The next day Remus and Sirius left. For a while Harry was silent; he took off on his Firebolt, and stayed in the air the whole morning after they went back to Dumbledore's business. But to everyone's relief, he talked that afternoon. He showed emotion, even if it was sadness. He got better. And for that last week at the Burrow, Harry improved under watchful eyes of the Weasleys, the careful encouragement of his best friends, and the hard work of the twins. Ginny remained a silent observer for the most part. She came in, almost unnoticed when Harry was at his worst. She made him eat, and unknown to the her family and Harry made sure he slept through the night.
She knew he was better. His nightmares decreased, and came less. On a couple nights that week they both slept through without any terrors interrupting. Harry looked - the best description would be to say - less haunted. The circles under his eyes had been fading slowly as he gained more sleep throughout the fortnight he spent at the Burrow.
The day after his godfather left, Hermione tried to get Ron and Harry to do some homework with her. Harry protested, a little weakly, but still a protest. Hermione was so happy that he seemed almost normal, she practically buried him, with her diving at him and hugging him, much to Ron's not so hidden displeasure. Hermione made up for it by jumping Ron next, and discarding all plans of homework, leaving both boys a little nonplussed at her behaviour. Ron was more subtle in his attempts to get Harry back to normal. He used Quidditch. And made sure Harry was continuously exhausted from playing constantly.
All in all it was a good week. Harry, Ginny, Ron, Hermione, the twins and Mrs. Weasley took a trip to Diagon Alley to pick up supplies. And by a mutual decision, they all avoided mentioning the Aurors who guarded them during the trip, ordered by Dumbledore to protect Harry. Molly Weasley had to be persuaded to let them out of her sight, but it Ginny who eventually convinced her, by insisting in a whispered argument that Harry needed normality more than anything.
Ginny went to do what she normally did on these trips, and left the three alone. But Harry, without saying much, or even outrightly asking, requested her to stay. Hermione, being generally smart and observant got his hints and invited Ginny to join them. Ron, rather uncharacteristically, didn't argue, and merely gave her a look, before leading the way by dragging Harry to Quality Quidditch Supplies, where the two stared at the latest model in the Firebolt for ages. Harry even showed some enthusiasm. Hermione made them all wait at Flourish and Blotts while she perused the new books, hoping to find an addition for her library, much to Ron's disgust, even if his complaining was rather exaggerated for Harry's sake.
Fred and George joined them at Madame Malkins and to both Ron and Ginny's surprise, and suspicions, insisted on buying both their younger siblings new dress robes. Ron would have interrogated the twins further, if he hadn't been so desperate to get rid of the lacy ones he wore the year before. Because of that he let the subject go after a few evasions by Fred and George.
Ginny, being less oblivious than Ron, noticed the subtle looks the twins gave Harry, and knew immediately what had happened. She thought about refusing, not wanting to accept charity from anyone, but determined not to let Harry remember the events of last year, she stayed silent, apart from pulling the twins into a quick whispered conference, while Hermione and Harry helped Ron choose new robes. It didn't take long for Fred and George to spill where they had received the money, and the one condition Harry had placed on it. Hermione had interrupted then, insisting that Ginny go with her so that they both could get new robes, and for once Ginny let herself be convinced.
Hermione chased Ron and Harry out the store so they wouldn't see the girls robes, muttering something about it being a secret. And then - to the shock of both boys - spent an hour trying on different robes before finally choosing two that they liked. It was particularly surprising since none of the boys were used to either Ginny or Hermione being typically girly. Fred and George complained constantly as they waited impatiently to pay. Ginny insisted that they wait to give advice, and much to the twin's disgust Ron and Harry got to visit the Quidditch store again.
Still the trip left everyone happier, more relaxed, and when it was time to leave for King's Cross Station a few days later, even Harry seemed less closed off and more like his normal self. Ron, Hermione, Ginny and the twins surrounded the boy closely, determined not to let anyone disturb the fragile peace Harry had obtained within himself.
The trip to Hogwarts passed quickly. People stopped by constantly to greet them, and just to show their support. The others noticed that Harry seemed surprised by this, almost if he had expected differently. This was especially true when Cho Chang stopped by, her eyes sad, her smile weak still from grief. For a second she paused uncertainly at the door to their carriage, while Harry watched her, his emotions shutting down again, and Ginny stood protectively close. Then Cho had spoken, and in a soft sincere voice thanked Harry for bringing Cedric home to them. It was as if a weight left Harry, in that moment. He had smiled softly at the raven haired girl, and expressed his sorrow at her loss. Cho had smiled back and left soon after, leaving the carriage quieter and more pensive than it had been before she had arrived.
