Harry and Ginny walked together all of the next afternoon, not headed for any particular destination, but just for the opportunity to talk and be together, sharing company. Much of the trivial had been disposed of before Ginny stopped in her tracks, still holding Harry’s hand, and said, “I’ve been thinking a lot about--about what happened yesterday. About us.”
“Me, too,” replied Harry. “I’ve come to only one conclusion, though.”
“Oh?” questioned Ginny. “What’s that?”
“That no matter what the reason for it, I want to spend more time with you,” Harry smiled sheepishly.
“That’s--nice, Harry. Nevertheless, I still want to know if you want to be with me for me or for comfort. It’s important to me to know.” She resumed walking, and Harry followed along.
“What if it’s for both reasons?” asked Harry after several minutes of silence. “What if I want to be with you for both comfort and because I like you?”
Ginny gave him a half-smile. “You can get like and comfort from a pet, Harry. I want to know that if we do get together as more than friends, it is because there is that special something between us. More than just friendship, more than affection--I want to be loved, Harry. I want to be loved just as much as I love y… whoever I choose.”
“Oh… I see,” Harry’s tone said volumes about how he felt at that moment--The euphoria of spending time with Ginny was suddenly and completely gone, replaced by worry, doubt and sadness. Do I love her? Can I love her? What does she mean by the word ‘love’?
Almost as if she were reading his mind, she said, “I’m not silly enough to expect the love to be there instantly, Harry--I know that real love has to have time to grow and mature. However, when it happens, I want it to be as if each of us thinks the other is the most important person in the world. I want the happiness that comes with love. I want to feel that both of us are happiest when the other is happy because of us.”
“Do you really think that love is like that?” asked Harry.
“I think that love becomes real when the happiness of the other person is essential to your own.” Ginny stated matter-of-factly. “I can’t state it any more simply than that.”
Harry nodded as he thought about it. It seemed as good a definition as any. He knew he felt happier spending this time with Ginny, and she seemed happy to spend time with him. He had also lost some of that happiness when she had doubts and was unhappy. Was that enough to honestly call this love? He wrestled with his thoughts, occasionally glancing over at Ginny to try to discern what she was thinking. When he caught her doing the same thing, he smiled, receiving a smile in return.
“You said love has to grow. Would it be enough if I admit that I feel that we’ve planted a seed?” he asked.
Ginny’s smile grew larger, and her eyes began to sparkle. “For now, Harry--for now.” Her fingers squeezed his gently, and they began to stroll hand in hand once more. Now that it had been said, they were content to merely enjoy each other’s company.
“Harry, you do realise that with the war against You-Know-Who, there’s a good chance that everyone in the Wizarding world will be forced to take sides, don’t you? Either voluntarily, or under a curse?” Ginny asked after several minutes.
“Yes,” replied Harry. “There’s also a good chance that Voldemort’s followers will spill the conflict over into the Muggle world as well. If that happens, no one on Earth will be safe until he and his Death Eaters are either under lock and key, or dead. With the wrong people under their control, they could decimate the entire planet.”
“The wrong people?”
“Wrong for us--think about it. Can you imagine the havoc they could cause by controlling prominent members of Parliament? The Prime Minister? The Queen?” replied Harry.
Ginny shook her head. “That’s almost too scary to think about. The Muggles can destroy everything with their bombs and weapons. However, back to the reason for my question. If it comes down to making that decision on my own, I know which side I will be on. It is the possibility of being forced to do things against my will that I am worried about. Ron told me that you were able to shake off the Imperius curse when Professor Moody--well, Barty Crouch disguised as Professor Moody--was teaching at Hogwarts. Is that true?”
“Yes, it is.”
“Do you think that--that you could teach me how to do it?”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea, Ginny,” Harry answered in the negative. “You’re better off asking the Defence Against the Dark Arts instructor when we get back to Hogwarts.”
“You taught Dumbledore’s Army loads of things last year. I know you could do this,” Ginny’s voice took on a peevish tone.
“Maybe I could--but I won’t. Ginny, that is one of the Unforgivable Curses! Using it would be wrong--using it on a friend, doubly so. And the thought of using it on you --” Harry shuddered visibly, “-- I couldn’t do it.”
“Why is that, Harry?”
“B-because it would rob you of your freedom to choose--put you completely under my control. And I don’t want that.” Harry shook his head.
“Better under your control than his.” Ginny responded. “I’ve already experienced that, and I never want it to happen again.”
“I understand that --”
“No, Harry, you don’t understand. You cannot because you have never experienced it. It-it is just awful. I hurt so many people I care about, and never realised it was my doing. I can’t do that again--I just can’t.” Ginny’s eyes were spilling tears, and she looked miserable. “Harry, I’m asking you because I trust you. You’re too good a soul to make me do things I don’t want to.”
Harry mulled this over in his mind, weighing all the possibilities. Finally, he responded, “We--We will have to get permission to try it, and I think the entire process should be supervised. If Professor Dumbledore agrees--”
Ginny flew into his arms, hugging him tightly. “Thank you, Harry. I know you can teach me to throw off the curse.”
“I said I’ll try--but I still don’t like it.” Harry still had her wrapped in his arms and almost without realising it began to gently stroke her back. “The thought of having that much control over a person--over you… It’s frightening.”
