The day of Gryffindor’s opening match against Slytherin dawned crisp and slightly cloudy — perfect to limit the glare of the weakening October sun. Ginny couldn’t have asked for more ideal conditions. The butterflies she’d experienced all week evaporated with the morning mist as she dressed for the match. She’d purposely let her roommates leave for breakfast before her, needing a few moments alone to collect herself and prepare mentally for the match.
She wasn’t usually a nervous person, but she’d built this match up so much in her head, she’d managed to bugger her own confidence. It was a cheerful, supportive note from George that had arrived the previous evening that shook her out of it. George and Harry were both on her side, and she suspected Ron would be, as well. Even if her mum was disappointed when she learned about Ginny’s career of choice, it wasn’t going to sway her.
She could do this.
Why was her mum always able to get under her skin this way? Despite the fact she was a great distance away and wasn’t even aware of Ginny’s plans, it was her mum’s reaction that Ginny was dreading.
If they hadn’t won the war — if Harry and so many others hadn’t sacrificed so much — a career in Quidditch wouldn’t have been available to her. Hell, there might not even be any Quidditch. Being able to live her life playing the game she loved was a way to honour those who gave their lives so that she could do it. Ginny’s mind conjured up the image of Fred’s smiling face as he swung his Beater’s bat. He’d be most chuffed if she made a team.
Ginny was going to do everything in her power to honour him with that, no matter who thought otherwise.
The common room was nearly empty, most everyone was already down in the Great Hall for breakfast when Ginny emerged from the dormitory. She hurried across the familiar room and attempted to climb through the portrait hole, but was startled by Dean, who bumped into her coming in from the opposite direction.
“Ginny! There you are. Is Wendy with you?” Dean asked, slightly breathless. He looked as if he’d sprinted back up to the Tower.
“What?” she asked.
“The rest of the team is already at breakfast. You and Wendy were the only two not there,” Dean said. “I volunteered to come and check on you.”
Ginny glanced back at the stairs to the girls’ dormitory, tamping down on the unease that was starting to bubble up. “I’ll go and see if she’s still upstairs, you check the changing room. It’s her first match, and the nerves might’ve made her want to skip breakfast,” she said, remembering how Harry had always avoided food before a match.
Ginny was a Weasley, and she would never forego the opportunity to eat, but Wendy might be like Harry. The new, young Seeker hadn’t appeared overly nervous at practice, but Ginny didn’t know her well enough to be certain she wasn’t covering.
“Okay,” Dean said, smiling and rubbing his hand along her arm familiarly before giving it a slight squeeze. “I’ll see you there. I have a good feeling about this match.”
And he was off, leaving Ginny feeling slightly wrong-footed. Her arm tingled where he’d touched it, and she fought the desire to shake it out. Dean had always been a very touchy person, and he’d been perfectly fine towards her since they’d returned.
Shaking her head, she ran up three quick flights to the third-year dormitories and knocked quickly. When there was no response, she knocked again with more force. The sound echoed throughout the quiet stairwell.
“Oi! What d’you want?” a groggy voice asked from behind the closed door.
“It’s Ginny Weasley, and I want to know if Wendy Chambers is still in there,” she said, frowning at the door. The voice hadn’t sounded like Wendy.
“She’s not here,” came a sullen reply.
Ginny’d had enough. She pushed the door open and barged into the dormitory. It was set up like all the other dormitories with a bed and a dresser for each of the six occupants.
“What are you doing?” a young girl asked indignantly, sitting up with bed-rumpled hair and pulling her covers close to her chest. Her eyes were wide, and she watched Ginny warily.
Ginny couldn’t remember her name, but she had a vague memory of the dark-haired girl running screeching down the corridor with either Crabble or Goyle on her tail, wand drawn. Ginny had stuck out her foot, causing the big lumbering oaf to fall. Ginny had been cursed for it, but the young girl had escaped. When Ginny met her eyes again, she knew the third year was remembering the same thing.
Ginny glanced around the rest of the dormitory and found all the beds empty. “Which one is Wendy’s?” she asked.
The girl pointed to the bed across from her own. Ginny strode over and put her hand against the rumpled sheets. They were cold.
“D’you know where she is?” Ginny asked.
The wide-eyed girl simply shook her head.
“If you see her, tell her the rest of the team is looking for her. We’re heading down to the pitch. You’d best get up and get ready if you’re going to make the match,” Ginny said over her shoulder as she left the room.
She had no idea if the girl had been planning to attend, but she saw her quickly rising from her bed as Ginny shut the door. Feeling pleased, she hurried to the Great Hall, hoping Dean had found Wendy. The rest of the team were all there, rowdy and exuberant, but both Dean and Wendy were missing. She’d have to grab a quick bite and check the changing rooms.
Walking swiftly over to where her roommates sat, Ginny greeted them with a grin. Siobhan handed her a stack of toast while Hermione shoved some bacon on top. They knew her well. They both wished Ginny luck and said they’d be down shortly.
Giving a wave to all the other Gryffindor well-wishers, and a very rude hand gesture toward the catcalls of the Slytherins, Ginny nearly ploughed into the Headmistress who was entering the Great Hall.
