Harry's first morning as a sixteen-year-old began with the sound of screaming. Ron had been awakened by an overly-full bladder and thus ran smack into a web of Gossamer wards, which he assumed in his groggy state to be spider webs. This, of course, meant that somewhere, probably on his person, a spider (or perhaps a gang of spiders) was present.
All of this, of course, was explained later, after all of the screaming had died down.
"AAAAAAaaaghhh! Harry!" Ron screamed, flailing at the air. "Whydja go and do that? I told her! I asked her! She said yes!"
Harry was sitting upright in bed, his wand clutched tight in his hand. "What are you on about, Ron?" Harry asked, his eyes squinting against the morning light.
"You put spiders in my bed, just like you threatened last night!" Ron accused.
"I did no such thing, mate," Harry replied. Then he blinked, and understanding began to rise like the dawn. "Oh, those aren't spider webs, Ron, those are Gossamer wards." Harry put his wand down and then flicked his hand in Ron's direction, cancelling the magic. Opening one eye wide while squinting with the other, Harry said, "You told who and asked who what?"
"Hermione," Ron replied, a blush spilling across his scalp. "Listen Harry, I'd love to chat, but I need the loo..."
Harry whistled at the door, which sealed itself with a stout locking charm. "Talk fast, Ron," he said wickedly.
"I told her how I felt about her," he explained as he squirmed and bounced from leg to leg. "Then I asked her if she would go to the All-Hallows Eve ball with me. She said yes. Now will you open this bloody door before I leave a puddle?"
Harry flicked his hand at the door, which unlocked with an audible click. Ron disappeared so fast that Harry wondered if he'd witnessed his friend's first Apparation.
"Well done, Ron, well done," Harry mumbled as he lay down, pulled the sheets up round his chin, and closed his eyes again.
An hour or so later, Harry woke again. Ron was making quiet sleeping noises, not quite snores, but not regular breathing either. As he rounded out of bed, a flood of memories came back from the previous day – and night. His human memories were mainly visual, but his canine memories were of sound and scent. The scent of the night air; the sound of Moony howling at the impossibly full moon; the chase that ended when the deer crashed through the security border; the hot breath in his face when Moony knocked him down to prevent him from following after the buck.
It had been an exhilarating, but increasingly odd, evening. The memories continued to flow: Moony whining and whistling as he licked Tonks' fingers, Tonks kicking open the wrong door on her way to Percy's old bedroom. Smelling her in the darkness, jumping up onto her bed and curling up against her small frame, only to be prodded awake hours later by a grim-faced Tonks who was bound and determined not to let him outside the house where he belonged, but instead wanted him in another room with another human. Finally, there had been the return to his proper frame, and Tonks' retelling of Molly's thoughts about his choice of accommodations.
After a stop in the loo, he dug out his battered flip-flops, slipped into his jeans and pulled on a polo shirt. The Burrow was prone to visitors at all hours, and he didn't quite feel bold enough to chance breakfast in his pyjamas.
Mrs. Weasley was bustling in the kitchen when he entered. "Harry, dear, good morning. I hear you had a late night," she said, looking up from the clipboard in her hand.
"Yeah, and an early morning too," he replied with a broad smile. "Ron is still pressing his pillow case. At least he isn't talking about her in his sleep again."
Molly paused for a moment, a smug smile passing across her face. "How long have you known, Harry?"
"That he fancied her? Since fourth year, I guess," Harry said, looking around for cups and plates. Turning to Mrs. Weasley, he began gesturing. "She's been talking to me," he said, holding out one hand, "he's been talking to me," he continued, holding the other hand out. "Evidently last night they decided to cut out the middleman and talk to each other," he said, bringing both hands together. "He asked her out to the All Hallow's Eve Ball."
"Another ball? How delightful!" Molly squealed. "Have you arranged a date yet, Harry?" she added with a sideways glance.
"Uh, no," Harry said flatly, trying to keep the sour expression from his face. He wandered to the cold pantry, retrieving a flagon of pumpkin juice and the remaining container of potato salad. "Is the potato salad fair game, Mrs. Weasley?"
"Oh, Harry, let me fix you a proper breakfast," Molly protested.
"You've been cooking for days, and besides, I've been cooking breakfast at the Dursleys' for years," he protested.
"You know your way around the kitchen?" Molly asked with a bit of surprise.
"A Muggle kitchen – and yes, as long as we're talking about breakfast or lunch – I might know how to cook two or three things for dinner, but that's it. But breakfast? How hard is it to screw up eggs and toast?" Harry asked rhetorically. "I like to eat, therefore I cook," he said sagely.
"There are a couple of scones left in the basket," Molly said pleasantly. "Tonks made them this morning before she went to work."
"She's gone?" Harry asked.
Molly nodded. "She took Remus back to Grimmauld Place about an hour ago. Poor thing, he could barely swallow the draught I made for him. Speaking of which, how are you faring?"
"Other than being a bit shy on sleep, I'm good. My transformation is a lot less painful than what Remus goes through every month. I don't think Ginny is going to care for it when she wakes up, though," he said slyly.
Molly arched her eyebrow.
"I think I was shedding last night," Harry said sheepishly.
Molly cleared her throat. "Uh, yes," she said with difficulty. "Harry dear, you'll find a note in your Passbox. After a very long and tiring discussion, Arthur saw things my way," she said, looking intently at a spot above Harry's head. "You have our blessing," she said quietly.
"This does not extend, however, to repeating your sleeping arrangements from this morning – shedding or otherwise," Molly said, her eyes twinkling.
"I understand," Harry mumbled as he reached for a scone. Why do I feel so busted?
The sound of the fireplace igniting distracted him as he poured a glass of juice. He glanced at the clock – all the Weasleys were accounted for, minus Percy, whose hand was now labelled "in exile." Ron's hand, along with Ginny's hand, pointed to the spot on the face marked "at home-asleep." Molly moved to the living room, answering the raspy call that issued out of the fireplace. After a brief bit of unintentional eavesdropping, Harry identified the voice as Hestia Jones.
"Molly, I need you here, sooner would be preferred to later," she croaked before lowering her volume to the point that Harry couldn't understand her without pressing up against the doorframe. He walked over to the stove instead, and wondered how it was operated without knobs or controls of any sort. This could be a challenge.
Molly re-entered the kitchen, laying her clipboard on the table as she removed her apron. "Harry dear," she said, "I've got to go to Order Headquarters. You can manage breakfast for yourself and make sure that Ron and Ginny get something to eat before they hare off out of the house?"
"Uh, sure, Mrs. Weasley," he replied.
"Your minder is in the garden. She'd probably appreciate a fresh cuppa. I'll be back around lunchtime," she said, pulling a small mirror from the drawer next to the sink and checking her hair before she picked up her clipboard. Moments later the sound of the Floo flared again, leaving the house in silence.
Harry had forgotten how peaceful the herb garden was in the early morning, the leaves still bowed down with glistening dew. He walked out to the bench underneath the pear tree, one of two trees at either end of the garden.
"Good morning, Ms. Laurel," he said, hoping to not take her by surprise.
"Morning, Harry. How is it to be back on two legs?" she asked with a chuckle.
"Not bad," he replied, shaking his hand with an equivocal gesture. "I still have the occasional urge to take a leak on some of the trees, but I'm sure that will pass," he said with a grin.
"I've missed you, Harry. I'd certainly rather ride with you than go over any more of these blasted ledgers," she said, pointing to a stack of leather bound books spread out across her lap.
"Eat yet?" he asked.
"Care for some more coffee?"
"Bless you, child, that would be lovely."
"Know how to work a magical stove? It's not covered in Charms class," he said, sheepishly. I hope I don't look too pathetic.
"I might," Laurel temporised.
"I know how to cook, Ms. Laurel, I just need a spot of help getting the stove started."
"I think I can tear myself away from these spell-binding tales of credit and debit long enough to share some practical education. How's your lady friend?" she asked.
Harry considered giving an evasive answer, but figured that Laurel would see right through him. "She's asleep, I guess. Yesterday was such a zoo that we didn't get much time to talk."
"Who needs to talk? I saw the way you two were looking at each other last night at dinner," Laurel said, shoving the ledgers into a large canvas tote bag.
Harry didn't respond, turning on his heel to return to the kitchen.
