- Ginny Weasley/Harry Potter
- Harry Potter
- The Harry Potter at Hogwarts Years
- Philosopher's Stone Chamber of Secrets Prizoner of Azkaban Goblet of Fire Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Published: 04/17/2002Updated: 01/04/2004Words: 584,432Chapters: 31Hits: 808,247
Harry Potter and the Triangle Prophecy
- Story Summary:
- Harry's 7th and final year of school. In a time of uncertainty, the Muggle world has found a source of comfort and stability. Only Harry suspects that it isn't safe. Wizards are more concerned about themselves than Muggles since Voldemort's return, but are only Muggles at risk? Will anyone listen to Harry? He must decide whether to make a sacrifice that will change him--and the wizarding world-- forever.
- Read Story On:
Chapter 05 - Fortress
- Chapter Summary:
- Harry's seventh and final year of school. In a time of uncertainty, the Muggle world has found a source of comfort and stability. Only Harry suspects that it isn't safe. Wizards are more concerned about themselves than Muggles since Voldemort's return, but are only Muggles at risk? Will anyone listen to Harry? He must decide whether Draco Malfoy is ultimately friend or foe and discover the identity of the Daughter of War and get her help in defeating Voldemort; and finally, Harry must decide whether to make a sacrifice that will change him--and the wizarding world-- forever.
- Author's Note:
- The quote is from page 9 of
Castles, broadly defined, can probably be traced back to
prehistory. The word castle is derived from the Latin
castrum, a fortified military camp usually surrounded by a
palisade and a ditch. However, a castle is most often associated
with the western Middle Ages and is more strictly defined as a large
fortified stronghold inhabited by a lord. A castle, if very elaborate,
can be what is ordinarily called a palace; at the other end of the
scale, a castle can be simply a fortified manor house. The castle is
essentially a combination of military and domestic architecture--
a place where the owner can find security from his enemies.
--Robin S. Oggins, Castles and Fortresses
"I remember everything."
Ginny went on her knees next to Harry and put her arms around her sister. Maggie continued to shiver and perspire. Finally, Ron went down next to her, too, and placed his hand on her head, closing his eyes.
"Ssshhh--" he told her softly. Slowly, a calm seemed to flow into her from Ron, and he spoke quietly to her now, although Harry couldn't hear what he was saying. Ron's voice was a soothing murmur in her ear. Her eyes were closed and she was clearly paying close attention to him, to her youngest brother. Soon she stopped shaking, and her brother and sister helped her to move to a large comfortable armchair, where they perched on the arms. Katie summoned a glass of cold water with a wave of her hand and brought it to Maggie.
Ginny took it from Katie with a hostile look, then handed it to her sister, who drank it thirstily. Harry looked down and saw that he was still holding Ron's wand, and he handed it back to him, getting a nod in return. Harry felt terrible; Ron had every right to be upset with him, yet he was calmly stroking his sister's hair, still speaking in low, gentle tones, like a mother soothing a colicky baby.
Finally, Maggie looked Harry in the eye. "Thank you," she said shakily. "You--you made me remember--"
Harry swallowed. "That's--that's what I hoped. But I didn't expect you to--to have that reaction. Stupid really--"
"Stupid!" Katie exploded at him unexpectedly. "That's the least of it. How in the hell do you even know about the existence of that spell, Harry? That's Dark Magic! I know about it because of some independent research I've done, but that's not even covered in seventh-year Defense Against the Dark Arts!" She looked slightly frightened of him for a moment.
Harry swallowed. "I know about it because--because someone put that spell on me. Last year, when I was about to go through the barrier to platform nine and three-quarters--"
Ron opened his eyes wide now. "So that's why you were being so queer when you got on the train!"
"Well--that's just a part of it. It's neither here nor there now. I'm just saying--I know it's Dark Magic, but I took the spell off quickly. It was just a theory that that was how the kidnapper operated, anyway--"
"No!" Maggie exclaimed suddenly. "No," she said again, more calmly. "I'm--I'm glad you did it. That's exactly what happened. As I said; we were moving through a dream world where no one moved, where there wasn't a breath of wind even...."
Harry was alarmed. "How long did he have you under the spell?"
She shook her head. "I don't know. Why?"
He swallowed; she was frightened enough. Better not to tell her the downside of the spell just now. "Just--go on."
"He made us walk. Me and my sister," she said quietly. "My sister--" She looked like she was struggling.
"Annie," Ginny said gently.
"Annie! Yes. Her name was Annie, and she was nine, and her favorite sweet was Drooble's Best Blowing Gum! I remember!" She smiled round at them, and Ginny looked down at her sister so sweetly that Harry forgave her for every hostile glare she'd sent in Katie's direction.
"And--and our brothers Bill and Charlie took us to the village park to play. The village of--of--of Ottery St. Catchpole! Mum was--she was taking care of our little brothers..."
"Percy and the twins, Fred and George," Ron said.
"Right! Right...." she trailed off, looking like she was concentrating again. "We walked for ever so long, and when we were tired and hungry and thirsty, he went into stores and took fruit and gave it to us to eat. Things like oranges and grapes, so they were juicy." Her eyes opened wide. "We walked--to Exeter. He took us to a hospital...and then he led us to a room with two beds in it and--and--"
"What?" Harry breathed.
"Then everything was new after that. My old life just slipped away. Until today, I felt like the first thing in my life I remembered ever was waking up in a hospital bed with a curtain pulled round it, and a matron came to take my temperature and give me food. She told me I was a lucky girl; that everyone else in my family had been killed in the car crash. She said that they knew my name was Margaret, but I didn't appear to have any family that weren't killed in the crash, and when I recovered I would go to live in an orphanage or into a foster home, unless someone wanted to adopt me.
"I went to sleep every night crying. Day in and day out I never remembered more of my earlier life. The doctors didn't know what to make of it. They claimed it was a psychological problem, that there was nothing physically wrong with me.
"After I'd been in hospital for a fortnight, an older couple came to see me. She had red hair, a little darker than mine, and he had light brown hair and a nice smile. When she saw me, she said right away, 'She looks so much like Valerie!' and he told me that was their daughter, who had died. I asked them about their daughter, and they seemed very glad to be able to talk about her. We talked for some time. Finally, I asked them why they'd come, and they said they'd heard that there was a little girl who'd lost her family and needed a new one. I asked them whether I could be their daughter; they were frightfully nice, and I was so very scared. I was only seven. Having a mum to tuck me in at night again was all I wanted. If I'd remembered my family, I might have wanted them, specifically, but I just had this enormous void where memories of my family should be. Nothing. Nothing at all.
"The doctors had already given up on me. No one could make me remember where I'd lived or gone to school or any of it. A week later, I went home with the nice couple who'd come to see me. Some time after that I officially became Maggie Dougherty, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Sean Dougherty of Appleby Magna."
Harry swallowed again. "And--and when did you discover that you're a witch?"
She looked thoughtful. "I started doing odd things not long after I came home with my new mum and dad, actually. Well, actually it started in hospital, with seeing people's auras. The doctors were sure I was brain-damaged..."
"Oh, wait!" Harry exclaimed. "Back up--who kidnapped you? What did he look like?"
She furrowed her brow. "He had a very confusing aura. Dull, muddy green. He had conflicting emotions. I didn't know then that's what his aura meant. I didn't know anything about that. He wasn't very big. Or very tall, I should say. He had a slightly round belly. He wore a long cloak. He didn't seem very old though. Grown-up, but not thirty or forty or anything like that...."
"Maybe--nineteen or twenty?" Harry was anxious; he felt a suspicion starting to form in his mind.
She looked thoughtful. "Hard to say. I was only seven; I wasn't a very good judge of that sort of thing. Anyone who looked old enough to be at Hogwarts seemed grown-up to me--Oh! Wait! I remember Hogwarts! I mean--I remember that Bill and Charlie went there, and I was so looking forward to it...And I--I remember going to school! On a green bus that appeared and disappeared...."
Harry smiled. "Right! You went to the village school in Hogsmeade--"
"--where I learned Latin and maths and--maybe that's why Latin seemed to come so naturally to me when I came to live here--"
Harry shrugged. "It must have leaked through the Memory Charm, or something like that. Perhaps 'leaked' isn't quite the right word..."
"No, Harry," Katie said. "I think it is. Think about it--people who are memory charmed don't forget how to speak English, do they? It doesn't affect their language centers. Latin would be in the language centers as well, and she still remembered what she'd learnt because of that."
"Mum and Dad reckoned I must have been the daughter of a pair of Classics Masters to know so much Latin at the age of seven. They always told me that. I think that's why--that's why I grew up to do the same thing. Because I was trying somehow to be close to my real parents. Of course, my mum and dad--I mean the ones I've known--were also teachers, so they didn't mind my being a teacher a bit."
Ginny and Ron began to explain about their home now, about the Burrow's odd clocks and about calling people using the fireplace and traveling by Floo and tossing garden gnomes over the hedge into the field; and playing Quidditch in the paddock--
"Someone said that word before: Quidditch. I said I remembered everything, but I meant about the kidnapping. Some details of my early life are still rather fuzzy. What on earth is Quidditch?"
Which gave Ron the perfect excuse to launch into a detailed description of the game, and his favorite strategies as a Chaser....
"You mean," Maggie interrupted him, "you people really ride on brooms? You're not joking? I mean--if I brought the broom in here from the kitchen, you'd be able to fly around the room on it?"
"Oh, hell no," Draco Malfoy broke in--brooms being one of his favorite topics. "A proper broom for flying has to have spells put on it first. The basic flying spell; a braking spell, of course, so you can stop; spells for changing direction, hovering, accelerating, decelerating--none of which will respond to a Muggle. And then there's the problem of cushioning."
"Well, yes, I should think that brooms would be rather, um, uncomfortable for anyone male--"
"That's what the cushioning charm is for. And then there's the shape of the handle. The old things they had us learning on in first year were just straight-handled brooms--if you can call those straight, with all those knots--but a proper racing broom these days will have a slight jog in the handle so that you don't kill your back bending over to hold on."
She shook her head, looking baffled. "I had no idea!" She drank some more of her water, looking a bit overwhelmed.