“Do watch where you are going, Miss Weasley,” Professor McGonagall said stiffly. “And take your revenge against your opponents on the pitch rather than at breakfast.”
Ginny’s cheeks flushed. “Yes, Professor,” she mumbled, ducking from the Great Hall. The fact Professor McGonagall hadn’t docked her any points assured her that her former Head of House would be privately cheering for Gryffindor today regardless of the impartial stance she insisted on taking as Headmistress.
Ginny pushed open the large oak doors and took a deep breath of the crisp morning air. There was already a distinct chill to the mornings and evenings this far north, and Ginny watched as her breath dissipated in the chilly air. She munched on her sandwich while crossing the grounds toward the Quidditch changing rooms. She could hear voices from both teams when she entered the building, and the sounds from the Gryffindor side didn’t sound panicked, but boisterous. She felt certain Wendy had been found.
Before she turned to the left to join her teammates, she saw Professor Slughorn standing in the entrance of the Slytherin side talking to a tall, athletic witch who Ginny recognized despite the fact her back was turned.
Her breath caught, and she felt frozen to the spot.
“Ah, Miss Weasley,” Professor Slughorn said jovially. “Of course you will know Gwenog Jones from the Holyhead Harpies, one of my favourite former students. Ginny is one of my current favourites, although I probably shouldn’t admit as much since she’s opposing my Slytherin team, today, eh?”
Professor Slughorn laughed at his own joke, his walrus moustache quivering. He stood beaming at the other two and rubbing his hands over his large, distended belly.
Gwenog smiled woodenly, her dark eyes sizing Ginny up. “It’s nice to meet you,” she said, nodding.
Ginny silently berated herself for feeling star-struck, and she forced herself to smile brightly. She’d met Gwenog Jones once before at a Slug Club party she and Hermione had attended. She remembered being over the moon at the time, but still keeping her head enough to realize the Quidditch star was rather full of herself. Though Harry hated everything to do with his celebrity status, Gwenog Jones appeared to thrive off hers.
“Hello. I hope you won’t be disappointed with the results of the match,” Ginny said, forcing her shoulders back and meeting the Quidditch star’s eyes.
Naturally, the other women towered over Ginny. Everyone always did.
Gwenog grinned, and Professor Slughorn chortled. “She’s full of confidence, this one,” he said.
“I always enjoy watching good play,” Gwenog said, her eyes lingering on Ginny’s captain badge.
This was it. Gwenog Jones now knew who she was. It was up to Ginny to make an impression. A surge of confidence flowed through her, and her eyes flashed.
“I have to address my team. If you’ll excuse me,” she said, nodding again at the other two and managing to hold back a huge grin until she was safely inside the Gryffindor changing room.
She wondered if Harry was already in the stands. She wished she could tell him that Gwenog Jones was here, but it would have to wait until after Gryffindor won the match.
The match was entering its fourth hour, and there still had been no sign of the Snitch. Ginny’s back ached, and her bum had gone numb over an hour ago. Gryffindor had a substantial lead, but not quite enough to win if Slytherin’s Seeker beat Wendy to the Snitch. Ginny pushed herself forward. A couple more goals and the win could be theirs.
Before the match began, they’d found a green-looking Wendy clutching a bucket in the Gryffindor changing room, her eyes red-rimmed. She’d completely fallen apart. The rest of the team cajoled and coerced her into getting dressed. Ginny could admit the Seeker looked better once they were in the air, but she still had her reservations. She’d feel better if the Chasers could outscore Slytherin enough so that the Snitch wouldn’t matter.
She, Dean, and Demelza worked really well together. Their moves were seamless, enabling their relatively new team to function with ease. Ginny was happy she hadn’t let her reservations about Dean keep him off the team. The surprise had been Bailey McLaggen. He was every bit as good as he said he was, and then some. The Slytherin Beaters had even taken to lobbing repeated Bludgers at him, but he’d managed to dodge them as well as block the hoops.
Ginny was delighted with his performance, though she knew his ego would be a beast to deal with afterwards.
She was happy with her own gameplay, as well. She’d managed to score a brilliant goal with two Chasers and a Bludger on her tail, and right in front of Gwenog Jones to boot. Ginny could hear Harry shouting himself hoarse when that had happened. He was sitting in the Gryffindor section with Ron and Hermione, and the nostalgia went straight to Ginny’s heart.
Although both Gwenog and Harry were distractions, she found Harry the harder to ignore. Her eyes kept straying to where he sat, watching him cheer or laugh. It was as if there was a huge spotlight shining on him — even the sun was happy he was there. It warmed her heart to see him obviously enjoying himself. She knew Demelza was aware of her preoccupation because she kept blowing kisses at Ginny each time she passed. Ginny didn’t care. He was worth the peeks.
She’d missed Demelza scoring, so she forced her mind back onto the game just in time to see Dean miss the Quaffle because he had to dodge a Bludger.
“I have it,” she called, swooping lower in time to catch the errant Quaffle. She began speeding toward the Slytherin hoops with both of their Beaters in close pursuit. She felt the familiar, heady rush of the wind blowing her hair as the cold stung her face. She dodged a Bludger while Demelza ran interference for her. She locked her eyes on the centre hoop but aimed for the right one and threw.
