- 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 08 - Arena
- 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 quotes are from pages 216-217 of
When all roads did indeed lead to Rome, they found their symbolic
terminus in such stupendous works as the Colosseum....an aphorism out
of the early Middle Ages stated, "While the Colosseum stands, Rome stands;
when the Colosseum falls, Rome falls; and when Rome, the world!"
...The building type is an invention of the Romans, who expanded the
theater into an amphitheater, which is essentially two facing theaters
enclosing an oval space, the arena....The Colosseum was originally
designed for the staging of lavish spectacles--battles between
animals and gladiators in various combinations.
--Horst de la Croix & Richard G. Tansey, Gardner's Art Throught the Ages
"Harry, what do you think you're doing in my room?"
Harry looked at her. Ginny was so pale in the moonlight that she seemed to glow from within. He swallowed. A million lies leapt to his tongue, but he couldn't bear to utter one of them. It had been so comforting to tell Snape about his other life, to show him the Pensieve. If he told Ginny about that life, would she believe him?
She clutched at the basilisk amulet on her breast, her eyes closed, and Harry remembered that he'd already told her that a time traveler had given him the second amulet. She had seemed to believe him at the time. Perhaps he could build on that--explain to her that he was the time traveler. That he had given it to himself.
He rose and started toward the bed, so he could sit closer to her, to tell her. That's all he had in mind, but her eyes flew open and she said urgently, "Stop!"
He froze. Putting up his hands defensively, he stuttered, "I--I wasn't trying anything. Honestly. I just didn't want to shout across the room--"
"I didn't think you were trying anything. It's just that--" She bit her lip, and Harry saw that she was still holding the amulet.
"You know that he can see you when he's touching the amulet," he said with surety. She nodded.
"Yes, so don't come too close. Or else he'll see you, too."
Harry frowned. Just after he'd almost drowned and Draco Malfoy had fallen down the stairs because of his Mark hurting, there was no time to consider the fact that Draco Malfoy had actually seen Ginny when he held the amulet--just as Harry had seen her. Did that mean he really loved her? he wondered. Could he love her and cheat on her at the same time?
"You're already holding onto your amulet; can't you see whether he's awake? Is it too dark in his room at Mrs. Figg's?"
She gazed at him as though he should know the answer to this. Harry waited, perplexed, and she finally said in a whisper, "I don't see him when I hold the amulet, Harry."
The most difficult thing he had ever done was to not leap across the room and take her in his arms. He remembered that she had clutched at the amulet and then discovered him in the en suite bathroom. She had seen him. But that didn't explain her reaction...
He swallowed and willed himself to have self-control. "This should be far enough," he said shakily, as he returned to the window seat. "Whenever I saw you, it was like a six-foot diameter bubble around you. It didn't reach farther than that."
She touched the amulet again and a smile blossomed on her face. "You--you saw me? When you held it? Really?"
He smiled warmly back at her. "Really."
She was looking at him the way she had after she'd revived him, and his heart skipped a beat. Why is she still with Malfoy? She doesn't see him when she holds the amulet, and she does see me. And she knows what that means. So--
"Why are you in my room, Harry? You didn't answer me."
Oh, right, he remembered. My other life.
"W-well, Ginny, what I have to tell you may sound pretty far-fetched. But it's all true. Do you remember when I tried to give you the amulet last Christmas and I told you it was from a time traveler?"
She answered slowly. "Yes--"
He took a deep breath; it was now or never. "Well--I was that time traveler."
She looked at him blankly, very still, very quiet. Finally she said, "I'm afraid I don't understand."
He took another deep breath then and explained that he'd been having nightmares during the previous summer, and didn't get a proper night's sleep for about two months. He told her about Voldemort putting the Tempus Fugit spell on him at King's Cross, about being taken to Godric's Hollow and doing the Tempus Bonae Voluntatis spell, traveling back in time to the night his parents were killed.
Her jaw dropped. "Harry! How could you?"
He hit his brow repeatedly with his fist and leaned over where he sat, his head in his hands. "I know, I know. So stupid! But--but he told me something before I did. I wasn't even sure whether he was lying. He could have done, I suppose. But somehow--something told me he wasn't..."
Softly, he told Ginny about his mother being pregnant when she died, about the sister who had never been born. She covered her mouth in horror, her eyes glistening. He described his parents in the cozy cottage, how wonderful it was to see them.
"And when he was about to kill her," he told Ginny, "I--I just couldn't let him. The first time, anyway."
She uncovered her mouth. "What do you mean, the first time?"
"Well, the first time, I--I convinced my mother to save herself and me," he explained. He couldn't bear to tell her he'd used Imperius.
"With a spell," she said quietly. It wasn't a question. He nodded sheepishly. Perhaps he could tell her.
"No." She'd put her hand up to stop him. "I--I think I know what spell you're talking about. Don't tell me, and I can truthfully say you didn't." Harry nodded; she had guessed, and she wasn't screaming at him, telling him what an awful person he was. She was trying to protect him instead.
"Well," he went on, "I didn't actually get that memory in my head until months later, in May, after I fixed the timelines. The only memory I had of that until then was a memory of the second time. The second time, I was taken into the trees near the house well before Voldemort arrived to kill my parents."
"Taken? By whom?"
She frowned. "I hate to say this again--but I don't understand."
"I was stunned and taken into the trees by me; a me who had come from the future, but not this future; a different future that I had created by saving my mother the first time. That's why it was the second time. The me who had traveled back in time to stop me from changing time had been the one to do it the first time. I--he--I--oh, bother!--I saved my mother by--by convincing her to plead for my life and hers. That time, she did what Voldemort wanted and promised to raise me as his servant. He put an Obedience Charm on me--"
"You too!" she exclaimed.
"--and he left. Then I traveled forward in time again, back to the first of September. But it was a very, very different first of September. It was a world where my mother hadn't been killed by Voldemort, and a world where he hadn't tried and failed to kill me, losing his power."
"He had never fallen," she said in awe.
Harry was grim. "It was terrible. The world was terrible. Well--not all of it. I finally had almost everything I'd ever wanted. I had a family--a real family. Mother, stepfather, sister, half-brothers--And we lived here. At Hog's End. This was my room. I lived here for over ten years." He could see that she understood now. She looked around at the large, gracious room. "I really wasn't trying anything when I came in here. I had been to the loo, and when I came back, it was just--force of habit. You had put me in what I thought of as Jamie's room."
He saw her swallow. "Oh," was all she said, staring at him. He went on.
"So suddenly, I had this life with everything I'd ever wanted. But the price was that it was a world where Voldemort had never fallen. Well, that wasn't the only price; I also had to serve him. I was initiated as a Death Eater, and then told to--to do something--"
"A Death Eater!" He nodded. "What--what were you told to do?" she whispered, as though she didn't quite want to find out.
He could barely get the words out. "I was told to kill Ron."
Her mouth was wide open in an 'O.' "He told you to kill your best friend?"
Harry shook his head. "Ron wasn't my best friend. We--we didn't get on at all. After all, he was in Gryffindor and I was in Slytherin."
He had thought she looked shocked before, but now--
"Well, my dad was the head-of-house--"
"Dad? You said you had a stepfather. So did your father live, too? Did your mother and father split up and then she remarried?"
"No, no; my father was killed by Voldemort just like before. My mother remarried when I was three-and-a-half. I always called my stepfather Dad."
He could see her mind working furiously, her brow furrowed; when she looked up at him her eyes were very round. "Harry--was your stepfather--Professor Snape?"
He smiled at her reaction; he wasn't sure he'd ever seen her look so shocked. "When I first realized that he was--well, I can't even begin to tell you everything that was going through my head. But he was actually a really good dad. I got used to him being my dad pretty quickly. Maybe it was because my mum....well. That can wait. Anyway, my best friend's name was earlier in the alphabet than mine, and he'd already been sorted into Slytherin. When my turn came to be sorted I asked to be put into Slytherin--and I was."
He shrugged. "In this life I asked not to be in Slytherin, and the Hat put me into Gryffindor. I knew most people are just put into one house or the other, but both times I was sorted, it gave me a choice. My sister said she was given a choice, too."
"You said your best friend was already in Slytherin. Who was it?"
He looked at her steadily, a very clear picture forming in his mind of the boy in his other life who had been his friend for over ten years.
"Draco Malfoy." Her gasp erupted in the quiet room like an explosion. He explained to her that his mother and Snape had been 'befriended' by the Malfoys--the other family whose son was in the Prophecy--and he and Draco had grown up together, along with Jamie. He told her how the three of them were never apart, and how Draco and Jamie had fallen in love. And how he and Draco were initiated together. She merely nodded at that.
"Well, he didn't have different parents, did he?"
"But in that life, he was told to kill someone."
"Who was he told to kill?" she asked shakily.
He gazed at her steadily again. "You."
She had no words. Her jaw opened and closed soundlessly. He explained the Muggle-born ban to her, and the General Strike, which had led to her and Ron being targeted, which in turn led to his mother deciding that she knew how to get around the Obedience Charm.
"So," she said softly, "she was going to kill the two of us so you and Draco wouldn't have to?"
He shook his head. "Just Ron. She wasn't concerned about Draco. But--I couldn't let her. I didn't let her. I--I disarmed her--"
Unbidden, the tears cascaded down his face as he looked into the night sky, remembering his mother flying backward, remembering the sound when she struck the cave wall and the sight of her still, crumpled body on the ground.
"It killed her. I killed her," he said simply, turning his face back to Ginny's, which he saw was also wet with tears. He so wanted to be holding her, crying out his heart; it was agony to stay where he was. "I was convicted at trial and sentenced to five years in Azkaban."
"Azkaban!" she said in a fearful whisper. "So that's--that's how you knew..." He nodded to her, knowing that she was talking about when they'd been in the sitting room at Ascog, and Harry had voiced his fears to them all about the dementors leaving Azkaban.
"And then--I had a letter. A letter telling me that you and Jamie had both been murdered. I--I couldn't stay where I was. I knew that world was wrong, for so many reasons, and I had to do something to fix it. I escaped, the same way Sirius had, using my Animagus abilities."
"So--you changed the timelines back because your sister died?"
He swallowed. "And--and you. When I managed to--to find my way back to this life, I was so glad to see you--"
She gasped. "That's when you came running into my dorm and--and--"
He remembered holding her tightly, kissing her, the way she had clung to him and kissed him back before coming to her senses....
"Harry--you said that you had had a dream--a very real dream. You said that I died in your dream. That--that wasn't a dream, was it?" He shook his head, gazing longingly at her. "Harry," she whispered now; "what was I to you in that life?"
He couldn't hide his feelings from her any longer; his face showing all of his love, and she knew, she knew....
"Do you even have to ask?" he choked. They were both crying freely now; she was a blur to him, but he could hear her sniffling.
"Harry," she said in a thick voice, "in that life, was--was it Draco who killed me?"
