"Why, Mr. Potter! I'd almost forgotten what you look like!" Ginny's chipper voice did a great deal to lighten Harry's mood, but the words, reminding him that him that he would only rarely be allowed to see her this summer, didn't.
Harry reached her bedside and took her gently in his arms. Ginny put up with that for a minute, then pulled him into a tight hug, shifted her grip, and pulled his head down to hers.
"Dumbledore tells me that Mad-Eye is teaching you this summer," Ginny said when they came up for air.
"Yeah. He said that since no one seems to be able to keep me out of trouble, someone should teach me how to get out of it," replied Harry, smiling weakly.
"Well, that's a relief," Ginny sighed. "I was afraid I was going to be jumping in front of curses for the rest of my life."
Harry grinned. "As I recall, you've only done it once."
Ginny nodded gravely. "Yes, but it's a slippery slope, you know. Habit forming. Addictive."
Harry's eyes softened. "Yes, you are."
He touched his lips gently to hers, reveling in her softness.
For a time, Harry forgot about curses, prophecies, and the war.
Charlie spent only long enough at the Burrow to greet his mother and drop off his luggage before Flooing to the Ministry. As he went through the security check (heavily increased since Voldemort's return was acknowledged), he wished that the Company had been willing to tell the Order where its base was located so he could simply Apparate there, or at least let them have some Portkeys.
He passed a second security check at the entrance to the Department of Mysteries. Late in the day as it was, there was still quite a bit of activity down here.
He walked up to a door marked "Curse Testing Station B" and opened it. Inside a witch was seated at a desk, reading a paperback book.
"Evening," she said carelessly, not looking up from her book.
"Good evening. I was wondering what curse I'd use to fight a Tebo?"
She set the book down. The motion hid her right hand from view for a moment, and the next thing Charlie knew she was pointing her wand at him. "Tebo are hard to find, but easy to kill," she replied.
"A Phoenix is easy to kill, but it always comes back," he answered.
She nodded. "Wand, name, and contact, please."
Charlie drew his wand slowly and laid it on the desk. "Charlie Weasley. I need to talk to someone about fighting dragons."
She took drew a pair of tongs out of the desk and picked up his wand, keeping her eyes on him. The tongs chimed once, and she set his wand down, sheathing her own as she did so. She picked up her book and flipped to a page near the end. "What's your sister's middle name?"
"Molly," he answered. After she nodded again, he gave in to curiosity. "What would you have done if I'd answered wrong? Without your wand, I mean?"
She raised her eyebrows. "I wouldn't have given you my phone number," she deadpanned.
"That would have been a shame." He threw in a smile.
"Yes, it would. It takes hours to get the blood out of the carpet." Charlie gulped. Her tone hadn't changed at all.
She reached into her desk again and pulled out a quill and parchment, holding it so that he couldn't read the writing. "Would tomorrow at 11:30AM be good for you?"
"That should be fine." All business. Such a shame.
"Good. And then 2:00PM to talk to someone about your dragon problem?"
"So you haven't worked out how to deal with dragons at all?" Charlie was disappointed.
Aislant shook his head. "I'm afraid not, Mr. Weasley. They're hardly Dark Creatures, and I'm afraid you've found a bit of a blind spot. We'll work on it now, of course."
Charlie nodded. "Thank you. I suppose I'd better go, then." While he was sad that the Company didn't have a rabbit to pull out of this particular hat, Charlie was a bit relieved as well. It was nice to know that for all their skill, the Tebo men weren't superhuman.
Aislant watched Charlie walk out. Lt. Carpenter eyed him. "How long were you in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, sir?"
"Oh, a few years," Aislant said lightly.
"A few decades, if I recall correctly, sir. And in those 'few years,' you didn't have any experience with dragons? Being used by Dark forces, perhaps?"
"Oh, I suppose I did. Once or twice."
"Once or twice." Carpenter echoed mockingly. "All right, Captain. How do we take down a dragon?"
Aislant raised his eyebrows in surprise. "Lt. Carpenter, I'm surprised at you! The nomenclature of the Stinger, please."
"The Stinger," began Carpenter, obviously reciting from memory without understanding the connection, "is an American designed, man-portable, heat-seeking, surface to air missile, range…" He stopped, and his mouth snapped shut.
"And we have eleven of them in our armory," finished Aislant comfortably.
"Why didn't you tell him?"
"Because he didn't need to know. And so the Romanian dragon team will continue to work at their best ability to find a way to defeat a dragon without using a dozen wizards. If they find one, we will have two options." Aislant leaned back in his chair.
"Not to mention we won't need to break into Fort Benning again."
I'm very impressed that you figured out how to wake up Ginny. Is she going to try to take her O.W.L.s this summer? There's a precedent – a Hogwarts student in 1962 was unconscious during his O.W.L.s and was allowed to take them when he woke up. Of course, he failed half of them, but I'd be happy to help Ginny study…
"Yes, Hermione, we know the sun rises in the east," sighed Harry.
…and for that matter you might find it useful in your preparation for your N.E.W.T.s. So would Ron, but I know I'm not going to convince him to study. At least, not with Ginny.
Harry snorted. "I'm sure Ron would be happy to 'study' with you any time, Hermione." He grinned. For that matter, I'd be happy to 'study' with Ginny any time, he reflected.
