Ministry of Magic Officials announced that in a mass attack late yesterday afternoon, Death Eaters overran and destroyed the Ohio Institute for Magical Education and Research (OIMER) outside the city of Mansfield, Ohio, USA. Casualties could be in excess of 500. The possibility of survivors trapped in the rubble does exist, though rescue efforts have been hampered by magical traps left in place by the Death Eaters that have added to the list of casualties.
Chief Director of the American Aurors Bureau, Robertus Waldbauer, issued the following statement early this morning: "It is with great sorrow that I must report that it is unlikely that many survivors will be found in the rubble of OIMER. Rescue efforts are being hampered by numerous delayed-action curses and hexes, and nearly all those deceased thus far uncovered show definite signs of Unforgivable Curse use. Given the heinous nature of this act of terrorism, I have been authorized to offer to the Witches and Wizards of the world a reward of 25,000 Galleons for information leading to the apprehension and imprisonment of He Who Must Not Be Named and any or all of his minions. Furthermore, the Magical Armed Forces of the United States have been mobilized in response, and will be monitoring all Floo Network Activity, Portkey use, and unlicensed Apparation activity in the hopes that these terrorists make a fatal mistake and reveal themselves. You-Know-Who and the Death Eaters, take note ... This is a declaration of war against you and your activities."
One survivor of the attack, Miss Katherine VanHerst, 17, though badly injured, was able to give Aurors arriving at the scene positive indication that this act of terrorism was led by You-Know-Who. Miss VanHerst, a Junior (The equivalent of a sixth-year student) at the Institute, stated that the attack came without warning. "One moment, classes were going on as usual, and the next thing I knew, a group of masked black-robed invaders were pouring into the classroom, throwing curses at everyone. I did hear one of the robed men refer to another as "Lord' just before I blacked out."
It is suspected that the attack was staged in order to loot the Institute's Research Facilities, where Doctor Robespierre Farmwood recently announced the discovery of a new potion mixture that seemed to halt the natural ageing process. No trace of Dr. Farmwood or any of his lab assistants has been found, though the lab itself suffered little to no exterior damage. All equipment within was broken and smashed, and several files of notes and documentation are missing, suggesting the possibility that this attack was made to cover a kidnapping.
The Daily Prophet story told it all--Lord Voldemort and his Death Eater followers months of inactivity were at an end.
"How terrible -- all those innocent people..." Mrs. Weasley's voice sounded strained, and Harry could see tears forming at the corners of her eyes. Ginny clasped her hands around her mother's waist, her eyes glistening as well.
"Voldemort went to America to attack the school where Dr. Farmwood was working, so he must believe the doctor's work could be useful. Extending his life has been at the root of everything Voldemort does," raged Harry.
"First he went after the Philosopher's stone, and then he used my blood and a Dark Magic spell to be reborn. Now, he and his Death Eaters have wantonly killed so many, just to take a prisoner who has discovered a way to delay the aging process. He has to be stopped!" Harry slammed his fist on the table as he felt anger welling up inside himself as he spoke.
He sat down at the table and covered his eyes with his hands. The room was silent except for the soft rustle of newspaper pages being turned.
"Farmwood... Why does that name sound so familiar?" asked Ginny of no one in particular.
"It does, doesn't it?" Mrs. Weasley carefully folded the newspaper as she spoke. "Now that you mention it, I know I've heard it somewhere before, too."
"Something at Hogwarts... " Ginny paused, thinking hard.
"Professor Farmwood! He taught Potions at Hogwarts while Arthur and I were there! He retired to do research after my second year!"
"Yes, that's it! His name was on the Emeritus Plaque. You know, Harry, that bronze plaque over the main entrance doors as you exit?"
Harry shook his head. "I guess I've never paid that much attention to it."
"I've paid attention. I wound up reading it just about every time I waited for you to get out of Potions to take me to dinner in the Great Hall last year," Ginny smiled faintly. "When I wasn't studying for my OWLs, anyway."
"Well, if it is him, let's hope that he can resist the Imperius charm -- and doesn't want to help Voldemort," Harry muttered.