He swallowed. "No, Ginny. He--he sacrificed himself to save us all," he told her. He explained about the diary, and Draco not wanting to be part of the time change, so he wouldn't remember Jamie.
"He did that?"
"If he hadn't--" Harry pushed his glasses up and wiped the tears from his face, not wanting to think of what the world would have been like if he hadn't been able to fix the timelines. He didn't even tell her about the changes in the Muggle world, the wars....
She sat up straighter, wiping her own tears, and looking hopeful. "Do you think--do you think he would do that in this time? I mean--I don't want him to die. I just wonder--the Obedience Charm--"
He shrugged. "I really don't know, Gin. He was so different in so many ways. He and Jamie and I grew up together. He would do anything for me. But--it's just not the same in this life. He's not the same."
She sat back against her pillows now, fingering the amulet. "He frightens me so," she whispered. "Sometimes. Not all the time. I--I wonder how much longer I can stand being with him. Oh, Harry, I wish he wasn't in that damn Prophecy!"
Harry gaped at her. "What are you saying, Ginny?"
She sighed. "You've been completely open and honest with me, Harry, and--I haven't been with you. But I want to be. I feel so tired. So utterly tired. Acting all the time like I'm so in love with him. Yes, I had feelings for him at one time. I'd convinced myself that you were never going to give me the time of day and I needed to get on with my life. Draco and I became friends. And then more than friends. And then we became caught up in the plan to trap his father." She covered her face with her hands. "I'm so ashamed of what I did in the Potions Dungeon, when you and Ron found me. But--but I'm so glad you found me when you did. I--I was half-afraid he was going to try to make it far more realistic than we had discussed. Oh, Harry! I was so glad to see you and Ron--"
He recalled how real her shivering had been, and the way she had clung to him when he'd carried her up to the infirmary. Later, he had felt inclined to agree with Malfoy that she was quite the actress. Now it seemed she had been doing far less acting than they'd originally suspected.
"And later, of course, I had to put a good face on it. When he was trying to be sweet, he could be very sweet, and I tried to forget about the dungeon and tell myself that he'd been acting, too.
"But the longer I've been with him, the less right it feels. He keeps pressuring me. You know. And sometimes I think he might--might--snap. So many times I've cried myself to sleep at night, wishing I hadn't given up on you. But I had to make out in public that I was happy, that we were the model couple."
"Well, at first it was because of his father. And then I realized that it was far better to have him on our side. You know what they say: Keep your friends close--"
"--and your enemies closer," he finished, watching her.
"Exactly. And then--then you took me flying for the first time," she whispered. "And I--I couldn't not do that again. Spending time with you was so wonderful. I thought--at least we can be together as friends. I really thought we could, that I could prevent the old feelings from coming back....But it was so hard to be with you, and talk with you, and fly with you, and to see that you had feelings for me....and then not admit that I felt the same way....Plus I had Hermione to think of....But the day you saved me from the Lethifold, I couldn't stand it any more, and I gave in..."
Harry remembered the way she had seemed to abandon all of her reserve when she kissed him back--and what an effort it was for her to separate herself from him and to tell him she would no longer meet him on top of the Astronomy Tower. "But--I couldn't break up with him--"
"Harry! What do you think he'd do if I did that? I don't mean to me--somehow I don't get the impression he would try to hurt me. It's you I've been worried about. You know he'd blame you. And now that we know about the Obedience Charm, it's a very good thing I didn't break up with him, isn't it? I mean--he's like--like--"
"A ticking bomb," Harry said.
"That'll do, I suppose," she conceded. "We certainly don't want him to change sides, Harry. Think of everything he knows now! He knows about you being a Golden Griffin Animagus, about your Invisibility Cloak, about your aunt having magical abilities--"
"He knows where Katie lives and he didn't tell her, and now she's going to train to be an Auror--"
"Good Lord," she breathed.
Harry looked at her desperately. "This is all my fault. This is worse than Hermione being with Viktor Krum--and I say that even now that I know Viktor was Voldemort's heir. It's my fault. I-I treated you like some kind of carrot to dangle in front to him, and now--"
"Harry!" she interrupted him. "I did that willingly. No one pushed me into it. And I thought--I thought he might truly change. I thought that if he wasn't under his father's influence, he might be different." Harry thought how different he was after ten years with him and Jamie. "He really didn't seem enthusiastic about being a Death Eater, after all. And I admit--I was rather attracted to him. And he was attracted to me. I wasn't supposed to be thinking of you--you were with Hermione. He was even making an effort to get along with my family. I thought--All right. I can get over Harry and be happy with Draco...."
Harry scrutinized her. "What went wrong?"
She sighed. "I didn't get over you, that's what went wrong. And Draco kept accusing me at every turn of still having feelings for you--which didn't exactly endear him to me. It was a bit of a vicious cycle. Not that I could let any of that show in public....He started to do things. He'd ogle other girls right in front of me to get a rise out of me. And I have to admit--he got to me at first. I don't enjoy being humiliated." Harry shook his head, restraining himself from saying what he really thought. "And then--there was the incessant pressure to sleep with him--"
"Oh, Ginny. That must have been awful, him trying to make you do something you didn't want to do--"
"What? Oh, right. Well, yes--as I said, it started off that way--" She started playing with the sheet with her fingers, plucking at it nervously, not looking at him.
He frowned. "What are you saying? I thought you didn't want to sleep with him?" His voice shook.
"Well," her voice was shaking now as well, "not as such. And I certainly didn't when I was only fifteen. Some girls are ready at that point, but I wasn't, and he just didn't respect that at all. But--but I'm older now. And sometimes....Let me put it this way. When I got hacked off at Katie for telling me Draco had been cheating on me, I'd--I'd just been upstairs with him, and we were, um, let's just call it snogging..."
Harry tried not to feel aroused by her telling him this. She was blushing in the dim light that was starting to permeate the sky; they'd been talking for some time.
"I'd had the thought before that I--well, that what would be the harm in finally giving in? I had very nearly given in at the end of the term, when I received my O.W.L. results--well, to be honest--I was so excited about my results, I practically attacked him. If Professor Sprout hadn't interrupted us--"
"Oh, that's right. Well--technically, he is my boyfriend. I'm just a flesh and blood human being, and he can--he can be very persuasive." She was blushing even more deeply. "But that day at Ascog--I touched the amulet and saw you kissing Katie. And I felt like I wanted to die. It was one thing to see the two of you in bed together, just lying there; to actually see you doing something, looking like--like you desired her so utterly....I remembered that I was trying to get him to be fed up with me and leave me, and that wasn't very likely to happen if I slept with him. I put him off again and told him I wasn't ready--"
"Which was a lie," Harry said softly. "You haven't slept with him because you're hoping that will make him leave you."
"Yes, it was a lie! I'm not made of stone, you know. And he was--oh, I don't want to get into it. I'm sorry I was so cross with Katie. But--but I was feeling very frustrated having to stop Draco yet again, and cross with myself for not wanting to stop him, since I didn't really care for him and it was just a physical thing, and I'd seen you kissing her, and then Katie was basically shredding my plans by telling me Draco was an unfaithful cad....Did she think I was stupid? Of course he's an unfaithful cad. I know that. He's Draco Malfoy. Good heavens, he was sneaking around with Mariah all last year!"
"You know about that too?"
She raised her eyebrows at him. "You know about that?"
He felt very, very small. She continued, "My dilemma is--I've got to convince him to be the one to break up with me, or there'll be hell to pay all round. Luckily, that sneak had already tried to cover his tracks with a letter--which I knew was a pack of lies the moment I read it--and so I had something I could wave in Katie's face."
"Why were you attacking me, then? When you saw I was in the bath, I mean."
She looked at him levelly now. "Because I knew that meant that you knew he'd been cheating on me. I--I thought better of you, Harry. I would have thought you would tell me such a thing, not leave it to Katie. Plus, I hate to say it again, but--but I'd seen you two kissing. Not to mention the image of the two of you in bed at the pub was rather fresh in my mind. That day I was this close--" she held up her thumb and forefinger barely a half-inch apart "--to declaring I would never have anything to do with another man for the rest of my life. I didn't realize you also knew about Mariah."
She hugged her knees to her chest, the sheet covering most of her, and Harry felt deeply ashamed. She had thought he was as bad as Malfoy. Men. Sticking together to protect each other's right to unlimited shagging.
"I'm so sorry, Ginny. I--I thought you really cared for him and I didn't want to hurt you. And I didn't think you'd believe me anyway. I reckoned you'd think I was trying to get you to leave Malfoy again."
She nodded. "Well, you were probably right about that. Except that I really would have believed just about anything you told me he was capable of, all the while lying to you and claiming that I didn't believe a word you said, to maintain the façade." She sighed. "I'm sorry, Harry. It seemed--more prudent. If I'd been honest with you, we--we might have been tempted to do something, and we probably would have been discovered by him....I thought it fairer to you to let you get on with your life. My current problem is--since he's cheating on me now, I can't very well expect him to get frustrated with me for not sleeping with him. Why's he going to bother breaking up with me if he's shagging other girls, and still thinks I might give in any day now? And I can't get all huffy about him shagging the other girls and break up with him, because he's under that Obedience Charm. We don't want him Apparating to You-Know-Who's side the next time he's summoned and doing whatever he's told, do we?"
She sighed and tightened her arms around her legs. "So I've go a boyfriend I don't want, who's getting far too good at very nearly seducing me--" Her voice shook and so did her hand, as it pushed a lock of hair behind her ear; "--and if I show him the door it's liable to get us all killed. And if my frustration gets the better of me and I give in, I'll never be rid of him....besides feeling terribly, terribly guilty."
She would feel guilty because of me, Harry thought. She was sacrificing any happiness she might have in her youth to protect others--mostly to protect him. This was the last thing he had expected to hear. Everything he had heard and seen that had passed between her and Draco Malfoy during the previous year had been a lie; well, almost everything, he thought, remembering overhearing their argument on Malfoy's birthday. That had been an unguarded moment, in private. And even then--Ginny wasn't being completely honest with Draco about not wanting to sleep with him. She did desire him, against her will, but she felt dirty and guilty about that and claimed to him that she wasn't "ready" so that he might eventually decide to leave her.
"Why," his voice shook, "would you feel guilty about sleeping with your boyfriend?" He thought he knew, but he wanted to hear it from her again. He could never tire of hearing it....
"Well, there are two reasons. First, there's you, of course. Second--" She paused and bit her lip. "He loves me."
She sighed. "The amulet, remember? It's very clear that in his own Draco Malfoy sort of way, he does actually love me. And I don't feel the same. I may have once, not as strongly as him, but I certainly don't any more. He loves me and I don't love him back. It's you I love. If that's not a good reason to feel guilty, I don't know what is. And even though I love you, we can't be together....we can't even sit closer together than this...Not while I'm the one he sees in that damn amulet. Not while Voldemort can use him to kill and destroy."
