November’s chill hit Hogwarts with the force of a Bludger. Cold, damp fog rolled down from the surrounding mountains and permeated the grounds. The stone walls of the castle seemed to harbour the dank cold. The biting wind whistled through the cracks and crevices, and damp mist stubbornly remained on the windows. Students no longer lingered in the corridors to chat but hurried to get to classrooms where at least the enclosed spaces retained some warmth. Naturally, with the clammy weather came a series of coughs and colds. By mid-month, a raging epidemic had enveloped Hogwarts.
The hospital wing was at capacity, and a harried Madam Pomfrey had requested that the upper classes repeatedly brew Pepper-up Potion, despite it being well below their grade level. She couldn’t keep enough on hand as there were more ill than healthy students and staff currently in residence.
Ginny wearily trudged up the stairs, feeling wretched. She’d had a dose of Pepper-up the previous day and thought she was on the mend, but it had worn off after Madam Pomfrey’s supply had run out again. Her name was on a long list awaiting the next batch to finish brewing. It was the same every year once the weather turned colder. She’d learned in her Muggle Studies class that Muggles suffered the same way, but they didn’t even have the benefit of a Pepper-up Potion. You’d think with magic, wizards would’ve come up with some kind of cure by now.
Her throat ached, and her head felt stuffed with cotton wool. All she wanted to do was lie down, but the common room was overflowing with students sicker than she was. At least she’d caught it early enough to get a dose of Pepper-up Potion. Hermione had begun brewing her own, but it wasn’t ready yet. Instead, Ginny was meeting Luna in the library to work on a Charms essay. Luna was one of the few who’d managed to escape the plague.
She was wearing her thickest, warmest Weasley jumper, a purple one with an extravagant flower on the front. Her mum always thought she enjoyed gardening more than she did, but it was warm and reminded her of the comfort of home. The library wasn’t overly crowded, and Ginny easily spotted Luna sitting at a table alone. Brynn Dempsey was sitting at another table behind her with several of her usual followers.
Typical of Brynn not to invite Luna to join them.
“Hi, Luna,” Ginny said, her voice sounding croaky through her stuffed nose. She dropped her bag on the table and sank wearily into a chair on the opposite side from Luna.
“Hullo, Ginny. You sound miserable. Did you forget to add some Peggityroot Sap to your bath?” Luna asked, her mouth turning downwards in a slight frown.
“Er…. What?” Ginny asked.
“You’re supposed to add some Peggityroot Sap to your bath once cold season starts,” Luna said, as if scolding a wayward child. “It keeps your sinuses clear.”
Ginny often thought Luna’s ideas were mad, but who knew? Luna was one of the few who weren’t sick, after all.
“Oh, er… I forgot. Have you started on Charms already, then?” she asked, looking at Luna’s parchment.
“No, this is for Herbology,” Luna said, putting it aside and pulling out her Charms notes. Ginny hadn’t continued with Herbology after OWLs. The two girls worked for several hours on their essays. Ginny was most thankful for Luna’s help because the words kept blurring on the page as she read. She only looked up when the volume of twittering from Brynn’s table increased exponentially. Looking around, she instantly spotted the reason. Simon Teevens, the Head Boy, had wandered into the library looking lost.
“Simon, there’s room at our table,” Brynn said, smiling widely.
Ginny rolled her eyes. There were a number of empty tables available.
Simon surprised her when he said, “Thanks, Brynn. I’m all right here,” and he promptly joined her and Luna at their table.
“Hullo, Simon,” Luna said in a sing-song voice. “We’re working on Charms.”
The last time Ginny had seen Simon, he’d been running away from Luna, whom Ginny suspected had a crush on him. Obviously, Ginny had missed a crucial step, for now Simon was beaming at Luna as if she was the most wonderful witch he’d ever seen.
“Luna, you were right about the Crimson Weed. It was exactly what my potion needed. It worked perfectly,” he said, beaming.
Luna smiled serenely. “I knew it would.”
“I can’t thank you enough. I’ve been working on this for months,” Simon said, leaning back in his chair with a sigh of relief. His arms dangled off the sides of his chair as he continued smiling at Luna.
Ginny stared between the two, puzzled.
“Simon wants to be a Healer. He’s attempting to alter a potion to increase the rate of time,” Luna said, filling Ginny in. At least Ginny thought Luna was trying to fill her in. She honestly had no idea what her friend was talking about.
“Pardon?” she asked.
Simon shook his head impatiently. “It’s a potion designed to quicken the healing rate of internal injuries. I almost had it, but I couldn’t get it to congeal. Luna suggested an ingredient, and it worked. I still don’t know how you knew what it would do.”
“Crimson Weed is often used in the making of Time-Turners,” Luna said vaguely.
