Harry and Cho sat in the back garden of Number 4, Privet Drive. Harry had put in the wooden bench himself, last week, and he was pleased that he was the one using it. Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon rarely went out into the yard for longer than it took to look at the neighbors or be looked at by them. Dudley would certainly never be caught out of range of the remote control for the telly unless it was to roam about with his friends harassing small children, or vandalizing public property. Harry, on the other hand, enjoyed just sitting in the garden and watching the seasons. It gave him a sense of continuity that his own life lacked. He would just sit quietly for hours listening to the sounds of summer. Now, Cho was sitting beside him on the bench and Harry would notice that, every once in a while, the curtains in the kitchen window would move slightly, as if someone were peeking out at them from hiding. He wasn't sure who was watching but he was still amused that they were. Harry shook his head in astonishment at his relative's antics and noticed, out of the corner of his eye, a flash of color coming from the sun reflecting off Cho's hair.
"You know, Harry," Cho was saying, "I get the feeling that you blokes just don't care about things the way that women do."
"Um hmm," Harry said not really paying attention. Cho glanced sideways at him.
"My ears have radishes growing in them," Cho said calmly. "It's an experiment for Herbology."
"Hmm," Harry replied, liking the way the sun shimmered on her hair.
"There, you see! That's exactly what I meant!" she snapped.
Harry was startled out of his revelry by her sudden change in tone. "What is it? Is there something wrong?" he blurted out.
"Harry, you haven't been listening to a word I say!" Cho was obviously angry but Harry hadn't any idea why since he hadn't been listening to a word she said.
"I was too listening," he said in his own defense. "You were talking about an experiment for Herbology."
"Gawd! Do you realize how insulting that is? To be talking to someone and see that they're not paying the least bit of attention."
"I'm sorry, Cho. I was just distracted for a minute."
"Oh, yeah? What could possibly have been so interesting then?"
"Well," Harry said, embarrassed to have to admit the truth but too flustered to make up a reasonable fib, "I was just noticing how pretty your hair looked with the sun shining on it. It's black but it seems to almost have glints of silver and, I think, blue shining in the light. I don't think that I've ever seen anything quite like it." Cho flushed and without a sound accepted his apology. "Now, what were you talking about before I was distracted?"
"Well - you'll start paying attention now, won't you? - I was talking about how girls think about things differently than you blokes do. Take for instance, dating. Girls see things as a series of memories-in-the-making. A girl wants things to be perfect so that she can remember them forever, like her first kiss, or her first date, or other important milestones in her life. She wants them to be perfect so that she can always look back on them and smile. You blokes, on the other hand, I bet, just want to get them over with so you can move on to the next step. You don't savor the moments enough."
"What do you mean?" Harry asked, totally perplexed
"Well, take, for instance, your first kiss. You do remember your first kiss, don't you?"
"Yes, I remember it," Harry said sarcastically.
"Good, I certainly remember mine. I wanted it to be just perfect, like something out of a fairytale. I'd dreamt about it since as far back as I can remember."
"And was it? Perfect, I mean."
"It was very nice," Cho said. "Not perfect, but nicer than a lot of girls get."
"Was it with Cedric?" Harry asked.
"No, silly! It was long before that," Cho said exasperated. "It was third year, my first year playing on the team; Roger Davies kissed me after we beat Slytherin at Quidditch. They had all those new brooms and everyone thought we were going to get trampled. Well, I managed to see the snitch first and got there just a second before Malfoy and caught it to win the game. Roger was so thrilled that he swept me off my feet and kissed me right there on the pitch." Cho was smiling at the memory.
"And that was a good first kiss?"
"Well, it wasn't romantic or anything, but it was nice. I always dreamed of my first kiss being after a romantic date of dancing under the moonlight…" Cho hesitated for a second. "You probably think this is all just too silly to be believed, don't you?"
"No, really, I want to hear," Harry said, actually wanting to hear what she had dreamed her first kiss to be like.
