Harry walked along the pavement in the Port of Grimsby, the smell of fish heavy in the air from the nearby docks. He saw a dirty, wooden sign on the pub ahead indicating he’d found the right spot. He’d sent an owl to Theodore Nott earlier in the day asking to meet with him. Theo had picked the pub rather than where he was staying, and Harry had to admit he was intrigued by the Muggle setting.
Several fishing boats were still being unloaded, and the shouts of workers echoed along the busy docks. Huge cranes lifted crates teaming with the day’s catch and moved them toward waiting trucks. Harry was jostled by Muggles who were hurrying off the docks at the end of their work day. He found the massive cranes fascinating, and he kept frustrating the Muggles when he stopped moving to watch. The sun was still high in the late spring sky, and the sound of seagulls screeching over the unloading fishing boats echoed in the air.
Harry found this a most odd place to meet with a haughty, pure-blood Slytherin, and he kept his hand close to the holster where his wand was hidden by habit. The frequency of attacks on those associated with Death Eaters had decreased steadily, and the Ministry had fully prosecuted those who’d been apprehended. Most were young vigilantes seeking justice for losses during the war, but the fines imposed had been heavy, and Kingsley had ensured none of them had achieved any level of celebrity for their involvement.
Harry had promised Nott that he’d keep him informed, despite the fact there hadn’t been an arrest for Nott’s attack, and Harry wasn’t certain there ever would be. Still, he’d promised, so here he was in this fishing village outside this pungent Muggle pub.
He wasn’t certain he’d ever given life after Voldemort much thought, but if he had, he was certain this wouldn’t have been it.
He pushed open the door, and it creaked on its hinges, several more chips of paint flecked off as he did. Inside, it was dark and very smoky, and Harry felt his shoes sticking to the floor as he moved along the bar. The pub was decorated with lobster traps and whale bones hanging from the ceiling. A large, wooden ship’s wheel was suspended above the bar. He spotted Nott sitting at the corner, nursing a pint and scowling at anyone who came too close. He noticed Harry moving toward him, and his hazel eyes widened slightly.
“Potter,” he said once Harry reached him. “I wasn’t certain if you’d come.”
Harry took the bar stool next to him, shrugging. “I was the one who asked for the meeting. I’ll admit, I’m puzzled by the location.”
Theo sneered, looking around the pub with blatant disgust. Fortunately, it was loud enough inside that their conversation couldn’t be overheard. “The Ministry hasn’t released any of my family’s holdings, and no one in the wizarding world is eager to hire anyone with ties to Death Eaters, so I have to find work amongst the Muggles in order to earn some gold.”
Harry nodded, remembering Lupin once telling him the same thing. Somehow, he’d felt much more sympathetic to Lupin’s plight, however. The bartender looked over, and Harry indicated he’d take a pint, as well.
“So, you’re working on the docks?” Harry asked.
“It’s disgusting work without magic,” Theo said, taking a long swallow.
“Yeah? Have you gained some sympathy for the Muggles, then?” Harry asked, unable to completely hide his amusement.
“Sod off, Potter,” Theo snarled, hunching his shoulders and looking away.
“Look, we haven’t made any arrests in your case, and I don’t have any new leads. You’ve made a start rebuilding here. Don’t get yourself in any trouble with Secrecy Laws, no matter how disgusting the work is,” Harry said, imploringly.
“What do you care?” Theo asked.
“You spent the entire war surrounded by Death Eaters and managed to keep yourself out of it. I think you deserve a chance, and I don’t want to see you muck it up over some insignificant spell,” Harry said, surprised to realize he meant it. The bartender placed a glass in front of Harry, who nodded his thanks.
“You sound like the Fawleys,” Theo mumbled into his beer.
Theo had been staying with the Fawley family in Somerset, and as far as Harry knew, none of the Fawleys had been arrested for having ties with the Death Eaters, either.
“It’s good advice,” Harry said. “How is it living with them?”
Theo shrugged. “Caden is all right. We’ve been mates a long time. His family wasn’t involved in the war, so they managed to keep their gold. I think I’ll likely go to work for them once everything settles. They don’t want the publicity hiring me would cause in the present climate, however.”
“So wait it out. Now that all the trials are over, something else will fill the papers and draw people’s attention,” Harry said sagely.
Theo glanced at him sharply, hesitating before he spoke. His face screwed up as if he was having an internal argument. Harry waited him out, drinking his own pint.
“Listen,” Theo said, his voice so low Harry had to lean in to hear him in the loud clatter of the pub. “One of the reasons I suggested this place and not the pub where I usually go — the one where the attack happened — is because Caden and I were there a few nights ago, and we were approached.”
Harry’s eyes rose to meet Theo’s, once again keeping mum and waiting him out. His instincts paid off, and Theo continued.
“D’you know a Death Eater called Yaxley? He worked at the Ministry.”
Harry nodded slowly, remembering seeing him at the Battle, although he wasn’t amongst those apprehended at the end. He hadn’t been caught in the Lestrange raid at the end of the summer, either.
“He came into the pub, only he’s sporting short brown hair and a long beard these days. He blends in… unremarkable, you know?”
Harry nodded again, urging him to go on.
