Ginny stumbled sleepily into the Great Hall, her feet tangling as she made a beeline for the coffee. Merlin, she hated mornings. Hermione had kept her up until all hours preparing for a Transfiguration exam.
Ginny still hated Transfiguration, but she had to admit, her marks had improved this year with Hermione’s return. No matter how swotty she could sometimes be, there was no denying Hermione’s brilliance. Ginny suspected it was down to Hermione that Ron had earned as many OWLs as he did.
Her friend sat beside her, bright-eyed and eager to begin their day. She calmly poured coffee for both of them. Ginny didn’t understand it — Hermione had been up as late as she had, yet didn’t appear the least bit tired. Ginny couldn’t even see straight.
“We have History of Magic first, so you have to try and keep all the Transfiguration facts in your head and not get derailed,” Hermione said. She’d been prattling on about the Transfiguration exam since they’d awoken, but this was truly the first statement Ginny had been able to process.
She took another sip of her coffee, her eyes wandering over the Great Hall and the teachers conversing amongst themselves at the head table. Weak morning sunlight streamed in through the windows, sparkling off the pitchers of pumpkin juice spread along the tables. For a moment, Ginny’s vision glazed, and a row of shrouded bodies against the far wall shimmered in the glare.
Sitting up sharply, heart thudding, she shook her head. Of course, there were no bodies — just the four house tables filled with sleepy students starting their day. This had happened several times to Ginny since her return. Some abstract reminder — as simple as sunlight streaming in through the windows — could send her back to the Battle.
The Great Hall was always the hardest. If not memories of the bodies — of Fred — she’d sometimes flash on a jet of green light streaming towards her head, or Voldemort’s jubilant words, Harry Potter is dead, or Harry himself whipping the Cloak off his head as he cast a protection spell over her mother.
He’d told her how he saw Bellatrix try to curse her, and it was her he was running toward when Mum had intervened. His love for her could’ve still killed him that night…
Ginny had to grasp her coffee mug with both hands to stop the trembling. Naturally, Hermione hadn’t missed it.
“Are you all right?” the other girl asked quietly.
Ginny nodded. “I’m fine,” she said with a hint of defiance.
“I get them, too,” Hermione whispered, her eyes firmly fixed on her own coffee.
“I think we all do. I saw Emily Winston suddenly burst into tears out on the grounds yesterday,” Ginny replied. The Hufflepuff girl was in Ginny’s year, and she’d been one of the ones old enough to stay behind and fight. “There are still a few Red Caps that were missed out there.”
Red Caps were nasty, goblin-like creatures that lurk wherever there has been bloodshed. The grounds had been covered with them after the Battle, and Hagrid had been having a devil of a time getting rid of them all.
Hermione nodded. “Parvati had a panic attack outside the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom the other day.”
Ginny wasn’t surprised. The Defence classroom was where the majority of the violence had taken place during the previous year.
She shrugged. “Sometimes the memories bite. I wonder how Harry is coping.”
Hermione rested her hand on Ginny’s. “Probably about the same, but their new jobs are keeping them busy, just like our school work is for us. I do know something that might cheer you up.”
“What’s that?” Ginny asked.
“At the prefect meeting last night, we learned the first Hogsmeade weekend is scheduled for the first weekend in October.”
Ginny couldn’t help the smile that spread across her face. “Oh, that will be wonderful.” She’d been missing Harry all along, but now, suddenly knowing when she could see him made the longing pierce fiercely. “I miss him.”
“I know — I miss Ron, too,” Hermione said. “Maybe we could all share a Butterbeer at the Three Broomsticks. I’d like to catch up with Harry, too.”
“It’s a plan, then,” Ginny replied, beaming. She looked at her friend shrewdly. There was a slight tinge of colour on Hermione’s cheeks, and Ginny’s suspicions were all but confirmed. “We could plan on spending the whole day together. I’m certain Harry will be thrilled to catch up.”
The colour on Hermione’s face grew even brighter. “Er… yes, well… You probably want a little private time with each other… I’d imagine.”
Ginny had to bite the inside of her lip to keep from laughing. “It’s not like there’s much privacy in Hogsmeade to snog, particularly for Harry. The Three Broomsticks will be a perfect place to spend the day.”
“Well… you see… Ron and I were hoping to catch up a bit,” Hermione said, faltering.
Ginny blinked owlishly. She’d perfected that clueless expression from years of observing Ron, and she knew Hermione would recognize it.
“Privately,” Hermione said, clearing her throat with dignity.
“Where are you going to find privacy in Hogsmeade?” Ginny asked.
Hermione’s colour could now compete with the Weasley red. “Ron… Ron said something about booking a room at the Inn so we could catch up.”
Ginny narrowed her eyes. “Best be all you’re catching.”
“Ginny!” Hermione said, affronted.
Ginny could take it no more. She leaned in closer and whispered, “Exactly how long have you been shagging my brother?”
Hermione squeaked, but they were interrupted by Demelza, Jimmy and the new Keeper — Bailey McLaggen — before Ginny could get any of the details.
“We’ll continue this later,” Ginny said under her breath, turning to face the new arrivals, while Hermione shakily gulped some juice. Ginny knew her teammates were going to ask her about Quidditch practices. The final try-outs — Ravenclaws — had been held, so Madam Hooch would be opening the pitch for sign-ups shortly.
“I’m on it,” Ginny said, derailing them. “I have a bunch of first years monitoring the board to see the moment the notice appears.”
“How’d you bribe them to do that?” Jimmy asked, impressed.
“I told them Harry would probably be here for the first match, and we want to be ready,” Ginny said, smirking. Harry would be appalled by her fascinated little gang of firsties, but Ginny firmly believed there should be no holds barred in Quidditch.
“Excellent,” Demelza said, grinning. “Not a bad idea to get them excited about Quidditch early. Maybe one of them is our next star.”
