Ginny stood on a ladder in the entrance hall of Grimmauld Place, weaving silver and gold ribbon around the candle-filled chandelier in preparation for the evening’s party. Kreacher had helped them with a thorough cleaning, so the house was sparkling and festive. Although Ginny was excited for the party, she also felt a little sad. New Year’s always reminded her that winter break was nearly over. She’d had a lovely holiday and wasn’t experiencing any of her usual eagerness to return to Hogwarts.
She and Harry hadn’t been able to manage another entire night together, but they’d stolen plenty of interludes, nonetheless. Once Andromeda had learned that Harry was struggling with the stairs at Grimmauld Place, she’d dropped all pretences and sent Kreacher over to care for him. Harry had grumbled at first, but the fact Kreacher was there left Molly assuming there was constant supervision. Ginny thought it best to avoid telling her mum that Kreacher basically left them alone and had started calling her ‘Master’s Miss.’
Ginny knew Ron was growing suspicious, and if he hadn’t been so distracted by Hermione’s absence, he most likely would’ve been trailing them around the vast house trying to keep them apart. As it was, Ron had spent the majority of the week moping — which kept him out of Ginny’s hair nicely. Hermione had returned this morning, and Ginny hadn’t seen either of them since.
Naturally, Ginny wasn’t happy that Harry had been hurt, but she had to admit that he couldn’t have timed his injury better. He’d been on leave during her entire break. He was supposed to go back to work in a few days, but even then he was assigned to desk duty. His leg was much better, and it was now only the stairs that still gave him trouble. He’d virtually abandoned the walking stick. Ginny kept finding it tossed in corners, but she repeatedly moved it so that it was always positioned by the stairs. She’d even enlisted Kreacher’s help in placing it within easy reach.
Pensively, she chewed on her lip as she hung the ribbon, her mind going over the events of the past week. She’d done something rash and was now second-guessing her actions. Her ruddy temper always brought trouble — sometimes more trouble than she could cope with. She could always see it in hindsight, but she’d yet to manage controlling it before she acted in a fit of pique.
It had started several days ago when she and Harry lay curled in his bed, relishing the afterglow. Ron had gone to work, and they’d spent the afternoon quite alone…
Ginny lay wrapped in Harry’s arm, her head resting on his chest as he twisted a strand of her hair around his finger. She felt drowsy and content, her eyes heavy as she listened to the thumping of his heart. Their legs were tangled together, and she marveled at the warmth of his skin.
“Can I ask you something?” he murmured, his lips pressed against her hair.
“Hmm?” she asked, not really listening.
“You know that I want you for more than just this, right? Don’t get me wrong, I like this — a lot — but I want all of you, Ginny,” he said, pulling her tighter to his chest. “I want to analyse Quidditch moves with you, and laugh at Ron’s obsession with the Cannons. I want to fly with you and hear you laugh as we reach heights that should make you gasp. I want your warm heart, and even your quick tempter, and I want to help when your nightmares make you shout, ‘not Harry.’”
That woke her up, and her eyes opened wide. Harry wasn’t one to voluntarily share his feelings unless being pressed. This had been on his mind for some reason, and Ginny could guess why. Someone had talked. She stiffened in his embrace, but she wasn’t going to make it easy. If he wanted to know more, she was going to make him ask.
“What d’you mean?” she asked in a forced calm. In truth, a cold sweat had broken out along her forehead, and it was taking all her strength not to tremble.
Harry absently rubbed the scar on his forehead — a sure sign of discomfort. “Malfoy said something…” he muttered.
Ginny sat up, no longer feigning calm as she stared at him directly, eyes blazing. “What did he say?”
Harry swallowed heavily, but met her gaze. “He said there was a rumour that I’d ditched you after we’d…” He trailed off, but his hand waved over them vaguely as they lay in his bed. “He said a load of blokes gave you a hard time about it.”
“Did he?” Ginny asked, furious. How dare he still be talking about her? She’d put up with this shite all the previous year, and she wasn’t about to let anyone drag her back into it. “Did he tell you that he was one of the lead jeerers? That a load of blokes thought I’d put out for them, too — and not just the Carrows’ enforcers? Did he tell you it wasn’t just the blokes — that loads of fawning witches wanted to believe I was a slag and let you just use me?”
Ginny was panting and she felt the sting of tears in her eyes as she blinked furiously to dispel them.
“Ginny,” Harry said, eyes wide, “I wish you would’ve been the one to tell me.”
“Why? It wasn’t true, and it was in the past. Why did he have to go and say anything to you for, anyway? Most likely because he wasn’t getting the reaction he’d wanted out of me. He had no right. Don’t tell me you let him get you riled,” she said, raging.
