Ginny sank deeply into the bubbles of the luxurious bath inside the prefect’s bathroom. A painting of a mermaid on the wall watched her, twitching her tail in agitation. Apparently, she was disappointed Ginny was female. An irritated Hermione had once told her how the painting loved to flirt shamelessly with the wizard prefects. Ginny had spent the early morning training hard in the Room of Requirement, and she was enjoying the few moments of solitude that her Captain’s status afforded her. Since her incident with Tim Travers on the train during her return to Hogwarts, her friends and roommates had been insistent that she not travel anywhere alone. Andrew Kirke had become a virtual bodyguard.
She knew they meant well, but she found the hovering stifling. If it wasn’t for the fact she could see how much Siobhan appreciated Andrew’s vigilance, Ginny might’ve put a stop to it. The one highlight of the whole mess was that it meant Andrew and Siobhan were spending a lot more time with each other.
It was Valentine’s Day, and most of the students were preparing to head into Hogsmeade. Unfortunately, since he’d had so much time off due to his injury over Christmas, Harry was unable to get the day off. He was meeting her in the Three Broomsticks during his lunch hour, but that was all the time they’d have. Ginny felt disappointed, but she knew he wasn’t happy about it, either.
Both Ron and George were also joining them in Hogsmeade, and Ginny had decided today was the day she’d let her try-out plans slip to other members of her family. She expected to receive a Howler from her mum in the next day’s morning mail. Still, best to get it over with, and this way, Ron would bear the brunt of Molly’s wrath. She knew he wouldn’t be able to keep his mouth shut.
Ginny twisted one of the bejewelled knobs on the tub, and the scent of gardenias wafted up in the steamy room. It smelled like spring, and it made her eager to get back to Quidditch practices outdoors. The Room of Requirement had been more than satisfactory in providing a practice spot, but she missed being in the fresh air. Quidditch was meant to be played outside.
She rested her head on the back of the tub, letting all the tension leave her muscles. If it weren’t for the fact she had plans in Hogsmeade, she’d be tempted to have a kip. She lazily opened her eyes as she heard the door swing open — her brief solitude dispelled.
“There you are,” Siobhan said, sounding slightly exasperated. “Demelza said you’d finished practicing an hour ago.”
“I wanted a soak,” Ginny said, aware the sullenness in her tone made her sound childish.
“A soak is fine, but you should’ve brought Demelza or one of us with you,” Siobhan said, picking up a warmed towel and laying it on the edge of the tub. “Did you bring a change of clothes? Everyone is getting ready to go to Hogsmeade.”
“Believe it or not, I prefer bathing alone,” Ginny said irritably, grasping the towel and pulling herself out of the tub.
“Does Harry know that? I’m certain he’ll be disappointed,” Siobhan replied flippantly.
Ginny scowled. “Ha, ha. Very funny,” she said, the possibility of a bath with Harry suddenly filling her vision and momentarily distracting her. She hadn’t seen Harry for a month, after all, although they’d been putting the mirrors to uses she suspected even the Marauders hadn’t ever thought about.
“Ginny, you know we’re just trying to keep an eye on you so Travers doesn’t get the chance to corner you again. I don’t know why you have to make it so difficult,” Siobhan said, for the first time sounding truly annoyed. She’d have to be really concerned if she hadn’t picked up on the direction Ginny’s mind had gone. That was usually something Siobhan would have taken the mickey over gleefully.
“It’s been over a month, and he hasn’t approached me again. I do appreciate all your efforts — truly, I do — but sometimes, I need a little space,” Ginny said earnestly.
“Well, can’t you find some space somewhere you aren’t so exposed? This bath is open to all prefects, you know,” Siobhan said.
“He isn’t a prefect,” Ginny said stubbornly, picking up her clothes and entering a dressing room.
“He has friends,” Siobhan countered, a crease forming above her nose as her frown deepened.
Ginny pulled her jumper over her head and used her wand to quickly dry her hair. She put on her jeans and emerged from the changing room. “All right,” she said sulkily. “If I come back here, I’ll ask someone to bathe with me.”
Siobhan’s lip twitched. “Just don’t ask Dean. That bloke is carrying a torch.”
Ginny gave her a rude hand gesture.
“And here’s your poor mum thinking she raised a proper young lady,” Siobhan said with her nose in the air.
“Yeah, add it to the list of things she’s going to be disappointed about,” Ginny said offhandedly as she and Siobhan trekked down toward the Entrance Hall.
“D’you really think she’ll be upset that you’re trying out for Quidditch? What if you don’t tell her until after you make a team? Who won’t be impressed by that?” Siobhan asked.
“You don’t know my mum,” Ginny said, sighing. “She’s a bit… old fashioned. Not only is she very taken with Minister Shacklebolt and thinks we should all do whatever we can to support him, there’s also the fact I’m a witch.”
“You think she’d be happier for one of your brothers?” Siobhan asked.
“I know she would. Professional sports is not a career for a respectable young witch,” Ginny said, imagining her mother’s voice as she said it. “She was furious with Fred and George when they first opened their joke shop. She didn’t think that was respectable, either.”
Ginny was quite proud of herself for being able to say Fred’s name without stumbling.
“Yeah… but, she came around, didn’t she?” Siobhan asked.
“She did,” Ginny conceded, “but only because the Ministry sided against Professor Dumbledore and Harry. Now, they’re trying to rebuild, and she thinks we should all help. Not to mention she’s back to treating me like a child who doesn’t know her own mind.”
“All mums do that,” Siobhan said, laughing. “My mum checked three times to see that I brought enough knickers to school.”
Ginny grinned. “My mum usually does that, but this year she was so out of it after we lost Fred. I don’t think she even noticed when I left. Over the holidays though, she wanted me within her sight or with a family member every second of every day. She appears to have forgotten that I fought during the Battle, too. Hogwarts was no picnic last year, but she doesn’t even want to acknowledge it.”
