Tuesday morning was always laundry day at the Weasley house. For as long as she could remember, Ginny had trudged from room to room collecting the family laundry baskets and lining them up in the scullery. Working closely with her mother was something Ginny actually enjoyed, because she always had her mother's almost undivided attention. The two had spent many a pleasurable hour discussing all sorts of subjects that only the women of the house could share. Today was no exception, and as soon as the breakfast dishes were done, the two began the weekly chore of providing everyone with clean clothes.
"Ginny, please hang this load of sheets on the line to dry," Mrs Weasley requested, holding out a large wicker basket. "I'll be out in a few minutes to help you with the two largest ones."
Ginny took the basket out to the clothes lines her mother had set up in the middle of the back garden. A row of towels flapped in the light breeze and Ginny checked them for dryness before pinning up the first sheet. As she tugged a second sheet out of the basket a low twitter caught her attention. She dropped the sheet and gazed into the amber eyes of her favourite snowy owl. Hedwig gave a little hop and landed on Ginny's shoulder, nipping at the fly-away tendrils of red hair that had escaped from Ginny's plait.
"I'm glad to see you, too," Ginny said, giggling a little as the owl's feathers tickled her head. She stroked Hedwig's chest. "Do you have a letter for me from Harry?"
Hedwig stuck out her leg revealing two separate scrolls of parchment. The first one had her name on, so she detached it, noting that the second missive was for Ron.
"Thanks, Hedwig. Ron's up in his bedroom. You can ask him for a snack or go find some of the mice Pig was hunting yesterday out in the orchard. Take your pick," Ginny told the owl.
Hedwig gently squeezed Ginny's shoulder with her talons and took off for Ron's room. The laundry forgotten, Ginny sank onto one of the garden benches and began to read Harry's letter.
For Harry, this was a long letter, nearly two full pages. He included a detailed accounting of the daily routine he had fallen into, mentioning how much he had improved over the last few days under Dudley's brusque guidance. Ginny was pleased that although he still felt some pain in his shoulder, he could now raise his arm completely over his head while supporting a medium-sized weight. She was still somewhat sceptical, though, of his report that his aunt and uncle had not yet required him to do any particularly strenuous yard work.
A hand on her shoulder caused her to jump and she looked up to find Ron peering down at her letter. His own letter from Harry was in his hand. "Want to compare?" he inquired.
Ginny scooted over to give Ron room to sit down. "What did Harry write to you?" she asked.
"The usual. He's looking forward to tomorrow afternoon and believe it or not, he's got half his homework done! I haven't even thought about my essays, much less started them," Ron exclaimed, shaking his head.
"That makes two of us," Ginny agreed. She then told him about Dudley helping Harry.
"Dudley? That bully?" Ron exclaimed, his eyebrows rising toward his fringe. "I'll believe that when I see it."
"Let's ask Harry about his training tomorrow," Ginny suggested. "If he really is better, he should be willing to tell us what they've been doing."
"Good thinking, Ginny," Ron said, standing up. He reached for the sheet Ginny had dropped back into the basket. "Mum told me to come out and help you with these."
"Thanks," Ginny said, and picked up the other end. Together they made quick work of the remaining sheets and were soon striding back to the house, talking about their upcoming trip to Mrs Figg's.
The next afternoon Ginny and Ron stepped out of Mrs Figg's fire place a few minutes before the appointed time they were to meet with Harry. As she landed on the hearth, Ginny lunged forward to keep from falling flat on her face and stepped on a cat's tail. The resulting yowl pierced the air, causing the other felines in the room to run for cover. Ginny righted herself just in time to get out of Ron's way as Mrs Figg bustled into the living room carrying a serving tray upon which plates, cups, a large teapot, and a sugar and creamer set rested.
"My, my, my, don't you make a good alarm, Mr Tibbles," Mrs Figg crooned to the large cat wrapping itself sinuously about her ankles, even as it scowled at Ginny. Smiling, the older woman looked up at Ron and Ginny. "Welcome to my home. Harry hasn't come round yet, but I expect him momentarily. Please, sit down." She gestured to the worn sofa and wingback chairs grouped round a low circular table.
As Ron sat in one of the wing chairs, Ginny asked, "What can I help with, Mrs Figg?"
Their hostess smiled. "It would be nice if you could bring in the gateau for me. The plate is rather heavy, and I would hate to see such a marvellous confection end up on the floor," she said.
