- 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 07 - Undermining
- 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 pages 11-12 of
Over time, castles evolved in response to developments in siege machinery
and siegecraft. However, as castles became more elaborate, they also became
more expensive, and fewer and fewer lords could afford fortresses that were
militarily up to date. A major problem with square tower keeps...was that
they were vulnerable to attack from the corners. While defenders could fire
on besiegers through arrow slits or drop objects on attackers from above, if
the besiegers could get to a corner of the keep, they could work away at the
base of the wall with picks; eventually, the attackers would in this way either
break through the wall or cause it to collapse by undermining the corner.
--Robin S. Oggins, Castles and Fortresses
Not surprisingly, Ginny decided she'd stayed at Ascog long enough. She said she wanted to be home with her parents, getting to know her sister better. Draco Malfoy didn't want to stay without her, and he wanted to get back to work and make more money, at any rate. He was invited to the wedding at the end of August, but as he wasn't in the wedding party he wouldn't be staying at the Spinnets' the week before. He was going to Apparate to Diagon Alley, and Mrs. Figg was going to pick him up outside the Leaky Cauldron. (The anti-Apparition spells on her house prevented him from traveling there using that method, and there were no really safe Apparition points in the village.)
Katie was going back to her dad's as well, but Harry was worried about her driving the whole distance by herself (she could just Apparate, but Sam needed his car back). On the other hand, suggesting that Katie and Draco share the car--just the two of them--all the way back to Mrs. Figg's wasn't going to go over well after the Katie-Ginny confrontation.
"I'll go with you," Harry said as they sat at the breakfast table the next morning. He and Katie were sitting with Sirius at one end of the long table, Sirius' nephews and niece at the far end. Everyone else had already eaten. "I can't help with the driving, but at least you won't be alone. I can use your fire to come back here by Floo."
Sirius insisted that they check in frequently. (Mrs. Weasley had sent Hedwig to Ascog, so they could take her along.) He also gave the two of them a map of wizarding Britain, which included how to find the wizarding quarters of the large cities they'd be passing through and a number of wizarding pubs with good accommodations. "Keep me abreast of where you are; I can Apparate to your location and ride with you some. I know you're going to begin Auror training soon," he said to Katie, "but I still felt better when Harry was traveling with three people who were of age, not just one."
Harry bristled. "I'm of-age now, too, remember. And Lupin--er, Remus--can tell you about my Dark Arts skills."
Sirius nodded. "Yes, yes, Harry, you're very impressive. I just want to make sure you don't get cocky, all right?" Sirius sighed, and Harry was ashamed of having been so touchy; he wouldn't have objected to Severus Snape suggesting the same thing, but then, in his other life, Snape had been his father figure for more than ten years, with instincts that were usually spot-on. Sirius wasn't used to his new role as a surrogate father and his insecurity showed frequently.
Katie was frowning at Sirius. "That's right--you can Apparate! But--you were in Azkaban..."
Sirius raised an eyebrow at her. "I was cleared, remember? And why shouldn't I be able to Apparate?"
Katie looked guiltily at Harry, who immediately said to Sirius, "You know. Because former Azkaban prisoners aren't allowed to." He turned to Katie. "It didn't occur to me that would apply to Sirius, though, as he was innocent."
Sirius shook his head. "There's no ban on former Azkaban prisoners Apparating," he said quietly, looking quizzically at Katie. She drew her lips into a line, looking down at the table.
"I know," she said, looking up at Harry again. "That was a lie, Harry. I'm sorry."
Harry was confused. "Why should you lie about that? So your dad is permitted to Apparate?"
"Well--" she began, her voice shaking.
"--or didn't he ever get his Apparition test?" Harry suggested.
Sirius shook his head. "All Aurors have to have their Apparition test. Can you imagine an Auror who couldn't Apparate?" Harry hadn't thought about that; it was still slightly foreign to him, the idea of gentle Sam working as an Auror.
"You see," Katie started to say to them both softly, looking around. Mercy and her brothers were sitting at the other end of the kitchen table, eating their breakfasts still. "There's--there's not much magic Dad can do anymore. At all. The dementors--they sucked it out of him. All of his magic, I mean. Or almost all."
Harry remembered that Sirius had said, in the Shrieking Shack at the end of his third year, that the reason he was able to hold onto his powers was that the dementors hadn't driven him mad; when he was a dog, his emotions didn't feel like human ones to them. On top of that, his overriding thought was that he was innocent. Since this wasn't a happy thought, they couldn't suck out of him. But then he frowned, remembering the lecture he'd had from Mrs. Figg and then Hermione about magic genes. "Are you sure? Maybe they didn't turn off his magical genes. They might have just--just messed around with his mind so he doesn't believe in himself." He was reminded of Rodney Jeffries. "That's it!" he said suddenly. "What Sam needs to do is find Rodney Jeffries! My aunt was a Muggle, and he made her believe in herself and turned on enough of her magic genes that she's actually a witch now! Or at least, I think she is. I'm sure he could help your dad!"
Sirius shook his head. "No one knows where Jeffries is, Harry. And even if we did know--he's wanted by the magical as well as the Muggle authorities. I don't think the Ministry of Magic wants him going around creating more magical people at this time...."
"But Sam's already a wizard!" he said forcefully.
"Not really," Katie said softly. "Not any more. That's why he's been working for Aberforth since he's been out; he can't really function as a wizard any longer. The dementors--"
They were all silent. Then Harry had a horrid idea; if the dementors could do that over time to a person who'd been with them in Azkaban, what about someone like his Aunt Petunia? Or might the Ministry--or Voldemort--use dementors to leech the magical ability out of other people? He'd been afraid that the Ministry would try to turn 'new' witches and wizards back into Muggles, and Voldemort would then use the technique on Muggle-born magical people--or just anyone he didn't like. In retrospect, he realized that perhaps no new technique needed to be invented--other than finding a way to speed it up. It had been in use by the Ministry all along, but the dementors--except during Harry's third year of school--had been segregated at Azkaban, where the rest of the population--wizards and Muggles alike--wouldn't be exposed to them. Now Harry had an even better understanding of why that was.
He looked around the room again; the children had finished eating and were dutifully putting their plates in the sink. Mercy turned her head suddenly and gave him one of her disturbing, penetrating gazes, with those odd pale eyes. He shivered involuntarily.
He also wondered whether this room was really empty of Third Eyes. Somehow, it didn't seem the time to bring up his dementor fears, just in case. He already knew Dumbledore worried about the dementors becoming followers of Voldemort. He remembered huddling in the corner of his cell in Azkaban....
"But," Katie went on, "when you were in Azkaban, it was for even longer than my dad. And he wasn't in solitary--there were others around whose minds the dementors could feed on. Why weren't you affected the same way my dad was?"
"Because I am an Animagus," Sirius said simply. "Yes, I had two dementors posted outside my cell. And whenever I was in my human form, they made me feel utterly miserable and wretched. But when I was in my Animagus form, they couldn't really get hold of my mind; it didn't feel like a human mind to them, and my emotions didn't feel like human emotions. Technically, they weren't. That's also how I was able to escape."
Harry vividly remembered walking past the dementors in his griffin form, leaping from the barren rock with his wings spread, facing the coast of Scotland... Suddenly he had a thought. "Wormtail! He's an Animagus too! Did you tell them how you escaped? Do they know that they have to prevent Wormtail from doing the same thing?"
Sirius nodded. "Numerous precautions have been made against Peter being able to transfigure himself. They know the danger. I explained to the Ministry exactly how it was that I escaped, and how I prevented the dementors affecting my mind as much as the other prisoners. Although, once again--I believe Peter thinks he is safest in custody, and is unlikely to leave that safety."
Harry frowned. "Yeah, and I believed I helped bring him in against his will. Don't you think it's also possible that they won't be as vigilant about a prisoner they think is there willingly? Don't you think he knows that?"
Sirius considered this. "You make a good point. I'm going down to the Ministry in a few minutes to see Peter; I'll bring it up with the appropriate parties. I should be back before lunch."
"To see Peter!" Harry was shocked; and suddenly, he realized that all during the recitation of Wormtail's crimes, Sirius had called his old comrade 'Peter,' not Pettigrew or Wormtail. He scrutinized Sirius, who hardly seemed to be the same man willing to risk going back to Azkaban for killing Peter Pettigrew only three years earlier.
"Yes, Harry. I'm going to visit him. There may be something else he can tell us before they take him off to Azkaban. They'll be stunning him before they do that, by the way; he won't be revived until he's safely in his new cell."
Harry considered this; in some ways, it didn't seem fair that Wormtail wouldn't have that terrifying first glimpse of the stone fortress that he had had when he was taken to prison in his other life. On the other hand, if being stunned prevented him from escaping, it really did seem like the best course of action.
Ron was looking stunned himself when Harry told him he was driving back to London with Katie.
"Erm, just the two of you? And after all--the two of us are here to see you, and now you're running off to London." They were in the courtyard; Harry was in a chair he'd carried out from the desk in the sitting room and Ron was on a stone bench that was built into the outer wall. Harry tilted the chair back on two legs, his feet up on the bench beside Ron. Hermione was lying down on the bench, her head on Ron's leg, sleeping off her exhaustion. She'd been for an early run with Harry, Ron, Draco and Ginny, and then trained with Ron in the courtyard. Ron touched her shining curls tenderly as she slept.
"I'm not abandoning you," Harry assured him. "I'll be coming back by Floo. It will only take a couple of days. We can cut across the country. We don't have to go by way of Leicestershire and Exeter, since we won't be stopping at your place and at Maggie's. We really only brought the car coming up here because we couldn't very well Floo to Maggie's house. And maybe--this will give the two of you a chance to get closer." He raised an eyebrow, hoping Ron would take the hint. His best friend grimaced.
"Harry, you have no idea how much I want for us to get closer." Ron's voice was even more suggestive than Harry's. "But--I don't want to rush things. I don't ever want to hurt her. I mean physically. It's a good thing I can do magic whenever I want now; I'm still using Reparo all the time, it seems...."
Harry smiled. "I've only seen you break two things since you've been here. And they were easily fixed. Hermione isn't a teacup, Ron. She's tougher than you think."
Ron looked down at her sleeping face again, his feelings plain. "You know what she's done, don't you, Harry?" he whispered, awe in his voice as he regarded her. "In addition to her Animagus training, she's been going to the dojo, meditating--" Harry nodded.
"For you. And you did it first, partly for her. I couldn't believe how you managed to calm Maggie when I almost sent her off the deep end. You did slip a bit this morning, though. I thought you were going to kill Malfoy when he started talking about Ginny and Hermione." As usual, Malfoy had felt it necessary to comment on the girls' running outfits. Ron frowned deeply.
"Malfoy will probably be my ultimate test. If I can prevent him from getting me hacked off, I'll know I'm completely in control of my werewolf temper..."
Harry laughed. "You never needed to be a werewolf to get hacked off at him before. I reckon it's a good thing Malfoy's leaving before you rip his arms off." Ron grinned, evidently enjoying thinking about this almost as much as visualizing Draco Malfoy the Amazing Bouncing Ferret. Harry went on, "He did share the driving on the way here, though. Ah, well. I suppose even the most annoying person can sometimes be useful in spite of himself...."