There were plenty of eggs in the cold pantry, but not much bread. Harry had finished the last of Tonks' scones while looking for the makings of breakfast. Laurel suggested buns or more scones, pointing to a richly illustrated cookbook when he asked if she knew how to make either. With a bit of grumbling, Harry thumbed the book open and found the scone recipe, concluding that it wasn't much more difficult than a third year Potion assignment. With Laurel's instruction he ignited the oven, setting it to pre-heat while he assembled the ingredients. He'd helped Jasmine make yeast rolls once, so he figured he could pull this one off too. After a bit of confusion, the first batch went into the oven as he fired up the stovetop to cook some scrambled eggs. While the eggs were cooking he started the second batch of coffee, all under the watchful gaze of Laurel, who was scanning the inside page of the Daily Prophet. "Smells like breakfast, Harry," she said before returning back to the newspaper.
"Yeah, well, the real challenge is getting it all done at the same time – I just started getting the hang of that late last year with simple breakfasts at the Dursleys'," Harry said, as he pulled the drawer open, looking for a hot pad. In a flurry of activity he pulled the first batch of scones out of the oven, gave a final stir to the eggs before removing the pan from its burner, turned down the coffee and started lifting the scones from the cooking sheet to cool on a wire rack.
Laurel began clapping politely. "Bravo," she gushed. "Coffee, scones, eggs – all done at the same time. My boy, some day you're going to make a lucky witch very happy."
Harry stuck out his tongue, pulled a mug from the dish cupboard and poured a fresh mug of coffee.
"My Winston was the cook in our family when we were first married," Laurel said. "I didn't really learn how to cook much of anything until after he was gone," she said wistfully while she poured fresh coffee into her tumbler, pulling a scone from the rack.
Harry said nothing, tumbling eggs out of the frying pan and into a covered bowl, carefully placing a warming charm on the bowl before he found a lid that matched the bowl. He looked over his shoulder at Laurel. "Is the Ministry still watching the Burrow for underage magic?"
"Bill will be taking down the wards on the border tonight, after dinner; after that he'll be mucking with the Anti-Apparation wards and goodness knows what else. That's Order business, not Auror business," she said, slurping some coffee. "He did mention that Malfalda's sensors would be working again after the changes though, not that that will help any. The poor old biddy, she's got no staff and what with all the dark magic going on, there's lots of students home from school, practicing defensive magic. Her alarms are going off left and right."
"What dark magic?" Harry asked, hoping that his voice sounded calm.
Laurel held up one finger, having just crammed a large bite of scone into her mouth.
She swallowed, and then she sighed. "I suppose you have a right to know, maybe more than anyone else. Most of the Dementors have left Azkaban, the Ministry doesn't know whether or not to trust the ones that remain, and the Aurors are spread thin. The Death Eaters are recruiting and training – Intel says that at least a dozen have taken the Mark in the last month, although I'd hazard that the number was higher, much higher. No big operations just yet, but there are enough hit and run skirmishes that the Ministry is truly running scared and looking more and more incompetent with each passing day. Fudge, God bless his incompetent soul, is finally letting the Aurors cooperate with the Order, but he's still trying to keep any bad news from escaping into the public domain, like that's going to help anything." She snorted dismissively, and asked, "Is that more than you wanted to know before breakfast, Harry?"
Harry drank a quick swig of coffee. It tasted terrible, as he wasn't used to drinking it black just yet. "It's always better to know, Ms. Laurel. I've had enough of being in the dark."
"I imagine you have," she said sadly, "I imagine you have."
Breakfast was a quiet affair, munching scones, drinking coffee, and wiping up the last bits of egg from the plate with the last piece of scone. Without speaking, Laurel stood and cleared the table, stacking the dishes in the sink. With a complicated series of wand swishes on her part, the dishes began to clean and dry themselves, standing at attention in the dish rack by the sink one by one. Laurel then claimed the end of the kitchen table, spreading out two of the ledgers from her book, making notes in the margin with a long sharp pencil.
There was a loud thud from upstairs. Laurel looked up at Harry, who raised an eyebrow but kept on with his labours, putting the last batch of scones into the oven. The upstairs toilet flushed, there was the briefest sound of running water, and then Ron came bounding down the stairs, making as much racket as a crate of Bludgers being poured down the stairwell from the top step. He was dressed, somewhat, in pyjama trousers and a fresh t-shirt, having changed from his clothes of the day before. He grabbed a plate and fork from the dish rack and began scooping eggs onto his plate while he eyed the cooling scones.
"Morning, Harry, Ma'am," Ron said with the briefest of nods before shoving a forkful of eggs into his mouth. He reached for a scone, but paused halfway. "Your bed was empty this morning when I came in – where did the blonde dog sleep last night, Harry?"
Harry leaned back against the countertop, cradling his coffee mug. "Me? I was in bed with your sister."
Ron coughed furiously, spraying bits of scone and scrambled egg across the table. Harry poured some water for him, which Ron gulped down with abandon. "Blimey, Harry, you don't waste much time, do you? And here I thought I was ahead of you!"
"It's not like that, Ron," Harry smiled. "I was just winding you up. I came home with Moony before he transformed. Tonks took him to Percy's room so that he could transform in safety, and I kipped on the foot of Ginny's bed. I was a dog, all right? I'm not even sure she knew I was there. Tonks woke me up a couple of hours later, moved me to your room, and transformed me back, full stop, end of story."
"Pity that," Ron said, reaching for another scone. "It could make for some great stories at the next family dinner. I could get a t-shirt printed up: 'I slept with Harry Potter on his Birthday – what did you get him for a present?'"
"G'morning everyone," Ginny said with a yawn. "Now who would be wearing that t-shirt, Ron?"
"Ginny, you're up," Ron said with a bit of panic in his voice.
"Yes, I'm up. Now what's with this bloody t-shirt?" Ginny asked with a note of exasperation as she poured coffee with her left hand while raking her hair back with the fingers of her right hand. "Who slept with Harry last night?"
Her voice had a raw edge to it that Harry found a bit frightening. He was certain that she was seconds away from serious Wandless magic– the air bristled with energy. "Uh, Ginny," he said hesitantly, trying to reach his wand on the countertop without raising too much suspicion. "You did."
Ginny's eyes widened for a moment before she staggered over to Harry, hooking her thumb into his belt as she bowed her head down until her forehead rested on his chest. "Thank goodness," she exclaimed. "I had the most lurid dream that I was sleeping with a large stuffed animal – it was quite nice actually, but rather much unlike any of the dreams I've ever had before, which is saying something."
Harry put one arm around her waist, marvelling at how right it felt to be this close to her. "Uh, you're not mad?" he asked quietly, wishing that he could have a bit of privacy just then.
Ginny stepped back one pace, looking up into his eyes. "No, Harry, I'm not mad. I trust you. Just - just wake me next time, okay?" she said with a wink. Turning aside, she plucked a plate from the dish rack, loading it with a healthy portion of eggs and two scones. Standing on tiptoe, she snagged a juice glass from the dish cupboard and within moments she was eating her breakfast while perusing the front page of Laurel's now abandoned Daily Prophet.
Harry was trying to figure out the mystery that was Ginny Weasley (with very little success) when his train of thought was derailed by the by now-familiar sound of the Floo fire igniting from a call initiated on the other end. A male voice rang out tentatively. "Molly? Arthur? Is this thing working?"
Ron dropped his fork and ran from the table so fast that his chair tipped over. It would have smacked into the floor but for a quick save by Ginny, who looked up at Harry, then at Laurel. "It's Mister Granger."
"Maybe he's reconsidering," Harry said with a smirk.
"What are you on about?" Ginny asked.
"Oh, sorry – a lot has happened since we last had a chance to speak – Ron went home with Hermione last night," Harry began.
"Did he sleep with her?" Ginny interrupted with an impish grin.
"No, he's much less forward than his famous friend," Harry replied sardonically. "I didn't get all the details, but evidently he asked Mister Granger if it was okay to take his daughter to the All Hallow's Eve dance at Hogwarts this upcoming term."
"We're having a dance this fall? Never mind that - what happened?" Ginny asked indignantly.
"What happened is that Mister Granger made him play Table Tennis--that's a Muggle game. Ron had to beat him before he'd say yes," Harry said with a snigger.
"You know," Laurel said from the end of the table, looking up over small reading glasses, "that is terribly romantic in an awkward sort of way."
"And?" Ginny repeated. "You definitely don't know how to tell this story, Harry Potter," she said, shaking her head.
"Ron played twenty-one games of Table Tennis until he finally won a game. Mister Granger gave his permission and Hermione said yes," Harry said, picking up a scone to nibble on as he cleaned up the last of his baking mess.
