Disclaimer: All honor and glory belongs to the great J.K. Rowling who created this wonderful world. All characters are owned by J.K. Rowling. No profit is being made, no credit is claimed…I am merely a trespasser playing for my own enjoyment, and hopefully yours.
x x x x
Swish, swish. Swish, swish. The windshield wipers obediently swept rain off of the glass. They had been driving for six hours. Harry stared out of the window of the car at the sign ahead. It stated that they were within five kilometers of the exits for Millhouse Pond and Ottery St. Catchpole, and ten kilometers from the exits for Tolland and Marsher. Looking out the window longingly, thinking of his friends just beyond that exit, Harry carefully watched the woods lining the highway. Clutching his stomach with every curve of the road he struggled valiantly against the nausea. He held his head just high enough to stare and watch as the occasional field of grass flew by, blades bent low with the unceasing rain, wondering if he could see any of the roads leading into the town of Ottery St. Catchpole.
Gloomy haze surrounded the trees and spattering rain drops obscured his vision of the woods. As the exit signs bore the warning to bear left onto the exit for Ottery St. Catchpole, Harry pressed himself close to the door, looking keenly out at the woods. Was he near the Burrow? Should he try to escape the wedding? Where was the wedding being held anyway? He knew that it was on the grounds of a large church somewhere nearby. Would it be close enough to Ottery St. Catchpole?
He did not have time to think about this for long though, a large white van merged onto the highway, and Vernon swerved the car into the right lane to avoid a collision. In the front seat of the car Harry's Aunt Petunia shrieked loudly. Harry clutched his abused stomach and willed himself not to vomit.
'Vernon! You nearly killed us! Do be more careful!' Harry's Aunt Petunia put her very long neck to good use and craned her bony horse face around her seat, and peered into the back of the car with concern written across her face. She seemed to relax as she took in Dudley's fat head lolling against the window, fast asleep and drooling.
'Crazed driver, darling,' Vernon said placidly, stepping on the accelerator again. 'Look, they're way ahead of us now; they're speeding even worse than I am. I am merely going with traffic, that idiot driver is putting our son in danger.' Vernon smiled into the rear view mirror, apparently pleased with his excuse. For a brief second he caught Harry's eye. The message was clear. If that rain didn't stop…Harry sighed quietly and hunched over as he attempted to hold back the bile in his stomach. He had long since given up looking at the sky, willing it not to rain.
After ten minutes, a loud squeaking sound filled the car. Harry raised his head, wondering what was happening. Vernon kneaded his moustache, and flicked a switch on the dashboard. The squeaking stopped, and so did the obedient windshield wipers. Harry breathed quietly, and smiled into his hands.
An hour later, after getting lost once and being re-directed by a very bossy Petunia, the massive car pulled onto a gently curving road. After several minutes of picturesque scenery, Vernon parked the car diagonally across two parking spots in the lot of a large church. Harry flew out of the door of the car and crouched on the ground next to a mossy sewer grate. His half cup of soup and bile flew into the grate. The Dursleys took no notice of this; they were trying to wake up their darling son Dudley, who was snoring loudly in the backseat. Harry looked up from the mossy grate and gazed up and around at the grounds, noticing two tents set up on the sweeping lawns to the side of the church. Under a large tree was a disgustingly decorated area; everything was covered with all white bows and white lace. On top of the platform, in front of the podium where the minister was getting ready, there appeared to have been a tragic explosion of white and pink flowers, ribbons and confetti.
He looked over at Vernon, and noted that Vernon was looking up at the gradually lightening sky overhead with a scowl. Perfect timing to push his luck, Harry thought to himself, as he was certain an Order member must be nearby on guard duty. Harry kept staring at Vernon, willing him to turn around. Just as he made eye contact, Harry smiled widely at him. 'Good thing the rain stopped, isn't it Uncle Vernon?'
Vernon's scowl deepened and his face began to turn colors. Harry turned and smiled politely at his aunt. 'Aunt Petunia,' he asked in the nicest manner possible 'would you like for me to carry your gifts over to the Reception Tent so you can find good seats?'
