The Gryffindor Quidditch team jubilantly returned to the changing rooms following their victory over Ravenclaw. Despite the cool grey rain, they’d squashed their opponent soundly and had moved ahead of them in the standings. The Gryffindor Seeker, Wendy, had pulled through with flying colours, beating the Ravenclaw Seeker to the Snitch with inches to spare.
Ginny pulled off the new league-quality gloves that Harry had given her for Christmas and stored them in her bag. Harry had planned on attending the match, but Minister Shacklebolt had called a meeting with everyone involved in the plan to move the Dementors, and somehow Harry had been asked to attend despite the fact he was technically still in training. Her family, however, had been in the stands in force. A sea of ginger could be seen whooping it up in one particular section.
Her mum had sent her an owl letting her know that they were coming and that she’d like to speak to Ginny afterwards. Ginny’s stomach fluttered uncomfortably. She couldn’t think of anything she’d done — she hadn’t even had a detention recently because she’d been so focused on her training. She couldn’t help but wonder if Ron or Percy had let something slip about her try-out plans.
Steeling her resolve, she stripped off her muddy uniform and entered the shower. Standing here fretting about it wasn’t going to give her any answers. Might as well face her mum head on and get it over with.
Once she’d showered and changed, she joined the rest of her team as they began the trek up to the castle. There was a victory party planned in the common room, but Ginny would have to stop in the Headmistress’ office to meet her family who had used Professor McGonagall’s Floo to get to the castle. The ground was wet, and the grass squelched beneath her feet.
“Did you see the goal I blocked on Spencer?” Bailey McLaggen asked as he came level with Ginny.
“Which one? The one where you kicked it with your foot?” Ginny asked, laughing.
“Yeah! Her eyes nearly bugged out of her face,” Bailey said happily.
Ginny smirked, amused both by the imagined expression on the Ravenclaw Chaser, and by Bailey’s delight with his own play. He was confident — perhaps overly so — but not conceited, and she appreciated that quality in a Quidditch player.
“D’you think anyone spiked the punch yet?” Dean asked. “Seamus would’ve done so already.”
“I think Jack Sloper was talking about it, but we’ll have to see if he comes through,” Ginny said, recalling an overheard remark.
“I wouldn’t put much faith in Sloper,” Demelza said, rolling her eyes. “My gold is on Siobhan.”
“I could see that,” Ginny said, laughing as they climbed the castle’s front steps.
The rain, which had cleared after their win, began pelting again, causing them all to cover their heads and sprint up the steps. Sopping, Ginny wiped the water from her face and eyes, blinking as she took in her surroundings. Bill stood by the stairs, arms folded across his chest and looking incredibly cool and intimidating as he perused the drenched team. His fang earring glinted in the candlelight, and she saw Wendy’s eyes widen in appreciation. Bill had always been popular with witches, and the scars that littered his face hadn’t changed that. They gave him an air of mystery.
“Hi, Bill,” she said, pecking him lightly on the cheek as she held him back from hugging her. “I’m drenched.”
“Easily remedied,” he said, and with a lazy flick of his wand, her hair and clothing instantly dried. He proceeded to scoop her into a hug. “You played brilliantly.”
“Thanks,” she said, grinning. She turned back to the rest of the team who stood gaping at them. “I’ll catch you up. I’m going to visit with my family for a bit.”
The others nodded and proceeded up the stairs, Dean looking back over his shoulder several times as he climbed.
“Where is everyone else?” Ginny asked, looking around.
“Mum and Dad went up with Headmistress McGonagall already, and I’m not certain where Ron disappeared to,” Bill said, shrugging his shoulders.
Ginny snorted. “I’m certain he’s closeted in a cupboard somewhere with Hermione. What about George and Percy?”
Bill’s eyebrows rose. “Would Hermione agree to that?” he asked curiously.
“You’d be surprised what Ron is able to talk her into,” Ginny said, laughing. “Where are George and Percy?”
“Last I saw them, they were with Professor Flitwick. George was asking him about a Charm he’s having trouble with on one of his products,” Bill said. “They’ll meet us there.”
“Fleur wasn’t up to coming?” Ginny asked, noticing Bill’s face pinch.
“No. She’s been really tired, and Quidditch was never her thing. She said she’d take the opportunity for a lie in,” Bill said.
“Not much longer now,” Ginny said bracingly.
Bill grinned. “I painted the nursery, and the cot arrived yesterday.”
“And who is going to be your main child minder — Gabrielle or me?” she asked, arching her brow.
“Oh, no, no. You’re not putting me on the spot with that one,” Bill said, laughing. “My motto at the moment is ‘whatever makes Fleur happy’, so you can take it up with her. Since both you and Gabrielle are the youngest, I don’t see how you know anything about babies, anyway.”
Ginny mock-scowled at her brother. “I’ve spent loads of time with Teddy. I hope to mind him and baby Weasley together so they can grow up to be the best of friends.”
“I think Mum is planning on the same thing. She already considers Teddy one of the family.”
“Speaking of Mum… d’you know why she wants to see me?” Ginny asked, peering up at her much-taller, older brother. The curiosity was killing her the closer they moved toward the Headmistress’s office.