Simon frowned, but shook his head. Apparently, he was too excited about his potion to try and work it out. “D’you want to see? It’s still brewing down in the dungeon, but I’m certain it’s working.”
“All right. D’you think there’s still pudding in the Great Hall?” Luna asked.
“We could stop on our way down and check. My treat,” Simon said, helping Luna with her books.
“Oh, I didn’t realize you had to pay for second helpings,” Luna said. “I’m glad you knew, since I didn’t bring any gold to the Library. See you, Ginny,”
Luna took a rather-stunned looking Simon’s arm and let him escort her out of the library.
“I can’t believe he’s spending time with Loony,” Brynn said rather loudly, also staring at the door where Simon and Luna had just departed. “She’s so weird.”
“I know. She’s good at Potions, though,” one of her friend’s replied.
“If she’s so good, you’d think she’d come up with something to fix the stringiness of her hair,” Brynn said spitefully.
Scowling, Ginny lifted her wand and silently cast a Stinging Hex.
“Ouch!” Brynn said, grabbing her shoulder and looking around wildly. Fortunately for Ginny, a group of Hufflepuff boys were pushing their chairs away from their table, and Brynn thought they’d bumped her. “Watch it, or I’ll take points the next time,” she snarled.
Alarmed, the third-years’ eyes widened as they hastened from the library. Hermione, who had just entered, walked over to Ginny’s table, glaring. “Ginny, you can’t go around hexing anyone who annoys you.”
“That’s why you’re the prefect and not me, Hermione,” Ginny said blithely.
Hermione pursed her lips. “I don’t think I should even share this.”
It was only then that Ginny realized Hermione didn’t sound congested at all. “You’ve got Pepper-up Potion,” she said, sitting up straight.
Hermione paused, her eyes narrowed, but then she relented and slipped a phial into Ginny’s outstretched hand.
“I love you, Hermione,” Ginny said, sighing as she uncorked it.
“It’s remarkable how similar you and your brother can be sometimes,” Hermione said wryly, her eyebrows raised.
Ginny grinned before downing the potion. Steam immediately rushed from her ears, and she felt her sinuses clearing with blessed relief. Even her throat felt better.
“Is that Pepper-up Potion?” Brynn asked nosily. She’d turned around completely to inspect the Gryffindors’ table. “D’you have any more?”
Ginny didn’t think she even sounded congested. “Sorry,” she answered before Hermione could. “That was the last dose.”
Brynn scowled and turned back to her work, muttering indecipherably to her cohorts.
“Ginny,” Hermione hissed under her breath. “I do have more.”
“I’d rather cough on her then share the relief,” Ginny said, savagely. “You’re not becoming her potion supplier. Besides, you didn’t hear how nasty she was being to Luna before you arrived.”
“I saw Luna leaving with Simon Teevens,” Hermione said, puzzled. “What was that about? I thought you said Luna fancied him, but it was one-sided.”
“I dunno. That’s what I thought, but there was definitely an undertone happening here tonight. Perhaps potion-making creates romance.”
Hermione reared back sceptically. “You think she gave him a love potion?”
“What? No, of course not. Simon is working on a potion, and apparently Luna helped him with an ingredient. Something to do with internal injuries. Honestly, my head was so clogged, I couldn’t pay attention,” Ginny said, sighing with pleasure as she felt her cold symptoms continue to clear. “Did you give the others some of this?”
Hermione nodded. “Yes. I left them all in the dormitory, but they all appeared to be on the mend. Parvati insists she’s dying, but she sounded better doing it,” Hermione said, her lips pursed. Parvati definitely qualified as a difficult patient. She hadn’t stopped complaining from the moment of her first sniffle.
“Good. Maybe we can all get a good night’s sleep, then,” Ginny said, letting her eyes drift shut.
“Well, you can’t sleep here,” Hermione said, chuckling. “What are you working on?”
“Luna and I were working on Charms. I’ve just about got that one finished. I haven’t started on Transfiguration or Defence Against the Dark Arts, though,” she said, her eyes remaining closed.
“I saw Professor McGonagall on my way here. I think she brewed some Pepper-up Potion for the teachers. She was coming out of the staff room, and I saw her putting some empty phials in her pocket,” Hermione said, grinning.
Ginny laughed. Hermione and Professor McGonagall as Potion Pushers was amusing. “I wonder why Professor Slughorn isn’t supplying their fix.”
“It isn’t a fix,” Hermione said, outraged. “Brewing your own Pepper-up Potion is perfectly safe, and legal. There is such an overly large need right now, I’m certain Professor Slughorn can’t produce any more than what he’s making for Madam Pomfrey. He cancelled the Slug Club dinner tomorrow. He said he didn’t think anyone was healthy enough to attend, anyway.”