Petunia stared at her nephew. Spotting a group of large people walking over after parking their cars diagonally next to Vernon's she composed herself and plastered one of her false smiles on her face. 'Yes, thank you so much, Harry,' she simpered loudly as she smiled and waved at the people in the next spot, 'and do have fun at work, won't you?' She popped the boot of the car open with the click of a button on her key chain, and motioned towards two enormous boxes decorated in a hideous shade of pink, even more disgusting than he'd thought possible.
Harry straightened his jacket and took them from the boot, balancing them carefully as he went.. With one last smile at Vernon he turned towards the reception area. As he walked away he could hear Vernon calling out loudly, 'Lovely little car you've got yourself there, Walter,' in a snide voice to the people who pulled in next to them, Harry gladly heaved the boxes across the parking lot. Anything that took him away from Vernon Dursley's family was a good thing.
The line was long. Harry was one of the last in the line, and he had to stand for nearly twenty minutes in order to deliver the cumbersome packages. He'd overheard many things he wished he never had while standing in line with the other guests. Many guests were clearly from the Dursley family. Almost all of them looked exactly alike: large, beefy forearms and nasal voices, speaking in hushed, polite tones about what a wonderful thing it was that Marge had fallen in love with someone close to her age; that Marge had 'kept herself a lady' until she got married; that she was able to wear white even at the age of 47. Harry struggled valiantly not to vomit, and pretended that the boxes he was carrying were extraordinarily heavy.
When he got to the front of the line, however, Harry nearly dropped the boxes entirely. A young, curvy girl with stunning red hair, wearing a black skirt and a white blouse with a name tag reading:
Ginevra Weasley Assistant Caterer Corella's Catering, Inc.
She stood as tall as Harry, holding a clip board and receiving presents. Her hair was swept back in a pair of simple silver clips that Harry immediately recognized as the lions of Gryffindor House.
'Name please?' asked Ginny in a crisp, polite tone.
'Dursley, Vernon Dursley.' He placed the packages down on the table and watched as another boy whisked them off to a section of the tent already filled with gifts. Ginny checked off a list on the clipboard before smiling at Harry, silently placing one finger against her lips while pretending to flip a piece of hair out of her eyes.
'Please fill out your address here in this book; it will be used to send out thank-you cards.'
'I'm working here today clearing tables,' Harry stated while he filled out the required information.
'And your name is?' asked Ginny. Harry saw something flash in Ginny's eyes as she took her first good look at him. He remembered that look; all of the Weasleys got that look in their eyes when they were angry. On one hand, it made him wonder if he really did look as awful as he felt; after all, he had made an effort to look decent today. On the other hand, maybe looking that bad would help get him out from under the Dursley's thumb that much sooner. Nevertheless, he straightened up and smoothed his hair back down.
'Potter. Harry. Harry Potter.' He could have kicked himself. Why didn't he say something cooler than that? And where did that thought come from? He shook himself at the realization that he had never ever seen Ginny dressed up in Muggle clothing before. He'd never realized how pretty she was before. Harry blushed and shook his head. He must have lost a lot more sleep than he thought he had.
'Ah. Yes. We have been expecting you.' Ginny said carefully looking down at her clipboard.
'I was wondering where I clock in?' he tried to ask casually, smiling widely at Ginny and nearly falling over in the process. Since when was it this hard to talk to Ginny?
'Over here.' She stepped backwards, gripping her clipboard tightly and pointed through a gap in the curtain behind her, towards what looked like a break area. 'Sign your name on a green punch card and slip it through the side of the machine.'
Harry tripped over the sides of his trainers, managed to recover his balance, and stole behind the table and through the curtain behind Ginny. He heard her say clearly again 'name please?' and he suddenly felt better than he had in a few weeks.
He gazed around the curtained-off break area. There was a coffee machine that Ginny's dad, Arthur Weasley, would have had a nervous breakdown over if he could only see it and tinker with it. Mr. Weasley loved all things Muggle – especially Muggle technology. Over to his right he saw a white board with a chart on it, and his name was already there. On closer inspection his supervisor was….Ginny! And his first task was setting up the chafing dishes for the buffet table.
