lundi 11 février 2008

chapter 15

"Oh, Harry, dear. How are you?" Mrs. Weasley asked, placing her hand
gently on the side of his head. "I thought you’d sleep longer."

"What happened?" Harry asked, unconsciously leaning into her hand.

"Kingsley Shacklebolt’s been sacked," Fred replied grimly.

"It’s worse than that," Mr. Weasley said. "He and Peter Melanson, the
Auror in command of the troop in Diagon Alley have been accused of
treason. They’re awaiting trial in Azkaban."

"What? Why?" Harry asked, spluttering.

"Because they listened to me and didn’t wait for Dawlish to give the
orders," Moody said, taking a liberal draught from his flask. "I knew I
should’ve stayed behind and taken the heat instead of him."

"No. You did the right thing, Alastor," Professor McGonagall said
wearily. "If you’d stayed, Dolores would’ve had an excuse to blame the
entire thing on the Order immediately. This gives us time to prepare."

"Prepare for what?" Harry asked. "What do you mean? How can she blame
the Order for this? Dawlish wasn’t even around, and if he was, he
certainly should’ve seen the negotiations weren’t working."

"Ezriah Dawlish doesn’t care if it was working or not; he only cares
that his authority was usurped. He’s a bully, Potter. You know the
type," Moody replied. "He’s risen through the ranks riding on other
people’s success and taking credit where credit wasn’t due. He likes
being in charge and is convinced everyone is trying to take that power
from him, because he’s trying to take it from everyone else."

"The Daily Prophet released an evening edition detailing the attack,"
Tonks said sourly. "In it, they quote Interim Minister Umbridge as
saying the Aurors were killed because a vigilante group took control of
the negotiations and tried to subdue the Death Eaters on their own. According to the article, the Death Eaters had been working with the
Ministry up until that point."

"What?" Harry shouted, jumping from his chair and looking at the group
wildly. "That’s rubbish."

"It’s true. I’m afraid she’s going to pin the blame for the death of
the Aurors on the Order’s ‘interference’," Professor McGonagall said,

"I’m worried for Percy, as well," Mr. Weasley said. "Someone is bound
to report the number of redheads that were involved today. Even
Umbridge can make the connection, and she’ll lean on Percy for
information. It’s an awful position for him."

Mrs. Weasley sniffed loudly as she continued to pour the tea. "Do you
think I should send him a note?" she asked, looking towards the empty
perch near the window. "Oh, that foolish owl is gone again. We’re
really going to have to invest in a new one. Errol has just become so
unreliable in his old age."

"You can use Hedwig, Mrs. Weasley," Harry said.

"Oh, thank you, Harry, dear," Mrs. Weasley said, standing between Harry
and Ginny and crushing both of their heads to her bosom in a bone-
crunching hug. "I just want all my children to be safe."

Harry’s face reddened as he felt his glasses tilt sideways. He was
crushed against Mrs. Weasley’s breast, and he had no idea where he was
supposed to look. He could see Ginny in the same predicament on Mrs.
Weasley’s other side, but she was struggling to control her laughter at
Harry’s obvious embarrassment.

"I don’t think that’s a good idea right now, Molly," Mr. Weasley said,
clearing his throat. "Hedwig is very distinctive, and I think it might
be better for Percy if we separate ourselves at the moment."

Mrs. Weasley released Harry and Ginny, and her face paled. She nodded
solemnly and returned to her seat, her lower lip trembling.

"She’s going to try and disband the Order," Professor McGonagall said.

"Well, she can’t do that, can she?" Hagrid asked, slamming his meaty
fist on the table. "Won’t matter if she do. Dumbledore created the
Order, an’ I’m stayin’ with it. The Order’s fought You-Know-Who in both
wars. She can’t just break it apart."

"Maybe not in actuality, but she can make it extremely difficult for us
to operate," Mr. Weasley said, sighing.

"Codswallop!" Hagrid roared.

"Take it easy, Hagrid," George said, patting Hagrid’s massive shoulder.
"None of us want this."

"Where are Ron and Hermione?" Harry asked.
"They haven’t returned yet," Tonks said. Then, noticing the alarm on
Harry’s face, she waved her hand in the air. "It’s nothing to worry
about, though. The Ministry detained everyone and is conducting
interviews. I’ve got a contact that will let me know if there’s any
trouble. For now, they’re probably just awaiting their turn to be

"So, what happens when Umbridge does try and disband the Order?" Harry
asked. "She can make us illegal, but she can’t find us, right? I mean,
headquarters is still under a Fidelius Charm, isn’t it?"

Professor McGonagall pursed her lips, her cheeks reddening slightly.
"It is, and it will protect us for the moment, but not forever," she
said. "The Department of Mysteries keeps a register of all Fidelius
Charms in place and has a way to dismantle any that are used without
proper authorization. Ordinarily, anyone performing the charm has to
register it with the Ministry, otherwise anyone hiding from the law
would use it. Since our relations with Rufus Scrimgeour were shaky at
best, I performed the charm without the proper authorization. From what
I understand, it’s very complicated to undo, but with time it can be

"Sounds as useless as it ever was," Harry mumbled.

A disturbance at the front door caught everyone’s attention, and
Professor McGonagall waved to Mrs. Weasley to continue what she was
doing, while she went to check what it was.

"We all should pack a getaway bag of our personal items in case we’re
forced to flee," Mr. Weasley said, adjusting his glasses. "My contacts
should be able to give me some advance notice if headquarters is to be
raided, but I can’t guarantee a lot of time. I suspect Umbridge will be
keeping her eye on me, as well."

"You might lose your job, Arthur," Mrs. Weasley said tremulously.

"Yes," Mr. Weasley said, patting Mrs. Weasley’s hand, "but if the
Minister gets any solid proof of our involvement in the Order of the
Phoenix, I think we’ll have bigger worries than my job."

Before anyone had time to respond to that ominous statement, the
kitchen door swung open and Professor McGonagall returned, followed
closely by Ron, Hermione and Shannon, the clerk at Weasleys’ Wizard
Wheezes. All three of the new arrivals looked cold, tired and
windblown, as if they’d been outside for a very long time.

"Shannon!" George shouted, pushing out his chair with so much force it
scraped across the floor, causing everyone to cringe.

Shannon’s face burst into a wide grin, and she threw herself into
George’s arms. He lifted her off her feet and swung her around in a
circle. "Oh, I’m so happy you’re all right," she said breathlessly.

"What are you doing here?" George asked, his usual buoyant grin
replaced with a soft smile that Harry had never seen on the exuberant
Apparently, most of the other Weasleys hadn’t ever seen it, either.
They sat motionless, gaping at George, who appeared oblivious to their
stares. Everyone but Fred, that was. Fred rolled his eyes in disgust,
as if he alone had seen this coming long ago. He ignored the whole
display and proceeded to slather his bread with an obscene amount of

"Ahem," Mr. Weasley said, clearing his throat.

Professor McGonagall retook her seat, the side of her lips twitching
suspiciously. Harry caught Ginny’s eye, and she shrugged imperceptibly.

As if just realizing everyone else was still there, George pulled away
from Shannon, running a hand through his hair as he quickly glanced at

"Er…everyone, this is Shannon Larkin. Shannon, meet the family," George
said, beaming.

Shannon’s cheeks colored, but she smiled engagingly at the Weasleys.
"Hello, everyone," she said, pushing a strand of chestnut brown hair
behind her ear.

"Hello, Shannon," Mrs. Weasley said, as if awakening from a fog. A
bright smile spread across her face as she led Shannon to a chair. "Sit
down, dear, you must be tired. I’ll fix you up something to eat."

"Hi, Mum," Ron said, guiding Hermione to an empty chair across from
Harry and sitting down next to her. "We’re fine. Don’t worry about us."

Mrs. Weasley’s eyes widened. "Sorry, Ron…Hermione, dear. I’ll get you
something to eat, as well," she said, blushing furiously. She handed
plates to both of them, but her eyes remained fixed on Shannon, who
cast sly glances back and forth with George every few moments.

"What happened?" Harry asked. "What took you so long?"