“Not as frightening as having him have that control.” Ginny shuddered in his arms, and held a bit tighter, resting her head on his shoulder. They remained that way for several minutes, until Ginny suddenly stood on tiptoe, reaching up to graze Harry’s cheek with a brief kiss.
“What was that for?” he asked.
“Just because I wanted to,” replied Ginny. “You’re not objecting, are you?”
“No, not at all. It just seemed rather… sudden. Surprising.”
“Good. It’s nice to know you can be surprised. That’ll make life much more interesting in the future.” Ginny’s eyes sparkled mischievously as she made the comment.
“Interesting how?” asked Harry, a sudden suspicion making itself known. She had, after all, grown up with Fred and George as role models.
“You’ll find out,” giggled Ginny. She gazed into his eyes for a moment, and then rose up on her toes, her mouth warm and inviting. Harry took immediate action and bent down slightly, kissing her full on the mouth as he held her, prolonging the kiss.
“Oh my!” Ginny exclaimed in a whisper as they broke apart. “That was --”
“Wonderful?” Harry smiled as Ginny’s cheeks flushed pink.
“Yes--wonderful, Harry--Very, very wonderful.”
By the time a fortnight had passed, Harry and Ginny were obviously feeling the romance between them grow. Ginny had vacated her usual seat at The Burrow’s kitchen table to take possession of the seat next to Harry. Meanwhile, Harry found himself smiling more and more whenever Ginny made an appearance. They both found that the time they spent in each other’s company was pleasurable, something they looked forward to each day after their chores around the house were completed. They would walk the property, ranging through the apple orchard, back into the forest grove at the rear of the land, down to the river that marked the Weasleys’ property line and outer limit of the town of Ottery St Catchpole and back, holding hands, speaking of inconsequential matters and stopping to share a brief but warm kiss every now and again.
Adding to their sense of bliss, Voldemort and his followers seemed to have vanished from the news, both on the Wizarding Wireless Network and in the Daily Prophet. Harry was so focused on Ginny and their after-chore walks that it came as a complete surprise when Ginny invaded Ron’s bedroom early one morning to wake him and hurry him down to breakfast.
“Wake up, sleepyhead! Time to rise and shine!” The covers Harry had been carefully using to block out the sunlight suddenly disappeared.
“Mum says breakfast will be ready in five minutes, so hurry up and get dressed!” The lovely feminine voice disappeared rapidly down the hallway, before Harry could get his glasses on and throw a pillow at its source.
Harry groaned as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes and sat up. This morning, the heat was nearly unbearable in the orange-painted room at the top of the stairs, and he could feel a sheen of sweat covering his body as the normal daily conscious thoughts began to form.
Ron, who was also uncharacteristically awake at the early hour, was attempting to activate the room’s cooling charm without much success.
“Bloody thing won’t work,” he said as Harry pulled on a tee shirt and trousers, tossing the bespelled wooden box back atop his wardrobe. “I’ll have to get either Mum or Dad up here to renew the spell.”
“Are you sure, Ron? It was working fine last night when we went to bed.”
“Yeah, it was--but you have to remember that when something stops working here, you can be almost one hundred percent sure that Fred and George had something to do with it. If they have tampered with the charm, I know I don’t want to be the first person to try to make it work properly. Knowing them, it will probably bury my room in six feet of snow if I do more than a simple activation.”
“Well, whatever the reason, I hope it’s working right soon. This room feels like an oven!”
Looking out the window, Ron nodded absentmindedly. “Yeah, it does--probably because of the weather. Look at that--it’s so hot outside you can see the heat shimmer coming up off the paving stones in the garden.” He pointed at the barely visible distortion of the scenery caused by high heat emanating from the stones below.
“Looks like a good day to spend swimming,” Harry commented.
“Yeah, I guess so--but let’s go get breakfast first. I’m starved!”
Ron let Harry lead the way, staying slightly behind him as they went through the parlour to the kitchen to hide a growing smile. As he walked into the kitchen proper, Harry was met with a chorused, “Surprise! Happy Birthday!” from the Weasley family. A small pile of wrapped parcels was at his place on the table, cordoned off by an assortment of his favourite breakfast dishes placed around them.
Ginny smiled broadly at the look of shock on Harry’s face. “I thought I’d distracted you sufficiently the past two days to make this a surprise, Harry.”
“Erm, yeah, I guess so--I completely forgot that today was my birthday,” he answered.
“So what did you do to distract Harry so much?” asked George as they sat down to eat breakfast.
“Yeah, tell us,” added Fred.
Ginny smiled smugly before answering. “Oh, just the usual stuff--dazzled him with my charm and beauty, entertained him with my wit… hauled him out past the apple orchard every day to snog him silly…”
“What?” cried the twins, looking first at Ginny, then at Harry, and finally at each other.
“It seems to have worked quite well, Ginny,” deadpanned Mr Weasley. “Congratulations.”
“Thank you, Daddy.”
“Dad, you don’t mean that Ginny and Harry have really been cavorting together in the woods, do you?” asked a stunned-looking Fred, unsure if his father was joking or not.
“Well, I don’t know if you can really call it ‘cavorting’, Fred. I would say it was more like… exploring their relationship? Does that sound right, Ginny?”
“A bit more ‘exploring’ than ‘relationship’, Daddy,” smiled Ginny as she bit into a piece of toast with butter and jam.