“Speaking of next stars — be certain to tune up your broom before the first match. I’d highly recommend a good broom servicing kit,” Ginny said, pinning her gaze on Bailey.
“I already have one. I knew I’d be on the team this year,” he replied at once, taking a large bite of a fried tomato. Bailey wasn’t nearly as obnoxious as Cormac, but he did share some of his older brother’s arrogance.
“Did you?” Ginny replied coolly. “Odd, since I didn’t.”
Bailey looked up, his hazel eyes staring at Ginny intently. “I’m the best decision the Gryffindor Quidditch team has made.”
Ginny smirked. “We’ll see about that.”
Bailey nodded and resumed eating his breakfast.
He was big-headed, but Ginny admired the confidence and hoped he could live up to it. She recalled Cormac was a good player as well, when he wasn’t trying to show off and prove he was better than everyone else at their positions.
“We need to get practices started quickly, before the Slytherins book all the slots. They have a relatively new team, as well,” Demelza said, buttering her toast.
Ginny nodded. “I know. We need to get Wendy practicing. I want to see what kind of reasonable expectations we can have for her — and Bailey.”
Wendy Chambers was their new Seeker. A third year who’d shown promise at try-outs, but Ginny had seen good try-out prospects flounder under the pressure of a game before. She needed this team to come together. She wanted that Quidditch Cup under her captaincy. It would look really good to the recruiters for the professional league.
“You won’t be disappointed. I’m ready,” Bailey replied, scowling slightly.
Before Ginny could reply, a swarm of owls swooped into the Great Hall with the morning mail. Zeus soared down and landed in front of her, leaning over to take some bacon from her plate as she untied Harry’s letter. The little owl had been getting a workout, but he was still young, and she knew he’d need a rest before taking a response back to Harry.
Handing him another bit of bacon, she said, “Go on up to the Owlery for a kip. I’ll have a reply later.”
Zeus leaned over impertinently and took a sip of her juice before flying back out the door. Ginny examined Harry’s letter, she always liked seeing her name scribbled on front in Harry’s messy scrawl.
She glanced over to see if Hermione had received a letter from Ron, and her hackles rose. Hermione was rapidly scanning the Daily Prophet with a horrified expression. This couldn’t be good, and Ginny’s heart rate increased — the image of Hagrid carrying Harry’s limp body from the Forest looming in her mind. What had he done? Bile rose arose in her throat as she leaned over to see what Hermione was reading.
Please don’t let him be dead.
But it wasn’t a failed mission, although Harry’s name was in the headlines:
Regular Rules Don’t Apply to the Saviour? By Rita Skeeter
It has come to the attention of this ever-seeking reporter that our illustrious hero is struggling with his Auror Training. As my faithful readers will know, Harry Potter was given a pass on his NEWTs (a previously strict requirement of the Auror program) and allowed to begin his training because of his efforts during the war.
Whether or not this was a sound decision by our new Minister — a personal friend of Mr. Potter — remains to be seen.
Within the confines of the Ministry, this reporter has learned that rumours abound about Mr. Potter scrambling to prepare for a recent Potions quiz. He has frequently been seen conferring with several attractive tutors at all hours. One of these tutors, a dark-haired beauty with eyes nearly as striking as his own, has allegedly been aiding Mr. Potter with the Patronus Charm, as well.
It leads one to question if Mr. Potter has been given a special waiver to become an Auror. There is no doubt his popularity is a coup for this new Administration. Of course, everyone adores Potter for all he’s done for us, but one has to wonder about the prospects for our future safety if he’s being pushed through.
Curious as I always am, I interviewed his former Hogwarts Professor, Horace Slughorn, who teaches Potions at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry (where the supposed girlfriend of the Chosen One attends). Professor Slughorn enthusiastically insisted that his former pupil was a steady hand at Potion making, even winning a special treat in one class where he outperformed his peers.
So, if Potter is not struggling with Potions, is he only pretending to need help in order to spend more time with his attractive, willing-to-help classmates while his alleged girlfriend is off at Hogwarts? The truth remains to be seen, but this reporter will not rest until the facts are revealed.
“That cow!” Hermione hissed angrily. “She makes it sound like Harry is the only one to enter the training without achieving his NEWTs. There’s no mention of the depleted ranks and the requirements being lifted for the entire class. Oh, I warned Harry about this.”
Ginny was too livid to speak. Damn that woman to hell. Her fingers itched to reach for her wand, but her target wasn’t here. She was afraid to move lest she take out her raging emotions on a classmate. She was spoiling for a fight, and she knew it. Items on the table began to rattle, and it was only when Hermione’s newspaper suddenly burst into flames that she pulled herself together.
Hermione quickly cast a spell to extinguish the newspaper.
“Whoa,” Demelza yelped, staring warily at Professor Radford who was slowly moving toward the disturbance.
Ginny stood woodenly and began to gather her things. She had to get out of the Hall before she hexed someone, possibly a teacher.
“Ginny?” Hermione said warily. “Are you all right? You know Rita is just trying to stir up trouble. It’s what she does.”
“Ooh, sounds like the Boy Who Lived is getting it somewhere else, Weasley?” Evan Bulstrode quipped, leering as he passed her on his way out of the Great Hall.
It was down to the fact Professor Radford was nearly upon them that saved the Slytherin from getting blasted with a powerful Bat-Bogey Hex.
“Just ignore him,” Hermione advised.
“His efforts during the war?” Ginny said through clenched teeth. “He bloody well ended the war by defeating Voldemort. Where was Rita when all this was going on? Bloody hell, he died for us.”
“I know, I know,” Hermione said, hurrying to catch up with Ginny’s angry strides. “Where are you going? Class starts in a few minutes.”
“I’ll meet you there,” Ginny said, snapping.
“Just let me be, Hermione,” Ginny said, turning quickly and hurrying in the opposite direction from History of Magic.
