"I suppose I've missed my O.W.L.s then?" Ginny's tone was light, but Harry wasn't fooled. She had been deeply shaken to find out how long she had been unconscious, and why.
Harry was seated beside her bed, her hand clasped in his. She was leaning against the headboard – the closest she could come to sitting up.
The seemingly endless procession of family, healers, professors, and others had ended for the moment. Madam Pomfrey had finally enlisted Molly Weasley's aid, chasing out the others to give the couple some time together to sort out what had happened.
Harry shook himself and brought his mind back to the present. "Thank you."
She giggled. "That's gratitude for you. Try to save a boy's life, he tries to break your ribs, and all he can say is 'thank you.' Don't you think you can do a little better than that, Harry?" She tilted her head and raised her eyebrows suggestively.
Their pleasant snog session was interrupted by a cough. Harry looked up to find Dumbledore standing at the foot of the bed. Harry slid off the bed and back into his chair, his face burning so much he wouldn't have been surprised if he caught fire.
"Much as I hate to interrupt, I am afraid that we must examine Miss Weasley further. Harry, you should return to Privet Drive. While the person waiting there for you may not be Miss Weasley, I doubt you will find the afternoon entirely boring.
Harry swallowed and nodded. "Ginny…"
She smiled gently at him. "It's all right, Harry. I think I need to rest. You'll be back, won't you?" With her last two words she had shifted her gaze to Dumbledore, and there was a hint of steel in her tone.
"I think it is safe to say that I can imagine little I could do to prevent Harry's return."
Harry felt the floor of number four rise up to meet him and groaned. He was never going to get used to traveling by Portkey. He sat up and was startled to see someone sitting on the living room couch. His hand had just touched his wand when he recognized Mad-Eye Moody and relaxed.
"Well, I see you haven't completely forgotten everything you learned," growled Moody. "Next time, though, don't hesitate to draw your wand. I could be an imposter."
Harry grinned. "I don't think an imposter would wear a Hawaiian shirt and green shorts."
Moody's good eyebrow wrinkled in puzzlement, and he glanced down at his plain black wizard robes and then looked up to find Harry covering him with his wand. He grunted in what could have been approval.
"Tell me something about the Order an imposter wouldn't know," Harry demanded.
Moody grunted again. "Your parents were in the back of the photo I showed you last summer."
Harry lowered his wand.
Moody nodded and added, "Good trick, that, under the circumstances." He gestured for Harry to sit. "So, did the Headmaster tell you why I was coming here?" Seeing Harry shake his head, he continued. "In short, I'm here to teach you how to survive."
"Do you mean dueling?" Harry asked, interested.
"No. I mean how to avoid dueling. Face facts, lad. Just about any Death Eater you meet is going to be better at dueling than you are. But your job isn't fighting Death Eaters. You've got a very special task. You know what I mean." He looked at Harry intently.
Harry thought of the prophecy and nodded once, slowly. Moody leaned back into the couch. "I've been asking Dumbledore to let me teach you for the last three years or so. Someday, boy, you're going to come face to face with Him again. If you don't learn how to take care of yourself better, you're going to be trussed up and disarmed when that happens, and I don't fancy our chances then." He leaned forward again. "So. Since you don't seem to be able to stay out of trouble, I'm going to teach you how to get out of it. How many ways out of this room are there?"
Harry was thrown off by question. "Ah, well, there's the door…."
"There's a Death Eater in the door." Moody said instantly.
"Um, the window…."
"Dementor at the window."
"Err. If the fireplace were connected to the floo net…."
"I guess I'd have to cast a Patronus at the dementor, then!" Harry snapped angrily.
"And the Death Eater would have a shot at your back while you directed it. How thick is that wall?"
Harry started to answer, then stopped himself. "A Reductor curse."
"Right. Blow a hole in a Muggle wall like this big enough to take a dragon through. The blast would even give you some cover. A room with less than three exits is a deathtrap, lad. Every time you walk into a room, figure out how you can get out of it. That's lesson one."
"So what's lesson two?"
"Who's behind you?"
"You really do like shock value in your training, don't you, Mad-Eye?" came a laughing voice from behind Harry. He jumped up and twisted around in his chair to find Tonks standing behind him, her wand in hand.
"Notice I'm sitting with my back to the wall." Moody growled. "Yours was to the window. Tonks climbed in while I was talking to you."
Harry turned to face forward again. "All right. What's lesson three?"
"Learning to stay alive until lesson four."
"Run that by me one more time?"
"I thought I was fairly clear the first time. Harry kissed Ginny, and she woke up."
"Actually, I was thinking of the part where you left our sister, unconscious, alone, with a teenaged boy."
"But, Charlie, it was Harry!"
"I know. I just wish I had time to come back and see her."
"Why? So you can tell her what you were thinking of when you were Harry's age? Bill's already taken care of it."
"Oh. Wait, when did he have time to do that?"
"Sent her a letter this spring."
"Spring… early March, by any chance?"
"Yes, now that you mention it. How did you know?"
"Because that's when Bill mentioned he was going to start disarming all his post before he opened it."
"How long before she's up and about?"
"Madam Pomfrey says at least a month. Ginny says at most a week."
