The line dividing daylight from darkness crept slowly westward across Europe, bringing dawn to the people of the continent in a predictable, comforting pattern. When it reached the British Isles, the sunlight quickly burned away the light coating of mist covering the southern half of England. Tall trees, lush grasses, and spring-swollen streams were revealed in the vicinity of Ottery St. Catchpole, and the first hint of light crept into the smallest bedroom of a very peculiar house.
Inside that room, two children lay comfortably together as they slept. Their bed was narrow, but they were young and small for their ages, so they did not care or even notice. The boy lay on his back, and the girl's face rested comfortably on his stomach, rising and falling with his breath. Her left arm was tucked securely along his waist beneath his shirt, while his own left hand rested on her delicate shoulder. Her knees were pulled up alongside his leg, and an indistinguishable shape filled the hollow between their bodies.
The room slowly lightened, revealing a handful of pale freckles scattered across the bridge of her nose and a jagged scar on his forehead.
At that moment, the peaceful scene was interrupted by the incessant beeping of the boy's wristwatch.
Harry groaned, raised his head slightly, and fumbled with his watch before silencing the alarm. When the room was quiet once more, he relaxed back onto his pillow and stared at the cracks in the ceiling of Ginny's room. Even one minute more of peace was worth treasuring.
I wish we could have a lie-in sometimes, Ginny said.
Yeah. I can't remember the last time anyone let us sleep until we woke up on our own.
Must've been after Christmas.
Hardly counts, though.
Sighing, Harry reached down and rubbed Ginny's shoulder gently until she also stirred and woke. She especially would have preferred to continue sleeping, but neither of them wanted to risk the nightmares that could develop if they slept while separated. The idea of being apart all day bothered them enough already, and as they woke, they began a continuous battle against their instinct to stay as close together as possible.
They sat up, and Ginny leaned against Harry for a few moments as she rubbed the sleep from her eyes. Once she felt more-or-less able to function, Harry put on his glasses, stood, and stretched. He still luxuriated in the ability to move freely, and Ginny smiled sleepily up at him as they felt his pleasure.
Even after nine months, they occasionally needed a moment or two to adjust to their senses when they first woke up in the morning. Ginny looked up at Harry and saw herself looking up at him at the same time, while Harry watched himself smile at her in return. After a night's sleep, the odd sensation of lying on a soft, warm bed and standing on a hard, cool floor at the same time was even more bizarre.
They remembered how Harry would be spending his day, and their happiness faded.
It's worth it, right? he asked.
It'd better be. Ginny reached out and squeezed his hand as she rose to her feet. I'll be there.
Here, you mean?
She straightened her slightly-faded blue pyjamas and rolled her eyes at him affectionately. Whatever.
Harry grinned at her, and a moment later he was standing in the middle of the smallest bedroom at number four Privet Drive. Ginny sat at her small desk, pulled her hair out of its loose braid, and began brushing it slowly, letting her eyes remain closed for a few moments longer. Harry stood silently, ignoring the gentle rasp of the brush, and listened for the sounds of anyone else stirring in the house. Reassured that he was the only one awake and, therefore, had not arrived too late, Harry opened the door and walked down the hall to the lavatory.
After showering, he pulled on the least-oversized shirt and trousers he had, combed his unruly hair as well as he could, and then went downstairs to the kitchen. With the dexterity of long practice, Harry started the coffee-maker and began preparing a large breakfast of eggs, sausages, bacon, and toast. Ginny paused for a moment, closing her eyes, and marvelled at Harry's actions.
You make that all seem so easy.
He shrugged. I've had lots of practice. You knew I did all of these things.
Yeah, but … it's different to actually feel it all instead of just remembering it. I don't think I can move the way you are. Everything is so … so fluid, or something.
It's the same way you are on a broom, Gin. This is just something I've done a lot of, same as flying is for you.
Conceding the point, Ginny stumbled down the stairs and dropped into her chair at the kitchen table. At one end, Mr. Weasley sat sipping tea and reading his newspaper. Her mother sat at the other end with her own cup of tea, looking out the window at the first glow of sunrise.
"Good morning," her father said.
"Morning," Ginny said, letting her head fall forward onto her crossed arms. She had no problem thinking clearly with Harry, but she was not yet quite prepared for outside interaction.
"You're up quite early," Mrs. Weasley said quietly.
"Have to make breakfast for the Dursleys," Ginny mumbled to the tabletop.
"Well, I'll start making it for you, then," her mother said.
Harry had long ago learned to cook quickly and efficiently without making a mess. If he dribbled egg on the countertop or let crumbs of toast fall to the floor, he would have to clean it up before he was allowed to eat. As a result, he kept his motions controlled and precise, and the neat array of food on the platters at his elbow grew quickly.
Ginny's amazement shifted to irritation as he worked. Harry no longer really thought about what he was doing, but for her the experience was new. Each motion he made brought forth memories of the past, when he had made a mistake and been punished for it in one way or another. Even the possibility of breaking an egg yolk reminded her of mornings when he had not been allowed to eat at all because he had 'wasted' an egg.
It was a long time ago, Harry said.
That doesn't make it okay! Not in the least!
Yeah, but I can't change it now, can I?
Harry heard the Dursleys clumping about upstairs, and after a few minutes Vernon entered the kitchen, already dressed for a typical weekend day full of television and grumbling. He poured himself a cup of coffee, scowled at Harry, and then collected the newspaper and the milk from the front step.
Hello to you, too, Ginny said darkly in the back of his mind.
Harry watched Uncle Vernon settle into his place, and Ginny opened her eyes so they could watch her father. Both men sat reading a paper, drinking their morning beverage, and waiting for breakfast to be served, but the difference between them was stark. Vernon radiated an aura of irritable contempt, while Mr. Weasley simply looked imperturbably content.
Over the next ten minutes, in a bizarre parallel, the rest of the Dursleys and Weasleys arrived for breakfast. Petunia and Percy were first, followed by the twins. A few minutes later, Dudley sat down at the table, and shortly thereafter Ron took his place at The Burrow.
Petunia said nothing, but her eyes followed Harry closely as he put the last two eggs and slices of toast onto platters and transferred the entire meal to the table. Her sharp gaze flicked from his hands, to the eggs, to the kitchen behind him, and her face never shifted from its tight, suspicious frown.
If Muggles were right about what witches are like, she'd be a perfect one.
Harry stifled a laugh. I'm glad the real thing is you.
Ginny grinned briefly as Harry's humour and affection washed through her, but she noticed that the air around her in The Burrow's kitchen was slightly warmer than it had been. She took a few deep breaths in an attempt to control her temper.
When Dudley had successfully wedged himself into a chair, he immediately served himself four eggs, six rashers of bacon, five sausages, and four slices of toast. Vernon's breakfast was slightly smaller, while Petunia claimed only two eggs. When they had started eating, Harry reached out and claimed a single lukewarm piece of toast for himself.
