Once again Harry awoke to the sound of raised voices.
It was becoming an all too familiar occurrence, and one that was both worrying as well as confusing. They were arguing about him, of course; it was always about him.
A less discreet place than the entrance hall of the house might exist, but he doubted it. The sound unerringly travelled all the way up the house’s wide staircase to the topmost landing and his bedroom. Why they couldn’t bicker in Black’s study or his aunt’s quarters he did not know.
Throughout his childhood, the adults in his life had fallen into two distinct camps: his aunt Bellatrix and everybody else. Despite her lack of official standing in his life, it had been she who had provided a refuge and, surprisingly, a shoulder to cry on when the world around him became too much for even his long-suffering soul to bear. She alone seemed to understand that the burden he was being asked to carry was too much for his young shoulders and that he needed seasons in, his life where he could experience something approaching normality. But now, well, that appeared to have changed.
He lay on his bed, staring at the ceiling, the angry voices rising and falling in noisy debate.
“Harry shouldn’t be going anywhere. He should be staying here where I can look after him, where he can regain his strength and he can take his true station in life.”
“It’s like falling off a broom, Bella, life goes on and Harry has to as well.”
“I can’t believe that you’re being so callous, Cousin, the boy needs to recover; the boy needs me.”
“I think that all that Harry needs is to be left alone to be himself.”
“Would that you had taken that approach when he was younger!”
There was silence, a fact that unnerved Harry. Black was normally very quick in justifying the way he had brought up Harry. Whatever regrets, if indeed there were any at all, his godfather had in respect to his upbringing, were buried deep inside away from the world’s prying eyes. Certainly Harry had not seen one hint of remorse from the man.
Harry heard a cough and then a barely audible response from Black: “Would that we both had had that choice.”
There was silence once again, and Harry pictured the cousins staring at each other in a battle of wills. Something had changed in both of them since he had returned from Hogwarts and he was still trying to work out if the change was permanent. The silence was interrupted by the arrival of a third whose lack of situational awareness belied her status as an Auror.
“Morning all,” announced Tonks in a manner more befitting The Bill than a member of wizard law enforcement, “Harry up yet?”
Normally Harry would be smiling at the arrival of Tonks. Her zest for life was contagious and the uneasiness he’d felt as his guardians squabbled about him would have disappeared as she’d stomped down the hall towards the stairs that led up to his bedroom.
But not today and not since Hogwarts. She too had changed and the once playful banter and friendly flirting that had characterised their earlier friendship had changed as she became more insistent and demanding of his attention.
After the obligatory pounding of her feet up the two flights to his room, his bedroom door was flung open and she marched into the room and yanked the duvet off his bed.
“Get up, lazybones!”
“Tonks! I could have been naked!”
She laughed and flung the cover into the far corner of the room.
“Are you saying that next time you need a bit of warning so you can prepare properly? I don’t usually go for morning sex, normally bursting for the loo, and I do like to brush my teeth before having a snog and all that. I’ll give you five minutes to get yourself sorted and we’ll have a quickie before we tootle off to Hogsmeade.”
This was the new game: how far could she push him until she either went too far or he gave in under her relentless assault? Or, as was more likely, he told her where to get off and Black had to find him a new partner.
Without thinking, he climbed out of his bed, pulling off his pyjama top and letting it fall to the floor. It wasn’t until he noticed where she was looking that he realised what he’d done.
“You know,” he mumbled, trying to ignore her actions, “I’m a man who likes to, er, take his time, so, I’m, er, afraid I’m going to have to pass for the time being.” He tried to laugh at his own joke, but the look in Tonks’ eye stifled the laugh before it got going.
She was still staring at his chest which she probably thought was a fair exchange as the top she was almost wearing was doing its best to draw his attention to hers. The silence was uncomfortable, especially when their eyes met and he could see that the last thing that she wanted to do today was leave his bedroom. Finally, he picked up the bathrobe that was draped over the end of his bed.
“I think I’ll go have my shower now, will you wait for me in the kitchen?” He turned, leaving her standing and walked slowly towards his bathroom. Only when he closed the door behind him did he hear her footsteps as she left his room.