"Well, OK, but if you laugh at me or anything, I'll hex you three ways from Sunday!" Harry nodded solemnly. "Anyway, my date would be tall, dark and handsome. We'd have spent the evening dancing under the stars and then he would take me in his arms and gently kiss me. One of those wonderful kisses that make you go weak in the knees. Everything would be just perfect." Harry couldn't help but think of her and Cedric at the Yule Ball two years ago. He wondered if they kissed, and if it was as perfect as she had dreamed it would be. He hoped so.
"But it wasn't like that with Roger," he said.
"No, it wasn't a dream but it was nice, and he did sweep me off my feet," she said with a smile. "So, what was your first kiss like? Was it everything you dreamed it would be?"
Harry blushed, "So, how long had you been dreaming of this kiss?"
"Oh, ever since I was a little girl. The dream changed over time, of course. When I was little, it used to be of a Knight on horseback." She grinned and Harry returned it. "But you're avoiding the question. Now spill!"
"Well," Harry stammered, "I didn't put all that effort into it, like you did. I guess I didn't think about it at all until, you know, I started thinking about girls, you know, that way."
"Typical male, completely oblivious. So, what was it like? Come on, I told you so you can't wiggle out of it. Dish!"
"It was… It was nice," was all Harry could say. Cho scowled at him so Harry plucked up his courage and continued. "It was at Kings Cross, after coming back for the summer, after the tournament."
"The Tri-Wizard Tournament? Last summer?" Harry nodded. "Boy, you were a late bloomer, Harry," Cho laughed. "Now com' on, finish the story."
"Well, we were all saying good-bye at the station. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley were gathering up all their kids and Hermione… she…"
"Hermione Granger? She gave you your first kiss? That's so sweet. Now hurry up and give."
"Well, there's not much more to say. We were saying our good-byes and Hermione comes up and she kisses me on the cheek and…"
"Harry!" Cho interrupted, "Kisses on the cheek don't count. Nor do blowing kisses out of windows, nor kisses from your Aunt."
"Well, there's no chance of that ever happening."
Cho looked at him, digesting this, then continued, "Anyway, I want to hear about your first real kiss. On the lips. With a girl."
Harry was blushing furiously. "Come on, Cho. You don't have to hear about it. You were… I mean, you were there after all."
Cho's eyes grew wide. "You don't mean… That was… At Christmas?" Harry nodded. "Oh, Harry. That was awful."
Harry gaped at her. "No, it wasn't. It was nice."
"No, it wasn't. I was crying and it was just so completely awkward. No, that just couldn't have been your first kiss."
"Well, I'm sorry but it was." Harry was hurt that she would pester him so much to hear the story and then just dismiss it like that.
Cho eyes were darting around the garden and her hand came up to cover her mouth. Harry hoped she wasn't about to start laughing at him.
"No! Absolutely not!" she said distractedly, her eyes still darting about. "Oh, and that was why… I thought you… It took you so long. That explains it."
"Explains what?" Harry asked.
She turned towards him, her eyes wide. "All this time, I thought you didn't really like me. I mean, I practically threw myself at you, and I was crying my eyes out. I thought you didn't like me." She reached out and took his hands. "You really are a late bloomer, aren't you?"
Harry was starting to go from confused to angry. "Cho, just WHAT are you talking about?"
Cho smiled at him and kept a tight hold of his hands. "When we kissed at Christmas, I was crying so much that I thought you didn't like it, that you didn't like me…" Harry started to interrupt but she stopped him. "Then when you didn't follow up by asking me out, I was sure of it. When you did ask me to Hogsmeade for Valentine's Day, I reckoned you were giving me another chance. And then you ran off to meet Hermione, and I was so hurt and so jealous. But it turned out to be for that interview. Oh, I misunderstood everything. That was really your first kiss?"
"Yes, and I thought it was very nice."
"Well, what did you know?" she countered. "No, Harry, that doesn't count."
"What do you mean, it doesn't count? How can you just say that?"
"Because I can, that's how. And that definitely doesn't count as your first kiss."
"Oh great, so now it doesn't count and here I am almost a year later and I still haven't been kissed," Harry said pouting.
