lundi 11 février 2008

chapter 10

"Ron? Hermione?" he said, sinking to his knees beside them.

Pull it together. What’s wrong with me? I’ve never fallen apart under
pressure like this.

"Episky," he said, holding his wand to the burns on Ron’s arm. He knew
it wasn’t the best choice of spells. There must be a healing spell
specifically for burns, but this was the only one he knew. The wounds
on Ron’s arm did heal slightly, enough to hold him until they could get
help, anyway.

He was more concerned about trying it on Hermione, whose burns looked
much worse.

"Harry, Ron," Ginny’s voice sounded from the hallway. "Where are you?"

"Ginny!" Harry called desperately.

"Merlin’s Beard! What happened?" Ginny asked, rushing over to her
brother and staring at his arm in horror.

"I’m okay," Ron mumbled, brushing away her hands. "Hermione’s hurt."

Harry held his wand next to one of the smaller burns on Hermione’s

"Episky," he whispered, grimacing when Hermione moaned. He felt a
stinging behind his eyes and blinked rapidly. The wound healed, so he
tentatively moved to her head. He continued to patch her up as best he
could, desperately wishing Madam Pomfrey was here.
"I’m sorry," Harry whispered when Hermione cried out as he tried to
heal the largest of her burns. "It’s the only healing spell I know."

"It’s all right, Harry," Ginny whispered, gently rubbing his shoulders.
She’d stood behind him the whole time, gently urging him on, and he was
grateful for her calming presence.

"That’s something we’ll have to do later — learn more healing spells.
For now, we’ve just got to do what we can to make them comfortable,"
she said, her voice trembling slightly.

"There’re traces of Dark magic all over the wardrobe. We found the
separate knob, but they got hurt when Hermione tried to open it," Harry
said gruffly.

Ginny nodded and moved towards the wardrobe before anyone could stop
her. She pointed her wand at the strange knob, opening it with ease.

Harry’s jaw hung open. "How did you…? Ginny, what in Merlin’s name do
you think you’re doing? That’s exactly how Ron and Hermione got hurt. I
don’t know how you opened it, but we can’t keep taking stupid chances."

"It wasn’t stupid if it worked," she snapped back. "Professor
Dumbledore told you that you were able to go along with him last time
because you were underage, right? He said Voldemort was foolish enough
to believe that someone underage and not fully qualified could never be
a threat. Well, I’m still underage — as you’re all so fond of pointing
out — so my magic shouldn’t register anymore than yours did."

Harry gaped like a fish, knowing she was right and yet wishing she
wasn’t. He needed help, and she was able to provide it. It should have
been a simple choice, but despite the fact his head knew it, a more
primitive part of him kept demanding to protect her from it all.

"We don’t have time for your caveman heroics, Harry," Ginny said in a
bored voice, almost as if she’d read his mind. "I’m going with you. I
already told you that we’re not letting you do this alone, so just shut
it and take all the reasons that are about to explode from your mouth
and stick ‘em up your arse," Ginny said, her eyes blazing.


"Are you coming or not?" she asked firmly.

"We can’t just go. We have to get some help for Ron and Hermione,"
Harry said. He knew he was stalling, but she could be so infuriating
that it was hard to think straight. "We’ll Apparate them back to
Grimmauld Place and get Madam Pomfrey."

"After we get the Horcrux," Ginny said, swallowing hard. Her eyes
flickered briefly to Ron, whose eyes had closed.

"What? No-" Harry said.
"Yes, Harry," Ron said, opening his eyes and pulling himself up against
the wall. "We didn’t get this far to turn back now."

Harry stared at the steely determination in his friend’s pale face,
knowing he was right, yet unable to move.

Ron gasped as he pulled himself closer to Hermione. "Bring back the
damn Horcrux, Harry."

"Use your Patronus if you need to call for help," Harry said, looking
right into Ron’s eyes. "Do you think you can Apparate?"

"Yeah," Ron said, gasping. "If you’re not back in an hour, I’ll take
Hermione back and bring some help. I need to stay with Hermione."

He looked as if it pained him to say it, as if being asked to choose
between his two best friends was tearing him apart.

"Don’t be ridiculous, Ron. You’re hurt, and you can’t leave Hermione
here alone. We’ll be all right, and we’ll be back as soon as we can,"
Harry said, staring intently in Ron’s eyes.

The two communicated silently for a moment, each knowing the other
would easily give his own life to save his friend.

"Take care of each other," Ron said. "Listen to Harry, Ginny. Don’t do
anything stupid just to prove yourself."

Ginny scowled, but nodded resolutely. She turned her back to him and
stepped into the wardrobe, her hands splayed out in front of her as if
she were blind.

Harry hurriedly joined her inside the wardrobe. It was pitch black and
cavernous. He took several shuffling steps before realizing there was
no way there should have been this much room inside.

"Ginny," he whispered, knowing she was only a step ahead of him but
unable to see her.

How am I supposed to protect her when I can’t even see her?

"Yeah?" she replied, sounding frightened for the first time.

He didn’t blame her. Although he’d never admit it, he was scared, too.
The pitch dark was unnerving, and the nagging worry for Ron and
Hermione nearly undid him. He reached out until he found her hand.

She clasped his tightly, threading his fingers with hers, and he
thought it would take a bigger wizard than Voldemort to make her let

They shuffled in silence for what felt like an impossibly long time,
although he knew it couldn’t have been more than a few minutes.
Suddenly, the darkness ended and they stepped out into blazing

"Where are we?" Ginny gasped in wonder as she looked around.

Harry’s mouth hung open as he spun around in circles. They were inside
what looked to Harry like the Parthenon in Ancient Athens, except that
it was intact rather than in ruins.

Ginny took a step backwards. "I don’t have a good feeling about this,
Harry," she whispered.

A sliding sound caused them both to spin around. They were staring at a
solid stone wall.

"What happened to the door?" Ginny asked, panicked.

The door had vanished completely, leaving only a small indentation in
the shape of a cup.

"Obviously there’s no going back without the Horcrux as a key," Harry
said grimly. "But where is it?"

"And what’s guarding it?" Ginny asked, swallowing

A huge wooden gate at the other end of the Parthenon groaned as it
slowly began to rise.

"You had to ask," Harry said tonelessly, taking a step in front of

The waited with bated breath as the gate fully opened. For a moment,
nothing moved, and Harry and Ginny barely breathed. Suddenly, a great,
thunderous roar echoed throughout the arena, shaking the stone and
causing both teens to cover their ears.

Their eyes widened as a huge, monstrous beast lumbered from the cavern.
It was greenish in color with a yellow head and enormous bluish wings.
The claws on its feet were as sharp as knives, and its wings and tail
were similarly tipped. The dragon raised its head, the irises in its
glowing yellow eyes narrowing dangerously when it saw them. It roared
again, emitting a blast of fire so intense it caused a fireball to fly
across the Parthenon at them.

Harry and Ginny jumped over a wall and ducked in the stands as the
flames soared over their heads and scorched the seats above them.

Harry cursed, breathing heavily. "I swore I’d never battle another
dragon again as long as I lived.

"It’s a Serbian Scythe-tip," Ginny said, clutching Harry’s arm and
sounding awed.

"How do you know?" he asked incredulously.

"You couldn’t grow up in the same house with Charlie and not know
something about dragons. The Serbian Scythe-tip and the Hungarian
Horntail are the fiercest dragons, therefore the coolest as far as
Charlie’s concerned," Ginny said, tentatively peering over the ledge.
"Great," Harry said, grumbling. "He sounds like Hagrid."

"Yeah. Harry, I can see the Horcrux!" Ginny said, her voice rising.

"What? Where?" Harry asked, rising on his knees to peer over the stone
next to her.

"There!" she cried, pointing.

Squinting, he could just make out a nest tucked inside the gate where
the dragon had fully emerged. The Scythe-tip stalked to and fro in
front of the opening as if daring them to try and pass.

"You can do this, Harry," Ginny said. "It’s just like the First Task
only now the Horcrux is your golden egg."

"But, Ginny, I don’t have my Firebolt. It’s back in London, and
somehow, I don’t think a Summoning charm is going to work through that
stone wall," he said, pointing to the now-hidden doorway that led back
to the wardrobe.

"Harry, you’re a wizard with more experience than you had then. Conjure
one! You don’t need it to last for long, just long enough," Ginny
cried, exasperated.

"Right," Harry said, swallowing nervously. His palms were sweating, but
he knew he could do this. Picturing his Firebolt in his mind, he
conjured a nearly exact duplicate.

"You did it!" Ginny cried.

"Don’t get too excited. I still have to get the cup," Harry said.

Ginny smiled tremulously and pulled the ribbon from her hair. She then
knotted it around Harry’s upper arm.

"What’s that for?" he asked, staring at the yellow ribbon.

Ginny shrugged. "Well, I’m not Hermione, so I’m not certain I have my
history right, but I think before a tournament battle, the lady is
supposed to tie her colors around her Champion of choice to wish him

"Thanks," he mumbled, feeling awkward. He stared at his shoes as he
shuffled his feet.