As the water cascaded over his body, he let his forehead rest against the pristine white tiles letting out a cry of frustration as he did so. First Ginevra and now Tonks. Or was it first Tonks and now Ginevra? His nights were haunted with confusing and mainly erotic dreams. The woman who visited him each night was an amalgam of Ginevra and Tonks and, more disturbingly, his aunt.
He had surmised that Bellatrix’s appearance in his dreams were because she was the last person he saw before going to sleep each night. Ever since he had returned home she’d made a habit of checking on him after he had retired for the evening. Once or twice, the morning had brought vague memories of his waking in the night and finding her hand upon him, but things were so confused he could not remember whether or not he just dreamt it.
Ginevra, or at least her red hair, had been in every dream. Whereas the presence of his aunt was a confused memory that disappeared as he rubbed his sleep from his eyes, the touch of Ginevra’s auburn tresses on his skin as she had trailed kisses across his chest and down his abdomen lingered throughout the day.
Tonks had been a recent addition; her long legs and ample cleavage filled in the details of the mystery woman who rode him to a wet and messy climax every night.
But dreams were one thing; real-life was very different. Today, he and Tonks would visit Hogsmeade. They would go as partners and friends, not as lovers, but he knew that she at least wanted more. What did he want? Deep down he knew he still wanted Ginevra, but, as he’d reminded himself on many an occasion, she was no longer available to him.
He dressed slowly, knowing they had plenty of time to get to Hogsmeade. He had no desire to experience the argument that his departure was bound to cause between his aunt and godfather, and leaving at the last moment was the best way of avoiding the worst of it. Let them kill each other after he’d gone, he couldn’t care less. His residence chez Black was beginning to wear on him. The arguments, the strange dreams and the claustrophobic atmosphere were a burden he was less and less willing to bear. Perhaps it was a consequence of the breaking of the contract, but he now saw the world through different eyes and leaving his childhood home was becoming a more and more attractive proposition.
Satisfied everything was in place, he reached under his pillows and retrieved the thin strip of material that had been his most treasured possession since he had left Hogwarts. He lifted it to his nose and inhaled deeply. The preserving charm he had placed on it was still working and he smiled at the memories it stirred. The smile stayed with him as he tucked the fabric into his top pocket and left his bedroom to face the day.
It was a crisp, October morning with clear blue skies. There was a hint of frost in the air that gave freshness to the day and an extra crunch to the gravel beneath her feet. It was the type of morning that would normally have made Ginny feel glad to be alive, but not this morning. Since the day Potter had abandoned her in the school entrance hall, she had learned to loath the merest mention of the phrase ‘Hogsmeade Weekend’.
How foolish she now appeared, enthusing about the joys of visiting Hogsmeade when sat on the summer lawn by the lake with him. Until that episode in her life, trips to Hogsmeade had been perfunctory, with no more time spent in its environs than it took to acquire the necessary school supplies. In the heady atmosphere of his presence, the thought of walking arm in arm with him through the normally dull village had entranced her.
Now, the visit had all the appeal of repairing teeth the Muggle way.
She looked back at the castle, shielding her eyes against the low sun, surveying the damage resulting from Potter’s battle. It was far more extensive than she had first believed, and although it had been repaired, she could see the new slabs on the floor as clearly as if they were labelled as such.
Those few details that had emerged of the fight and could be confirmed claimed that towards the end Potter had caused the floor itself to rise up against his attackers. Such a display of power both shocked and pleased her and gave her hope that even though they had said their goodbyes, he would return and revenge the wrong that had been done to him.
For all their boasting, those who had been against Potter couldn’t deny that they had waited until he was at his weakest before attacking and then in such superior numbers that the outcome was never really in doubt. That it had ended such a close run thing was seized upon by those who, whilst far from admirers of Potter, had nonetheless wanted a stick to beat the mainly Slytherin group that claimed the victory for themselves.
After he had left, the school was awash with Aurors questioning everyone, including herself, but in the end no one was arrested and life continued as before. All of which struck her as odd. Was it beyond the wit of the MLE to discover the perpetrators of such a public act of violence? Given the intelligence of most Aurors, she concluded that it was. Still, Potter’s godfather surely would have kept the investigation going or had the discovery of the contract destroyed more than her relationship with Potter?
Of course, she was the one exception to the continuation of normality.
