a serious problem of his own.

Chapter Text

“Miss Weasley? Would you care to rejoin us?”

Ginny’s head jerked up and she stared at Philbert Deverill. He had been droning on about the accommodations in the house that the team would be living in, but now it was completely irrelevant to her. Four levels up something terrible had happened, and Harry’s hot rage had exploded inside her. She couldn’t remember ever feeling such violent anger from him. She had lost track of what Deverill was saying; she had lost track of everyone and everything in the room.

In the moments before it happened, she had not felt anything from Harry. That didn’t necessarily mean that everything was fine; Ginny knew that he was in a meeting where a dozen things could blow up in his face. So either he had been surprised, or he had held his feelings back until he could no longer contain them. Either way, she had to go to him.

She stood. “I’m sorry, Coach. I’ll be back as soon as I can.” She went quickly to the door, leaving everyone open-mouthed except Deverill. He scowled at her as she passed him but said nothing.

Out in the corridor, Ginny stopped and leaned back against the wall next to the door and put her hand over her eyes. Harry was still in a boiling fury, but she could tell nothing else of what was going on because the level of emotion coming from him drowned out all rational thought. The feeling was painful, almost unbearable, but she did not want to block it, even if she could. She took a deep breath that was almost a sob and pushed off from the wall.

At that moment the door opened and Gwenog stepped out. “Ginny, what’s wrong?” She put her hand on Ginny’s shoulder.

“I—I’m sorry, I have to go up to the second level,” Ginny mumbled and started towards the lift.

Gwenog came after her. “It’s Harry, isn’t it?” she asked as she trotted along next to Ginny. “It’s that thing you two have together.”

Ginny glanced at her. Gwenog and Ginger were the only Harpies who knew that Ginny and Harry had their connection. They had to be careful about it because any hint of Harry’s connivance during a match would mean a huge scandal. Ginny had to let someone on the team know so that if it was discovered, she could point to the team’s captain—Gwenog—and say that she had not kept it a secret.

“Yes, it’s Harry. Something . . . bad happened upstairs. I have to go to him.” She stopped in front of the lifts and pulled Gwenog close; two wizards were waiting for a lift and she did not want them to overhear. “Please go back and tell Deverill that if he wants, I’ll see him later and explain myself.” She had no idea what she would say, but maybe this would placate him.

“Sure, I’ll tell him. But don’t miss the press conference. Gin, I know this bloke. He’s a decent manager, but he’s a better glory hound. I think the only reason he didn’t stop you from leaving the meeting was that he considers you his prize puppy. But don’t push him. If he thinks you’ll hurt his image more than you’ll help the team, he’ll boot you off.”

A lift came and one of the wizards held the grille. Ginny nodded to him, but turned to Gwenog. “Thanks. I won’t miss it. I’ll try to catch you before it starts.” She stepped into the lift. As it rose, she could see Gwenog’s worried face watching her.

The two wizards got off at the fifth level and Ginny groaned inwardly when Romilda Vane got on. She stood at Ginny’s side and looked curiously at her. “Isn’t there a team meeting in the Department now?” she asked.

Ginny shrugged but kept her eyes straight ahead. “I have to be . . . on the second level. I’ll be at the press conference.”

“Hmm.”

Ginny turned to glare at her. “I said I’ll be at the press conference. Coach knows I’m not at the meeting.” That was stupid, she thought. How could he not know I’m not there? She turned her eyes to the grille.

Out of the corner of her eye Ginny could see Romilda nodding. She pressed her lips together, more out of exasperation at herself than distaste for the other woman.

They both got off on the second level and, thankfully, Romilda turned to the right and the Department of Magical Law Enforcement’s offices. Ginny went the other way towards the Auror Department. She put Romilda out of her mind and hurried along. Harry was still sending waves of seething anger, but she could tell that there were calming influences around him. She opened her own feelings and instantly a flood of relief and need came from him. In my office, he told her.

As she approached the Head Auror’s office she was surprised to see, standing outside the closed door, the same three Aurors who she and Harry had encountered earlier in the morning on their way to the Burrow. She knew Popeye well, but the others only by sight. They watched her draw near.

Popeye shook his head. “He’s in his office, Ginny.” He turned to face the door. “It sucks!” he yelled.

Ginny stopped and stared at him, alarm building inside her. But before she could say anything, loud, angry shouts came from inside the office.

“I won’t stand for it!” came the voice of Saliyah Ushujaa. “He acted properly! You can’t fault him for anything! You caved in to those wankers just because that little bastard who really did screw up was a war hero?” Her voice rose to a shouted question. “Well what the hell is Harry? He gave up his life! How can you do this to him?!”

Ginny couldn’t hear the answer, which was spoken quietly and calmly, although she could tell that Kingsley Shacklebolt was speaking. But she didn’t wait. She now felt fear, and she knew that she had let Harry feel it too. She shut it off and stepped around the three Aurors.

“We’re all behind him! Tell him to be strong!” Popeye called as she started running. She tore around a corner, came to a stop in front of Harry’s office and paused. She tried to collect herself; she didn’t know exactly what was happening, but she knew enough. Harry needed help, not hysteria. She pushed the door open.

The office was crowded and at first Ginny couldn’t see Harry. Everyone turned to see who had opened the door. Seamus was there, looking angrier than Ginny had ever seen him, including in her sixth year at school when the Carrows were beating up Neville. Susan Bones and Katie Bell were in tears. The Patil twins were indignant; Ernie was solemn; Justin was calm but frowning; Dennis’s jaw was set and his fists were balled at his sides. A half dozen other angry and unhappy young Aurors stood around the small room.

The ones in front of the desk, Seamus, Ernie, and Justin, stepped aside, and Ginny saw Harry looking back at her. He was seated behind the desk and Hermione stood next to him with her hand on his shoulder. Her face was tear-streaked and she was biting her lip. When she saw Ginny she started twisting her fingers together in a nervous gesture that Ginny knew was a sign of her extreme agitation.

Harry’s eyes were on her, and relief and even something like joy instantly replaced the anger in them. But Ginny could not ignore the looks on the rest of the faces or Hermione’s tears. She walked to the desk as people began leaving the room behind her. Harry’s eyes followed them, and when only Ginny and Hermione were left and the door closed, he slumped back in his chair and gazed down.

Ginny came around the desk. She leaned over him and pressed her lips to his forehead. “What is it, love?” she whispered. He didn’t raise his head, but stared at the desktop. Ginny glanced at Hermione as Harry made a gesture of futility. “You tell her,” he said bitterly.

“Oh.” Hermione’s hand-wringing resumed, but her voice became clear. “They suspended Harry. The Wizengamot met early this morning and told Kingsley he had to do it. He tried to stop them, but Amander Croaker has a lot of friends.”

Ginny couldn’t believe her ears. She leaned against the desk, unsure that she could keep her balance; she felt almost dizzy. Harry sprang to steady her, and quickly brought a chair; she sat and lifted her head to him. “Why?”

Harry dropped into his chair again. “They’re pinning it all on me. I’m the scapegoat. Croaker is a senile fool. He’s trying to cover up the fact that he caused the whole mess by conjuring that fog. And I guess he succeeded.” He folded his arms across his chest and scowled at the desk.

“No!” Ginny slipped off her chair and forced herself onto Harry’s lap. He put his arms around her and pressed his head to her chest. Ginny stroked his hair. “Dearest, you have friends. They want to help, they want to fight for you!” She looked up at Hermione. “I ran into Popeye right before I got here. He’s furious.”

“And so is everyone else,” Hermione declared, putting her hand back on Harry’s shoulder. “Ginny, I think we could get Dumbledore’s Army to storm the Ministry if Harry wanted to.”

“What exactly do they mean by suspended?” Ginny asked. “It’s just from the Pensieve case, right?” She leaned back and looked at Harry apprehensively.

“Nope, I’m suspended from the Auror force until they clear this up, whatever the bloody hell that means.”

Ginny stared at him; she was in total shock. She shook her head, unable to speak.

“I know.” Harry’s voice dripped with sarcasm. “I’m a wonderful Auror, good enough to be Sal’s assistant for five years, but one screw-up and I might as well be a Bowtruckle bowel movement.”

“So—so can you keep your office?” Ginny asked hesitantly.

“I’m supposed to be out of here by noon.” He took Ginny by the waist and moved her off his lap, then stood. “You know,” he said to Hermione, “if that’s the way they want it, then screw them. I’m out of here, but I’m stopping off and telling Kingsley to shove this job up his ass.”

“Harry!” Ginny and Hermione cried at the same time.

“Love, please!” Ginny took his arm and held him from walking around the desk. “This is awful and completely unfair, but don’t do anything that you’ll regret. Kingsley must know that this is wrong. Just give him a little time to straighten it out. I’m sure it will only be for a few days, and then—”

“He let Croaker and Sprout walk all over him. He caved in to politics. He’s worse than Fudge!” Harry sighed. “Okay, no one is worse than Fudge. But he let me down, Gin, he threw me to the dogs. After all I’ve done for him, for all of them and their whole bloody Ministry, this is what I get. How quickly they forget.”

“Love, you know that’s not true.”

“Oh, really? I did save a lot of people’s butts, in case you’ve forgotten, and more than once. Everyone used to scream at me for going off and doing things on my own, but all I did was save the bloody world! I don’t deserve this, Ginny. They’re a bunch of ingrates, bloody morons!” His green eyes flashed with anger. He glared at Hermione who was simply looking at him, and slammed his chair into the desk.

“Harry, sit down, please,” Ginny said quietly. Harry looked at her blazing eyes but didn’t sit. Ginny spoke before he could say anything. “No one owes you a damn thing except me. I owe you my love because you give me yours utterly and completely. But no one else owes you anything, even though you walked into the Forest knowing you would die.”

Harry tensed. “It’s not that,” he said between clenched teeth. “I know it’s old. I know people forget. But lots of people haven’t. Did you see how Seamus and Susan and Dennis and all of them looked? Did you notice that? Merlin. At least some people don’t forget.”

“No. Listen to me. That’s not why they’re loyal to you. It isn’t that you laid down your life five years ago, or taught them all how to fight two years before that. Yes, that’s part of it, but they’re loyal to you—they love you—because of what you do every day. Why do you think a beat-up, cynical old bear like Popeye would say, out loud for Merlin’s sake where Kingsley could hear him, that what they’re doing sucks?”

Harry’s face registered surprise. “He said that?”

Ginny chuckled. “Right in front of Saliyah’s office, loud enough for everyone inside to hear.”

“Why did he do that? He shouldn’t have, he could get into trouble, just like . . .”

“Just like you,” Ginny said. She looked at Hermione. “What about Sal? She sounded like she was about to spit in Shacklebolt’s face.”

“Ginny’s right,” Hermione said to Harry. She frowned and thought for a moment. “Look at it from a purely political point of view.”

Harry started to speak but Ginny reached and put her hand on his arm. “Listen.”

“It’s all politics,” Hermione went on. “Right now the pressure from the Unspeakables is stronger than the pressure that was available to Saliyah.” She frowned again. “And it must have been considerable because I don’t think Kingsley wanted to do this. Even if he didn’t like you so much, Harry, and think so highly of you, he has an awful lot of his own reputation tied to your career. Everyone knows that it was his idea to groom you for the Head Auror’s job in the first place.”

“So . . .” Harry spoke more calmly, and Ginny didn’t interrupt him. “So, there’s something else going on. Someone in the Department of Mysteries or the Wizengamot has the leverage to pressure Kingsley. Who could it be?”

“If we can figure out why, then we can figure out who,” Hermione stated, and she grinned at both of them. “And who could investigate something like this better than a team of Aurors?”

“Led by a crusty old warrior like Popeye.” Ginny added her own grin.

“That’s all fine and good,” Harry said, “but meanwhile what do I do?”

“Take a vacation with me,” said Ginny.

“What the hell are you talking about?” Harry frowned at her. “You’ll have practice every day from now until August.”

Ginny shook her head. “Not if I’m not on the team.”

“No!” Harry slammed his fist on the arm of his chair and once more jumped up. “You are not quitting the team, no way! This is my problem! Hermione’s right, I can get a couple of dozen people to help me without even asking. Ginny Potter, you are not staying home!”

His angry face was right in hers, but Ginny shook her head. “Do you think that I could play Quidditch knowing all this was happening? I almost got kicked out of the meeting downstairs because I knew something was wrong. I’d get Bludgered black and blue if I tried to fly now. There’s no way I could play.”

Harry’s scowl deepened. “That’s ridiculous. I’ll keep my feelings to myself. You won’t know a thing.”

“Oh, right, you’ll keep your feelings to yourself, just like you did this morning. Harry, even if you could, I would still be thinking about you. And besides . . .” She moved close to him and put her arms around him. “I want to be with you. We’ve never faced a catastrophe like this, not since we’ve been married.” She spoke in a low voice and put her forehead against his chin.

Harry looked helplessly at Hermione. She grinned and shrugged. “I have one more suggestion,” she said, and Ginny also turned to her. “Let’s talk to Ron right away. He’s the best person I know for figuring out what’s going on with all the back room shenanigans.”

“I’m sure he’s dead asleep,” Harry said. “Let’s wait until he wakes up.”

“No, he’ll want to know right away,” said Hermione. “And we can also ask a few Aurors over for lunch.” She glanced at the clock on the wall. “We have enough time to organize something, and I think the sooner we get to the bottom of this, the better.”

Harry sat and leaned his forehead on his hand with his elbow on the desk. He ran his fingers through his hair, and when he lifted his head and took his hand away Ginny reached over and smoothed his unruly mop. Harry smiled at her briefly and took her hand. “What will you do about the team? Damn it, Gin, I wish you wouldn’t do this.”

“It’s done. I’ve already decided. If Deverill won’t give me a week, he’ll have to find another Chaser.”

Harry got a pained expression; he put his head back on his hand. “I don’t like it. I want you to know that. It’s a once in a lifetime chance. An awful lot of people will be disappointed. Your Mum and Dad, Teddy, Victoire . . .”

“Yeah, I . . . I’ll have to explain it to them. But right now you and I need to be together.”

Harry didn’t speak; he was lost in thought and Ginny and Hermione also remained silent. Finally he nodded and looked at Ginny, a little unhappily. “You’re right. If you’re with me, I’ll feel a lot better about my chances. But . . .” He pointed his finger at her. “You have to promise me that after a week you’ll go back to the team, no matter what. And I will not take no for an answer.”

Ginny looked at him from under her eyebrows; a tiny smile on her face. “I promise.”

“I’m not kidding, Ginny. You are going back to the team in a week.”

“I said I would,” Ginny said, now serious. “I want to play. I just want them to treat you right even more. And I want to find Percy.”

Harry sighed. “Okay.” He looked around the office. “I guess I’d better leave. I don’t want to give the bastards the satisfaction of throwing me out.” He took the photo of Ginny sitting on the desk. “That’s it, then. I’ll ask Ron to pick up the rest of my stuff tomorrow.”

He went to the door with Ginny and Hermione following, opened it and halted; Ginny peered around his side. The corridor was jammed with Aurors. In front, facing the door stood Popeye with Seamus and Susan next to him. Everyone who had been in Harry’s office when Ginny arrived was there, and they had been joined by at least a dozen more.

Ginny heard a commotion down the corridor and peeked out. About ten yards down, a scrum of reporters and photographers was being held back by more Aurors, some of whom were poking their wands into the chests of the more aggressive members of the press. As Ginny watched, a red flash suddenly lit up the hallway and one of the photographers went sailing through the air back over the heads of the others. They all looked up and watched him pass overhead. There was a thud and a groan as he hit the floor behind them. The scrum retreated several yards. Ginny saw Dennis Creevey watching them with a satisfied look.

Popeye had also been watching and he now turned back with a grin. He grabbed Harry’s arm. “Come on, mate, we’ll get you out on the private lift.” He lowered his voice, but Ginny heard clearly what he said. “Sal can’t do anything officially, but she knows what’s going on. Leave everything in your office and we’ll seal it up.”

Without waiting for a reply, he took Ginny’s arm in his other hand and pulled them both down the corridor in the opposite direction from where the reporters waited. As soon as they spotted Harry they started calling out, but remained a good distance away from Dennis and the other Aurors who stood scowling at them. Hermione, Seamus, and Susan strode after Popeye.

He spoke as they walked rapidly away. “There’s something shady going on. I’ve been in this place a long time, and I can smell a rotten pile of hippogriff dung any day of the week. This one stinks all the way to the top. Someone’s got Shacklebolt by the short and curlies, and I’ll bet you a month’s pay to a Sickle that it’s Amander Croaker. That blighter’s been around here since before God, and no one knows as much about the buried skeletons as he does. He acts feeble, but he’s as smart as a Kneazle and nasty as a Skrewt if you cross him. And you crossed him, Harry.”

They stood in front of a single lift at the end of a short corridor. Popeye punched the button and they could hear the lift rising.

Harry looked at him. “What are you saying? Is Croaker hiding something? The Pensieve? What does he have on Kingsley that could cause him to—”

“Try to fire you?” Popeye said. “I haven’t a clue. Maybe nothing. Maybe Shacklebolt got caught shagging Minerva McGonagall.” He laughed at their shocked faces. “I guess not. Whatever it is, it’s got to be something pretty bad, assuming that I’m right and it is Croaker. It could be a dozen people on the Wizengamot. Croaker is tight with a lot of them.”

The lift arrived and Popeye held the grille. “What will you do now?” he asked Harry.

“We’re going to my place,” Hermione said. “We want to let Ron know, and we thought we could get some people together today at lunch.”

“Wait a minute,” said Harry, speaking quietly. “If too many people Floo directly to your place, someone will notice. It’ll look much more normal if we go home first.”

Popeye nodded. “I think you’re right to assume there are people here who aren’t your friends.”

Harry turned to Seamus and Susan. “Tell everyone we’ll meet at Ron and Hermione’s at noon, but they should go there by Apparating or round-about Flooing. And tell everyone thanks.” They both nodded, and Harry, Ginny, and Hermione stepped into the lift.

They stopped at level six. When Ginny hesitated before stepping out of the lift, Harry asked, “Are you sure? You don’t have to do this.”

A blazing look came back at him, together with a whole lot of emotion and certainty. Yes, I do have to do this, for us.

Hermione held the grille open, watching them. Ginny stepped out. “Wait here,” she said, and walked down the corridor and out of sight around a corner.

“Better let the lift go,” Harry said. They stepped out, and a moment later it clattered back up. They stood silently. Harry kept his mind open, feeling Ginny’s apprehension. Hermione continued to watch him.

“I’m so sorry this is happening,” she finally said. Harry nodded and noted her eyes brimming but also noticed that she was not twisting her fingers.

Ginny returned ten minutes later. Harry hadn’t sensed any change in her mood and was surprised when she came in sight so soon. She was tight-lipped until the lift returned and they were descending. “He’s a bloody bastard,” she muttered. “He told me if I wasn’t at practice tomorrow I was off the team.”

Harry swore. “Ginny, no! You have to go! I’ll be fine, please!”

She simply looked at him, and he knew that he was not going to change her mind. He pulled her to him and she rested her head on his chest until the lift stopped on the eighth level.

They took back-corridors to the Atrium, where no reporters were in sight, and went quickly to the outgoing fireplaces. Hermione Floo’d to her flat while Harry and Ginny returned to The Hog’s Head. The sitting room seemed a lot less cheerful than usual, but McPherson was on his perch and a message was on the mantel. Harry opened it while Ginny went into the kitchen to brew a pot of tea. Harry was sitting in the love seat when she returned.

“Well,” she smiled, “we can sleep in tomorrow.”

Harry handed her the note. “It’s from Flitwick. He wants to see us as soon as possible. It sounds like he knows I got sacked. Bad news travels fast.”

At that instant the fireplace flamed green and Molly Weasley burst into the room directly in front of them. Her eyes were on the rug at her feet. When she looked up and saw them she seemed greatly relieved.

“Oh, here you are! My darlings, are you all right? What in Merlin’s name has got into Kingsley? Has he lost his mind?” She abruptly stopped and stared at Ginny, looking puzzled. “Hang on, why are you here, dear? You’re just keeping Harry company, aren’t you?”

“Uh, yeah, I’m staying with Harry until they clear it up.”

Molly frowned, looking from one to the other. Harry jumped up and Summoned a chair with a wave of his hand. “Thank you,” she said absentmindedly. “Ginny, did you say you’re staying with Harry . . . until . . .?

“Until the Ministry come to their senses and give him his job back.”

Before her mother could speak, Ginny sprang up and went into the kitchen; she came back with another cup and saucer and poured tea for Molly. “Oh, and I’m off the National team too,” she mumbled while she poured with her head down.

“Say what?!” her mother shrieked. She leaped up with the cup in her hand, splashing tea all over her and the rug. “Oh, I’m sorry!” She took out her wand and the rug was clean.

“Here, Mum, let me clean your robes.“ Ginny started to wave her wand, but Molly wasn’t listening. She sat back down with her hand over her mouth and her eyes wide in horror.

“Off the team? They sacked you because Harry lost the Pensieve? Oh.” She gestured apologetically. “I didn’t mean it was your fault, dear. But how could they blame Ginny for . . .” Her eyes narrowed as her face hardened. “It’s a vendetta. They’re trying to get at Harry through you.” Her voice rose and grew shrill. “Kingsley Shacklebolt won’t get away with this! I knew his mother and—”

“Mum!” Ginny shouted over her. “That’s not what happened!”

Molly stared. “What do you mean? Why did they sack you? You didn’t . . .?”

“I asked for a week so I can be with Harry. Coach said no, so I’m off the team.”

Her mother’s mouth worked but no words came out. Ginny got up and took her hands. “It’s okay, Mum. It’s what I want. This is much more important. I can help Harry get his job back and help find Percy.”

Molly rose and stumbled to the love seat and sat where Ginny had been. Harry got up to make room so Ginny could sit.

Molly began to sob. “What’s happening? Percy, Ginny, Harry. And it’s only four days until . . . until my poor Fred . . .” She broke down completely, sobbing and wailing; Ginny took her in her arms, stroking her hair and patting her back. Harry stood awkwardly, not knowing what to do or say. In twelve years he had seen Molly Weasley lose it like this only once, at Fred’s funeral. He felt guilty, that he had been the cause, that if he had been more vigilant Percy would not be missing with the Pensieve and none of this would have happened.

“Mrs. Weasley . . . Mum.” He put his hand on her shoulder. “I’m sorry. It’s my fault, but I swear I’ll find Percy, and Ginny will get back on the team.”

Molly turned her head. “Oh, Harry,” she hiccupped, “it wasn’t your fault. Don’t say things like that and don’t worry about me.” She motioned at her face, which was bathed in tears. “I’ll be fine.”

She handed her teacup to Ginny and abruptly stood. She wiped her face with both hands, and looked at Harry with her jaw set. “I know you’ll find Percy. In fact, you’re better off being sacked because now you don’t have to worry about all those ridiculous Ministry rules.”

Harry wasn’t certain about being better off, but he nodded. “I’m sure you’re right, Mum. Anyway, lots of people will be helping us. In fact, we need to be going soon. We’re meeting some of them at Ron and Hermione’s flat for lunch.”

They promised Molly they would Floo down to the Burrow that evening, and after more weeping and more soothing words from Ginny, they finally got Molly back into the fireplace.

They had to hustle to the flat in Chelsea, knowing that the people who came from the Ministry would not be able to stay long. They came through the fireplace in the parlor and found a large crowd awaiting them. At first everyone tried to talk at once, but after a minute of cacophony Ron shouted the crowd down.

“Now look,” he said loudly, standing in front of the fireplace, “we have less than an hour until someone at the Ministry notices that half the Auror force is missing and starts looking at the Floo Network. So Harry, since not all of us were at the office this morning, can you tell us what in bloody hell happened?”

Harry and Ginny stepped away from the hearth. The fireplace was very large, as was the room. Two tall windows to their right overlooked a busy Muggle shopping street a floor below. The flat was over an Italian restaurant, the location’s main attraction for Ron.

The parlor itself was very tastefully furnished—by Hermione—with modern furniture and the beginnings of a modest collection of modern artwork hanging on the walls. None of the artwork was magical, but the mantelpiece held a dozen photographs of their families, as well as of their wedding and Ginny’s wedding. Above the fireplace hung the only magical painting, one that Ron had insisted on: his brother Fred astride a broom high above the Hogwarts Quidditch pitch.

The room and the flat were quite familiar to Harry and Ginny. They spent a lot of time there with their best friends and closest family. Now it seemed to have become the center of a Harry Potter rally, the hotbed of a mini-revolt against the perfidies of the Ministry. Every Auror who had come through the training program that had begun after the war was there, as well as a half-dozen others like Popeye who had been Aurors for many years, even decades.

They all had their eyes on Harry. He felt Ginny beside him, and when he reached out with a tendril of feeling, she leaned against him for a moment and opened her own self to him. He smiled quickly at her and turned to the room.

“Does everyone know what happened yesterday?” He looked around and saw nods. “I lost the Hogwarts Pensieve and one of the people in my detail, Percy Weasley. When we—”

“Hold on, mate,” Ron said; he was on Harry’s left, next to the fireplace. “You didn’t lose anyone or anything. That senile old fart from the ninth level screwed up, and no one’s convinced me yet that he isn’t the culprit.”

Everyone started talking again until Harry yelled, “Shut it!” and the room went silent. “Whatever! Percy is missing and so is the Pensieve. Amander Croaker says it’s my fault and he and Julia Sprout, who was the other Unspeakable on the operation, convinced Kingsley to suspend me. Sal was almost as pissed off as I was, but he wouldn’t budge. It was pretty strange. I’ve never seen them go at each other like that.”

“Something’s got Shacklebolt spooked,” said Seamus, who was sitting on the floor in front of a couch. The Patil twins, Susan, Tony, Justin, and Ernie were crammed on the sofa behind him.

“But what?” Ernie asked. “Someone doesn’t want you to find Percy or the Pensieve, Harry, and that’s who’s put the finger on the Minister.”

“Of course someone doesn’t want Harry to find the Pensieve,” scoffed Hermione, who was standing next to Ron. “Whoever it is wants to keep it. They don’t want anyone to find it.”

“Not necessarily,” Ernie said a little haughtily. “They could be holding it and Percy for ransom.”

Ron stepped forward. “Okay, hold it. If you all aren’t back at work on time, it won’t be hard to trace you all here. We have to decide what we want to do today, this afternoon. We can always meet again this evening and thrash the whole thing out. Now, who thinks we should send a delegation to Sal or to Shacklebolt?”

“No.” Harry put his hand on Ron’s shoulder. “No one should do anything this afternoon. You’ll just stir things up, maybe get into trouble. Whoever got to Kingsley has enough influence to screw any one of us. Let’s be smart about this.”

“I agree,” said Popeye, and all eyes turned to him, sitting in an armchair at the back of the room.

Harry was glad that he had spoken. Everyone in the Department hugely respected Popeye, both the young Aurors who had come in with Harry as well as the older ones who had gone through the war. Harry knew that the old veteran also had many friends—influential friends—in other departments of the Ministry. If anyone could help him get to the bottom of the mystery and find out why Kingsley Shacklebolt had acted the way he did, it was this man.

“So what should we do?” Ron said.