“Pity. I was so looking forward to it,” Ginny said, clutching her chest and smirking.
“They’re not that bad,” Hermione said, although she grinned. “It breaks up the monotony, anyway.”
“I suppose,” Ginny said, pulling out her Transfiguration book. She might as well take advantage of working with Hermione and get her most difficult subject out of the way. Hermione followed suit, pulling out her own homework.
Once they’d started, Ginny realized it wasn’t as difficult as she’d feared. Or — more likely — the Pepper-up Potion had cleared her head so it was easier to think.
“I had an owl from Ron this morning,” Hermione said in a deliberately casual tone that caused Ginny to jerk her head upright. She remained silent, waiting for Hermione to continue.
“He said they’re still working with the Dementors,” Hermione said eventually. “I wish they could get a break from that. It makes him so irritable.”
“I know,” Ginny said. “Harry said they’re trying to limit shifts, and they’ve finally added some of the Aurors from Neville’s class to the rotation.”
The tension appeared to drain from Hermione. “You’ve heard from him, then? That’s good,” she said, sighing.
Ginny frowned, puzzled. Something was obviously troubling Hermione. She pondered it for a moment before it finally dawned on her. Zeus had been getting less of a work-out since Harry and she had been using the mirrors to communicate. She didn’t know why she didn’t want to share the secret of the mirrors with Hermione. Somehow, she liked having this small secret with only Harry. Sneaking away to use them made it more exciting. Still, Hermione didn’t know this and had probably been worrying they were rowing.
“Of course I’ve heard from him. How else would I have known he was working on that murder investigation in Knockturn Alley?” she asked.
Rita Skeeter’s most recent article had caused yet another uproar and batch of rumours. Romilda Vane had actually approached Ginny trying to get more details about Harry’s connection to Dark magic. Ginny had retaliated by slipping itching powder into Romilda’s pyjamas when the sixth-year dormitory was empty, but Hermione didn’t need to know about that.
Hermione shrugged. “I just haven’t seen Zeus at breakfast the last few days,” she said, picking at a non-existent piece of lint on her sweater.
Ginny wondered how many others had noticed the decrease in the amount of her owl post, and if they, like Hermione, had assumed there was trouble between Harry and her.
Before Ginny could respond, Dean entered the library and dropped his bag at their table, sitting down. He looked remarkably healthy.
“Blimey,” he said. “I didn’t think I’d find any other students who weren’t sick. All my roommates insist they have the plague.”
“How’d you manage to escape it?” Ginny asked with a hint of envy.
“Dunno. I’m not complaining, though. I don’t want it,” he replied, shaking his head. “I won’t even go into the dormitory without covering my face first.”
“What happens when you’re sleeping?” Hermione asked, amused.
Dean looked aghast. “I haven’t been sleeping in there with those germs. I’ve spent the past two nights in the Room of Requirement. Seamus told me he used to sleep in there to escape the Carrows last year, so I reckoned it would work for me. Besides, I heard you ladies were partying in there the other night.”
“How’d you hear that?” Ginny asked, her eyes narrowed.
Their night in the Room had been special, one of those times that can’t be planned where the mood just clicked. It made being back at Hogwarts seem right again, and she held the memory close to her heart.
Dean shrugged nonchalantly. “I heard Siobhan telling Andrew.”
“Siobhan and Andrew were together?” Ginny asked, glancing at Hermione pointedly. They both agreed that Siobhan ought to give Andrew a chance, and it had been Hermione who pointed out that Siobhan protested entirely too much for someone she didn’t care anything about.
“Oh, he has it bad for her,” Dean said, laughing. He turned towards Hermione. “It’s like being stuck back in fifth year with Ron mooning over you.”
“Ron was mooning in fifth year?” Hermione asked, tilting her head to the side as if perplexed.
Ginny sniggered. The two of them could be so dense. They were made for one another.
“Ron was mooning in fifth year?” Hermione asked, tilting her head to the side as if perplexed.
Ginny sniggered. The two of them could be so dense. They were made for one another. And here she’d been thinking Hermione was doing very well assimilating with the girls. Every once in a while, the fact she’d spent the majority of her school years with only boys for company was glaringly apparent.
“Ron was always mooning,” Dean replied, saying what everyone but Hermione had always known.
“How is it living in the dormitory this year?” Ginny asked curiously. “Hermione and I, at least, have shared a room before.”
Dean paused, gathering his thoughts. Finally, he said, “It’s… okay. Different, but okay. They all know each other better, but they’ve been cool. Ron and Neville both used to snore horrendously, so that’s an improvement. Harry used to be the only one to wake us up with nightmares, but now, we all have ‘em.”