Ginny quickly darted through the common room and hurried up the stairs to her dormitory. She kept her head down because she didn’t particularly want to talk to any of her housemates. By the time she reached her room her eyes stung, and she had to blink to clear them. She’d never been one to easily succumb to tears, in fact she usually scoffed at girls who did, but since coming back at Hogwarts, the tears were always close to the surface. She’d noticed it wasn’t just her, many of her classmates were very emotional since returning to the castle. It was both wonderful and terrible to be back.
She gave a start when she entered her room — five beds instead of the four that had been there all the other years. Shaking it off, she threw her bag on her bed and pulled the curtains around her, breathing deeply as she sagged into the comfort of her familiar four-poster.
It had been a truly horrid day. The article in the Daily Prophet had soured her mood, and she’d needed some time to pull herself together after reading it. She’d arrived twenty minutes late to History of Magic, and Professor Nutcombe hadn’t been amused. She now had a detention on Saturday — which was the Puddlemere vs. Tornados opening match. She had hoped to get a pass to visit home to see the debut of George’s Action Twin (although she hadn’t confirmed that with Headmistress McGonagall yet), but Professor Nutcombe wouldn’t listen to her pleas.
Afterwards, she’d sat her Transfiguration exam. She didn’t think she’d done horribly, but her mind was definitely elsewhere. It didn’t help that the Gryffindors shared that class with the Ravenclaws, and Brynn Dempsey kept whispering snide comments about Harry’s roving eye.
She knew the article was rubbish, but that didn’t mean it hadn’t stung. Harry’s letter had told her about getting help from Violet and George on his Potions quiz, but even knowing the truth wasn’t helping.
She heard the dormitory door opening, and she held her breath hoping it wasn’t someone looking for her. Naturally that didn’t go her way, either.
“Ginny?” Hermione said softly. “I wanted to see if you were all right.”
“I’m fine, Hermione. I just thought I’d have a kip before supper,” Ginny lied. She bit her lip, staring intently at the dark red colouring of the curtains, willing Hermione to let her be.
There was silence for a moment, but then the curtains parted and her friend sat on Ginny’s bed, shutting the curtains again behind her.
“Don’t pull a Harry,” she said primly.
Despite her mood, a grin tugged at her lips. “All right,” she said, conceding. “I’m not fine.”
“You didn’t believe what Rita wrote, did you? You know Harry’s arse over elbow for you,” Hermione said earnestly.
Ginny sighed, flopping back on her pillow. “I know it’s just Rita making things up. The other attractive tutor was George. Rita forgot to mention that part.”
“George? He’s helping Harry with Potions? I suppose he must have loads of experience with all those products,” Hermione said pensively.
“Focus, Hermione,” Ginny said. “Harry wrote that he had lunch with George and Violet the other day, and they offered to help him revise for a Potions quiz. Someone must’ve overheard them in the cafeteria.”
“So… are you jealous of Violet, then?” Hermione asked.
Ginny sighed. “Not really. I’ve met Violet, and I honestly don’t think she’s interested in Harry, but…”
“Harry also wrote to me about all the witches at the train station mobbing him after the Hogwarts Express left. And I know all the attention he received here, I imagine it’s the same at the Ministry. He’s out there in the world with all these older, beautiful, experienced witches, and I’m stuck here.”
“But you’re the one he wants, Ginny. It doesn’t sound like he’s trying to hide anything from you, and for Harry, you have to know that’s huge.”
Ginny looked up into Hermione’s sincere brown eyes, feeling marginally better, yet still insecure. She wanted to believe everything Hermione was saying, she knew it was true, and yet…
“Harry doesn’t open up easily. I think you’re downplaying your own significance. You’re the one he talks to because you’re the one he wants,” Hermione said.
Ginny shifted uncomfortably. Harry did want her, physically as well as emotionally, but she knew she’d been the one holding back, and it had been plaguing her of late. Perhaps Hermione could offer some advice. “We haven’t…. we… I’ve stopped things from going too far, and now I’m worried that we waited,” she said awkwardly.
Hermione apparently knew exactly what Ginny was talking about despite her vague opening. “I don’t think Harry wants you to do anything you’re not ready for, Ginny.”
“Oh, I know he wants to, but he hasn’t pushed me. It’s my own issues,” Ginny said, frustrated. “I’m certain all these other witches won’t have so many hang-ups, and they’re probably throwing themselves at him.”
“But we’ve already established that you’re the one he wants. What hang-ups?” Hermione asked interestedly.
“I—” Ginny floundered, uncertain what to say or how to put it into words. She hated feeling so wrong-footed.
“I’ll admit I was curious. Both of you are passionate people, and neither puts a lot of stock in rules. I thought it might have been a control thing — you know — since everything was so out of your control last year,” Hermione said delicately.
Ginny nodded. “Maybe. I think I’m being stupid. Did you hear Evan Bulstrode this morning?”
Hermione paused, and Ginny could practically see the scene replaying in front of her friend’s eyes. “He was just winding you up.”
“I know — but last year — after that first night back when rumour had spread that Harry had broken up with me… None of my friends believed it, but… the Carrows and the Slytherins mostly… They used to sneer that he left me once he got what he wanted, and I let them think it to play along with his ruse. I’m not a slag, Hermione,” Ginny said, hating the waver in her voice.
“Of course you’re not.”
Ginny shrugged. “I suppose some part of me wanted to prove them wrong, so I’ve held back.”
“Does Harry know any of this?” Hermione asked.
Ginny shook her head before another thought occurred to her, and her eyes widened. “Hang on. You never answered my question this morning. How long have you been shagging my brother?”
Colour flooded Hermione’s face. “We’re talking about you.”
“Not anymore. I want some details. Spill it, Hermione. You can’t deny it, it’s written all over your face.”
Now it was Hermione’s turn to shift uncomfortably. “Yes, well… It just sort of happened.”