“Keep our heads down and our mouths shut, but our ears and eyes open. Whoever is assigned to the Pensieve case shouldn’t volunteer opinions or even tell them everything they find out. That’s one way of flushing out whoever is behind it. Eventually someone’s going to be put in charge in Harry’s place, and whoever it is, hopefully someone in this room, will have to be very smart about how you go about your business if we want to undo this crap.”

“At least for today,” said Harry, “just go about your business. Don’t do anything to make anyone suspicious. And don’t assume that Saliyah will cover for you. She has to be careful herself.”

“Harry.” Katie Bell’s voice came from near the windows. “What about you? What are you going to do?”

Harry shrugged and glanced at Ginny. “I don’t know. I haven’t had time to think about it.” He turned to Ron. “Can some of us meet back here after work?”

Ron looked at his watch. “Yes, but it’s getting late. Don’t worry, mate, we’ll be here for you.”

There was a general murmur of assent, and Dennis Creevey called out, “Don’t let the bastards get to you, Harry!” Harry grinned.

People left via both the front door and the fireplace. When everyone was gone and the room was empty, Harry looked at Ron. “What do you think? Why is Kingsley being such a wimp?”

“Something must be going on in the Wizengamot,” Ron said as he slumped into a chair and yawned; he still looked tired from a sleepless night. The others also took seats. “I’ll have to ask around. But I’m serious about Croaker. Until someone proves me wrong, I’m going on the assumption that he’s behind this.”

“But it doesn’t make sense,” Hermione insisted. “He has everything to lose and nothing to gain.”

Ron shrugged. “That’s how it appears, but why is he being so hard-assed about Harry? He’d be delusional if he thought no one would notice that he was the dork who created that fog. I could understand if he was just trying to get Harry to admit to screwing up, but he’s gone way beyond that. Suspended?” He shook his head.

“Well, what about Chadwick Chamberlain?” said Harry. “He’s still got my vote.”

“He’s also got alibis,” Ron responded. “Like Fleur told you, how could he be a criminal if he has a veela wife?”

“Why can’t a veela be a criminal too?” Harry asked

This comment gave them all pause, perhaps out of disbelief. Ginny broke the silence. “That’s incredible. I can’t believe a veela would commit a crime like that. I mean, look at Fleur, she’s so open and . . . and loving. How could someone like her do something bad?”

“We don’t know what the motive is,” Harry said. He turned to Hermione. “We need to know more about the Pensieve, a lot more. I know you’ve tried, but McGonagall is back at Hogwarts. Can we go talk to her?”

Hermione nodded. “If she’s well enough, I think we’d better. In fact, I think we should do it this afternoon.”

“Good!” Ron exclaimed. “That’s a plan. And I’d like to make another suggestion. Harry, you and I should go back to the house in Godric’s Hollow and take a look around. We only checked out the first floor, but I had a feeling when I was there that there’s something on the second floor that—”

He stopped and stared at Harry. His face had gone dark and rigid, and Ginny had flinched as though someone had struck her.

“What did I say?” Ron asked, alarmed.

Ginny glared at Harry with her jaw set. She said to Ron, “We had this discussion a few days ago, remember? Harry still doesn’t want anything to do with that house.” She glared again at her husband.

He glared back. “I don’t want to talk about it now.”

Ginny’s nostrils flared. “Why not? If there’s something on the second floor that’s not right, why don’t you want to find out what it is?”

“There is something wrong up there!” Harry said angrily, his hands gripping the arms of his chair. “And I already know what it is. It’s where my mother was killed.”

Ginny’s eyes blazed for an instant, but then her shoulders slumped and her face grew sad. “Don’t you see?” she said gently. “Now it’s affecting how you do your job.”

“It’s not!” Harry rose from his chair and started stalking around the room, but he spun around to face Ginny. “Besides, I don’t have a job, remember? Now someone else can go up there and find out what it is.”

“But no one can do it better than you,” said Ginny, still speaking quietly.

Harry stopped in front of a window with his back to the room. He peered out, not seeing anything, turmoil in his heart. He turned back and saw Ginny and his two best friends watching him with mixtures of dismay and shock, but also care. He heaved a sigh and went over to Ginny. “I’m sorry,” he mumbled as he took her hand and kissed it. “That was stupid.”

“No.” She pulled him down into the chair beside her and shifted onto his lap. “Not stupid. But maybe pigheaded.”

Harry chuckled. “Okay, I’ll be satisfied with that. But . . .” His grin faded. “I’m not going up there.”

Ginny rested her head on his shoulder. “I’m sorry too.”

Ron and Hermione exchanged a glance. Hermione got up and gestured to Ron with a nod. He joined her and they left the room.

“So now what?” Ginny said as her fingers played with a button on Harry’s shirt.

He sighed again. “We’ll wait here until this evening and we can talk with the others. Maybe we’ll know more. Maybe someone will figure out what’s got into Kingsley.”

“We told Mum we’d go to the Burrow.”

“Damn. I forgot.” Harry thought for a minute. “Why don’t we go now?”

“Because Dad won’t be home and she’ll get hysterical again. And we just decided to go see Professor McGonagall. And Flitwick wants to see you too. Besides, I think we should talk some more about . . . about Godric’s Hollow.”

She felt Harry’s discomfort; in fact, it was almost displeasure. Ginny got out of his lap and pulled a chair around to face him. She moved it close and sat so that he was trapped in his seat.

“I am not going to let this drop,” she said firmly. “And, we are not going to have a baby until it’s resolved.”

“What!” Harry stared at her in disbelief. “How can you say that? Ginny, I—I—”

“Harry, dearest, listen to me.” She shifted her chair even closer so that his knee rubbed against the inside of her thigh. Harry glanced down, then quickly up at her. Neither one hid from the other the tiny but unmistakable flare of lust they both felt.

“Listen,” Ginny repeated. “Our children will have only two grandparents. When they get older they’ll ask where your parents are. You will eventually tell them that they were murdered protecting you. But they will also hear the story from other children, or when they’re older they’ll read about it in some awful sensationalistic piece of rubbish like Witch Weekly. And they’ll learn that the house their grandparents were killed in is still standing, but it’s falling apart. They’ll be teased about it, and they won’t know why. But they’ll also see that their father is afraid of it. Harry . . .” She took his face in her hands. “Answer their questions now, before they’re born. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll get answers to some other questions, like where my brother is.”

Harry leaned back and stared at his wife. There was no way in hell he could argue with her when she was so close, with her leg pressed against his like that. And there was also a hint in the air of her sweet, flowery fragrance. He knew that she knew what it did to him. But not only couldn’t he overcome Ginny’s physical weapons, she had now shifted the argument. She was using his unborn children’s unhappiness against him.

He looked directly at her. Not fair.

To whom?

He continued to stare into her eyes, knowing what the answer was.

Chapter Text

The four friends grabbed a bite for lunch and Floo’d to the flat at the Hog’s Head. Harry sent McPherson off with an owl for Professor Flitwick, asking if he wanted to see him right away, and if the others could come along. They didn’t get a reply back immediately—they assumed because he was in a class—and while they waited they sat at the blowfish table and talked. Or rather, Hermione and Ron talked; Harry sat with his hand on the table, occasionally tapping his fingers. Ginny kept glancing at him, and even though he kept himself closed to her, she watched his face and didn’t need to guess what was in his mind.

Ginny felt more than a little guilty about pushing the subject of Godric’s Hollow, but it was obvious that the house there was, for some unknown reason, connected to the Pensieve and Percy’s disappearance. And if they wanted their child to be born before Harry became Head Auror—and there was no doubt in her mind that he would become Head Auror—then they had to decide about a new home very soon.

She also realized, as she pondered their state of affairs, that if she did not return to the National team, which was much more likely than Harry’s not getting his job back, they could start trying to get pregnant right away. She got a bit tingly thinking about that and suppressed a smile. She glanced at Harry to see if he had picked up on those particular thoughts, but he was staring off into space and did not look at her.

She sighed, and Harry did look at her. She put her hand on his—his finger tapping was annoying—and at last he let her into his mind. He was not as upset as she feared, but there was conflict. She squeezed his hand.

Then he became aware of the pregnancy train of thought, and suddenly Ginny was sorry she had gone down that track. She had not considered how Harry would take it, and she kicked herself mentally; she should have remembered how upset he had been less than an hour ago when she told him she would not get pregnant until they decided where their home would be. She looked at him apologetically, not noticing that Ron and Hermione had stopped talking and were staring at her and Harry. “I’m sorry, sweetie,” she murmured, “I shouldn’t have done that.”

“It’s okay,” he said. “That’s what we agreed on. But you are going back to the team. Even if Deverill says you can’t, I think we can force him. You’re so popular, Ginny, I don’t think the public will stand for it.”

“What the hell are you two talking about?” Ron said with a frown. “Could you please remember that us ordinary mortals can’t read minds?”

We ordinary mortals,” Hermione said.

“Fine, you ordinary mortals.” Ron rolled his eyes and Hermione rolled hers back at him.

Harry grinned at them. “Sorry. We do forget. I was just thinking that we could drum up public opinion to get Ginny back on the team.”

“The problem with that,” said Ginny, “is that Deverill most likely has also thought of it, and he’s decided to sack me anyway. So I don’t know if public pressure will work.”

“Hang on,” Hermione said, interrupting Harry. “That’s a very interesting observation. Why would someone who’s always been so concerned about his public image threaten to do something that’s bound to be unpopular?”

No one spoke as McPherson flew in the open window and landed on the table in front of Harry. The message from Professor Flitwick said that they were all welcome to come to Hogwarts, and that they should Floo into the fireplace in the Ravenclaw office right away.

They arrived to find the Charms professor perched on his stool behind his desk, in front of the large portrait of Rowena Ravenclaw that hung on the wall there. The Founder was in her portrait, sitting in a tall-backed wooden chair, surrounded by a half-dozen border collies lying on tartan rugs. The dogs’ eyes watched and their tails thumped as Harry, Ginny, Ron, and Hermione gathered round the desk. Ravenclaw reached down and scratched one of the dogs behind its ear.

“I’ve never seen your dogs before, Professor,” Ron said. “My own Patronus is a Jack Russell terrier and—”

He stopped when she fixed him with a look that, in Harry’s opinion, put Ginny’s blazing expression to shame.

“Well,” Professor Flitwick said with a little smile, “now that the introductory pleasantries are out of the way, would you like some tea?” A tea service with five cups appeared on the desk and he poured for everyone. Ron took his cup and kept his eyes down.

Harry glanced at his brother-in-law’s red face. “Why did you want to see me, Professor?” he asked Flitwick.

The teacher took a sip and put his cup down. “It’s the Pensieve, of course. Minerva is back but she isn’t well enough to resume her duties. She’s in her room behind her office, but she’s under strict orders from the Healers to rest for a few more days. That leaves me still as Acting Headmaster, and still responsible for Hogwarts. So . . .”

“Do you know that I’ve been suspended?” Harry asked.

The Professor nodded, but Harry felt a touch of surprise come from Ginny. He looked at her. She was gazing at the portrait of Ravenclaw, and Harry followed her eyes. The portrait was gaping at him, almost open-mouthed, her haughty demeanor gone, replaced by astonishment. Flitwick saw them looking up at the portrait and turned his head to see.

“Do you mean to tell me,” Ravenclaw said, “that they fired you, Harry Potter, from your job in the Ministry of Magic? They must be a greater bunch of ninnies than I ever thought.”

“Not fired, ma’am, just suspended. I suppose that means I have a chance to get the job back.”

She appraised him for a moment. “Mr. Potter, ever since you found and rescued my diadem from the repulsive condition it was in, I have been following your career with admiration. I am unfortunately too old and too old fashioned to have any influence in the halls of power. I wish you luck, however.”

Harry bowed his head. When he looked up, Professor Flitwick’s eyes were twinkling. “Well, I did know that you have been ousted from your office, temporarily I hope. I decided to ask you to come here anyway when I learned of it. And the reason is that Minerva and I both want you to continue trying to solve the mystery of the Pensieve. We can think of no one who would do better at getting to the bottom of it. And it seems now that part, or maybe all, of the solution might lie in the old Potter house in Godric’s Hollow.”

Ginny held her breath. Harry nodded. “I’m aware of that,” he said evenly.

Flitwick gave him a momentary quizzical look. “I’m sure you are. I was just mentioning it.”

“It’s fine, Professor,” Harry said. “I have a question, though. Is this a sort of unofficial request from you and Professor McGonagall? And if so, what about Ron? He’s still an Auror.”

“I believe you still are too. It’s up to Mr. Weasley to do what he feels comfortable with, as well as Mrs. Potter and Mrs. Weasley.”

“I’m actually on a day off,” Ron said. He turned red as Rowena Ravenclaw made a noise with her breath. He walked away from the desk and leaned against a stool, scowling at the floor.

Harry felt embarrassed for him and more than a little angry at Ravenclaw. He sent a thought to Ginny: Let’s get out of here. Out loud he said, “Can we talk to Professor McGonagall? The more information we can get about the Pensieve, the better.”

“Of course,” Flitwick replied. “She expressed a desire to see you.”

“Is she alone?” asked Hermione.

“No. This morning the Ministry said they wanted to send Aurors to stand guard in her office.” Harry frowned and started to speak but Flitwick stopped him. “Right about that time we received the reports that you had been suspended, so she asked for the Misses Patil to be assigned. They arrived just after lunch.”

“Ah.” Harry grinned at Ginny and Hermione. “We’re making progress. Let’s go see the Headmistress.”

He thanked Professor Flitwick, who gave them the password for the gargoyle which had been re-instituted, and Ron led them out. When they were in the corridor Hermione took his arm and put her hand on his cheek.

“I’m sorry, sweetie. She has a reputation for being rude. Don’t let it bother you.”

“I sounded like a bloody idiot,” he muttered. “I’m never going in there again.”

“But she was the fool,” Hermione said firmly. “You had as much to do with finding and destroying the diadem as Harry.”

“That’s right,” declared Ginny. “She had no business ridiculing you. She’s a stuck-up old hag.”

“Thanks, Sis, but don’t let her hear you say that.”

“Well, she is.”

They arrived in front of the gargoyle, and Harry had to give the password—“A'm fine, slainte!”—three times before he got the pronunciation right. The door to the office was open and Padma waved to them when she saw them rising up the spiral staircase. Parvati sat behind the large desk stroking a gray tabby on her lap.

“We were expecting you, Boss,” Padma said. “So is Professor McGonagall. She’s in her room.”

Padma indicated the door in the back, but before Harry went there he turned to Ginny. “Maybe you all should wait here for a minute. She might not want a crowd.”

“She said for you and Ginny to go in,” Padma told them. “She didn’t want you two”—she indicated Ron and Hermione—“because you’re still with the Department and she didn’t want to make trouble for you.”

“How did she know we would all be here?” wondered Ginny.

“She mentioned that Harry is always part of a package deal,” Parvati giggled.

“Blimey, we’re a cliché,” Ron muttered.

“But at least she has a sense of humor again,” said Hermione.

“You have to have one to begin with before you can have it again,” Ron snorted.

Harry knocked softly on the door to the Headmistress’s quarters and a clear voice said, “Enter!” He and Ginny walked in and saw Professor McGonagall lying on the settee, propped up with pillows and covered with a tartan throw. She was paler and somewhat thinner than her normal appearance, but Harry immediately saw that her eyes once again held that steely look over her spectacles, which were perched low on her nose.

But she smiled when she saw them and held out her hands. “I’m so glad you’ve come, both of you. Harry, I am so sorry about what they did to you. It’s incomprehensible and an outrage. But you aren’t alone. Many people will be fighting for you.”

Harry held her hands for a moment, then moved two chairs next to the settee and he and Ginny sat. “That’s all right, Professor. Don’t worry. How are you feeling?”

“Tosh, don’t worry about me, it’s not important. I’ll be fine. The question is, where is Percy and why is Kingsley behaving like this?”

“And the Pensieve?”

“Well . . .” She frowned and looked around. “Harry, would you mind pouring me a glass of water? I’m not supposed to do magic until Friday. Damned inconvenient.” She pointed to a pitcher and glass on a stand at the foot of the settee, and Ginny jumped up and brought the water to her. “Thank you, dear. I knew that after what happened to Harry that you would be with him. Are Mr. and Mrs. Weasley here? I thought they might be, but I also thought that perhaps they might want to remain less, um, prominent in assisting you.”

“I need their help, and they’re right outside,” Harry said. “But if you don’t want them here, they’re happy to wait.”

McGonagall took a sip of water and thought for a moment. Ginny Summoned the little stand and it moved to the head of the couch. The Headmistress smiled at her and put the glass down. “Why don’t you ask them in, then. I have a suggestion that Mrs. Weasley might find helpful.”

Ginny went to the door and beckoned to Ron and Hermione. After dismissing their concerns for her health, McGonagall took another drink of water and addressed Hermione.

“I assume you’ve been delving into the library’s holdings about the Pensieve. There is a volume in the restricted section on the Magical Objects shelf entitled Thanks For The Memories. It’s a rather silly title, but the reason it’s restricted is that it contains instructions for casting runes for both protecting and modifying the memories contained in the Pensieve. I believe you will find in it—”

“Professor!” Hermione had gone pale, and she clutched Ron’s arm. “I searched through every part of the restricted section and the open shelves. That book is not there.”

McGonagall’s eyes narrowed. “That is disturbing. It was there three months ago when I created the magical coin, the disk you found in Godric’s Hollow.”

“Someone took the book,” said Ron.

“And I know who.” Harry gave Ginny a tight-lipped smile. “I’ll bet a hundred Galleons the parcel that Chadwick Chamberlain owled yesterday was that book.”

“Why would anyone owl a stolen book?” Ron asked doubtfully. “He could Disapparate with it and there’d be no risk of losing it.”

“He must have had other things to do. He spent time with George, and who knows what else. And maybe he was afraid to have it on his person in case something happened to him.”

“Just a moment,” Professor McGonagall interrupted. “Mr. Chamberlain came to see me last week, two days before I fell ill. Are you saying that while he was in the castle he stole a book from the library?”

“Yes,” said Harry.

“I doubt it,” said Ron.

McGonagall looked from one to the other. “I doubt it too. His wife is a veela and I cannot remotely imagine that she would participate in such a crime.”

“How do you know his wife is a veela?” asked Hermione.

“She was with him. They were a very engaging couple. We dined together here in my apartment. They say you cannot lie to a veela to whom you are married.”

Harry looked dubiously at the Headmistress. “But if she was his accomplice, he wouldn’t have to lie. And anyway, it’s an assumption that she can’t or wouldn’t commit a crime. Come on, mate,” he said to Ron who still looked doubtful. “That’s elementary: question all assumptions.”

The Professor held up her hand. “This is a fruitless topic. I will ask Madam Pince to conduct a search for the book. Meanwhile,” she said to Hermione, “why don’t you find another copy. Maybe the Department of Mysteries has one, or even Flourish and Blotts.”

Hermione opened her mouth to reply, but Harry stopped her; he didn’t want to talk about their current problems with Amander Croaker. “We can do that, Professor. But is that the reason you wanted to see us, to tell us about the book?”

“Why, yes. I thought you should know.”

“Did you create the runes yourself?”

“No. Professor Flitwick helped. He needed to know about the coin since he’s the Deputy Headmaster, but I did not want anyone else to know. It’s not that I don’t trust Professor Babbling, I just thought it best to keep the knowledge to as few people as possible. Oh, and of course Professor Dumbledore knew. He was the one to suggest it in the first place. But he did not participate in casting the runes.”

Harry looked at the others. “We need to find that book or something similar.” He thought for a moment. “I talked to George about Chamberlain, but maybe we should see him again. I’d like to know where the bloke went after he left Zonko’s.”

They made sure that Professor McGonagall was comfortable, and then left. On the way out of the office Harry passed a thought to Ginny, who asked the Patil twins to let her know, via a school owl, if anyone came to visit the Headmistress, aside from professors. Down in the corridor Harry waited until a group of students passed, and gathered the others around.

“Ron, could you and Hermione go to Zonko’s and talk to George and Angelina, and also that helper they have, Chico. And also poke around the Post Office, try to find out everything you can about the parcel Chamberlain owled. Make up some kind of story if Rastlebuck won’t loosen up.”

“What are you going to do?” Ron asked. He glanced at his wristwatch. “We have about three hours until people start getting off work. We have to decide if we’re going to meet up tonight.”

“I think we can solve this ourselves, or at least get far enough along to give Kingsley enough reasons to bring me back. So maybe we won’t have to have a meeting tonight.” He grinned. “As for us, Ginny and I are going see the two people who know everything that’s going on in Hogwarts.”

“Emma and Claire!” Ginny laughed. “Why didn’t I think of them?”

“Hah! I finally thought of something before you did. Let’s go find them.”

They decided to meet back in Harry and Ginny’s flat in two hours, and the four parted. Ron and Hermione went down to the entrance hall, while Harry and Ginny retraced their steps to the seventh floor and made their way to Gryffindor Tower. When they arrived at the portrait hole they just stood there.

“Damn!” Harry said. “We should have asked McGonagall for the password.” He frowned at the Fat Lady who gazed back at him benignly. “You wouldn’t want to just let us in, would you?” She smiled and shook her head. “I didn’t think so. I wonder where the girls are.”

The Fat Lady spoke. “If you’re referring to those Athair pests, they left half an hour ago. They were carrying their Potions textbooks.”

“Why was she so helpful?” Ginny mused as they walked away.

“I never could figure her out,” said Harry. “She’s a prima donna, so maybe she heard that a crime was committed and she figures if she helps solve it she’ll get some credit.”

“And then what? What good does it do her? She’s a bloody portrait.”

Harry laughed. “Maybe portraits can score points on each other. I don’t know. Ask Dumbledore.”

They joked about portraits as they descended to the Potions dungeon. Through the closed door they could hear Professor Slughorn lecturing, and occasionally a rather pungent odor wafted from under the door. They sat for half an hour on two chairs that Harry conjured. When the door opened, the students coming out looked at them curiously. Emma and Claire were among the last to exit, and Harry beckoned to them.

“Hey, Harry. Hi, Ginny,” Emma said brightly. “What are you doing here? Did you want to see us?”

“I need your help. But I guess you haven’t heard.”

They both looked at him expectantly, but then Claire frowned. “It’s not good news, is it?”

Harry shook his head. “Let’s find someplace private where we can talk.”

Professor Slughorn was coming out of the classroom and stopped when he saw them. Harry swore under his breath for not leaving sooner; he knew Slughorn would try to pry.

“Harry,” he said, “I heard, I heard. You must be quite upset. It’s a real injustice, but I assure you that your friends are with you.”

“Thanks, Professor.” Harry tried to move away, but Slughorn took his arm.

“Why don’t you come up to my office and we can talk, you and Mrs. Potter. I have many friends in the Ministry, as you know, and they are almost as concerned as I am, and—”

“I’d enjoy that, Professor, but I have something I need to do now, and—”

“Of course you do.” Slughorn let his arm go, and looked around conspiratorially. “Between you, me and the wall, the Department of Mysteries has needed a good house-cleaning for a long time. They are—”

“Professor,” Harry said a little more forcefully, “maybe we can meet about it later, you know, over a drink? I need to talk to Emma and Claire, and I’m sure you can understand that time is of the essence.”

Slughorn nodded. “Yes, yes. Of course it is. I’m sorry, lad. I didn’t mean to interrupt your investigation.” He gave a knowing smile, bowed his head to Ginny, and walked away.

“Time is of the essence?” Ginny raised her eyebrows and looked at Harry.

“I had to say something. Where can we have some privacy?” he said to the twins.

“Right in there.” Emma pointed to the closed classroom door. “He doesn’t have any more classes today, and he always goes around to his rooms after his last class and has a few brandies.”

“See?” Harry grinned at Ginny as they went into the Potions dungeon and he closed the door. “I told you these two could help.”

Ginny smiled at the twins. “You have an immense reputation, you know.”

“Us?” Claire looked at her innocently. “We’re just simple schoolgirls. What can we help you with?”

They sat around a table on which stood an empty cauldron, a scale, and a few silver implements. “I got suspended from the Auror Department this morning,” Harry began, and both of the twins showed shock. “I’m sure you heard what happened yesterday”—they nodded—“and now they’re blaming me.” Harry told them about the events of this morning and their meeting with the Headmistress. “I need you both to promise that you won’t tell anyone about any of this. I could get into a lot worse trouble if it came out that I talked to you.”

Emma’s normally twinkling blue eyes became very sober. “Harry, you know you can trust us. We keep our secrets. That’s why we know so much, everyone trusts us.” Her eyes lit up again. “Plus, we know every nook and cranny of Hogwarts, including some that I think even you never found.”

“I don’t doubt that,” Harry agreed. “So, what do you know about books in the restricted section?”

“Ah!” Claire grinned. “Madam Pince was one of the tougher nuts at Hogwarts, but even she has her weaknesses. Did you know that she eats so much chocolate from Honeydukes that they keep a whole roost of owls just to deliver goodies to her office?”

“I did not know that, but probably no one else does, either. Except you two. So she’s a chocolate addict?”

Emma picked up the conversation. “Yes, but that’s not the best part. She likes to take a box of toffee crèmes or Chocoballs or even Chocolate Frogs to bed with her, along with . . .” She paused dramatically and her eyes danced.

Claire continued, as Harry and Ginny listened avidly. “Along with a naughty little Muggle magazine. Do you know what weight lifters are?”

The Athair twins were Muggle-born, so Harry wasn’t surprised that they knew something about what was apparently a seamy aspect of Muggle life. But he shook his head, as did Ginny.

“Since Muggles can’t do magic,” said Emma, “some of them think they can have power if they have big muscles. So they attach heavy metal weights to a bar and lift it, then put it down, then lift it, then put it down, then—”

“We get the idea,” Harry laughed; Ginny just shook her head in disbelief. “But why does Madam Pince like magazines about weight lifting?”

“She likes weight lifters, not lifting. She likes to look at pictures of the men in the magazines,” Claire explained, turning a little pink. “They have huge muscles and they wear tiny and very tight shorts.”

“Now I understand.” Ginny leered and nudged Harry in the ribs. “You should try that, especially the tiny shorts part.”

“I don’t need to,” Harry said dryly, ignoring the twins’ blushes. “I can do magic.”

“Oh, right. Pity.”

“Anyway,” Harry said, “there’s a book that’s supposed to be in the restricted section. It’s called Thanks For The Memories, and Professor McGonagall used it to cast runes to protect the Pensieve. Now it’s missing. Hermione was looking for books about the Pensieve and she never saw that one.”

“Is she sure?” asked Emma; she shot Claire an annoyed look when her sister poked her arm. “Okay, I guess Hermione would remember everything she had seen. Or not seen.”

Harry nodded. “So is there any way of finding out what happened to that book?”

The twins looked at each other with brows identically knitted. Claire turned to Harry. “Do you have any clues at all?”

“I do. Does Pince keep records of who takes restricted books out? And do you know if she keeps records of non-students who use the library?”

“Yes, of course,” Emma said. “And guess who takes care of them? She mentioned about a year ago that she had all kinds of parchments about the library all mixed up, and she didn’t feel like sorting out the mess herself. So we suggested ourselves. It helped that we had just brought a stack of those weight lifter magazines back from Christmas hols.”

Harry grinned. “Can we see them? The records, not the magazines.” He leered at Ginny and she punched his arm.

