Author's note: my pre-beta readers have advised me that one should not read this chapter while eating or drinking.
Harry's last night as a fifteen-year-old boy was spent reading himself to sleep. There were three books on his bed. The first he'd actually finished that evening: Disguise, Deception and Disillusionment - an Auror's Field Guide. Tonks had slipped him that book weeks ago, and had surely bent several rules by doing so. It was chock-full of very useful spell work, most of which he'd mastered wandlessly. He had simply memorised a few of the more transfiguration-intensive spells, for fear of bringing the wrath of Madam Hopkirk down on number four, Privet Drive. The next book in the stack was one that Professor McGonagall had obtained for him: Advanced Transfiguration - Animagus Theory and Practice. Harry had considered giving it to Hermione, but had decided otherwise when he'd happened upon the perfect present for the classmate he now thought of as the sister he never had. He'd stumbled through another chapter in that book before concluding that he needed to read it when he was fresh to have any hope of understanding the contents.
The book clutched in his hand as he slept through midnight, glasses perched on top of his head, was a slim volume that Jasmine had slipped him as she bid him goodnight: Clues for the Clueless - A Guide to Modern Wizarding Courtship. After spending the past few days being severely bent out of shape over his feelings and just what he should be doing about them, the book was positively cathartic. It was informative in the way that self-help books should be, but beyond that, it was howlingly funny. The writer explained several scenarios from the point of view of the witch, the wizard and their respective parents. Some of it was enlightening, some of it was positively frightening (especially when he tried to figure out how that would work with a probable couple, say Ron and Hermione) but most of it was so absurd that he burst out laughing. He'd laughed so hard that he had to cast Imperturbable and Silencing charms on the room to keep from waking the Dursleys.
The faint pop of the Passbox woke him. The Weasley knob was lit. Harry sat bolt upright, sending his glasses flying in one direction and the book in another. He bounded for the Passbox, and withdrew a single sheet of parchment folded in half.
I crashed when I got home today - Mum never lets me take a nap these days, but today she sent me to bed after we got back to the Burrow. Evidently she tried to wake me for dinner. I woke an hour ago to find that everyone but Dad had turned in for the night. A quick tour of the cold pantry showed that Mum had about 100 pounds of potato salad made up for your birthday. She now has 99 pounds of potato salad, as one pound somehow went missing. Imagine that. J Mum saved my dinner, but Ron apparently had it for a snack. I know where he sleeps and have learned a smashing charm for attracting spiders.
I'm not too tired to dance now, but you're nowhere to be found; story of my life, it seems. I've been experimenting with the Pyr'gs. The bat and spider are fairly straightforward. The twins will never sneak me up on me again. Fawkes comes when I call and sings sweetly, but I don't have anything remotely phoenixy at hand for him to do, so he just sings away. The dragon is playing hard to get. I don't know his name, and when I call "dragon?" I get a whole lot of nothing.
Well, look at me rambling along - I started this letter so I could be the first one to wish you "Happy Birthday." Happy Birthday, Harry; for once you'll be somewhere decent for your birthday. The Burrow will be packed tomorrow between all the guests coming for your special day and the Aurors and members of the Order providing security. Maybe we can slip out and get in some flying between waves of guests?
Well, as there's nothing here to do and no one to dance with, I'm going to turn in. I'm sure that Mum will be up at the crack of dawn and will be expecting some quality time with her only daughter (read 'free labour for the special day' - whoo-hoo!). Hermione will be arriving before noon - it will be grand to have another girl around, although part of me thinks that she'll be hogged by her favourite bickering partner, also known as bald brother number one.
Happy Birthday, when I see you next you'll be out of that awful place -welcome home - I miss you.
There was a grease stain near the edge of the letter. It smelled of potato salad. Harry chucked the letter into the portfolio with the rest of his summer correspondence and pulled a sheet of paper from his desk, writing a quick reply with a Muggle pen.
Dear Ginevra (just kidding),
Your senior Pyr'g is a bit of a pain. His name is Tk'lch (Parseltongue doesn't lend itself to spelling in English - but you knew that already). It's pronounced "Tick-Lock" with a throaty "ch" at the end of each syllable. He will obey direct orders (such as "Tk'lch, show yourself and answer this question") but will try to evade if you give him a break. Show him just who the "pale spotted mammal" is in this outfit.
Me? I'm too tired to dance right now, although if you were here I might be willing to make an exception. I'm looking forward to the Burrow, and getting away from all things Dursley. I don't know if I can handle the attention involved with a Birthday Party - I've never had one, really. The closest I've come was the night that Hagrid broke down the door at the cabin my Uncle was renting to deliver my Hogwarts letter and a hand-made Hagrid cake, but that's a story for another time.
I miss you too.
Harry stuffed the note into the Passbox before he could second-guess any of the wording. He checked the clock to be sure that it was armed to go off in the morning, ran his fingers through his hair, stripped off his trousers, hopped back into bed, pulled up the covers and extinguished the light. Tomorrow was now today, but it would be a lot more pleasant with some more sleep under his belt.
"Your minder is here," Mm'lau said, waking him from a sound sleep.
"Whatever happened to 'good morning?'" Harry asked.
"Have it your way. Good morning, Harry. Your minder came while you were sleeping and changed into your clothes. She's downstairs with those wretched mammals. I have a hard time believing that you are kin to those creatures."
"Some guardian you are, Mm'lau."
"You went off duty, you didn't set any perimeter guard, and you didn't leave any instructions. I was left to my own best judgment. You'd instructed me that Tonks would never be a threat to you, so after I ascertained that it was truly her, I decided that you needed your sleep more than you needed to know that she was garbing herself with your clothing and taking on your appearance," Mm'lau said. Harry knew that if he closed his eyes again that he'd see her assuming the dragon equivalent of Molly Weasley's legendary chewing-out posture; hands on hips, head thrown back.
"So, why are you waking me up now?"
"She's coming up the stairs. You might want to put your trousers back on," Mm'lau said with what sounded suspiciously like a giggle.
Harry reached for his trousers, which were on the back of his chair and froze.
Lying neatly folded on top of the trousers he wore yesterday were a smaller pair of blue jeans, a pair of socks, a light blue shirt, pale blue knickers that had "Victoria's Secret" woven into the waistband, and a matching pale blue brassiere.
"They won't fit you, you know," a familiar voice said behind him.
Harry spun around quickly, drawing his wand. "Keep your hands where I can see them and tell me something that only Tonks knows," he said to his exact duplicate. "I was planning on wearing the trousers, not the girly stuff you left on the back of my chair." He could hear Mm'lau clucking in the back of his consciousness, but quickly concluded that his 'better safe than sorry' reflexes were not out of line - yet.
"Whatever you say, Harry - I saw you reaching for my knickers. Let's see... I pricked your left ring finger to set the Passbox knobs. You blushed like a Weasley when I showed you my Harriet Potter, and according to Jasmine you're a great wizard but need some work in the kissing department."
"What?" Harry shouted.
"All right, I made that last bit up, but the other two are genuine Tonks-only facts. Would you lower your wand, so I can tell you what we're doing this morning?" Tonks said, shifting into her normal voice.
"Turn around, I want to get dressed."
"Harry, transgender morphing here - I'm a boy now," Tonks whinged as she spread her hands in dismay.
"Yeah, right. No matter how much you look like me right now, I'm certain that I do not want to get dressed in front of my big sister, who will figure out some way to embarrass me later."
"I don't need facts to embarrass you, Harry. If I don't know it, I can just make it up," Tonks said smugly.
"Thanks, you're filling me with confidence, Tonks," Harry replied.
"All right, I'm turned around now, and I promise I won't peek," Tonks said as she moved her hands over her eyes in an exaggerated gesture.
Harry gingerly pulled his trousers out from under the girl clothes, slipped into his trousers, and uttered a mild prayer of thanksgiving that last night had not been a blistering hot night that would have caused him to sleep on top of his covers in little to no clothing.
"Ok, I'm decent now. What's up?" he asked, trying to keep the irritation out of his voice.
"Can't a girl come visit her very own brother on his birthday?" she asked sweetly.
"Maybe I'm missing something, but most sisters don't morph into their brothers on the occasion of their birthdays," Harry said drolly.
"You have a point there. I've been working on holding your form and perfecting a charm that lets me hold your voice as well. I figured I could test it on your Aunt Petunia," Tonks explained
"What was your plan if she caught on?"
"I've got a really good Obliviate charm, almost as good as Lockhart's."
"Well, did you pass?" Harry asked with a smile.
"She reamed me out good when I dropped a coffee cup, and prattled on about how ungrateful you've been for the past fifteen years for all the sacrifices they've made to keep you in such a level of safety and comfort. When she wasn't looking, I repaired the cup and put it into the dishwasher," Tonks reported.
"Sounds like you passed one off on her. Was that before or after she had her second cup of tea?" Harry asked.
"Let me think - afterwards, I'm sure of it. I almost dropped the sugar bowl when she asked me to pass it at breakfast."
"Your decoy is going to the Burrow too - we're trying to suss out whether or not Death Eater intelligence has figured out where you are when you're not at Hogwarts," Tonks said, her tone changing from light-hearted to all business.
"Nice job on the morphing. Tonks, what are you wearing under my clothes?"
"Pervert! You're expressing a lot of interest in my knickers today. Is there something that we need to discuss?" Tonks as Harry looked at him for a moment before continuing. "Your socks and underwear, of course. The boys in the technical department aged a pair of trainers for me - they'll do nicely for you when I'm done with them. It wouldn't do for the decoy to be captured and found wearing ladies' foundational garments - people would talk, and it would only end up in the B section of the Daily Prophet, or, worse yet, Teen Witch Weekly."
Harry made a frame with his hands for the front-page of an imaginary tabloid paper. "Oh yeah - I can see it now 'Boy-Who-Lived - bent or just a cross-dresser?' - Page two: exclusive interview with housewitch who saw him snogging his former DADA professor."
Tonks was silent and then suddenly serious. "That's not a problem, is it Harry? My - uh - snogging Remus? Molly thinks that I'm something of a 'Scarlet Woman'."
Harry too was silent for a while, searching for the best way to express himself. "I think what Remus thinks is what's important here, and he's overdue for some happiness. You make him very happy. Just make sure that you change back into something recognisably female before you show him how happy you are to see him today, okay?" Harry answered with a smirk.
"I think I can manage that," Tonks replied with a wink.
"So, what's the plan?" Harry asked.
"It's simple, really. We're going to take this fabulously sexy, talented, dangerous witch and turn her into a scruffy looking teenaged boy, and then ship that ersatz boy off with a trained Auror to the Burrow and see what comes out of the woodwork when we do so," Tonks explained with an airy gesture.
"Sounds good," Harry replied. "When's the fabulously sexy talented and dangerous witch showing up? I haven't seen Jasmine since late last night."
Tonks as Harry stood staring at Harry, her mouth open. She grabbed the pillow off of Harry's bed and smacked him. "You prat! I'm the fabulously sexy talented and dangerous witch."
"That's funny, you look like a scruffy boy right now," Harry said, diving for Tonks' waist, sweeping her to the ground.
"You'll pay for that, Potter!" Tonks screamed as she tried to avoid being pinned to the ground. The two Harrys wrestled on the floor, sending Hedwig out the window with a dignified "hoot." Neither of them heard the click of the door.
"Which one should I stun?" Moey asked.
"Do both of them and we can sort it out later," Jasmine replied.
"Moey?" cried one Harry.
"Jasmine?" croaked the other Harry.
"We can explain," they said in unison.
"You know, Moey, it's a pity we aren't getting this on video - no one is ever going to believe us if we tell this story," Jasmine drawled.
"I'm Harry, she's Tonks and she started it," blue-shirt Harry exclaimed.
"What? Tonks, you fibbing fleabag, you started it," tan-shirt Harry replied.