“After I came back from visiting my parents. We were so happy to see each other, and—”
Hermione frowned, disgruntled. “I didn’t pounce. Things sort of spun out of control really quickly. The second time was better.”
“Second time? How quickly did that happen after the first time?” she asked, fascinated.
Hermione’s face flamed brilliantly. “It was that same afternoon.”
“I can’t believe it — who would’ve thought prissy Hermione Granger was really a vixen?”
“Ginny, don’t. I’m not prissy — and I’m not a vixen, either. We took precautions. He’s really been very sweet.”
“Okay, I don’t want any specific details about my brother, but I do want to know details. Maybe I can just block the fact it’s Ron out in my mind,” Ginny said, pulling a face.
Hermione laughed. “What do you want to know?” she asked with that superior voice she always used when she knew something Ginny didn’t. Ginny tried not to get annoyed, because she really wanted answers to a few things, and here was the perfect opportunity to ask.
“Well… did you build up to it, or did everything sort of happen all at once?”
“I told you — we got carried away, so mostly all at once. Actually, I suppose there was some build up before I left. How about you? Have you done anything?” Hermione asked curiously.
“I’ve let his hands roam a bit, but that’s all. My hormones have been raging though, and I think his have, too.”
Hermione rolled her eyes. “I think that’s a safe bet.”
“Does he know? About you and Ron, I mean? He hasn’t said anything.”
Hermione cringed and shut her eyes tightly, letting out a pained squeak.
“What?” Ginny asked.
“He sort of walked in on us the night before we returned to Hogwarts.”
“What?” Ginny shrieked. How could she have missed all this? “He didn’t say anything to me.”
“He wouldn’t even look at me on platform nine and three quarters. I wrote and tried to apologize, but he hasn’t answered,” Hermione said.
“Why would you need to apologize?”
Hermione coloured even brighter. “We were at Grimmauld Place — in the sitting room.”
Ginny gasped, revelling in the details. “Oh. How much did he see?”
“Too much. I was so embarrassed,” Hermione said, burying her face in her hands.
“I bet he was, too,” Ginny said, smirking at the image her mind created.
Hermione giggled. “His face did rival your hair. Ron said they had it out, and Harry wants some rules about common areas once we come home for Christmas.”
Ginny let out a bark of laughter, the first true laugh she’d had that day. “He must’ve been mortified. Poor boy — particularly since I’ve been putting on the brakes.”
Hermione grinned. “D’youfeel better?”
“I do. Thanks, Hermione.”
“Anytime. Don’t let Rita push you into doing anything before you’re ready. You’ll know when you are,” Hermione said, tucking a stray lock of Ginny’s hair behind her ear.
“Well, I won’t even see him until the first Hogsmeade weekend, now,” Ginny said unhappily, the events of the day rushing back at her.
“What about the match this weekend?” Hermione asked.
“I have a detention with Nutcombe, remember?”
Hermione frowned. “You really shouldn’t have been so late to class.”
It was Ginny who rolled her eyes this time. “How can you be such a swot and a rebel at the same time?”
“I don’t know about a rebel,” Hermione said uncertainly.
“Yeah? Who’s meeting her boyfriend at the Hogsmeade Inn? It’s not me.”
Hermione grinned, and Ginny thought she looked rather pleased.
Harry carefully kneaded some dough on the flour-spattered workspace in his brand-new kitchen at Grimmauld Place. They’d been here less than a week, and the entire house wasn’t yet finished, but finally, after eighteen years, he had a place to call home.
The wonder of the idea still made his insides churn pleasantly.
The decorator was still working — he could hear a variety of spells being cast upstairs — but enough was done to enable him and Ron to move in, and they hadn’t wasted any time in doing so. Harry’s favourite room was the kitchen. It was bright and spacious with a counter island in the centre so they could gather, eat and cook all in the same spot. Harry had asked the decorator to add a window like at the Ministry where he could control the weather. There hadn’t been a real window in the old kitchen, but Harry charmed this new one to appear as if looking at the meadow in back of The Burrow where he and Ginny had spent a good portion of their summer. He’d kept the weather bright and sunny, and several times already had gone outside surprised to find rain.
He was thoroughly enjoying having his own space. He loved his new bedroom as well, with its large, soft bed and unblemished furniture that didn’t require constant tinkering to keep it from falling apart. He’d taken Ginny’s advice and bought a full bedroom set in a rich mahogany. The decorator had matched the curtains and bedding for him, and he’d chosen a moving picture of Hogwarts for the wall with a flock of owls leaving the owlery, a familiar snowy one in the lead. Hedwig had been the only one that had been with him all those lonely years at Privet Drive, and he felt it was fitting she was still with him now. All in all, he was glad he’d decided to listen to the demon decorator.
It was Ron’s night to cook, but since the redhead wasn’t home yet, Harry decided to begin. Ron had attempted cooking only once so far, and they’d ended up eating sandwiches. On Ron’s other designated night, they had takeout. He hadn’t inherited Mrs. Weasley’s cooking gene.
Harry found he enjoyed cooking since he no longer had the stress of Uncle Vernon’s reaction if something went wrong. Mrs. Weasley had given him her recipe for steak and kidney pie — one of Harry’s favourites — but the one time he’d made it he didn’t think it was quite the same. He decided to try a second attempt tonight.
Fleur had shown Harry some of the food multiplying spells she used, and Mrs. Weasley was always willing to help if he had questions. She seemed particularly pleased when he’d asked her advice. Harry had grown up cooking the Muggle way, and he found his methods now were a bit of a hodgepodge — half Muggle/half magic. He definitely found using magic to clean up afterwards made everything much easier.
He and Ron planned to entertain their first guests tomorrow when some of their mates were coming over to watch Quidditch on the Action Twin. Harry was really looking forward to it, although Ginny had written with some disappointing news. She’d landed herself in detention and wouldn’t be able to come.