The Daily Prophet had little to add over the next few days, merely reporting on the dead and injured from the Death Eater attack. Harry found himself angry and lost in thought increasingly often as the days passed, and many times would be silent and aloof. As it turned out, the death toll from the attack was higher than first estimated, and for each new name added to the list, Harry grieved. He felt responsible, somehow, just because he had been used by Voldemort and his Death Eaters to restore the Dark Lord to life. That began to wear on Ginny, who felt somewhat left out of Harry's life. Her attempts to start or carry on a conversation were sometimes met with a look of such infinite sadness that she felt as if she was intruding, and Harry often seemed distracted and out of touch with the everyday things going on around him.
Finally, Ginny took matters into her own hands. She and Harry were sitting at the riverbank when she once more noticed the faraway expression in his eyes, and tried to regain his attention.
"Harry? Harry?" she paused for a moment. "Harry!"
Harry started in surprise, then focused on the red-haired young beauty who had called him out of his reverie. "What?"
"Have you heard anything I've said to you in the last ten minutes?"
"Erm... Sorry, no. I was just thinking --"
"No, you were worrying. Worrying about that stupid prophecy, and Voldemort, and whatever it is you think you have to do."
"But Ginny --"
"No buts! I know you have cause to worry; We all do, as long as Voldemort is out there. But you can't take it all on your own shoulders -- you'll collapse from the weight of that responsibility," huffed Ginny.
"But the prophecy --"
"Hang the prophecy!" she shouted. "You want a prophecy? I will give you one! Harry Potter will not face Voldemort alone!"
"Ginny, how can you say that?" yelled Harry.
"Because it's true. Moreover, I do not have to be a seer to know it. If you were thinking at all, you would know it too. You will have Dumbledore, all of the Order, Ron, Hermione, and most everyone from Hogwarts to back you up! And you'll have me!" she declared.
"Ginny, no, you can't --" he began.
"Yes I can! Harry, can't you get it through that thick skull of yours that you will never have to face Voldemort alone? You don't have to! Understand?"she screamed at him.
"But I can't let him hurt you -- you, or anyone else,"
"Damn it, Harry! If he wants to hurt someone, you will not be able to stop him! It's not your responsibility!" Ginny's eyes filled with tears that ran down her face.
Harry gathered her into his arms and tried to hold her as she tried to pull away. Ginny sobbed with frustration, her face red with anger.
"Damn it, Harry, let go!" she struggled in his arms. Finally, her emotions made her break down completely as he held her tight and tried to comfort her, as her tears soaked the front of his shirt.
"Ginny, please -- don't cry. I'm sorry, I... I know what you are trying to say. But that doesn't mean I won't worry. As long as he's out there, I'll worry -- worry that maybe I've put you, or Ron, or Hermione, or any of your family or our friends in danger, just by being around you." Harry's voice was tight with emotion, and his hand was gently rubbing her back as he spoke. "I know I can't do everything, but that doesn't mean I'm not going to try. I have to -- you mean too much to me not to."
She sniffed, wiping her eyes, but stayed in Harry's embrace. "I-- I know that. But knowing it doesn't really help when you shut me out. Harry, I know you will have to face Voldemort someday, but that doesn't mean I want it to happen any sooner than it has to. Every time you push me away because you're afraid for me, I know you don't really mean it. But it still hurts."
"Ginny, I'm sorry --"
"Harry Potter, I love you! I want us to have a life together -- I want to spend the rest of my life with you, I want us to get married, I want us to have children –"
Harry stiffened slightly at Ginny's speech, then smiled faintly. "-- I want us to live to a ripe old age in a world without Voldemort and his followers," Ginny continued. "I know that isn't going to happen unless Voldemort is gone, and I know that stupid prophecy says it's either you or him. But let us have whatever time we can have together. Please, Harry? Please?" She wrapped her arms around him and held tight.
Harry tightened his own embrace, holding her close, and kissed the top of her head. He took a deep breath, then blew it out. Whispering into her ear, he said, "Yes."
Security all over the wizarding community had been doubled, then redoubled. Warding Spells were placed nearly everywhere, the Ministry of Magic had announced that all Floo Network activity would be monitored, special Apparation points for arrivals and departures were now in place and everyone found, at some point during their day, the watchful eyes of the Aurors sweeping over them. Diagon Alley seemed all but deserted when Mrs. Weasley, Ron, Hermione, Ginny and Harry stepped through the magical opening in the wall behind the Leaky Cauldron. They had used the Floo Network to come to London, and were now required to check in at the Auror Station that had been placed at the gateway between the Muggle world and Diagon Alley.