"Ginny," he said throatily, feeling like she was a million miles away instead of a mere ten feet. "How do you expect me to go on after you tell me you love me, but we can't be together? Why didn't you tell me when I told you I love you?"
She looked at him sadly. "I couldn't, Harry. I just couldn't. If I left Draco for you he would kill you. I know it. Every time I considered running to you and confessing my feelings, all I could picture in my mind was--was the way Hermione and Colin and Penelope looked when I was in first year and my selfishness was getting people hurt. I don't ever want people to be hurt again because of my selfishness, my greediness. That's what led to it. I was greedy; I needed to talk to Tom, to talk to someone. And even after Mrs. Norris, I kept on, didn't I? And I killed the roosters, and even Nearly Headless Nick was affected....And it was all because of me. When I finally worked out what was making me do it....I don't know how many hours I sat in the hospital wing crying over the three of them....I never want to feel that way again, Harry. And maybe that's a kind of selfishness, too. But that's a kind of selfishness I can live with. And a kind that other people can live with too."
"But--but--you're telling me now," he whispered.
She gazed at him longingly and he caught his breath. She was so beautiful, sitting there with her hair tumbling about her shoulders, with such an expression of love and desire it was all he could do not to run to the bed and take her in his arms. He thought of Katie and suddenly wished he had not been so weak and selfish, wishing that they had never done anything past snogging....
"I know, Harry, I know. But--but after you told me about what happened--about changing time--I couldn't bear to lie to you any more. I want to think of every lie I ever told you and put it right." She swallowed and closed her eyes. "Let me think--well, there was when you found me trying to get to the Trophy Room because I found that note from Draco. I lied about thinking it was for me. You really must have thought I was quite the naive ninny! I found it in Mariah's Potions text, and I knew they were meeting. It wasn't that I was jealous, although I was a little peeved that he might be sneaking around behind my back. Point of pride, you know. I was really hoping to see whether they actually cared for each other; I hoped that if she could make him forget me, he'd break up with me and I'd be free. I never did get a chance to see them, though, thanks to Filch. And you."
He grimaced. "Sorry."
She shook her head and smiled at him. "I'm not. I could almost forget about everything else while you were holding me, and we were standing behind that statue, waiting for Filch to leave....I never wanted that moment to end...." But suddenly a yawn overcame her, and she stretched languorously; Harry practically choked, watching her thin nightdress move as she did this. "Oh my--we've been talking so long the sun is coming up. I'm going to look a fright, dark circles under my eyes..."
"Lie down," he said softly. "I'll sing you a lullaby. Something my mother used to sing to me."
She laughed. "You'll what?" He nodded and she snuggled down in the bed, her head on the pillow, gazing at him expectantly. He swallowed and watched as her eyes drifted closed; she looked so angelic and peaceful. Then, with her eyes closed, she whispered, "I do love you, Harry. Every time you told me that, I wanted to tell you the same thing, and now I have...." her voice trailed off sleepily.
The room was very still. Harry couldn't speak. But he could sing. He watched her face as she drifted into sleep, listening to his voice, to the Welsh words of a mother to her child:
Clyd a chynnes ydyw hon
Breichiau mam sy'n dyn am danat,
Cariad mam sy dan fy mron
Ni cha dim amharu'th gyntun
Ni wna undyn â thi gam
Huna'n dawel, anwyl blentyn
Huna'n fwyn ar fron dy fam....
He continued to watch her; her breaths were regular and deep, and he thought he could even see her eyes moving behind her eyelids. He rose and walked to the bed, not caring about Malfoy and his amulet. He saw that Ginny was clutching the basilisk as she slept, a small smile curling around the edge of her mouth. He leaned down and kissed her brow.
"I love you too, Ginny," he whispered to her. "Sleep well."
He crept into the corridor carefully, hoping no one would see him leaving her room, but everyone in the house still seemed to be asleep. He crawled back into the bed in "Jamie's room," falling asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow. For once he felt utterly at peace.
"The wolf shall pounce."
"Huh?" Harry muttered to Sandy, eyes closed.
"The wolf shall pounce."
"That's nice...." he droned sleepily. A moment later, he was vaguely aware of the door to his room opening and heavy footsteps crossing to the bed. He jumped when a voice suddenly split the silence of the room, the sound ricocheting around his poor, empty-feeling cranium.
"C'mon!" Ron said, jogging in place at the foot of the bed, dressed for running. "I already rang a gong in Ginny's ear and got told off. She isn't running this morning; it's just you and me." Harry groaned, only able to open one eye so far, trying to sit up.
"Correction: it's just you. I'm having a lie-in." He squinted at his watch. It was seven o'clock.
"It's seven o'bleeding clock," Harry complained. "Are you out of your flipping mind? I was up until five." He closed his eyes and dropped back onto the pillow, but a moment later he grunted with surprise and his eyes flew open again in shock.
Ron had grabbed one of his ankles and pulled him up in the air so that he was hanging upside down, staring at Ron's shins. Harry swore violently. "Oi, listen to the mouth on you! I want an explanation, and I want it now, Potter!"
"An explanation for what, you bloody sod?" Harry choked, trying to reach out for Ron's legs so he could do something to him. He didn't know what he wanted to do specifically, he just knew he wanted to hurt him a great deal. He didn't ever remember Ron physically attacking him before. Ron held him farther away from his body when Harry's arms started flailing at him; Harry couldn't reach him. Ron was showing no signs of stress or strain, holding his best friend upside-down in the air wearing nothing but his boxers (something which was making Harry feel very vulnerable). Harry might have been a feather to him. Damn werewolf strength, Harry thought grumpily.
In the doorway of his room, Harry now saw upside-down versions of Fred and George; they were in dressing gowns, covered in more freckles than ever, and sporting large, amused grins.
"Yes, Ron," one of them said. "An explanation for what?" Harry couldn't tell whether it was Fred or George, especially as he was upside-down, but they were both looking highly amused.
"Harry here said that he didn't want to go running this morning because he was up until five in the morning."
The twin who hadn't yet spoken shrugged and said, "So what? I don't even feel like running when I've had eight hours--not that Angelina ever lets me--" That was George then, Harry thought. Fred gave him a backhanded swat on the arm, but both of them were still grinning.
"Yeah, well, Ginny's not coming either, and she said it was because she'd been up until five in the morning!" he exploded now, directing this at Harry's head as much as this was possible. Harry could think of only two words:
Suddenly, Ginny's upside-down image appeared next to her brothers' in the doorway; she had pulled on a garish plaid dressing gown over her nightdress. "Ron!" she cried. "Whatever are you doing? Put Harry down now!" Harry felt Ron's grip on his ankle loosening, and Ginny must have had the same thought; she cried, "No!" before Ron could open his hand and let Harry fall on his head. "On the bed!" she admonished him.
Harry had a hard time seeing Ron's face from his current position, but he could tell that Ron wasn't happy. Neither were the twins. As he fell back onto the bed, he saw that the identical freckled faces were frowning deeply at him--and the twins were almost never not smiling or laughing. That did not bode well.
Ginny put her hands on her hips and glared up at Ron. "Remus told you that you are not to use your strength that way. Remember Roger Davies in the infirmary? I thought you were doing so much better now...."
Ron shook his finger in her face. "Oh, no you don't! You're not going to turn this around and make it all about me. I want to know what the pair of you were up to until five in the morning!"
"Oh, no you don't want to know," Ginny shot back; Harry looked back and forth between them. He was unlikely to get a word in edgewise and decided he wouldn't even try. "You don't want to know because the truth is boring and mundane and wouldn't give you an excuse for throwing a fit. The truth is we were just talking. That's all! Talking!" Harry watched Ron's face; he was strongly reminded of Ron's reaction to finding out he and Ginny had spent the night in the Quidditch changing rooms, and he wondered how soon Did you shag my sister? would come out of his mouth.
Harry smiled feebly at the twins, who stood to his left with identically-crossed arms and identical scowls directed unnervingly at him. George--at least, he thought it was George--raised one eyebrow at him. Harry wasn't sure what that was supposed to mean.
"Talking?" Ron said incredulously. "Talking all night until five in the morning?"
"No, not talking all night. Somewhere around three o'clock Harry went to the loo, and he--he opened the wrong door on the way back." He glanced at her warily; she begged him with her eyes not to contradict this little lie.
"Er, yeah," he said. "And then I saw the window seat and sat down, looking down the High Street, and Ginny surprised me by asking me what the hell I was doing in her room. I didn't even see her until she spoke," he added truthfully. "We ended up talking until five."
"Talking? For two hours?" Ron said, still unwilling to believe.
"Yes," Ginny said firmly. "Talking. But by five we were both knackered. Harry came back to his room and we both went back to sleep. End of story."
"Well--" Ron blustered, Ginny having knocked the wind out of his sails; "well--" he tried again, "why are you just standing there while Harry here is in his underwear, eh?"
She threw up her hands. "Because I'm not a child, that's why. And I have six brothers. And we've both been down in the pool at Ascog at the same time--"
"It's not the same! Don't come parading in here in your underwear and tell me it's the same thing as a bikini!"
She looked at him blankly. "Ron, I do believe you've become completely unhinged. It's a pity wizards aren't in the habit of consulting mental health professionals unless they've suffered brain damage. I'd say you need years of therapy."
"You've trying to make this about me again!"
She stood toe to toe with him. "It is about you. It's about how you were accusing me yesterday of shagging my boyfriend--which I would be perfectly within my rights to do, if I wanted--and now you're accusing me of shagging Harry, who is your best friend. We were talking, Ron. We're friends too, Harry and I. And anyway, I thought you didn't like Draco. If you thought I was with someone else--especially Harry--I thought you'd be the first one to throw a parade. Not that we were doing anything....I'm just saying...."
Ron backed down a bit, grimacing. "It's not that--that--" He couldn't finish. "Oh, bollocks,," he said lamely, sitting at the foot of the bed. Ginny smirked at him, triumphant. Harry glanced at the twins, who seemed to have come over to Ginny's side. George (he thought) winked at him.
"You know we'd rather you were with Ginny than Malfoy being with her, right Harry?" George said to him.
"I think it's just that--well, the idea of anybody shagging our sister--" Fred said, bobbing his head in Ginny's direction.
Ginny whirled on them. "So, are you going to do the same thing to Maggie? Are you going to walk up to Professor Snape and challenge him to a wizard's duel for shagging your sister?"
All four boys gaped at her and said in unison, "Snape?"
Ginny crossed her arms and looked at them all very smugly. "Turns out they met and had a brief, steamy affair six years ago," she said, clearly taking great pleasure in telling them this. "She told me all about it when she came to stay at the Burrow. We sat up late. Talking," she said pointed to Ron in particular. "Well--not really everything. I'm assuming the 'steamy' part from one or two hints she dropped. She had just finished school and was going to begin university, to read Classics. As a treat, her parents bought her sailing lessons--she'd always wanted to learn--but she was a bit of a disaster. Almost immediately, the boom knocked her overboard. Well, this other yacht happened to be passing by--"
"--the Patricia," Harry said softly, remembering sailing on the Firth of Clyde in his other life. Ginny raised one eyebrow and went on; Harry hoped the boys hadn't noticed.