Harry had been crushed. It felt like an eternity since she’d left. He knew she was disappointed as well, and he was trying not to be annoyed she’d received a detention.
Trying, but so far failing…
It was his fault, really. The ruddy Rita Skeeter article had upset her. She tried to play it off, but he knew it had. If he ever found out who overheard them in the cafeteria that day and leaked the story to Skeeter — well — he’d learned a few new offensive spells in training that he’d really like to try out on the mole.
He knew it was only a short time before the first Hogsmeade weekend, but he’d had his heart set on seeing her. Realistically, he was aware that she’d have only been able to stay for a short time, and they wouldn’t get any time alone, but he’d still have been able to see her, to smell her hair, perhaps hold her hand during the match or to steal a kiss when Puddlemere scored…
Harry shook his head, knowing he was getting the better end of the deal. He’d be here watching the match with his mates. Ginny would be serving detention with the new History teacher to whom he knew she wasn’t partial.
Harry looked up from his work and pushed his disappointment aside at the sound of Ron’s irritated voice. “Get your sorry arse down there.”
There was a muffled response before George and Ron came down the stairs into the kitchen. George’s eyes were bloodshot, and his clothes were rumpled. It looked as if he’d slept in them. Ron scowled at his brother as they both took seats at the kitchen counter. Apparently, it had been a bad George day. Harry had noticed there had been more good days than bad recently, but the bad tended to sink to desperate lows.
Harry continued to prepare the meal, staring back and forth between the brothers.
“Hey, Harry,” George mumbled dully.
“What’s for dinner?’ Ron asked at the same time.
Harry fought down a twinge of annoyance. “Isn’t that my line?” he asked.
“Huh?” Ron asked, puzzled.
“See, the idea of rotating shifts means I cook one night, you cook the next,” Harry said without bite as he continued preparing the crust for the pie.
“Oh… right,” Ron said, derailed. “Sorry about that. Percy sent an owl informing me that this one,” he jerked his thumb at George, “just up and walked out of the shop in the middle of the day.”
“I knew Alicia was coming in,” George said, folding his arms across his chest..
“Well, you should have waited for her to get there. What was so important, anyway?” Ron asked, snapping.
“I had something to do,” George replied.
Harry silently placed a glass of water in front of George as he continued to work. George raised his eyes and stared at Harry as if contemplating asking him for something stronger. Harry raised his eyebrows in silence, and George took the water.
“It’s a good thing we were going over Patronuses again today, and I could get away. If it had been a test day or something new, Percy would’ve had to close up shop,” Ron said, grumbling.
“Percy is great with the books, but he’s rubbish in the lab,” George said, perking up now that he was gulping the water.
“You think? I don’t think he’s messed anything up,” Ron said.
“Wasn’t Percy Head Boy with a load of NEWTs? He has to be able to concoct a decent potion,” Harry said.
“Oh, he’s fine with the mechanics, he just doesn’t have much of a sense of humour. Ron, you’re actually much better at coming up with stuff,” George said, picking at the dough Harry was forming so that Harry had to slap his hand away.
Harry shoved a cutting board with some vegetables toward George, mainly to get him to keep his hands out of the dinner. “Here, make yourself useful.”
Grumbling, George complied. “You do know you’re not supposed to put your houseguests to work, right?”
“You’re not a houseguest, you’re family,” Ron said. “Family works.”
“Coming from the one who was supposed to cook tonight and is now sitting here watching us make dinner,” Harry said sarcastically.
Ron grinned, taking a bite out of an apple that was sitting in a bowl on the counter. “At least my day wasn’t entirely unproductive.”
“You can make sure the sitting room is clean for tomorrow,” Harry said, smirking. “I’m having a lie in.”
“This place does look good. Are you enjoying being out from underfoot of Mum’s hovering? I see you haven’t died of starvation yet,” George said easily.
Harry laughed. “She’s not that bad. It’s nice to have someone care,” he said before he could stop the words. He ducked his head to avoid their eyes, feeling heat rise on his neck.
“Aww, don’t go telling her that, mate. You make us look bad,” Ron said, groaning.
Harry grinned good-naturedly. He knew Ron was sensitive about how much Mrs. Weasley doted on Harry, and he didn’t want to rub it in, but he couldn’t deny he appreciated it, either. Harry was so wrapped up in considering Ron, he didn’t notice the mischievous twinkle that had entered George’s eye — always a sure sign of trouble.
“Still, less risk of her walking in on you when you’re wanking thinking about my sister,” George said as he continued to chop the vegetables.
Harry choked, goggling at George.
Predictably, Ron howled in rage, his face flushing as he slammed his apple down on the counter. “What? That’s not funny, George. Ewww.”
“Why? He has to be thinking about solving that virgin problem soon. How long d’you think Savage can keep information like that to himself?” George asked with a perfectly straight face.
Ron spluttered, at a complete loss for words for a moment before apparently grasping at the first thought that came to mind: an old, familiar fall back. “Ginny’s too young!”
Harry really wished he’d asked the demon decorator to put in a sink hole in the middle of the kitchen floor so he could find a way out of this conversation. He turned away to put the oven on and try to cool his burning face. It didn’t help as he could still hear them.
“Don’t be ridiculous. They’ve been together longer than you and Hermione, haven’t they?” George asked. “You have to know they’re working up to shagging.”
“I don’t want to hear about them shagging,” Ron said, outraged. “While I might know they’re going to get up to stuff, we have an agreement. I don’t have to hear about it, or know about it, or acknowledge it in any way. We agreed. Is that too much to ask? She’s our sister.”
“And he’s your best mate. Who else is he going to talk to?” George asked coolly.
Ron looked ready to explode. His face was unhealthily red and his mouth opened and closed, silently sputtering like a fish out of water. Harry would’ve found the expression funny if the subject had been anything else. He really didn’t want to talk about this, either.