“He said he’d heard about the hard time Caden and I been having. He said if we wanted protection, he could help,” Theo said, shifting on his bar stool. “He intimated if we worked together, we could mete out some vengeance on the attackers.”
“Did he say if he knew who was behind these attacks?” Harry asked sharply. The Ministry had come to the conclusion that the attacks were random and unorganized, but this put a new spin on things.
Theo shrugged. “Dunno. What stuck out to me is… he knew they’d threatened us both since I’m staying with Caden’s family. I never told anyone that, and I certainly didn’t advertise that note to anyone but you.”
Theo had found a threatening note pinned on his door. Harry had the Ministry test it for spell residue, but it had turned up clean.
“So… either Yaxley knows who left it, or we have a leak at the Ministry,” Harry said, far more concerned with the latter option. Yaxley had been Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement under Voldemort, so he could easily still have contacts there.
“That’s what I thought,” Theo said, looking surprised. “I didn’t think you’d suspect the Ministry.”
“It hasn’t been long enough to weed out all the bad apples. Besides, I never fully trust the government,” Harry said, grimacing.
Theo grinned. “I always suspected you were smarter than Draco claimed.”
“If you’ve been approached by Yaxley and he’s recruiting, Malfoy probably has been, as well,” Harry said, more thinking out loud than conversing.
“I wouldn’t be certain of that. Draco is a braggart, and he enjoyed the power of his father’s name, but he never had the stomach for it. He’s a coward, and most of the Death Eaters knew it. With his father out of favour, I don’t think they’d bother with him. If they’d wanted vengeance, they could’ve killed him by now. I think what Draco always considered to be the worst outcome possible has happened to him,” Theo said.
“And what would that be?” Harry asked curiously.
“He’s become insignificant.”
Harry snorted into his beer, and Theo joined him. “Did Yaxley give you a way to reach him if you decided you wanted to join him?”
“He said he keeps an eye on the pub in Somerset, although I’ve never noticed him there again,” Theo said.
“What d’you know about Tim Travers?” Harry asked, eyes narrowed. Travers cornering of Ginny on the train when they’d returned to school was never far from Harry’s mind, and suddenly pieces were falling together.
Theo shrugged. “I know he’s at Hogwarts, and he’s not particularly bright. D’you think they went looking for him, too?”
“I dunno. He attacked my girlfriend on the train, claiming he wanted a word with me,” Harry said.
“Sounds like him. As I said, he’s not very bright, but he enjoyed himself under the Carrows. I think he’d jump at the chance to get back in with a bunch of them.”
Before Harry could respond, he felt a burning sensation in his pocket. Reaching in, he removed a Galleon and read the message that had appeared. The Ministry had adapted the old DA coins to be used when Aurors were in Muggle areas and a Patronus would draw too much attention.
“Listen,” Harry said, dropping some Muggle money on the counter to pay for both pints. “I have to get back to the Ministry. Something’s come up, but I’ll be in touch. Watch your back, and stay alive.”
“You, too, Potter. Yaxley… he mentioned taking revenge against you specifically,” Theo said the last bit very fast before gulping his drink and glancing around the pub warily.
“Story of my life,” Harry muttered as he left.
He Apparated to Knockturn Alley and met Owen across from the bookshop where Agnes Heatherton had been murdered. It was the one case that still didn’t sit right with Harry. Although she fit the profile of the other victims, something about that particular case had nagged at his insides. All the other attacks appeared random and were done out in the open. Agnes had been murdered inside her own shop, as if she’d been targeted.
“What’s up?” he asked softly.
Owen, who was standing in the shadow of an alleyway, looked rather menacing with his hair pulled back in a ponytail, causing the jagged scar on his chin to be fully visible. The dusky sky still held some light, though candles had been lit in the many shops along the alley. Owen nodded toward the bookshop. “I got an owl that Agnes Heatherton’s long-missing brother has finally resurfaced. He’s supposed to show up here to look over the shop he’s inherited.”
“How did he know about his sister? I thought there wasn’t a will,” Harry said.
Owen’s lips thinned into a grim line. “There wasn’t, but apparently the solicitor was able to track him down.”
“How did the solicitor manage what the Ministry couldn’t?” Harry asked, frowning at the dark shop. It appeared abandoned, though there were lights in the shops on either side.
“That’s the thousand-Galleon question, innit? Owen said. “Where were you?”
“I went to meet Theodore Nott to give him an update. I ended up getting one instead,” Harry replied.
“How do you mean?” Owen asked, distracted enough to look away from the bookshop.
“He told me that he was approached by Corban Yaxley in a pub recently. Yaxley offered protection from all the vigilante attacks and asked him to let him know if he wanted revenge,” Harry said.
Owen’s eyes opened wide. “There hasn’t been a Yaxley sighting in some time. How did he know Nott had been attacked?”
“That’s what I wondered, too. Near as I can tell, either he’s involved in the attack, or we have a leak at the Ministry.”
Owen sighed. “I wish I could say that wasn’t possible. The Minister is trying, but there was a lot of corruption under Fudge that still hasn’t been weeded out. Scrimgeour wasn’t there long enough, and Shacklebolt has a lot on his plate.”