That didn't last long... Ron, unhappy with the new atmosphere, started a Exploding Snap Tournament with Fred, and an argument with Hermione over studying for OWL's, for which Hermione had already begun a study timetable. It wasn't long before everyone was distracted; Hermione and Ron not talking, and Harry laughing. By the time they reached Hogwarts he seemed almost happy. Seeing Hagrid gesturing to the first years, and shouting a hearty hello, had him smiling broadly, and by the time reached the Great Hall, it was a completely different Harry that sat down at the Gryffindor table. Everyone there were already chatting excitedly about their summers, and the usual who-is-the-new-Defence Against the Dark Arts-professor discussion was active. That was solved almost immediately as a professor walked by the Gryffindor table, directly to where Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny were sitting.
"Hello!" Remus Lupin greeted.
"Remus!" Harry called excitedly, "What are you doing here?"
"You're the new Defence Against the Dark Arts professor, aren't you?" Hermione asked, in a knowing manner.
Ron and Harry waited for his answer. Ginny smiled at their anticipation, even though she felt the same way. She sent a grateful look to Professor Lupin, glad of his presence. Harry needed him here. Remus noted it, and gave her reassuring one back
"You'll just have to wait and see, like everyone else," Remus answered, smiling at the students.
Ron groaned. But the girls looked happy, they were sure Remus was going to be teaching them again. There wasn't anyone new at the High Table; as a matter of fact there were a few missing people. Professor Trelawney not being there wasn't much of a surprise, but Snape's absence was noted by all, and somewhat gleefully, with the exception of the Slytherins.
Professor Lupin continued towards the High Table and as his presence was spotted a loud cheering broke out - with a few Boo's from the Slytherins - as the school voiced their approval for the best Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher they had had to date.
The sorting ceremony went quickly, and soon it was time to eat. Ron immediately began shovelling food onto his plate, while Hermione delicately dished out hers. In the general excitement of being back at school, no one noticed Ginny pushing food onto Harry's plate before eating herself. No one except the twins, who exchanged a glance filled with unspoken thoughts, and Remus, who waited to see what would happen.
And so began the school year. It was all perfectly normal. No one would have known there was anything different from the previous years. That the wards around the school had been reinforced. Or that the summer had been a battle between the Ministry, and Dumbledore over the information that the Dark Lord had returned. Or that the atmosphere was already changing, filling with fear and dread of what was to come.
On this first day, everything was normal.
Time at school passed quickly. The fifth years in particular, were extremely busy. All the teachers had piled on the work, and homework was at an all-time high in preparation for the OWL's which they were to write at the end of the year. Snape had, much to the disappointment of the students (and the hidden relief of the trio, who despite themselves were worried about him) shown up in time for his first lesson, as mean as ever, even if he did look a little run down. Harry, Ron and Hermione had a hard time trying not to give into their usual hatred of the man, particularly since they knew he was probably out working for the Order. Still Snape made it difficult to like him, and seemed over the summer to have developed new loathing of Harry. It didn't help, of course, that Lupin was there as the Defence Against the Dark Arts professor, a job Snape had long coveted, now back in the hands of a man that Snape hated even more than Harry.
With all that, and Quidditch - which was back in full force - Harry had barely any time to think. With Oliver Wood gone, Angelina was made team captain, and while she wasn't as obsessed with the game as Oliver had been, she didn't take it easy on them either. Having missed a year of the game, she scheduled practice after practice, determined to get them all back into shape, and to train the new keeper, chosen in a whispered conference by all the team-members after a hectic try-out organized by Professor McGonagall. To the surprise of no-one but himself, Ron was chosen. And while he wasn't as good as Oliver initially, Angelina and the twins were determined he would be, after they were done with him.