"What didn’t?" Ron asked, scowling as he shoveled a huge mound of
mashed potatoes into his mouth. "First, I went back to Fred and
George’s shop to find Hermione, but she wasn’t there when I got there."

Harry looked over at Hermione as she took a long draught of her pumpkin
juice, nodding all the while. "Where was she?" he asked, noticing her
torn clothing and a scratch on the side of her face that he hadn’t seen
when she’d first sat down.

"Shannon and I had an unexpected caller at the shop after I’d Flooed
the Order," Hermione said, glancing at Shannon.

"It was really scary," Shannon said, shuddering, "but Hermione was

"What did you do?" Ginny asked, leaning toward Hermione.

"Well, we were too far from the door to escape without being seen, and
the Death Eater knew there was someone there. He started knocking things over and making a right mess of the shop, taunting us the whole
time," Hermione said with a disapproving frown.

"So Hermione created a window," Shannon said, beaming at George. "It’s
right above your desk and it’s fantastic. You’ll probably want to keep
it there."

"A window?" Harry said, looking askance at Hermione.

"Well, I thought I could do it, but I wasn’t really certain. I read
about the spell in this redecorating book that I found in one of the
rooms upstairs. I’m certain the Order used it when they were fixing up
this place-"

"Hermione," Ron said, smiling fondly, "the Death Eater…"

She waved her hands in the air. "Oh! Right! Well, we opened the window,
and Shannon climbed outside-"

"But before Hermione could get out, the Death Eater entered the back
room," Shannon said.

Hermione frowned, derailed. "Right. Well…at first I couldn’t think what
to do, and I rather panicked."

"You?" Ron asked, nudging her shoulder playfully. "I can’t imagine

Hermione glared at him. "No, it’s true. I had my wand aimed right at
him, but for the life of me, I couldn’t think of the spell I wanted."

Harry shook his head, able to appreciate the humor since she was
obviously all right. Leave it to Hermione to be in a life threatening
situation and being delayed because she wanted a particular spell.

"So, what did you do?" Ginny asked.

"Shannon did, actually," Hermione said.

"I leaned in the window and stuffed a Puking Pastille in his mouth,"
Shannon said, nodding. "It was the first thing I could reach on the

"Ha!" George said. "That’s a girl! Way to use those Weasleys’ Wizard
Wheezes products, too, eh, Fred?"

Fred rolled his eyes, although a grin had spread across his face.

Shannon nodded, obviously pleased. "And while he was retching, Hermione
kicked him where it counted and scrambled out the window."

All the males in the room cringed, twisting in their chairs.

"Hermione!" Fred said, shocked. "I’m impressed."
Hermione’s cheeks pinkened, but she defiantly stuck out her chin. "I
had to get away, didn’t I?"

"She got him good, too," Shannon said, smiling approvingly at Hermione.
"He doubled over and went down like a rock, clutching his bits."

Harry winced again, but noticed Ron beaming with pride at Hermione.
He’d obviously heard this story already.

Mrs. Weasley coughed delicately. "More potatoes, dear?" she asked

"Good work," Moody growled. "But you shouldn’t have allowed him to
sneak up on you. Constant vigilance! These are dangerous times, and
it’s about to get a whole lot worse."

"Alastor," Professor McGonagall said, smiling at Hermione and Shannon.
"Everyone in Diagon Alley was ‘sneaked up on’, today. These witches did
an admiral job of escaping."

"Not only that," Ron said, pulling a wand from his robes. "Hermione
took the Death Eater’s wand before she climbed out the window. We
thought it would be better for you to trace it rather than give it to
the Ministry."

He handed the wand to Tonks. "I can do that," she said, examining the
wood with her fingertips. "As far as I know, I haven’t been sacked yet.
Once the Minister realizes how often I’ve been partnered with Kingsley,
however, I think my number will be up."

This sobered the table again. Everyone stared at each other warily.

"We stayed until we’d given a statement to the Ministry. Of course, you
must have seen the Prophet by now, and how they’ve twisted everything,"
Ron said, his lip curling.

"Yes. We’ve seen it," Professor McGonagall said briskly.

"Load of rubbish, that’s what it is," Hagrid said, grumbling.

"I managed to avoid Umbridge, but I heard her questioning Percy," Ron
said hesitantly.

"What did she say?" Mr. Weasley asked, concerned.

"She asked him about the rest of us. Why there were so many Weasleys in
Diagon Alley this afternoon," Ron said. "He told her that two of his
brothers own a shop there, and the rest of us were probably all helping
them out. She was still suspicious, though. She asked a lot of
questions about Bill and how the wounds Fenrir Greyback gave him were
affecting him. It didn’t sound good."

Hermione shook her head. "Percy really tried to convince her that Bill
was fine, but I could see the wheels turning in that evil bat’s head. I
think she’s going to try and go after Bill next."

"Damn it," Mr. Weasley said.
"Arthur!" Mrs. Weasley cried, glancing toward the door. Harry assumed
Bill and Fleur had been given sedatives the same way he had.

"Don’t worry, Molly," Mr. Weasley said, patting Mrs. Weasley’s hand
once again. "It’ll be all right."

"What’s comin’ will come, an’, we’ll meet it when it does," Hagrid

"So, I reckon you’re the vigilante group Minister Umbridge is
complaining about, right?" Shannon asked, looking around the table at
the various faces.

Professor McGonagall nodded. "Yes, Shannon. We’re the Order of the
Phoenix, or what’s left of it, anyway. Professor Dumbledore started
this group during the last war."

"So, how do I join?" she asked.

"Shannon," George said, standing up straight. "There’s no guarantee
there will even be an Order after Umbridge gets through with us."

"I don’t care. I was there today; I saw what happened. You lot were the
only ones doing anything, and I saw how the Ministry twisted that. I
want to help," Shannon said, her blue eyes flashing.

"It’s dangerous work," George said, looking to Fred for support. Fred
was steadfastly ignoring them both.

Shannon pulled herself up to full height. "Just because I’m a
Hufflepuff doesn’t mean I run from danger, George Weasley, and don’t
you forget it. I left the Ministry because I didn’t like what they were
doing, and I’m joining the Order because it appears the right thing to
do. We all have to do our part."

"Well said, Miss Larkin," Professor McGonagall said, her lips twitching
again. "I always thought you had a bit of Gryffindor in you."

Shannon flushed, pleased, although she shook her head. "No. I’m loyal
to the core — just like all Hufflepuffs."

"You were at Hogwarts, then?" Harry asked, curious. She wasn’t at all
familiar to him.

Shannon nodded. "I was in Fred and George’s year, but I remember you.
I’m sorry to say I wore one of those awful badges during the Triwizard
Tournament until Cedric asked me not to do it," she said, staring
directly at Harry. "Sorry about that."

Harry grinned, remembering how much those badges had bothered him at
the time. "No problem. Everyone wore them."

"That’s because they were amusing, and everyone enjoyed being able to
admit that Potter stinks," Draco Malfoy said, entering the kitchen with
a swagger.
Harry noticed that Mrs. Weasley didn’t jump up to make him a plate as
she had done for the others. She sat at the table, scowling, with her
arms folded across her chest. His heart swelled with affection for Mrs.
Weasley just then.

"Shut it, Malfoy," Ron said, growling.

"You’re in the Order?" Shannon asked, stunned. "Weren’t you the one who
made those badges?"

"I did," Draco said proudly as he began putting food on his plate.

"He’s not in the Order," George said. "He’s just hiding here until it’s

"I’m not hiding," Draco said, his face flushing.

"No? What do you call it, then?" Fred asked.

"I call it protecting my best interests," Draco replied, sneering. "I
have a bright future ahead of me. I do, that is, if Potter can ever get
his act together and end this thing."

A chorus of angry voices met this response, all of which Draco ignored
as he began eating his meal.

"Enough!" Hagrid boomed, startling everyone into silence.

"My mother and the Parkinsons are reading the evening edition of the
Daily Prophet," Draco drawled, as if there hadn’t been any
interruption. "We’re concerned about what this means. If the Order is
arrested and chucked in Azkaban, what’s to happen to us? You know that
there are ways to find this place."