"Yes!" Ginny shouted, thrusting her fist into the air as her feet beat out a happy tattoo on the kitchen floor. "Go Hermione! Go Ron!"
The Floo gasped again as the connection closed. The stairwell echoed with the pounding of Ron's feet as he clambered upstairs. Within a minute he was back downstairs in the kitchen, dressed in jeans and a coloured t-shirt, carrying a pair of socks and his trainers. "Where's Mum?" Ron asked.
"She's at Headquarters," Harry replied.
"Blast, I hate calling there by Floo – unless someone's in the kitchen, you can yell all day and no one ever hears you," Ron grumped. "Here's the way it is, mate," he said, looking up at Harry while slipping his socks on and tying his trainers, "Hermione and her mum are out doing the Muggle Dentist thing – I guess Hermione is helping out at the office. A pipe has burst in their basement and Mr. Granger needs some help fixing the pipe and cleaning up – so that's where I'll be. Tell Mum when she calls next, will you?" Ron said, snagging another scone from the rack.
"Oh, Ron, what a dutiful boyfriend you are, coming to the aid of your future father-in-law in his time of need," Ginny gushed, giving Harry a wink.
Ron didn't rise to the bait. "Yeah, brilliant, isn't it?" he said before he ducked out of the kitchen. Before Ginny could come up with a retort, the sound of the Floo igniting let them know that her brother was already gone. Ginny finished her breakfast, looking carefully at her plate, at Harry and at the accumulation of dishes in the sink.
"You made these?" she asked, waving her hand at the basket of scones.
"Yeah – we were out of bread, so I couldn't make toast," Harry explained.
"They're marvellous. Mum's scones are either plain or just raisins – she's never combined peaches and cinnamon," Ginny observed.
"Yeah, well, I couldn't find your raisins," Harry said, throwing his hands up.
"Mum hides them in the cellar," Ginny replied.
"Mum has a serious thing for raisins. When she's nervous she'll start eating them like crisps, one after the other. I watched her do two pounds in an evening, waiting for Bill to come home from a date. Stupid bint dumped him that night – Mum made an enormous batch of hot chocolate when he finally got home and then shooed me off to bed. I never got to hear the really juicy details when they were fresh and his resistance was low," Ginny said.
"Wouldn't that have been well past your bedtime?" Harry asked.
"Being the youngest and the only girl has its advantages, Mr. Potter," Ginny said with a wiggle of her eyebrows. "When she gets all wound up, she often forgets things like bedtime, or chores. Speaking of which, I need to get into the shower now that my brothers are not likely to chase me out of the bathroom, after which I'm sure that Mum has left me a chore list. Am I still helping you open your bin of presents?"
"Uh, yeah, sure. Actually, I'd forgotten all about it," Harry said.
"I didn't," she said, flashing him a brilliant smile before she twirled around and darted up the stairs.
Harry surveyed the kitchen, figuring out what needed to be washed and put away when he heard a cough in the back of his consciousness.
You're awake, you're fed, may we talk now? Or do I have to wait until after you've groomed yourself?
Uh, we can talk. What's up?
What's up? What's UP? Wretched Mammal, I'll tell you what's up! I was not aware that your kind could transform into different creatures. I can touch your mind and access your magic when you are a human, but I can not touch your mind when you are a dog! It took me most of the night to figure out how to form enough of a link that I could tap into your dog consciousness sufficiently to see the outside world. You scared the scales off me, Harry. No magic, no contact with my host, and no way of knowing what was going on outside of you; I didn't like that one bit.
I'm sorry; I didn't know that would happen. The last time I was transformed, you weren't living inside my head.
What if you had been attacked? I couldn't DO anything. Do you know how helpless that made me feel?
Look, I said I'm sorry – I didn't know that would happen. I should have warned you or something. Will you forgive me?
Of course – I – I am sorry, Harry, it's not my place to berate you, but I was truly frightened when I couldn't touch your mind. Let me change the subject – what's all this fuss about nesting with your Krulach?
Uh, she's not my Krulach, for one thing, and – uh – nesting - that's something our kind reserves for a more intimate, committed relationship.
You're committed to your dogs?
No! Not that, I mean two humans, a male and a female. Let me see if I can put it into Dragon terms – you wouldn't mate with anyone other than the one that marked you.
No, I couldn't. And even if I could, it would be indecent.
Well, that's kind of how it would be perceived if I were nesting with a female – unless we were recognized as belonging together, it would be seen as indecent.
Yet you were grooming each other just now in the kitchen.
Yeah, well, that felt odd too, wonderful, but odd. It was bad enough that her brother was right there, but my minder was there too.
There's hope for you, Harry.
Laurel had returned to her bench in the garden, jabbing notes into the margins of the ledgers, dog-earing a page here and there. Whatever the project was, she seemed to be resigned to finishing it, taking breaks from time to time to look at the magical map of the grounds surrounding the Burrow. Harry was cleaning up the kitchen, putting the last of the dishes away in the dish cupboard when he heard the upstairs shower stop – Harry had no idea what she'd been doing all that time – he reckoned that she was pretty small, therefore she shouldn't take long in the shower. He concluded that it probably wasn't a healthy thing to be pondering when he heard the Floo ignite, again.
"Ginny? Come to the Floo, I need to talk to you," Molly called.
Harry went into the living room to see Mrs. Weasley's face in the middle of the dancing green flames. "She's not available right now, Mrs. Weasley," he said, hoping that he didn't say anything awkward.
"What do you mean, Harry?" Molly asked with a quizzical expression.
"I just heard the shower stop – I think she's getting dressed. Would you like me to go roust her?" Harry asked with a barely raised eyebrow.
"No, that's all right," Molly said, pulling a sour expression. "Listen, Harry, all the family," Molly interrupted herself after wincing. "All the family but Percy is coming to dinner tonight. I was supposed to be cooking with Ginny today, but some Order business came up, so I was wondering if you'd have the time to call them all by Floo and send them my regrets."
"As in cancelling the family dinner?" Harry asked.
"Exactly," Molly answered.
Harry pondered this for a moment. "Might I make a suggestion, Mrs. Weasley?"
"Ginny and I can cook tonight's dinner – it won't be as fancy or as good as one of your meals, as after all, you're the best, but at least you could still have a family dinner," Harry suggested.
"That's not necessary, Harry dear," Molly protested.
"Please?" Harry wheedled.
"Why is this so important to you, Harry?" Molly asked.
"Your family is important to me – who knows when you can get them all together again? Besides, it will give me – it will give me some time with Ginny," Harry stammered.
Molly gave a crooked smile. "All right, Harry. Dinner is still on for 7:00 sharp – eight Weasleys, one Potter, one minder and one fiancée," Molly said, ticking off the dinner guests on her fingers.
"So, if Ron's there, I should cook enough for thirteen or fourteen people?" Harry asked.
"I've never had a problem with leftovers, Harry," Molly said, the corners of her eyes wrinkling as she smiled.
"Right then," Harry said, "anything else?"
"Yes," Molly said as she turned away to say something to someone behind her, causing her head to disappear from the green flames briefly. Her head popped back into the flames. "Let Ginny know that the usual morning chores need attention, along with laundry – oh, fiddlesticks! You'll have to talk to your minder about shopping – I'd meant to do it this morning, but we're fresh out of a lot of things," Molly moaned.
"No problem, Ms. Laurel's cool – I'm sure we'll work everything out, Mrs. Weasley," Harry said confidently.
"Thanks, Harry, this means a lot to me, not having to cancel the family dinner," Molly said.
"Sure thing, Mrs. Weasley," he said, but the Floo connection had already broken; he was now speaking to an empty fireplace.
When Ginny came down the stairs, hair still wrapped in a towel, Harry was a bespectacled dervish in the kitchen, opening and closing doors and drawers, writing notes on a scrap of parchment from time to time.
"Potter, what are you doing?" Ginny asked as she pulled the towel off of her hair and began attacking the ends with a broad-toothed comb.
"Looking," he replied.
"For what?" she asked, her voice sharp.
Harry looked at her from behind the door to the dry pantry. "For ingredients," he said in a voice reminiscent of their Potions instructor. "Weasley," he added with a scowl, "Ten points from Gryffindor for not knowing." For a moment, Ginny felt small and afraid until Harry sniggered and smiled at her.
Harry ran his fingers through his hair, looking like he was searching for words.
"Your mum called just after you got out of the shower – I offered to go get you, but she said I could just take a message instead," Harry said with a deadpan expression.
"It was kind of you to offer," she said.
"Harry exists to serve, Ma'm," he said in a squeaky falsetto, dropping a clumsy curtsey similar to Winky when she was inebriated.