They talked all morning, then went into the large sunny kitchen to make sandwiches, which they ate out on the terrace after passing through the conservatory.
After chewing a bite of sandwich thoughtfully, Maggie looked up. "I remember something else. I--I was actually at Hogwarts. We went for a visit, for a--a Quidditch match. My brother--our brother--Charlie was playing."
"He was the greatest Seeker Hogwarts had seen in years, until Harry showed up!" Ron bragged, making Harry turn red. Draco Malfoy grumbled a bit. "Come on, Malfoy. Harry was the youngest player in a century, and you wouldn't have even shared the Quidditch cup with Gryffindor last year if Harry hadn't made it a draw on purpose." The blond boy still looked slightly disgruntled.
Later, they were having tea in the living room when Maggie asked about Ron again. "I've never seen anyone with an aura like yours. It looks--it looks more like the emanations I see from animals, rather than from humans. Except that it's edged in black. What aren't you telling me?" She turned to Harry. "And why do you have two auras?"
"Oh," Ginny volunteered. "That must be because Harry's an Animagus." Harry knew this wasn't the case, but he didn't argue. However, he did forget that not everyone in the room already knew about this.
Katie dropped her plate. "What?" She whirled on Harry. "I know we've only been going out a short time, but suddenly I feel like I don't know you at all, Harry. How could you do that? I mean, a spell here and there is one thing; everyone does a little of that before they're of-age. But how could you disregard the law so utterly and become an illegal Animagus?"
"He's not illegal," Ginny informed her archly. "He's trained up properly with McGonagall herself, and he has permission to wait until after his seventh year to register with the Ministry."
"It's true," he told Katie. "I have permission to wait."
Maggie shook her head. "Hold on, everyone. I'm afraid I'm still a bit at sea. What on earth is an Animagus?"
Ron nodded at him casually. "Harry can change from his human form into an animal. Specifically, a golden griffin."
"A golden griffin," Harry said, watching both Maggie's and Katie's amazement. "Well, you know what a griffin is, don't you?"
"A cross between a lion and an eagle."
"Right. And you know a hippogriff is a cross between a horse and a griffin, right?"
"Right. But what--"
"Well, a golden griffin is a cross between a griffin and yet another lion, so it's three-quarters lion. In fact it looks like a plain old lion most of the time, until it spreads its wings--"
"A winged lion!" she cried, her eyes wide. "So, if you're one of these people who can change into animals, you can even change into mythical animals, things that don't exist?"
They all looked calmly at her. "Oh, they exist," Katie said evenly.
Maggie raised one eyebrow. "Yeah, right. There are real griffins and hippogriffs and winged lions--"
"--and don't forget dragons," Draco Malfoy said archly, sitting up straight.
She stopped and stared. "You're serious. You're completely serious."
"There are loads of magical creatures," Ron told her. "Charlie studies dragons in Romania. Bill used to work for the wizarding bank, Gringott's, at the Cairo branch, and his bosses were all Goblins. We use post owls to deliver the mail, and--and Harry has a snake with the Sight."
She turned abruptly back to Harry. "You have a what?"
"Well," he began, "actually, all snakes have the Sight. A given snake can cover more or less time and space depending on size. But most people don't know that because they're not Parselmouths..."
"They're not what?"
He unbuttoned his shirt slightly and removed Sandy. "People who can speak and understand snake-language." He held up Sandy for Maggie to see. "Say hello to a fellow Seer, Sandy," he hissed at her. He smiled, watching Maggie's reaction.
"Hello, fellow Seer," Sandy hissed obligingly.
"She says hello," Harry informed them all.
"And--and we're just supposed to believe that all of that hissing--"
"Trust me," Katie cut in. "She's the genuine article. She told Harry when my dad was going to walk in on us." Then, as soon as she said this, she blushed deeply. Malfoy raised an eyebrow and looked meaningfully at Harry, who frowned at him. He turned to Ron, whose jaw had dropped.
"Well then," Maggie said, sitting back with her arms crossed. Over the hours they'd spent with her she'd become increasingly comfortable with the whole idea of the magical world. "Let's see it, then."
Harry was confused. "What?"
"This Animagus thing. Come on. How am I supposed to believe it if I don't see--"
Harry's paws touched down gently on the Persian carpet. Maggie's voice rose on a scream at the sight of the tawny, green-eyed lion now standing before her. He slowly unfolded his wings, backing up slightly to avoid knocking over some knick-knacks to which the Doughertys had probably become rather attached over the years.
"He's--he's--" she stuttered, when Harry abruptly changed back and calmly sat down. She needed to gulp some more water. "Can all witches and wizards do that?"
"Well, most people can't do the Animagus Transfiguration," Katie explained. "For one thing, that's a wandless spell. But there are temporary Transfiguration spells you can do with a wand, once you're very advanced."
Ron snorted. "Remember how Krum botched that spell during the second task of the tournament?" he said to Harry.
Maggie frowned. "What?"
"There was a wizarding contest called the Triwizard Tournament. I was a champion in the Tournament. One of the other champions half-transfigured himself into a shark to go into the lake at school--" Harry swallowed, seeing Krum in his mind's eye again, Cho kneeling over his body, distraught....
"It's not quite as bad as splinching yourself while Apparating," Katie explained, "but it's really not a good idea to transfigure yourself only half-way into an animal. It can be hard to put right again."
Which meant that then they needed to explain Apparating and splinching, accompanied by demonstrations from Katie and Draco Malfoy, who moved themselves across the room and back several times.
Then Maggie asked again about Ron's aura, still not having received an answer. He hemmed and hawed, but finally he just blurted out:
"I'm a werewolf."
"Full moon, howling, changing into a furry beast werewolf."
She looked round at them all; Harry tried to keep his face as composed as possible. He noticed that the others did, too.
"I suppose it's too much to ask that you're all going to start laughing and pointing at me in a minute, that I could be so gullible as to believe my brother is a werewolf?" she said hopefully. They looked at each other. She swallowed. "Um--does this run in our family too?" she asked nervously.
"Oh, no," Ginny assured her. "It's just Ron. He was bitten recently."
Ron looked down, unwilling to meet his older sister's eyes. She put her hand on his chin and forced him to anyway. "Are you all right?" she asked with genuine concern.
He nodded. "I could have been killed. Loads of us could have been, actually. But Harry changed into his griffin form and chased the other wolf through the forest. We were in the Forbidden Forest, at school."
She furrowed her brow. "I remember now that Bill told me he was in there once...he spoke to--to--" She looked up, her eyes wide. "A centaur?"
"Right," Harry said. "There are a number of centaurs in the forest. They don't tend to mix with humans much. And there are unicorns, too. And possibly still a Lethifold, although hopefully the cold weather this winter will kill it. They're tropical, normally." He looked toward Ginny, and saw that she went deep red at the mention of the Lethifold.
"I don't think I even want to know what a Lethifold is....So--my little brother is a werewolf. It's a good thing there's no full moon tonight, isn't it?"
"Oh, well, I also take Wolfsbane Potion during the week before the full moon. Our Potions Master from school makes it for me and for Professor Lupin. I mean, Remus. He's not actually our professor any more."
"So he's a werewolf also?"
"Well," Ron hesitated. "He's actually the one who bit me."
"It's a long story..." which Ron proceeded to tell in part, leaving out large bits that his newly-found sister would probably have found confusing.
They continued to talk and talk; the sky outside darkened and crickets were heard in the summer garden, through the open windows. Finally, Ginny yawned hugely, followed by Ron and Harry.
"We'd better turn in for the night," Harry said, rising. "We can all come again in the morning...."
"Oh, no!" Ginny cried, throwing her arms around her sister. "I don't want to go yet!"
Maggie hugged her back. "Why don't you stay the night, then? I have a big bed; we two sisters can share and sit up all night chatting," she smiled at Ginny, and Harry remembered how Ginny had wished for just that thing in his other life, where her sister had been married.
"Well," Ron said slowly. "But--is there enough room for us all?"
"Hmm...my parents' room is actually in quite a state of disarray right now. I've been painting it while they're on holiday, as a surprise for when they get home. I was going to work on it some more today, but obviously you all gave me something far more interesting to do." She smiled at them. "The furniture is all moved about, the mattress is leaning against the upstairs hall, and there are drop cloths everywhere. And we don't have a guest room; the spare bedroom is my office. There are two couches down here though."
"Except that there are four of us," Ron pointed out. Then he looked up at Katie. "Couldn't you do something, Katie? The way you did at the pub?"
"Well," Harry said, "I don't have to stay the night. I can go back to the pub. Why don't you and Ginny stay, Ron, and Katie and Draco and I will come back in the morning."
"If Ginny is staying, I'm staying," Draco Malfoy drawled. "Sleeping on one couch is much the same as another."
Ron growled at him, "Ginny's sleeping in the same room with our sister, Malfoy--"
To forestall another fight, Katie said, "Well, that's both couches claimed, then. And Harry will need someone to drive him back to the pub, so I suppose that's what we'll do." She seemed rather anxious, suddenly, to leave.
Maggie wouldn't let Harry go without hugging him soundly and kissing him on the cheek. "Come early--for breakfast. You don't want to eat that pub food, trust me. Worst food in Leicestershire."
He laughed. "All right. We will."
He and Katie drove back to the pub and walked up to their room. When they were alone in the room, Harry suddenly felt a little awkward.
"Er," he said, "why don't you change first?" he asked pointedly, so she'd go into the small shower room to undress. She nodded in a businesslike way and took a small bundle of clothes in with her. Harry quickly stripped down to his drawers and climbed into the bed he'd shared with Ron the previous night, rolling over and feigning sleep.
When Katie emerged from the bathroom, she was wearing a night dress similar to the one from the night before, not very long, with thin straps, but turquoise blue this time. Harry squinted through his eyelashes at her, then quickly squeezed his eyes shut when she began to turn around.
He debated whether to pretend to snore.
"Harry, you faker. I just wanted to say good night." He felt her draw nearer, and when he opened his eyes she was right above him, leaning over, brushing her lips against his briefly before drawing back and going to her own bed. He swallowed, following the way the fabric of the night dress moved over her body.
"G'night," he choked out as she extinguished the light.