Emma got to her feet. “Just follow us.”

The twins led the way out of the dungeon. Harry glanced at Ginny as they went out the door, and she took his arm. They didn’t talk, but he let her know how thankful he was that she was with him. She leaned her head on his shoulder for a moment as they walked.

They followed the twins through the cellars on a shortcut to the library that, indeed, Harry was not familiar with. They finally came out from behind a tapestry in a familiar corridor just a few yards from the library entrance. Emma stopped and leaned close to Harry and Ginny. “Get a couple of books,” she whispered, “and sit at a table. If Pince is here and we take you into her office, she’ll be suspicious.”

Inside the library, the twins headed for the librarian’s office while Harry brought a stack of books about Ancient Runes back to a table. He thought that maybe they could remember what some of the runes on the Pensieve disk looked like, and Ginny could translate them. She paged through Calhoun’s Pretty Much Unabridged Dictionary of Runes In Lots Of Languages, and found a few that she recognized, but not enough to make any sense.

“I think the runes on the disk are French, but since I don’t know French I can’t make heads or tails of anything,” Ginny said, rubbing her chin. “It’s interesting that Professor McGonagall used French runes, though, don’t you think?”

“Very interesting,” Harry agreed. “I wonder why she didn’t mention it.”

The twins returned before Harry and Ginny could speculate further. Claire put her finger to her lips and indicated with a nod that they should leave. Out in the corridor Emma took a quick look around and slipped a small parchment into Harry’s hand. He just as quickly put it in his pocket.

“We think you’ll find that useful,” Emma said quietly. “It’s a copy, so don’t worry about returning it. But after you finish with it, use Evanesco or something to get rid of it.”

Harry nodded. “Thanks so much.” He grabbed Emma and hugged her, then Claire while Ginny grinned.

He turned to her. “Let’s go back and ask McGonagall why she used French runes.”

They walked together until they arrived on the second floor and Harry and Ginny turned to the Headmistress’s office, while the twins went up to Gryffindor Tower after revealing the current password, “Burnt Toast and Rancid Peanut Butter.”

“Weird,” Harry muttered as they ascended the spiral stairs. “Who makes those up?”

“I think the Headmistress or Headmaster,” said Ginny. “Maybe McGonagall came up with that one while she was unwell.”

Parvati stood outside the office now, and she told them that Professor Flitwick was in with the Headmistress. The door in back was open, and when they went into the office they could see the Charms professor sitting on a stool next to the settee. They couldn’t see McGonagall, but they heard her.

“I know you’ve collaborated with him, Filius, and I also know his wife. But if he is stealing books from the library—”

She glanced up and saw Harry standing in the doorway; Flitwick also looked around.

“Harry!” said the Headmistress, as he and Ginny entered. “I’m glad you came back. Your comment about Mr. Chamberlain started me thinking, and I asked Professor Flitwick to come see me because he and Mr. Chamberlain are old colleagues.”

“I thought you didn’t believe he could do it,” Harry said. “I mean steal something.”

“I am skeptical, but as you said, question all assumptions. My sphere is teaching, not criminal investigation, but it’s also the protection of Hogwarts, and the troubles with the Pensieve did coincide with his visit.”

Harry did not want to get in the middle of an argument between McGonagall and Flitwick. “Can I ask you a question, Professor? Why did you use French runes on the Pensieve coin?”

“This Pensieve came from France, hundreds of years ago, so French runes are much more appropriate, don’t you think?”

“Wouldn’t English runes work?” Ginny asked. “I don’t remember learning anything in Ancient Runes about one language being better than another.”

“That’s correct, but if the language doesn’t matter, then no harm’s been done. If the language does matter, then we did the right thing.”

Harry sent Ginny an image of them walking out the door. It was growing late, and they needed to get back to the inn. “Well, we have to be going,” he said to the professors. “The family is getting together at the Burrow tonight, and we want to be there. Can we use the fireplace to Floo to the inn?”

“I’m glad you mentioned that,” Ginny said in the outer office just before they Floo’d. “No one is thinking about Percy, including me. Mum is probably a wreck.”

Ron and Hermione were in the sitting room when Harry and Ginny arrived back at their flat. They sat at the blowfish table and Harry took the Athair twins’ parchment from his pocket. He read it with Ginny looking over his shoulder. “Emma and Claire nicked this for us from Pince’s office . . .” He furrowed his brow, but looked up with satisfaction and handed the note to Ron. “He’s our man.”

Ron read it and passed it to Hermione. “So he did look at that book,” he said. “That cracks it for me too. If we find him, we find Percy and the Pensieve. I guess I was wrong about veelas. How did the twins get into that office?”

“Big muscles and tight shorts,” Ginny snickered.

“What the hell does that mean?” Ron looked at her, perplexed.

“I’ll tell you later. I want to get to the Burrow. Mum needs us.”

“I agree,” said Harry. “We can talk there. Even if you don’t have anything new from George, I think we have enough so that we don’t need a meeting, at least not tonight.”

“Then send Popeye or someone an owl,” Hermione said. “They’re expecting to hear from us.”

They decided to use a Post owl instead of one that someone might recognize as Harry or Ginny’s, so Ron hurried to the Post Office and sent a message to Seamus, saying that he wasn’t feeling well, so he and Hermione could not meet him for dinner as they had planned.

They all Floo’d to the Burrow. The house was quiet, but they heard people in the parlor and found Molly and Arthur, Bill and Fleur, Audrey and little Molly, and Angelina. Ginny’s mother looked up as they entered; she held a handkerchief to her face and kept dabbing her red and swollen eyes. Arthur sat on the couch between her and Audrey, an arm around each.

“Thank goodness you’re here,” Molly said and sighed. “There’s still no word of Percy.”

“Saliyah was just here,” said Bill, perched on the arm of a wingback chair where Fleur was sitting. “She told us what Deverill did, Ginny. I honestly didn’t think he could be so stupid.”

Ginny shrugged but didn’t answer. She went to her mother and squeezed next to her and put her arm around her. “It’s done. I’m doing what I want to do. I’m where I want to be.”

The room was silent as people looked down with lips pressed together or with frowns on their faces. Audrey reached her hand to Ginny. “Thank you,” she said softly. “I’m sure they’ll put you back on the team when—when this is over.”

Ginny shrugged again. Harry went over and kissed Molly’s forehead and she hugged him briefly. He glanced at Ron, then at the door. They walked out with Hermione; Bill and Fleur followed.

“If they don’t find Percy by this evening, Charlie is coming home early,” Bill said glumly on the way into the kitchen. “Sal wasn’t optimistic. She’s been dealing with discontented Aurors all day. If they don’t reinstate you, Harry, they’ll have a full-blown rebellion on their hands. Be careful, brother. Don’t give Croaker any ammunition to use against you.”

“What do you know about him,” Harry asked as they sat at the table. Fleur busied herself with a teakettle, but he noticed a small frown on her face.

“He did some crazy things in the war that pretty much kept the Death Eaters out of the Department of Mysteries after they killed two Unspeakables. But I don’t think he did that because he loved liberty and hated Voldemort. He just didn’t want anyone else taking over his turf.”

“But why would he want to get me fired? I’m no threat to him.”

Bill looked tired. “I don’t know. None of this makes sense. Especially Deverill . . .” He shook his head. “That man is acting totally irrational. It’s like he can’t handle the pressure. It’s not going to affect the team’s performance if Ginny misses a couple of practices. I don’t understand it.”

Fleur set out cups and saucers and poured tea for everyone. “‘E is jealous of Ginny because she is more popular zan ‘im. It’s as simple as zat.”

“But he’s doing something unpopular,” Hermione said. “I don’t understand it either.”

Fleur gave a Gallic shrug. “Everyone is acting crazy. It’s almost like zat Pensieve ‘as made ze world stupid.”

“Speaking of which,” Harry said, “we found out that Chadwick Chamberlain stole a book on Pensieves from the Hogwarts library.”

“Non!” Fleur glared at him. “Impossible! I do not believe it!”

Harry took the parchment from his pocket and held it up. “There is no question that he looked at the book, and now it’s missing. And it’s the same book that Professor McGonagall used a few months ago.” He took his wand out. ”Evanesco,” he muttered, and the parchment vanished.

Fleur slumped into the chair next to Bill. Her face, normally to Harry one of the most beautiful things in the universe, was now almost too pained to look at. The sadness in it seemed obscene. Harry had never seen her like this, and he felt appalled that he had caused it. He looked at her, stricken.

After a moment Fleur looked back at him, and sympathy replaced her sadness.

“Oh, ‘Arry, it is not your fault. You are doing your job, and you do it so well. If Uncle Chadwick stole a book, zen ‘e deserves punishment.” Her eyes flashed briefly, but once more became sad, although less so than a moment ago. She sighed. “I can accept it, but I do not understand it. I don’t understand any of zis.”

They sipped tea and were lost in their own thoughts. Finally Harry said, “Ron, did you find out anything from George?”

Ron, who had been staring at Fleur, came out of his reverie and nodded. “Chamberlain did do some strange things, and it all fits with what you found out. George said he came back from the Post Office and they were chatting for a few minutes until the lorry pulled out of Hogsmeade. He bought a few samples, which George said he already told you about. Then he said he had to go meet his wife, but he didn’t say where. George figured he meant at The Three Broomsticks or The Hog’s Head, but he watched him leave and he went into Dervish and Banges instead.”

Suddenly Harry scowled deeply. “Wait a minute!” He looked at Ginny. “Didn’t he tell us he was mailing a letter to his wife?”

“He did send it to her,” Ron said. “Rastlebuck told us it was addressed to Mrs. Patience Chamberlain in Withypool, Somerset.”

“So he lied about her being in Hogsmeade, waiting for him?”

Ron shook his head. “Nope. She was in Dervish and Banges.”

“Did you go there?”

“Don’t I look like an Auror?” Ron grinned. “Twohill said Chamberlain’s wife was there, and had been waiting for almost an hour, just poking around but not buying anything.”

“Who is zis ‘Twohill’?” Fleur asked. “Zat name sounds like what an owl says.”

“Monitor Twohill,” Harry replied. “He’s the owner of Dervish and Banges. He’s been there forever and he’s so nearsighted he might as well be blind.” He turned to Ron. “Do you trust what he said? The bloke can’t tell between me and Ginny whenever we go in there.”

“He can tell a veela, apparently,” Ron said. “He went on about her for ten minutes. When Chamberlain got there she introduced him. And, according to Mr. Twohill, that seemed to annoy the old bugger.”

“Really?” Harry’s eyebrows rose. “So he didn’t like attracting attention.”

“Wait a minute, Harry,” Hermione said. “How can the man not attract attention if he’s walking around with a veela on his arm?”

“Because no one would look at him. She would get all the attention and he would be invisible, for all intents. Plus, if he was in the village for more than a day or two, he could very easily have noticed or heard that Twohill was extremely nearsighted. That may be why he wanted his wife to wait there.”

Bill leaned forward with a sideways smile at Fleur. “I can vouch for the first part of that. If you’re standing next to a veela no one gives you a second glance, even if half your face is missing.”

“Ooh, zat is not true!” Fleur took his hand and with her other stroked his scarred face. “Zey always look at you, too, darling.”

“But by then they’re besotted.” Bill grinned.

Fleur’s appreciative smile bathed the room in glory, and no one spoke until Hermione jabbed Ron with her elbow. He started and his eyes focused. “Oh, right. So where was I?”

“Chamberlain didn’t like being introduced to Monitor Twohill by his wife,” Hermione prompted.

“That’s it. Now here’s the best part. Twohill could tell that when they left, she went back down the High Street but he went into the field behind The Hog’s Head. Of course he couldn’t see what happened next, so we went to the inn, and guess who saw him?”

There was silence, until Ginny smiled. “Winky.”

“Precisely!” Ron beamed. “Harry’s right, you should be an Auror. She happened to step outside just as Chamberlain was at the end of the field. She watched him climb over the fence and walk down the lane away from the village. She could see him for a couple of hundred yards until the road curved.”

“And I’ll bet if you ask her why she was outside at just the right moment, she won’t tell you,” said Harry.

“Hey, she’s an elf,” Ron shrugged.

Harry pointed his finger at Ron. “And I’ve been around her long enough to know that she never does anything without a reason. She knew that someone bad was near the inn, and she went outside to make sure he didn’t make mischief.” He sat back. “Is that it? You didn’t go down the lane?”

“It was starting to get late,” Ron said. “Besides, the whole thing happened more than twenty-four hours ago. It wasn’t too likely we would have found anything.”

Harry nodded, but looked at Ginny. The picture in her mind made him suddenly sit forward. My wife the crime solver, he sent to her.

“Hardly,” Ginny laughed. The others watched; they all knew that things passed wordlessly between Harry and Ginny.

Harry explained. “Ginny pointed out that the only place that lane goes is to the Muggle highway to Perth. That’s the way we took the Pensieve.”

“Could he have followed you?” asked Hermione. “Did you notice a car following you?”

Harry thought back to the drive south. It had never occurred to him to look back to see if anyone was following. He could ask Justin, but he had sat in the middle of the cab and would not have been able to easily see behind them. “I didn’t notice anything, but that doesn’t mean no one was there. I never looked.”

Ron picked up Harry’s train of thought. “But that could explain the Imperio on Percy. Chamberlain could have been right behind you and controlled him.”

That doesn’t work,” Hermione demurred, “not unless he was the one who cast the Curse in the first place. Chamberlain was inside the Post Office with the Postmaster from the time the lorry arrived on the High Street until you met him after he sent his owl,” she said to Harry. “Mr. Rastlebuck would remember if Chamberlain used Imperio.”

“Are you sure?” Harry asked. “Old Rastlebuck can be forgetful. No one was paying attention to that side of the road after we saw Mundungus Fletcher in front of Honeydukes. He could have been a decoy.”

The parlor door opened and Molly came into the kitchen. “Don’t mind me. I’m starting dinner but you’re not in the way.” She went into the pantry where they could hear her poking and clattering through cupboards and shelves.

“I just thought of something,” Ginny said, blushing when a gentle wave of amused appreciation from Harry washed over her. “Why didn’t Chamberlain Apparate when he left Dervish and Banges? Why did he walk right past the inn and risk being seen? People don’t normally walk across that field.”

Molly came out of the pantry carrying a large roast in a pan. “Ginny, dear, can you get a dozen potatoes from the bin? I couldn’t carry it all. Was that Fleur’s uncle you were just talking about? He’s such a sweet man. He and Aunt Patience will be here on Sunday for Fred’s memorial. Does everyone fancy a pot roast for dinner?”

Chapter Text

After dinner the family retired to the parlor and Bill built up a fire. Harry and Ginny took little Molly outside where they chased gnomes in the garden. Whenever they scared one up, Ginny Stunned it and Harry heaved it over the fence into the field while Molly screamed with delight.

The sky was clear and the evening a bit nippy for the middle of spring. Stars began to come out and when it got too dark to spot gnomes, they went over to the swing set that Arthur had rescued from the rubbish pile outside a nearby Muggle home. Harry held up his and Ginny’s lit wands while Ginny pushed Molly in the swing.

While Molly pumped her legs and chattered excitedly about the de-gnoming adventure, Harry and Ginny talked about the upcoming family gathering on Sunday, less than five days away. There would be a small remembrance for Fred in the morning, and in the afternoon, after dinner, everyone would Portkey to Hogwarts for the annual memorial of the Battle. Because of Molly, they did not mention Chadwick Chamberlain or the complications that could well arise when he visited the Burrow.

Molly kept asking for Ginny to push her higher. They had played this game before; she wanted to go as high as possible and let go and fly into the air. Harry would Levitate her slowly to the ground, and they would do it all over again.

“Okay, here goes!” Ginny called. She gave the swing one last shove and it and Molly flew up above the bar. Harry called out, ”Wingardium Leviosa!” and Molly floated laughing into Ginny’s arms.

As she ran back to the swing for another go, they heard a crash from the house followed by a loud groan that seemed to come from the kitchen. For a split second there was silence. An instant later came shouts and the sounds of people running through the house. Someone screamed.

Ginny scooped up her niece and they ran to the back door. Harry handed Ginny her wand and sprinted ahead. He threw the door open and ran into the kitchen. A few seconds later Ginny followed with Molly.

Everyone was gathered around the sprawled form of Percy, lying face down on the table. Molly and Audrey were bent over him. His hands were bound behind his back and he was covered with dust. He obviously had been flung out of the fireplace with enough force to fly onto the table, which must have been the crash they had heard.

Percy groaned again. Bill flicked his wand and the rope around his wrists fell away. Harry caught Ron’s eye and gave him a hand signal. While Bill and Arthur gently turned Percy over and a weeping Audrey began wiping blood off his face, Ron went to the fireplace and Sealed it. He came to Harry and they put their heads together.

“Apparate to the Department,” Harry said in an urgent whisper, “and find Saliyah, but don’t tell anyone else except Popeye, if you see him. Tell Sal we need to get the local Floo Network sealed up right away.”

“Should I tell her what we know about Chamberlain?” Ron asked, also quietly.

Harry thought for a moment. “Yes. It’s our best hope for convincing Shacklebolt that Croaker is covering something up. But the priority is getting the Network sealed so we can trace where Percy came from.”

“Do you think Croaker is working with Chamberlain?”

“I don’t know. But if he is and finds out we’re onto something, he might panic and expose himself. But go! We need to seal the Network.”

Ron hurried out the front door. Harry glanced at Percy who was now stirring and mumbling something to his wife, who leaned down and kissed him. Harry didn’t see Ginny, but sensed her in the parlor, still holding little Molly in her arms. The child was wailing and Ginny was trying to soothe her; she had caught a glimpse of her father before Ginny could turn her away and get her out of the kitchen.

Send Audrey as soon as you can, she sent.

Harry looked over Audrey’s shoulder; she was cradling Percy’s head in her arms and whispering to him; her cheeks were tear-streaked as she caressed his face. Molly held one of his hands, and Arthur the other. Bill and Fleur hovered next to them.

Harry went to Hermione, who was standing off to one side, and told her what he had ordered Ron to do. “Do you think we can talk to Percy?” Harry murmured.

“He needs to get to St. Mungo’s,” she whispered worriedly. “Besides, I think he’s Obliviated. Nobody’s likely to learn much from him.”

Harry nodded and went around the table to Audrey. He put his hand on her shoulder and she lifted her teary face. “Oh, Harry. Where is Molly?”

“Ginny has her in the parlor. She’s kind of upset, I think she got a glimpse of Percy.”

Audrey looked out the door towards the parlor. She started to move from the table, but stopped and looked back at Percy.

“You go, dear,” Molly said. “We’ll stay here with him.” She turned to Bill. “Darling, I think we need a Portkey to get him to hospital.”

Audrey hurried into the parlor and Bill went outside to Apparate to St. Mungo’s. Harry looked down at Percy. His face was now clean but there was a bruise under his eye, and Harry realized that his eyeglasses were missing. His head was cushioned on the table with a folded dishcloth. Molly was counting his fingers and inspecting his hands and arms. Incongruously, Percy grinned at him.

“So ends my career as a truck driver,” he said hoarsely. “I’m sorry, Harry.”

Harry put his hand on Percy’s arm. “It wasn’t your fault. I think I know who did it, but don’t worry yourself about that. We’ll get you to hospital as quick as we can.”

“Where’s Audrey?” He squinted around the room as his mother stroked his hair, then wiped his brow and caressed it.

“She’s in the parlor with little Molly, dear. She’ll be right back.”

In a few minutes Audrey came back carrying Molly, who started crying again when she saw her father lying on the table. Her grandmother and her aunts stood around her, clucking and cooing, and she finally calmed down enough to be able to give Percy a kiss. Then Bill was back with an old lamp for a Portkey. Audrey handed Molly to Grandmum, the lamp glowed blue, and Percy, Audrey, Arthur, and Bill were gone.

“Is it okay to clean off ze table?” Fleur asked Harry. “I know it may be evidence, but it’s a big mess too.”

“Go ahead,” he said. “There’s enough debris in the fireplace if we need it.”

Fleur Scourgified the tabletop and the floor in front of the hearth. Harry and Hermione went into the parlor, where the two Mollys were sitting on the sofa, the little one on the big one’s lap, clinging to her and whimpering. Ginny sat next to them rubbing the child’s back and cooing to her.

“I sent Ron to the Department,” Harry told them. “What exactly happened?” he asked Hermione.

“We were all sitting in here and we heard the fireplace flame, then a big thump and a crash. I think Percy made a noise, and we all ran into the kitchen and saw him.”

Fleur came in and sat. “‘’Arry, will you be able to tell where Percy Floo’d from?”

“I hope so. At the least they should be able to tell which village or city.”

They heard a pop from the front yard. Hermione got up and peered out the window into the night. “It’s Ron, ” she announced, and went to the front door; a moment later they both entered. Ron gave little Molly a kiss on top of her head and took a seat. Everyone looked at him.

“Sal wasn’t there, she was at home,” he said, “but Ernie was on duty and he sent a memo to the Floo Authority to seal off the Network in Devon for a couple of hours. They won’t keep it closed longer because people will start screaming. Then he Floo’d to Sal’s house, and I hope to hell Shacklebolt is with her—”

“Ronald!” His mother scowled and pointed to Molly in her lap. “Language please.”

“Oh, sorry.” He blew little Molly a kiss, and she smiled and blew one back. He winked at her and continued. “Anyway, I hope he starts to come to his senses. But here’s the interesting part. Ernie suggested that I head down to the Floo Authority to make sure they didn’t screw up—” his mother scowled again “—and when I got there they had already figured out where Percy originated. Withypool, Somerset.”

“No way!” Harry exclaimed. “That’s too good to be true! Nice work, mate.”

“I didn’t do anything, but I’ll take the credit, especially since it’s my day off.”

“What’s special about Withypool?” asked Molly. “It’s not too far from here.”

“It means Uncle Chadwick is a criminal,” Fleur said sadly.

“What!” Molly cried, startling her granddaughter who began bawling again. She and Ginny went back to comforting the child.

“He stole a book from Hogwarts about Pensieves and mailed it to Withypool,” said Ron while his mother tried to calm Molly. The elder Molly bounced the younger one on her lap and clucked at her. In a minute the child was quiet; she put her head on Molly’s bosom and was enveloped in a hug.

“That’s unbelievable,” Molly muttered. “He’s such a sweet man, and I thought you couldn’t lie to a veela if she was your wife.”

“We think she helped him,” said Harry. “She was in Hogsmeade yesterday.”

“Well, that could mean anything,” Molly sniffed. “It doesn’t make her a thief.”

Ginny looked at Harry. Let it go, sweetie. Harry acknowledged her with a tiny nod. “They took Percy to hospital,” he said to Ron. “You didn’t happen to hear anything about him, did you?” Ron shook his head.

Little Molly got off her grandmother’s lap and wandered over to the fire, near Harry. She started poking the embers with a piece of kindling, and Ginny came and sat on the hearth with her, leaning against Harry’s legs. He put his hand on her shoulder and Ginny looked up at him with a smile. “I’m so relieved,” she said as Molly crawled into her lap. “Percy is back.” She sighed and Molly turned and put her arms around her aunt.

“I’m glad Daddy is back too, I missed him,” Molly said.

They heard another pop, and in a moment Bill entered. He went over and picked little Molly off the floor. “Your Daddy is fine, sweetheart,” he said with a smile. “He’ll be home tomorrow and Mummy will be here very soon. I also was at the Ministry,” he said to Harry.

“Did you see anyone?” Harry asked.

“Saliyah and Kingsley. They traced the Floo to a house in Withypool up in Somerset, but it’s empty. And of course whoever was living there had all kinds of charms and wards on it, so none of the neighbors ever noticed anything. There’s even a magical family around the corner, and they had no idea that other wizards lived nearby.”

Molly went into the kitchen to make tea, but soon Harry and Ginny decided to go home; it had been a very long day. They decided, with Ron and Hermione, to communicate tomorrow through Hector Freeman, Hermione’s assistant, so that they wouldn’t attract attention. Moments later they stepped out of their own fireplace, and soon they were in bed where their embrace lasted long into the night.

#  #  # #

They allowed themselves the luxury of sleeping in the next morning. Too much had happened; they needed to be quiet for a while. Harry awoke when the sun was already well up, but Ginny was still asleep next to him. She lay on her side facing away from him; he debated getting out of bed and making breakfast, but she sighed and turned over to face him, still asleep. He studied her beautiful face for several minutes, counting freckles. Her hair had come loose from its elastic band during their activities last night, and now it was everywhere. He gently brushed it from her cheeks. He never tired of looking at her; she seemed to grow lovelier every day.

Many times in the past she had done remarkable things for him. Many times she had made sacrifices, stood with him, unasked. Her love had never wavered, not even when it appeared he might be rejecting it. She had risked her life for him.

Now she had given up the opportunity of a lifetime, the chance to ply her incredible talent before a world-wide audience. At a crisis in his own life, she had decided to share it with him and sacrifice what she had dreamed of since she was a child. Harry could not imagine a greater love. How fortunate he was, and how undeserving. How many times had he done stupid, thoughtless, selfish things that had hurt her? And yet she still loved him. He felt his heart bursting with emotion, and without thinking he put his hands on her face and kissed her lips.

Ginny opened her eyes. She took his hands and kissed him back. “Mmm, that was a nice way to wake up. To what do I owe this definite pleasure?”

“Just yourself, and because I love you so much, because you’re so good to me, because you are so beautiful. Just because.”

Ginny moved her hips and her shoulders and smiled. “As I recall, last night you were very good to me.”

“Yeah, that was really something. In fact, I feel like doing it again.” Harry’s lips brushed hers, then his mouth moved elsewhere. He wanted to do everything and anything that would bring pleasure to her, and soon Ginny was writhing and moaning. When they were done they lay in an exhausted tangle, bathed in sweat and the smells of love.

“We need to start more days like this,” Harry said into Ginny’s hair as his breathing gradually returned to normal. He had not moved from on top of her yet, and he ran his hands up and down her flanks. “Merlin, you are so good.” He kissed her again.

I need to pee, Ginny sent while their mouths were locked together.

Harry laughed and rolled off. “I knew, but you didn’t want me to let you go.”

“Certainly not. We’re on holiday.” She got up and Harry watched admiringly as she walked into the bathroom.

“I know,” he called to her. “And don’t forget the birth control. Do you need your wand?”

“Nope,” she called back. “I left it in here last night just in case.”

“In case of what?”

She stuck her head back out the door. “In case you tried to seduce me again this morning. A girl can’t be too careful around here.”

Harry leaned back against his pillow with a pleased expression and put his hands behind his head. He heard Ginny start the shower.

“Let’s take one together,” he called. “I heard that the Muggle government wants us to conserve water.” He got up and walked into the loo; Ginny was combing out her hair. “What do you say, let’s do our civic duty.”

“Fat chance there’d be of saving water with you in there with me. We’d take twice as long as two separate showers.”

Harry moved closer. Ginny hopped into the shower and pulled the curtain closed. He yanked it open and looked at the water cascading over her breasts and down her thighs. He took a deep, groaning breath. “At least twice as long,” he said and stepped in.

Ginny had taken in a mouthful of water and squirted it in his face. She shrieked as he grabbed her under her armpits and started tickling, but then he lifted her up and they kissed and Ginny wrapped her legs around him and the water ran and ran.