Ginny picked up a towel from the dish rack and snapped it at him.
"Stop it! I much prefer you as a boy, but if you're dead set on being something else, you weren't bad as a dog either," she snapped.
"Uh, thanks, I guess," he said.
"So," Ginny said, reaching back behind her head, pulling her damp hair into a ponytail. "What did Mum have to say?"
"What?" Harry said in a distracted fashion.
"Mum," Ginny said with a knowing smile. "What – did – Mum - say?" she asked, enunciating slowly and clearly.
"Oh, yeah, right, sorry," Harry stumbled. "Mum's out on some sort of Order business and won't be back until just before dinner. I'm to help you take care of the usual chores, whatever that might entail, and then we're making dinner for your family tonight," he said, squinting slightly as he laboured to recall the now-distant Floo conversation with Mrs. Weasley.
"Are you mad? We're making a family dinner?" Ginny fumed. "Harry, I can't cook," she protested.
"Nonsense – you can cook – I've eaten your ginger biscuits," he said confidently.
"Harry, let me make a fine distinction for you – I can bake a few things, but – I - can't – cook, understand?" she said as she began pacing in the kitchen. Turning on her heel, eyes blazing she said, "You volunteered us for this, didn't you?" Harry nodded mutely. "May I ask why?" she said coolly.
"Your mum was going to cancel dinner otherwise," he said.
"So?" Ginny asked rhetorically. "Gred and Forge and Charlie and Bill certainly won't starve if Mum doesn't feed them tonight."
"That's not the point," Harry said, pushing his fingers through his hair again. "Look, do you have any idea what I'd pay to get a chance to eat dinner with my family? I'd give up Quidditch and Hogwarts and every last coin in my family vault at Gringotts. You Weasleys don't know how good you've got it," he fumed.
Ginny stood silent, rubbing her cheek as if she'd been slapped. Flipping her ponytail back, she straightened her back and took a deep breath. "Right then. What fine things are we making for this dinner?" she asked, tossing her towel onto the stairs.
The two teenagers had a hurried discussion of the night's menu, which resolved itself based upon the ingredients at hand: spaghetti, a green salad from what was available in the vegetable garden, green beans and peach cobbler. A brief wheedling session later, they'd convinced Laurel that she could step into town to pick up the few ingredients that they lacked upon the promise that they'd stay within the confines of the house while she was away. They made a chore list and divided the labours upon the condition that Harry add opening his presents to the list of chores. That chore they did together after lunch, while Laurel was in town.
They divided the gifts into piles: Gryffindor students, other students, and non-students. The non-student pile was smallest. Harry picked up a square box, reading off the information on the outside for Ginny to record on a notepad, for subsequent thank-you notes. Ripping off the paper, the box was a stack of small flat plastic boxes. Harry fanned them out for a moment, looking at the pictures and printing on the boxes.
"What are those, Harry?" Ginny asked.
"Compact disks," he said, opening one of the boxes, pulling out a shiny rainbow coloured circle.
"Okay, they are small. What do they do?" she asked inquisitively.
"They hold music," he explained.
"Really?" Ginny asked, picking up another of the boxes. "How do you let it out?"
"How do you let the music out? Do you break them like eggs or what?" she asked.
Harry snorted, "You're doing how well in Muggle Studies class, Ginny?" pulling back his hand in time to avoid a not-so-gentle smack. "There's a machine that goes with the disks that reads the music stored on the disk. You can play the disk over and over again as many times as you want while the machine plays the music."
"Brahms, Bach, Beethoven, Byrd, Chicago, Handel, Vivaldi, some group called Steely Dan, the Beatles, Rachmaninov, the Weird Sisters and Mozart," Ginny said, reading off the labels. "I'm not getting a theme here, Harry."
"It's quite obvious – the music is from Uncle Moony and Tonks," Harry explained, sorting the disks out into two piles.
"Hey, if Tonks can crush on Mozart, Uncle Moony is allowed to listen to something written in this century too," he said.
"Bewitch me, I never knew," Ginny murmured.
"Yeah, it's always the quiet ones you have to watch out for," Harry said.
"Which one likes the Beatles?" she asked.
"As far as I know, they both like the Beatles, but for the most part, Moony fancies composers who have been good and dead for a while. When we were out taking a walk once, he sang me some songs from the Yellow Submarine album. I guess you would have had to have been there, but it was a real hoot at the time," he replied.
Not surprisingly, the next package contained a small CD player with headphones and a slightly larger machine with built in speakers. There was a note enclosed indicating that both machines were charmed so as to be able to work in magical environments. Moony's lean, neat script concluded with an admonition to "surround yourself with beauty." Below that in a left leaning block print was advice from Tonks to the effect that he should "kick back and let 'er rip." Harry read the note aloud, chuckling when he finished.
"Well, that shouldn't be too hard today," he said, giving Ginny a wink.
"What?" she asked.
"The surround myself with beauty part," he said with a smirk.
Mister Potter, are you flirting with me? Ginny thought to herself.
The next package was yet more CDs, this collection largely, but not entirely, Muggle bands from the 1980's and 1990's, along with an odd disk here or there that leaned more towards Moony's tastes.
"It must have been a scream watching them shop together," Ginny observed.
"You think they did this together?" Harry asked. "Yeah, they probably did. They're fun when they're together. I went out with them one night last month, I didn't figure out until afterwards that I was supposed to be the chaperone," he said.
"Did they need one?" Ginny asked with a giggle.
"Not as far as I'm concerned. I did accidentally catch them snogging in the library. It didn't bother them in the least, which is good, I guess."
"Do you mind?" she asked.
"Heck, no! I think they are good together – you know, in a sweet-and-sour kind of way; black and white; water and fire; yin and yang; studious werewolf and raging party witch. As far as I see it, the only drawback is that if they end up together permanently, I'll probably have to call her 'Auntie Tonks.' But heck, I got used to 'Uncle Moony', so I'm sure I can weather that transition too."
"You don't like change, do you?" she asked suddenly.
Harry was silent for a while. "No, I don't. The only change I've ever welcomed is leaving the Dursleys' house.
"But you've been changing a lot," she said.
"I reckon I have been changing – that's the good part about hitting the bottom," he said.
"I think they are serious," Ginny observed.
"Who? The Dursleys? Yeah, they're seriously committed to letting me know that I'm a blight in their otherwise blissful existence," Harry complained.
"No, you pillock," Ginny said, giving his arm a stout punch. "Lupin and Tonks. They've been taking a class together on Thursday nights at St. Simon's," Ginny said.
"What class?" he asked.
"Something called Alpha," Ginny said. "Tonks was talking to Kingsley Shacklebolt on our Floo one night, trying to figure out some dates for swapping duty shifts. After that class ends, they're taking something called a 'Pre-Cana' class, whatever that is."
"Sounds serious," Harry said.
"Yeah," Ginny said dreamily, "I think it's grand. No weddings yet in the immediate Weasley family, and all of my cousins that were going to get married got married when I was a baby. It's something nice, even in dark times."
"Yeah, I guess," he groaned.
"You'll live. You might even have some fun," she said with a smile that reached up to her eyes.
The rest of the packages were opened, the wrapping was roughly folded and put into a box for the twins' shop, and Harry put the presents carefully away in his trunk, along with a list in Ginny's neat hand of the presents received and who had given what. Laurel arrived; stepping out of the Floo with a large armful of wrapped packages, most of which expanded in size six or seven fold when she placed them on the kitchen counter.
"Thank you both for staying inside while I was out – I don't fancy getting written up this early in my career," she said gruffly.
"Well, you'll get a good dinner out of it," Harry explained.
"I think not," Laurel said. "My shift ends just before dinner. Moey will be relieving me."
"Oh, Charlie will like that," Ginny cooed.
"Yeah, I imagine he will," Laurel said with a snigger. "Amazing things you see on this map when you know how to read it," she said, pulling a folded parchment out of her robes, slapping it into her palm.
"So, what were they doing last night?" Ginny asked.
"They went for a walk along the river – their respective dots were very close together for a long time without moving at all," Laurel said, sighing deeply. She had a pleasant smile on her face.
"That's always a nice place to watch the stars," Ginny said wistfully. "When my brothers would come home from school, they'd take me out there on warm summer nights and tell me what they'd learned in Astronomy class – well, the older brothers would. I wouldn't go out with Fred or George because Mum couldn't hear me from out there, and Ron never paid any attention in Astronomy and didn't want to spend time with me after he went to Hogwarts. Well, enough gossip. We have a dinner to make, Mr. Potter."