Harry turned and ducked low to see if Ginny had a free moment or still had a long line of people to take greet. As he made to poke his head out of the curtain, he instead poked his head right into something soft that squeaked when he made contact. He realized quickly that his head was in contact with Ginny's chest as she had been coming in at the time. Hastily he raised his head, but this was the wrong thing to do, as he then smacked his head right into her chin, her head snapping back quickly as if she had been punched; they painfully parted.
'Ooww! Sorry about that, Harry!' Ginny said, rubbing her chin before she paused to look at him once again. 'So, what've you done? I was told by that awful bride that you're some sort of troubled teenager who should be kept away from the ceremony at all costs. And you look terrible! What's happened?'
He flustered, and then a brilliant thought occurred to him: if he told her the whole story, she could get him to the Burrow, maybe even tonight. Harry took a deep breath and began to speak quickly and in a low tone of voice. 'The Dursleys have been feeding me one half cup of soup a day because they think I've made it rain.'
Ginny gasped and stared at Harry. 'You're joking, right? Were you sick from being starved?'
'Yeah, a little bit, the car ride made it worse. Vernon refused to take the train here; said he wanted to 'break in the new Company car'.'
'What?!' Ginny exclaimed in a horrified voice. 'That's ridiculous! The groom's parents reserved an entire train carriage for people attending the wedding. You could've ridden out from London easily.' She handed him a dark green apron and a name tag. 'Those people should be horsewhipped.'
Harry threw it around his waist and began to tell her everything: how Vernon and he had been arguing that he had stood up for himself and wound up nearly getting hit, when the rain started, and Vernon had just known it was magic. He told her how worried he was that Voldemort was watching his life somehow and knew how to get him in to trouble so that he would do magic and get thrown out of the house. She listened to all of this and then took a deep breath.
'Harry, you are not to blame for the rain. I know for a fact that Dumbledore has been working on a Rain Charm for his friend, who's a farmer. Apparently he put too much effort into it and it didn't blow over like it was supposed to. You can ask Dad.'
'Dumbledore couldn't stop his own rain storm?' Harry asked laughing hard as relief washed over him. 'And Snape thinks I need to work on my control issues? Ha!'
Ginny smiled. 'This has got him into quite a tussle with the Ministry. I expect they'd wallop him good with fines if he wasn't the most powerful wizard in the world right now.'
Harry sighed with relief. He had been very worried. Harry grinned sheepishly. Ginny smiled back at him and Harry's stomach flipped over and over, until he thought of something to say: 'And what are you doing here?'
'I'm skipping the Muggle Studies O.W.L. and writing a journal article. That way I'll only have to sit the practical. I'm writing for Understanding Muggle Relations Today. Well, if it's accepted by them and published, that is.' With this, Ginny turned towards the white board to mark up some notes.
'And I've got to keep working. This wedding almost didn't happen because of all the rain. This is what you'll be doing for now, it's not so bad. You just hook up the gas tubes to the burners down the table. When you reach the end loop around to the other side and work your way back, connecting each burner to one another.' She took one set out and demonstrated. 'Then after that you'll take these racks,' – She pointed over her shoulder to a stack of metal racks – 'and place one over each burner, then set these metal chafing dishes into the racks – they hold the larger pans. Understand?'
'That looks easy enough. When's lunch?' Harry asked, keen to eat real food.
'Right now actually, as soon as the ceremony starts. I won't be there, I'm in with the company making this wedding possible and so I get to stand in the back and watch the wedding with the founder of the catering company herself. She's wonderful. You'll meet her soon. This is the first Muggle wedding I've ever seen, even if the bride is a horrible person, I'm thrilled to see a wedding of any sort.' Ginny continued on, oblivious to Harry's staring. 'Mum is half-jealous, half-enraged, and on the whole scared to death that I have a summer job with Muggles. She's convinced that Tom will show up.'