They finally made it into the little kitchen, wearing their bathrobes, and Ginny fixed breakfast while Harry brewed a pot of coffee. They decided that they would take a day off from Pensieves and parcels, from Ministry politics and egotistical Quidditch managers. They would have a picnic at the castle grounds and spend the day under the rowan tree next to the memorial fountain, or wander around the Black Lake, or maybe take their brooms and have another flying date. They felt lazy and liberated, free of the craziness of the past few days. None of it was their problem. Harry was suspended and Ginny was sacked. Let the world worry by itself, at least for a day. They had a serendipitous holiday, and they were going to enjoy it.

They went to get dressed, but as they walked through the sitting room they heard a hoot; a Ministry owl was on the sill outside the casement window. Harry reluctantly let it in and it flew onto the perch where their own owls were sitting. McPherson and Bailey moved aside to give it some room. It ducked its head at them, lifted its leg for Harry, who took the message, and the bird flew off.

“It’s from Sal,” he said, following Ginny into the bedroom.

“Do I really want to hear it? I want to go on a picnic with you, not fight Amander Croaker and Philbert Deverill all day.”

Harry didn’t answer for a moment as he read. “The picnic is still on.” He handed her the note and started dressing. “She wants me to stay away from the Ministry for at least a day.”

Ginny perused it, and her eyebrows shot up. “Oho! Mutiny in the ranks! And it sounds like Shacklebolt’s having second thoughts.”

“Hardly a mutiny.” Harry took the note back and tossed it on his dresser. “But what did he expect? There would have been the same reaction if they had treated anybody like that.”

“You’re not just anybody, love.” She took a pair of red shorts from her dresser and held them against her hips. “Do you think it will be warm enough to wear these?”

Harry leered at her. “I can make it warm.”

“On second thought I’d better wear jeans.”

They finished dressing, took their brooms and a blanket, and went downstairs. The inn wasn’t crowded, but a few friends from the village were there, and Tony Trostle showed them a copy of the Daily Prophet.

“What in Merlin’s name is going on down there?” he said, shaking his head. “You’re suspended and Ginny’s kicked off the team? They’re going to catch hell for that one from the bookies, let alone from the fans. What’s it all about?”

Harry scanned the paper, looking for anything about the Pensieve, but saw nothing. He handed it back to Tony. “I’d better not say anything, but that operation I ran here on Monday didn’t go so well, and I’m the fall guy. Ginny wanted to take a couple of days to help me, and Deverill told her she had to be at practice today or be off the team.”

“And I won’t be there,” Ginny declared.

“It’s hard to believe,” Tony said. “Will they give you your job back, Harry? You were supposed to be Head Auror, how can they all of a sudden say you’re not?”

Harry grinned. “Gin and I decided to have a picnic today. If anyone comes around looking for us—” he pointed to the newspaper “—tell them to go see Kingsley Shacklebolt or Philbert Deverill.” Tony smiled.

Ginny went back into the kitchen to ask Winky to prepare a picnic basket while Harry chatted with some of the other customers, and gave Stan a few more details about the past two days. Ginny returned with the basket and they left.

Sauntering down the High Street carrying their brooms and the basket, feeling free and easy, they felt like they had left their woes behind them. It had actually been a while since they had an entire day by themselves, just the two of them. Even on weekends, they usually hung out with Ron and Hermione, or else with family at the Burrow or Shell Cottage. When they didn’t, it meant that Harry had to work or Ginny had a match.

They waved to friends in the village. Everyone had seen the Prophet or spoken to someone who had, and they all wanted to talk. Harry and Ginny excused themselves by saying they weren’t allowed to say anything.

They walked up the lane to the tall pillars of the castle gates, which stood open and unguarded, then headed across the lawn to the memorial fountain where Harry spread the blanket out in the sun. The doves in the rowan tree paid them no attention as they dipped their hands into the magical fountain with its immortal goldfish and eternally flowering lilies. Harry held his cupped hands under the fountain and they both took a drink of cool, sweet, refreshing water.

Ginny lay on the blanket with her head in Harry’s lap. She closed her eyes and let the warm sun bathe her face. Harry caressed her brow and their love filled them, taking over their hearts and their souls. Students walking down the path to Hagrid’s cabin for Care of Magical Creatures class gazed at them. The girls murmured to each other and the boys snickered, but no one disturbed them; something about them said that their world was not to be disturbed.

After a while they decided to have a go on their brooms over at the Quidditch pitch, so they left the picnic basket and their other belongings on the blanket and traipsed across the lawn, past the castle, and down to the stadium. They spent an hour in the air and Harry never took his eyes from Ginny as she bent low and streaked through the skies, red tresses billowing behind her. He could not miss the sadness in her mind, believing as she did that she would never play in another Quidditch match. He thought that he also detected a twinge of resentment, but Ginny would not let him go to that part of her mind.

She was such a beautiful flyer! Harry’s eyes filled as he watched her, and it wasn’t from the wind. He wanted to tell her not to stay at home today; maybe there was an afternoon practice and if she were there, Deverill would relent and take her back. But as soon as that thought entered his head, he got Ginny’s response: No way. She looped up to him and they hovered a few feet apart.

“I’m fine,” she said. “Look, we found out so much yesterday and I’ll bet by the weekend you’ll have the case cracked. And if I hadn’t been with you I would have worried myself silly.” She reached out, took his gloved hand, and grinned wickedly. “And we wouldn’t have had our shower this morning.”

Harry smiled a little. “Yeah, I guess there’s always time for a shower when you’re not working. But . . .” He sighed and looked around. “You are so wonderful to watch when you fly. I wish there was some way to . . .”

He trailed off, squinted into the distance and shaded his eyes. “Look!” He pointed to the south. Ginny looked and saw a tiny dot climbing towards them. A minute later they recognized the same owl that had visited them in the morning. It labored upward, its wings beating hard. When it got closer, Harry dropped down to meet it. He extended his arm but it landed instead on the nose of his broom. A message was tied to its leg, but the bird didn’t offer it to Harry; instead it craned its neck and peered around, as though it was taking in the view.

Ginny laughed. “I don’t think they usually fly this high. He’s probably never seen things from this high up before.”

The owl hooted once and stretched its wings; Harry had to snap his head back to avoid being smacked. The owl had a firm grip on the broomstick, and its wing movement also caused the broom to lurch upward.

“Hey!” said Harry, clutching the broom. “Take it easy! Come on, what do you have for me?”

Finally the owl lifted its leg and Harry took the note. “It’s from Sal again,” he said as he read, keeping one hand firmly on the broom handle. “She wants to see me, but not at the Ministry. She’ll be at the inn this evening.”

“Good,” Ginny said. “We can stay out all day. Does she want you to send an answer?”

“She doesn’t say, but I think I should. I have a self-inking quill in my pocket, but I’m not letting go of this broom while this bloke is perched on it.”

The owl clucked, gave Harry a pitying look, and flew over to Ginny’s broom. Harry penned a short acknowledgment on the parchment, and moved closer to Ginny. The owl lifted its leg and Harry re-tied the parchment. It hopped off Ginny’s broom and plunged earthward, until it spread its wings and glided away. In a minute it was once again only a speck against the sky, and a moment later they could no longer see it.

They realized they were hungry, so they flew down and walked back to the fountain. Ginny took out corned beef sandwiches, two oranges, a box of half a dozen treacle tarts, and two butterbeers. Harry ate a tart first, then his sandwich. Ginny fed him orange segments while he rested his head in her lap.

A few large puffy clouds started floating overhead, and whenever they blocked the sun it became noticeably chillier. They donned jackets and sat back-to-back, leaning against each other while they finished the tarts. They could hear Hagrid’s booming voice coming from the edge of the Forest where he was teaching a class, and when they saw the sixth-year students—Emma and Claire waved to them—walking back to the castle they decided to go see him.

He was out back placing flowers on the huge mound of Aragog’s grave. Fang greeted them with a loud bark and the gamekeeper turned.

“Afternoon, Harry, Ginny,” he said solemnly, wiping a tear from his cheek. “Did yeh come to pay yer respects to poor Aragog? That’s nice of yeh. Last week was seven years since the little fella died. He was such a good friend.”

Hagrid blew his nose into one of his ample handkerchiefs and gazed at the grave. “I sure miss him.” He heaved a huge sigh. “This calls fer a drink.”

He led them into his cabin and took out three large goblets and a bottle of firewhiskey, but Harry held up his hand. “We just stopped in to say hello. We wanted to see how you were doing after all the . . . the things that happened.”

“Did you hear that Percy is back?” Ginny asked.

“No! That’s brilliant news!” Hagrid exclaimed with a huge grin. “When?”

“Last night. He just came through the fireplace at the Burrow. He’s in St. Mungo’s, but he’s okay.”

“Well, I’m glad to hear that. Did he say anything about the Pensieve?”

“We didn’t ask,” replied Harry, “but he’s probably Obliviated.”

Hagrid set the goblets on the table in front of himself and filled them all. “Are yeh sure yeh won’t have none? I heard about yer gettin’ the sack.” He scowled at Ginny. “And as fer Harry gettin’ suspended, I’ve known the Ministry to do some addle-brained things, but this takes the cake. I tried to tell ‘em that Croaker bloke done it, but no one’ll listen. Here’s to Aragog.” He threw down the contents of one mug and picked up the second.

“Saliyah believes it,” Harry said. “She’s coming to see us tonight and—”

He stopped as Hagrid suddenly slammed his goblet down, sloshing firewhiskey across the table, and turned to a window. He jumped up and snatched his crossbow from its hook on the wall and went quickly to the door; Fang went after him, his tail wagging. Harry and Ginny followed the dog.

Outside, Hagrid was facing the Forbidden Forest, his bow at his side but not cocked. At the edge of the trees stood Firenze.

The centaur held up his empty hands and called out, “Professor Hagrid, may I approach?”

Hagrid leaned the bow against the side of the cabin and walked towards him; Harry and Ginny came right behind. “Are yeh okay, Perfessor?” Hagrid said loudly. “You’ve been missed.”

The centaur approached, and noticed Harry and Ginny, partly hidden behind Hagrid. His face, which had been grim, relaxed.

“Harry Potter! And Mrs. Potter. This is a lucky chance, one I did not foresee.” He laughed, a low whinnying sound. “You see, there is proof that centaurs cannot predict the future.”

Harry wasn’t sure what to say. He did not want to pry into a matter that had caused Firenze, a proud creature, to behave so bizarrely. If he hadn’t been suspended he would have felt less uncertain asking; it would have been his duty. But without that authority, he felt uncomfortable.

May I try? Ginny’s silent question caused Harry’s eyes to flick to her, and Firenze caught the look. He cocked his head but said nothing.

Ginny spoke. “Were you safe in the Forest, Professor?”

“Ah, well, I avoided my old friends.” His tone was a little sad.

“I’m sorry you had to do that. I’m also sorry you were so upset. The Pensieve is gone.”

A cloud came over Firenze’s blue eyes. He pursed his lips and seemed to consider Ginny’s statement. “I was not myself, and I apologize for that. It is something I do not wish to speak about, but I thank you for your sentiment.” He bowed his head. When he raised it, he looked at Hagrid. “May I speak with you, Hagrid?”

“Huh? Oh, sure. Uh, Harry, Ginny, if yeh’ll excuse us fer a minute . . .”

“That’s fine,” Harry said quickly. “We have to get home. We’ll see you later.”

He took Ginny’s arm and they went back to the fountain. On their way a group of third-years passed them. Harry stopped and watched them approach the cabin. He saw Firenze go out the back door and quickly disappear into the Forest.

“Thanks for that, sweetie,” he said to Ginny as they packed up their picnic. “I wasn’t sure what to say.”

“Neither was I, but he was always nice to me, especially my sixth year. I just tried to be nice to him. He did look better, didn’t he?”

“Maybe now that the Pensieve is gone, whatever was wrong is gone with it.”

Harry balanced the picnic basket on his shoulder and put his arm around Ginny as they strolled back to Hogsmeade. The Hog’s Head was crowded with the late afternoon crowd, so instead of going in through the dining room they went around to the back door. Harry dropped the basket off in the kitchen and went upstairs to join Ginny in the parlor. She was leafing through a pile of messages on the mantel.

“One from Hector, but it’s really from Hermione; one from Percy, he’s at the Burrow; one from Professor McGonagall, she saw us out on the lawn; and five from Mum.”

Harry smiled and took the parchment from Hector Freeman. Hermione had found another copy of Thanks For The Memories at Borgin and Burkes’ shop in Knockturn Alley and was going to meet with Professor McGonagall early tomorrow morning before she went in to work. Also, Ron would be with Saliyah when she came to see Harry this evening.

“How is Percy?” he asked Ginny and joined her on the love seat.

“Still a little shaky. He got a new pair of glasses too. He’s staying there for dinner but they’ll all go home tonight. He doesn’t remember a thing about the trip, Harry. The last thing he remembers is stopping in Hogsmeade when you saw Mundungus.”

“I figured. Well, what say we eat downstairs? We can relax and wait there for Sal.”

“Don’t you want to know what Mum has to say?”

Harry smiled. “Of course, but I can imagine.”

“She actually went to see both Kingsley and Coach Deverill.”

Harry groaned. “I didn’t expect that. Did she sack them?”

Ginny smiled briefly. “I’m sure they both were afraid she would. She said that Kingsley was embarrassed, but Deverill . . .” Suddenly she stopped and turned away.

Harry put his hand on her shoulder. “Ginny, I’m sorry.”

She shook her head, and tossed it in a spasm of anger so that her hair whipped through the air. “The hell with him. By tomorrow you’ll be back in your office. Nothing else matters.”

Yes it does.

Ginny was silent, but after a moment she put her head on Harry’s shoulder and let her mind open up completely. Harry was flooded with sadness, anger, bitterness, resentment, grief, self-pity, and love. He put both of his arms around her and moved her into his lap as her tears began to fall. He said nothing, but held her as she sobbed into his chest, her body heaving, her balled fists striking his back in frustration.

They sat for a long time until Ginny’s sobs gradually stopped; she looked up at Harry and he wiped her face and kissed her wet cheeks. “I love you so much,” she whispered. “I’m so sorry this is happening to us.”

“I love you,” he whispered back. “I’m so sorry too.”

“I got your shirt all wet,” she sniffled, patting his chest. She put her arms around him and they kissed deeply.

Both of their stomachs growled at the same time, and they broke apart, laughing. After Ginny went into the loo to wash her face, they went downstairs to the dining room and sat with Tony and his wife and ate a delicious broiled chicken dinner. They passed the next hour chatting with their friends, but avoided talking about the events of the past week. Just after seven o’clock Ginny tapped Harry’s shoulder and he turned to see Saliyah, Ron, and Popeye approaching their table. “We’ll be going,” said Tony, as he and his wife rose to leave. “Good luck.”

They moved to a quieter table farther back, away from other diners. Harry ordered firewhiskey for Popeye and butterbeers for everyone else. “Have you been to the Burrow?” Ginny asked Ron. “We heard that Percy was there.”

“He already went back to London with Audrey and Molly,” Ron said. “Mum loaded them down with food, of course. She wanted to go with them, but Dad convinced her she had to stay to get ready for the weekend.”

“He couldn’t provide us with any information,” Saliyah said. “Whoever Obliviated him did an excellent job.”

“What about that house in Withypool?” Harry asked.

“It was purchased a year ago from a Muggle couple who were moving to Essex. The purchaser was a mysterious gentleman who looked nothing like your Mr. Chamberlain. The neighbors said a couple lived there, but stayed inside during the day and only came out at night. Because of that, and because of the spells they used to protect the house, no one ever got a good look at them.” Saliyah took a sip of butterbeer. “They were probably the Chamberlains, but there’s no proof. The house was thoroughly cleaned out. It looks like they had a very well thought-out plan that they began implementing several months ago.”

“A plan to do what, besides steal the Pensieve?” Harry asked.

Saliyah shrugged. “They tampered with it somehow to get us to move it out of the school, where security was too tight, at least around the Headmistress’s office. It seems that they planned to take it to the safe house in Somerset and then . . .” She sighed. “We don’t know what they planned after that. Like I said, it was Scourgified down to the floorboards. They didn’t leave a shred of evidence behind.”

“Maybe there’s another safe house somewhere nearby,” Ginny suggested.

“We thought of that, but there’s an awful lot of houses in the West Country, assuming they did stay in the neighborhood.”

“Did you know that Chamberlain and his wife are supposed to be at the Burrow on Sunday?” Harry asked.

Saliyah gave a tight-lipped nod. “I will be very surprised if they show up. He has to know by now that lots of evidence is pointing at him.”

Popeye spoke for the first time. “On the other hand, if he doesn’t show it’s an admission of guilt. But I wanted to say something else, Sal. There has to be an inside man or woman who knew what we were doing. How else would they know that we were taking the Pensieve to the Ministry in a lorry?”

Saliyah’s eyes flashed. “Are you suggesting that an Auror—”

“Of course not!” Popeye snapped back. “I’m suggesting someone in the Department of Mysteries.”

“I don’t want to go over that again,” Saliyah said just as sharply. “He’s a nasty little sod but I’m not starting an investigation of Amander Croaker just because he gets on your nerves. Besides,” she looked at Harry, “that’s not why we’re here.”

“You have a way for me to get my job back?” Harry asked.

“You haven’t lost your job. You’re still on the payroll, you’re still accumulating holiday time, and you’re still going to be promoted to Head Auror in fourteen months. If Kingsley tries to renege on that, he’ll have more than a few Aurors revolting.”

“A few?” Popeye snorted. “More like every single damn one.”

“I appreciate that,” Harry said quietly, nodding to the old Auror. “But why are you here?

Saliyah pressed her lips together for a moment, and plunged in. “We need for you to go to your parents’ house in Godric’s Hollow.”

Harry did not move. Ginny made her mind very still. “Why?” Harry asked.

Saliyah leaned forward and said almost in a whisper, “Do you know if anyone has been in that house since your parents died?”

Harry was surprised. “Of course. Ginny and I were there last week and Ron was there yesterday. What do you mean?”

“I mean did anyone ever go up to the second floor, specifically the room where your mother was killed?”

Harry reached out to Ginny with his mind, which suddenly felt as if it might start spinning out of control. He wanted to keep it away, keep it from drowning him under a wave of violent feelings. Earlier this afternoon Ginny had deluged him with an almost overwhelming tide of feelings about losing her place on the National team. Now he was about to drown in his own sea of emotions.

He tried to think. “Hagrid was there. He picked me out of the rubble. I think Sirius was there too, but I’m not sure if he came up to . . . to that room, or if he got there after Hagrid brought me out.” He paused and thought again. “I think Dumbledore may have gone back, but . . .“

“So no one has been there for over twenty years,” Saliyah finished for him. “Harry, something is up there and no one can get in. I know how painful it is, but we need you to try.”

Harry stared at her, but suddenly put his hand to his throat; he felt as if he was suffocating, and Ginny looked at him in alarm. He drew in a deep, rasping breath, and she took both of his hands.

Suddenly he cried out. He tried to raise his hand to his forehead, but Ginny held it and would not let him. Ron put his hand on Harry’s shoulder, fear on his face. Saliyah and Popeye half rose from their chairs. Customers turned, and from the bar Stan and Harriet peered at them.

Ginny stood and took his shoulders. “Harry, look at me. I’m here. Dearest, you don’t have to do anything. It’s all right.”

He closed his eyes and let Ginny in. There, inside him, she knew everything.

I love you. Neither one knew who said it, or if it had been both of them.

Harry opened his eyes and blinked at Ginny, whose face was only inches from his. He took a clear breath. She knew what had just happened, what he had just felt, but she had not let him be terrified by it. She had taken it into herself and put it where it could not hurt either of them, and she would keep it there until later, until they could be alone and face it together.

Harry stared up at her, his eyes not completely focused; he swayed in his chair and Ron sprang up and held him. “He can’t do it!” he said to Saliyah. “We’ll find another way.”

“No!” Harry forced his eyes to focus. He looked across the table at the Head Auror. “No. Tell me what you did, what you think is there.”

Saliyah’s worried, almost frightened eyes went from Harry to Ginny. “Go ahead,” Ginny said, sitting down but keeping one hand on Harry’s shoulder and the fingers of her other hand laced with his. Ron also sat.

“Are you sure?” Saliyah said to Harry; he nodded. She paused, looking at him intently. After a few seconds she continued. “We were able to climb the stairs from the vestibule, and we were able to examine all the rooms upstairs, except the one in the front corner where Riddle attacked you and your mother. The door is ajar, and we could see in, but when we tried to go in there was some kind of repelling jinx. It’s very strong and very strange, because as you know, part of that room is visible from outside where the walls are blown out.” She paused again. “Anyway, Harry, I hope you don’t mind, but I talked to a few people who were in the Order of the Phoenix—Molly and Arthur, and Minerva—and we all think it might have something to do with the protective magic from your mother’s sacrifice. I also wanted to talk to Julia Sprout, but Croaker said she was busy.”

At the mention of the Unspeakable Harry’s eyes narrowed, Ginny scowled, and Ron muttered something under his breath that drew a look from Saliyah. Popeye, however, smiled slightly at their reactions.

“She’s a piece of work too,” he said, but sat back when Saliyah turned her glower on him.

“Regardless of her personality, she’s an expert on that kind of magic,” she said. “That’s why she was so interested in you, Harry.”

“Was it interest or was it a red herring?” Harry asked.

“Good question,” Ron muttered, this time loud enough for everyone to hear.

Saliyah looked around the table. “Fine, if you all think she’s worthy of investigation, we’ll do that. Meanwhile, tomorrow I’d like to see what’s in that room. Are you okay with that, Harry?”

“I think so.” He held Ginny’s hand even tighter. “What time?”

“Ten o’clock?”

“I’ll be there. But . . . what does it have to do with the Pensieve? If no one can get in, how can there be anything there?”

Saliyah hesitated, and Popeye put down his glass hard, so that the drink slopped onto the table. He took out his wand and cleaned it.

“She thinks that Amander Croaker used Sprout to get in,” he said, glaring at Saliyah. “Or maybe she willingly helped him.”

“That’s your opinion.” Saliyah stood and so did Popeye. She gave him a hard look. “We’ll find out tomorrow. Meanwhile, get some rest, Harry. I know this is hard for you, but maybe by tomorrow evening you’ll be back in the Ministry.”

Harry, Ginny, and Ron watched them leave; a moment after the door closed behind them they heard the pops of two Disapparitions.

“Let’s go upstairs,” Harry said, getting to his feet. Ginny and Ron followed him through the dining room and into the kitchen. As soon as they entered, Harry saw Kreacher and Winky standing close together near the stove. They both looked terrified.

Harry stopped. “What is it?” he asked.

Winky seemed unable to speak. She glanced at Kreacher and he said in a voice even shakier than usual, “Is you all right, Harry Potter?”

“I’m—well, I’m not fine, but . . . why? What’s wrong?”

Ginny stepped past him and bent over so that her head was on the same level as the elves’. “It’s okay,” she said. “There’s nothing to worry about. It was just something from the past, it’s not here.”

Both elves visibly relaxed. Kreacher bowed his head and picked up a tray of desserts from the counter. “That is good,” he croaked. “Kreacher is sorry that Harry Potter is not fine.” He bowed his head again and shuffled into the dining room with the tray.

Winky gave Ginny and Harry a nod and climbed onto a stool in front of the stove and began stirring a pot of melted chocolate.

“What was that about?” Ron said as they went up the stairs to the flat.

Ginny said nothing, and finally, inside, Harry said, “We’ll tell you later.”

Ginny turned to her brother. “Ron, would you mind if Harry and I were alone right now? I’m sorry, but there’s something we have to talk about.”

He looked puzzled, but said, “Oh, sure. I guess I’ll see you at Godric’s Hollow tomorrow?”

Once again Ginny hesitated and looked at Harry.

“We’ll be there,” he said.

Ron studied his friend for a moment. “Okay. ‘Mione will be there too, after she sees McGonagall.” Harry nodded and Ron Floo’d away.

Harry walked to the love seat. He stood facing the fireplace, and turned as Ginny came to him and put her hands on his chest. He pulled her close and they held each other for several minutes. Finally they sat on the love seat, holding hands.

“What do you think it was?” Ginny asked.

“I wish I knew. I can’t remember the last time it hurt.”

Ginny slowly reached up and put her fingertip on his scar. They never talked about it anymore because it was not a factor in their lives. When they were out among people who weren’t family or friends, occasionally someone would glance at it or even stare, but Harry always ignored them. Tom Riddle was dead five years, a long time. The Horcrux was gone. The scar was not connected to anyone or anything.

But for a instant when Saliyah had talked about something being in the room where Voldemort had tried to kill him, the scar had burned. It wasn’t as bad as it had often been when Harry was in school or when he and Voldemort were contending for the Elder Wand, but it was more than a mere twinge.

He had cried out as much in surprise as in pain; it had been totally unexpected. And now he had agreed to go there, to the place he had not been for more than twenty years, and which he had been consciously avoiding for almost five years. Not only didn’t he know what he would find in that room, he didn’t know if just being there would cause his scar to split his head in pain, as it had done so often when Riddle was still alive.

“I don’t know if I can do this,” Harry murmured into Ginny’s hair; she was now in his lap with her head on his chest. He breathed deeply, pulling her almost unbearably lovely fragrance deep into his lungs.

When she lifted her head there were tears for him in her eyes. “I know. I’ll be with you, love. I’ll be here and here.” She touched his temple and his chest. “And I want you to promise me something.”

“Anything.”

“Promise that you will be in me.”

Harry looked into her soft brown eyes and saw his reflected torment. He felt the heat and solidity of her body, felt her weight on his thighs, her breathing, in and out, her life that was his life.

“That’s where I always am.”

They kissed, and their day ended the way it began.

Chapter Text

Harry and Ginny returned to Godric’s Hollow the next morning, half an hour early because Harry wanted to look around before he went upstairs. Ginny wasn’t quite sure if that was the real or only reason, since he was keeping his mind closed. But she knew that he was troubled; after they dressed, he sat on the edge of the bed next to her and put his hand on her shoulder. When they ate breakfast he kept reaching for her hand, and when she asked how he was doing, he just shook his head.

They Apparated into the woods behind the house, pushed through the yew hedge, and saw people inside. They recognized Ron and his assistant, Tom Trenton; another Auror was kneeling on the floor.

Harry was still quiet, and Ginny began to worry. She felt little twitches of fear escaping from him. “Are you okay?” She took his arm, but he didn’t look at her.

“I think so.”

Ron glanced out the window and saw them. He waved and left the room.

“Come on,” Harry said. “Let’s get this over with.”

They walked around the house, but instead of going to their right as they had last time, Harry led Ginny to the left, and when they came to the front, he stopped and looked up.

They were underneath the blown out bedroom. Small pieces of the house—mortar, chunks of brick, weathered sticks of wood, a few shingles—lay about in the spring weeds. They saw the bedroom’s ceiling through the large hole on the second floor. The corner of the house was still intact, giving the ceiling some support, but it did appear that the roof was sagging.

“It won’t stand much longer,” Harry muttered.

Ginny didn’t speak; she was not sure what was going on inside him, but she could tell that he wanted her to be next to him. She tightened her grip on his arm and rubbed it for a moment with her other hand.