The Slytherin Keeper followed her eyes and moved toward the centre hoop just as the Quaffle sailed by him into the right hoop. He scowled at her as the Gryffindors cheered. At last, Gryffindor had enough of a lead to win regardless who caught the Snitch.
Evan Bulstrode, one of the Chasers, had caught the Quaffle, and he was attempting to dodge past Dean when the excited voice of the announcer spoke across the pitch, “And both Seekers have spotted the Snitch.”
Ginny snapped her head around to see Wendy and the Slytherin Seeker, Phelix Harper diving toward the other end of the pitch where a tiny glimmer of gold was just visible near the bottom or the Gryffindor hoops.
“Go, go, go,” Ginny muttered, as if she could force Wendy faster by the mere force of her words. Evan couldn’t score now or all could be lost. She watched as Jimmy and Ritchie attempted to steer the Bludgers toward him. One of the Bludgers grazed his arm, causing him to drop the Quaffle. Demelza grabbed it and moved toward the opposite end, her eyes fixed on the Seekers.
Both teams were weary, and all of them hovered in mid-air, watching the two Seekers racing for the prize. Ginny felt her heart thumping wildly as she bit her lip watching the action that appeared to be rolling in slow motion.
Each Seeker reached for it at the same time, but Harper’s arm was longer, and it was his fingers that closed around the Snitch. Wendy clutched at the hem of his sleeve, but it was too late. Ginny felt a flicker of irritation — she hated to lose — but it didn’t matter. Gryffindor was still up by points. They’d won the game, if by a very slim margin.
Both teams celebrated as they all lowered their brooms to the ground. It had been an exceedingly long game, and they were all happy to be done. Slytherin wasn’t going to catch them in points, so they were happy to limit the scale of Gryffindor’s victory. Jimmy patted a distraught Wendy on the back while Ritchie picked Demelza off her feet and swung her around. “We won! And we can finally eat,” he said with delight.
Breakfast seemed a long time away, and as soon as he’d said it, Ginny’s own stomach rumbled. Ritchie was a bit like Ron when it came to food. The large crowd must’ve been thinking the same thing, for already the stands had begun to clear as students started the trek towards the Great Hall for lunch. The air was filled with excited chatter as they descended from the stands. Ginny’s eyes again sought out Harry, but she’d lost him in the crowd.
“Ginny, we won!” Dean said, running up beside her and pulling her into a fierce hug before moving toward Demelza to do the same.
Ginny watched them for a moment, pondering, before making the trek back to the changing rooms. She wanted to clean up quickly so she could find Harry and get something to eat.
“Well, we didn’t get the Snitch, but a win is a win,” Bailey said, walking beside her. “We’ll have to see about the score on the Ravenclaw/Hufflepuff match to work out what kind of margin we’ll need for the next match.”
“For now, I’ll take the win and don’t make Wendy feel bad. She only missed by an inch, and it was a great showing for her first match. You did brilliantly, as well,” Ginny said. He really had played spectacularly, and ego or not, he deserved to be congratulated.
Bailey smirked confidently. “Told you.”
“That you did,” Ginny said, laughing. She was too pleased to even try and knock him down a peg. Besides, there were plenty of practices to come in order to do that.
She caught up to Wendy and ruffled the girl’s hair. Her Seeker looked positively heartbroken.
“Go have a shower, it’ll make you feel better,” she said kindly, grabbing her bag of fresh clothes and doing the same.
She relished the feel of the hot water washing away the sweat and grime of the game. Her first match had been a win, and Gwenog Jones had witnessed it. She knew she had personally played well to top it all off. Ginny was feeling immensely cheerful about the day. When she exited the showers, the rest of the team had already departed, but Wendy was sitting glumly on a bench. Ginny pulled her hair into a messy bun and sat beside the younger girl.
“You played well, Wendy. A little more practice and perhaps a growth spurt and we’ll have them,” Ginny said. “Don’t beat yourself up. You were right in the mix.”
“I suppose,” Wendy said. “I wish I could have caught it. I was so close.”
“You were, and that lets me know you’ll have it the next time. I’m not worried, Wendy. Don’t you be,” Ginny said.
“Thanks, Ginny,” Wendy said, a bit more cheerful.
From the corner of her eye, she saw Harry quietly enter the changing room. His bright eyes were alive with mischief as he glanced around the empty changing room. He really wasn’t supposed to be in here.
She was exceedingly happy he didn’t put much stock in rules.
“Go on ahead and get some lunch. I’m certain there’ll be a party in the common room, so don’t fill up too much,” she said, steering Wendy toward the exit in the opposite direction from Harry.
As the girl scampered off, Ginny turned towards him, raising her eyebrow. “Don’t tell me you know of a secret passageway in here, as well?”
Harry grinned. “That’s one I never found, actually.” His skin looked pink from sitting in the sun so long, and his hair was as unkempt as ever. Ginny thought he’d grown more handsome even in the short time since their Hogsmeade visit.
“Pity,” she said, crossing the room and kissing him soundly. Something about a win made her feel daring and bold — and truth be told — a bit randy, as well.
“You played brilliantly,” he said when they finally pulled apart. He kept his arms wrapped around her waist as he spoke, and Ginny liked the feel of their weight resting on her hips. “I loved your mind games on the Slytherin Keeper. It almost looked like you’d Imperiused him.”