Ginny knew what he meant. Since the war, there wasn’t a night in Gryffindor Tower that someone didn’t have a nightmare. Madam Pomfrey kept a supply of Dreamless Sleep Potion on hand for anyone who requested it.
“I hope that’ll get better one day — for all of us,” Hermione said, her eyes glistening.
Dean sighed, rubbing his forehead as if he had a headache. “We’ve all become used to it, same as the other years. Once the drama is over, we all usually roll over and go back to sleep. No one has puked all over the place, anyway.”
“That was different,” Hermione said sharply.
Ginny felt confused. He’d lost her, but apparently Hermione knew what he meant. “What was?” she asked.
“I know… still memorable though,” Dean said at the same time.
Hermione looked at Ginny, grimacing. “That was the night Harry had the vision about your dad.”
“He kept screaming about blood. Lost his stomach a couple times all over the floor. I think he even threw up on Ron’s feet. Thankfully, no one is having dreams like that,” Dean said, lost in the memory.
“I didn’t know,” Ginny said quietly. A lot of that night was a blur to her. She’d been dragged out of bed by Professor McGonagall telling her that her dad had been seriously hurt. She knew they took a Portkey back to Grimmauld Place, but she didn’t recall any of the details in getting there.
“Seamus says he uses the nightmares to gain sympathy from witches. If either of you feel the need to gush comfort all over me the next time, you’re welcome to run up to my dormitory and fling yourself on me,” Dean said, eyeing them speculatively.
“Thanks. I’ll keep that in mind,” Hermione said, shoving his shoulder.
Dean laughed. “Just don’t tell Ron. He’d kill me for suggesting it.”
Ginny watched Dean flirting with Hermione under lowered lashes. He was as charming and effervescent as he always was, and Ginny couldn’t work out what it was she was bothered by. Dean had always had an easy smile and flirtatious nature. He was behaving perfectly normal. Still, she’d noticed that he didn’t mention if Harry would be jealous about his comment. In fact… he never joked with her about Harry at all.
She reasoned that it could easily be discomfort over their past relationship. She and Michael Corner barely looked at one another after their break up.
“The library will be closing in five minutes,” Madam Pince announced, her vulture-like countenance appearing suddenly from behind a bookcase. “All books must be properly returned to their places. Now!”
She glowered at them, her eyes roaming their table for any damage to her precious books. Hermione jumped and quickly began stacking the tomes she’d been using. Ginny finished the paragraph she’d been working on first. After all she’d gone through last year, Madam Pince no longer intimidated her.
“I’ll finish my essay later,” Dean said, swinging his bag over his back. “See you later, Hermione. Bye, Ginny. If you want another escape up in the Room of Requirement, don’t let me stop you. I’d love the company.” He smiled engagingly and squeezed Ginny’s arm, lowering his voice. “I even have a bottle of Firewhisky that Seamus sent me.”
After he left, Ginny stared at the door, watching it swing closed with that same, discombobulated feeling she’d had recently after encounters with Dean.
When Hermione returned to the table, she noticed Ginny’s pensive expression. “What’s up?” she asked.
Ginny frowned. “Did you think anything seemed off with Dean?”
“Off?” Hermione asked, tilting her head to the side. “How do you mean?”
“I don’t know. He keeps rubbing my arm,” she said, feeling it would sound overly dramatic to say that he kept touching her.
“Rubbing your arm?” Hermione asked, laughing. “Well, isn’t that part of what you always used to complain about — that he was so clingy?”
“Yeah, but we’re not dating anymore. I dunno,” Ginny said, having trouble articulating. “He said I could drop by and visit him up in the Room of Requirement. Apparently, he has Firewhisky.”
Hermione frowned, but evidently chose to ignore the flaunting of the rules. “Look, he had a rough year himself, and it’s not easy trying to fit in with a new group. Perhaps he’s just seeing how much you’ll let him get away with since Harry’s not around.”
Ginny snorted. “That does sound like him.” She instantly felt remorse for suspecting anything more. Hermione was right. Dean’d had a rough year, too, and he was all on his own. At Hogwarts, they’d all had each other to cling to when things got rough, but Dean had been completely isolated. Ginny knew from personal experience how traumatizing that could be. He was probably just looking for company. “We should invite him the next time we have a party.”
Hermione paused, looking at her a little shyly. “Although it was fun — just the girls. I’ve never had a lot of girlfriends before.”
“It was fun. We should do it again when everyone is healthier,” Ginny agreed, and the two girls returned to their dormitory.