"Indeed, Miss Weasley," Harry replied.
After cleaning up the lunch dishes, he lined up bowls, cutting boards, knives, pans and ingredients, looking for the entire world like her brother did when he was surveying the chessboard at the beginning of a game. He handed her a bowl of green peppers.
"Could you remove the stem and seeds and then slice them into bits the size of your thumbnail?" he asked, holding up his thumb.
"Sure," she replied cheerfully.
He took a slightly larger bowl of onions and began to peel the papery outer skin from the first onion. Using steady, slow strokes, he halved the onion and then diced it into small bits.
"Where'd you learn to cook, Harry?" she asked, more to make conversation than to learn anything.
"I learned all the breakfast stuff at the Dursleys. I figured the quicker I learned, the quicker Aunt Petunia would stop screeching at me," he replied, making a face as he halved the next onion.
"What about lunch and dinner?"
"Everything else I learned in Abelard's kitchen, except for making sandwiches – everyone can do that, I reckon," he replied.
Ginny's eyes were wide. "Abelard teaches cooking?" she asked incredulously.
"Most of the time it was Jasmine that taught me, but Abelard knows his way around the kitchen too and I made a meal or two with him. She says her mum is the real cook, but she's no slouch in the kitchen. She's a pretty good teacher, and she's a lot easier on the ears than Aunt Petunia," he said with a smirk.
"Easier on the eyes, too, I imagine," Ginny said saucily.
"Yeah, well, that has its own problems. It's kind of distracting to work around her. After I started working on the Occlumency stuff, you know, after I got Mm'lau installed in my head, Jasmine began testing me. That wasn't very pleasant," Harry said, brushing his forehead with the back of his shirtsleeve.
"What did she do?" she asked.
"Um, it involved teasing," Harry said haltingly.
"Like calling you names?"
"No, more like brushing up against me," he said, a flush appearing in his cheeks. "She'd do that to see how well shielded my mind was."
"You must have liked that," she said, trying to keep the smile off of her face.
"Actually, no," he said, brushing his forehead with the back of his hand. "Things are complicated between us. She's way older than me, but she treats me like a peer in a lot of ways. I think she's lonely being Abelard's bodyguard, and I don't think she gets out much when she's off duty. There's a bit of attraction there, but I think we both know that it's not going anywhere, plus I'm kind of next in line to be her boss if anything happens to Abelard," he rambled.
"Uh-huh," she murmured.
"Then there's the scary factor. There's lots of girls I'd really rather not have angry at me: you, your mum, Hermione, but with Jasmine, I always have the feeling that not only could she get angry enough to gut me like a fish with an old kitchen spoon, but that she probably knows seven different ways to do it too," he said, dumping the next pile of onion bits into the bowl. "She stopped doing that after I convinced her that she couldn't read anything through my Occlumency shield. Thank God for small favours, I guess."
Ginny began savagely slicing the next pepper.
"I'm sure she's the right girl for some lucky bloke, but not for me," he concluded.
He halved the next onion with a swift stroke and then dispatched it into smaller bits with a series of smooth, energetic strokes.
"Who's the right girl for you?" she asked, startled that she'd said what she was thinking.
He said nothing, dispatching the last onion as handily as he'd dismembered the others. "We need to get this sauce cooking," he said, nodding in the direction of the stove. "When you're done with the peppers, we can start browning the meat," he said before he turned to the sink to wash his knife and his hands thoroughly with soap. He then began peeling and slicing peaches.
Ginny kicked herself mentally. Stupid cow, you just had to open your mouth and let fly whatever comes into your little pointy-head, didn't you?
Harry began chattering again after he'd peeled and sliced the peaches.
"This year's going to be different," he said.
"Yeah, no Umbridge," she said cheerfully.
"Fudge is still in office, so we might get someone worse," he said, making a face. "No, it'll be different, no matter who teaches Defence. You'll be going mad with the O.W.L.s, Neville and Luna have paired off; Ron and Hermione are heading in that direction. It's going to be different," he sighed.
"You worried about being lonely?" she asked playfully.
"I've had lots of practice with that," he said. "I've been alone for most of my life."
"That's not good," she replied.
"Yeah, but it's safer for everyone around me," he countered.
Ginny slapped the countertop with her left hand as she set the knife down with her right. "Damn you Harry! Don't push us away," she shouted, leaning across the counter. "Haven't you learned anything yet? I thought we were getting somewhere, I thought you'd called off the pity party," she said, drilling him with her gaze.
"Is the butter soft?" he asked.
"I said, is the butter soft?" he asked again, gesturing to the plate with the block of butter.
"How soft does it need to be?"
"Can you poke a hole in it with your thumb?" he asked.
"It's soft enough then, thanks," he said, reaching past her for the butter.
"That's it then? You're changing the subject, or are you just running away?" she asked,
"I'm not changing the subject or running away, I'm just finishing this crisp topping so we can finish our chores and have some free time to go for a walk before dinner," he fumed, mashing the pastry knife into the butter, cutting it into the bowl of dry ingredients.
She went back to the peppers, slicing them into thumbnail sized bits.
"You are right," he said, as he sprinkled the topping onto the sliced pieces of peach.
"Of course I am," she replied. "On what topic are you conceding?"
"It's not good to be alone," he said with a smile before he turned to the stove, pulling a large frying pan onto the back burner. He rubbed thumb and finger together as he made a small circle with his hand. A blue flame erupted under the frying pan.
"You did that wandlessly," Ginny said. A statement not a question.
"I can only do the Summoning charm without a wand, along with those whistles that Jasmine taught me," she said.
"Most everything you can do with a wand, you can also do without, - if you're willing to practice. The added benefit, of course, is that except for the high-energy transfiguration and conjuring stuff, the wandless magic doesn't trip Madam Hopkirk's underage magic sensors," he said with a smile.
"So I don't have to live like a Squib come tomorrow?" she asked.
"Not if you're willing to practice," he replied.
Ginny's expression passed from satisfaction to annoyance. "I'm still mad at you, you know," she said.
"That's okay," he said, reaching for the bowl of chopped peppers. He dumped the bowl into the frying pan with bits of ground meat and onions. Soon the pan was hissing happily as the smell of browned meat and cooking onions filled the kitchen. "You're pretty when you're angry," he said, washing his hands yet again before he ducked into the loo in the hallway.
I just don't know how much more of this I can take, she thought to herself. The boy is driving me crazy.
The spaghetti sauce was in the slow cooker; the salad was in the enormous salad bowl; the green beans were washed, stemmed and snapped, waiting to be steamed; the peach crisp was cooling on the counter. Aside from boiling the water for the pasta, dinner was done. The cooking dishes were washed, dried and put away, the table was set and the counters were wiped clean. She'd been working like a house elf, but there was some small satisfaction in knowing that she'd pulled off the whole meal, with Harry's assistance, and the kitchen didn't look like a post-Gred and Forge disaster scene. Harry was looking at her, probably thinking of what he wanted to say.
"Up for a walk?" he asked.
"Sure," she replied.
Laurel was in the parlour, yet another journal spread across her lap with the magical map to the area surrounding The Burrow spread out on the arm of the chair.
"We're off for a walk before dinner," Harry said, shoving his hands into his pockets.
Laurel smile, and then looked at them over the rims of her reading glasses. "Not so fast," she said, digging into the depths of her tote bag. She extracted two coppery strips from the bag. Grabbing Ginny's hand she snapped one of the strips onto her wrist where it curled into a bracelet. She then held out her hand, beckoning for Harry to extend his hand so she could equip him in a similar fashion. Harry complied, reluctantly. As Laurel snapped the second strip onto his wrist, she muttered, "Remote Portkeys," before she picked up her ledger again.
"Uh, thanks," Harry mumbled.
Laurel looked up and smiled. "Have fun, kids. I'll probably be gone when you get back," she said as she turned her attention back to the ledger, tapping it with her pencil. They left the house in silence, walking through the herb garden.
"I wore one of these when I was a dog," Harry volunteered, tapping his bracelet.
"On your foreleg?" Ginny asked with a giggle.
"No," he said, pointing to his neck. "On my collar."
"Was it a little tag that said 'if lost, please return this scruffy dog to Albus Dumbledore?'" she asked.
"Dunno," he grunted. "Maybe it said 'return to Ginny Weasley's boudoir,'" he said, ducking before she swatted at the back of his head.
They walked past the vegetable garden, and through the pasture, hopping across the tiny brook that meandered through it before joining the river that represented the eastern border of their property.