"Names, please?" asked the Auror on duty, a middle-aged man with the stance that cried ‘Military man'. His salt-and-pepper hair was cut short, and he wore the insignia of a Major on his collar. He smiled reassuringly as he placed a quick-quotes quill on the parchment on his clipboard.
"Molly Weasley, with son and daughter, Ronald and Virginia. Also Hermione Granger, and Harry Potter. We're here to get them their supplies for Hogwarts."
"The Aurors thank you for your cooperation, ma'am. We hope you understand why the Ministry of Magic deems this necessary."
"Not a problem, Mr. --" she paused momentarily to read his nametag, "--Elderwort. We know it is for our own safety. We're glad you're here."
"Thank you, ma'am. Enjoy your shopping trip."
The first stop was Gringots, where Harry needed to make a withdrawal, and Hermione needed to change Muggle money for Galleons, Sickles, and Knuts. Harry noticed that there were many more guards than had been usual in the past, including one at every teller's post. The goblin at the counter they went to was backed up by a grim-looking wizard who held his wand at the ready as he watched, his eyes darting to look in every direction.
After Gringots, the next stop was Flourish and Blotts for the texts required at Hogwarts. Hermione had hers in hand within two minutes of entering the shop, and was now perusing a selection of other titles that she stated were, "Rather interesting." Ron and Mrs. Weasley were sorting through the used books, while Ginny stayed with Harry, her hand in his as they walked up and down the aisles.
Harry found himself pulled to a sudden stop as Ginny paused to look at a stack of books.
"What's caught your interest, Ginny?"
"Look at this, Harry. The Hogwarts Edition of the One Volume Encyclopaedia of Spells, Potions, Charms, Transfigurations, and Divination." She had picked up a volume and was paging through it even as she spoke. "Maybe this could help you study for your NEWTs. It seems to have everything in it that we've learned since we started at Hogwarts."
"Well," Ginny paused as she flipped to the end of the book, "There seems to be everything I've studied, but --"
"There are an awful lot of blank pages here at the end."
"Blank pages?" Harry leaned over Ginny's shoulder to look at the book. "Where?"
"Right here's where they start," she pointed.
"Have you had your eyes checked recently?"
"What? Why do you ask that?"
"Because I can see a lot of writing on that page you say is blank."
"A lot of -- Where? The page is perfectly blank, Harry. Maybe you need a new pair of glasses."
Hermione giggled behind them, "I bought that last year. It does have writing beyond where you find it, Ginny. You just cannot see it yet. Look at the title page."
Ginny leafed to the front of the book. There, she read:
The Hogwarts Edition of
The One Volume Encyclopaedia
of Spells, Potions, Charms,
Transfigurations and Divination
The entire curriculum of
The Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
in a Single Volume
A Note to the Purchaser:
This volume is enchanted to display only those courses already taken
by the Hogwarts or Other School Student
to prevent the Exploration of Magic beyond the readers assured ability
"The rest of the pages become visible only after you've taken the course it refers to," explained Hermione. "That's why my copy doesn't show many of the things taught in Divination, and you can't see anything beyond what you've already studied. You can't use it to study ahead, but it is a great help in revising what you've already learned."
"So if it's obviously a review of what you've already learned, does your copy have extra pages? Extra chapters? How many volumes are you up to now?" grinned Ron, teasing Hermione as he joined the threesome.
Hermione ignored him. "You really should get a copy, Harry. It will be very useful this coming term."
"Erm..." Harry paused, looking back and forth between Hermione and the book in Ginny's hands. "If you recommend it -- Yes, I'll get a copy." He picked a volume off the display and added it to the books already in his hands.
After another quarter-hour spent choosing copies of the required texts and books of interest, the entire group went on to visit Madame Malkins, where both Hermione and Ginny were to be fitted with new dress robes. Hermione chose a deep royal blue coloured gown that moulded to her figure and made Ron's eyes bug out and his ears turn red when she modelled it for him, while Ginny preferred a somewhat looser cut in dark emerald green that seemed demure enough until she turned around and showed that the back of the dress was very low-cut. Harry turned a bit pink at that sight, and found himself imagining what it would feel like to be dancing with Ginny and have his hands on that bare skin.
"I take it that you approve of my choice, Harry?" smiled Ginny.
Harry tried several times before finding his voice. "Erm... uhh... I mean -- You look wonderful, Ginny."