Harry scowled, but the colour on his skin told her all she needed to know. “Did you hex him?”
“No — but only because Ron stopped me. I wasn’t going to hex him — I was going to hit him,” Harry said, as if that would’ve brought much more satisfaction.
“It’s not your place to hit him. This was something they did to me — to try and make me talk. But I didn’t! Not that I could’ve, anyway,” she said bitterly.
“I’m sorry,” Harry gasped, appalled. “I never meant… I didn’t want… I tried to protect you. I never meant to make it worse.”
Harry’s honest distress brought her back to herself. It wasn’t his fault. He didn’t do this — and he never would. The fact she was lying here next to him, baring both her body and soul without fear reminded her of just how far they’d come. He’d always be there for her.
“I know,” she whispered, the tenseness leaving her body. “It wasn’t your fault.”
“But if I hadn’t left like that—”
“And done what? Taken me along for the Horcrux hunt? I still had the Trace. How long until that allowed them to track you? You said yourself that you couldn’t focus if you thought I was in danger. Voldemort might have succeeded if it happened any other way,” Ginny said fiercely, holding his face in place as he attempted to look away. “I’m right about this. I’ve had loads of time to think about it. If you’d left without breaking up with me, they’d have used me to draw you out — you know they would. And I think you’d have come.”
“I would,” Harry said, his eyes glistening.
“And again, Voldemort might have succeeded. Your plan worked, and we have a lifetime to make up for the time spent apart. I’ll take a few months of misery over a lifetime of grief any day.”
Harry took her in his arms and kissed her fiercely, as if he’d never let her go again…
She smiled at the memory, her skin tingling. Unfortunately, Ginny’s temper had got the best of her afterwards. She’d meant what she said to Harry, but it didn’t lessen her ire with ruddy Draco Malfoy. Who was he to continue these rumours after she’d worked so hard to put them in the past? Did he think by going to Harry it would cause trouble in her relationship? She’d show him. She’d let the prat see exactly how close she and Harry were — that they’d never been apart, not really. Without thinking, without any rational thought whatsoever, she’d grabbed one of the extra party invitations and hastily scribbled, ‘Astoria Greengrass and guest,’ on the envelope. He didn’t even rate his own invitation. Fate, or karma, or whatever it was had either been with or against her — she still wasn’t certain which — for Zeus had been there and ready for a flight, so she’d sent the invitation off before she could rethink it.
Now, on the day of the party, her stomach twisted in a knot. She didn’t know if Astoria would come. They weren’t particularly close, although they’d certainly made steps in that direction this year. Ginny admired the way the Slytherin girl handled herself. She suspected that Astoria was eager to show that she was moving on, as well. That she would like the opportunity to distance herself from the former Death Eaters whom she was associated with through her House — even if she had to walk into a den of lions to do it. Perhaps, she would come and bring her sister, Daphne, who might also want the opportunity.
Ginny instinctively knew that was a pipe dream. If Astoria was coming, she’d bring her boyfriend. Ginny would do the same.
She’d really mucked it up this time. Ron was going to blow a gasket. All her brothers would. Even her dad had his difficulties with the Malfoys.
She couldn’t see a way out, so she had to own up to the gaffe.
She at least had to tell Harry. She couldn’t let him walk into this blind. Damn, she hated having to apologize. And she’d buggered herself, as well. She didn’t know if she wanted to see Draco Malfoy, anyway. True, he’d never been the worst about practicing the Curses — he’d always been a tad squeamish, even when following the Carrows’ orders — but he had enjoyed strutting around with them and acting as if he was in charge. He’d relished his role as an enforcer even if he didn’t enjoy getting his hands dirty.
Ginny even suspected that he knew Harry hadn’t left her for any nefarious reasons, but that hadn’t stopped his taunts. To be fair, he hadn’t shared that information with the Carrows, either. But at the moment, she didn’t want to be fair. She wanted to prove to him — to all of them, really — that they hadn’t beaten her. When she’d sent the invitation, she’d wanted to stuff his blabbing words right down his throat.
Now, however, with the clock ticking ever closer to the party, she suspected she’d cut off her nose to spite her face.
Harry would be so disappointed in her.
That thought was even worse than facing Draco Malfoy. She didn’t want to let Harry down, and she knew the idea of having the former Death Eater in his house would make him uncomfortable.