Ron turned his frown into a lopsided smile. "Well, on this trip you and Katie won't have to worry about anyone walking in on you."
Harry shifted his foot to the side and lightly kicked Ron's arm. "That's not why I'm going, you prat."
Ron's smile was broader now. "No, but if you're going to be on the road for a couple of days, you'll definitely have opportunity...."
"Are you going to continue to live vicariously through me or are you and Hermione--?"
"Don't, Harry. Don't say it." Ron looked angry now. Harry shrugged.
"You just seem awfully interested in my sex life." He looked at Ron's face again to see what his reaction would be to this statement.
"Well, I can't have a--"
"Why the hell not?" Harry interrupted him impatiently.
Ron looked grumpier by the moment. "You don't have to worry about whether you're going to put Katie in hospital with broken bones, Harry. Last month, before the full moon--I can't describe it. There was this kind of mania running through me. I thought I would go absolutely mad. It wasn't hard for me to understand that day why people who are nutters are called 'lunatics.' The moon was certainly making me insane. I hate to think what I could have done to another human being in the same room with me...."
"So don't spend that time with another person!" Harry said, irritated. "Only do--that sort of thing--during other times of the month! How hard is that to work out?" He stopped just short of calling Ron stupid, feeling this wouldn't go over very well. But then Hermione started to stretch and yawn; she turned over so she was facing up, her eyes still closed. Ron put his finger up to his mouth.
"Don't wake her," he mouthed. Harry crossed his arms. He felt this was just an excuse to discontinue the conversation. He pulled out a Quidditch magazine he'd been looking at and started leafing through the pages, every now and then showing something to Ron in silence, while Hermione slept on.
At some point--Harry wasn't sure how long the three of them had been sitting there--Hermione started making a sort of humming noise, and, looking over his magazine, Harry saw that Ron had been lightly stroking her arm. Her eyes still closed, she reached up and found Ron's chin, her fingers dreamily tracing his jawline. Harry tried to suppress a smile. He rose unobtrusively and crept into the house, going to the kitchen for a cold drink. There was a door in the corner of the kitchen which led to a large pantry. The pantry was charmed to be very cold, and functioned like a walk-in refrigerator. Harry helped himself to some ice-cold pumpkin juice, then walked back out into the kitchen drinking it, settling himself at the long table to read the Daily Prophet that was scattered there.
The windows into the courtyard were open, and when he heard a small groan, he looked up, smiling as he saw the reason for the groan. Waking, Hermione had pulled Ron's face down to hers; he had lifted her up slightly so that her head wasn't on his lap any more. Their mouths were locked and his hand was in her hair, holding her face up to his. It barely registered on Harry's consciousness that Draco Malfoy had entered the room; seeing the expression on Harry's face, he turned to look out the windows. Suddenly, too quickly for Harry to stop him, he strode to the open window and stuck his head out of it, yelling at them, "Get a room, already, Weasley and Granger!"
He slammed the window shut and Hermione and Ron looked up in alarm; Harry thought it was possible they'd forgotten that anyone could see them in the courtyard. Would they go get a room? Harry wondered. With only each other for company for a couple of days, maybe things would progress a little, Harry thought.
But then Draco Malfoy turned away from the windows and met Harry's frown, returning it.
"What're you looking at, Potter?" he grouched, walking to the pantry.
"What am I looking at?" Harry responded, breathing heavily through his nostrils. "I'm looking at a dirty rotten liar, that's what I'm looking at."
Malfoy emerged from the pantry with his own glass of pumpkin juice. He was grinning. "Oh. Right. Ginny told me that Katie tried to rat me out. Nice try, Potter, but--as usual--I was one step ahead of you."
Harry wanted to wrap his hands around his throat; for a minute he wished he had Ron's werewolf strength. "I had nothing to do with it. Katie decided to tell Ginny because she didn't feel right keeping the information to herself. She wanted Ginny to know just what you are. Unfortunately, she still doesn't know."
Draco Malfoy made a mock-sad face. "Aw. Am I supposed to be contrite and falling over myself to apologize? You'll grow old waiting for that."
"I know. You haven't got a conscience, so I know better than to wait for you to behave like people who do. Listen, if Ginny isn't ready to sleep with you and that's all you're interested in, fine; break up with her and see any girl you like. But don't run around shagging other girls behind her back. Make a clean break."
"Oh, you'd like that, wouldn't you? I don't think so, Potter. You're not my boss, you know. We aren't at school right now. You're not Head Boy of the world. You're Captain of the Hogwarts Dueling Club, not of Draco Malfoy. And I don't even know what the hell you are when it comes to the damn house-elves...."
"General of the Elven Army," Harry said between clenched teeth. Malfoy laughed.
"General of the Elven--" he tried to echo, in a high-pitched voice, but he couldn't get the words out for his laughter. "Oh--that's just too much, Potter. I think I'm going to rupture something--" He leaned against the stone wall, laughing harder.
Harry rose; he resisted the urge to lay hands on him, instead going to the door. "Good. You'll save me the trouble of rupturing something for you." He stalked out of the kitchen, going down the stairs to the dungeons. He felt a little aimless, and decided to go for a swim in the underground pool. He had to walk down two levels below the ground floor, then let himself into the men's changing room where he knew Sirius had put some swimming togs for him. After changing and selecting a towel, he went through to the pool room, which had an arched ceiling rather like the Great Hall at Hogwarts; it was enchanted to look like the outside sky at all times, so that instead of feeling like you were swimming in an underground grotto, it appeared that the pool was out in the open, under a blazing hot summer sun (far hotter, in fact, than the real sun that day). The walls were painted with an animated mural, as well, of a thriving garden (birds, squirrels and even gxnomes ran through the garden, but could never escape from their two-dimensional prison), and the interior of the pool itself was painted turquoise blue, making the clear, shimmering water take on the same color.
He found that he wasn't the only one who wanted to cool off in the pool; Ginny was already there, relaxing on the steps that led down into the water. Evidently, she wasn't planning to leave Ascog just yet. She was leaning back with her eyes closed, as though absorbing the sun, but Harry knew that the enchantment didn't actually allow people to tan or burn. He swallowed; her long, slim legs extended from her simple white one-piece swimming outfit and her hair was braided and wrapped around her head, out of her way. He turned away, trying not to look at her, and placed his towel on a bench along the wall, unwinding Sandy from his arm, placing her gently on the towel. Although she liked damp environments, she wasn't a water snake, and didn't want to be in the water itself.
"Should I leave, do you think, Sandy?" he hissed softly at her. She raised her small head and stared at him.
"Why should you leave, Harry Potter? I thought you said you wanted to swim."
"Yes, I do, but--but she's here."
"Does she not want you to swim?"
"It's not that. She's hacked off at me."
"She's cross with me," he explained. "She'll probably just storm off in a huff."
"Then what is the problem? She will no longer be here."
"But--" Harry said, floundering. "She'll probably tell me off first."
"Why will she tell you off?"
"Because she thinks I'm after her."
"That I want her to be my girlfriend."
Sandy seemed to be looking at Ginny now, then back at Harry.
"What--? No--no I don't," he sputtered.
"I do not lie to you, Harry Potter. Do not lie to me."
"Harry Potter, do you know what it means to have the Sight?"
"It means--you can foretell the future. In your case, only a few minutes ahead and in the vicinity where you are, but still--you can See what's going to happen."
"That is not all. All who have the Sight--snake, human, Centaur, or other creatures, for other creatures do have the Sight--can also see the Truth. You know that I have never lied to you, Harry Potter?"
Harry clamped his mouth shut, then barely let his words escape, hissing softly, "Yes, I know you would never lie to me, Sandy."
"It is not that I never would lie to you. I cannot. I can speak only Truth. When I See things, I tell the Truth of what I See. There are more general things that can be Seen as well. Things that do not happen at a particular time. Things that Are. That too is Truth."
Harry looked at the small green snake, feeling his stomach turning over within him. He peered at Ginny over his shoulder, still lying back on her elbows while her legs floated in the clear water.
Enough of this, he thought. He couldn't bring himself to argue with Sandy any more. She's wrong, he thought stubbornly. He took off his watch and put it on the towel next to Sandy, then went to the shallow end of the pool and jumped in, more messily than he'd planned. Ginny was liberally splashed by his doing this and sat up spluttering.
"What--? Harry! You're as bad as Ron!" She wiped the water from her face and scowled at him. He stood in the waist-high water, feeling rather foolish.
Yes, he thought. Think of me as your brother. I'll think of you as my sister. Then we'll be all right.
"Um--sorry. I didn't realize it would be so bad."
He wondered if she was going to say anything about the day before, about his being in the bathroom listening to her conversation with Katie. About her accusation. He looked at her again; the basilisk amulet was hanging between her breasts, the silver flashing in the imitation sun.
"When did you start wearing the amulet?" he asked her suddenly.
She looked jolted. "Yesterday morning. Draco--Draco gave it to me before breakfast."
Harry nodded. "It's about time. I gave it to him over a month ago."
Ginny seemed irritated now. "Are you going to swim or not?"
He turned side to side in the water and slapped the surface lightly with his hands. "I'm just getting used to it right now. I can't really swim, anyway."
She looked genuinely perplexed. "But--but you went into the lake at school. For the second task."
"Right. Well--I had Gillyweed. That gave me gills on my neck, so I could breathe underwater. I didn't really need to know how to swim for that."
"Oh. I see." She looked around, as though worried that someone would see them. "Do you--do you want me to teach you?"
His heart was suddenly thudding very fast. Being told off he had expected. This he had not. "Er--do you want to?"
"I wouldn't have offered." For some reason her voice shook nervously. Finally, he nodded. "You'll need to take off your glasses, for a start," she told him.
"Still--I think it would be a good idea. Just put them on the side."
He walked to the edge of the pool and put his glasses down, turning back to her. She was now an orange-peach-white blur. He saw her walk down the steps into the water, then come closer to him. He was in a daze for the next half-hour while she helped him learn to float, and put his face in the water without flinching, and fill his lungs without gasping before going below the surface again....
They had moved closer to the center of the pool; he came up above the surface of the chest-high water. She was standing very close to him. He tried to fling his hair out of his face and looked at her; at close range he could see her fairly clearly. He could see the expression in her enormous brown eyes as her fingers pushed his wet hair off his brow for him, and he wanted to freeze that moment forever in time, that unguarded look she had just then. But suddenly, when her fingers came in contact with his scar, a blinding pain went crashing through his skull and he recoiled, opening his mouth in a scream and also losing his footing on the pool bottom. He went down in the water with his mouth open, inhaling copious amounts of water, then coming up gasping.
In his mind's eye, even when his eyes weren't closed, he could see the images. The people screaming, dashing about like mice before a bird of prey. The dark-cloaked figures running them down, pointing their wands...He could hear the high, cold voice and the eerie laughter.... He could see crackling green light... Again and again and again and again....
The pain was the most incredible he'd ever felt from his scar. It was worse than the Westminster station explosion, worse than Karkaroff being killed at Draco Malfoy's initiation, worse than Frank Bryce being killed... It felt as though a white-hot poker was branding his skin and then penetrating, going into his very skull, his brain. He cried out and went down again, taking in more water. He felt Ginny's hands on him, struggling to hold onto his wet, slippery arms and torso. Then, while he was under the water, he gasped, and felt his lungs fill again with that alien substance which no human could live without, but which no human was supposed to breathe: water. He felt as though his lungs were exploding, and then--
Everything went black.
