Ginny and Ron arrived at the Burrow early Saturday morning. As the Gryffindor common room fireplace was connected to the Floo network, they hadn't needed to sneak into the Three Broomsticks after all. Still, they had arrived at The Burrow sooty and coughing from the long journey. Mrs. Weasley greeted them with open arms and bustled them to the kitchen table for breakfast. Between mouthfuls, they added to what she knew about Harry from their letters. She was dismayed to know that Harry was losing weight and was still flying about the Quidditch stadium in the dark each night.
Ron came to his defense. "I've told you before, Mum; when Harry flies, he clears his mind. It's his way of letting off steam. Don't you agree it's better than trying to start a duel or insulting someone on purpose like Malfoy does? Harry just pushes that Firebolt of his as fast as it will go."
"We'll talk about that when your father gets home. I do hope that's soon. He and his team are finding many more dangerous items at each house he raids nowadays, and I worry about him," Mrs. Weasley told him. "In the meantime, I'd better write to Dumbledore; this is shaping up to be quite the family meeting, and most likely the result will be everyone coming home for Christmas this year, including Harry and Hermione. They'll need his permission to leave the school for the holidays."
This was welcome news to both Ginny and Ron, and Ginny felt she had accomplished something already. However, she knew she must put her two Knuts worth in and push for a weekend sooner than the Christmas holidays as well. For Harry's sake she hoped they could work something out. He needed to talk to someone, and she sincerely hoped someone in her family could help him.
As they waited for their father, Ginny glanced around the familiar kitchen, her eyes finally landing on the family clock. Her father's, Bill's, Charlie's, and the twins' hands pointed to 'Work', while her Mum's, Ron's and her own hands pointed to 'Home'. Percy's, unfortunately, was pointed to ‘Lost' which meant that her third eldest brother had yet to make amends with her parents. She shook her head, knowing that her mother kept Percy's hand on the clock out of sheer optimism. It was then that she took a second look at the clock. That's odd, she thought, there are eleven hands instead of nine! Smiling, she nudged Ron and pointed to the clock. His eyes widened as he comprehended the implications of the extra hands, which were pointing toward 'School'.
"Mum," he asked, "Why are there hands for Harry and Hermione on the family clock now?"
"Oh, that," Mrs. Weasley said smiling. "I was going to tell you about that and forgot. I had your father add the hands several weeks ago because of all the trouble You-Know-Who caused at the Ministry. I thought it would be nice to know where all of you are; I knew Ginny was in trouble several years ago when her hand suddenly pointed to 'Mortal Peril'." At this, Ginny gave an audible gasp. She hadn't known about that. "And with you, Harry, Hermione, and now Ginny haring off into who knows what kind of trouble, I wanted to at least be alerted so I could check up on all of you."
"But Harry and Hermione aren't family," Ron protested.
"To me they are, dear," her mother said with a smile. "Goodness knows, Harry could do with a little mothering every once in a while. Besides, he and Hermione have spent part or all of the summer with us for the last five years and they certainly make themselves at home when they are with us."
"If you put it that way, I suppose so," Ron conceded and Ginny thought she caught a twinkle in her mum's eye. Was her mum alluding to a possible romantic tryst? Ginny certainly hoped so for Hermione's sake. A new thought crossed her mind. Is Mum hoping for something along those lines for Harry and me, too? she wondered. Probably, for she knew her mother was a matchmaker at heart and heartily approved of Harry.
Mr. Weasley Apparated into the kitchen about fifteen minutes later, a thick satchel slung over his shoulder.
"Homework, Dad?" Ron asked.
"Unfortunately, son, that is the reality of working in the Ministry these days. The more we raid, the more forms must be completed...in triplicate! I'm beginning to think that the Ministry's motto should be changed to 'Kill a tree to save a Wizard.'"
Everyone chuckled at that and a few minutes later gathered around the kitchen table, Mrs. Weasley ready to take notes on what was being said. Ginny took it upon herself to begin the family meeting.
"Mum and Dad," Ginny began, "Ron and I want to do something for Harry. You know he's having a terrible year from what we've written to you; his mental state couldn't be worse. He refuses to talk to anyone and is too caught up in his emotions to study properly. It's as if he's distancing himself from us because of something that happened with Professor Dumbledore after the fight at the Ministry last June. He just is about as lost as a person can get."
Ron took over. "What we want to ask is this; can Harry and Hermione come home with us for a weekend in December, as soon as possible, and not related to the Christmas holiday?"
"Two days away from Hogwarts would probably be enough to at least give Harry a chance for a good night's sleep. He's told me he sleeps better when he's here," Ginny said. "Though I think he'd just settle for a couple of good naps if he could get them."
"Remember that Hermione's parents invited Ginny for that weekend in October, so it just seems natural to invite her," Ron put in.
Mrs. Weasley looked up from her notes. "And what do you two propose to do with all the homework you'll be assigned prior to your coming here? You both know you have end of term exams coming up."
"I'm sure Hermione will keep us on task by making us bring our homework with us," Ginny said with a smile. "She's really good at organizing study groups, and I'm sure she'd see to it that we didn't play Quidditch the entire time we were here. Come to think of it, maybe she'd help me with my O.W.L. preparation like she did Ron and Harry last year."
The senior Weasleys looked at each other. Finally, Mr. Weasley said, "It might take some doing, but I think it can be arranged." He turned to his wife. "Would two weeks from now be enough notice? I think the first weekend in December is the best for me. How about you, Molly?"
