Ginny watched King’s Cross Station disappear from view as the rapidly accelerating Hogwarts Express began its long journey north. Her fingers clung to the metal rim of the window so tightly, she was certain there would be marks.The wind blew her fiery hair around her head, mimicking the maelstrom of her emotions. Her vision blurred as she struggled with the persistent lump in her throat that had formed as she had watched Harry chase the train and wave farewell.
She was not going to cry.
As a child, she’d always stood on the platform, crying as her brothers all left her behind one by one. But this time, it was her turn to leave. She was the one beginning her grand adventure. Why, then, did she feel so heartbroken and as if she was still the one missing out? It hadn’t occurred to her during all those years she’d watched her brothers leave that she’d close out their time at Hogwarts still alone.
She wondered if Harry felt as miserable as she did, or were his thoughts already filling with ideas on how to spend the rest of his day?
Ginny sniffled quietly, hoping her fellow travellers wouldn’t notice her distress. She was being stupid, and they probably knew it. Merlin, Ginny hated to cry. It would’ve been worse to be the one left behind — again! — but when would they ever have their chance to just be together without commitments pulling them in opposite directions? It was so unfair.
A gentle hand squeezed Ginny’s shoulder, and she looked up to see Luna standing beside her with a solemn expression. “The recent Eridanian influx is causing a lot of melancholy amongst wizards. You need more sugar in your diet to combat them,” she said helpfully.
“Er… thanks, Luna. I’ll get something off the trolley,” Ginny replied, accustomed to her friend’s unusual outlook. It was far easier to just go along with her.
“Come sit down, Ginny. We want to hear all about your summer,” Siobhan MacAuley, one of Ginny’s roommates, said kindly. She shifted over to make room on the seat next to her, folding her long legs under the bench.
Ginny took a deep breath and pulled herself together, accepting the offered seat. Luna sat down opposite her, next to Ginny’s other roommate, Liz Spencer. Liz had very straight brown hair, and it hung rather limply around her pale face. Liz looked as if she’d been through a lot, and Ginny suddenly felt ashamed for moping over being separated from Harry.
“Hi, Liz,” she said warmly. “It’s good to see you again.” She didn’t ask how Liz was, it was obvious by her appearance. Those who had suffered the most during the war were easily recognizable.
“Hey, Ginny. It’s good to see you, too,” Liz said, her smile not quite reaching her eyes.
“How’s your brother?” Ginny asked softly. Liz’s brother was newly widowed and struggling to raise a young son. Her sister-in-law had died in Azkaban, a victim of the Muggle-born Registration Committee.
Liz shrugged. “Carmela’s parents want to take my nephew to live with them. They think they can offer him a better life in the Muggle world.”
Ginny winced. “Is your brother rowing with them?”
“He’s never had a lot of patience, and he’s not the most tactful of blokes, so it’s been strained,” Liz said wearily. “I don’t want to talk about them right now. I want to focus on getting back to school.”
“Did you sit your exams?” Siobhan asked, biting her lip.
“Yes. Professor McGonagall arranged a session a couple weeks ago,” Liz replied tiredly.
“How did you do?” Ginny asked.
“All right,” Liz shrugged. “Potions was a cock-up, but I never stood much chance on that one.”
“I struggled with Potions, too,” Siobhan replied, wincing. “I suppose we won’t expect an invitation to the Slug Club again this year.”
“Is Professor Slughorn returning?” Luna asked dreamily.
“Dunno,” Ginny said. “Hadn’t really thought about it.”
“Only I thought he’d retired once already. Perhaps there wasn’t time for a party with the Battle and all,” Luna said.
“Er… right,” Siobhan said warily. “I really don’t know who will be returning and who won’t. We’ll need a new Defence teacher again.”
Neither Siobhan nor Liz had ever been certain how to take Luna. They weren’t rude, but they’d never gone out of their way to befriend her, either. They tolerated her for Ginny’s sake.
“When I took my exams, Professor McGonagall stressed she’d be acting as Headmistress, but it wouldn’t be permanent,” Liz said.
“She doesn’t want to give up teaching,” Ginny said. Her mum had shared that little tidbit with her. It was a shame, really, because Ginny thought McGonagall would be a brilliant choice for Headmistress.
“So we’re in for a lot of changes again,” Siobhan said, her bright blue eyes wide and thoughtful.
“Anything has to be better than last year. We’ll face it as it comes,” Ginny said bracingly.
They all nodded, each momentarily lost in her own thoughts. Hogwarts had been so brutal and depressing the previous year, it was hard to shake off the uncertainty.