She stood up and pulled Harry up with her. "Well, we can certainly fix that, and I'm not crying now, either." She put her arms around Harry's neck and tilting her own head back slightly, she pulled him down into a kiss. Harry tightened his arms around her waist and kissed her back. They broke apart a minute later and Harry just stared with unfocused eyes.
"Now, wasn't that better?" Cho asked, smiling. Harry just nodded, after a moment he shook his head and looked at her.
"That was certainly… better." He saw her grinning at him like the Cheshire Cat. "And now what are you grinning at?"
"Come on, spill it."
"OK, it's just that… I don't know." She grinned broadly at him. "I gave Harry Potter his first kiss," she said in a smug sing-song fashion.
"And that's something to brag about?"
"Well, I'm not going to tattoo it on my bum or anything, but yeah. It's nice to know. No matter who else you date, or eventually get married to, they will all be coming after me. I was the first."
"Oh? And that's not worth tattooing on your bum?"
She swatted him on the arm. "It is something to add to my list of personal accomplishments though. Cho Chang: Seeker in my third year; Quidditch Captain next year, hopefully;" she said with her fingers crossed, "eleven owls, not a record but the best of all the girls in my year; and now giving Harry Potter his first decent kiss!" she finished proudly.
Harry bent around and looked at Cho's rear, "It would have to be written kinda small…" She laughed and gave him a shove away from her.
That night, after seeing Cho over to Mrs. Figg's house, she had allowed Cho to use her fireplace to get home, Harry sat through an extremely uncomfortable dinner with the Dursley's. His aunt kept sending him icy glares that told him that it had been she who had been peeking out of the curtains. Harry cleaned up the dishes without a word or having to be asked and then went up to his room to practice what Mr. Chang had told him. Finally, he collapsed into bed and his sleep was undisturbed.
The next few weeks passed with an easy regularity that Harry had rarely experienced. In the mornings he would do his chores, tending the lawn, weeding the garden, or even painting the small fence that enclosed the yard. Two or three afternoons a week, Harry would journey to London to meet with Cho and the two friends would wander the muggle parts of the city and talk. It seemed that the more Cho talked the less she cried.
In a blink, or so it seemed, July was all but over. The last day of the month dawned sunny and warm. Late-morning found Cho Chang again seated on the wooden bench in the back garden of Number 4, Privet Drive. She wore a pretty sundress with a halter top but sat nervously on the bench, occasionally chewing on a fingernail.
Standing by the garden gate, under the cover of his rather battered old invisibility cloak (the Ministry had yet to return his newer one which had been confiscated when Sturgis was arrested) stood Alastor Moody, he was also rather nervous although he wouldn't think of chewing on a fingernail. They would be arriving soon and he had no way of guessing what their reactions would be.
Suddenly, from up the street, there came a burst of noise that made both of them jump. It was obviously a crowd of people heading this way. Cho's head snapped towards the gate and Moody, still invisible, moved away from it, so as not to be hit by anyone coming through.
"For he's a jolly good fellooooow!" several voices were singing, all quite off-key.
"Will you lot be quiet!" a woman's voice said. "If we're going to have this be a surprise then you can't go rousing the entire village with your noise!"
Cho watched as a crowd of red-heads moved through the gate and into the yard at Number 4. She didn't recognize any of them at first, until a girl popped forward out of the group. It was Ginny Weasley, the new Gryffindor Seeker, and that meant the rest of them had to be her family. With this knowledge she was able to start putting names to the faces. The tallest one was Ron, Harry's mate, and there were the twins, resplendent in contrasting tropical print shirts and Bermuda shorts (complete with knee socks and garters), the woman must be their mother, Mrs. Weasley, and finally, the brunette with the mop of bushy hair, was Hermione Granger. There was another boy there that Cho thought she recognized as being one of Harry's dorm-mates but she couldn't recall his name. They were laden with baskets and wrapped packages, and Cho wondered what was happening. Ginny stopped short as soon as she saw the other girl already standing in the yard.
"What are you doing here?" Ginny asked shortly.