There was a familiar warmth pressed against him, from chest to knees. He had his arm around the warmth; his left hand was pressed against soft, slightly slippery material covering firm, warm flesh that was rising and falling in a slow, steady rhythm. Opening his eyes, he saw a tangle of glossy brown hair and a bare shoulder with a thin turquoise strap on it. When did Katie get into bed with me?
He wasn't certain how long he had stared at that shoulder when suddenly he yielded to the impulse to press his lips against the smooth tanned skin there, licking and nipping it. He felt her tense, then she leaned back into his body with a slight shudder, and a soft sigh escaped her. After he had been paying attention to her shoulder for some time, she couldn't take being passive any longer, his lips and tongue on her skin making her breathing ragged. She rolled over in his arms and on top of him, like a horizontal pas de deux, her mouth on his, her body pressing him down urgently, and he wrapped his arms around her, welcoming her, welcoming this unexpected heat and light. They moved as if they'd already discussed this, as though they had an understanding. He didn't remember the details of how their clothes came to be removed, and thought that perhaps she had done it with magic. He rolled her onto her back, admiring her and seeing that she needed to be admired, demonstrating his admiration with hands and mouth, caress and kiss, experimenting with her, finding out what activities made her produce the most interesting noises....
Then they were finally joined and she was holding him to her for dear life, and she spoke at last: "It's been so long...." escaped softly from her lips, unbidden, as he strove to fill the emptiness in them both. It hadn't been as long for him, because of Hermione, but in a way it had been forever, because it seemed forever ago that he was in the Quidditch changing rooms with Ginny....
When they were lying together afterward, sated and sweaty, he felt more peaceful than he had in a long time, running one gentle hand up and down her thigh repeatedly, knowing exactly where they stood, no illusions between them. They seemed to have a mutual understanding about why they'd just done what they'd done and no one was hurt or had the upper hand or was using it for a weapon or instrument of emotional blackmail. Each of them knew the other was thinking, at least a little, about someone else, and that was all right. Once they've moved beyond the first partner, Harry thought, are two people ever really alone in bed? There would always be ghosts, and sometimes, he imagined, poltergeists. Then that made him think of Peeves and he had to laugh. Katie smiled at him; this had quickly become one of his favorite sights.
"What are you laughing about?" she asked him quietly, running a finger down his chest. She was resting on her back and he reclined beside her, his head on his right arm.
"I was thinking of Peeves."
Now she laughed too. "Oh, that's what every woman wants to hear after a man's made love to her!"
He laughed again. "It's just that--I was thinking that most people probably have ghosts alongside them when they're in bed. Most people probably have more than us. Then ghosts made me think of poltergeists...."
She smiled and put a finger on his lips to stop him. "I get it." She rolled onto her side and faced him, nose to nose. "Our pasts make us who we are. We're the sum of our history. And while there are some things everyone might want to change about their pasts--"
"Not me," Harry said quickly, thinking of the nightmarish world he had created by changing the past. He missed his mother and Jamie, and even his brothers, but he knew it was all for the best. There were obstacles and challenges in this life, but at least it had unfolded naturally and without interference from people traveling through time, thinking they knew best--much. (He would never regret using the Time Turner to save Sirius.)
"You wouldn't change anything?"
Then he thought of Cedric, and Dudley. It was harder to say this time, but he still did it. "Not a thing." Having saved his mother, he knew now that a single person's death can change the world. And so could undoing that death. "Not a thing," he said again. "Even when I said stupid things or was embarrassed--it's uncomfortable at the time, but it's all worked out in the end. And you learn. You don't say those stupid things again, or you learn how to handle yourself better in certain kinds of situations. It's all a learning process. We aren't getting marked on how we performed in the past, but right now, and in five minutes, and the five minutes after that. That's what counts. The past is the past and what's done is done."
She grimaced. "Sometimes I forget you're younger than me, Harry. You seem to have learned so much more in your lifetime than most people your age."
Well, he thought ruefully, I lived from fifteen months to the age of sixteen twice, so I'm actually over thirty when you think about it.... But he couldn't say that. Was that why he was feeling so old these days? he wondered. He had the memories of two lifetimes in his head, and partly, in his Pensieve. He had twice as many experiences to learn from as most people his age. That had to be having some effect upon him....
"I lived in a cupboard under a stair for ten years," he said, trying not to seem like he was fishing for sympathy. "I had a lot of time to imagine things, to imagine another life, so I did." It wasn't completely a lie. He had imagined many times what life might have been like if his parents had lived, all those years in his cupboard. But that wasn't what he described to her now. "I imagined a life with my mum and dad, and a sister and younger twin brothers, and we all lived in a big house and went to the seaside in the summer and to parks and circuses...." he said, picturing his family from his other life running down the beach and splashing into the water. He remembered all of them going to a wizarding circus when he was six, getting sick on too many sweets, and his mum tucking him into bed later with a hot towel on his head, singing to him and checking to make sure he hadn't had too terrible a time, and telling her No, it was the best day of my life....
She continued to smile at him. "You're rather amazing, do you know that, Harry Potter?"
He gazed into her eyes for half a minute, seeing himself reflected there, and then he closed the very small distance between their mouths and kissed her softly, slowly falling onto his back again and pulling her with him. He'd forgotten about that amazing sensation of another unclothed body pressed full-length against his...
Then he broke their kiss and looked up at her, tucking her hair behind her ears gently so it didn't fall into her face. "You're pretty amazing yourself, Katie Bell." She didn't answer him with words but kissed him again, then moved her mouth down to his neck, and down his chest...
Afterward, they rolled back into their spooning position again, the position that had started it all, and Harry pulled the sheet up over both of them as Katie pressed her head more firmly into the pillow, making small contented noises as he wrapped his arm around her waist again, this time with his hand pressed against her smooth belly instead of the fabric of her night dress. He closed his eyes as he breathed in the scent of her hair and skin, giving a mental prayer of thanks for whatever twist of fate had given him this temporary respite from chaos and uncertainty.
"There was only one key."
"Well, why didn't they leave it with us?"
"Because they needed it to get back into the room."
"Why didn't one of you or Katie make a copy of it? You're all of age. It's not like Harry or I could do it."
"Oh, right, it's all very well to point fingers now, but I didn't hear you making that suggestion yesterday before they came back here."
"Lay off her, Weasley. You didn't think of it either. None of us did. Including Potter, your hero."
"If I recall, Malfoy, he saved your sorry arse in the forest when you were stupid enough to go by yourself. Or have you forgotten that you owe your life to him?"
"Stop it, the pair of you! Of course Draco is grateful to Harry for saving his life." Stark silence. "Leave him alone!" she added with an awkward shake in her voice.
Ron sighed noisily. "Come on. Maggie's waiting in the car. We said we'd get some clean clothes and wake up Harry and Katie and be out quickly. She'll think we've been swallowed up by a great hole."
"Black hole," Ginny corrected him. "You never did do very well in Astronomy, did you?"
"All right, bloody black hole. Are you happy?"
Katie turned over and grinned up at Harry, who had been sitting up in bed, listening to the conversation taking place in the corridor outside their room. "They woke us up all right," she whispered to him. "We'd better get moving before one of them decides to--"
The door swung open just as Katie very wisely pulled the sheet further up, so she was fully covered. Draco Malfoy stood in the doorway with his wand out; he quickly sheathed it under his shirt sleeve (Harry realized suddenly that the holster would be right over his Dark Mark) and he strode into the room and over to his bag, which was still sitting on the couch.
He didn't look at them as he pawed through his clothes, selecting something to wear. "Morning, Potter. Morning, Bell. Had a good shag?" he said casually while he closed his bag again.
Ginny and Ron still stood in the doorway. Ron's mouth was hanging open stupidly and Ginny....
Harry wanted to crawl under a rock, or into Ron's "great hole." He wanted to be anywhere other than where he was, with Ginny looking at him as though he'd killed her. She thinks I'm no better than Draco Malfoy, I'll bet. And suddenly, he didn't feel particularly morally superior to her morally-bankrupt boyfriend. He felt dreadful. He remembered the letter Ginny had written after the first Daisy Furuncle story had appeared. She thought he and Katie were just friends....
Friends who'd just spent the hour before dawn shagging.
"Could the three of you get what you've come for and go? I'd like to go take a shower," Katie said, with, Harry thought, a hint of laughter in her voice. She thinks this is funny, he realized.
Malfoy stood at the foot of their bed holding his clean clothes and smirking. "Don't let me stop you." Harry assumed he was waiting to get another eyeful, as when Hermione had inadvertently sat up without the sheet covering her in the Leaky Cauldron.
Ginny's face was closed up. She wouldn't look at Harry and Katie. In stark contrast to the nasty looks she'd been giving to Katie the day before, now she went to her own bag and removed some clothes with a blank, almost vacant expression on her face, as though her emotions had shut down entirely and she had no ability to move her face to show her feelings. She seemed to be trying very hard not to have feelings.
Ginny rushed out into the corridor as soon as she had what she wanted. Harry thought Draco and Ron seemed to be dawdling a little. "Clear off!" he said testily. "We'll get dressed and meet you over at Maggie's house."
Draco finally left after looking suggestively at Katie's sheet-shrouded form. Ron lingered in the doorway. "Making a habit of this, aren't you?" he said with a raised eyebrow before closing the door. Harry threw himself back on the bed and put the pillow over his head, groaning.
"What did he mean by that?" Katie wanted to know, prying the pillow off his face.
Harry looked up at the cracked plaster on the ceiling and explained to her what had happened near the end of his fifth year when Ginny, Draco and Ron had entered his room at the Leaky Cauldron and found him and Hermione in bed together.
Katie threw herself back onto the bed next to Harry, laughing hysterically. "You're kidding! The same three people found you in a room in a pub with a naked girl before?"
Harry closed his eyes and shook his head. "I'm not kidding."
Still laughing, Katie rolled over and pressed her chest against his, her face very close to his. "You think they're still right outside the door? Want to give them something to listen to?" She smiled impishly.
He sat up reluctantly, trying not to look at her body and failing. "No! I do not want to give them something to listen to--"
She laughed again and threw back the sheet, finally getting out of bed. "Aw, you're no fun." He gave up on not looking at her compact little body.