“Fine, when it comes to this topic, you be Ginny’s big brother, and I’ll stand in for Harry’s. One of us has to make sure he knows what he’s doing, or Ginny’ll slay him alive,” George said, pushing the finished vegetable platter to the centre of the island.
Harry’s jaw dropped. He wasn’t an idiot! He felt very much up to the task, and he didn’t think he could handle taking sex advice from George, anyway. In fact, taking any serious advice from George seemed like an all-around risky venture.
“I’m not staying to listen to this,” Ron said, glowering at Harry even though he hadn’t said a word.
“Fine, we’ll call you when dinner’s ready,” George replied.
Ron stormed out of the kitchen, muttering under his breath the whole way.
Harry was flabbergasted, and he really didn’t want to talk to George about this stuff anymore than he did Ron. Much…
He supposed he wouldn’t mind getting a few questions answered. He stared at George warily, certain he was missing something. That entire conversation — row — whatever it had been had been surreal.
He and George stared at one another in silence for several moments. Harry knew his face was flaming, and even George wouldn’t quite meet his eyes.
“Well, isn’t this bloody awkward? D’youhave a copy of Twelve Fail-Safe Ways to Charm Witches?” George asked casually.
“Er… I did, but I don’t know what happened to it,” Harry replied, remembering the book Ron had given him in what seemed like another lifetime.
“I’ll get you another copy, it really will tell you everything you need to know. Ginny gave me grief about not teaching her any moves once. I can’t do that, but making sure you don’t bollix it up is the next best thing. I thought Ron would never leave,” George said.
“You were trying to get him to leave?” Harry asked, feeling very wrong-footed. He was dismayed that his voice sounded much higher than it normally did.
“Yeah. I need to ask you something,” George said, his face losing all trace of the mischievousness that had been present during the entire conversation.
Harry knew where this was going. Whenever George had been pondering the loss of Fred, he turned to Harry. He supposed he was the easiest one to talk to about death. Ironically, Harry found George easier to talk to than Ron and Hermione about this stuff, as well. They made an odd pair, he and George.
“I don’t know why I left work. I just couldn’t stay there,” George said in a low voice. “Sometimes it all just hits me from out of the blue.”
Harry paused, picking up his own apple and munching it slowly. He wasn’t certain what it meant that he was far more comfortable with the turn the conversation had taken.
“I remember being numb for the first few days after Sirius died. I could see and hear everything that was going on around me, but it was like I wasn’t really there inside. If I was alone, I wanted people around; if people were around I wanted to be alone,” he said quietly.
George nodded. “I felt that way, too. I could hear the bustle going on at The Burrow. With so many people there, it was never really quiet even when they were all trying to be. I didn’t want to come out of my room, but I still wanted to hear them. It’s why I didn’t go back to my flat right away.”
“For me, it became worse once I was back at the Dursleys. For those first few weeks, I stayed in bed without really sleeping. I didn’t eat, or think, and tried not to feel. I don’t even remember most of it. Sometimes I could barely make it to the toilet I was trembling so badly,” Harry said quietly. He didn’t know what possessed him to share that bit with George, but he felt the lonely twin would keep his confidences, the same as Harry would do for him.
“The shop is the hardest place to be sometimes — even worse than the flat. All our hopes and dreams…. everything we’d planned is represented in that shop. Sometimes I’m doing okay and feeling like I’m ensuring his legacy lives on. Other times it’s just all too much, and I have to get out,” George whispered roughly, his voice wavering.
“If you need to get out, just do it, then. So what? Who cares what anyone else thinks. But you have to be certain to go back,” Harry said fervently, his own throat tight. “I remember that things became better again when I went to The Burrow, so… I think being around others rather than alone does help, even if you have to make yourself do it. Force yourself to get dressed and go out. Eventually, it wasn’t always so hard.”
George swiped at his nose, but he didn’t say anything. Harry was certain he was listening, however. He knew what he wanted to convey, he just didn’t know how to put it into words.
“It was different with Dumbledore. I had this massive job ahead of me, and I didn’t have time to mourn. I think I still might have been in shock anyway, but Ginny made it better. Having people around helps,” Harry said.
“Fred was more than a brother. He was my best mate, and my work partner. It was like he was half my brain, and now I’m just brain damaged,” George said forlornly.
“You’re not brain damaged,” Harry said fiercely. “It hurts, and I can’t tell you it will ever stop hurting completely. Even after everything else that’s happened, Sirius’s loss still hits the hardest, but you get through it. You have the most wonderful family in the world looking out for you. You will get through it.”
George rubbed angrily at his eyes. “Sometimes I just need to hear it from someone who’s been there,” he said gruffly. “You get it.”
“I can’t pretend to know if it’ll be the same for you, George, all I can do is tell you my own experience. I don’t even remember my parents, and I only had Sirius and Dumbledore for a very short time. Hell, they weren’t even really mine. The loss was for something that could’ve been — something I never had. I don’t even know what I’m saying,” Harry said, feeling like he’d bollixed this up royally. He clutched at the strands of his hair, wishing he had Hermione’s gift for words.
“I do. And you’re not alone, either, Harry. You have all of us, too,” George said sincerely, and Harry felt his heart swell with feeling for this mischievous man who’d always treated him like a younger brother, even before Harry had realized what he was doing.
That impish twinkle returned to George’s eye before he added, “And… If you really do need sex advice, I don’t promise not to mock you, but I will give my best effort not to steer you wrong.”
Saturday evening marked a full week since Ron and Harry had moved into Grimmauld Place. It also marked the opening match between Puddlemere United and the Tutshill Tornados. George was hosting a group at the Leaky Cauldron, while Ron and Harry had invited a bunch of their Ministry friends over to enjoy the match.