"--and they fished her out of the water. Snape and his uncle taught her to sail instead, and, well--" Ginny blushed prettily. "Let's just say that wasn't all he taught her--"
Ron and the twins had dropped their jaws in disbelief.
"But--but--but--" Fred sputtered. "It was Snape!"
Harry bristled. "He was good enough for my mum. You should be happy for your sister if there's some chance they might get back together!"
Now it was Ron's turn to say, "But--but--it was Snape!"
"I know! And yes, he's been rough on all of us in school, but it's for a reason. None of us wanted to be on his bad side, did we? He made us work damn hard, and I, for one, am glad he did." He turned to Fred. "Are you telling me you've never used anything you learned from him when you're creating your stuff? What about Canary Creams, or Ton-Tongue Toffee?"
Fred looked sheepish now. "He actually gave me two O.W.L.s, for beginning and intermediate Potions. Flitwick and McGonagall were the only other professors who did that. In fact, they were the only three who gave me any O.W.L.s." Well, Harry thought, that made sense; Potions, Charms and Transfiguration would be the areas of magic involved in making a sweet that temporarily transfigured you into a canary, or that put an engorgement charm on your tongue.
"She said he was quite romantic with her," Ginny said, harking back to Maggie's and Snape's relationship. "He told her he was a teacher at a boarding school up north, and that he would leave his post if he could, but that his headmaster was counting on him to come back, especially as a new student was coming who was something of a celebrity--"
Harry sat up straighter. "Wait--how long ago did you say this was?"
Harry swallowed. "That was me. I was the reason he had to leave her--because Dumbledore wanted him to look after me."
"Look after you!" George howled, almost doubled up with laughter. "Snape?"
Ron was sober. "Don't laugh. He saved Harry's life during our first year. Remember Harry's first Quidditch match, when his broom was trying to throw him? That was because Quirrell was jinxing him. Snape was countering the jinx--only we didn't know that--"
Harry nodded. "Right. Hermione and Ron thought he was the one jinxing me because they could see him staring at me and moving his lips, doing the counter-jinx. So Hermione--er--"
"What?" Fred wanted to know.
"She set fire to his robes," Ron said placidly. Fred and George tried to suppress it for only a moment before they burst out into peals of laughter. Harry, Ron and Ginny were having a difficult time containing their laughter now too; it was too infectious.
While the others continued laughing, Harry sobered, thinking That's why he looked like he hated me from the first day I was a Hogwarts. It had nothing to do with my mother or father. I had taken him away from Maggie.
He felt ill and put his arms across his stomach. In the midst of Ron and Fred and George chatting noisily about Snape and how Harry, Ron and Hermione thought he was after the Stone, Ginny sat on the bed and looked at him.
"Are you all right, Harry?"
He smiled at her, remembering her telling him that she loved him. At last... But they couldn't be together. Not yet. Not for a long time, perhaps. Plus, there was the small matter of Katie still. He sighed.
"I know what would make me feel better. I think I want to go for a run after all."
She nodded. "I think I will, too. I'll go get ready."
Harry watched Ron and the twins while he searched in his bag for some running clothes. He smiled and shook his head over some of the things they were saying as he donned some shorts and tied his running shoes. When he was pulling on a green former T-shirt (the sleeves had been cut off), he heard Fred say, "Oh, no. What if--what if he becomes our brother-in-law?"
"Eeeeew," was Ron's immediate reaction. Harry laughed.
"They're just now getting reacquainted after six years! And anyway, you never know--he might decide he wants to leave Hogwarts to be with her...."
Ron brightened now. "Good point! Maybe we can convince them to marry sometime in the next month. Before our seventh year starts, preferably--"
George cried, "Hell, no! We're out of school. We don't care if he's still teaching there. But relatives--argh! You have to see them at every birthday, every holiday--"
Ron and his twin both wrestled him onto the bed. "Oh, it's such a burden seeing your relatives, is it?" Ron asked him, but now he was laughing, and Fred and George joined him. Harry grinned at the tangled mass of Weasleys on the bed. For a minute, it reminded him of the good-natured wrestling with his own brothers....
Brothers. Severus Snape's sons. He remembered vividly now how happy his stepfather had been at Simon and Stuart's first birthday party. Harry was five and Jamie was three, and his dad had been constantly ordering everyone to smile, snapping their pictures with his camera, until his mother, laughing and beautiful, had finally grabbed the camera from him and took his picture with the twins, one little boy on each hip, and his stepfather smiling broadly, his eyes crinkled up merrily as he held his boys, deep smile-lines etched in his cheeks....And then he insisted that Harry was his boy too, and pulled the bashful Harry into the picture....
Harry laughed at the Weasley boys. "You might find that you actually prefer a happy Snape over an angry-with-the-world Snape. I know I prefer being around him when he's happy."
Ron and his brothers looked at each other, perplexed. "When have you ever seen Snape happy?" one of the twins demanded. Suddenly, Harry looked up and saw Ginny standing in the doorway in her running clothes. She had a very distressed look on her face. She knew...
Harry slapped Ron on the back. "Ready to go running?" He hoped no one would notice he hadn't answered the question.
Ron looked up at him, frowning. "When did you get dressed? And I thought--" He saw Ginny standing in the doorway, also dressed for running. He shrugged and stood. "Well, I guess we're going running."
He seemed calm once more, following Harry and Ginny down the stairs and outdoors. Rather than shocking the residents of Hogsmeade, they ran to the castle and back twice. After taking turns in the shower, they sat down with the other residents of Hog's End to eat breakfast in the kitchen. Percy and Lee weren't coming to the Quidditch match; they had pressing business to take care of, a new client in Belgium who would be carrying the full Weasley Wizard Wheezes product line in all of their shops. There was evidently some question of whether they would accept payment in Belgian francs, as everyone's Gringott's assets were still frozen and inaccessible. But when Percy met Harry's eye, he turned bright red and looked away. He did the same thing with Lee, with whom he was going to be working instead of going to the match. Harry thought this very odd.
Harry watched Ginny while he ate; it was such a lovely feeling, being in this familiar place, where she'd never been in his other life, and just being able to watch her eat, and talk to her brothers, and know that she loved him. We have years, he thought. We have years ahead of us. If it's all a matter of waiting, I can wait. I can be patient. For her, the wait will be worth it.
As they approached the familiar Hogwarts Quidditch pitch, they encountered a roped-off area before they reached the stands, and saw that a number of authoritative-looking people Harry immediately pegged as Aurors were scrutinizing everyone entering. There was a bit of a queue to approach. Ron frowned.
"Security," he explained to Harry, not looking particularly happy about this.
Harry leaned out of the queue to see what the Aurors were doing. Most people received a nod and were passed through; occasionally a witch or wizard was asked for his or her wand, and the wand was tested to find out the most recent spell it had cast. Harry straightened up again, telling Ron, the twins, Angelina and Ginny, "This could take a while."
Sandy hissed to Harry, "You shall be wanted."
"Wanted?" he hissed back at her. "Wanted by whom?"
She didn't answer.
After a while Harry kicked a piece of turf, muttering, "Why are they even bothering to hold Quidditch matches if they're so worried about security?"
"Blimey, Harry," Ron said. "Do you know how people would panic if the League Cup was canceled? I mean, the attack on Diagon Alley was bad, but they never even canceled the League Cup during You-Know-Who's first reign of terror. Everyone would think it was the end of the world if they did that."
"You mean they wouldn't have a good way to pacify everyone," Ginny countered. "This way, they can simultaneously occupy people with mindless sport--"
"Bread and circuses," muttered Harry.
"--and make it look like the Ministry's really doing something, just because they're checking over everyone who's entering the stadium. I'm sure they're really going to get to the bottom of the Diagon Alley attack by doing that."
"Ginny!" Ron said urgently, watching an Auror who was looking at Ginny very intently. "Don't say things like that here, all right?" he said out of the corner of his mouth.
Harry didn't like the look of the Auror either. "I agree with Ron, Ginny. You can't be too careful what you say in public. Rant back at Hog's End, all right?" His eyes pleaded with her, and she backed down from her brother, her eyes locked with Harry's. He looked away from her reluctantly.
They finally reached the front of the queue, and after a moment's visual examination, everyone in their party was passed through but Harry. He stood waiting, while the Auror--a middle-aged man of either Indian or Pakistani descent--looked at him suspiciously, even going so far as to touch Harry's scar with a frown. Harry flinched and backed up when he did this, wondering what was going on.
"What is it, Aziz?" the other Auror asked him. She was about thirty, very large and Nordic-looking, like a Valkyrie.
"Come with me," Aziz said to Harry, his hand clamped on his arm, dragging him toward a tent that had been erected near the Quidditch changing rooms. Harry looked back and forth between the Aurors when the large woman clamped her hand on his other arm.
"What? What did I do? What's going on?"
"Did you think you'd get away with it, Death Eater?" Aziz asked him, his face very close to Harry's. Harry panicked for a moment, thinking that they somehow had detected that he'd been initiated in his other life.
"G-get away with what?" he sputtered. He saw that the others were shocked to see the Aurors dragging him away; Ron and Ginny started to move toward him, but some other Aurors stopped them.
"Harry!" he heard them yelling at him.
"Get away with what? You're not very clever, are you? Did you think you could walk in here, masquerading as Harry Potter, of all people, and no one would notice? Not a very inconspicuous disguise, after all." The hands on his arms tightened.
"But I am Harry Potter, you idiots!" Harry suddenly pulled his arms free. "That's why you're detaining me? You don't believe I'm me?"
"What's going on here, what's going on?" a familiar voice said, pushing through the crowd. Harry looked up and saw Ludo Bagman, head of Magical Games and Sports for the Ministry. "Ah, Harry! Good to see you!"
The Aurors looked at him uncertainly. "Hello, Mr. Bagman. You know Harry Potter personally?"
"Of course I do, of course I do! I know everyone worth knowing, right Harry?" he said with a jovial wink. Harry never thought it would be possible to be glad to see Ludo Bagman, but he was.
"Well," the Valkyrie said, "can you help us positively identify him?"
Harry had a sudden thought. He motioned for Bagman to come closer and whispered to him what he knew about his past goblin troubles and how he was trying to help Harry during the tournament. Bagman straightened up, reddening.
"That's Harry Potter, all right," he told the Aurors, who backed away now, as though they had never been dragging Harry over the grass to the tent.
"How do you know?" Aziz said, still looking suspicious.
"Let's just say he told me something which I daresay only Harry knows--and something which only Harry will continue to know, eh?" he said with a raised eyebrow.
Harry raised his eyebrow back; he hadn't been trying to blackmail Bagman, not really; but he needed to make sure he chose a piece of information that was not common knowledge.