"The Malfoys and the Parkinsons — you might remember Iris — are staying
here as well," George said, clarifying for Shannon.

"I do remember Iris. She was all right, I suppose…for a Slytherin,"
Shannon said.

"Iris is all right. Nothing like this one," Fred said, glaring at

"We’re working on a contingency plan, Mr. Malfoy," Professor McGonagall
said, glaring at the others to keep their silence. "No one is going to

"That doesn’t appear to be Minister Umbridge’s plan," Draco said

"Be that as it may," Professor McGonagall replied, peering over the top
of her glasses. "We shall see to it that you and your family are

"What do you think Voldemort will do next?" Moody asked, his magical
eye zeroing in on Draco, who flinched at the use of the name.
"He’ll use the Minister’s desire for a truce to his advantage," Draco
replied. "He’ll plant the seed in her head about dismantling the
Fidelius Charm and make her think it was her idea. Then he’ll have
people testing the wards to see if they’re weakening."

"How will he do that?" Harry asked. "How will he test the wards if no
one can reveal where headquarters is located."

Malfoy rolled his eyes and spoke slowly, as if to a very small child.
"He’ll find someone whom he believes knows the location and torture
them until they can tell. When they start to give answers, he’ll know
the wards are failing."

Harry swallowed, his anxiety for Remus increasing. If either Voldemort
or the Ministry caught him now, neither would hesitate to use him.

"We’re seeking an alternative safe house. I’ll let you all know when
we’ve found something suitable," Professor McGonagall said, adjourning
the meeting. "We might have to split up for a time. Perhaps it’ll be
better that way."

The conversation at the dinner table was extremely subdued after that,
particularly for Weasley standards.


Dear, Ron

Well, I suppose if you’re reading this it means I’m dead not there. I
hope I took him with me. I want you to keep my Firebolt — I know you’ll
put it to good use. Get the carpet to Fred and George, perhaps they can
invent their own line of trick ones, or something…

I don’t really know what to say. I wanted to write this letter to be
able to say goodbye, but that’s hard to do when I know you’re just
downstairs with Hermione. I’m glad you two finally worked things out.
Take care of each other for me.

I hope the Cannons are playing well.

Crumpling up his parchment, Harry tossed it in the bin with several
other rolled-up pieces. This was impossible. It was much harder to
write a goodbye letter than he’d originally thought. As if the Cannons
would ever play well, anyway…

He pulled out another piece and decided to try again. He sat on his
bed, leaning on a book and trying to collect his thoughts. Mrs. Weasley
had noticed him rubbing his arm after dinner and frog-marched him up
the stairs, insisting he wasn’t to get up again until morning.
Honestly, he’d been too tired to argue with her.

He looked up as his bedroom door creaked open, and Ginny slipped
inside, wearing a frayed yellow dressing gown. Harry’s eyes were
immediately drawn to the worn spots and the faint glimpse of flimsy
blue material he could see beneath the thinning fabric.
"Hi," she whispered, nudging him aside with her hip so she could sit
down. "Ron and Hermione are saying goodnight in my room, and they
kicked me out."

Harry obliged by shifting over, gathering his parchment so she wouldn’t
see what he’d been doing.

"What are you writing?" she asked.

Harry shrugged. "Just some notes," he replied vaguely. "So, they gave
you the boot, huh? Lucky me."

Ginny grinned. "Why aren’t you asleep? I thought I was just going to
come in here and make certain you were snug and covered."

"You were going to tuck me in?" he asked, quirking his eyebrow, a
pleasant warmth spreading through his body. He couldn’t remember anyone
ever doing that unless he was in hospital.

Ginny kissed his forehead softly, a somewhat sad smile playing on her
lips. "You’re supposed to be sleeping. Mum will have kittens if she
knows you’re in here working."

"Couldn’t sleep," Harry said. "My body’s tired, but my mind’s still
racing. You were fantastic today, you know."

"I was?" Ginny asked, staring at him blankly. "Harry, was that a

Harry poked her in the ribs. "You were! I was so proud of you when you
jumped across that ledge despite your fear. You were brilliant. Do I
not compliment you enough, Ginny?"

"Here’s a newsflash for you, Harry. You do tend to be a bit…reserved,"
Ginny said, rolling her eyes.

Harry pulled a face. "Let me make up for that, then," he said, wrapping
his arm around her and pulling her back so she was lying alongside him.
"I think you’re beautiful."

Ginny’s hand instinctively reached for her shorter hair, a pretty pink
blush spreading across her freckled cheeks. Harry grabbed her hand and
pulled it away, playing with her hair. "I think all of you is
beautiful, Ginny — inside and out. I think you’re fun, and fiery, and
you can always make me laugh."

"Great!" Ginny said. "I can tell a good joke. Just what I want my
boyfriend to feel when he thinks of me."

"No," Harry said, continuing to play with her hair. "Laughing is good.
Sometimes, it’s the only way I can cope, and you’re always there with a
ready smile. You show me a different life — what I want my life to be.
When I wake up in the morning, I get this funny feeling in my stomach
just because I know I’m going to see you."

Harry looked away, embarrassed.
Ginny grabbed his chin and pulled it back. "Tell me more," she
whispered huskily, a soft yet blazing look in her eyes that made Harry
swallow heavily.

"You don’t try and make me talk when I’m not ready, but when I am
ready, you’re always the first person I want to talk to," he said,
suddenly finding it very hard to concentrate.

His every nerve ending was tingling, and he kept being distracted by
the column of her throat and a thin trail of freckles that disappeared
beneath her dressing gown. Suddenly, the urge to count those freckles
seemed of the utmost importance.

He felt his Adam’s apple bob as he swallowed again, his mouth very dry.
He could smell that sweet, flowery scent that hinted of lazy summer
days in the sunshine.

"Ginny," he whispered.


Suddenly, they were in each other’s arms and rolling around his bed as
if there were no tomorrow. The war, the battle, his sore shoulder,
Umbridge and the Ministry’s shenanigans all melted away as Harry
allowed himself the moment. This was what he’d promised after he’d
learned about The Seventh Horcrux — that he’d take the time to live
while he could, and give Ginny as much time as possible.

After several moments of sheer, unchecked bliss, Ginny pulled back,
panting. "Harry, we have to stop. Ron will be in here in any minute."

Harry didn’t want to stop, and he moved to continue blazing a trail of
wet kisses down Ginny’s throat. Ron could just sod off as far as he was

"Harry!" Ginny said, laughing as she pushed him back and slid off the
bed, moving to take a seat on Ron’s empty bed. "I’m serious. Ron will
be here any minute, not to mention Mum. I’m certain she’ll peek in to
check on you, too."

Harry scowled, disgruntled. "Fine."

Ginny giggled, attempting to straighten her impossibly tangled hair.
Her dressing gown had come loose, and Harry appreciated the view of a
very short blue nightgown before she wrapped it around herself again.

"You need to keep your rucksack packed. Expand the inside so you can
keep Dumbledore’s Pensieve inside it, too. You never know if we’ll have
to leave in a hurry, and you’ll want to keep that with you," she said.
"Put all your most important things in there."

Harry patted the bed next to him where she’d been sitting. "Okay. Why
don’t you come back over here, and we can discuss it," he said as
innocently as he could.

"Don’t be such a cad," Ginny said, scowling in mock disapproval just as
the bedroom door banged open, and Mrs. Weasley escorted Ron inside with
a firm grip on his earlobe.

Harry noticed a distinctive red mark on the front of Ron’s neck and had
a hard time schooling his features. Ginny shot him a triumphant look as
if to say I told you so.

"Ginny! What are you doing in here?" Mrs. Weasley asked, glancing from
Ginny to Harry in alarm, but appearing to relax when she realized they
were sitting on separate beds.

"I just came in to say goodnight to Harry, Mum. I was surprised to find
him still awake. He was working," Ginny said, frowning her disapproval.
When Mrs. Weasley turned to look at Harry with the same disapproving
expression, Ginny gleefully stuck her tongue out at Harry behind her
mother’s back.