Harry gave her hand a pat and they continued to the front. Ron was waiting just outside the door with Hermione, and he pulled Harry and Ginny a few yards away from the house. “‘Mione just got here,” he told them. “She has some interesting news.”

“I met with Professor McGonagall this morning,” she said, “and I showed her the book I bought in Borgin and Burkes. It’s the copy from Hogwarts. There’s a magical stamp in it that’s only visible when the book is inside the castle.”

“Now that’s crazy!” said Harry. “Why would he steal the book one day and sell it the next? They can’t need gold, they must have plenty of it if they’re buying houses.”

“Maybe someone stole it from them,” Ginny said thoughtfully. “Someone with sticky fingers, perhaps?”

“Fletcher?” Harry looked at her almost in amazement; he gave a short laugh. “Now wouldn’t that be poetic justice.”

Ron glanced back at the house; Saliyah stood in the doorway talking to someone inside the vestibule. “We can check that out later. I think Sal wants to get started.”

They walked back to the house and all four were surprised to see that the person inside the vestibule was Kingsley Shacklebolt. There was an uncomfortable moment when he and Harry looked at each other; the Minister covered his mouth with his fist and coughed.

“Hello, Harry,” he said. “I’m here for a reason. If we—you—find what Saliyah says you’ll find, I want to witness it myself. That way no one can object when you go back to your office this morning.”

“You mean when you revoke my suspension.”

Kingsley chuckled. “Yes, that’s what I mean.”

“Okay, then.” Harry looked around. He nodded to Tom Trenton who was standing in the doorway to the parlor, and to Dennis Creevey, the other member of Ron’s investigative team, who stood behind Tom. Harry went to the staircase and put his hand on the banister. He glanced back and Ginny came to stand next to him. Stay next to me, Harry sent.

They climbed to the first landing, halfway up. Everyone followed except Tom and Dennis, who remained by the front door. Harry paused on the landing. A half flight up was the second floor. He took out his wand and slowly climbed; Ginny, at his side, also took out her wand.

There were three doors, two on the left and one on the right. He gave an almost imperceptible nod to the right. Their bedroom. The door immediately on their left was closed. The loo or a cupboard.

The door past it, the door to the damaged room, was ajar, hanging by a hinge; most of the paint was charred or peeled off. Harry stood gazing at it for a long moment. No one spoke; the people on the steps behind him, Saliyah, Kingsley, Ron, and Hermione, did not move.

Harry finally started towards the door and stood in front of it. Ginny, at his side, put her hand on his shoulder.

“I saw it all, you know,” he said tightly, looking straight ahead at the door. “When Hermione and I escaped from Bathilda Bagshot’s house he had a flashback to that night and I saw it all. He killed my dad in the vestibule and came up here and blew this door in. Then . . .”

He stepped forward and pushed the door, which swung back and banged against the wall behind it. Ginny came with him and they entered the room. He put his hand to his forehead, and Ginny looked at him in alarm.

He shook his head. Just a twinge. It’s a residue or something like. Nothing else is there. He gave her a quick smile.

The other four stood outside the door. Saliyah looked like she was in shock; she started to follow them but Harry put up his hand and she stopped.

“You can’t,” he said. “It is the blood protection. I felt it when I passed the door.”

The Head Auror frowned and took another step to the threshold, tried another step through the door, but instead stumbled back. “Damn,” she muttered. “How did Ginny get in?”

Harry shrugged. “It looks like she’s protected now, too.” You’re safe from Voldemort, Harry sent to Ginny with a mental grin.

But Ginny wasn’t smiling. She was looking around the room, and now Harry did too. The two outer walls, on the side and front, were mostly gone; they could see into the front yard and the woods. The two inner walls were somehow intact, but charred like the vestibule. A small dresser stood against one wall; a cupboard door was in the other wall, and next to it was the crib. His crib.

Harry slowly walked towards it. Ginny stayed next to him, holding her breath; she watched him out of the corner of her eye, but his face was blank. When they stood in front of the crib, Harry reached out and put his hand on the rail. He turned his head to Ginny. “It must have protected the crib too,” he murmured.

The crib was not damaged, although it was a little dusty. It was the same dark green as the little rocking chair they had found in the parlor, and the paint was still glossy; it looked almost new. There was no blanket or anything else in it, but the sheets on the mattress also looked fresh and clean, despite being exposed to the elements for twenty-two years.

Harry grasped the rail with both hands, rested his forehead on it and took deep, gulping breaths. Ginny put her arm around his shoulders and leaned her head against his. When their heads touched, Ginny felt everything, his pain, grief, anger, everything that she had felt last night after reading the letter from her mother saying that Coach Deverill would not take her back. But this was so much worse; this had almost been the end of his life, as it was for his parents. “I’m so sorry,” she whispered.

Harry shook his head, but didn’t lift it. “No, Gin, I’m sorry.” His haunted eyes looked at her. “We’re going to rip this place down and build our home here.”

“Oh Harry, why—what are you saying? Are you sure? We don’t have to do that. Don’t say it unless you really want it.”

He stared into her eyes and put his hand on hers, which was also resting on the rail. Isn’t that what you want?

He looked back at the door; Saliyah was peering in, waiting. “We’ll talk about it later,” he muttered.

Ginny gave his hand a quick squeeze, and Harry stepped away from the crib. He walked to the door and Saliyah looked at him questioningly; Kingsley, Ron, and Hermione crowded behind her.

“There are two pieces of furniture in here,” he told her, “a crib and a dresser. Nothing else. I don’t see anything that looks suspicious—”

“Harry!” Ginny called; he turned to see her standing in front of the cupboard. She had opened the door and was pointing at the floor inside it.

“My assistant seems to have found something,” he said to Saliyah. “One moment, please.”

The people outside in the hallway couldn’t see the cupboard, but they heard Harry murmur to Ginny and her ask him a question. He answered, and he and Ginny stepped back. Harry’s wand was pointing at something. He spoke the Levitating charm, and as they moved backward an object floated in front of them. It hovered about a yard off the floor and Harry slowly moved it towards the door. It was another Pensieve disk.

“Don’t try to put it through the door!” Saliyah cried.

He nodded. “They’re using this room as a storage location. They probably figured that it’s completely safe because no one can get in.”

“Except you,” said Ginny at his shoulder.

“And someone else too, otherwise how did they get it here?”

Ron, who had been peering from behind the Head Auror, craned his head around her. “Why don’t we try to Apparate inside?”

“No!” Saliyah barked. “No one tries anything. But . . .” She looked around the hallway and down at Ron’s feet. “Give me one of your boots.”

Ron stared at her. “What?”

“Give me your boot. I want to try something.”

Ron kept staring, but soon a light went on and he scowled. “What if it gets ruined? These are expensive boots, I bought them at a cool Muggle shoe store in Kensington Park Road.”

“You will be reimbursed by the Department.” Saliyah held out her hand and, grumbling, Ron took off his left boot and handed it to her.

Ginny was standing behind Harry inside the room, smirking at her brother. Ron pointed at her. “You keep your mouth shut, Ginevra. This isn’t funny.”

“It looks funny from in here,” she said with a wicked grin. “Smells funny too.”

Ron glanced at the Head Auror who was glaring at Ginny; he looked back at his sister and slowly and silently drew his finger across his throat.

“All right, children, that’s enough. Stand back.” Saliyah Levitated the boot, directing it towards the door. It sailed through and Harry snatched it out of the air.

“Do you want it back, mate?” He dangled the boot and grinned at Ron.

“If you don’t mind,” Ron growled.

The shoe came sailing back and Ron grabbed it. He stumped to the stairs and sat on the top step to put the boot back on.

Saliyah turned to Hermione. “What do you make of that? Is the protection keeping people out but not inanimate objects? Or does it let through something when magic is involved?”

“There’s no way to tell for sure without trying to Levitate or put someone through magically, and I don’t think we want to try that. But either way, it means that the people who are using this room studied it and figured out either how to modify the blood protection, or that it was already vulnerable somehow.” She looked at Kingsley. “It had to be someone in the Department of Mysteries.”

“Croaker is forcing Sprout to alter the magic,” Harry declared. “It’s him.”

The Minister gazed at Harry but didn’t speak for a long moment; Harry stared back. Ron stood up with his boot back on but didn’t move. Everyone was silent.

“It does look that way,” Kingsley said at last.

“And,” Harry pressed on, “he stored the Pensieve in here, maybe he used it in here.”

“What do you say, Kingsley?” Saliyah asked after another moment. “The evidence is piling up.”

“I see that.” The Minister rubbed the bridge of his nose between his fingers and looked at Saliyah. “I’m not making any decision right here. Keep a guard, and maybe they’ll blunder into it. Meanwhile, I’m going back to the Ministry. We’ll talk there.” Without another word he turned on the spot and was gone.

“I’m sending this thing out,” Harry said. The disk floated out the door as the others stepped back. Ron plucked it out of the air, Harry lowered his wand, took a final look around the room, and walked through the door; Ginny followed.

“I’m sorry, Harry,” Saliyah said. “I’m sure he’ll reinstate you, maybe even today.”

“Why is he doing this?” Harry asked. “Everyone thinks that Croaker knows something about him and is blackmailing him.”

Saliyah gazed at Harry, hesitated for a long moment and spoke. “Croaker knows something, but it’s not about Kingsley, it’s about you.”

Harry stared a her in disbelief. His mind raced as he tried to think of anything in his past bad enough to cause the Minister for Magic to suspend him from his job. What could it be? he sent to Ginny, who, along with Ron and Hermione, was also gaping at the Head Auror.

“What are you talking about?” he finally said. “Croaker is nutters.”

It’s fine, love, came from Ginny. It has to be a mistake.

Ginny gripped Harry’s arm and Saliyah glanced at her. “Kingsley was protecting you,” the Head Auror said. “Croaker knows about the Unforgivable Curses you used during the war, and threatened to go to the press about them unless Kingsley fired you. He agreed to suspend you instead.”

“The what?” Harry exclaimed. “But that was years ago. He is crazy!” He looked around at the others, then back at Saliyah. “And Shacklebolt let him get away with it?”

“Harry,” Saliyah said calmly, “if it was Ernie Macmillan or Katie Bell, no one would care. But it’s you. At best there would be a blow up in the press, at worst the Wizengamot would get involved and maybe even set up a committee to look into it.” She held up both hands to stem his outburst, which they all could see coming. “Don’t say anything. It isn’t necessary. All we need is a bit more evidence that Croaker is mixed up with stealing the Pensieve and, more importantly, one of his associates used an Unforgivable. He’ll have to shut up. He’ll crawl back into his hole in the Department of Mysteries and no one will hear of this again. All you have to do is solve this case, and I think you’re well on the way to doing just that.”

Harry took a deep breath and blew it out. He looked at Ginny, who was now holding his hand. Neither one looked away or blinked. Finally Harry turned his head to Saliyah. “Okay, but I still can’t believe that Kingsley would let himself be bullied like that.”

Saliyah smiled mirthlessly. “It’s not a good time to be in the middle of Ministry politics. Well . . .” She sighed and took the disk from Ron. “Let’s get this back to the Department and see what we find.”

They went downstairs where Tom and Dennis were standing at the door. Saliyah told them to remain where they were and to expect more Aurors to join them. “I’ll see you back at the office later,” she said to Ron, who had started to follow her into the front yard. She Disapparated as quickly and with as little ceremony as Kingsley.

“That was strange,” said Hermione. “Why didn’t she want you to go with her?”

“Because,” answered Ron, “she wants us all to talk about this whole mess, and she doesn’t want Harry back at the Ministry yet.”

“Your place or ours?” Harry asked.

They Apparated to the Weasleys’ flat in London, and Hermione and Ginny went out to buy cold cuts and salads for lunch. Ron sat in a chair in the parlor while Harry paced around the room. He couldn’t believe that anyone would care that he had used a Crucio on Bellatrix Lestrange—especially since he had been underage—or even on Amycus Carrow. But now that he considered it, he had to admit that the Imperio he put on that Travers bloke in Gringotts, while necessary, might be questioned by an unfriendly person.

He stopped thinking about it. He had to concentrate on the Pensieve, and on somehow getting Deverill to change his mind. The thought of what it was doing to Ginny raised his ire again.

“Even if I get my job back and no one brings up the Curses, Ginny is still off the team,” he groused. “What are we going to do during the tournament? She’ll be a wreck.”

“Maybe Deverill will relent?” Ron said hopefully. “Maybe fans will scream loud enough and he’ll have to take her back.”

Harry stopped in front of the wedding photo of him and Ginny sitting on the mantel. She was so beautiful and alluring in her gown. Aunt Muriel’s goblin-made tiara sat on her brow; a veela necklace with a solitaire diamond, a gift from Bill and Fleur, radiated magic from her bosom; she held a bouquet of red roses and beamed with utter joy. He wore a black Muggle tuxedo trimmed in emerald green, and he smiled when he remembered Ginny’s delight at how it matched his eyes.

He turned back to Ron. “I just don’t understand the bastard. Why would he sack his best player for missing a few damn practices, especially at the beginning of training camp?” Ron didn’t answer, and Harry went to the window and peered out. “Here they come.” Ron rose and went into the dining room.

A minute later Ginny and Hermione were back with sliced corned beef, salami, ham, cheeses, pickles, salads, fresh rye bread, and a tub of ice cream. There was enough for Harry and themselves too, so they all sat around the table and ate. They talked about the events in Godric’s Hollow and wondered why Amander Croaker and Chadwick Chamberlain needed a Pensieve.

“I’ll bet Chamberlain wants to sell it,” Ron said while stuffing his salami sandwich into his mouth. “In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s what he planned all along, even while he was still teaching at Beauxbatons.”

“That’s total speculation,” Hermione said. “I think Mr. Croaker hired Mr. Chamberlain to steal it.”

“That’s a new theory,” Harry said, somewhat surprised. “Why?”

“I don’t know why Croaker wants it, but he has no reason to be around Hogwarts, and that’s why he needed Chamberlain. If Croaker showed up there, everyone would wonder why. Chamberlain can say he’s there to visit Professor Flitwick, and he can say he’s in Hogsmeade to check out Zonko’s.”

“If he’s interested in jokes,” said Ginny, “why doesn’t he go to Diagon Alley? The store there is a lot bigger.”

“That’s true,” replied Hermione. “But by appearing to be interested in Zonko’s he’s establishing a more solid alibi for being up north, where the Pensieve happens to be.”

“Wait a minute,” Ron said as he reached across the table for the tub of ice cream. He scooped half of it into a bowl while the others watched. “You are totally speculating that Croaker is paying Chamberlain. What evidence is there?”

“Well, none,” Hermione admitted. “But what motive does Chamberlain have for stealing it? Croaker could want it to help in his studies of the mind. As far as I know, they never replaced that brain you demolished, just like you’re demolishing a half-gallon of ice cream all by yourself, I might add.”

“I didn’t demolish anything. You were unconscious, if I remember correctly, so how could you know what happened?”

“Okay!” Harry raised his hand and they both stopped and looked at him. “It’s all very interesting, but I think what you’re both saying is total guesswork. I agree that there is no motive for Chamberlain that we can see yet, but he and Croaker make for two very strange bedfellows. And we’re forgetting someone else. Mundungus.”

“That’s easy,” Hermione said. “He’s the errand boy. They need someone who knows the underworld, maybe even raise money for them.”

“I don’t know if that’s all he did,” Harry said with a slight frown. “He was suspiciously close to the lorry when Percy was Imperiused.”

“I’ll tell you why he didn’t do that,” Ginny said. “If he’s caught, he would go to Azkaban for using an Unforgivable Curse, and he wouldn’t take that risk. He just retired from the Auror Department, right?”

“As an unofficial special assistant snitch, or something like that,” Ron snickered.

“But he was on the payroll,” Ginny went on. “He was always a scoundrel, but he was never a vicious scoundrel. He never actually hurt anyone.”

Ron shook his head as he scooped more ice cream for himself. “He fancies you, Sis, so you’re biased. I say he’s perfectly capable of hurting someone.”

“You’re my brother, so that should also bias me, but I still might hurt you for eating a whole tub of ice cream. It was my favorite flavor too.”

“I owe you, then,” Ron grinned. “One half-gallon of butter brickle. I didn’t know you were trying to put on weight.”

“You are skating on very thin ice, Brother. Be careful.”

Ron went out to buy more ice cream, and after all four of them polished it off, Harry and Ginny returned to the inn. Ginny went down to the dining room and sat at the bar, chatting with Harriet, while Harry wandered around the village talking to anyone who might have seen something two days ago when the lorry was stopped next to Honeydukes. He came back as dusk was falling to find Ginny upstairs in the flat, sitting in the kitchen, staring at a pile of vegetables. He could feel that she had slipped into an unhappy mood again.

“Soup tonight?” Harry asked, sitting across from her.

Ginny shrugged. “Yeah. Is that okay?”

“Do you want some help making it?”

Ginny sighed and looked at him. Her sadness filled him, and he got up and went around the table to her. He stood behind her and ran his fingers through her hair.

“That’s nice,” she murmured, putting her head back and closing her eyes. Harry looked down at her uplifted face, at the life-pulse in her neck, at the swelling of her breasts, which he could see down her blouse. He felt a wave of love and longing, not sexual, but a yearning for her and a need to protect her and make things right. What had happened to her wasn’t fair, and it was his fault. He needed to do something.

Ginny opened her eyes and looked at him upside down. “It isn’t your fault. It was my decision.”

“I don’t care.” He leaned down and she giggled at their upside down kiss. “Come on, we’re going back to Godric’s Hollow,” Harry said.

Ginny stood and turned to face him. “Now? Aren’t the Aurors there?”

“Yes, but there’s something I want to do. No, don’t ask.” He put his fingers on her lips and then kissed her again. “You’ll see when we get there. Let’s do a Side-Along.”

They went into the sitting room, but before they Apparated, Harry retrieved his Invisibility Cloak from his dresser in the bedroom. A moment later they were once again in the woods behind the house in Godric’s Hollow. It was dark under the trees, and Harry lit his wand. He led Ginny around to the front and out to the gate on the lane. They turned and looked back at the house. Night had fallen and the building was a large shadow, barely illuminated by a street lamp down the lane.

Harry put his arm around her waist. “I’ve been selfish,” he began, but Ginny stopped him.

“No! Don’t say that. I told you I’m fine. It was my decision.”

Harry shook his head and took Ginny’s waist with both of his hands. He pressed them into her, moved them up and down her sides, feeling her body, the body he loved, that drove him crazy. He saw the sparkle in her eyes and he let himself fall into her mind. It was not something new; they had done it for years. But now he wanted to go deeper, because she loved him so much that she had given up something that was precious to her, in order simply to be with him. He could not let that pass without giving in return.

I know I don’t have to, but I want to. I need to.

Speak it, then. I want to hear it.

He stared into her eyes. “I’ve been selfish. You left the team because you love me. I want you to be as happy as you possibly can when we have our baby. I will tear this house down and we will build one together. But it will be your house. I will build it, but I will build it the way you want. You will be the mother of my child, and it will be our home but your house.”

“Harry, no! It should be for you too. Don’t you want a library, or a den, or . . .?”

“I’ll tell you what I want, and I’ll trust you to do it. But wherever you are, that’s where my home is.”

She pulled his head down and kissed him. His hands went under her jumper and when he touched her flesh she shuddered. Their kiss went deeper and Ginny moaned, but she suddenly broke the kiss and looked at the house. “They’ll hear us,” she giggled.

Harry, still holding her, also looked at the house, but he frowned. “I don’t see anyone. Someone should be at the door. Damn! I didn’t notice.”

He took out his wand and held Ginny’s hand. They walked through the high weeds to the front door. “Stentorian!” he called in a loud whisper. He cocked his ear; there was no response. “That was a two-day-old password,” he said to Ginny in a much lower whisper, “but it should still be valid. I don’t think anyone is here.”

“Or they’re hurt. We should take a look,” she said in a like whisper; her own wand was now out.

“Sal would have sent at least two more people for the guard. I don’t see how they all could have been taken. Wait here.”

Harry pushed the door and it swung open. He listened for a moment, and quickly slipped inside. A few seconds later he reappeared and opened the door wider, pulled Ginny into the dark vestibule and closed the door. “I don’t think anyone is here,” he whispered. “I don’t understand. Why would Sal pull the guard?”

The parlor door was open and they peered in, but saw nothing. They poked into the two other rooms that opened off the vestibule, a small kitchen and a dining room; both were completely bare of furniture.

They went upstairs and paused on the landing, listening. Harry went to the two intact doors and looked in each room. They approached the final door together and stood in it; for a moment Harry hesitated.

Are you okay?

Ginny sensed more than saw him nod. He took her hand and pulled her through. They felt the same faint pulsing sensation as their bodies passed inside, and Harry felt a twinge in his scar. Once again they walked over to the crib.

Now what? came from Ginny.

We wait, but . . . Harry reached into his jacket pocket and took out his father’s Cloak. He threw it over both of them. “I’m thinking that the guard got tricked into leaving,” he whispered into her ear.

“And that means that someone wanted to get into this room.”

“Yes.” He paused. “Let’s sit in a corner. It will be easier than standing.”

“Wait,” Ginny giggled. “I have a better idea.” She put her wand outside the Cloak and pointed it at the crib. ”Fermare!” The crib gave a little shudder. “It’ll hold us now.”

She reached below the front rail and pressed the lever underneath. The rail slipped down and she climbed over it into the crib. “Come on,” she grinned, ”it’s a good mattress.” Harry climbed in after her. They sat side by side with their legs folded, leaning back against the bars; Harry pulled the front rail up and adjusted the Invisibility Cloak.

Ginny put her hand on his knee. Are you okay?

I want a bottle, and my nappy needs changing.

Ginny made a wheezing noise, and clapped her hand over her mouth. “Sorry, you made me laugh.”

Harry put his hand on her thigh and she leaned her head against his shoulder. They sat and waited.

It didn’t take long. After only a few minutes, they heard the front door open. A single set of footsteps slowly climbed the stairs. The intruder approached the door to their room, and they heard a muttered incantation. Through the Cloak Ginny and Harry saw a hand thrust a wand into the room. The wand lit and a face peered in. They recognized Julia Sprout.

Ginny started to move, but Harry’s hand on her leg held her down. They watched as the Unspeakable slowly entered the room, stopped, and looked around. She walked to the cupboard, and Harry shifted so that his wand was pointed at her.

Sprout opened the cupboard door and peered in. Her wand flared and she swore. She stepped back and jerked her head to scan the room again.

Harry threw the Cloak aside, jumped up and cried, ”Stupefy!” In the same instant Sprout turned on the spot and vanished as the spell hit.

Harry leaped out of the crib. “Oh, Merlin!” he shouted. “She Splinched!” He swore a string of epithets.

Ginny scrambled over the rail and stood next to Harry. She looked down and blanched, turning away from the foot, still in its shoe, that lay on the floor.

Harry looked at her in dismay. Ginny glanced back at the detached foot. “That was Sprout, wasn’t it? What should we do?” she said in a shaky voice.

“One of us has to go to the Ministry and one of us has to wait here in case someone comes back for . . . it.” He glanced at the appendage. “We shouldn’t move it, though. Merlin, I hope she’s okay.”

“How can she be okay?” Ginny shuddered. “She’s probably in agony. I just hope someone is with her who can come get . . . it.”

“You go, then,” Harry decided. “If someone comes back, they won’t be in a friendly mood.”

“Why do you think she didn’t Apparate in? If you can Disapparate out, you should be able to Apparate in.”

“Dunno. Maybe she was just being cautious.”

“Who should I get from the Ministry? Everyone probably went home.”

“There will be a duty officer in the Department who can raise Saliyah.” He thought for a moment. “Why don’t you go tell Ron first? He’ll know exactly what to do, and then you and Hermione can come back here. But don’t Apparate directly in or out. Maybe there is a problem if you do that. Maybe the Splinch wasn’t caused by my spell but by the protection on the room.”

“Are you sure you’ll be okay?” Ginny looked down at the foot.

“I’ll get back under the Cloak. Go!”

Ginny ran out the door and Harry heard the pop of her Disapparating. He donned the Cloak and moved away from the gruesome object on the floor, leaning against the pillar that was the only part of the wall standing at the outside corner. He held his wand at the ready and tried not to look at the foot.

The biggest question was, why did Sprout come here to fetch the Pensieve disk, and not Amander Croaker? Was it because she was the one who had countered the blood spell, and was the only one who could enter? Or did Croaker send her because he thought it would be dangerous and didn’t want to expose himself? And why weren’t there any guards in the house? Something underhanded must have happened because Harry could not imagine Ron or Popeye or anyone else simply abandoning their post.

Finally he heard two pops off in the woods behind the house. A moment later two figures, Ginny and Hermione, walked directly below him to the front. They came upstairs and Ginny cautiously poked her head into the room. Harry flung off the Cloak and she came inside.

She looked back at Hermione. “Try it, maybe the spell is broken.”

Hermione put her hand in front of her and took a step, but shook her head. “I can’t get through.” She tried a few Penetration charms, and ”Finite!” but nothing worked. She shrugged in frustration.

“Well, no one showed up,” Harry said. “Did Ron go to the Ministry? And did he have any idea why the guard was pulled?”

Ginny nodded. “He said Saliyah came back here around five o’clock and told everyone to go home.”

“That’s ridiculous! Someone used Polyjuice.”

“That’s what we thought too,” Hermione said from the hallway. “And it should be possible to find out who it was.”

Harry nodded. She was referring to the Polyjuice Paper he and Ron had seen on her desk last week. “Now we’re getting somewhere. All we need to do is compare Croaker’s stock of ingredients with your inventory. But what about . . . that thing?” He pointed to the foot, still sitting on the floor in front of the cupboard.

“Tell me exactly what happened,” Hermione said. “Ginny didn’t see all of it.”

Harry came to the door and stood next to Ginny, who lit her wand. He described what he had heard, seen, and done. “I thought someone would be here by now to get the foot.”

Hermione frowned. “I wonder if they can grow new ones down there on the ninth level. It’s not that difficult, you know.”

“I wouldn’t call it easy.” Harry remembered the painful experience during his second year at Hogwarts.

“I meant that it’s easy for the Healer, not for the patient.”

“That pretty much describes most operations,” said Ginny.

“Anyway,” Hermione continued, “if they can grow another foot for her in the Department of Mysteries, then she doesn’t even have to go to St. Mungo’s and they don’t have to come back here for . . . it.”

“But,” Harry proclaimed, “we have both her foot and her shoe, so we can prove that it was her.”

“We should separate them. If they can’t grow a new one, they’ll need this one.”

“Ugh.” Ginny made a face. “Who gets to take the foot out of the shoe?”

“It should be possible to do it magically,” Hermione said. “In fact, I think we should do it now, in case they try to get it back.”

“Double ugh,” Ginny said. “Someone else can do it. I’m not a Ministry employee.”

“I guess that would be me,” Harry sighed, “even if I’m suspended. As Saliyah said, I’m still earning holiday pay.”

“You’ll need one after this.”

“Okay,” Harry said, “let’s think about this before I stick my foot in it.”

“Yes,” agreed Ginny, “we need to be sure we’re on sound footing, spell-wise, I mean.”