The Aurors finally let him pass, and Bagman, waved him off, saying, "I'll come talk to you before the match! Must fly now, very busy..." And he was lost in the crowd once more.
Harry was relieved to join his friends again; Ron and Ginny both looked at him with concern as they climbed up to their seats. Harry somehow felt a pall had been cast on the day. After they bought some bottles of butterbeer from a vendor, he pulled out his Omnioculars to scan the stadium, both making an effort to forget about his humiliation at the hands of the Aurors and trying to see who had come that he might know. (He hoped no one he knew had noticed him being detained.) He frowned as he looked through the lenses; regularly spaced throughout the spectator seating were witches and wizards standing with crossed arms, their wands at the ready. They appeared to be very alert, scanning the crowd with their eyes, occasionally nodding at each other, and generally looking ready to act at a moment's notice.
There were Aurors all over the place. Harry swallowed, remembering being a fugitive. Somehow, the Aurors didn't have the effect of calming him and making him feel everything was under control. He remembered his momentary panic when the Aurors had been dragging him toward the tent, and trying to get Ginny to stop talking about Diagon Alley when that Auror was looking at her. What was the wizarding world coming to that they had to have so many Aurors at a Quidditch match? he thought. He tried to ignore them, but it was difficult. Every time he spotted another, his pulse quickened. Unfortunately, Aurors were never again likely to give him a feeling of safety and reassurance.
There were still about twenty minutes to go before the match was supposed to start. They had good seats, right in the middle on the Chudley Cannons side, although a part of Harry looked longingly toward the Holyhead Harpies side. He'd already surprised Ron once by calling the Harpies his favorite team (which it was, in his other life); he wasn't going to make that mistake again.
"So the Cannons had a good year?" he asked Ron, not having been following the League very closely. He tried to ignore an Auror standing about twenty feet away.
Ron rolled his eyes. "Do you even know how the League works after all this time, Harry? All you care about is the Inter-House Quidditch Cup at school. The League--now that's real Quidditch."
Harry bristled; he knew very well how the Quidditch League worked, but that was from his other life, and he was very, very tired of saying, "I can't tell you," when people asked him how he knew something he wasn't supposed to know that he'd learned in that other world. Fine, he thought. From now on I'll just play dumb.
"All right then," he said in a challenging voice. "Explain it to me."
"You're sure you want to know? All right. Each season, the thirteen teams in the league play four matches each for a total of twenty-six matches. The rankings from the previous season--before the quarter-finals, that is--determine the pairings. There are three divisions, but the top-ranked team isn't put into any of them. Division A always has the teams that were ranked second, fifth, eighth and eleventh. Division B gets third, sixth, ninth and twelfth. The rest are Division C. With me so far?"
Harry nodded, itching to pick up his omnioculars again; Ron could be almost as pedantic as Hermione at times, especially on the subject of Quidditch. Plus, he already knew all this.
"Each team," Ron went on, "plays the other three teams in the same division, for a total of six matches within each division. The top-ranked team--the one that doesn't have a division--plays the other top teams from the previous season, down to number five. That's how the top five teams get their fourth match. The bottom eight teams then pair off for one more match each. After that the new rankings are done."
Harry glanced around the stadium, barely listening to Ron now. "Right, right, each team plays four matches and then they redo the rankings according to how many wins each team has..."
"Right! You've got it." Well, I'm not a complete idiot, Harry thought. "For instance," Ron went on, "this year, the two teams that were both undefeated--the Harpies and Puddlemere United--were ranked third and seventh last year. Puddlemere had a very bad year; they're doing a lot better now. So, since the Harpies had a higher rank than Puddlemere last year, this year they're ranked first and Puddlemere second, even though they both have four wins. Are you lost yet?"
Harry rolled his eyes. "Do you want me to be?"
"Nah," Ron said, not noticing Harry's impatience. "So; the teams with three wins each were ranked the same way, according to where they fell on last year's rankings. Same for the teams with two wins, and one. You get the idea. So, with the new ranks done, from one to thirteen, they take the top eight teams and pair them off for four League quarter-final matches. The Cannons actually came in fifth in the new rankings, and then they actually won their quarter-final match against the Appleby Arrows. I couldn't believe it."
"But the Holyhead Harpies are undefeated," Harry said, suppressing a smile, feeling mischievous. Ron looked a bit grumpy.
"Yeah, yeah, they're undefeated."
Harry relented, feeling a bit bad for Ron. He was wearing the bright orange Cannons hat Harry had given him, disappearing against his bright hair. He'd been waiting for years for the Cannons to do this well. It wasn't that they didn't have an illustrious history; they'd been League champions twenty-one times. Unfortunately, the last time was in 1892.
"Well, if the Cannons have come this far, they must be playing really well. They can't have had many losses."
"Just the one," Ron said reluctantly.
"Oh; which team?"
Ron hesitated before answering. "The Harpies." He sighed. "They were both in Division B. The Harpies are the division champions; they trounced all of the other teams in Division B. And then they slaughtered the Wigtown Wanderers in the quarter-finals, and that was even with Wilmer Parkin in the pink of health. He just joined the team this year. I think he'd rather play for someone else, but it's a family tradition for players in his family to be on the Wanderers. He's their only decent player right now, a Chaser, and he was out for the first two matches of the season, two separate injuries. Trouble is, he also plays for England, and he was hurt in European Cup games against Transylvania and Luxembourg right before each of those division matches. Hard luck. He was finally available for their game against the Tutshill Tornadoes, but by then, Puddlemere was undefeated so they won Division C.
"The Wanderers wouldn't have squeaked into the quarter-finals at number eight if they hadn't beaten the Falmouth Falcons in their fourth match. The Falcons haven't won a match all season; completely pathetic. I mean, the Wanderers were ranked thirteenth last year--before Parkin joined--and the Falcons were twelfth, and the Falcons still lost." Ron sighed again and picked up his program, flipping the pages idly, as though trying to forget how good the Harpies were. Then he saw something in the program which made him brighten considerably. He held the page up for Harry to see.
"Speaking of the European Cup, there's still that to follow, even after the League Cup is over! Last one was during the Christmas holidays when we were in fourth year. I didn't really follow it, since we were so caught up in you being a Tournament Champion and the Yule Ball and everything. Plus, I think a lot of people were still reeling from the World Cup. Since Krum couldn't play for Bulgaria, as he was doing the Tournament, Bulgaria didn't qualify, and there were so many starting players for Ireland who were injured during the celebration of their World Cup win, they had to play a lot of reserves for their qualifying match, which came right after, and--well, they didn't qualify. With Ireland and Bulgaria out of it, I think a lot of people lost interest that year."
"Who finally won?" Harry asked, genuinely interested now.
Ron looked thoughtful. "Italy beat Norway, I think. They played in Greece. It didn't attract that many people, not after the World Cup. This year, Wales, Ireland and England are all still in it. Scotland didn't make it. But wait until you hear this: the final will be in Wales, between Christmas and New Year! We won't be in school! Maybe we can get tickets."
Harry's eyes grew large at the thought. "That would be brilliant! Where in Wales is it?"
"Some old castle. There's actually enough space within the outer walls for the pitch, and the seats are up on the parapets. I don't care of I don't get anything for Christmas if I get to see the European Cup final."
Fred clapped Ron on the shoulder. "Well, you know we're going to be there, little brother. We've just signed a concession contract to have Weasley's Wizard Wheezes sold at the quarter-finals, semi-finals and final. Lee did it. He's amazing, Ron. He could sell anything. Just has the gift of gab, you know?"
Then Fred caught Harry's eye and looked a bit awkward. "Er, sorry Harry."
Harry frowned. "Sorry about what?"
"Well, you know. Mentioning Lee."
Harry was still baffled. "Why can't you talk about Lee?"
George gave him that look again, that made Harry think he knew more than he was saying. "Because of Katie, Harry," he said calmly. Harry looked him in the eye, afraid to blink.
"Oh, right. No. I mean, I'm fine about Lee. And he seems to be fine about me. No problem. Did either of us give you the impression otherwise back at the house? I'm just sorry he couldn't be here today. I know how he likes a good Quidditch match, even if he isn't doing the commentary."
Fred and Ron looked at each other as though they didn't believe this for a minute. Harry really didn't want to have a conversation about this, and was relieved to hear a voice saying, "Oi! Harry!"
It was Bagman again, making his way through the seats. "Harry! There you are!" Harry saw the twins immediately adopt hostile glares, even though he'd gotten Harry out of his spot of trouble earlier. He never had paid them back their money from the World Cup.
"Hello, Mr. Bagman," Harry said evenly.
"God, Harry! Call me Ludo!" He slapped Harry on the back, ignoring the twins (or so Harry thought). But suddenly, he was addressing them quite amiably, as though there was no bad blood between them at all and they had just been having a few pints down at the pub.
"I understand we're to have some of your creations sold at the European Cup matches." He smirked, leaning over conspiratorially, putting his finger to the side of his nose. "You may thank me," he said to the twins, sotto voce; Fred and George looked at each other, alarmed. "Least I could do," Bagman said, standing up straight again and clearing his throat. It seemed to be the closest the twins would get to an admission of guilt or an apology. Harry wondered how Bagman had ever managed to get the goblins to leave him alone (if they indeed had).
Bagman turned back to Harry. "Listen, I wanted to talk to you. Don't run off after the match. Friend of mine wants to talk to you. Captain of the Welsh team."
Harry had tipped up his bottle of butterbeer to drink, and now risked spitting it all over Bagman. He only just managed to swallow instead of choking on it.
Ludo looked very sober now. "You haven't heard? One of the casualties in the Diagon Alley attack was Audra Griffiths. She was the starting Seeker for Wales, and also for the Harpies. Their former reserve Seeker has moved up; she's playing today, and has also taken Griffiths' spot on the Welsh team. The Harpies hired a new reserve Seeker, but she doesn't qualify for the Welsh team, as she wasn't born there and doesn't live there. I understand you were born in Wales. Is that true?"
Harry swallowed, trying to think whether he'd ever seen his birth certificate. "I--I don't know. I think so. I can check."
"Check quickly. Tryouts for the reserve spot on the Welsh team are the first Saturday in September. You should do it, Harry. You could even get the starting spot, you never know. The Cup games start the week after that. Eight Saturdays of matches between the sixteen qualifying European teams. The quarter-finals are for four weeks after that, then the semi-finals. The final is the twenty-eighth of December, in Wales. Of course, if you were playing for Wales, and they lost their match in early October, that wouldn't much matter, would it?"
Harry couldn't tell whether he was trying to guilt him into trying for the team. Playing in the European Cup! And if he managed to get the Welsh team to the final--to be played in Wales...! It would be even better than the World Cup. Then he reminded himself it would only be a reserve slot. Still...
"Oh, wait," Bagman said suddenly; "you would have to be of age to even try out. Are you seventeen yet?"