Moey turned to Jasmine. "Well, they are in agreement on one thing," she said.
"What's that?" Jasmine asked.
"Tonks started it. Sounds like the girl I know. You there in the blue shirt - get on the bed and stay there. You in the tan shirt sit on the chair and mind the knickers." Turning to Jasmine she adjusted the patch on her eye (dark blue, matching her slacks). "How well do you know Harry?" she asked.
"Fairly well. How well do you know Tonks?" she replied.
"We were mates in my first flat after school for a year. A Galleon says you can't tell them apart."
"I'm willing to give it a go. Whichever one of you is Harry, shield up, dragon down, ok?" Jasmine asked.
Both Harrys nodded.
"Stand up," she commanded.
Both Harrys stood.
Jasmine walked around both boys, looking deeply into their eyes, tracing the tips of her fingers across their foreheads, pulling down on their shirt collars and smelling their hair. She pulled Moey aside and invoked a hush charm, speaking softly. "Damn, she's good. Looks like Harry, smells like Harry, she's wearing Harry's clothes, and with a pretty decent Occlumency shield, I can't tell which one is the bluffer," Jasmine exclaimed. Moey nodded.
Moey moved to the open window, looking for something in the yard as she made an odd clucking noise. A moment later Hedwig alighted on the window frame returning her clucking with an odd chatter. Moey scribbled a quick note on a scrap of parchment and tied it to Hedwig's leg. "Take this to Harry, please." Hedwig gave Moey an odd look, walked sideways along the windowsill and jumped into the room, walking stiffly to the two Harrys.
"That's not fair," said Harry in the blue shirt.
Hedwig looked up at this Harry for a moment before waddling to Harry in the tan shirt. She hooted politely and held out her leg to the other Harry.
Harry took the note from Hedwig that read "Jasmine owes me one Galleon. I know which witch is which. (signed) Moey."
"Yeah, I know, I'm busted," said Harry in the blue shirt, her voice shifting from Harry's voice to her own. She squinted for a moment; growing her hair until it was shoulder-length and then completed the transformation into Harriet Potter, this time complete with scar. Looking down at her chest she exclaimed, "It's a good thing you like your shirts loose, Harry, otherwise I'd be positively indecent."
Harry goggled briefly at the now transformed Tonks. "I just don't look like that in my clothes. Lupin was right," he said.
"You are fetching in all your forms - except when you're me," Harry said with a smirk.
Moey crossed her arms and shook her head. "I don't know about that, Harry. I was having all sorts of grownup evil thoughts about what I could do with two blokes when the two of you were bookends."
"Don't finish that thought, please!" Harry cried, making a show of shielding his ears with his hands.
Moey checked her wristwatch and then prodded Tonks with the tip of her shoe. "We need to get going - let me transfigure your clothes, and you get back to being Harry again. I don't want to see you as a girl until I deliver you, safe and sound, at the Burrow," Moey chided.
"Yes, Ma'am," Tonks said, giving an exaggerated salute before screwing up her eyes again and transforming from Harriet to Harry Potter.
Moey tossed Tonks' clothes on the floor and changed the garments into sickles, knuts and galleons with a flick and a swish. She scooped them up off of the floor and handed them to the newly reconstituted blue shirt Harry, who put them into his pocket. "What time do you have, Jasmine?"
"Half-past seven," she replied.
"We need to go - let me nip into the loo then we'll hit the road. Remember, meet us at the border at 10:00 sharp," Moey instructed. "Come along, Harry - you can use the loo downstairs, the Dursleys are all gone for the morning."
"Yes, Ma'am - say, why is it that you're always being bossed around by women?" Tonks as Harry asked.
"It's the natural order of my life," Harry replied. "Get used to it."
"So," Jasmine said, looking around. "We've got a bit more than two hours to kill - any suggestions?"
"Well, I've got to pack, and I'd like to make breakfast, as Tonks the impostor turned off my alarm before she raided my dresser and took my breakfast downstairs," Harry complained.
His rant was interrupted by a pop from the Passbox. The Hogwarts knob lit up.
"Is that what I think it is?" Jasmine inquired.
"Depends - what are you thinking?" Harry quipped.
Jasmine cuffed the back of his head. "That's a Passbox. I haven't seen one of those since my first pledge - my principal was the Resident Director of the Gringotts branch in Sri Lanka. Man... this takes me back," she exclaimed.
"This one's sealed so I'm the only one who can open the doors," Harry explained.
"Clever - who thought of that," Jasmine asked.
"My friends," Harry answered evasively.
"Wouldn't happen to be a stunning little redheaded friend, stands about so tall, carries a dragon inside her head?" Jasmine asked, holding her hand up to the tip of her nose.
"It might be," he answered with a smile.
"Well, aren't you going to open your mail?" she asked, one hand on her hip while the other pointed to the Passbox.
"All right then," he replied.
Dear Mr. Potter,
Let me wish you a most Happy Birthday. My plans have changed a bit, and I am still uncertain whether I will see you later today, but in any event, I expect that you will be mobbed with well-wishers, and if I obtained the chance to speak with you, I doubt that you would remember what I had to say, given the competition for your attention today. It is imperative that Mr. Weasley begins to plan the next season's training plan and roster. If you were not planning on giving him notice of his Captaincy today, please make sure that he knows by tomorrow.
The Headmaster has prevailed upon the Governors to do what he can to improve morale during the school year, so there will be a few more Hogsmeade weekends than is normal, and there will be a school ball on All Hallows' Eve. Although I know the date is not a particularly happy one for you and yours, but for the sake of the school, I implore you to attend and plan on opening the ball. Although you are not a prefect, you are a recognised leader among the student body, and we must all do our part for the common good. In simple and plain terms, you need to have a date for that evening, and it would be a good idea to brush up your dancing skills. Although your dancing was much better at Sirius' wake than at the Yule Ball, this is a skill where a little bit of practice will yield good results.
Please ensure that Mr. Weasley does not procrastinate as he did during your fourth year. Girls with choices don't wait forever.
Minerva McGonagall, Deputy Headmistress
Head of Gryffindor House
"Ooh, sweet," Jasmine exclaimed as she read over Harry's shoulder. "Let me guess, you need help deciding who you're going to ask to this ball."
Harry glared at her.
"It's coming to me now - I should mind my own business," she said, placing the back of her fingers onto her forehead. "Tell you what, Harry, you make breakfast for two and I'll pack up your stuff. Nothing embarrassing hidden here in the room, is there?"
"Not here. For that you'd be wanting my cousin's room, two doors down the hall," Harry quipped. "Two breakfasts, then - coming up."
"You know, a girl could get used to this, having a handsome lad making her breakfast. Dad used to make breakfast when Mum was working on assignments. My sister and I could never agree on anything for breakfast, while my sister and my brother always agreed, so Dad was stuck making two breakfasts. I never got up on time, so he'd make something for Ravi and Roopangi, then I'd get up and he'd make a second breakfast. Man, I haven't thought about that for years." She had a far away look in her eyes and began to sniffle. "The hurt never goes away, but you know that already, don't you?"
Harry sat quietly, pushing the last bit of egg onto his toast. "Yeah, I do. Sometimes it comes at me without warning and I get so sad I can't do a blessed thing. It's been good to keep busy this summer - less time to wallow in self-pity and condemnation."
Jasmine looked lost in thought. She collected herself and stood up. "I'll clean up, Harry. You wash up and join me back down here. I've figured out what we're going to do for the next two hours."
Harry didn't say anything, but wiped his mouth on his napkin, finished his coffee and walked up the stairs. Everything was packed into his school trunk, except for his toothbrush, which was thoughtfully placed on top of his trunk. He checked his hiding hole under the floorboard. It was empty. Not a speck of his belongings remained in the room apart from Hedwig's cage, his trunk and a satchel he'd packed the day before. He brushed his teeth, drying the brush as best he could on the towel before sticking it into his valet bag, which he tucked into his school trunk. He pulled a shrink dot and a feather patch out of the satchel and shrank his trunk until it was the size of a tissue box. He did the same with Hedwig's cage, shrinking it to the size of a walnut, tucking it into his pocket. Tucking his trunk under his arm, he lifted the satchel and took off down the stairs without a backward glance at the room. It was a place to sleep, but it wasn't home.
Jasmine wasn't in the kitchen when he came down the stairs, but it was neat, tidy and capable of passing inspection from his constipated Aunt. He heard music coming from the living room and decided that she'd gone in there. He was a bit taken back when he passed through the door; the room had been completely Transfigured. The floor was now a weathered red oak instead of its usual covering of beige Berber carpet. The furniture was gone; the room was three times its original size and had mirrors covering the length of one wall. Jasmine had been Transfigured as well. Instead of her usual uniform of blue shorts and black tee shirt, she was wearing the navy blue dress he'd seen just the day before. Her hair was up in a French braid, held in place with chopsticks, or what looked like chopsticks.
"Dance with me, Mr. Potter?" Jasmine said, holding out her hand.
Harry glared at her.
"It is a skill where a little bit of practice will yield good results," Jasmine said, affecting a Scottish burr. "Would you dance with Hermione?" she asked, a slightly hurt tone in her voice as she dropped her hand, moving it to her hip.
"Well, yeah," Harry admitted.
"She's your friend. I'm your friend too, or were you just kidding when you said that?"
Harry said nothing, but took Jasmine's hand, assuming a waltz position. Looking into her eyes he replied, "I meant what I said."
"Well, now that's settled, let's dance," Jasmine said with a wink.
Jasmine talked as she danced - a steady patter to relax Harry and keep him on the fine edge of being aware of what he was doing, but not fixated on the mechanics of dancing. "Counting 'one-two-three' is for beginners, Harry,'" she said. Harry said nothing, nodding, keeping time with the music. As the lesson progressed, the patter tapered off.
After an hour's worth of instruction Jasmine paused the music briefly. "The instruction is over now. Dance like you mean it, Harry."
They danced for another half-hour, mainly waltzing, but improvising here and there as the tempo changed. Harry's mind was on the here and now, enjoying dancing with a pretty girl who happened to be his friend. He knew he wasn't holding Ginny - Jasmine was denser, more powerful, and alien in a way that he couldn't quite describe. Holding her close while they danced did a lot to change his attitude about her, about his lot in life, and about the day.
The music slowed and stopped. Jasmine pulled away until only the tips of her fingers rested on the edge of his palm. She curtsied; he bowed. Jasmine shook her left hand, producing her thick wand from its hiding place. With a flick the room had changed size again, restored to the neutral, boring living room decorated by Petunia Dursley. "Let's go get your things, Harry," Jasmine said in a voice tinted with sadness.
Moments later they were back at Abelard's villa, walking to the carriage house. Jasmine slid the door aside on its track, walking into the dark interior for a moment long enough to wheel out a low-slung racing motorbike. "Harry, you're riding pillion today," Jasmine said with a smirk. She pulled out a small roll of parchment that she unrolled on the seat of the motorbike.
With a wave of her hand the parchment was filled with lines and text. Looking down at the parchment, Harry saw that it was a twenty-kilometre map of the area surrounding the Burrow. Jasmine tapped the map with her stout wand, causing markings to appear noting the locations of people. She tapped it again, revealing a complex design of what appeared to be defensive wards. "The Burrow is heavily protected right now, for obvious reasons. This line here-" she traced it with her finger, "-designates the outer limits of the Anti-Apparation border. Moey and Tonks will be coming into the Burrow from the main road, which crosses the border here. We'll be taking the Portal to an area outside the border, and meeting them here, just inside the border," Jasmine said, stabbing points on the map with the little finger of her right hand.
"On a motorbike?" Harry asked.
Jasmine walked back into the carriage house. She raised her voice as she walked away, "We could walk, which would be boring, or hitch a ride, which would be risky... or we can travel in style." When she returned, it was with two leather suits and matching helmets, one red, and one black. She held out the black helmet and suit.