"I thought you thought I was quite a lot of fun only a little while ago..."
She gave him a wicked grin and disappeared into the bathroom. He looked up at the ceiling again, remembering Ginny's closed-up face, trying to force himself not to care about this. But at the same time--
He knew that wasn't going to happen.
They drove over to Highgrove Street after showering and dressing. When they arrived, they heard voices in the garden, so they walked on the path leading round the house and found Ron and his sisters and Draco Malfoy on the terrace, eating breakfast. Maggie sprang to her feet when she saw them.
"Oh, there you are! Sorry we didn't wait, but there's still plenty. Eggs, anyone? Fried tomatoes? And these are some lovely sausages I picked up a couple of days ago..."
They sat at the round table with the others, not meeting anyone's gaze. Maggie seemed quite chipper, he thought. Perhaps they hadn't told her. But then she looked slyly at the two of them, her blue eyes twinkling.
"I understand the two of you have worked up quite an appetite..."
Harry felt his face grow warm. Next to him, Katie was trying not to laugh; under the table, she banged his knee with hers on purpose, he was sure. She was much bolder than Hermione, he realized (which explained how it was they'd already slept together). Of course she was older, and she'd been in a serious relationship before. He remembered her laughing when he told her about the Leaky Cauldron debacle. He felt a smile pull at the corner of his mouth now; in retrospect, it had been funny. Oh, Hermione had been mortified. And Malfoy had given her plenty of grief about it for some time. (As if he hadn't already been overusing the rack-of-lamb jokes.) But with time and distance....
"Butter wouldn't melt in your mouth, Potter," Draco drawled as he helped himself to more orange juice. He looked at Katie with one eyebrow raised. He saw that Katie looked boldly back with a bit of a scowl. She was not going to be stared down by Draco Malfoy. Harry realized that the Slytherin had no idea that he was trying to get the better of an Auror-in-training. Keep it up, Malfoy, he thought. See what kind of hex that gets you.
"What are we going to do today?" Maggie asked with anticipation after they'd cleared up the breakfast things. Katie, Draco and Ron had entertained her in the kitchen by making the breakfast dishes fly around and wash themselves up. Draco had less practice at this than the others and had to repair several glasses, but Maggie was just as impressed by this.
"Could I do that?" she asked in awe, watching the pieces of the glass fly back together.
"Well--" Harry said reluctantly, thinking of his aunt. "You haven't been properly trained. And there are laws about not letting Muggles see you do things...."
She nodded. "That makes sense. After about the age of ten I learned to control myself a bit better. I really didn't like the funny looks and complicated questions after some of the things I did when I was first adopted. I didn't want any more of that than absolutely necessary."
"But you could be trained up," Ginny told her, putting some food in the fridge. "And we have to get Mum and Dad here to see you! Ron's waiting for his owl, Pigwidgeon to come back. He wrote to them. Hopefully--"
As if on cue, the small excited owl began banging himself against the window over the sink. "Pig!" Ron cried, running through the conservatory and onto the terrace, returning with the small bird, wings fluttering as madly as if it was a grey, fuzzy Snitch.
"Oh!" Maggie exclaimed. "Isn't it the most darling thing?" Ron showed Pigwidgeon to her as Ginny extricated the letter from his tiny foot. She unrolled the parchment and read it, grinning, then looked up at her sister.
"They should be here at about eleven!"
"Eleven? How will they get here so fast?"
Ginny shrugged. "They can Apparate. It's almost instantaneous. You saw Draco and Katie do it."
"Yes, but--that was just across the room and back. They can Apparate to Appleby Magna from--from--"
"The Burrow. It's outside Ottery St. Catchpole."
Maggie sat at her kitchen table, shaking her head. "It's all just--"
Suddenly, with two abrupt pops! Arthur and Molly Weasley appeared in the conservatory, each with their feet stuck in a potted palm. Ginny stared through the French doors leading into the conservatory from the kitchen.
"Mum! Dad! You're early! And you're, um--is that the same as being splinched?"
Molly Weasley looked distinctly uncomfortable. "Not precisely dear, but it is somewhat scratchy. Just a moment--"
She suddenly disappeared and then reappeared on the tiled floor next to the palm. She had what appeared to be a great deal of dirt in her shoes, which she removed, dumping the dirt into the pot. While she did this, her husband also Disapparated from the pot in which he'd originally landed, reappearing on the floor. He smiled round at them all.
"Well! Here we are! Now--Ron. Why did you want us to come to--?"
He stopped abruptly when he saw Maggie, who slowly stood, staring at her father with tears in her eyes for the first time in seventeen years.
"Daddy?" she said in a very small voice, suddenly sounding rather like a seven-year-old. They both moved to close the distance between them and Harry's nose started to itch and his eyes to sting as they held each other and rocked back and forth. Molly Weasley was standing where she had landed, staring with disbelief at her husband and long-lost daughter.
"Is it--?" she whispered, looking almost frightened.
Her father looked at her. "Annie?" he whispered with tears in his voice. "Or is it Peggy?"
Maggie turned from her father, who was crying opening for the first time since Harry had known him. "Mummy," she murmured, leaning down to hug her diminutive mother tenderly. She straightened up again and looked down at her lovingly. "Actually, it's Maggie. I've gone by Maggie for quite a long time now."
Her mother nodded, tearing up and taking out a handkerchief to manage. "That's one thing I considered," she choked out. "You--you were named after my sister, Meg. I suppose I thought it was a little close to that. When she was small we called her Meggie..."
Maggie smiled through her tears. "My friends call me Mags sometimes, if that helps. But my parents never liked it." She put her hand over her mouth in horror. "I mean--"
Molly Weasley put her hand over her daughter's. "Don't worry about that dear. I'm very grateful to them for bringing you up so well." She beamed up at her daughter, tears still in her eyes, and Ginny and Ron came to stand on either side of her, looking at their parents.
"Surprise!" Ron said, grinning.
"Oh, you--" his mother began. "You couldn't have said--"
"You didn't even know that I knew," Ron said, not sounding the least bit put-out now that his parents hadn't been the ones to tell him about his sisters. "If I'd said anything, you'd have wondered how I knew--"
"Yes, yes. Well!" his father said. "I'm rather curious to know how you tracked her down."
"The short story is that Harry and Draco and Hermione did it," said Ginny. "We can get to the long story--"
Suddenly, Molly had thrown herself on Harry and then Draco in quick succession, while Arthur was shaking hands and slapping their backs. Draco went quite pink, and Harry also felt his face grow warm again. "Where's Hermione?" Molly asked suddenly, looking around with confusion.
Ron's ears went unexpectedly red. "She couldn't come," he said suddenly. "Other obligations." Harry frowned. Was Hermione being completely truthful to him about why she couldn't come along? Ron seemed to know something he didn't. On the other hand--she and Ron were possibly on their way to being a couple. If they wanted to have some secrets, he shouldn't begrudge them. He and Hermione had certainly had their share of secrets from Ron when they were seeing each other.
They moved into the living room and spent the day going over how they'd found Maggie and how she'd recovered her memories. When Arthur Weasley heard about the Tempus fugit spell, however, his reaction made Katie's seem mild.
"Harry!" he cried angrily--the first time Harry every remembered Ron's and Ginny's father ever directing his ire at him. He was always unfailingly kind toward Harry. "How could you do that? I never thought you, of all people, would do Dark Magic--"
"Will people stop saying that?" Ginny suddenly demanded. Everyone was silent, staring at her. "Harry jolted her memory back. And he had a theory about how she was kidnapped that seems to be spot-on. And if he hadn't come up with her name, we never would have found Maggie to begin with. He said it was Voldemort who put that spell on him back in September. That's how he knew it. He would never use it for doing anything bad. This is Harry." She paused, catching her breath. Harry met her eyes across the room, quite shocked. He had thought that she hated him. She wouldn't look at him back at the pub, after finding him in bed with Katie. She had rejected him, even after he'd saved her from the Lethifold and she'd temporarily given in to temptation and kissed him passionately. She'd also kissed him back when he'd fixed the timelines and was relieved to find her alive. Now he didn't know what to think. Suddenly, it was as though they were the only two people in the room.
"Er--yeah." Draco's feeble agreement with his girlfriend sounded strange and awkward. "I mean--I know Dark Magic. My dad--well, let's just say I've seen things I probably shouldn't have. I won't go into detail. That's at least got to be the best motive for using Dark Magic I've ever seen. Using it to set right something else that was done by Dark Magic, I mean. You're not seriously going to jump on him because he helped your daughter get her memory back, are you?"
Harry had to admit--he was impressed. Not only was Draco Malfoy standing up to his girlfriend's father, whom he was always worried about displeasing, he was defending Harry at the same time. Harry almost felt like pinching himself to see whether he was awake, but suddenly Molly came and sat next to him and put her arm around his shoulder, hugging him to her.
"Leave him alone, Arthur. He had good intentions, didn't you, Harry?"
Harry winced at the phrase, remembering the Tempus bonae voluntatis spell. "Er--yeah. I--I just wanted to--"
"Bill and Charlie!" Molly exclaimed suddenly, springing to her feet.
"What?" Ron asked, perplexed.
"We need to tell them! Oh, they'll be so overcome...."
Maggie frowned. "I wish I hadn't started that painting project. I've no good way to put up more than a few visitors, and at the pub--"
"Oh!" Harry said suddenly, to stop her revealing that the five of them had shared the same room for one night, and just him and Katie the other. "Er, I mean--today's the thirtieth, isn't it? We were supposed to be traveling today, if we're to get up to Ascog by tomorrow!"
"Ascog?" Maggie asked, perplexed. Harry and Ron took turns explaining to her that the next day was Harry's birthday, and his godfather was planning a big party at Ascog Castle for him.