“Ginevra Molly Weasley, that’s enough!” interjected Mrs Weasley as Ginny’s comment caused George to choke on a sip of tea and began coughing. “You’ve gone just a bit too far in teasing your brothers,” she continued, “and I for one don’t want to hear any more about what you and Harry have been up to together.”
Harry had blushed by this time due to Mr Weasley’s and Ginny’s comments, but could not resist adding just a bit more to the gag. “Your mother is right, Ginny. There are some things that should be kept private,” he commented while calmly stirring honey into his tea.
At the look of shock on the twins’ faces, Ginny dissolved into laughter, joined shortly thereafter by Harry and Mr and Mrs Weasley, though the latter did give him a sharp look beforehand. Harry made a mental note that even joking about certain subjects could result in possible scrutiny and questioning from the Weasley matriarch.
“Erm, is Hermione expected soon?” he asked to change the subject.
“Not until tomorrow, Harry--she and her parents are vacationing on the Continent,” answered Ron as he paused in stuffing a banger into his mouth. “She did owl you a present, though.”
As soon as everyone finished eating and the table had been cleared of the foodstuffs, Ginny pulled a package from the pile of parcels that were Harry’s birthday gifts. “Open this one first, Harry.”
Smiling, Harry took the brightly wrapped parcel and began to remove its covering very carefully. Inside the wrapping was a large box of Chocolate Frogs, each one adorned with a slip of parchment tied like a scroll with a green ribbon. Curious, Harry took one of the frogs and removed the adornment. Unfurling it, he read:
Eat one Chocolate Frog each day,
To keep the one I love sweet.
Happy Birthday from Ginny
Looking up, he saw Ginny smiling hopefully at him, a faint blush on her cheeks, her eyes sparkling with anticipation. Leaning over, he whispered to her, “Thank you for the Chocolate Frogs, but can I just kiss you whenever I need something to sweeten me up?” He followed that with a swift peck on her cheek, and watched her blush deepen.
The twins started up almost immediately, singing, “Harry and Ginny, sittin’ in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G! First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Harry with a baby carriage!”
Ginny took time to glare briefly at her brothers (Ron had joined in as well) before suddenly smiling and commenting, “Y’know, that doesn’t sound like a bad idea at all.” She leaned over and kissed Harry full on the mouth, leaving her brothers to gape open-mouthed as Harry flushed pink.
“See what you started,” Ron stage-whispered to the twins, giving Harry a wink.
The rest of Harry’s presents were eventually opened, though the one from Fred and George was opened with some trepidation on Harry’s part. It contained an assortment of items from their shop in Diagon Alley, along with a note describing the effects of each one. Hermione had sent a book, A Quidditch Extravaganza: The Story of the Development of the Firebolt. Ron gave Harry a Snitch emblazoned with the Chudley Cannons logo; Mrs Weasley had knitted another green sweater. Mr Weasley gave him an oddly shaped Muggle-made watch on a five-link chain of dark brownish metal, with a tag of polished brass engraved with what looked like a mishmash of letters and symbols on the other end.
“Can’t really say what it does, other than keep time, Harry. The Department of Mysteries said they thought the enchantment that’s on it is just to keep it running and harmless. Thought you might like to have it.”
“Daddy’s just hoping you’ll leave it behind when we go to Hogwarts so he can add it to his Muggle artefact collection,” whispered Ginny, giggling a bit.
“Dad, could you have a look at the cooling charm in my room? It seems to have stopped working,” Ron asked, glancing obliquely at the twins.
George looked up with some ill-disguised alarm, and Fred interrupted, “Ron, don’t make Dad late for work! We’ll fix it for you.”
Mr Weasley nodded, a slight smile on his lips. “Thank you, boys. It’s nice to see you being helpful for a change, but it shouldn’t take me more than a minute or so to find out what’s wrong and re-enchant it.”
“No, that’s all right,” George replied hurriedly. “We don’t have anything better to do today anyway.”
“Well, if you’re sure…” Mr Weasley looked oddly cheerful, “Why don’t you go get it and work on it in your room. Your cooling charm is still working, isn’t it?”
“Erm--yeah, sure, that’s a good idea, Dad,” said Fred as he grabbed George by the sleeve of his shirt and hurried him out of the kitchen.
Mr Weasley chuckled under his breath before standing and preparing to leave.
“I don’t think you’ll be having any more problems with the charm, Ron,” he commented, giving Ron a sly wink. “Got to run--the War effort waits for no one!” He kissed his wife and Disapparated away to the Ministry.
“So what are the three of you going to be up to today?” asked Mrs Weasley.
“Swimming, definitely,” chimed Ginny. “It’s too hot for anything else.”
“Sounds good to me,” agreed Harry.
“I’ll second that motion,” Ron added.
“Well, be careful--even though The Burrow is well warded, there is still a war going on.”
“Yes, Mum,” said Ginny as she hurried out of the kitchen, racing the boys up the stairs to their rooms. “Meet you there,” she said, disappearing into her room and shutting the door behind her.
As Ron and Harry passed by the twins’ bedroom, a sudden icy draft shot out from under the door, making frost form on the carpet runner. A muffled shout from inside told them that Ron’s guess as to the origin of the charm’s
malfunction was most likely correct.
“Told you,” Ron said smugly.
Harry just grinned and continued up the stairs to Ron’s bedroom. Once there he put all of his presents into his trunk, lodging the odd watch in the pocket of his Quidditch uniform before digging out his swim trunks.