Harry slung the suit over his arm, and turned the helmet slowly in his hands. "Why can't we fly in?"
Jasmine shook her head. "It's a no-fly zone. If it flies, it dies. I don't pretend to understand all the layered defences that they've put up around the Burrow, but Bill Weasley was quite clear on that point - travel by land after reaching the border. The only exception to that is right here," Jasmine said, pointing to an area on the map close to the house. "What's in this area?"
Harry chuckled. "That's the orchard. The Weasleys have been playing Quidditch there for ages."
"Well, I guess they intend to play some more this week," Jasmine mused. She picked up her red leather suit, and let the helmet dangle from the handlebars of the motorbike. "Your suit should fit over your clothes."
"What? You're not going to measure me again?" Harry teased.
"I only ever needed to measure you once, silly."
"Why do I need the leathers?" he asked.
"Ever run into a cicada at 200 kilometres an hour? It stings a bit. Some favour it for fashion, but in my mind, it's pure protection," she said, walking back towards the house.
Harry slipped out of his shoes and slipped into the leathers, trousers first, then the jacket. There was a tangle of zippers and straps that took some time figuring out. Once he snapped the fastener at the neck he felt the suit begin to hum as a wave of refreshing coolness spread through the suit. Before long, Jasmine reappeared, clad in her leathers. Her suit glistened in the tropical sun as it hugged her every curve. She unzipped the neck a bit, tugging the collar off of her neck. Her braid came down and she shook her hair loose. "Do me a favour, Harry? Tuck my hair into my collar. I can't wear my helmet with a braid of any kind and if I wear it loose, I'll never get the knots out." She turned around, swishing her hair one last time. Harry plucked back her collar, exposing an expanse of smooth light brown skin. Her hair was not as soft as it looked, having a dense body unlike anything he'd ever touched. He deftly tucked it into the collar, catching a few rebellious wisps that tried to escape. Jasmine reached back and tugged the collar, rolling her head, trying to get the hair situated just so. Evidently it came to rest, allowing her to rezip her leathers. She turned and inspected Harry's suit, tugging on a strap here and there, loosening one strap he didn't even know existed in the first place.
"Ah, much better," he said. "Thanks."
Jasmine smiled and nodded. "All right now, Harry, riding a bike in the pillion position is not much different from riding on a broom. Once we get going, I'm going to lean forward. You'll be most comfortable if you just snuggle into me. The helmets are charmed so we can talk without shouting. Keep your hands on my waist," she said, moving her hands to her waist for emphasis, "and I'll not have any reason to toss you off the bike before we get to the Burrow," giving him a smirk and a wink.
"I think I can control myself, but just to make sure, drive fast," Harry quipped.
"Not a problem, Harry," she replied with a dazzling smile. "I always drive fast." She pulled her helmet on, watching Harry to make sure that he snugged the strap properly. Harry felt her toggle his com switch to the 'on' position - it worked the same way as the helmets they'd used to visit the Plains of Meeting. She straddled the bike, twisting the ignition key. The gauges lit up as power flowed into them. She inspected the gauges and then patted the seat behind her. He awkwardly straddled the bike as well, sliding down the seat until he was nestled against Jasmine. Not for the first time he was glad that his dragon-enhanced Occlumency blocked Jasmine from his mind. Dancing with her was one thing; being pressed against her from his knees to his shoulders was another.
She twisted the key once more and the motorbike barked to life. As Jasmine let out the clutch, they rolled forward smoothly. The path to the meadow was bumpy, as was the meadow itself until they reached the road. As they picked up speed, Harry noted that her battle wand was dangling freely from a leather thong on her left wrist. Flicking her hand, the wand jumped into her palm. Jasmine hunkered down, giving Harry a clear view of the portal as it appeared in the distance in the road in front of them. He bent forward as she gunned the engine. Harry guessed that they were travelling something faster than 90 miles an hour as they approached the portal. He flinched, hoping that she could thread the needle better than she could execute the Wronski Feint.
"What are we riding, Jasmine?" he asked, hoping that he wasn't talking too loud on the comlink."
"A somewhat modified Honda Interceptor," she replied in a voice not much louder than a whisper - a point-blank whisper without the breathy feeling, thanks to the comlink.
"What will she do, speed-wise?"
"Without magic, I can do a bit over 240 kilometres per hour."
"And with magic?"
"I'm not really sure - the clock stops at 260 kilometres per hour - something above that I'm sure."
He couldn't see her face, but he knew her well enough to know that she had to be smiling. Jasmine liked speed. Harry snuggled in closer, making sure that his hands didn't end up anywhere that would get him slapped, or, worse yet, tossed from the motorbike. She opened up the throttle, and the English countryside whipped by at dizzying speed. The English carriageway was not much wider than the Ugandan road, but it was in much better repair; still, there were bumps and bounces and even an occasional bit of flight when Jasmine gunned the throttle as they passed over a rise in the carriageway.
"Harry?" she asked.
"Hmm?" he replied.
"You know that dragon trick where you disappear?"
"Yeah, what about it?"
"How much can you make disappear? Can you vanish the bike plus me?"
"Probably - how long do I have to hold it?"
"I want to pass that Volkswagen without being seen and then reappear in front of them before we lose the pavement and hit the gravel road going into the Burrow," Jasmine answered, her voice shifting to the take-charge mode.
Harry bent his mind to the task, feeling the energy surge from his centre. He could hear Mm'lau humming in the background.
"Ready now?" he asked.
"Ready... suffering Shiva! I can't see the bloody bike!" she hissed.
"Well, yeah, there is that problem." Harry answered drolly. "When I was duelling with you I had my Farsight turned on, otherwise I couldn't see my own sword," he explained, engaging his Farsight, returning Jasmine and the motorbike to his vision.
"This takes some getting used to," she muttered.
"Welcome to my life," he replied, thinking about all the drastic changes that had entered his own life recently. Adjusting to invisible motorbikes was definitely one of the smaller modifications.
After five minutes of hard riding, they'd caught up to the blue Volkswagen. Harry noted with some amusement that notwithstanding the fact that Jasmine couldn't see her own motorbike, she flicked the turn indicator on as she passed the car on the right.
"Harry, on my mark, make us visible again. Three, two, one, NOW," Jasmine said.
Harry released the bit of magic he'd been holding in place, turning off his Farsight at the same time. He felt a snap of energy rebound to his centre about the same time as he heard the squeal of the Volkswagen's brakes behind them. He felt the laughter in Jasmine's diaphragm as she burbled with satisfaction.
"Oh, yeah, that was worth one Galleon for sure," she said as she began freewheeling, letting their speed dissipate before they ran out of carriageway and turned off onto the gravel road that led to the Burrow. They were travelling at a much slower rate, Harry estimated 30 to 40 miles per hour, when they hit the gravel, raising a good-sized cloud of dust behind them. Minutes later the Burrow was in view. Dumbledore and Remus Lupin were sitting under a spreading oak tree, Dumbledore dressed in periwinkle blue robes with silver stars, Lupin in a white linen suit with a matching Panama hat. Jasmine killed the engine and parked under the shade of the tree. After they'd both hopped off of the motorbike, she opened the seat to hand Harry his belongings, which she'd placed in a canvas bag with handles. She motioned to Harry to go on ahead to the Burrow.
"Albus? Could I have a word with you, in private?" she asked.
Dumbledore flicked his wand, engaging what Harry guessed was a hush zone, walking with Jasmine, head bent down to catch her rapid-fire comments accompanied by broad hand gestures. Dumbledore's hands were clasped behind his back. The Volkswagen pulled up alongside the oak tree, discharging an animated Harry Potter, who darted over to the figure seated by the tree.
"Hey old man," she said, her voice rising in pitch as she lifted the charm that disguised her voice. "Did you miss me?"
Moey motioned to him from inside the car. "Want a ride? I don't think those two are going to come up for air any time soon," she said.
Harry looked back. Harriet Potter was straddling Remus Lupin under the oak tree, his hat now fallen to the ground. Her hair was shoulder length again, throbbing as it changed colour from red to brown to black. Evidently she was very happy to see him. Harry snorted as he threw his bag onto the floor as he folded into the car's passenger seat. "Take me to the Burrow, Moey," he said with a satisfied smile. "Take me home."
The drive to the Burrow was short and uneventful. Harry had hoped to slip into the house quietly and deposit his things in Ron's room. That hope was dashed the moment he opened the screen door, walking into the kitchen. There was an ear-splitting cry of "Harry!" from Hermione. His cheeks were kissed, his ribs squeezed, his hands shaken heartily and his back slapped as he was passed from Hermione to Fred to Molly to George and finally to Ron. In the midst of this gauntlet, he caught Ginny's eye as she sat against the sink, giving her a smile and a wink. When he came up for air, she was no longer there, having been snatched away by Jasmine who had slipped into the kitchen, relieved him of the canvas tote bag and spirited Ginny up the stairs. Moey was standing by the back door, looking lost. Harry made introductions to all the red-haired inhabitants of the kitchen.
"Mrs. Weasley, is Charlie here?" he asked pleasantly.
"Yes, Harry, he's in the meadow, setting up tables with Arthur and Bill," Molly replied.
"Moey really fancies dragons, so I wanted to make sure that she got a chance to meet him so they could talk shop together," Harry said, doing his best to ignore the death glare coming from the one-eyed Auror. He figured that with one eye she couldn't really kill him with a look. He gave her a nod and began to walk out the door, looking behind to see if Moey was following him.
"Harry, kind investor, " George cried out. When Harry turned around, he saw that George had Ron in a headlock. Fred was now wearing a turban that he'd fashioned out of a dishtowel. "Would you care to see the latest Weasley Wizard Wheeze? We think that Ron has great potential as a walking crystal ball. If you hold his head just right in the sun you can see the clouds pass by - isn't there some sort of divination that you can do with cloud patterns?"
Harry chuckled. "Dunno. I made it all up for that class. I don't care for fortunes and prophecies - wonder why?" he asked, reaching out to buff Ron's shiny, pale pate.
"Not you too!" Ron cried. "I should start charging for all the people who think that rubbing my head will bring them luck or something."
"Ickle Ronnykins didn't mind when it was Hermione doing the rubbing," George cooed as he rubbed Ron's scalp vigorously. Ron began to turn red, whether it was a blush or impending rage was uncertain. Hermione found something of great interest out the window, refusing to look Harry in the eye.
"Out, the lot of you!" Molly exclaimed, "I want you in the meadow helping your father!" Changing her tone abruptly she said, "Hermione, dear, could you check in on Ginny and see that our guest has what she needs?"
"Yes, Mrs. Weasley," Hermione answered helpfully, giving Harry a knowing smile as he squeezed through the back door, Moey in tow.
"Is it always like this here, Harry?" Moey asked.
"Oh, no," he replied. "When the twins are in top form it's demonstrably better. C'mon, let me introduce you round to the rest of the red-haired terrors. You should fit right in."
"Oh, thanks, Harry," Moey said, her voice dripping with sarcasm.
"Not at all, a promise is a promise," he said, being careful to give the biting rose bushes a wide berth on his way to the meadow.
The chat with Dumbledore had gone about as well as expected. It was time to get changed for the party. The Burrow was filled with red-haired Englishmen, so keeping tabs on Harry shouldn't be too difficult. She tried to remind herself that she wasn't on duty right now, but the habits of half a lifetime of training resisted being easily quashed. The kitchen was loud, but they were happy, familiar sounds. Jasmine slid into the crowd, relieving Harry of his tote bag, catching Ginny's eye. "I need a place to change into more normal clothes, can you help me with that?" she asked the petite teen.
"Yeah, c'mon upstairs - you can use my room," she said pleasantly. "What is it with the red leather, Jasmine?" she asked.