"Don’t thank me yet," Ginny said wryly. "For all I know, yellow is the
color that will make a dragon charge."

"Thanks, Gin. Your encouragement is overwhelming right now," he
replied, but he grinned when he said it. No matter what the
circumstances, she could always make him feel better.

"You can do this, Harry," she said earnestly before grabbing his face
and pressing her lips to his.
He returned the kiss, enjoying the searing heat that filled his belly
until another roar from the dragon grabbed his attention.

"Here goes nothing," he said, before mounting the broom and soaring
into the blue sky.

"Be careful, Harry," Ginny called after him.

He rose well above the arena, circling it and trying to find his best
angle. It only took a moment for the great beast to spot him. Roaring
in fury, it spread its massive wings and took to the sky after him.

Despite his predicament, Harry couldn’t help but be awed by the
creature. Its wingspan was so large that it nearly shadowed the entire
width of the Parthenon. It soared gracefully into the sky before
turning its voluminous yellow eyes on Harry.

He maneuvered the Firebolt in a steep dive, attempting to fly
underneath the dragon before it could turn. He hadn’t counted on its
tail, however. The dragon’s tail was long and thin, and the beast used
it like a whip. It lashed out at Harry and the scythe-like tip ripped
his shirt and cut into his chest, drawing blood.

The beast roared, and its nostrils flared at the scent of Harry’s
blood. Harry dove again, but the tail whipped into his back this time.
Twice more Harry attempted the dive, and twice more the dragon’s sharp
tail sliced into him. His shirt hung in tatters and dripped with blood.
His Firebolt was fast, but this dragon was faster.

Harry swung upward, climbing steeply. The dragon was confused and
bellowed its ire. It followed Harry’s climb, gaining on him. It
breathed out heavily, and Harry could feel the heat from the
approaching fireball. He turned quickly, ducking low as he felt the
hair on the back of his neck singe. He wrapped around the Parthenon
wall and dove between two columns.

The dragon shrieked in rage when it realized it couldn’t follow Harry
through the opening. It had to turn and fly up and over the top. Harry
took the opportunity and dove towards the dragon’s lair. He had nearly
reached it when that whip-like tail lashed out, slicing into him again.

He hissed in pain and had to pull up to avoid another blast of fire. He
was growing frustrated and felt slightly lightheaded from the loss of
blood. Something had to go his way soon, or he was a goner. He climbed
steeply and once again looped over the top to fly back between the
columns. He didn’t pause to check if the dragon followed, but instead
aimed right for the nest as fast as his broom could carry him.

The dragon shrieked, enraged. Instead of turning this time, it crashed
right through the columns. The force slowed the beast slightly. Harry
sped towards the ground, pulling up just in time and aimed the broom
into the entrance of the cavern. As he leaned down to grab the cup, his
broom vanished.

He swore violently. He’d never claimed to be an expert on conjuring
spells, but damn it, his timing couldn’t have been worse.
Before he had time to conjure another, he heard the piercing screech of
the dragon, and it sounded as if it was approaching fast. He tucked the
cup inside the waistband of his jeans and sprinted outside. He dove for
the stands just as a fireball streaked overhead.

The dragon bellowed in fury as it clawed at the low wall separating the
arena from Harry’s hiding place. He crouched low and tried to move
away, but the wall collapsed, leaving him exposed. The dragon’s arm
struck the wooden gate that had been sealing the entrance to the lair,
shattering it effortlessly. Harry cried out as hundreds of sharp
splinters rained down upon his back.

The dragon’s huge arm crashed down again, this time closer to him, and
the scythe-tipped claw lanced his side beneath his ribs. The impact of
the blow threw Harry in the air, knocking the wind from him. He crashed
onto the dirt, panting and clawing at the ground as he tried to get
away from the angry dragon.

Before he could move, before he could utter a sound, the dragon’s tail
encircled his ankles, hog-tying him, and began to pull him closer. He
was certain he could see victory reflected in the sickly yellow eyes.
Harry forced himself to stay calm, although he was shaking all over.

The dragon’s tail jerked upward, leaving Harry hanging upside down near
the dragon’s mouth. He could see tendrils of smoke spiraling away from
the nostrils.

If that thing breathes a fire ball now…

Bruised and bloodied, Harry waited until he was as close the dragon’s
face as he dared. He pulled out his wand, aimed it right at those
malevolent yellow eyes, and blasted off the most intense Conjunctivitis
curse he could manage.

The dragon reared its head and roared, sending out a wave of blistering
heat. Harry was released from its hold and he dropped to the ground
with a thud. His body ached, but he couldn’t find the strength to move
away from the rampaging dragon. The beast was howling in pain, its huge
arms clawing at its eyes, which were running and covered with a white

If Harry couldn’t pull himself up, he’d be crushed under the tail or a
massive foot. Panting heavily, he tried again to stand, but it was
useless. What would happen to Ginny if Harry were killed here? He at
least had to get the cup to her so she could escape. Groaning as he
rolled to his side, he pulled the gleaming cup from the waistband of
his jeans.

He was surprised to see how the gold shone, despite being unpolished
for so long. Helga Hufflepuff’s golden crest glinted in the sun. As the
dragon sent more flames towards him, Harry instinctively raised the cup
like a shield and tossed it into the approaching fire. He rolled to the
side to avoid being fried, crying out in pain as he did so.

When the cup made contact with the fire, a blast of bright white light
filled the arena. Harry covered his face, feeling as if he’d got a
terrible sunburn. An unearthly scream rent the air, shaking the very
foundation of the arena. The dragon howled in misery before crumpling
to the ground and dissolving as if it had never been there.

A blaze of fiery red hair suddenly streaked across his face as Ginny
landed next to him on a broom.

"What happened? Where did it go?" she shrieked. "Are you all right?"

"The cup," Harry croaked weakly, pointing to where it lay on the

Ginny scooped it up in her hand. The gold was scorched and blackened,
but it remained intact.

"Just a cup now," Harry muttered, feeling lightheaded. "Wonder if it
still works as the key?"

"Come on, let’s get out of here," she said, helping him off the ground
and onto her conjured broom.

Harry slumped against her weakly as she rose in the air and flew them
to the opposite end of the arena.

"I thought the lady was supposed to stay in the stands and shriek for
her Champion to get up," he said, smiling weakly.

"Who says I’m a lady?" Ginny shot back.

Harry grinned, feeling slightly delirious. "I love you, Ginny," he
whispered, his eyes failing to stay open.

He felt her body start. "I tried to get to you sooner to help, but it
was like some kind of barrier held me in place. I wasn’t able to break
past it until you were on the ground," she said, sniffling.

"’S’okay," he mumbled.

Ginny reached around to shake him fiercely. "Stay with me, Harry. Just
a few minutes more. Here’s the entrance; fit the cup into the slot."

Harry tried to lift his arm, but it felt like jelly, and he couldn’t
make it cooperate.

"Here, I’ll do it," Ginny said as she grabbed the cup and fit it into
the slot. The door slid open, revealing that deep blackness once again.

Ginny flew the broom right into the archway, and moments later they
flew right back into the sitting room at the Smith Museum. Ron and
Hermione were still huddled together by the wall.

"Did you get it?" Ron asked anxiously.

Harry nodded towards the charred cup. "Found and destroyed," he said
weakly, his legs refusing to hold his weight as he stepped off the
broom. Ginny grabbed onto him and eased him to the ground.
"Mate, what happened to you?" Ron asked, his eyes wide.

"We’ll discuss it back at Grimmauld Place," Ginny said in a take-charge
voice. "Ron, do you still think you can Apparate with Hermione?"

Ron nodded. Clutching an unconscious Hermione to his side, they
Disapparated with a pop.

Ginny wrapped her arms around Harry. "Hold on tight to me, Harry," she

"I can take us," Harry said stubbornly.

"Thanks, but no. I don’t feel like being splinched today. I’ve had
enough excitement for one day."

With a cheeky grin, she kissed his cheek and brought them both back to
headquarters…back to her family.


Chapter Twelve


Ginny opened her eyes, steadied herself and stared at the gloomy
outline of Number Twelve Grimmauld Place. She had just Apparated onto a
small grassy patch of land shadowed by a large tree a short way from
the house, and hoped she wouldn’t get a reprimand from the Ministry
about underage magic since she was in the company of several of-age

The sun had set long ago, and the street was quiet and dark, not even a
Muggle vehicle disturbing the stillness. She could see dim candlelight
burning in several of the windows of headquarters and was relieved that
it was still occupied. Harry slumped against her, finally losing his
long battle to stay conscious. She struggled to let him down gently and
ended up pinned beneath him. Merlin, for a thin bloke he was heavy. She
shuddered at the stark purple bruises covering his pale face.

Ron sat on the ground next to Harry, cradling Hermione in his lap. He
was listless and barely had the strength to speak.

"Sorry, Ginny," he said, gasping. "I tried to fire sparks at the door,
but I missed."