“Can’t she just want to congratulate her daughter on her brilliant flying? This is the first match she’s seen with you as captain,” Bill said innocently.
Ginny stopped walking and turned to face him, eyes narrowing. “Who told?”
“Told what?” Bill asked, trying to chivvy her forward.
“I bet it was Ron. I didn’t think he could keep his mouth shut, but he seemed so excited,” Ginny said, feeling more than a little disappointed.
“Nah, it wasn’t Ron. It was Percy. I think Ron is avoiding Mum at all costs since she’s been giving him such a hard time about Hermione living with him,” Bill said.
Ginny started walking again. “She’s been giving him a hard time?” she asked, badly suppressing the note of satisfaction that Ron was being treated like a child, too.
Bill didn’t miss it, and he threw back his head and laughed. “Oh, is she ever. She doesn’t think it’s proper for a young witch to be living with two wizards unsupervised.”
“And the fact they shared a tent all last year while they saved the world just escapes her notice, eh?” Ginny asked, rolling her eyes.
“She even lectured me the other day that she thought Fleur and I were too young to be starting a family — even though we’re both older than she and Dad were,” Bill said indignantly.
They’d reached the spiral staircase. “Wronski Feint,” Bill said to the gargoyle, and it sprang aside allowing them entrance.
The door to the office was open, and the various portraits on the wall turned their heads to the newcomers. Ginny’s stomach did an odd sort of flutter. Her experiences in this office had never been good, and it set her on edge. Memories of the Chamber, learning of her father’s attack, and getting caught attempting to steal the Sword of Gryffindor flitted through. A pot of tea sat on the table in the sitting area, and Headmistress McGonagall stood behind it as she handed out cups and saucers. Her parents sat on the couch, while Percy and George occupied arm chairs on either side.
“Ah, Miss Weasley. Excellent match today. Congratulations on a Gryffindor win,” Professor McGonagall said, and although she kept her expression neutral, her tone was much warmer than usual.
“Thank you, Professor,” Ginny said, accepting the offered cup of tea.
“It’s wonderful to see you again, Molly, Arthur,” Professor McGonagall said, nodding to them. “I’m going to check on the elves in the kitchen, but please stay as long as you’d like.”
“I take it that she didn’t think it was wonderful to see us,” George said to Percy in a stage whisper after the door to the office closed.
“You caused far too much trouble when you were here for her to ever think it’s wonderful that you’re back,” Percy said wryly.
“Ha! Then what’s your excuse? Was perfect Percy not such a wonderful Prefect?” George asked.
“All right, boys,” Dad said, grinning slightly. “Congratulations, Ginny,” He stood to lean over and kiss her on the head.
“Thanks, Dad,” Ginny said, beaming. “It was a great win, and the score was so high it keeps us in the running despite the low score on the previous match.”
“Yes, the Quidditch team is doing wonderfully. I do hope your marks are keeping up, as well,” Mum said pointedly.
“My marks have been fine, Mum,” Ginny replied pleasantly. “Did you get here in time to find good seats?”
She shot a piercing stare at Percy, who immediately looked into his tea cup as if it was the most interesting thing he’d ever seen, the colour rising on his cheeks. Bagged!
Mum’s eyes narrowed as she huffed, “Yes, dear. Hermione brought us up to the stands. I wanted to talk a bit about—”
“Where are Ron and Hermione anyway? Didn’t they stay for the whole match?” Ginny asked, interrupting her mum before she hit her stride.
From the corner of her eye, she saw Bill wink at her. George looked positively gleeful.
“They did. Ron wanted to take a walk with Hermione before we left, and I wanted a chance to speak with you,” Molly said, undeterred.
“Yeah, it’s a lovely day for a stroll,” Ginny said, staring out at the rain pelting against the window and streaming down in rivulets.
Molly frowned, also staring at the window in consternation. “Arthur—”
“It’s fine, Molly, dear. Ron is perfectly capable of getting home on his own,” Dad said firmly.
Mum puckered her lips but held her tongue. “Ginny, I want to discuss your education,” she said firmly.
Ginny steeled her resolve and looked right in her mum’s eyes. “Well, I’m in my seventh year, and I have decent marks in all my lessons.”
“And what are your plans after leaving Hogwarts? The Ministry could use someone as bright as you. Your father even has an open position in his department,” Mum said.
“I’m not planning on working at the Ministry, Mum,” Ginny said firmly.
“What are your plans, then?” Mum asked, her tone clipped.
“Since you’re here, and you called this meeting, I think you already know,” Ginny said, once again glaring at Percy, who studiously looked down at his now-cold tea.
Ginny suspected her mum would’ve preferred to have this conversation with just her, but knowing George, once he caught wind of what was brewing, there was no chance of getting rid of him. He’d be certain Ron, Bill and Percy stayed, as well. George seemed to thrive on family drama.
“Enough of this, Ginny. Are you or are you not planning on skipping your NEWTs to try out for some sports team?” Molly demanded sternly.
“I’m not,” Ginny said, ignoring the thumping of her heart and picking at a stray thread on her jumper — her Weasley jumper that her mum had made for her.
“You’re… not,” Molly asked, nonplussed.