"Racing leathers - I brought Harry here on my motorcycle," the older witch explained.
"Well, that explains why he's in leather too. He looks good in leather, but not quite as - uh, exotic as you do," she replied with a brief wiggle in her eyebrows.
"He's wearing touring leathers - they're made to go on over his street clothes. Racing leathers are a bit more snug. Which room is Harry staying in?" she asked.
"He's here for tonight, sharing a room with my brother, Ron. After tonight he'll be moving to Percy's old room," Ginny explained.
Jasmine pushed the door open, scanning the room quickly. The camp bed was obviously Harry's perch for the night. With a practiced flick, her stout wand appeared in her left hand. She muttered a string of spells, waving the wand in a circle around the room, then in an arc, north to south, followed by west to east.
"What are you doing?" Ginny asked with some alarm.
Jasmine didn't reply immediately, passing her wand over the pillow on the camp bed, then up and down the legs of that bed. "I'm doing my job. Abelard's not here, so my first priority is protecting Harry. Officially I'm not on duty, but it's easier to give in to this urge than to fight it. No major jinxes or hexes here, but I am picking up a few oddities. Close your eyes, I'm going to flash the room," she warned. Taking care to seal the door and make the window opaque, a bright blue flash came from the tip of her wand. Ginny opened her eyes, looking around at the now darkened room. Jasmine produced a knife from somewhere and began digging at a bright spot on the wall, pulling thread out of the wall. "Any idea what this is?" she asked Ginny.
Ginny snickered. "That would be an Extendable Ear, an invention of brothers Fred and George - it's a listening device," she explained.
Jasmine went over to the windowsill and extracted another foot of Extendable Ear from that location. She searched the room minutely, stopping at Harry's bed. Pulling back the pillow, a round spot the size of a Knut was glowing underneath the sheets. Turning to Ginny, she peeled back the sheet, exposing a thin white disk. "And this would be?"
"This would be a Whisper Patch - it's like a Muggle wireless speaker - you can transmit sound to this from another patch. If you've got a pair of them you can use it like a two-way communication spell over fairly long distances, say half a mile or less. Another Fred and George invention - they haven't done much with that one recently - they couldn't think up any decent jokes that would use the technology," Ginny stated.
"Well, it appears that they were preparing to prank Harry tonight. Is that out of the ordinary?" Jasmine asked.
"Well," she said, putting her hand on her hip as she assumed a thoughtful pose. "Normally they prank Ron or Percy, but Percy's not been home for over a year. I don't think they meant anything beyond their usual joking," Ginny said.
"I'll tip Harry off at an opportune time before I go. Make sure he knows about these, ok?" Jasmine said, smoothing the sheets back down and placing the canvas bag of Harry's belongings on the pillow of the camp bed.
"Let's get back to your room - we're missing the party," she said with a smile.
Jasmine scanned Ginny's room with a practiced eye. "No guests tonight?" she asked.
"Nah, not tonight. Hermione will be coming to stay for the last two weeks of August, before school starts up again - at least that's the plan right now," Ginny stated.
Jasmine pulled a thin rectangle out of her suit. She unfolded this until it was several times larger and then tapped it with her wand. It sprang up into a medium sized valise, which she unlatched, pulling out sandals, a tee shirt, a grey tunic, trousers and a matching long silk scarf. Ginny began to move towards the door when Jasmine looked up from the trousseau she was assembling on Ginny's bed. "You needn't leave, Ginny, I'm not that modest, at least among girls," she said, first peeling off the red leather boots and then the racing leathers. Standing before Ginny's mirror dressed in tan knickers and brassiere, she stretched before turning to her clothes. "See, no tattoos, just a well trained girl with an impaired attitude."
"You're gorgeous, Jasmine, you make me look like a stick," Ginny complained.
"Ginny, I've got what, ten, eleven years on you? Believe me, I didn't look like this when I was fifteen. Besides, you're the one that Harry wants, not me," Jasmine replied.
Ginny picked up a reading pillow and tossed it at Jasmine, who batted it away with ease. "Likely story - I've not been riding around the countryside with him snuggled into me on the back of a motorbike," Ginny retorted.
"There's a reason I put him in touring leather rather than racing leather, my friend, as there are limits to even my discipline," she said, fixing Ginny with a high wattage stare.
"You're terrible," Ginny exclaimed with a shriek.
"Nah, just incorrigible," Jasmine replied, pulling her tee shirt on over her head. The trousers and tunic were made from a think opalescent silk, shimmering several colours in the sunlight that streamed into Ginny's room. Jasmine unfurled the scarf, letting it snap as she shook it straight. The scarf was taller than she was. She draped it loosely in front, letting the ends fall over her shoulders. "Are they even in back? They should be flush with the hem of the tunic," Jasmine asked.
"Not yet," Ginny replied, kneeling down behind her. "There, now they are even," she stated.
"Ok, now for the colour consult - what colour should I be today?" Jasmine asked, flicking her wand at the front of her tunic, changing the colour from bright scarlet to jade to white to orange to tan.
"The scarlet is smashing, but a bit showy - the rest of them are fine, but I really like the pearly grey colour," Ginny opined, feeling the edge of the scarf. "This is gorgeous stuff, Jasmine."
"Thanks, Mum made it for me last year. How's this?" Jasmine asked, putting a thin row of blue piping on the edge of the scarf and the hem of her trousers and tunic.
"Splendid," Ginny said. There was a knock at the door.
"Come on in, Hermione," Ginny shouted.
"How did you know it was me?" she asked.
"Mum would open the door while knocking, and the rest of the family would open without knocking," Ginny explained.
Hermione walked up to Jasmine, extending her hand. "Hermione Granger."
Jasmine took the proffered hand. "Jasmine Kadakia, I've been working with Harry this summer."
"He speaks highly of you," Hermione said.
"So, Ginny, what does Harry do when he enters your room?"
"He's never been in my room," Ginny complained.
"Isn't it a bit early for that?" Hermione quipped.
"Early implies that something is going on, Hermione," Ginny said.
"And?" Hermione asked.
"Nothing is going on, Hermione," Ginny said flatly.
"That's why we must stick to The Plan," Hermione said with forced enthusiasm.
"Yeah, right. 'Make plenty of eye contact, smile, and make sure that he's well fed,'" Ginny said, opening her eyes wide, smiling grotesquely, screwing her fingertip into the dimple on her cheek.
"Actually that sounds like the syllabus from intermediate Courtesan Studies," Jasmine observed.
"What?" Ginny barked.
"Courtesan Studies - it's a mandatory part of the curriculum, how to act, whether you are trying to blend into the background or stand out like a scarlet woman outside a navy base," Jasmine replied with a slight giggle.
"How did you do in the class?" Hermione asked.
"I barely passed. I have a problem sucking up to men I don't respect," she replied blandly.
The three women burst into a fit of laughter. Jasmine folded up her leathers, placing them into the valise. Tapping the valise with her wand it became a flat rectangle that she then folded down into a smaller rectangle, placing it in the pocket of her tunic when she was done. "Ginny, let me put your hair up and then we've a party to attend to. Let's get going, ladies."
Molly was working in the kitchen when they came down the stairs, setting one knife to slice a loaf of bread while setting another to carve a ham. She turned to Jasmine. "I'm told that Harry fancies Mango and Pineapple, so I got a few of each, but I'll be hanged if I can figure out how to peel them."
"Oh, that's easy, Mrs. Weasley," Jasmine began.
"Call me Molly."
"All right, Molly, it's still easy - I started doing it for Mum when I was ten. Both of them make a bit of a mess, you see. The mango is sliced along the side of the seed - there's a big hairy pit inside the fruit that's flat like a pumpkin seed. Then you take the two halves and score them, like this, and then you score them again perpendicularly to the first scores, taking care that you don't pierce the skin. Then you fold the fruit inside out - you can either eat the little cubes off of the skin or you can slice them off. You can do long spears if you don't care for little cubes," she said, demonstrating on the other half of the fruit.
"What do you do with the fruit left on the pit?" Molly asked.
Taking the pit over to the sink, Jasmine laughed. "That's the cook's fee for processing the rest of the mango - you peel the skin off and nibble what's left off of the pit. But you have to lean over the sink unless you fancy wearing dribbles of mango juice on your clothes!" Jasmine then launched into an explanation of proper pineapple peeling.
Ginny tuned out the ensuing conversation, building a sandwich out of the freshly sliced bread and ham. Spreading a bit of mayonnaise and dark brown mustard on the bread, she considered whether or not the sandwich needed cheese. She ultimately concluded that it did, pulling a wheel of cheddar from the cold pantry where 98 pounds of potato salad waited for the evening meal. She built a second sandwich, considering briefly whether or not she should eat it herself or give it to Hermione for Ron. Screw it, she said to herself, let Hermione work out her own bloody plan. She took a savage bite out of her sandwich, loaded some pineapple and mango onto the plate, pinched a napkin from the stack and left the kitchen in search of Harry. Eye contact; smile; keep him fed. Oh, the things I do for love.
"Hey, you lot!" Ginny yelled. "Lunch is building your own sandwiches in the kitchen." The crowd of Weasleys looked up from their conversation. Bill and Charlie were standing under the Oak tree, accompanied by Fleur and Moey. Arthur, Remus and Tonks were sitting by the table covered by the most shade whilst Harry, Ron and the twins were standing around, apparently discussing Quidditch from the way they were zooming their hands around like broomsticks.
"Sandwich, Harry?" Ginny asked, thrusting the plate in his direction. It wasn't all that hard to smile when she locked onto his brilliant green eyes.
"Thanks, Ginny. Is this one as good as that roast beef sandwich?" Harry asked quietly.
Ginny didn't have to rack her memory, she knew exactly which roast beef sandwich he was discussing. "It's better," she replied, not knowing that she was wrinkling her nose as she smiled. "It's fresher."
Ron and the Twins had disappeared at the announcement of sandwiches in the kitchen. Charlie, however, sauntered up to Ginny. "Where's my sandwich, Gin-gin?"
"You're family, make it yourself, loser," she gibed, making an L with her forefinger and thumb on her forehead. Charlie patted her shoulder as he passed by, walking up to the house.
"What about me? I'm not family." Moey asked with a smile.
"Get your own Weasley," she replied with a conspiratorial wink.
"I'm working on it," Moey quipped under her breath, breaking into a jog to catch up to Charlie. "Believe me."
"Great sandwich, Ginny," Harry said, swallowing a bite.
"Thanks," Ginny said. "Say, Harry, after lunch we're going to be playing a spot of Quidditch - did you bring your broom?"
"Yeah, it's up in my room - all my stuff is shrunk down smaller than pins."
"Speaking of which, Jasmine did a sweep of your room when she dropped your stuff off - the twins have planted Extendable Ears in two locations and a little sound patch under your pillow."
"Thanks for the warning. Did she sweep your room too?" Harry asked.
"No," Ginny said, slapping her forehead with her palm, "why didn't I think of that?"
"Because you are a nice person, not a suspicious old grump like me."
"Yeah, well, you'd think that I'd have learned by now."
"Constant Vigilance!" they said together, laughing as they did.
Sitting at the table, they munched their sandwiches together in silence as they watched people arrive. Apparently people were arriving at an Apparation point outside the border and then taking what appeared to be empty Coke cans as Portkeys across the border. Harry mentioned what he suspected was the arrangement to Ginny.
"Yeah, that's about right. Staggered arrivals - some people are just dropping in before dinner, and then leaving. The rest are staying then splitting after dinner. The logistics are incredible," Ginny said.
"Think your Mum will have enough potato salad?" Harry teased.
"Probably not - she's down to 98 pounds right now," Ginny bantered.
"Anyone who leaves your Mum's table hungry is either fasting or just a fussy eater. Lord knows she's tried her best to fatten me up every time I've visited," Harry said, touching his belt buckle.