Mrs. Weasley released Ron, her attention now fully focused on Harry.
"Harry! I told you I wanted you to get a full night’s rest. You’ll make
yourself sick if you don’t get some decent sleep, particularly after an
injury. I want you in bed with the lights out this instant, young man.

"Ginny, I want you back in your own room and in your own bed, now,
please. Ronald…get to bed. I’m going to have your father speak to you

Ginny scrambled from the room, blowing a quick kiss to Harry while Ron
stomped to his own bed, a furious tic in his cheek. Mrs. Weasley put
the lights out and firmly closed the bedroom door.

Harry waited for a few minutes in the thick silence. With everything
that had happened in Diagon Alley that day, he’d forgotten that he and
Ron had been rowing earlier that morning. Somehow, it all seemed rather
pointless now.

"What happened?" he asked.

Ron grunted and rolled over noisily. Harry could hear him take several
deep breaths before snarling, "She treats me like I’m seven, not almost
eighteen. I’m bloody sick and tired of it."

Harry’s body tensed, not certain he really wanted to know, but reckoned
he should be a good friend and ask. "So what happened this time?"

"She came into the girls’ room and caught Hermione and me snogging,"
Ron said, disgruntled. "Well…maybe my hands were a bit where they
shouldn’t have been, but that’s beside the point. I’m of age! And this
isn’t even her house; it’s yours."

Harry grunted noncommittally. He definitely didn’t want to have this
conversation or hear anything about what Ron and Hermione did when they
were alone. Ever.
"Mum went storming in that room and dragged me out by my ear. Hermione
was mortified. She probably won’t even look at me, never mind kiss me,
for a week," Ron said, moaning.

"Oi, Ron," Harry said, craning his neck away from Ron’s voice. "Must
you talk about that with me?"

"Harry, you’re the one snogging my sister," Ron yelped, incredulously.

"I know, and you don’t like hearing about it. I feel the same way about
you and Hermione. You’re…It’s…You’re both… It’s just not right," Harry

Ron snorted. "Hypocrite."

"Wanker. What will your dad do to you tomorrow?" Harry asked curiously.
Mrs. Weasley had threatened Ron with a talk with his father.

"Nothing," Ron said, snorting. "He’ll be proud, if anything. But don’t
tell Mum. She’s the only one who gets bent out of shape about it. Of
course, with Ginny that’s different. You’d best watch your step, mate."

"Yeah, thanks," Harry said, grumbling.

"Anytime," Ron replied, and Harry could hear the grin in his voice.

Harry punched his pillow and drifted off to an uneasy sleep.


Percy Weasley sat in a nondescript interrogation room at the Ministry
of Magic in the early hours of the morning following the attack on
Diagon Alley. Percy hadn’t yet been able to return to his flat to get
some sleep, and he was exhausted. Things had gone from bad to worse as
the day progressed, and Percy was left feeling utterly let down by
everything he’d once believed.

Sighing heavily, he let his head fall onto the wooden table where he
was sitting, resting it on his arms while he awaited whomever he was
supposed to meet. He’d arrived in Diagon Alley earlier that day — or
was it yesterday now — with Interim Minister Umbridge in order to
assess the situation. What he’d found had been complete chaos.

Twenty-three Aurors were dead. Aurors! They were supposed to be among
the best and brightest that Wizarding society had to offer. They were
the elite, and twenty-three of them had been killed in one battle as if
it were a day in the park. From the eyewitness reports Percy had
obtained, it had been the Order of the Phoenix and Harry Potter who had
actually succeeded in containing the situation. Not the Ministry, not
the Aurors, but the same people Percy had turned his back on several
years ago.

He ran a hand through his short hair and readjusted his glasses.

Of course, the official reports that were printed about what occurred
in Diagon Alley contained nothing of the truth. Percy had watched as
Dolores Umbridge altered all the facts and blatantly twisted everyone’s words to fit her own agenda. And everyone had stood uncomfortably
aside, allowing her to do it. No one wanted to be the one to voice an
objection, most likely knowing it would only mean a ticket to Azkaban.

Percy couldn’t understand how everything had gone so wrong. After he’d
become Head Boy and begun his lifetime dream of working for the
Ministry, everything had spiraled out of control. He’d chosen the
Ministry over his family, and at the time had been certain beyond a
shadow of a doubt that he’d been doing the right thing.

He’d been shocked and dismayed when Cornelius Fudge had been forced to
admit that Professor Dumbledore and Harry had been right all along. He-
Who-Must-Not-Be-Named had returned. He was back, and the Ministry had
wasted precious time denying it. After Fudge’s resignation and the
appointment of Rufus Scrimgeour, Percy’s faith had been restored.
Scrimgeour was a Ministry man through and through. He played by a clear
set of rules; everything was by the book, just the way Percy liked

That hadn’t gone to plan, either. Scrimgeour had become obsessed with
Harry Potter and swaying the public to believe he was doing the right
thing. Percy reluctantly had to admit that he really wasn’t doing much
of anything, however. Then, shockingly, horrifically, the unthinkable
had happened. Scrimgeour was murdered in his own home in the dead of
night. All the security of the Ministry behind him, and they couldn’t
even guard the life of the Minister for Magic.

By then, Percy had reconciled with his family — well, with his parents,
anyway — and even supplied them with information that might aid them.
Percy wasn’t stupid. He could see the Order was fighting You-Know-Who
and had been doing so for a very long time. They knew how he worked,
and they were making progress. It didn’t take a genius to see that —
only someone blinded by their own ambition. Ashamed, Percy had to admit
that he had been just such a person.

He knew Dolores Umbridge personally. She, like him, craved rules and
order and expected everyone else to act accordingly. He’d truly
believed she’d make an excellent Minister. Perhaps he’d grown cynical
by watching the demise of all his former heroes, but it didn’t take
long for Percy to see that Umbridge, too, was making loads of mistakes.
Huge mistakes.

When he’d learned of her plans to incarcerate Ron, it was the final
straw for Percy. He’d become an earnest informant for the Order,
alerting them to anything that could possibly help them in their
campaign. He’d resigned himself to the fact that it would be the Order
who regained control. He only hoped that after the war, the Ministry
could be reformed into the great institution it once was.

He’d listened today with a heavy heart as Dolores Umbridge painted a
completely false image of that same Order. She was going to go after
them and try and disband them. Percy knew that he had to try and stop
her. He couldn’t let her ruin the best chance of defeating You-Know-Who
they had. She’d also started asking him questions about Bill, and any
effects of Lycanthropy he might be exhibiting. The questions had sent a
chill down Percy’s spine.
After spending hours on-site collecting statements, he’d spent the
evening back at his desk compiling them and preparing reports, dismayed
by the way the statements had been misrepresented. Then, just as he was
preparing to go home, Dolores Umbridge herself had visited his office.

Although wary, Percy couldn’t help but feel pleased that she’d chosen
him specifically for an assignment. He was a dedicated worker and knew
the way the Ministry worked in and out. He appreciated when those in
positions of authority noticed all his efforts. Minister Umbridge had
asked him to speak privately with a visiting dignitary about a possible

Percy assumed in was a delegate from either Switzerland or France, as
both countries had, as yet, refused to ally themselves with Britain in
the fight against You-Know-Who. If he could succeed in forging this
treaty, he would finally succeed in doing something great for the
Ministry and the wizarding world at large. It was an opportunity he
couldn’t resist.

So, here he sat at three in the bloody morning waiting for an unknown
dignitary for over an hour. Percy’s patience was wearing thin. He
jerked and sat upright when the door swung open, but the person who
strode into the room was the last person Percy had ever expected to see

"Good evening, Mr. Weasley. My apologies for the lateness of the hour,"
Severus Snape said silkily.

"P-Professor S-Snape," Percy said, swallowing heavily. "What are you
doing here?"