"Oh, drat!" Maggie said disappointedly. "I don't want to say goodbye to my brother and sister yet! But--I don't want to make you miss a party--"
"You can all come!" Harry said suddenly. He hesitated for a moment--Ascog was going to be his home, but it wasn't yet. Did he have a right to invite additional people? "I mean--I'm sure Sirius wouldn't mind. You're Ginny's and Ron's sister," he nodded at Maggie, "and you're their parents," he added, nodded at the Weasleys. "He's not going to turn you away. And then you can use one of the fireplaces at the castle to call Bill and Charlie, and the twins and Percy--"
As they joked and laughed and make plans to go to Ascog Castle, Harry looked at Ginny again and she looked back at him. She was sitting next to Draco, who put a protective arm around her and nodded at Harry. He nodded back. They'd both defended him. What was he to make of that? Ginny's behavior on this trip had been a complete mystery to him so far. He decided that he needed to talk to her when they reached Scotland. If not sooner.
It was decided that Maggie would drive her parents and Ron in her car, while Ginny stayed with Draco and Katie and Harry in the Bells' car. Since Katie and Harry had already worked out the route before leaving Surrey, Maggie would be following behind them.
This time, Draco Malfoy had no argument with sitting in the back seat when he wasn't driving; he wasn't about to have Harry sitting back there with his girlfriend. Harry stared out at the road, trying to ignore the sounds from the back seat. Draco and Ginny were whispering to each other.
"Draco! Watch your hands. We're not really alone here...."
"All right, all right...I suppose we shouldn't be like them..."
Harry wanted to turn around and demand, Now what's that supposed to mean? but then he'd have to admit to eavesdropping, something Draco Malfoy thought he was far too good at already. They had left at about two o'clock, after eating lunch, turning onto Measham Road from Stoney Lane and getting on the M42 just a few minutes later. A mere fifteen minutes later they were on the M6, where the had to remain, unfortunately, for two-hundred miles. More than three hours later, Katie finally pulled over, groaning, before getting on the A74. She'd been driving twice as long as either she or Draco had done on the way to Leicestershire, and when she'd brought the car to a full stop, she started moving her head in circles on her neck and flexing her arms.
Harry reached out and put his hands on her shoulders, clucking at her. "I'm surprised you made it this long," he said, starting to knead her knotted muscles.
"When I've been driving for three hours, will I get a massage from you, too?" Draco drawled from the back seat.
"If you like," Harry told him, batting his eyelashes. Katie started whooping with laughter, Harry joining her, and then he saw that neither Ginny nor Draco was joining in. Harry looked at Ginny again, but she wasn't looking at him; she was once more glaring at Katie.
They switched so that Draco was in the driver's seat and Ginny next to him, with Katie and Harry in the back seat. They pulled onto the road again, Maggie's car following them once more. Harry wondered how she was holding up, since she didn't have someone to share the driving, as neither her parents nor Ron had licenses. He did a double take when he saw Arthur Weasley behind the wheel of his daughter's car. He didn't have a license--did he? Then Harry remembered the Ford Anglia. Well, he'd driven in that to London to take them to the school train....He just hoped no one stopped them and asked to see his license.
It was already five-thirty. Harry was starting to feel hungry for his tea. But Katie was broadly hinting that he could continue to massage her neck and shoulders, so he did that instead, to take his mind off his empty stomach. At one point he met Ginny's eyes in the rear-view mirror. He couldn't tear his eyes away; he continued to knead Katie's shoulders, looking into Ginny's eyes....until suddenly, Katie yelled, "Ow!"
"Oh--I'm sorry. What's the matter?"
"It's just--I think that spot's done already. You're starting to make me more sore than I was before you started."
Suddenly Draco Malfoy guffawed from the driver's seat. "Oh, I'm glad you think my pain is so funny," Katie said archly.
"It's not that. I was just imagining you saying that to Potter when you were in bed--"
"Sod off!" Harry told him automatically; then he was chagrined to see that Katie was laughing, too. She looked at him merrily.
"Sorry," she whispered. Then she leaned very close to his ear and said quietly, "I would never say that to you in bed. And you do have excellent hands, you know...."
Her breath was warm in his ear, and he met Ginny's eyes in the mirror again, making him flush guiltily. Katie relaxed now, reclining in the back seat and putting her head on Harry's thigh. Harry had moved so that he was sitting behind Ginny, instead of Draco, so he could not longer see her eyes in the mirror.
An hour after they'd switched to the A74 they had to change to the M74. Sandy hissed to Harry, and he groaned. Great, he thought. I have to spend even more time in this bleeding car....
"Traffic jam up ahead," he informed the others dully.
"How the hell do you know?" Draco Malfoy demanded.
That was all he had to say. And sure enough, soon after they'd changed to the M74, everything came to a grinding halt. Instead of staying on this road for about half-an-hour, it was more like twice that long. Katie was sleeping peacefully on Harry's leg, and Draco Malfoy was drumming impatiently on the steering wheel of the car.
"Damn! If only I could just jump the car ahead of this mess...."
"Well, you can't. Muggles would see. What's wrong anyway?" Harry asked him. Sandy hadn't been forthcoming about the cause of the traffic problem.
"Dunno. Maybe an accident. I can't see a damn thing. And I haven't a bloody snake with the Sight."
"Show some respect. A snake is the emblem of your house, after all. She doesn't insult you."
"Although I could, quite thoroughly" Sandy responded silkily from under Harry's sleeve. He started laughing at that, and Draco Malfoy turned around to glare at him, clearly fighting the urge to ask what Sandy had said to Harry.
Harry checked out the back window to make sure Maggie and Ron and the Weasleys were still behind them; they seemed to be taking the traffic situation in stride, talking animatedly to each other and gesturing, laughing....
He turned around, sighing. He'd never get to his new home at this rate....
Finally, they were able to switch to the M73, and then, soon after, the M8. They pulled onto the High Street in Skelmorlie just after seven o'clock, to switch drivers again. There was just one more leg of the trip, to Wemyss Bay, where they would get the ferry to the Isle of Bute.
When they reached the quay in Wemyss, it was seven-forty, and the bar was lowered, so that no more cars could drive onto the ferry. Katie pounded the steering wheel angrily. "Damn! That's the last ferry! We'll have to wait until tomorrow morning now!"
Harry couldn't believe it. "No we won't," he said briefly, getting out of the car and striding to Maggie's car behind them. He rapped on Arthur Weasley's window, and he rolled it down, looking concerned.
"What is it, Harry?" he smiled at him.
"We're about the miss the last ferry of the day unless you do something," he told him urgently. He nodded briskly, then discreetly pulled out his wand. Harry returned to Katie's car and a minute later, the barrier rose and both cars were permitted to pull onto the ferry. They paid their passage and after the cars were taken care of, the eight of them went up on deck, to look at the scenery and breath the sea air. Harry gave Mr. Weasley a conspiratorial smile.
"Thanks. I'm sorry I did that, but--well, I'm not really. I just couldn't wait one more day to--"
"That's all right, Harry," he said, clapping him on the shoulder. "I understand completely. Glad to help."
It only took about half-an-hour to reach the port of Rothesay, and soon they were trundling the cars off the ferry and onto dry land again. Harry took out the directions Sirius had sent him to the castle and showed Maggie.
"Oh! That's where we're going?"
"Right. My godfather--"
"But--but it's a ruin! I have this book: Picturesque Ruined Castles of Scotland. And no one could possibly live there. It's just a pile of rubble. It used to be a fortified tower house. It was sacked sometime in the mid-seventeenth century, and then--"
"--and then they killed the survivors in Dunoon," he finished, knowing the story full well, since it was Lucius Malfoy's favorite 'bloody' clan story. Literally.
"Right. So how could your godfather possibly--"
He grinned mischievously at the woman who, forty-eight hours earlier hadn't known that anyone in the world other than her had the sort of abilities she had.
"One word," he said, continuing to smile. "Magic."
There was a bit of confusion when they were getting back into the cars to drive off the ferry, and Harry wound up in Maggie's car while Mrs. Weasley found it most convenient to just climb into Katie's. After they were back on land, they drove along Battery Place before turning onto the High Street. It was a short drive down to Minister's Brae, and soon they were on Roslin Road, which went right down to the northeast edge of the loch. Harry hadn't expected that; the castle was right on the edge of the loch. It looked beautiful and still in the twilight, standing straight and tall, five stories plus what looked like a roof garden. It didn't have a large footprint; it looked like the only way to expand was to build up, so that's what they'd done, as though they were in a city without a lot of empty land around to annex. It seemed strange for this tall, lonely stone building to be sitting by itself at the edge of the still water, nothing but wilderness around it in all directions, except for the road that briefly passed the edge of the loch.
They drove along a dirt track near the shore, Maggie shaking her head more and more as they drew closer to Ascog Castle. "See!" she said triumphantly, when they were about twenty feet away from it. "Nothing but a moldering ruin! Just like in the book!"
Ron turned and looked at Harry in panic, then his father, then Maggie. "But--but I can see it. Can't you see it Harry?" Harry nodded, confused. "Can't you, Dad? I thought you said you knew you were a witch!" he said to his sister. Then he turned to Harry. "Come to think of it--we didn't actually see her perform magic, did we?"
His father turned to him. "Even witches and wizards can fall prey to the same blindness that afflicts Muggles if their minds are closed, if they decide what they are going to see before they see it." He put a gentle hand on Maggie's arm. "Are you sure you're really seeing it, love? Or is your mind clouded by what you were told, what you read? Look again, and believe."
Harry shuddered, remembering Rodney Jeffries.
Looking up, he saw Sirius wave to them out of one of the upper windows. "Look at the fourth floor window on the left!" he told her. "It's my godfather. He's waving to us."
She frowned still. "There's no fourth fl--"
Suddenly Sirius appeared in front of the car, Apparating with a pop! He was grinning ear to ear. Maggie gasped, unprepared for this. Then she looked up at the house again.
"I--I can see it now! It's--it's--" She couldn't speak. It must seem to her like the building Apparated out of nowhere as well, Harry thought.
Sirius strode over to the car and leaned in Arthur Weasley's window, oblivious to the driver's confusion. "Hullo! Looks like you forgot to tell me about a few more guests, Harry. But it doesn't matter. We can make room for everyone. Follow me." He directed both cars to a small rundown cottage that was about thirty yards away through some overgrown brush, away from the lake, and the entire side of the cottage magically opened like an electronic garage door, allowing them to drive both cars inside. The cottage closed again and lights sprung up around them. As they emerged from the cars, Sirius hugged Harry and Ron and Ginny and even Draco Malfoy, who was somewhat abashed. He was introduced to Katie, raising his eyebrows at Harry, and he was reacquainted with Mr. and Mrs. Weasley.