"You look better than normal, Harry," Ginny said seriously.
"Does that mean that I look like a wreck most times?" Harry asked.
Ginny nodded nervously. "Pretty much."
"It's been an odd summer - I think keeping busy has kept the depression at bay, most of the time at least. I'll live. I have to," Harry said with a wan smile.
Looking down at his now empty plate, Harry sighed. "I suppose the guest of honour must circulate. I'm going to go get my broom and squeeze in some Quidditch before I have to start playing politician and shake everyone's hand," Harry said with resignation.
"You don't strike me as the touchy-feely type," Ginny observed.
"I'm doing it for Mm'lau - she wants me to touch the guests - she's building a card file of known friendlies. I'm surprised the Tk'lch hasn't made a similar request," Harry said with a brief frown.
"Yeah, well, thanks to you he's answering me now when I call him by name, but we aren't exactly the best of friends yet," Ginny said.
"Turn on the Weasley charm - no male can resist that," Harry said, rising from the table. Without asking he picked up Ginny's now empty plate to carry it to the rubbish bin by the back door.
"Thanks, Harry," she said to his back as he walked away. "I think I will turn on the charm," she purred.
The Quidditch match was more of a practice than a real game. An apple had been charmed and enlarged to Quaffle size while a Transfigured pair of golf balls served as Bludgers. Ron played Keeper for the north end of the field while Bill played Keeper for the south end. One twin played Beater for Bill's team, the other playing for Ron, with Charlie and Harry playing Chaser. Ginny and Hannah Abbot played Chaser for Ron's team. There was nothing serving as a Snitch substitute, so neither team needed a Seeker. Ron hooted wildly each time Harry shot and missed the goal, humming something that sounded a whole lot like Weasley is our King.
"This is good for him, Harry," Ginny said, nodding in Ron's direction as they took a water break.
"How's that?" Harry asked.
"If he gets an abnormally big head he'll make a better Keeper," Fred said.
"All the better for blocking those Quaffles," George added.
Harry walked up alongside Jasmine. "Having a good time?" he asked.
Jasmine put her hand on her chin, looking up at him. "Yeah, I am. Your friends are so nice," she concluded.
"You sound surprised," Harry said quietly.
"They're so normal," she concluded. "Are most of these from your House at school?"
Harry surveyed the crowd that stretched from the orchard to the back steps of the Burrow. "Not exclusively - pretty much all of Dumbledore's Army is here. Dumbledore's Army was a Defence Against the Dark Arts club we started last year. No Slytherins to speak of, although a few of the adults from the Order were in that House when they were in school. Can I interest you in taking my place in Quidditch?" he asked, holding out his broom.
"Thanks, but no, I've got to get back to Abelard's - formal dinner tonight and I've got to dress up like an adult," she said, pulling a face.
"This isn't dressy enough?" Harry asked, touching the edge of her grey silk scarf.
"Nah, tonight is a pearls, black dress and four-inch-high heels event. Bloody pain is what it is, but work is work. By the way - your room is bugged - the twins set up some sort of prank. Extendable Ears and a loudspeaker under your pillow," Jasmine said, looking past Harry to scan the crowd. "You could start a nice juicy conversation and then light off a firecracker on each Extendable Ear," she suggested.
"Thanks, but I'm fresh out of juicy - don't worry, I'll think of something. See you next week when the tutoring starts up again?" he asked.
"I'll let you know when Abelard sets the new calendar." She pulled his head down for a quick peck on his cheek. "Happy birthday, Harry. Enjoy the time off. I'll see you next week," she said, turning on her heel, walking back to the Burrow.
Harry gave his broom to a delighted Dean Thomas and began to work the crowd, shaking hands, laughing at lame jokes, taking an occasional hug from the more courageous female members of the D.A.. He could hear Mm'lau cluck at more than one of the students and several of the adult members of the Order. He made a mental note to ask what that was about.
Tell me about the one heading your way, Harry.
She's a friendly - ex-girlfriend, to be precise.
You'll have to explain that one to me at a later time. What about the one behind her?
Oh, her. I suppose she's a friendly too.
Both of them are very worried. The one in front is apprehensive, but the one in back thinks you're going to attack her.
Thanks for the warning, Mm'lau.
I live to serve.
Yeah, right. Well, the best defence is a good offence, I suppose.
"Cho!" Harry exclaimed in a voice slightly louder than was necessary, holding an arm out for a hug. Cho nestled in for a brief one-armed hug. "So good to see you. Marietta! I'm glad you came. Have people been treating you all right?" he asked in what he hoped was a friendly tone, looking at Marietta, who blinked and nodded.
"I didn't think that I could get here, Harry, but Marietta insisted that we had to come if you invited us," Cho explained.
"Actually, it was Mrs. Weasley that sent out the invitations. I made clear to her that I wanted all of the old D.A. to be invited," Harry explained. Lowering his voice and bending his head lower a bit he said softly, "As far as I'm concerned, you're still a member in good standing of the D.A.; we're going to be starting up again next school year. Do you still have your Galleon?"
Marietta nodded, tears welling up in her eyes.
"Whether or not you come is up to you, but you'll be welcome if you do," Harry said soberly, reaching out to shake her hand.
Marietta burst into tears. "Thank you, Harry, happy birthday," she sobbed.
"Walk with me, Cho?" Harry asked.
"Certainly, Harry," Cho said with a puzzled look on her face. "What's up?"
"Luna Lovegood," Harry replied.
"Ravenclaw, two years behind me," Cho answered.
"Ravenclaw girls have been stealing her stuff."
"Oh? And why are you concerning yourself with Ravenclaw matters, Harry? What's she to you?"
"A friend; a friend who went with me to the Ministry of Magic last month. She acquitted herself well - she was the only one who wasn't injured by the end of the night. Listen, I know people think she's barmy, but as far as I'm concerned she's a credit to your house; her heart is good and she knows what's important," Harry concluded.
"And that's what is important to you, that she chose the right side?" Cho asked cagily.
"Yeah, I guess," Harry replied.
"I'll see what I can do," Cho answered.
"Thanks," Harry said, reaching down to give her hand a squeeze. To his surprise when he tried to let go, Cho intertwined her fingers with his, refusing to relinquish his hand.
Shall I scorch her, Harry?
Nah, I think I can handle this, but thanks for the offer.
They walked back to the Burrow together, Harry feeling incredibly self-conscious.
"I've got to go now, Harry," Cho said sadly, "prior engagement with my family. What you did with Marietta was very sweet, Harry, very Gryffindor." Cho released his hand and pivoted on one heel until she was facing him. Pushing her fingers lightly across his chest she pulled his head down for a sloppy kiss, releasing him and pivoting away towards the house. Looking over her shoulder she called out "Happy Birthday, Harry," flashing a brilliant smile.
Didn't see that one coming did you?
No, my shield is up what with the crowd that's here and I'm trying hard to not engage my Legilimency.
Privacy is one thing and survival is another. You can practice both Occlumency and Legilimency at the same time.
But these are my friends . . .
Better to practice with them than your enemies.
We'll talk about the ethics of that later, Mm'lau.
You have to be alive to feel guilty, Harry.
I'll think about it.
That's all I ask, Harry.
"Someone trying to mark her former territory?" Hermione asked as she came up and took him by the arm.
"Is that what it looked like?" Harry asked.
"Sure enough, my dim-witted brother. I think someone wants another chance to be Harry Potter's girlfriend," Hermione hissed.
"But, but what about Michael Corner?" Harry asked in a bewildered tone.
"Harry, she's a Ravenclaw - they're almost as bad as Slytherins when it comes to calculating the utility of relationships," Hermione observed tartly. "I was standing next to Lavender Brown when that happened. She almost swooned from excitement. She'll be talking this up for a while, Harry."
"Oh, joy," Harry moaned.
"Think of the bright side of this, Harry, at least this should put to rest the rumours that you prefer the attention of boys to girls," Hermione said sweetly.
"Thanks ever so much, Hermione, you're just making my day here," Harry retorted.
"Anything for my darling brother, " she said, reaching up to pinch his cheek. "Did you ever figure out if I was the big sister or the little sister?" she asked drolly.
"Tonks has the big sister gig tied up already. I figured you more as a fraternal twin, given the way that you can figure out what's going on inside my head," Harry quipped.
"Oooh, Mum's not going to care for that, that would mean that she was in labour for two and a half months."
"You're a witch, figure something out," Harry said.
Molly Weasley, ringing a hand bell, interrupted their conversation. "Can I have your attention, please? Dinner will be starting in five minutes," she called. She swished her wand over the tables, which were now set with colourful table clothes (red, gold and green) and were heavily laden with food.
Harry dashed into the house, racing up the stairs to Ron's room. He realized that Jasmine had already returned his satchel and school trunk to their normal size. He grabbed the satchel when he heard a commotion outside.
"Fred Weasley, you unhex my bike this instant!" Jasmine growled.
"What's he done this time, dear?" Molly asked solicitously.
"A whoopee cushion is not standard equipment on this model!" Jasmine complained.
Fred and George were nervously looking for cover.
"Set it right, George," Molly said, her lips held firmly together.
"But Mum," he protested.
"I'm not interested in your finger pointing right now," Molly said, raising her voice a notch in volume. "Just set it right. Jasmine is an honoured guest in this house and is not to be pranked, do you two understand?"
"Yes, Mum," they chorused. The twins performed a tandem motion with their wands.
Jasmine turned the key again, getting a far more conventional noise from her motorbike as she rode away. Harry smiled as she rode away. The twins were in fine form, all was right in the Burrow - it was such a marvellous place.
Mum had outdone herself with dinner. There were two meats, five vegetables, numerous fruit trays, flagons of cold milk, pumpkin juice and Butterbeer, and never-empty baskets of fresh, warm rolls. Ginny had worked the seating so that she was seated between Hermione and Neville, directly across the table from Harry. Harry was flanked by Ron on one side and Luna on the other. Keeping Harry fed was not problem from this vantage point, provided that Ron didn't empty the platters before they reached Harry. On more than one occasion she poked her brother's hand with a fork to remind him who was the guest of honour at this meal. The smiles were no problem, she was genuinely happy. It was the eye contact that was proving troublesome. Harry's green eyes made her want to bolt from the table, blushing like only a Weasley could. She struggled for poise, managed to return eye contact from time to time, and even winked once or twice when it seemed right.
Ginny was an accomplished people watcher and eavesdropper extraordinaire. There were a number of very interesting conversations going on that she desperately wanted to follow. She tried to let them pass, to keep her focus on Harry, but she simply couldn't resist listening around.
"We ran surveillance for the better part of a week until we figured out that it was the House Elves lighting and extinguishing the fireplaces; there were no humans at the house and certainly no Death Eaters," Tonks complained to the stout lady Auror to her left.
"Previously I'd thought that having someone else's tongue in my mouth would be singularly unpleasant, but I was wrong," Luna confided to someone - was it Lavender or Parvati? - seated just beyond Ginny's peripheral vision. Well, someone's been having an eventful holiday, Ginny thought.
"Needless to say, I was caught by surprise. I haven't been slapped by a lady for nearly 100 years," Dumbledore said in a breathy voice to someone unseen behind her. What? Someone slapped Dumbledore?
"Actually, Ron, your Mum's breasts are much better," Harry confided, and Ginny's attention was instantly recaptured. "The ones at school are often dried out and stringy." Ginny stifled a chuckle; she did agree with Harry that Mum's chicken breasts were much better than those served at Hogwarts. She resolved to get her mind out of the gutter and to keep her attention on the conversations that mattered.
The feeding frenzy subsided and the entire room seemed to relax, satisfied. Ron was eyeing the chocolate cake with sixteen emerald green candles that sat on the buffet table, next to the overflowing bin of birthday presents. If Harry was going to unwrap all of those, Ginny worried that it might take past midnight.