"It’s okay. Everything’s going to be fine, Ron. How’s Hermione?" Ginny
asked. The older girl was frighteningly still, and Ginny couldn’t bear
to look at the awful wounds on her head.

"She won’t wake up, Ginny," Ron said, sounding like the frightened
little boy that Fred and George used to tease with spiders.

"She will," Ginny said with a confidence she didn’t have. She suddenly
didn’t feel very grown up, at all. "This isn’t finished yet, andHermione is way too tenacious to give up in the middle of a project.
Stay with them a minute; I’ll be right back."

She gently untangled herself from Harry’s limbs, wincing at the raw
slashes across his chest. Her hands were slick with blood from gripping
him so tightly when they Apparated.

He’d been magnificent against the dragon. Ginny had been awed watching
him, despite her terror. After the dragon had first whipped him with
its tail, she’d begun trying to conjure a broom to help him. Conjuring
items was a sixth-year spell, and she’d never attempted it. All she had
to go on was the memory of Harry conjuring his own broom. It had taken
her several attempts to get it right, and she knew her own panic and
frustration hadn’t helped. Once she’d finally had the broom, something
in the magic of the place wouldn’t allow her to leave the stands to
help him.

Still, despite knowing all he’d done and how much he’d been through in
that arena, she couldn’t help the slight twinge of annoyance over being
the only one conscious and unhurt and able to deal with the wrath that
awaited her on the other side of the door. She knew she was in for a
barrage of questions, and she wished she didn’t have to face it alone.
It might be childish, but that’s how she felt.

She’d let the others recover, but once they were well again, she had
every intention of pointing out that despite all their protests about
her being underage, she was the last one standing. Steeling her resolve
with a grim smile, Ginny climbed the steps of number twelve.

She tested the handle of the door and found it unlocked. Her heart gave
a slight twinge knowing that her mum would have left it that way in
case they returned. Biting her lip, she pushed open the door and
stepped inside.

I have to be strong.

Directly inside the entrance hall, Bill, Remus Lupin and Alastor Moody
were arguing heatedly, but Ginny was too tired to pay attention to
their words. None of them noticed her straightaway. Remus looked up
first and caught her standing uncertainly in the doorway.

"Ginny," he said, startled.

Bill and Moody’s heads whipped around, but otherwise they were all

"Uhm…I need some help outside. We’ve got some injuries," Ginny said
finally, biting her lip.

It was as if her words unfroze them. Remus and Moody pushed past her
and sprinted outside, but Bill caught her by the arm before she could

"Oh no, squirt, you’re not going anywhere," he said, and despite the
old familiar nickname, she could tell he was angry.

His anger snapped something inside her and released her courage. There
was no way she was going back to being treated like a baby — not by
Bill — not by anyone.

"Let go of me, Bill," she demanded, jerking her arm free. "Hermione is
really hurt, and I know right where she is. I’ll answer your questions
later, but I don’t have time for this right now."

Ignoring the surprised look on her brother’s face, she turned and
sprinted out the door, leading Lupin and Moody to the others.

"She’s been burned," Ron said as Remus leaned over Hermione. "She needs
Madam Pomfrey right now."

"Let me take her inside, Ron," Remus said, gently lifting her from
Ron’s arms. "I’ll Floo Poppy, and she’ll be here in no time."

Ron nodded, struggling to stand. Moody pulled him to his feet and
grabbed him around his waist when Ron started to sway.

"Easy, lad. I’ve got you. Just lean on me, and we’ll get you inside,"
the old Auror said, surprisingly gently.

Bill stared down at Harry’s crumpled form, an unreadable expression on
his face. After waiting a moment, Ginny finally nudged him, and he
leaned over to lift Harry. He pulled Harry to his feet and threw him
over his shoulder none-too-gently. Ginny bit the inside of her cheeks,
breathing through her nose, and followed them inside.

When they arrived in the entrance hall, they followed Remus and Moody
into one of the smaller sitting rooms where Bill unceremoniously
dropped Harry to the floor in a heap.

Ginny couldn’t control her temper any longer. She whirled on her
brother in a rage, holding her wand on him.

"That’s enough," she snarled.

"Ginny," he said, his own temper rising.

"Not another word from you," she spat. "You have absolutely no idea
what’s going on here, and if you mishandle Harry one more time, I’m
going to make certain you wish you’d never taught me the Bat Bogey

"That’s enough," Remus said sharply. "We’re not going to start fighting
amongst ourselves. We’re going to tend these injuries before we sit
down and calmly discuss what’s happened. I’m going to Floo Poppy. Bill,
I think you should go and get your parents."

Bill frowned at Ginny for a moment before turning on his heel and
leaving the room without a word.

"Stay with Harry, Ginny. I’ll be right back," Remus said, squeezing her
shoulder gently.
Moody sat Ron on a chair, but he immediately moved to the floor next to
the couch where Hermione lay. He held her hand tightly, gazing intently
at her closed eyelids. Ginny imagined he was willing her to wake up
from sheer desire alone.

Moody helped her move Harry to the empty chair, and she gently rested
his head to the side. The floor where Bill had dropped him was smeared
with his blood, and the fabric on the chair where they placed him was
rapidly becoming stained.

"He’s going to need a Blood Replenishing Potion, but we’ll let Poppy
look him over first," Moody said, his good eye fixed on Ginny while his
magical eye kept spinning to watch the other three.

A commotion in the doorway caused Ginny to look up to see her parents,
Bill, Fred and George all staring back at her. Her mum was pale,
although Ginny could see two bright spots of color growing rapidly on
her cheeks.

That was never a good sign.

Ginny glanced at her father’s face. She could read relief there, but
had to look away from the disappointment she saw reflected in his eyes.
What was it about parents that could make you feel so small and unsure,
no matter how strongly you believed in what you were doing?

She knew she’d been right to go along with Harry and the others. She
knew what they were doing was important, and that they were following
Professor Dumbledore’s instructions. She also knew the great burden
Harry carried, and that he was stronger with her by his side. Why,
then, could the simplest look from each of her parents make her feel as
if she’d done something terribly wrong?

"Ronnie," her mum wailed, finally noticing the burns on Ron’s arm. She
ran across the room and grabbed his hand, trying to straighten out his
arm and inspect the wounds.

Ron jerked his arm away roughly. "M’fine," he slurred, letting them all
know he was anything but. "’Erminee’s hurt."

"I want to know what in the name of Merlin happened to all of you, and
I want to know right now. I’m aware that you were in Diagon Alley
earlier today, and now you show up here injured. Where have you been,
and what have you been doing?" Molly demanded, drawing herself up to
her full height. She glared at Ginny while keeping her hand on Ron’s
shoulder. Molly Weasley wasn’t a tall woman, but when she was angry she
appeared to grow before their eyes.

"The questions will keep, Molly," Remus Lupin said mildly as he
reentered the room followed closely by Madam Pomfrey. "Let’s get their
injuries healed first."

Madam Pomfrey’s expert gaze swept the room and each of the four teens
before moving directly to Hermione. She set her bag on the floor and in
a no-nonsense voice told Ron to move aside. Ron shifted back, although
admittedly not very far.
"Are you injured, Ginevra?" her mother asked stiffly.

"No," Ginny replied, knowing what was coming and steeling herself for

"Then I want you upstairs and in your room. I’ll be up to discuss this
with you after I’m certain your brother will be all right," her mum
said in a shrill voice.

Ginny swallowed, clenching her fists so tightly her fingernails dug
into her palms. "No, Mum. I’m staying."

"Don’t you dare argue with me, young lady. I’m on my last nerve with
you as it is, disappearing in the middle of the night without so much
as a note. There’s a war going on out there. You could have been
killed," her mum shouted.

"Molly," her dad said, placing a restraining arm on her mum’s shoulder.

"No, Arthur. I want her upstairs now," her mum insisted, pointing at
the door.

"No, Mum. I’m staying here until I know they’ll be all right," Ginny
said, swallowing hard. "Hermione and Harry are unconscious, and Ron’s
nearly delirious. I’m the only one who can tell Madam Pomfrey anything
she might need to know."

She knew she was using the health of the others as her trump card, but
she didn’t care. She wasn’t leaving the room. She felt this first
battle of wills was pivotal in how the rest of the Order was to see
them. Besides, she wasn’t about to leave Harry defenseless with her
brothers in the room. Still, it was terrifying to defy her mother.
There had been a time not all that long ago when she’d never have
considered doing it.

"She’s right, Molly," Remus said, and Ginny could have hugged him. She
looked over at him gratefully, but he averted his eyes.

Her mother’s lips thinned, and she looked as if she might cry, causing
Ginny’s heart to pinch again. What she really wanted to do was to fling
her arms around her mum and just hang on, but she knew she couldn’t do
that. If she wanted her family to see her as an adult, she was going to
have to act like one. No matter how hard that proved to be.

"This is Dark magic," Madam Pomfrey cried, pulling away from Hermione,
her eyes wild. "This child is covered in Dark magic."