"You bet!" Ron said excitedly; Harry just noticed that he'd been barely containing his excitement the entire time Bagman had been speaking. "He just had his birthday!"
Bagman nodded and clapped his hands together with satisfaction. "Excellent! Stick around after the match, Harry; I'll bring Owen over to mean you. Owen Aberystwyth."
Harry nodded at him, unable to find words, as Bagman moved off and the spectators began to anticipate the start of the match. Harry wasn't sure he would really see the match, after looking forward to it for so long; all he could see was himself, wearing the colors of Wales, flying over the pitch as a magically-amplified voice cried to the crowd, "I give you Potter!"
He couldn't believe it; he might be able to play Quidditch for Wales while he was still in school. It was beyond his wildest dreams. He forgot about Voldemort, about Diagon Alley, about being Head Boy...
He had somehow forgotten that the opening was for a reserve player as he lifted his Omnioculars to his eyes again, scanning the crowd, imagining all of these people coming to see him play Seeker in the European Cup final...The Aurors didn't have the power to bother him any more.
"Ron!" he said suddenly, putting his elbow in Ron's ribs.
"Ow, Harry! What, are you trying to get back at me for this morning?"
"No, no; did you bring your Omnis?" Ron nodded, taking them out. "Right. Look see who's over there, right behind the Holyhead team physician."
Ron put his Omnioculars to his eyes and tried to look where Harry was pointing. Harry picked his up and looked again; then he swallowed, a cold feeling creeping over him.
She seemed to be looking right back at him through the lenses....
Ron and Harry turned to look at each other. "What's she doing here?" Harry demanded. "Since when is she into Quidditch?"
Ron shrugged. "She was at the World Cup. And since she lost her home, her husband and then disowned her son, she has to have been doing something to earn a living and stay busy."
"But what?" Harry demanded, thinking out loud. "And I doubt she's hurting much for money. She has enough extra for a Quidditch ticket."
Harry looked again at Narcissa Malfoy. She'd cut her hair so it was short and boyish, but he easily recognized those features, especially as they were contorted into that unpleasant expression he had first seen at the Quidditch World Cup. She turned to speak to the woman who was the Harpies team physician--in fact, most of the people on the Harpies' side were women, as it was by tradition an all-witch team. He frowned now as he continued to watch Draco Malfoy's mother talking to the other blonde woman. There was something about the other woman, something familiar....
"Who's that Malfoy's mum is talking to?" Ron asked, looking with his Omnioculars again.
Harry frowned while he continued to look. "I think she's a doctor at St. Mungo's. There's something about her--"
"The game's about to begin!" Fred said excitedly. Harry looked up; Fred was next to Ginny, who was sitting the farthest from Harry. Ron, George and Angelina were in between. He and Ginny couldn't get too close, but he wished....
Ludo Bagman was the commentator. "Ladies and gentlemen," his magically-amplified voice intoned. "Please stand for a moment of silence in honor of Audra Griffiths, of the Holyhead Harpies, and Wilmer Parkin, of the Wigtown Wanderers, both tragically lost in the recent attack on Diagon Alley. Let us all remember these two talented players, a true loss to the British and Irish Quidditch League...."
Harry noticed a thunderstruck look on Ron's face as they stood. All witches and wizards who were wearing hats removed them, and all present bowed their heads in respectful silence. When Bagman said, "Thank you. You may be seated," the rustling of the crowd almost kept Harry from hearing Ron.
"I don't believe it."
Where they were sitting again, Ron said, "Parkin. I can't believe he's dead. It's the end of an era."
Harry wanted to ask why, but Bagman had started announcing the two teams. The players flew out toward the middle of the field while the crowd cheered them on. While the spectators on the opposite side were cheering on the Harpies, Ron said to Harry, "He was the last Parkin. He was young; about twenty-five. No kids."
Harry shrugged. "So? I mean, it's bad that he was killed in the attack, and it's too bad he never had kids, but I don't understand why it's the 'end of an era.'"
"Well, not in general. For the Wigtown Wanderers it is, though. The club was started almost six-hundred years ago by a family of four brothers and three sisters. Their dad was a wizarding butcher. That's why they still have a silver meat-cleaver on their robes, and that's why Parkin was playing for them when any team in the League would have loved to have him. For almost six-hundred years there's almost always been at least one Parkin on the team, or there's been one getting ready to be old enough. This one, though; he was the last one. And since he hadn't had kids yet--no more Parkins on the Wigtown Wanderers."
"And the Harpies score!" Bagman cried, making Ron turn around and grab his Omnioculars.
"Aw, the luck! Don't distract me any more, Harry!"
Harry sighed and settled back to watch the game through his own Omnioculars, so that it would be recorded and he could play it back later, as slow or as fast as he liked.
The game was very exciting, but Ron became grumpier and grumpier as it went on. Harry was starting to worry about his werewolf temper and strength again. Finally, the Harpies' Seeker made a spectacular dive which Harry followed with his Omnioculars, making sure he caught it all to watch again and again later. His heart was in his throat until the moment when she had the Snitch in her hand, and the crowd was on its feet, all of the Harpies' fans screaming hoarsely, and Harry longed to join them; in his other life he had never seen his favorite club do so well.
After the game, Ludo Bagman came to Harry again and brought two other wizards with him. "Harry!" he said jovially. "Harry, this is Owen Aberystwyth. Owen, it is my pleasure to introduce to you Harry Potter."
Harry stood and shook hands with Aberystwyth, a medium-height man who had black hair and bright blue eyes, and who looked like he hadn't shaved for several days. Everything passed in a blur. Aberystwyth asked about which Quidditch players he liked in the League. Ron supplied him with the names, saying things like, "Oh, Harry was just going on about Rudy Finster, on Puddlemere. Brilliant at dodging Bludgers, Harry said." Ron was putting quite a lot of words in his mouth; he dreaded having to remember any of it in future conversations with the Welsh captain.
Finally, Owen Aberystwyth was able to talk to Harry very seriously about the concerns he had for the team. Ron finally started paying attention to the other man whom Ludo Bagman had brought with him, but Harry didn't hear their conversation. He was too dazed at the thought of playing in the European Cup. When they began their walk back to Hogsmeade, Harry caught Ginny's eye. She grinned at him behind Fred as they walked.
"Isn't that amazing?" she asked him. "You might be playing for Wales and Ron might be playing for England!"
His jaw dropped. "What?"
Fred laughed at his expression. "Harry, weren't you paying any attention? The other bloke was Monty Mathers, captain of the English team. They've got to replace Parkin. They have reserves, of course, but when they move up, there'll be reserve openings. He actually wanted to talk to Angelina about trying, but she said she wasn't interested. Ron was, though, so he said all right, come and try, what's it going to hurt?"
Harry frowned. "Why should Angelina turn that down? What's she thinking? She was a brilliant Chaser."
Fred frowned at the three in front of him, Ron, Angelina and George, all chatting noisily about Ron trying for the open reserve position. "Dunno. Seems queer to me, that's for sure..."
Harry was even more excited now; if he was playing for Wales (even if he was a reserve and never had the chance to actually play) and if Ron was a reserve for England, if either of those teams went to the final, they'd probably be able to get fantastic tickets for their friends, even without the twins' pull. (And now it seemed they might owe their good fortune to Bagman putting in a good word for them, not Lee's salesmanship.)
However, he never could get Sandy to tell him whether You shall be wanted referred to the Aurors who didn't believe he was Harry Potter; the captain of the Welsh team, or--
When they'd returned to Hogs End, Percy and Lee still weren't back from Belgium, so they had lunch without them. Harry hung about the rest of the afternoon, lounging on the terrace with Ron and the twins and Ginny and Angelina, stealing looks at Ginny every so often, just reveling in being able to see her, even from a short distance. When he finally had to return to Ascog, it was a wrench, and when she stepped forward to give him a firm hug, he didn't want to let go of her for a second. She stepped back finally, standing next to Ron, smiling at him lovingly. Harry tried to keep Ron focused on him, so he wouldn't notice the look on Ginny's face.
"And next week we go shopping in Diagon Alley."
"I hope they've finished sorting things out by then," Ron said with a sigh. Harry agreed.
"Right. I've got all of this money from working for Aberforth, but it's in pound notes. I was going to change it to Galleons, but that's been impossible so far."
"The way things are going in Diagon Alley, from what I hear, you'd better hang on to your pound notes," Ginny said, a warning in her voice. "Many of the merchants aren't taking Galleons now. So many people can't get to their money or only had a small supply of gold on hand, so some of them have started taking Muggle money. After all, they have to be able to have some way to pay their employees, and to buy more wares to sell. And the inflation that's hit the shops! Zoey told me she bought the Standard Book of Spells, Grade 6 for sixty pounds. Her parents have an emergency stash of Muggle money. But sixty pounds is about twelve Galleons, and I know that inside Ron's old book, which I'll be using, it says it sold for four Galleons."
"Now, remember, Ginny, that one was also the twins', which they shared--after Fred dropped his into a Dissolution Potion, to test it for Snape during Potions class--and it was Percy's before that. Percy had to have a new copy, of course, since he said there had been new editions between him and Charlie being in school. So that makes it about five years old."
"And you're telling me the price tripled in five years? They're trying to make money any way they can, and soon everything's going to be priced out of anyone's reach! I hear some witches and wizards have gone back to the barter system."
Harry smirked; he had a feeling Ron wasn't going to win this fight. "I'd better be going, you two. Sirius was going to be doing some undercover work, and I want to find out how that went. If you need some Muggle money, I can lend you some until the Gringotts mess is cleared up, Ron. Don't worry about it."
For once Ron didn't object; he wasn't the only one in a fix over this. "Thanks, Harry. I'll pay you back as soon as they've got the damn goblins under control again. For all that Binns keeps teaching us about goblin rebellions, we wizards don't seem to be any better at controlling them than we ever were, eh?"
Harry agreed; then, before he lost his willpower and pulled Ginny into his arms, he threw the Floo powder into the fire, walked into the warm green flames and said, "Ascog Castle!" Ron and Ginny whirled out of sight.
Harry was surprised to see Severus Snape and his godfather chatting amiably on the couches in the sitting room when he returned to the castle. He stumbled into the room, shocked also to see that Snape was in his sailor garb. He had on a smart blue jacket, white trousers, a white shirt, and his hair was pulled back at the nape of his neck. Sirius looked as though he'd gotten some sun and was wearing simple jeans and a white T-shirt, looking more relaxed than Harry had ever seen him. How odd, Harry thought. He remembered that Sirius had looked very interested in Maggie when he'd first met her; evidently, he didn't bear Snape any ill will for Maggie preferring him.
"Harry! Welcome back. I heard the match on the wireless. So the Cannons are out of it. Hard luck, that." Harry shrugged.
"I reckon I can bear to cheer on the Harpies, if they take the League this year," he said, trying to avoid Snape's eye.