Ginny followed Mrs Figg into the kitchen and picked up the large cake smothered in chocolate icing. As she threaded her way between the several cats that lay on the floor, the doorbell rang. Mrs Figg left her tray of small sandwiches on the counter and hastened past Ginny to answer the door.
"Welcome, Harry, dear! Do come in. It's so good to see you again," Ginny heard Mrs Figg exclaim as she set the gateau on the table. Harry's mumbled greeting was drowned by the loud meowing of several cats that had slunk in as he stepped inside.
Ginny straightened up as Harry greeted Ron, wondering whether her boyfriend would want to kiss her in front of Mrs Figg. He didn't. Instead, he held her close for a long time. They connected mentally.
I've really missed you, Ginny.
I've missed you, too, Harry. She gazed past his glasses into the green eyes that had haunted her dreams for the past three nights. He seemed tired to her, mentally as well as physically. Are you all right?
I'm fine, Ginny. Honestly. His answer caused her to scowl, but she let it go for the moment. Aloud he said, "Ginny, please thank your dad for arranging this. I'm very glad you're here."
"I will, Harry," she promised.
The three found seats before Mrs Figg's cats could take over the furniture. Harry followed Ginny to the sofa and sat close enough to her for their knees to touch. One glance at Ron's efforts not to look their way nearly caused Ginny to burst out laughing. She quickly covered her mouth with her hand and coughed several times. However, she couldn't keep the smile off her face as Harry queried, Is Ron embarrassed by how close I'm sitting?
Absolutely, Harry! He's treating this tea as a very formal occasion because of Mrs Figg... and Mum's admonishments to be on our best behaviour, of course. Just look at his ears! she chortled. Mum would be proud!
It was now Harry's turn to grin in Ron's direction, although he did scoot away from her onto the sofa's other cushion. Ginny felt Ron's eyes on her and she glanced up to see her brother nodding his approval. She scowled back, daring Ron to say something about inappropriate behaviour. He's no fun, she thought.
Not at all, Harry echoed back. They grinned at each other.
Personally, I think Ron wants us to sit that close, Ginny said.
Harry raised an eyebrow in her direction. You think? I'd love to, Ginny, but I don't think Mrs Figg would approve.
Ginny snickered behind her hand.
At that moment, their hostess brought in one last tray of food--a large treacle tart that had Harry grinning from ear to ear--and made a big production of serving the first cups of tea to each of her guests. None of the three spoke until everyone had a cup and the plates of food had been passed. Then, Mrs Figg excused herself saying, "Holler if you'd like another pot of tea. I'll come back to cut the cake when you're ready."
She left to a chorus of 'Thank Yous,' leaving the three friends to chat. They ate quietly for a few minutes and when she had refreshed everyone's cup, Ginny turned to Harry. "It's good to see you without your sling."
"I haven't needed it for a couple of days," he said, a note of pride in his voice. "Dudley's got me working out in the garage two times a day, three if he can bully me into it. Madam Pomfrey should be pleased the next time she checks me over."
Ron looked interested as he asked, "What sort of things is Dudley having you do?"
Harry launched into a detailed explanation of his exercise program which had Ron on the edge of his seat. Ginny leaned back and watched them, happy for the moment just to be near Harry. He seemed to have perked up a bit since he arrived. Maybe it's seeing some friendly faces, she thought.
"Well, that's it," Harry finished. "I'm now using the second to last rubber band with Madam Pomfrey's post contraption, and I'm hoping to be on the last one by the time Professor Dumbledore comes to pick me up."
"When will that be?" Ginny asked.
The smile left Harry's face. "I don't know. It could be Saturday, it could be a week from yesterday, I might have to stay the entire fortnight. All I know is that I'm to expect an owl that hasn't come yet."
"Will you need to come back here next year?" Ron asked looking at Ginny. She shook her head, trying to convey the question was unnecessary.
Harry, however, looked relieved. "As of July 31st I'm completely finished with the Dursleys and the need to endure my annual sentence at their house," he replied, a slight smile spreading across his face. "I'm going to tell Aunt Petunia she can do whatever she wants with my, erm... Dudley's second bedroom... after I leave with Professor Dumbledore. My short stay here this summer is all I'll have to endure until I turn seventeen."
"And then what happens?" Ron asked quietly.