"Are you sure that's the dress robe you want, Ginny dear? Aren't you afraid it's a bit... immodest?" asked Mrs. Weasley who was also a bit pink in the face.
Ginny smiled at her mother. "Well, there was one other that caught my eye. Should I go try it on before I decide?"
"That might be best, dear."
Ginny returned to the dressing room while Madame Malkin oversaw the fitting of Hermione's gown. When she returned a few minutes later, Harry's mouth dropped open, Ron gave an almost inaudible squeak, Hermione said in a very quiet voice, "Oh, Ginny!" and Mrs. Weasley almost shouted, "Virginia Weasley! The very idea!"
The pale cream-coloured dress robe she wore hugged Ginny's figure in such a manner that it seemed she had been poured into it, the deep V-neck exposing a very great deal of fair freckled skin, cleavage, and her navel while the slit sides of the skirt exposed shapely freckled legs to the upper thigh with every step.
"You don't like it, mother? It is a bit more expensive than we can really afford, but I think it's rather fetching."
"Virginia Weasley, the Hogwarts teaching staff wouldn't let you in if you appeared in that dress, I'd be mortified, and your father would disown you!"
"Oh, then perhaps I'd better take the other one? It is much less expensive, and I know it would be acceptable."
"Yes, yes, get the other one -- it's much more preferable," answered Mrs. Weasley
"Well, if you say so..." she replied, and headed back to the dressing room.
Harry caught the small smile and wink she gave to Hermione as she turned away, and almost grinned himself. He had the sneaking suspicion that it really was the green robes that Ginny preferred, and that she had chosen the other merely as a means of getting approval for her first choice. "I'd best remember she does that," he thought to himself.
The final purchases of the day were new brass cauldrons for the teens, followed by a brief stop at the Auror Station to get out of Diagon Alley, then a stop at the Leaky Cauldron for some refreshments. Harry purchased Butterbeers for everyone, and they sat down to enjoy them at a table to the back of the pub. The small talk swiftly turned to the coming year at Hogwarts, and the upcoming NEWTs. Mrs. Weasley explained the manner in which she had taken her NEWTs at Hogwarts thirty-odd years before, pointing out that while there was a great deal of memorization, the hardest portions were those requiring solutions to posed problems that required research and were not part of the Hogwarts Curriculum.
Harry was enjoying the conversation when his gaze wandered to the front door as it opened and a tall, thin and somewhat stooped Wizard entered the pub carrying a carpetbag valise and an armful of books and bound papers. Thick bifocal glasses perched on the mans eagle beak of a nose, hair of silvery white grew at the temples, while darker hair receded from the forehead, and laugh lines creased the corners of mismatched eyes, one a pale watery green, the other a blue so deep it appeared almost purple. His dark grey robes, while of good quality, nonetheless had stains and burn marks that marred the front.
The wizard walked swiftly to the bar, speaking to Tom the bartender in hushed but urgent tones. Harry caught the words, "...Hogwarts teacher..." and "...Dumbledore..." before the man turned and hurried to the fireplace and tossed a pinch of Floo Powder into the flames. A flash of green flame flared up, the wizard stepped into the fire, cried out "Hogwarts!"and was gone.
"I think that was our new Potions Master at Hogwarts," said Harry as he turned back to the table.
"Where?" asked Ron, turning his head so swiftly that Harry could hear the popping of neck vertebrae and ligaments.
"He just left by the Floo Network."
"And you didn't point him out sooner?" Ron whined.
"He was in a bit of a hurry. I didn't really have a chance..."
"What did he look like? Was he anything like Snape?" asked Ginny.
"I can't say -- he looked a bit older than Professor McGonagall, but he hurried in and out again so fast I couldn't get a real good look at him. He talked to Tom for a minute or two, and I heard him say something about Dumbledore and a Hogwarts teacher," explained Harry.
Ron looked across the room and called out, "Oi, Tom! Who was that bloke that just left by Floo?"
Tom paused from wiping the top of the bar, and looked up. "What, you mean th' teacher from Hogwarts?"
"Yeah -- Who is he?"
"Why, that'd be Professor Far--" Tom paused for the briefest of moments, "--Professor Farthinwald -- 'e taught there some years back, and Dumbledore 'as asked 'im to come back. 'E'll be teaching Potions."