“No. I am planning on trying out over the Easter holidays, but I’m not skipping my NEWTs to do it,” Ginny said firmly.
“And what happens if you make a team?” Molly asked.
“Then I’ll get to spend my life doing something I love. Doing something that Fred loved. Doing something most people would give their left arm to be able do,” she said, refusing to be cowed.
“What about your NEWTs?” Molly wailed. “After all this time and effort, you can’t abandon them when you’re this close.”
“I have no intention of abandoning them. Quidditch careers don’t last forever, and once my playing years are over, I can use them then,” Ginny said, tilting her chin defiantly.
“This is madness. You’re only seventeen years old. You don’t understand what an opportunity you’re throwing away,” Mum shouted. “Working at the Ministry is a wonderful career, and with your skills you could really help the Minister in rebuilding. You could be in on the ground level of making something we can all be proud of. We owe it to everyone we lost to rebuild a better place.” Her mother’s voice broke as she said the last bit, making Ginny’s stomach churn uncomfortably.
“Molly, the key phrase here is that she is seventeen. Ginny has the right to choose her career, even if it isn’t what we would’ve chosen for her,” Dad said firmly. “Of course we wish you luck, Ginny, but we also hope you’ll carefully consider what you’re doing.”
Ginny swallowed against the painful lump in her throat. It was always so much harder to stand up to Dad rather than Mum, probably because it was so rarely needed.
“I have, Dad,” she said, eyes stinging.
“What’s to consider?” George asked, and Ginny wanted to hug him. “She’s good enough to make a team. You should be proud of that. Do you have any idea how rare that is? She might play for England one day, and we’ll all be there to cheer her on. You go for it, Ginny. I’m proud of you — and I know Fred is, too.”
His voice wavered on the last bit, causing Ginny to rise from her chair and fling her arms around him. He really was her favourite brother at the moment, and she was suddenly immensely glad he’d stayed. Her parents never really understood about Quidditch. She had a vague memory of them having this same argument with Charlie when he’d considered playing. Of course, when he decided to run off and live with dragons instead, they would’ve gladly accepted Quidditch. Maybe she should tell them her back-up plan was to join him in Romania.
“I think you’ll regret this,” Molly said, still looking rather mutinous.
“I won’t,” Ginny said, sitting back down. Bill gently rubbed her back.
“I know you don’t now, but you can’t deny you’ve been impulsive,” Molly said, imploring.
“What? Like when I didn’t stay hidden away where you put me and followed my own conscience instead? We all grew up during the war, Mum, and you can’t erase that, no matter how hard you try.”
Dad held up his hands between them. “Ginny, although we’ll naturally wish you success at the try-outs, we’d still like for you to promise to take your NEWTs. If the war has shown us anything, it’s that the future is malleable, and things don’t always go as planned,” he said, his voice hoarse.
Tears sprang instantly to Ginny’s eyes. Her dad didn’t often show how much his own war scars pained him. He was always so focused on everyone else. His pain was clearly visible now, and Ginny’s throat burned. She couldn’t force the words out, so she nodded. It was a promise she’d keep if her life depended on it.
Mum pursed her lips, but she didn’t raise any objections. Bill wrapped his arm around Ginny’s shoulders and squeezed reassuringly.
“Well, now that that’s settled, we shouldn’t keep you from an excellent victory party in the common room,” George said, lightening the mood.
Ginny hugged her family goodbye and quickly bade them farewell, wanting to get as far from the circular office as possible. She wanted a Butterbeer and big bowl of sweets — preferably chocolate. The confrontation with her family had left her feeling drained. As she passed the gargoyle, Ron and Hermione approached, coming around the corner from the other direction. Hermione’s hair was bushier than ever — the damp weather never agreed with it.
“Ginny!” Hermione said. “What’s wrong?”
“Yeah, you look ready to wrestle a Hippogriff,” Ron said. “Did Mum give you a hard time about try-outs?”
“Where were you?” Ginny snapped. “It would’ve been nice if you could’ve been there for back-up if you knew she was going to pounce.”
Ron’s ears instantly turned red as his expression darkened. He folded his arms across his chest and barked, “Well, excuse me for not being at your beck and call. Seeing that it’s my birthday, I thought I was supposed to do what I wanted to do.”
“Shite,” Ginny mumbled, her heart sinking. “I forgot.”
“I’m sorry. Happy Birthday, Ron. I’ll send you something extra good,” Ginny said, abashed. Despite the win, this really wasn’t turning out to be her day.
“Yeah?” Ron said, brightening up at once. “The Cannons have a whole line of new professional stuff that just came out.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Ginny said, smiling fondly.
“So… it didn’t go well with your mum?” Hermione asked, biting her lip.
“Does it ever?” Ginny asked, sighing. “She wants me to sit my NEWTs and then go work for the Ministry. I think she’d put me in pigtails if she could.”
Ron sniggered, and Ginny smirked at him. “Oh, she was wondering where you went, too, seeing as it’s pouring rain outside.”
Ron paled slightly, his eyes immediately looking toward Hermione. “Bugger,” he muttered.
“Oh, will you two stop it,” Hermione said, her eyes filling as she glared at them.