You will eat more than that, Ginny stated flatly while continuing to fight her irritation.
He shrugged silently. Have to start somewhere.
Molly Weasley was taking a bit longer to make even more food than Harry had, but no one at The Burrow minded. With an absent motion, she opened the window to let cool air into the warm kitchen. Mr. Weasley lifted his head when he heard the window move, and he looked down the table at Ginny with a curious and slightly concerned expression.
Harry finished his toast quickly and reached for a rasher of bacon. As his hand approached the platter, Vernon reached out almost without looking and slapped Harry's hand down onto the tabletop. The beefy man's thick, golden wedding band rapped sharply on Harry's knuckle, and he jerked his hand back to his chest as he swallowed a cry of pain.
"That's for Dudley," Vernon said shortly. "You've had enough."
Ginny yelped and straightened in her chair, also cradling her hand to her chest. Her eyes flew open as adrenaline woke her completely, and she did not even attempt to restrain the heat that immediately filled the room.
Leave! Right now! Just leave!
"Are you … are you alright, dear?" Mrs. Weasley asked.
Ginny . . .
Harry did not bother leaving the kitchen at Privet Drive or even standing up from his chair. As Mr. Weasley opened his mouth to speak, Harry willingly let Ginny pull him to The Burrow.
Trying to ignore Harry's pain and her family's surprised expressions, Ginny picked up his hand and held it gently in both of her own, examining the red mark forming on his knuckle. Incensed, she looked up and met her father's eyes.
"Ginny, what… ?" Mr. Weasley began, rising from his chair.
"He ate one piece of toast! One! And when he reached to get more of what he had to cook for those greedy pigs, that great oaf hit him! He told him he couldn't have any more!"
The older man's eyes shifted to Harry. "Vernon hit you? Where?"
Ginny pushed Harry's hand towards her father as Harry spoke. "He smashed my hand into the table. It only hurt because his ring hit my knuckle."
"That's still hitting you, Harry," Mr. Weasley said firmly, although his voice was quite soft. He crossed the room and tapped his wand against Harry's hand, and the pain faded almost instantly. "Molly, keep some breakfast warm for me, will you?"
She sighed. "Of course."
Mr. Weasley turned back to Ginny and met her eyes. "I want you both to stay here until I get back, alright?"
She nodded. "You're going to talk to him?"
"Yes, Firefly. I said I would, and I meant it."
"Okay. We'll wait, Daddy."
Mr. Weasley patted Ginny on the shoulder and ruffled Harry's hair, and then he stepped out through the kitchen door. A moment later, a soft pop announced his departure. Ginny brushed Harry's knuckles with careful fingertips, and within a few moments they were able to let her anger fade into the background of their minds.
Mrs. Weasley broke the short period of awkward silence. "Breakfast is ready."
Ginny pushed Harry down into the chair next to hers and reclaimed her place, still holding Harry's newly-healed left hand. Mrs. Weasley over-filled a plate with breakfast and placed it in front of him. "There's plenty more where that came from, Harry, so please tuck in." She had a strange look on her face, one Harry thought might almost be sadness, but Ginny drew his attention by reinforcing her mother's instruction.
Fred and George brought the platters to the table in silence, and the rest of the family served themselves. Ginny simply picked up her fork left-handed and joined Harry in eating from his plate, knowing there was no way he would be able to eat everything he had been given.
Ron began cutting his food into large bites. "Err … morning, Harry. You alright?"
The other boy shrugged. "Not in school, am I?" His attention then shifted entirely to his breakfast. The family ate in silence for a while, which was what Harry preferred for the moment. Although glad that Ginny had intervened, he was embarrassed that the rest of her family knew why he had left Privet Drive so abruptly.
"You're getting awfully good at these dramatic entrances, Harry," Fred said.
"Somehow, you always show up at the most heated moments," George added.
"Almost like he plans it, eh?" Fred winked at Harry and Ginny.
The twins' typically atypical greeting raised their spirits a bit more, and Harry grinned. "It's a gift, I suppose."
George snorted loudly. After staring at his plate for a few moments, he looked up at Harry. "So … err … is that sort of thing … normal?"
Harry looked down and speared a sausage with his fork. "Used to be."
Ginny had no difficulty facing her brother. "Never again."
George nodded slowly and returned his attention to his plate. A moment later, he turned to Mrs. Weasley. "Great breakfast, Mum. As ever." The other three Weasley boys all nodded their agreement.
She smiled broadly. "Thank you, dears."
He's right, Harry commented as he chewed. Even her eggs are better than mine. "Thank you for breakfast, Mrs. Weasley. It really is delicious."
Ginny saw her mother flush slightly as she busied herself with tidying the kitchen. "You're welcome."
The next half hour was filled by the brothers discussing their plans for the day. Percy announced at length that he intended to get ahead on his reading for sixth year, while the twins cryptically implied that they would just be hanging about in their room. Their mother tried to force them to be more specific, but they evaded her questions smoothly.
Mrs. Weasley's eyes skimmed across Harry and Ginny, who were still sharing a plate, to land on her youngest son. "And you, Ron?"
The lanky boy's head shot up from his oversized breakfast, and he lowered his brow in puzzlement. "Well, I … I thought that … you know, the paddock … and scissors."
His mother shook her head. "Not until Monday."
"Oh. Suppose I might like to fly a bit, then. What do you two think?" he asked, facing Harry and Ginny.
"Err … dunno yet," Harry said.
All depends on Dad, I guess.
Ron blinked. "Oh. Right. Sorry."
Together, Ginny and Harry finished the breakfast Mrs. Weasley had provided, and they decided that they were both comfortably full. They stayed at the table talking with her family and watching Ron consume more food than they had between them.
I swear he eats as much as Dudley, Harry said. At every single meal, no less.
Ginny shrugged. If we were a foot taller, then maybe we'd eat that much, too.
The impromptu show was interrupted by a sharp crack from outside. A moment later, the back door slammed open. Arthur Weasley stormed inside, and Ginny's memory told them that his face was as red as any Weasley's ever got.
As his family looked on in surprise, Mr. Weasley stopped and took a deep breath, visibly struggling to regain his temper. After a long, slow exhalation, he turned to Harry. Anger flashed in the older man's eyes, but Harry and Ginny knew that it was not directed at them.
"Harry, could I speak to you in the parlour for a moment?" Mr. Weasley asked in a controlled voice.
Without hesitation, Harry nodded and walked across the room into the parlour. Ginny followed him, keeping a reassuring grip on his hand.
The two children stopped in the middle of the room and turned back to see Mr. Weasley pushing the door closed behind him. After flicking his wand at the door twice, he crossed to them and crouched in front of Harry. "Harry, lad, I'm going to ask you a question or two, and I want you to answer. I know you won't want to, but I need you to tell me the truth as plainly as you can. Will you do that?"