“Think this is our bloke?” Harry asked, carefully watching a hunched figure standing in front of the bookshop and looking around furtively. Small in stature with stringy grey hair and whiskers, he reminded Harry of Mundungus Fletcher. He had that same sneaky wariness about him. When the man hurried up the steps and let himself inside, Harry and Owen quickly followed.
Owen pushed open the door of the shop, and the wizard, who was standing at the till, spun around, aiming his wand at the Aurors. His well-worn wand was chipped on the end and a chunk of wood was missing. Panic showed on his face when he realized both men had their wands aimed at him.
“Er… what ‘choo want? I got nuthin’ for yeh,” Repo Heatherton said, his voice shaking noticeably. He dragged a hand through his stringy hair, his eyes darting to the door behind Owen.
“Mr. Heatherton, I’m Auror Savage, this is Auror Potter from the Ministry of Magic. We have a few questions we’d like to ask,” Owen said, his tone pleasant but his wand remained fixed on Heatherton’s chest.
“Bugger,” Heatherton said, lowering his wand and spitting on the floor. “I ain’t done nothin’.”
“How did you learn about your sister’s death, Mr. Heatherton? We’ve had some trouble tracking you down,” Owen said.
Heatherton’s eyes narrowed defiantly. “Couldn’t ‘ave tried hard. Shop’s ben sittin’ empty for months.”
“We understand you and your sister had a falling out, and there is no will stating that you would inherit the shop,” Owen replied levelly.
“Oo else is gonna get it? I’m Aggie’s only kin,” Heatherton said hotly.
His eyes continually shifted around the shop, as if looking for a way out. When he casually stuck his hands in his pockets and took a step backwards, Harry moved to the side to block the entrance of the office behind the selling floor. When he moved, his face was lit by the candle on the wall and Heatherton glanced over at him, then did a double-take, goggling at Harry’s scar.
“You! You’re… you’re… what the bleedin’ hell are you thinkin’? I can’t be seen with you,” Heatherton spluttered, gasping and attempting to shove past Owen toward the front door.
Owen grabbed him by both arms, holding him firmly in place. “We’re not finished here, and you’re not going anywhere until we get some answers.”
Heatherton continued to struggle frantically. “You fools! You’ve killed me! You’ve killed me!”
Harry kept his wand trained on the resisting wizard. Obviously, the fact he had two Aurors in his shop had distracted him from the names Owen had supplied. Still, though Harry was used to recognition, this terrified reaction was a first.
“What are you on about, Heatherton?” he asked, frowning.
The man groaned. “I jus’ needed some gold. Aggie’d cut me off. She ‘ad no right. It’s a family business. She owed me,” he howled, still trying to gain his release.
Owen had enough. He shoved Heatherton backwards and Petrified him from the neck down. Heatherton’s eyes, already panicked, widened in size so they appeared like saucers on his whiskered face. Colour rose on his face as he tried futilely to release the spell.
“They’ll kill me,” he moaned.
“Who is going to kill you, Mr. Heatherton?” Owen asked.
“Look, they wanted the shop, and I wanted the gold. It was a win-win. I didn’t know they’d kill ‘er,” he said, desperately.
Harry and Owen locked eyes, silently communicating. Harry tilted his head. Heatherton was panicked by Harry, so Owen continued the questioning.
“Who killed your sister, Repo?” Owen asked quietly.
Repo looked at Owen, his eyes pleading and a plaintive whine entering his voice. “Look, I needed the gold. I ‘ad some goblins after me for some bets that went wrong. Aggie wouldn’t ‘elp. What kind of sister is that? When a bloke approached me after we’d rowed, I thought it’d all work out. ‘Ee said ‘ee needed a place to meet in Knockturn Alley, and the shop would be perfect. We could ‘elp each other out. Said ‘ee could do a spell that would make Aggie give us both what we wanted, willing like, you know?”
“Sounds like the Imperius Curse. Go on,” Owen said neutrally.
“Everything went wrong,” Repo said, a wild, agitated look in his eyes. “When he cast ‘is spell, Aggie started to comply, ‘er eyes went all funny, but then she cleared ‘em and drew ‘er wand. She demanded we leave the shop, or she’d call the Ministry. The bloke… ‘ee killed her. Used the Killing Curse, I think. Never seen it, but the light was all bright and green, and it sounded... It sounded like all the air was rushing outta the place.”
Harry shuddered, trying vainly to suppress a chill, his mind flashing on that deadly green light speeding toward him as he stood mutely, the sound rushing in his ears… He could smell the fire burning in the centre of the encampment, hear the crackle of wood and the hum of insects as he waited ages for the green light to hit him. He clenched his eyes tightly to dispel the vision, but his hand was shaking. He didn’t think Owen had noticed.
“I panicked, tried to run. Bloke told me ta calm down, that pure-bloods were being killed all over the Alley, and they’d just think Aggie was another. ‘Ee said to leave the gold and go lay low for a few months, then come back and open the shop. ‘Ee said I could ‘ave the gold then, and ‘ee could ‘ave a secret meeting place. ‘Ee gave me a bit o’ gold to ‘old off the goblins, took a book and left. Then I ran for it,” Heatherton said, appearing to slump despite the fact he was immobilized.