The two girls stopped on the landing above the Entrance Hall, wanting to continue their discussion away from all the prying ears below. Already students were gathering to await Filch and his checklist.
“Maybe she feels guilty for ignoring you over the summer,” Siobhan said thoughtfully. “Maybe it’s her way of making up for it.”
“I thought about that, but I don’t know. I’ve seen her attempting it with my brothers, too. It’s like she wants us to go back to being innocent little kids… but we can’t un-see what we’ve seen. The war changed all of us.”
“And that’s probably what she’s fighting against. She’ll come around, Ginny. You’re going to be the best Harpy they’ve ever seen.”
“Between you lot and Harry — I’ve already made the team,” Ginny said, pleased with the support.
“If it were up to us, you would’ve,” Siobhan said earnestly.
“Let’s hope Gwenog Jones agrees, then. Look, there’s Hermione,” Ginny said, pointing to a mass of bushy hair on the landing below.
They met up with Hermione, Liz and the Patil sisters just as Mr. Filch arrived to check off names.
“Where’s Luna?” Ginny asked.
“Dunno,” Padma replied. “She said she had something else to do today.”
There was a group of second-year Hufflepuffs watching them all line up from a side corridor with forlorn expressions. Even halfway through the current year, the second-years kept mostly to themselves. They were the ones who had the awful introduction to Hogwarts during the Carrows’ reign, and it filled Ginny’s heart with sorrow to see how they still never left anyone from their year alone in the corridors. They looked so sad now, watching the older students preparing for their Hogsmeade visit, and she wished they were allowed to come along.
She remembered her own second year and how she’d ached to go to Hogsmeade with her brothers. She’d stood in nearly the same spot those Hufflepuffs were now and watched Harry being left behind as Ron and Hermione walked away. She’d been too intimidated by him then to approach. It was only now, looking back with more mature hindsight, that she knew he was as lonely as she was. She wished there was a way to redo those awkward adolescent years. Offering him a game of Exploding Snap on that day would have been far more comforting than the silly Get Well card she’d made him after his Quidditch fall. She cringed just thinking about it.
Her younger self really embarrassed her sometimes.
Once they were through the line, they started down the path toward the gates. The weather was grey and dismal, but at least it wasn’t raining. Ginny looked unhappily at the bare branches of the Whomping Willow, spinning angrily in the slight breeze. She longed to see any sign of a bud, but as of yet, spring appeared to be out of reach. She glanced over toward the Quidditch pitch and saw the Ravenclaw team flying above the stands. They’d booked the pitch before Ginny was able, but she was happy for it. It gave her a guilt-free excuse to see Harry. It was Valentine’s Day, after all, and as much as she loved Quidditch, she’d rather spend the day with him — even if they could only snag an hour. She’d sent an owl that morning with a bottle of Rosmerta’s special Elderberry wine. Harry had become quite fond of it to go along with the elaborate meals he enjoyed cooking.
Running footsteps pounded the muddy ground behind them, and they turned to see Dean, Andrew and Ritchie hurrying to join them.
“Hi, Siobhan. Happy Valentine’s Day,” Andrew said, smiling widely. Ginny noticed Siobhan didn’t give an exasperated eye roll as she had so often in the past. Instead, she greeted him brightly. Perhaps the spring thaw was closer than previously expected.
They walked through the winged boar-guarded gates and along the road to Hogwarts, happily ribbing one another. The streets were filled with various couples, but they remained in a group, enjoying their freedom together as they roamed into the various shops. Eventually, Ginny and Hermione broke off from the others and good-naturedly took the teasing as they left their friends in order to meet their boyfriends at the Three Broomsticks. They found an empty booth in the corner with a good view of the door. Hermione arranged her packages in a stack on the seat beside her and began shrinking them one by one.
“How can you be out of so much stuff already? Christmas wasn’t that long ago,” Ginny said, laughing at the quills and parchment peeking out from Hermione’s packages.
“NEWT preparation has begun. We have less than four months until the exams, Ginny,” Hermione said, a slight note of panic arising in her voice. She stuffed all the shrunken packages into her pockets.
“We’ll manage,” Ginny said firmly, unwilling to revisit their row about the importance of NEWTs. “I wish Harry and Ron could have had the whole day off.”
“I know. I do, too. Were you and Harry hoping to get a room at the Hogsmeade Inn this time?” Hermione asked with a smirk.
“Right. As if Harry Potter booking a room on a Hogwarts Valentine weekend wouldn’t send Rita into fits of delight with headline possibilities,” Ginny said, rolling her eyes.
“Oh,” Hermione said, looking startled. “I suppose you’re right about that.”
“Don’t worry. You and Ron pulled it off without a hitch the last time, didn’t you?” she asked.
“Oh, look,” Hermione said, gasping as she stared over Ginny’s shoulder.
Ginny turned to see a table cosseted in dark corner where Andrew and Siobhan were taking seats rather close together over a couple of Butterbeers. Both looked as if they were trying to be inconspicuous.
“Are they on a date?” Hermione asked incredulously.
“Looks that way,” Ginny replied, equally amazed. “She didn’t say anything to me, though.”
“Well, I’m certain she knew you’d take the mickey out of her. It doesn’t look as if they want to be spotted or else they’d have gone to Madam Puddifoot’s.”
“She knew we had plans, and I think I told her we were coming here… didn’t I?” Ginny asked, now uncertain if she’d mentioned that particular detail.
“Probably not. I know I didn’t tell anyone where we’d be because I reckoned everyone would show up to try and have a word with Harry,” Hermione said.
“That little sneak,” Ginny said, feeling indignant as she watched Siobhan. How could her friend not have told her she was going on a date with Andrew after all this time?