Suddenly wary, Harry swallowed and nodded.
"Thank you." Mr. Weasley took another deep breath and then spoke in a soft voice. "I went to your relatives' house and talked to them for a while. Vernon won't be hitting you any more, Harry, but … before I left, I decided to have a look around." He reached out and put a gentle hand on Harry's shoulder. "I saw the cupboard, Harry."
Harry inhaled sharply, his uncertainty and shame warring with Ginny's soothing presence, and her grip on his hand tightened. They had tried their best not to really talk about some things with her family, but the cupboard contained evidence that could not be avoided.
"There was a large stain on the floor in one corner of that cupboard, lad. Will you tell me what made that stain?"
Harry flushed, embarrassed and awkward, but Ginny's temper began to build. "They -" she began hotly.
Her father's gaze shifted to her, and the look in his eyes silenced her instantly. "I know you know the answer, Firefly, and I know Harry doesn't want to talk about it. But this time, I need to hear it from him."
Ginny nodded and silently encouraged Harry to speak.
Harry swallowed again. He did not want Ginny to hear the answer to that question, even though she already knew it, and he certainly did not want to explain it aloud to someone else.
Please, Harry, Ginny said. You know he wouldn't ask if it wasn't important.
But . . .
Ginny took his shoulders in her hands and turned him to face her. Looking a few inches down into her brown eyes, he could see her pleading as clearly as he could feel it. After a long moment of watching the affection in her eyes and the guarded hesitation in his own, he sighed and turned back to Ginny's father.
He could not seem to lift his gaze from the carpet of the parlour as he spoke. "Umm … Ginny told you that they used to put me in there for a long time, right?" He glanced up momentarily to see Mr. Weasley nod. "Well, one time … it was two days, like she said, and … I had to … I mean … they didn't let me out. Not for anything."
"Not even to use the toilet?"
Harry shook his head, colouring even further. "Not even for that."
Tell him the rest.
"When … when they found it," Harry continued, "they made me try to clean it up. But the stain wouldn't come out of the wood, no matter how hard I tried. Even when I painted it, the stain just came through again."
Mr. Weasley nodded again. "Did you want to clean up that stain, Harry?"
He shook his head. "I wanted it to stay there, so that … I don't know … I just thought it should be there."
"And how old were you?" Ginny's father asked gently.
"Six," Mr. Weasley breathed. He took another deep breath and spoke normally. "Why did they leave you in there so long?"
Harry closed his eyes and attempted to avoid reliving the memory. "I tried to fight back when Dudley hit me."
"He was bigger, he's always been bigger, and I couldn't reach him before he reached me."
"And he eats as much as he wants, too." Mr. Weasley sighed. "Is that where the smaller dark spots came from?"
Ginny felt Harry's body tense, as though he were trying to shrink to make himself a smaller target. In response, she pulled his hand firmly until he was half facing her, and she wrapped her arms around his waist, laying her head along his shoulder.
Never again, she said quietly. We won't let that happen anymore.
Her warmth on his side and the protective pressure of her arms steadied Harry enough to speak. "No … that was a bit later. I was eight."
"What happened?" Harry started to shake his head, but Mr. Weasley lifted his chin carefully, and the expression on the man's face was reassuring. "I know what they are, Harry. I just need you to tell me how they got there."
Harry shrugged within Ginny's embrace. "I couldn't fight back."
"That was from Dudley, then, not Vernon?"
Harry nodded faintly, barely whispering the answer. "Not that time."
"That time. I see." Mr. Weasley pinched the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes for a moment. "Alright, lad. That's all I need to know. Thank you for telling me."
Dumbly, Harry nodded again. Keeping her arms around his middle, Ginny nudged Harry's arm until it rested across her shoulders, and she stood fully beside him. "Do you understand now, Daddy?" she whispered, fighting the moisture in her eyes.
"Yes, Ginny, I understand. I wish I had worked it out sooner, but . . ." He sighed. "It's just hard to accept." Mr. Weasley climbed to his feet and exhaled loudly and slowly. After a moment, he turned and smiled gently down at them. "Nice morning for a fly, wouldn't you say?"
"Okay," Ginny said. Without speaking, she transported up to her bedroom, leaving Harry staring at his trainers. Mr. Weasley squeezed his shoulder before walking back into the kitchen.
Quickly, Ginny got dressed and picked up the Nimbus. After reappearing at Harry's side, she led him through the silent kitchen to the back door. Mr. Weasley swallowed his last bite of toast and followed them. As soon as they had all had left the house, he disappeared with a raucous, echoing crack!
For a while, they took turns soaring above and around The Burrow, letting the sensations of flight drown out their memories. After half an hour, Ron came out with his broom, and the three started a one-on-one game of Quidditch. Harry and Ginny still could not play Quidditch at all if they flew at the same time, so they took turns flying with Ron. For the most part, they stayed in their usual positions, with Ron as Keeper and Harry or Ginny as Chaser, but occasionally they traded places for variety. Flying and playing Quidditch with Ron improved their mood greatly, as it always did.
Around mid-morning, Harry was sitting on the ground with his eyes closed as Ginny tried to guard the goal against Ron. She had just managed to deflect the Quaffle, without actually catching it, when they heard a loud whistle from The Burrow. Harry looked over his shoulder and spotted Mr. Weasley standing on the back steps with Professors Dumbledore and McGonagall.
Harry walked back to the house, and Ron and Ginny flew down to join him halfway there. When they reached the steps, Ginny spotted the expressions on the adults' faces, and their cheerfulness quickly faded to trepidation.
"Come on, Ron, let's go have a game of chess," Mr. Weasley said.
With a glance over his shoulder, Ron went into the house. After exchanging an indecipherable look with Dumbledore, Mr. Weasley followed his son and shut the door, leaving Harry and Ginny alone with the two professors.
McGonagall stepped forward and leaned down to examine Harry closely. Then, with a firm nod, she stood up and moved to one side but kept a warm hand on Harry's shoulder. He could feel the tension in her grip, but she did not speak when he glanced over at her.
Dumbledore slowly lowered himself to sit on the top step, bracing his elbows on his knees. His blue eyes, now missing any sparkle whatsoever, stared out over the paddock.
I've never seen him look so . . .
Human, Ginny concluded. Without the desk or the plushy chair or that smile of his, he just looks like an old man in purple robes.
"Harry, I'm sorry," Dumbledore said suddenly, his voice low and flat. "Arthur showed me that cupboard. I never knew, and I never thought to find out. I'm so very sorry."
About time! Ginny said hotly.
Harry shrugged awkwardly. "What happens now?"
The Headmaster sighed. "I wish I could somehow move the protections somewhere else, but I cannot. It's simply not magically possible, much as I desire otherwise."
"So he has to go back?"