“Hermione, what’s wrong?” Ron asked, aghast.
“She’s only upset because she cares so much about both of you, can’t you see that? Merlin! I’d give anything for my mum to still be here and involved in what I’m doing. She can understand I’m finishing school, but none of the jobs I’m interested in make any sense to her. It’s like Jean Granger is gone, and she’s Monica Wilkins for real now.” And with that, Hermione burst into tears.
Both Ron and Ginny immediately began rubbing her back. Ron scowled at Ginny as if it was her fault alone that Hermione was upset.
“I’m sorry, Hermione,” Ginny said, contrite. “I didn’t mean to be insensitive. I do know she loves me — I’m wearing her jumper — I’m just a bit frustrated at the moment. You know I don’t appreciate being treated like I’m a child.”
“I know,” Hermione said, wiping her eyes on Ron’s shirt. “I don’t mean to be upset on your birthday, Ron.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Ron said, pulling her closer. “Just don’t blow your nose on my shirt.”
Hermione gave a watery giggle.
Ginny felt miserable, and suddenly, even the party didn’t sound appealing. She wanted to go back into her dormitory and pull the curtains around her bed.
“Well, I’ve managed to upset everyone today, haven’t I?” Ginny asked glumly. “I think I’ll go join the party and see if I can ruin that.”
She left the other two standing in the corridor, gaping at her.
With nothing but a towel wrapped around his hips, Harry pulled some clothes from his wardrobe. Even the hot shower hadn’t lessened his irritation. He’d spent his entire ‘day off’ sitting in a meeting with the Minister and the committee discussing how to move the Dementors. He’d missed Ginny’s match, and now he was late in starting the dinner he’d promised to make for Ron’s birthday. Mrs. Weasley planned to have the whole family at The Burrow the next day, but Harry wanted to do something on the actual day, as well.
He dressed quickly and sat on the edge of his bed to pull on a pair of socks. They were blue with a lighter colour patch on the toes. He couldn’t help but think how much Dobby would’ve liked one of them. He would’ve gladly shared all his socks if he could. Before his spirits could be dampened, however, the sliver of mirror he kept on his bedside table fogged over.
“Harry,” Ginny’s voice called. “Harry, are you there?”
In his haste to reach her, Harry knocked the mirror to the floor and had to scramble for it. Kneeling, he reached under the bed and felt around blindly before his hand landed on the cool glass. He pulled it out and touched the surface, gasping, “I’m here. Sorry — I dropped it.”
Ginny’s face appeared, looking tired and drawn. Her eyes were puffy and red-rimmed. “I’m glad you’re there,” she said, her voice wobbly and very unlike her own.
The hair on the back of his neck rose. This wasn’t like Ginny, and a pit formed in his stomach. “What’s wrong?” he asked, remaining on the floor and leaning against his bed as he drew his knees up. “Did the match go that badly?”
“No… the match was fine — another win for Gryffindor,” she said, her voice lacklustre.
“So… what’s the problem?” he prompted. Ron’s birthday dinner was going to have to wait. “Travers didn’t try anything again, did he? I can have an Auror there in no time, or I’ll come myself if you want.” The fact the Slytherin had accosted her on the train still made his insides burn whenever he thought about it.
“No, it’s nothing like that. I can handle Travers, but I’ve managed to hack off my entire family in the span of half an hour,” Ginny said. “The music from the common room is blaring so loud that I’m afraid if I go down there, I’m going to hex the lot of them. I sprinted through without stopping when I came through the portrait hole.”
Harry fought to control a grin, knowing she was perfectly capable of doing it. Visions of a handful of Gryffindors sprinting for the portrait hole with bat bogeys streaming from their orifices danced in his mind.
“How did you hack them off?” he asked patiently. He knew that, like him, her mouth sometimes tended to get the better of her.
Ginny sighed dramatically. “I told my parents I was trying out for the League, and that I wouldn’t work for the Ministry. I forgot Ron’s birthday, and I was completely insensitive to the fact Hermione misses her mum,” she said in a rush, her words blending together she said them so fast. “Everyone hates me.”
Harry took a deep breath, uncertain where to begin. His instincts screamed at him to back away without risk of saying the wrong thing, but she was always there for him. He could do this.
“Come on, it can’t be that bad. I’m cooking dinner for Ron, and I’ll make an extra-large pudding and tell him it was your idea,” he said, wishing he could reach through the mirror to touch her. “Ron will forgive anything for pudding.”
Ginny smiled weakly. “I promised my parents that I’ll still sit my NEWTs.”
“Well, you were planning on that, anyway, weren’t you? The League trials are the same time every year, and I don’t remember anyone being forced to skip them. Oliver still sat his,” Harry said.
“I know,” Ginny said sulkily. “I just wish they would be as excited as I am.”
“They will be once you’ve made a team and the papers are all extolling your Quidditch playing abilities. Your mum loves you, Ginny, and she wants what’s best for you. Once she sees how happy you are, she’ll be happy, too,” Harry said, hoping Mrs. Weasley would come around quickly. He knew she would, he just didn’t know how much of a fuss she’d make first.
A reluctant grin spread on Ginny’s face. “You just hope they start reporting on me and leave you alone.”