“Um, Ginny. Aren’t we sneaking, too?” Hermione asked, amused.
Ginny looked up, startled, but before she could form a response, she saw a familiar mop of black hair by the entrance, surrounded by more red than she’d expected.
Hermione looked around, and they watched as Harry, Ron, George and Percy all pushed their way through the thickening crowd. The three brothers formed a pack around Harry, ushering him through the crowd and barring anyone from stopping his progress.
Harry slid into the booth beside her, kissing her quickly as George pushed onto the bench after him. Ron and Percy did the same on Hermione’s side. The waitress arrived quickly to take their lunch orders. As her brothers all shoved one another trying to get their orders in first, Harry leaned toward Ginny.
“Happy Valentine’s Day,” he whispered, slipping a box of Honeydukes finest chocolate into her hands. The box had several grape-flavoured Sugar Quills arranged in a makeshift bow. Ginny grinned at him, tucking the present into her bag before any of her brothers noticed. Hermione beamed at them, however. “I wish we could do something more romantic… and alone,” he said, casting a disgruntled look at the others.
Ginny appreciated the tight quarters in the booth as it forced her to press snugly into Harry as she greeted all her brothers. He took her hand in his and squeezed it gently as he rested their entwined hands on his lap.
“It’s great to see you, Percy. I didn’t expect you today,” Ginny said, smiling. Percy looked more relaxed than she’d seen in years, and it did her heart good to see her brothers including him. He’d been the odd one out for years, even before his estrangement during the war.
“I stopped by the shop to see if George wanted to get some lunch when he told me about his plans,” Percy said. “I couldn’t let him join you lovebirds without a date of his own.”
George leaned over and gave Percy a sloppy kiss on the forehead. “My hero,” he said, batting his lashes.
Percy’s joking would only go so far and he pushed George back in indignation, needlessly adjusting his glasses. “Besides, I wouldn’t miss an opportunity to visit my favourite little sister.”
“I’m your only little sister,” Ginny said, easily falling into the familiar banter.
“You’re still my favourite,” Percy replied promptly.
“Has the shop been busy?” Hermione asked, snuggled just as close to Ron as Ginny was to Harry.
“Busy enough, but I’m barely keeping up,” George said. “I don’t think I’d be able to do it without this lot. Busy season will begin over the Easter holidays.”
Their drinks magically appeared at the table, and Harry slid a frothy Butterbeer towards Ginny before grabbing one for himself. The boys all had to return to work, so anything stronger was out of the question.
“The storeroom at the shop is a mess,” Percy said once they all had their drinks, sounding disapproving and more like the Percy of old.
“I know. Lee moved in with Alicia, so I’ve tried to move some of the development stuff up to the flat, but it’s still overflowing,” George said ruefully.
“He did? When did this happen? Are you staying there alone?” Ginny asked, slamming her Butterbeer on the table, concerned. George was better than he’d been over the summer, but the thought of him living alone in the flat he’d once shared with Fred seemed wrought with potential hazard.
“He’s at our place more than he is there anyway,” Ron said, shrugging.
“Ron’s right. I don’t know why you don’t just move in. There are plenty of rooms, and that way you could use the entire flat as a development lab,” Harry said, casually take a sip of his Butterbeer.
Ginny could have kissed him. She suspected his thoughts had gone to the exact place hers had when they’d heard about Lee. She squeezed his hand, still clasped within her own. Harry returned the pressure.
“That’s not a bad idea,” Percy said, looking over for George’s reaction.
George sat motionless, staring at Harry as if waiting for him to drop a punchline. He was extremely tense, and Ginny felt confused by his reaction. She thought he’d be delighted.
“What would change? You eat there every night, and usually come back after a pub run to sleep on the couch, anyway,” Ron said.
“It doesn’t mean you’re moving on, George,” Harry said quietly. “Just expanding the business is all.”
George visibly swallowed, his head bobbing in acquiesce. He and Harry’s eyes met briefly — but more words than could ever be expressed were held in that gaze. “All right, but I want a room well away from both yours and Ron’s. I don’t know want to hear anything that might be going on in there,” George said, his voice a bit shaky.
Ginny didn’t know if she wanted to laugh or cry. Harry always understood far too much about loss, and although he was covering well, George was still struggling to be a single.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Ron asked indignantly.
“Hermione, you’re lovely, but I don’t know how you stand being around someone so dense,” George said, holding his hand over his heart.
Hermione’s cheeks turned pink, but she covered her grin behind her glass.
Ron’s eyes darted back and forth between George and Harry, and his face revealed exactly when he made the connection. Harry sat back against the booth and watched him calmly, but Ginny reached for her wand nonetheless.
“Wait… what? You’ve… you two have already… with my sister?” he demanded, the last word exploding from his lips. His ears had turned alarmingly red and his eyes narrowed into a glare. Several heads in the pub turned in their direction.
Hermione grabbed his arm, tugging him back and making tut-tutting noises. Ron ignored her.
“Where were you all during Christmas break?” George asked, obviously amused. He took a long draught of his Butterbeer, looking pleased.
“I don’t think this is the proper place for this discussion,” Percy said, frowning disapprovingly. His ears, too, were rather red, although not to the same extent as Ron’s.
Ginny rolled her eyes. Her brothers could be so ridiculous.
“What we do is absolutely none of your business, and I’ll thank you to keep that in mind,” she said, glaring at both of them. “It’s no different than either of you.”
“It most certainly is different,” Percy said hotly. “You’re—”
“I’m what?” Ginny asked, narrowing her eyes. “I’m of age, same as you. I’m a witch? Well, I assume your partners have been witches, too, Perce — unless there’s something you want to tell us.”
George sniggered, his grin so wide it nearly split his face.