"Does that mean you won’t be able to heal her?" Ginny asked, panicked.
She could hear the tremble in her own voice, but couldn’t hide it. All
she could remember was Professor Dumbledore’s blackened hand and how
dead it had looked.

"I don’t know. It’s going to take me some time to see how bad the
damage is," Madam Pomfrey said, obviously shaken. "She’s stable for
now, but I can’t heal these burns without some additional research."
"How did Hermione get these burns, Ginny?" Remus asked. "Can you tell
us that?"

"Hermione," Ron said, his voice cracking as he attempted to move closer
to her.

"Sit down, young man," Madam Pomfrey demanded. "Let me take a look at
you before you go anywhere. You," she said, pointing at Bill and the
twins, "begin Transfiguring this furniture into beds and make me an
infirmary. I want all four of my patients in the same spot."

"Ginny’s not hurt," Bill said, staring at his sister with that same
unfathomable expression.

"I’ll be the judge of that. Just do as I say," Madam Pomfrey snapped,
returning to tending Ron’s wounds.

"Ginny, who caused these injuries to the others?" Remus asked,
attempting to stop the bleeding on Harry’s chest with the sleeve of his
robe. "We haven’t had any reports of Death Eater activity tonight."

"Voldemort," Ginny said flatly.

There were several gasps, and her mother visibly flinched.

"Ginny!" she cried as if Ginny had cursed. "Don’t say the name."

Ginny rolled her eyes. She was tired and stressed and the adrenaline
from the night’s activities was beginning to wear off. She had no
patience for this. "I will say the name. I’m not going to be a
hypocrite about it."

"Don’t talk to your mother that way, Ginny," her father said sternly.
It was so rare that her dad ever reprimanded them that it mollified her

"I’m sorry," Ginny said. "It’s been a stressful night, and I’m worried
about them."

Her mother’s expression softened slightly, although she still hadn’t
made a move to touch her. Ginny wished she would; she could use a hug.

Harry groaned slightly and shifted his position. Ginny immediately
turned to him and brushed the hair from his eyes. "Harry?" she said.

She could see his eyes moving rapidly beneath his closed lids, but she
suspected he was dreaming rather than trying to wake.

"I’ve healed most of his burns. They weren’t as severe as Miss
Granger’s. Still, I need to do a little research before I can be
certain," Madam Pomfrey said. Ron was sleeping peacefully in the bed
Fred and George had Transfigured. Ginny suspected that Madam Pomfrey
had given him a sleeping draught. She wished she could get one in order
to avoid the questions she knew were coming.

"I have some questions I need answered as well, but let me tend to Mr.
Potter first," Madam Pomfrey said.
"I think we all have a lot of questions," her dad said, his gaze boring
into Ginny and causing her to flinch.

When Madam Pomfrey reached Harry, she waved her wand over him once and
jerked back. "These aren’t burns," she said, nonplussed.

"No," Ginny replied, swallowing hard. She didn’t want to reveal
anything she’d promised to keep quiet, but she had to make certain the
others’ injuries were tended. She found herself wishing these weren’t
her decisions to make and had a new respect for the burden that had
been placed on Harry. No wonder he frequently appeared so on edge.

She desperately wanted to do the right thing, but what happened if what
was the right thing wasn’t entirely clear? How was she supposed to
know, let alone decide? Professor Dumbledore’s words from after the
Third Task drifted back to her, something about choosing between what
was right and what was easy. It would be easy to simply fall on her
knees and confess everything to the Order, to place the burden of what
to do on their heads. But that wasn’t what Harry would do. He’d choose
the right path, no matter how much it cost him. Ginny had to choose to
do what was right, as well.

"These injuries were caused by a magical creature, a dragon, if I had
to hazard a guess," Madam Pomfrey said, staring at Ginny intently.

"A dragon?" Fred and George both asked, speaking for the first time.
Ginny thought they looked rather impressed.

"Where on earth did you find a dragon?" her mum shrieked, looking
slightly deranged. Her hair had pulled from its bun, and her eyes were

"Can you heal him?" Ginny asked, ignoring everyone else in the room.
Nothing was as important as getting Harry well. She needed him well so
she could give him hell for leaving her here with all of them.

"Of course I can," Madam Pomfrey said indignantly. "He’ll need some
Blood Replenishing Potions that will have to be taken in intervals over
the next two days. He’ll probably sleep through most of it, but he’ll
be fine. There won’t even be any scarring."

Two days? Oh, that’s just great.

"I’ll help with giving him the potions," Ginny said firmly.

"That won’t be necessary, Ginny," her mother said. "We’ll make certain
Harry gets his potions. You have some questions to answer."

"I’m not going anywhere until I know they’re all going to be okay,"
Ginny said, refusing to back down. "And I don’t trust any of you with
Harry right now."

"Ginevra Molly Weasley," her mother said, scandalized. "We might be
upset with all of you at the moment, but we certainly would never do
anything to hinder Harry’s recovery."
"Bill’s already dropped him on the floor, despite the fact he’s
injured," Ginny fired back mutinously. She glared at her eldest
brother, still feeling unforgiving.

"He what?" her mother bellowed, turning towards Bill.

Despite being a fully qualified wizard, not to mention a grown and
married man, Bill Weasley blanched. "I would have done the same to Ron,
too, if he were the one I was carrying. They had no business dragging
Ginny off on their little adventure."

"’Little adventure,’" Ginny shrieked. "You have absolutely no idea what
we’ve done, or what we’ve been through."

"How about you enlighten us then," Bill snarled. "Tell us why you
nearly broke your mother’s heart. Do you have any idea how much you
upset her? Madam Pomfrey had to be called to give her a Calming Draught
that first morning. But you wouldn’t know about that since you never
bothered to check or even write a note to let us know you were all
right, never mind where you were. I knew Harry was up to something, but
I never thought he’d drag the rest of you right into danger with him."

"He didn’t drag us anywhere," Ginny spat. "In fact, we had to force him
to let us come. Professor Dumbledore left him a job to do. Completing
his task is the only way Harry can beat Voldemort in the end. That’s
exactly what he’s going to do, and we’re going to help him do it."

Again, the others cringed when Ginny said the name, but she didn’t

"Ginny," Remus began, but she didn’t let him finish.

"Look at you. All of you cringe just hearing the name. How can you
possibly believe you can handle this better than us?" Ginny asked
incredulously. "Professor Dumbledore trusted him; why can’t you?"

"You are just children," her mum said stubbornly.

"We’re not children. Harry’s never even been allowed to be a child, and
I haven’t been since I was eleven. I’ve been touched by this war more
than any of you, even you, Bill," she said, nodding towards her
brother’s scars. "How any of you think you can keep us safe is beyond
me. You couldn’t do it then, you can’t do it now."

"That’s enough." Madam Pomfrey said sternly. "Miss Weasley, climb into
that bed." She nodded towards the one empty bed left in the impromptu
infirmary, the one next to Harry’s.

"We need to ask Ginny some questions, Poppy," her dad said.

"Not right now you don’t," Madam Pomfrey said indignantly. "Minerva
isn’t even here, and this is developing into nothing more than a
shouting match. These children have obviously been through a shock, and
nobody is going to upset them until they have a good night’s sleep.
I’ll return in the morning with more information on Miss Granger."
She handed Ginny a phial of purple liquid that Ginny assumed was a
sleep potion. She gratefully gulped it down before anyone could stop

"I don’t think anyone is going to get any clear answers tonight," Moody
said. "Why don’t we all get some sleep? We can talk about their return
in the morning."

The sleep potion was making Ginny warm and so very drowsy. Fog tinged
the edges of her vision, and the voices became oddly distorted. Before
the tide of sleep claimed her, however, she thought she saw Alastor
Moody give Madam Pomfrey the briefest of winks. Her brain must have
been addled, because she thought she saw the stern hospital matron
actually blush.


When Harry opened his eyes, the first thing he noticed was how stiff
his body felt. The second thing he noticed was how bright the room was
due to the sunlight streaming through the undraped windows.

What time is it? And how long have I been asleep?

His eyes scanned the room, noticing the four beds and bedside tables
arranged in the otherwise bare room. He was obviously somewhere in
Grimmauld Place, but he didn’t remember ever seeing an infirmary while

Hermione was sleeping across from him, her head wrapped in heavy white
bandages. The other two beds were empty, however, causing Harry’s
stomach to lurch with dread. He knew Ginny hadn’t been hurt, but why
were both Weasleys missing? Had Mrs. Weasley spirited them away?

Harry half hoped it was true, half dreaded the idea. He didn’t think he
had any hope of succeeding without them. Along with Hermione, they each
were a part of him now; he needed them.

A small sigh distracted him, and he turned his head. Ginny was asleep
on a chair beside his bed, her feet curled beneath her. Her head lolled
to the side, and she clutched a tattered old book in her hand.