Harry shrugged. "I'll be an adult living at Hogwarts for the most part until I have to face him," he said, adding emphasis to the last word. No one spoke for several seconds.
"What about your aunt and uncle and Dudley?" Ginny asked, curious to know what would happen to them in a morbid sort of way and eager to get thoughts of Voldemort out of her head.
"Professor Dumbledore seems to think they'll have to go into hiding once my mother's protective charm ends," Harry commented, pushing aside a cucumber sandwich and taking a large bite of treacle tart. He followed it with a sip of tea. "I'm not envying the Order members who will be assigned to their evacuation. My uncle won't be very cooperative, I'm afraid."
"What'll he do? Turn purple again?" Ron asked, a small amused smile lighting up his face. Ginny recalled hearing Fred and George's story about their Tonne Tongue Toffees a few years ago and their detailed description of Vernon Dursley's colour changes.
"Among other things," Harry said, indifferently. "I'm more concerned with how Dudley's going to take it."
"Huh?" Ron asked. "When did you start caring about Dudley?"
Harry picked up his cup, but didn't drink. "Last Sunday afternoon," he mumbled, suddenly looking uncomfortable. His tone made both Ginny and Ron feel uneasy.
As Ginny glanced uncomfortably at Harry, something occurred to her that she hadn't thought of since late Sunday afternoon. "Harry," she asked quietly, "did something happen to you on Sunday?"
Both Ron and Harry stared at her. "What makes you say that?" he asked, his voice cautiously casual.
"Were you wearing your phoenix?" she pushed.
Harry nodded slowly. "Yeah, but what of it? The Burrow's a hundred miles from here," he answered evasively.
"Harry, my angel vibrated. The only reason for that would be you needing me," Ginny told him, determined to get to the bottom of what was bothering her. "You know that."
"It couldn't have done," he said, not meeting her eyes. "There's too much distance between us."
"Well, it did," Ginny insisted, reaching up to finger her necklace. "But before I could tell Dad about it, Tonks called an urgent Order meeting and he had to leave."
"That meeting could have been about anything, Ginny," Ron interjected.
Ginny scowled at him. "Then why did Dad pull Mum up to their bedroom and lock the door for ten minutes when he got home?" she demanded. "He only does that when he needs to talk to her about Harry and doesn't want us hearing what they're saying. The rest of the time they just talk quietly in the corner of the kitchen."
Ron nodded and turned to Harry. "Did something happen that you're not telling us?" he asked, an accusatory note creeping into his voice.
Harry looked down at his dilapidated trainers, mumbling, "Dudley's gang cornered me in the park."
Instantly, Ron and Ginny were by his side. Fury washed over Ginny as she put her arm around Harry's shoulders. She was silent for a moment, gaining control of her emotions. "I'm so, so sorry, Harry."
Ron pushed aside the teapot and sat on the table. The wood protested a bit and he slid to his knees. "Did they hurt you, mate?"
Harry inhaled and closed his eyes. "Dudley's friend Dennis broke three of my ribs," he muttered. "But Dudley didn't stick around once they started after me."
Ginny bit her lip as Ron stormed towards the door, his hand reaching for his wand. "Come back here, Ron!" she hissed. "Going after Dudley and that Dennis kid won't do any good. They're Muggles and you could get in serious trouble if you hex them!"
Ron's eyes blazed as he directed his anger at Harry. "Why didn't you fight back?" he demanded. "A couple of spells and you would have been rid of those gits."
Harry jumped to his feet, facing Ron. "Don't you think I wanted to hex them?" he shot back, his voice rising with each word. "Gordon had my wand, Ron. He threatened to snap it in two." Hearing this, Ron's hand twitched towards his wand, but other than that he made no movement until Harry ended his story saying, "I can't afford another letter from the Ministry, and you know why."
The two boys stared at each other, breathing hard, and then Ron nodded and slowly sat back down. Puzzled, Ginny tried to contact Harry but he blocked her thoughts, the first time he had ever done such a thing. His refusal to accept her questions shook her badly, and she wondered why Harry didn't want to answer her. Without even looking at him, she excused herself and hurried into the kitchen carrying the teapot.
"More tea, dear?" Mrs Figg inquired, looking up from the Muggle newspaper she had spread on the kitchen table.
"Yes, and we're ready to cut the gateau," Ginny said, reaching for the tin of tea and the kettle of hot water that simmered on the stove.