Then he saw Maggie. He looked back and forth between her and Ginny, confused. "But--but--" he stammered to the Weasleys. "You only have one daughter."
"Actually," Molly Weasley said, "we have two other daughters in addition to Ginny, but we didn't know where they were for a very long time." She put her arm around Maggie lovingly. "Now, thanks to Harry and Draco--and Hermione, as well--we have one of them back again."
Sirius looked like his mind was working furiously; then he seemed to have an epiphany. "Oh!" he exclaimed. "I remember now! You--you're one of the little girls who disappeared...."
Maggie was looking at Sirius very strangely. "Well, I'm not really a little girl any more--" she stammered out. Harry frowned; why did she suddenly seem so nervous?
"No; I can see that you're not," Sirius said levelly, gazing at her very gravely. Harry was jolted; he'd never seen Sirius look like this before. It was very odd.
Suddenly, as though he'd just woken up, Sirius clapped his hands. "Well, everyone, follow me! It's not far, but the steps down and up are a little steep, so mind your step."
"Mind the gap!" Maggie sang merrily, pulling her suitcase from the boot of her car. Harry and Sirius laughed, but everyone else just looked at her as though she was mad.
"Er--there are these signs. In the Underground--" She sighed and decided to give up. "Never mind," she said softly, following her parents down the steps to the access tunnel. Sirius walked beside her and gently took her bag from her hand to carry it for her. Walking behind them, Harry heard him say quietly, "I thought it was funny..."
"So you know, then? What I meant?"
He nodded, smiling at her with that look again. She smiled back, then obligingly looked down, so she wouldn't trip down the steep stairs. Sirius put his hand on her elbow and she smiled at him again.
When they reached the castle dungeons, Harry saw Ron looking at the empty, spartan cells they passed, his face apprehensive in the flickering torchlight. Soon they were climbing steep, winding stone stairs again, lit by more torches in brackets on the curving walls, and then they found themselves in the smallish entrance hall to Ascog Castle.
To Harry, it looked more like a shed for storing raincoats and other foul-weather gear than a grand entrance hall. Although the ceiling had to be at least twelve feet high, the space couldn't have been more than ten feet square, and now nine people and their luggage were crushing into this space. The circular stone stairs continued up to the next floor, while the curving walls in the hall where they stood were lined with hooks for outdoor gear of all types. Harry thought it was a good thing it was summer, and none of them needed cloaks, for every hook was being used already for raincoats, umbrellas, overcoats and wizard's cloaks, mufflers, an enormous variety of hats--Harry saw a deer-stalker and top hat, besides the usual wizard hats--as well as rucksacks, walking sticks, several woven creels, fishing rods lain horizontally across the upper tier of hooks (there were five levels of hooks, the highest about nine feet off the floor, Harry reckoned) and, hanging from a beautifully tooled tanned leather strap, an elaborately-carved animal horn with what looked like a solid gold cap on the end. On the stone walls above the rows of hooks were numerous enormous stuffed and mounted fish. Some of them looked prehistoric.
Through the doorways that opened off the entrance hall, Harry could see a large kitchen with a long refectory table flanked by benches, where two boys and a little girl were sitting, eating biscuits and drinking something steaming out of mugs. On the wall at the far end of the kitchen was a tapestry with a silver rampant lion on deep blue. Through the other, larger doorway there was a cozy sitting room with two squashy couches and some padded benches arranged around a large hearth in the corner. A French door in a curved wall in the corner of the hall led to a courtyard, which the leaded windows in the kitchen and sitting room also looked upon. When Harry opened a door in the corner of the hall, he found a small lavatory, and he closed the door quickly, hoping no one had noticed him being nosy.
However, there was so much chaos and noise in the hall, he didn't feel like anyone was taking much notice of him, and he took the opportunity to look around some more. A narrow bench was pushed against one wall, under which was stored a great quantity of Wellington boots, and the top of the bench had a number of Wellies, too, in addition to some hip boots for fishing. Hanging on a hook above the bench was a basket with a diverse collection of gloves and mittens--none of them matching, as far as Harry could tell from just a quick glance. Some of the cloaks and boots in the entrance hall looked child-sized to Harry, as did some of the small gloves he saw in the basket. He stood in the kitchen doorway and smiled at the children, and this time they noticed him and smiled back. He remembered that Sirius had only recently met his nephews and niece. Harry couldn't remember the names Remus Lupin had told him....
"Orion! Leo! Mercy!" Sirius cried gleefully, striding over to the kitchen doorway and putting his arm around Harry's shoulders. "Come meet your new housemate!"
The children were already in their pajamas and dressing gowns, just having a snack before having to go up to bed. The eldest boy stood and walked purposefully over to Harry. He had dark hair and eyes, and, he thought, Sirius' smile. He put out his hand and Harry shook it.
"Orion Pierson. What's your--" he started to say, but then Harry could tell that he'd noticed his scar. His mouth dropped open. "You're--you're--"
Harry laughed, turning to Sirius. "You didn't tell them?"
Sirius shrugged. "I assumed they knew. I've been saying, 'At the end of July, my godson is coming to live here.' It's been in the Prophet recently, for pete's sake. Don't you read the paper, Rion?"
Harry stared at him in disbelief. "You never said my name?"
Sirius' eldest nephew shook his head dumbly, then finally recovered himself. "I'm going to Hogwarts in September. Got my letter last month." His voice was still no lower than an alto.
Harry nodded at him. "So--we won't have to say goodbye on September first. I'm Head Boy this year." Then he winced; did he sound like Percy? he wondered. But the boy was shaking his head in wonder and looking dazed again.
"Harry Potter...living in my house..."
Now the second nephew had come over. "Hullo! Don't forget about me! Not that everyone else doesn't do that. I'm used to it by now. I'm Leo Pierson. No, it's not short for Leonard or Leonardo or anything. It's just Leo. I don't even qualify for a proper name...."
"Leo!" Sirius said sharply, but after a moment, Harry could see that he was smiling behind his eyes. This was clearly Leo's routine; the Lament of the Forgotten Middle Child. Like Orion, he had dark hair and eyes, but his face still had some baby fat that Orion had lost now that he was eleven. He was several inches shorter than his brother and Harry guessed he was around nine years old.
Finally, from behind her brothers, the little sister emerged. She looked up at him with the strangest eyes Harry had ever seen; instead of being dark, like her brothers', they were so pale the irises almost blended into the whites. She had the same dark hair as her brothers, though, and dimples in her heart-shaped face when she smiled. He guessed she was around seven years old.
"Mercedes Pierson," she said simply, extending her hand. Harry shook it solemnly; he'd never seen such a grave little girl. "Are you going to be my new big brother? Or a cousin?"
Harry looked at Sirius, his eyebrows raised. "Harry's neither, Mercy. He's my godson and a member of this household now, and he'll always be an honorary member of the Black family and of Clan Lamont, but no, he's not your brother or cousin."
Her mouth twisted and she looked at Harry appraisingly; he fought not to squirm. It was very odd to be looked at so by such a small child. Even being the big brother in his other life hadn't prepared him for this. "So then; you can't boss us around?" she said, crossing her arms.
"Ah, is that it?" Sirius said, smiling and mussing her hair with his hand. "Don't get any ideas," he said more sternly now. "Harry counts as one of the grownups, and you have to listen to him just as you listen to any of us." Somehow, by the look on Sirius' face, Harry was doubting that she paid much heed to anyone. "Your parents have ultimate authority over you, of course, but you'll mind Harry just as you mind your Nana or Granddad or me or Aunt Cass; you don't give any adult reason to speak to your parents about your behavior, understand?"
She looked meek and abashed now as she said quietly, "Yes, Uncle Sirius." Yet Harry thought he saw a twinkle in those odd, pale eyes. Was it an act, this meekness? He knew she'd be one to watch. Or rather, he thought, he should watch his back.
It took some doing, figuring out who was going to sleep where. Sirius gave the guest room to Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, Ron and Draco were going to kip on the couches in the sitting room, Sirius gave his room to Maggie and Ginny, so he would be bunking with Harry, and Katie was going to share with Mercy. Except for Ron and Draco, everyone carried their luggage up the winding stairs, groaning with exhaustion. They weren't able to stop on the first floor up from the ground floor, as the bedrooms there belonged to Sirius' eldest sister and her husband (who were childless) and his mother and father.
The infamous Cassiopeia stood in her bedroom doorway, surveying the ragtag collection of visitors that had invaded her home. She was wearing wizarding robes, deep purple ones that shimmered with a hint of sapphire blue. Her hair and eyes were as dark as Sirius', but her look was very sharp and critical, her bearing regal as any Italian Countess. After some very brief and disturbing eye-contact, Harry avoided her gaze as Sirius introduced him on the way past. She nodded, her judgmental expression never wavering. Harry allowed himself to shiver when he was well away from her.
Sirius' parents, on the other hand, were warm and kind. His father was an amazing repeat of Sirius, but with a shock of perfectly white hair and eyes that crinkled when he smiled--which seemed to be all the time. Harry had trouble retrieving his hand, it seemed Mr. Black wanted to shake it all night, he was so pleased Harry had come.
Mrs. Black made him think of the grandmother he'd always wanted. That was one thing he hadn't had in his other life, either: grandparents. She wasn't much shorter than him, and hadn't shrunken with age. She was a handsome woman with dark hair touched by just a bit of silver, beautiful smile lines that accentuated her high cheekbones, and sparkling blue eyes that reminded Harry of Dumbledore. She hugged him warmly, whispering in his ear, "Thank you so much for helping our lad come home!" There were tears in her voice, and Harry could not reply; he smiled bashfully at her before trudging upward.
Katie was able to stop on the second floor, which was where the children had their rooms. When Katie was being led to her room by Mercy, Harry heard Mercy saying to her, "I read the paper, even if my brothers don't. You said your name's Katie Bell? You're Harry Potter's girlfriend, aren't you?" Katie looked over her shoulder and mouthed HELP at Harry, who grinned at her as he continued up the stairs with his trunk. Clearly, Mercy wasn't going to show any.