Life post-Potter had been both an eye opener and an annoyance. At first, she mourned his departure, longing for his touch regardless of what common sense or pureblood propriety demanded. And then, as the contract’s power over her had begun to wane, a steely determination to wrest control of her life had taken over. It was a determination that had been severely tested in the month since his departure.
There were days that she thought she would have been better accepting the contract as she struggled with the consequences of being her own woman. On the worst days, faced with the gamut of emotions previously denied to her, she had found herself longing for the simplicity of belonging to Potter. And when that longing became unbearable it was Potter’s own words that pulled her back from the brink:
“You are free to live and love according to your desires…”
Fine words, Potter, but why do you still stalk my thoughts and dreams?
Taking a deep breath, she trudged across the gravel, searching for the one person who perhaps despised this day more than her, Argus Filch.
Filch was in his usual spot, his shoulders hunched and his expression grim; his whole demeanour suggested a man who believed that enjoyment was a sin and an unforgivable one at that. His familiar perch was one where, according to Hogwarts tradition, he had stood every Hogsmeade weekend since the beginning of time, scrutinising the parchment in his gnarled hand.
His quest? To ensure that any child who had not returned the requisite parental permission slip was denied the pleasures of the weekend. At his feet, and sniffing the air for potential miscreants, was Mrs Norris.
“Good morning, Mister Filch.”
“Morning, Miss Weasley,” he replied, a rare smile gracing his face. “A bit nippy, but I dare say that things will warm up by lunchtime.”
The caretaker’s benevolent attitude towards her still confused her. It had begun immediately after Potter’s departure and whereas the man was still as cantankerous as ever towards everyone else, he treated her with still unnerving pleasantness.
“Expecting any problems?” she asked as Mrs Norris rubbed up against her legs.
“No, well, nothing I can’t handle. Isn’t a trick they’ll try that I haven’t seen before.”
“Well, I’ll leave you to prepare in peace, Mister Filch,” she said as she turned back to the castle. Pleased to have taken care of that chore, she now had to face up to another: going to Hogsmeade with Neville Longbottom.
Since Potter’s departure, the restrictions on members of the opposite sex being able to get close to her had vanished and she now found herself pursued by a number of boys, all of whom thought they were Merlin’s gift to women and none of whom she was remotely interested in.
Face it, Ginevra; no one is going to be able to compete with Harry Potter.
True as that was, it didn’t stop it annoying her that he had made such a lasting impression on her. She may have enjoyed the time she spent in his arms, but no woman wanted to feel that a man had that degree of control over her, especially one that she would likely never see again.
But this morning he wasn’t who was annoying her; Neville Longbottom was. Longbottom was her boyfriend in name rather than in practise. She hadn’t kissed him and only rarely did she allow him to even hold her hand. She had only agreed to go out with him because he was the only one she could stand to talk to for any period of time; that, and the fact that he could be trusted to keep his hands to himself.
She spotted him sitting at the Gryffindor table talking to her brother and Hermione Granger. Not the most inspiring of crowds but better than Dean Thomas and his unnerving habit of happening upon her in the most obscure parts of the castle.
She managed a smile before settling down beside him and grabbing a couple of slices of toast. With a bit of luck she’d be able to make her excuses and go back to the castle around lunchtime. She’d put the story around that she had unfinished homework and needed to get that done so that Sunday would be free for Quidditch practise. It was, of course, a lie, but the thought of spending a full day with Longbottom filled her with dread.
Patrolling Hogsmeade, post Voldemort, wasn’t the sort of assignment where you would expect to find an experienced Auror like Tonks or the Boy-Who-Lived, but when you realised that the Boy-Who-Lived was, in fact, an Auror in training awaiting the results of his first set of exams, and Tonks was his supervisor, things became a little more understandable. Add to that his continuing recovery from the effects of rewriting an incredibly complex and powerful magical contract, then it was, in fact, the perfect spot. Not that Harry’s condition was known to anyone outside of a select group of witches and wizards. Even Dumbledore had been denied the whole truth, a fact that had annoyed him greatly.
Still, there wasn’t much to do. Even the third years who normally got overexcited at some point on the day were treating the whole affair matter of factly. Whether it was because there would be another weekend in a month’s time or that the world in general was more relaxed these days, Harry wasn’t sure, but he was grateful for the peace and quiet, especially given his partner’s continuing erratic behaviour.