He glanced at his owl. "What do you reckon, Hedwig? Do you think they'd be more likely to let me go to Hogwarts if I was helping Ginny study?"
Hedwig hooted softly at him.
Harry shook his head. "No, I don't think so either. Well, think you're up to taking her a letter?"
Hedwig squawked indignantly. She fluffed her feathers, clearly expressing that she was capable of taking Ginny anything up to and possibly including Harry.
Which might not be a bad thing, Harry thought. Talk about a big letter. He grinned, blushed, and sat down to write to his girlfriend.
"Mum!" Charlie swept across the room, and threw his arms around his mother. "I'm so glad to see you! I just got back, and I couldn't wait until you got home. I had to come up to Hogwarts just to see you!" He kissed her on both cheeks dramatically, then backed off until he was holding her at arms length. "So tell me everything. How's the family ghoul? Oh, hello, Ginny," he waved a casual hand in her direction and then returned to his mother. "I can't wait to see the garden gnomes again!"
Ginny had been trying to keep a stern expression, but Charlie's last comment was too much. She giggled, snorted, and then burst out in a peal of laughter. "It's good to see you, Charlie."
"Only good to see me? I'm wounded." Charlie slapped a hand to his chest dramatically.
"You're going to be more than wounded if I don't get a hug!" Ginny cried, reaching out her arms.
Charlie hugged her and then sat down by her bed. Their mother bustled out, muttering something about dinner.
"Seriously, Ginny, there was something I wanted to talk to you about."
She tilted her head, eyeing him suspiciously. "What?"
"Harry. Well, boys, including Harry," he started, more than a little uncomfortable.
Her eyes narrowed. "Ah. Let me save you some time, dear brother. You're going to tell me teenaged boys only have one thing on their mind, right? Just nod."
Charlie nodded. He was very uncomfortable now.
"Right. You know this because you were, of course, a teenaged boy yourself. Just nod."
He nodded again, blushing faintly.
"Of course. So tell me, brother of mine, just how successful were you?"
Charlie's jaw dropped. "Uh?"
"You heard me. I want to know how far your charm and boyish good looks got you." Ginny smiled sweetly at him.
"Uh, well, I'm not sure I should talk about that…" he started.
"But it's just fine to talk about my life?" Ginny spat, suddenly glaring at him.
Charlie almost reached for his wand to cast a shield charm before he realized it wouldn't help. "Well, it's not really the same. I mean, I just want…" He stopped, and leaned slightly back in his chair. It was amazing that a girl sitting in a hospital bed could be so threatening.
"You just want to make sure your little sister," she hissed the words, "isn't like the girls you dated?"
"Tell me, big brother, have you talked to Bill recently? Your older, curse-breaker brother?" Her voice was concentrated venom. Basilisk venom.
"Yes?" he offered, hoping it was the right answer.
"Did he tell you what happened when he made a few suggestions about my life?" she bit out.
"Not really," he answered weakly.
"Well, I have to admit, I needed a little help to get it into a letter." She smiled. There was nothing pleasant about it. "From Fred and George, though they didn't know who I was using it on."
"Fred and George."
"And Hermione helped me with the spell work."
"Hermione." He winced.
"I hear he was walking funny for almost a day," she gloated. "I thought it was only fair. He was the one who suggested that a well-placed knee could be used to dissuade over-eager males."
Harry threw down the Daily Prophet in anger. For the fourth day in a row, Death Eaters had attacked what seemed to be a completely random Muggle family. He turned to Moody, his jaw tight. "Why are they doing this?"
Moody had taken to delivering the paper when he came by each morning. Harry had noted that the magical photographs tended to freeze quite often and suspected the paper had been thoroughly examined for curses.
"Because its good for their morale, bad for ours, costs them almost nothing, and us a lot more," responded Moody.
Harry's brow wrinkled. "Do you mean because we haven't caught them yet?"
Moody shook his head. "We won't catch them, lad. England's a big place. We've got hundreds of people on duty full time just finding the victims, cleaning up the mess, and modifying memories. I doubt they've got more than a dozen Death Eaters putting in a few hours a day. It'll take a miracle for us to catch one of their teams in the act." He shrugged. "We have a hard enough time covering enough of the families of Muggle-born wizards to deter the Death Eaters from attacking them. We can't protect the whole country."
Harry put his head in his hands.
Moody watched him for a moment and then asked gently, "Feeling guilty because you're one of the ones we are protecting, lad?"
Harry looked up, and nodded once.
Moody grunted, and his voice returned to its normal gruffness. "Well then. The more you can take care of yourself, the less we'll need to worry about watching you. Let's start today with a twitch exercise, shall we?"
"I'm always afraid what will happen if one of my friends comes up behind me, once I get used to that," Harry protested.
"So tell your friends not to sneak up on you. Believe me; your enemies won't always be polite."
Harry grimaced. Moody was right. "But what if they forget?"
"Then you can revive them, and they aren't likely to make the same mistake twice," Moody answered harshly. "That's why I'm teaching you to use spells that stun, not kill."
He drew his wand. "Enough. Let's get started."
End Chapter 2
Author's Note: "My object all sublime/I shall achieve in time/To make the punishment fit the crime." – Gilbert and Sullivan, the Mikado.
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