Harry tilted his broom and banked right, gaining some altitude away from the power of the Dementors. The trees below in the Forest of Dean had a yellowish tinge and were already losing their leaves. It wouldn’t be long before the first snow fell. There was a biting chill to the air, and although the fabric of his uniform was warm, Harry thought he’d still be chilled when he returned home. He sighed, trying to work out the kinks in his neck. His shift was nearly over, and he was feeling rather sick and exhausted from being with the Dementors so long. He’d be happy when he was relieved so he could go home and have a kip. He was minding Teddy tonight so that Andromeda could go out to dinner with her sister, and he didn’t want any of the effects the Dementors took on him to touch his godson.
“Look sharp, Potter,” Cormac shouted over the wind, which had reddened his cheeks and nose.
Harry scowled and continued his course. Cormac had a habit of correcting everyone else while they were flying, much as he’d done during Quidditch back at school.
“Mind the Dementors and not your fellow trainees, McLaggen,” Owen said lazily, immune to Cormac’s comments. “Looks like there’s one getting close to the edge.”
They’d attempted to place a ward around the area of forest where the Dementors were being kept. It didn’t hold them, but it at least alerted the Aurors when one was approaching. Better yet, it kept Muggles out. As Gawain Robards had warned, the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures wanted to study the new behaviour the Dementors were exhibiting. As far as Harry could tell, however, they hadn’t done anything but talk about it and argue over the restrictions the Aurors had placed on their research.
Each shift had one or two members from their department flying along and observing. Of course, no one could stand being close to the Dementors for any length of time, so progress was slow. Robards insisted they had to stay outside the ring of Aurors on patrol. There had been fierce arguments, but Robards said he wasn’t putting the Aurors in any more danger by having to rescue any observers who got too close.
Since the end of the war, Harry had learned that government — whether new and interested in reformation or old and stodgy — had one thing in common: They couldn’t seem to function without a load of bureaucracy.
“Expecto Patronum,” he bellowed, sending Prongs charging toward a group of three Dementors that had joined the one testing the perimeter near Cormac.
He saw the burly McLaggen start, his broom dipping with the motion. He’d obviously missed the approach of the other Dementors. Harry smirked. Perhaps that would shut him up for a while.
He continued his circular flight, hoping there would be no further escape attempts before his shift ended. He always felt washed-out and slightly disoriented by the end. He hoped the Dementors couldn’t sense this, although it wouldn’t surprise him if they eventually caught on that the best time for an escape would be shortly before a shift change.
As he scanned the forest below, Harry’s mind wandered over his past, as it was wont to do around the Dementors. He remembered the power of the Resurrection Stone during his lonely walk through the forest at Hogwarts. His parents and loved ones had acted as a shield against the Dementors’ chill then. They’d been more powerful than Prongs, more powerful than any Patronus.
Now, the tired, chilled, weary part of Harry wished he had the Resurrection Stone again.
He blinked hard to dispel the thought, his vision clearing. There was no way to really resurrect the dead, and it didn’t do to dwell on such things. What would help was a hot shower and his soft bed. Merlin’s beard, he was tired. He noticed the first of their group beginning to descend, and he could see a new group of Aurors waiting to take flight.
It was time for the shift change. Since Owen was the leader of the current shift, he and Harry would be the last to land. Still, an end was in sight. It was about midway through that Harry became aware of a disturbance on the ground. Several Dementors were gathered near a group of Aurors waiting to take flight. The Aurors, caught unexpectedly, were casting a large number of Patronuses toward them. The Dementors were fleeing, but only moving further along the perimeter rather than deeper into the forest.
A cold, clammy sweat broke out along Harry’s spine, and his chest constricted. Dizziness fogged his vision, and he shook his head to clear it, his broom dipping alarmingly. His hands were so sweaty, he was having trouble grasping the broom. He hoped he wouldn’t vomit all over whoever was below.
“Hold your position, Potter,” Owen barked, his breath coming in bursts of steam. “Let those on the ground handle it. Our job is to ensure none of them flee through the air.”
Harry knew he was right but still found it hard not to land and attempt aid. His instincts were screaming at him that those on the ground were in trouble. He gripped his broom tightly, tension throbbing through his veins. The pitch of voices in his head increased, making it throb, and his stomach roiled. It took forever for the rest of the group to switch off, and by the time he and Owen had landed, the group on the ground had the Dementors well away from the perimeter.
Harry quickly swung his leg over his broom, forgetting his equilibrium was usually off after being around the creatures. He promptly swayed on the spot, but managed to right himself before drawing attention. Taking deep, gulping breaths, he leaned against a tree until the world righted itself. Opening his eyes once the nausea passed, he saw a witch with an indigo streak down the side of her dark hair gazing deeper into the forest.
“What happened?” he asked, approaching her.