“He took a book?” Owen asked sharply.
“Er,” the expression on Heatherton’s face matched one that frequently appeared on Hagrid’s face when he’d revealed something he hadn’t meant to.
“What book did he take?” Harry asked, causing Heatherton to startle as if he’d forgotten Harry was there.
Once again, Heatherton’s eyes rounded in panic. “It’s you! They’re after you! Cor— Bloke said after the Dark Lord disappeared the last time, ‘ee used a spell involving your blood to bring ‘im back. They want your blood, but if they see me talking to you, they’re going to kill me. I ‘ave to go.”
“So, he took a book on blood spells?” Harry asked, his mind racing. “Who was this wizard? I know you know. You almost just named him.”
Heatherton clammed up, pressing his lips together as if to keep the words inside.
Harry straightened to his full height and glared at Repo. He wasn’t a particularly tall wizard, but he knew he could be intimidating when he put his mind to it. “Mr. Heatherton, this is very important, and I can make you talk if I have to.”
Repo swallowed visibly. “Okay! All right, all right. ‘Is name is Corban Yaxley, old family friend. ‘Ee ain’t the one in charge, though. The one who wants the spell is Dolly something.”
“Dolohov?” Harry asked sharply. Antonin Dolohov and been working with the Lestrange brothers, but he’d managed to evade capture in last summer’s raid. The Ministry had been attempting to locate him ever since.
“Yeah, that’s it. Never met ‘im. Look, I can’t be seen with you,” he said, the whinge returning to his voice.
Owen rolled his eyes. “Mr. Heatherton, you’re under arrest for the murder of your sister and consorting with known Death Eaters. You’re not going anywhere.”
Repo’s body seemed to sag with relief. “So… you’ll take me into custody, then? Where they can’t get me?”
Harry cast a Muffliato spell so Heatherton couldn’t overhear them and exchanged another glance with Owen.
“That explains why Yaxley hasn’t been seen, either. They both went to ground after they murdered Agnes,” Owen said.
“I wonder if some of the other pure-blood attacks where we haven’t found a perpetrator was actually Yaxley trying to recruit for Dolohov, like he did with Nott,” Harry said, pursing his lips.
In the silence of the shop, a bang against the glass on the window sounded like a canon. Repo shrieked as Owen quickly cast a Shield Charm over him, and Harry sprinted for the door. A dark figure was racing up the street away from them, his dark cloak billowing. Aiming his wand, Harry cast a Tripping Jinx, and the figure sprawled on the ground with a grunt.
“He’s down,” Harry said, rushing out the door. “I’ll get him. We can take them both to the Ministry to finish questioning them.”
He ran down the street, reaching the man just as he released himself from Harry’s hex. Harry Stunned him before he could get to his feet, and cast a Levitation Charm in order to bring him back to the shop.
“Harry, watch out!” Owen shouted from the entrance of the book shop.
Instinctively, Harry ducked just as a spell went hurtling over him, missing him by inches. It collided with the shop in front of him, sending bits of wood and plaster flying in every direction. Harry tried vainly to protect his prisoner from the flying debris, but something collided with his own unprotected head. Stars erupted in his vision as his head was engulfed in sickening pain. He was unconscious before he hit the ground.
Ginny sprinted up the stairs to her dormitory, ignoring the calls of her friends in the common room. She’d received an owl from Ron informing her that Harry was all right, but he’d been hurt apprehending a suspect. She didn’t want to take Ron’s word for it, she wanted to talk to Harry. She hated not being able to be there with him, and the fact there was only a few weeks left in term somehow made the separation that much harder.
Drawing the curtains around her bed and casting a Silencing Charm, she took her enchanted mirror from her bedside table and called into it clearly, “Harry.”
There was no response, so she tried again, “Harry, you’d best answer me right now if you know what’s good for you.”
The mirror fogged over, and Ginny couldn’t help releasing all the tension she’d felt in a deep sigh. The face that appeared in her mirror wasn’t Harry, however. She stared at the auburn hair and deeply scarred chin in confusion for a moment before registering it was Owen Savage.
“Owen?” she asked uncertainly.
“What the bloody hell is this ruddy thing?” Owen asked, examining the mirror intently.
“Where’s Harry?” Ginny asked impatiently.
Owen visibly forced himself away from his perusal of the mirror. “He’s here. He’s sleeping right now. I’m staying with him until George gets home because Ron is still on duty. He had his bells rung pretty good, but he’ll be all right.”
“Is he supposed to be sleeping?” Ginny asked, alarmed. It wasn’t like Harry to allow anyone to fuss over him, and she couldn’t fathom why he’d allow Owen to sit by his bedside while he slept.
Owen nodded. “He can’t stay awake, and he’s been really out of it when he is. The Healer said someone is supposed to stay with him and be certain they could wake him each hour. It’s been… quite a revelation,” he said, smirking.
“How do you mean?” Ginny asked, not liking the look on Owen’s face at all. It reminded her starkly of George, actually.
“Well, I know my hair has a rusty tone, but I really don’t think I resemble you — no offense. Actually, I suppose you’re the one who should be more offended,” Owen said, making no sense at all.
“What on earth are you talking about?” Ginny asked, exasperated.