Mrs Figg pushed away from the table. "Ginny, what was all the arguing out there just now? I nearly went out there to see what was the matter," she said.
Ginny said, "Harry just told us what happened to him on Sunday afternoon. The three of us were arguing about it. Ron didn't like it that Dudley's friends hurt Harry."
"No, I don't think he would, and neither did Nymphadora."
Ginny's eyes widened. "Tonks was there and didn't do anything to stop Dudley's gang?" she asked angrily. "Why not?"
Sighing, Mrs Figg said, "Harry had no protection that afternoon, Ginny."
"I don't understand, Mrs Figg. Why wasn't anyone following him?" Ginny demanded.
"Ginny, almost every Order member and all the Aurors were out in the field trying to divert attention from what the Muggles called a car bombing near the Westminster Underground station. It took Dudley Dursley pounding on my door to get Harry some help," Mrs Figg replied with a sigh.
Ginny stared at her. "Dudley actually helped Harry in front of his friends?" she exclaimed incredulously.
"Yes, he did. He even went in search of Harry's wand and brought it back to him."
"That's amazing," Ginny murmured, shaking her head in disbelief.
Mrs Figg cleared her throat. "There's another thing you need to understand about this war, Ginny," she said gravely. "Lord Voldemort is becoming stronger by the day, whereas the Order is weakening rapidly. Five of our key members have been lost in the last few weeks, and Professor Dumbledore is scrambling to keep us together. It's not an easy job with the increased Death Eater activity. We watchers and the Auror squads are stretched to the breaking point. Harry was lucky I was at home last Sunday. If things hadn't dissipated as they did when I went to Harry's rescue, both of us might have been sent to hospital."
"It's become that bad?" Ginny murmured in alarm as the kettle whistled.
"Yes, child, I'm afraid it has," Mrs Figg said.
"I had no idea..." Ginny said, her shoulders sagging slightly. She concentrated on warming the teapot with a little hot water as she digested this new information. "Is there anything Ron and I can do?" she finally asked.
Mrs Figg smiled at her. "You're doing it already. You're keeping Harry's spirits up and helping him see that he's made the right choices, even if they are difficult," she said.
Ginny looked at her doubtfully. "If you say so," she said resignedly. She glanced at the teapot in her hands. "I'd better finish this before Harry and Ron wonder what's become of me." She carefully measured out the tea leaves and filled the pot with hot water. When the tea was ready, the two women went back into the living room.
Ron and Harry were talking Quidditch as if nothing had happened and Ginny hadn't been gone from the room an unusually long time. Ron was catching Harry up on the latest goings-on by the Chudley Canons. He gestured wildly, imitating the Keeper's latest spectacular save, a move that involved hanging upside-down from his broom by his knees. Ginny sat back down on her end of the couch and held out plates to catch the slices of cake. She genuinely hoped Ron would not try that the next time they went up to practice.
The gateau was delicious, but Ginny hardly tasted it. She was greatly disturbed by the news of the Order and felt stung by Harry's earlier slighting. There's something he's not telling me, she thought, and it has to do with Dumbledore and possibly Voldemort. I don't know what it is, but I really wish Harry would trust me.
She tried in vain to connect with Harry again, but he refused. He wouldn't even make eye contact with her. Ginny at last gave up, feeling as though icy tendrils were squeezing her heart. She hoped Harry wasn't so ashamed of what had happened on Sunday that he was refusing to talk about it more than he had; it seemed to her that he had conducted himself admirably.
The conversation switched to news of Hermione and Ron reminded everyone that she would be at the Burrow in less than three weeks, just in time to go with Ron and Ginny to visit Neville and Harry at Hogwarts. Harry seemed pleased that he would have visitors. "This summer isn't turning out as bad as I thought it would," he remarked.
The three smiled at the thought and as soon as they were done with their gateau, they took their dishes into the kitchen. In no time the clean cups and plates were stacked neatly on the counter. Harry proudly reached over his head to put them away with everyone looking on. I told you I was much better, he crowed as the last plate slid into place.
Good for you, Ginny replied, failing to match his enthusiasm as he climbed off the step stool.
Harry looked at her with a puzzled expression on his face. You're not happy about my progress?
Ginny sighed. I'm pleased that you're doing so well, Harry, she admitted. But I just can't help thinking that you're keeping something important from me, something that as one of Voldemort's victims I have a right to know.