“Professor McGonagall also told me Hermione Granger is returning, and she’s bunking in with us,” Liz said.
Ginny nodded. “Parvati Patil, too. I know Hermione is nervous, so try and make her feel welcome.”
“As long as she doesn’t try and arrange my revision schedule for me,” Liz said, frowning slightly.
“She just might,” Ginny said, grinning. “She can be a bit swotty, but really, she’s all right.”
“Do you know if any Ravenclaws are returning, Luna?” Siobhan asked.
Luna’s wide, rather vacant eyes blinked at Siobhan for a moment as if trying to remember why she was there. Ginny often wondered what went on inside Luna’s head.
“I’d imagine if Parvati is coming back, Padma will as well. They both left at the same time, didn’t they?” Luna replied, pulling a copy of The Quibbler from her bag.
She was right; Padma Patil was probably returning too. Twins usually stuck together. Ginny’s heart clenched tightly as images of Fred and George played across her mind, intermingling with one another. She didn’t think George would ever be quite the same.
“The Eridanians are back,” Luna said dreamily, patting Ginny’s arm.
Ginny cleared her throat. “Stupid Eridanians,” she mumbled. Before any conversation could continue, the compartment door slid open, and Hermione nervously stuck her head inside.
“Hi,” she said tentatively, her eyes roaming over the other occupants. She seemed relieved to find Luna there as well.
“Hello, Hermione,” Luna said. “Is the prefect meeting done, then?”
“Yes, it’s over,” Hermione said, entering the compartment and taking the seat next to Ginny. She let Crookshanks out of his carrier, and the big orange cat yawned hugely.
Demelza Robbins, a sixth-year and fellow member of the Gryffindor Quidditch team, followed her inside the compartment and took the remaining seat next to Luna.
“Hi, ladies,” Demelza said. “Mind if I join you? I’m not up to dealing with Romilda yet.”
Romilda Vane was one of Demelza’s roommates, and far from one of Ginny’s favourite people. She liked to gossip and could be very catty. Ginny could easily understand why Demelza would want to stay away from her. Romilda had a talent for always becoming scarce whenever the curses flew the previous year, and Ginny hadn’t forgotten it.
“Not at all,” Ginny said, smiling. She’d always enjoyed Demelza’s company. “I ran into Romilda on the platform.”
“Yeah? Did you hex her?” Demelza asked, her dark eyes glittering.
“Demelza! Of course, she didn’t,” Hermione scolded. “We’re working toward a more peaceful and cooperative year, remember? We have to put all our past differences behind us and work on making positive relationships.”
“Oh… yeah,” Demelza said, although she didn’t look sorry.
Hermione frowned before turning toward Ginny. “You didn’t hex her, did you?”
“Thought about it, but no… not yet,” Ginny replied. “I make no promises if she keeps up her smart-arse comments about Harry, though.”
“Oh, she wants him all right. She’s made no secret about it,” Demelza said, leaning forward mischievously. Ginny had the distinct impression she was looking forward to the coming row. “She has a Daily Prophet photo of him at the Order of Merlin ceremony, and she cut you out of the frame! I know because I can still recognize part of your dress robes.”
“That cow. She pretended to be surprised we were together on the platform,” Ginny growled.
“I really don’t think Harry would be interested in Romilda. He seems quite taken with you though,” Luna said absently, barely looking over the top of her paper.
Ginny smiled fondly at Luna, but her words held an edge. “And I don’t share.”
“Did you learn anything interesting at your meeting?” Liz asked, glancing nervously at Ginny.
Hermione jumped at the chance to settle the rising tension in the compartment. “There are a handful of students from three of the four Houses who’ve returned to complete their seventh year. Three from Gryffindor — Parvati Patil, Dean Thomas, and… well, me.”
“Let me guess, no one from Slytherin?” Siobhan asked, frowning.
“Well, no…none of them were forced out last year, were they?” Hermione asked, sounding uncharacteristically bitter.
“Head Girl is from Slytherin though. It’s Astoria Greengrass, and Simon Teevens from Ravenclaw is Head Boy,” Demelza said.
Siobhan and Ginny shared a glance. They’d reckoned Astoria would get it, but knew it was a bit of a sore spot with Hermione. For her part, Hermione’s lips pressed into a thin line, but she held her tongue.
“It was Simon’s idea to begin hiding in the Room of Requirement since the Carrows could never work out how to get in, yeah?” Liz asked.
“Right. He and Seamus both took a fair number of beatings for refusing to divulge the location,” Demelza said, scowling.
“He’s quite bright, but a bit odd,” Luna said.