Professor Snape dusted off the only other chair in the room and
gingerly sat down. "I believe Minister Umbridge informed you that I’d
be here to discuss a possible truce between the Ministry and the Dark

Percy’s jaw sagged. Certainly he couldn’t be serious. What exactly was
Umbridge offering that interested the Dark Lord? And how could she ever
consider striking a bargain with Severus Snape? The man had murdered
Albus Dumbledore, for Merlin’s sake. He should be arrested and sent to
Azkaban immediately to await trial.

"Erm…" Percy said hesitantly, uncertain what to say.

Professor Snape smiled coldly in that same calculating way Percy
remembered from his Hogwarts days. A smirk that used to send students
walking in the opposite direction just to avoid passing him in the

Percy had never had trouble with Snape the way Ron, Ginny, and the
twins had — most likely because he was a very good Potions student and
also appreciated the strict rules and guidelines involved with potion
making. Professor Snape never liked him because he was a Gryffindor,
but he never went out of his way to target him, either, the way he’d
done with some of Percy’s classmates.
"Minister Umbridge is interested in cooperating with the Dark Lord in
order to cut down on the number of losses the Wizarding world had been
experiencing," Professor Snape said in an oily voice.

"Losses for which he’s responsible," Percy said hotly.

"That may be," Snape said, smiling coldly, "but Minister Umbridge
appears willing to make some concessions."

"C-concessions?" Percy asked. "What kind of concessions?"

"She’s agreed to provide us with some information. The end result of
our having this knowledge will prove beneficial to both the Dark Lord
and the Ministry," Snape said, his fingers held in a steeple in front
of his lips. "I need your help to retrieve this information, Mr.

The hairs on the back of Percy’s neck suddenly stood on end. He licked
his dry lips, trying to calm the frantic beating of his heart. "What
information are you seeking?" he asked.

"The location of the Headquarters for the Order of the Phoenix," Snape
replied, his eyes glinting.

Percy swallowed again, feeling a drop of sweat roll down his back.
"Headquarters," he repeated numbly.

"Yes," Snape replied, drawing out the word as he ran a long, thin
finger along his lip. "I believe you’re aware of its location."

"Th-there’s a charm," Percy said.

"Yes, I’m aware of the Fidelius Charm, and how it works, Mr. Weasley.
I’m also aware that there are ways to counter it. I’ve taken certain
steps, and now I’d like to see what you can tell me," Professor Snape

Percy folded his hands on his lap in order to hide their trembling. He
was truly afraid. He’d promised to do what he had to do in order to
inform the Order before Minister Umbridge acted against them, but now
that he had to act, he felt very alone. He’d sworn an Unbreakable Vow
to Alastor Moody, swearing not to reveal anything about the Order to
anyone. If he merely said one thing about the location of Headquarters
or anyone involved, he’d forfeit his own life.

He knew his mother kept the Weasley family clock with her wherever she
went, and he also knew it would alert her instantly of his death. It
would be all the warning the Order needed. But Percy didn’t think he
had the nerve to do it. He glanced at Professor Snape warily, uncertain
what to do. Percy suddenly felt very young and over his head.

Snape smiled that cold, dangerous smile again. "Minister Umbridge
believed you’d be eager to aid the Ministry in their endeavors, but
perhaps you need some persuasion."

Raising his wand as if in slow motion, he snarled, "Crucio."
The pain was so intense, so all-consuming that Percy could think of
nothing else. He could hear someone screaming from far away and only
the rawness of his throat let him know that he was the one doing the
screaming. Finally, the pain ceased, and he was left panting on the
floor. He must have fallen from his chair at some point, although he
couldn’t recall doing so.

"I’ll ask you again, Mr. Weasley. What is the location of the
Headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix?" Snape said calmly, as if he
were merely teaching one of his lessons.

"Don’t you know?" Percy asked, gasping. He was amazed by his own cheek.
Torture did strange things to people, he supposed.

"I believe there must be a new Secret-Keeper, for the knowledge eludes
me," Snape said, showing the first sign of irritation.

"If you can’t remember, than certainly you must know that even if I
knew, I couldn’t tell you," Percy said, finally rising to a sitting

"Mr. Weasley, you’re trying my patience. If I could simply look into
your worthless mind and retrieve the information I desire, I’d do so.
Legilimency doesn’t work against the Fidelius, however. As the charm
weakens, it’s the unconscious mind that becomes aware of the
information first. Now, we’ve had more time for the wards to further
weaken. Tell me the location of the Order’s Headquarters," Snape said,
moving his foot to step on Percy’s fingers.

Percy whimpered as the pressure increased, certain his fingers would
break. He knew what he should do, but he was afraid, so very afraid.
The Sorting Hat had placed him in Gryffindor for a reason. Certainly he
must have the courage somewhere deep inside him to do what he must. It
was the difference between doing what was right and what was easy.
Wasn’t that what Professor Dumbledore had said once?

"Crucio," Snape hissed again.

Percy screamed, unable to stop. When Professor Snape released the
curse, Percy vomited on the floor. He had to protect his family. They’d
been right, and he’d been wrong. He only hoped that one day they’d know
that he’d realized his mistake in the end. What could he do to ensure
that his family wasn’t hurt, however? What could he tell Snape that
he’d already know? What could he say that would break his Vow but still
not add more risk to his family?

Inspiration struck Percy like a lightening bolt-shaped scar.

"Harry Potter is working with the Order," he said, staring directly at
Professor Snape.

"I’m aware of that, you incompetent fool. I asked you the location of
their Headquarters. Where is Potter hiding?" Snape asked, showing his

Percy’s felt a tightening sensation in his chest. It suddenly became
very difficult to breathe, as if all the oxygen were being compressed from his lungs. He looked up to see a startled expression on his former
Potion master’s face before his eyes rolled back in his head, and he
knew no more. Percy’s last thought before the darkness took him was
relief that there was no pain at all.
Chapter Twenty-One


Harry awoke to someone roughly shaking him. He tried to turn away and
burrow back into his pillow. He’d been having a very pleasant dream for
once, involving chocolate Easter eggs, broomsticks, and giggling
Snitches. The shaking only increased and soon a loud voice bellowed in
his ear.

“Get up, Potter, and do it quickly. Weasley, get out of that bed.”

Harry’s eyes snapped open as he struggled to clear his head and
recognize the voice. The room was shrouded in darkness, the only light
coming from the dim glow of a lantern in the hallway. The big old house
seemed abnormally silent, almost as if there had been a silencing charm
placed outside his door.

Harry fumbled for his glasses, realizing it still must be the middle of
the night or just before dawn, at best. He could hear Ron cursing
sleepily from his own bed, groaning about the rude awakening. Finally
locating his glasses, Harry shoved them onto his face, and his vision
sharpened. Sighing, he realized that although he’d managed to eliminate
the blurriness, he still couldn’t see a thing.

“Who’s there?” he asked, continuing to try and clear the sleep from his

“Whazzit?” Ron mumbled.

“Ooomf,” Harry grunted as something bulky – yet not exactly hard – hit
his head. He heard another thud before Ron made a similar sound.

“Pack those rucksacks with whatever you can in two minutes,” Moody
growled from somewhere near the door. Harry could see Moody’s shadow as
he moved into the hallway. “Get yourselves down to the kitchen. Keep
the lights to a minimum; we’re evacuating. Move.”

Suddenly wide-awake, his adrenaline pumping, Harry leaped out of bed
and yanked open the wardrobe. Using his wand for light, he magically
expanded the rucksack Moody had tossed at him. He carefully put
Dumbledore’s Pensieve inside, along with the strange silver instrument,
the Horcrux containers, and his most prized possessions. He’d just
begun to throw some of his clothing inside – he was fortunate that he
hadn’t yet had the opportunity to shop, so he still didn’t own very
much – when his head burst with excruciating pain.

It was as if someone had suddenly clamped it in a vise and proceeded to
squeeze at full force. He fell to his knees with a grunt, grasping his
head in his hands as he laid his forehead on the cold floor. A wave of
pure, unmitigated fury washed over him before the pain ended nearly as
soon as it had begun. If it weren’t for the fact that he was on his
knees with his head on the floor, he would have thought he’d imagined it. One thing he did know for certain: Voldemort was angry about
something – very angry.