“That’s true,” Harry said sheepishly. “Did you have a big row?”
“Yeah. Mum still treats me like a little kid, and it makes me so angry. Dad intervened, but I know he had other expectations for me, too,” she said, and Harry hated the note of melancholy in her voice.
“They’re proud of you. They just need some time to adjust their expectations. They’ll come around, you’ll see,” he said bracingly.
“I’m sorry I missed your match, Ginny. I really wanted to be there,” he said, feeling like a heel. There was no way he could get away from the meeting, but he hated disappointing her when she’d obviously needed his support.
“I know you’d have been there if you could. Was there anything decided about the Dementors?” she asked.
“Yeah, we’re going to begin moving them this week, but we’ll talk about that later. I wish it had ended sooner so I could’ve been there when you told your parents.”
Ginny shook her head. “This isn’t your fault, Harry. It’s something my mum and I have to work through, so it’s better to just get it all out there in the open,” she said. Pausing slightly, she added, “But don’t think it gives you a free pass. I expect you at the next one.”
“I’ll be there,” he said, grinning.
“The trials don’t take a full week, so try and have some time off the last two days of the Easter holidays. I’m going to come there rather than go right back to school — but don’t tell anyone,” she said, winking.
Harry’s spine straightened, his stomach fluttering. “Yeah? That would be great,” he said, feeling suddenly breathless.
Ginny grinned. “I need less of my family and more of you.”
“You can have me,” he said eagerly.
“Thanks, Harry,” she said. “I think I feel up to an after party now.”
“Good idea, but don’t hex anyone,” he said.
Ginny snorted. “I’ll try. I love you.”
“I love you, too,” he said before the mirror clouded over, and she was gone.
Harry remained on the floor for a few minutes, considering. He sometimes felt at a loss with how to deal with the dynamics of the Weasley family. Someone was always shouting, but they always seemed to get over it quickly. He’d grown up in a house where things usually escalated once the shouting started. The Weasleys were his favourite family, but he wondered if he’d ever stop feeling so wrong-footed around them when tension arose.
He heaved himself up and went down to the kitchen to begin preparing dinner. He’d obtained all the ingredients ahead of time, so all he had to do was put it together. It went much quicker without Ron or George around swiping samples as he prepared it.A large apple pie was cooling by the window, and he placed the Toad in the Hole in the oven. He sat down at the counter and pulled a copy of the Daily Prophet towards him. The headline emblazoned across the front caused his pulse to quicken. Elbow on the counter, he supported his head with his hand as he read:
A Scar Like Mine
By Rita Skeeter
Harry Potter’s lightning bolt-shaped scar is known and recognized by everyone in our world. The mark that tragically marred a child’s face and later became a symbol of hope to our war-torn community is once again causing concern. The mystery surrounding the connection between Tom Riddle (the former Dark Lord, also known as He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named), and Harry Potter (who likewise has a number of titles to his name), continues to grow. As I can now confirm through tireless investigation, there was indeed an unidentified connection between the two. Potter himself has admitted the connection was forged when he was tragically attacked as a baby.
Many sources have commented on the frequent pain Potter felt in his scar when You-Know-Who was alive. As you undoubtedly are aware, Mr. Potter gained his first title, the Boy Who Lived, when he survived the Killing Curse on the night his parents were killed. No one before or since has managed to accomplish the same. This reporter has learned that the connection that resulted from the failed curse continued throughout Potter’s life, despite the apparent destruction of the Dark Lord after that first attack.
Experts from St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies claim such a connection is indeed possible, although without further examination, they couldn’t know the true extent. This reporter has learned that Mr. Potter has never been admitted to St. Mungo’s for any kind of long-term observation. He has, however, been there for several unnamed injuries received during his employment. Mr. Potter currently works as an Auror for the Ministry for Magic. A position, it should be noted, that usually requires several years of study.
When asked about the connection, Mr. Potter has said that no one has a scar like his. What this reporter would like to point out, is that Mr. Potter was allegedly hit with a second Killing Curse during the Battle of Hogwarts. He has remained steadfastly tight-lipped about this second attack despite numerous requests for an interview. If the first attack forged this peculiar connection, could the second attack have strengthened it? Is this the reason our beloved hero always seems to become embroiled in the Dark Arts?
We know the Dark Lord was destroyed. There was a body witnessed by numerous sources where there was none the first time. What became of You-Know-Who’s remains has been listed as ‘classified.’ Still, one has to wonder if this second attack on Mr. Potter has somehow furthered this connection, and what danger lurks behind his scar. The public needs to be safeguarded against any renewed use of Dark Magic, and I, for one, hope Mr. Potter will do everything he can to ensure he’s not a threat to the people who continue to worship him.
Harry ran his hands through his hair in agitation, making it stand on end worse than usual. He sat at the counter, absently rubbing his scar as he re-read the article, his scowl deepening with every word. She somehow made him sound like both a tragic victim and a growing malevolent menace. He was so tired of this! While he wished none of it had ever happened, he couldn’t change the past. Whether she knew it or not, the second attack had rid him of that bloody Horcrux. He’d fulfilled the Prophecy, and he didn’t owe Rita Bloody Skeeter a damn thing.