He had hoped that kicking her out of his bedroom earlier this morning would have served as enough warning that he wasn’t looking for the same thing she wanted. But the look she had given him before he’d kicked her out had left him in no doubt that she hadn’t given up and was still looking for more than he was prepared to give. And rather than cooling her down, things had got worse when they’d left the house. At every opportunity, she had closed any space between the two of them and kept making incidental contact with him at regular intervals.
A pat on the shoulder here, a shove in the chest there, behaving more like a fifth year encouraging a shy boyfriend rather than his professional partner. Finally, as the students started to filter into the village, she had bundled him into a gap between two shops and started to hug him.
“I just wanted to congratulate you,” she whispered to him as she pressed himself against him, “on passing your first year so quickly.” She held him close, her hand moving up and down his spine, travelling closer and closer to his backside with every sweep of her hand.
“You’ve had official confirmation?” He pushed her away gently. He had no wish to start an argument in the middle of Hogsmeade, but things were getting out of hand. “I understood that no results were due until Monday at the earliest.”
“Well, it’s not official but—” she moved to close the hug again but he kept his arms rigid and resisted her.
“Then it’s just rumour and conjecture.”
He knew that he’d passed all the training and the only thing in doubt was by how much, but this behaviour had to stop and he’d start the process now before something went seriously wrong. But apart from returning to the Ministry, what could he do? The last thing he needed was her reporting him for leaving in the middle of an assignment. What was the protocol on this? What were the rules? And then it occurred to him — the rules! It was a pretty lame way of telling her to go forth and multiply but at least if he did piss her off he could claim he’d done it by the book.
“As my Supervisor I am surprised you would ignore such a fundamental tenet of the rules of evidence: do not accept any information as fact until it has been corroborated by a minimum of two, but preferably three, separate sources. Failure to—”
“I know what the book says, Harry,” she replied smiling, “there’s no need to recite it back to me.” Her hand rested on his arm moving in a slow caress.
“On the basis of the evidence before me, I’d beg to differ.”
“Even though you’re the only source available?” she asked, still smiling at him and taking the opportunity to run her hand down his arm and rest on his hand.
“Where an Auror is the sole member of the DMLE, he or she is required to use their best judgement when assessing evidence as to whether it is best that they proceed alone or seek assistance. In matters—”
“I don’t remember your being too concerned with rules and regulations before.” She removed her hands from his arms and, ducking to release his grip on her, stepped closer to him.
“Voldemort didn’t play by the rules so neither did we,” he replied, trying to keep the tone serious. “And besides, I need to pass my exams.”
He wasn’t a great stickler for rules, especially when someone whose experience was limited had put them together, but he was looking for a way to distract Tonks from what she planning to do.
“And besides, I need to learn the rules before I can ignore them.” He smiled back at her, hoping that she would get the joke, but it only encouraged her.
“Well, I just wanted to say thank you.”
And with that she threw her arms around him like before, much to his embarrassment, especially when he heard a familiar voice behind him.
She had spent the morning window-shopping with Longbottom, wondering just how long she would have to continue the charade of being interested before she could return to the school. He would badger her to stay and enjoy herself, of course, but her decision to spend some time with Hannah Abbot and her friends had paid some unexpected dividends. Not only was Hannah a tolerable girl herself, but it appeared that she had an eye for Longbottom.
Now if only he’d do us both a favour and notice the girl.
They had just emerged from Honeydukes, where she forced herself to buy some Sugar Quills, when she caught sight of a telltale mane of unruly black hair as its owner disappeared around a nearby corner.
“Harry?” she said more to herself than anyone else. Conflicting emotions rose within her as the hope she would be able to meet him battled with her desire to stay put and leave their relationship behind her.
“Sorry?” said a confused Longbottom, looking around, trying to locate the source of her distraction.
Damn it, Potter! Why couldn’t you have given me a few more weeks? Instead, here I am acting like an eleven-year-old girl whose fantasy boyfriend has just arrived for breakfast.
For a few agonising moments she battled the excited little girl within before finally submitting. If nothing else she’d escape from Longbottom. She took a deep breath and turned to the boy. Struggling to contain her rising excitement she placed her hands on his shoulders.
“Neville, I’ve forgotten that I need to buy some more parchment. I’ll just pop back to Scrivenshaft’s and to meet you lot later at the Three Broomsticks.”