“That’s not the point,” Percy said, spluttering
“But that is the point,” Ron said, staring blankly between his siblings. He looked at Harry for a long moment before turning back to Percy and saying, “Unless… is there something we don’t know, Percy?”
Hermione giggled so hard she actually snorted. She slapped her hand across her mouth in embarrassment.
“Oh, I suspect the things you don’t know could fill a history book, Ron,” Ginny snapped. “Back on topic. I want all of you lot to stay out of my private life — and that includes you, George.” She turned her sharp gaze on her only brother that appeared gleeful about the conversation.
“Me?” George yelped.
“Yeah, you. Don’t think I don’t know how you like to wind them up. If we’re all going to be sharing living space, we all need to stay out of each other’s business. I don’t want to hear anything from your room either — although I haven’t seen you with a date in quite some time,” Ginny said tartly, taking a sip of her Butterbeer.
“That doesn’t mean you still won’t hear noises,” Ron said, smirking.
George’s mouth fell open and Harry barked with laughter, choking so that Ginny had to slap him on the back.
“Oh, my God!” Hermione said, scarlet. She covered her face with her hands.
“Aaaand, we’re back to wanking,” Ginny said, sighing. Somehow it always came to jokes like this when her brothers were all together. She could never understand how they found various bodily functions so endlessly amusing.
“We are blokes,” George said, shrugging.
“D’you remember Charlie telling that story involving a wet dream about Professor Sprout?” Percy asked, shocking them all.
“Ha! He’s not the only one. Remember Seamus said the same thing in third year?” Ron said, guffawing.
“Seriously?” Ginny asked, feeling rather revolted.
“It was the lesson with all the demonstrations on the proper ways to squeeze out the Bubotuber pus,” Ron said, his eyes streaming.
Raucous laughter rose from their table so that several heads in the pub turned toward them again.
A rosy hue spread across Harry’s cheeks. It made Ginny want to ask him about his own youthful fantasies, but she couldn’t put him through that in front of all her brothers. That would have to wait for their conversation through the magical mirrors that evening. Of course, then she’d have to share her own, so perhaps that wasn’t such a good idea.
Once the laughter finally started to die out and they pulled themselves back together, Ron turned towards Harry and Ginny, scowling once more. “Now, back to you two. I told you I didn’t want to know anything.”
“And you didn’t before George opened his big mouth, so take it out on him,” Ginny said sharply.
“But I was happier not knowing,” Ron said, slumping down and looking sulky.
“Then just go about your life as if nothing has changed. Soon, you might even realize it hasn’t,” Harry replied calmly, taking another pull from his drink. “It’s how I deal with disturbing memories of the leather couch.”
Ron turned scarlet, but before he could retort, the waitress returned with their lunch orders. Thankfully, as per usual, food distracted Ron completely. As the boys all reached for their lunches, Hermione leaned over and tugged on Ginny’s sleeve. In an undertone, she said, “It’s really nice to see Harry so relaxed and happy.”
Ginny beamed, watching her boyfriend snag a chip from Ron’s plate. He really did look more at ease than she’d seen in a very long time.
“He deserves some happiness. I’m happy for you both, Ginny,” Hermione said, looking a bit tearful.
“Thanks, Hermione. Don’t get all sniffly. I think we all deserve a bit of happiness for a change,” she said, reaching for her friend’s hand and squeezing it gently.
“What are you two whispering about?” Ron asked through a mouthful of food.
“Ron! Finish chewing before you speak,” Hermione said, looking disgusted.
“So, Ginny,” George said, turning toward her as he pushed his plate away, “interested in working over the Easter hols? I’m going to have to add more staff, anyway.”
Ginny didn’t answer right away, still chewing. Was she ready for this? Harry nudged her, smiling encouragingly, and that made up her mind. If he believed in her, it didn’t matter what anyone else thought.
“I can’t. I have other plans,” she said, raising her chin in the air.
“What kind of other plans?” George asked, waggling his eyebrows.
“I was planning to attend the League try-outs,” Ginny said steadily.
Her brothers all stared at her, nonplussed for a moment before the shouting ensued.
“Are you serious?”
“Ginny, have you thought this through?”
Ron, George and Percy all said at once, looking stunned. Hermione took a bite of her chicken pie and chewed without comment.
“I’m very serious, and I have thought it through,” she said calmly, reaching for Harry’s hand beneath the table again. He squeezed it reassuringly.
“I think it’s fantastic. You’ll be brilliant, and I, for one, would love to see ‘Weasley’ printed in big letters on the back of your robes,” George said, gushing.
“You’re going to try to play… professionally?” Ron asked, still looking stunned.
“Ginevra,” Percy said pompously, “don’t you want to wait until you know what NEWTs you earn first?”
Hermione put her head down and shovelled another scoop of chicken pie into her mouth.
“Contrary to what you may believe, Percival,” Ginny said, firing back, “playing professional Quidditch isn’t often a fall-back choice of those who didn’t earn enough NEWTs.”
“Wasn’t Oliver Wood in your year, Percy? He plays for Puddlemere United now. He’s doing very well,” Harry said, his green eyes blazing.
“I know that,” Percy said, his colouring heightening once again. Ginny would lay a bet that Percy had given Oliver the same lecture. At least she was in good company.
“Yeah, and Oliver had really good marks. We always used to wonder how he did it with how often he scheduled practices,” George said.
“Who cares about NEWTs if you make a team?” Ron said, staring wide-eyed at his sister. “Ginny, this is brilliant. You know, I’ve heard the Chudley Cannons are looking for a new Chaser.”
“Thanks, Ron,” Ginny said, smiling. Her chest tingled with a bubble of excitement. Apparently, Ron’s approval meant more than she’d realized. She really didn’t want to play for the Cannons, but she wasn’t about to shoot him down after he’d supported her.
“Your NEWT results are very important, Ron. The rest of your life can depend on it. What does Mum say?” Percy asked.