Harry smiled in relief; she hadn’t left him. He immediately noticed
that she’d changed her clothes and wondered again how long he’d been
unconscious. A tremendous wave of guilt washed over him. He’d left
Ginny alone to deal with her parents’ wrath. Some boyfriend he made.

Standing up and stretching in an attempt to loosen his stiff muscles
and joints, Harry watched Ginny sleep for a moment. A few stray wisps
of hair covered her face and moved in and out as she breathed. He
smiled, imagining it must tickle. He gently brushed the hair away and
she stirred slightly, shifting in her seat and causing her book to fall
from her grasp.

Harry leaned over to pick it up, wondering what she was reading and if
it would help them with their mission. Turning the book over, he found
a full-cover moving picture of a witch and wizard locked in a
passionate embrace. The witch’s robes were hanging off her in a way
he’d never seen any witch dress, not even Madam Rosmerta. Curious, he
flipped it open to a random page and began to read. He managed only a
few words that consisted of a heaving bosom and a throbbing…

Harry slammed the book shut and dropped it on his bed, his face
coloring brilliantly. He stared at Ginny incredulously. What on Earth
was she was reading, and how in Merlin’s name had it put her to sleep?
Harry shifted uncomfortably, suddenly feeling very worried about what
Ginny might think of their private snogging sessions. Living in such
close quarters with Ron and Hermione hadn’t afforded them the
opportunity for much time alone, but they’d taken the opportunity
whenever possible.

Harry thought their time together had been nothing short of brilliant,
but now he was a bit worried. Exactly what was Ginny expecting? He
wished he could talk to Ron about it, but he could just picture the
look on his mate’s face if he even attempted to bring it up. Ron never
shared anything about what was going on with him and Hermione — a fact
for which Harry was eternally grateful — but he had been rather proud
and forthright about his activities with Lavender.

Shaking his head, Harry decided he’d have to worry about it later.
Right now he had to find out what had been happening while he’d slept.
He desperately wanted a shower, but decided even that would have to
wait. He was going to look for Ron.

He ran up the stairs to the room he and Ron had shared before they’d
left but he didn’t see anyone. The fact the house appeared so empty
left him uneasy. The bedroom was empty, not showing any sign that Ron
had been there. Harry decided to try the kitchen but pulled up short in
front of the door that led to Ginny and Hermione’s room.

Quietly opening the door, he immediately saw what he was seeking. Snot
sat perched on Ginny’s bed looking sad and forlorn. Scooping up the
bear, Harry shut the door behind him and turned, only to find Malfoy
standing directly in front of him with a sardonic grin on his face.

"So, finally awake, Potter? What happened, you just couldn’t stand to
lie there any longer without your teddy bear?" Malfoy asked, sneering.

Harry felt warmth flood his face. He struggled valiantly with the urge
to shove the bear behind his back, despite the fact he knew it was too
late for that. Of all the people that could have found him walking
around with Snot, why did it have to be Malfoy? The only worse choice
would have been the twins. Something Malfoy said finally penetrated
Harry’s embarrassment.

"What do you mean ‘finally awake’? How long have I been here?" he

Malfoy raised an eyebrow. "Long enough to let your little girlfriend
take all the heat for your disappearance. Smooth move, Potter. It’s
exactly what I would have done, too, but I thought you’d somehow be too
noble for that," Malfoy said with a grimace.

"Oh, there’s that Gryffindor pride. I knew it must be hiding in there
somewhere," Malfoy said, scoffing. "Don’t worry, Potter. Weaslette
apparently can handle her family just fine without your protection. She
does a better job than her pitiable brother, anyway. I hear Granger’s
going hairless these days. I never would have suspected Weasley was
harboring a fetish for bald birds."

Harry angrily shoved Malfoy against the wall. The blonde boy’s eyes
widened in surprise. "Shut it, Malfoy," Harry said through clenched
teeth. He was disturbed to realize how much attention Malfoy had been
paying to his friends. If he were double crossing them somehow…

"Let go of me, Potter," Malfoy said, angrily pushing Harry back a step
and straightening his clothing. "Don’t take out your frustration on me
simply because you’re unhappy you let your girlfriend down."

"I said shut it. You don’t know what you’re saying," Harry replied.

"Oh, yeah. I wouldn’t know a thing about leaving my girlfriend high and
dry, would I, Potter?" Malfoy asked, sneering hatefully. "I’m certain
Pansy is perfectly content sitting around wondering if I’m dead or
alive. Only thing is, she’s smart enough not to expect me to put myself
in any danger simply for her comfort."

Harry blinked, surprised. It sounded almost as if Malfoy actually cared
about Parkinson. Who’d have thought? Harry didn’t know why anything had
the ability to surprise him anymore. Before he had a chance to
contemplate it, or even respond, Ron’s voice echoed loudly in the
deserted hallway.

"Harry! You’re awake. What’s going on here? What are you doing with
him, Malfoy?"

"Relax, Weasel. If you keep making your face that color it’s going to
stay that way," Malfoy replied, lazily leaning against the wall.

"I’m fine, Ron," Harry said, interrupting the other two before they
could come to blows. "Are you all right?"

Ron shrugged. "I’m fine; Madam Pomfrey patched me up. What are you
waiting on, Malfoy? Go on and scurry away like a good little ferret."

Two bright spots of pink colored Malfoy’s cheeks, but otherwise he
didn’t respond to Ron’s taunts. Instead, he turned towards Harry and
asked, "So, I take it from all your injuries that you found whatever
the Dark Lord is guarding? The only way you’d still be alive is if you
came up against an idiot like Crabbe, Goyle or Simmons. What is it,
Potter? What are you looking for, anyway?"

"Wouldn’t you like to know?" Harry responded coolly. "You heard Ron,
Malfoy. Shove off. I’ve got nothing to say to you."

"Not until you need information again, anyway," Malfoy said bitterly.
"Fine. Have it your way, but don’t expect me to be so hospitable next
Harry and Ron watched him walk away in silence until Ron finally
muttered, "Git," under his breath.

"How could I have been so stupid?" Harry hissed, slapping his hand to
his head.

"Huh?" Ron asked, bewildered.

"The Muggle we saw outside the Smith Museum — the one who kept circling
the block. That must have been Simmons. I would have recognized Crabbe
or Goyle. He was guarding the museum," Harry said.

"Didn’t do a very good job of it, did he?" Ron asked. "We got inside no

"No, but Malfoy did say he was stupid. Don’t you see, Ron? It’s a way
to find the other Horcrux — the one we don’t know what it is. Either
Crabbe or Goyle is guarding it. If we find them, we at least find where
it’s hidden," Harry exclaimed excitedly.

Ron’s expression brightened considerably. "What’s the other one
guarding?" he asked.

"I reckon he’s probably at the cave where the amulet was hidden. No one
besides the four of us knows it’s not there anymore. I’ll have to check
on it," Harry said, running his hand through his hair absently.

"Er, Harry. You do know you’re walking around talking to Malfoy with a
teddy bear in your hand, right?" Ron asked, amused.

Snot! He’d completely forgotten he was holding Ginny’s bear. "Er…it’s
Ginny’s," he said lamely, ducking Ron’s gaze.

"I know what it is. What’re you doing with it?" Ron asked, obviously
amused by Harry’s embarrassment.

Dammit! The lengths he’d go for Ginny Weasley.

He mumbled something undistinguishable as he pushed past Ron and headed
towards the infirmary. Ron followed behind him, sniggering the entire
way. Scowling, Harry pushed open the door to find Ginny still sleeping
where he’d left her.

Ignoring Ron’s snickering presence, he tucked Snot under her arm and
gently pulled the blanket around her. He moved towards Hermione, but
Ron’s words stopped him in his tracks.

"You’re in love with my sister."

Harry’s steps faltered. He swallowed heavily and continued towards
Hermione, flustered by what Ron had said. It wasn’t anything he hadn’t
considered himself, but hearing Ron say it out loud was intimidating.
How was he supposed to know what love felt like? He had vague
recollections of admitting to Ginny that he loved her in the Parthenon,
but his memory at the end was slightly faulty. Even if he had, he
didn’t want Ron calling him on it.
"Has Hermione awoken at all?" he asked, clearing his throat.

"I knew you fancied her, but you’re actually in love with her. You love
my baby sister," Ron repeated gleefully. He was prancing behind Harry
and looking like a right pillock.

"Ron! I’m trying to be serious here," Harry said, jerking his shoulder.
Ron was really on his nerves.

"You’re trying to change the subject," Ron said smugly.

"So let him," a sleepy voice said from behind them.

Harry whirled around to see Ginny sitting up and rubbing her eyes.
Finding Snot, she blinked in surprise before looking directly at Harry
and flashing that brilliant smile.

Harry’s mouth went dry. Bollocks! How much did she overhear?

"It’s good to see you up and about," she said, her eyes softening.

"Hi," Harry said, knowing he sounded stupid but unable to think of
anything else to say.

Ron had no such problem. "Snap out of it," he said, snapping his
fingers beneath Harry’s nose. "You can moon over her later."