“Bloody hell,” she muttered, straining to tie the last ribbon on the opposite side of the chandelier. She was asking a lot of her ladder. The entrance hall looked spectacular, if she did say so herself, with a dozen large red poinsettias staged around it and reflecting off the large mirror. Ginny had found a stray strand of holly and ivy that she was attempting to attach to the ribbon. She could’ve easily done it with magic, but she always thought it looked “too perfect” that way. She preferred it when it involved a bit of effort. Perhaps her mum had been onto something all those years she’d made her children do chores the Muggle way
Suddenly, she felt a pair of hands gently, but firmly, grasp her bum in a feigned attempt to support her. Given that her brother and Hermione were the only others present, and she was reasonably certain they wouldn’t grasp her bum, she knew who those hands belonged to. Still, she allowed them to remain as she finally attached the plants.
“Who are you bloody helling?” Harry asked. “You’ve been grumbling in here for the past twenty minutes.”
Ginny climbed off the ladder and turned to face him like a wayward child. He put his hands around her waist, pulling her closer. His lovely eyes glittered with amusement, and she hated that she was about to erase his happy expression. “I’ve really buggered something up,” she said, sighing.
Harry looked amused rather than worried. “What have you buggered up? I’m certain it’s not as bad as you think.”
“I invited Draco Malfoy to the party,” she said bluntly.
Harry paused, blinking owlishly, as if waiting for the punchline to a joke. “You what?” he finally asked.
Ginny sighed deeply. In for a Knut, in for a Galleon. “I invited Draco Malfoy to the party.”
Harry’s eyes dilated as colour slowly but surely rose in Harry’s cheeks. “You’re joking,” he said, aghast. “Ginny, are you mad?”
Ginny folded her arms across her chest. “I was angry that he’d been spreading those rumours again, and I lost my head. I wanted to show him that we were together and happy,” she said sullenly.
“Dammit, Ginny,” he shouted, releasing her and beginning to pace across the entrance hall. “You know Hermione is still wary around him. I’ve put more wards on this house than ever before so we’d all have a place to finally feel completely safe. How safe can it be if he knows where we live? If there’s nowhere to get away from him? This is going to be a mess.”
Ginny hadn’t thought about Hermione’s reaction and felt a jolt in her gut. “I didn’t think about that. I told you, I wasn’t thinking straight. I invited Astoria, and I’m certain she’s going to bring him if she decides to come.”
Harry ran a hand through his hair, making it stand on end. She could see his eyes moving rapidly as he tried to work out what to do. “Is there anyone else coming who will speak to him? Is there anyone else here he won’t try and wind up?” Harry asked.
“Probably not,” Ginny replied, her spirits sinking. She’d effectively ruined the party that they’d planned for so long.
“Andromeda maybe, and your mum might be civil. We have to give everyone a heads up,” Harry said, still pacing as he worked out a way to salvage the party.
“I’m sorry,” she said, feeling miserable. He was right. There was no one here who would be happy about it, and this was going to be the hardest on Hermione.
Harry looked up, his shoulders slumping. “It’s all right. You have every right to ask Astoria, obviously you do. I’ll talk to Ron and Hermione, so at least they have some warning. Maybe he won’t come,” he said, shrugging hopefully.
“Maybe,” Ginny said, doubting she’d get that lucky.
Harry walked back over to her and put his arms around her waist again, pulling her close. “Hey, it’s a New Year’s Eve party. Isn’t the New Year supposed to be about new starts? Perhaps we can all begin putting the war behind us.”
“You’re not supposed to make me feel better. You’re supposed to be angry,” Ginny said, pouting.
Harry tried to frown but couldn’t hold it. His eyes glinted brighter than ever, and it was cheering Ginny up despite herself. She pushed his shoulder.
“Why are you so damn cheerful?” she asked petulantly.
If possible, Harry’s grin widened even further. “Because this counts as a row, right? Now we can have make-up sex.”
Ginny threw back her head and laughed. Who could deny that?
When Ginny came downstairs, she found Hermione curled up in the sitting room reading a book. She still looked rather tired, but not as washed-out as she had when she’d first arrived back from Australia earlier that morning. Ginny took a deep breath and joined her on the couch. She knew that Harry had gone to talk to her and Ron while Ginny had been in the shower.
“You all right?” she asked. There was no point in pretending she didn’t know. She was the one who’d brought on this whole mess, after all.
Hermione turned a page without looking up from her book. After a moment, she twisted her lips to the side and said, “I didn’t realize you and Astoria had become such good friends.”
Ginny pressed her lips together and nodded. She deserved that. “I think Astoria’s decent — for a Slytherin, but I concede that we’re not really friends.”
Hermione did look up at that point. “For a Slytherin,” she said slowly. “I thought we were working on school unity.”
Ginny shrugged. “It’s going to take time to get over what the pure-blood Slytherins did last year. I think Astoria is trying to do that. I’m not certain that those of us who were there will ever trust them completely, though. More likely, the school will have a better chance as more and more of the younger students come through.”
Hermione raised her head and stared out the window, unseeing.