Their inter-departmental Quidditch mates had already witnessed the wonder of the Action Twin, but they were all eager to return, and this time, they’d invited some of their fellow trainees. Bill had helped Harry adjust the wards on Grimmauld Place in order to allow his guests to enter. Both Bill and Percy were joining George in Diagon Alley for the match.
Grimmauld Place was lit brightly, and Harry enjoyed seeing the newly decorated room filled with friends enjoying the match. Sirius would’ve loved this, and Harry raised his beer in silent salute to his godfather whose presence he could still feel throughout the house. It wasn’t depressing, as he’d feared, but more of a comfort.
Upon his arrival, Owen Savage had loudly and colourfully exclaimed his amazement over the changes in décor, and Elin Harrington, sister of the demon decorator, beamed with pride. Duncan Tate and Violet Benson, who hadn’t been here for the pre-season match, looked around curiously.
Now, after the match had started and some of the food and beverages had been consumed, the guests were all enthusiastically watching. Harry noticed Violet sitting with Owen, both mocking the Tornadoes’ uniforms. Hans Rickman had his arms over each of Chasers Elin and Abby’s shoulders, and they were all clearly dressed in support of their Tornado team.
The doorbell rang, and Harry indicated to Ron that he’d get it. Ron was dressed in his Chudley Cannon sweatshirt despite the fact his team wasn’t even playing. He and Duncan Tate had placed a bowl of crisps between them, and it was nearly empty already. Harry moved through his ‘grand entryway’ — one of the rooms that still wasn’t complete — cringing slightly at the massive pillars the demon decorator had installed.
He opened the door to find Ken Towler, Neville Longbottom, and Seamus Finnigan standing on the stoop supporting a large case of lager between them. He could also see bottles of Firewhisky poking from Seamus’s pockets. Harry knew Seamus had taken a job at Ogden’s after he’d left Hogwarts. The running joke was that he only took the job for the perk of free samples.
“Seamus!” Harry said, using his wand to lift their burden. He levitated it inside while Ken gave him a disgruntled look.
“Hiya, Harry!” Seamus greeted cheerfully.
“All of our spells were nullified as we approached the house. We nearly ruined the drinks,” Ken said, scowling.
“Sorry about that. Ron’s brother works for Gringotts, and he designed the wards,” Harry said, moving back so his guests to enter.
“They’re impressive, but I wish you’d warned us,” Ken said.
“Can’t have anyone sneaking up on the Saviour, can we?” Seamus asked, reaching over and slapping Harry on the back. “It’s good to see you.”
“Good to see you, too,” Harry said happily. Now that Neville was in another Auror training program, he frequently saw him at the Ministry, but he hadn’t seen his other former roommates since the funerals after the Battle. “How’s life been treating you?”
“Can’t complain. Work is good, and having been at the Battle goes a long way to sway the ladies,” Seamus said wolfishly. “Neville knows what I mean.”
Neville had gone very red, and he ducked his head although he didn’t deny it. Harry led them into the sitting room where the rest of the crowd was gathered.
“Neville!” Lisa Turpin greeted at once, “How did you do on the Stealth and Concealment quiz you were worried about?” Harry realized both Neville and Lisa would’ve been at Hogwarts together last year.
Neville shrugged but moved to take the seat next to her. “I did all right. That’s not my best subject.” The rest of their conversation was drowned in the noise of the room. Puddlemere had the Quaffle, and one of the Chasers was racing toward the hoops. Half of the room cheered when she scored. Harry, who was wearing a Puddlemere jersey that Oliver Wood had sent him, cheered along.
“I hear Ginny is Captain of the Gryffindor team,” Seamus said, standing next to Harry in the large opening to the sitting room.
“Yeah, she is. She’s going to be brilliant. How’d you hear that?” Harry asked, taking a swallow of his pint.
“Dean told me. He made the team, too.”
“Right,” Harry replied awkwardly.
Seamus realized he’d wandered into uncomfortable territory the moment after he’d spoke, and he took a long draught of his beer. “So… where is she? Doesn’t this count as some sort of family event? How come you didn’t use your influence to spring her?”
“She was supposed to be here,” Harry replied unhappily. “She got detention.”
“Yeah, she was always good at that. At least detentions can’t be as bad as last year,” Seamus said darkly.
“How are you doing, Seamus?” Harry asked.
Seamus shrugged. “Still not nightmare-free, but it gets me sympathy from the birds. A phenomenon I know you’ve been aware of a lot longer than me.”
Harry’s hand automatically moved upwards to rub his scar, uncertain how to respond. He usually didn’t like any attention being drawn to his sleeping difficulties.
“What kind of effect does he have on the birds?” Owen asked, coming up to stand with them and hearing the end of the conversation.
Harry could’ve groaned out loud, knowing instinctively that getting Owen and Seamus together would be a mistake. He’d be the brunt of jokes all evening.
“Nothing,” he said quickly. “Seamus, did you see Lisa Turpin was here? She was in Ravenclaw. You knew her, yeah?”
He pushed Seamus toward Neville and Lisa and breathed a sigh of relief when Seamus joined their conversation.
“Relax, kid — I’m not about to throw you under the Knight Bus. I love this Action Twin thing and want to keep coming back,” Owen said, grinning.
“Good to know I have some power over you, then,” Harry replied cheekily.
Owen grinned. “Watch the back talk — your new superior deserves some effin’ respect.”
Harry raised his eyebrows, puzzled.
“I traded with Dawlish. You’re my new partner for the Dementor round up,” Owen said, uncharacteristically solemn.
“Seriously? That’s brilliant. How did you manage that?” Not only did Harry prefer Owen’s company, he thought he could learn much more from the seasoned Auror than he ever would from Dawlish.
“Glad you think I’m at least better than that bloody oaf,” Owen replied wryly. “Since Bones dropped, I didn’t have a trainee. Trading with Dawlish meant he didn’t have to work, and he’s always good for that.”
“So, does that mean they’ve made a decision about what to do with the Dementors?” Harry asked.