Cho returned her gaze calmly and replied, "I could ask you the same thing."
"If you must know, we've come to visit Harry," Ginny replied coolly.
Cho ignored the slight and walked up to the older woman. "I'm guessing that you are Mrs. Weasley?" At a nod from Molly, Cho continued, "My name is Cho Chang, I'm a friend of Harry's. It's a pleasure to meet you."
The two shook hands and Molly studied the young woman before her. "Yes, it's nice to meet you too, dear, but I must say that it is a bit of a surprise. We didn't know you would be here."
"Well," Cho answered, "it's Harry's birthday today and he had said that he didn't have any plans, so I arranged to take him out to lunch to celebrate."
Ginny gave her a cold look and Molly replied, "Oh, it seems that we all had similar ideas. You see, we were planning on having a bit of a party for him right here. I hope you don't mind?"
Cho chewed on her lower lip for a moment before answering, "No, of course not. I'm sure that Harry would appreciate your throwing him a party. I just hope that he can make it." Molly looked confused. "What do you mean, dear? ‘You hope he can make it' Where is Harry?"
"He's upstairs," a gravely voice said and Moody pulled the cloak off, startling Cho yet again.
"Alastor!" Molly chided. "You gave us all a fright."
"Yeah, well, nobody's supposed to be seeing me, right?" He looked over at Cho, "Sorry, if I made ye jump, but ye ought to have been expectin' it."
"Constant Vigilance!" the twins sang out and the Weasley children all fell into fits of giggling.
"Yes, I suppose I should have." Cho said. "I know that Harry is usually watched but I just didn't expect you to be so close."
Molly spoke again, "Yes, well, shouldn't we be getting Harry? It's his party after all." Ginny, Ron and Hermione all broke from the group and headed for the door to the house when they were brought up short by Cho.
"NO! You can't disturb him!" she called sharply.
"Why ever not?" Ginny responded. "We're his friends. We can visit if we want."
"Of course you can, dear," Molly said. "Now run and fetch Harry."
"I wouldn't be doin' that," Moody said clearly. "The girl is right. Ye shouldn't be disturbing him."
All eyes turned to Moody.
"Why not?" Molly asked after a moment.
"It's his scar," Moody answered. "It started troubling him early this morning and he went inside t' deal w' it."
Molly looked puzzled and Ron piped in, "Yeah, it's been hurting him a lot since… since You-Know-Who came back, but that's no reason to lock him inside. He needs to have some fun to take his mind off it." He turned back towards the house.
"NO!" both Moody and Cho shouted, bringing Ron up short once again.
Cho began to explain. "You see, his scar, it doesn't just hurt for no reason. It hurts when Voldemort -" Ron and the twins flinched at the name. "is probing Harry's mind. When he is using Legilimens against him."
"All the more reason for us to be with him," Ginny said. "He needs our help."
"No, he has to do this alone."
"No, he needs our help!" Ginny snapped.
"You CAN'T help him!" Cho all but shouted. "Don't you understand?"
"Understand what, dear?" Molly said in a soothing tone, trying to keep things calm.
"Understand why Voldemort is attacking Harry."
"Because he's an evil git who wants to kill him?" Ron put in sarcastically.
Cho didn't rise to the bait. "Yes, he attacks Harry to try to hurt him but he is also using Harry to gather information. He can see what Harry sees, hear what Harry hears. He uses that to gather information."
"So?" Ron said. "He already knows we're his friends, what else can he learn?"
"He can learn that we're here," Hermione spoke for the first time. "He'll know that you all are here and that means that no one is at the Burrow. How'd you like to get home tonight to find the Dark Mark floating above the Burrow? To find out that Death Eaters have burned your home to the ground, or worse, that they've laid a trap for you? The less information we give him the better."
Ron slowly nodded and the rest of the group grew somber.
"When did this start?" Molly asked.
Moody thought for a moment, "He was down here a bit after sun up. Doin' chores for his family." Moody made the word sound distasteful. "It must have been about half nine when he starts rubbing at his scar. A minute later he heads back inside and hasn't been down again since."