A body was close to his, leaning over him. A warm, soft mouth was pressed against his mouth; he felt puffs of air come from the mouth. He coughed convulsively, then instinctively turned to the side and vomited water onto the tiled floor, coughing even more afterward, feeling her soothing touch on the bare skin of his back. He rolled onto his back again, looking up at her. She was just far enough away that her features were too indistinct for him to make out her expression. He could see red hair, nose, eyes, mouth; an Impressionist's rendering of a pretty girl, but no specific girl. Her braid had come unwrapped from around her head and hung down next to the basilisk amulet, which was a blob of silver.
He tentatively reached up and put his hand behind her neck, gently encouraging her to lean down again. When she did, his hand was no longer in contact with her neck; she did it of her own accord. Her mouth was on his, and she was giving him life again, life of another sort, then shedding soft kisses on his cheeks, his chin, his nose. With her face so close now, he could see the tracks of the tears running down it.
"I thought you were gone," she said thickly, sniffing. "And it was all my fault..."
He framed her face with his hands, holding it in place so that she was near enough for him to really see her. "You saved my life," he whispered; he hadn't enough air in his lungs yet to speak normally.
"Then," she said, swallowing, still allowing him to hold her head in place, "I guess we're even."
It seemed that they stayed there like that, just looking at each other, for a long time. Eventually, Harry broke the silence.
"I never thanked you, you know, for defending me when your dad was upset about my performing that spell on Maggie...." he whispered to her.
She reddened. "I believed what I said. That's all."
He stroked her cheek gently. "Do you know the first thing I ever remember you saying?" he asked her. She shook her head.
He smiled, no longer concerned about stopping the feelings inside him from welling up and taking him over. He was too weak at this moment to worry about denying how he felt about her. She gasped for a moment and moved back from him a fraction of an inch, and he thought it was possible that his love showed on his face, and in his eyes.
"You were defending me," he said quietly. "That's what you did the first time I ever heard you speak. I don't remember the exact words, but Malfoy was accusing me of enjoying that circus in Flourish and Blotts, when Gilderoy Lockhart was trying to get even more attention by having his photograph taken with me.
"You knew who he was, you knew who his father was, how wealthy and influential the Malfoys were. You didn't care. You stepped right up to Malfoy and practically screamed in his face that I didn't want all that attention...." He smiled with the memory. "You were such a wee thing back then. Well, not really short. Thin. Looked like a good breeze would blow you away."
She was growing redder by the second, but she didn't move, listening attentively to him, watching his face as though it fascinated her.
"And then--well, then I did a colossally stupid thing...."
"What?" She frowned.
"When Malfoy said--"
"Potter, you've got yourself a girlfriend!" Harry looked up, startled, as Draco Malfoy came striding into the room, clasping his amulet as he walked. "The only problem is, see, the one you've got there happens to be mine." Katie had come hurrying after him, a panicky set to her features. "I believe this one here belongs to you."
Katie crossed her arms. "We're neither of us the property of you, or Harry or anyone else, Draco Malfoy." Then she shook herself, as if annoyed that he had managed to sidetrack her. She went down on her knees beside Harry. "Are you all right? First Draco, now you--"
Harry tried to sit up, shaking his head to try to clear it. "What are you talking about?"
She looked very grim. "His Dark Mark. He fell down half a flight of stairs because of the pain. I read about it in the coverage of his dad's trial, but I almost forgot he had the thing. I didn't even know until then that the Dark Mark was anything other than that dreadful sign they used to fire into the sky. It's just about impossible to see it now for all of those stupid tattoos my father helped him get...."
Malfoy was looking at her with one eyebrow raised. "Why the hell do you think I wanted the tattoos? And really, now, Katie; I've seen you looking at those 'stupid tattoos,' especially when I've got my shirt off. And look at your dad; he's got a lot more than I have--"
The Mark. Right, Harry thought. He remembered how the pain from the Mark had made him transform back into a human when he and Draco were flying over Northamptonshire, how they had fallen from the sky....
Katie behaved as though Draco Malfoy hadn't said a word, continuing to talk to Harry. "You-Know-Who must be summoning the Death Eaters. That's what it means, doesn't it? That's what he said," she motioned with her head to Draco. "When a Death Eater's Dark Mark hurts like that--something important is going to happen. Then--he went from rolling around on the landing in pain to suddenly deciding he needed to come running down here. He said something about Ginny kneeling over you, although I haven't any idea how he could have known...."
Draco Malfoy must have clutched at the amulet for comfort in the midst of pain, Harry realized, and--and he had seen Ginny.
Bending over him.
"Harry went under," Ginny explained shakily. "He breathed in a lot of water."
Malfoy grimaced. "That's his excuse? That's how he got you to--"
"Sod off!" Katie said unexpectedly, unable to ignore him any longer. Harry turned to her; he realized that she had seen the look on his face when he'd been gazing at Ginny. He tried to put the mask on again, to push down his feelings once more....
Katie smiled gently at Harry. "Are you all right now, Harry? Did Ginny get you out?"
He nodded. "Yeah, I guess. I don't know how--"
"I levitated you," Ginny said simply.
Katie looked at her with wide eyes. "Without your wand? And without being of-age?" she added. She was strongly reminding Harry of a cop again.
Ginny bristled. "It was an emergency. Underage witches and wizards are allowed to use magic in an emergency. And--I didn't think about it. Not having my wand. I just did it." Now that she was thinking about it, she sounded a little frightened of what she'd done.
"So," Katie said, calming down. "Like I said--I think something's going to happen. When you're strong enough, we'll get you upstairs and--"
"It already has happened," Harry interrupted her. He touched his scar tentatively; it was still tender. "The reason I went under was my scar; it was hurting me incredibly. I've never felt anything quite like it before...."
Malfoy crouched down, the antagonism gone from his face. "What is it? Why was I being summoned?" he asked softly. Harry looked at him; for a rare moment it was like having his old friend back.
"Diagon Alley," he whispered to the blond boy. "Voldemort has attacked Diagon Alley." As the three of them recoiled in horror, taking this in, Harry closed his eyes again, seeing the screaming, running people, the shops aflame; he could hear the maniacal laughter and feel the cold evil like a steel blade against his throat....
"We need to get upstairs now," he said suddenly, urgently. "We can't wait. There's--there's a wireless in the sitting room...We need to find out what's happening...."
He found his glasses and wound Sandy around his arm and the towel around his waist. The four of them rushed out of the pool room and started running up the stairs to the ground floor, but Harry saw a number of small black dots dancing before his eyes which grew larger and larger until they merged together and he was out again. The next thing he knew, Draco Malfoy was slapping him in the face, yelling at him, "Wake up, Harry, damn you!" without actually sounding angry. For once he seemed genuinely concerned. Harry shook his woolly head and soon he was moving up the stairs again, one arm looped over Draco's shoulders, one over Ginny's, while Katie brought up the rear. They stumbled into the sitting room where Sirius was writing a letter at the desk. His parents sat close together on one of the couches, working the Daily Prophet crossword together. Sirius looked up in alarm when he saw the four of them. Harry and Ginny were still dressed for the pool, Harry white as a sheet and being supported by Ginny and Draco. Harry was feeling very dizzy and lightheaded and likely to pass out again at any second.
"The wireless," he gasped, feeling like an elephant was sitting on his lungs. "Turn--on--the--"
Ginny and Katie quickly led him to the other couch and he collapsed on it, while Callisto Black rose and turned on the wireless on the mantle. She raised her eyebrows at her son questioningly; Sirius shrugged. But none of them had to wonder what was going on for long as a crisp female voice blared from the wireless, telling them of the disaster that was Diagon Alley:
"--after triage, ten of the twenty-three wounded appear to be critical, according to a spokesman from St. Mungo's. The reports are still spotty, but a contingent of Aurors are making a sweep of Diagon Alley now; some Death Eaters are still reportedly holed up in Gringott's, and rumors abound that that was the real target of this attack....We are attempting to contact the Bank Manager, but he does not seem to be taking calls at this time. Alarmists are worried that this might be the beginning of another Goblin rebellion, but this reporter certainly hopes we will not see that kind of carnage again in such enlightened times...."
Harry sat up. "The bank!"
Sirius stared at him. "Did you know about this, Harry?"
Harry nodded. "My scar started hurting while I was in the pool. I--I saw it. Diagon Alley was being attacked by Death Eaters. By Voldemort." He closed his eyes, remembering. "Children," he said, his eyes still closed. "There were children, and teenagers--Hogwarts students--shopping with their parents, getting their school things..."
"--Again, that is fifteen dead, twenty-three wounded, ten critically, after a Death Eater attack on Diagon Alley which has culminated in a hostage situation at Gringott's, I am now told. The Bank Manager cannot be reached and no statements have been issued by Gringott's at this time. The dead and wounded are being transported to St. Mungo's. No names have been released."
Ron and Hermione ran into the room, breathless. "We were up on the roof, and I heard the wireless saying--" Ron began, then clamped his mouth shut as the voice continued. Harry remembered Lupin talking about a werewolf's hearing abilities. Harry noticed that the sitting room windows were open; the sound would have drifted up to the roof that way (for someone with superior hearing). They all gave their attention to the wireless again.
"Witches and wizards throughout the British Isles are cautioned not to try to Apparate to Diagon Alley or Knockturn Alley. Anti-Apparition wards have been placed on the entire area to contain the culprits and all fireplaces in the Alleys have been temporarily removed from the Floo network. Do not, repeat, DO NOT, come to Diagon Alley or Knockturn Alley until the Ministry issues the all-clear. The Leaky Cauldron has also been shut to business for the duration and the public house's exit to Muggle London has been sealed."
Ursula had entered the room with her children; they had been in the courtyard, playing, but they all looked very grim now. Ursula picked up Mercy and held her tightly, the thin little legs wrapped around her mother, while her boys stood close against her; Orion was pale, his dark eyes very round.
"We were just there yesterday," he said quietly. "I--I met this other boy who was also going to be a first year. He said--he said they didn't have time to get everything he needed. He was going to be going back for the rest today--" The boy swallowed.
"...we will keep the wizarding public apprised of developments as they occur. The Minister of Magic will be making a statement later today. We now return you to the music of Screaming Haggis...."
Sirius switched off the wireless before the bagpipe music could begin blaring. They all stood staring at each other, dumbfounded. Then, as if awaking from a sleep, Sirius looked sadly at his sister.
"Perhaps you should take the children upstairs, Ursula." She nodded, still clutching Mercy tightly to her. The girl struggled in her mother's arms.
"No, mummy, I want to stay--"
But Orion put his arm across Leo's shoulders and nodded to his uncle before turning and following his mother and sister from the room.
Sirius strode to the fireplace where his mother was still standing, staring into space, clearly shaken by the news of the attack. Harry thought that she must be remembering Voldemort's first rise to power, and finding out that he son was responsible for killing a street fully of Muggles and betraying his best friends. He put his hands on his mother's shoulders and looked lovingly into her face. "Sit down, Mum," he said gently. She looked up at her son, her youngest child, whom she hadn't seen for over a dozen years. She kissed his cheek and nodded, turning to join her husband on the couch again. It was still very strange to Harry to see an older version of Sirius with white hair and a lined face. Walter Black enfolded his wife in his arms and she put her head on his shoulder.