Ginny stared across the table directly at him. “I haven’t told her yet.”
Percy frowned. “Do you think that’s wise?”
“I wouldn’t tell her yet, either. Wait until you make a team,” Ron said fervently.
His surety that she would make a team made that little bubble of excitement gurgle again. Perhaps Ron wouldn’t be the one to slip to their mum after all. Now, Ginny would really have to decide when to tell her.
“Ron’s right,” George said suddenly. “That will give her too much time to build up a rant. You know that’s the key to Mum. Wait until you have good news to share. She’ll get over it quicker.”
“Or you could just have Harry tell her. She never gets angry with him,” Ron said without a trace of envy.
Ginny felt Harry tense beside her. He still worried about Ron’s reaction to how much attention her mum paid him. Ginny didn’t think either Harry or Ron understood that her mum’s desire to shower Harry with affection stemmed from the knowledge that no one else ever had.
“I know!” George said suddenly. “Harry, you could always tell mum you want to marry Ginny. That’ll put the thought of Quidditch right out of her head.”
Both Harry and Ginny choked on their Butterbeers.
“Of course, that would mean she’d have ‘Potter’ on the back of her robes, so that won’t work. I really want to see ‘Weasley’ there,” George carried on as if the two in question weren’t gasping for breath.
Hermione stood up and leaned over to try and pat them both on their backs. “I think Harry and Ginny should be allowed to plan their future on things other than avoiding your mum’s temper, George,” she said disapprovingly.
Harry turned panicked eyes toward Ginny, and she’d finally had enough. “Stop trying to scare the crap out of him, George,” she said sternly. “I’m attending the try-outs, and I haven’t decided when to tell Mum yet. That’s all.”
“I suppose that’s wise. As long as you’re keeping up with your studies, you can still sit your NEWTs before you decide,” Percy said, nodding.
“Are you kidding? If she makes a team, she won’t need to bother,” Ron said incredulously. When he caught Hermione’s disapproving scowl, he added hastily, “But it’s always good to have options.”
Hermione didn’t reply, but her scowl did relax slightly.
Harry glanced at his watch, still looking rather pale.
“Oh, d’you have to go already?” Ginny asked, wishing again that they could have the whole day.
“Not yet. We have to be in the Forest of Dean at half one,” he said apologetically.
“Dementors on Valentine’s Day? How romantic,” Ginny said scathingly, finishing her Butterbeer. She couldn’t think of a less romantic way to spend the day.
“I don’t think it will be much longer,” he said quietly. “Did you notice that Hagrid’s back?”
Hagrid had taken a leave several weeks ago, and his classes had been covered by Professor Grubbly-Plank. It was only because of Harry that Ginny knew the full story of his mission for the Ministry to approach the giants.
“Oh, I did see him at breakfast this morning,” Hermione said excitedly. “Was he successful?”
“Dunno,” Harry said, shrugging. “I didn’t get the chance to talk to him, and they haven’t said anything to the team yet.”
“Then why don’t you think you’ll be with the Dementors much longer?” Hermione asked sharply.
“I saw Amos Diggory, and he looked as if he’s had a shock. No one from the Regulation and Control for Magical Creatures has been out with the Dementors for the past three days,” he said promptly.
“But… won’t that mean you’ll have to herd them all the way up to their mountain retreat?” Hermione asked, biting her lip.
“It will,” Harry said, nodding. “But once we get them there, I hope I never see another Dementor as long as I live.”
“I’ll drink to that,” Ginny said, chugging the last of Harry’s Butterbeer.
Harry trekked through The Burrow’s muddy garden and pulled open the door to Mr. Weasley’s shed. He attempted to wipe some of the muck from his boots, but gave it up as a lost cause. The melting snow had left the surrounding garden a mess, and it was impossible to go outside without taking some of it back inside with you.
Inside the shed, he cast a warming charm and pulled the tarp off a tangled heap of metal in the far left corner. Beneath the tarp lay the remains of Sirius’s beloved motorbike. It had been destroyed the night he and Hagrid had fled from Privet Drive, but Mr. Weasley had collected the scattered pieces from the Tonks’s property during the war. Ken Towler had a motorbike and frequently raved about riding. He said it was the closest things Muggles had to flying. He and George were coming by The Burrow today to see if this one was worth saving.
Harry had always been good at mending things. He’d saved loads of Dudley’s discarded items to use himself that way. He decided tinkering with Sirius’s bike would be a worthy project, and it would take his mind off Ginny’s absence. Although there hadn’t been any further incidents with Tim Travers, Harry couldn’t help the nagging worry and desire to be with her to ensure her safety. He also knew she’d hex him for even having that thought.
Wistfully, he ran a hand along the twisted metal of the bike. He’d ridden on it twice in his life that he knew about, although only once that he could remember. That trip had been terrifying, and he’d nearly died as he and Hagrid plunged to the ground in a pile of destruction. His beloved owl, Hedwig, had lost her life that fateful night.
The first time he’d also ridden with Hagrid, but then it had been away from destruction and into a dismal, ten-year imprisonment. His jail hadn’t been as bad as Sirius’s, but only due to the lack of Dementors. The Dursleys were their own form of Dementors.
Harry knew that Sirius had owned this bike before he’d given it to Hagrid to take Harry away from Godric’s Hollow. He liked to believe Sirius thought Hagrid was taking Harry to safety, and he was glad that Sirius didn’t know the truth. He imagined his godfather had a good deal of fun on this bike before the tragedy that would change all of their lives. He envisioned long rides in the countryside with the wind whipping at his face. Perhaps he’d even taken his dad for a ride or two. He didn’t think his mum would’ve allowed Harry on the bike as a baby, not if she was anything like Mrs. Weasley, anyway. But then, if his dad had been anything like Mr. Weasley, he might’ve sneaked him out. Harry amused himself with the thought for several moments as he moved stray pieces of the bike aside.