"If you still agree that protection from Voldemort and his followers is necessary, then I'm afraid so," Dumbledore agreed. "This time, however, Arthur has taken steps to ensure that none of them will harm you, Mr. Potter. Even so, if you ever feel threatened in the slightest, I want you to leave Privet Drive and come here. There is more I can do if I absolutely have to, and I promise that I will if anything like this happens again."
"It's not fair that he has to spend all day, every day, making sure they don't hurt him, Headmaster," Ginny said.
"You're quite right, Miss Weasley. For that reason, I would like to offer you both a choice. First, you can continue the summer as we planned, with Mr. Potter spending all day at Privet Drive until sometime after his birthday. Alternatively, you can spend only the afternoons there until the end of the summer holidays. If you are there from just after lunch until just before dinner, that should be enough to recharge the protections, but you would likely have to do it every day until term begins. That choice is yours alone to make."
Ginny looked up at McGonagall, but the older woman merely shrugged slightly, indicating again that it was up to Harry and Ginny.
They settled cross-legged onto the grass to consider their options. Going most of August without seeing the Dursleys at all was certainly appealing, but so was the idea of spending only a handful of hours there each day.
It would be great to be able to do fun things here before August, though.
Like cutting the grass?
Harry shrugged. I'd rather cut it here than there. And she won't have us doing that all summer, will she?
No, probably not.
"Okay, Headmaster," Harry said. "We'd rather I spent just the afternoons there."
"But could we work something out for our birthdays so he doesn't have to go at all on those days?" Ginny asked.
"We will have to examine the state of the wards at that time, Miss Weasley, but I am certainly willing to try to accommodate you. Also, though it is unlikely, if the wards should somehow be fully charged before the end of the holiday, I will notify you immediately."
Harry and Ginny, following Dumbledore's lead, rose to their feet. After dusting off his robes, the Headmaster looked down at them. "Again, Mr. Potter, I am truly sorry. I can only say that I will endeavour to ensure that my mistake does not cause you any more misfortune.
"I must return to Privet Drive to explain the arrangements to your relatives. Arthur and Vernon worked out a list of housework suitable for a boy of your age. Provided that you complete those tasks as scheduled, the Dursleys will not attempt to interact with you. Mr. Potter, please arrive in your room at one o'clock. It will be kept as it is for you, and I will leave the task list on your desk."
Harry nodded. "Thank you for your help, Headmaster."
The old man sighed. "Don't thank me, Mr. Potter. I'm afraid we've a long way to go before I feel deserving of your gratitude. I wish a better day to you both."
When Dumbledore had disappeared, Harry and Ginny turned to look at McGonagall, who was still standing to one side. For a few moments, she stared down at them, and Ginny could see that the older woman's blank expression was forced. Then, in an abrupt motion, McGonagall bent her knees and kneeled in front of them. Her features shifted into a concerned frown, and her eyes quickly scanned Harry's face, arms, and hands.
"He's alright, Professor," Ginny said quietly.
McGonagall's intense scrutiny shifted to Ginny. "You're absolutely sure?" She shook her head. "Of course you are."
Almost awkwardly, the professor reached out and put an arm around each of them in a brief but firm hug. Just as quickly, she backed away and blinked at them. "You have your pendants?"
Ginny raised her wrist, displaying the black-and-white disc that hung there, and Harry pulled his out of the collar of his shirt.
"Good," McGonagall said with a firm nod. "If anything happens, anything at all, I want you to tell me. Even if it's already over. If there is nothing pressing and you just want to talk, I would like to hear from you. Will you do that, please?"
Harry nodded, and the professor rose to her feet. "Thank you. Please do take care of each other."
"We will, Professor," Ginny said. "See you later."
McGonagall smiled. "I shall look forward to it." With a final nod, she turned in place and vanished.
Harry and Ginny stared at the space she had occupied for a moment. She's not like the others.
No, she's different, Harry said. In the right way.
They went back into the house. The kitchen was empty and clean, but they found Ron and Mr. Weasley playing chess in the parlour.
Ginny's father looked up at them as they walked into the room. "Afternoons, then?" Harry nodded. "I thought as much. Take over for me, would you?" he asked, gesturing at the chessboard. "I'm losing rather more spectacularly than I'd like."
With a distracted smile at Harry and Ginny, he crossed the parlour and the kitchen to exit through the back door. A moment later, as they sat down across from Ron, Mrs. Weasley came down the stairs. Through the open door to the kitchen, they saw her take up station at the window, absently rubbing at the countertop with a flannel and keeping a close watch on the shed.
"So what's going on?" Ron asked. They turned away from the kitchen and briefly explained the new arrangement to him. After a few seconds of thought, Ron shrugged. "Seems like a better deal to me. We can play Quidditch or something once Mum's done with us."
They played chess with Ron for the rest of the morning. Though they lost consistently, they appreciated the opportunity to think about something harmless and to be left in peace.
After a generous lunch, Harry left for Privet Drive. On his desk, as promised, was a list of tasks for him to complete daily and weekly.
Not bad, really, he said. Your dad must have got rid of all the hard stuff.
Except for washing the car, those are all things we have to do here.
Might as well start with that as anything.
Ginny went into the parlour and curled up at the end of the sofa, positioning herself so that she could look through the window at The Burrow's front lawn.
You could do whatever you wanted, Ginny.
I know. Tomorrow, maybe I will, but today I'd rather just watch.
Ginny did not have to say that she wanted to be absolutely sure that the Dursleys left him alone, but Harry did not mind.
He went downstairs and into the garage. He pulled out all of the cleaning supplies and set about carefully washing Vernon's large sedan. Ginny let her attention wander from the front lawn so that they were both focused on Harry's task, and they amused themselves by imagining that she was there with him in person, helping to wash the car, making jokes about its owner, and playing in the stream of water.
A light tap on Ginny's arm drew her mind back to The Burrow. Her father was standing over her, looking down with a hesitant but genuine smile.
"What are you up to, Firefly?" he asked.
"Washing the car," she said.
"Is that difficult? It didn't sound too bad, so I left it on the list."
Ginny shook her head. "It's not hard, but it's a bit complicated. Before I met Harry, I'd never have believed everything you're supposed to do to clean a car."
"Really?" her father asked, a gleam of interest lighting his eyes. He sat on the other end of the sofa and turned to face her. "I thought you'd just have to spray water over it. What else do you have to do?"
Ginny described the process in detail to her father as Harry did everything she talked about. Mr. Weasley seemed very interested, and he pressed them for details about proper waxing technique, vacuum attachments, and the right sort of cloth to use for a gleaming, scratch-free exterior polish. By the time Ginny finished answering all of her father's questions, Harry had finished washing the car and had put away all of the tools and cleaners.
"Would you and Harry mind showing me how to do that someday? Perhaps we could whack the old Anglia until it's shiny."
"It's 'wax', Dad, with an 'x'. And we don't think the Anglia could get very shiny because it's got old paint."