Ginny giggled. “Did you notice Gwenog Jones? She was here with Professor Slughorn. I know she isn’t recruiting yet, but it can’t hurt to make an impression.”
“I didn’t see her, but you always make an impression,” he said, smiling that smile that always turned her insides to jelly. It was doing so right now. He reached up and pulled the clip from her hair, causing it to fall over her shoulders. He always seemed to prefer her hair hanging down.
“The match lasted forever. How much longer can you stay?” she asked, wondering if they’d have time to nick a picnic lunch from the house elves.
Harry sighed. “It lasted longer than I’d expected,” he said, raising the bag he had had slumped over his shoulder. “I’ve brought my uniform since I’m on duty in a half hour.”
“Damn. Go on and change then,” she said, nodding toward the changing area. “I’ll walk you to the gates.” The warm bubble that had been building in her chest since she saw him deflated a little.
Harry nodded, tossing his bag on the bench and carelessly pulling his T-shirt over his head as he rummaged in the bag for his uniform. “I don’t want you to miss what’s certain to be an excellent party in the common room,” he said absently.
Ginny only half-heard him. She was mesmerized by the way the lights in the changing room reflected off his taut abdomen. His chest was littered with scars, although Ginny barely noticed them. He was still thin, but much more defined and healthier than he’d been after the Horcrux hunt. Her mouth went dry — perhaps Siobhan had a point about muscles.
Harry had stopped talking and stood there, shirt in his hands, staring at her with a thoroughly amused expression on his handsome face. He’d caught her staring, and he knew it.
“See anything you like?” he asked teasingly.
Ginny wouldn’t have that. “Think you’re impressive, do you?” she asked archly.
Harry’s grin remained in place, his usual modesty glaringly absent as he made no move to cover up. “You’re the one gaping.”
“Oh, really — well, how would you react if I did this?” she asked as she whipped her own shirt off in one smooth motion, amazed at her own boldness. There ought to be an elixir to simulate the feelings of winning a Quidditch match. She didn’t care about her own modesty, and the echoes of the Slytherins’ comments the previous year were growing duller and duller as she stood in front of him.
A stunned Harry stood there gaping. He swallowed visibly as his eyes greedily roamed over her exposed flesh. Ginny was pleased to have the upper hand again. Her heart thundered, and she could feel bumps rising on her skin in the cool air. She wasn’t certain how far her nerve would last, but she was eager to test his reaction.
Without a word, Harry dropped his uniform shirt on the floor, crossed the short distance between them and took her face in his hands. Ginny wasn’t certain who began kissing, but it was hard and fast and bore evidence of a month spent apart. Ginny wound her fingers in Harry’s hair as she felt his arms moving down her back. He was tentative at first, but Ginny’s lack of protest emboldened him, and his fingers became more demanding.
Ginny’s own hands seemed to react with a mind of their own, running over his bare shoulders and down to the abdominal muscles she’d been so fascinated with only moments ago. Harry’s breath hitched as he deepened the kiss, causing her to repeat the motion. The feeling of his skin pressed to hers was heady, and Ginny felt that no matter what she did that she couldn’t get enough of him. She wanted him closer.
She could feel his heart thumping, and instinctively knew he was both as nervous and intrigued as she was, and this thought enabled her to throw caution to the wind.
He began fumbling with her bra clasp. Ginny’s breath caught slightly, and her mind felt muddled. The reasons she’d always told him to stop seemed rather foolish and far away. Instead of wanting him to stop, she wished he’d hurry up. It was taking him much too long to undo that clasp. Finally, her patience could take no more and she used her wand to release it. She grinned against his lips, proud she’d done it wordlessly, and he was none the wiser. He was too focused on his unprecedented good luck to care. He began to lower the garment from her shoulders when they heard someone clumping up the stairs.
“Harry? You in here?” Ron called, very close to the door.
She and Harry broke apart, groaning, and hurriedly grabbing for their shirts. Harry swore colourfully under his breath, looking incredibly put out. Ginny nearly laughed at his disgruntled expression despite her own annoyance with her brother. She’d just managed to straighten her shirt when Ron entered the changing room, swinging his arms gormlessly. His eyes narrowed when he caught sight of them, and he stared at them suspiciously.
“Has everyone else gone? What were you two doing?” he asked.
“What do you think we were doing? Snogging, of course,” Ginny answered flippantly.
Ron’s face puckered as if he’d tasted something sour. “Well, don’t do it where I can see it.”
Ginny’s own temper ignited. “We were in here alone before you interrupted, you hypocrite,” she said scathingly.
“If I don’t see it, I can stay in my nice imaginary world where my sister and best mate are innocent babes doing no more than holding hands,” Ron said as if he sounded perfectly reasonable
Harry started at him incredulously. “Are you ruddy daft?” he asked, his voice sounding strangled. Ginny could hear anger simmering beneath his words. Harry was still worked up, and Ginny wanted to leave him with a more pleasant memory of this promising encounter.
“I like my world. Let me stay there,” Ron replied smugly.
Before Harry could snap, Ginny leaned over and grabbed his arm. Leaning in to whisper, she said, “Don’t worry. We’ll have plenty of time to be alone over Christmas break.”