Sirius turned back to the fireplace; he waved his hand and flames sprang up in the cold firebox. Then he reached into a small bowl on the mantle and picked up a pinch of powder, throwing it into the fire and saying, "Albus Dumbledore!"
There was a slight delay, then a spinning head appeared in the firebox, and there, nestled amid the licking flames, was the bearded head of Hogwarts' headmaster.
"Sirius! I'm glad you called. I was just speaking to Cornelius, and--"
"So you know."
"Yes. Evidently you do as well."
"I just turned off the wireless. Harry knew first, actually. His scar."
Harry stood and walked to where Sirius was before the fire; the flames weren't very hot, but they were starting make the water still clinging to him evaporate. He reckoned it was safe, as Dumbledore would only be able to see his head in the fireplace at Hogwarts.
"Professor," Harry said shakily, "there were Hogwarts students there. Shopping."
Dumbledore nodded. "Hello, Harry. Yes, I know," he said heavily. "That was one of the things the Minister and I were discussing. Some of the dead and wounded are young people--"
Out of the corner of his eye, Harry could see horror registering on the others' faces; Hermione buried her head on Ron's chest as he put his arms around her, and Ginny clutched at Draco Malfoy, while Katie looked torn between anger and sorrow.
"I'm going to be visiting St. Mungo's later today, after the wounded have received whatever medical attention is necessary. I was just about to call Ascog, but you beat me to it, Sirius. And although I'm always delighted to speak to you, I was chiefly interested in contacting Harry and Hermione...."
Hermione separated herself from Ron and stepped forward beside Harry. "Why, Professor?"
"Oh, there you are, Hermione. I had rather hoped that you and Harry might be able to come along with me to St. Mungo's. I think it might lift the spirits of the children to have their Head Boy and Girl visit...They don't really care about seeing their headmaster...."
Harry disagreed with this; it had always meant a great deal to him when Dumbledore had visited him in the hospital wing. But he didn't say so. "Of course, Professor. We'll both come. Can we get there by Floo?"
"Yes, yes. The usual procedure. Just say, 'St. Mungo's Hospital,' before you get into the firebox. You will, however, need to pass through a security check after you've arrived. To verify that you are who you appear to be. You understand, of course?"
They both nodded. "Of course," they said together.
"And you'll both be on the list of expected visitors. No unexpected visitors are being accepted for the foreseeable future. Only family members of the dead and wounded. They don't want just anyone waltzing in...."
"Professor," Harry said abruptly. "What about--what about Gringott's?"
Sirius turned to Harry, frowning. "Yes; why did you say the bank before, Harry?" he wanted to know.
"It occurred to me that if Voldemort gets the Goblins on his side, he'll control the finances of the entire wizarding world. No one will be able to do anything unless merchants decide to extend credit, or unless they have a cache of gold at home. Some people probably do, but I don't think they're the majority. Or people will have to start using Muggle money until the Ministry can take Gringott's back. I don't know whether Voldemort plans to start another Goblin rebellion; I think he wants to do more than that. Unless--"
"Unless what?" Dumbledore's head said from the fire.
He stared into space, frowning. "Unless it's a ruse. Something to distract the Ministry while he carries out his real plan...."
Ron stepped forward, looking very concerned. "What do you think that is?"
Harry turned to Katie. "Something you said earlier about your dad and the dementors made me think of it." He turned back to the fire. "But you've also said, Professor, that you think the dementors and Voldemort are natural allies...."
"Yes, I do," Dumbledore affirmed, nodding sadly.
Sirius looked at Harry, his eyes wild. "The dementors? What are you getting at, Harry?"
"Do we--do we know for certain that they can't get off Azkaban? Couldn't Voldemort just get a ship and sail to the prison and pick up the dementors and then go anywhere with them?"
"Fortunately, no," Dumbledore answered with a relieved sigh. "Azkaban is shielded from that sort of thing. Owls can find it, naturally, but it is invisible to most people, even wizards, unless they are traveling in an enchanted boat used for prisoner transport; being in the boat makes it possible to see past the shields. Of course, to the uninformed, whether wizard or Muggle, the boats all appear quite normal, and in fact--"
"--they have Muggle motors," Harry finished, remembering his trip to Azkaban, and the boat motor being switched off once they had reached the watery caves under the fortress.
"Yes," Dumbledore said cautiously, looking at Sirius, who was staring at Harry, clearly wondering how he knew this, but not saying anything.
"All right then--what if--what if the Aurors who take Wormtail there don't come back right away? How long before someone from Banff goes looking for them?"
"Someone from--how do you know about Banff, Harry?" Harry looked at Dumbledore when Sirius said this; he knew how Harry knew.
"That's not important right now. I'm just worried that if they keep sending Aurors in small bunches, they'll eventually get enough boats to leave the island in large numbers....and if they do, they won't go to Banff. Too many wizards there. They'll go someplace like Fraserburgh, which is closer to Azkaban, and the Muggles there won't know what hit them...." Harry thought of the people he'd met in Fraserburgh, and the people he didn't meet, as well: the crowd of spectators at the football match, the fishermen and boatwrights whose livelihood was the sea, all of the nameless, faceless people living in the identical grey stone houses marching up the hill from the bay, those who lived in the caravan park beyond the golf club, and the cooks in the clubhouse kitchen, watching their small television and trading jokes as they chopped vegetables and cooked meals for the wealthy club members....
Sirius watched his face, no longer asking him things like how he knew Fraserburgh was closer to Azkaban than Banff. Harry looked into his godfather's haunted eyes, a man who lived in Azkaban for twelve years out of self-imposed guilt. Someone who knew dementors well, even though he had learned how to prevent them from driving him completely insane.
Dumbledore sighed. "I will bring up your concerns with the Minister, Harry. He'll be at St. Mungo's later, and we can discuss all of this in person." Harry didn't have much hope of this doing any good; he knew that Fudge liked having the dementors to guard prisoners. He was silent again, then looked up at Harry. He seemed far older than Harry had ever seen him. "Whether Voldemort's goal was to control the bank or to distract us all while he recruits the dementors, or something else entirely, you know what this attack means, don't you? What all of this means?" he asked quietly, looking very grave. Everyone seemed to be holding their breaths.
Harry nodded at him. His throat was dry, but when he spoke, his whisper sounded like a shout in the utterly still room.
"We're at war."
"What do you mean I can't go back to Surrey?" Draco Malfoy was livid. Harry was dried and dressed and prepared to go to St. Mungo's with Hermione. They were all still sitting around the kitchen table, having finished lunch. Harry remembered when Malfoy considered himself to be 'stuck' in Surrey. Sirius looked sideways at Harry.
"It was Harry's idea, and I think he has a point. At any rate, you were going to Apparate to the Diagon Alley, and you can't do that now. Diagon Alley is closed down for the time being. And Arabella's place isn't on the Floo network for security reasons--to protect the two of you."
Malfoy struck the table angrily, making the dishes jump. "So I'm stuck here? In the middle of bleeding nowhere?"
"You have two choices," Harry told him, remembering Malfoy saying earlier that he wasn't his boss outside of school. Think again, Malfoy. "You can drive with us to London, taking turns at the wheel with Katie to help it go faster, or you can wait for us to arrive there and then Floo to her flat, and Mrs. Figg can come up from Surrey to get you in her car."
"Why can't I just Floo to the flat now?"
Katie shook her head. "I disconnected us from the network before I left. I need to reconnect it for you to use it--Dad can't. I told Harry, dad didn't have it hooked up before I came to stay with him. He doesn't like the idea of people being able to just pop in."
Draco Malfoy brightened. "Pop in! That's it! I'll just Apparate to your flat, call Mrs. Figg to come get me--"
Katie made a face. "No." she said, an alarmed look on her face.
"No? Why not?"
"I'm not telling you where I live! If I did, you could just Apparate there anytime you wanted. If you have to rely on our fire being part of the Floo network--which it isn't always--you can't necessarily do that. Oh, and by the way, Harry and I will have to lead you out to Mrs. Figg's car, as you'll be blindfolded. So you can't see where the flat is."
"Oh, that's nice." He glared at Harry and Katie. "I think I'd rather drive that poky little car of yours."
"No," Harry said firmly.
Draco snorted through his nostrils. "I thought you wanted help with the driving. Worried about me walking in on the pair of you again?"
"No," Harry stressed. "I changed my mind. I think you should stay here. It's not safe for you to just take off across the country, not now. We can't risk you falling into Voldemort's hands!" Harry yelled at him.
"Oh, sure, I really believe you want to protect me--"
"I don't!" Harry responded. "I'm trying to protect the rest of the wizarding world, you prat! We can fight--if we have to--and if we die, we die. We won't be endangering other people. Voldemort's on the move now. The Obedience Charm keeps you from being able to hurt him, so you can't fight him off. If he gets hold of you and gives you a direct order, and you agree to do whatever he tells you--"
He stopped, swallowing.
Malfoy also swallowed. "How do you know I won't just refuse?" he said, voice shaking. "How do you know I won't choose to just drop dead?" His voice trailed off; Harry wondered how much he'd thought about this since finding out about the Obedience Charm, and he bit back a retort about how wonderful that would be.
"I suppose that's a possibility," he said between his teeth, not sure he believed this. "In which case I don't see why you would want to risk that happening. Just do as your told." That's my Obedience Charm, he thought.
Malfoy glared at him. Harry glared right back.
Finally, Malfoy stood, pounding his hands on the table again. "Fine! Call me and let me know when you're in London so I can finally see the last of this place!"
He stormed from the room. Harry looked at Ginny. He remembered saying to her, If he died, if would have made you sad, as his dad had said to his mum. What would she do if Draco Malfoy refused an order from Voldemort and dropped down dead? He'd be considered a hero of sorts, or at least a martyr....
Harry turned and looked at Katie. "Well. At least it should be a peaceful trip back to London," he said, trying to keep his voice from shaking. "My visit to St. Mungo's shouldn't take long. We can leave when I get back."
She nodded. "But frankly--I don't think we should consider stopping in wizarding districts on the way back. Somehow I think we'll be safer in the Muggle world. We can go as far as Carlisle on the first leg; that's only about two hours from Skelmorlie. We'll stay overnight in Carlisle, then in the morning we can drive to Manchester--"
Harry smiled. "We could drop in on Remus, if he tells us how to find his place. And Ruth Pelta lives in Manchester."
"All right. We could have lunch in Manchester, then drive to Birmingham, take a break there, maybe have tea, then in the early evening we can go the rest of the way to London."
Sirius nodded. "I agree with Katie; best to avoid wizarding locations. And as such, I think that when you're in Manchester, you shouldn't look up Remus. Or this other friend. You don't--" Sirius stopped suddenly, clamping his mouth shut. Harry thought he might have prevented himself from saying, You don't want to put others in danger.
"Are you sure you want me going, Sirius?" Harry asked, not liking the look on his godfather's face. Sirius sighed.