“I didn’t invite her to upset you, Hermione. I wasn’t thinking. I was angry, and acted rashly,” Ginny said, shifting her position.
“I know — I’ve seen you do that before. I was thinking that I’m acting the same way,” Hermione said, pursing her lips.
“How do you mean?” Ginny asked.
“I’m holding a grudge against Draco for what his family did to me while he was there. How are we ever going to rebuild and repair if no one can let go?” Hermione asked, sounding rather sad.
“I don’t know. I suppose it’ll change because it has to. Voldemort is gone, and no one is going to tolerate discrimination against the Muggle-borns — at the moment, anyway,” Ginny replied.
“So, we switch our discrimination to the pure-bloods?” Hermione asked, sounding disgusted.
Ginny paused, considering her words. “Some of them deserve it. Draco might have only stood back and watched, but some of the students — Evan Bulstrode and Tim Travers, for instance — actively took part in torture. No one can just go back and pretend that didn’t happen. Merlin’s beard, my own mum is trying to pretend we’re all innocent little children again. We can’t be expected to forget what we’ve seen and done. We all have to grow from it.”
Hermione nodded, frowning. “I suppose you’re right, and if I’m going to keep pushing for that change, I have to be the one to start. I won’t ignore Astoria — but I can’t make any promises about Draco. He has a knack for causing my attempts at civility to fly out the window.”
Ginny nodded. “I feel the same,” she said, shrugging. She’d been the one who’d gone off and impulsively invited them, but she knew that she didn’t know how she’d react until the time.
“We’ll leave it to Harry to behave as the cordial host, then,” Hermione said, giggling.
“We can’t leave all that on Harry,” Ginny said, defensive at once.
Hermione rolled her eyes. “I was kidding. Besides, I think Harry has bigger issues than Draco Malfoy.”
“What do you mean?” Ginny asked curiously, although she thought she might already know.
“I think having him around these Dementors is even worse than we’d feared. Has he said anything about it?” Hermione asked.
Ginny shifted uncomfortably. Hermione was one of Harry’s oldest friends, but she knew that he tended to avoid discussing some things with her, and Ginny had no intention of being put in the middle. “A bit. He’s very private.”
“He’s very stubborn, more like,” Hermione said grumpily.
“Are you talking about me?” Ron asked, joining them in the sitting room. He leaned over and kissed Hermione on the head before turning to Ginny, frowning. “What the bloody hell were you thinking?”
“Ron,” Hermione said, grabbing his arm. “Ginny and I have talked about it, and we agree. It’s time to start healing, and to do that, we need to let go.”
“Let go? I haven’t even had a good hold of him yet!” Ron said incredulously.
“If you’re not ready to be civil, then at least just avoid him. There will be loads of your mates here,” Ginny said.
“They might not even come. There will be a lot of Gryffindors,” Hermione added.
“Yeah, but a lot of Ministry people, too, and those are the types Astoria and Draco will want to socialize with,” Ginny said. Her gut was telling her that the Slytherins would come.
“You sound like you’ve given this a lot of thought,” Ron said, still looking grumpy.
“I have. I’ve been mulling it over since I sent the invitation. The one highlight is, according to Harry, Draco’s mother thinks this house rightfully should’ve gone to him, and you’re the one living here. That has to drive him spare.”
A delighted grin spread across Ron’s face. “Oh, I can have fun with that.”
“Ron! We’re the hosts,” Hermione scolded.
Ron attempted to paste a conciliatory look on his face, but Ginny thought he looked constipated doing it.
“Malfoy did work with us on that last Lestrange raid,” he said.
“And he did turn over his uncle,” Hermione agreed.
Ron had done a good job pretending to be abashed, but he couldn’t hold it. “Only to get his loser father out of Azkaban,” he snapped.
“Why am I the only one in the kitchen a few hours before the party we’re all supposedly throwing?” Harry asked, joining them in the sitting room. Ginny bit her lip and tried not to laugh at the flour in his hair. She caught Hermione’s eye and knew she’d noticed it, too.
“Because you’re the only one who can cook,” Ron answered.
“Stop acting like a house-elf,” Ginny said, rolling her eyes and earning a frown from Hermione. “We all know that Mum, Fleur and Kreacher are helping you with the food.”
Harry grinned. “I think we’re in good shape — just be certain I don’t have to look for you at midnight,” he said, leaning over and kissing Ginny on the nose.
Ron made a retching sound. Harry ignored him. “How did things go with your parents, Hermione?” Harry asked.
Hermione brightened. “It was good, much better than over the summer. My dad asked that I not practice magic around him, but he didn’t try and confiscate my wand or anything. I still wish they would’ve come back to London, but I have to admit they appear to be thriving in Adelaide. They have a nice group of friends, and their practice is flourishing — not to mention their home is right near the beach. We took a few days and went into Sydney to go to the theatre. My parents often took me when I was a child,” Hermione said, her expression longing.