"As if you haven’t been the one sitting by Hermione’s bedside mooning
for the past three days," Ginny snapped.

"Three days?" Harry bellowed. "We’ve been here for three days?"

"Yes," Ginny said, turning her attention back to Harry. "Nice of you to
join us."

"What’s happened while I was out?" he asked, feeling alarmed. "What
happened when we got here?"

"Relax, mate," Ron said, taking a seat in the chair next to Hermione’s
bed. "When I woke up, Madam Pomfrey had already healed us all," he
said, wincing as he looked at Hermione. "It took you longer because you
lost so much blood. Ginny’s been giving you a Blood Replenishing
Potion. She wouldn’t let anyone else do it — put Mum in a right state,
she did."

Ginny shrugged. "I wanted you well, and Bill was a bit angry with you
when we first arrived."

Harry cringed. "Sorry to leave you with that, Ginny. What did you tell

"Nothing important, although they have figured a few things out
already," Ginny replied.

"Like the fact you went up against another dragon," Ron said.

"Yeah. Madam Pomfrey knew that from your injuries," Ginny said.

"The cup!" Harry exclaimed. "Where is it?"

"Don’t worry. I put it in your nightstand along with your wand," Ginny
said calmly. "Things have been rather strained around here since we got

"That’s an understatement," Ron mumbled.

"How do you mean?" asked Harry.

Ginny shrugged. "Mum had her big blow up when we first arrived, but
since then she’s been…distant. She seems sad, almost like she doesn’t
know what to say to us," Ginny said, her voice cracking slightly. "It’s
so unlike her. Sometimes I think she’s angry but…"

"All the Order has been in an out. Shacklebolt and McGonagall have been
the most demanding. They’re the ones who are the most put-out, I think.
Moody’s been the best," Ron said.

"Yeah, well. He knew we were up to something and was okay with it,"
Harry said, feeling distinctly uncomfortable.

"I know, but Remus knew too, and he definitely seems off," Ron said.
"And Dad just looks sad."

Harry shifted uneasily.

"Don’t you dare start feeling guilty, Harry. We’ve no time for it, and
there was nothing else you could have done," Ginny said firmly.

"Besides, showing up here unconscious was the best thing that could
have happened. It put Mum right in the ‘poor dear’ mode. I think it
helped all of us," Ron said, grinning.

"Great. What about Bill? You said he was upset," Harry asked.

"Yeah, he’s definitely off," Ron said.

"I think that might have more to do with the fact that we were out
doing something important, and he’s feeling stifled. We’re just coming
off the full moon, you know. His wounds have never healed completely,
and Gringotts won’t let him come back to work until they do," Ginny

"What? Why not?" Harry asked indignantly.

"They’re afraid," Ginny said, sighing. "Werewolf contamination and

"That’s rubbish," Harry said.

"Tell it to the Goblins," Ron said bitterly.

"I think I will," Harry said furiously.
Hermione shifted on the bed, most likely disturbed by their loud

"Madam Pomfrey was able to heal all Hermione’s burns, but she wasn’t
able to save her hair," Ginny said quietly. "The spell that hit her was
Dark Magic, and the hair cells were completely destroyed. Madam Pomfrey
said it would all have to grow back naturally. She’s pretty upset."

"No, she’s not," Ron said, his expression blank. "It’s just hair; it’ll
grow back."

Ginny shook her head. "I know it’s just hair, Ron, but trust me, it

Ron shook his head. "She could have been killed, Harry. Madam Pomfrey
said the effects of the curse were most likely lessened because it was
split between us. I think the fact we both tried to move away helped,
as well. If it’s a choice between Hermione and some hair, I’ll take
Hermione every time."

"Of course you would. We all would, and she knows that, too. It doesn’t
make the idea of losing all her hair less intimidating. I think you’d
be hard put to find a witch that didn’t have some vanity about her
hair," Ginny replied, patting Hermione’s leg.

"How come she’s still unconscious, and you’ve been up for days?" Harry
asked Ron.

"She’s been awake, too," Ginny said, and Harry could tell she was
trying not to laugh. "She found a bunch of medical books in the
library, and she’s been consulting with Madam Pomfrey about all her
options. I’ve noticed she takes a kip every time Madam Pomfrey gives
her a Healing Potion. I think the Madam Pomfrey has been slipping her a
Sleeping Draught."

"Wish we had some of that when she starts going off on elf rights," Ron
said, whispering despite the fact Hermione was sound asleep.

Harry snickered. "Better not let her hear you say that."

"I won’t," Ron said adamantly.

"I suppose we should let everyone know you’re awake. They’ve been
waiting to have a meeting," Ginny said quietly.

Harry instinctively reached out and grasped her hand. "I suppose we
should get it over with then."


A full meeting of the Order of the Phoenix was held the following
evening. Harry had to force himself not to fidget as he waited for the
others to file into the room. Ron and Ginny, naturally, were both
attending the meeting, but he noticed Mrs. Weasley giving them furtive
glances every few seconds, as if she longed to boot them from the room.
She’d been as pleasant as always to Harry, and very concerned over his
health, but he could sense a distance, a barrier, that he’d never felt
before. His chest constricted whenever he thought about it too much.

Hermione was also in attendance. She entered the room wearing a navy
blue handkerchief on her head to hide the bandages and leaned heavily
on Ron. He’d wrapped his arm protectively around her and hadn’t removed
it even after they’d sat down. Hermione was much more subdued than
normal, which disturbed Harry.

Both Bill and Lupin had been scarce since Harry had awoken, but they
were here tonight, both casting disapproving looks in his direction.
Only Mad-Eye Moody appeared happy to see him, and greeted him almost
warmly. Well, as warmly as Mad-Eye ever was, anyway. Tonks sat beside
Lupin, her hair a hideous shade of olive green. She winked at Harry and
stuck her tongue out at Remus when he frowned.

Of all the Weasleys, only Fred, George, and, surprisingly Fleur had
acted as if nothing was wrong. The twins were eager to tell him about
business and ask loads of questions about the dragon. They also enjoyed
teasing Harry and Ron about living unsupervised with the girls. That
teasing had caused many disapproving glares from the elder Weasleys,
and made Harry fear for the stability of the tentative truce they’d
apparently reached.

Charlie and Percy arrived for the meeting, in addition to many other
members Harry had only seen on occasion. Professor McGonagall and
Kingsley Shacklebolt both sat at the head of the expanded kitchen
table, each wearing a grim expression. Professor McGonagall’s lips were
compressed so tightly they had lost their color. Harry had seen that
expression from her before, and it was usually followed by a
particularly foul detention.

He took a deep breath to steady his nerves. He wasn’t a kid called to
task in front of a professor. He was an adult now with a greater
responsibility than any of them knew. He would not be cowed, and he
wouldn’t allow them to revert to treating him like a child.

"Good evening," Professor McGonagall began. "I think it best if we call
this meeting to order and get right to business. Mr. Potter, what do
you have to say for yourself?"

Harry returned her stare, forcing his voice to remain calm. "What would
you like to know?"

"What I’d like to know is where you’ve been over the past month," she
said sternly.

"And why my children went along with you, despite my express wishes
that they not be involved," Mrs. Weasley added, glaring at Ron and
Ginny with tears in her eyes.

"Harry," Remus Lupin said. "We’d like to know why you left the way you
did, without leaving us any means of contacting you. Do you understand
how worried we were? How helpless you made us all feel?"

"The Order was assigned the task of protecting you by Albus Dumbledore,
someone you supposedly respected," Shacklebolt said, apparently
impatient with the emotional turn the meeting had taken. "And yet you
saw fit to ignore every measure of protection we had in place to go out
on your own. I’d like to know why. What could possibly have been so

Harry expected the barrage of questions, but he was slightly stung by
the tone in Remus’s voice. He cleared his throat before speaking, and
when he did, he looked directly at Remus.

"I appreciate your concern, and I’m sorry that you were worried, but I
honestly didn’t see there being another way. If I’d told you my plans
to leave, would you have stood aside and let us walk out that door?" he

"Harry, we’re here to help you," Remus said. "We want to help you."

"You can’t," Harry snapped.

"What do you mean we ‘can’t?’" Professor McGonagall demanded. "Of
course, we can, Potter. That’s the entire purpose of the Order."

"We are aware that you believe Albus left you with a job to do, but we
can’t believe he meant for you to do this alone, Harry," Mrs. Weasley
said, resting a hand on his arm.

Harry pulled his arm away. "You still don’t get it, do you?" he
demanded. "He didn’t leave me a job to do. It is my job to do — all of
it. Everything the Daily Prophet has said about this ‘Chosen One’
business — well, it’s about the only thing they’ve ever got right. I
know it, and Professor Dumbledore knew it. You all say you trusted him,
that what you did came down to whether you trusted his judgment or not.
Well, leaving this task to me was his judgment."

"But he’s gone now, Harry," Professor McGonagall said. "Things have

"Nothing’s changed; what has to be done remains the same," Harry said
vehemently. "Dumbledore once said that he will have only truly left
when no one here is loyal to him. You have to decide if you still can
be, even if what he’s asking isn’t easy."