Liz and Siobhan stared at Luna in disbelief. Ginny really couldn’t blame them. Luna was reading her paper with what looked like mushrooms in her hair. Calling anyone else odd was a bit of a stretch. She couldn’t help but wonder what Simon Teevens could’ve done to make Luna Lovegood think he was odd.
“I always thought he was kind of cute,” Siobhan said, shrugging.
“You just like his muscles,” Ginny said, laughing. Siobhan’s fascination with a muscular build was well known in their dormitory.
Liz grinned as well. “That’s right — over the Muggle’s muscles already, are you? That didn’t take long.”
Siobhan shrugged sheepishly. “I can admire,” she said, protesting.
“Muggle?” Hermione asked curiously.
“I had a bit of a summer fling with a Muggle boy in my neighbourhood,” Siobhan explained, her pale Irish skin turning a rosy pink.
“Whose muscles you were very impressed by, according to your letters,” Liz said, needling. Ginny was pleased to see her showing a bit more spark. It was the first time she’d seen Liz truly smile since before the Battle.
“Oh, I think I could have played his abs like an instrument,” Siobhan said dreamily.
Girlish shrieks and laughter erupted in their compartment. “And how did you manage to get a good look at his abs?” Demelza asked, waggling her eyebrows.
“We spent a good deal of time at the beach, so get your mind out of the gutter,” Siobhan said primly.
Demelza snorted. “Either way, it sounds as if you had a better summer than me.”
“Oh, didn’t you meet any muscular Muggle boys on your holiday?” Luna asked. “I met a few Muggles in the village, but none of the muscly sort.”
“No Muggles — muscly or otherwise,” Demelza said sadly. “I spent the summer working in my aunt’s shop in Diagon Alley. It needed a lot of work, but it’s done now. Made for a fairly dull summer, but after last year, I needed some calm.”
“Where does the Muggle boy think you go to school?” Hermione asked, her mind obviously still on Siobhan’s fling.
Siobhan frowned. “I told him I go to a boarding school up north. He kept pressing for a name, and I didn’t know what to say. He thought I was evading him, so I made something up. I don’t think he believed me, though.”
“My relatives were told the same thing when I first went to Hogwarts,” Hermione said, sympathizing. “Thankfully they didn’t press for a name.”
“We broke it off. We’ll see what happens next summer, but I honestly don’t think he’ll wait for me. It was too awkward at the end, and I think he believes I was being untruthful,” Siobhan said, sighing.
“Well, you were being untruthful,” Luna said, her eyes wide.
“Not intentionally!” Siobhan replied hotly.
“Oh, there’s nothing for it, but you’re each right from your own point of view,” Luna said simply.
“I wonder how most relationships with Muggles work,” Hermione said, pondering. “When are you allowed to tell about magic?”
“You’re not supposed to say anything until after you’ve been married, but I don’t think many witches and wizards wait that long,” Ginny said. She knew that much from her dad.
“Well, that seems rather unfair to the Muggles,” Hermione said indignantly.
“Perhaps that’s something that will change now that a lot of the old Pureblood families have been weeded out of the Ministry,” Ginny said.
“I certainly hope so,” Hermione said, and by the cross way she folded her arms, Ginny suspected it would be one of Hermione’s new campaigns.
“Back to summer romances,” Demelza said eagerly. “I saw you and Harry on the platform, Ginny.”
Ginny smiled sadly as a wave of melancholy washed over her. “Yeah, we got back together.”
“Sweet Merlin!” Demelza exclaimed suddenly, looking startled and sitting up ramrod straight.
“What? Certainly you’ve seen photos of them, they’ve been all over the Prophet,” Siobhan said, perplexed.
Demelza’s eyes locked with Ginny’s, and the whiteness stood out against her dark face. “We’re going to have to find a new Seeker,” she whispered dramatically.
“Oh,” Ginny said, releasing the breath she was holding. “Yeah. A new Keeper and another Chaser, too.”
“But how are we ever supposed to replace Harry? He never lost a game,” Demelza said frantically.
“Well, there was that one, but it was really the Dementors’ fault,” Ginny said fairly.
“And the time Cormac knocked him from his broom,” Liz added.
“He did win when he played, but he was suspended a lot. Perhaps you should look for a Seeker that won’t get so many detentions,” Luna said, causing Hermione to snigger.
As if somehow knowing they were talking Quidditch, Ritchie Coote and Jimmy Peaks, the Gryffindor Beaters, slid the door open and waved in greeting.
“Hello, you lot. Congratulations on the captaincy, Ginny,” Jimmy said, nodding at her badge. “We thought you might get it.”