Cho picked up the story at this point. "I got here at about eleven. I was planning on taking him out to lunch for his birthday. I ran into his Aunt and Cousin as they were leaving the house. I think they were going shopping for the day. They said that Harry was in his room and that I should go around back and wait. They shouted up to him that he had company before they locked the door."
Molly looked at her watch. "So, Harry's been in his room for almost three hours. Maybe we should go check on him?" Worry was evident in her voice as she glanced up at the windows on the second story of the house.
Moody answered, "I was up there about half an hour ago. He's sitting on the floor of his bedroom, cross-legged, like some Hindu Fakir, just mumbling away and staring into the corner."
Cho nodded at this news but Molly frowned. "Is he all right? Maybe we should call Albus and have Madam Pomfrey come and take a look?"
"No," Cho said again. "He's doing just what he was taught. He's trying to block him out."
"And how would you know that?" Ginny said with a strange look in her eyes.
"Oh, hush, Ginny," Molly chided. "I'm sure Cho is right. Harry has to learn to do this for himself." Molly turned to Cho and asked, "Does this happen often?"
"How would she know, Mum? It's not like they're dating anymore!"
"Ginny!" Molly said, turning to her daughter. "Miss Chang has been spending quite a bit of time with Harry this summer and we all approve of it." Ginny shot Cho a venomous look. Molly continued, "Has this happened before, dear?"
Cho looked at her feet and answered, "A couple of times, yes. The first time, it was really scary. We were walking in Regent Park and suddenly Harry started mumbling things to himself."
"What sorts of things?" Molly asked gently.
"Just things like: ‘Get out of my head' and ‘You won't win', but he looked so… different. It was frightening. Then he began to bang his head against a tree trunk. I thought for a second he was trying to knock himself unconcious but he didn't. He wouldn't look at me but I could tell that his head was bleeding. Then, after a few minutes, he stopped. It took awhile for Harry to calm down but afterwards he was all right again."
"Yes, Tonks told us about him coming home with a large bruise on his head. She healed it but he wouldn't tell her where it came from. Has it happened any other times?"
"Yes, but never as bad as that first time. When Harry feels his scar begin to tingle, he needs to get away, to isolate himself from everything and everybody. That way Voldemort can't see or hear anything."
"But what does Harry do?" Hermione asked.
Cho looked at the other girl and answered, "He's been studying Occlumency. He's working really hard at it, and he's making some progress. He empties his mind and waits."
"He waits? For what?"
"For Voldemort to stop the attack," Cho answered flatly.
"How long does that usually take?"
Cho shrugged, looked Hermione straight in the eye and spoke with a resigned sadness in her voice, "Until Voldemort gives up, because Harry never will."
After awhile the twins began to get restless and that always led to trouble, so Molly began setting out the food. The crowd descended on the table like a swarm of locusts. Cho had to smile at the sight, it was so different from her own home where meals were always restrained. Well, everything was always restrained with her family. She recalled all the stories Harry had told her about the Weasleys. They were certainly everything he had said, and then some.
A few minutes later, Molly looked over and noticed that Cho was sitting alone on the bench while the rest of them were eating at a conjured picnic table. She made eye contact with the girl and waved her over.
"If you ever plan on eating, dear, you'd best do it now. I doubt there will be much left in a few minutes. Not with this lot about, anyways."
Cho smiled and moved to join the group. Molly moved down and made room for her at the very end of the table, shielding her from Ginny's direct vision. With motions born of years of practice, Molly had a plate filled with various salads and such before Cho could manage to worm an arm into the throng, and placed it before the girl.
"Here you go, dear. I know it can be rather intimidating trying to get anything away from this mob." Cho smiled her thanks and began to eat.
The meal was pleasant enough, if a bit overwhelming for Cho, with everyone talking non-stop and food passing up and down the table as if of its own accord. Once, one of the twins offered her a piece of pastry but before she could accept, Molly intervened and snatched the morsel off the plate, melting her son with a glare.