It was a poor excuse, but she didn’t care. Speed was of the essence and being plausible wasn’t going to get her anywhere. However, if she’d taken a moment to reflect on what she’d done, she would have realised it was the first time she’d initiated physical contact with the boy. Something he had noticed and, rather than fobbing him off and helping her escape, it had evidently encouraged him.
“I’ll come with you,” he said with a bright smile, taking a few steps towards her.
In a panic, she pulled her hands away from him, terrified that he would ruin the moment by trying to do something stupid such as kissing her.
“No, it’s okay, I won’t be long. And besides, I think Hannah still has some shopping to do before lunch.”
As if on cue the Hufflepuff smiled appreciatively at her before tugging on Longbottom’s sleeve. The boy turned towards Hannah, obviously bewildered by the sudden change in circumstances. Without waiting for him to respond, she seized her moment and dashed up the street in the direction she’d seen Potter disappear.
She quickly covered the thirty or so yards and arrived at the junction of the high street and the back road that led to the station. However, as she rounded the corner she found him in the arms of another witch.
“Oh,” she said lamely, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know that…”
Harry quickly shoved Tonks away from him, his anger causing him to be rougher than he’d intended. Tonks merely smiled at him and turned to face the newcomer.
“Miss Weasley, isn’t it?” Her voice sounded patronising and Harry could tell that the tone was intended to provoke Ginny as much as possible.
“Yes. Sorry, I thought I saw a friend coming this way,” she glared at him, her anger all too apparent, “but I must have been mistaken.”
“Yes, well…” began Tonks, but Harry seized the initiative.
“Really?” He stepped towards Ginny, meeting her glare with a smile.” Which direction were they heading?”
“I, er, I mean…” Ginny’s confusion was obvious and so Harry pushed on, hoping all was not lost.
“Perhaps they went up here?” He took a few steps back onto the high street, pausing to look around every couple of steps.
“I don’t know,” she replied starting to follow. Harry turned back towards her. “Let’s see if we can find them, shall we?”
“There’s no one up here, Harry,” declared Tonks, moving towards him and blocking Ginny’s path. “We checked, don’t you remember?”
She turned and addressed Ginny.
“Sorry, love, no one here but us Aurors.”
“Then it must have been one of you I was looking for.”
She smiled at Tonks, but Harry doubted that there was anything but animosity in the grin that now filled her face.
“Perhaps you were,” he replied nodding, “perhaps you were.” He smiled; a genuine smile now as he sensed the game that she was playing. As much as he had been attracted to the girl who had been delivered to him through the contract, standing in front of him was a vibrant young woman whom he had glimpsed through the mess of the contract. It was for her sake, rather than his own, that had led him to repudiate the contract and set her free.
He turned. “Yes, Tonks?” She stared at him for a moment, her face displaying her confusion as anger warred with disappointment. Eventually her training reasserted itself and she spoke.
“We should be patrolling the village. Students will be expecting the protection they’ve been promised, we can’t let them down.”
Harry wondered if she knew how empty it all sounded. The students no more needed their protection than Ginny needed to find some lost friends. He understood her motivation, but today had presented him with the opportunity to derail the runaway train of her emotions before he was forced to do so at wand point. He felt guilty doing it, but…
And it dawned on him; this wasn’t Tonks’s natural reaction to him, but was part of the fallout from the reworking of the contract, one that he hadn’t considered. At the heart of the contract was a commitment to marriage and, although the arrangement he had made with Arthur addressed the obligation owed to the Potters by the Weasleys, it didn’t deal with the marriage. How could he have been so stupid? No wonder Tonks had been acting so strangely!
His anger dissipated as he realised that the woman who had been his sole childhood friend stood there pleading with her eyes to choose her over Ginny.
“I think,” he began slowly, not sure quite what he was going to say and wondering whether it was possible to say anything that wouldn’t hurt or embarrass either witch. He was rescued from his predicament by the arrival of two students.
“Longbottom?” He stared at the boy, puzzled by his arrival. “What brings you here?” The boy had a girl in tow, Abbot, he thought her name was. Pretty in a homely sought of way, but the way her magic flared suggested that beneath the outward innocent appearance a more earthy personality was waiting to be explored by the lucky wizard she chose. And if he was correct, she had chosen Longbottom. Not that Longbottom appeared to have noticed.