At this point Ginny's arms were above her head as she cracked her back loudly. Harry snapped to attention as she mentioned Tom's name. Tom was easy to understand. Tom was not beautiful, or really smart and pretty. Tom he could deal with. Ginny was very difficult to understand, given her choice of poses, at the moment. Harry looked down at his fascinating shoes, and at precisely that moment fate smiled on the young man as a woman with a kind face and dark hair in a bun came through the curtain. She was very short, and had a certain confidence to her walk: the way she moved spoke volumes. It was clear from the moment she stepped in that she owned the room, and everything in it. She wore little make up and had a pretty green dress on. She spoke quickly, in a French accent.
'Ah, 'ere you are. I wanted to tell you it is time for zee 'elp to eat and we can go see zee ceremony, Ginny.' She smiled at Harry and extended her hand. 'I am Madam Corella. I run this catering business. And you are 'arry Potter, are you not? My daughter and Ginny 'ave told me all about you,' At this point, she gripped Harry's hand even harder than before, clenching down on his fingers. 'And I supported Dumbledore all along!' she said this firmly while pumping Harry's hand up and down vigorously.
Harry was confused. 'Pleased to meet you, Madam Corella. Who is your daughter, if you don't mind my asking?'
Ginny spoke up. 'Madam Corella is Madam Rosmerta's mother.'
Harry grinned again, realization dawning at last. 'Ah, that makes more sense! So Madam Rosmerta helped to get you placed in with her mum's catering business?'
Ginny began to say something but instead stumbled forward into Harry's arm as Madam Corella slapped her hard on the back. 'Yes, and I couldn't be more pleased with 'er assistance,' the caterer said. 'I am very proud of this girl. She eez a natural kitchen witch. I predict she will score extremely well on her NEWTS and OWLS in Charms and 'erbology and Potions. But of course, she gets 'er cooking talent from 'er mother, and 'er professional training from me.' She puffed out her chest and looked terribly proud. This trait was annoying, coming from someone like Ginny's older brother, Percy Weasley, but from Madam Corella, Harry thought it was positively heart warming to see.
Madam Corella eyed Harry up and down. 'You need some fattening up, young man; you're starving! You need some good Muggle cooking if I do say so myself. Go on and 'hav a bite to eat before 'ou get started with your tasks.'
'Thank you, Madam Corella,' Harry said, gingerly removing his nearly broken fingers from her hand. He snuck a look at Ginny and saw that she was grinning. 'I think that this world would be a horrible place without Muggle cooking.'
For the rest of the day, Harry surprisingly found himself actually heeding Petunia Dursley's words and having a good time. It was unbelievable that he could do something that was so much fun, and still manage to make the appearance of being miserable whenever Mr. and Mrs. Vernon Dursley were looking. He was only too pleased to follow Ginny around, meeting other members of the catering crew, eating leftover appetizers and nipping dessert cups and drinking all the soda a wizard could possibly drink. The crew was one person short, and since Harry was the only one old enough to serve, he was switched from bussing tables to serving drinks in the reception tent, which was a much more lucrative job. He was given a red band to go around his waist, a button-down shirt with the catering logo on it.
Harry nearly whooped with delight in front of Petunia when he realized all the tips he'd pocketed had come from the Dursley side of the family, who all turned out to be heavy drinkers. What made the deal even better was that Vernon had to tip him to keep up appearances. 'I'll expect that back tonight, boy!' he had slurred at Harry at least four times.
There was only one incident that darkened Harry's day. It happened when Aunt Marge was making her rounds, dragging a slight, beady-eyed man who was as skinny and scrawny as Marge was loud and rude. Harry did not do anything wrong; he merely turned around with a pad of paper and a pen at the wrong time, and she'd caught his eye. In a flash, she was marching toward him as fast as her ample back side could allow. When they reached him, Harry pulled on his most polite smile and offered his congratulations to the couple.
'You come with me, boy!' Aunt Marge barked in a harsh tone most unbecoming of a newly wed. She thrust her hand around Harry's neck, grabbing his left ear. 'I told you not to come out here! You're a disgrace!'
'I… I'm…' Harry was spluttering and wincing with pain; he hadn't expected her to make a scene.
'Too right, you are! I'd like to know who decided this!'