"You have to choose between what’s right and what’s easy," Ginny
whispered. "We all do."

"How can we choose what’s right when we don’t even know what it is
you’re doing?" Kingsley demanded. "You’ve obviously told your friends.
Why can’t you tell us?"

"I told them because Professor Dumbledore told me I could. He thought
I’d need some support, and they’re the ones I’m closest to," Harry
said, leaving out the fact Ginny had only been included later.

"I can’t believe Albus would do this," Mrs. Weasley moaned. "Ginny
isn’t even of age."

"Neither was Ron when Professor Dumbledore told Harry he could share
this," Ginny snapped. "You have to stop dwelling on our ages and see
that what we’re doing is right. It’s working, and it’s the only thing
that’s going to stop Voldemort."

Again, there were several muffled gasps and shifting around the table.
Members of the Order had become accustomed to Dumbledore using the
name, but it still startled them to hear it from someone else.

"Look," Harry said, making a decision. Something told him it was the
right one to make. "I know you’re all as dedicated to stopping this war
as I am, and I do need some help. If I concede to some stipulations of
yours, can you agree to trust the fact that I can’t tell you

"Fair enough. Dumbledore never shared everything with us anyway," Mad-
Eye said before anyone else could agree or disagree. Looking around the
table, Harry could tell by their expressions that not everyone was
happy with Moody’s decision. Still, there were more that appeared ready
to compromise than there had been at the beginning of the meeting.

"The next time you have to leave, we want to know. No more waking up
and finding you missing," Moody said, and Harry knew he was beginning
with something Harry wouldn’t have a problem agreeing with. It wasn’t
like sneaking out again would work, anyway.

"Agreed," he said.

"And we want to know where you’re going and have a way to contact you
should the need arise," Remus said.

Harry shook his head. "I can’t tell you where we go. I’m sorry, but I

"Harry…" Mr. Weasley began.

"No. Not only would Voldemort kill you for that information, it would
jeopardize everything if he finds out what we’re doing. I can’t tell
you where we are, but I do think I have a way for you to contact us
that would be safe," Harry said.

"Which is?" Mr. Weasley asked.

Harry looked towards Remus. "Sirius once gave me a mirror. He said he
used to use it to talk with my dad when they were in detention. D’you
know what I’m talking about?"

A grin appeared on Remus’s face. "I do."

"I— er...I broke the one I had. D’you think you could charm another
couple of mirrors to act the same way? We’ll keep one, and you can keep
another here," Harry said.

Remus nodded. "Yes, I can do that. I think that will work nicely."

"That seems to indicate that you think Ron and Ginny will be going with
you again," Bill said, frowning.

"Damn straight, we will," Ron said hotly.

"We’re not letting Harry do this alone," Hermione said, speaking for
the first time.

"Ginny is not going anywhere," Mrs. Weasley shouted, her face very red.
"I won’t have it."

"Oh yes I am," Ginny said, firing right back at her mum. "The others
never would have got out of there if it weren’t for me. They need me."

"You’re underage," Mrs. Weasley cried.

"It’s because I’m underage that my magic was undetected. Professor
Dumbledore discovered it last year when Harry went with him. Voldemort
is too arrogant to believe that anyone underage could be a threat to
him. Don’t make the same mistake, Mum." Ginny said, her eyes flashing.

"That’s enough, Ginny," Mr. Weasley said firmly.

"Ginny is your baby sister," Bill said, glaring at Ron. "You never
should have allowed her to go along with you."

"She’s not a baby anymore, Bill," Ron said, raising his chin.

Ginny flushed with pleasure and cast a grateful smile at Ron.

"‘E usually ‘az much more common sense except when eet comes to ‘’iz
leetle sister," Fleur said, patting Bill on the back.

Fred, George and even Charlie had to cover their snickers. Bill whirled
on them.

"You can’t tell me you’re all right with Ginny traipsing across the
countryside and living with Harry," he said incredulously.

Anger flooded Harry’s cheeks. How could they be worried about the
impropriety of where Ginny might be sleeping when Voldemort had Inferi
on the loose killing people? It was just too much.

"I don’t believe this," Harry roared. "I wish the biggest concern in my
life was hiding what Ginny and I got up to from all of you, but that’s
just not the way it is. We’re fighting this war, the same as you."

"We know that, Harry," Mrs. Weasley said, placating him. She again
rested her hand on his arm, and this time he didn’t pull it away. "But
you have to understand that she’s our child. We won’t stop being
parents simply because there is a war raging."

Harry nodded, chastised. "I understand. You really have nothing to
worry about; I’d protect Ginny with my life."

"We know you would, dear. That’s partly what we’re afraid of," Mrs.
Weasley said tearfully.

"Look," Harry said. "You all know the prophecy, or basically what it
says. You know what I’m up against. I might not have a lot of time to
give her-"

Shouts of disagreement and dismay met this statement, but Harry held
his hands in the air, silencing them.

"Let’s be realistic, all right? There are no guarantees — for any of
us. That’s been made painfully clear. This little bit of time might be
all I have go give her, so I’m going to take it while its there," Harry
said, amazed by his own cheek.

"And what happens afterwards?" Bill asked. "When the war is finished,
and you have managed to survive? What happens between you and Ginny

Harry smiled, looking down into Ginny’s warm brown eyes. "Well, that’s
the plan. If we manage it, anything that comes after is the whipped

Ginny beamed at him.

"All right, back to the Order," Kingsley said, still scowling. "You
won’t tell us where you go, but you will leave us a method to

Harry nodded. "And what I could use from you is some information. How
do you go about tracking a wizard?"

"There is no way to track You-Know-Who, Harry. Don’t you think we’ve
tried?" Mr. Weasley asked softly.

"I’m not talking about him," Harry said. "I want to find the location
of the fathers of two of my former classmates. Vincent Crabbe and
Gregory Goyle’s fathers are both Death Eaters. I bet the guests
upstairs know their first names. I need to know where they are, that’s

Moody nodded. "I can look into that. Does this have something to do
with whatever it is they’re guarding?"

"Yes," Harry said shortly. He suspected he knew the location of one of
them already, but he thought it best not to announce he was leaving
again so soon to check it out. It would be better to let them think he
was following one of their leads.

"There is something else I want you to do for us," Kingsley Shacklebolt
said, staring intently at Harry.

He saw Professor McGonagall shift slightly while Remus looked away.
Tonks gripped his shoulder supportively. Harry knew instinctively that
he wasn’t going to like this.

"What’s that?" he asked.

"I would like you to resume Occlumency lessons," Shacklebolt said
"What?" Harry exploded. "They were a disaster; Professor Dumbledore
even agreed on that. Besides, Voldemort hasn’t tried to get into my
head for over a year."

"The reason they were a disaster could have been that Snape,"
Shacklebolt fairly spat the name, "wasn’t doing his best to teach you.
If you are hiding something as critical as you say, we cannot take the
chance that You-Know-Who can find it without your knowing."

"He couldn’t," Harry said.

"He’s done it before," Shacklebolt fired back, causing Harry to flinch.

"Harry," Remus said gently. "I think this is a good idea. Dumbledore
did believe it was a good idea before Snape convinced him otherwise. I
think it’s worth the effort."

Harry’s shoulders slumped in defeat. He couldn’t deny their words, but
something inside him told him Occlumency wasn’t the answer. "Fine.
Who’s to teach me though? You?"

"No. I’m not qualified to instruct you. We do have a couple of people
here, however, who are qualified. If you agree to it, that is," Remus
said, his eyes shifting again.

"Here? Who? I thought the reason Snape had to teach me was that there
wasn’t anyone else qualified?" Harry asked.

"They weren’t on our side then," Remus replied.

"You can’t be serious," Hermione shouted, looking back and forth wildly
between Remus and Kingsley. "You can’t let them inside Harry’s head. No

Harry blinked for a moment, trying to figure out what Hermione was
saying. The answer hit him like a blow to the gut.

"No way! If you think for one minute I’m going to let Draco Malfoy
inside my head-"

"He’s a capable Occlumens, Harry," Remus said mildly. "Weren’t you the
one who said he managed to keep Snape out last Christmas?"

"Yeah, but…" Harry stuttered, thunderstruck. "He’s Malfoy."

"He learned from his mother and his aunt. Obviously we can’t trust them
completely, but we can use them while they’re here. They’re using us
for the same reason; it’s mutually beneficial to both sides," Kingsley
said. "Remus has agreed to monitor the situation at all times, so you
won’t be alone with them."

"I don’t believe this," Ron shouted, unable to contain himself any
further. "First you’re all over Harry about being too young and not
trusting you with the answers to things he absolutely can’t tell you,
and now you want to let Malfoy and his mother have free reign inside
his head? Have you all gone mad?"
"That’s enough, Ron," Mrs. Weasley snapped. "Of age or not, I won’t
have you using that disrespectful tone."

"You’re all barking," Ron mumbled mutinously.