“What’s the theatre?” Ron asked.
Harry grinned at Hermione’s disgusted expression.
“Remind me to show you one of these days,” she said waspishly so that Ron looked alarmed.
“Can I go, too?” Ginny asked. She knew what the theatre was, and thought it sounded fascinating.
“We can all go,” Hermione said cheerfully. “I’ll find one that I think we’ll all enjoy.”
Ginny beamed. “Oh, that’ll be wonderful.”
“You sound like Dad,” Ron said, still looking wary.
“I was just thinking that,” Harry added, although he was grinning.
“Shut it, you two. We should all get dressed. Guests will start arriving soon. Do you all know where your Order of Merlin medals are?” Ginny asked, letting Harry pull her to her feet.
The others nodded as they stood. It was nearly party time.
Hermione had been standing at the door welcoming guests when Harry relieved her. She, Ron and Harry had decided to take it in turns since they were the ones currently residing at Grimmauld Place. Ginny had yet to tell her parents that she also had a room,although it was unfurnished and she’d yet to spend any time there. Guests had begun arriving about an hour ago, and the party was already in full swing, but there were still guests straggling in. Ron had turned on the wireless, and music blared throughout the rooms on the ground level.
Mrs. Weasley and Fleur were organizing the food in the kitchen — Fleur was obviously feeling better — so Harry was now free to do his stint at the door.
“No sign of them yet, and nearly everyone else is here,” Hermione said from the corner of her mouth when he turned up. They’d all been waiting to see if Astoria and Draco would actually attend.
Harry nodded. “I think Seamus spiked the punch.”
“Why? We’re all of age now,” Hermione said, exasperated.
“Old times?” Harry replied, shrugging. “You can go ask him. I’ll be the greeter for a while.”
Someone knocked on the door, and Harry opened it to find the Patil sisters. “Happy New Year,” they chorused.
Hermione led them inside, and Harry watched their curious stares as they’d followed her down the hallway. They’d never been to Grimmauld Place so knew nothing of its former dark décor. It cheered Harry as he watched them walk away.
“Hey, Harry,” Duncan said, smiling widely. He wore a beret with a silver tassel and it forcibly reminded Harry of the Beauxbatons students at Hogwarts. Violet was with him and wearing a matching beret.
“We thought since we’ll probably be the only ones without an Order of Merlin to flaunt,” she said, flicking her hand at the medal Harry wore around his neck, “we ought to do something.”
Harry grinned. “At least yours keeps the snow off your head,” he said, swinging the door wide so they could enter. “How are you?”
“We’re good,” Duncan said. “We covered an earlier shift. I wouldn’t want to be one of the poor sods who are on duty tonight.”
“How’s your leg?” Violet asked, staring hard at Harry’s knee as if she could see any damage through his trousers.
“It’s fine,” he said automatically.
“If it was fine, you’d be back at work,” Violet said, eyebrows raised.
Harry scowled. “I’m back on Tuesday, but they’ve only approved me for desk duty.” Harry found the restriction ridiculous. It’s not like there were any stairs involved in herding Dementors. He sat on a broom for virtually the entire shift. He wasn’t looking forward to being back in a classroom. At least with the Dementors, he was able to fly.
“Eh, sucks to be you, then,” Duncan said, grimacing.
“Hmm. It seems as if I’m the only one who hasn’t been on desk duty. You boys ought to follow my lead if you want to be considered good Aurors,” Violet said primly, flouncing past them and into the party.
Harry and Duncan stared at one another, gaping.
“Hi, Harry,” George said, appearing at the door with Angelina Johnson and Katie Bell on each arm. “Now we can really get this party started.”
Duncan and the girls joined the party, but George remained behind. He paced around the entrance hall, looking at some of the poinsettias that he’d already seen several times before. Harry’s collar suddenly felt very tight, and he shifted his stance. George somehow had the ability to make him nervous like no one else could. Particularly since he suspected where this was heading. He hadn’t had a proper conversation with the mischievous brother since his and Ginny’s relationship had changed.
“Wha—” Harry had to clear his throat because it cracked in a most embarrassing way. “What can I help you with, George?”
George turned around casually. Too casually. “What’s that? Oh, nothing at all. It’s just… I haven’t seen much of you over the holidays. Every time I’ve been here you’ve been sleeping.”
Harry cursed inwardly as he felt colour rushing to his face. “Er… I’m feeling much better now,” he said lamely.
