Thomas Gray: "Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Goldfishes"
Harry set out from the cool darkness of the Weasley's kitchen into the blindingly bright sunshine of the day. It was glorious; he squinted up at the sun shining high in the sky, the blueness sparsely dotted with the tiniest freckles of clouds. Grinning happily at this reminder of Ginny, he sped up, running down the garden and twisting his way round the now familiar bushes. A sunbathing gnome shrieked in outrage as Harry trod on his diminutive hat when he passed by. Harry barely slowed to shout an apology over his shoulder, and saw the tiny potato-like creature shaking his fist furiously at his retreating heels. He laughed in amusement, and vaulted over the wooden fence into the meadow.
The long whispering grasses swayed hypnotically this way and that in the breeze, like an undulating verdant sea, interspersed with brightest red poppies as far as the ridge. He hurried onwards, ignoring the stalks grasping at his legs as he passed, until he paused for breath beneath the old gnarled oak tree, which stood dominating the valley. Ottery St. Catchpole lay before him, curled up sleepily at the foot of the steep hill on the opposite bank, but Harry paid no attention to the pretty little village, with its windows glinting gold as they reflected the sunlight. The river snaked across the valley floor, clumps of shady trees overhanging the water, and his eyes surveyed the landscape, seeking a very particular spot. Ginny had discovered this place of hers years ago, right on the river bank itself, quiet and peaceful, and remarkably safe from her brothers' teasing. He knew she'd be there.
Anticipation building, he plunged over the edge and ran, legs thudding heavily against the gradient of the slope as he descended. Stealthily he crept onwards beside the river itself, heart beating quickly as he neared his goal. He could make out her vibrantly red hair through the overhanging foliage, and shuffled slightly nearer, watching her carefully and smiling to himself. She was reading and completely oblivious to his presence. He had to admit she looked very comfortable there, reclining part way along a branch of a very ancient tree, that stretched out low above the water, before reaching upwards for sunlight. Her right leg dangled casually downwards, naked toe touching the surface of the river, creating little ripples as she moved.
A wide grin spread across his face. He tiptoed quietly forwards, and steadily rounded the trunk of the tree, almost holding his breath in expectation. A twig cracked under his careless foot, and startled, she looked up, her russet hair dancing around her.
"Harry!" she yelled with delight, her face glowing with pleasure. She scrambled quickly to her feet, and ran back down the branch to the riverbank, throwing her arms around his neck. He hugged her tightly and swung her round, his face hidden in her hair, never, never wanting to let her go.
"I've missed you so much," he whispered, voice muffled from where it was still buried.
"Tell me about it," she murmured. "It's only been four weeks this time, but it's felt longer than ever."
He looked at her, unable to stop smiling, holding her tightly all the while. He loved every bit of her, from the freckles scattered across her nose to the enticing liquid pools of her brown eyes, where he felt he could wallow for all eternity. She stretched up on tiptoes, and their lips met, at first with a tingling gentleness. A wave of warm, welcoming darkness washed over him, as he gave himself up to the sensation, kissing her ever more deeply, his right hand tangled in the fiery depths of her hair.
They finally broke apart, and he gazed in awe at her, marvelling that she could ever love him as much as she did. She simply grinned, and led him by the hand back up to where she'd been sitting before he'd disturbed her. She curled up beside him, and he leaned back against the sturdiness of the tree, adoring the feel of her cradled in his arms. This was perfect.
"Harry," she said thoughtfully, after an interlude of idle banter. "I know we said we wouldn't, but do you ever think about the future?" She twisted round a little to face him, and wobbled precariously on the branch. Harry tightened his grip on her before she tumbled into the river and kissed her forehead gently.
"Sometimes," he admitted. "I wonder what things might be like without Voldemort to threaten us, what we could be doing in ten years time. What do you think about?"
"Next year for a start," she said gloomily, swinging her leg, and sending little droplets of water splashing from her toe to the riverbank. "Supposing we get through this one in one piece, that's a whole year we're going to have to spend apart after you've finished at school, and these past four weeks have been torture enough. I don't want that to happen, Harry."
"Owls just aren't the same, are they?" he said, smoothing her wayward hair back from her face with his hand. "There's no easy answer to that one, Gin."
"I know," she grumbled. "What are you going to do with yourself after school anyway?" She chuckled and her eyes sparkled with a little mischief. "Imagine, I could have a famous Quidditch player as my boyfriend, or a world class Auror, or maybe even the next Minister of Magic!"
"Not a chance," Harry laughed along with her. "I'm afraid you're just going to have to put up with 'The famous Harry Potter.'" His voice took on a serious tone as he added, "You know what it's like, Ginny. I really can't see Voldemort leaving me alone for long enough to do anything once I'm out of Hogwarts. It'll only be him and me then, no Dumbledore around. He might not even leave it that long; I'm seventeen tomorrow, which technically means I can meet him as an adult wizard on his terms."