"Uh, Ginny, aren't you a bit under-dressed?" asked Ron, trying to cover his sister with a towel.
"It's my new bikini, Ron, and in this heat, it's the most practical form of dress. It's so hot, you could cook a Jarvey out here."
"But it's so - so tiny!"
"That's the idea, big brother--the less I wear, the cooler I'll feel." She took a run toward the river that bordered The Burrow’s property and dove in. "Ah, relief from the heat!" she exclaimed as she surfaced and pushed her mane of wet red hair from her eyes. "So, Harry, coming in?"
Harry (who had been daydreaming somewhat lasciviously ever since Ginny showed up in her new bikini) started at the mention of his name. "What?"
"I said, aren't you coming in? It's much nicer in the water," Ginny replied, her voice low and inviting.
"All right." Harry climbed to his feet, adjusted his swim trunks and jumped in, making a tremendous splash. He then dove under the surface and swam unerringly to where Ginny was treading water. Grasping one of her ankles, he pulled her under suddenly. When the two teens surfaced, Ginny immediately used her hand to splash water into Harry's face, making him sputter in surprise.
"Serves you right, Mr Potter." She stuck out her tongue and splashed again. Harry retaliated in kind, and soon both teens were laughing merrily.
Ginny took a stroke in the water and moved closer, then wrapped her arms around Harry's neck to give him a kiss. Harry took her into his arms as he treaded the water, revelling in the feel of her cool flesh against his own.
“Harry,” Ginny asked as she pulled back from the kiss, “do you think it’s safe to say that seed we planted has sprouted?” She smiled hopefully as she waited for his reply.
Harry did not keep her waiting long. “It’s not only sprouted, it’s been growing wild.”
Ginny beamed at Harry’s comment, and pulled him into another kiss. This one lasted far longer than any had previously, with Ginny holding herself tightly against him. Her fingers trailed across the back of his neck and down his back as she finally ended it, whispering into his ear, “Very, very, very wonderful, Harry.”
"Ginny, Harry, best break it up--Mum's on her way down here," called Ron from the bank of the river.
Harry reluctantly released Ginny from his embrace, and she gave him a swift peck on the cheek before arching her back and backstroking away.
Mrs Weasley appeared a few moments later carrying a tray of glasses filled with lemonade. "I thought something cool to drink would be good in this heat," she explained, handing Ron a glass. "Ginny, dear, are you wearing enough sun-protecting potion?"
"I think so, Mum. I'll have Harry put some more on my back in a bit," replied the red-haired teen as she climbed from the river to take her lemonade. Sipping the cool liquid, she noticed the slight frown on her mother's face. "Mum, please don't start up again--You'll just have to accept that Harry and I are growing closer."
"Not too close, I hope," sniffed Mrs Weasley, suspicion dripping from every syllable.
"Mum, it's nothing like that. Don't you trust me?"
"Well, you do seem to take after the twins at times," commented her mother, "and that does give me some twinges of doubt."
"Mum, I'm right here to keep an eye on them," said Ron from where he sat on the bench in the shade of an old oak tree. "You know I won't let Harry get away with anything."
"I rather resent that implication, Ron. Harry has been nothing but a perfect gentleman with me," responded Ginny angrily.
"Yeah, and you suck face with him every chance you get," Ron teased.
"Ronald Weasley, you are dangerously close to spitting slugs," huffed his little sister. "Besides, if Mum knew what you and Hermione have got up to --"
"And just what do you mean by that, Ginevra Molly Weasley?" asked Mrs Weasley, now eyeing Ron suspiciously.
"Erm, uhh --just that Ron and Hermione were found in a, uhm--compromising position--on the train home, Mum," explained Ginny as Ron's ears turned a bright crimson.
Harry had climbed from the river in time to overhear the brother and sister begin arguing back and forth over which of them had done the most with their partner of choice, and took in Mrs Weasley's shocked expression at the accusations.
"They're both exaggerating, Mrs Weasley," he tried to explain, only to have the Weasley matriarch begin frowning in earnest.
"THAT IS ENOUGH!" yelled Mrs Weasley at her two offspring. "TO THE HOUSE, BOTH OF YOU! NOW! WE ARE GOING TO HAVE WORDS ABOUT THIS!" Both Ron and Ginny went silent, their eyes going round at their mother's implication. Even Harry winced at her shrill tone, and felt a chill run down his spine as she added, "YOU TOO, HARRY. I AM GOING TO FIND OUT THE TRUTH, EVEN IF I HAVE TO BREW UP SOME VERITASERUM!" She started up the path toward The Burrow.
Harry, Ginny and Ron looked at each other forlornly, dreading what they knew was coming. 'Having words' with Mrs Weasley was not a good omen for the rest of the summer holidays. All three could imagine de-gnoming and weeding the garden on a daily basis, with her eagle eye on them to prevent any of the possible pleasurable circumstances that their closeness could entail.
"See what you've done!" hissed Ginny at her brother.
"Me? What about you?” growled Ron.
Harry winced again. This looked to be the beginning of a long, hot and very unpleasant rest of the summer holidays...
"She can't mean that!" complained Ron. "Two weeks before Hermione can come? It's bloody unfair, that's what it is."
"Well, you are the one who admitted to being allowed some, erm, liberties with Hermione's person," reminded Harry as he lay staring at the ceiling. "It's just lucky that Ginny and I --" He caught himself before he could finish that random thought aloud.