"Frankly, no, I don't. But I've got to accept you being of-age. Being able to take care of yourself, make your own decisions. Which brings me to something else--" He looked around nervously; there were still a number of other people in the kitchen. Ron and Hermione were sitting together with the remains of their lunches before them, trading different sections of the Daily Prophet. Mercy, Orion and Leo were finishing their meal, along with their mother. Sirius motioned to the doorway with his head, rising from his seat. Harry and Katie followed him from the kitchen and into the now-deserted sitting room. Sirius sat on one of the couches near the cold fireplace and motioned for Harry and Katie to sit on one of the upholstered benches nearby. He looked very uncomfortable about what he wanted to say.
"I, er, get the impression from Ron that the two of you have, er, been--"
"--intimate?" Katie asked him, bold as brass, a challenging look in her eyes.
Sirius cleared his throat. "Right. That. At any rate, I just wanted to be certain that the two of you are, er, taking certain precautions...."
"Prophylaxis Potion," Katie said simply. Sirius nodded at her.
"Good. Good to hear. But I, ah, was also thinking of other things..."
Katie sat up straight. "I've only had one other partner, and neither of us had been with anyone else before that. I believe Harry and Hermione had never been with anyone else before they were together, either. So the circle is closed," she said with finality.
Sirius' eyes widened. "Is that what Ron meant by--" Harry realized that Sirius hadn't realized the nature of his relationship with Hermione. Sirius looked at Harry. "I thought Katie was--"
"--his first?" Katie said, smiling slyly. "No. That role will go down in the history books as having been played by Hermione Granger."
Harry frowned. "That won't be in any bloody history books if I can help it. Can we stop talking about this now?" He felt very uncomfortable, and Sirius didn't look much better, but he seemed determined to do his duty as a godfather.
"Right. That's done." Sirius looked very relieved. "I believe you and Hermione," he blushed now as he said her name, "are supposed to go to St. Mungo's soon?"
Harry nodded, and, as though he'd used a summoning charm, Hermione walked in, wearing lightweight warm-weather robes that she was buttoning over a summery yellow dress. She also wore her Head Girl badge. Harry realized, seeing her, that he should probably look very official too, instead of just showing up in jeans and a grubby T-shirt with grass stains from his former job as a gardener. He explained that this was what he was going to do and went up to his room to find something appropriate to wear. When he returned, he also had wizarding robes on over a clean shirt and trousers, his Head Boy badge gleaming on his chest. When he saw Harry wearing the badge, Sirius looked at him with moist eyes.
"I remember your dad being Head Boy," he said softly, giving Harry a quick hug before leaving the room quickly, his nose twitching. Harry watched him go, then turned to Hermione.
She nodded. Katie walked to Harry and put her arms around him; he held her, and she said in a muffled voice, talking into his chest, "They'll be over the moon, getting a visit from you, you know. Anyone in hospital. I just--I do hope it's no one we know. Especially those who died--" Then she straightened up and put her hand over her mouth. "Oh, listen to me. That's terrible. As if only people I know should have the right to be unharmed--"
Hermione put her hand on Katie's arm. "No, no. I know just what you mean. I think--I think if I just find out that it's strangers who died, and who are lying in those hospital beds, I can cope. I can smile and be Head Girl and tell them it's going to be all right, and believe it, because then it won't really touch me. I don't--I don't know whether I can face anyone I know and say the same thing..."
Katie suddenly launched herself at Hermione, giving her a tight hug, then holding her at arm's length. "You're going to be a wonderful Head Girl, you know," she said thickly before bolting from the room. Hermione looked after her, eyes starting to fill with tears. Then she looked at Harry, annoyed.
"Oh, drat it; now I'm going to be bawling before I even get there...."
Harry grinned at her. "Chin up. Stiff upper lip and all that. I'll do my best Percy impression and you can do your best impression of--well, of a female Percy. You have done for years, anyway...."
Hermione swatted his arm. "I am not a female Percy!" But she was laughing now, he was glad to see. Unfortunately, he had a bad feeling that it would be very difficult to laugh once they arrived at St. Mungo's. They both seemed to have this thought at the same time; they sobered, and she looked up at him with large, apprehensive eyes.
"Duty calls," she whispered. This would be their first official act as Head Girl and Head Boy: visiting the wounded Hogwarts students in hospital. He went first, throwing the Floo powder into the fire and saying clearly, "St. Mungo's Hospital!" He closed his eyes as he whirled, keeping his elbows in, one hand holding his glasses to his face. Finally, he fell out of a fireplace, stumbling for a moment (he'd never been able to make a graceful landing when traveling by Floo) and quickly moved out of the way for Hermione. She emerged from the fire half a minute later.
They were standing in a large entrance hall with institutional-looking lino on the floor and dingy walls that would have been celadon green halfway up if they'd been cleaned any time in the previous fifty years. Non-dripping candles sat in sconces on the walls, their light doubled by smudged mirrors behind them. A very large, perfectly bald wizard in aqua robes sat at a large brown desk in the middle of the space; he did not look up at them but seemed to be staring at a parchment scroll before him. Harry and Hermione walked uncertainly toward the desk. Harry felt dwarfed by the cavernous space.
About three feet from the desk they encountered what seemed to be an invisible wall; they bounced back from it as though it were made of rubber. They stood before this barrier, perplexed. Still without looking up, the wizard said in a gruff, deep voice, "Names?"
They looked at each other and swallowed.
"Hermione Granger and Harry Potter," Harry answered for both of them, trying to keep his voice steady.
The large wizard looked up, his blue eyes wide. He wore one gold earring and was suddenly grinning from that ear to his other one.
"'Arry Potter!" he exclaimed. He checked the list of expected visitors. "I din' notice yer name on the list b'fore, but 'ere it is! Oh, my, if I'd known 'Arry Potter was comin'--"
Harry reddened; he saw that a smile was playing around Hermione's mouth.
"We're supposed to be meeting Professor Dumbledore," he said, trying to maintain some dignity.
"Yeah, 'e's already 'ere. Lemme see ef I kin drum'im up..."
The very excited, very large wizard left at a jog, his ample stomach and bottom bouncing as he moved, looking quite beside himself. Harry frowned, and after the wizard was gone, Hermione laughed out loud.
"You'll just have to get used to it, Harry," she said, practically breathless, "now that you'll be out in the wizarding world more often. Most people at school are used to you by now, but outside of Hogwarts--"
He rolled his eyes. "The same thing happened when Orion met me. Do you know that Sirius never once told him I was coming to live in his house? And he'll be a first-year in September, too."
"I'd be willing to wager that all of the first-years will be a little star-struck by you. I mean, entering school and finding that Harry Potter is Head Boy....Someone they've read about since they were very small. It's not like when we started at Hogwarts. Now that we're going to be seventh-years, most of the other students weren't even born when you survived You-Know-Who's curse. You're a legend to them."
Harry frowned at her. "Do you think now that you're Head Girl you could say Voldemort, Hermione? Honestly..."
She frowned back at him. "Don't change the subject. All right, Voldemort. I don't have an aversion to it frankly; it's just a reflex, something I learned to do so I wouldn't upset other people. I don't have a thing about it, like Ron used to."
The large wizard returned; the best word Harry could think of was that he pranced back to his desk on surprisingly small feet. "'Ere 'e is!" he said excitedly. Harry grimaced. Albus Dumbledore came striding purposefully into the large room.
"Harry! Hermione! Good to see you. Come along, come along. I thought we'd start with the youngest first." He reached his arm through the barrier and pulled Harry and Hermione through.
"Er, sir--if you could tell us--" Harry looked over his shoulder at the large wizard and lowered his voice, "--did any Hogwarts students--did any of them die?"
Dumbledore looked at him with a very long face and sighed. "I'm afraid so, Harry. A third-year Hufflepuff, a fifth-year Slytherin--who was to have been a prefect--and two boys who were to have been first years. The others were all adults. Well, nominally--"
"What do you mean?"
The headmaster sighed. "Someone who was recently a student...I think you knew her, as she was a prefect...."
Hermione stepped forward. "Who?" she wanted to know, her brow furrowed.
"Perhaps you remember a Ravenclaw named Niamh Quirke?"
Hermione covered her mouth. Harry looked very grim. He remembered good and not-so-good things about Niamh, but he couldn't really lay claim to knowing her. In his other life, she'd been shagging Draco in the library....but she was also Head Girl during her seventh year (since Alicia Spinnet wasn't at Hogwarts) and then she became a double agent. In this life he only remembered that she had been gossiping with her Ravenclaw friends in the library, leading Ron to sleep with Parvati....And she didn't seem to approve of her brother being with Justin Finch-Fletchley, although Harry was never really clear about that.
"I remember her," he said hoarsely. Not wanting to put it off any longer, he said, "Let's go," to Professor Dumbledore.
They walked through doorways with Gothic arches and down dingy high-ceilinged corridors, passing nurses who appeared to be wearing nun's habits from the Middle Ages. Some of the nurses carried trays of potions. They also passed aqua-robed wizard orderlies transporting patients on levitating stretchers. A clutch of doctors consisting of two wizards and a witch bustled past them at one point, wearing identical peach-colored robes and tall pointed hats which matched; each of the three was carrying an armful of files, and they were evidently arguing about how to handle a case.
"No, no, Forsythe, thorn-tree flowers--especially the stamen--must be included in the potion or it will never work. The sort from Kenya--that mutated strain that was developed near Nairobi. Didn't you read my monograph on it last year in Journal of the WMA? If you don't keep up with the literature, you're liable to hurt someone with your ignorance--"
Forsythe straightened up as he passed; he had a beard of both brown and grey hair and wore thick round spectacles low on his rather long nose. "I'll have you know, Clancy, that I have been brewing this potion for my dear mother for years with absolutely no ill effect--"
"--no cure in sight either, I'll warrant--" the witch with them said sarcastically; she was the youngest of the three, with abundant freckles, blue eyes, unnatural-looking blonde hair pulled into a bun at the back of her head and a nose with a jog in it, as though it had been broken at some point. She had the largest bundle of file folders in her arms. Clancy gave her a glare.
"When I need your help, Anderssen--" Clancy said, running his fingers through his bright red hair as the three of them passed Harry, Hermione and Professor Dumbledore.
Harry heard her voice behind him now. "I read your monograph. At least you managed to get it published. The wizarding medical establishment is still so backward. Almost all witches in medicine are nurses. I can't get a JWMA article published to save my life. I'll bet if you sent one of mine in under your name they'd snatch it up--"
Suddenly, Harry had a strange feeling that someone was staring at the back of his head. He whirled, but all three of the doctors were turning a corner and disappearing from sight. No one else was visible in the corridor.
Hermione was also staring after the doctors, as though fascinated. He recovered first and had to tug on her arm to get her to stay with him and Dumbledore. They finally reached the children's ward and Dumbledore led them to the first bed. Before the headmaster could even finish saying, "I'd like to introduce you to--"
"Harry Potter!" the boy cried, his eyes widening. Harry didn't recognize him; he reckoned he looked young enough to be going into his first year in September. At the boy's exclamation, the other young people in the ward looked up and the mobile ones started forward, surrounding him quickly.
Harry Potter, Harry Potter, Harry, Harry, Potter, Potter....
The visit became a blur to Harry, who wasn't sure how many hands he shook, how many good wishes for a speedy recovery he offered (thanks to wizarding medicine, most of them wouldn't be in St. Mungo's more than twenty-four hours). They saw only two students they knew from Gryffindor: Amy and Andy Donegal, the Muggle-born twins who were in the same year as Will Flitwick. Amy had a twisted ankle that was mending quickly and Andy had some burns from throwing himself between his attacker and his mother.