"I know," she whispered, fear showing in the darkness of her eyes. She ran her hand thoughtfully down his cheek, sending a shiver of pleasure down his spine. There was a pause before she spoke again in a deceptively bright tone. "So what will we be doing in ten years time, then?"
"Well, let me see," Harry leaned back again, pulling her in closely to him. "I expect you'll have a new book of Muggle poems by then, and I won't have any socks left at all."
She sat up and giggled, slapping him affectionately.
"No, seriously Harry!"
"I just want to be with you," he said simply, smiling at her. "Nothing else matters."
"Really?" she whispered incredulously, her soft brown eyes searching his.
"Really," he assured her, smiling at her expression. "Where do you want to be in a decade? Married with umpteen kids? A high flying career as Poet Laureate of the wizarding world?"
"I wish I knew," she giggled at the image of herself in formal regalia with such a serious position in life. "It'd be nice to get married one day. Do you want to, Harry?"
"Is that a proposal?" he teased her, chuckling gently.
"No," she spluttered in a new wave of laughter. "I just wondered, that's all; we've never talked about the future before. Do you want a huge tribe of offspring and a life filled with arguments over whose turn it is to do the washing up?"
"I'd like a family of my own at some point," he said slowly, mulling the matter over in his mind. "I don't know. It's stupid, I suppose, but it's something… something I've never had. Not really."
"That's not stupid, Harry," she said softly, leaning over to kiss him.
The kiss caught him quite by surprise, the gentle warmth and love contained within it reflected every bit of his own emotions for Ginny; yet there was something more. A sense of passion and urgency were tangible, which he recognised all too well, drawing him to her. Harry tried to force his brain to think. A wave of desire swept over him as he instinctively responded to her touch, bodies melting together. Fragmented thoughts flitted through his mind; abductions into various Hogwarts broom cupboards on the way to lessons… Ginny's confession at the end of term that, unlike her brothers, she didn't mind much where he put his hands… and…and they'd talked about this before, hadn't they?
He pulled away sharply, and stared at her, heart pounding erratically in his chest. They'd agreed this couldn't happen; Voldemort was too much of a threat to her already. She ran her hands up to his shoulders sending shivers of pleasure through him, stretching up to dissolve in a kiss once more.
"Gin, no," his voice sounded slightly strangled. "We can't…" She looked at him directly with a mischievous glint in her eye, and moved even closer, trailing kisses, her warm breath brushing seductively at his skin.
"Stop it," he groaned, realising that there was no way he could escape from her. "Ginny, come on. It's not funny."
He heard a low chuckle beside his ear, and realised she was doing this to him quite deliberately. Pausing for a second, he knew it was time for drastic action and there was only one way to go. He grinned wickedly to himself. Gathering her swiftly in his arms, he hooked his legs tightly round the branch for balance, and unceremoniously dropped her into the river.
There was a short squeak of surprise, followed by a loud splash. She surfaced quickly, water streaming from her darkened red hair like a seal. She shook her head, droplets of water flying everywhere, and regarded him, wearing a half-amused expression, as she trod water.
"Has that cooled your ardour?" Harry grinned down at her. She swam up to the branch and regarded him with enormous dark brown eyes, showing a look of anguish that tugged painfully at his heartstrings. Her arm reached out to him, and he guiltily leaned over to haul her out, realising slightly too late what she was up to. A swift pull, and he overbalanced, tumbling headfirst into the icy coldness of the water.
Soaked to the skin they struggled back to the bank, laughing uncontrollably. Harry collapsed in a heap, trying to catch his breath, and pulled his shoes off, ostentatiously draining the water they contained back into the river. Ginny caught his eye, and grinned impishly at him, before wringing water from her skirt, straggling hair dripping everywhere around her. He saw her shiver in the slight breeze of the day, and quickly got to his feet, clothes sticking unpleasantly to him.
"C'mon," he said, grabbing her books up from the ground, and reaching for her hand. "We'd better get back, although how we're going to explain this…?" He broke off, shook his head at her and began laughing again.
"Well, I think we're just going to have to brazen it out," she chuckled. "The odds of us sneaking through our kitchen unnoticed are pretty much nil, but if we're quick about it, at least we'll not run into Fred and George.
Squelching their way back to the Burrow, Harry reflected that this was possibly not the most romantic way to spend the afternoon with Ginny, but it was good to be laughing for a change; there'd been little enough of that in recent weeks. They slunk in through the back door, exchanging glances of suppressed hilarity. Ginny pressed her finger to her lips, and peered cautiously ahead. They were in luck; the place was unusually deserted. Leaving a shining trail of water in their wake, they crept through the kitchen and the hallway to the stairwell. The second from bottom step creaked noisily as Harry trod on it, and they froze, hearts beating nervously, listening carefully for movement. Nothing. Ginny giggled softly, and they hurried up the stairs to the doorway of her room.