As Aunt Marge hauled Harry towards the exit, a growling tiger of a woman stood in the way. Madam Corella's eyes flashed as she intercepted Marge's path.
'I 'ave 'ad enough of you mistreating my employees!' Madam Corella exclaimed, wrenching Harry away from his Aunt's grasp. ' This 'as gone far enough, Mrs. Fubuster!'
'I told you not to put him out here with my guests! He is a criminal!' bellowed Aunt Marge.
Madam Corella would have none of it. Within seconds she had dragged the enraged Aunt Marge, the scrawny man trailing after her, and Harry into a corner. 'This is your wedding day! Do not make a scene!' she hissed under her breath.
Aunt Marge drew herself up to her full height, as if to threaten Madame Corella, and once again failed to get even a word in edgewise.
'I believe we had a contract, Mrs. Fubster, did we not?' Aunt Marge turned a fantastic shade of red at this. Madame Corella put her had up, and flashed a business-like smile.
'Oui. You agreed to my services, an' at zee last minute – not one week ago – you also asked me to hire a day laborer, sight unseen, to reduce your cost to me, which I graciously agreed to do. An' now you tell me 'e is a criminal?'
Aunt Marge looked like she was ready to burst, but said nothing.
'I thought so. Now, 'arry, 'ere will stay out of your way, an' you,' – here she considered the large bride in front of her carefully – 'you will 'ave a wonderful reception. And you will not touch my staff!' At this, Madam Corella smiled again, the tiger retreated within, and she gave the speechless bride a small push back to the dance area in the reception tent. 'Now, go, off with you, you have a party to enjoy.'
Madam Corella took Harry by the elbow and propelled him into the service tent, where they were promptly accosted by a very upset Ginny Weasley. She put her hands on her hips, eyes glittering malevolently. 'Did she put her hands on you, Harry?'
'No; she just grabbed my ear, Ginny.'
'Ginvera, I need you to relax,' Madame Corella interrupted. 'We are about to start with zee dancing, and you must go 'elp introduce the couples to the floor. 'arry is fine, zee situation is 'andled.'
Ginny looked closely at Harry's right ear.
'Um. Ginny? It was the left one.'
'I know that. I'm looking at your right to see if there's a difference in the left, silly.' At this, she jerked his head to the other side, inspecting his left ear. Harry felt his face flush, and he backed away.
Ginny looked hard at him and sighed impatiently. 'Boys,' she muttered. 'I'll deal with this later.'
With that, Ginny turned on heel and left the service tent, headed towards the reception area. Madame Corella smiled widely at Harry. 'Truly, 'arry, 'oo are not 'urt at all?'
Harry shook his head. 'No, Madame, not at all. I'm used to it, really.'
'Hmmm,' Madame Corella tutted under her breath, 'All right. I'll not pursue it. If she touches you again, I will press charges. She is not to assault my staff!
x x x x
Ginny stood to the side of the sound equipment, watching the formalized procession of dances. Looking around she saw nothing more for her to do, other than to be available to Madame Corella. Plastering a smile on her face she picked her way carefully through the tables, and made a note of where the Dursleys were sitting. When she reached Madam Corellas side she was forced to wait several minutes while the woman fended off several confused waiters and handed out more than a few business cards.
Ginny rubbed her temples and wondered at the probability of helping Harry out. From the first moment she had seen how ragged and thin he looked, to the calm way he allowed himself to be roughed up by that bride, Ginny had felt sick inside. Not only did she have to hide the fact that she was 'checking his mental state' she also had to be nice to that…group of people. There was no way to call them a family.
'Ah, there you are, Ginny. And 'ow are you 'olding up this evening?' Ginny straightened herself up and pushed out of her thoughts.
She looked at her employer; Madam Corella was looking rather tired. 'As well as I can be after seeing Harry get dragged across a room by his ear. Do you think I could slip away for a few minutes? I need to contact my mother.'
'Of course.' Madam Corella caught Ginny's eye. 'Do you think you might be able to 'elp the boy?'
Ginny tightened her fist, just like Charlie had shown her to. 'Yes, I'm sure I can handle them.'