"Ah, yes," he said, nodding. "The chap I bought it from did seem to think I should be concerned about the paint."
"Doesn't seem to matter much, since . . ." Ginny trailed off. "Hang on, you know all about washing cars. You read all those books about taking care of cars when you first got the Anglia."
A grin slowly crept over Mr. Weasley's features. "Perhaps. But I certainly didn't have all of that excellent first-hand knowledge. And you're done washing and waxing it, aren't you?"
Ginny rolled her eyes and smiled in return. "Thanks, Dad."
"Don't mention it. Only two hours left, now." Still grinning, he stood up and left Ginny alone in the parlour.
For the rest of the afternoon, Ginny sat in silence as Harry worked through his list of daily tasks. Ron approached her once, but he looked at her face and apparently decided to find something else to occupy his time.
Harry only caught glimpses of the Dursleys as he moved around the house. His uncle scowled, his aunt pursed her lips, and his cousin stared, but none of them ventured close enough to touch or even speak to Harry. Once, when Harry went up the stairs, he saw Dudley start to walk down them, but as soon as the rotund boy spotted him, Dudley turned and fled. A moment later, Harry heard the lavatory door close and lock, and it was still sealed when Harry finished distributing clean linens and went back downstairs.
At six o'clock, not long after Harry finished scrubbing the kitchen counters, he went back up to his room, gathered his clothes in his arms, and returned to The Burrow. Ginny stood up from the sofa and hugged him briefly, and then they both went upstairs to put his things away. A few minutes later, they went to the kitchen to help Mrs. Weasley set the table.
After dinner, the family dispersed. Mrs. Weasley knitted in the parlour while Ron and Mr. Weasley replayed their chess game nearby. Percy and the twins disappeared into their rooms, but no one was deluded enough to think that their purposes were at all similar. Ginny and Harry sat on the sofa to watch the chess game, but their attention quickly wandered.
Well, that's one day down, Harry said. Whatever else happens, there are fewer days left.
I still wish you weren't so used to thinking that way.
I know. Still, I think it'll be better from now on. I don't have to eat there, sleep there, shower there, or anything. Just visit in the afternoons.
Their thoughts reminded them of a promise they had made to themselves. We need to get your stuff out of that awful cupboard, Ginny said finally.
Yeah. The only important thing is our shirt, but I'd rather have everything here.
I wish Dad had brought your trunk back with him, but I guess he was a little distracted.
Harry refused to dwell on what had held Mr. Weasley's attention. We can get it ourselves and not bother him. We just have to get past that lock.
Do you think we can bring the whole thing back?
I don't know, Harry said after a moment of thought. We've never tried to move much more than each other.
C'mon, then, Ginny said, accepting the distraction. Let's prepare for the worst and say it might take several trips.
They climbed the stairs to Fred and George's room, and Ginny knocked. After a moment, the door opened only enough for Fred to peer through the crack. "What's up, Ginny?"
Curious, they tried to peer past him, but Fred was too tall for them to see around. "Can we come in for a minute?" Ginny asked.
Her brother glanced over his shoulder and then let the door open completely. "Sure, come on in."
George was laying face-down on his bed, thumbing through a catalogue. Fred sat back down at their shared desk, where he had apparently been scribbling on the back of one of his old essays.
"What were you two doing?" Harry asked.
"Nothing, actually," George said without looking up, "but it never hurts to let people jump to incorrect conclusions."
"Err, right," Ginny said. "Look, we need your help."
"Aha!" Fred cried, rising from the desk and crossing quickly to them. "We knew you would. What'll it be? Dungbombs in their shoes? Belching Powder in their sugar dish? Bit of the Gooey Glue on the toilet seat?"
"The possibilities are just endless," George said as he also sat up attentively.
Ginny giggled as Harry smiled. "Those are all really good ideas, actually," he said. "But this time, we need real help. Sort of."
Fred shook his head. "You kids sure are cryptic these days. Do you sort of need real help, or do you need sort-of-real help?"
"Or do you need help in the sorting of what's real?" George said with a flourish.
"Err … whichever," Ginny said. "Do you know how to open Muggle padlocks without magic?"
"Muggle padlocks? Why?"
"They've locked up most of Harry's things in the cupboard, and we want to bring them here," she said.
"Oh. Well, that's not as exciting, certainly, but it's a noble cause. And we adore noble causes, don't we, George?"
His twin nodded sagely. "The nobler the better."
"But do you know how to get the lock open?" Ginny asked again, getting annoyed with her brothers' evasion.
Fred snorted. "D'you remember a few years ago, when we turned Ron yellow?"
The memory surfaced immediately, brimming with the detail of a moment that had been treasured for years. Ginny could not help smiling. "Yeah, I remember." She knew the twins would not remember that day as the one when her father had agreed to let her fly at night under his supervision, so she and Harry focused on her memories of seeing them. "You teased Ron horribly about it."
Harry grinned. "Seeing him blushing that much with bright yellow skin must have been worth it."
"Well, it would have been," George said ruefully. "The next day, Dad came home from work early and cornered us up here in our room."
"I swear, we thought he was going to send us to a monastery or something."
Harry snorted, briefly wondering if St. Brutus', the reform school Petunia and Vernon claimed he went to, accepted magical children.
"Instead," Fred continued, "he took one of our trunks and enlarged it. Then he used some crazy spell to put all of our stuff in the trunk."
"And we do mean everything. Toys, brooms, books, sweets . . ."
"Even our clothes and bedclothes."
"All we had left were the things we were wearing. I think he even got our toothbrushes."
Ginny smiled at the thought. She had not heard this story, but she knew her father well enough to know it would be entertaining.
Fred leaned forward and waved to indicate the room around them. "So he put it all in this trunk, right, and then he locked it with an enormous Muggle padlock."
"We didn't know what it was, of course, but he was more than happy to explain it to us."
"So kind, our father."
"Heart of lead, really."
Harry scowled slightly as the twins laughed at their father. "Your dad is great."
They're just kidding, Harry. I think Fred and George love him more than any of the other boys, when you get right down to it.
Fred and George nodded, almost as if they had heard Ginny's words. "All in fun, Harry, all in fun. You should try it sometime."
Harry shifted a moment before he smiled sheepishly. "Sorry." I didn't . . .
It's alright, Harry.
"No worries," George said easily. "Anyway, he told us we could have our things back as soon as we got the trunk open, but we weren't allowed to use any magic. He said that if we used magic at all, he'd burn the trunk and everything in it."
Ginny and Harry thought for a moment. "We don't remember you wearing the same clothes or anything," Harry said, "so you must have worked it out that day."
"Nah," Fred drawled, grinning. "We just took the hinges off the trunk."
"But that didn't seem entirely sporting," George added, "so then we worked out how to open the lock."