As soon as she’d said it, she knew that it was true, and the possibilities sent a delightful tingle to the core of her being. The slightly glazed expression in Harry’s eyes let her know his mind was racing, as well.
At least her brother was no longer in danger of being hexed — for the moment, anyway.
Harry remained vigilant and alert as his eyes swept the many dark crevices between buildings in Knockturn alley. He kept his wand clutched in his hand as he peered into the darkness. Although the streets were crowded, his neck prickled as he felt the weight of a hundred unseen stares watching him move stealthily along the street.
He and Owen were answering a call about an intruder in one of the shops. It was a nice break from the Dementor round up, and Harry had jumped at the chance. He hadn’t been on many investigations as of yet, and no matter what they found, it had to be better than the Dementors.
Although he’d ventured into Knockturn Alley once during a Floo accident in his second year, he hadn’t been back since he’d followed Draco Malfoy to the very edge where Borgin and Burke’s stood. He knew it hadn’t suffered nearly the devastation that had befallen the rest of Diagon Alley during Voldemort’s reign, but there were still some boarded-up shops that had never recovered. Kingsley’s new and improved Ministry was doing all it could to cleanse the area, but a thriving black market had sown deep roots. It would take more time and resources than the Ministry currently had to clean it all up.
As he and Owen moved side by side down the cobblestoned street, Harry saw a heavily-shawled, hunchbacked witch arguing with a wizard wearing a many-pocketed cloak. A number of street vendors quickly closed their stands and hurried into dark corners as the two Aurors approached. Patrons stuffed their hands deep in their pockets and moved in the opposite direction.
Harry supposed he ought to feel some measure of fear as he strolled through the obviously hostile crowd, and though he kept his wand at the ready, he felt oddly alive. His senses were sharpened, and his heart beat with a slight thrill of exhilaration rather than anything foreboding. He supposed his lonely walk into the forest, knowing he was heading for his own death, had dulled other experiences by comparison.
“I think that witch on the corner by the tobacco shop is selling Ashwinder eggs. They’re on the list of substances the Ministry is monitoring,” Harry said, keeping his voice low. He’d seen her stuff the banned substance further into her robes as they passed.
“I know it. I reckon the two blokes over by the pawn shop are trading, as well. We’re here to investigate an alarm in one of the shops, so unless we see a crime blatently taking place, we’re to continue on our investigation. We can’t fix everything overnight, kid, even if it makes us twitch. Dark magic is the priority, the black market will continue to thrive for a few more months,” Owen said grimly.
Harry knew it was the truth. Professor Dumbledore had once said that evil must always be fought, even if it could never be fully eradicated. It ebbs and flows. It was something that Hermione, with all her cleverness, could never understand. She would always believe there was a solid solution, but Harry knew that wasn’t true. Evil would have other victories, they just had to attempt to contain them.
“It’s likely the Dark wizards are getting their supplies off the black market,” Harry said, still aware of how many people were covertly watching them.
“As they always have done. You can’t save everyone, so we have to focus our efforts on where we can do the most good. This is it,” Owen said, stopping and confirming the number on the door.
Harry looked up at a dismally grey, run-down building’s dirty windows and the chipped paint covering the slightly opened door. Owen and Harry exchanged a glance. The call had come from the adjacent shop claiming one of the wards had been announcing an intruder for over an hour. All was silent as they climbed the front steps.
The sign above the door identified the shop as ‘Tippel’s Tomes,’ a book shop, although Harry knew the mere fact of its location indicated the books would be of a darker variety. Owen cast a Revealing spell, but there was no one inside.
“Wands up, we go in on three,” Owen said, grasping the handle so that he would enter first. “One, two, three…”
As soon as he’d pushed open the door, the previously silent wards began to wail, and a Sneakoscope on the floor spun, releasing a high-pitched squeal. A strong gust of hot wind hit both of their faces, but they’d each had a shield in place before a curse could hit them. The wailing continued as they pushed their way into the shop.
“Finite,” Owen said absently as his eyes scanned the dim shop. The wailing stopped instantly, and the Sneakoscope stopped moving.
“Lumos,” Harry said, causing the shops interior sconces to flare. It really didn’t help much. The walls were lined with shelves of dusty books. The covers were all dark and untitled. A small counter stood in the back corner, covered with stacks of more books and an empty birdcage. The till was open, and the floor littered with bits of stray paper and upturned books.
There was a musty, old smell that reminded Harry oddly of Mrs. Figg. The only portrait on the wall showed an old witch stirring her cauldron and watching them beneath the brim of a wide hat.
As they approached the counter, Harry could see open drawers on a credenza beneath the till, various folders and papers pulled out haphazardly. Owen peered around the corner, and his hand instantly reached back, blocking Harry’s progress. He hunched down on his knees, dragging Harry with him.
“What is it?” Harry asked tersely.
“I think our break-in just became a murder investigation,” Owen replied, casting several spells in rapid succession.
Harry knew from his training that Owen was both protecting the body so as not to contaminate the scene, and ensuring there were no Dark spells hidden on the corpse that they could unexpectedly set off.
“All clear,” Owen said.