'That's the spirit,' Madame Corella boomed as she whacked Ginny hard on the back. 'Never give up on 'elping your friends. Let me know if I can do anything.'
Ginny smiled in relief. 'I just need about ten minutes, really.'
Madame Corella shushed her with a wave of her hand. 'Non, do not 'worry about it, take 'our 'alf-hour break, take care of everything 'ou need to. 'ou 'ave done very well today.'
Ginny didn't need to be told twice. 'Thanks!' she called out over her shoulder as she edged back into the cloud of perfume and suits.
First stop was the kitchens and the search for rat poison. After ten minutes of searching, she found Eddie, one of the cooks.. 'Hey Eddie?' she called out to the man leaning against one of the company trucks.
'Hey there, Ginny. Is it your break time? Are you hungry?'
'No, actually, I was looking for something. I'm all set on food.'
Eddie grinned, 'what are you looking for?'
'Oh, just some of that really strong glass cleaner, one of the table shields has some red sauce spilled on it and I wanted to take care of it now.'
Eddie rooted through a carton of cleaning supplies and handed over a brightly colored plastic bottle along with a measuring cup. '100ml should do the trick, that'll ruin any honeymoon, and make sure to mix it good with the sweetened iced tea to hide the taste.'
Ginny stood very still. 'Whatever do you mean?'
'It's for that bride, isn't it? She roughed up your boy there, I saw it. I nearly went over to fix her myself.' Eddie smiled as he pulled out a cigarette. 'Get going, you don't want Corella to see you doing that. Have Susan put it out there for you.'
Ginny smiled gratefully. At least some justice would be served this evening.
After making up a special cup of tea, Ginny headed over to her book bag and retrieved a small hand mirror. She went to the back side of the trucks facing the church, and waited for one boozy couple to vacate the area.
'Mum?' Ginny called into the face of the mirror softly. 'Mum, are you there?' A few seconds later, Ginny was looking at her older brother's head. 'Fred, what are you doing with mum's mirror?'
'Nothing, definitely nothing at all,' the young man in question replied.
'Definitely not charming it so we can eavesdrop,' said another voice in the background.
'Fred, I don't care what you're doing but could you go get Mum or Dad on the mirror?'
The view shifted and Bill's face came into view. 'What's up, pumpkin head?'
Ginny frowned. She hated being called 'pumpkin head'. 'Harry's being mistreated. We have to get him out of there.'
Bill looked very serious. 'What happened? Did you see something?'
'Plenty. His so-called family has been starving him since the rain started. Why? Because they think he made it rain. And the bride today, she grabbed him by the ear and dragged him into a corner. She's his aunt.'
Bill looked thoughtful. 'Hang on a moment, let me go talk to Albus, he's here now.'
x x x x
The rest of the day passed without incident. Harry continued to serve tea and other assorted drinks until the party moved to the dance floor. Other than Aunt Marge's brief temper-tantrum, the day had flown by. He hoisted the tray onto his shoulder and he rounded the outside of the reception tent, careful not to drop his tray while walking as fast as possible.
Just as he was passing the dance floor, Harry nearly dropped all of the glasses and bottles as he caught sight of Dudley attempting to waltz his mother. Petunia had a look on her face that made Harry feel warm and fuzzy on the inside. He never knew Petunia could suffer like that.
Just barely managing to contain his laughter, he walked as quickly as he could to the recycling area. He finished sorting the bottles and pushed the rest of the wine glasses onto the table near the dishwashers. It was when he was making his way back to the service area of the tent to punch out that he was stopped by Ginny.
'Harry, can I talk to you?' She smiled at him and he started to feel weird inside.
'Sure, is anything wrong?' He asked.
'Harry, I just spoke to Bill, about what the Dursley's have done to you with this whole food thing. I told him that you really looked horrible and that you wanted to come home with me, and he spoke to Professor Dumbledore.'
His heart leapt with hope – had he done it?
'He said that you can't come to the Burrow yet, and that he would meet with us in the Prior's garden for a few minutes, he wanted to tell you something in person.' Disappointment, bordering on anger, coursed through him. He nodded, not trusting his voice when Ginny stretched her arms above her head and yawned. 'Are you done with the tables?' she said loudly as one of the cooks walked by.