“Harry, are you all right, mate?” Ron asked groggily. He’d finally
pulled himself out of bed and had nearly tripped over Harry.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Harry said, pulling himself to his feet and shaking
his head.

He picked up his wand and resumed stuffing clothing into his backpack,
feeling troubled. He hadn’t had any kind of vision or felt any emotion
from Voldemort in over a year. Dumbledore had suspected he was using
Occlumency to keep Harry out. Why now? What had happened that would
enrage Voldemort so much that he would temporarily drop his Occlumency
shield? Did it have anything to do with the reason they were evacuating
headquarters in the middle of the night?

“What are you doing on the floor?” Ron asked, beginning haphazardly to
stash items into his own rucksack.

“Tripped,” Harry mumbled, not wanting to alarm Ron just yet with the
revelation that Voldemort had been in his head again.

“I wonder what happened,” Ron said, beginning to look worried. “It
must have been something big.”

“Yeah,” Harry said, zipping up his bag. “Are you finished?”

“I suppose,” Ron said, staring at the messy room helplessly. “I can’t
see a bloody thing, anyway. How am I supposed to know what to take if I
don’t even know where we’re going? Why does he want the lights out?”

Harry shrugged. “Probably just being Moody. Just take some extra
clothing, your broom and anything really important to you. Come on,
let’s get downstairs. I want to find out what happened,” he said, his
hand instinctively touching the rope bracelet Ginny had given him to be
certain he had it.

Ron shrank his broom before zipping his bag and following Harry from
the room. They hurried down the dark stairs and into the kitchen where
the lights blazed brightly. Harry had to blink and shield his eyes from
the sudden glare.

Bill and Fleur were the room’s only occupants. Standing near the large
fireplace, they had their heads bent and appeared to be in the middle
of a deep discussion. Fleur had her arm on Bill’s shoulder, the side of
her face still swathed in bandages from the wounds she’d received in
Diagon Alley.

“What’s going on?” Ron asked, staring back and forth between his
brother and Fleur.

“It happened quicker than we thought it would,” Bill said grimly. “The
Order has been accused of treason against the Ministry. There are a
handful of warrants out for arrests, and we believe the wards are
already failing.”
“Whoa,” Ron said, sitting down heavily at the table. “Whose arrest?

Bill nodded. “And Moody’s, McGonagall’s and mine. Umbridge has had a
grudge against McGonagall since her time at Hogwarts. We suspect there
will be more names added as the day progresses. Our Interim Minister
appears to have a source who’s willing to talk.”

“Percy?” Ron asked, grimacing slightly.

Bill winced and sucked in his breath.

“Non! Not your brozzer,” Fleur said, once again gripping Bill’s
shoulder. “He’s been giving information to us for months, now.”

“Mum and Dad have gone ahead to Hogwarts, and we’ve already sent the
owls along,” Bill said, his face impassive. “Professor McGonagall is
preparing for our arrival.”

“That’s where we’re going? Hogwarts?” Harry asked, feeling both
relieved and apprehensive about going to the school again. He hadn’t
been back since Professor Dumbledore’s death.

“Yeah,” Bill replied, nodding. “It’s the safest location, and there are
plenty of places to hide if the Ministry conducts a search. Hogwarts
has a way of keeping things hidden. We’ve got the Floo open to the
Hog’s Head; Aberforth Dumbledore and Hagrid are expecting us.”

“’Help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it,’”
Harry mumbled.

“Pardon?” Bill asked.

“Nothing,” Harry said, shaking his head. “Just a memory. Where are
Ginny and Hermione?”

“They haven’t come downstairs yet. Moody is rounding up everyone,” Bill

“Move along quickly, girls,” Anastasia Parkinson said as she pushed her
two daughters through the kitchen door.

Iris stumbled in with sleep-filled eyes, still wearing her dressing
gown, while Pansy was arguing with her mother and trying to turn back.
Both she and Mrs. Parkinson had taken the time to put on robes, and
they were all carrying small bags.

“Mother, I want to wait for Draco,” Pansy whined.

“You let Draco’s mother worry about him. If there’s going to be
trouble, I want you girls far away from it,” Mrs. Parkinson replied
firmly, her face pale and strained.

“Don’t worry, Mother. Most likely it’s just more of their melodrama,”
Iris said, yawning.
“I’m afraid not,” Bill replied, ignoring the girls and looking directly
at Mrs. Parkinson. “Our sources tell us that our location’s been
compromised. We have to move, now.”

Mrs. Parkinson’s hand shook as she pointed towards the fireplace. “Go
on, girls,” she said.

“Mother!” Pansy said. “We don’t even know where we’re going. I want to
wait for Draco.”

“The Floo will only let you go to one location,” Bill said, handing
Iris some Floo powder. “Just toss it.”

Iris took the powder, a flicker of worry crossing her features as she
glanced around the kitchen. She appeared to be looking for someone
before she stepped into the flames and disappeared in a puff of green

“You next, Pansy,” Mrs. Parkinson said, urging her daughter forward.

“Mother, I really think-”

“I don’t want to hear what you think right now, young lady. This is
serious, and I’ve had just about enough of your attitude. Get into that
fireplace without another word,” Mrs. Parkinson said sternly.

Pansy looked mutinous. She opened her mouth to reply, but her mother
simply arched an eyebrow, and Pansy deflated. Breathing through her
nose, she grabbed a handful of Floo powder and tossed it into the

Once she’d gone, Mrs. Parkinson relaxed slightly. “She’s just upset,”
she said, excusing her daughter’s behavior.

“We’re all upset, Madame,” Fleur said, scowling at the fireplace.
“Zome just handle eet better zan ozers.”

Mrs. Parkinson’s nose rose in the air as she took her own handful of
Floo powder. “I wish you well,” she said stiffly before she

The kitchen door swung open again, and Fred, George and Shannon all
hurried through. George kept his hand on Shannon’s elbow.

“Did you see Ginny and Hermione on your way downstairs?” Bill asked,
his gnarled face lined with tension.

“Hermione is looking for Crookshanks,” Fred replied. “Want me to get

“Yeah. Go hurry them along,” Bill said. “Where’s Moody?”

“I’m here,” Moody replied, leading Draco and Narcissa Malfoy into the
kitchen. Narcissa was dressed in a traveling cloak, and Harry noticed
she’d taken the time to apply her makeup
“What is the meaning of rousing us at this indecent hour?” she asked

“Zere eez a bit of an emergency, Madame. Please, we are taking ze
Floo,” Fleur said, waving her hand to hurry the Malfoys along.

“What emergency?” Narcissa asked.

“Death Eaters,” Bill said flatly.

Narcissa’s hand reached for her throat. “Here? You promised me you
would protect my son,” she said, spinning on Moody.

“That’s what we’re trying to do, ma’am,” Moody replied gruffly. “As I
recall, I banged on your door several times to try and hurry you

“Ze coloring you’ve chosen is zo exquisite. Eet eez always zo important
to choose ze right colors. If you end up being killed because of ze
time you’ve wasted, you will certainly be a beautiful corpse,” Fleur
said, blinking her long lashes.

Narcissa huffed indignantly, crossing her arms over her chest.

“I’ll go,” Shannon said, stepping forward and looking as if she’d had
more than enough excitement for one night.

“Bon,” Fleur said. “Go, now.”

Shannon glanced at George who nodded and handed Ginny’s purple pet
Pygmy Puff to her. “Go ahead and take Arnold. We’ll be right behind

“I’ll go check on the girls,” Fred said, tearing his eyes away from
Narcissa as if deciding she wouldn’t pose any more of a problem.

“I’ll come with you,” Harry said just as the entire house shook from
the force of a blast somewhere on the street. Harry had to grab the
door jam to stay upright. Glasses and dishes fell from the shelves as
cabinet doors opened wide, swinging on the hinges. Fleur stumbled with
the Floo powder and would have dropped it without Bill’s steadying arm.

“Looks like they’re here,” Fred mumbled, his eyes wide.