Harry stepped around the counter and took his first look at their victim. He saw a middle-aged witch with greying hair and a slight build. She was dressed in traditional robes as many of the older generation wore, and her hand was covered in silver rings. Otherwise, her body was unmarked.
Harry cast a spell to detect Dark magic, and as he suspected, there was evidence of the Killing Curse.
“Avada Kedavra?” Owen asked.
Harry nodded, his eyes scanning the surrounding area for a wand. He checked the pockets of her robes and along the edges of her body, but there was nothing.
“Her wand is missing,” he said.
“The till still has gold. If it were a robbery, I can’t imagine they’d leave the gold. Looks like she was reconciling, and they caught her by surprise,” Owen said, examining the desk.
“I’m going to send a Patronus to let the Ministry know they need to get a victim examination team down here,” Harry said, moving toward the entrance of the shop. Since he’d suggested using Patronuses as a form of communication within the Ministry, many of the previous procedures had been changed and streamlined because of it.
As he sent Prongs with his missive, he noticed a lone figure walking on the opposite side of the alley. There was something familiar about the lanky young wizard, but Harry couldn’t immediately place him. He stared for a moment, watching him walk as his mind tried to dredge up how he knew him. A group of three walking in the opposite direction blocked the wizard, forcing him to look when they didn’t move to the side to let him pass.
Harry ducked back into the shadows of the entryway where he could remain unobserved but still hear their conversation.
“What are you doing here? If anyone recognizes you, you could get in trouble,” the only witch amongst the group said.
The lone wizard shrugged his shoulders. “Needed a few things. I’m not doing anything against the law,” he said sullenly.
“Think that’ll stop the mob? They’re after the heads of Death Eaters these days,” another wizard said, staring around cautiously.
“I’m not a Death Eater,” the young wizard replied.
“Your father is, and that’s as good as these day,” the witch replied. “Get out of here, Theo. Go into hiding for a little while.”
“We have to go,” the third in the group said, keeping his eyes to the ground and shifting uncomfortably. “We can’t be seen with you right now.”
“Yeah, I know the spiel,” Theo said contemptuously.
“Theo—” the witch said imploringly.
“Never mind, Gracia. I’m well aware I’m not the company anyone wants to be associated with these days,” he replied, shouldering past the group and continuing on his way.
Harry pulled back inside the shop. He recognized the wizard now. Theodore Nott had been a classmate of his, a Slytherin, but Harry didn’t really know very much about him other than he could see Thestrals. He hadn’t been one of Draco Malfoy’s cohorts, as far as Harry knew.
So, the relatives of Death Eaters were having a hard time of it. He heard there’d been an uptick in arrests of mob-like behaviour, and he really couldn’t begrudge people their anger. Many had lost family members because those who supported Voldemort’s cause had reported Muggle-borns to the Registration committee. They’d turned neighbour against neighbour. Some had risen to the occasion, others had done whatever needed to be done to survive, and there were still others who merely tried to keep their heads down and not draw attention to themselves.
It would take time for all the wounds to heal.
Pushing aside his thoughts about Theodore Nott, Harry continued to search the shop for evidence in the crime he was investigating. When the team came to retrieve the body for transport back to the Ministry, he and Owen left them to it. They’d have to return to the Ministry themselves to fill in a report. There was much more paperwork involved in being an Auror than Harry had ever expected.
“She didn’t have a Dark Mark,” Harry said, nearly bursting to get Owen’s opinion on this piece of information.
“No, I noticed that, too. Of course, those with the Mark weren’t the only ones using Dark magic, even during the war,” Owen replied.
“Still, d’you think they were looking for a book or information? Did this witch double-cross somebody, or did she refuse to give them what they wanted?” Harry asked, pondering. His mind was racing with possibilities. The witch was well-dressed, and didn’t seem to be in desperate need for money. This didn’t appear to be a robbery. There was more going on here, he was certain of it.
“Most of the Death Eaters I knew weren’t very interested in reading. If I had to guess, I’d say they were looking for information,” Owen said.
“On what?” Harry asked.
“Isn’t that my line? Aren’t you the one with a direct link into the workings of Dark wizard’s minds?” Owen asked.
Harry snorted. “That only worked with Voldemort. Dolohov is still out there, and there’s been no sign of him. D’you think he could have something to do with this?” They’d managed to apprehend the Lestrange brothers during their last raid, but Dolohov and some of his followers weren’t amongst those captured.
“He has experience with the Killing Curse. The past few years notwithstanding, it really isn’t something we come across with the general populace. There are plenty of more subtle ways to kill someone,” Owen said ominously.
“Harry! Just the man I wanted to see. Fancy running into you, here,” a tall, blonde witch with heavy make-up said, grasping Harry’s arm.
“Er… hello,” Harry said. He’d remembered running into her at King’s Cross Station, but he couldn’t remember her name.
“Terra Munch from the International Confederation of Wizards. I’d requested an audience to discuss some of the highlights of the Battle of Hogwarts,” she said.
“I really wouldn’t call them highlights,” Harry said coldly.
“Oh, pardon. Of course not,” she said, lowering her eyes. Her grip on his arm remained firm, however. “How insensitive of me. I really think your story could go a long way in educating all of us on the horrors of the war.”