"Mum and Dad wanted to take us to a Muggle hospital," Andy told Harry, "but the Ministry wasn't letting anyone--even Muggle parents of Hogwarts students--leave Diagon Alley to go anywhere but here." Andy was clearly enjoying the other children seeing that he already knew the famous Harry Potter. "They're upstairs, in quarters that have been fitted out for the Muggles to stay in until we can be released. I think they're rather enjoying themselves. We can't really demonstrate magic to them at home, of course. They keep asking matron to do tricks for them; I think she thinks they're getting rather tedious."
Hermione smiled. "My parents are Muggles, too. They always loved coming with me to Diagon Alley--" She stopped abruptly, swallowing, as if thinking, There but for the grace of God--
Harry cleared his throat. "But soon you'll be right as rain, yeah?"
"Right," Andy said, remarkably cheerful despite his burns. "Matron said this poultice for my burns should work very fast. I can practically feel the new skin growing," he added, indicating the plasters on his cheek and arm and on his left leg, below his hospital smock.
Finally, Dumbledore told them it was time to leave. For a moment, Harry thought of asking where the Longbottoms were, then changed his mind. As they walked back through the depressing corridors, Harry thought, This is where Neville comes during his holidays. To visit parents who have no clue who he is...
He still had a hard time reconciling the Aurors who had given him--and Snape--so much trouble with the people who were Neville's parents, who were held in very high esteem by none other than Alastor Moody himself. He couldn't help picturing them when they came to take Remus away, especially now that Ron was a werewolf and risked the same sort of prejudice in the wizarding world.
Ginny had gone back to the Burrow by the time they returned to the castle. Unfortunately, Hedwig hadn't yet returned from delivering a letter to the Dursleys (checking up on his Aunt Petunia) so he couldn't take her with him. He threw a few things into a bag for the trip to London, and after saying goodbye to Sirius, Ron and Hermione, they went through the dungeons to the cottage which served as a garage. Soon, Katie was driving her father's car onto the ferry to Wemyss Bay, and soon after, they were on the road to Skelmorlie, heading for Carlisle.
Fortunately, the drive to Carlisle was uneventful, and they were quickly able to locate a pub where they could have their tea and get a room for the night. There was only one bed. That doesn't necessarily mean anything is going to happen, Harry reminded himself. She's probably knackered from driving, anyway... He wasn't even sure he wanted anything to happen.
While Katie was using the ensuite bath (a proper one, with the shower, sink and toilet all in the same neat white-tiled room) he undressed down to his boxers and climbed into the bed, putting his glasses on the table beside him and closing his eyes.
He heard her emerge from the bathroom and felt the covers move as she climbed into the bed, too. The orange color he was seeing through his eyelids disappeared as she turned off the light, and he refrained from sighing with relief. Evidently she was too tired for--
Wrong, he thought, as she rolled over on him, kissing his neck, then moving her mouth up to his. With a jolt, he could feel the hard little points of her breasts on his bare chest, and he instinctively put his hands on her back, feeling the smooth skin there. Moving his hands down a little further, he realized that she wasn't wearing anything at all. Well. That makes her intentions perfectly clear....
She broke the kiss and whispered, "All right, Harry?"
He opened his eyes then, looking at her face in the dimness. "Yeah. I'm just surprised."
She shook her head with wonder. "You're surprised. Silly, silly boy," she said softly, fitting her lips to his again and beginning to help divest him of his boxers....
Lying with her afterward as she started drifting off to sleep, he wondered why he felt more like a dutiful husband than anything else. It was almost as though they were one of those couples trying to have a child, and they needed to make sure their timing was right so they could--
"Bloody hell," he said suddenly, waking her again.
"Mmm--what, Harry? What's wrong?" She tried to open her eyes.
"You--you really are on Prophylaxis Potion, aren't you? I mean, it hasn't lapsed or anything? You're not--you're not trying to have a baby?" He remembered hearing her give birth to Roger Davies' baby in his other life.
She sat up then, the sheet pooling around her waist; she still wasn't wearing anything. Even in the half-light from the streetlight, he could see she was quite irate.
"Harry Potter! How dare you accuse me of such a thing!"
He suddenly realized how this sounded. "I'm--I'm sorry, Katie! I think--I was starting to fall asleep, and all sorts of ridiculous thoughts started going through my mind--"
"Ridiculous is right! The very idea that I would try to trap you like that! I'm beginning Auror training in a month, and I certainly do not have any intention of going through it while pregnant! I don't want to have a child for years to come, if at all! I haven't really made a final decision about it yet or anything, but--but really, Harry!"
He apologized sheepishly some more, also silently berating himself for not keeping his thoughts to himself when he was so tired, as they were invariably odd and half-formed and should never see the light of day. He kissed her cheek contritely, looking at her closely, his eyes held open very wide, hoping she would calm down soon.
Finally, she sighed and gave a small laugh. "Oh--I can't stay angry with you when you're looking at me like that. But you realize--"
"Yes, Katie. I really do. I'm dreadfully sorry and you have every right to be cross with me and to tell me what a stupid prat I am and--"
"All right, all right. Stop babbling." She laughed again. "Let's get some sleep. Just when I thought I was already done in you went and tuckered me out even more--"
She was grinning and Harry grinned back at her. "Oh, and you had nothing to do with it--"
They settled down to sleep poking fun at each other cheerfully, until they both finally dozed off, and Harry was able to finally stop worrying and rest his weary brain.
They had only just left Manchester a few minutes before and were on their way to Birmingham the next day when Sandy hissed to Harry.
"What? Do you really mean it this time?" he hissed back at her. "Because the last time you said something like that, you meant that Sirius Black was coming, so if it's Sirius you're talking about, please tell me now so I can stop worrying."
"I do not mean Sirius Black. And I thought that time I made myself perfectly clear."
Perfectly, Harry thought, grimacing, although he didn't say it aloud, in English or Parseltongue.
"Katie," said, his voice shaking, "we have a problem. Sandy says dark wizards are coming. We need to hide or something."
"Hide? We just got on the M6, Harry! We're supposed to stay on the M6 for over seventy-five miles! How in the hell can we just hide? And how long would we have to hide? We'd have to start moving again at some point."
"All right then--we need to disguise ourselves."
She snorted. "How? I'm driving a car, in case you've forgotten, on a busy motorway. How am I supposed to be able to--"
But Harry put out his hands and touched her hair lightly, his brow knit with concentration. When he removed his hands, he said, "Take a look in the mirror."
"What are you--oh!" she cried in surprise, then brought her eyes back to the road abruptly as a lorry cut across the lane in front of them. When she had her equilibrium back, she glanced in the mirror again. "Hmm. I've sometimes wondered what I'd look like as a blonde..."
"Well, now you know," he said, sitting back. She turned to glance at him now and let out a scream.
He had lengthened his hair and grown a beard, as he'd done in his other life to move about in the Muggle world when he was a fugitive. He shrugged. "Animagus training. Comes in handy for a lot of things. Growing hair was something I was actually doing when I was very young; McGonagall decided to train me because I'd done that. She thought it indicated I might have the aptitude to be an Animagus."
Katie looked like her heart was going very fast now. She shook her head as she drove. "I never know what to expect from you next, Harry."
"Let's just hope Sandy wasn't--" he started to say, but suddenly the traffic started slowing down, and instead of completing his sentence, Harry said, "I have a very bad feeling about this...."
And then he heard it; far ahead of where their car had had to come to a halt, there was a terrified cry and the sound of crackling, sizzling....Harry suddenly pulled Katie down onto the front seat of the car, out of sight of the other people in the cars around them.
"You Apparate to the Ministry, now! You have to get Aurors to come help. And Obliviators; I get the impression a lot of Muggles are going to see a lot of things they shouldn't. Particularly the ones who are being attacked."
"What are you going to do?"
"Well, I'm not just going to sit here and let them attack Muggles, or come after me; I have a suspicion someone still has an active Third Eye in Ascog, and that's how they knew I'd be on this road. If they're actually after me, that is, and I think I can be forgiven for being a little paranoid. Even if they're not after me and this is all an insane coincidence, people out there need help. And I'm going to do what I can to help them."
"But--but you'll be seen doing magic then! And how do you know you won't be grossly outnumbered?"
"I don't. But anyway, I won't be seen doing magic." He reached into the bag at his feet and pulled out his Invisibility Cloak. She gasped, clearly recognizing what it was.
"Now--you go get help. I'll put this on and give some Death Eaters a little surprise."
She nodded, still down on the car seat, then quickly kissed him on the lips before disappearing with a pop! His lips still tingled from the kiss as he slipped on the cloak, then awkwardly clambered out of his open car window, to avoid opening and closing the door. He walked forward between the stilled cars, angry yells from motorists starting to merge into an excited cacophony accented by car horns. Harry saw another explosion and some green sparks. He started running flat out toward it, which was difficult, under the cloak, but he was very, very afraid that he knew what those green sparks were about....
A Death Eater whom Harry did not recognize from Voldemort's rebirthing (Voldemort had clearly been doing a lot of recruiting during the previous two years) was striding between the cars in a long cloak, hood up, pointing his wand at cars and sending sparks toward them. Harry heard him casually shouting "Crucio!" and then--then he heard the curse that he'd survived, and he started running again hoping against hope--but he was too late. A young man clutching the wheel of his car convulsed for a second, then just stopped, clearly dead. Harry was still a good thirty feet away, but even as he ran forward, he pointed his wand at the Death Eater who'd killed the man before he could attack anyone else.
"Expelliarmus!" he cried as he ran. The wizard flew backward and hit a van, sliding down the side and slumping, unconscious, on the ground. His wand flew toward Harry; he let it bounce off him and fall to the ground, then walked over it to hide it and discreetly bent over, still covered by the cloak, and picked it up, pocketing it. He walked to the car where the young man sat and stood for a moment, staring at the dead driver, thinking of his own parents, seeing his mother dying again.... A fury welled up inside him and he strode forward to where the three other Death Eaters were, levitating a family's car, with parents and children inside all terrified. None of these Death Eaters seemed to have noticed that their comrade was down; they were all enjoying themselves too much.
Harry's heart was in his throat; if he forced them to break the spell or disarmed any of them, the car could come crashing down with five people in it who could be gravely injured. He watched helplessly as the car floated in the air, hoping Katie would return with help soon. He remembered other Ministry employees having a similar problem at the Quidditch World Cup when a family was being levitated and they were worried about the Muggles crashing to earth and being injured....
He stood with his wand at the ready, watching with his heart in his throat. He felt certain he would hear the children's screams in his nightmares. Then, in the blink of an eye, the three Death Eaters flung the car through the air, where it landed on the opposite side of the motorway, facing oncoming traffic that was still moving. Don't people notice anything? he wondered for a moment, before noticing himself that a very large lorry was going to crash into the car, in which the family was obviously quite shaken, but thus far, still alive.
Unless the lorry flattened them all....