Harry's gaze left hers and focused on a spot behind Ginny's head. I wish I could tell you, but Professor Dumbledore wanted as few people as possible to be privy to certain information and gave me permission to tell only Ron and Hermione.
Why not me?
I've told you that already, Ginny. I need you here to come back to. I need you to be safe.
But I don't want to be stuck safely at home or at Hogwarts, Harry. I want to help you, I want to FIGHT! I'm Voldemort's victim just as much as you are!
I know that, but your parents want you to be safe as much as I do. They wouldn't think very highly of me if something happened to their only daughter while you were with me. I have to respect their wishes. Harry stepped forward and gathered her into his arms.
Ginny hugged him back, aware that both her brother and Mrs Figg were looking at them. I don't like it, butI do understand, she told him with a sudden mischievous smile. And I don't think your aunt and uncle would like it if something happened to me and Mum sent you a Howler.
Harry threw his head back and let out a Sirius-like bark of laughter, causing Mrs Figg to smile. No, I don't think they would. He grew serious as he stepped back and fumbled with something under his shirt. "Will you keep this for me?" he asked, holding out his phoenix pendent. "I won't be in one place for very long this summer and I won't be able to wear it when I'm with Dumbledore." His fingers covered hers as he dropped it gently into her hand. "I really do want it back."
Ginny accepted the necklace and hung it around her own neck. "I'll keep it safe, I promise," she said capturing his eyes with hers. I love you, Harry.
Harry inhaled sharply, the green of his eyes intensifying at her words. I love you, too, Ginny. Thank you. He turned to Mrs Figg. "Thank you for having me over," he said as Ron and Ginny murmured their appreciation as well.
"It was lovely to have young people in this house today," Mrs Figg told them, pressing large slices of treacle tart and chocolate gateau into their hands at the door. "To keep your strength up," she added when the two boys exchanged grins.
Harry gave Mrs Figg a quick hug and then shook hands with Ron. Turning to Ginny he kissed her discreetly on the cheek murmuring, "I'll see you soon," and hurried away before she could respond.
With a heavy heart Ginny walked to the fire place and threw in a pinch of Floo powder. "See you at home," she told Ron. She stepped into the green flames shouting, "The Burrow," leaving him to thank their hostess and juggle the plates of food in the Floo.
Mrs Weasley met her at the hearth. "How was your tea with Harry?" she asked as Ginny came shooting out.
She paused long enough to say, "We had a good time and I can hardly wait until we see him again at Hogwarts in a couple of weeks," before turning and ascending the stairs to her room. She quietly shut the door and leaned against it for a moment. The quiet room calmed her as she crossed the floor to her bed and sat down, staring at her poster of the Weird Sisters.
A few minutes later, her mother knocked and opened the door. "I know something is bothering you, Ginny," she said in her no-nonsense manner. "You've never said so little after a visit with Harry."
Ginny gave her mother a small smile and held up Harry's necklace. "Harry gave back the necklace I gave him last term because he's afraid it will lead Voldemort to us. I'm just feeling a little left out of his plans at the moment, Mum. I'll be all right in a few minutes."
"I can understand," Mrs Weasley said, coming to sit next to Ginny. "I felt the same way when Fabian and Gideon went out on their first Order missions and left me at home with your grandparents."
Ginny's eyes widened at this new piece of information about her uncles. "Did they come back?" she asked, needing something to hope for.
Mrs Weasley smiled. "They did for over three years, three years of worry on my part until that last mission when everything I'd been dreading came to fruition and the Death Eaters got the best of them," she said, groping in her pocket for her handkerchief. She dabbed at her eyes before saying, "You must have faith that whatever Harry is involved in, he will come back to you if for no other reason than to claim his necklace. Keep it safe for him, Ginny, and let its presence comfort you."
Ginny sighed and hugged her mum. "I will, Mum, I will."
A/N: As always, I have two people to thank who have helped to get this chapter ready for archiving. First, to GhostWriter who patiently goes through each and every first draft I send him and gives me his opinion and suggestions for improving what I've written. I can always count on his draft to be covered in red and witty remarks that, most of the time, make me smile. Second, there is Aggiebell, my beta, whose witty comments and suggestions for italicizing certain words for emphasis helps me to give meaning to what my characters say.
Chapter 5: Leaving the Dursleys is nearly ready to go to beta and hopefully will be out in a couple of weeks.