The predatory grin on Owen’s face widened into a gleeful smirk. “The past few times I woke him, he thought I was you.”
Ginny couldn’t help it, despite how worried she still was, she snorted. Harry would be mortified, and Owen would never let him forget it.
“Oh, I’ll definitely have to have a word with him about that,” she said, giggling.
“I think he was trying to kiss me,” Owen said, outraged.
“Well, if he thought you were me, I’d hope he tried to kiss you,” Ginny said, trying to match his outrage and control the laughter struggling to burst forth.
Owen grinned. “You’re a cheeky thing. I like that. Seriously, though, what is this mirror? This is ruddy brilliant.”
“Harry’s dad and godfather charmed them so they could communicate during detentions. We’ve been using them while I’ve been at school. It’s quicker than using owls,” Ginny said.
“I bet you’ve found all kinds of uses for them,” Owen said, smirking.
Ginny ignored him, though she felt warmth flooding her cheeks. “Now your turn. What happened to him?” she demanded.
Owen explained about apprehending two suspects, but a third had fired a curse, and although Harry had dodged it, he’d been struck by falling debris. The unknown assailant had managed to escape.
Ginny sighed, slightly exasperated. “I wish he’d learn to extend that protective instinct of his to himself once in a while,” she said grumpily.
“Er… Isn’t that why we won the war, though?” Owen asked, raising his eyebrows.
“Don’t bother me with facts when I’m worried, Owen,” she replied, waving her hand in the air.
He chuckled and shifted the mirror so she could take a good look at Harry. He was extremely pale, and a large bandage covered the right side of his forehead. Even so, she could see ugly purple and black bruising around the edge of the bandage. His eyes were closed, and he appeared to be resting comfortably. She wished she could be the one there sitting with him, however.
“He’s about due for another awakening. Want to watch?” Owen said, waggling his eyebrows.
“Only you could make a concussion sound like something dirty, Owen,” Ginny said, rolling her eyes.
“Thank you, Miss,” Owen replied, unabashed. Ginny noticed he was very gentle when he gave Harry’s shoulder a shake, however. “Oi, Potter. Wake up, kid, your witch wants to see those emeralds that make all the other witches swoon.”
“Who’s swooning over his eyes?” Ginny asked, irritated. She knew it was true, she only had to pick up a copy of Witch Weekly to see it, but it still annoyed her.
Harry groaned, pulling away from Owen and not at all interested in waking up. “Come on, mate. Ginny’s here,” Owen said, relentless with the pressure on Harry’s arm.
Harry groaned again, although his eyes fluttered open and he stared dazedly at Owen. “You’re a prat,” he mumbled, trying to roll over to go back to sleep.
“Harry,” Ginny said, and she saw his eyes open wide. He squinted without his glasses, looking around the room.
“Here,” Owen said, holding up the mirror where Harry could see.
“Ginny,” Harry said, his words slightly slurred. Up close, she noticed that his eyes were unfocused.
“Hi, sweetie. Who clunked you on the head?” she asked. “Don’t they know I’m the only one allowed to do that?”
Harry smiled tiredly. “I’m all right, just sleepy.”
“You’re supposed to tell her that she should see the other bloke, lad,” Owen said, chuckling.
“Did we catch him?” Harry asked, his eyes widening.
Owen shook his head. “Nah, but we have the other two. We’ll see if we can get them to talk.”
“Other two?” Harry asked, looking completely flummoxed.
“Don’t worry about that now, Harry,” Ginny said firmly, scowling at Owen. “You can sort it all out when you go back to work. Right now, you just need to rest.”
“I have to make dinner for Uncle Vernon so I don’t get thrashed,” Harry said, his eyes beginning to drift shut.
“Vernon can make his own effin’ dinner,” Ginny said, scowling. “It’s time for a kip.”
“Ginny, I can’t nap in McGonagall’s class. She’ll kill me,” Harry said, although his eyes were already shut.
Ginny ignored him. “No need to worry — this is History of Magic,” she said without missing a beat.
“Oh, s’alright then,” Harry mumbled.
“Owen, are there any potions you’re supposed to give him when he’s awake?” she asked.
“No. They already gave him a bunch and said he could go home as long as there was someone with him to wake him. They said he should be right as rain tomorrow,” Owen replied.
“Harry,” George said, entering the room and walking over to the bedside. “Blimey, you’re like a walking beacon for trouble.”
“Hi, George,” Ginny said brightly, and George did a double take at the mirror Owen was still holding.
“How the bloody hell did you manage that?” George asked, reaching for the mirror.
Ginny felt a swooping feeling in her stomach as the view in her mirror swept across Harry’s room when George took the mirror and began inspecting it.
“George!” she said, shutting her eyes. “Put it back where I can see Harry. We’ve been using the mirrors to communicate all year.”
“I can use this,” George said, talking to himself. “If I can duplicate these charms, we can make a mint.”
“You’re not taking it until I’m home from school,” Ginny said firmly. She knew Harry might give in to George’s needling, but she wasn’t about to lose her nightly contact through the strenuous NEWTs, which were about to begin.
“Look, as long as you’re home, I’m going to go. I’ve got plans this evening,” Owen said smugly.