Lisa Turpin turned to him, looking wan and pale. Her eyes were dull as she said, “They tried to breach the perimeter as soon as the shift change started. I think they’re contained now, but it took a while. You know how we’re all so drained after a shift.”
Harry nodded, feeling as rough as Lisa looked. “It’s odd that their attempt was on the ground rather than in the air, yeah?”
“Unless they think the new shift isn’t on their game yet, and the returning shift is obviously exhausted,” Lisa said, staring up at Harry. He could see the reflection of the trees in her tired eyes.
“You think they’re that sentient?” he asked, tilting his head to the side.
She shrugged. “Seemed liked it.”
Owen’s irritated voice rang out, echoing against the tree trunks and resounding through the forest. “I don’t bloody well care if they sprout toes and dance an effin’ ballet, you’re not getting any closer.”
Another angry voice answered him, although at a lower pitch so Harry couldn’t make out the words. He and Lisa both looked around.
Owen was towering over a reedy-looking wizard from the Department for the Regulation and Control for Magical Creatures. The wizard was lean and looked as if Owen’s rant could blow him away. He had a thin, black goatee that hung down below his chin, and his hair was receding so it looked as if he had a ‘W’ imprinted on his head. The size disparity between he and Owen didn’t appear to concern him as he stood chest to chest with the enraged Auror, an angry red flush colouring his neck.
Harry and Lisa glanced at one another, then by unspoken communication, they moved closer to hear what was being said.
“They fall under the authority of our department, and we need to document the changes they’re exhibiting,” the man said, snarling.
“You document any ruddy thing you like, but you do it from behind the Aurors,” Owen said, through gritted teeth.
“We can’t properly document the behaviour from that distance. We can barely see what’s happening, never mind notice any differences in characteristics,” the thin wizard said, his voice rising with each syllable.
Owen folded his arms and glared down at the man. “If you want to bloody take over keeping these effin’ things contained, then put in your request with the Minister, and have at ‘em. Until then, we’ve been assigned the job of protecting your arse, and I can’t bloody do that if I have to waste time rescuing you.”
The redness on the man’s neck spread to his sparsely covered head. “You know we don’t have the resources to take over the operation, and we don’t need your protection. We understand these creatures better than you do.”
“Who does have the ruddy resources?” Owen asked, scoffing. “We’re putting everything we have into keeping them contained. If we have to focus on preventing you from falling off your bloody broom or getting your souls sucked, there is a bigger chance they’ll escape and that puts the entire population at risk.”
The smaller man swelled, arms akimbo. “We cannot work this way. We need to be closer.”
Owen took a deep breath, and Harry knew it was taking all his will power not to strike the other man. “Take it up with the Minister,” he said through gritted teeth.
“I’ll do that,” the man replied angrily.
“I’ll look forward to hearing from him,” Owen said, glowering.
The angry wizard stormed away, his notebook clutched tightly in his hand. Harry noticed a vein throbbing in his forehead that reminded him oddly of Uncle Vernon, despite the stature of the man being so different.
Owen’s shoulders sagged, the air appearing to deflate out of him.
“You really ought to work on the way you bottle up your emotions,” Harry said evenly. “Just let it all out.”
“Eff off, Potter,” Owen said wearily.
“Are we done here?” Cormac asked rudely. He was standing with his partner eating a chocolate bar.
“Yeah, you’re all dismissed. There is class in the morning for the trainees. Your instructor will let you know what time your next Dementor shift is,” Owen said. In a lower voice, he added, “Have some chocolate before you go, Potter.”
Harry nodded, pulling a bar from his pocket. He waited a moment before Disapparating to be certain Owen did the same.
The whooshing sound of a fire call swept through the newly-bright kitchen at Grimmauld Place. Harry, who was cleaning up the remains of a small supper, turned to see Andromeda’s regal head in the flames. He knelt down in front of the fireplace.
“Everything all right, Andromeda?” he asked, concerned. Andromeda usually used the Floo when visiting Grimmauld Place since Teddy was too small to Apparate, but the wards allowed her to visit unannounced.
“All’s fine, Harry. I’m about to bring Teddy over. Cissy is here with me, so I’m wondering if you could lower the wards to allow her entrance,” Andromeda said.
Harry was taken aback, and quickly scanned the kitchen to be certain everything was tidy and in its place. He wasn’t entirely certain how he felt about having Narcissa Malfoy in his home. He hadn’t seen her since he’d stood up for her at her trial, and they hadn’t spoken directly at the time.
They hadn’t spoken since that whispered conversation in the forest where she’d lied about his death.
He swallowed heavily, his throat gone dry. “All right,” he said, though he didn’t think his voice sounded quite like his own. He felt rather unnerved.