Mr. and Mrs. Weasley were finally able to stop on the third floor, where the guest room was. Sirius' sister Ursula and her husband also had a bedroom on this floor. She immediately started dashing about helping the Weasleys feel at home, and Harry could see what Cass could have been if she'd ever bothered to smile. Ursula had the same dimples she'd given her daughter, the same heart-shaped face. She gave Harry a warm hug, like her mother, and he knew she didn't resent his coming to live in their home. Her husband was very nice as well, and Harry saw now where Mercy had gotten her strange light eyes. He squeezed past them down the stairs, to see that his children were tucked in, even as the travelers continued upward.
Harry's and Sirius' rooms were on the top floor. Sirius retrieved some clothes from his room and then left to give the Weasley sisters some privacy; when he returned to Harry's room, he had that expression on his face Harry had seen earlier.
"Are you all right?" Harry asked him, his brow furrowed. Sirius looked up, startled.
"What?" He shook himself for a moment, then continued bustling around the room. "Oh. I'm fine. Fine."
Harry looked around the room appreciatively. The whitewashed walls smelled of fresh paint, there was an enormous four-poster hung with blue velvet curtains with a matching blue coverlet, a massive Persian carpet in shades of blue and gold and cream softening the hard stone floor, and across from the bed was a large semi-circular bay window with a blue-velvet-upholstered window seat looking down into the courtyard. Harry also had a massive carved oak wardrobe, a dresser with a mirror and two built-in candle holders, a desk and some bookshelves. In the corner near the bed was a small fireplace; large enough for conversations, too small for transport. Harry had seen, however, that the sitting room fire was big enough to use for getting around on the Floo network. That's good, he thought; someone couldn't just come walking into his bedroom from the fire. On the other hand, someone's head could just pop into the fire and start talking to him....He didn't know for certain that this fireplace was on the network, though. Perhaps he would ask for it to be taken off if it was.
After Sirius showed him his en suite bathroom, they went back down to the kitchen for a late supper. Before going down, Harry stopped in the doorway of the room Maggie and Ginny were sharing. They were sitting on the bed, talking excitedly. He couldn't remember when he'd seen Ginny looking happier, and he couldn't help the smile that crept across his face as he looked at her. Then Ginny looked up and met his gaze; she smiled at him with such a mix of gratitude and just plain being glad to see him that his heart turned over, and he wanted to freeze that moment in time, just seeing her look at him like that forever.
Without warning, she sprang across the room and launched herself at him. He held her to him convulsively, as she cried, "Oh, Harry, thank you so much! If it weren't for you--"
Harry met Maggie's eye then; she looked back at him knowingly and gave him a small sympathetic smile. She could tell how he felt about Ginny--maybe it showed in one of his auras?--but she knew, of course, that Draco was Ginny's boyfriend. There was a touch of sadness in her eyes.
Sirius touched him on the shoulder and he jumped away from Ginny guiltily, half-expecting to see Draco Malfoy. They followed him down the stairs, picking up the others on the way. Draco and Ron were already in the kitchen, eating cold chicken, sliced tomatoes and bread and butter. Sirius put out plates and utensils and everyone else helped themselves to the food, which included fresh strawberries to finish. It was a merry late-summer-evening feast, and when they'd picked the two chicken carcasses clean and gone through two loaves of bread and polished off all of the tomatoes and strawberries, the yawning starting to become an epidemic, and they went back up to their rooms again.
Harry looked longingly after Ginny, disappearing into the other room on the top floor with her sister, before turning to his own. Sirius looked at him with one eyebrow raised. "I thought you had a new girlfriend. Anything you'd like to tell me?"
Harry grimaced. "Not right now, thanks," he said. It was strange; once he thought he could tell Sirius anything. Now he wanted to see Severus Snape to talk to him; he was so used to going to his stepfather, in his other life. It seemed odd to turn to anyone else. "I'm knackered; maybe tomorrow?" he said to Sirius. He needed to start thinking of Sirius as the one he could talk to, he realized. He needed to make an effort; Sirius had opened his home to him, had done so much for him. "And you can tell me about Wormtail's confession."
Sirius nodded. "Fair enough."
Suddenly, there was a light rapping on the door and Harry went to answer it. It was Katie. "Well, don't look so glad to see me or anything," she said shrewdly, noticing the way his expression of anticipation changed when he saw who it was.
"It's not--I mean, I was--I'm surprised to see you up here...."
"After last night? Or this morning, I should say...."
Harry looked around nervously. "I can't--I mean, we can't--Sirius is--" he whispered awkwardly.
"Oh, I'm not here to crawl into bed with you. I mean, having ghosts in bed with you is one thing; your godfather is quite another." Her eyes twinkled at him and he laughed. "I just came upstairs to say goodnight properly."
"Well," Sirius said suddenly at Harry's elbow, making him jump. "That's my cue to disappear for a few minutes, I believe." He winked at Harry and moved toward the bathroom.
"Oh! Sirius--you don't have to--"
But the door to the bathroom had already closed and they were suddenly standing alone in his new room. Katie walked to the large window seat, then sat down. "This is fantastic, isn't it? Practically another bed..."
She smiled mischievously at Harry and he sat next to her, looking out at the summer night. One of the narrow leaded casement windows was open slightly, and a cool breeze touched Harry's face as he looked out at the stars. My new home, he thought, the idea still very odd to him. He'd had a new home the moment he'd arrived in his other life, the previous September, but it was actually a home where he'd lived for over ten years, so technically it wasn't. He was beginning a new life.
He looked down at the girl sitting next to him, the girl with whom he'd shared a bed just that morning. He idly pushed her hair behind one ear, looking at her fondly, then leaned in to kiss her goodnight. After a few moments, she pushed him away.
"Don't do that, Harry."
He looked at her, bewildered. "Don't do what?"
She looked at him grimly. "Kiss me out of obligation, or guilt. I mean--" She looked frustrated at not being able to communicate her thoughts adequately. "Don't attach more meaning to this morning than--than just two people who like each other and like spending time together having--fun. All right?"
Harry swallowed. Was she trying to keep from being hurt? The truth was he did feel obliged to kiss her, and considering that she'd come up two flights just for the purpose, he was feeling a little cross now.
"Well, you did come up here for this, didn't you?" he said irritably.
"For a simple we're-still-having-fun-aren't-we kiss. Not an oh-god-here-comes-the-ball-and-chain-kiss. Or are you trying to make me feel about forty?"
"No, I--" But suddenly, she'd leaned in and captured his lips with hers again, her soft mouth opening gently under his, the taste of her minty toothpaste on his hard palate....
He slid his hand into her soft hair now, pulling her head closer, forgetting his trepidation. When they both pulled back from the kiss, Katie smiled gently at him. "There now. That's why I came upstairs."
He was holding her against him now, her small body wrapped in a lightweight dressing gown over a thin T-shirt. Harry's mouth grew dry as he remembered being with her that morning....
After a few minutes, she forced herself to stand and kissed him on the forehead, next to his scar. "Now I can go to sleep. Good night, Harry," she smiled at him.
As she walked toward the door, he couldn't help look at her legs beneath the hem of the rather short dressing gown. "Good night, Katie," he said absently, watching those legs disappear.
Sirius emerged from the bathroom; he had a glimpse of Katie in the hall, before she started going down the stairs again. He closed the door, smiling. He was wearing pajama bottoms and drying his face with small towel.
"I was starting to think I was going to wind up on the floor in the sitting room, with Draco and Ron...."
"What?" Harry said at first; when Sirius raised his eyebrows at him, he understood. "Oh; someone must have told you about this morning."
His godfather nodded. "Ron. He called it 'Harry's habit.' I suppose you don't want to talk about that yet, either."
Harry rolled his eyes. Ron. "Not even remotely."
Sirius grinned at him. "That's all right; neither do I. Your turn in the bathroom."
Harry washed up and changed into pajama pants, finding Sirius fast asleep and snoring when he returned. He climbed into the enormous bed, which could have slept four small or three large people, and he was asleep before his head hit the pillow.
After all of the anticipation, Harry's seventeenth birthday passed in a whirl of activity. When it was all over, he felt almost as though he'd hallucinated it all. Although Ascog Castle had five floors of living space above the ground, and two levels of dungeons below, it wasn't very spacious, since the large square courtyard took up a good deal of room in the corner of the property's footprint. Sirius explained to him in the morning that it was more properly called a tower house, but many mere tower houses had long gone by the title 'castle.' Ascog was tiny at a mere forty-two feet on a side. And yet, it seemed to Harry, it must have been magically enlarged to hold so many people for his birthday party.
There was a constant stream of guests coming and going in the kitchen, sitting room, courtyard, up and down the stairs, on the roof patio, and even in the dungeons (the lower dungeon level had a magically heated swimming pool). More and more people seemed to be arriving as the day progressed; walking out of the fireplace in the sitting room, coming up the stairs from the dungeon after Apparating. (Sirius had appointed one of the empty cells down there as the approved Apparition point--and you had to leave the cell very quickly in case of others arriving right after you.)
Hermione surprised him by arriving on the roof by Portkey and then walking down the stairs to the landing outside his room just as he was leaving to get breakfast. "Harry!" she cried, throwing her arms around him. He held her closely; she was deeply tanned and her short curls were touched by the sun. After hugging her he backed up and looked at her.
"Hermione--you look fabulous! How's--all the training going?"
Then he practically fell over in shock when Professor McGonagall walked down the stairs from the roof as well. "I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that Potter knows about that?" she said sharply, looking as stern as she did at school, until Harry noticed a smile twisting the corner of her mouth. She turned to Harry. "She's doing very well. I've been looking forward to teaching her this ever since her first year....I just had a feeling about her..."
Harry tried not to sound too upset, but it was difficult. "You never said that about me."
McGonagall actually displayed a full, rare smile now. "When you perform beyond anyone's expectations, Harry," she said, using his first name now, "you have the advantage. When everyone has high expectations, there's far more to live up to."