"I'm not going to open them tonight," Harry said in a stage whisper, catching Ginny's attention completely. "It would take too long."
"Are you practicing Legilimency right now, Harry?" Ginny asked in a softer whisper.
He furrowed his brows. "I don't think so. I saw you looking at the bin of presents and then you pulled a face," he explained. He closed his eyes briefly. Ginny felt a delicious warmth brush briefly against her mind and then withdraw. She saw him open those gorgeous green eyes again. "Ginny, you need to pull your shield up. If you're around this many people and you start to use your Legilimency, even unconsciously, you'll go bonkers."
"I'll go mad?" she asked, alarmed.
"Well, not mad as in loony, but you will get a whanging headache," he answered.
"How do I do that?" she whispered.
"Tell Tk'lch to pull your shield up for the evening. At your convenience you can tell him to show you how it's done," Harry explained.
Ginny nodded. She made sure that she looked him in the eyes when she smiled. This is going to kill me before the night is over, she decided, and closed her eyes.
Call me by name. I don't call you 'dragon' any more.
I walked into that one, I suppose. As far as you are concerned, my name is Ginny. Pull my Occlumency shield up for the evening, would you please?
As you wish, Madam.
Thank you, Tk'lch.
A calm passed across Ginny's consciousness as the buzz she'd felt inside her head disappeared. She opened her eyes again.
"It worked. I felt your shield go up," Harry said with pride. Ginny mouthed 'Thank you'.
Mrs. Weasley banished Harry's plate, and floated the truck-tyre-sized cake into place in front of him. With a flick of her wand the sixteen candles ignited. A hush fell over the crowd as all eyes turned to Harry. Ginny noted the glistening in his eyes - Harry wasn't far from losing it. Arthur appeared at his elbow, looking across the table at Ginny.
"I'd like to thank you all for coming today. Harry's asked that we skip the happy birthday song, but I will take this moment to say how happy Molly and I are to have the opportunity to recognize Harry. We couldn't love him more if he had been born to us. Happy birthday, son," Arthur said, his face beaming.
Mrs. Weasley placed her hand warmly on Harry's shoulder. "You know what to do, dear."
Harry took a deep breath and blew out the candles. He looked at Fred and George tentatively; Ginny figured that he was waiting for the candles to relight or the cake to explode. When all remained still, he broke into a broad smile. The guests cheered, and Fred led a round of 'huzzah's.
Harry passed the cake knives and serving tools to Ron and Hermione. "Would you do me the honour of cutting and serving?" he asked formally.
Hermione nodded, but asked him,. "Where are you going?"
Harry's smile seemed inextinguishable. "I've got presents to give out."
"You nutter," Ron interjected. "It's your birthday! You're supposed to open the presents, not give them out!"
"Yeah, well, I never let things like rules stand in the way of having a good time," Harry replied with a smirk.
Hermione looked longingly at the satchel. "That's a Dyson's bag, isn't it?"
Harry smiled and nodded. "Much bigger on the inside than it is on the outside."
"I've wanted one of those for ages, but they are frightfully expensive," Hermione said as she skilfully cut a wedge of cake.
"Maybe Christmas will come early this year, eh Hermione?" Harry said over his shoulder as he moved down the table, pulling neatly wrapped presents out of the bag as he went. Some of the packages were normally sized while others had shrink dots affixed; Harry tossed the dots into the satchel as he removed them. He appeared to be having the time of his life, as he joked, talked and passed out gaily-wrapped packages to the D.A. members and adult members of the Order seated at the table. When he got to the spot where Arthur and Molly sat, he pulled out a good-sized package for Arthur and two envelopes for Molly. He whispered something into Molly's ear, and Ginny wished - not for the first time that evening - for an Extendable Ear.
Harry made his way back to his place at the table, chatting away with Neville and Luna while Ron and Hermione continued to cut apart the enormous cake. Harry pulled out a slender package for Hermione, and a thick package for Ron accompanied by another envelope. Ginny tried to read the outside of the envelope; but no matter how hard she tried, she couldn't get her eyes to focus. Humph. Eyes-only ink - the charm's supposed to be incredibly difficult. I wonder if Harry had help with it?
Harry stopped in front of Ginny. "I didn't get a chance to wrap yours, I'm sorry," he said. She was oh-so-glad that there were no butter dishes on the table at the moment.
"That's okay, Harry, I wasn't expecting a present in the first place," she replied. Eye contact was not an option; she stared resolutely at the satchel.
"Well... here, I thought you'd like this," he said awkwardly, as he pulled an odd looking miniature broom from his bag and thrust it into Ginny's hand.
"Thanks, Harry, this will go nicely with my doll house," Ginny improvised, hoping that Ron wouldn't tell Harry that Ginny's doll house had been the casualty of a Fred and George experiment when she was twelve. She kept her eyes lowered, but forced a smile. Why did he go and get me a toy broom?
"It's not a toy. Hold onto the broom while I pluck this thread," Harry said. He deftly pinched a dark black thread stuck against the handle. Ginny shrieked and nearly dropped the broom as it transformed into its full size. She goggled at the racing broom in her hands. Her mouth moved, but no sound came out.
"You're welcome," Harry said. His eyes twinkled as he smiled at her, which assured that she remained speechless. "That's a Fashir - it's an excellent racing broom - I hope you like it." He turned away, and added, "Budge over, Luna; I'd like to get some cake."
Harry broke off a large chunk of cake, shoving it into his mouth and closing his eyes as the frosting and the cake began to dissolve together, opening his eye again as he swallowed. "No one cooks like Mrs. Weasley," he said to no one in particular. He looked up and down the table, and suddenly stood on his chair. "Fred, George?" he called. "Could you pass out the cake?"
"Sure thing, Harry," George said, giving Fred a knowing glance. With a choreographed swish of wands, slices of cake on paper plates raced around the table and settled down in front of amused and thankful guests. Ginny thought her mother showed something much closer to relief.
"They're getting better at that," Ron said to Hermione.
"Er, could I have your attention?" Harry called out in a loud voice, "I'd like to thank the Weasleys for doing this, with special thanks to Mrs. Weasley for the wonderful food. If you leave hungry today, it's your own fault. There's more of everything, including potato salad," he said, giving Ginny a faint wink. A brief round of applause started and Harry joined in. Molly rose quickly, blushed, and then sat down again. "It's time to eat this wonderful cake. If you haven't already, open your presents. I'm going to open mine tomorrow," he said, nodding his head in the direction of the overflowing bin. "After cake and presents, I'd like to say a few words, and then I guess that's it."
Harry sat down, and speared another forkful of chocolate cake. "You are going to help me open all those tomorrow, aren't you?" he asked Ginny.
"Yeah... sure... of course," she stammered.
Tonks came up from behind Harry, two large bowls in hand. "Harry, a word please?" she asked.
"Sure thing, Sis," Harry replied with a smirk.
"Whydja give me bowls, Harry?" Tonks asked plaintively.
Harry screwed up his face, looking much like Tonks did before a transformation. "Give them a tap with your wand," he said.
Tonks tapped the rim of the top bowl. As she did so, bold white lettering began to appear on the blue border that ran around the rim. The lettering read 'Moony's Kibble.' Harry pulled the top bowl out and Tonks tapped the rim of the bottom bowl. The lettering on that bowl spelled out 'Moony's Water.' Tonks flushed slightly and snorted loudly.
Harry reached into the second bowl and handed Tonks the book that lay flat on the bottom of the bowl. Tonks opened the book and began to read aloud the title. "Taming the Moon... a guide to the brewing and handling of... Wolfsbane Potion..." she said. Her jaw quivered, and she swallowed hard.
"Take care of him, Tonks, he's all I have left of my folks," Harry whispered.
Tonks and gathered the book and bowls together, and looked around desperately for someone who wasn't there. She glanced at her watch, muttered something, and Disapparated.
"Harry, that was... really something," Hermione sniffed. She held up a slender book, and added, "While you're offering explanations, Harry, what is this?" The cover was ornately embossed with the letters D - H - B. She turned the book in order to read the spine.
"I'm shocked! You don't recognise Deductore Hogwartis Bibliothecalis?" Harry teased.
Hermione frowned. "I can read the title, Harry. Why have I never come across this before?" she wondered aloud, and her cheeks pinked.
"I'm not sure that Hogwarts has a copy, and if they do, it's surely not the sort of thing that Madam Pince would let out to students," Harry smirked. "It's from Abelard's private collection. You hold the book, speak your question aloud, and then open the book. It'll show you a list of books in the Hogwarts library that answer the question."
"Wicked," Ron breathed.
Harry reached out and placed his hand on the back of the book. "How can I safely breathe underwater?" he asked. He gave a sidelong glance at the list that formed on the parchment page.
"One of them must be Magical Plants of the Mediterranean," he said. "I really could have used this fourth year."
"That's right," Hermione said, without tearing her eyes from the book. "That's odd... it also lists Hogwarts - A History... but it's referencing... a new edition, due in November!"
"Put it on your Christmas list," Harry volunteered.
"I don't think so, mate; she's already got three copies," Ron complained.
"So?" Hermione snapped.
Harry sighed at his two friends. "I would so appreciate it if you two could restrain yourselves until after we're done here. Is that too much to ask?"
Hermione nodded, but Ron protested weakly. "Just a healthy discussion, Harry - where's the harm in that?"
"Yeah, right. You goad her with something you know she can't resist. She comes after you in the way that only she can, and before you know it, the two of you are both red in the face and the rest of us have floppy eardrums from all the shouting," Harry groaned.
"We're not that bad... are we?" Ron asked.
Neville reached across the table twining his fingers with Luna's. "Erm... Ron... you are. The first years were calling you Lord and Lady Bickers." Okay, so that's what's happening for Luna, Harry thought. Good - she could do a lot worse than Neville.
Luna sniggered. "Open your present, Ronald," she said, looking past him in a distracted way.
"What's this, Harry?" Ron asked as he ripped the paper off of a large binder.
"What does it look like?" Harry replied glibly. "It's the play-book from Puddlemere United - Oliver Wood got it for me."
"Puddlemere?" Ron gasped. "I mean... it's brilliant, of course, but... it had to be Puddlemere, didn't it...?" He seemed torn between revulsion and desire, but settled on the latter and flung open the cover.
Harry dug deep into his pocket, and pulled out a thumb-sized silver shield. He plunked it down atop the first page of the playbook. "I figure you'll put it to good use, Captain," he grinned.
It took a moment for the meaning to sink in. Ron's eyes widened, and he waved the shield furiously. "Bugger all! I'm Gryffindor Quidditch Captain?" he shrieked.
"Ron, language," Hermione protested in a half-hearted manner, before she took the badge from him and looked at it closely. She smiled at Ron with pride.
The bell-like sound of silverware tapping a drinking glass began to chime, spreading across the table.
"What's that?" Harry asked.
"It's a Muggle custom. At a wedding supper it's a sign for the bride and groom to kiss; at any other affair it's a signal that the guest of honour is supposed to give a speech," Hermione explained.
Harry looked right and then left. "Well, I guess it's time for me to have my say." He stood up on his chair, and then sat lightly on the top of the chair's back. He took off his glasses, fiddling with them for a moment before putting them into his pocket. Everyone quieted when he began to speak. "I guess the joke at Gryffindor Tower is that no matter how lousy things are, if you ask me how I am, I'll tell you that I'm fine."
"How are you, Harry?" Laurel shouted from under the tree. She was nursing a tall-necked bottle of something blue.