The last article about his murky past had occurred after he’d run into Terra Munch in Knockturn Alley. Despite continued requests for interviews, he hadn’t seen the witch recently, and the only time he could remember speaking about his scar was in Mr. Weasley’s shed.
He knew George wouldn’t have shared anything, and he really doubted Ken Towler would have done so, either. Harry reckoned that Ken would know exactly why he’d been in St. Mungo’s as he’d been privy to the facts both times. No… it couldn’t be either of them. Frowning as he recalled all the details, he remembered talking to Ginny about his anxiety about the Horcrux on the mirror. Ginny wouldn’t have told, but could they have been overheard by someone at Hogwarts? Ginny wouldn’t have brought it up if there was anyone else around… unless she couldn’t see them...
All of the recent articles were written by Rita… who had a form of concealment that was almost as good as Harry’s Cloak. Rita had been spying on him. Harry looked around the kitchen wildly, squinting into crevices for signs of a beetle. Had she been here at the house, or in the shed at The Burrow? Harry didn’t like either option.
Standing, he rolled the newspaper into a makeshift fly swatter and began hunting through his kitchen. Ron and George found him in this frazzled state a half hour later.
“What are you doing?” George asked, leaning over the apple pie and inhaling deeply.
“Smells good in here,” Ron said, ducking behind Harry so he could peer into the oven.
“Look at that,” Harry snarled, slamming the paper onto the counter.
Puzzled, both Ron and George stood level with one another, their eyes growing wider as they read. Ron’s ears turned red as similar scowls crossed both their faces.
“That cow,” Ron said. “You’d think she might show a bit of appreciation seeing that you saved the world and all.”
“She loves to stir up trouble,” George said, giving the paper a dirty look.
“I bet she’s right hacked off so many witnesses saw the body. Bet she’d love to say that he’ll be back again and only you know when,” Ron said, clenching his fists.
“Don’t let her get to you, Harry. No one believes this rubbish,” George said bracingly.
“Ha!” Harry scoffed, feeling edgy. “Yeah, they’ve never taken her word for anything before, have they? It’s not the article that’s bothering me… it’s where she got her information.Almost as if she was there that day. At. The. Burrow.”
Harry glanced at Ron significantly and watched as his mouth dropped open. “No way!” Ron said, gasping. “She was there? At my house?”
“What?” George asked, his head swinging between the two. “What am I missing?”
Harry sighed. “Rita’s an unregistered Animagus. She can turn into a bug, and I think she was buzzing around The Burrow that day we worked on Sirius’s bike. Either that, or she’s buzzing around in here,” he amended, shouting to the empty kitchen and once again turning the newspaper into a fly swatter like a deranged lunatic.
“What are you going to do?” Ron asked.
“If she’s unregistered and you know it, why haven’t you reported her before now?” George asked.
“Hermione was the one who worked it out after the Third Task. She blackmailed Rita for a while. That’s why she wrote that article that appeared in The Quibbler. I suppose enough time has passed that she thinks we won’t turn her in,” Harry said, rubbing his forehead.
“But you’re going to turn her in now, right?” Ron asked.
Harry pursed his lips. “Yeah. It’s one thing when it’s just me, but we can’t have her looking to stir up trouble at The Burrow.”
“It’s not okay when it’s just you, either, mate,” Ron said, staring at Harry intently. “She’s gone too far this time. You don’t deserve this.”
“He’s right,” George said. “Either you stand up for yourself, or we will. I can contact Dad. He and Kingsley still have drinks on occasion.”
Harry thought about it. He didn’t like using his name, or his celebrity or whatever you called it. It reminded him too much of what Snape had always accused him of being. His dad and Sirius had both been unregistered Animagi, and it felt almost like… like disloyalty or something to turn in someone else. Still, Ron and George were right. This had gone too far, and he wasn’t going to put up with it anymore. “I’ll do it,” he said quietly.
He pulled the Toad in the Hole out of the oven and placed it on top. “Don’t eat that yet. Oh, Ron — Ginny told me to give you an extra helping of that pie,” he said before turning his back on them to throw some powder into the large fireplace. “Kingsley Shacklebolt’s residence.”
He heard Ron’s muffled, “Fanks,” before sticking his head into the green flames. Obviously, Ron had ignored him and taken a bite of something.
The Minister’s study came into focus. It was a handsome room with fine wooden furniture and a massive book case along one entire wall. Hermione would be itching to go through had she been there. Kingsley and his wife were sitting with another couple whom Harry didn’t recognize, sharing drinks around a coffee table.
“Harry,” Kingsley said, looking up, “is everything all right?” The other couple strained their necks to get a better look at him.
Harry had expected the Minister to be alone. Stupid, really. It was a Saturday evening, after all. “Er… sorry to bother you, sir,” he said uncomfortably, flattening his fringe over his scar.
“If you’ll all excuse me for a moment,” Kingsley said to his guests, nodding to his wife. “I’m going to come through, Harry.”
Harry pulled his head back out of the fire, and a moment later the Minister for Magic stepped out behind him, looking concerned.
Ron and George, who’d been eating some of the apple pie right out of the pie plate, dropped their forks and stepped back, looking guilty as crumbs fell everywhere.