Hermione and Professor McGonagall joined them for breakfast, which had to be eaten in installments, as there were so many people in the house now. When they entered the kitchen, the Weasleys were still sitting at the table, and Mrs. Weasley said, "Oh, hello Minerva! I didn't know we'd be seeing you. And hello, Hermione, dear. How are you?"
But Hermione never had a chance to answer, because Maggie rose and walked around the table slowly. "You're Hermione?" she whispered. Hermione looked at her, swallowing.
"I don't have to ask who you are," she said softly, as the older woman enfolded her in a hug. Then Molly put her hand over her mouth.
"Oh, my stars, that's right--you also--you--you--"
Hermione saved her the trouble of getting up and came to her to give her a hug.
"I can't thank you enough," Mrs. Weasley started to say, dabbing at her eyes.
Then Ron entered the kitchen from the entrance hall and Hermione looked at him lovingly. "You don't have to," she told his mother quietly.
When Ron saw her, he hesitated for a moment, but then ran to him and threw her arms around him, and he held her carefully, trying not to hurt her, and Harry could see his heart on his face. He suddenly felt very protective of them both. Nothing must happen to them, he thought. Nothing must tear them apart.
But soon Ron was joking around again, his arm lightly around Hermione, and they were all laughing, laughing, for so much of the day, Harry's face started hurting. He couldn't help grinning as each new friend or teacher appeared. Hagrid had some difficulty emerging from the fireplace, and Harry thought he would break the mantle. More school friends began to appear: Neville, Parvati and Padma, Seamus, Dean (who'd been staying with Seamus' family, and used the Finnigan fireplace for transport, as Seamus had), the crowd from Hog's End (including Lee, whom Katie greeted quite naturally), other Gryffindors, including Will Flitwick, who looked around for Jamaica Thomas, disappointed when he didn't see her. His great uncle, little Professor Flitwick came, as well as Professor Sprout. Alastor Moody came right after his sister, Arabella. She looked annoyed by the noise in the rather full house, but that was nothing new to Harry. In his experience, the only noise Mrs. Figg didn't mind was the sound of her own bellowing voice.
Then when he emerged from the fireplace, Harry wanted to run and hug him, but he forced himself instead to extend his hand, grinning at the normally stern Potions Master, who had undergone some sort of transformation in the month since Harry had last seen him. He looked as though he'd decided to model himself on the Severus Snape Harry had shown him in the Pensieve. His hair was shorter and pulled back into a ponytail, he had a closely-trimmed beard and mustache defining the planes of his gaunt face, and he was wearing what looked like new robes, in a strangely shimmering material that sometimes looked grey and sometimes silver, and where the light hit the fabric, there was a slight rainbow effect.
Severus Snape gave him a lopsided grin as he took his hand; then Harry looked down in shock. "Your hands! They're all right!"
He held up his large hands and waggled his ten perfect fingers. "The miracle of magical medicine. Rather painful to grow back, but fingers are at least possible. They're small. Larger limbs are another story of course. And I don't have full feeling in these yet," he said, indicating the smallest fingers on each hand. "That's supposed to improve over time." He stopped abruptly and stared, a perplexed look on his face.
Harry turned. Maggie was standing in the sitting room doorway, looking at Severus Snape with a dumbstruck expression on her face. It reminded Harry of how shocked Hermione had been by the sight of young Snape in the Pensieve.
"That's one of Ginny's long-lost sisters. Do you remember hearing about it? In 1979--"
"I remember," he said quickly, stopping Harry, never taking his eyes from her. "I remember it well." Harry didn't ask him to elaborate; clearly, everyone who was around then remembered the case of the missing Weasley sisters.
Maggie walked unsteadily over to Harry and said, looking at Severus Snape the entire time, "Aren't you going to introduce me, Harry?"
Harry did, but he wasn't entirely certain she or his professor had heard anything he said; their eyes seemed to be locked by a beam of light. They wandered out of the room together and Harry wondered where Sirius was.
Then Remus Lupin emerged from the fire, brushing off his usual shabby robes, and Harry greeted him with a hug. "Happy birthday, Harry!" he said, grinning.
Harry grinned back. "So far it is," he said cautiously; he almost felt like things were going too well, like something had to go wrong soon or he'd think he was dreaming. People were filling every room in the house, it seemed, walking around with bottles of butterbeer and plates of finger food, chatting and laughing. Someone had turned on the wireless, the sound wafting out of the windows, and people were dancing in the courtyard. The children ran around the adults' legs, playing games, and Harry stood back, watching it all happily, enjoying the chaos of his birthday party.
Finally, just before they were attempting to get everyone together to sing, Professor Dumbledore arrived. He walked calmly up the dungeon stairs from the Apparition point. Harry was passing from the sitting room into the kitchen, getting some more butterbeer, and he stopped in shock when he saw him.
The old man smiled broadly at Harry. "Happy birthday, Harry. Ah, I see the festivities are in full swing. Good, good. It's not every day you turn seventeen, after all."
Harry felt their number was complete now. Soon he was standing in the middle of the throng in the courtyard, the cake on a small table before him as they all sang, "For he's a jolly good fellow, for he's a jolly good fellow, for he's a jolly good feh-eh-LO! And so say all of us!"
And then there was cheering and backslapping and too many girls kissing him for him to keep track, and slices of cake being passed around....As the whirl continued, Harry became dimly aware that the crowd was becoming smaller and smaller, until finally, as the sun was going down, and torches flared to life on the walls of the courtyard and also inside the house, they were almost reduced again to the people who'd slept at Ascog the night before. The only others who remained were Snape, Lupin, Hermione and the Weasleys.
Once the crowd had thinned, Harry became aware of the pile of presents in the corner of the courtyard. He waved his hand at them. "These can't be-- are these--"
Ron grinned at him, his arm draped casually around Hermione's shoulders now and her arm around his waist. She looked happier than Harry had ever seen her. "That's right, mate. They're for you. Thought you'd never notice. Ever planning to open them?"
Ginny and Draco and Katie had come over, plus Snape and Sirius and Lupin. Through the kitchen windows, Harry could see Maggie sitting at the kitchen table, talking to her parents, Bill and Charlie (who had arrived when Harry wasn't looking), the twins (plus Angelina) and Percy, all of whom had been completely shocked to see her. Bill and Charlie had been completely overwhelmed and had gone through the house hunting Harry down. For a few minutes, they wouldn't stop hugging him and shaking his hand. The Weasleys had stayed together in small clumps all during the party, talking non-stop, repairing their family and starting to make up for the seventeen years of Maggie's absence.
Harry strode over to the pile of gifts, not knowing where to begin, but suddenly Sandy was hissing to him.
"News comes on the wing," she said softly. Harry had to strain to hear her over the voices of the others; he squinted in concentration and tilted his head to one side. Then he happened to look up and meet Ron's and Hermione's eyes.
They came closer to him, and Ron whispered to him, "What is it, Harry?"
"Nothing, really. I think an owl will be coming soon. Sandy said."
"An owl for whom?" Hermione whispered. Harry shrugged, then gestured with his head at the others. The three of them broke up their little conference, trying to look natural about this, and Harry looked again at the presents. He noticed an oblong package, and extracted it from the pile. Most of it was very thin, but it widened at one end. He looked up, smiling at everyone. "I think I can guess what this is," he said, opening it, and finding a beautiful, gleaming new Firebolt 2.
"Now, I expect you to take care of this one, Harry," Sirius said, breaking down into a smile, unable to maintain his stern facade. Next to him, Snape bristled.
"The last one was destroyed in a good cause," he said archly. Yes, thought Harry, it was.
Sirius laughed. "I thought that's why you wouldn't mind contributing a bit toward it."
"Well, actually," Harry reminded him, "I shouldn't have had you get that Firebolt Excelsior for me at the end of last term. It was always going off half-cocked, and then when I gave Ron a chance to ride it, before he could even get on, it went flying up into the clouds and was gone."
Sirius frowned. "That model was experimental. This one has the kinks worked out."
Harry looked round, frowning. "So--who is this one from, really?"
"Well, you know how I said your first Firebolt was something like thirteen years' worth of birthdays and Christmases? I couldn't very well do that again so soon--I'd be cleaned out of all my savings. But Severus here generously contributed, as you were saving his arse when your last one was ruined, and Remus did too, as well as Arabella, Alastor, Fletcher, your other professors--including Dumbledore--Aberforth, and Katie's dad."
Harry's jaw dropped. "You're joking," he said weakly, staring again at the beautiful deep brown mahogany handle, gleaming in the bright torchlight with its iron-hard finish, the name emblazoned on the broad part near the end in gold paint edged in red, also protected under the finish. He'd never seen a more beautiful broom in his entire life.
"So," Sirius said, watching his rapture happily, "the next time you have to go rescue some excuse for a Potions Master, you take a school broom and save that one for winning the Quidditch World Cup--"
Even Snape laughed at that; Harry thought it was wonderful to see him do it, something he remembered well from his other life. He said, "At the rate I've gone through brooms, maybe I should go to work for a broom company after I'm done school; then I'll be guaranteed a steady supply." He suddenly stopped. Hey, he thought. That was actually not a bad idea. Apply to work at a broom company. Develop new brooms. It definitely had appeal for him, as much as he loved flying. He wasn't so sure about the World Cup, though, especially after finding out his father had played for England; he remembered what McGonagall had said about expectations.
Before he could get to another present, though, a sudden flurry of owls crowding the bit of twilit sky above them caused them all to look up. The birds began to drop squares of parchment into the hands of the people in the courtyard, and a few flew through the windows into the kitchen, bringing their burdens to the twins, Percy, and Angelina, who was also sitting with them. When the owls had flown off again, Harry looked at his, perplexed; it was a large creamy square with his name written on the front in a loopy script he didn't recognize. He looked up and saw the others opening theirs. All of the envelopes looked the same except for the different names on the fronts. Sirius didn't have one, he noticed. Neither did Hermione.
Katie was first to get hers open. Her eyes went wide. Then she opened another envelope that had been inside the larger one. This one was smaller and lighter. As she read the letter in this envelope, her face went rigid with anger. She looked up now, waving her letter indignantly.
"That bloody bitch!"
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