Sirius smiled. "Sit down, Harry, sit down. We have some news about Annie Weasley. Well, in a way...."
Harry sat, looking back and forth between them. "What do you mean?"
Sirius sighed. "When we went to inquire about her at the adoption agency, they sent us to the hospital where Maggie was seen by the Doughertys, before they adopted her. It's private, run by an order of nuns, and they also run an adjacent orphanage. They don't handle the legalities of adoptions themselves, however--they use the adoption agency for that. They didn't want to deal with having lawyers on staff and such. When we started digging, I had hoped we wouldn't need to use a lot of spells to get people to tell us what we needed to know, but we encountered a good bit of resistance at first. We thought they were just being close-mouthed in general, but then we found some people who opened up about Annie, and as we talked to person after person...well, to put it lightly, no one had anything nice to say about Anna Burroughs...."
"That's what the sisters named her. They all knew somehow that her name was Annie, and they heard her saying something in her sleep about a 'burrough'..."
Harry opened his eyes wide. "The Burrow! She was saying the name of her home!"
Sirius slapped his head. "Of course. I didn't think of that. Right. So maybe the memory charm didn't work as well on her as it did on Maggie. Little things got through, evidently. Still, as I was saying, Anna Burroughs was not the most popular child at the orphanage..."
"That doesn't matter. Why do we care that they didn't like her? The Dursleys didn't like me and that never put you off, Sirius."
"It's not that they didn't like her....Let me start over. Annie was eight going on nine when she was abducted. For all intents and purposes, let's call her nine. She was a smart, healthy nine-year-old girl, and when she woke up in hospital with no memory of her early life, she was rather skeptical about the stories she was being told about being the only survivor of the house fire that killed her entire family. She didn't even have any burns, for one thing. Nor any lung-damage, from smoke."
"But--but--didn't they tell Maggie that she was the only survivor in her family too? How could they not notice? How could they not realize that the girls were sisters?"
Snape sighed. "Because the spells Pettigrew used on the sisters--by which I mean the nuns--confunded them to such a degree that they could not even recognize that they had two red-haired girls with remarkably similar features and very similar stories. Pettigrew had Maggie as the survivor of a car crash, not a fire. Now, you and I, if we saw the girls, neither of whom remembered anything at all, and heard those stories, we'd think there must be some connection. Any reasonable person would. Not so with the sisters who were working at the orphanage and hospital in 1979. Pettigrew saw to that."
"Right," Sirius added. "Plus, Maggie was adopted very quickly. She left from the hospital. She never actually lived at the orphanage."
"So how long did it take for Annie to be adopted?" Sirius and Snape looked at each other uncertainly. Harry saw. "What's wrong?"
"She wasn't ever adopted, Harry," Sirius told him.
"So--she lived there until--when? Did she leave at eighteen? Or sixteen? Did she take her GCSEs? Her A-Levels? She must have some kind of identification, she must have a government paper trail of some sort...."
Snape shook his head. "No, nothing. For a very simple reason: she ran away from the orphanage."
Harry's jaw dropped. "Ran away! When?"
Sirius sighed again. "When she was twelve. Actually, she didn't run away from the orphanage; she had been placed with a family interested in adopting her, and she ran away from their home. The police looked for her--not very hard, in my opinion, judging from the information on file with the police in Exeter. She was never found."
"She was only twelve! How can a twelve-year-old girl disappear without a trace?"
He looked back and forth between the two of them. Both men looked distinctly uncomfortable. "Miss Weasley--or Miss Burroughs, I should say, was a troublemaker of the highest order, according to the nuns at the orphanage," Snape said stiffly, as though discussing one of his own more troublesome students. "Every time she was placed with a family interested in adopting her--and, mind you, she was placed with no fewer than seven families over a three-year period, which is a very high rate, considering her age at the time--she managed to stir up enough chaos and mayhem that she was promptly returned to the orphanage."
Sirius nodded. "The reverend mother's files were full of the things she'd done. Objects flying around the room. Televisions changing channels every second or faster, flipping through the entire spectrum; and they couldn't be turned off--even unplugging the blasted things didn't work. The same thing with various kitchen appliances; they would go mad and couldn't be stopped by cutting the power. Taps were mysteriously stuck in the on-position, flooding the house. One house was even made completely inaccessible because as soon as she was out of the car, vines began to grow all over it, sealing all of the windows and doors so no one could get in. As soon as they returned her to the orphanage, all of the vines disappeared."
Harry swallowed. "Sounds like she was doing some powerful accidental magic."
Snape shook his head. "I do not believe it was accidental. She was protesting. She did not want to live with any of those families. That was very clear. She made sure they, in turn, did not want her. The incidents became more pronounced as she became older. More--extreme."
Sirius smiled now. "The reverend mother said she didn't know whether to have the girl exorcised or taken before the Pope for a private audience."
Harry frowned. "Why?"
"Because she thought she was performing miracles. She called her a 'living saint.' She also said that many saints were not exactly known for being popular, so she didn't hold that against the girl. When a dog was hit by a car in front of the orphanage, Annie went running right out to it and healed its broken bones and stopped its internal hemorrhaging."
"She healed it?"
"Yes. Which is very advanced magic for adults, and usually requires a wand, some potions...But she did it as a child. She was twelve, and would have been in her second year at Hogwarts if she'd never been taken from Molly and Arthur. It was not long before she ran away. The owners of the dog came running right up and saw her do it, evidently. He'd been on a lead, but it was old and it snapped, and the loose dog went running in front of a car....Afterward, the owners of the dog spoke to the reverend mother about Annie, saying they wanted to give her a home. She was packed off to visit them, to see how they all got on. The reverend mother said she had great hopes this time; Annie already seemed to get on so well with the couple, and she loved the dog and clearly would take good care of it. She still thought the girl was quite holy, performing miracles, not magic, and she wanted to her to be happy and have a home. The reverend mother thought Annie was destined for great things."
"And then she disappeared."
Sirius nodded again. "Right. When she left the orphanage with the family, that was the last any of the sisters saw of her."
Harry thought about this. "Did you get the name of that family? So you can talk to them?"
Snape stood. "Yes; in fact, I am going to see them tomorrow. Or at least, I am going to try to track them down. So far all we have is the address where they lived fifteen years ago. If that is not still their residence, some additional research will be necessary. But I fully expect we will be able to speak with them soon."
Harry shook his head. "I don't know whether we should tell the Weasleys about this yet. It doesn't sound very hopeful...."
Sirius heaved a sigh. "I agree. Although Severus," he nodded at him, "has already told Maggie. She won't tell Molly and Arthur and the others, I'm sure. It may not be as easy to find Annie as it was to find Maggie."
"Could I at least tell Ron and Ginny?" Harry asked. Sirius agreed to this. Then Harry saw that Snape was getting ready to leave; Harry looked nervously at his godfather. "Er, Sirius--there's something I'd like to talk to my--to Professor Snape about. Could you excuse us for a minute?"
Sirius looked like he was biting his tongue, refraining from asking, but he said, "Of course," and left the room, looking over his shoulder briefly. Snape looked at him expectantly. Harry weighed his words before beginning.
"Sir, I--I just found out about you and Maggie. I mean that you met six years ago. Just before I started school. And I wanted to say--I'm sorry you had to leave her. It's all my fault, and I don't blame you for hating me because of it--"
Snape's mouth was a very thin line. "Harry, I returned to the school for many reasons. You were one of them, yes. The Stone was another. And the loyalty I owe to the headmaster is yet another. Besides," he added, a slight smirk at the edge of his mouth, "if I hadn't saved your skin in your first year, there might no longer be a Hogwarts. Who else, after all, would dare to go into the Chamber of Secrets and slay a basilisk at the age of twelve?" His eyes actually seemed to be glittering with amusement now.
"You know about that?" Harry's jaw dropped.
"You need to be mindful of who knows your secrets, and to whom they tell them. I am becoming reacquainted with Maggie Dougherty, and we talk a great deal; she, in turn, has been talking with her youngest sister and her sister has been telling her about the most interesting things that have happened to her....You can guess the rest."
Harry grinned. "Yeah, I can." He looked at Snape's clothes pointedly. "Where are you off to, then?"
"The Patricia is anchored up in the Bay. My uncle is on board, waiting for me to Apparate below decks, and then we are sailing back up to Dunoon. From there I will Apparate to Exeter tomorrow to meet your godfather and speak to the family who owned the dog healed by Annie Weasley--or Anna Burroughs."
Harry nodded. "Thanks for--for doing all this."
Severus Snape raised one eyebrow sharply. "You should have figured out by now, Potter, that I am not doing this for you. Tell your godfather not to be late tomorrow." And with that, he Disapparated with a pop! and Harry was alone.
The trip to Diagon Alley was not something Harry wanted to repeat soon. The only admission points were the fireplaces in the Leaky Cauldron, Madam Malkin's, and Flourish and Blotts. It was necessary to call the dining room at the pub to schedule an arrival (a clerk was taking calls there and scheduling people for the various fireplaces), and Aurors were waiting at each hearth to "greet" people as they arrived, ascertaining that they had legitimate business to attend to.
Harry wasn't questioned this time when he arrived in Madam Malkin's. The Aurors seemed to believe he was really Harry Potter. He was meeting Ron there, or so he thought; when he arrived, one of the Aurors who looked him over checked a parchment of scheduled arrivals and departures and found that Ron and Ginny had been slated to arrive in the Leaky Cauldron twenty minutes before he landed in the robe shop. He thanked the Aurors, making certain to be just deferential enough but not licking their boots, and made his way through the Alley to the pub.
Diagon Alley was very nearly deserted. Very few people seemed to be venturing into it these days. It felt so odd not to be jostled by crowds of people as he walked by the shop windows. His footsteps echoed on the cobblestones, and he saw more than one previously-thriving shop cleaned out, with a "To let," sign in the window, and the name of the same agent, over and over, who evidently managed most of the Diagon Alley properties. No more than three people walked by him, looking at him as suspiciously as the Aurors, and hurrying on their way, as though worried that they too would look suspicious for being in the Alley.
When he passed the bank, he couldn't help stopping and staring. He'd never seen the great outer doors closed before; they'd always been folded behind the marble pillars supporting the portico. The inner doors, which were the ones he usually used, were impressive enough, Harry had thought. These massive bronze doors were covered, he saw now, with depictions of various wizard-goblin wars, all of the images showing the goblins doing dreadful things to the wizards. As with most magical depictions, whether paintings or photographs, the images moved rather than remaining still. Harry watched with fascination as a pack of a dozen goblins surrounded a tall wizard and beheaded him, then proceeded to hack his dead body to pieces....He swallowed. Binns' dry delivery had never brought to life the utter carnage of those conflicts. He was glad it was burnished bronze and not living color.
He entered the Leaky Cauldron and immediately found Ron and Hermione and Ginny sitting at a table near the dart boards. He grinned at them and strode over, about to greet them just as the door to Muggle London opened, and Draco Malfoy stepped into the pub's dim interior.