"You were flirting with me yesterday, weren't you?" he asked.
"And if I was?" Ginny replied in a noncommittal fashion.
"It's not necessary, you know," he said, hopping over a fallen tree limb. Ginny took a sharp breath. She wasn't sure where this conversation was going.
"I'm not trying to push you away," he began.
I hear a "but" coming, Ginny thought, or maybe 'it's not you, it's me.'
"You've been a very good friend this year," he said.
And I hope that we can always remain friends after this . . .
"I talked to your mum and dad last night," he continued.
Yeah, good old dad wants me to be a little girl forever.
"I'd like – I'd like to get to know you better," he stammered.
Whoa! Back up! That's not a 'dump Ginny' line!
"What did you say?" Ginny hissed.
"Did you not hear me or not understand what I just said?" he asked.
"Uh, both. I thought this conversation was going in a different direction, sorry," she mumbled as she reached behind her to pull her pony-tail out of its elastic, letting her hair fall loose.
Harry's Adam's apple bobbled as he swallowed, but Ginny missed this.
"Can you repeat what you just said, please?" she asked.
"Sure. I'd like to get to know you better," he answered.
"Harry, I've known you since I was ten," she replied.
"Yeah, and I've been noticing you since that time, but I don't really know you, not really," he said.
"Why me, why now?" she asked. "Why not Hermione? She's smarter. Why not Cho? She's prettier. Or Jasmine? She's a hotter witch any which way you look at her. Why me?" she asked plaintively, hoping that she hadn't run all her words together.
"Okay, let me take a stab at that," Harry said gamely. He began to walk, Ginny following alongside. He talked in fits and spurts. "Hermione is probably smarter than any witch that's passed through Hogwarts in the last 100 years, and . . . and . . . I love her so much that it hurts sometimes, but it's probably just like what you feel for Ron. . . . When I get angry, she's afraid to cross me, no, I take that back, she's just plain afraid of me," Harry snorted. "Besides, I'm not the one that makes her heart go pitter-patter. I think she's partial to redheads or something," he said with a grin.
Ginny didn't say anything. Her eyes were wide as they walked and talked.
"Cho? Cho's the most beautiful girl I've ever seen that didn't have Veela blood running though her veins, and she's in Ravenclaw by right – she's very smart; but she's also been a prefect for two years and done nothing to stop the hazing that the other Ravenclaw girls have inflicted on Luna, and when the chips were down last year, she sided with Marietta. Other than Cedric and Quidditch, we didn't have anything to talk about. Jasmine? We've already talked about Jasmine. If there wasn't the age difference and the whole Master thing, I'd still be afraid that I'd torque her off some day and she'd pull my guts out with a spoon," he said as if that were patently obvious.
"So why me?" she whispered.
"Who else can I talk to about how annoying it is to have a dragon in my head without lots of tiresome explanations? Why you? Because you're not afraid of me; or in awe of me; you're not impressed that I'm the Boy Who Lived. Because you can knock me down a peg or two when I'm being insufferable; because you know when to talk and when to just let me be. Because you're pretty, and smart, and brave, because you believe that anything is possible if you just have enough nerve. Because you're not eight inches taller than I am; because your laughter sounds like music; because you know what it's like to be me and you aren't horrified and you don't pity me," he said softly.
"What's it mean to get to know me better?" she asked, her voice sounding very small.
"Uh, you know, going for walks, talking, pranking the twins; friend stuff. Weekends at Hogsmeade, be my date at the All Hallows Eve Ball, that sort of thing," he said, swallowing several times when he'd finished.
"You're daft," she said, walking away.
Harry leaned up against a tree, covering his face with his hands. "Good Lord, I've messed it up somehow," he mumbled. He stayed in that position for a long time. He flinched slightly when he felt Ginny standing near him.
"You haven't messed up a thing," Ginny said, leaning her forehead into his chest as she hooked her thumbs into his belt. She sniffed loudly and looked up at him, tears quietly flowing down her face. "Let's keep walking," she said, "If I stand here and look at you I'm going to start blubbering and you're going to think that you've done something wrong," she said, wiping her cheeks with her fingers and then brushing them off on her jeans.
They walked in silence for a quarter mile, Ginny finally breaking the silence when she cleared her throat. "Did you ever hear the expression 'be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it?'" she asked.
"A time or two," he replied.
"When I was with Michael, things were grand at first. I knew it wasn't deep, and it probably wouldn't last, but it was fun. And then we began to do things, things that a boyfriend and girlfriend do," she said, pausing to swallow several times. "I'd, I'd stop it, not because it was wrong or over the line, but because I was afraid - afraid that I was losing control. One of the things that Tom left in me is a deep fear of not being in control of my actions and stuff with Michael left me afraid. I think that may have been why he dumped me," she said.
"I thought you dumped him," Harry protested.
"Yeah, well, it was confusing, let's leave it at that. My story is that I dumped him, but he may tell the story just a wee bit differently," she said. Harry handed her a handkerchief, which she used, tucking it into her pocket when she was done.
They walked in silence for a while.
"I'm going to change the subject a bit. How long have you felt this way?" she asked.
Harry snorted. "Ask Hermione, I never know how or what I'm feeling. When Teen Witch Weekly runs a listing of Teenaged Wizards Not in Touch with their Feelings, I'm sure I'll be a candidate for the top ten list," he said dismissively.
"No, seriously," she replied.
"The night I danced with you," he said softly.
"That recently?" she said incredulously.
"I'm a bloke, blokes are slow – remember that," he said sagely.
"Why did you ask me to dance?"
"Because I didn't want to dance with Luna?" he suggested.
"No, really," she protested.
"I didn't. I knew that she was going to ask Ron, and Ron would rather chew his arm off than dance with her. I knew that after Ron turned her down, she'd most likely ask me. I didn't want to be someone's second choice," he said wistfully.
"I know that feeling," she said.
"When I was dancing with you it all started fitting together; you'd been a great friend that year, you were smart and pretty and brave and funny, and you were some other bloke's girlfriend, no, worse than that, you were my roommate's girlfriend. After that night I got a letter from Dean. He went on and on about his current girlfriend, who, I might add, is not you, and I felt terrible. Was I supposed to rip Dean's arm off and beat him to death with it for cheating on you, or just do nothing and hope for the best? It's kind of difficult to defeat Voldemort if I'm sitting in Azkaban for killing my roommate. Without a doubt I was very glad to get Ron's letter letting me know that he was bald and you were unattached," he said with a chuckle.
"Well, good, I'm glad some good came out of all of that," Ginny said cryptically.
"So, where does that leave us?" Harry asked hopefully.
"I'm not saying 'no' but I'm afraid to say 'yes,'" she replied.
Harry tried to think up an appropriate response to that when he heard a loud "pop" nearby. His first thought was to push Ginny down, putting himself between her and where he heard the popping sound while he pulled his wand from its hiding place. Next, reaching behind his back, he fumbled for Ginny's hand. Once he had a good grip on her hand, he vanished them both, sending Threads and Batty out to find the intruder.
"Harry, what's wrong?" Ginny asked in the quietest of whispers, not commenting on the fact that she was now invisible.
"Someone just Apparated into this area; with Bill's security barrier that shouldn't be possible," he replied in a terse whisper.
"Haaaary! Ginnnny!" an unfamiliar voice called.
Batty pinged a man-shaped object about twenty-five feet away. Harry stood, pulling Ginny to her feet. He considered gesturing, showing that he was going to loop around behind the intruder before he remembered that she couldn't see him. He didn't have enough time to engage in a tutorial in Farsight, or as the dragons called it, true vision. This would have to be done the old fashioned way.
"Ginny, we've got someone we don't know about twenty-five feet away from us in the direction of The Burrow. We're going to stay invisible and circle around behind them. As long as you're holding on to me, I can keep you invisible, ok?" he asked in his quietest whisper.
Ginny squeezed his hand in reply. He invoked the silencing charm and at the same time energized his Farsight. They were silent and invisible; other than scent and the footprints that they'd make in the grass; they were undetectable. They circled around behind – his Farsight showed a man-shaped aura, but nothing else – the intruder must have some sort of vision cloaking – perhaps a Disillusionment charm. Harry strained to remember the spell to cancel that charm, casting it in the direction of the shifting aura.
Like water being poured into a person shaped glass, the figure appeared before them: trainers, trousers, dark shirt and shoulder length dark hair.