'Yeah, yeah I am,' said Harry awkwardly. Whatever he'd been thinking slid to the back of his mind. He really didn't want Ginny to stretch like that in front of him. It made him feel weird. He remembered briefly when he flew underneath Cho Chang during a Quidditch match in the third year. It was as though he was seeing something Ron would not want him seeing. In fact, thinking of Ron helped quite a bit with that weird feeling he had. Harry concentrated as hard as he could on the faces of all five of Ginny's older brothers.
'Great! Do you want to hang out with me and Corella before we have to punch out?' she asked, stifling another yawn. 'Excuse me! I've been up since six this morning, and we still nearly had an accident on the motorway getting here.' Harry turned and followed Ginny out of the kitchen and across the lawn to the small garden behind the church.
In the Prior's garden, away from the noise of the bride's booming voice and the intoxicated members of the party singing in wretched, off-key voices, Harry and Ginny found a small bit of peace. Here, there were many trees and flowering bushes and low walls covered in vines. Statues of saints and a path of bricks led the way to a small bench in front of a goldfish pond. On the bench sat a man unlike anything most people had ever seen before. He had a long green cloak over his shoulders and the small stars and moons that were stitched on them seemed to wink in and out. His long white beard flowed down past his waist and his long hair served only to make him look taller and skinnier. This man was the Headmaster of Hogwarts, Albus Dumbledore. He turned and stood just before the two teenagers reached him.
'Harry, Ginny, it's good to see the both of you.' His eyeglasses gleamed in the moonlight.
Harry looked up at the Headmaster, and was pleased to meet his gaze. 'Professor, please can you let me go to the Burrow tonight? The Dursleys have been unbearable.'
He shook his head grimly. 'Harry, I am sorry for the situation you have suffered these past few weeks. And regrettably, I can only give you a few minutes of my time. I am sorry to say this, but you must stay with your aunt a while longer. The protection offered by your Aunt's blood against Voldemort grows stronger each day you stay under her roof.'
Harry stared at the wizard.
Ginny cut in. 'Sir, it's not right what they're doing. It's wrong. Can't we keep him at the Burrow? He'd be safe there with us,' she argued forcefully.
Professor Dumbledore looked very old at that moment. 'I am sorry, Ginny, and Harry, I cannot change the situation so easily. This level of protection that you have right now is to our advantage, and we must act quickly to seize that advantage.
Ginny looked at Harry closely, who nodded to her. Despite his disappointment at the news, Harry was more than pleased with the honesty coming from the headmaster.
'Now, Harry' the professor continued, 'before you start school again, we must be able to shield your mind from his attempts to control you. He will very likely try to lure you to the Ministry Of Magic again, and try to trick you into believing that there is a way to rescue Sirius from the veil. Therefore, I must ask you to take your lessons very seriously. This is your first assignment in Occlumency from your new professor.'
'Who might that be, sir?' Harry asked, slightly confused.
Dumbledore's eyes twinkled. 'May I introduce Professor Albus Dumbledore?'
Harry and Ginny both laughed, and the white-haired wizard bowed graciously, making exaggerated hand gestures. 'Thank you, thank you. Now, your first assignment is this, every night think of a blank piece of paper – plain paper Harry, no markings of any kind – just picture it in your mind. If it helps it can be pictured resting on a desk in front of you in your common room. When you let me know you've mastered it, I will have you picture the paper while I am attempting to enter your mind. It will not be anything like you've experienced with Professor Snape, as I have a different approach. If you are able to hold onto the image of the paper, I will give you the next lesson. Try to master this skill in two weeks time.'
'I thank you ahead of time for your dedication. And the sooner you master it, the better.'
Harry looked up at his professor. 'I will,' he said seriously.
The headmaster smiled and bent his head towards Harry. 'Well, I must be going then. Take care Harry, and Ginny, tell your mother I said that her meat pies were delicious. I feel a wonderful sensation of addiction overcoming me whenever I think of them.' With another short bow, he Disapparated and the teenagers were alone in the Prior's Garden.