“Thanks, Jimmy. Hi, Ritchie. You two are still trying out this year, right? We’re already down three positions,” Ginny said. Now that Demelza had brought up Quidditch, Ginny was getting concerned about her lack of a team.
“Absolutely,” Ritchie said. “Dean Thomas is back. He’s joining my dormitory. He might want to take the open Chaser spot. He’s got some experience.”
“Will he be allowed to play?” Demelza asked, frowning.
“What do you mean?” Hermione asked, her shoulders stiffening.
“Well, I mean… Slytherin doesn’t have any returning students. I’ll bet they make a fuss,” Demelza said.
“He’s joined the seventh years, and should be treated as such,” Hermione said indignantly.
“Let’s wait and see what happens at try outs,” Ginny said, placating. She had no problem with Dean because he was returning for an unprecedented eighth year, but she wasn’t certain she wanted to spend that much time with him. Their break up had been rough at the end. Still, that was two years ago. He’d have to be over it by now, and so much had happened in between.
“Where is Dean? Is he sitting in your compartment with the other seventh-year boys?” Liz asked.
“Yeah, he and the Patil twins. I also saw Justin Finch-Fletchley, but he’s never played Quidditch,” Ritchie said.
“That makes sense. He’s Muggle-born, too,” Hermione said stiffly, obviously still upset with the idea Dean wouldn’t be allowed to play Quidditch.
Ginny was happy that the blokes from her year seemed to be accepting Dean without a problem. She hoped all the witches could do the same. She hated to admit it, but sometimes girls could be harder about such things. At least Hermione and Parvati would have each other.
“I was excited that Quidditch would be back this year, but I completely missed the fact we’d need a new Seeker,” Demelza said, still looking rather dazed.
“You were our back up, Ginny. Any plans to take over as Seeker?” Jimmy asked.
“Not a chance,” Ginny said firmly. Being captain had its advantages, and this was an easy first decision. “I like playing Chaser. We’ll have to find someone else, so keep your ears open.”
“For a Keeper, too,” Ritchie said, looking far more serious than he had when he’d arrived. Apparently, a lot of the team hadn’t truly considered how depleted they were.
“Yes, and another Chaser. I’ll book the pitch as soon as I can, and we’ll schedule some try-outs. Pass the word along, and look sharp. Maybe some of these younger kids that we haven’t seen can play,” Ginny said. There hadn’t been any Quidditch last year, so they really didn’t know anything about the second- and third-years.
“That’s a good idea,” Demelza said. “We’ll lose you and Ritchie next year, Jimmy and me the year after that. We need to spread it out if we can.”
Ritchie turned his head as someone else approached the compartment door. “We’ll keep our eyes open,” he said as he and Jimmy moved along.
A Ravenclaw prefect with short russet hair and an unfortunate pointy nose stuck her head in the doorway. “You’re up next for rounds, Demelza,” she said coolly.
“All right,” Demelza said, nodding.
The girl glanced around the cabin without greeting any of the others. As she turned to leave, Ginny called out. “Nice to see you, too, Brynn.”
Brynn neither turned nor acknowledged Ginny as she moved down the train.
“Are you two still bickering?” Hermione asked in exasperation.
Ginny shrugged. “She annoys me, and she’s not very nice to Luna.”
“She’s not very nice to anyone,” Demelza said, preparing to begin her prefect duties.
It was true. Brynn Dempsey and her group of Ravenclaw friends were rather haughty, and they frequently gossiped about the other Houses. They appeared to take great delight in poking fun at Luna, in particular, and Ginny suspected she might be behind the yearly disappearance of most of Luna’s things. Brynn had taken an intense dislike to Ginny when Ginny had started dating Michael Corner, despite the fact she’d never actually dated him herself, before or since, as far as Ginny knew. Ginny had never really taken to any of Michael’s friends. She thought some of the Ravenclaws were a tad stuck-up.
“But we’re supposed to be working on unity after the war. We need to let go of old grudges,” Hermione said in an almost pleading voice.
Ginny supposed Hermione was right, although she didn’t want to admit it. “I didn’t hex her. I simply said hello,” Ginny said firmly.
Hermione frowned at her, but kept her mouth shut. Ginny thought that was a wise move as both Liz and Siobhan were scowling slightly. Neither of them liked Brynn, either. While the horror that enveloped Hogwarts the previous year had unified a lot of the students against a greater enemy, it had also deepened some of the divides. This rebuilding year would be interesting.