One look from Ginny told him that Longbottom had set his sights on a witch who neither wanted nor needed his attentions. Although Ginny normally had a tight control on her emotions, her consternation at the boy’s arrival showed as her mischievous grin fell from her face to be replaced by a look of barely suppressed anger. Tonks, on the other hand, looked overjoyed.
“Hello… Miss Abbot?” Harry called. The girl behind Longbottom nodded quickly as she closed in on the errant boy. “Are you by any chance related to Horatio Abbot, the staff maker?”
It was a long shot, but he was desperate to make sure that the brewing confrontation did not get out of hand. From what he could see, Abbot had eyes for Longbottom, Longbottom had eyes for Weasley, but who did she have eyes for?
“Ginny! What are you doing here?”
“I… er …”
Obviously not Longbottom.
“Miss Weasley,” Harry interjected as she stumbled over her reply in a way that suggested what she really wanted to say would cause more trouble than it was worth, “wanted to discuss the security arrangements for today.” He knew that on a day of threadbare excuses this was probably the most transparent, but the three who really mattered — four if you counted the Abbot girl who was trying to have an eyes-only chat with Ginny — knew that didn’t matter and what really mattered was who ended up with whom when the dust settled.
“Security arrangements? I thought everything was okay now that Vold…er He Who Must Be Named was gone.”
“Well, mostly yes, but…” Harry paused and leaned toward the boy, “you can keep a secret, can’t you?”
“Well,” Harry began as if he was letting him to some great secret rather than spinning him a yarn worthy of the front page of The Quibbler, “we’d had certain information that… certain parties… were planning on doing certain things today.”
“And you shared this information with Ginny?”
“And not with the Head Boy?”
“There wasn’t time,” Harry nodded sagely.
“No, there wasn’t,” added Ginny, taking a few steps towards Longbottom, “but we can trust you to keep this secret, can’t we, Neville?”
Harry watched the boy blush and smiled as Ginny took a step closer to him. He was like putty in her hands and he knew that as long as Tonks kept quiet all would be well. He glanced over at her and shook his head slowly as she opened her mouth. She frowned but after he continued to shake his head, she relented and gave in. Perhaps she knew that the battle, and perhaps even the war, was over. Perhaps.
He turned back to Ginny, who was deep in conversation with Longbottom. She was smiling at him, but nodding at Abbot, who was looking hopefully at the boy. As Ginny moved away, Abbot slipped in and soon Longbottom was hers. Harry saw her magic flare and, as a dazed look came over the boy’s face, she wondered if the girl had succubus blood in her.
Eventually, the two newcomers turned away and began to walk back down the street into the centre of Hogsmeade. Harry watched them go, trying hard not to laugh at the wistful looks Longbottom began casting over his shoulder at Ginny. There was another flare of the girl’s magic and all interest in Ginny disappeared. He turned back to the witch beside him who took a moment to look back and mouth her thanks at Ginny.
Ginny stood open-mouthed as Potter shoved the woman away from him with a degree of roughness that gave her an unexpected amount of pleasure. But despite the roughness, the woman smiled at him and as Potter turned to face her, the smile turned to a smirk.
“Miss Weasley, isn’t it?” The woman’s tone was patronising in the extreme and, rather than provoke the angry outburst that she was looking for, it helped Ginny focus.
“Yes. Sorry, I thought I saw a friend coming this way,” she turned and glared at Potter, her anger at him undiminished, “but I must have been mistaken.”
The woman began to reply but Potter was too quick for her and seized the initiative.
“Really?” He took a few steps towards her, his quick smile surprising her. He almost looked hopeful, which made her both pleased and annoyed. She was so busy trying to work out what she really felt that she almost missed his question: “Which direction were they heading?”
She stumbled over her reply, cursing herself for acting in such a confused manner.
Anyone would think I still fancied him!
“Perhaps they went up here?” He took a few steps back onto the high street, pausing to look around every couple of steps.
“I don’t know,” she replied, starting to follow. Potter turned back towards her. “Let’s see if we can find them.”
“There’s no one up here, Harry!”
The woman moved towards Potter, an outwardly innocent move, but Ginny knew that it was intended to ensure that she stood between the two of them.