Harry took a deep breath. "I'm not fine, but I'm getting better. Thanks for asking, Laurel. A very wise witch told me once that I needed to stop shutting out my friends when things got bad, and I've been trying to take her advice. I... I want to thank everyone who has been writing over the summer - you really have no idea how much your letters have meant to me. I'd also like to thank the members of the Little Whinging Bicycle Club. I've enjoyed your company as I've been riding the roads of Surrey." He paused, and surveyed the crowd of well-wishers. "All of you are my friends. Some of you I've just met this summer, others I've known for as long as I've been a part of the Wizarding world. One of the things that friends do for each other is tell the truth. I need to tell you the truth about something now - about a prophecy that was made before I was born."
Harry fidgeted. "Voldemort's back -" he started in, provoking a few gasps and a shriek from somewhere in the audience. "For those of you who don't care for that name, he was a boy named Tom Riddle when he studied at Hogwarts -"
"Blimey, Harry, you sure know how to set the mood for a great evening, don't you," Ron whispered forcefully.
" - and even the Daily Prophet and the Ministry of Magic admit that he's back after what happened at the Ministry of Magic. What the Ministry of Magic won't tell you, and what the Daily Prophet doesn't know, is that Riddle broke into the Department of Mysteries to steal the official copy of a prophecy that concerns two people: me and Tom Riddle. That's who Voldemort really is, you see? Anyway, the copy of the prophecy was destroyed in the scuffle, but I've heard a bootleg copy of it just the same. Before I was born, it was predicted that I would have the power to destroy Riddle. In the end... it's got to be either him or me."
The previously attentive crowd began to speak all at once. If a bomb had gone off just then it would not have been noticed in all the confusion. Ginny felt sick. She wanted to scream, she wanted to grab Harry and shake him until he told her everything, but most of all she wanted the clamour to stop. She stuck her fingers in her mouth in the way that Bill had taught her when she was five, and let loose an ear-shattering whistle. "All right, you lot, settle down!" she shouted in the calm that followed her whistle. "Five questions, max, then we're done," she said, looking briefly to Harry, who seemed visibly relieved.
Padma Patil spoke first. "Can you tell us the prophecy verbatim?" she asked.
"That wouldn't be a good idea," Harry answered. "There are bits that he knows and bits that he doesn't know. I'd like to keep him in the dark about the bits he doesn't know thus far."
"Can you say who wins in the end?" Anthony Goldstein asked.
"I wish I could, but the prophecy doesn't say. It says that I have the power to vanquish him, but it doesn't tell me how, or even if I'll succeed. But in the end, one of us has to die. In Quidditch terms, he's been having a lousy season; he's tried to kill me five times thus far and failed each time, so he's Five-Nil down so far," Harry said calmly, as if he were discussing the prospects of the Canons.
Neville raised his hand. Harry gave him a nod. "Why are you telling us all this, Harry?" he asked plaintively.
"Because I'm tired of secrets and lies," Harry said firmly. I've had a lifetime of that, all from people who thought they were protecting me. Because I'd like to know if the shoe were on the other foot and it was a prophecy about you, Neville. Because - because I want to give you the chance to stay away if you want, rather than being sucked into this just because you're my friend."
Ginny watched the telltale signs. Harry was gripping the back of the chair, hard. His knuckles were white. He was blinking rapidly; he was coming very close to losing it just then.
"I'm with you, Harry," Neville volunteered, raising his glass in a salute.
"To Harry, I'm with you, mate, always have been," Ron shouted, raising an echoing chorus of raised glasses and voices. "To Harry!"
"I move," said Fred Weasley in an old codger's voice, "that any dying be done by Tom Riddle, seeing as he's a wretched loser who's lived long enough."
"I second the motion," said George Weasley in a tremulous falsetto.
"The motion has been moved and seconded - the chair calls for a vote," Fred Weasley said in a spot on impersonation of the Muggle Prime Minister.
"All in favour of Tom Riddle doing the dying instead of our good friend, Harry Potter, say 'Aye,'" said Ron, joining in the spirit of the twins' levity.
A rousing chorus of "Aye" came from the crowd with some clapping and table thumping to accompany the vote.
"All opposed?" Ron called.
There was an instant silence across the crowd.
"Let the secretary so record the vote," said George in a wheezy voice.
Ginny leaned over to Hermione. "Did you know about any of this?" she asked in a whisper.
"Not a clue," Hermione said. "Birthday or no, that boy owes me an explanation."
How long has this been hanging over his head? Ginny wondered. All his life, I guess, but I wonder how long he's known about the prophecy. If Hermione doesn't get him to talk, I certainly will, she resolved.
"Thanks, guys," Harry said to the twins, "I can always count on you two. No more questions, no more remarks. For all you students, if I don't see you in Diagon Alley, I'll see you on the train. You've still got four more weeks of holiday - make it count!"
Harry climbed down from his chair, wiping his forehead before he put his glasses back on. Bill Weasley stood, clanging his own water glass with a fork.
"Before you all head off tonight, I'd like to make an announcement," Bill said, loud enough to be heard. "Most of you know that I've been seeing Fleur Delacour over the last year." Fleur stood, linking her arm with Bill's arm. "Last week I asked her to marry me. She said yes." Several gasps and squeals were heard from various parts of the crowd, along with a few cries of "well done" and "about time." Lavender Brown's distinctive voice could be heard above the din as she examined Fleur's hand, commenting on her engagement ring to Parvati.
Ginny looked to Harry's place, but he was gone. Ron was plodding back to the house, no doubt stashing his playbook and badge for safekeeping. Ginny shrugged and moved into the queue to congratulate her brother and sister-in-law to be.
Ron slipped into the kitchen; his Mum and Dad were already there.
"Mum, Dad, you got notes from Harry?" he asked. Molly nodded. The note had read "Meet me in the kitchen after Bill's announcement."
"So, Dad, what did you get from Harry?" Ron asked, trying to make conversation. He still felt odd in light of Harry's stunning disclosure. Part of him knew that it was coming, but another part of him felt like he was a failure. How could he not know what burden his best friend had been carrying over the past month? What kind of friend was he that he missed something this big?
"A marvellous book on how to repair Muggle appliances. You?" his dad answered.
"Puddlemere United playbook. Harry dropped off my new badge too," Ron said with a beatific smile.
"Did you lose your prefect badge, Ron?" his mother asked solicitously.
Ron's smile grew even brighter. "No, it's my Quidditch Captain's badge, Mum. Harry dropped it off for Professor McGonagall."
"Oh, Ron, I'm so proud," Molly gushed.
"Well done, son!" Arthur exclaimed.
"How about you, Mum? What did you get?" Ron asked.
Molly reached into her apron pocket and passed a folded piece of parchment to her son. There was a single line, written in a bold and unfamiliar hand: "Percy will be home for Christmas." The note was signed "Abelard."
"Abelard's Harry's tutor, right?" Ron asked.
Molly's lip quivered. "If Abelard saw it... it will happen," she said quietly.
"You're... you're okay with that, Mum?" Ron asked tentatively.
"We're more than okay with that, son," Arthur replied, and gently slipped his arm around Molly's waist.
"I'll talk to the boys about it then," Ron said seriously. "We were planning on using Percy as a human Bludger if he ever showed his face again."
"Hello, all," Harry said, pushing the door from the dining room open. "Could you please seal the door, Mrs. Weasley? I don't want to be interrupted and I don't want to be overheard."
"Certainly, Harry dear," Molly replied, flicking her wand at the window and doors.
Ron nudged Harry as he told him seriously, "Hermione's going to have your head for keeping the whole prophecy thing from us all summer."
"Yeah, tell her to get in line. I wasn't ready before, and this is not the sort of thing that you share in a letter," Harry explained.
"But with the entire party?" Ron protested.
"I had my reasons, Ron, trust me on this one," Harry said gravely.
"Your note said that you wanted to see us, Harry?" Arthur opened.
"Yeah, I needed to talk to you all - and the longer I put it off the greater the chance that I'd lose my nerve," Harry said, swallowing hard. He looked around the room, avoiding direct eye contact, resting his gaze at last on the Weasley family clock. "It's about your daughter."
"Ginny, " Molly asked, her voice cracking slightly. "Is she okay?"
"Uh, she was fine when I left her at the table," Harry replied obliviously. He looked down at the floor and then at his hands. "This isn't easy to say . . ." he began.
"What about Ginny?" Arthur asked, placing his hands over each other on the edge of the table.
"I guess - I - uh - fancy her," Harry stammered. "I wanted to ask what you lot thought of my - uh - getting to know her better."
Arthur relaxed his grip the table, taking a deep breath. "I take it that we are not discussing dowry tonight."
Harry blushed. "Uh, yeah, that would be correct, sir," Harry said, voice cracking.
"Are you informing us, Harry, or asking our permission?" Arthur asked thoughtfully.
"I guess I'm - uh, the latter," Harry replied.
"And if we say no?" Arthur countered.
"Arthur!" Molly exclaimed.
"Does this have something to do with dancing with Ginny at Sirius' wake?" Ron asked.
"Something to do with that, yes," Harry said evasively. Looking back at Arthur he replied, "If you say no, that will be the end of it, I reckon. I'm not going to try to come between Ginny and her family."
"Does this have something to do with the Prophecy?" Arthur asked quietly.
"Dumbledore thinks so," Harry said, looking down at his feet. "I prefer to think of it as getting on with my life rather than putting everything on hold while I figure out how to rid the world of Tom Riddle." Harry reached out for a glass, filling it with water. He fiddled with the glass like he didn't know what to do with his hands.
"Harry, Ron, could you excuse us for a moment? Molly and I are in need of a private discussion," Arthur said, running his hand through his thinning hair.
"Sure, Dad," Ron said, leaning against the door. "Uh, Mum, could you unseal the door, please?"
Harry followed Ron out the door wordlessly.
Ron turned, placing his hand gently on the door. "Sealed again," he said, smiling broadly. "I don't need the 'inner eye' to know that Mum and Dad will be having a blazing row within minutes."
"What?" Harry asked, blinking furiously.
"You look like Hedwig when you do that," Ron said, leaning against the dining room dish cupboard.
"When I do what?" Harry snapped.
"When you stare at me, blinking away like mad," Ron replied. "I said they'd be having a row. Mum's wanted to match you up with Ginny since our first year. If I know her, she's already knitting tiny booties and jumpers. Dad, on the other hand, is probably pitching a fit about putting his only daughter one step away from - from - Tom Riddle. Crikey, Harry, you scared the stuffing out of us with the prophecy!"
"I'm sorry," Harry said, his eyes glazing over.
"Stop it!" Ron hissed.
"Stop what?" Harry said, looking as it he'd been slapped.
"Being sorry for everything, you pillock." Ron was silent for a while, and then he coughed. "So, you turned McGonagall down when she offered you the Captaincy?"
"Katie Bell turned her down first, she's studying for N.E.W.T.s. I turned her down because I thought I'd make a rotten captain, plus I can't play Seeker, teach the D.A. and try to be Quidditch Captain with L-plates. It's like you said - I'm tactics - I know nil about strategy. That left you, mate," Harry said, looking up at Ron.
"Thanks," Ron said quietly.
Harry snorted and smiled.
"No, I mean it, " Ron said with exasperation. "I've got to start working on the training schedule."
"That's what McGonagall said," Harry replied. "Oh, yeah, before I forget. There's going to be a dance or a ball or something at the end of October. Professor McGonagall wanted me to remind you that prefects are supposed to have dates. I think her exact words were: 'Please ensure that Mr. Weasley does not procrastinate as he did during your fourth year. Girls with choices don't wait forever.'"
"Blimey!" Ron said, "I don't know what's scarier, knowing that she said that or that you can mimic her voice perfectly."
"Better ask her tonight," Harry said.
"Who?" Ron asked nervously.
"Now who's sounding like an owl? Who? Hermione, of course - that's who! If you let it go until the last minute, I think she'll bust every window in the castle when she lets go on you," Harry snorted.
"Do you think she'd say yes?" Ron asked.