"Dad caught us before we put the hinges back on, but we'd already opened the lock, too, so he didn't mind so much. Said either way was fine with him."
"Remember what he said next, Fred?" George asked.
"Oh yeah, word for word. He said, 'There are lots of ways to have fun with people without humiliating them, boys. If I'd been so minded, I could have taken the clothes you were wearing, too, and made you work on the trunk in the kitchen. The next time you pull a prank that's hurtful, I'll skip the trunk and just burn it all. Understood?'"
"Needless to say," George said, shivering slightly, "we got the message."
"Hang on, weren't you two still running around starkers anyway?" Harry teased.
Fred's expression became aloof, and he tilted his nose into the air. "We were ten, Harry my boy. We hadn't run around like that since we were eight."
"And besides, Mrs. Lovegood and Luna were visiting that day. Would've been horrible. Completely different than just having family around."
"Anyway, we really owe Dad for teaching us that little trick. Filch uses Muggle locks on his files and such. There's loads of fun stuff in his office."
George crossed to his school trunk, opened it, and rummaged around in the bottom for a few moments. "Here we are. Dad let us keep it."
He held up an old, large padlock as he motioned for Harry and Ginny to sit on the floor near the door. Fred pulled open a drawer in the desk and took out a pair of long hairpins, which he handed to them.
By the end of the evening, they felt fairly confident that they could open a padlock given enough time. They prepared for bed and said goodnight to the Weasleys as usual, but they forced themselves to stay awake until the house grew quiet.
Okay, Ginny said, let's Shift over there and get started.
Harry paused. 'Shift'?
What if we want to talk about picking up a book or something and putting it somewhere else?
That's shifting, not Shifting.
In spite of the seemingly identical words, Harry had to admit that the difference in meaning was perfectly clear to them.
He shrugged. Alright, I suppose. It seems to fit somehow.
It's loads better than 'not-really-Apparate' or some such.
They arrived in Harry's room at the Dursleys' in quick sequence. The house was quiet, but to avoid making any noise they Shifted to the bottom of the stairs rather than walking.
Harry took the lock in one hand and held a straightened hairpin in the other. Ginny held the second pin, and with carefully coordinated movements, they began probing the heavy lock.
This one must be newer than the twins', Harry said. The parts seem to be smaller.
They're not rusty, though.
After a few minutes, the lock released with a sharp snick, and Ginny pulled the haft out of the loops mounted to the cupboard door.
Harry put his hand on the lid of the trunk. Do you suppose we could take it with us all at once?
I guess there's one way to find out. It's not as much stuff as I thought it was.
Focusing on the trunk and its contents, Harry attempted to Shift back to Ginny's room. He succeeded, but he was surprised to feel a slight rush of flowing magic as the trunk thumped softly to the floor.
That's new, Ginny said as she closed the cupboard door and re-fastened the lock. A moment later, she appeared at Harry's side.
We've never tried to move anything that big before, though, he replied. What we do must definitely be magic.
Well, it sure isn't knitting.
As quietly as they could, they pushed Harry's trunk up against the wall next to Ginny's. Once it was in place, Harry lifted the lid and retrieved the red shirt Ginny had given him. He folded it carefully and then placed it in one of the drawers of Ginny's bureau.
Want to take bets on how long it is before they notice your trunk is gone? she asked.
Harry grinned. No way. They wouldn't have opened the cupboard until the day I got to leave.
C'mon, Ginny said, yawning, let's get to bed. We might actually get to sleep past eight tomorrow, since it's a Sunday.
The following morning, Ginny was awakened by her mother squeezing her shoulder and whispering, "Ginny, dear, wake up. It's time to make breakfast."
Ginny blearily opened her eyes and focused on her bedside clock.
Nine, she said. Past eight, but not as much as I'd hoped for. I forgot about the stupid Sundays.
During the summers, the Weasleys continued Hogwarts' tradition of a special breakfast on Sundays. Mrs. Weasley added kippers, fried potatoes, and fried tomatoes to the family's usual breakfast fare, and the meal was not served until ten o'clock. For the last several years, she had insisted that Ginny assist her with preparing everything.
Ginny knew that her mother wanted to pass on her knowledge and skill, and in the past she had not minded helping very much. She was only actually interested in knowing how to prepare a few of her favourite dishes, but she had kept trying to learn more and practice only because it was important to her mother. As much as Ginny loved her mother, though, she had developed a quiet resentment of cooking as a result of her ongoing and occasionally frustrating efforts. Still, Ginny had known that she needed to help and to learn, so she had never complained out loud.
This year, however, being forced to help with breakfast while her brothers slept in truly annoyed her.
Sunday breakfast is more fun at Hogwarts, Harry said.
Giving in to the inevitable, Ginny lifted her head from Harry's stomach, sat up, and stretched. "Okay, Mum. I'll be down in a minute." Mrs. Weasley nodded and left the room, leaving the door open.
Ginny's motion woke Harry, and they each took a quick turn in the lavatory to freshen up, deciding to postpone their showers until after breakfast. A few minutes after Mrs. Weasley had left the room, they stumbled down the stairs and into the kitchen. Not knowing what else to do, Harry sat at his place at the table while Ginny stood resignedly in the middle of the working area.
"What do you want me to do?"
Her mother glanced over her shoulder at Ginny. "Start with the potatoes, please."
Nodding, Ginny picked up a peeler and began removing the skins from half a dozen large potatoes. As she worked, Harry felt her mounting exasperation and her resignation. She had learned not to make mistakes in the kitchen, but she was not a good cook by any measure because she lacked any real interest in the process.
She sighed silently as she finished preparing the potatoes and took them to the skillet. The best part about this is that Sundays always end up better than they start.
Harry, however, was not content to accept the situation. He stood up and walked closer to the two women, studying everything that was going on. "Mrs. Weasley?" he asked at last.
She turned to him with a surprised expression. "Yes, Harry?"
"Why do you want Ginny to help you make breakfast?"
Her face shifted to puzzlement for a moment, but she turned back to her work as she answered. "Cooking is an important and useful skill for her."
"Why her?" Harry persisted. "Why not Ron or Percy or the twins?"
Mrs. Weasley turned to face him again, with a slightly more stern set to her mouth. "Someday, she might need to be able to cook for her own family."
Harry nodded vaguely, unsurprised at the answer, and Ginny's mother went back to her task.
Harry, don't … Ginny said, a faint note of pleading in her voice.
No, Ginny. It's my turn now.
Silently relenting, Ginny backed away from the counter, and Harry took her place. He set the remainder of the sliced potatoes to fry and turned to the tomatoes waiting nearby. As he began cutting them into even halves, Mrs. Weasley looked up from the bread she was slicing.
"Harry, what are you doing? I asked Ginny to help."