The rest of the journey passed rather uneventfully. A few friends and acquaintances stopped by to say hello. As she’d promised Luna, Ginny bought some sweets off the trolley, and before they knew it, they could see the outline of Hogwarts in the distance. Ginny and her friends began changing into robes.
The castle looked as magnificent as ever, but there was also something imposing about it. It had been more a prison camp than a school the previous year, and that would have to leave marks on the returning classes.
Ginny tamped down on her increasing anxiety, and slipped her new school robes over her head. A heavy silence enveloped the compartment as her companions did the same.
As she left the train, she looked up at the carriages awaiting their arrival. For the first time, she could actually see the Thestrals pulling them, and it made the breath catch in her throat. From the stunned silence surrounding her on the platform, she knew she wasn’t the only one. The majority of her class had been of age and had stayed to fight in the Battle of Hogwarts, and they’d all witnessed death that day.
She shuddered, looking at the eerie, leathery creatures. She’d ridden one to the Department of Mysteries in her fourth year, but she hadn’t been able to see it then. At least she knew what they were. She remembered Harry talking about his first time seeing them, and he’d thought he was going mad.
Ginny took a deep breath, squared her shoulders and slowly moved toward the awaiting carriages. Hermione clutched her hand, and Ginny returned the pressure. They’d returned.
Harry watched the departing Hogwarts Express until it vanished, his extended arm dropping slowly to his side. For several moments, he stood on the platform gazing at the empty tunnel, his mind blank. She was gone. Harry felt that old familiar pang of loneliness and longing rising up to greet him like an unwelcome guest.
But this was different.
He wasn’t going back to Privet Drive alone, and he could write as many letters with as much information as he wanted. It wasn’t the same as in years past.
Yet, it still felt painfully inadequate.
“Er… we probably should get going,” Ron said uneasily, scuffing his feet as he stood next to the wall, his hands stuffed in his pockets.
Harry looked up and caught Ron’s eyes before they both quickly looked away. He knew he’d have to do something about this awkward discomfort between them, but he really didn’t want to think about it yet.
Before he had time to ponder, a distinctly feminine hand with long red nails reached out and grasped his sleeve.
“Oh, Mr. Potter. I’m so pleased to see you again,” the woman said, her voice low and seductive.
Harry glanced at her in confusion. He had no clue who she was.
She took his arm and continued leading him down the platform. “I was hoping we’d have a chance to talk,” she said, leaning in conspiratorially and placing her other hand on his chest.
“Er… I beg your pardon, but have we met?” he asked.
She laughed, a high, tinkling laugh that echoed on the platform. Her grey eyes sparkled brightly. “We met at the Order of Merlin ceremony,” she purred. “I’m certain you were introduced to all sorts of people that night. Terra Munch from the International Confederation of Wizards.”
Harry still had no recollection of this witch, despite the fact she was quite stunning. He glanced warily around the train station and for the first time noticed how many people were still lingering. More accurately, how many witches were still lingering. Most of them, he’d never seen on the platform before, and they appeared far too young to have students at Hogwarts.
“I was hoping we could have a chat about the Battle,” Terra said coyly.
“Pardon… who were you seeing off to Hogwarts?” Harry asked, his suspicion growing. Was this woman a reporter? They’d been growing increasingly desperate to get a quote. He stopped walking and refused to be led any further.
“Oh… just some friends. As I said, I work with the International Confederation of Wizards, and we’re working on statutes to ensure no one ever gains that kind of control again. Your input could be invaluable to us. Perhaps we could go to lunch and discuss it, my treat?” she asked, smiling brilliantly.
“Hi, Harry,” Sally Perks called, waving frantically. She’d been in Harry’s year at Hogwarts, and he vaguely recollected her having younger siblings.
“Perhaps we should go. It’s very crowded here,” Terra said, her nails digging into the soft flesh on the underside of his arm.
“Harry, we really need to get to the Ministry before we’re late,” Ron said, stepping up next to them.
Harry stared stupidly. They didn’t have class today.
Ron raised his eyebrows, and Harry finally got a clue.
“Oh! Er… right. I have an engagement, Miss Munch. You’ll have to excuse me,” he said, disentangling his arm from her extraordinarily tight grip.
“Oh, please, call me Terra. I’ll contact you about meeting another time then?” she asked persistently.
“Er… right. You can send a message through the Ministry. They’ll get you in touch with whomever you need to speak with,” Harry said before hurrying through the barrier behind Ron. There were even more magical people on the Muggle side, and these were definitely reporters. They spotted him immediately and surged forward.
“Bloody hell,” Ron mumbled.