After every thing was eaten, except the huge chocolate cake, people began to leave the table. Cho offered to help clean up but Molly bustled her away to join the others. Cho glanced at her watch and then at the window to the smallest bedroom. The blinds were drawn tight and nothing could be seen.
"Don't you go worrin', Miss," said the gruff voice of Professor Moody from behind her. "I went up and checked on him again a bit ago. He still there, staring into the corner, just like before."
"It's been an awfully long time," Cho said.
"Aye, closing in on five hours now." Moody turned away and, in a flurry of silk, disappeared once again under his cloak.
Cho tried to smile but couldn't hide the worry she felt. She moved off, the bench that she had been sitting on most of the morning was now occupied by Ginny and the boy she couldn't identify, but when Cho approached they stood and moved away. She resumed her seat and gazed up once again at the window above her.
"I didn't know you and Harry were going out again," said a voice from behind her. Cho turned to look into the cold eyes of Ginny Weasley.
"Excuse me?" she said.
"I said, I didn't know that you and Michael had broken up and now you were seeing Harry again."
"Not that it is any of your business, but Michael and I haven't broken up," Cho said icily.
"Then what are you doing here?"
"I came to take Harry out to lunch for his birthday," Cho repeated.
"Because that's what friends do. They visit each other, and do things like go to lunch."
"So you expect me to believe that you and Harry are just friends?"
"What are you doing here?" Cho returned.
"WE came to celebrate Harry's birthday."
"BECAUSE WE'RE HIS FRIENDS!" Ginny screamed.
Cho smiled sweetly and said, "And you expect me to believe that all of you are just friends?"
Ginny glared at the other girl, her temper barely in check, before stomping off to rejoin her friend. Cho was looking after her, her brow knitted in thought, when Hermione took a seat next to her on the bench.
"Um, Cho," she said quietly, "try not to be angry with her. Try to understand what's…"
"Oh," Cho replied coldly, "I understand her position perfectly."
Hermione swallowed before continuing. "We were all a bit surprised to see you here. I reckon we didn't know you and Harry had remained close since you broke up. I mean, he never told us anything."
Cho looked over at Hermione and studied her for a moment. "Actually, Harry and I have seen each other more lately than we did at school."
"Really?" Hermione said. "I'm sorry if this seems rude, but I just don't understand why. I mean, shouldn't you be spending time with Michael?"
Cho thought for a moment. "Yes, I suppose it does seem odd."
Hermione looked up at the window that led to Harry's room, worry tugged at the corners of her mouth. "You see those marks on the window frame?" Cho looked where Hermione was pointing. "Where it looks like the wood has been torn away." Cho nodded. "That's where his uncle put up the bars to keep Harry trapped, before his second year. Ron and the twins took their dad's flying car and came all the way over here to rescue him."
"Was that the car that they crashed into the school?" Cho asked.
Hermione giggled. "Yes, they almost got expelled for that little stunt." She looked over at Cho. "But it would have been worth it. We, all of us, just want to keep him safe."
"Is that so?" Cho asked quietly.
Hermione's brows knit together. "You doubt it?"
"No, I don't doubt your sincerity, it's just…" Cho looked back up to the window. "Do you know what bothers Harry the most?"
"I think it's that he feels guilty. Like all of this is his fault."
Cho shook her head. "No, that's not it." She turned to look at Hermione. "What bothers Harry the most is that so much of what happens to him is out of his control. Everyone wants something from him. Everyone is using him to their own ends, but they never tell him why. Everyone uses him but no one trusts him to choose for himself, to decide what he wants to do."
"I see how he could have felt that way last summer. Being kept in the dark and all. But we're not trying to use him."
"Oh, really? Tell me, Hermione, who's idea was it to start the D.A.? Was it Harry's?"
"Well, not really. Ron and I thought…" At the look that Cho gave her, Hermione coughed. "All right, it was my idea and I persuaded Ron and then Harry agreed to teach it."
"Did he agree or did you have to persuade him, too?"
"Well, of course he had to be convinced. But he was the best choice."