“That’s good, because anyone who sleeps that often must be exhausted. That can’t be healthy. I thought Ginny would be here during her holiday taking care of you, but I didn’t see much of her, either. I wonder why that is?” George asked, his eyes glittering — with mischief or anger Harry wasn’t certain.
“I mean, d’you think you’ll need a kip tonight, or will you be able to go the entire party without sleeping? I hope you’ll be able to stay awake to be with us at midnight. Of course, I can always send Mum to check on you if you disappear,” George said, smiling evilly.
Harry had had enough. “Funny.”
George frowned as if he misunderstood. He placed his arm against the wall and leaned in uncomfortably close. “Yeah, your colouring is a bit funny right now, but… I do think this injury has been good for you. Imagine that? Maybe you just need more time off. Or at least time when Ginny is home to take good care of you. Has she been taking good care of you?”
The heat on Harry’s neck was uncomfortable, but he was saved by a knock at the door. He ducked from under George’s arm and swung the door open wide. Astoria and Draco stood there, staring back. Small puffs of air were visible as they breathed the chilly air. Draco looked sulky, as if he’d rather be anywhere else, but Astoria smiled pleasantly. It took a moment for Harry to regain his composure, and he merely stood there, staring at them stupidly.
“Happy New Year,” Astoria said at last, amused.
“Hello, come in. Happy New Year,” he said, aware he was babbling and still trying to keep a wary eye on George. He was having trouble deciding on which threat to focus. At the moment, George seemed far more dangerous than Draco.
“Thank you for having us. To be honest, I was surprised to receive Ginny’s invitation,” Astoria said, quirking one finely-arched eyebrow.
Draco followed her inside, removing her cloak as his eyes wandered the impressive entry hall. Harry could tell he was impressed despite himself, and it helped him clear his head. George stood back, folding his arms and watching the pair enter with that same, maddeningly amused expression.
Harry tamped down on his annoyance. “Well, it’s time for all of us to move on, right?” he asked, noticing — now that she’d removed her cloak — that Astoria, too, was wearing an Order of Merlin medal.
She spotted Harry’s gaze and fingered the medal. “Yes. It’s a fun idea to wear them. Professor Slughorn and Headmistress McGonagall made certain I received one, too, for helping with the younger students last year. I think the Headmistress wanted to be able to say she had students in all four Houses who’d earned them.”
Harry smiled. “That sounds like McGonagall. Ginny told me about what you did.”
Astoria nodded before Draco blurted, “Yeah, you’re all a bunch of right little heroes.”
“Draco,” Astoria said sternly.
“So, this is the House of Black. You’ve done some work,” Draco said, waving his arm at the hall expansively. “I know Walburga’s tastes were far less modern.”
“Yeah, let me show you inside. George, could you watch the door for a few minutes?” Harry asked, directing Draco to the cloak cupboard.
George nodded, his eyes piercing Harry’s, which Harry took to understand that he wasn’t finished tormenting him. Harry clenched his hands into fists. He knew he’d never be able to slip past George unnoticed. Maybe Ginny could reign him in.
He led the two Slytherins down the hallway and pointed to the stairs leading down to the kitchen. “The party’s basically in two rooms. Down the stairs to the food, and across the hallway to the music and drinks table. I’ll give you fair warning, Seamus Finnigan has spiked the punch.”
Astoria grinned. “There’s one in every common room.”
Harry returned the smile. “Seamus took over for Fred and George Weasley, but he seems to be continuing the tradition.”
“Theodore Nott was ours,” she said, smiling wistfully.
“Poor sod,” Draco said, scowling.
“Why?” Harry asked. “I saw him a while ago in Knockturn Alley,” Harry said, looking at the two Slytherins who both remained silent.
Astoria shifted and Draco looked away. “He’s in St. Mungo’s — we’ve just been to visit,” she said at last, grimacing.
“What’s wrong with him?” Harry asked.
“You Aurors don’t communicate much, do you? Or is it perhaps because of his name that you’re not taking it seriously? Being pure-blood has apparently made us all targets recently, and of course this new administration — with all its talk of unity and coming together — ignores it completely. The Ministry has apparently gone to the dogs.”
“Look,” Harry said, directing his attention to Astoria, who appeared to be the more reasonable of the two. “I’ve been off duty for the past several days while Ginny is home, so I haven’t heard what cases are current. Did something happen to Nott that the Aurors should be aware of?”
“The Aurors are aware,” Astoria said. “He was attacked by a group of vigilantes last night. He’s all right, but his memory has gone wonky, so he couldn’t identify his assailants.”
“Not that it would do any good, anyway,” Draco said, sneering.
Harry eyed him speculatively. He was neat and pressed and arrogant as ever, but there was a slight nervousness to him that Harry hadn’t seen since the war, when Voldemort had been hiding in his family’s home.