“We checked, don’t you remember?”
Was that desperation she heard in the woman’s voice?
“Sorry, love, no one here but us Aurors.”
What the Auror had intended to be patronising was just the encouragement she needed. Ginny understood that if Potter’s partner felt challenged, then a little bit of possessiveness was understandable, but this reminded her of a sparrow that had found a nice titbit trying to fend off a pigeon rather than a lioness roaring at her rivals.
“Then it must have been one of you I was looking for.” She gave the woman that innocent stare that told her that her bravado was all for nothing and the game was up. Potter, though, had watched and understood it all.
“Perhaps you were, perhaps you were.” There was a hint of laughter in his voice and a hint of a smile on his lips. He was staring at her, his eyes questioning as if his way of understanding the world had changed.
He didn’t respond immediately, but then turned, slowly, reluctantly.
The woman was visibly upset even though she tried her best to hide it. She was lecturing Potter about how they should be protecting the students from, well, whatever. Who did she think she was kidding? Really, she didn’t look like an idiot, but honestly! Potter looked like he wanted to pick her up and shake some sense into her. But then the tension went out his body.
“I think,” he began, but then, well, then, whatever he was going to say was lost as Longbottom gatecrashed the party. And like most gatecrashers he was as welcome as a Death Eater in a Muggle primary school. The only bright spot was that he had Hannah Abbot in tow and the girl was trying her best to get him to notice her. Harry’s partner looked like Christmas had come early. She ignored the conversation until Longbottom decided that her lack of attention had been unchallenged long enough.
“Ginny! What are you doing here?”
Ginny mumbled something as she tried to think of reply that didn’t involve telling him to piss off and leave her to work out what she really thought about Potter. The man in question, however, was reluctant to leave her to sort things out for herself and came up with some fart-arsed excuse that sounded worse than the drivel his partner had come out with earlier.
“Miss Weasley wanted to discuss the security arrangements for today.”
“Security arrangements? I thought everything was okay now that Vold… er He Who Must Be Named was gone.”
“Well, mostly yes, but…”
She laughed to herself. She supposed that some witches might be pleased that two wizards were vying for her attention, but she didn’t need this, she wanted time and space to ask her questions and get to the bottom of the whole mess.
Thankfully, the chance of any macho confrontation was receding rapidly. Potter was using the oldest trick in the book and she sighed as Longbottom was reeled in like Billy the Bass. Potter was whispering as if he was sharing a secret with a six-year-old.
“No, there wasn’t.”
She had joined in reluctantly, but she had a lot of thinking to do and nothing was going happen with a full house sitting in judgement. “…but we can trust you to keep this secret, can’t we, Neville?”
She knew there was one simple way to deal with this, and that was not by telling Longbottom the truth. So, she decided, she would pretend to take him in her confidence, flutter her eye lashes at him and generally get him believing that he was going to be the recipient of something she wasn’t going to deliver. One glance at Hannah told her that the girl understood where she and Ginny stood and that she knew she would be the grateful beneficiary of a Longbottom who was hot under more than his collar.
Now all she needed was for the Auror to shut up long enough for her to add the finishing touches. She moved away from the boy and with more synchronisation than she could have hoped for, Hannah Abbot moved in, brushing against him in such a way that all the blood rushed from his head and headed south. With a skill Ginny doubted even she had, the girl had Longbottom’s full attention as she whispered in his ear. She could almost feel the warmth of the girl’s breath as she drew Longbottom in and felt a tingle travel up her spine. She was in awe of the girl’s powers and wondered if there more to Hannah Abbot than the lusty witch she’d assumed she was.
As they turned away and headed back to the centre of the village Ginny noticed that Hannah’s bodice charm appeared to be failing in a way that Longbottom found fascinating. He still had enough left in him to look back over his shoulder at Ginny and she thought for a moment that her best efforts had failed, but as she felt a quickening of her pulse and a tingle that did more than excite her spine, he turned back to Hannah, all thought of his ex-girlfriend forgotten.
She wanted to stay and have a proper conversation with Potter, but whatever magic had been used on Longbottom had also affected her and she knew that she would have problems thinking clearly. Besides, it might have been Potter who had cast it and she knew she still had a weak spot as far as he was concerned. Best she went back to castle and calmed down before she did anything she would later regret.