"I really don't mind, Mrs. Weasley," he said. Ginny's experience helped him to express himself the way he wanted to. "I rather enjoy it, actually. I've always felt like cooking was something I could do properly, because it's mostly just a bunch of different patterns all fitting together. So long as you do the right things in the right order every time you do them, you get the same result. Even if someone else ate the food, I was pleased that I was good at making it."
As he spoke, Ginny's mother put down her bread-knife and stood watching him with her mouth slightly agape. "But … Harry, you . . ."
Harry placed the tomatoes into a separate frying pan, and then he wedged himself between Mrs. Weasley and the counter. Taking up the knife she had been using, he began slicing the bread just as she had.
Behind him, at Harry's silent request, Ginny took her mother's arm and pulled the woman gently to one side of the kitchen. For a few moments, Ginny's grip seemed to help prevent her mother from returning to her cooking, but then Mrs. Weasley appeared to become fascinated as she watched Harry work.
Ginny herself felt oddly indecisive. Watching Harry do something that had been her task for years was very strange. More importantly, however, Ginny strongly suspected that her mother would not react well to Harry interfering with something she and her mother had always done together.
At the same time, she recognised Harry's obvious enjoyment and skill in the process, though it seemed odd for him to enjoy something that she herself nearly detested. She also knew how strongly he felt about doing this to help her, and she truly did appreciate not having to cook breakfast.
Still, in spite of Harry's pleasure and her own preferences, she found it disconcerting to watch him cook.
Why? he asked distractedly.
Because … err …
If you can't think of any good reasons, then you shouldn't feel strange about it.
It's just not what I'm used to.
And that's not a good reason, is it?
The many dishes being prepared were a challenge for Harry, but only because he was making more of everything than he was accustomed to. He was quite familiar with each item he was cooking, and he had cooked them all at the same time in the past, so he simply adjusted his usual pattern to account for the larger quantities.
Even with Ginny's knowledge to help him, he was somewhat surprised to find that cooking on magical appliances was not much different from using Muggle ones. Following Dumbledore's advice, he already had his wand in the pocket of his pyjamas, and the magical stove was quite easy to operate. With a measured twist of his wrist, he set the oven to a low temperature to keep some of the food warm as he prepared the rest.
Harry focused on making breakfast, but he could still see Ginny's vision in the periphery of his mind, and her feelings were clear. She had known that Harry could cook efficiently, but she had never actually seen him do it from any point of view but his own. Standing next to her mother, Ginny's unease gradually shifted to awe and then to an entirely new kind of affection as she watched him deftly manipulate utensils, foods, and dishes. Looking up at her mother, Ginny saw that the older woman was equally impressed and even more surprised. Mrs. Weasley's eyes were wide, and her gaze darted from one dish to another as Harry prepared them.
After several minutes of silence, Ginny heard a noise behind her, and she looked over her shoulder to see her father and four brothers standing near the kitchen door. Ginny held a finger to her lips, requesting silence, and Mr. Weasley nodded in reply.
Harry knew that Ginny was watching other parts of the kitchen, but he was too absorbed in his task to fully perceive what she was seeing and doing. The fried tomatoes, toast, and fried potatoes were ready and waiting on platters in the warm oven. He scooped the sausages and bacon out of their pans and put them on another platter, leaving only the kippers and eggs on the stove. A minute later, they were also ready, and he assembled everything into a neat row on the counter.
After using his wand to turn off the stove, Harry turned back to face Mrs. Weasley. He started slightly when he spotted the rest of the Weasley family by the doorway, but Ginny's proud smile reassured him. Locking his gaze on Mrs. Weasley's rounded eyes, he spoke in a soft, earnest voice. "I can cook, Mrs. Weasley. I like to cook. Ginny doesn't need to if she doesn't want to."
Ginny's mother inhaled sharply, and her face darkened, highlighting the faint lines across her nose. Further away, Mr. Weasley closed his eyes and shook his head slowly. Ginny glanced at her brothers and found Percy looking confused, the twins attempting to back closer to the door, and Ron staring at the food Harry had prepared.
Mr. Weasley opened his eyes and crossed the short distance to his wife. Laying an arm comfortably across her shoulders, he visibly forced himself to smile brightly. "Looks like breakfast is ready, then," he said.
Mrs. Weasley released her breath in a rush, and the colour mostly faded from her face. "Yes," she said in a controlled voice. "It most certainly is."
Ron looked up at his parents. "Can we eat it, then?"
Harry grinned at his friend, used a pair of mitts to pick up two platters, and carried them to the table. With a quick flick of his wand, Mr. Weasley sent the rest of the dishes across the room in a neat procession. Then he guided Mrs. Weasley to her chair, and the whole family sat down.
Mr. Weasley glanced at Harry and smiled briefly. "Thank you, Harry, for making this wonderful breakfast. Tuck in, everyone."
Breakfast began in silence punctuated only by the occasional clink of utensils. Everyone was eating, though Mrs. Weasley seemed to be taking more time about it than usual. Mr. Weasley had chosen a bit of everything, and he sampled each item before nodding approvingly.
After a few minutes, Fred speared a sausage with his fork and saluted Harry with it. "Good breakfast, ickle Harry. Not as good as Mum's, perhaps, but whose is?"
Harry shrugged. "You're right. I'm not very good with spices. The Dursleys don't like them."
"Chin up," George said. "It's loads better than anything Ginny's ever made."
"I don't see you two trying to cook anything except the bottoms of your cauldrons," Ginny said, waving her fork at them.
Which doesn't mean he's not right, she said ruefully.
"It really is quite good, Harry," Mrs. Weasley said tightly, "but you needn't do it again." Her eyes flicked to Ginny's. "I'll take care of all of the cooking from here on out."
Ginny nodded fractionally, acknowledging the words her mother had not quite spoken.
Thanks, Harry, she said. I'm not sure it was the best thing to do, but thanks.
Harry replied with the mental equivalent of a shrug. It didn't make any sense for you to keep doing it.
When breakfast was finished, Harry and Ginny went outside with Ron and the twins to get some Quidditch in before Harry had to leave for his afternoon in Surrey. As the group filed out of the house, Harry and Ginny could feel her mother's gaze on their backs.
Two hours later, Harry Shifted to Privet Drive and began working on his list of tasks. For the first hour, Ginny sat and watched him work. The Dursleys did not acknowledge his presence except to ensure that they were never in the same room as he was. It was an odd situation, but Harry and Ginny vastly preferred it to what he had experienced in the past.
Satisfied that Harry was safe, Ginny went up to her room and dug her swimming costume out of her bureau. She tried to put it on, but she could not get the straps over her shoulders.
Bother. It's too small.
Even you have to grow sometime, Harry teased.
Ginny got dressed again and went to find her mother with some trepidation. She could not imagine a rational reason why her question should cause a problem, but she suspected that it would anyway.
Mrs. Weasley was in the parlour, knitting a scarf.
Ginny's mother looked up and spotted her. "Yes, dear?" she asked, her face clouding slightly.