“Let’s get out of here,” Harry replied before dashing for the door and a secluded spot where they could Apparate.
He let out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding when he saw the familiar outline of the crooked little house he’d grown to love as a home.
Ron appeared next to him, and he turned his wide, incredulous blue eyes toward Harry. “Blimey! There were more witches there than I’ve ever seen in my life.”
“Ron! Harry!” Bill called, swinging open the kitchen door. “Come inside and assure Mum that Ginny got off all right. She’s nearly hyperventilating.”
Ron and Harry hurried inside to find Mrs. Weasley sitting at the kitchen table wringing her hands while Bill refilled her tea cup.
“Oh, boys,” she said tearfully. “Did everything go all right?”
“It was fine, Mum,” Ron said, sounding slightly exasperated. “As shocking as it may be, we could handle getting them to the train station.”
“Oh, I knew you could,” Mrs. Weasley said, pulling herself together and swatting her youngest son with a dish towel. “It’s just hard to let go.”
“Hermione and Ginny boarded the train and are off to Hogwarts, Mrs. Weasley,” Harry said, feeling anxious that she was so distressed.
“Thank you, Harry dear. I knew there wouldn’t be any trouble, but it was hard not to be there,” Mrs. Weasley said, patting Harry’s hand.
“Well, we didn’t say there wasn’t any trouble,” Ron replied, sitting down and serving himself some of the biscuits already on the table.
Mrs. Weasley looked up sharply.
“There was trouble?” Bill asked intently.
Harry sunk into an empty chair and grabbed a biscuit while there was still a few left. Ron could tell the tale, he really didn’t know what to make of it, anyway.
“Nothing to do with the girls,” Ron said, quickly assuring his mother. “Ginny boarded the train without a problem. She didn’t even hex anyone.”
“She thought about hexing Romilda Vane,” Harry piped up, wiping crumbs from his lip.
“Wish she would’ve hexed her,” Ron mumbled, his face darkening.
Harry snorted and took another biscuit.
“Then what trouble?” Bill asked, a knowing glint appearing in his eyes.
“The station was packed with witches all trying to get their claws into Harry,” Ron said, chuckling.
Harry felt his face grow warm.
“What?” Mrs. Weasley asked, perplexed.
“There must have been about a hundred of ‘em. One bold witch tried to drag him off to lunch to discuss the Battle,” Ron said, making it sound outrageously dirty.
“She said she was from the International Confederation of Wizards,” Harry said, feeling the need to clarify. “How d’you know they were all there for me?”
Ron rolled his eyes. “Because they were nearly stepping over each other to get to you. Didn’t you notice them chasing us down the platform, or were you too engrossed with whatever your admirer was saying?”
Harry was discomfited enough with Ron already, and this subject crossed too close to the reason. Ron seemed to become aware of it at the same time, and he immediately stuffed another biscuit in his mouth, his ears turning scarlet.
“How do you know she was really who she said she was?” Mrs. Weasley asked, her hand back on Harry’s arm and clutching his sleeve as if someone were trying to drag him away.
“Er… ” Harry said eloquently.
“She could’ve been a Death Eater!” Mrs. Weasley shrieked.
“I didn’t go off with her,” Harry said, feeling nettled. “She approached me on the platform, and I told her to contact the Ministry.”
“Oh,” Mrs. Weasley said, derailed. “That was very good of you, dear.”
Harry just stared at her, at a loss how to process her quick change in moods. She baffled him sometimes.
“Harry, there are bound to be a lot of witches who want to be seen with you,” Bill said delicately.
Harry shifted uncomfortably and ran his hand along the back of his neck, uncertain what to say. It wasn’t as if he hadn’t noticed all the fussing, he just didn’t know what he was supposed to do about it. He wasn’t trying to encourage their interest.
“Sally-Ann Perks looked good,” Ron said casually.
“Did you talk to her?” Harry asked.
“Nah. It was too crowded. Besides, she was looking for you. She’d wanted to go to the Yule Ball with you, too, remember?” Ron said, not bothering to hide his smirk.
Harry’s annoyance with Ron re-ignited, and this wasn’t helping.
“Can I give you a bit of advice, Harry?” Bill asked.
“What’s that?” Harry asked, feeling most agitated.
“Write to Ginny and tell her what happened,” Bill said simply.
“Nothing happened!” Harry insisted.
Bill smiled slightly. “I know that, and you know that. She should know that before someone tells her otherwise.”
Harry nodded, realizing Bill wasn’t taking the mickey and was actually trying to help. He probably was right. Ginny’s temper sometimes overrode her common sense, and he wouldn’t like hearing about it were the situation reversed.