"Ginny and you what, Harry?" Ron had caught the drift of the comment and was now staring at his friend in a most unfriendly manner. "You're not saying that Ginny and you have done something, are you?"
"Erm... No, we haven’t done anything, Ron. It's just that--well, we like each other a lot, and there have been some instances--in the heat of the moment--where we--sort of, well--sort of 'extended the boundaries' of our relationship..."
"Uh-huh..." Ron's tone was now rather cold. "I don't suppose you're going to tell me just how far those 'boundaries' have been extended, are you? No--Do not answer that... I really don't want to know, because I just might have to beat you to a bloody pulp if I don't like it."
"It's nothing like that, Ron. Just a bit of snogging, that's all," explained Harry, his face glowing red as a sunset. "We've never gone as far as some of the things you and Hermione have."
It was Ron's turn to flush deeply. "That's beside the point. I have real feelings about Hermione."
"And you don't think I have real feelings for Ginny? Or her for me?"
"Well, yes--no--I don't know! It is just that--that she is my little sister, Harry! I don't want to see her hurt!"
"Neither do I!” emphasized Harry. “Damn it, Ron, you're the one who suggested we get together in the first place!" Harry sat up on the side of the bed, frustration with his friend's shifting attitudes making him angry. "If you hadn't made that implication on the Hogwarts Express when we were coming home, she probably wouldn't even be looking at me--she'd be writing letters to Dean Thomas!"
Ron's mouth sagged open. "She--I--You don't really mean she was serious?"
"Of course she was! Look, if you've got a real problem with it, just remember this--Ginny and I are only going out together, and while we like each other a lot - I didn't sign up for a lifetime supply of your problems with your sister's choices. She's the one I've got to please--not you." Harry stood up and headed out the door and down the stairs.
"Erm, Mrs Weasley? Can I have a moment of your time? There are some things I think you should be aware of--about Ginny and me." Harry stood in the doorway of the kitchen as Mrs Weasley peeled pippins for a pie.
"Oh? Really? I thought we had settled everything about that," she replied, pausing in her cookery to look at him suspiciously. "Well, all right--sit down. We can talk while I'm working."
Harry took his accustomed place at the table and waited as Mrs Weasley went back to work.
"So? What do you want to tell me, Harry?" she asked.
Harry took a deep breath and blew it out before beginning. "I like Ginny, Mrs Weasley. I like her a lot."
"I'm sure she likes you too, Harry," smiled the Weasley matriarch.
"Well, yeah, I guess she does... It's just--I think my feelings for her are stronger than just liking her."
"Go on." Mrs Weasley looked over her shoulder at him.
"I--I want to go out with her. Maybe take her to a Muggle movie, or out to dinner. Just the two of us."
"All right. So why are you telling me this?"
"Because I don't want you to be angry at me or Ginny. I thought if I asked permission..."
"You're asking the wrong person, Harry," said Mrs Weasley.
"Oh... Should I talk to Mr Weasley, then?"
"No, that won't be necessary." Mrs Weasley seemed to be struggling with herself. Harry sifted in his seat, wondering if she was trying to control her temper and suddenly feeling like a mouse caught in a free-range cat shelter.
"No?" Harry's voice squeaked. Was she telling him he could not go out with Ginny?"I--I see." he started to rise to leave the room, crestfallen at her response.
"You should be asking Ginny, not me or Arthur, Harry. She's the one who'll have to say yes or no." Molly was suddenly laughing at the expression on Harry's face. "Oh, Harry dear, I know that you have feelings for my daughter, and that she has feelings for you! However, I trust you to always do the right thing, even more than her. Just promise me that you will not take too many liberties together. I'd rather one of the boys make me a grandmother first, not Ginny--and only after they get married!”
Harry blushed a deep red at the implication of her words.
“So go on, ask the right person. Arthur and I won't object if she doesn't," Mrs Weasley continued.
“T-Thank you, Mrs Weasley," stammered Harry, suddenly a bit dizzy. He couldn't believe his ears--was this the same woman who had laid down the law to Ron only fifteen minutes earlier, making sure he wouldn't see Hermione for another fortnight because of a bit of heavy snogging and tickling?
"Just don't let me catch the two of you doing anything inappropriate. If that happens--well, you should know that I got top marks on hexes and jinxes while at Hogwarts, and I have kept up my studies. I know some real doozies! I'd rather not have to get some more practical experience, if you catch my drift."
The threat hung in the air, and Harry gulped at the thought. “Y-yes’m, Mrs Weasley,” he stammered.
The first of August started like so many of the days before it, with the morning’s Owl Post as everyone sat around the breakfast table. The day was differentiated today, however, by three letters from Hogwarts - one each for Ron, Harry and Ginny - addressed with the now-familiar green ink in Professor McGonagall’s handwriting. Upon opening his, Harry found not only the expected list of books for the next school year, but also a Prefect’s badge.
“Better you than me,” commented Ron. “I absolutely hated doing it last year.”
“So I noticed,” grinned Harry. “Want me to do so badly that they think you did a great job? Maybe you could be Head Boy next year.”
Ron shuddered at the thought. “No, thank you--You can have it. Or better yet, let Neville have it; with a little power, maybe he’d become more confident about himself.”
Ginny looked up from her letter at Ron’s comment.