“And we don’t want to damage anything. What if the shoe was on the other foot?”

“They would make you toe the line.”

“Enough!” Hermione put her hands over her ears. “My eyes are stuck from rolling. Get on with it. I suggest a Separating spell. But if there’s a lace you should untie it first. You should be able to use Aufknoten.”

“Right.” Harry raised his wand, but paused. “You know, as a footnote to all this—”

“HARRY!!” Hermione shrieked.

Harry grinned at Ginny and cast the spell. The lace untied itself and fell away from the shoe.

“I can’t see from here,” Hermione said, craning her neck. “Did it work?”

“It was the perfect spell,” Harry answered. “I always say, if the shoe fits—”

“HARRY POTTER! If you say one more word, I will turn you irreversibly into a Blast-Ended Skrewt!” Hermione was breathing hard. Her nostrils flared and she glared through the door at Harry. “Now try a Separating charm. I suggest—”

Harry raised his hand to stop her; he gestured with his wand at the shoe on the floor. ”Singulus!” The foot started to quiver, and slowly withdrew from the shoe. It took only a few seconds until the shoe and the foot lay side by side.

“That was totally gross,” Ginny said.

Harry conjured a small cloth, covered the foot, and picked up the shoe. “There’s something to be said for being footloose and fancy—”

“NO!” Hermione’s face was red and she pointed her wand at Harry. “Only my fear of Azkaban is preventing me from using this.”

Harry blew her a kiss and examined the shoe. There was nothing unusual about it, it was an ordinary brown leather laced flat. He picked up the lace and put it inside the shoe. He started to speak but stopped as they heard a string of pops outside. He and Ginny looked down from the blown-out walls and saw lit wands. “The Ministry of Magic has arrived,” Harry said with only a touch of sarcasm.

Seconds later Saliyah appeared at the door to the room and peered in. “Is everyone okay?”

“Everyone except the owner of this.” Harry held the shoe up. “But first tell me what Ginny and I gave you for a wedding present.”

“Good thinking. A Romanian tapestry showing all the known dragon species. Okay?” Harry nodded and she continued. “Ron said that you saw Julia Sprout here, and she Splinched when she tried to get away?”

“That’s right. Her foot is there—” he pointed to the lump under the cloth on the floor “—but no one came for it. You’re going to have to figure out how to put a guard on this room in case someone does come back.”

“I’m afraid that’s you, Harry. No one else can get inside.”

Harry glanced at Ginny and a dozen thoughts passed between them while Saliyah blinked once. He looked back at the Head Auror. “Erm, I thought I was suspended from the Auror Department.”

“As of ten minutes ago when I told the Minister for Magic he could have both of us but not just one of us, you are un-suspended. The record has been completely expunged. You were never suspended.”

Harry felt Ginny squeeze his hand, and he saw Hermione grinning from over Saliyah’s shoulder. He had a huge smile on his face too, and felt like a large weight had been lifted from his back. He took a deep breath. “Thanks, Sal.”

Footsteps clomped up the stairs and Ron appeared next to Hermione. “The guard is all set,” he said to Saliyah.

She pointed to Harry. “Tell him. He’s your boss.”

Ron’s eyebrows shot up and his grin matched Hermione’s. “Excellent! Now I know we’ll get this case cracked in no time.”

A smile played briefly on the Head Auror’s face. “That’s what I’m hoping.” She turned to Harry. “I brought a ten-man detail here, and you’re in charge. I’ll be back in the office coordinating the search for the rest of Madam Sprout. Let me have . . . the foot in case we find her.”

She took the appendage wrapped in the piece of cloth, as well as the shoe, and departed.

“Thank Merlin that’s gone,” Ginny said with a grimace. But she smiled at Harry. “Sweetie, your job is back!” She gave him a kiss. Harry patted her back, but said nothing. She looked up into his face and shook her head. I’m okay, I’ll be fine. Don’t think about it, concentrate on your job.

“If I can,” he mumbled. He kissed her back and looked at Ron. “Set up the same guard rotation that was here before. And use the night password, don’t take anyone’s word for who they are, although I doubt that Croaker will try the same trick twice, especially now that his accomplice is in two pieces.”

“Why do you think Sprout came and not Croaker?” Ron asked.

“Because she was the expert on blood protection. She could get through but not him.”

“That makes sense. Now, what’s the drill here?”

“You’re in charge of security, but after you set it up I’d like you to post yourself right outside this door. If Croaker comes back I’ll want a witness. Hermione, can you go back to the Ministry and find out who made the Polyjuice Potion? If Popeye is here—” Ron shook his head “—okay, then find Popeye and tell him I’ve detailed him to help you. Now . . .”

“What about me?” Ginny asked, looking steadily at him. “I’m staying with you.”

Harry frowned and started to shake his head, but Ginny’s voice was already inside it. I didn’t lose my spot on the team so I could sit around the house waiting for you.

Harry had no argument to that. “Okay,” he said reluctantly, “but stay under the Cloak.”

“Yes, sir.” She smiled at him, but Harry pointed his finger at her.

“I mean it, Gin. If someone comes back they’ll be expecting us to be here. If you get hurt I will be suspended.”

“Fine.” She grabbed the Cloak from him and threw it over herself. Harry heard her disembodied giggle for a moment, but then she was silent. He stared around the room and finally laughed too.

“I’m sorry,” he called. “Please don’t hide.”

“Here I am.” Ginny poked him hard in the back and took off the Cloak. He stumbled forward, turned and glared at her, but she skipped to him, laughing, and kissed him again.

“Oi!” Ron called. “No snogging during office hours.” Harry waved at him and he turned with a shake of his head and went downstairs.

“I am truly sorry,” Harry said to Ginny after their snog was finished. His hands were on her bum and she moved against him. “I also meant what I said about tearing this place down.”

“I know you did. You made me very happy.” She put her hands on his chest and rested her head over his heart. “You know, if I’m not going to play Quidditch any more, there’s no reason why we can’t get pregnant right away.”

Harry didn’t speak for a moment. “Let’s not give up. We’re halfway back to where we were. I still think we can push Deverill—”

A loud “Crack!” filled the air and a short, dumpy figure stood only inches from Harry, who jumped back, startled, while Ginny let out a squawk. Harry brought his wand up as did the newcomer, and two Shields appeared. They collided with a “Bang!” and Harry was flung backward into Ginny; his head smashed into her face. They crashed to the floor in a tangle, just inches from the edge of the room at the missing wall, a dozen feet above the ground outside.

Harry scrambled up. He lit his wand and saw bloodshot eyes and scraggly, ginger hair, some of it going gray. Fletcher’s eyes were bulged with surprise and fear, and he took a step back. His Shield glimmered in front of him as Harry, his own Shield up again, approached, crouching low.

“Dung! Wait!” he shouted, sensing that Fletcher was about to Disapparate. “How did you get in here? The disk is gone, we took it away! Sprout’s foot is at the Ministry. No!”

He sprang forward as Fletcher’s Shield vanished and Mundungus started to turn. He felt Ginny grab his left arm. Fletcher noticed her for the first time, and hesitated.

“Mundungus,” she whispered, “don’t go. We can help you.”

She stood next to Harry and reached her hand out. Fletcher looked uncertainly from her to Harry.

If you leave, I’m coming with you, Ginny sent.

No!

Harry was distracted for an instant, and in that blink of an eye Mundungus shifted his weight. As Harry lunged toward him, Ginny put both of her hands firmly on his waist. Fletcher took a step back, and Harry grabbed an arm and tried to keep him from turning, but the man resisted with surprising strength. Harry felt crushing pressure on his chest as the air was squeezed out of his lungs. He was aware of both Mundungus and Ginny as they spun through darkness.

When they landed, Harry staggered forward into the other man. Fletcher’s wand was up between them and he yelled, ”Stupefy!” Harry was once again flung back into Ginny. They sprawled on the ground, Harry on top of her, and she let out a strange, “Huuuh!” as her empty lungs were pushed in again.

Fletcher stood over them for a moment. He seemed torn between a desire to flee and anguish, especially for Ginny, who was gasping desperately for breath. He stared at her for a moment and backed away. “I’m sorry! Rennervate!” he cried, and Disapparated.

Harry slowly rolled over onto his hands and knees. His shoulder ached where the spell had hit, but he thought that Fletcher must have held back when he cast it, because it should have been much worse, given how close they were standing.

“Are you okay?” he said to Ginny, who was still breathing hard, but sitting up and rubbing her nose.

“I think so,” she said between gasps. “You have a hard head. Is anything bleeding?

Harry lit his wand and examined her. “No, just a little bruise.” He touched her cheek with his wand. “There, it’s gone.”

“What about you? He hit you, didn’t he?”

“Yeah, but I think he held back. My shoulder’s a little sore, that’s all.”

He carefully got to his feet and helped Ginny up; she was shaky, and he steadied her.

They looked around. They were on a paved road with houses on one side and a cemetery on the other. A lone, dark house stood in the middle of the graveyard. Lights filled the windows in the houses across the street. About a hundred feet to the left the road ended at a crossroad. The intersection was illuminated by a street lamp, and as they watched, a car passed along the cross street. In the other direction stood a large church, mostly in shadows but with a few lights in some of the windows.

“Where are we?” Harry asked.

“Harry.” Ginny grabbed his arm. “I know where we are. See over there?” She pointed to the right, past the church. A castle-like building up on a hill loomed against the night sky.

“What is it?”

“It’s Dunster Castle. We’re in Dunster. It’s a little village near the sea in the middle of Exmoor. We’re only a couple of miles from Exmoor Quidditch Stadium.”

Chapter Text

 “And Mundungus brought us here . . .”

Harry looked around, rubbing the back of his head where it had collided with Ginny’s face. She gently pushed his hand away and checked his scalp.

“It’s fine,” she said, and looked at the house standing in the middle of the cemetery.

Harry followed her gaze for a moment, but turned and looked behind them at the line of houses across the road. The soft lights from inside and the obvious activity—cars in driveways and the flickering colors of televisions visible through windows—were in stark contrast to the darkness shrouding the house in the graveyard.

“Did Deverill ever say where exactly that house was in Exmoor?” he asked.

“No, he did not,” Ginny replied tersely, and continued to stare at the darkened building.

“I wonder if Muggles can see it. Or maybe Deverill figured the team would Apparate directly in and out and keep it looking abandoned from the outside. But if that’s the case, why didn’t Dung Apparate us inside?”

“If that is the house, maybe he was startled and confused. This was probably the closest he could manage.”

“Or,” Harry mused, “the house was the first place that came into his brain, but he had enough wits not to lead us directly into their hiding place. After all, we wouldn’t suspect it if you didn’t know where we were.”

“Shall we take a look?”

They glanced around to see if anyone was observing them, put on the Invisibility Cloak, and stepped over a low stone wall which separated the cemetery from the road. The graveyard was well-tended; the grass was clipped short and they could make out bunches of flowers placed on many of the graves. Lights from the church windows, about a hundred feet away, gave a bit of illumination. As they drew near the house they saw a dim, flickering light from a window on the third floor.

In a few moments they stood in front of the porch steps and looked up. The house was three stories with a peaked roof. Its shutters and clapboard siding looked to be either new or freshly painted. Several pieces of comfortable-looking outdoor furniture were placed on the porch, and a swing seat hung there. Baskets also hung from the porch ceiling holding flowers and plants. Each window had a flower box on the sill. A brick walk led from the edge of the grass to the steps, and a similar walk extended to each side around the house.

“Nice place,” Harry murmured. “It looks like they’re putting you up in style.”

“Putting them up in style,” Ginny said tartly. “But the more I think about it, the less sense it makes that this is the house. It has to be coincidence that they’re both in Exmoor. Why in Merlin’s name would the coach of the National team get involved with a bunch of Pensieve thieves? They’ve committed at least one crime that will get someone thrown into Azkaban, plus a dozen others that will add up to a lot of time in jail for the rest.”

“You’re right, except for one thing. It’s too unlikely to be a coincidence. And Deverill has already committed one irrational act, sacking you. Something is wrong with him, which means that he’s capable of committing a crime.”

Ginny sighed. “Well, you’re the Auror. But I still find it hard to believe.”

“Then let’s see what’s inside.”

Harry took her hand and they quietly climbed the steps to the porch. They peered in a few front windows, but some had curtains or drapes drawn over them, and in the others there was not enough light to see anything.

“Now what?” Ginny whispered when they had returned to the front door.

“If it’s so dark inside, there must not be anyone on the first floor. I think it’s safe to go in.”

They tried the door handle. It was unlocked and the door swung quietly open, but as they stepped through, light blazed. A large chandelier hung above an ornate entrance hall in front of them, and all the candles in it had lit.

Harry slammed the door shut and the sound reverberated in the house. He pulled Ginny through an open double doorway on their right, into a large sitting room that extended to the side of the house. They stood in front of a set of drapes that covered a window.

“Why did you do that?” Ginny hissed.

“If someone comes down, they’ll think we went back outside.” He put his arm around her and could feel her breath coming quickly. He leaned down and kissed her. “It’s okay. Remember, I’m the Auror.”

Ginny smiled in the dark. “I won’t forget.”

They heard the muffled sound of a door closing upstairs and footsteps descending. After a moment, wandlight cast moving shadows on the walls in the stairwell. The owner of the wand stopped just out of sight at the bottom of the steps.

“Fletcher?” said a voice, and Chadwick Chamberlain peered around the opening into the parlor. “Is that you?”

Looking puzzled, he went to the front door and opened it. Harry tugged on Ginny’s arm and pulled her towards the door, their footsteps muffled on carpeting. They stopped a yard inside the sitting room, but could see Chamberlain on the porch looking out into the night with his wand darkened. After peering around he turned and came back inside, closed the door behind him, re-lit his wand, and started up the stairs.

Harry gripped Ginny’s elbow and they followed. But as Chamberlain reached the landing where the stairs curved upward on two sides, he suddenly stopped and looked back. Harry and Ginny froze; Chamberlain seemed to be staring right at them, and Harry slowly lifted his wand, a Shield Charm on his lips. But Chamberlain pointed his wand above their heads and muttered, ”Extinguo.” The candles in the chandelier dimmed, but did not go out. Chamberlain’s eyes narrowed. He gazed slowly over the entrance hall, moving his wand from side to side.

Harry, still holding Ginny’s arm, took a step upward towards Chamberlain. Their footsteps again were muffled by the carpeting. When they were only a few feet from him they stopped. Harry turned and silently gestured with his wand. The candles slowly dimmed and went out.

Chamberlain stared at the chandelier. He held his wand up in front of his eyes, glared at it and shook it. A few red sparks shot out. He pointed it at the chandelier and exclaimed, ”Illuminate!” The candles flared into light and he took a step back. ”Extinguo!” he said again, and this time the candles went out.

“Huh!” he snorted quietly, and turned and continued up. Harry and Ginny went after him.

“Do the candles stay lit when someone needs the light?” Ginny whispered into his ear as they climbed.

Harry nodded but kept his eyes on the figure now hurrying ahead of them. “Yes, and I also think they can’t be seen from the outside.”

At the next floor they took two steps and froze. There was no carpeting, and their footsteps had seemed very loud. But Chamberlain was now a half-flight ahead, also making noise as he climbed, and did not stop. They waited until they heard his footsteps moving overhead towards their left, and once again followed.

At the top of the stairs on the third floor they saw two wide corridors, just like the floor below, extending in each direction. Chamberlain was not in sight, but they heard voices down the left-hand corridor and walked quietly towards the sound. They stopped at the last door on the right, and heard two muffled voices coming from behind it. One was Chamberlain’s, the other a woman’s. They pressed their ears to the door from under the cloak and listened.

“It was probably kids again,” Chamberlain was saying. “I’ll have to strengthen the wards. Fletcher is not back yet.”

The woman spoke a word in French that both Harry and Ginny recognized as one that Fleur used when she was very angry. “What ‘appened to ‘im?” the woman went on. “It should not be taking so long. Somet’ing must be wrong wiz ze blood protection. First zis, zen ‘im. We will ‘ave to take ‘er to St. Mungo’s.”

“We can’t,” Chamberlain said angrily. “They’ll want to know where her bloody foot is. If we can’t produce it, they’ll tell the damned Aurors. Besides, she’s obviously gone over the edge, just like I said she would. She’ll babble everything. We should never have said anything.”

“Certainly, but it is a little late for zat, isn’t it? I told you she was getting senile, but she dangled a bag of gold in front of your eyes and you saw not’ing else. Idiot!” she exclaimed, using the French pronunciation.

“Stupid yourself,” Chamberlain snarled. “You thought she was quaint.”

They were silent for several moments, and the woman said something in French.

“No,” Chamberlain responded, “Not until we hear from Fletcher. He’ll be here soon.”

“‘E ‘as run away, or maybe even gone to ze Ministry. I told you ‘e was not to be trusted. We must get out of ‘ere.”

Chamberlain grunted. Harry and Ginny heard footsteps approach the door, and hastily backed away to the opposite side of the hall. But no one came out, and there were no more sounds from the room.

“Let’s go back downstairs,” Harry whispered, and they tiptoed away. When they got to the floor below, Harry started down the next flight, but Ginny stopped him.

“Wait,” she whispered. “I want to see something.”

In the hall in front of them were seven doors. They walked to the first one on the left and Ginny put her wand outside the cloak and lit it so that it glowed softly. A small brass nameplate was affixed to the door. They leaned closer and read, “Jones.”

Ginny turned across the hall and on the nameplate of that door was “Leyting.” The next one read “Salinger,” the next, “Pastorini,” and the last, “Brandon.” Back across the hall, the nameplate on the end door was blank. The door between that and the first had “Donahue” on the plate.

Ginny looked back at the last door. “That was mine.”

Harry put his arm around her. “It will be again.”

Ginny didn’t speak; finally she said, “Obviously you were right. This is the house Deverill was telling us about. But why in the name of Merlin is Chamberlain hiding here?”

When Harry spoke, his voice was grim. “He can’t be hiding. Deverill must know that he’s here. And if that’s true, then . . .”

Ginny turned to Harry under the cloak. Her wand, now back inside, was still lit and Harry could see her wide eyes. “Then he must know about the Pensieve.”

“He must know something. But why is he mixed up in this? That is absolutely senseless.”

“But it might explain why he was so quick to chuck me off the team. If you came here to see me, you might become suspicious, especially . . .”

“Especially what?” Harry grinned. “You’re being an Auror again, my clever wife.”

Ginny nodded thoughtfully. “Do you know what’s only about ten miles from here?” She looked at him with teasing eyes. “You should have known this, Mr. Auror.”

She waited while Harry’s brow furrowed and he shook his head. “What?”

“Withypool.”

“But that’s—that’s a coincidence . . .” Harry’s sentence dangled to a stop.

“There are no coincidences, quote unquote.” Ginny poked his nose with her fingertip and Harry chuckled.

“Yes, there are no coincidences, Mrs. Auror. And I’ll stake my newly reinstated job on the guess that the Pensieve is here in this house.”

“Then let’s look for it.”

Harry hesitated. “No, Gin. The more we poke around, the likelier it is they’ll notice us.”

“So what if they do?”

“As a general rule, you don’t want to let the bad guys know what you’re about. It tends to upset them.”

“Don’t you think we can handle them?”

“It’s not your job,” he said, frowning.

Ginny knew not to argue that point, at least not at the moment, so they stood silently beneath the cloak. Her hands were on his arms, and he began rubbing her sides in unconscious response to her very pleasant massaging of his biceps.

“We should go back to Godric’s Hollow,” he finally said. “They’ll be wondering where the hell we are. We—I mean, I—have to get back here with help as quick as I can.”

Harry remained still, and for a moment Ginny wasn’t sure why he was hesitating. But he didn’t hide any of his thoughts. Getting out of the house undetected might not be easy: apparently the front door was charmed to alert anyone inside that someone had either come in or left. And if they Disapparated from inside, the noise could likewise give them away. Either way, Chamberlain and his wife would know that they had been discovered and would leave before anyone could return.

“We need to bring a Hit Team back, fast,” he said aloud, “but as soon as they think we’re on to them, they’ll disappear, and maybe with the Pensieve.”

Ginny started to say something, but Harry stopped her. “Let’s get out first, then we can debate. If there’s a cellar, we’ll take a chance that they won’t hear us and we’ll Disapparate from there.”

They crept back down the stairs, removing the cloak as they descended. As soon as they stepped onto the flight of steps to the first floor, the chandelier lit. They paused and listened, but they heard nothing.

There was a door under the stairs, but it was only a coat cupboard.

“The hell with it,” Harry muttered as they closed it. “Let’s just get as far from the stairwell as we can and do it.”

They walked on the carpeted floor to the far end of the large sitting room, and both of them turned on the spot, but nothing happened. Harry swore. “Anti-Apparition jinx. We’ll have to go out the front door.”

“Should we try a window?”

“Waste of time. They’re bound to be warded. Let’s just get out and Disapparate.”

In the hallway entrance, they waited for a few moments in the light of the chandelier, listening to make sure that no one was nearby. “We’ll Side-Along,” Harry said quietly. “That’ll be safer. I’ll open the door, we’ll jump out onto the porch, and do it. I’ll aim for the front yard of my house.”

Ginny noted the possessive adjective, grabbed his elbow, gave a squeeze, and held on tight. Harry took the door handle. “Now!” He yanked it open and they heard a muffled shout from upstairs. He pulled Ginny through and turned on the spot.

They stood in the front yard at Godric’s Hollow, facing the house. A shadowed figure standing before the door called out, “Vermillion!”

“Stentorian!” Harry said loudly. “It’s Potter!” He lit his wand and held it so that it illuminated his and Ginny’s faces.

Another wand flared and they saw Susan Bones in the now open doorway. “That’s a two-day old password, Harry,” she clucked.

“I’ve been out of the office,” he retorted, and she chuckled. Another figure appeared in the doorway to take her place and Susan came towards them.

“Are you two okay?” she asked, looking at them closely. She turned her head and spoke to the person now in the doorway. “Tom, It’s Harry and Ginny! Get Ron.”

“We’re okay,” Harry said. “Where is Sal? Is she still at the Ministry? We have to organize a Hit Team right away.”

They heard footsteps clattering down the stairs inside and Ron burst through the door and ran to them. “Are you two okay? What the hell happened? I heard shouts. Where did you go?”

“We’re fine,” Harry said. “But we need to organize a Hit Team right now. Are there still ten of you here?”

“Nine. I sent Katie back to the Ministry to tell Sal when you disappeared. But—”

“Then it’s ten with me. So . . .” Harry thought quickly. “We’ll take seven and leave three here. There are two of them there—”

“Where?”

Harry took a breath. “It was Mundungus who came back. We jumped him and he Apparated us to a house in Dunster, a couple of miles from Exmoor Stadium. Chamberlain and his wife are holed up there with Sprout. Wait!” He held up his hand as Ron was about to ask another question. “They know by now that we were there, so the longer we take the more likely it is that they’ll get away. Go!”

He gave Ron a push, and he turned and ran back into the house.

What about me?

Harry spun around and faced Ginny. Her eyes blazed. “I’m coming with you.”

“Gin, you can’t—”

“You can’t stop me.” She glared and folded her arms across her chest. “My future is at stake here. If you leave without me, I’ll just follow you. I know where you’re going.”

“Ginny, please!” But Harry snapped his mouth shut as Ron returned, followed by four other Aurors: Seamus, Tom, Tony Goldstein, and Justin. Harry gave Ginny a mental warning—she sent back a mental picture of where he could put it—and, after an instant of not knowing whether to laugh or get angry, he turned to the Aurors. He quickly described where they were going and what they would find there.

“We’ll Apparate into the graveyard as close to the house as possible, surround it, then Ron, Susan, and I will go in. There’s an Anti-Apparition ward, so if they’re still there, which isn’t likely, we should be able to collar them.”

Harry shot a scowl at Ginny, and they all vanished.

Seconds later a string of pops in the graveyard at Dunster signaled the arrival of Harry’s squad. Two teams of two ran around the sides of the house. Harry, with his wand drawn, was about to step onto the porch steps when they heard another pop. The three Aurors looked around.

“Someone either just arrived or just left,” Ron whispered, holding up his wand.

Harry reached into his back pocket. “It’s . . .” He looked at Ron. “It’s your sister. She picked my pocket. She has the Cloak, and now she’s here.”

Ron’s head whipped around. “Ginny!” he said in a loud whisper, “what are you doing?”

There was no answer, and Harry chuckled. “Forget it, she’s probably not even nearby. She’ll keep out of the way.”

Ginny was also keeping her mind closed, so Harry had no idea what she was up to. But he knew exactly why she had followed them. The missing name on the door had upset her more than she had let on, and he did not have the heart to force her to stay away, even if he could figure out how. It would require restraining her, which would definitely mean many long nights by himself on the cramped love seat.

They climbed onto the porch. Ron stood to one side of the door and Susan to the other. Harry pointed his wand and with a burst of red light and a loud “bang!” the door blew in off its hinges. Ron spun inside, followed immediately by Susan.

“Clear!” called Ron, and Harry stepped in. They stood a few feet apart, their wands up, while the enchanted chandelier blazed into light.

“Upstairs!” Harry pointed, and Susan and Ron started up, two steps at a time, Ron slightly ahead, with Harry right behind them. On the second floor they let their wands flare, and the hallways on both sides became brightly lit. They saw no one, and Harry gestured upward. They continued climbing, this time more slowly. When they reached the next floor they paused and listened carefully, hearing only silence, and Harry led them quickly to the door at the end of the hall. There were no sounds.

Harry simply pushed the door open and walked into a small, cozy bedroom with flowery curtains on the window and a matching comforter on the bed. A candle on the dresser flickered in the draft from the open door, and Harry lowered his wand. He gestured silently and Susan came in while Ron waited outside. Harry and Susan stared at the pallid face of Julia Sprout lying under the comforter.

She looked at them and moaned; spittle dribbled down her chin and her eyes wandered around the room. She moaned again and tried to say something, but only incomprehensible sounds came out.

Harry knelt next to the bed and took the Unspeakable’s hand. “It’s okay,” he said to her in a calm voice. “We’ll take care of you.” He turned and called Ron, who stepped inside.

“Send someone to St. Mungo’s for a healer,” said Harry, “and set up a guard. Arrest anyone who tries to come in.”

Ron hesitated. “Um, does that include my sister?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, it’s your funeral.”

Ron left the room and Harry patted Sprout’s hand. He smiled at her, but she gazed back blankly. Susan came and knelt by Harry.

“Are you really going to arrest Ginny?” she asked with more than a bit of skepticism.

Harry chuckled. “For all I know she’s here in the room with us, but even if she’s still outside, she’ll never let Ron know where she is. If she wants to come in, none of us could stop her.”

Susan smiled and nodded. She picked a small towel out of the air and wiped Sprout’s brow and face. The woman moaned, mumbled another string of incoherent words, and grabbed Susan’s wrist.

“She’s in shock, I think,” Susan said. “Can I use a pain-killing charm?”

“Go ahead, but be careful. I don’t think she’s in pain. I’m sure Chamberlain or his wife would have taken care of that.”

Susan looked puzzled. “Then what’s wrong with her?”

“Some kind of dementia, like McGonagall. She’s been around the Pensieve. Something is causing it to attack people. But you’re right, she is in shock.”