“Mother, go, now,” Draco said, sounding panicked. He pushed his mother
towards the fireplace and nearly jumped in after her.

“Ginny! Hermione!” Harry called, sprinting out the door, Fred on his

The house shook again, knocking Fred and Harry to their knees. Harry
was certain he heard the sound of the front door imploding. Looking up,
he could see Ginny and Hermione on the stairs. The tremors from the
last blast had caused both girls to lose their footing, and they had to
grasp the railing to keep from plunging to the bottom.
“Who dares to disturb the sanctuary of my father’s house?” Mrs. Black
began screeching from behind the curtains that had been sealed over her
portrait. They still hadn’t managed to find a way to remove her from
the wall, but the curtains had at least hidden their activity from her
view. “Blood traitors, vermin, scum….Mudbloods! All invading the
pristine beauty of the home of my ancestors.”

Scrambling to his feet, Harry sprinted to the hallway where he had a
clear aim at the entrance hall but could still remain behind the cover
of the wall. He pointed his wand at the open hole where the door had
once been and managed to Stun the first two Death Eaters who emerged.
He kept his aim and continued firing, but it soon proved futile as
there were entirely too many of them. They entered headquarters like a
row of worker ants, demolishing anything in their path.

The house rattled and shook every few moments, and Harry wondered what
was being done to the outside. Obviously the Death Eaters weren’t
trying to hide their activities from the Muggles, and he thought he
could faintly hear police sirens in the distance.

He and Fred tried to cover the stairway from the attacking Death Eaters
to give the girls time to regain their footing and continue their
descent. A well-aimed Blasting Curse impeded their progress when it hit
the railing, demolishing it. Harry felt his breath catch in his throat
as he watched Hermione tumble over the side while Ginny fell down the
remainder of the stairs. She landed with a thump at the bottom,
clutching her knee.

Hermione managed to grab hold of the ruined railing, but she dangled
precariously above the entrance hall, and several of the Death Eaters
had already taken aim. Her legs swung wildly as she tried to reach the
stairs to hoist herself back to the landing. Harry attempted to cover
her with a Shielding Charm as he began firing hexes as the closest
Death Eaters. Hermione screamed when a Blasting Curse exploded on the
stairway near her left ear. Harry didn’t think she’d be able to hold on
much longer.

Battered and bruised, Ginny pulled herself to her feet just as Fred
sprinted past her.

“I’ll help Hermione, you just get to the kitchen,” he said, nodding
towards the door where Crookshanks had just sprinted.

Ginny nodded resolutely, dragging her leg behind her as she clutched
the wall for support. Her gaze locked on Harry as she limped through
the kitchen door. “Be safe,” she mouthed before disappearing from

Harry continued to fire spells as he tried to cover Fred and Hermione.
Fred had scrambled up the stairs and grabbed Hermione’s wrists, ducking
beneath the stray spells that Harry was unable to block. Hermione was
so panicked, however, she wouldn’t let go of the railing and let Fred
pull her over the edge. The Death Eaters continued to advance, and
Harry was growing weary from the energy required to keep up his shield.
He leaned against the wall, wishing a stray curse would hit Mrs.
Black’s portrait and shut her up once and for all. She continued to
shout orders and instructions at the incoming Death Eaters, despite the
fact she couldn’t see what was happening. Harry was flung backwards
when a spell hit his shoulder, the same one that was still sore from
the previous day. Pain radiated down his arm, causing him to grit his
teeth to keep from crying out.

Suddenly, a volley of curses blasted towards the Death Eaters, catching
them unaware and causing them to scatter for cover. Harry glanced up to
see Ron standing in the kitchen doorway with a murderous glint in his
eye. He kept one eye on Fred and Hermione as he blasted anyone who
moved within striking distance.

Harry grinned, never so happy in his life to see Ron. Hoisting himself
back to his feet, he once again renewed his powerful shield. He could
almost feel the room crackling with magic, but knew he must be
imagining it.

As if seeing Ron battling Death Eaters had given Hermione the courage
to let go, she released the railing and allowed Fred to pull her to
safety. She held onto his neck so tightly that Harry wasn’t certain
he’d ever be able to peel her off. Hermione had never liked heights
very much. Fred wrapped his arm around her and half-carried her down
the stairs.

“We’ll cover you,” Ron shouted, carefully watching their progress.
“Just get her out of here.”

“Come right behind us, little brother,” Fred said, pulling Hermione
through the kitchen door. Hermione leaned over Fred’s shoulder and
blasted two Death Eaters before the door closed behind her.

Ron and Harry continued to hold back the approaching herd with
everything they had. Curses flew back and forth, creating rainbow-like
reflections in the windows. Harry could see the flashing lights of
Muggle police and rescue vehicles outside and wondered if they’d even
be able to see the house. Had the wards and protections failed that

Once they’d given Fred and Hermione the time to escape, Ron provided
cover while Harry, again cradling his arm against his body, sprinted
toward the kitchen. A Death Eater blasted a hole through the wall where
he’d just been standing, forcing him to take a running dive through the
air to reach the safety of the kitchen.

Another blast hit the ceiling above Ron, causing a barrage of debris to
fall upon his head. A bright streak of blood appeared above Ron’s
eyebrow before he sprinted after Harry.

“You fools! Don’t give them the opportunity to escape,” Snape’s voice
sounded clearly from the entrance hall.

Harry froze, turning back. There was no way he was going to allow Snape
to get away with this destruction of Sirius’s house.
“Let it go, Harry,” Ron said, grabbing Harry firmly by the shoulders as
if reading his mind. “We’re way too outnumbered here; the odds aren’t
in our favor. There’ll be another fight on another day.”

Harry knew Ron was right, but it galled him to admit it. Scowling and
clutching his injured arm tighter to his body, he nodded curtly. Ron
patted him on the shoulder.

The two friends stumbled toward the fireplace just as a large, unmasked
Death Eater destroyed the kitchen door. Harry grabbed the Floo powder
and tossed it as Ron pushed both of them into the fireplace. The Death
Eater followed right on their heels, and Harry swore he could feel the
man’s hand on the back of his neck as the spinning sensation of Floo
travel took him away.

Both boys fell out of the fireplace onto the floor of the Hog’s Head in
a tangle of limbs. Harry had just managed to roll onto his back and
raise his wand before the Death Eater followed them out of the
fireplace. He tumbled out, tripping over Ron’s long legs and landing on
the floor on top of him.

“Expelliarmus,” Harry shouted, grabbing the wand as it sailed from the
Death Eater’s grasp before he could stop it.

Ron pushed him off his legs, scrambling backwards and away from the
unarmed Death Eater, pulling Harry to his feet at the same time.

“Close the Floo, now!” Moody barked, raising his wand.

The tall barkeep that Harry recognized as Aberforth Dumbledore waved
his wand toward the fireplace. Several more people standing around the
center of the pub aimed their wands at the opening

“It’s been sealed,” Aberforth said, nodding.

Without another word or glance at the various people who had entered
his pub with their wands drawn, he returned to his position behind the
bar and began wiping glasses. The pub wasn’t crowded at this late hour,
but the scattered patrons who were inside watched the proceedings with

“Amycus Carrow,” Moody growled, glaring at the man who remained seated
on the floor. “How nice of you to join us.”

The lumpy-looking man glanced up and leered, his tongue lolling from
the side of his mouth. “So, you’ve got me, eh, Moody? And what do you
propose to do with me? You lot don’t have the guts to kill me
outright, and the Ministry isn’t exactly cooperating with you these
days, is it?”

He moved to stand, but Moody leveled his wand directly between the
man’s eyes. “Don’t tempt me,” Moody said, unblinking.

The man stared for a moment before sinking back to a seated position on
the floor.
“He’s right,” Bill said. “We can’t turn him over to the Ministry, so
maybe we should just take care of him right here.” Bill had a manic
gleam in his eye that Harry had never before seen in him. He wondered
how close it was to the full moon.

“You could,” Aberforth said without looking up from the glass he was
drying. “But then, you wouldn’t much be following what my brother stood
for, would you?”

Bill cursed beneath his breath. “What do we do, then?”