It had started as an ordinary Muggle motor bike, but Sirius had added a number of enhancements, most notably one enabling the bike to fly. Hagrid and Mr. Weasley had both added enhancements of their own. Once Harry realized that three of the men who’d tried, in their own ways, to offer him some guidance and support during his turbulent teenage years had all had a hand in this bike, Harry knew he had to try and save it.
As he pulled out various twisted pieces of metal and arranged them along the floor, he heard voices outside the shed.
“I really don’t miss all this much,” George said, pulling the door open. He and Ken stepped inside, both of their boots covered in mud, as well.
“Hey, George, Ken,” Harry said in greeting.
“Wow! Where did you get this? It’s ancient,” Ken said, his eyes roaming over the scattered pieces of motorbike that Harry had spread along a tarp on the floor.
“Er… family heirloom,” Harry said, unwilling to dredge up the whole story.
“What happened to it? Were you on this thing when it crashed?” Ken asked, whistling through his teeth.
“Voldemort himself took it out,” George said, picking up a piece of pipe and examining it critically.
“What?” Ken asked, swivelling his head between the two. “I didn’t think he liked Muggle things.”
“Yeah, well… this is no ordinary bike,” Harry said sheepishly. “It has some magical enhancements.”
“And it can fly,” George added helpfully.
“You’re joking,” Ken said sceptically. He’d obviously shared a dorm with George long enough to know not to trust everything he said.
“No, this time he’s not,” Harry replied.
“My dad… he’s fascinated by Muggle things. He likes to tinker with them in his spare time,” George said.
“I don’t even know what this is,” Ken said, picking up the loose handlebars and poking at a smashed purple button near the speedometer.
“It used to emit dragon fire from the exhaust,” Harry said, shuddering as he remembered the one time he’d seen it used.
Ken’s face went slack with shock. “Er… Didn’t your father work for the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts though?” he asked, confused.
“He did,” George said wryly. “It’s where he picked up most of the things he likes to tinker with. We even had a flying car once.”
“Honestly? I’d love to see that,” Ken said, and Harry had the distinct impression he and Mr. Weasley would get along splendidly.
“It’s running wild in the Forbidden Forest, I think. You could find it near the Acromantulas if you really want to look,” Harry said. He had no intention of volunteering to go with him.
Ken’s eyes had gone wide, and he swallowed visibly. “Thanks, I’ll take your word for it.”
“What’s the matter, Towler? Afraid of a few spiders, are you?” George asked, picking up a twisted piece of metal and tossing it in the air repeatedly.
“Remind me again exactly why you’re here, Weasley? D’you know anything about mending motorbikes?” Ken asked, not even looking up from his perusal of the parts.
“I’m here for the entertainment value, of course,” George said, kneeling on the floor beside them without stopping his game of toss.
“I s’pose it is your house,” Ken replied.
“It’s my parents’ house, and they consider Harry one of theirs, anyway,” George said.
His words filled Harry’s chest with warmth, and he was unable to keep his face neutral. He ducked his head to hide his smile. He knew he was caught, however, when George fondly ruffled his hair. Not much slipped past George.
He’d moved into Grimmauld Place the day after Valentine’s, taking one of the rooms on an upper floor. Not much had changed since he’d officially moved in, since he’d been spending so much time with Harry and Ron, anyway. Mrs. Weasley had been delighted, and she increased the number of food deliveries. She insisted that Harry shouldn’t be expected to cook for two of her sons alone.
Although George was a better cook than Ron, he obviously didn’t enjoy it much, insisting he spent all day concocting potions for his products, so that he didn’t want to do more of it when he came home. Harry couldn’t blame him for that. He wouldn’t like to face a Dementor on his off time, either.
“All right. Harry, you have the right idea. Let’s lay out all these parts, then we’ll repair what we can. I ‘spect we’ll need to get more parts, but once we have an idea of what we need, we can start looking. This is an old bike, so I doubt you’ll be able to get any original parts,” Ken said, staring at the various pieces critically.
The three wizards spent the rest of the morning sorting and casting spells to repair what they could. Despite his jokes, George proved surprisingly adept at mending various pieces, and his talent for problem-solving shone. All three were covered in spots of grease in no time, and all were surprised when the door to the shed opened and Mrs. Weasley brought in a tray of sandwiches. Glancing at his watch, Harry was stunned to realize it was tea time.
“Ah, thanks, Mum,” George said, reaching for a sandwich.
Mrs. Weasley pulled the tray away. “I suggest you all clean your hands first. They’re disgusting,” she said, placing the tray on Mr. Weasley’s work table.
Chastised, they all cast Cleaning Charms before helping themselves to sandwiches. Harry finished half of his — ham and cheese — in one bite. Mrs. Weasley watched him approvingly.
“Do you think you’ll be able to salvage it?” she asked, staring at the motorbike with a frown.
“Still not sure,” Ken said, looking back at the bike. “There’s a lot of damage. You might end up putting more gold into fixing this one than you would if you just bought a new one.”
“I’d like this one, if possible,” Harry said quietly. For him, it was more the significance of the bike than the bike itself. He’d lost the Firebolt Sirius had given him, but this… this was a way to keep some part of him alive.
“You’ll have to watch yourself if you do get it running,” Mrs. Weasley said. “You don’t want to get into trouble at the Ministry, Harry, dear.”
George covered a grin behind another sandwich. Harry knew that Mr. Weasley often added magical enhancements to Muggle things, and although it was technically against wizarding law, he didn’t think he’d ever been in trouble for it other than the time he and Ron had used the car to fly to Hogwarts. He certainly didn’t intend to use it to hurt anyone, and he suspected that was what the Ministry was more concerned over.