“Nothing permanent, but we have to get them out of the populated areas. We’re herding them toward the Forest of Dean. It’s getting colder, so less likely there’ll be campers, and it gives us time to come up with a permanent solution,” Owen said, grimacing.
Since Harry had been camping in the Forest of Dean last winter, he was alarmed by the prospect. “What if there are still people in there?” he asked, alarmed.
“We’re going to put up warnings, and even have the Muggle Prime Minster attempt to keep the Muggles away. It’s the best we’ve come up with so far. There have been too many attacks already. They’re attracted to the populated cities. We have to do something.”
Harry didn’t like it, but he didn’t have a better idea. “When does this start?” he asked warily.
Although he’d be happy to get out of the classroom and actually get to do something, the prospect of spending time around Dementors wasn’t appealing. Still, he’d feel better being out in the field and away from a cauldron. Hopefully, a more permanent solution to the Dementor problem would present itself without delay. There had to be something they were missing.
“Next week. Keep chocolate handy, it’s going to be a rough job,” Owen replied.
“Don’t tell me you two are talking work. It’s a party, boys — lighten up,” Violet said, elbowing her way between them. “Take a lead from your mates,” she said, pointing at Ron and Seamus who were enthusiastically arguing the highpoints of Puddlemere to Duncan and Lisa, who were defending the Tornados with fervour.
“You’re obviously a Puddlemere fan — why aren’t you in on that?” Violet asked, nodding towards Harry’s Puddlemere jersey.
Harry grinned. “I went to school with Oliver Wood. He taught me how to play Quidditch, actually.”
“No way! He’s positively dreamy! Can you introduce me?” Violet asked enthusiastically
Harry was stumped and blinked stupidly. He liked Violet very much, but there was no way he would put Oliver on the spot. He didn’t like when people gushed about his celebrity status. Although, knowing Oliver, he might enjoy it.
“I didn’t have you pegged for going for the pretty-boy type,” Owen mused.
Violet rolled her eyes. “What? You thought I was blind?”
Owen shrugged. “I had the impression you preferred substance. Obviously, I’d overestimated you.”
“Who says substance can’t be pretty?” Violet challenged.
Harry left them to it and slipped away to get another pint. Neville was standing by the drinks table refilling his own glass.
“Hey, Neville. How are you finding the training?” he asked.
“Classes are going well. I hear your group is going out in the field soon. They told us we’re not ready yet,” Neville said.
“Do they know you can cast a Patronus?” Harry asked.
“Yeah, but I’m the only one in my group, so they want to give us more time. I’m practicing with a group later this week,” Neville said.
“We’ve been doing that, as well.”
“The place looks great, Harry. I can’t believe you and Ron are living on your own. I’m still staying with Gran,” Neville said.
“I’m not certain it’s completely on our own. Mrs. Weasley still supplied a lot of the food for today,” Harry replied sheepishly.
“That’s not a bad thing,” Neville said, stuffing a biscuit in his mouth and catching the crumbs in his hand.
“All we need is Dean, and the gang’s all here,” Seamus said as he and Ron joined them at the drinks table.
“We all survived the war,” Ron said, toasting the others.
“Had my doubts about this one,” Seamus said, jerking his thumb at Harry, “but we did at that. Cheers!”
“Cheers!” the others all chorused, although Ron frowned as he glanced at Harry. His friend’s overprotectiveness still hadn’t worn off, but Harry knew that when Ron was the one who awoke screaming at night, it was the image of a dead Harry being carried out of the forest, or Hermione being tortured under Bellatrix’s wand that he saw. It always tamped down on Harry’s irritation.
“Who would’ve ever guessed the same bumbling blokes paralyzed at the thought of a Yule Ball in fourth year would end up leading a revolution,” Neville asked, chuckling.
Harry choked and sprayed his drink everywhere. “At the time, the girls seemed far scarier than Voldemort ever did,” he said, gasping.
“Remember when I tried to invite Fleur? She’s my sister-in-law now,” Ron said, laughing.
“She was so out of your league, mate,” Seamus said.
“She wouldn’t be now — I’m a war hero,” Ron said smugly.
“Cheers!” Seamus toasted again. “The witches do love to be seen with war heroes.”
“Apparently, there are a lot of wizards who do, as well. I was talking to Hannah Abbott at the Leaky Cauldron, and she says she gets asked out all the time,” Neville said, his face a rosy colour. Harry thought perhaps the beer was catching up with him.
“This time last year, I was dodging the Carrows, now I’m drinking and watching Quidditch with mates. Life has turned spectacularly,” Seamus said, clapping Neville on the back.
They all drifted toward the Action Twin, cheering for their respective teams as they scored. The match went on for several hours before Harry saw a brief glimmer of gold on the field near the goalposts.
“Hooper has seen the Snitch!” Harry said, moving closer to the Action Twin.
“But Garrett is right on his tail,” Elin added, twisting her Tornado scarf as her eyes urgently followed their trailing Seeker.
Puddlemere was leading by a decent amount, but whoever caught the Snitch would win this one.
“Look at Oliver yelling his head off,” Ron said, laughing. “Another score isn’t going to make a difference now.”
“Hooper has it!” Harry shouted, beaming. Watching made him long to play, but he was happy for Oliver and his team.
“I love getting to watch it,” Duncan said excitedly. “When is the next one? I’ve never been to a professional Quidditch match, but this was fantastic.”
“Lee and George are negotiating with the league to get another one aired. I think they’re waiting to see the response to this one,” Ron said.
“I’d say it was a ruddy brilliant achievement,” Owen said heartily.
They all toasted the sentiment. The first party at the newly renovated Grimmauld Place was a rousing success.
A/N – There’s a tribute in there to my wonderful Tom Brady. Did you see it?Go, Pats!(Heh — I wrote this part of the story ages ago, but I’m tickled at the timeliness of where it came out!)