"It’s your decision, Harry. What do you say?" Remus asked.

Harry sighed, running his hands through his hair. "I told you I’m
willing to make some compromises, but this is a big one. I’ll give it a
try, but I’m not promising to stick with it if I think things are going
badly. And I want you all to remember this the next time I have to do
something that you’re not too happy about."

Ginny clutched his hand beneath the table.

What had he just done?
Chapter Thirteen

Setting Things to Rights

The next few weeks at Grimmauld Place were rather tense. Although the
air had been cleared amongst them, everyone still walked on edge. Mrs.
Weasley kept the foursome under close watch, as if she was afraid
they’d disappear under her very eyes. Harry suspected that although she
had resigned herself to their continued involvement in the war, she
wasn’t happy about it. She appeared to be waiting with extreme
apprehension for the announcement of their next departure.

Mr. Weasley had held true to his word and kept them apprised of
Scrimgeour’s activities. He’d also told them how the press had reported
their appearance in Diagon Alley in vivid detail. Harry’s instructions
on how to fight the Inferi had been front-page news for a fortnight,
and the Ministry had taken up the cause as if it had been their idea.
There were now regular reminders and updates in each edition of the
Daily Prophet.

Percy had returned to work without saying much to any of them, his
upturned nose expressing his disapproval. Charlie, however, had
remained behind, claiming to need a holiday. Harry suspected he was
attempting to snap Bill out of his funk. Bill was the only one who
apparently still held a grudge about their disappearance, although
Harry still felt uneasy around Mr. Weasley, as well.

He had carefully stored Helga Hufflepuff’s charred cup in his trunk
along with the diary and the ring. Three down, and he knew what the
fourth one was, if not where. That left only himself and one other
unknown item. The task still seemed overwhelming, but he was making

Harry’s greatest concern at the moment, however, was Hermione. She
wasn’t taking the loss of her hair well, but Merlin help anyone who
tried to point that out to her. She was completely irrational on the
subject, and refused to listen to anyone’s suggestions. Poor Ron had
spent more time trying to dig out of a blunder he’d unwittingly caused
than anything else. He’d been desperately trying to be sympathetic, but
had only ended up getting on her nerves.
Hermione had virtually barricaded herself in the library, and was
rarely seen elsewhere. She’d even skipped most meals, preferring to
have a tray sent up to her. At first, this behavior didn’t seem out of
the ordinary, but as the days passed, the others had become concerned.
While it was true that Hermione was scouring the books, Harry suspected
she was hiding more than working.

She spent as much time reading medical journals as she did anything
related to Voldemort. Hermione was having a lot of trouble realizing
that there was no solution to her hair loss other than to wait for
nature to fix it. She couldn’t stand being let down by the library and
apparently took it as a personal insult.

Whenever anyone offered to help her, she declined and retreated further
behind her books. Ron’s expression waffled between hurt and
bewilderment as Hermione most often released her pent-up aggression on
him. Harry knew that she tended to act irrationally when she felt
overwhelmed, but he was confident she’d pull it together when the
logical side of her brain took control. Waiting for that to happen,
however, was difficult to endure.

Hermione had kept her navy blue handkerchief wrapped tightly around her
head, and she jerked away from anyone who attempted to touch it,
particularly Ron. Harry had noticed how often she adjusted it and
suspected her fidgeting was due to self-consciousness. He wished he
could think of a way to help, but he was at a loss. He knew Ginny was
concerned as well, since he’d caught her staring speculatively at the
older girl on several occasions.

The one benefit to Hermione’s distress had been the thawing of Mrs.
Weasley’s demeanor. She’d remained distant and aloof for several days
after the Order meeting, but she’d obviously noticed Hermione’s
increasing agitation. Ginny had finally approached her mother for help,
and Mrs. Weasley had thrown herself to the task with her typical gusto.
It was as if she’d been waiting for the opportunity to swing back into
mother mode, and Harry was happy to see her bonding with Ginny again.

Harry was struck by the realization that Mrs. Weasley wanted to be
needed. Somehow, he’d always assumed that being an adult meant you grew
past that kind of insecurity. It was jarring for him to see otherwise.
Still, it felt right to have her bestow warm smiles and fond hugs once
again. Harry was startled to realize how much he’d missed it. Ron and
Ginny, too — he’d noticed both of them were far more affectionate to
their mum since their return. He hoped Mrs. Weasley could help reach

Tonks had suggested getting Hermione a wig, and both Weasley women had
stared at her blankly. Tonks had to explain how Muggle women sometimes
lost their hair after certain medical treatments, and that a variety of
stores carried wigs for them to wear in the meantime.

Although she knew exactly what a wig was, Hermione had absolutely
refused to accompany them to look for one. She instead burst into tears
and accused them of only wanting to make it easier for everyone to look
at her. Fleur had joined the conversation, trying to convince Hermione
to give it a try and told her not to be ridiculous, but a crying
Hermione had fled the room. Surprisingly, Ron had shouted at Fleur —
with whom he’d always been smitten— to leave her alone and went tearing
after Hermione.

It was later that evening when Harry and Ginny were sitting in the
library — supposedly doing research but actually spending more time
studying one another — that Fred and George burst through the door.
Harry and Ginny broke apart guiltily and moved to opposite ends of the

"Why, brother, do you have the distinct impression we’re interrupting
something?" Fred asked, leaping over the back of the couch in order to
sit between Harry and Ginny. Disgruntled, Harry straightened the collar
of his shirt while Ginny narrowed her eyes at her interfering brothers.

"I do, brother mine, but what could we possibly interrupt while these
youngsters are holed up in here diligently working…behind closed
doors…all alone…and so far from the prying eyes of our beloved mother,
who only has their best interests at heart?" George asked, also
wiggling his way onto the couch between the pair.

"What do you two want?" Ginny asked, rolling her eyes dramatically.

"Now, what kind of attitude is that from our wee wayward lass? I would
think you’d be groveling at our feet after frightening us so," Fred
replied, holding his chest and batting his eyelashes.

Before Harry had the chance to explode, George laid a restraining hand
on his shoulder. "Keep your knickers on, Harry."

"And you keep yours on as well, by the way," Fred added, waggling his
eyebrows at Ginny.

She punched him in the shoulder — hard.

"I’m not here to give you a hard time. That’s Bill’s job," George said.

"He’s being impossible," Ginny said, scowling.

"He’ll get over it, Gin Gin. He still tends to see you as the spunky
little sprite you were when he left for Hogwarts," George said.

"I was only a year old when he left for Hogwarts. Certainly he’s
noticed a difference," Ginny said, mutinously crossing her arms across
her chest.

"Exactly. You were a baby, Ginny, and just a little kid when he came
home for summers. He’d already moved out on his own by the time you
developed your attitude," George continued as if she hadn’t spoken.

"Now, here you are out fighting the war he wants to fight, but he can’t
because everyone keeps coddling him. He was the one left to console Mum
after you disappeared, and she was even more adamant about protecting
him after you were gone. He’s been unable to go back to work, and even
on the Order missions it’s Fleur who gets the more dangerous
assignments rather than him because no one wanted to upset Mum any more
than she already was."
"That’s not going to sit well with any self-respecting wizard," Fred

"And we really haven’t helped," George admitted grudgingly.

"I suppose we’ve been taking the mickey out of him a bit," Fred
conceded. "But we thought we were helping."

"When you and Ron came back, he’d just reached his breaking point. His
baby brother and sister are smack in the middle of it, and it was too
much for him," George said. "And, lately, the full moons always seem to
make him a bit grouchy."

Ginny’s face had softened, but she still appeared unwilling to let it
go completely. "Well, he’s going to have to get used to the idea,
because I’m not a little girl."

"Never said you were," Fred said easily.

"Yeah, we’ve been on the receiving end of enough of your hexes to know
better," George said, sighing. "Maybe you should hex him a few times so
he realizes it."

Ginny giggled and lightly shoved George’s head.

"So, you’re okay with it. With Ginny helping me, I mean?" Harry asked,
picking at a stray thread on the couch.

"’Course we are. We just wish you would’ve let us come with you, as
well," Fred said eagerly. When Harry opened his mouth to respond, Fred
held up his hands in a defensive posture. "I know you can’t, but that
doesn’t mean I don’t wish it was different."

"Or that you would at least let us help you," George said, leaning

"Yeah, but then we remembered that you did ask us for help. You asked
us to locate Dung’s old flat. Which we did," Fred said, his eyes

"You did?" Harry asked, sitting up straight. "When? Where is it?"

"It’s in a really dodgy Muggle area of Birmingham. The building owner
let us inside. He’s really hacked off that he hasn’t had any rent from
Dung in months. He said he was going to let the place to someone else,
but I don’t think there’s a long line of people who want to take it
since it’s really close to where those fires burned over the summer,"
George said.

"We went in and looked around, but there’s not much there. It’s filthy,
and the stench drove us away before we could take a really good look,"
Fred said, grimacing.

"Can you take us there?" Harry asked.

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