“Ron, that’s an absolutely brilliant idea! Too bad you did not mention it to Professor Dumbledore before the choices were made. Neville needs to be encouraged--Growing up without his parents, only his Grandmother and relatives with their attitudes towards failure to try to help him, it’s no wonder he has no confidence in himself.”
“That’s not entirely true,” Harry said. “Neville was showing a lot more confidence in the DA practices--and wasn’t he the one who threw the Impediment Jinx on the Slytherins in Umbridge‘s office? He’s also the only one who said something sensible before we rode the Thestrals to get me to agree to let you lot come along.”
“Let?” Ginny raised an eyebrow.
“Watch it, mate,” muttered Ron.
Harry ignored both of them and went on.
“Neville was braver that night than I ever saw him before, and if he had been able to speak correctly after his nose was broken, he could have very well turned the tables on the Death Eaters all by himself. I think even Sirius…” Harry stopped in mid-sentence as the grief and memory of that horrible night when his Godfather had died rushed over him like a tidal wave. It was as if he had been physically struck--he found it was suddenly hard to breathe, let alone finish his declaration. Only seconds later, his scar throbbed painfully and --
“Avada Kedavra!” he screamed and pointed his wand, furious at the fool who had brought him the news. Like a puppet with its strings cut, his victim fell lifeless to the ground, but that did not seem like enough--it had been too easy. Stepping down from his throne and crossing the patch of multicoloured light streaming through the window, he pointed his wand again. “Incendio!” and the body crackled with flame, a thick, oily smoke beginning to fill the chamber –
“Harry?” Ron was gripping his arm, helping him to stay upright while Ginny pushed a napkin to his scar. Mrs Weasley was speaking to someone via the Floo Network, the green flames giving her fear-struck expression deep and ominous shadows.
“It was him--Voldemort! He-he killed someone,” Harry muttered as the pain in his scar slowly faded, only to be replaced with a new pain, a different pain. Ginny dabbed at his forehead, and Harry could see that the napkin was now stained red with blood. “Did I cut myself?”
Ron and Ginny exchanged glances before she replied, “No, Harry--it was your scar; it split open all by itself when he touched your mind.”
Mrs Weasley looked up from her conversation then turned back and said, “He seems to have come out of it all right, though there’s quite a bit of blood.”
A voice in the fireplace said, “Stand back!” which Mrs Weasley did with alacrity. Moments later Remus Lupin stepped through, his wand at the ready. This was followed almost immediately by two loud cracks as Tonks and a strange wizard Apparated into the kitchen on either side of the fireplace, their wands poised for immediate action. All three quickly scanned the room before Tonks stepped to Harry’s side, touched his scar with the tip of her wand and muttered a swift healing charm.
“What do you remember, Harry?” asked Remus, a very concerned look on his face. “Do you have any clue to where Voldemort might be?”
Harry shook his head. “Sorry, no--it was over with too quick. H-he cast the Killing Curse, and then set her on fire.”
“Her?” questioned the newcomer, some alarm evident in his voice. “Could you see who it was?” The burr of the Scottish Highlands was plain to hear.
“No--I’d never seen her before.”
“What did she look like?” interjected Tonks quickly.
“Dark hair, rather plain, perhaps one and a half meters tall. A bit padded but not fat. And dead,” answered Harry quite seriously. “Very dead.”
The newcomer looked at Tonks and breathed a sigh of what was very obviously relief. “It wasn’t her,” he said.
“Thank Merlin for small favours,” replied Remus, pocketing his wand. “Harry, Molly, everyone, this is Anubis MacTeague, an Auror working with us through the Department of Mysteries at the Ministry. He and his wife Aurora have proven very valuable to the Order--They’ve managed to infiltrate themselves into the lower echelons of Voldemort’s Death Eaters, and have given us hope that we may soon be able to locate Voldemort himself.”
Anubis solemnly shook hands with everyone, though when he took Harry’s hand a slight frown was briefly on his features, and he paused to look closely at The Boy Who Lived. “Young Mr Potter--I must say you have a striking resemblance to your father, though you have your mother’s eyes.”
“You knew my parents, Mr MacTeague?” Harry asked.
“Your father, only in passing,” he smiled. “Made rather a fool of myself over Lily--your mother--in my fourth year. Should have known that she and I were not meant for each other--but that is the way of schoolboy crushes. However, it did not turn out all badly--Lily introduced me to Aurora. Though right now I‘m deucedly anxious for her to check in. I have neither seen nor heard from her in a week.”
“Harry,” Remus asked a few moments later, “are you absolutely certain there were no clues to Voldemort’s whereabouts? Nothing at all that might stick out in your mind?”
Harry shut his eyes and tried to visualize what he had observed through his link with the Dark Lord. The Killing Curse… The woman’s body falling. Voldemort stepping down from his throne, crossing the patch of—
“Stained glass! He stepped through a beam of multicoloured light; it had to be coming through the glass!” Harry blinked and leaped to his feet, rushing to the window, checking for something. “The angle of the sun would mean he has to be near or at the same latitude!”
“How do you know that, Harry?” asked Tonks.
“The shadows! The sun’s casting shadows, and the pool of light was in the middle of the floor! I could see the light beam filtering through the smoke at an angle!” Harry exclaimed excitedly. “It has to be a building with a stained glass window on the south-eastern side of the building!”