"Oh crap," Moey said as she turned around, wand in one hand, folded up map in the other. "I don't have time for this, Harry, where the dickens are you?" she called impatiently, taking care to point her wand straight up.
Harry chuckled, giving Ginny's hand a squeeze before he released his Farsight, cancelled the silencing charm, made them both visible and let go of her hand.
"Moey, we've got to stop meeting like this," he said, trying to restrain his laughter.
"Yeah, if word gets out that you've done this to me twice, I'm going to have to put in for a transfer," Moey said. "Molly's home – she'd like to get dinner underway within half an hour," she said, nodding her head in the direction of The Burrow.
"How were you able to Apparate out here?" Harry blurted.
Moey looked at him with her single eye, shaking her head slightly when she comprehended his question. "You can't Apparate through the barrier, but once inside the barrier you can Apparate again, unless you try to cross the barrier; that gets messy," she said with a frown. "See you two back at the house then, eh?" she asked.
"Moey?" Ginny asked.
"Yes, Ginny," the dark haired Auror replied.
"Stargazing nice last night?" she asked innocently.
Moey smiled, raised one eyebrow, and mouthed the reply "yes" before Disapparating.
The two teenagers walked back to The Burrow at a brisk pace, their conversation on hold for the moment.
"Ginny, Harry," Molly said, nodding to each in turn, "That was a marvellous dinner." Molly was smiling broadly. "One of the prerogatives of being cook in this house is that you will not be washing up. Why don't you take those brooms out for a go in the orchard? You've got almost a good hour of daylight left," she said, nodding her head in the direction of the hallway.
Harry began to protest before Ginny tapped his ankle under the table with her shoe. "Sure, Mrs. Weasley," he said, wiping his mouth with his napkin. Pushing back their chairs from the table, Ginny and Harry headed up the stairs while the post-dinner hubbub resumed at the dinner table.
Ginny leaned into Harry, whispering, "We are being dismissed, Harry."
"Why's that?" he asked once they were standing in her room.
"Oh, I dunno," she replied, rolling her eyes, "perhaps Mum has something to say that she doesn't want to say in front of us," she whispered before savagely grabbing the handle of her broom. "Bugger all, I haven't flown this broom yet and I'm not going to let the nattering of a circle of Weasleys stop me from having a bit of fun," she said, smacking Harry's backside gently with her broom. "Last one to the orchard is a Squib!" she shouted over her shoulder as she thundered down the stairs. Harry slammed the door to Percy's room open, grabbed his own broom and hesitated briefly in the hallway. Carefully pulling the hallway window open, he ducked his head as he flew out of the house.
"Whoo-hoo!" he shouted, knocking a few leaves off of the top of the pear tree as he accelerated into the sky, pulling a hard turn to loop back towards the orchard. Ginny pushed off from the garden, getting off to a wobbly start on her new broom.
"Potter, you cheater!" she shouted, desperately searching for an argument. "Mum says no flying in the house!" she called out to him. "Sweet Merlin, that's lame. How old are you, Ginny, fifteen going on five?" she asked herself.
Harry laughed, slowing briefly to watch Ginny as she mastered the nuances of her broom. Before she caught up to him, he accelerated into the orchard, threading between the trees at high speed. By the time she caught up to him, she was out of breath. She pulled alongside him, giving him a gentle bump.
"Harry, this broom is fabulous, it makes Ron's Cleansweep look like a scow!" she said. Her cheeks were coloured and her hair, normally plaited for serious flying, was whipping behind her like a pennant. Catching Harry's eye, she blew him a kiss. They flew some lazy loops together and then played an impromptu game of tag, weaving through the orchard.
While Ginny was hovering over the orchard, Harry pulled alongside. "Let me show you something," he said, pointing to the back of her broom. "Move your heel back and catch that peg, yeah, like that. The boots we wear for Quidditch have a notch made for that peg, but your trainer has enough of a heel for today," he said.
"What does that do?" Ginny asked as she began to bend forward awkwardly.
"Move your grip forward until your belly's on the broom. Now dive," he said.
Ginny disappeared as she dove, leaving behind only the delighted sound of her whooping scream. She pulled up from her dive, circling back to Harry's position. "Oh, yeah!" she shouted. "That will do nicely, no Keeper in his right mind would defend against me at that speed!" she said breathily. The game of tag resumed, climbing, diving, corkscrew loops, sudden stops and gentle banking curves. After the frenzy of flight, Ginny landed by the bench on the northern border of the orchard. Before Harry landed, she'd wandlessly Summoned a pair of water bottles from the back porch, handing Harry a cold one when he arrived.
"I think I'm going to get used to this," she said.
"Used to what?"
"Being able to do magic when I want," she said, leaning up against the bench. "Well, not much I can do about being underage right now. If I'm going to work like a house-elf all day, at least I can get a good fly in before nightfall – what a corking broom!" she exclaimed.
Harry drained his bottle, catching Ginny's eye when he put the empty bottle down on his lap.
"Do you trust me?" he asked.
"Of course I trust you," she replied, her demeanour going serious in an instant.
"Do you trust my flying?"
"What kind of question is that?" she asked. "You might be a total loon, but you're a brilliant flyer," she replied.
Harry reached down for her broom, holding both broomsticks together in his left hand. Tapping the broomsticks with his wand, he uttered the spell "Iugalis," transforming the two brooms into one larger, longer broom.
"What did you just do?" Ginny screeched. "That's my new broom!"
"Keep your shirt on, miss, it's reversible," Harry said. "Fancy a flight with a well-known loon, reputed to be a brilliant flyer?"
"Front or back?" Ginny asked with a grin, one eyebrow raised.
"Passengers ride in back, unless they're titchy," Harry said, holding his thumb and finger apart. "You're petite, but you're not that small," he said with a grin as he straddled the broom.
"I'm game," she said, grabbing hold of his shoulder as she pulled herself onto the back of the broom. "You know, this would be problematic in a skirt," she muttered.
"Just think of it as a healthy breeze," Harry replied with a grin as he shoved off into the darkening twilight sky. Accelerating over the treetops, Harry exclaimed "Oh, yeah!" Knowing that they were approaching the barrier, Harry engaged his Farsight. The barrier appeared as a luminous sheet, not quite green, not quite yellow, but somewhere in-between. Harry turned the broom on its tail, accelerating straight up. Ginny gasped, digging her fingers into his sides as she gripped his shirt. She relaxed a bit, reaching for her wand. Once it was out, she touched his leg, her leg and then their heads with her wand.
"Communication Charm?" he asked, hoping that she could hear him.
"Yeah, and a Sticking Charm too, so I don't fall off this monster," she said, snaking her arm around his middle after she put her wand away.
"The fusion will do things that neither the Fashir nor the Firebolt can do alone, like straight-up acceleration," Harry explained, levelling out to fly in a loop that curved along with the security border.
"Say," Ginny said mischievously, "was that manoeuvre a devious boy plot to get me to grab a hold of you?"
"Busted again," Harry said with a smile. "These Weasley women can see right through me," he said with a singsong tone.
"Yeah, my only regret is that I didn't think of it first," Ginny quipped.
"Well, I think your mum planned this," Harry said, peeling backwards until they falling into a vertical dive.
"Haaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrryyyyyyyyyyyyyy!" Ginny screamed as they plummeted to the ground. She went silent as they approached treetop level, gripping him tightly as he pulled out of the dive, maintaining his forward velocity as he rocketed over the meadow at a very low altitude.
"Yes!" she exclaimed, letting go of Harry long enough to thrust her fists into the air as she gripped him with her knees. "That was brilliant! Can we do it again?" Harry said nothing, banking back to fly through the orchard, threading between the trees. Finding the clearing again, he cut his speed and pulled up to a gentle stop next to the bench. "Aw," she complained, "I wanted another go at the Wronski," she whinged.
"So have another go," he said, tapping his leg with his wand, cancelling the Sticking Charm. "Let's see how you do up front. Think you can drive this beast?" he asked, giving her a wink.
"Yeah, I reckon I can," she said quietly. She cancelled the sticking charm, hovered, slid forward on the broom, and then patted the broomstick behind her. "Are you sure about this, Harry?" she asked, looking over her shoulder.
"No, but I'm deciding to trust you," he said, straddling the broom. He reapplied the Sticking Charm and then they began a leisurely glide through the orchard as Ginny got acquainted with the handling of the newly fused broom. After practice run of sprints, stops and turns, Ginny leaned forward, catching her heels on the pegs. Harry pondered where his hands should go in this new position. When Jasmine was flying as passenger, she looped her arms under his, curling her fingers on his collarbone, but that wasn't going to work with Harry, given the differences in anatomy. He finally settled on placing his hands on her shoulders, snuggling into her back as she lowered her profile on the broom.