"Good luck," she whispered, pulling him close and kissing him quickly. "Hope Ron's not up there. See you if you survive." She grinned mischievously at him, and disappeared into her bedroom.
Harry groaned, and trudged soggily up the next flight of stairs towards the eaves of the house and Ron's room, lured by the blissful thought of dry clothing. The sound of raised voices in full torrent became audible from within, and he paused with his hand on the doorknob, wondering what he should do. He could hardly go back downstairs in this state, the ghoul wasn't sounding too happy as he clanked around in the attic above, and behind the door in front of him awaited a fate far, far worse than death.
"I don't know what made you think that!" Hermione's voice snapped. "I've never done anything of the sort and you know it!"
"That's not the point," Ron protested vehemently. "Hermione!"
"What?" she yelled furiously. "It's bad enough having you saying all this stuff, but to actually believe it!"
"Well, it is true," Ron said, sounding surprisingly certain of himself. "Isn't it?"
"How dare you!" she hissed, sounding angrier than Harry had ever heard her before. "If this is how you think of me, well… well, I'm not sure there's any point in-"
"Will you listen, for once?" Ron interrupted furiously. "I've thought about nothing else all summer, Hermione. This is driving me mad." There was a pause, his voice softened and he added, "You know how I feel about you, and that's not going to change, whatever you say."
"I know," she said, sighing heavily. "And I feel the same, but Ron…"
"I know you're right," he said, and Harry heard footsteps crossing the room. "I s'pose I… I should've thought more about what I said in that letter."
"It's not just that," she replied. Harry was relieved to hear that her rage appeared to be subsiding as well. "What would've happened if Pig had delivered it to the wrong person? You know what he's like."
"Yeah," Ron said bleakly. "You've made it pretty clear what you think about the whole thing."
"No I haven't," her voice said, so softly Harry could barely hear her. "Ron, I…"
"I'm sorry," he muttered. "I've really stuffed things up, haven't I? I've been behaving like a real git."
"Not really," she chuckled, the tension evaporating. "A lot of what you said was true. We'll talk more about it later, though. Harry'll be back soon. You haven't forgotten it's his birthday tomorrow, have you?"
"Would I?" he protested sounding quite injured by the suggestion. There was a gentle giggle from within and quietness followed.
Harry heaved a silent sigh of relief. Ron and Hermione argued regularly enough, but it could get quite unpleasant, although it was generally short lived. He crept down and then noisily thudded back up a few stairs to give Ron and Hermione a chance to realise that he was there. It was that Weasley temper, he reflected ruefully. Ron exploded easily, and that was bad enough, but on the rare occasions when Ginny lost it, you knew it was time to dive for cover and hope that you were eaten by a mountain troll before she found you.
"Hi there," he called, as he pushed the door open, and walked into the orange brilliance that Ron called his bedroom.
"Harry!" Hermione rushed over to hug him and stopped dead. "You're all wet."
"Am I?" he said, trying to keep a straight face. "I wonder how that could have happened. You know, I was so careful, but sometimes these rivers come out of nowhere and just attack you."
"You upset Ginny, then?" Ron chuckled. "That was quick. What did she do? Throw you in or something?"
"Something like that," Harry laughed, pulling his shoes back off and sticking them on the windowsill to dry.
"You'll catch your death of cold if you stay in those wet things," Hermione said, sounding rather like Mrs Weasley for a second. "You really should get changed."
"Yes, but…" Harry began.
"Hermione!" Ron's shocked voice interrupted, and both boys looked at her incredulously.
"Oh yes," she blushed and bit her lip. "I'll… er… I think I'll just go and see how Ginny's getting on, shall I? Yes, I think that might be a very good idea. I'll… um… see you later, then." Still looking rather embarrassed she edged out of the door, and they heard her heading down the stairs.
"You two got things sorted out then?" Harry asked Ron, as he peeled off layers of cold, sodden clothing. Ron stretched back on his Chudley Cannons bedspread, and shrugged his shoulders at Harry.
"Who knows?" he said. "Anyway, dare I ask what you've been doing to my little sister to deserve being chucked in the river?"
"Threw her in first," Harry laughed, quickly rubbing himself dry with a towel.
"Er… right," Ron said, looking slightly bewildered by the explanation. "Yes, I think that would probably explain a lot." He paused, clearly thinking about the incident and shook his head. "I'm not going to ask. It's probably best if I don't know."