“Say hello to Violet for me,” George said casually, still staring at the mirror.
“Who said anything about Violet?” Owen asked, stunned.
“You’re dating Violet?” Ginny asked, delighted by the expression on the older Auror’s face.
“I didn’t say that,” Owen said. “I’m getting out of here. George, be certain to wake Potter every few hours. If you have trouble, you’re supposed to contact St. Mungo’s straightaway. I haven’t had any problem, however.”
Ginny laughed, taking a long look at her older brother. “How’s Angelina, George?”
Ginny was happy to see the colour rising in George’s face, although he looked incredibly pleased. “She’s good. She’s at work still, but she’ll be here soon. She’s–ah–she’s been spending a lot of time here.”
“Grimmauld Place is fairly crowded these days,” Ginny said, grinning. “I can’t wait to join you all.”
“Mum won’t be happy about that,” George said, although he didn’t sound very concerned.
“I know, but she’ll get used to it. If Hermione and Angelina are there with you, Harry can’t be left out,” she said impishly.
“Yeah, use Harry. That generally works,” George said easily. When George positioned the mirror back on Harry’s face, his eyes were closed and he was breathing deeply.
“Take care of him for me, George,” she said quietly.
“I’ll always have your back, Ginny, and his, too,” he replied.
Ginny slowly descended the stairs into the bustling Entrance Hall. Students were running pell-mell to grab some breakfast or meet up with their friends before getting onto one of the carriages to travel to the awaiting train. Ginny was painfully aware that this would be her last trip on the Hogwarts Express, and although she was eager to see Harry and begin the next phase of her life, she was finding it difficult to let go.
She’d entered her dormitory as a terrified first year, convinced she’d never fit in, and was now leaving the best group of girls she’d ever known. They were all like the sisters she’d never had. She knew they’d all keep in touch, but it wasn’t the same.
Nothing was ever going to be the same again.
She remembered back to last summer and the trepidation she felt about returning to Hogwarts. Sixth year had been a nightmare, and she’d been hesitant to return. It was Bill who’d promised her that she didn’t want to leave Hogwarts on a bad experience. He’d told her to go back and enjoy it, and she was so glad she’d taken the advice of her eldest brother. Bill had never steered her wrong.
Ginny tightened her grip on her ruck sack and took a deep breath, taking one long, last look around. The marble staircase gleamed in the sunlight streaming in from the vast windows — warm, welcoming, just as it had always been. She caught a glimpse of the staff table through the open doors of the Great Hall. Only Professors Slughorn and Nutcombe remained, finishing off the last of their breakfasts. The ceiling was a glorious cerulean blue with a few stray puffy clouds filtering in and out.
She watched as a group of second-year Hufflepuffs rose as a group and trudged toward her. All the second-years still did everything as a pack, but Ginny noticed they smiled more, and that guarded wariness that had been ever-prevalent in their eyes at the start of term had gone. Scars from the war would always remain, but they were all healing.
“Ginny,” Siobhan said, linking her arm through Ginny’s. “There you are. Come on, we want to take a boat together.”
It was tradition for the seventh-years to depart Hogwarts by sailing across the lake as they had done when they’d arrived as first-years.
She allowed Siobhan to tug her through the massive doors and out into the blazing sunshine. They skipped down the massive stone steps, past the waiting carriages and toward the lake. She could see Hermione standing beside one of the row boats and looking worried. Her face relaxed when she saw Siobhan tugging Ginny along.
There was a group of Slytherins who’d claimed the carriage right in front of the castle. Ginny caught Phelix Harper’s eye as she passed, and he turned to face her.
“I hear congratulations are in order,” he said. After Gryffindor’s win over Ravenclaw, Ginny had shared her news of playing for the Harpies, and it had spread like wildfire throughout the school.
“How did you do?” she asked. She hadn’t seen him on the final day of try outs, but she knew she could’ve missed him.
“I didn’t make the final cut,” he replied, shrugging. “I still have another year at Hogwarts before I need to make any decisions. Now, I know what to expect when I try again, though.”
Ginny’s eyes widened. She’d wondered why he was there as a sixth-year. “I never thought of that.”
Phelix grinned. “That’s because you’re not a Slytherin.”
Ginny returned the grin. “Nope. Gryffindors plough in head-first and come what may.”
“Hello, Ginny,” Astoria said, her eyes flickering back and forth between Ginny and Phelix. She looked surprised by the grins on both of their faces.
“Hey, Astoria. Can you believe it’s finally over? You just have to see us all to the train, and your duties as Head Girl are complete.”
Astoria shrugged, her thin blonde hair fluttering in the breeze. Ginny thought her expression looked rather bittersweet, and she could relate to that feeling. “Well, once we arrive in King’s Cross, anyway.”
“What are your plans?” Ginny asked curiously.
“I’m going to work at the Ministry,” Astoria said. “I’m hoping I can do something to ease the plight of some of my fellow Slytherins. A lot of them are having trouble finding work.”
“Is Draco meeting the train?” Ginny asked, suspecting Draco was one of the Slytherins whom Astoria wanted to help. She still couldn’t bring herself to care very much, but she found she did wish Astoria well.