He cast a complicated charm to temporarily open the Floo connection, and stood back to allow the women entrance. Andromeda came through first with Teddy in her arms. The baby’s hair was his favourite shade of blue, and he had his face buried in Andromeda’s shoulder. Andromeda looked elegant, wearing royal blue robes.
Narcissa Malfoy followed her sister from the fireplace, carrying a bulging cloth baby bag. Her blonde hair was pulled back severely, and her face appeared drawn. She looked older than Harry remembered, but before he had time to contemplate this change, Teddy had lifted his head and spotted Harry.
“Ra rarara,” he shouted, reaching for his godfather, his chubby baby fingers wiggling. A wide smile covered his cherubic face revealing two small teeth on the bottom.
Harry reached out and plucked the baby from his grandmother’s arms. “Hi, little mate! What do you have there?” he asked, smiling at the boy.
Teddy clutched a small train in his hand, and he waved it emphatically. His hair immediately changed into a deep ebony to match Harry’s.
Narcissa placed Teddy’s baby bag on the floor, her eyes sweeping the large kitchen. Harry didn’t know when the last time she’d been here was — the home did once belong in her family — but he knew from her expression that she’d noticed the changes. He discreetly shut the connection on the Floo. He didn’t want any unexpected visitors while he was minding Teddy.
“Cissy, you know Harry,” Andromeda said, making the unnecessary introduction. She appeared oblivious to the slight tension, but Harry knew Andromeda too well. She was aware, she simply chose to ignore it. As the sisters stood next to one another, one so light and the other so dark, Harry’s mind flashed on the third, missing sister who so resembled Andromeda in looks, but not at all in heart. Andromeda reminded Harry of Sirius.
“Yes. Hello, Mr. Potter,” Narcissa said stiffly. “He certainly seems comfortable with you.”
She nodded toward Teddy who was trying to rip the glasses from Harry’s face — a favourite game of his. From the tone of her voice, Harry suspected Teddy must’ve displayed some stranger anxiety when Narcissa had arrived. Andromeda had warned him that Teddy had been doing that recently. Harry was pleased Teddy recognized him, too.
Andromeda nodded. “Harry’s a frequent visitor and Teddy’s favourite.”
Her words filled Harry’s belly with a pleasant warmth, and he felt lighter on his feet, as if some unseen buoyancy filled his veins. He continued his attempts to keep his glasses out of Teddy’s grip, but knew it was a losing battle.
“So, what are your plans for the evening?” Harry asked.
“We’re going into Diagon Alley for dinner. I gave Kreacher the night off, as well, so I thought it would be easier to just drop off Teddy and leave from here,” Andromeda said. “We won’t be late.”
“Take your time,” Harry said, and Teddy squealed as he finally grasped Harry’s glasses, waving them in his fist.
Harry sighed, squinting at Andromeda and Narcissa who were now only colourful blurs.
“You’ve made some changes,” Narcissa said, her stately gaze once again perusing the kitchen, pausing on the new window.
Harry took the toy train from Teddy’s slackened grasp and began rolling it on the counter. It only took a moment for Teddy to notice and drop the glasses in order to reach for the train. Harry slipped the smudged spectacles back on his nose.
“Yeah. I didn’t fancy the gloom,” he replied. Andromeda coughed slightly to cover a smirk.
“It’s lovely,” Narcissa said, though the warmth of her smile didn’t quite reach her eyes.
“How have you been?” he asked awkwardly. He felt rather ridiculous having a conversation with her with his glasses smeared, and Teddy repeatedly conking him on the head with his train. He remembered seeing Theo Nott and hearing his mates telling him it was best to lie low in the present, anti-Death Eater climate. Harry was certain the Malfoys would feel the same segregation.
Narcissa shrugged delicately. “It’s been… different. As you know, Lucius is home, and we’re… managing.”
Lucius Malfoy had been released from Azkaban in exchange for Draco Malfoy’s cooperation in catching the Lestrange brothers. The Malfoys’ mansion had been seized after the war, and as far as Harry knew, they were currently living in one of their smaller properties. Draco had mentioned his mother was unhappy there. Harry couldn’t dredge up much sympathy.
“It must be nice that your family is able to be all together,” he said pointedly.
Narcissa had the good grace to flush. She nodded stiffly.
“Teddy has already eaten, but I put an extra bottle in the bag just in case. I must warn you, he’s even more mobile than the last time you saw him. He scoots across a room if I so much as blink. I think he’ll be crawling soon,” Andromeda said, staring fondly at her grandson. “I put some dry flannels in the bag, as well, I think he has another tooth coming in.”