Harry's day went downhill from there.
They bought their books, their new robes, their Potions supplies. Every merchant seemed to have a different way of calculating the exchange rate between Galleons and pounds, and many of them, even when they accepted the notes (Ginny had been right--the inflation was outrageous) looked at the bits of paper while frowning deeply, as though Harry might have simply transfigured stray pieces of parchment to look like this. He heard the clerk in the bookstore say, as they left, "I'll tell you one thing, I'll be glad when we can use real money again."
At every turn, Harry felt like he was seeing Draco Malfoy whispering in Ginny's ear, grinning mischievously, and Ginny blushing and smiling back at him. He remembered her saying that he was getting far too good at very nearly seducing her. He tried very hard not to let his feelings show, but by the end of the shopping excursion, he was feeling like hitting something (or someone) very, very hard. The feeling he'd had at Hog's End, that he could wait as long as necessary for her, was very hard to maintain when Draco Malfoy was drooling all over her right under his nose.
Hermione looked at him with concern as the five of them sat around a table at Florean Fortescue's, eating ice cream. They were Florean's only customers.
"Are you all right, Harry? You've been clenching your jaw all afternoon. You'll have a terrific headache when you try to get to sleep tonight. And that's really bad for your teeth, as well. My parents see loads of people who grind their teeth like that. It's extremely unhealthy."
Harry grimaced and concentrated on eating his ice cream. "I'm all right," he said, trying not to notice that Draco Malfoy was feeding Ginny a cherry with whipped cream on it. Fortunately, Ron took it upon himself to be peeved about this.
"Oi, Ginny, can't you feed yourself? You have to get that git to help you?"
Draco Malfoy smirked at Ron. Ron glowered back at him. Harry tried to imagine Hermione allowing Ron to feed her like that. He couldn't. He'd never done anything of the sort when he was with her, either. He decided to avert a more severe exchange of hostilities by being the bearer of bad news.
"I suppose I'm a bit tense about the news Sirius and Professor Snape keep dredging up about Annie," he lied, although it was true that it wasn't good news.
He had already told Ginny and Ron about Annie's running away, since Sirius had said it was all right. "What now?" Ginny said, turning away from her boyfriend.
He filled Hermione and Draco Malfoy in on the first news about Annie before telling them all what had been learned when Sirius and Snape had gone looking for the family with the healed dog.
"They're gone," he said simply. They all looked at each other, perplexed.
"Gone?" Hermione said, as though unwilling to believe. "You mean they emigrated or something?"
"No. Actually, from what they can tell, the family never existed in the first place."
The four of them looked at each other in confusion, then back at Harry. "They never existed," Hermione parroted, as though Harry had perhaps meant to say something entirely different.
"Well, after she ran away, police were sent to the house, and the family answered their questions about what had happened and all that. But when Sirius and Snape tried to find where they had moved after they left that house, and they traced the ownership records in the town hall, the person who owned the house at the time that that family lived there said that the house was vacant when Annie disappeared. He didn't manage to lease it to someone else until a couple of months later. There are also no telephone records for the family, or any other type of records. Employment, drivers licenses, nothing. And the sisters at the orphanage insist that they had all of the required papers. The mother and father each had a birth certificate. They had jobs. But when Sirius and Snape checked out that information too, it turned out to all be false. None of it was real."
Ginny looked genuinely alarmed. "Oh, no....It sounds like she was kidnapped again, this time by these people who pretended to want to adopt her. That's dreadful. You don't suppose--you don't suppose they--they hurt her?" Ginny's real meaning was clear, and it made them all tense up.
"We have no way of knowing. What Sirius and Snape--and I--found very odd was that she'd managed before to get out of situations she didn't like. She seemed to like it fine at the orphanage; she never tried to run away from there, and the reverend mother said that if she was performing her 'miracles,' as she called them, while at the orphanage, the other children kept it quiet, and the sisters never saw a thing. She only seemed to do it when she was sent to a family who might adopt her. We prefer not to think she disappeared with this family against her will. She must have wanted to go--wherever they went. I fail to see how someone with her powers, and who was willing to use her powers, could be hurt or made to go anywhere against her will by Muggles...." He bit his lip, not saying what he suspected. But Ron caught on.
"They weren't Muggles! They must have been a wizarding family! They recognized her for a witch!"
Harry nodded. "We think that's possible. So she might have known she was a witch--and that there's a wizarding community--from about the age of twelve. The question is--if she was taken in by wizards, did she go to wizarding school? She probably didn't go to Hogwarts, because Charlie was still there and he would have recognized her. So--did she go to some magic school abroad, like Durmstrang or Beauxbatons, or perhaps one of the smaller European schools? Maybe a school in America?"
Hermione brightened. "Perhaps, if they find her, she wouldn't need to be told she's a witch--just that she's a Weasley!"
Harry sighed again. "It's easier said than done. Sirius and Snape aren't convinced the family gave their true name to the sisters at the orphanage. It'll be like looking for a needle in a haystack. We don't even know that they stayed in this country, or Europe, or in this hemisphere. And she's owl-proof. We're really no closer than we ever were to finding her."
He pushed back from the table, not interested in finishing his ice cream. He tried not to notice the way Malfoy draped his hand over Ginny's shoulder, or the way she shivered when his fingers brushed her neck....He clenched his jaw again, feeling the beginning of the headache that Hermione had warned him about....
He was glad to get back to Ascog. Somehow, Ginny confessing that she really loved him and was just acting when she was around Draco to protect him had had the effect of making him even more discontented with his life (at least when he saw her with Malfoy). When the Sunday before the wedding finally rolled around, he realized that he was dreading this, dreading seeing Ginny walking down the aisle as one of Alicia's bridesmaids, dreading standing up with Roger Davies, of all people, dreading seeing her at the party after, not daring to dance with her or take her in his arms....
I'm in for a week of torture, he thought, wondering if he could find some excuse for backing out now. But he could think of nothing, and he dutifully packed and prepared to step into the fireplace to travel to Alicia's parents' estate in Sywell, Northamptonshire. She had had the fireplace in the lodge, where she was living, connected to the Floo network; since she was a witch, the Ministry had allowed it. (She'd asked about connecting her parents' house, but they had refused.) When he fell out of the fireplace at Alicia's, clutching his bag, Alicia was waiting for him.
"Harry!" she gushed, hugging him and kissing him on both cheeks. She then held him at arm's length, her golden hair pulled into a sleek chignon at the nape of her neck. She looked very elegant in a champagne-colored skirted suit and pearls, very smart and grown-up, and Harry suddenly felt like an eleven-year-old again, stammering out his hello. She tucked her arm into his, leading him outside to her car. "Thank you so much for agreeing to do this, Harry! You're the last one in the wedding party to arrive. Everyone else is up at the house; I think father has them all in the drawing room, having a sing-along and generally being loud. He always seems to think he's campaigning. But it looks like he actually has a very good chance at a seat in Parliament. Isn't that wonderful?"
Harry nodded as he sat in the car and closed his door. "Fantastic," he said unenthusiastically. She kept up her animated chatter as she drove up the gravel drive to the manor house, and Harry watched with envy some horses running in the paddocks, wishing he were as free. But he'd signed on to be held prisoner in a country house for a week, and there was no getting out of it now. He smiled feebly at Alicia as she continued to talk, not really hearing her words and trying not to feel empty and trapped.
The entrance hall was very grand, with an enormous vase of blowzy roses on a large round mahogany table in the center of the space. The floor was a complicated pattern done in encaustic tiles and a pair of grand stairways wound up both sides of the room, disappearing up into the grand house. Through a curtained archway Harry could hear a crowd of people singing along with a piano: Rule Britannia. They couldn't complete the song and it degenerated into laughter. Alicia gave his bag to a prim-looking maid and told her what room to take it to. The maid disappeared as swiftly as any house-elf and Alicia led him to the drawing room.
The drawing room was enormous. It would have held six Ascog Castle sitting rooms, if not more. There were several groupings of squashy couches and armchairs in a variety of patterns that somehow harmonized, numerous Persian rugs, and in general a shabby-genteel English country house look and feel that communicated both money and a carelessness about money that only the very rich could afford. The grand piano was in one corner, being manned by Alicia's father, who seemed to be quite accomplished, and a fine baritone, too. He recognized the Weasley twins, standing beside Ginny. Hermione was already there as well, and Angelina and--he swallowed--Katie. (He knew he had to have a certain conversation with her, and he was dreading that, too.) There were some other people too, but Harry couldn't see everyone in the crowd around the piano from his lurking position near the doorway.
"I have a million things to do," Alicia whispered to him. "Make yourself at home," she said, as though that was ever going to happen, before disappearing between the curtains again. Her father started playing the introduction to a song, with a lot of ornamentation, saying, "Now, I want to hear the little lark Alicia said is singing for the wedding. Where is she?"
Then Harry saw her; Ruth bashfully raised her hand and Harry couldn't help grinning. He knew what a wonderful voice she had, and he was pleased to find out that she would be here too. The introduction ended, and Mr. Spinnet nodded at her, "I think you know it. Everyone does."
She nodded and immediately started singing the sweetest rendition of Danny Boy that Harry had ever heard. It made his throat ache to hear her, it was so beautiful, and he remembered feeling the same way about the singer who had played Dido when he'd been to the opera in Hogsmeade. Then a tall blond man next to her, with a close-cropped beard and bright blue eyes, smiled at her and whispered in her ear. She nodded, and then he joined her, his tenor voice amazingly high, as, in a unison that sent chills up Harry's spine, they went up, up, for the climax of the song:
Or when the valley's hushed and white with snow
'Tis I'll be HERE in sunshine or in shadow..."
They sounded amazing together, and as they finished the song more gently, the man harmonizing with her now, everyone in the room seemed to be holding their breaths, until they both finished holding the final soft, tremulous note, and Mr. Spinnet moved his hands up the keyboard, playing the cadenza with a delicate flourish. A moment later, the silence in the room was rent with deafening applause; Ruth colored prettily at the acclaim, and the blond man looked very pleased both with her and with himself, grinning at the reaction.
The blond man's reaction changed abruptly when Mr. Spinnet began to play the introduction to With Cat-like Tread. He shook his head vigorously, frowning.
"Oh, no you don't--"
"Oh, come on, you know you want to. A little G and S never hurt anyone..." Mr. Spinnet teased him playfully.
"No," the man insisted adamantly. Mr. Spinnet changed abruptly and started playing the introduction to a different song.
"I think you mean yes. Ambrose told me you never could say no to this one...."
The blond man laughed now, hearing it. "You've got me there. All right, all right," he relented, and Harry wasn't quite sure what he would hear. He could have been knocked over with a feather when, a few moments later, he heard a very familiar falsetto singing a song he still heard sometimes in his nightmares....
"I'm called little Buttercup, dear little Buttercup, though I could never tell why....."
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