It was different, riding in back. Unless he anticipated the turns, he got caught unprepared for the changes in direction, which caused a wobbling lurch that destabilized the broom a bit. He'd had no idea how hard it was to ride pillion and not throw things off course. Ginny turned the broom on its tail and experimented with the ability to accelerate straight up and then did a stomach wrenching series of corkscrew loops. From time to time, Harry would ask her to bank this way or that to avoid the security barrier, but for the most part, this was Ginny's show. The only time she acknowledged his presence was when he'd shift position, which in turn caused her to wiggle a bit until they were pressed together again, followed by a little sigh from Ginny.
"Hang on, I'm gonna do it," she said tersely. She turned the broom on its tail, flying straight up and then tipped over backwards into a vertical dive. They weren't in free fall; instead they were flying with power, straight at the earth. It was quite an effort on Harry's part to not squeeze the stuffing out of Ginny as he saw the objects on the ground get larger and larger. If they were going to plough into the ground, they'd be in it together. Harry turned his head to the side, minimizing his wind resistance. His ear was pressed against Ginny's back, giving him an earful of sounds that he soon figured out were the sound of laboured breathing and a fairly rapid heartbeat. He heard her count down "Three, two, one, NOW!" before feeling the jolt that came as she pulled them out of the dive, fighting to control the momentum that wanted to press them violently into the dirt. Once she had control, she began to roll from side to side, bleeding off speed until she was flying in a fairly straight line, the tips of her trainers now touching the grass in the meadow next to the orchard.
"Still with me, Harry?" she asked. He replied with a slight squeeze on her shoulders. "How was the ride?"
"It was different," he snorted. Ginny stopped the broom and carefully dismounted. Harry did the same, handing the broom back to Ginny. "I had to learn how to ride in back without being in control, which was terrifying at times. It was fear and wonder and pain and pleasure all rolled into one, but it was okay, because I was with you. Come to think of it, my life has been a lot like that this summer," he said quietly.
Ginny stared at him. "You understand," she whispered.
What Harry understood was that they probably weren't talking about the Wronski Feint any more.
"Being with you is pain and pleasure and fear and wonder all rolled into one, but it's okay; because I'm with you," she echoed, dropping the broom.
They looked at each other in the last rays of daylight. Harry felt his stomach lurch when he saw her nervously bite her lower lip. There was something wrong; his peripheral vision was fading, he was certain that he'd stopped breathing. If anyone had told him that the world had stopped spinning on its axis, he'd be inclined to believe them. He was falling into her eyes like he'd been falling towards the earth, but he was fairly certain that this time he wasn't going to be able to pull up in time. The distance between them vanished; he didn't know whether he moved or she'd moved, and frankly, he didn't care. One hand was on the small of her back and the other moved up her back until it was cradling her head. He felt a small spark as his thumb brushed against her neck, making skin on skin contact. The spark ignited an explosion as Ginny's mind brushed against his own, triggering an avalanche of emotion, sensation, memories and thought. He stood frozen for an instant until he did something to pull Ginny's Occlumency shield up before he raised his own.
"Bloody hell, Harry," she exclaimed as she staggered away from him, breaking contact. "What was that?"
"Dragon magic," he snorted. "Your shield was down, my shield was down, I suspect that each of us was turning on the old Legilimency when we made skin contact. Your mind touched my mind, two-way Legilimency I guess you'd call it," he said.
Ginny held up her hand, looking at her palm. "Will it always be like that?" she asked.
"Probably not," he said, raising his own hand. "You game to find out?"
Ginny nodded, biting her lip again.
"Shields up," he said, holding up his left hand. Ginny mirrored his action, holding up her right hand. Merlin, her hands are small, he thought to himself as he slowly moved his hand towards hers. When their fingertips touched, he felt the slightest of tingles, hearing Mm'lau murmur a low growl that was answered by a deeper rumble from Tk'lch. He looked into her eyes again, sliding her fingers between his own as he clasped her hand. Without breaking his gaze he said, "Lower your shields a bit."
Ginny blinked and nodded. The rush of other thoughts and emotions returned, flooding his consciousness without overwhelming it this time. "Apparently we can do this at will," he said.
What are we doing? Ginny thought without saying aloud.
You are touching my mind; I'm touching yours.
"But I'm not a Legilimens," she said aloud.
"Apparently you are," he answered with a smirk. "It's been a summer of discovery," he said.
The swirl of thought and sensation and memory and emotion was quickly becoming overwhelming.
"I think we need to break this off, Ginny," he said reluctantly.
Ginny nodded as she pulled her shield up. She began to pull her hand away when Harry held it firm. His eyes locked on to hers again. She's so pretty, he thought, letting go of her hand as he pulled her into him. She rested her cheek on his shoulder, wrapping her arms around him. The dragon magic double Legilimency thing had been just plain weird, but this was equally magical and wonderful. Harry breathed in her scent, the smell of her shampoo, the faint hint of honeysuckle and other scents too subtle to tag and catalogue. She was warm and curved and wonderful, and if his read of her emotions was at all accurate when their minds had been linked, she was chuffed to be where she was at the moment, which was enough.
They stayed in place a while longer until she sighed.
"It's dark, Harry. I think we need to go in," she said sadly as she pushed away from him.
He said nothing, picking up the broom from where it had dropped an eternity ago. Reversing the spell, he now had two unyoked brooms in his hands. He handed the Fashir to Ginny, carrying the Firebolt over his shoulder. As they walked back to the Burrow, he captured her small hand as it swung at her side, lacing her fingers between his own. She sighed again, but this time there was a crooked grin on her face. The dragon magic would wait for another day. At the moment they were exploring another magic closer to home.
Ginny stopped as they entered the herb garden. Harry stood still. She was still holding his hand, but she was facing him now, until she dipped her head, resting it again on his chest. She shivered slightly, then looked up, staring into his eyes. "You said you'd like to get to know me better," she said softly.
"Yeah, I did."
"I'd like that," she said, "I'd like that a lot." She gave him a brief hug before she peeled away to dart into The Burrow's kitchen door.
Author Notes: Disclaimer still applies. Happy now?
The heel pegs on the Fashir are homage to After the End, the Fan Fic that got me started on this voyage. Arabella, it's your entire fault, you know. You'll find the pegs in Chapter 27 of After the End.
Oliver had returned, holding out the most beautiful broom Harry had ever touched. Its dark, polished cherry wood handle had a slimmer grip than his own broom, and there were slender, golden rods sticking out a few inches in either direction, just under the spot where Harry knew the cushioning charm to be. The tail swept and curved into what had to be the most aerodynamic shape on the market. "Firebolt 5" it said in gold script on the handle.
"She had these put in," Oliver explained, pointing to the golden rods. "Footholds. You've seen her do it - bend her knees and keep her feet pulled up under her bum for speed. These keep her feet up the whole game without tiring her out - just rest the tops of your feet there. Dead useful speed strategy."
"She won't mind?" Harry asked doubtfully, not sure he'd want another Seeker riding his broom, if it were as nice as this one. Especially a Seeker who didn't know what the hell he was doing.
"She's unconscious," Oliver replied. "Take the broom. You're going to run drills on it for half an hour before the game starts so you can get used to it. But first, Harry, listen close. The Kestrels had a by last game - that means they didn't play. It's been four weeks since their last match, and while that doesn't mean they're out of shape, it means they've lost competitive momentum." Oliver began to pace. "Plus which, they're two and two - two wins, two losses. Their last game before their by was a loss. Not in a good mental state, I'd say. We, on the other hand, are undefeated." He gave Harry a meaningful look. "Undefeated. Five-oh."
There is another line in this chapter that's also homage to After the End. I will mention by name the first reader who spots the line, correctly identifying the particulars.
As is usually the case, many thanks to the many sets of eyes that have gone over the multiple iterations of this chapter, bearing with me as I fought with writing over the summer: Art Mulder, Mr.Intel, Full Pensieve come to mind as the readers who have suffered with me the most to get this chapter out. Thanks also to my ever-patient Beta, Lissa at PS.net. To all those readers who post reviews along the line of "Great Chapter, when's the next one due out?" be assured that Chapter 20 will be out in due time - I've already got two sections of that chapter on paper - but the next chapter will be a long one, so be patient.
There is a Goblet of Fire homage in this chapter to Archie - like the other homage, I will mention in writing the first reviewer to get this reference correct.