“I’ll be careful, Mrs. Weasley.”
“I know you will, dear. I’ll leave the tray here, but don’t work too hard,” she said, squeezing George’s shoulder before she left. The day had warmed nicely, and a warm breeze floated in from the garden. Harry could even hear the buzz of insects around the budding trees.
George watched his mother carefully until she’d gone back inside the kitchen door before pulling a familiar-looking bottle from his pocket. “I think we’ve earned a nip,” he said, grinning. He banished the remaining Pumpkin juice from their glasses and poured a generous amount of Firewhisky.
“Ah,” Ken said, reaching for his glass. “Definitely earned this, yeah?”
Harry stared at the mess of parts still littering the floor. “Are we done, then?” he asked, torn between wanting it done and wanting to stop.
“We can putter, but we need a few parts to do much more anyway,” George said. “Cheers.”
Harry raised his glass and felt the familiar burning sensation going down. “Any news on when we begin moving the Dementors?” he asked.
Ken grimaced and shook his head. “Amos Diggory and his people are still stalling. I think the Minister is going to give him a hard deadline.”
“Why were they in such a hurry to inspect the Dementors, then?” Harry asked, exasperated. The weather was slowly getting warmer. It wouldn’t be long before the Muggles returned to camp in the Forest of Dean.
“Because they knew we were there to protect them. Now that it’s on their own department, all of a sudden their own safety is of greater concern,” Ken replied bitterly. He refilled their glasses, and took another sip as if talk of the Department for the Regulations and Control of Magical Creatures had left a bad taste in his mouth.
“How are you going to move all those Dementors?” George asked. “How will each shift know where to go to switch?”
“Honestly, it’s a scheduling nightmare. We’re going to use Portkeys to get the Aurors on- and off-duty to avoid Splinching,” Ken said, glancing at Harry.
Harry averted his eyes and took a sip of his drink without response, still embarrassed about his mishap.
“Until we start, we won’t know for certain how much distance per shift is reasonable. Plus, most of those on shift are new recruits. In the past, they wouldn’t even be out in the field yet,” Ken said.
“I heard there were a few volunteers from outside the Ministry,” Harry said, looking questioningly at Ken, who nodded.
“Yeah. “Some of the old Order of the Phoenix — your brother, Bill, for instance. There are also a few people from other various departments who have volunteered,” Ken said.
“Bill is?” George asked, surprised.
Ken nodded. “As long as we’re done by April.”
“That’s because his wife is due to have a baby in May,” George replied, grinning. “First grandchild for mum, and she’s over the moon about it.”
“With all those volunteers, there’s a much greater risk for casualties,” Harry said, unconsciously rubbing his scar. His chest constricted with the thought of having to keep track of all those civilians while dealing with his own difficulties with the Dementors.
“Is your scar hurting?” George asked, concerned.
“What?” Harry asked, startled before realizing he’d been rubbing it. He immediately put his hand down. “No. It hasn’t since Voldemort’s death.”
“How did that all work?” Ken asked frankly, staring at Harry. “I can’t help but wonder, although it’s all been very vague. Did it really hurt you all the time when he was alive? Why?”
Harry grimaced and finished his drink before replying. He really hated talking about it, but he couldn’t see a way out. Ken had, after all, been helping him all day on his own time. He had a rehearsed, Ministry-approved answer, but he still hated it. “Once he came back, yeah,” he said gruffly, nodding at George who refilled his glass unasked. “Somehow, when he cursed me as a baby, it forged some kind of connection. It’s never really been explained. No one else has ever had a scar like mine.”
Harry found his hand was shaking slightly, and he sloshed Firewhisky down the sides before taking another sip to drain it. As far as he knew, no one else had ever had an evil bit of someone else’s soul living inside their head, either. Harry couldn’t repress a shudder as Dumbledore’s words echoed in his brain. ‘You were the Horcrux he never intended to make.’ Ginny kept telling him it was separate from him, but whenever his thoughts dwelled too much upon it — like when he was up with the Dementors — it left him feeling ill and unclean.
“Yeah, you get the cool-looking scar, and I just get a hole in my head,” George said, his tone light but eyes radiating concern as he watched Harry.
“But that’s nothing new. You’ve always had a hole in your head, it’s just more visible now,” Ken replied, laughing and causing George to express his feelings with a hand gesture.
Harry took another shaky sip of his drink, noting his ghostlike pallor in the glass. The sandwich he’d eaten was suddenly sitting heavily in his stomach.
“Why don’t we wrap this up? We can work on it again after we get some new parts?” George said, still watching Harry. “I need to check the shop to see if Verity had any trouble. If I get some take away, care to join us for supper, Ken?”
“Can’t,” Ken replied, grinning. “I’ve got a date.”
“A date? Who’d go out with you?” George asked, his eyebrows lifting.
“Her name’s Leanne. She was in the year behind us at Hogwarts. She works in the Department of Magical Transportation,” he replied. “She’s been organizing the Portkeys for the Dementor squads.”
“Well, have a good one, then. Harry? Any requests for take away?” George asked, helping to stack their parts in neat piles.
“Nah. Anything’s fine,” Harry said absently. His stomach roiled again with the thought of food. He was more tired than he ought to be and had lost his enthusiasm for the motorbike.
At home, Harry sank down into the comfort of his familiar four-poster bed. It was larger than the one he’d had at Hogwarts, but it reminded him of the first place he’d truly felt at home. He shut his eyes and allowed the tension to ease. He’d had dinner with George and Ron — George had brought back some Asian take away — but Harry hadn’t been very hungry and begged off early. He had an early shift in the morning, and he wasn’t in the mood to socialize. Ron — who’d worked a shift today and had tomorrow off — and George were setting up the chess board when he’d left.