"A sickle says she's out in a fortnight."
"Done. Three weeks. I've been in that ward more recently than you have."
Charlie Weasley rolled his eyes and pulled his head out of the fire. He brushed some soot off of his collar and walked into the next room. Half a dozen witches and wizards were gathered around a stone table. A small wisp of smoke was rising from a charred pile of cloth. The group was staring at it sadly.
Charlie prodded the cloth with his finger. "I take it the fireproofing didn't hold?"
A dark-haired witch shook her head. "Worse. The cloak turned visible as soon as the flame touched it. Then it blinked in and out for a moment and practically exploded." She gestured to a few other bits of cloth smoldering around the edges of the room.
"Anyone hurt?" Charlie asked.
"Godfrey's off to the infirmary. I don't think he'll volunteer again anytime soon."
A wizard sighed. "So much for fireproof Invisibility Cloaks."
Charlie shook his head. "I doubt it would have gotten us close enough anyway. Unless we can approach against the wind, they'd smell us coming a quarter mile away."
"So we're back to the old-fashioned method. Send our own dragons after them."
The witch who had spoken first slammed her fist into her other palm. "We're supposed to be the dragon experts!"
"We are the experts, Kelly. Except for the ones You-Know-Who has," said another wizard reassuringly.
"So why can't we come up with a way to sneak up on a dragon?" she snapped back.
"Wizards have been trying to find a way for thousands of years," Charlie put in, sounding as if he was proud the dragons had been so difficult to deal with for so long.
"There's always Hagrid's suggestion," put in another team member hesitantly.
Several people around the table winced.
"We are not, I repeat, NOT going to try disguising ourselves as baby dragons," Kelly replied icily. "All right, that's enough for today. Charlie? A word, please."
The others filtered out. Kelly swept the ash into a pan with her wand, then turned to Charlie.
"There are rumors," she said carefully. "That there's a new group in Britain that's had quite a bit of success against Dark creatures."
Charlie nodded. "I've heard some rumors like that."
"I don't suppose you'd know if that group is connected to the mysterious group that was convinced You-Know-Who was back a year before the Ministry admitted it?" she asked casually.
"I wouldn't know, ma'am," replied Charlie in a monotone.
Kelly sighed. "You're a terrible liar, Charlie."
"Oh, stop 'ma'am'ing' me, Charlie!" she snapped.
"'Ma'am'ing', ma'am?" asked Charlie innocently.
Kelly groaned. "You're worse than those twin disasters you call brothers sometimes. Fine. You won't tell me. Is it possible if you took a week's vacation, you'd go to England and possibly come back with some strange new ideas?"
"I think that if I saw my family, I could guarantee that, Kelly," Charlie grinned.
"Useful ideas," Kelly added quickly.
"I'll do my best." Charlie was serious now. The chance for a trip to England might not present itself for some time if he blew it now.
"All right, then. Pack your bags and set it up."
Charlie nodded and turned to go.
He stopped and looked over his shoulder at her. She looked very old and alone, leaning one hand against the stone of the testing table.
"Take some time with your family, while you can. If I'm right, we're in for bad times. Don't pass up any chances."
Charlie grinned. "I make it a point not to."
He walked out, whistling.
The wizard threw down his wand in frustration. The Map was brilliant, according to reports. It would show anyone at Hogwarts when activated.
The problem was that it stubbornly resisted any ordinary means of activating it.
Potter was a fool not to hand this to Dumbledore the moment he got it. Of course, if he'd done that, I never would have gotten my hands on it.
His agent had provided the map, along with instructions on how to deactivate it – the words "mischief managed." He had not, however, heard the activation words.
The wizard stalked back and forth across the room once, stopping with his hands clasped behind his back to read, once again, the insults of Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs.
'Mr. Padfoot presents his compliments to the reader, and asks him if he has ever heard of the magic word?'
'Mr. Moony would like to note that it is rude not to introduce oneself in conversation.'
'Mr. Prongs was taking a nap – would the unidentified reader please let him sleep in peace?'
'Mr. Wormtail feels that the reader should stop poking his fingers into things until he has washed them.'
"I swear you lot are up to no good in there," the wizard hissed. His eyes widened at the single word that appeared on the parchment.
"Close, eh?" he whispered to himself. Troublemakers…'Mischief Managed'
"I swear you are up to no good." He waited a moment. Nothing happened. "I swear you all are making mischief in there."
Another word appeared. 'Colder.' If words could smirk, this one would have done so.
The wizard took a steadying breath. "I swear I am up to no good."
'Warmer. Hot, in fact.'
"I swear I am going to make mischief."
'Oh dear, colder again.'
'You really shouldn't be helping him, Padfoot.'
'You should enjoy yourself more, Moony.'
The wizard watched this exchange with a raised eyebrow. He cocked his head in thought.
"I solemnly swear I am up to no good."
End Chapter 1
Author's Note: Thanks are due (actually, they always are) to OHGinnyfan for betaing my work. An author without a beta is like a peanut butter sandwich without jelly. You can eat it, but it isn't nearly as tasty. Um. Not that I advocate eating authors. Unless they take a really long time to update their fics. Right. Move along, nothing to see here….