“I’m sorry, sir. I should’ve realized it was too late to call,” Harry said at once.
Kingsley waved a hand in the air and walked over to the counter. “It’s no matter. It was a boring dinner party, anyway. My Floo connection was closed to all but a select few,” he said, smirking at Harry’s gobsmacked expression. He picked up a fork and sampled some of the pie. “This is good.”
“It’s my birthday, sir,” Ron said faintly.
“Well, then, Happy Birthday, Ron,” Kingsley said in his deep, booming voice. “Was that the reason you called — to invite me to the celebration?”
“Er… no, sir, it’s this,” Harry said, pushing his copy of the Daily Prophet forward.
Kingsley scowled at it. “Yes, I’ve already seen it. I’m very sorry, Harry. I’ve expressed my displeasure with the tone of the articles printed about you to the editor, but there isn’t much else I can do. I don’t want to forbid them from printing it. That’s a bit too much like Cornelius Fudge’s style, and I’m trying to change the way things are done.”
“Of course, sir,” Harry said, shaking his head. “That’s not what I want. It’s just that… It’s just that I think I know how Rita is getting her tips. I’ve known for quite some time, actually, and I probably should’ve come forward sooner.”
“Why don’t you tell me what you know?” Kingsley said, putting his fork down and giving Harry his full attention.
“She’s an unregistered Animagus, sir. She takes the form of a beetle, and I know she’s either been in this house or at The Burrow snooping for stories,” Harry said, meeting the Minister’s eye.
“And how do you know this?” the Minister asked slowly.
“I know because I’ve seen her in beetle form, sir. It’s how she was getting all those stories from inside Hogwarts during the Triwizard Tournament. I bet she’s got loads of other stories that way, as well.”
“I’ve seen her as a beetle, as well, sir,” Ron said firmly.
“A beetle, you say? This would explain a lot of the leaks that have been happening recently. Thank you, Harry. I’ll take care of it,” Kingsley said, a dangerous glint in his eye.
After the minister had left, the kitchen remained silent for several moments. Harry looked around. The Toad in the Hole remained untouched on top of the stove, but the apple pie was missing a good chunk. He picked up the entire serving dish of the Toad in the Hole and placed in on the counter next to the pie. Picking up a fork, he silently dug in. George and Ron watched him warily.
“Happy Birthday, Ron,” he muttered eventually.
“What d’you think he’s going to do?” George asked, picking up his own fork. The plates remained clean and untouched in a stack on the table. “D’you think he’ll arrest her now or wait until he catches her at it?”
“Dunno,” Harry said, not particularly caring.
“I wonder if it’ll stop her or just make her more determined to go after you,” Ron said, looking worried.
“What’s coming will come, and we’ll face it when it does,” Harry said, smiling wistfully. He suddenly wanted to visit Hagrid very much.
“Come on, mate. The nosh is great, and when we’re finished, we’re going to the pub to toast Ron’s birthday,” George said.
“Yeah, thanks, Harry. You don’t deserve this shite, and we’re not letting her stop you from having fun,” Ron said, agreeing.
Harry grinned, once again immensely thankful he’d agreed to allow Ron to join him in the train compartment during his first-ever ride to Hogwarts. It was probably the best decision he’d ever made.
Harry Apparated to the Forest of Dean during a torrential rain storm. The sky was grey and stormy for as far as the eye could see, and the howling wind was strong enough that remaining on course would prove challenging. The rain was coming down so hard and so fast, it was difficult to even see the mass of black blobs they were going to move. Harry wordlessly cast the Impervious Charm to repel water from his glasses and squinted around the clearing. It had been a week since Kingsley’s initial planning meeting, and the Dementor migration was about to begin. The plan was to have a group of Aurors begin herding a small number of the creatures to a selected rendezvous spot in another forest. There, a new group of Aurors would keep watch, whilst another group was brought forward. It would be a slow and tedious process, and their resources were stretched to the limit with the various shifts needed. There were simply too many Dementors to attempt moving them all in one go.
Owen waved to him, and Harry made his way over to the spot where he was checking his broom. “All right, kid?” Owen asked, glancing up briefly.
Owen had been protective of Harry since his Splinching incident, something Harry would prefer he’d simply forget. Of course, that wasn’t about to happen any time soon, not with all the added attention on Harry these days.
Rita Skeeter’s exposure as an unregistered Animagus hadn’t gone exactly to plan. Kingsley had taken a pair of Aurors with him to the editor’s office at the Daily Prophet and requested a meeting with Skeeter. She’d thought she was getting an exclusive interview, but what she’d received was an order for her arrest. The guidelines for what is acceptable in Animagus form were strict, and it called a lot of her interviews with unnamed sources into question.
She was currently awaiting trial in Azkaban. Once news of her arrest leaked out, however, rather than anyone scorning her, people began to think her stories must be true since she’d seen evidence directly while undercover. It had spawned a renewed interest in Harry’s supposed connection to Dark magic, and even at the Ministry, people were pointing and whispering as he passed in the corridors. Harry, who was used to stares and comments, wasn’t really bothered by all the fuss, but Owen was incensed. He’d taken to escorting Harry everywhere, glaring at anyone who dared look their way.