“Excuse me,” Owen said, staring at Terra incredulously. “I don’t care who the bloody hell you are. We’re working here. If you want to discuss the ruddy war, contact the Ministry to arrange it.”
“Now listen here,” Terra said, the cloying, fawning voice disappearing instantly. “The International Confederation of Wizards legislates all the procedures you’re attempting to follow, so I’d be most wary of who you cross, Auror Savage.”
“Is that a threat?” Owen asked, eyes narrowed. If he was surprised she knew his name, he didn’t show it.
“Of course not,” Terra replied, taking a step back and regaining her composure. “I’m merely stressing the importance of our work. An interview with Mr. Potter is high on the goals of the Confederation.”
“Exactly what are you doing in Knockturn Alley?” Harry asked suddenly. It seemed an odd place for someone of Terra’s stature to be conducting business.
Terra eyed him much more coolly than she had previously. “I had business,” she said. “Can I let the others know to expect you?”
“You can arrange it with the Ministry,” Owen said firmly.
Terra narrowed her eyes at both before pursing her lips. “Very well,” she said and walked away in the opposite direction.
“Has trouble always just followed you around, kid?” Owen asked conversationally.
“I’m not a kid,” Harry snapped, feeling nettled. Something about Terra Munch set him on edge.
Owen snorted. “You’re much younger than me, therefore you’ll always be a kid. ‘sides, do you even shave?”
Back at Grimmauld Place, Harry pulled back the covers on his large bed and slid inside the cool sheets, sighing as he felt the weariness that had plagued him all day lifting. He’d returned from the Ministry to prepare a quick fry-up for himself, Ron, and George — who frequently had been joining them for supper — but excused himself after wolfing down his own portion. He didn’t feel particularly social this evening.
For the past several nights, he’d been assigned the late shift with the Dementors, and by the time he’d returned home, it had been too late to contact Ginny. He was working again the following evening, so this was his one chance to catch up with her, and he wasn’t letting Ron and George stand in his way.
He pulled the mirror from the drawer of his bedside table — on top of which rested his new copy of Twelve Fail-Safe Ways to Charm Witches, courtesy of George — and stared at it, contemplating. He hadn’t spoken with Ginny since their interrupted kiss in the changing room, but his mind had repeatedly replayed her parting comment. She’d said they’d have plenty of time alone over Christmas, and he’d looked at that statement from several angles, hoping she meant the same thing he thought she did.
He’d been sure of it when he’d left Hogwarts, but his repeated excursions with the Dementors left him doubting himself to the point he wasn’t even certain what he’d heard anymore. Perhaps he’d imagined it. Why would she possibly want to be with him that way, damaged as he was? Nothing had changed since the summer, after all.
Harry shifted, lying back on the pillow and staring at the mirror without using it. His mind kept replaying a conversation he’d had with George. George had said that he felt brain damaged since the loss of Fred, and Harry had, of course, adamantly denied that claim. Still, it had started Harry thinking. After all, he was the one who’d had an insidious parasite living inside him for most of his life. That didn’t even take into account all the traumatizing experiences at Hogwarts, the Triwizard tournament, the Battle — they’d all left scars. Not to mention the fact the Auror class had been reading a unit about abuse victims and how to handle them in class. Although he didn’t care for the word, he couldn’t deny that some of the material made him uncomfortable. Spending ten years in a cupboard wasn’t normal.
There was nothing about Harry’s life that had been normal, and part of him was damaged because of it. He was the one who was damaged.
Ginny was the only one who could even come close to understanding what that Horcrux had done to him. She’d lived with a part of Riddle’s soul attached to her, as well. But Ginny was pure and light and good. She was fun and cheerful, and she made others want to be around her. Harry was none of those things. So, why then, would she want to know him in the most intimate way possible? It didn’t make any sense, so he must’ve misunderstood her. Once Ginny realized how marred he truly was, she’d come to her senses.
He knew enough about the effects of Dementors to know they were wreaking havoc on his emotions, but he could no longer completely squash the feelings of self-doubt they evoked. How had Sirius managed to survive in Azkaban for twelve years? Harry didn’t think he’d last twelve days in the same situation.
He was being ridiculous. He’d come up here to talk to her, and he wasn’t going to let his worries stop him from doing so. Before his courage failed, he breathed on the mirror and softly called her name.
There was no immediate response, and Harry held his breath while his heart hammered a furious rhythm. He really needed to talk to her, even just for a little while.
Please be there.
“Ginny,” he repeated, and this time, the mirror fogged over and Ginny’s bright red hair filled up the surface. He gasped in relief while she adjusted the mirror to show her face. She smiled brightly. To him, it felt like a Patronus clearing away his demons.
“Hi,” she said. “I didn’t expect to hear from you. Did something happen with the Dementors?” she asked, her brow knitting with worry.
“No,” Harry said quickly, reassuring. “I had a day off from Dementor duty. Owen and I took a call in Knockturn Alley. I ended up spending my day on a murder investigation.”
“Really? I’m not sure what it means that I’m happy you did that rather than spend more time with the Dementors,” Ginny said, frowning.
Harry snorted. “I know what you mean. Not to diminish the poor witch’s suffering, but it did make for an easier day.”
“A witch was murdered?” Ginny asked.