They were of course subtle differences in the behaviours of the students. The Daily Prophet was read with trepidation every morning, as news of disappearances of various wizards increased, and breakfast was a much quieter event. Harry brooded a lot more, and Hermione and Ron surrounded him almost constantly. Malfoy, to the surprise of all the Gryffindors mainly stayed away from them all, apart from a few smirks in their direction, and the occasional comment. It seemed what happened on Hogwarts Express the previous year had made him more wary of approaching them. Despite Malfoy's uncharacteristic behaviour, the competition between the Gryffindors and Slytherin was now on a whole new level, almost if preparing for war. The two houses were barely civil to each other, and the Quidditch matches took on a completely new fervour.
Also new, if less noticed by all but the most observant of people, was Harry's behaviour towards Ginny, and vice versa. He seemed to have almost unconsciously (to Hermione at least - who was very observant - and the twins who in spite of their reputations as pranksters noticed a lot) memorised her schedule and organized his to fit in with hers. Ron (who had to be told these things, being rather oblivious in most matters))) Hermione, Fred and George had many meetings over the term discussing the two, and their unusual habits since the summer. How Harry would wait until Ginny showed up in the common room before leaving for meals, or the way she would wake up early on the mornings of their Quidditch practices and go down with the team, before sitting in the stands to watch them practice. Hermione had taken to accompanying her on those mornings, spending half the time watching Ron do impossible moves on his broom and the other half reading the books she always brought with her.
What was difficult to figure out was both Harry and Ginny's feelings about each other. Ginny, in particular, didn't seem to harbour a crush on Harry anymore, but instead appeared worried, more worried than she should have been from what they could tell. That, in turn, made them worry. As for Harry, he didn't even seem to notice his dependence on Ginny's presence in his life, from what they could tell. Neither spent more time talking to each other, or anything else. In fact, if it wasn't for the meals, it wouldn't even have been noticeable. Finally, the rather worried friends did what they did during the summer, and ignored the strange behaviour; by mutual consent refraining from mentioning it to Harry or Ginny or anyone else who wasn't family. It wasn't worth mentioning it, especially since Harry appeared to be a lot better. The haunted look in his eyes had disappeared for the most part, and the twins, Ron and Hermione made sure he was too busy to spend much time dwelling in guilt and grief. They were helped constantly by Remus Lupin, whose presence appeared to have provided significant relief to both Harry and Ginny.
Remus, on his part, spent time with Harry almost daily, and taking the unusual step of joining them at certain less crowded meals, making sure Harry knew that he had him to count on. With Sirius out of contact, and Harry's tendency to rush into life-threatening situations, together with his rather fragile state-of-mind, it was imperative that someone kept an eye on him. Remus took his job seriously. In addition, he began making sure that Harry, Hermione, Ron, the twins, Ginny and a few other of the more prominent members of the families fighting the Dark Forces were trained in duelling, insisting on increasing their knowledge of the curses and hexes used both in attack and in defence.
Before any of them knew it, it was time for Christmas. Mrs. Weasley invited everyone to the Burrow for the festival, and it was with great excitement that everyone packed to go. It was a two week holiday, and for the first time Hogwarts was to be devoid of students as everyone was leaving. It seemed, in these new dark times, all the families were determined to take advantage of seeing their children, and were reluctant to let any of them stay at school.
The Hogwarts Express was crowded. Not only was it full to capacity with students, the security around the train and the station had tripled since the previous year. With the renewed activity of the Dark Lord and his followers, no one was taking any chances. Aurors paced the length of the station and the train, their wands drawn as their watchful gazes remained wary and alert. It was hard to ignore their presence, but Harry, Hermione, and the Weasleys were well versed in having them around, and used to pretending that they weren't there. Still the guards made an impact, and without realizing it, they all became a little more vigilant now that the safety of Hogwarts was behind them.
As in September, two large Ministry Cars picked them all up, both coming with a driver and an additional Auror. An excited Molly Weasley met them at King's Cross Station, hugging all them a little desperately before rushing them into the cars.
Ginny and Ron were particularly excited to be going home. For the first time in a long time, all the Weasley children would be home for Christmas. When they finally arrived at the Burrow, Ginny jumped out the car into the waiting arms of Charlie, before she was passed along without ceremony to Bill, and then to Percy. Ron and the twins followed a little slower, if with equal enthusiasm, and Harry and Hermione got to watch what a Weasley reunion meant: a lot of back-slapping and loud animated voices all talking at once. The two non-red-heads watched from their position slightly apart from the Weasley family, a little amused and a little envious, until they too were dragged into the group.