"I'm going to hurt you if you ask me that question again. In fact, I'm going to put spiders in your bed if you don't ask her tonight," Harry said, looking over the rim of his glasses.
"You going to ask Ginny?" Ron asked.
"Depends on what happens when your mum and dad stop screaming at each other," Harry said wryly.
"Usually they make up and then - well, they start snogging," Ron said soberly. "Weasley temper is a furious thing, but they don't like to stay mad at their mates."
"So, they could be snogging away in there right now and we'd never know it," Harry complained.
"Yup, privacy's hard to come by when the house is small and the family is large."
"Ron, that is way too much information," Harry said, taking his glasses off, polishing them on his shirt.
"All of us Weasley kids have stories about times we've stumbled onto Mum and Dad being uh - friendly. They are pretty irrepressible actually," Ron said proudly.
Ron startled as he heard the sound of someone tripping in the hallway. A moment later, Tonks poked her head into the dining room.
"Ah, there you are, Harry," she said, giving Ron a wink. "You up for being a dog again tonight? Moony wants to go out to play."
"He's transformed already?" Harry asked with concern in his voice.
"Yeah, he's up in Percy's old room. We're waiting for the crowd to thin out from the party before we let him out," Tonks replied.
"Might as well," Harry said, looking at the kitchen door. "I don't think they're coming out anytime soon. Ron, let them know that I'm not just haring off. We'll finish this up in the morning, eh?"
"Sure thing, Harry," Ron replied.
"C'mon, Harry, it's time to get beastly for your birthday," Tonks said saucily.
"Sure thing, Tonks," he said.
He followed Tonks up the stairs, maintaining his distance in case she tripped. Percy's old room was dark when she opened the door, illuminated only by moonlight. The only piece of furniture in the room was a mattress lying on the floor. On top of the mattress was a large silver coloured wolf, panting slowly. As they entered the room, he raised his head and gazed at them with intelligent, golden eyes. Tonks knelt and pressed the massive head against her. The wolf gave a high-pitched whistling sound.
"Shhh, Moony, we'll have you out of the house in a moment," Tonks said soothingly.
The wolf placed his head on his paws, closed his eyes and sighed loudly.
Tonks stood, unfolding a parchment from her pocket. Sticking it quickly to the wall, she tapped it several times with her wand. Lines, figures and dots appeared on the parchment; it was a fifty-kilometre map of the area surrounding the Burrow. Tapping the map once more an irregular green line appeared that surrounded the farmland adjacent to the Burrow. "This line, more or less, is the security border. Among other things, it's an Anti-Apparation border. Before we let you out, both you and Moony will be wearing collars. If things get dodgy, we activate the collars and you'll Portkey back to the Burrow. When you're a dog you'll be able to see the border. If Moony's memory is correct, you're a fair sized dog," Tonks said with a smile.
"I'm still small compared to Moony," Harry complained.
"Relax bro, you're still growing." She took Harry's glasses from his face, tucking them into a pouch on her waist. At the same time, she fished a small round tin out of the pouch. "Transfiguration salve," she explained as she carefully daubed some onto his forehead, taking care to rub it into his scar.
Harry heard Mm'lau gasp at the back of his consciousness before he felt the now familiar stinging as the salve took hold. He was a dog again.
Getting the now-Transfigured Harry and Remus out of the house and safely released into the open country surrounding the Burrow was not particularly easy. In the twilight she looked like a woman walking two dogs: one large, one enormous. She almost got away without comment when Ginny and Hermione waylaid her.
"Tonks, what are you doing walking Abelard's dog?" she asked, kneeling down to pat the shaggy white dog. Harry lolled his tongue and wagged his tail, like a good-natured dog.
"This isn't Rosie," Tonks replied.
Hermione stared at the two canines. "That's Harry and that's - uh - Moony, isn't it?" Hermione whispered.
"Right in one," Tonks replied. "You needn't worry, both of these are fairly harmless if left alone. I'd love to chat, but Moony has to get away from all these people and Roscoe here needs to keep him company." She knelt down and unlatched the leashes from both collars; first Moony's leash then Harry's. The wolf took off like a greyhound with the dog following in close pursuit. A moment later the sound of barking was heard far off in the rolling hills leading away from the river.
"Oi, Hermione," Ron called. "Your Mum fire-called saying that you need to be getting home. Can I walk you back?"
"Sure, Ron, " Hermione answered. "Ginny, I'll write tomorrow morning - we need to finish this conversation.
"Sure thing," Ginny replied with a bit of a sad note to her voice, falling back to match Tonks' languid pace as Hermione and Ron beat a quick retreat to the Burrow.
"Care for a bit of a walk before you turn in?" Tonks asked pleasantly.
"I'd love it," Ginny replied.
Molly sat alone at the kitchen table. Her discussion with her husband had been exhausting. She'd argued, begged, pleaded, cajoled and discussed the issue to death. Arthur's rational arguments had been fairly easy to dispatch; it was his fear of Ginny getting hurt, by Harry, or by being close to Harry, that had been hard to dispel. She pointed out - after she stopped screaming - that Ginny would be of age in eighteen months, and it was a foregone conclusion that if the War were still ongoing, she would be inducted into the Order of the Phoenix. Next she played the guilt and honour card - but for Harry, there wouldn't be a Ginny Weasley to worry over; their daughter would be dead on the floor of the Chamber of Secrets. Harry was an honourable lad, and he appeared to have feelings for Ginny and she for him. It was better for things to be out in the open where they could keep an eye on the relationship, wherever it may go. She'd ended the discussion sitting in Arthur's lap. Thank goodness for Silencing and Imperturbable charms.
After concluding their row, they walked the grounds together, hand in hand, making sure that the house was ready to close down for the night. She'd suggested that he take a shower before she joined him in bed. She had a lot of energy left and wasn't particularly interested in sleeping. As the pipes to the upstairs shower began to clank, she summoned quill, ink and parchment, and dashed off a quick note.
My dear Harry,
I hope you enjoyed your birthday. It was certainly a memorable event, even if it was much larger than you would have preferred. Arthur and I finished our discussion after you'd already left to be with Remus, so I thought I'd jot down this note to let you know how things turned out.
Arthur and I are extremely fond of you, and grant you our blessing on getting to know Ginevra better. We can discuss practical concerns later this week, perhaps after dinner some night over coffee. It seems odd to be writing a note to someone living under my roof, but I'm realistic enough to know that with tomorrow's schedule I may not see you again until after lunchtime and I didn't want to leave you in suspense.
With all my love,
Molly blotted the parchment, folded it in half and then in half again, carrying it up the stairs. She nipped into Ginny's room, and slipped the note into the Passbox. She bent over to kiss Ginny's forehead; Ginny stirred contentedly in her sleep.
"Goodnight, dear... do we ever have things to discuss in the morning."
It was Molly's practice to wake early. She could count on one hand the number of times she had slept past 5:00 a.m. since the birth of her youngest child. Today was no exception to that trend. She pulled her summer-weight dressing gown on over her very comfortable night-gown and padded down the stairs towards the kitchen. Something was amiss; to her great surprise, Tonks was sitting at the kitchen table, parchments spread out in front of her, quill scratching away. The kitchen smelled of coffee, tea and fresh scones. Tonks looked up as Molly entered the kitchen, flashing her a crooked smile.
"G'morning, Molly. Coffee's in the carafe, tea's in the pot, scones are in the basket. None of it is as good as yours, but this is as good as it gets when I'm feeling domestic," Tonks said wearily.
"Why aren't you in bed?" Molly asked with concern.
"Remus came in with Harry at 2:00 a.m. - I stayed with Remus until he transformed, then I came down here," Tonks said, looking away from Molly's gaze, slightly embarassed.
"I thought that you and Remus . . ." Molly said, interrupting herself.
"Molly, I'm madly in love with him but I - I wouldn't, not under your roof. Besides, we haven't, you know . . ." Tonks said haltingly, rolling her eyes towards the stairwell.
Molly nodded, sitting down carefully. She poured a cup of tea and reached for a scone. It wasn't as good as her best scones, but it was tasty, warm and had a wonderful texture; definitely a good scone. "So, how did the transformation go?" she asked after washing down a bite of scone with some hot tea.
"About as well as can be expected. They classify it as a curse for a reason," Tonks said, sipping from her own coffee mug.
"How's Harry?" Molly asked, feeling a pang of guilt for not staying up to finish their interrupted conversation. She took a long swallow of tea.
"He's fine. He's in bed with Ginny right now," Tonks said with the straightest of faces.
Molly sprayed tea across the table.
Tonks looked up with an innocent expression. "Did I mention that he's still a dog?"
"No!" Molly shouted, throwing the remainder of her scone at Tonks. Tonks caught the scone but managed to knock over her nearly empty coffee mug while doing so.
"Here, let me," Tonks said apologetically. "The whole mess is my fault anyway. The expression on your face was priceless though," Tonks said with a broad grin.
Molly arched one eyebrow. "Is there a reason my daughter has a dog sleeping on her bed?"
"Ron wasn't home when Remus and Harry arrived. I figured that Harry shouldn't be alone while he was transfigured, so I pushed Ginny's door open. Harry got the hint, hopped to the foot of her bed, turned around three times and was out like the proverbial light," Tonks said.
"Ron came in at 4:00 a.m.; he went home with Hermione and ended up spending the night playing a Muggle game with her dad - table tennis. Seems he wanted to ask Hermione to the next Hogwarts dance, but had to beat her dad at this game before he'd give his permission. Ron played twenty-one sets before he finally beat Albert," Tonks reported.
"Ron told you all this?" Molly asked incredulously.
"Nah, Monica called by Floo about five minutes after Ron came stumbling home, hoping to catch you - I took good notes and told her that you'd call her after 9:00 a.m. - I hope I wasn't being too presumptuous," Tonks said with a wink.
"No dear, that's fine," Molly said, staring off into the distance. "Go to bed early one night and my youngest children start carrying on," she complained.
"Molly! I would hardly consider Ron spending the night with his girlfriend's dad as carrying on; as to Ginny, she probably doesn't even know that Harry's there," Tonks protested. "I'm going to go move Harry, transfigure him back to his normal form and let him sleep it off in Ron's room."
"Thanks, Tonks," Molly said, furrowing her brows. "Tonks?"
"Should I serve his breakfast in big ceramic bowls on the floor?"
Tonks stood still for a moment as if she were giving the notion serious thought. "I'll let you know how his guardian takes to that notion," she said with a smirk. "But it is good to plan ahead - the best pranks are very well planned."
"Yes, I know," Molly said sombrely, "I have plenty of experience on that front."
"I imagine you do."
Author's notes: Yup, this is still covered by the disclaimer in the Prologue.
In England novice drivers have a red "L" affixed to the front and rear bumper of their cars, indicating that they really don't know what they are doing. These are called "L-plates."
For my view of lycanthropy, I am greatly indebted to The Compleat Werewolf by Anthony Boucher. In traditional mythology, werewolves were big wolves, not wolf-man characters. Lupin says in PoA (p. 353, American Edition) that with Wolfsbane, he retains his mind after the transformation and is a peaceful wolf. Real wolves are peaceable, unless threatened or engaged in hunting; most wolves will avoid humans if at all possible.
Yeah, it's been a while since I last updated. Hopefully the length of this instalment makes up for the delay. I started writing this tale to give me something positive to work on in the midst of a turbulent family situation. June was a bit rough at our house. No promises on the next instalment, but I think by now you can trust me that I'm not just popping Prozac and sipping drinks with paper parasols.
Thanks, as always, go to my valiant pre-Beta readers, you know who you are and what you did. Special kudos go to Full Pensieve, for chopping through my blocks on this chapter and putting up with me. Lissa gets an IOU for a chocolate cookie for a lightning fast turn-around. Welcome back from vacation.