"I wanted to go swimming this afternoon, but my costume's too small. Do you think you could get me a new one?"
The older woman nodded, looking almost relieved. "Of course. I'm planning to go out tomorrow afternoon, and I'll find you something then. Blue or green, right?"
"Yes, please," Ginny said. She swallowed and then spoke more slowly. "Err … could you get trunks for Harry, too? He's never been swimming, but he wants to, so I'm going to teach him how." Knowing her mother's likely response, she added, "Everyone should get to go swimming, right?"
Mrs. Weasley sighed, and a pained expression passed over her face. "Yes, Ginny. What colour would he like?"
Harry's answer hardly required verbalisation, and Ginny giggled. "Nothing girly, and not orange. He doesn't care aside from that."
The smallest of grins appeared on her mother's face. "Ron will be crushed."
Ginny smiled in response. "Thanks, Mum." Then her eyes and face fell. At Harry's prompting, she forced herself to speak again, knowing that the conversation would get even more awkward. "Err … how much do they cost? Harry can give you … I mean, if you tell us how much they cost, he'll … that is, you can get them for him, only with his money, and –"
"Ginny." Mrs. Weasley's sharp voice cut her off, and Ginny looked up nervously to meet her mother's stern gaze. "I appreciate the offer, but that won't be necessary. Neither of you should worry about it."
That's nice of her, but I really wouldn't mind, Harry said.
Can we just let it go? Please?
If that's what you want.
Ginny nodded almost frantically at her mother and at Harry, eager to escape the situation. "Okay. Harry says thank you."
"He's welcome," Mrs. Weasley said tightly, turning back to her knitting. "Run along, now. I'm sure there are other things you'd like to be doing." The click of her needles as Ginny left seemed much louder than it had been when she entered.
Ginny went back upstairs to her room and sat down on her bed, looking around her room for inspiration. Anything would be better than contemplating her relationship with her mother. She knew she could not totally avoid the issue, but she did not want to dwell on it at that moment.
It's probably not a good idea to fly while you're working, Ginny said.
Err… no, probably not, Harry replied as he dusted Petunia's coffee table. Chess?
Ginny shrugged. Why not?
She ran up the rest of the stairs to Ron's room. His door was open, and her brother was sitting at one end of his bed with his Famous Wizards Cards arrayed in front of him.
"Hey, Ron. Want to play chess?"
He looked up at her and then down at the rows of cards in front of him. "Can I finish this first?"
"Sure," Ginny said, crossing into the room and leaning against the wall near the bed. "What're you doing?"
"Sorting them out again. I still don't have Ptolemy or Agrippa, but I'm trying to see how many I've got of the others."
"Want some help?" Ginny asked.
Ginny and Ron spent the next half-hour sorting out his cards. He had eleven of Morgana, but only one of Paracelsus, and he seemed to think that he should have at least two of everything. After some negotiation, Ginny traded him her extra Paracelsus for four cards he had multiples of. She and Harry had combined their meagre collections while at Hogwarts, and the four new cards would be a welcome addition. Neither of them were terribly worried about having a complete set, but they were both quite fond of chocolate, so gathering the cards was easy and amusing. Given the previous year's events, it might even be useful.
When they finished with the cards, Ginny and Ron played chess for the rest of the afternoon, while Harry cleaned the Dursleys' lavatory again. With a bit of effort, he managed to finish shortly before six, so he was waiting in his room when the appointed hour arrived.
Dinner that evening was much less awkward than breakfast had been. Mrs. Weasley was still rather distant towards Harry, but it was less awkward than the heightened discomfort she had displayed that morning. Ginny felt vaguely excluded, compared to her own memories, but the rest of the family talked and teased each other almost normally.
If this is what it'll be like most of the time, I'll take it, Harry said.
Yeah. It's still not what it really should be, but it's loads better than it was at Christmas.
After dinner, the five youngest residents of The Burrow declared a Gobstones tournament, which rapidly devolved into the twins attempting to coat each other in the stones' foul liquid. Ginny backed well away from the game at that point, having no desire whatsoever to get the smelly substance in her hair. Since she did not particularly want to sleep with the stench, either, Harry left the game to the Weasley brothers at that point.
The following morning, Harry and Ginny woke after Mr. Weasley had already left for the Ministry. Percy and the twins left for their own morning activities after breakfast, and the three youngest residents of The Burrow waited in the kitchen for Mrs. Weasley to start them on their task. She walked downstairs carrying two very large pairs of scissors, which she handed to Ron and Ginny.
"Mrs. Weasley," Harry asked hesitantly, "do you have a pair for me?"
"You don't have to cut the grass, Harry," she said stiffly. "It's not my place to … to tell you what to do."
Harry ignored the vague disappointment that flickered through their minds. "But … I did the same thing they did, right?" he asked. Mrs. Weasley nodded slowly. "Then … well … could I take Ron's scissors? He wouldn't have gone except that we did."
Ginny's mother stared intently at him for a long moment. Then she sighed, opened a drawer, and rummaged inside until she pulled out another, smaller pair of scissors. "Cut it to three inches tall," she instructed. "The width of your palm should be close enough. You'll do this on weekdays between breakfast and lunch."
She pulled her wand out of her pocket and tapped each of them on the head as she muttered a spell. Harry was nervous about the woman's approach, but Ginny identified the odd sensation of a sunscreen charm as it dribbled down her skin and then his, leaving them feeling slightly sticky for a few moments. "Get started, then," Mrs. Weasley said. "Work in separate parts of the paddock. I'll be watching."
The three friends trudged across the garden towards the paddock. They all wore jeans to avoid irritating their legs in the tall grass, and after only a minute in the sunlight, Harry and Ginny could tell that they would come to regret having to wear such heavy clothing. They were glad that Ginny had put her hair into two long plaits rather than leaving it down to trap even more heat.
Without turning his head, Ron muttered, "Thanks for trying, Harry."
"Worth a shot, wasn't it?"
The red-haired boy snorted. "Not really."
Just before they reached the paddock, Ginny hefted her scissors and realised that her hands were too small to use them one-handed. Without speaking, she and Harry traded, and then all three of them went to different places on the near edge of the makeshift pitch.
I really feel bad for Ron, Ginny said. Mum can't very well keep us from talking, but he's all alone.
I know, but I can't think of anything to do about it.
They sighed simultaneously and squatted down amongst the growth at their feet. Attempting to ignore the size of the paddock, they began to cut the grass, two scissors-worth at a time.
Here we go again! The delay between stories has been quite a bit longer than I originally intended, but I think that the whole story will be better in the end. Extra time for planning is always a good thing. I plan to update Part Two approximately every two weeks. Of course, if a chapter is ready early, I'll post it then.
Thanks, again and still, to my fantastic betas: moshpit, Jonathan Avery, regdc, Chreechree, and Sherylyn.