“I don’t mean to sound like Hagrid, but I’m not certain I’m supposed to tell you that. Can you keep it to yourself for the time being?” Harry asked sheepishly.
Ginny let out a bark of laughter, her eyes sparkling mischievously and causing a flood of warmth to run through Harry’s belly.
“I can, but it’ll cost you,” she said.
Harry’s grin grew wider. “Yeah? And what’s your price?” he asked, hoping it would be something to make her blush and reassure him that all the concerns he’d been having were for naught, and her mind was in exactly the same place as his.
“Well, I’m out of grape-flavoured Sugar Quills, you know,” she said impishly.
Harry deflated a little.
“So, were you in Knockturn Alley all day?” she asked, unaware of Harry’s inner turmoil.
“Yeah,” he replied, pulling himself together. “Well, most of it, anyway. I saw Theodore Nott. It looked like his mates were trying to avoid him.”
“Ooh, I’ve seen that, too. No one wants to be associated with the Death Eaters these days,” she said.
“Nott wasn’t a Death Eater, though, was he? I know his father was. What was he like at Hogwarts?” Harry asked.
“I remember that he was friendly with Draco Malfoy, but he wasn’t one of the ones who really took to the Carrows’s methods. Malfoy wasn’t either, though, not like Crabbe and Goyle, anyway. Still, they never balked at handing out the punishments, even against the little ones.
“There are a lot of weird tensions here at Hogwarts, even between those who didn’t really do anything but keep their heads down. There’s resentment among the Houses, particularly toward Slytherin,” Ginny said.
“I suppose that’s not surprising. It’ll take time to sort it all out,” Harry said, frowning. He remembered a speech Professor Dumbledore had made long ago about choosing between what was right and what was easy. He wondered how many people were second-guessing their choices now.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“I was in the common room working on a History of Magic assignment. I came up here when I felt the mirror vibrate,” Ginny said.
“Is that still your favourite class?” Harry asked, smirking.
“Ha, ha. We’re doing an essay on the use of Inferi during Voldemort’s first rise. They really are foul,” Ginny said.
Harry’s mind flashed on a hidden cave and an army of Inferi lurking beneath the surface of a lake as he mercilessly forced Professor Dumbledore to drink a potion that would eventually lead to his death. He shuddered involuntarily, hard enough for Ginny to notice.
“Sorry,” she said quietly, her eyes concerned.
“S’alright,” Harry said, shaking his head. “They are foul.”
Something in his face must’ve still betrayed his discomfort, for Ginny changed the subject. “Did Ron make dinner tonight?”
Harry shrugged. “No, but we were all working. I just did a quick fry-up. He and George are still down there eating.”
“Harry, if you don’t make him pull his own weight, he’s never going to learn,” Ginny said, frowning.
“I know, but he’s really bad at it, and I get hungry,” Harry said, feeling defensive. Ron did skive off on his cooking duties more often than not, but Harry wasn’t certain which was worse — when he didn’t cook or when he did.
Ginny shook her head. “It’s on your head, then. Are you going to cook for me over Christmas break?”
Harry sat up straighter. They were back to Christmas break. “If you want me to,” he said.
“Of course I want you to! I like the idea of being pampered by my boyfriend,” Ginny said, laughter sparkling in her eyes.
“Consider it done, then,” Harry replied, hoping she’d say more about her plans for Christmas break.
Ginny beamed. “Ooh, guess what? I think Luna fancies someone,” Ginny said, as if she was revealing one of life’s great mysteries. Come to think of it, Harry didn’t remember anyone that had ever really caught Luna’s interest.
“Who?” he asked curiously.
“Simon Teevens, the Head Boy. We were in the library earlier, and I think Luna was trying to flirt with him. Of course, Luna being Luna, I think she scared the poor boy off because he didn’t know what to make of her. I saw her sitting by him at supper, too,” Ginny said.
“I don’t remember him,” Harry said, trying to place a face.
“He’s in Ravenclaw, and he’s never dated Brynn Dempsey, so that’s one thing he has going for him,” Ginny said.
From what Ginny had told him, Brynn was Ravenclaw tower’s version of Romilda Vane, and she’d been one of the chief perpetrators in stealing Luna’s things year after year. Harry didn’t like her on principle.
“Good for Luna,” Harry said. “She deserves some happiness.”
“I always thought she might get together with Neville,” Ginny said musingly. “Although, I suppose she’s a bit out there for him.”
“I’d like to see him introduce her to his grandmother though,” Harry said, and he couldn’t help but laugh at the image. “I saw Neville today at the Ministry. He’s eager to get on the Dementor Task Force, but I told him to be glad his class hadn’t started there yet.”
“Well, it will be good to get more people involved and give those of you who’ve been doing it more of a rest. I can see the toll it’s taking on you, Harry,” Ginny said, her eyes growing serious.
Harry shrugged. “Hopefully, it’ll be over soon.”
“You get some sleep so you’ll feel strong tomorrow. I’m going to finish my essay,” Ginny said, stretching.
“All right,” Harry said, his eyes drooping. “Good night, Ginny.”
“Good night, Harry. Sleep well. I love you,” Ginny whispered.
“I love you, too,” Harry said, smiling. As he rolled over to go to sleep, he thought he’d definitely have to order her more grape Sugar Quills.