“I can understand your lack of faith after the company you’ve been accustomed to, but I assure you, his attack will be treated with equal justice, regardless of his blood status.”
Draco sneered disdainfully. “Saint Potter — somehow I think you actually believe that. You’ll see. The Muggle-born Registration Committee has been replaced with a pure-blood one. All of the old families are being watched.”
“Does that include the Weasleys?” Harry asked.
Draco rolled his eyes. “Don’t be ridiculous — their blood-traitor status has made them right little heroes. No one would dare speak against them.”
“I think you’ll find blood status means far less than it used to. The sooner you can accept that, the easier things will be for you,” Harry said firmly. He didn’t go through everything he had for them all still to be picking at one another over whom their ancestors had married.
Before Draco could retort, Astoria grabbed his sleeve, tugging determinedly. “We’re all watching, but it’ll take more than words before we can truly believe that,” she said demurely.
Harry nodded. “Fair enough. I’ll look into what we know about Nott when I return to work.”
“I thought this was a party. I need a drink and some better company,” Draco said, moving past Harry and into the sitting room.
Astoria and Harry followed him inside. The loud buzz of conversation momentarily halted as they entered the room. Neville, who was pouring a drink, continued filling the glass until it slopped over the side. He broke out of his stupor and grabbed a cloth, trying to mop up the mess.
Harry felt sweat bead up along his spine. Perhaps he should’ve warned everyone they were coming. Too late now. Hermione raised her chin firmly, but she didn’t make a move to approach. Thankfully, Lisa Turpin did, and Harry could’ve hugged her.
“Astoria!” she said, leaning over to hug the willowy blonde. “How are you? It’s nice to see you again.”
“Hello, Lisa. It’s good to see you, too.”
Lisa noticed Harry’s blank stare and she smiled patiently. “Astoria and I were in Charms Club together for years.”
“Met every Tuesday,” Astoria said, her eyes far away. Hogwarts would always be home to all of them.
“Are you attending this year? Has Professor Flitwick started back up again after last year?” Lisa asked.
“He has, and yes, I still attend. What are you doing?” Astoria asked, her arm linked with Draco’s, holding him in place. His eyes repeatedly scanned the rest of the room warily, the only visible sign of his discomfort.
“I joined the Aurors,” Lisa said, perking up happily. “I’m in Harry’s training class. I heard you were engaged.”
“Yes, this is my betrothed, Draco Malfoy,” she said, nodding toward him. “Draco, this is Lisa Turpin. She was in your year, a Ravenclaw.”
Draco nodded. “I remember you, although I don’t remember the blue hair.”
Lisa’s hand automatically reached up and tugged at her streaked hair. “I wanted to do something different — to commemorate.”
“I understand. It suits you,” Astoria said softly.
“Hello, Astoria,” Ginny said, joining them at the drinks table. “Draco.”
She had a tray of chocolate-covered strawberries, and she placed them on the edge before smiling up at Harry. He snaked his arm around her waist and pulled her close.
“Hello, Ginny. Thank you for inviting us. It’s a lovely party,” Astoria said pleasantly.
Harry couldn’t help liking her. She was different than the other Slytherins he knew — or perhaps he just hadn’t known enough of them. She was cunning — Harry knew she’d attended this party for political reasons rather than any great fondness for the people — but she was pleasant, and he couldn’t blame her for trying to put the war behind her. They were all doing that in their own ways.
“Thanks. There’s plenty of food, so be certain to get a plate. Seamus spiked the punch,” Ginny said, eyes sparkling. Harry suspected she might have already had some of the punch.
“We’ve heard. Have you tried it?” Astoria asked
Ginny shook her head, although Harry noticed she’d crossed her fingers. Draco lifted two glasses and handed them to each of the girls before taking one himself. Harry reached over and picked one up, as well. “To the New Year,” he said.
“Cheers,” Astoria said, and they all tried it. Grimaces crossed all their faces, and it took all Harry’s will not to spit it out.
“That’s awful,” Draco said, still pulling a face.
“It is,” Ginny said, nodding. “It always is, but you get used to it.”
“Theo, at least, knows how to mix a drink,” Draco said, swishing the remains of his punch in the bottom of his glass.
“Theo?” Ginny asked, frowning.
“Apparently, he was the Seamus of the Slytherin common room,” Harry said.
“What are you saying about me?” Seamus asked, joining them at the drinks table. His eyes were glazed and his cheeks very red. Apparently, he’d been sampling his own concoction. Neville still stood at the drinks table, and he eyed Seamus with amusement.
“We were talking about your knack for always spiking the punch,” Ginny said, taking another sip of her drink.
Seamus grinned. “I’m surprised to see you here, Malfoy,” he said bluntly.