“Britannia Cartographicus!” intoned Anubis and with a flip of his wand a map of Britain appeared floating in the air slightly above the table; the mountains, hills and valleys were depicted in perfect miniature. “So if we’re here,” he pointed his wand to an indicator of Ottery Saint Catchpole, making it light up, “that would give us an area between a line up… here and down… here,“ he pointed twice more, tracing lines above the map, “and the same distance east and west.” Two more lines appeared. “That’s an area roughly--360,000 square kilometres.”
“Quite a bit o’ land to search,” muttered Tonks.
“Better than all of Britain, Scotland and Ireland,” Remus spoke up. “Much better--the task has been cut a thousand fold, for now we must look for only abandoned buildings with stained glass windows to the south-- Voldemort would never risk exposing himself to discovery!”
“Well, that’s something,” Mrs Weasley remarked coldly. “There can’t be more than three or four hundred ruins, perhaps six or seven thousand homes that fit that description in that area. You would need an army to search that much before he moved on!”
“It’s still better than nothing, Molly. It will mean more work for the Order, and we may have to spread ourselves a bit thin, but this could be the breakthrough that we’ve been hoping for.”
“The link between us is getting stronger,” lamented Harry. “I can feel his lesser emotions too. He was angry, yes, but he was not as angry as he has been before. I could feel his satisfaction when he burnt the body, just before the link broke. But why would my scar break open? That makes no sense.”
Dumbledore nodded. “It could be because your link is getting stronger--after all, it was his magic that put it there in the first place. That is why you must learn Occlumency, Harry; to protect yourself from both giving away vital information and from what is becoming a very physical risk. If you can block or sever the link, his emotions will no longer affect you.”
Sitting back in the chair, the aged wizard took a bite of one of the blackberry tarts that Mrs Weasley had made for dessert, chewing slowly. “Delicious as always, Molly,” he complemented her effort.
“Yes, I understand the need for Occlumency, but why Legilimency?” asked Harry.
“Because that link is not yet severed. Right now, you are receiving only high emotions and directed dreams, but with the use of Legilimency, you may be able to obtain information as well--information vital to our efforts to defeat Tom. Now tell me--have you been practicing the Occlumency lessons Professor Snape taught you?”
Harry shook his head in the negative. “I could never block him out.”
Dumbledore sighed deeply.
“Harry, you must learn this.” He leaned forward, his piercing blue eyes catching and holding Harry’s. “Legilimens!”
There was the sound of Aunt Petunia hammering on the door to the closet under the stair, trying to wake him… “Yer a wizard, Harry!” stated Hagrid… He shut his eyes and ran toward the barrier… He slithered along the corridor, approaching the door to the Department of Mysteries… Ginny stood on tiptoe and kissed him…
“No!” he cried aloud, unwilling to share that memory--and found himself shaking in his seat at the kitchen table, Dumbledore staring at him with a strange sadness in his eyes.
“Yes, Harry, I see--you wish to keep some memories private. Moreover, that may be the key to your learning Occlumency. I shall purposely attempt to find those memories, whilst you try your hardest to keep me from them. Let us try again; Legilimens!”
This time Harry was better prepared, but still the spell reached for the memories… Of standing in front of the Mirror of Erised, watching his parents and other family members appear… Wormtail escaping as Remus changed into a werewolf… Watching Sirius and Buckbeak fly off into the darkness… Watching Sirius fall--
“No!” Harry yelled again, causing the effects of the spell to waver and die. He was still shaking in his seat, but it had been he who had blocked the spell, rather than Dumbledore ending it.
“Much better, Harry--I saw far fewer memories that time,” Dumbledore observed, leaning back in his chair and regarding his pupil. “But you must remember that Voldemort’s access to your memories is strengthened by the link between you. You must be ready to throw up a mental wall to keep him out at a moment’s notice. You haven‘t the luxury of building it brick by brick--it must be in place almost instantly. Once more; Legilimens!”
A brief flicker of Dumbledore speaking at the opening feast back in first year, and then--nothing. Nothing except the wrinkled visage of his Headmaster smiling across the table at him.
“Excellent, Harry, excellent! You managed to block me almost completely!” cried Dumbledore. “How do you feel?”
Harry rubbed at his temple before he answered. “A bit shaky, still, but all right.”
“Good. Take a few minutes to rest and we shall try again. Use the time to empty your mind, for I will cast the spell without warning, and you must be ready to block it.”
Harry nodded his acquiescence to the proposal, and leaned back in his seat, closing his eyes. The two successful attempts at blocking Dumbledore’s spell had improved his confidence, but he knew he still had to perfect the technique. Taking a deep breath, he blew it out slowly to calm himself.
“Professor Dumbledore? May I have a moment of your time?” Ginny’s voice made Harry open his eyes. The petite redhead had come into the kitchen when Dumbledore had called for the break, and was now sliding into ’her’ chair, next to him.
“Yes, Miss Weasley?” Dumbledore answered.
“Harry and I have a request, please. I - I’ve asked him to help me learn how to throw off the Imperious Curse, and he’s agreed to try as long as you approve.”
“I’d prefer that someone supervise us if we do so, Professor,” Harry added. Secretly, he hoped that Professor Dumbledore would say no.
The aged wizard studied the young couple intently for a moment.
“That is a bit of an unusual request, Miss Weasley, and one I hope you’ve thought it through completely and thoroughly. You do realise that you would be giving Harry total control over yourself?”
Ginny nodded. “I trust Harry, Professor.”