Mrs. Weasley nodded. "I'd better write that letter to Professor Dumbledore right away." She looked at her children. "I hope Harry knows what good friends he has. He's a lucky young man."
Ginny automatically looked for Harry as she strode through the common room the next morning. (He was nowhere to be seen.) She was feeling quite pleased with herself for having spearheaded the special weekend trip to The Burrow for him and Hermione. It would do them both good to get away from Hogwarts for a few days, and she knew Ron was looking forward to going home again just as much as she was. Hopefully, the four of them would obtain Dumbledore's permission to leave the school.
As for Harry, he hadn't been in the library when she had checked a few minutes ago; Ginny knew that Professor McGonagall wanted Sundays to herself, so Harry wouldn't be doing make-up work this morning. A thoughtful frown wrinkled her forehead as she trudged up the Girls' staircase to her dorm room. Harry could be anywhere in the huge castle or at Hagrid's, but she doubted the latter knowing that Harry hardly ever went down there these days just to talk. He's probably in the Room of Requirement again, she thought as she exchanged her toiletries for her school books. This may be my opportunity to talk to him without Ron or Hermione present.
She left the heavy bag on her bed and made her way back through the common room and past the Fat Lady who asked, "Didn't you go in just a few minutes ago?"
"Yes, I did. I needed to run up to my room for a moment." Ginny was just about to leave when a thought occurred to her. "Did Harry Potter go to breakfast this morning?"
The portrait thought for a moment. "No. He left early yesterday evening, but he hasn't re-entered. At least he didn't wake me up at an odd hour like he sometimes does."
Uh-oh. Not good. Ginny then said aloud, "Do you recall which way he went? This could be rather important if he hasn't returned."
Again, the Fat Lady was thoughtful. "Yes," she said slowly, "I'm certain he turned toward the Owlery. Is he missing?"
Ginny shook her head. "No. I think I know where he went. You've been quite helpful, thank you," she said, and turned toward the Room of Requirement hoping Harry would be there.
She was correct. Harry was again seated on the couch, lost in thought. He had drawn his legs close to his chest and was resting his chin on his kneecaps staring into the fire. It was a posture Ginny had seen him in many times before the hearth in the common room and as always, it tugged at her heart to see him like this. She walked over to the fireside and stood before him, hoping that she wouldn't startle him when she spoke.
"May I sit?" When Harry nodded she sat down next to him facing the fire.
"Neville told me you weren't at breakfast this morning." When Harry didn't respond, she continued. "I asked the Fat Lady if she had admitted you during the night, and she said no. I'm glad I found you, Harry. Hermione was getting worried." Ginny hoped this little fib wouldn't get back to her friend.
"She shouldn't have bothered. I was right here all along."
"I tried to tell her that, but you know Hermione...I think she took it more seriously than usual because Ron and I had to go home."
"Family stuff. You doing all right, Harry?"
He nodded, but seemed more interested in what the fire was doing than in continuing their conversation.
Yeah, right. Ginny thought. You're so all right you're hiding from your friends! You're not going to get away with this, Potter! She tried again to draw him out with the first thing that crossed her mind, his plans for the Christmas holiday. "Are you going back to the Dursleys' for Christmas?"
Harry's head whipped around, and he looked at her as though she had just sprouted antlers. "Are you kidding? Why would I do a stupid thing like that? Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon are about as fond of me as Ron is of spiders!"
Ginny grimaced. "That's not saying much."
"No, it isn't. But it's the truth. It's no big deal."
Realization hit Ginny hard. "I thought so," she said skeptically. She changed tactics. "It must be hard for you sometimes when most of Gryffindor House chooses to go home to our families during the holidays," she commented, compassion creeping into her voice.
Harry eyed her warily. It was as if he was trying to decide what to make of her comment. "You have no idea how hard it is sometimes," he finally admitted honestly.
Harry stood and crossed the rug to the fire. Turning to face Ginny, he said, "All my life I've wanted to be part of something I‘ve been denied by the Dursleys; a real family. When I came here and met Ron and Hermione, I finally felt as though I belonged somewhere. They liked me for whom I was and weren't scared of me because I was different. McGonagall was right-they became the first real family I'd ever had."
"What do you mean, Harry?"
Harry hesitated before explaining. "For the first time in my life Dudley wasn't around to intimidate the people who wanted to get to know me. That year I had a choice of where I could spend Christmas. I chose to stay here and Ron elected to keep me company rather than go with your parents to visit Charlie. That's when I finally understood what ‘Happy Christmas' was supposed to mean."
"That can't possibly be true! You must have been included in the Dursleys' celebrations, right?"
"I don't know how much Ron has told you about the Christmas presents they've sent me, but my only experience with Christmas at the Dursleys was to watch Dudley open mounds of presents every year. I sometimes didn't get to open anything!"
"That's awful! How insulting!" Ginny exclaimed indignantly.
"That's the Dursleys for you," Harry remarked glumly. Then he brightened. "You can imagine what it felt like to actually receive real presents for the first time!" Harry smiled, remembering, and began rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet.
"You know," he said thoughtfully after a silence, "I felt accepted by my other housemates, too, when I became Seeker for the Quidditch team. Suddenly, I was important for my abilities and I gained confidence with each game and practice." He stopped bouncing and leaned back against the mantle.
Ginny nodded. "I remember how excited everyone was my first year about our chances to win the Quidditch Cup that year, especially after that Slytherin game where a Bludger broke your arm and Lockhart de-boned it."