"She can't have pinched my socks already!" Harry exclaimed suddenly, rummaging through his trunk for a dry pair. "It's impossible. She was down by the river when I got here, and she's not been up since we got back. How does she do it?"
"Bribery and corruption," Ron grinned over at him. "She is a Weasley after all!"
The evening was drawing on, mellow sunlight casting a warm glow around the three figures in the living room, whilst the wireless in the corner was playing soft music from the Wizarding Wireless Network. Harry was engaged in a game of chess with Ron, and was losing badly, his chessmen casting him baleful glares and arguing with him about his every move. Ginny was sprawled over an armchair, half-reading and half-laughing at Harry's inept efforts.
"No, use the pawn, Harry. That one, over there," she gesticulated at it and chuckled as it waved back to her. "Don't move the bishop, or he's got a direct line of attack."
"Hey!" Ron protested, throwing a cushion at his sister. "Let him lose on his own. He doesn't need you to help him."
The door swung open and Hermione wandered in, looking a lot happier than Harry had seen her earlier in the day. Ron grinned up at her and shuffled over to make room for her. She surveyed the game of chess carefully.
"Aren't you going to move your bishop?" she asked Harry, curiously, seeing his hand hovering beside the pawn. "It means you can take that pawn next turn."
"That's my girl!" Ron beamed at her, whilst Ginny choked.
Suddenly their attention was distracted by a crackle from the radio, before the clear, precise tones of the WWN newsreader wafted across the airwaves. Harry saw Ron look quickly at Ginny, and both of their faces became instantly grave.
"Disturbing new developments have stunned the entire wizarding community, as the grip of He Who Must Not Be Named appears to be tightening. Perseus Appleby, a researcher within the Ministry of Magic, was killed by Death Eaters in the early hours of this morning. Appleby had been engaged in consolidating the confining spells on some of the more dangerous magical creatures, and his death has lead to breakdowns in the network of protective spells. Although at this point in time it is impossible to know the full extent of the damage, a chimaera attacked a group of Muggle tourists near Carlisle and other allies of the Dark Lord are still at large. The Minister of Magic has refused to comment on today's events, but his spokesman recommended that the curfew, that was established last week, is maintained for security reasons."
Harry stared at Ron, his throat suddenly so dry it felt like sandpaper.
"What's been going on?" he croaked, leaping to his feet, his breathing slightly unsteady and legs trembling beneath him. "Why hasn't anyone been telling me all this?"
"It's bad, Harry," Ron said bleakly, looking more anxious than ever. "These last four weeks things have been getting worse. Dementors coming across from Azkaban to feed on emotions, or worse, every time they feel like it; giants attacking some people in the North; and the Death Eaters… well, you know what they're like."
"They've recommended we're all locked in our homes by six every evening," Ginny explained, looking rather white. "Most of the serious incidents happen late at night. We didn't tell you, because you were safe with the Dursley's. If we had told you…" Her voice trailed off, and Harry's heart melted as he looked at her frightened face.
"It's OK, Ginny," he said softly. "I understand."
"What are The Ministry of Magic trying to do about it?" Hermione asked quickly.
"I don't think they know," Ron said, getting up from the floor. "Dad should be back any minute, and he'll probably be able to tell us what's really happened today. He's at the office every second he can be right now, even gets called out sometimes after curfew, and you can imagine how Mum feels about that."
Noise was emanating from the kitchen; pots and pans were thudding and crashing far harder than was usual, and Harry followed Ron to see what was happening. Mrs Weasley was rummaging through cupboards and slammed a large metal pot onto the stove with a resounding clang.
"Mum?" Ginny pushed past and hurried over to her. "What is it? Here, let me do that." She knelt down and started to stack things tidily back on the shelf.
"Look at the time," Mrs Weasley moaned, waving her wand vaguely at the potatoes, which scrambled across the bench and dropped into the sink. "They should have been back by now. All of them should."
"They've got ten minutes yet, Mum," Ron said reassuringly, moving her towards a chair. "That's loads of time when you're Apparating."
"Did you hear that news report?" she said, her voice rising in panic. "They should be home."
A sudden popping noise heralded the arrival of Fred and George at the opposite side of the kitchen.
"What's for dinner?" Fred said cheerfully. "Mum! Not again!" he protested, as he was almost bowled over by his mother enveloping first him, then his twin in massive hugs.
"I think she just likes strangling us," George commented, massaging his throat. "Diagon Alley's still safe, you know Mum. It's probably one of the best protected places in England."
"Just because it was yesterday, doesn't mean to say it is today," she snapped, wiping her eyes. "Anything could have happened."
Another pop and Percy arrived, narrowly missing landing on Hermione, closely followed by a very weary-looking Mr Weasley.
"Oh, thank goodness!" Mrs Weasley cried. "Arthur, what has been going on today?"