Soft moonlight spilled over the garden and its two silent occupants shifted their weights from one foot to the other, one fixing her hair clips so they wouldn't look unprofessional, the other looking at the ground, and then back again. After a moment of slightly swaying, he accidentally made eye contact.
'H- How are Fred and George doing?'
'Great! They were listed as a Business to Watch in Magical Business Weekly!'
'Really?' asked Harry, not quite certain if his jaw still worked.
Ginny smiled grandly. 'They aren't stupid you know; they're very good with money. Never mind the fact that they're perfectly suited to run a joke shop. And since they're Bill's youngest brothers, their solicitor in Gringott's has been quite helpful.'
Harry smiled; glad to know that his Triwizard Tournament winnings were being put to good use. He imagined Cedric would have been very happy about it too. At least he hoped he would have been. He'd done some thinking since he'd been back at Privet Drive and had resolved to try to think of the memory of Cedric and Sirius in a more-positive light. He thought that if he was the reason Sirius had kept on living through Azkaban, he would continue living for Sirius' sake. He'd been successful some of the time, but had admittedly stumbled along the way. Somehow, just standing here with Ginny, it got a bit easier. He summoned up his bravery and decided to try to make her laugh again. This, he knew Sirius would have wanted.
Nervously he cleared his throat and ran a hand through his hair. 'Well, I guess Sirius and Cedric will be happy to watch over the storefront from beyond, it'll probably provide a good amount of entertainment for them.'
Ginny smiled. 'I agree. I imagine my grandfather and my late uncles Fabian and Gideon are laughing their ar—'
'—Ginny!' Harry shouted, with a look of shock and amusement on his face.
She laughed. 'I swear, Mr. Potter. I'm human too, you know. And growing up, it would be easy to think Charlie was a sailor instead of a Dragon keeper.'
Both teens had a good laugh at that image.
Realizing they had just been away for nearly ten minutes, Ginny turned around to lead the way back to the reception. 'I'm really sorry that you can't come home with me tonight, it's a short ride, you probably wouldn't get sick,' she said, stretching once again.
As she turned from him and began picking her way along the flagstone path Harry felt everything tighten up inside of him – all his muscles, even his fingers clenched. On one hand, he wished she wouldn't stretch like that in front of him. On the other hand, he kept hoping she would. And on his left foot, he felt something heavy, like a cement shoe carefully crafted by Ron and all of his brothers.
'It's okay,' he managed to say, thanking whatever gods existed that his voice hadn't cracked. 'I'll live to tell the tale. I'll get a full night's rest, we're spending tonight at the inn down the road so Vernon and Petunia can booze it up, and then one vomit-comet ride home tomorrow.'
Ginny pulled a spectacular face at this, and the two made their way over to the service tent, where they and the rest of the crew drank soda and watched the intoxicated wedding party dance into the evening. Once or twice, he could point out Dudley trying to dance with a bridesmaid who appeared to have swallowed something revolting, Ginny would burst out laughing, and Harry's insides would drop through the floor.
Just before he left, Ginny handed him a stomach reliever for motion sickness and told him about an experiment she was working on the Protean Charm Hermione had taught her. 'I'm trying to devise a way to write to all of you without any trouble of people getting to read what we say. I've found an enchantment that can make a piece of paper identify who is touching it and then it will reveal its truthful contents only to the correct person. I'll send you some if it works okay?'
She wrapped her arms around him before he could protest. 'Stay safe okay?' she whispered, 'and send a warning with Hedwig if you can't stand it and you can hide out at my place – even if I have to hide you myself. It's not blind trust this time, okay?'
In a whirl of red hair she was inside a large white catering van, chatting with the rest of the crew. Harry floated back through the parking lot to wait next to Vernon's ugly car. His pocket was stuffed with the money he had made during the evening, and he felt better than he had in some time. Later that evening, as he drifted off to sleep in the tub of the motel's bathroom, a pillow snagged from the couch in the foyer, Harry realized something. Ginevra Weasley was one terrific friend.