“He is. Will Harry be there?” Astoria asked.
“Yes,” Ginny said, beaming. “I can picture the interaction if they run into one another. ‘What are you doing here, Malfoy?’” she asked, adopting a Harry-like scowl.
Astoria grinned before a sneer crossed her face as she imitated Draco. “I wasn’t aware the Ministry required me to alert you to my social calendar, Potter.”
Both girls burst into giggles “Take care, Astoria,” Ginny said, leaving the Slytherins to cross the grass toward the boats.
“You, too,” Astoria called.
Ginny clamoured into the row boat with Hermione, Siobhan and Liz. She saw Luna climbing into another one with Parvati and Padma Patil. Once they were seated, the boat began rowing itself across the lake. Ginny turned with her roommates to take one last look at Hogwarts, standing majestically as they sailed away. The outline of the castle was reflected in the lake’s still water, and even after all this time, it could still take her breath away. So much of her life had been spent here — so much of what had shaped her into the person she was had happened here. It had started so rocky in her first year, and her sixth year had been a bad one, as well. She was grateful to Bill for talking her out of leaving early. He was right, returning had been the right thing to do. This was how her leave taking should feel — bittersweet rather than sour.
Hagrid was there to meet them in Hogsmeade, assisting them off the boats and directing them toward the train.
“Seventh years, this way,” his voice boomed, and something about it made tears spring to Ginny’s eyes.
He walked over to Ginny and Hermione, pulling them both into a bear hug that completely enveloped them.
“All right, you two?” he asked, beaming at them. “I hear yeh going to visit Charlie on holiday. Say hello to Norberta for me.”
Ginny, Hermione, Harry and Ron were all taking a trip to Romania before Ginny had to leave for training camp. Ginny could easily see the longing in Hagrid’s eyes.
“We’ll do that, Hagrid. Did Harry tell you Norberta was a mum?” she asked.
Hagrid’s eyes filled, and he took a massive handkerchief from his pocket. “He did! Bless her. Blimey, I wish I could see that.”
“We’ll be sure to pass on your love, Hagrid,” Hermione said, her eyes sparkling with amusement.
They said their goodbyes to Hagrid and boarded the train. Liz and Siobhan already had a compartment by the time they joined them. Ginny slouched into one of the open seats, feeling very tired suddenly. She looked over at Hermione, and noticed, she, too had wearily rested her head on the back of the seat.
“It’s mentally draining, this parting business,” she said. “I’m so eager to get to work, but I’m sad to be leaving, too. Most of my magical life was spent here. I just want to go home, take a long bath, and have a quiet evening.”
“I really don’t see that happening,” Ginny said, snorting. At Hermione’s puzzled expression, she clarified. “I’ll bet Mum will have the entire clan there for our final homecoming. She’ll want to drag me home before Harry and I can sneak off, and I’m certain she’ll try to encourage you to come back with us, too. You know she’s not happy you’re living with them.”
Hermione rolled her eyes. “When are you going to tell her that you’re planning on living with us and not at The Burrow?”
Ginny shrugged. “We leave on holiday in a couple days, then I’ll be off to training camp. I reckon I can simply return to Grimmauld Place rather than The Burrow after that.”
“You’re a lot like Ron,” Hermione said, frowning her disapproval.
“Honestly, Hermione, d’you really think my parents don’t know? They raised seven of us, including Fred and George. There’s not much they aren’t aware of. Let them pretend a bit longer. What’s the harm?” Ginny asked.
Hermione still looked rather disgruntled, but she let it go. Ginny caught Siobhan’s eye and shared a grin.
“Ginny, have you seen this?” Liz asked, looking up from the copy of the Daily Prophet she had open on her lap.
“Seen what?” Ginny asked warily.
“It’s an article about Rita Skeeter. It says she’s being released from Azkaban, but she’s on probation. She has to do a bunch of charity work, it looks like,” Liz said, her eyes rapidly skimming the article.
“I’ve heard there are loads of lawsuits pending against her,” Hermione said. “I like the idea of forcing her to do some good deeds rather than spending time in Azkaban.”
“Yeah, more room for Death Eaters,” Siobhan said.
Ginny glanced at the article over Liz’s shoulder. “It says she’s also on probation at the Daily Prophet, and she won’t be re-employed until all her personal matters are settled.”
“That means the Prophet is distancing themselves from her legal battles. Too bad, really, since they were complicit in her underhanded ways. They paid her for all those awful stories,” Hermione said, resentfully. Hermione had never forgiven Rita or the newspaper for all the trouble they’d caused during the Triwizard Tournament.
Ginny leaned her head back again and arched her back. “I think I’m going to have a kip.”
“That sounds like a brilliant idea,” Siobhan said, unfurling her long legs and stretching them out into the centre of the compartment.
“I can’t,” Hermione said, sighing. “I have to do my last rounds as a prefect in an hour.”
“Better you than me,” Ginny said, her eyes drifting closed. Conversation continued quietly in the compartment, but she was able to tune it out, the gentle motion of the train easily lulling her to sleep.