“I’m surprised you can see anything clearly, Finnigan,” Draco said, cocking one eyebrow.
“He’s got a point,” Neville said, surprising Harry with his boldness. “Walking into a room with this lot is probably the bravest thing you’ve ever done. Did your girlfriend make you do it?”
“You should know better than anyone, Longbottom, that I rarely do anything that I don’t want to do,” Draco said, puffing out his chest.
“Oh, boys, the war is over. Can’t we all just enjoy ourselves?” Lisa asked, rolling her eyes.
“Cheers,” Astoria said, clinking her glass with Lisa’s.
“You called Draco your betrothed. Is that different than a fiancé?” Lisa asked. Harry suspected she might already know the answer, but she was looking for a way to keep conversation rolling. He felt inviting Lisa has been one of the best moves he’d made.
Astoria nodded and followed Lisa’s lead. “In the old families, marriages are still arranged. Draco will become my fiancé when we decide to marry. I want to finish school and begin a career first.”
“Do you know what you want to do?” Ginny asked, tilting her head.
Harry was very glad it wasn’t all of the wizarding world that arranged marriages. He didn’t think he would like being told who he had to marry. He could only imagine whom he’d be paired with if the Dursleys had any say in the matter. He pulled Ginny closer to his side, feeling an inexplicable need to keep her close. He tugged at the bottom of her hair as she spoke with Astoria, feeling that stupid, soppy grin spreading over his face. He couldn’t seem to help it when he was around her lately.
From the corner of his eye, he saw George entering the room with Owen. The flow of arriving guests must have stopped. The two appeared deep in conversation, and Harry’s heart sank. That was a sure mark of trouble if ever he saw one.
Continuing his perusal of the room, he could see several of Ginny’s dorm mates dancing with Violet and the girls from Harry’s Quidditch team. None of the other Weasleys were in the room, but Harry knew they’d be converged around the food. Hermione was dancing with the other girls, but she kept casting a wary glance toward the drinks table.
His eyes came back around to rest on Ginny — as they so often did. She was still chatting with Astoria and Lisa, but every few moments she’d lean her head against him or run her hand up and down his arm. Harry glanced over at Draco who hadn’t left the conversation but stood sullenly behind Astoria, watching them all. Harry realized Ginny’s need for contact was a by-product of the rumours the Slytherin had started. The war had left unseen scars on his fierce, fiery Ginny, much the same as it had done to him, or Hermione who chose avoidance rather than confrontation. All of them were still wrestling with hidden demons. Harry suspected even Draco Malfoy was trying to find a way to move forward.
That’s what New Year’s was about after all. Harry tugged at his own Order of Merlin medal hanging around his neck. The visible scars from the war had all faded, although some would never heal. He could see it the semi-circle of George Weasley, Lee Jordan, and Ken Towler who were huddled around the wireless, attempting to find the next song. They had all been roommates back at Hogwarts, and even now, there was a slight but visible gap between them where a fourth roommate should have stood. Harry supposed invisible scars would always remain, no matter how much time had passed and progress made.
He was dragged from his gloomy musings when Ginny tugged his arm again, this time leaning over and kissing him fiercely.
“What are you thinking about that’s making you frown like that?” she asked. “This won’t do. It’s a party, Harry.” And she shoved another drink in his hand.
Harry took it, amused by her slurred speech. “Have you had anything to eat?” Harry asked, watching Ginny take another sip of her drink.
Ginny scowled at him. “I’ve eaten. Don’t be a swot — it doesn’t become you.”
That earned a smirk from Draco Malfoy as the others all laughed. Harry grinned good-naturedly. “All right, but I don’t want to hear any whinging from you tomorrow.”
“I don’t whinge,” Ginny said imperiously.
As the evening wore on, and Harry imbibed on several more glasses of Seamus’s punch, he felt lighter and less worried and extremely fond of everyone there — well, almost everyone. As midnight neared, George tuned in the countdown on the wireless. Harry spent several moments looking for Ginny, but she found him before the countdown was finished.
“… four… three… two… one — Happy New Year!” shouts echoed around the filled room. Harry and Ginny shared a kiss along with many of the couples while those without a partner grasped one another. Harry felt a jolt when he noticed Owen and Violet locked in an embrace that went on far longer than a quick New Year peck. Harry felt bolstered that now he had something to taunt Owen with should the change in Harry’s relationship status come up. George and Angelina, both very pissed and holding their glasses in the air, were snogging beneath a spring of mistletoe.
“Happy New Year, Harry,” Ginny said, her eyes bright.
“Happy New Year, Ginny,” he replied, kissing her again. The kiss was happy and filled with promise. They’d survived, and they were all moving on.