“It’s shocking how brazen these witches are,” Mrs. Weasley said, sniffling.
“They think since Ginny’s out of the way, Harry might be lonely,” Bill replied, his eyes twinkling.
Okay, now he was taking the mickey.
“Right. I’m going to go write that letter,” Harry said, excusing himself from the table and hurrying up to Ron’s bright orange bedroom. He could hear the others continuing to talk and decided he really didn’t want to know what they were saying.
How did he get himself into these messes?
He entered Ron’s room and sank down on the camp bed. Although he loved it here, he’d be happy once they moved to Grimmauld Place so he could have some privacy. Percy was still staying in his old room, and Mrs. Weasley had firmly shut the door to the twins’ bedroom. No one ever went in there, so he and Ron were still bunking together in the cramped attic room.
Harry needed some space of his own more than ever. Although he cherished the way the Weasleys had accepted him as one of their own, he’d still not been able to shake the discomfort of always being with a crowd.
One of the Aurors who played on their inter-department Quidditch team had a sister who was a decorator. Harry was meeting with her the next day to discuss renovations at Grimmauld Place. He hoped to have a better idea then on how long it would take before he and Ron could move there permanently.
There was the other issue swirling in Harry’s mind. He shifted uncomfortably as he rested his back against the wall, finally allowing his thoughts to drift back to the previous evening. There was really no reason to be upset. Ron and Hermione were adults. What they did in their own private time was their own business.
He just hadn’t expected to walk in on it.
Harry shuddered, trying to erase the eyeful of both his best mates that he’d received when he’d stopped by Grimmauld Place the previous evening. They’d been carrying on in the sitting room for Merlin’s sake — on Harry’s new red leather couch! Shouldn’t they have gone up to Ron’s bedroom at least? The fact there wasn’t any furniture in Ron’s room yet was beside the point.
Harry hadn’t needed to see that.
Or hear it.
He couldn’t even look at Hermione at the station because every time he did, his mind went back to parts of her he never should’ve seen.
He shuddered again, clenching his eyes tightly, as if that could erase the memory.
He and Ron never talked about this stuff. Ginny was Ron’s sister, and that would just be too awkward. He knew Ginny and Hermione talked, but Ginny’d never said anything about Ron and Hermione shagging. He didn’t think what he’d walked in on had been their first time, however. They certainly hadn’t seemed uncertain.
Ron and Hermione had taken that last, mysterious and unknown step into adulthood. Although Harry’s body had been frequently reminding him it was ready and up to the task, his rational side struggled. Somehow, he thought battling a Basilisk or a Dark Lord was easier than completely opening up to someone. Even Ginny.
Not that she’d given him the opportunity, anyway. Besides, living here at The Burrow ensured they were never alone in a room together long enough to leap over that proverbial cliff. They’d been interrupted more times than he could count. That, in itself, was probably the reason why he’d found Ron and Hermione at Grimmauld Place.
They’d taken that step without him. Of course, it had to be without him. It wasn’t as if he’d wanted to be with them. He wasn’t pervy or anything, but… still… they’d left him behind.
Harry stared daggers at the wall. He knew he was being ridiculous, and it was only increasing his agitation. What was wrong with him? Maybe he was just frustrated and randy. Loads of eager witches stalking him through King’s Cross hadn’t helped.
He leaned his head back and banged it into the wall. He desperately needed a distraction. He took some parchment and a quill from Ron’s well-worn wooden desk, and leaning against a book, tried to decide what to say to Ginny. What he really wanted to ask was if she’d known Ron and Hermione were shagging.
If Harry were honest with himself, he’d have to admit he was a little jealous, and that infuriated him. His friends deserved some happiness; they’d sacrificed everything for him. He didn’t want to believe he was the kind of person who would begrudge them. What was wrong with him? Perhaps it was a combination of Ginny’s leaving and the constraints of The Burrow. He didn’t know what he’d expected of life after the Battle, but so far, this wasn’t it.
The sound of Ron’s footsteps pounding up the stairs distracted him. They’d had yet to really talk since he’d walked in on them, and he was dreading it.
The door swung open and Ron stopped short, staring at Harry with a slightly panicked expression. Harry knew he was glowering at his best mate, but he couldn’t seem to help it. He set his jaw and looked purposefully away.
“Writing to Ginny, eh?” Ron asked in a deliberately casual tone.
“Well spotted,” Harry said, grunting.
Ron sat on his own bed and began flipping through a Quidditch magazine. How typical of Ron to simply avoid anything uncomfortable. The fact he wasn’t even going to address it set Harry off.