“I see,” he replied, a faint smile on his lips, then paused for a moment. “Are you willing to take on this task, Harry? It would be an awesome responsibility, you know.”
Harry paused to look at Ginny. Her eyes were pleading with him, urging him to agree.
“I - I have some reservations, sir, but if we take the precaution of supervision, I’ll agree to try.”
“Very wise, Harry, very wise. I see no reason to deny the request, with the provisos that you never attempt it without either Professor McGonagall or myself present, or that it interfere with your schoolwork. Which leads us to Legilimens!”
For a fraction of a second, Harry hesitated, the memory of his first kiss with Ginny pulled to the forefront of his mind by the spell and--nothing… Only Professor Dumbledore sitting across the table, smiling and looking pleased.
“Excellent, Harry, excellent! I attempted to catch you off-guard, and you blocked me completely. You seem to have mastered Occlumency for the moment, though I shall continue to test you throughout the rest of the summer holiday and the school year without notice. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Professor. Tests without notice, and I should be ready to block at all times.” Harry sighed inwardly, knowing that the Headmaster would be quite diligent in his testing--as would Voldemort.
“I feel we have accomplished enough with Occlumency for this session, Harry. Shall we continue with Legilimency?” Dumbledore asked. “Tell me the theory of the art--its purpose, and how it is executed.”
Harry sighed again.
“Legilimency is the magical method of discerning a person’s innermost thoughts and memories without his or her permission, though it can also be used with permission to a greater degree of success. It is useful in the gathering of information, and may be used by Medi-Witches in assessing a patient’s trauma. It can be used to place thoughts within a mind as well, “ he explained, a slight frown on his face, “making the recipient believe that an event or action is or has taken place. Casual use of the spell is frowned upon, for it is a violation of the subject’s inner being and privacy. It is because of the potential for misuse that those requesting to learn or in need of being taught must undergo a thorough examination of their character. It may be blocked through the practice of Occlumency. Given the proper circumstances and sufficient skill, it can be used at great distances, though face-to-face spell casting promises a better chance of success. The spell is cast through the intonation of the verbal component, Legilimens, accompanied by intent of the caster and the wand-gesture of thrust and lift,” Harry quoted from memory. He had studied the spell diligently since learning that he was to be trained in its use.
“Accurate, as far as description goes. Do you understand the theory, Harry?”
“I believe so, sir. I certainly know what it feels like to be on the receiving end.”
Dumbledore smiled benignly, and nodded again.
“And so you must learn how to properly cast the spell while at the same time maintaining your practice of Occlumency. So let us begin…”
The hours passed quickly, but the lesson took its toll on Harry, leaving him feeling as if he had just played a marathon Quidditch Match by the time Dumbledore called a halt. Ginny had sat by his side the entire time, encouraging him through smiles and whispered comments, and once volunteered to act as the spell recipient so Harry could practice. Wisely, Harry had averred, stating that if Ginny wanted to share secrets with him, she should do it in a non-magical way.
Dumbledore cast the Legilimency spell on Harry several times during the course of the lesson, to see if Harry was maintaining his vigilance in Occlumency. With a single exception, he had blocked the spell each time to Dumbledore’s satisfaction. The one time he failed to immediately ward the spell, Pigwidgeon’s arrival (bearing a letter from Hermione to Ron) had distracted him. He had eventually managed to break free of the enchantment, though at the cost of having memories of several illicit trips out of bounds on Hogwarts grounds revealed to the Headmaster.
Dumbledore, however, chose to ignore the breach of school rules, though he had mentioned reinforcing some of the guards and wards - “Just as you wish to have your secrets, Harry, the staff of Hogwarts wishes to have theirs, and for a better purpose. There is much you still have to learn, and there are reasons beyond your current understanding as to why such knowledge is withheld until the proper time.”
The elder wizard leaned back in his chair and sighed.
“We are in a war that I had hoped would be avoided, one that current circumstances leave little doubt in my mind that will be ongoing for some time. It is unfortunate that the fates have cast you in such a prominent role, Harry, and if I could do anything that would change that, I would.”
Dumbledore paused before continuing.
“You have prevailed over Tom Riddle’s efforts thus far, and it is a certainty that you and he will eventually face one another again. That is why you must learn as much of magic as you can, for he is a formidable foe. Nevertheless, remember--as much as he has outwardly changed, he is still human and prone to human foibles, mistakes that you can learn to exploit to your advantage. You have shown great promise in your studies, as well as loyalty and bravery, but that alone will never be enough. Learn to listen and rely on your friends and supporters, Harry--those with knowledge, those with wisdom, those who truly care and want you to succeed are all about you, ready to help when you need it most. Remember that, Harry.”
“I will, sir.”
“Good. I believe that is sufficient for this lesson, Harry, so continue to practice what you have learned. I shall return soon for your next lesson.” With that, Dumbledore Apparated away, leaving Harry and Ginny alone in the kitchen.
“That wasn’t too bad, was it, Harry?” asked Ginny, taking his hand and entwining their fingers lovingly.
“It could have been worse, if that’s what you mean. I feel worn to the bone,” he replied.
“So now you take a break and rest--and get your reward.”
“Reward?” asked Harry in surprise.
“Two rewards, actually. One for being successful with today’s lesson,” she stood, leaned over and kissed him on the cheek, “and the other --“ She sat down in his lap, wrapping her arms around his neck, her lips brushing gently against his, “--for just being you.”