Susan cast a Soothing spell, but Sprout’s expression and soft babbling did not change. “What about her foot?” the Auror whispered. “Shouldn’t we take a look at it?”

Harry grimaced. He had been thinking the same thing, but did not relish the prospect. He also didn’t think there was any point; they couldn’t do anything for the poor woman, except ease her discomfort. Still, they ought to make sure nothing else had happened to the Splinched limb.

He started to lift the blanket, when he heard footsteps in the hall. He gave a sign to Susan and she rose and darted to the door. But Ron’s voice gave the password and he entered with two Healers. One was a young trainee who Harry didn’t know, but the other was Hestia Derwent. Harry stood aside as the Healers bent over the Unspeakable.

“Sal is on her way,” Ron told Harry, “and someone from the Muggle-Worthy Excuse Committee and also an Obliviator, since we’re in the middle of a Muggle graveyard.”

“What are they going to do, alter the memories of a bunch of corpses? Can you tell if anyone has noticed us? I mean, aside from the dead guys.”

Ron chortled. “I think this house has Concealing charms on it, but the people outside are being careful. There are Muggles in the houses across the road and lights on in the church, but no one has come outside to have a look.”

Harry lowered his voice. “Any sign of Ginny?”

“No. I would think you’d know if she was around.”

“Not necessarily, but I’m beginning to think that she went someplace else. I probably would have sensed something if she were nearby.”

“Where would she go?” Ron said with a frown.

Harry put his hand on his brother-in-law’s arm. “Don’t worry. If she was in danger, I would know.”

Healer Derwent interrupted their quiet conversation. “We can move her to hospital,” she said to Harry. “She doesn’t seem to know what’s going on or where she is. She has a spell burn on her calf, just above the Splinch. Ron said you tried to Stun her.”

“Yeah,” Harry said a little uncomfortably. He didn’t feel good about having cast a Stunning spell at a witch who appeared to be confused about everything. “She Apparated into the scene of a crime, and we had reason to believe that she was helping them. I hope she’ll be okay.”

“She’ll be fine, at least as far as the Splinch is concerned. Saliyah Ushujaa delivered the, ah, missing appendage to us about half an hour ago. But that’s not the only problem here.” She glanced back at Sprout, who was now sitting up, held by the trainee; he was speaking to her soothingly and patting her hand.

“It looks like the same thing that happened to Professor McGonagall,” Harry said.

Derwent affixed him with a clinical look. “Perhaps. We’ll see.”

She turned away and took a bedpan from inside her robes, muttered, ”Portus,” and touched it with her wand. She and the trainee put their arms around Sprout. They shoved the covers back and swung her legs so that she was sitting on the edge of the bed. Her robes covered her legs, but only one foot could be seen. The two Healers made sure that she was grasping the bedpan as it turned blue, and they all vanished.

“Now what?” asked Ron. “We still don’t have any of the prime culprits, and we still don’t have the Pensieve.”

“I know,” Harry scowled. “And I don’t know where my wife is with my ancestors’ cloak. I should have sent my Patronus to get you when Ginny and I were here. We could have kept an eye on them.”

“You might have given yourself away, and they would still be gone.”

Harry nodded. “Too late for all that. Well, let’s search the place. Maybe we’ll get lucky and find the Pensieve.”

The Hit Team searched the house while Harry waited on the porch. He saw a car pull up to a house across the road and people go inside. More lights were on in the church and for the first time in the still night, he noticed music coming from it, a choir. They stopped frequently and started the same piece over again several times; they must be rehearsing, Harry thought. He wondered what all those people would think if they knew what was going on inside the house behind him, how strange it would seem to them. He rarely thought about what the magical world would look like to Muggles, but here he was, right in the middle of a Muggle neighborhood doing magic.

He snapped out of his thoughts when Ron came outside followed by the rest of his team. Ron indicated where he wanted them to take up positions, and the Aurors spread out around the house again.

“There’s nothing inside,” he said to Harry as they stood together on the porch. “If the Pensieve was here, they’ve cleaned out all traces of it. But did you see what’s on the second floor?”

“You mean those name plates on the doors?”

He was starting to worry about Ginny. He didn’t think that the criminals they were dealing with wanted to hurt anyone, but if they were cornered or if she came upon them unexpectedly, especially if they had the Pensieve with them, they might panic and do something stupid.

“Yes, those,” Ron said. “This must be the place where Deverill wanted to hole up with the team. You know, I’m starting to wonder if he’s the one behind this.”

Harry looked at him doubtfully. “I’ll grant that he must be part of this, but what could he possibly want with a Pensieve? He’s one of the top managers in Britain, maybe the world. He’s got prestige and I’m sure he’s well paid. Why would he get involved in a crime?”

“I’m not talking about money. He wrote a book called Quidditch World Cups Through the Ages. It’s a history of every final match in every World Cup that was ever played. He has a reputation for being very analytical, he looks for trends in the way clubs play, their styles of attack, things like that. If he had a Pensieve, I’ll bet he could use it to predict how a team was going to play a match.”

Now Harry was interested, but still skeptical. “How would he do that? He doesn’t have a memory of every match, probably only a few. Unless . . . unless he got a whole lot of people to give him their memories. Then he could pull one out whenever he wanted to see a match again.”

He thought for a moment and frowned. “But why steal it? If he had gone to McGonagall and asked to use it, she might have said yes.”

“But maybe she would have said no. In fact, maybe she already did and never bothered to tell anyone about it, and that’s when Deverill or Chamberlain or Croaker or whoever, decided to steal it. And the Games and Sports Department might not mind if he used it, but the Department of International Magical Cooperation would not be pleased. Every other country would be screaming.”

Harry usually depended on Ron to untangle intrigues at the Ministry. He had no doubt now that Ron was right about this one.

A door opened in the church and light spilled out into the cemetery. Two men appeared; they lit cigarettes and stood talking in the doorway. Harry, who had been leaning against the porch railing, stood up. “We can’t stay without knowing how this place is warded,” he said. “Wasn’t Saliyah supposed to be here? Go get everyone. We’ll wait inside.”

Ron set off, but just as he disappeared around the corner of the porch a loud pop rang across the graveyard. The two Muggles at the church looked toward the house. Footsteps climbed to the porch and suddenly Ginny stood in front of Harry, grinning madly, the Invisibility Cloak in her hand. Harry lunged at her and slapped his hand over her mouth.

“Mmmff!” Ginny’s protest was muffled, but she saw the men whom Harry was pointing at. After a minute, first one then the other turned away and they resumed their conversation.

Harry took his hand from Ginny’s mouth. “Where in Merlin’s name were you?” he said in a whisper. “Are you okay?”

“Never better,” she replied happily, taking Harry’s hands and, in her excitement, bouncing on the balls of her feet. “Want a Pensieve?”

Harry’s mouth fell open and he gaped at her. She laughed. “They moved it. I had a suspicion where it was, and that’s where it is.”

“Where?” Harry asked, now even more astonished.

“Exmoor Stadium. Specifically, skybox number seven.”

“Skybox number seven,” Harry repeated stupidly. “How did you figure that out?”

Ginny was prevented from answering by two things. First, Ron re-appeared from around the side porch trailed by the other five Aurors. He stopped short when he saw Ginny. Seamus, who was right behind him, trod on Ron’s heel, causing him to stumble forward and crash into Ginny. Second, and while Ron and Ginny were untangling, five very loud Apparition pops, more like cracks, sounded.

Saliyah stood on the brick path in front of the house, along with Popeye, Hermione, another witch, and a wizard. Harry recognized them as Ministry officials whom he had called on in the past to help out with Muggles. He waved his arms to get everyone’s attention, and pointed to the two men at the church who were once again staring out into the graveyard. This time they started walking towards the house.

Everyone fell silent, and the two Ministry officials took out their wands. First the witch, then the wizard gestured, and the Muggles stopped in their tracks. They were now several yards away from the open church door. Their features were in shadow, but they appeared to be confused, leaning this way and that, putting a foot forward, taking a step backward.

The witch waved her wand again, and one of the Muggles said loudly to the other, “My wife just vomited. I need to go home.”

“Poor Doris,” said the second. “I’ll come help you clean it up.”

They turned and hurried back inside the church.

The group at the house watched until the door closed behind the Muggles. Harry let out his breath.

“Nice hex,” he said to the witch.

“All in a night’s work,” she said cheerfully. “Are those the only nosy ones around?”

“So far.”

Harry turned back to Ginny. She handed him the Cloak and stood with a bright smile. Harry frowned, but Saliyah spoke first.

“I assume from the fact that everyone is gathered outside, that the house is empty.”

“Yes, but Ginny says she knows where the Pensieve is.”

Everyone looked at her. Ron’s face was like Harry’s had been five minutes ago: mouth agape and eyes wide. Even the Ministry witch and wizard seemed surprised.

Saliyah, though, had a stern look, fixed on Ginny. “Where? And how did you find it?”

“Exmoor Stadium, in one of the skyboxes. And as soon as we discovered that this is where Coach, er, I mean Mr. Deverill wanted us to stay, I guessed that when they moved it again, they would move it to the stadium. They have nowhere else, now that this place and the house in Withypool are out of play for them.”

"Mr. Deverill?” Ron’s eyebrows rose.

Ginny’s smile widened. “He’ll be the former manager pretty quick, I’m thinking.”

“And you will be back on the team,” Harry said, also breaking into a wide grin and grabbing Ginny. He pulled her into an embrace, ignoring everyone, and kissed her hard.

She laughed and pushed him away, although not instantly. “Laters, sweetie. Let me show you the Pensieve.”

“What about this place?” Saliyah asked, jerking her thumb at the house before anyone could move. “We can’t leave it wide open. What if they come back?”

“They won’t,” said Harry. “Chamberlain won’t take a chance, especially since the Pensieve isn’t here. The only person who might show up is Mundungus Fletcher. We can leave a couple of people here and—”

“No.” Saliyah shook her head emphatically. “Send back to the Ministry for more help. We’ll leave a guard here strong enough to handle anything, and we’ll take enough people with us to Exmoor to handle anything there. We’re going to do this right.”

“But that’s a waste of time and people! Two here will be plenty to deal with Dung.”

Saliyah glanced around at the watching Aurors. Everyone clearly agreed with Harry, but she set her face. “We can’t afford another screw-up. Send someone back for help.” She walked away and joined the Ministry witch and wizard who, with Popeye, were standing in the graveyard watching the houses across the street.

Harry swore under his breath and spoke brusquely to Ron. “Go back and get everyone you can lay your hands on. Who’s the duty officer?”

“Rizzo.” Ron gave the name of an older Auror.

“Leave him and one other.” He gave Saliyah a sour look; her back was to him.

Harry turned away, leaving Ron nothing to do but wave to Hermione, turn on the spot, and Disapparate.

Chapter Text

Harry, feeling very disgruntled, walked over to Ginny. She was standing on the porch with Hermione and two Aurors, watching Harry. He had left his mind open ever since she had returned, so she was aware of his unhappy mood.

“Sal’s under a lot of pressure,” she said to him. “Don’t worry about it.”

“Everybody is under pressure,” Harry grumbled. “Does she want me back or not?”

“Oh, she does,” Susan Bones exclaimed. “She was hounding the Minister for three days to bring you back. Ginny is right, don’t worry.”

Harry looked over to where the Head Auror was speaking with the two Ministry officials and Popeye. She stared at the ground as the old Auror seemed to be haranguing her. She glanced up at Harry.

“See?” Ginny said. “She’s already sorry.”

Ten minutes later came a low rushing noise, and four Portkeys in the shape of four old hats appeared on the porch, followed by sixteen Aurors, four per hat. Ron was the last to arrive.

“Good thinking,” Harry said to Ron when he joined him. “No noise that way.”

Ron glanced at the Head Auror, on her way over. “Is she still being touchy?”

Harry grunted. “Everyone’s telling me not to worry, so . . .” He looked at her, waiting for his orders.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I was a little touchy. There’s lots of pressure, but that’s not your problem. I’ll stay out of the way.”

Harry waited until she walked back to Popeye and began speaking with him again. He turned to Ron. “You’re going to have to stay here, you and three others and Hermione. Hide yourselves inside, but stake out the front hallway and grab anyone who comes in. Ginny.” He turned to her.

“Yes, Boss?”

Harry smiled along with everyone else who heard her. “I’ll remember that. But what exactly happened at the stadium?”

Ginny took his hand and put it on her elbow. “I’ll take you there and show you.”

“No, just tell me what you did.”

She saluted, but Harry glared at her. “Okay, okay! I’ll be good,” she giggled.

The other Aurors moved closer as she began to speak. “I figured that the least likely place anyone would be at this hour was the locker room, so that’s where I Apparated. I kept your cloak on and went out onto the pitch. Chamberlain and his wife were there—”

“Croaker wasn’t?” Harry asked.

“Nope, only the two. They were walking toward the skyboxes that were parked on the grass, and he was carrying something that was covered with a blanket.”

“That’ll be the blanket it was wrapped in when we moved it.”

“So they went into one of the boxes, number seven, and a minute later they came out empty-handed. I waited until they Disapparated, and then I went in and there it was, inside a locker under some butterbeer bottles. And that’s it.” She beamed at Harry. “So when do I get the reward gold?” She laughed at Harry’s look of bemusement. “No reward, huh?”

“No,” he said out loud, but in his mind, You’ll get one later. How about a bubble bath and a massage?

I’ll take the bath. Your massages always end up as something else. The others saw Harry smile.

“Okay,” he said, becoming serious and looking around at his team. “Let’s go. Ron, keep Susan, Dennis, and Tony. Does everyone else know Exmoor Stadium? Anyone not know it?”

No one said anything. Finally Harry glared at Ginny with his face set. “And you are staying here, Mrs. Potter. No arguments.”

“Yes, Boss,” she simpered. I can’t wait for my bubble bath.

Harry sighed and shook his head, trying to ignore the snickering around him.

Five minutes later Aurors surrounded Exmoor Quidditch Stadium and a moment after that an Anti-Apparition spell had been cast over it. Harry led them inside. The pitch and empty seats were weirdly lit by wandlight as Aurors fanned out across the grass and up into the stands. Harry, Popeye, Seamus, and Parvati sprinted for the skyboxes parked at one end of the pitch. Harry swore when he saw that the door to number seven was ajar. He kicked it open and all four of them swarmed inside.

It was empty. On the floor next to a row of seats that faced a large opening was a wooden crate. The floor around it was strewn with butterbeer bottles, some lying broken in small puddles. Harry peered into the empty crate and swore again.

“He beat us back, dammit! He must have heard Ginny and come back.”

He leaned against the wall next to the window and thought hard. There were now Aurors guarding at least three places: Godric’s Hollow, the house in Dunster, and the stadium. Sal had probably left a guard on the house in Withypool, and a couple of Aurors were still up at Hogwarts. The department was getting a bit stretched.

He also realized that, even though he had his job back, he needed to recover the Pensieve and bring the thieves to justice if he also wanted to restore his reputation beyond his boss and his Aurors. He knew that they had never lost confidence in him—he looked at the faces of the three with him, and saw only patience—but others, like Croaker, were waiting for him to make another mistake.

“They’re running out of places to hide,” said Popeye, bringing Harry back to the present.

“So what could they do now? Where could they go? Do they know anyone who might be willing to hide them?” He stared out the window at the dark pitch; points of light from the wands of his Aurors moved around the stadium like fireflies. “They must be getting desperate, so . . . maybe they’ll take a chance and hole up someplace that’s not quite so safe.”

He pushed away from the wall. “I have an idea where they might be, but I don’t want a swarm of Aurors showing up there. Popeye, keep looking here. I don’t think you’ll find anything, but it’s a big place.”

He took one of the hat Portkeys from Parvati that they had brought with them for the return trip, and stepped outside the skybox. He touched the hat with his wand; it turned instantly blue and in a moment he was back in front of the house in Dunster. No one was in sight. He went to the front door and gave the password. Ron opened the door and looked at him with surprise.

“What—?”

“Where is Ginny,” Harry said. “I want you and her to come with me. The stadium was empty, they came back and took the Pensieve, but I have a hunch where they went, and if I’m right we won’t need Aurors, just friends.”

“She’s upstairs checking out the rooms Deverill set up for the team. I’ll go get her. What about Hermione?”

“Good idea, she should come too.”

Ron went back inside but at that moment Ginny came bounding down the stairs; Harry had let her know he was back. Why would they go there? she sent. They’ll be caught.

“They will be caught,” Harry said, “but they have no place else to go, they don’t know anyone else in Britain.”

“What are you talking about?” Ron frowned, now back with Hermione. “Stop with the mental stuff, will you?”

Harry held up the Portkey and touched it once with his wand. “Take hold,” he said, and Ginny, Hermione, and Ron all grasped the brim of the beat up straw hat, which Harry noticed for the first time had something written on it. “What’s a Hatter?” he asked Ron.

“A Muggle football team. Are we going to Lu—”

But the hat was glowing blue, and moments later they stood on a cliff overlooking the sea, although in the darkness they could only see whitecaps breaking on the rocks below. They all turned at the same time to look at a shadowy shape about a hundred yards away: a small house standing back from the edge of the cliff. Soft candlelight glowed in two of the windows.

“Shell Cottage?” said Ron. “Why the hell would they come here?”

“Because Fleur is a relative and they know that it’s not very likely there would be Aurors here,” replied Harry. “Someone is awake too.” He pointed to the lights.

“So what do we do, just walk in and say, Hello, you’re under arrest? They’ll Disapparate.”

Harry frowned. “We’ll have to put a hex on it to keep them from leaving.”

“No,” Ginny said, “I don’t like that. Bill and Fleur haven’t done anything. If Chamberlain and his wife came here, they must think they can get some kind of protection. And Bill would never do anything illegal. I’ll bet they’re sitting around talking, and Bill and Fleur are trying to convince them to turn themselves in.”

They were all silent, staring at the cottage. “We have to do something,” Harry said at last.

Ginny took his arm. “Let me go to them. Maybe it will be less threatening and they won’t panic.”

“Ginny is right,” said Hermione. “And even if they Disapparate, they’ll probably leave the Pensieve.”

Harry hesitated, but his instinct told him that Ginny was right. “Okay, but Ron and I will be right outside.”

He and Ron ducked under the Invisibility Cloak and they set off towards the cottage with Hermione staying back a few paces. They walked slowly in the dark, not wanting to light their wands. While they walked Harry and Ginny kept their minds open, and he sent her a stream of instructions and advice, until, when they stood before the door, Ginny gently pushed his thoughts away. Let me do it. I’ll be fine. Stay inside me, but don’t say anything.

Harry let her go and he and Ron stopped a yard from the door; Hermione moved to the side, staying out of the candlelight. They could hear voices from inside, speaking French. Ginny looked around to where she knew Harry and Ron were standing, gave them a quick nod, and knocked on the door.

The voices stopped, and Ginny called out, “Bill! It’s me, Ginny.”

A moment later the door opened and Bill stood framed in candlelight, holding up a lantern. “Ginny! What are you doing here? Where is Harry?” He peered into the night, and started to speak again, but Ginny cut him off.

“I know they’re here, Mr. Chamberlain and his wife. I need to talk to them.” Bill pulled her inside and closed the door after a last look around.

Ginny walked towards the fireplace where low flames flickered. Fleur stood next to a chair in which her aunt sat; Fleur’s hand was on her shoulder. Chadwick Chamberlain stood in the middle of the small room, nervously shifting his weight from one foot to the other. He glanced to the side and Ginny saw the Pensieve sitting on a small table at the end of the couch; a gray blanket lay on the floor next to it.

“Ginny,” said Fleur, not moving and not lifting her hand from Patience’s shoulder. “Zis is a surprise. Why ‘ave you come ‘ere?”

“Harry guessed that you would be here,” she said to Chadwick. “I thought that you would feel better without Aurors, so . . . so I’m here.”

“Yes, Aurors,” Chamberlain muttered. “It’s over, isn’t it?”

“We just want the Pensieve back,” Ginny said quietly.

“Your ‘usband is outside, isn’t ‘e?” asked Patience. “We will be arrested.”

Ginny gazed at the veela. Her features were finer than Fleur’s, her hair even more silvery. “I don’t have anything to say about that. It seems that you’ve decided to stop running, and . . . and I know how much Fleur loves you both, and I don’t want anyone to get hurt.”

Bill put his arm around Ginny’s shoulders. “No one will get hurt,” he said calmly. “I’m glad you came, Ginny. We were just talking about what to do.”

Ginny looked at Chadwick. Even while everyone else was calm, he was agitated, wound up like a spring. His face was taut, he was breathing hard, his eyes kept moving around the room. She noticed that his wand was tucked inside his belt; no one else’s was visible. She felt a tendril of concern from Harry, but pushed him away. Bill is right next to me. Nothing is going to happen.

“You are persistent, Mrs. Potter,” Chamberlain said, his voice also betraying agitation. “How did you find our house in Dunster? It was you and Mr. Potter there, wasn’t it?”

Ginny nodded. “Mundungus Fletcher brought us there accidentally. He went back to Godric’s Hollow to fetch the, uh, Madam Sprout’s foot, didn’t he?”

Chamberlain gave a short laugh and dropped onto the couch next to the Pensieve. He brushed his thinning hair from his brow. “We tried to stop him, but he said he knew how to heal a Splinch. What a fool.”

“At least he was trying to help,” Ginny murmured.

“Bah!” Chamberlain spat into the fire and Fleur gave a start; he ignored her. “All he cares about is gold, but we needed someone who knew the Ministry, knew how the Aurors worked, how they think. He is clever, but a fool all the same.”

There was a noise outside the front window, and Chamberlain twisted around to look. “Why don’t you tell your husband to stop his games and come inside. I have nothing to gain by resisting; I am finished.”

Patience glanced at Fleur, and Ginny could tell that some kind of communication had passed between the veelas. Fleur seemed to grow sad, and took her hand from her aunt’s shoulder. Patience rose and went to the couch; she sat next to Chadwick, taking his hand.

“Cheri, zis is not ze end of ze world, or of you. You tried your best; you tried to do ze honorable t’ing. What ‘appened is not your fault.”

He looked balefully at her. “Tell that to the dementors.”

“No,” said Bill, “the Ministry does not use dementors, for anything. They stopped using them almost five years ago.”

“Well, there’s a blessing. But don’t tell me it’s fine to use an Imperio.”

“I can’t tell you that. I’m sorry. You’ll have to face a jail term. But—”

“Bill, wait,” Fleur said. “I t’ink Ginny should get ‘Arry. Is zat okay?” she asked the two sitting on the couch.

Chamberlain shrugged and his wife nodded. Ginny went to the door, opened it, and sent a thought to Harry. She stepped outside—only to keep the Chamberlains from guessing that she and Harry could communicate without speaking—and a second later Harry and Ron stood before her. Ron beckoned to Hermione and Ginny led them back inside.

“Mr. Potter,” Chamberlain spoke from the sofa, “why did you send your wife? Shouldn’t she get the collar now?”

Patience frowned at him. “What does zis mean, ze collar? Zere is no collar on ‘er jumper.”

“It means credit for an arrest,” Harry said, stepping forward, “and I have to inform you that you are both under arrest for stealing Hogwarts property, using an Unforgivable Curse, kidnapping, and other offenses.” He paused. “Sorry, I have to say that. Ginny suggested that she come inside because it would be . . . more comfortable for everyone.”

Chamberlain looked away from Harry and gave a short, disparaging snort. “Thank you for being so considerate. I’ll try my best to return the favor from my cell.”

There was a long, uncomfortable silence in the cottage, until Chamberlain sighed quietly. “Forgive me, Harry. You’re only doing your job. I deceived you and many others.” He looked up and his eyes were troubled, even fearful. “How many years will I get? Will they send me to Azkaban?”

“I don’t know, it’s not up to me,”

Harry felt sorry for Chadwick Chamberlain now. He was no longer a jovial, smiling wizard, conning all who trusted and liked him, but a small, deflated, failed criminal. “But why did you do it? That could make a difference in your sentence.”

Chamberlain shrugged and leaned back, staring at a spot on the wall past Harry’s head; Patience rested her cheek on his shoulder, but he ignored her. “I don’t know,” he muttered.

He suddenly took out his wand and instantly Harry and Ron’s were pointing at him. But he held up his hand and placed the tip of his wand on his temple. As he slowly pulled it away, a silvery strand like a filigree of smoke emerged from his head. He held it over the Pensieve and gave the wand a little shake. The memory floated down and sank into the swirling, liquid mass.

“Je suis fini,” he murmured. “Je suis fichu.”

“Chad! No!” His wife turned his head with her hand to face her. “It is not over, my darling, don’t say zat! Per’aps it will not be so bad.” She looked around from Harry to Fleur to Bill, and back at Chamberlain. Her voice started to break, and tears came to her eyes. “We ‘ave met Kingsley Shacklebolt, ‘e is a fair man. ‘E will not punish you cruelly, you ‘ave not done anyt’ing evil, you were trying to right an injustice.”

He would not look at her; he simply stared at the Pensieve. “It’s all there,” he said without looking up. “All your questions are answered.”

“Can I ask one?” Harry said quietly. When Chamberlain didn’t answer, but kept staring at the Pensieve, Harry continued. “There’s only one person whose motive I don’t understand. Why did Amander Croaker want the Pensieve?”

Chamberlain looked up at him. “Croaker? What are you talking about? He had nothing to do with it. What makes you think he wanted it?”

“He didn’t want me sacked for fouling up when we took it from Hogwarts?” Do you believe him? he sent to Ginny.

“I have no idea,” said Chamberlain curtly. “Didn’t you foul up?”

Harry opened his mouth to retort, but Patience spoke. “It was not ‘im, it was Julia Sprout. She wanted you off ze case because of Godric’s ‘Ollow.”

Fleur spoke to Patience sharply in rapid French, and Bill also said something.

“What did you say?” Ron frowned at Bill. “Translate, will you?”

“It was nothing,” Bill said. “Fleur said she didn’t believe that, but I said to let her talk.”

“I don’t believe it, either,” Harry snapped. He said to Patience, “Explain, please, Mrs. Chamberlain.”

The veela studied him for a moment; Harry could not meet her eyes. “She wanted to ‘ide ze Pensieve at your ‘ouse because she knew zat you would never go zere. But zen Mundungus Fletcher saw you zere before ze Pensieve was moved from ‘Ogwarts, and she was afraid you would go into zat room upstairs, and zen all our plans would be ruined. She told zat man, Croaker, to sack you.”

Still doesn’t make sense, went from Harry to Ginny, but he didn’t speak. Instead he turned to Ron. “We’ll sort everything out at the Ministry. It will all be in there.” He indicated the Pensieve, and gave a hand signal. Ron stepped forward and pointed his wand at Chadwick Chamberlain.

“Sir, I am taking you to the Ministry of Magic. You will be held there—”

“Ron!” Fleur rose and took a step forward. “Please, must you do zat in ‘ere? ‘E is my uncle. Chadwick,” she said in a low voice, “‘promise to go freely wit’ zem.”

Chamberlain bowed his head, and gazed at his wife for a long moment. She caressed his face. A single tear ran down her cheek.

Chamberlain stood and handed his wand to Ron. He took Patience’s and also passed it over, then strode to the door. Ron went after him, but as Chamberlain stepped outside he suddenly whirled and yanked the door closed behind him.