She was jarred from her slumber by raised voices in the compartment. She wasn’t certain how long she’d dozed, but she didn’t think it had been very long. Gripping her wand automatically, she widened her eyes to take in the scene. Hermione was standing at the compartment door arguing with Brynn Dempsy. The Ravenclaw prefect’s arms were folded, and she stared disdainfully down her pointed nose. Andrew Kirke had taken the empty seat beside Siobhan, and they were sitting extremely close watching the row.
“Whether or not we’ve finished Hogwarts, our Prefect duties don’t end until the train arrives at King’s Cross. My rounds are done, and it’s your turn. If you have a problem with it, take it to Astoria,” Hermione snapped.
“That’s right. You never made Head Girl, did you, Hermione?” Brynn asked, her eyes glinting malevolently.
Hermione didn’t rise to the bait, instead she smiled coldly. “That’s right. I’m simply another prefect, just like you. I, however, have done my rounds, while you have not. You can either go see Astoria on your own, or I can take you there. And I won’t be gentle.”
Brynn’s gaze faltered first, perhaps remembering that Hermione was a key player in the defeat of Voldemort. “Fine,” she said haughtily. “I’ll do that.”
“Bye!” both Siobhan and Liz called gaily as the Ravenclaw stalked away.
“Hermione, that was brilliant,” Liz said, smiling. “She is so full of herself. It’s about time someone took her down a peg.”
“Nice one, Hermione,” Ginny said appreciatively. “And you get on me about my temper.”
“The difference is, I didn’t hex her,” Hermione said, although she grinned. “Luna said no one took her stuff this year, so I suppose that has to mean she’s grown up a little.”
“No,” Siobhan said. “It’s because Padma had Luna’s back in the dormitory this year.”
“I think Brynn knew if she messed with Luna, she messed with all of us. I’ve heard tales from the little firsties that we’re rather intimidating,” Ginny said, secretly delighted by the knowledge.
Hermione’s lips twitched. “That was just the one time, and it wasn’t my idea. There was no other choice.”
“Perhaps while we’re visiting Charlie, you can ride another then,” Ginny said, grinning.
Hermione shook her head firmly. “No, thank you very much.”
“Oh, you are definitely known around the castle as a badass group of witches,” Andrew said, grinning. “I heard a bunch of Hufflepuff fifth-years aspiring to take the role now that you’ve left.”
“I think what made it unusual is that our circle of friends is comprised of Gryffindors and Ravenclaws together. In the past, the Houses haven’t intermingled all that much,” Liz said, thoughtfully.
“That’s a really good point,” Hermione said, looking rather stunned. “It makes me wish we’d at least included a few Hufflepuffs. I think it’ll need a bit more time to reasonably repair the damage with the Slytherins.”
“I don’t know… I’ve become friendlier with Astoria than I’ve ever been with a Slytherin before,” Ginny said.
“You also were attacked by Tim Travers,” Andrew said darkly.
“But he’s not a witch, and we’re talking about groups of badass witches,” Siobhan said, grinning.
“And he’s definitely not cool enough to hang with us witches,” Liz giggled.
“So, that means I’m cool enough?” Andrew asked hopefully, his eyes on Siobhan.
“That’s still under review,” she said tartly.
Andrew remained in their compartment until the train pulled into King’s Cross station. Dean joined them for a short time, but both boys returned to their own compartment to collect their belongings before the students began to disembark. Ginny quickly gathered up her things and hurried off the train with Hermione. Now that they’d arrived, they were both eager to see Ron and Harry.
They followed the stream of students exiting the train, and the large group of redheads was easily visible amongst all the families on the platform. As the girls elbowed their way through the crowd, Ginny suddenly elbowed Hermione sharply in the ribs. When Hermione turned to her questioningly, she nodded back toward the direction of the train. Siobhan’s raven curls were easily visible next the bright red of the Hogwarts Express, and she stood there wrapped in Andrew’s arms as he kissed her passionately. Ginny and Hermione shared a smug, I-told-you-so look before Siobhan noticed them staring. She broke away briefly to stick her tongue out at them before resuming snogging.
Giggling happily, the girls continued pushing forward toward the rest of the Weasleys. Harry reached her first, wrapping her in his arms and kissing her just as thoroughly as Andrew and Siobhan had just done. Ron and Hermione were doing the same by their side while the rest of the family held their greetings patiently — except George who folded his arms across his chest and tapped his foot impertinently.
“I’m so glad you’re home,” Harry whispered in her ear before pulling back. Ginny felt tingles run down her spine. She could barely wait to get him alone and show him just how happy she was to be together again.
“I’m happy to be home, too. You look absolutely gorgeous,” she said, amused by how red he’d turned. She was happy to note that the bruising on his face had healed completely.
She greeted the rest of her family in turn, and her mum insisted they all return to The Burrow for a welcome-home feast. While she wanted to spend some time alone with Harry, she was hungry, and a proper meal sounded fabulous. Now that their long separation was over, they had all the time in the world.
A/N: The bit about taking the boats back across the lake comes directly from Pottermore. British schools don’t have a big graduation ceremony (that’s saved for University), so I imagine Hogwarts would follow suit.
My endless thanks and appreciation to my wonderful beta, Sherylyn, for all her beta work and help making this story presentable to all of you. We’ve worked together for a very long time now, and I can’t imagine a story not going through her!