Harry nodded patiently. Andromeda went through this every time she left Teddy with Harry, and so far, he hadn’t managed to lose the baby. “We’ll be fine, Andromeda. I’m just going to take him up on the Firebolt. We’re going to race Ron.”
Narcissa gasped, gaping at Harry. Andromeda wasn’t fooled.
“Make certain you beat him, then,” she said, smirking.
Harry looked at Teddy. “We always do, don’t we, little mate?”
The baby again reached for Harry’s glasses. Andromeda leaned over and kissed him on the top of his head. “Have fun with Harry, Teddy. You always do.”
Harry led the two women up the kitchen stairs and down the corridor to the entryway. This was Harry’s least favourite room with its grand pillars and gleaming chandelier. When he noticed Narcissa’s eyes widen, obviously impressed, he again thought the demon decorator had known what she was doing.
“This is lovely,” she said, more animated than she’d been in the kitchen. “I always thought this house would eventually go to my Draco. This room is more his style.”
“It’s my least favourite, actually,” Harry said honestly.
He bid the women farewell and brought Teddy into the sitting room where he’d put some of Teddy’s toys on the soft new carpet. He put Teddy down, and sat across from him, rolling a ball toward the baby.
Teddy grasped in, pushing it back with a squeal of delight. He tottered slightly as he pushed. He could now sit without support, but he still could fall over when excited. Harry used an old, pink-feathered Headless Hat of George’s to entertain him with a headless game of peek-a-boo. He spent an enjoyable hour bonding with his godson, but he knew Teddy was getting tired when he grew fussy and kept putting his little fist in his mouth, drooling heavily.
“Are those teeth bothering you again, little mate? I think your grandmother said she put something in here for that,” he said, reaching for the bag Andromeda had left.
He pulled out a flannel and cast a Cooling Charm on it before handing it to Teddy. The baby immediately put it in his mouth. Harry lifted him, placing him over his shoulder as he began pacing the room. It was when he briefly put the fussy baby down to expertly change a nappy that he was surprised to notice George standing in the doorway, silently observing Harry and Teddy. Harry had no idea how long he’d been there.
“Hi, George,” he said, curious about the odd expression on George’s face.
“You read that book I gave you, yeah?” George asked without preamble.
“Yeah,” Harry said slowly, picturing the copy of Twelve Failsafe Ways to Charm Witches on his bedside table that he’d been perusing before sleep each night.
George’s ears turned red. “Did you, ah… did you read the bit about contraceptive charms?”
Harry goggled at him. Teddy fussed a bit more, and Harry reapplied the cooling charm to his flannel. “I’m not looking for one of my own, George. I’ve got my hands full with Teddy, thanks,” he said, flippantly.
“Well… you know… us Weasleys are rather prolific… at least the men are… Hmm, perhaps I ought to have this conversation with Ron,” George said, his voice trailing.
“Perhaps you should,” Harry replied, breaking into a grin.
“Nevertheless, it’s best to be informed. There are charms for both a witch and a wizard to use, but I always think taking care of it on both sides is prudent. It has to be done every time, right? Every time,” he said with heavy emphasis on the final two words.
Harry felt heat rising in his own face, and his grin vanished. “Got it,” he said tersely.
“Ron’s in the kitchen. I’m going to make sure he’s aware of that, too,” George said, looking as if the idea of confronting Ron with a sex talk delighted him.
As he watched George go, Harry pulled Teddy’s bottle from his bag and wearily sank down on the leather couch. As Teddy began to suckle, his eyes drooping sleepily, Harry’s mind flashed on what he’d seen Ron and Hermione doing on this very couch. He quickly stood and moved to an adjacent chair. Teddy grumbled a bit at the sudden motion.
As the baby fell asleep in his arms, Harry’s mind wandered over the conversation with George. It seemed every time he’d seen George recently, Ron’s elder brother had ended up giving Harry sex advice. Although still not completely comfortable with the topic, Harry had relaxed enough to contemplate what George was saying. He wondered what would happen once he and Ginny did take that final step — assuming that they eventually would. Would George know? Would he tease Harry or be angry? Well, Harry supposed he’d tease him whether he was angry or not, but he wondered if George would want to hit him like he was certain Ron would.
Maybe he wouldn’t even know. Harry didn’t know about Ron and Hermione until he’d walked in on them, after all.
No. George would somehow know. Harry was certain of it.
Would Ron? Hermione would, and she’d probably tell him. Harry squirmed uncomfortably, feeling somehow trapped with pressure mounting on all sides. He turned back to Teddy, whose hair had returned to a soft brown in his sleep. Taking a deep breath and trying to force the discomfort from his mind, Harry sat with the baby for a long time. When Andromeda returned from dinner to pick up Teddy, she found both the baby and his minder asleep in the sitting room armchair.