"Wingardium leviosa!" he cried with every bit of concentration he could muster (never having levitated anything so large and heavy before). The car went flying up into the air again and Harry held it there, shaking, sweat pouring down his face as he struggled to maintain its altitude. The lorry drove on through the space which the car had occupied, the car just barely above the top of the lorry, the driver of the lorry clearly amazed. Harry hoped the man wouldn't have an accident through sheer shock. Harry kept concentrating very hard, moving the car over in the air until it was back above the proper side of the road, then lowering it carefully down to the ground.
Two of the Death Eaters looked shocked; the other one, however, looked around, saying in a very suspicious voice, "Someone is here...."
Harry realized, with a shock, that it was a woman. He pointed his wand at her. "Stupefy!" he cried. She promptly stiffened and fell, looking rather plank-like. The other Death Eaters needed no other inducement to depart, suddenly Disapparating with a double pop!
Damn! Harry thought. I let them get away! But then he remembered that he had caught two Death Eaters, one of them a murderer, which wasn't bad for someone who was all alone and not yet done with school. He strode to the woman he'd stunned and bent over her; her hood fell away from her face now, and he could see it clearly.
"Well, well, well," he said, more to himself than to her; he didn't think a stunned person could actually hear anything.
"Hello there, Rita."
When Katie finally returned, the first wizard Harry had disarmed had also needed to be stunned, as he was starting to come around. Katie had brought four Aurors and two Obliviators with her, and the Aurors brought a horseless carriage like the one they'd used to take Harry to the Ministry, into which they bundled Rita Skeeter and the Death Eater Harry had disarmed. Katie returned to the car, standing next to it and looking around, confused.
"Harry? Harry! Where are you? Are you all right?" He goosed her, making her jump. "Harry! Don't do that!" she scolded, but the scolding degenerated into a giggle very quickly. "Oh, you frightened me!"
"Not as much as those Death Eaters frightened the Muggles," he answered, still under the cloak. Up ahead, they could see that the Aurors were gone with their quarry--including Rita Skeeter herself--and the Obliviators were going car to car putting memory charms on people. They climbed into the car again (Harry still in his cloak) and Katie frowned in his general direction.
"Aren't you going to take the cloak off, Harry?"
"Frankly--no. I think it's safest if I'm not seen at all. Keep the blonde hair for now, too. You didn't tell the Ministry I was with you, did you?"
"No, I told them Death Eaters were attacking Muggles in their cars--"
"Good. I think--I think I agree with Sirius. The Ministry may not be completely secure. Tell them as little as possible at all times."
She frowned as she started the car. "I'm going to be working for the Ministry, Harry, remember? When I'm done my Auror training. Are you going to feel the same way then? About telling me things? Not that you've been completely forthcoming about some information--"
Now Harry knew how Hermione felt about being harangued about keeping the Time Turner secret. "I was told to keep my Animagus training to myself, and that I didn't have to register until after I'm done with school. We've only been seeing each other for a month. What, was I supposed to transfigure myself on our first date and scare you witless?"
"No, evidently you were supposed to break the law and use my wand to do magic out of school on our first date," she responded grumpily as the traffic started to move again.
Harry sat back silently. They drove to Birmingham without saying two words to each other; he'd been feeling very excited about catching Rita, too, and now there was a pall on everything thanks to their disagreement. He remembered that in his other life, Severus Snape wasn't keen on the idea of being married to an Auror. He turned to look at Katie; he was uncertain how he felt about continuing to have a girlfriend who was planning to be an Auror, if she was going to trust a possibly corrupt wizarding government unconditionally.
They had their tea in a pub in Birmingham, Harry still under the cloak. Katie was very cross about appearing to be eating alone, and ordering quite a lot (Harry was very hungry). Soon after five-thirty, they left for London, reaching Katie's flat by seven-thirty. When they were finally in the flat, Harry pulled off his cloak just as Sam walked into the living room from the kitchen.
"Aaaah!" he screamed, when Harry appeared from nowhere.
"Aaaah!" Harry screamed in response.
"Don't do that, Harry!" Sam yelled at him, catching his breath. Then he looked down at the silvery cloak in Harry's hand. "Oh--you didn't Apparate--"
"No, I haven't learned yet. It's an Invisibility Cloak. Safety precaution."
Sam nodded. "I remember Lily said James had one of those; she borrowed it once or twice for work. Good idea."
Harry was still getting his breath. "Thanks." Katie went to call Mrs. Figg to tell her they were back at the flat, then called Draco on the fireplace to tell him Mrs. Figg was on her way. Then, just as she was turning from the fireplace, Draco Malfoy suddenly appeared in the middle of the living room with a pop! that made Katie shriek and almost sent Harry tumbling backwards over an ottoman.
"Malfoy!" Harry yelled at him, trying to maintain his balance.
Katie glared at him, looking like she was going to hex him good. "Draco Malfoy! How did you know where to Apparate? I didn't tell you where I live!"
He smirked at her. "No, but I've been here before. Your dad brought me, last summer, before we went to see his bloke in Diagon Alley for the tattoos. I can't believe you," he said, laughing and shaking his head. "You were so bent on blindfolding me to take me out to Figg's car. I didn't feel like telling you back at the castle that that would be pointless. It was completely worth it to see the look on your--" Now he stopped and really looked at her, his grin growing more lopsided by the moment.
"Hey--I like what you've done with your hair--"
"Malfoy!" Harry yelled. Draco Malfoy rolled his eyes. Sam stepped between them.
"Why don't we all sit and have something cold to drink?" he suggested. He fetched some Cokes from the kitchen and a beer for himself and they sat in the living room while waiting for Mrs. Figg. Katie and Harry told them about the Death Eaters and that one of them was Rita Skeeter.
Draco Malfoy whistled between his teeth. "So--maybe we'll find out if she really is Daisy Furuncle," he said, raising his eyebrows. Harry eyed him suspiciously.
"Yeah--maybe we will--"
The doorbell rang; it was Mrs. Figg, come to fetch Draco. They all went downstairs to see him off. Before he walked out the door of Sam and Katie's building he turned to Harry unexpectedly and said, "Oh, and Harry--I'm--I'm sorry I was getting on you for Ginny saving you and everything. I--I didn't realize what was going on at first--"
Harry could tell it wasn't easy for him to say it; he wondered whether Ginny had ordered him to do it. "It's all right, Draco," he said, forcing himself to also use the first name.
"Pity they have a pool instead of an enchanted lake, like at Hogwarts. I mean, at Hogwarts, if you fall in the lake, all you have to do is manage to get one of the enchanted creatures in there to touch you and you can breath under the water--"
"What?" Harry said, frowning. "What are you talking about?" But then he remembered that Dennis Creevey had been pushed back into the boat by the giant squid, and that Ginny had been underwater for an abnormally long period of time when he'd gone under the lake to battle the hybrid basilisk.
"You know. The enchanted creatures down there. Mermaids, the squid, all that. I heard they had to order them all to leave you and the other champions alone, not to help you, during the Tournament. That's their usual instinct. Except for the ones they wanted to attack you, like the Grindylows. It wouldn't have been much of a contest if the merpeople had been helping all of you, would it? Don't you know anything?"
Harry frowned, remembering Malfoy's father being so disdainful that Harry, Ron and Hermione hadn't known about the significance of the Westminster tube station. He restrained himself from retorting, gritting his teeth instead and saying, "I'll see you at the wedding later this month. Say hello to Aberforth and the lads for me."
Malfoy laughed and shook his head. "Thought I'd get you to take the bait that time. Oh well. Back to Figg's smelly old house...."
And climbed behind the wheel of the car (Mrs. Figg had moved over), slammed the door shut, and with a wave to Sam, he was gone.
Harry was able to spend the next few days with Ron and Hermione at Ascog castle, and it almost felt like when they were younger and their hormones hadn't started to get in the way of their friendship. Harry and Hermione told Ron about St. Mungo's; Harry told Ron and Hermione about the trip to London, and capturing Rita Skeeter. Hermione in particular listened avidly to his story about Rita. There was no love lost there.
"Sirius says she doesn't deny that she was a double agent, and she's threatening to take down Dumbledore's organization, revealing that he had operatives working for him who did things that were outside the law. So far the Ministry seems to have just shrugged its collective shoulders about this. I mean, I don't think the Ministry is worried about that sort of thing right now as long as the operatives are bringing Death Eaters under control, you know? Before the Diagon Alley attack, it might have been different, but now...."
Hermione swallowed, and Harry thought she was perhaps remembering their trip to St. Mungo's; she looked at Ron and laced her fingers through his. He gazed back at her both lovingly and desperately and Harry realized it was his cue to give them some privacy. He made jokes and pretended to feel put-out, but as he walked down the stairs from the roof garden, where they'd been sitting, he had a grin on his face. At least they might have a chance to be happy, he thought.
Ron told him that Hermione had shown him her Animagus form briefly and that she would be going to North America while they were at Hogwarts for the Quidditch match they'd planned to attend. Harry tried to pry out of him what her animal was, to no avail; Ron had been grinning the whole time, shaking his head and sometimes laughing outright at Harry's suggestions.
"A stoat! She's not going to be a bloody stoat."
Ron made a face. "Our Hermione, a bird of any sort? Yeah--she loves heights, does Hermione. That's really going to happen...."
Just before Hermione was scheduled to take a Portkey back to Greenwich the next day, she stood on the landing outside her room with her bags, waiting to say goodbye to Harry and Ron. She hugged Harry soundly, and he held her closely, so glad they were all right again, cherishing the memories of the previous days they'd spent together, the three of them, just like it used to be (mostly). Then she turned to Ron, with that look in her eyes which Harry had first seen in the forest, not long before Ron was bitten. She slid her arms up around Ron's neck and started to pull his face down to hers, but Ron stopped just short of her lips and looked at Harry.
"Er, do you have to keep standing there, Harry?"
Hermione put her hand on his cheek and turned his attention back to her. "I don't care who sees us..." she whispered, and he finally let himself be pulled down to her. Harry saw him open his mouth and then she did the same. One of Ron's hands laced itself into her hair and the other circled her waist, pulling her very close to him. Suddenly, Harry was feeling that perhaps he should have made himself scarce. He remembered the way she kissed....
It was Ron who broke the kiss, having turned a red deep enough to compete with his hair. "See you soon," he said raspily to her, as though he didn't quite have his breath back. "We're all going to meet up in Diagon Alley. On the wireless they say most of the shops should be rebuilt in another week."
Hermione grinned. "I should be back by then," she said merrily, her eyes sliding over to Harry, who threw his hands up in frustration.
"Oh, come on. Tell me! I'll keep it a secret--"
"No, no! I shouldn't have shown Ron, but I couldn't resist--"
Harry couldn't help the lascivious grin that crept across his face. "What else did you show Ron while I was gone...?"
She swatted his arm. "Oh, you! Filthy, filthy mind--"
But she was laughing, and gave each of them an additional hug before picking up her bags, then the old empty ginger beer can which was her Portkey. At the precise time the Portkey was to take effect, sure enough, she disappeared utterly, like a light that winked out, and Ron and Harry were left on the landing, just the two of them. Ron sighed, looking at the empty space where she'd been just moments before, and Harry slung his arm across his best friend's shoulders and offered to let him beat him at chess.