Harry took the broken piece of mirror from his bedside table. He reckoned it was too early for Ginny to be in bed, but he tried anyway. He really needed to talk to her, even though he knew it was silly to let talk of the Horcrux inside him unsettle him so.
“Ginny,” he said, trying to tamp down on the urgency in his voice as he held the sliver of mirror up to his face.
It remained annoyingly clear. “Ginny,” he repeated, this time allowing some of his desperation to seep through.
He waited several fruitless moments before laying the mirror on his bedside table and flopping back upon his pillows. She was probably still doing homework… or maybe she’d gone on a kitchen run with her roommates. He couldn’t stop the annoying thought that perhaps Dean Thomas had persuaded her to play a game of Exploding Snap by the fire in the common room.
Scowling, he turned on his side, staring at the blank mirror. So irritated by the thought of Dean being there with her while Harry was here in London, he didn’t even register when the mirror clouded over.
“Harry? Harry are you there?”
Eyes opening wide, he fumbled for the mirror, drawing it closer to his face. Ginny was there, her hair plastered down with sweat, and she was breathing heavily.
“Where are you?” he asked, trying unsuccessfully to keep the note of suspicion from his voice.
Ginny wasn’t fooled, and her eyebrows rose as her mouth pinched. “I’m in the Room of Requirement training, if you must know,” she said coolly.
“Sorry,” Harry said hastily. “I know I’m early.”
She frowned as she studied his face. “What’s wrong, Harry?”
“Nothing. I’m fine. I—I just wanted to talk to you is all,” he lied.
“I thought we had a deal that you wouldn’t say you were fine when you obviously aren’t?” she said, scowling.
Harry had forgotten she didn’t like the word ‘fine.’ He probably should’ve waited to call her. She didn’t appear to be in the mood to chat. He bit his lip without response.
After several empty beats, she spoke again, sounding exasperated, “I’m hot and sweaty and need a shower. We can either go back and forth as I try to get you to spit it out, growing more irritated all the while, or you could just tell me the problem and we could work out a solution.”
“It’s nothing,” Harry said quickly, fiercely rubbing a hand along his scar. For Merlin’s sake, he was an Auror. Why did she still have the ability to make him as nervous as a school boy? “Go have your shower, and we’ll talk later.”
“Harry, wait!” she shouted, sounding urgent. “No, tell me what’s going on. My shower can wait. I thought you didn’t work today.”
“I didn’t. I worked on Sirius’s motorbike with George and Ken Towler.”
“So, what upset you?” she asked.
“Nothing,” he replied quickly. “I’m not upset. It’s just — It’s stupid, really. Ken was wondering about my connection to Voldemort — you know, what’s true and what isn’t. It’s completely normal that he would wonder. Probably everyone does when they see me or hear about me, but…”
“But you don’t want to talk about it,” she said gently. “You don’t have to, you know. I suppose it made you think about the Horcrux again?”
Harry groaned miserably. “I know it’s gone. It shouldn’t matter.”
“Of course it matters to you. It probably always will. I know after my first year, I couldn’t walk past the lavatory on the second floor without breaking out in a cold sweat. I eventually had to map out my route to classes without passing it,” Ginny said.
“I didn’t know that,” Harry said, eyes widening. He should’ve done so much more for her back then, and he mentally kicked his thirteen-year-old self.
“That’s because I tried to cover it up — like you’re doing now. It’s okay that it still bothers you, even though you know there was nothing else you could’ve done,” she said, smiling sadly.
“Did—Did it get better… eventually?” he whispered, looking up through his fringe hopefully.
Ginny shrugged. “It did. The more time that passed, the easier it was… although I admit, I still avoid going that way if I can help it. At the time, Bill actually gave me the best bit of advice.”
“He said not to pretend it didn’t matter. That I should allow myself to acknowledge that I was upset, and it made it easier to move on. Talking about it always helps,” she said, her brown eyes glowing with warmth and sympathy.
“Thanks, Ginny,” Harry said, swallowing.
“If you don’t, sweetie, it’ll keep cropping up. Those Dementors really aren’t helping. They keep the memories too close for you to work past them. How much longer?” she asked, looking irritated once again.
“They’re working on a plan to move them now,” Harry said, feeling his cold insides thaw a little with the use of her endearment.
“What about Theo Nott? Have you seen him again?” she asked. Harry had told her about their meeting.
Harry shook his head. “No, nothing from him, although there have been several more attacks on the families of known Death Eaters.”
“D’you think… do you think maybe the Ministry went too lightly on those who were involved here at Hogwarts?” Ginny asked, biting her lip.
Harry shrugged. He’d agonized over this decision, as well. “Do you think they should’ve gone to Azkaban? Some of them were only doing what their families instructed them to do.”
“I know that, but… Look, I don’t think anyone underage should’ve gone to Azkaban, but… I wonder if perhaps being allowed to come back to Hogwarts was wise. There is so much animosity amongst the younger students toward Slytherin House.”
“It’s not like they walked away scot-free,” Harry said, growling his frustration. “All the Carrows’s goons are on a sort of probation, and their wands are confiscated when they aren’t at school. People like Malfoy and Nott, and anyone else whose parents were Death Eaters have had their homes and finances confiscated.”
“I think the Ministry needs to make that better known. People need to feel there was justice.”
“I understand that, but where do you draw that line? The students were allowed back to Hogwarts to try and educate them about Muggles. That’s why the class is now mandatory. If we let it get out that they aren’t allowed wands before they finish their studies, then those who are already attacking them will know they’re defenceless.”
Ginny frowned. “I don’t know.”
“Me, either… but, we have to keep trying, don’t we?” he asked, feeling better just having the chance to talk with her.
She smiled. “Yeah, we do. You go to sleep, love. I’m going to have a shower.”
“You could still take your mirror with you,” Harry said, waggling his eyebrows.