At home, George had cast a series of spells designed to kill any insect on contact. Harry thought he resembled some madcap exterminator while he was doing it. Ron insisted on dragging Harry to all the wizarding pubs and extolling the highlights of the final battle ad nauseum. He wasn’t about to let Harry hide himself away until the uproar died down since it wasn’t Harry’s fault.
Both Ginny and Hermione had sent him letters of support, and Harry had to talk Ginny out of sending Rita one laced with Bubotuber pus.
It was all rather amusing, really, but Harry appreciated their support all the same. It was typical of the way his life had been, but his friends were infuriated by it.
“This rain is really going to muck everything up,” he said, ignoring Owen’s concern to focus on the task at hand.
“You can effin’ say that again. I’ll be so bloody glad when these Dementors are ensconced with the giants, and we can fly away from this lot. It’ll be great to get back to hunting Dolohov and the rest of the missing Death Eaters,” Owen said, his eyes narrowing.
Harry turned to see Amos Diggory and a few members of his department inspecting the first group of Dementors.
“Are they flying with us?” Harry asked incredulously. It was hard enough keeping them back when they were in the clearing, never mind up in the air.
“Not on your life,” Owen said dismissively. “They’re doing whatever they do and then they’ll compare bloody notes once we get ‘em there. Those folks are just going to Apparate to the next spot.”
“Good,” Harry mumbled, causing Owen to grin.
“Not a fan of their department, eh? You have good taste.”
“I think the feeling is mutual — at least with their department head,” Harry mumbled, watching as Amos Diggory strode toward them, his scowl easily visible despite the rain.
“Savage,” he said, stopping in front of them, his scraggly beard dripping. “I’m told you’re in charge of the first wave.”
“We’re awaiting your all clear, and we’ll be off,” Owen said. Harry thought his voice sounded strained — probably due to his restraint from swearing.
“Right. The schedule is very tight, so we’d prefer to run without incident,” he said, glancing at Harry. “You’ll be along on this flight, Potter?”
“As you well know, he’s my partner,” Owen snapped. “Avoiding incident is generally the goal in any procedure.”
“Of course, of course. No offense intended,” Amos said, bowing his head although his eyes never lost their resentful glare. “It’s just, despite all he’s done — and I’m aware of how much — there simply tends to be collateral damage when Mr. Potter is involved.”
Harry stared ahead stoically. Amos wasn’t wrong, and he had suffered greatly simply because his son had been with Harry.
“And it’s also down to him that the Ministry even still exists and most of us are here, so I’ll take my chances. Do we have that all clear, sir?” Owen asked, spitting the last word.
Amos nodded, sparing one last glance at Harry before storming away.
“Git,” Owen said.
Harry shrugged. “He has his reasons.”
“Aurors, mount your brooms,” Owen shouted, and a group of six rose into the air. They formed a wide circle, and simultaneously casting Patronus Charms, they urged the designated group of Dementors into the air.
The journey was as long and draining as Harry had feared. The rain didn’t let up and left him chilled to the bone despite the protective charms on his clothing. Visibility was so poor, a tension headache throbbed dully behind Harry’s eyes during most of the flight. The one highlight was that none of the Dementors attempted to escape the confines of their circle. Perhaps they were happy to be moving or simply wanted out of the Forest of Dean as much as he did. Still, it meant he didn’t need to get too close to cast his Patronus, so the distant memories and voices from his past remained manageable.
After several hours, Owen gave the signal to descend. It was still raining, although not quite as hard as it had been at the start. The wooded area where they were landing was smaller, but Harry could see the clearing where the Dementors would be held. He could sense the protective charms as he descended, urging the Dementors ever forward.
A second group of Aurors were already in the air and patrolling, and Harry could see Amos and his people on the ground, watching the procedure. There was a small number of Aurors assigned to assist Amos on the ground. Amos had a clipboard in his hand, although Harry didn’t know what he was marking. He appeared quite pleased to finally be in charge of something.
Once he landed, Harry pulled a bar of chocolate from his pocket and had only managed a single bite before a distressed call arose around the circle. Looking around, he saw a flustered witch having a heated argument with Amos.
“What’s going on?” Owen demanded sharply, clutching his own chocolate.
“We’re missing an Auror,” the witch said, her eyes wide and panicked. “I let everyone know when we detected your approach so they could leave the clearing, but now that I’m checking, we’re one short.”
Harry’s head snapped up as he looked at the clearing where the Dementors were already swarming toward a clutch of trees.
“Someone is still effin’ in there?” Owen demanded. “I thought you said you had this tightly controlled, Diggory?” He immediately sent a Patronus, and Harry knew by procedure that he was sending a call for back up.
Harry whistled through his fingers, gaining Violet and Rory’s attention. Both were also eating chocolate, but they looked up sharply. “Someone is still inside, we need to contain and rescue.”
Owen’s bear Patronus barrelled forward, scattering the Dementors and clearing a path through them. Harry strained his eyes for any sign of movement, and when he saw it, his stomach felt as if it plummeted a mile. A lone Patronus flickered weakly in the midst of the Dementors — a small, Jack Russell terrier.