After Ron went back to the Burrow, Harry learned about the usual rhythms of life at Ascog Castle. He played with Orion, Leo and Mercy (who was frightfully good at chess, but sometimes not as good as she thought she was), and sometimes read to them at bedtime. He grew better acquainted with Ursula and Alan, and with Sirius' parents; and he learned to walk wide circles around Cass and Floyd, especially when they'd just returned home from their jobs with piles of work to do overnight. Harry never saw Cass smile, and he could swear Floyd was scowling at him every time he happened to meet his gaze.
He put to good use some of the things Ginny had taught him, swimming in the underground pool--but only when someone else was around. Sirius and Ursula and Alan would join him down there after the children were in bed, and the four of them laughed and talked and splashed about in the pool, Harry feeling almost like they accepted him as not only a member of the household, but as another adult. It was suddenly like having two older brothers and an older sister, a strange sensation for Harry, after being the eldest son in his other life.
The Quidditch match at Hogwarts was three days before the full moon; Harry and Ron were going to Hog's End the night before the match, staying over, then walking up to the castle early the next morning. Sirius did not want him to go; he was worried about Harry's safety, especially after the trip back to London.
When the time came for him to go to Hogsmeade, Harry bade Sirius farewell, and Sirius again tried to convince him not to go.
"Harry, when you were driving down to London with Katie, you ran into Death Eaters and could have been killed! Now you're going to be sitting in the Quidditch stadium at Hogwarts with a thousand other people. You don't think Voldemort will think a match at Hogwarts is a prime opportunity, either to go after you specifically or just a large crowd?"
"Sirius--the Ministry has so many security precautions planned it's not funny. And you can't Apparate or Disapparate anywhere on the Hogwarts grounds anyway. They're even considering moving more of the professional matches there and running additional trains to the village to bring spectators. It's safer than anywhere else in Britain for watching Quidditch."
Sirius frowned. "I don't know--I have loads of things to do or I'd come with you, just to be sure--"
"Sirius, it's safe as houses. Trust me. Stop worrying. Oh, by the way--is there any news about Rita Skeeter? Or the bank?"
Sirius sighed. "No and no. You can't see inside the bank and there's been no word. Complete and utter silence. And I can't help but think that it's too bad she wasn't really on our side; she'd be the perfect person to infiltrate it. Sometimes I wish I'd chosen an animal a bit smaller, so I could do things like that..."
Harry nodded. "Me too. What about the Rita and Daisy thing?"
Sirius snorted. "She claims she knows nothing about it, and that in fact whoever is doing it is imitating her without crediting her. She reckons the name is a dig at her as well. Her full first name is Marguerite, which is another name for a daisy. And a 'skeeter,' or mosquito, is also a pest, or an annoyance. A 'furuncle' is kind of a boil, also an annoyance in its way. On the other hand, she says she loves the Daisy articles, so I'm not sure whether to believe her...."
Harry sighed. "And why hasn't she been given Veritaserum?"
Sirius drew his lips into a line. "You have to understand, Harry; that Potion isn't universally accepted as a way to get the truth out of someone. It's not standard procedure or anything. And technically, Rita's not going to be charged with much. There's very little hard evidence against her at all. She's mostly been a spy for the other side, and while spying will get her a sentence, it won't get her much of a sentence. Not compared to someone who's done the Unforgivable Curses."
This was starting to depress Harry; then he remembered what Sirius had said about having loads to do. "What do you have to do, precisely?"
Sirius gave a small smile and put his finger to the side of his nose. "Top secret. Which means I'll fill you in after the fact." Then his smile grew into a grin. "Oh, I suppose there's no harm....Snape and I have some undercover work to do. We're looking into where Annie Weasley has been all these years. Maggie's family is back, they've learned she's a witch, and they've put us onto the agency through which they adopted her. Place in Exeter. But to look into it, we have to appear to be respectable Muggles. You know the drill."
Harry grinned. "So you might find Annie!"
Sirius nodded. "Hope so. It would be nice if something went our way for once. It starting to feel like Voldemort and his people are just pecking, pecking away at us. First it's one thing, then another...Anyway, wish us luck."
Harry did, wholeheartedly, before throwing some Floo powder into the fire in the sitting room and saying loudly, "Hog's End!" It seemed very strange to be saying the name of what he considered to be his own house, but he didn't have time to think about this; soon he was whirling through the many fires of the Floo network, and he once again stumbled when he emerged from the fire.
He almost turned around and went back to Ascog. Ginny was standing in the entrance hall of Hog's End, her hands on her hips, glaring at Ron. The pair of them hadn't noticed his arrival. They were too absorbed in their argument.
"I told you I was coming to the match. Why do you have to be so--"
"Yeah, and I suppose that means that Malfoy will be here, too, trying to sneak into your room at night. Do you know how many locking charms I had to put on the guest room door at Ascog to keep him from going out at night? And how many bad jokes I had to hear about me wanting him all to myself? I want him all to myself, all right, so I can pound him into the ground...."
"I certainly didn't make any arrangements to meet him at night, so don't look at me that way."
"Right. I'm supposed to believe that? You're not a little girl anymore, Ginny. Others have noticed. Why haven't you?"
"I haven't done anything of which to be ashamed, Ronald Weasley. Draco--"
"Hasn't once pressured you to sleep with him? Come on, Ginny. I think I know that snake a little better than that."
Sandy hissed to Harry, "I believe he is using 'snake' in a derogatory manner again...."
Harry hushed her. Neither Weasley noticed the hissing.
"Why are you still with him, anyway? Just because he put his dad in prison? Sometimes you're as bad as Hermione. Can't ever admit you're wrong. Just get it over with and break up with--"
"Ahem!" Harry said loudly now, hoping to keep Ron from finishing what he was saying. That's the last thing we all need, he thought. Something about Ron being right, and ordering you to do something, just made you want to be contrary and do the opposite thing. Hasn't he learned his lesson? Harry thought. After he told me to break up with Hermione we were together for another eight months. Ron could see what was wrong and what was right, but he couldn't translate that into convincing others. When it came to that he was completely incompetent. Harry hoped Ron wasn't planning to go to work in sales for Percy and the twins. If he did, Harry reckoned they'd be out of business in no more than a week.
Ron and Ginny looked at Harry, both turning red. Harry stepped toward them, trying to keep his voice steady.
"Ginny's made it very clear many times that she wants to be with Draco Malfoy, Ron. We should all respect her wishes." His eyes were locked with hers while he said this, feeling hollow inside. Ginny suddenly looked very open and vulnerable.
Now it was Ron who cleared his throat. "Well, all I know is I wasn't expecting to have to put up with that prat again already. I just wanted to see a Quidditch match, and--"
"He's not coming!" Ginny burst out suddenly, her voice very sharp. She tore her eyes away from Harry's and glared at her brother again. He glared right back.
"He's in Surrey," she continued. "We probably won't be able to see each other again until Alicia's wedding. Are you happy?"
Ron looked confused for a moment, then blustered, "Well, yeah. I guess I am. But--but why do you get the best room? Every time--"
"If you want your pick of the guest rooms, Ron, you should be better organized so you can leave sooner. I was here first and I claimed my room. You and Harry can decide who's getting which of the other two. No--I take that back. I'll take Harry up to the other nice room, and you can take what's left. That's what you get for being so annoying. Come on, Harry. I'll show you where to put your things."
She turned from both of them and started marching purposefully up the broad stairs. Harry followed, carrying his bag. He turned to glance at Ron for a second; Ron was scowling.
When they reached the top of the stairs, Ginny turned right and Harry followed her. She opened a heavy oak door; Harry hesitated, then crossed the threshold. He swallowed, looking around.
He bit his lip to keep from crying, thinking of the years he and Jamie had played in here, and in his room as well. The four-poster bed was exactly where his sister's used to be, and the diamond-paned window looking out over the garden was the same as ever, as was the massive carved wooden mantelpiece and overmantel.
"Harry--are you all right?" Ginny said softly.
He turned to her, trying to compose himself again. "Of course," he said in a voice he wished didn't sound so strangled. "I'm fine," he added, his voice closer to normal now. She nodded uncertainly.
"G--good. You just seemed--odd."
He forced a laugh. "And that's different how?"
Now she laughed too, and he tried not to be so glad to see that, but it was very hard. He sobered now and stepped toward her.
"I want you to know, Ginny. I'm--I'm trying to make my peace with you being with Malfoy." It was a lie, but he knew the truth would just antagonize her. And maybe if he repeated this particular lie enough times he'd come to believe it himself. She held onto the doorframe, meeting his gaze, unflinching.
"That's good," she whispered.
"I just want you to be happy," he said more softly, unable to take his eyes away from hers. "I think that's what Ron wants too. He's just--well, completely tactless about communicating that."
Ginny laughed and the spell was broken. "Truer words were never spoken. No one will ever confuse my brother for a diplomat." He laughed with her, but Harry thought, That's why he's such a valuable friend.
"I'm all right here. Why don't you break it to Ron that he's staying in the scullery?"
She flashed him another brilliant smile before she left, and when he was certain he was alone, he collapsed on the bed, his heart thudding painfully in his chest.
They had a raucous dinner at the Three Broomsticks with the other residents of Hog's End. It was good to see the twins and Percy again when they weren't trying to be on their 'mum and dad' behavior. Harry was glad to see that Percy was loosening up, finally (for him). He actually laughed and joined in the conversation, and he didn't attempt to bore them all with the various bookkeeping woes of running a successful business.
When they returned to the house, they stayed up late playing charades and Exploding Snap and wizarding chess. It almost felt to Harry like the old days in the Gryffindor common room, except that Hermione wasn't sitting in the corner with piles of books while everyone around her was having fun. They all dragged themselves up to bed well after midnight, and Harry fell on his bed with his clothes on, asleep immediately.
He wasn't sure what time it was when he awoke; his candles were still burning, and he decided to get out of his hot jeans and sleep in his underwear as usual. Then, when he was about to return to the bed, he realized that he had to visit the loo. He dug his summer dressing gown out of his bag and tied it around his waist, padding barefoot down the corridor to the bath shared by the bedrooms at the end of the house closest to the top of the stairs.
He stopped and yawned hugely when he was in the corridor again, finally looking at his watch. It was after three in the morning. He dragged his feet back to his room, turning the doorknob, then thinking idly, I didn't close the door all the way. I shouldn't have to turn the knob.
As soon as he was in the room, he saw the way the moonlight was shining in the bay window, over the window seat, and he walked to it as though mesmerized. He sat down on the window seat where he'd spent many, many hours in his other childhood. He loved the way he could see down the High Street in one direction and over the fields in the other; it made him think of seeing both the future and the past from one vantage point. He lifted his face to the moonlight, bringing his feet up onto the cushion, hugging his legs to his chest and feeling more peaceful than he had in a long time.
He whipped his head around. Oh, that's right.... This was no longer his room. In the night, returning from the bathroom, his feet had automatically taken him here instead of to what he thought of as Jamie's room. Someone else had this room; then he saw the 'someone else' quite clearly, and his heart leapt into his throat.
Ginny was sitting up in the bed, which wasn't where his bed had been in his old life. He hadn't even noticed there was a bed when he'd entered; he'd gone straight for the bay window. The sheet was around her waist and he couldn't help noticing that she was sleeping in a very thin summer nightdress. His jaw worked soundlessly; he didn't know what to say.
"Harry, what do you think you're doing in my room?"
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