"Whose best choice?" Hermione looked puzzled. "Let me put it this way. You knew that the class Umbridge was teaching would likely cause you, well cause everybody in your year really, to fail the DADA OWL. You reasoned that the only way to pass the OWL was to hold some extensive study sessions that would let you actually practice the spells. You thought of starting the D.A. and then you persuaded Harry to lead the group. Isn't that right?"
"Well, Harry was the best choice and he gained as much from it as anybody."
"Really? How many new spells did Harry learn?"
"Did Harry learn to cast a Patronus at the D.A. or did we?" Hermione couldn't answer. "Did Harry learn to duel?" Hermione shook her head. "So, in other words, when you realized you needed help revising for the DADA OWL you used Harry to get it. We all did."
Hermione bristled at this. "We all took the same risks! We all could have been expelled, not just Harry."
Cho just looked at her for a second. "Did we? When the D.A. got found out" – Cho had a hard time swallowing – "when Marietta told on us, who got caught? I didn't, nor did you. Harry made sure that all of us got away first. He protected us first and when he got caught he would have taken all of the blame himself. Face the facts, Hermione, we used him."
Whatever Hermione was about to reply was lost as Mrs. Weasley came bustling over to them.
"Well, it's over, for now at least," she said.
Hermione face lit up. "You mean Harry's coming down?"
Molly frowned. "No, the poor boy is fast asleep. I sent Alastor up to check on him a few minutes ago. He found Harry asleep on the floor. He must have been so tired that he couldn't even make it into his bed. We just finished putting him to rights now. I don't know how long he'll be asleep but I don't think there's any point in our waiting around any further. I think it's best if we all just went home for today. We can do this again another time." She looked over at Cho and smiled. "And next time, dear, I'll make sure you get invited as well." Cho smiled her thanks.
With efficient movements Mrs. Weasley quickly packed together the remains of lunch, including the cake and the small pile of presents, and ushered the group away. Soon only Mad-eye Moody remained on watch, hidden under his invisibility cloak. The group made its way down Privet Drive with much good-natured jostling, with Cho at the rear watching it all with a fascinated eye. After a moment Ginny dropped back to walk beside her.
"So, Cho," she said casually, "you never did tell us why you're spending so much time with Harry this summer."
"Yes, I did. We're friends and that's what friends do. They spend time with each other," Cho replied with an equally casual tone.
Ginny sniffed, "Probably just looking to cry on his shoulder, I suspect."
Cho stopped in her tracks and turned to Ginny. "Yes, I have. In fact, I've cried a good deal on both his shoulders. Harry's a wonderful fellow and he deserves better than to be abandoned by his so-called ‘friends' every summer."
"We don't abandon him!" Ginny said hotly. "We came here today, didn't we?"
"Yeah, and how many other times this summer have you been to visit him?"
Ginny bit off whatever answer she was going to give and ran forward to rejoin the group, deliberately linking her arm with the black haired boy who was, evidently, her new beau.
At Mrs. Figg's house the group entered and gathered around her small fireplace.
"Cho, dear, why don't you go first," Molly said.
Cho stepped forward and took a pinch of powder from a black lacquer box on the mantle. After tossing it into the fire she called out in Chinese. In a moment, the face of a man appeared and began to talk to Cho. No one else understood what was being said but in a minute Cho ended the fire-call and stood up.
Glancing around the room, she said, "I must have left my bag back at Harry's. If you'll just excuse me, I'll run and get it."
Cho hurried from the room and out the front door. Molly looked after her for a moment then began to usher her brood through the Floo and back to the Burrow.
As soon as the door shut behind her, Cho broke into a run. Her sandals slapped against the pavement and the full skirt of her sundress flew around her thighs in a way that would have made any red-blooded male watching her smile, but no one saw. In a minute she was back at the front door of the Dursleys and wrenching at the doorknob. It was still locked. For a second she debated using magic to open the door, but decided that Ministry involvement would definitely not be desirable.
"Mr. Moody?" she whispered into the gathering darkness, "Are you there? I need you to open the door. Can you hear me?"