“What in Merlin’s name were you thinking?” Harry snapped.
Ron set his chin at a stubborn angle, refusing to look up from his magazine. The spreading reddish colouring on his ears gave his discomfort away. “Don’t know what you’re talking about,” he lied.
“Why out in the middle of the sitting room?” Harry demanded, feeling his own face growing heated.
“We were alone!” Ron said, finally looking up, his own expression darkening. “What are you on about?”
“I shouldn’t have to walk in on that!” Harry insisted.
“You weren’t even there! You were supposed to be out with Ginny,” Ron yelped. “What did you come back for, anyway?”
“When did this start?” Harry asked. The words were out before he could stop them.
If possible, Ron turned even redder. “We hadn’t planned it… We just… when she got back from Australia, we were so happy to see each other, and, well… one thing led to another…”
Harry thought Ron looked rather proud of himself, and Harry had the urge to hit him. His mind was racing. “So that’s why it took you so long to get back from the Apparition point?”
Ron shrugged, sheepishly. “We stopped at her house to check on a few things, and… well…”
“Enough!” Harry said, holding up his hand. “I don’t want to know, and I don’t want to see that again.”
“Not likely. She’s at Hogwarts now, isn’t she?” Ron said despondently.
A feeling of savage triumph rose in Harry’s chest.
“When the girls come home, we’re going to have to set up some house rules,” he said firmly.
“You know… about common areas. Things that should remain private can stay in our own rooms. We can all practice some discretion,” Harry said.
Ron stared at him with a thunderstruck expression.
“What?” Harry asked. “You disagree?”
“Are you and Ginny…” Ron asked, spluttering.
“Well… not yet,” Harry conceded, scowling again.
“Good!” Ron said forcefully, squaring his shoulders.
Harry’s ire spiked. He could tell his mate was immensely pleased to have crossed this barrier first.
“What? You mean it’s okay for you and Hermione, but not for Ginny and me? It doesn’t work that way, Ron,” he said.
“She’s my baby sister, Harry. Besides, Hermione is nearly two years older than her, and I’m older than you,” Ron said.
Harry nearly rolled his eyes right out of his head. “Oh, don’t even go there lest you want to get into a maturity debate,” he said hotly.
Ron immediately stared at his feet, and Harry felt a twinge of guilt. Not enough to let it go, however.
“If we’re going to all live together, we have to respect each other’s privacy. I won’t have you going off on either of us,” Harry said.
“Me? You’re the one going off about me and Hermione,” Ron said, spluttering.
“You caught me by surprise is all,” Harry said stiffly. “We’ll both need to get used to it.”
Ron seemed to deflate a bit. “I’ll try,” he said softly. “I can’t make any promises once I see you two together, and I know what you’ve done.”
Harry exhaled and nodded tightly, but anger still simmered beneath the surface. “And you know I won’t hurt her. Merlin, I died once already to protect her.”
“I know,” Ron moaned. “I do trust you with her, Harry. More than anyone. Actually, I worry more about her hurting you!”
“Yeah… your overprotectiveness is driving me spare,” Harry said, reckoning it was time to address everything.
“I can’t help it. Every time you’re in danger, my mind flashes back to Hagrid carrying you out of the forest and I panic,” Ron mumbled, his eyes dropping to the floor again.
Harry certainly could sympathize with flashbacks, he’d had enough of his own. The fact he was the cause of Ron’s triggered his guilt, and he didn’t want to argue anymore. “Try and work on it, okay. I can take care of myself.”
Ron looked as if he wasn’t entirely convinced of that, but he didn’t argue the point.
“Are we finished?” Harry asked.
“Suppose so,” Ron said, picking up his magazine again and covering his face. Harry thought he saw his lips twitching, however.
“Of course, Hermione still wants to talk to you about what you saw,” Ron said.
Harry unstuck his tongue from the roof of his mouth with difficulty. Ron was one thing, but this wasn’t something he wanted to discuss with Hermione.
In fact, it was a very good thing he wouldn’t have to see her until October. Perhaps he could master his embarrassment when looking at her by then.
Author’s Note:At long last, here it is! This story is more a family/drama epic, although there are bits of action in there (I can’t help myself!) Still, it’s more character- than plot-driven. I want to express my sincere thanks to my beta, Sherry, for fitting this into her very busy schedule!Also, I had several alpha readers who were all amazing. Arnel, Ryan, Danielle, and Sue – this story is better for letting me work through ideas with all of you!Lastly, DustNight88 did the awesome aesthetic for this story, and I still love it every time I look at it.