A loud wail filled the room. Everyone was momentarily stunned by Chadwick’s violent action and by the keening, grief-filled lament that Patience had let loose.

Harry was the first to snap out of the spell. He jerked open the door and sprang outside. Chamberlain was nowhere in sight.

“He has to be here!” he cried to Ron, who had come out behind him. “He doesn’t have his wand!”

“Look . . . down zere.” Fleur stood in the doorway with Bill. She was pointing to the cliff and tears were streaming down her face. Bill put his arms around her.

Harry held his hand out behind him. Ginny took it and they walked to the edge of the cliff; Ron and Hermione came and stood by their side. They all lit their wands. On the rocks below lay the body of Chadwick Chamberlain.

“You see,” said the quavering voice of Patience, and they turned to see her standing next to Fleur, weeping, “‘e did not want me to suffer ze same torments zat ‘e would ‘ave suffered in prison, in your Azkaban. Now I will only suffer ze loss of my beloved, but not ‘is torments.” She turned and went back into the cottage.

“I don’t understand,” said Ron.

“She’s a veela,” Bill said. “She feels what her husband feels. There is no way he could have kept her from knowing everything he was suffering in prison. If Azkaban drove him mad, then she would have also gone mad. He didn’t want that.”

“At least he gave you his memory,” Ginny murmured to Harry. She put her arms around him as he stared blankly out over the dark sea. “Love, there was nothing you could have done. He wanted to die, and no one was going to stop him.”

Harry held her tightly. Everything that had happened since last Monday—was it only three days ago?—had been a nightmare. Nothing had gone normally, nothing was right, everything had turned to chaos, to madness, and now to death.

He suddenly needed Ginny, needed her solidity, needed the certainty of her existence that was the anchor of his life. He wished they were alone, at home, in their bed, where he could taste her lips, feel the heat of her body, breath deeply the smell of her sweet fragrance and the musk of her sex. Only her physical being had substance; everything else had become insubstantial, about to crash on top of him, obliterate him as it had just obliterated Chadwick Chamberlain.

Hold me, Ginny said in his mind. We will be okay.

Harry realized that he was trembling and that his face was wet with tears. He took a deep, desperate breath with his nose buried in Ginny’s hair. He stood up and looked into her eyes. They were not ablaze, but she smiled softly and gazed at him steadily.

The universe righted itself; the world steadied.

Ginny stood on her toes and kissed him. Musk?

Harry laughed out loud and glanced quickly around, embarrassed. They were alone; everyone had gone back inside the cottage. “I’ll elaborate when we get home.”

He took another breath and wiped his face. He went to the edge of the cliff and peered down. “Light your wand again,” he said to Ginny. With a quiet ”Accio,” the body rose towards them and settled gently on the grass. Harry conjured a large blanket and covered it.

They went inside the quiet room where everyone looked up at them except Patience, who was on the couch, still weeping, with Fleur at her side, an arm around her. “I brought the body up,” Harry said. “Mrs. Chamberlain, we’ll leave you here.”

She nodded silently and Fleur gave Harry a grateful smile. He glanced at Bill and the two of them walked back outside. Bill gazed at the form underneath the blanket.

“Should I leave him here?” Harry asked quietly. “There’s no need to bring him back to the Ministry.”

Bill thought for a moment. “Yes, I think she’ll want to mourn with him. We’ll take care of it. You go get this finished up and go home. You look exhausted.” He put his hand on Harry’s shoulder for a moment, before turning and going back inside.

Harry waited for Ron, Hermione, and Ginny to come out. They decided to return directly to the Ministry rather than risk stirring up the Muggles in Dunster. However, Ginny said she would go to the flat in Hogsmeade.

“I’ll have a cup of tea waiting for you,” she said as she kissed Harry. Before he could speak she turned and was gone.

“Come on, mate,” he said to Ron. “I want to get this over with and go home.”

But it was another three hours before Harry stepped wearily out of the fireplace in the flat. The sky in the east, visible through the picture window, was showing signs of dawn. The owls on their perch clucked a welcome. Ginny was asleep on the love seat, wearing her bathrobe over a nightgown and a pair of thick red socks on her feet. A parchment lay on the floor next to the love seat; Ginny’s hand dangled over it and it had obviously fallen out of her grasp when she fell asleep.

Harry picked up the parchment. It was from the Department of Magical Games and Sports informing Ginny that the English National team would be holding daily practices at ten in the morning, starting Monday, at the Harpies’ practice pitch in Holyhead, Wales, under the direction of the new manager, Harpies’ head coach Happy Field.

Harry smiled; he leaned down, put a gentle kiss on Ginny’s cheek, and started to turn away but she moved and grabbed his trouser leg.

“Don’t go,” she murmured with a sleepy smile.

He knelt and they kissed, a proper snog that lasted several minutes while Harry’s hand wandered over Ginny’s soft terry robe. His stomach growled.

“I haven’t eaten since sometime yesterday afternoon,” he said, standing and pulling Ginny to a sitting position. “Are you hungry?”

Ginny picked up the parchment from the floor and held it up. “I’m back on the team,” she grinned, “and Happy is the new manager. It’s just brilliant!”

Harry brought her into a hug and held her. “We’re both doubly happy, then. I’m so glad. You are the best.”

“So,” she said as her hand went inside his shirt and started massaging his chest, “exactly how hungry are you? Do you have to go back to work today?”

“Very, and no.” Without another word he picked her up, carried her into the bedroom, and set her gently on the bed.

“How about that bubble bath?” he asked, undoing the sash of her robe.

“Sounds wonderful. I was hoping you would remember.”

“I’ve had bubbles on my mind all night.” He led her into the bathroom and she stood while Harry finished undressing her. He held her at arm’s length while the tub was filling, drinking her in.

“How come it’s taking so long to fill?” Ginny pouted. “This is supposed to be a bath, not a display.”

“Sorry,” Harry grinned. “Too much lovely scenery.”

Ginny punched his chest, but he grabbed her and started another snog while his hands did what they had done before, but this time without the hindrance of the robe and nightgown. When Ginny began uttering little squeals he picked her up and lowered her into the bubbles. The bath proceeded slowly, with Harry using a large, soft sponge to make sure that every inch of her was perfectly clean.

After the bath, Harry helped her out of the tub and dried her off. He took her hand and led her back to their bed. “I’ve been thinking about this for hours,” he said huskily. “It was very hard to concentrate on my work.” She said nothing, but pulled the covers back and lay down. He stared at her hungrily while he took off his clothes. She opened her arms and legs.

Love me! she commanded.

Harry straddled her on his hands and knees and began kissing, starting with her face and very slowly working his way to her toes. Whenever she gasped or moaned or twitched or heaved her hips, he lingered at that spot. Her moans would become cries and her twitches shudders, and she would clutch his hair and press his mouth to wherever it happened to be.

When Harry had finished loving her last little toe, she heaved him onto his back and did to him exactly what he had done to her. Half an hour later, Harry pulled her back down and they made slow love until finally they lay on their sides facing each other, caressing, speaking in each other’s mind.

After several minutes, when Harry’s hand had stopped moving, Ginny lifted her head and peeked at his face. He was sound asleep, breathing deeply and evenly. She took her wand from her bedside stand, dried up the sweaty sheets, and pulled the covers back into a semblance of order. She got back into bed and snuggled next to him under the covers.

They slept until well after noon. Ginny awoke first and went into the kitchen and brewed a fresh kettle of tea. When she came back Harry was awake; he stretched and yawned.

“Now I’m even hungrier. It’s been almost twenty-four hours since I ate.”

Ginny sat on the edge of the bed and grinned. “I thought I took care of your appetite earlier this morning.”

“You did, and very nicely, very muskily.”

She giggled. “Do you want breakfast or lunch?”

“Whatever’s quicker. There’s something I want to do today.”

They showered and dressed and ate a hearty lunch. Harry told Ginny to wait for him and went down to the inn where he asked Stan if he knew where Tony Trostle was. The barkeep directed him to a farmhouse outside the village where Tony was doing some renovations, and Harry Apparated there. Soon they were back, and Harry went upstairs to fetch Ginny. The three of them Apparated to the woods behind the house in Godric’s Hollow.

Tony peered through the trees at the yew hedge, and in the other direction at the Muggle houses beyond the fence. “Nice property,” he said, admiring the stream and waterfall in the little culvert. “Let’s see the house.”

Harry gave Ginny a smile and led the way through the hedge and around to the front; Dennis and Katie waved from the doorway. Harry went to the front gate and he, Ginny, and Tony turned to face the house. Harry put his arm around Ginny’s shoulders.

“We’re going to tear it down and build a new one. Ginny’s going to design it.”

She put one arm around his waist and the other on his chest. She peered up at him with delighted eyes.

Harry squeezed her. “It’s going to be our home forever,” he said to Tony. “I don’t care how much it costs. It’s going to be perfect.”

Tony gazed at the house and down the lane towards the center of the village. “There’s Muggles all around. It’ll be tricky if you want to keep it enchanted.”

“Driving up the price already?” Harry laughed. “Well, it’s up to Ginny, but if she wants enchantments, that’s fine with me. Anything she wants is fine.”

“What about those Aurors?” Tony pointed to the two guards at the front door. “Aren’t you still investigating here?”

“It’ll be done by day’s end. Oh, and there are two pieces of furniture I want from it. I’ll take them out this evening.”

The little chair and the crib? Ginny asked. Harry just smiled.

They returned to Hogsmeade and left Tony, who had to get back to his renovation job, and spent the rest of the day in the flat. Harry filled Ginny in on what had happened last night at the Ministry, but Chadwick Chamberlain’s last memory had not been analyzed yet, so he didn’t have many details of the plot and the crime.

“The only thing I know for sure is that Ron was right about Deverill. He wanted to use the Pensieve to look at old Cup matches. When I left the Ministry last night they hadn’t heard from Professor McGonagall yet to see if he had visited her, but they didn’t waste any time sacking him.”

“That’s so there won’t be any complaints from the other teams,” Ginny said as she snuggled up closer in the love seat. “It’ll be brilliant to have Coach Field as the manager. Merlin, she deserves it. Three league championships in a row. She should have been the first choice, anyway.”

“And you deserve it.” Harry pulled her into yet another snog.

And so the day passed quite pleasantly. When an owl arrived from Saliyah announcing that the Pensieve case was officially closed except for a few minor details that Harry could take care of tomorrow, they Apparated back to Godric’s Hollow to fetch the green rocking chair and the crib from the upstairs bedroom.

The house was empty and quiet as they took a final look around, but Harry felt only peace as they walked back into the woods behind the hedge, carrying the two pieces of children’s furniture. Ginny held the rocking chair, and Harry Levitated the dismantled crib, its pieces bound together with magical twine. Tony would be demolishing the house later next week—even though he would not be able to start the new construction until later in the summer—because Harry wanted to be sure that nothing else happened to disturb the place and the memories of his parents.

They put the furniture in a corner of the bedroom when they got back to the flat. On Saturday, Harry went into work to tidy up the loose ends of the case, and on Sunday they Floo’d to the Burrow to gather with the family on the anniversary of Fred’s death.

The entire family was there, including all the grandchildren. Charlie had flown in from Romania the day before and had parked his dragon in the Forbidden Forest at Hogwarts; Hagrid was always happy to babysit for him. Each year his hair was a little longer and each year Molly’s displeasure at it lasted a little less long. He also bore a few more dragon-burn scars on his arms. But his presence was the only thing about the event that Ginny looked forward to. He had heard about her getting the sack from the National team but not about her reinstatement.

“Good!” he exclaimed. “Now I don’t have to go beat the stuffing out of that Deverill sod.”

Molly clucked and Aunt Muriel scowled, but Ginny hugged him tighter.

In the middle of the morning, under gray skies and a cool southerly breeze, the family gathered round Fred’s grave. It lay under a tall oak about a hundred yards past the garden at the edge of the woods. George and Ginny stood holding hands at the foot of the grave. Molly, weeping into a handkerchief, and Arthur were next to George with Angelina on their other side. Charlie supported Aunt Muriel, who was becoming quite frail. Harry stood with Ron and Hermione, and held Teddy who had turned his hair red in honor of Fred. The others stood silently: Bill, Fleur—who had spent the last two days with Patience before the widowed veela returned to France with her husband’s body—Victoire, and Dominique; Percy, Audrey, and little Molly; Andromeda; and Lee Jordan with his wife Danielle, one of the original employees of Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes.

George gazed at the headstone with the dates of Fred’s birth and death, and the simple epitaph, He Is Ours.

“It doesn’t matter how long it’s been,” he began. “It’s still almost impossible for me to stand here and not scream and want to go out and kill someone. But you, my brother, are what keeps me from doing that. You and my beloved Angelina and my family are what keep me from going insane. You do it by making me laugh. Not a day goes by, not an hour, when I don’t laugh because of you, because you say something funny to me about whatever is going on. If it wasn’t for that, I don’t think I would still be alive. And that’s despite the fact that some of your jokes are terrible.”

Molly was now sobbing openly, and Arthur put his arm around her. All the women and some of the men wiped tears from their faces. Ginny stood on her tiptoes and kissed George’s cheek. She took the bouquet of flowers she had brought and placed it on the grave, then knelt down on the grass, put her hand to her lips, and pressed it against Fred’s name on the headstone.

“I love you, my darling,” she said through her tears. “I always will and I’ll never forget you and I’ll always come here to visit you.” She paused. “And I think your jokes are all brilliant.”

A chuckle passed around the graveside; even Molly hiccupped and smiled. Ginny stood, and each person placed a single red rose on the grave. Little Molly, the youngest grandchild, was last. She glanced at Ginny who was now holding hands with Harry, smiled shyly, and kissed the grave with her hand. Everyone smiled, and Molly ran and buried her face in her mother’s robes.

They stood about the grave, talking quietly while the children ran around. Molly and Aunt Muriel sat on a bench that George and Charlie had put in after Fred’s funeral five years ago. Harry had brought Kreacher and Winky along to prepare the midday meal, and when it was ready they all returned to the house.

“So, Harry,” Charlie said after everyone had been served and was tucking in, “most of us don’t know how you solved the big Pensieve mystery. Tell us.”

Harry swallowed a mouthful of Shepherd’s pie and put down his fork. “I didn’t solve much of anything. Chadwick Chamberlain left it all in the Pensieve, which is back at Hogwarts, by the way, escorted back there without incident by the future Chief Deputy to the Head Auror.” He nodded at Ron.

Ron stood and gave a grandiose bow, but Aunt Muriel, sitting two places away from him, reached across Charlie and rapped his knuckles with a spoon.

“You are too full of yourself, young man,” she said. “Sit down before you knock over the table.”

Ron smiled at her. “Thanks, Auntie. We’ll name our first daughter after you.”

She glared at him. “It will do you no good. You are not inheriting a Knut from me.”

Charlie patted her hand. “Go on, Harry. So you got the Pensieve safely back, and . . .?”

“Well, the whole thing was cooked up by Chamberlain several years ago. He was teaching at Beauxbatons and became obsessed with getting the Pensieve back—”

“What do you mean, back?” George interrupted. “It belongs to Hogwarts, it always has.”

“Turns out, no. No one knows where it originally came from, but it actually bounced back and forth between the two schools more than once. It was in France until about three hundred years ago, but no one knows how it got there or how it ended up in Hogwarts. Anyway, he decided it belonged to Beauxbatons and—”

“You know, ‘Arry,” Fleur said, waving her fork in the air, “people who are converts to a cause, like Uncle Chadwick was for Beauxbatons, are often more fanatical zan someone who is born to it. Maybe zat is why ‘e wanted ze Pensieve back so badly.”

“That makes sense,” Harry nodded, and thought for a moment while everyone watched him. “He was not a bad man, and I do think that if he could have got his hands on the Pensieve without hurting Percy, he would have.” He paused again, and spoke quietly. “It was awful, looking over that cliff and seeing him there.”

He took a breath and let it out. “Anyway, Chamberlain convinced his wife to help him. She didn’t want to, and it took a lot of convincing before she went along with it. She also tried to keep him from Imperiusing Percy, which is why they let her go back to France.”

“Zat was very good of Kingsley,” Fleur said with a sad smile. “She will never marry again, you know. Veelas are true to zere lovers forever.”

“Oh, that’s beautiful!” Molly exclaimed, and started to cry again; Arthur wiped her tears with his napkin. She took his hand, kissed it, and looked lovingly into his eyes.

“Well,” Harry said after a moment, “then Chamberlain tried to think of how he could get close to Hogwarts without making people suspicious or attracting too much attention. He quit his teaching job and started a new career as a joke dealer. It gave him a perfect cover to go anywhere. He also knew Professor Flitwick, which got him into the castle.”

“What were those wooden disks that you and Ginny found?” asked Percy. “Did he create them?”

“Yes, the blank one and the one we found in the bedroom in my house, and he got a lucky break there. As Dumbledore told us, McGonagall created one because she had begun to use the Pensieve heavily. The runes give extra protection and power to the Pensieve, so—”

“They actually should be written on the basin itself,” Hermione put in. “I discovered in my research over the past few days—”

“You bloody well didn’t sleep!” Ron exclaimed.

Hermione shrugged. “Well, it needed to be done. But as I was saying, it’s probable that there were runes on it at some time in the past, and I would say that they were probably put on in France and removed here in Britain.”

“Well, as I was saying,” Harry continued after a short silence, “Professor McGonagall created the Pensieve Coin, as it’s called—” he nodded at Hermione “—but it’s ironic, because that’s what allowed Chamberlain to manipulate the Pensieve. You can control the way it works by changing the runes, or by using a different Coin with different runes. What he did was pretty interesting, really. It allowed the Pensieve to affect whoever used it. Of course that got everyone to thinking that something was wrong with it. But it seems like it only affected two people, McGonagall and Professor Firenze.”

“It would have eventually affected everyone in the castle,” Hermione said. “Firenze’s mind was just more sensitive, being a Seer. So it was very good that you took all the precautions that you did, Harry.”

“Take a bow,” Ron said to Harry out of the corner of his mouth. Aunt Muriel muttered under her breath and Charlie patted her hand again.

“And what about Fletcher?” George asked.

“That’s getting ahead of the story. First, Chamberlain had to get the Pensieve out of the castle, and that’s where Madam Julia Sprout came in. Chamberlain had come to know Amander Croaker and found out from him that Sprout was beginning to suffer from dementia. And she knew it was happening, that she was gradually going to lose her mind.”

“Right!” said Ron. “She went off about you and your mum’s blood protection and wouldn’t stop.”

Harry nodded. “That was probably a symptom. So Chamberlain went to her and convinced her that she could use the Pensieve to cure herself, to keep her mind intact.”

“She could extract her own memories magically,” Hermione interrupted once more, earning a scowl from Harry that she ignored, “put them in the Pensieve, and view them again at any time. That way she could remember things that would otherwise be completely gone.”

“May I continue?” Harry asked.

Hermione blushed. “Oh, sorry. I won’t say anything else.”

“Much obliged. So where was I? Oh, yeah. So Sprout got the idea to use the house at Godric’s Hollow—”

“Harry, dear,” Molly cut in, “is it true that you and Ginny will rebuild the house and move there? Does that mean that you’ve decided to have a baby?”

Harry stared at her, George snickered, Fleur clapped her hands, Aunt Muriel sat up straight, Arthur looked startled, Charlie turned to his sister with a grin, and Ginny groaned.

“Mum, can you please let Harry finish? We have to leave for Hogwarts soon.”

“Oh, oh, of course,” Molly said, flustered. “Please continue, Harry.”

He took a breath, and looked around the table. “Maybe I should make a long story short.”

“No, no!” George cried. “It’s a brilliant story, if everyone would just shut up.” He glared at Hermione. “Continue, Harry, and take your time.”

Harry grinned at him. “Chamberlain had already got the idea to use more than one hiding place for the Pensieve until they could smuggle it to France—the houses in Dunster and Withypool—so he was okay with having another hiding location at Godric’s Hollow. Sprout had been studying the blood protection that still existed there, and she had finally figured out a way to break it, at least as far as the bedroom was concerned. But she figured that it was completely safe because the spell to break it was so complicated.

“So now they could make the Pensieve do strange things, which caused Professor McGonagall to ask the Department of Mysteries to look into it, and Sprout had the perfect cover to go up to Hogwarts and get us to take it back to the Ministry.

“And then, just about a week and a half ago, Philbert Deverill got wind of the plot. He liked to bet on Muggle horse races, and he had just won a lot of money. His bookie was Mundungus Fletcher, who had already been approached by Chamberlain, with a little help from his wife. Dung is susceptible to the ladies, as we know.” He grinned at Ginny.

“He was always a sweetie to me,” she said. “I don’t think he realized that he would be running into Harry, and certainly not me.”

“Right,” Harry nodded. “Well, they met in an out-of-the-way pub someplace near Cambridge and Deverill started talking about the World Cup with Dung, and how he wished he could get other peoples’ memories of matches, and after a few bitters Dung actually asked him if he could use a Pensieve, for a price of course.” Harry shook his head in wonderment, almost admiration. “The man is remarkable. Sometimes his ideas are brilliant. Criminal, but brilliant.”

He glanced at his watch and at the rapt faces looking at him. “When do we have to leave for the memorial?”

“Not for another half hour,” said Charlie. “I want to hear the end of this.” There were nods around the table.

“Okay,” Harry said, and took a swig of butterbeer. “So Deverill was now in the plot, and he went to see the house in Dunster, which the Chamberlains had already got hold of. It used to be a boarding house for magical people who went to Exmoor for sightseeing. But Deverill was new at crime, and he became nervous that someone would get suspicious if he kept going there to check the Pensieve, so he cooked up the cover story of keeping the National team there. But when Ginny walked into the team meeting on Tuesday, he panicked a little. He was afraid that she might sniff out that something fishy was going on. So he jumped on the chance to boot her off the team. Later that day he met the Chamberlains at Exmoor Stadium, and just to be safe they set up one of the skyboxes as a backup hiding place. And that’s it.”

“Wait a minute,” said Bill. “Did all of this have anything to do with Ginny’s not being First Chaser? All the sportswriters were surprised that she was picked for Second when she had just won the scoring title.”

“Definitely,” Harry said. “Some of the other team officials told us that he wasn’t going to pick her at all, but too many people told him he was nutters, so he relented but wouldn’t make her First.”

“What exactly happened on the trip from Hogwarts to London,” Percy asked. “Who Imperiused me?”

“That was Chamberlain. He did it while we were all distracted by Mundungus outside Honeydukes. Then he walked from Dervish and Banges, where he had met his wife, to the Perth road. I remember wondering why he walked and didn’t Disapparate. He didn’t want to take a chance and run into us if we had stopped along the road someplace. He had a car waiting. It was parked on the side of the road, and no one noticed it. When he saw the coast was clear, he Apparated back to Hogsmeade and fetched his wife. They followed us, and he kept you under control while she drove. He figured that we would have to stop when we got lost. He Confunded the two Muggle drivers and when we all went to look at the accident, he made you grab the Pensieve and Disapparate. They kept you in the house in Dunster, in the same room Madam Sprout was in when we found her. They must have always planned to release you right away because it would have been too risky keeping you there after the team moved in. They Apparated with you to their house in Withypool and sent you through the Floo network from there. They had already cleaned that house out, so there was no way we could trace them back to Dunster.”

Percy looked glum. “And he killed himself because he didn’t want to go to Azkaban?”

Harry glanced at Fleur. “Not exactly. I’m sure he didn’t want to go to Azkaban, but he also didn’t want his wife to suffer along with him. She’s a veela, and she would have felt everything that he felt.”

“E’ did a noble t’ing,” Fleur said solemnly, “but bot’ of zem should ‘ave known better. For a veela to do such a terrible t’ing, I do not really understand it.”

“She loved him,” said Bill, putting his arm around her shoulders.

“I suppose.” She sighed, and shrugged.

“Any more questions?” Harry looked around the table.

“What will happen to Mundungus and the Unspeakables?” asked Charlie.

“I don’t know. Dung has lost any chance of ever working for us again. He won’t lose his pension because he never had one; Kingsley always refused to put him on the official payroll, and now we know why. It will be hard to put him in prison since so many blokes are in there because of his helping us catch them. They would kill him, and no one wants that.” He shrugged. “He might actually go free.”

“And the Unspeakables?” Charlie prompted.

“Amander Croaker never actually did anything wrong, but . . . how shall I put this? He was embarrassed, and what was worse, he embarrassed the Department of Mysteries. I don’t think we’ll see much of him for a long time. As for Sprout . . . I don’t know. Is it right to punish someone who’s losing her mind because she tried to stop it?”

“Of course it’s right!” Audrey said angrily. “They Cursed Percy! My daughter was frightened out of her wits. How can they not punish her?”

There were murmurs of agreement around the table, and Harry nodded reluctantly. “She’s finished as an Unspeakable, at any rate. Kingsley will have to decide what to do with her.”

“Remarkable,” Arthur said into the silence that followed. “Harry, you should be proud. You did a bang-up job even after they treated you so unfairly.”

“You mean Kingsley treated him unfairly.” Ginny’s eyes flashed and she scowled at her father. “He should have known better.”

Arthur heaved a sigh. “Yes, he should have. But I won’t condemn the man for one mistake. This was the first major crime we’ve had since . . . well, since you and Harry caught Dolores Umbridge. And it all ended well, wouldn’t you say?”

Ginny smiled and leaned her head on Harry’s shoulder. He put his arm around her, sending happy thoughts of a Quidditch World Cup, a baby, and a new home for them to live in.

#  # #  #

On a hot summer’s day at the beginning of August, a Saturday when Ginny didn’t have team practice, the Potters took another picnic luncheon to Hogwarts. It was the middle of the summer holiday, and the grounds were empty. They walked down the path to Hagrid’s cabin and turned off towards the magical fountain. They sat with their backs against the rowan tree, holding hands, listening to the doves cooing in the branches above and to the pleasant tinkling of water cascading into the basin. Ginny lifted her head to the warm sun and closed her eyes. She sighed and put Harry’s hand in her lap.

They sat for a long time without speaking, hearing the sounds around them and the voices and emotions that they unconsciously shared. They felt contentment, and the inner voices were muted and undemanding: an itch; a memory of a joke; a chuckle; the tickling of hair being blown in the soft breeze; the feel of each other’s warm palm.

They became aware of another voice, somehow not distant but faint, barely a whisper.

Ginny opened her eyes and they looked at each other. Someone is nearby.

Harry glanced around, but there was no one. The lawn was empty and the trees at the edge of the Forest were still. The breeze had died and not even a leaf was rustling.

Ginny moved their clasped hands and Harry turned back to her. She placed Harry’s hand on her belly and pressed hers on top of it. Her eyes grew wide. The whisper was now louder, but it wasn’t a whisper . . .

“It’s a baby.” Tears came to Ginny’s eyes. She loosened her belt and pulled her blouse out.

Harry’s face split into a huge grin. He got up on his knees and put his hand inside her jeans and pressed it against the flesh of her abdomen. He closed his eyes and listened. “Is it a heartbeat?”

“No, it’s too soon. It’s a life.” Tears fell down Ginny’s cheeks. “Our child.”

Harry bent down and kissed her. She put her hands on the back of his head, and as their kiss went deeper and deeper they fell into each other and into the new life that was inside them both.

 

The End