"Aye, I hear ye lass," came the gruff reply, "but why all the fuss? We just checked on the lad a bit ago and Molly put him to bed nice and proper."
"Was he really asleep?" Cho asked desperately. "Did he move at all when you put him in bed, did he make any noise?"
"Not that I can recall, no. He was dead to the world, but he was warm and he was breathing all right. He's fine, I tell ye."
"No, he might not be. He might not be asleep at all. Please, open the door. I have to check on him."
There was a whisper of sound followed by a sharp click and the door swung inward. Cho sprang inside and dashed up the stairs. At the top of the stairs she ran to Harry's bedroom and carefully opened the door. Her breath came in pants as she struggled to regain her composure from her run. She walked over to Harry's bedside. He looked as if he was deeply asleep. His breath was long, deep and regular. Cho reached out and touched one of his hands, it felt warm, and raised it off of the bed. Harry gave no resistance and when she released his hand it flopped back onto the covers.
"See," came Moody's voice over her shoulder, "dead asleep, just like I told ye."
"No," murmured Cho, "this isn't right. When someone's asleep, they move, their eyes move, and they respond to being touched."
Moody, now out of his cloak, hobbled up to the other side of the bed.
"Aye, they normally do, but if he was so tired…"
Cho reached out her hand to touch Harry's face. With a gentle finger she raised one of Harry's eyelids. His eyes were rolled back in their sockets, showing nothing but the whites. He made no more response to this than he had to anything else.
"Ye might be right, Miss. Tha's not normal. What do you reckon is happening?"
"Harry's not there," she said quietly.
Moody hesitated for only a second. "This is beyond my ken. I'll be needing…"
"There's nothing anyone can do for now," Cho said. Moody looked at her and she continued. "Something has happened and Harry's spirit has left his body. It might have been voluntary or he might have been forced out, I don't know."
"How do we find out?"
"We wait. If it was voluntary, then he will be returning. If he was driven out of his own body then he may never be able to come back. We can only wait and see."
"Well," Moody went on gruffly, "seeing as there's nothing to be done but wait, why don't you get on to your own bed and I'll just sit with the lad for awhile."
"No," Cho said calmly. "My father told me to stay here until Harry awakens."
"Now there's no need…"
"No, I'll stay." With that Cho slipped off her sandals and curled her legs up under herself to settle in. She did not notice Moody donning his cloak nor did she hear him leave the room.
Sometime later, Cho had fallen asleep, her head lolling forward. There was a muffled grunt and she jerked awake, wincing at the stab of pain she felt in her neck. Harry had rolled over on the bed and was snoring lightly with one hand dangling off the edge of the bed. She couldn't hold back a sigh of relief as she reached forward and lifted his hand back onto the bed. She tried to be gentle but Harry jerked at the movement and his eyes sprang open.
Sitting up in his bed, he garbled, "Wha? Who's there?"
"Shush, Harry, it's just me. Go back to sleep," Cho whispered but it was too late.
"Cho! What are you doing here?"
"Well, I was supposed to take you to lunch, remember? For your birthday. But your scar must have started bothering you." Harry reached up reflexively and rubbed his forehead. "You were up here taking care of it when I arrived. Then you were gone. Where did you go, Harry? Did He drive you away?"
"No, no, it wasn't Voldemort," Harry said. "It was amazing. I mean, Voldemort was a bastard; he dug at me for longer than I ever remember him doing. I think somehow he knew it was my birthday and he wanted to…" He shook his head. "Never mind that. After he was done, something amazing happened!" Harry was smiling broadly and Cho, even though she was confused, couldn't help but smile along with him. "It's like, suddenly, I was floating out of my body. I mean, I was still here, sitting on the floor – I've got to get myself a cushion, by the way, like the ones your dad conjured – but I wasn't. Do you understand?"
"Yes, I think I've heard of it. It's called an Out of…"
"Body Experience," Harry interrupted. "Yeah, that was it. I was floating along. I went back to the Ministry, to the Department of Mysteries, and I saw him! I actually spoke with him!"