“I could take him to ze Ministry,” Fleur said. “They haven’t issued ze
warrant for me, yet.”

“No. I’ll do it,” a woman said, rising from her chair at the back of
the pub and moving forward. She removed the cloak from her head to
reveal herself as Rosmerta, the barkeep from the Three Broomsticks,
Hogsmeade’s other pub.

“Madam Rosmerta,” Bill said, surprised.

“Minerva asked me to be an extra pair of eyes here tonight,” Rosmerta
said, nodding at Aberforth. “I can take this scum to the Ministry.”

Moody shook his head. “You can’t. Umbridge will muck it up, and it will
only implicate you as having ties to us,” he said, growling in disgust.

“I won’t take him to Umbridge,” Rosmerta said, her eyes gleaming
brightly as an ugly smile twisted her normally attractive face. “I have
several friends in positions of authority on the Wizengamot. I know too
many of their secrets for them to want me brought in for questioning.”

Moody grinned, nodding his approval.

Carrow scowled at everyone. “It won’t be enough to hold me.”

Rosmerta put a hand to her head in an overly dramatized pose. “Why,
sirs, I believe I’ve had some of my memory about the night I was placed
under the Imperius come back to me. It must have been the shock of
seeing his face again. I know how you’ve all been concerned about who
did that to me, and what they might have learned when they did.”

Moody chuckled. “I think that just might work, Rosie. You convinced

“Why thank you, dearie,” Rosmerta said, batting her heavy black
eyelashes. “You didn’t think I’d allow that little stunt to go
unchecked forever, did you?”

“You all think you’re so clever,” Amycus said, sneering. “You’re no
better than the rest of us. You gave up one of your own tonight without
any qualms. Looks like he might have even been family to some of you.”

“That’s enough,” Bill said, moving forward and holding his wand on the
prisoner. “Shut your mouth. Okay, Rosmerta, take him in. Hagrid, let’s
get the rest of them up to the school.”
Hagrid nodded, his eyes shifting as he wrung his cap in his hands. He
nodded towards the table of Slytherins, indicating they should follow

“Wait a minute,” George said, shoving Bill aside. “What is he on

“Who did we give up?” Fred asked, moving to stand next to George.

“No one. He’s trying to cause trouble. Don’t let him,” Bill said,
attempting to pull the twins away so Rosmerta could reach Amycus.

Harry felt a knot of fear in his belly. He looked across the room at
Ginny, whose eyes were wide and glued on her brothers. All the Weasley
boys stood tensely, waiting with bated breath.

“The Ministry worker who gave us the location of your headquarters. Too
bad about that Unbreakable Vow he took. Killed him right quickly, it
did,” Amycus said gleefully.

It wasn’t so much the Death Eater’s words as Bill’s reaction to them
that let Harry know it was true. The eldest Weasley brother appeared to
sag, shutting his eyes tightly as if to block out the words. Fleur
moved to him and began rubbing his back consolingly.

Harry had thought Bill had been acting strangely all night, now he knew
the reason. Percy was dead; the Weasleys had lost one of their own.

“It’s true?” George asked, staring at Bill as the color drained from
his face.

“Oui,” Fleur replied. “Your fazzer got word before we evacuated.”

Ron and the twins all stood motionless, as if struggling to process
this new information. It was Ginny who finally spoke.

“Does Mum know?”

Her voice sounded strange – not at all like her own. Harry moved across
the room and stood behind her, resting his hand on her shoulder. She
reached up and grasped his fingers, but kept her eyes firmly on Bill.

“I don’t know,” Bill replied. “I reckon Dad’s probably told her by

“They’re up at the castle. Professor McGonagall sent me ter bring yer
all up ter Gryffindor tower. Yer folks are probably there,” Hagrid said

“You can all boo hoo over one less blood traitor later,” Draco said,
sneering. “For now, I don’t fancy risking my own neck by staying here
any longer than necessary.”

“Shut your pie hole, Malfoy,” Ron said, turning and shoving the
Slytherin backwards. Draco stumbled several steps before landing on the
The tone of Ron’s voice let Harry know that his friend was close to
exploding, even without his trademark red ears. Ron’s skin was pale,
and his eyes had a hard, deadened look to them that almost made Harry
worry for Malfoy’s safety. Not that he didn’t think Malfoy deserved a
good thrashing, but now wasn’t the time, and he didn’t think it would
do any of the Weasleys much good, anyway.

“Take him out of here, Hagrid,” Harry said, jerking his head toward
Malfoy. “We’re right behind you.”

Hagrid nodded and quickly pulled Draco off the floor, lifting him off
his feet in the process.

“Unhand me,” Draco said, spluttering as he pulled free of Hagrid’s

“I will not have my son mistreated,” Narcissa said, jumping up to stand
between Hagrid and Draco.

“I’d treat Hagrid kindly, if I were you, Mrs. Malfoy,” Fred said, a
dangerous glint in his eye, “since he’s going to be the only thing
standing between you and whatever else is out there on the walk to
Hogwarts’ gates. If your son insists on mouthing off to anyone older
than a Hogwarts’ second-year, he needs to learn to handle the fallout
without his mummy’s interference.”

“But now isn’t the time,” Anastasia Parkinson said firmly, speaking for
the first time. “Narcissa and Draco, follow Hagrid outside, please.
Iris, Pansy, you, too.” She began ushering all the Slytherins towards
the door with a no-nonsense attitude. Hagrid gave a slight nod to the
Weasleys before hurrying out the door.

“Ron,” Harry said, keeping one hand on Ginny’s shoulder while laying
his other on Ron’s and squeezing gently.

Ron jerked away and glared at Harry but appeared to deflate just as
quickly. He stumbled more than walked towards the table where Hermione
sat petting Crookshanks, watching him closely with tear-filled eyes. He
slumped into the chair next to her, breathing deeply.

“We need to get up to the castle, as well,” Moody said, glancing
uncomfortably at all the Weasleys.

Harry wrapped his good arm around Ginny’s waist, and helped support her
as she limped towards the doorway. He struggled for a moment with their
rucksacks before Fleur and Bill easily lifted them for him. Together
with Ginny’s family, they made the long, quiet trek up to the castle,
each person lost in their own thoughts as they clung together. Harry
didn’t think the walk had ever taken so long.


By the time they’d entered Hogwarts’ front doors, Harry was nearly
supporting Ginny’s full weight. She’d twisted her knee in the fall, and
it was now swollen to twice its normal size. He could see it bulging
beneath her jeans and knew the constriction of the fabric must be hurting her terribly. She hadn’t complained at all, and her silence
worried him.

His concern for her and the rest of the Weasleys had overridden his
apprehension about returning to Hogwarts, and now he was simply glad to
be home. He might not be able to do anything for Ginny’s deeper,
emotional wounds, but he could at least alleviate the physical ones.

“I’m going to take Ginny up to the Infirmary,” he said, addressing the
group. “I think Ron and Hermione need some healing, as well.”

Ron’s head was still bleeding, and Hermione appeared ready to collapse
on her feet. She wobbled as she leaned against Ron’s broad chest.

“No,” Mad Eye growled. “We’ve wasted too much time already. The
Ministry could be here at any moment, and we all need to be safely
tucked away. Go on up to Gryffindor tower. We’ll get Poppy to treat you
all there. Potter, that arm of yours needs tending, as well.”

Harry couldn’t argue that they had wasted lots of time, and his arm was
throbbing painfully. The weary group of travelers climbed up to the
seventh floor and found Professor McGonagall anxiously peering around
the corner from her position in front of the portrait of the Fat Lady.

“Good Heavens! It’s about time. What took you so long?” she asked, her
gaze raking over them and lingering on Ginny and Hermione. Her eyes
softened, and she rubbed her nose with a handkerchief while she counted

“We were delayed, but we’re all present and accounted for now,” Moody

Professor McGonagall nodded, straightening her shoulders. “All right,
then. I’ve told Filius to intercept the Ministry when they arrive.
He’ll tell them that I left on holiday and haven’t returned. Hagrid
said there were injuries; he’s gone to fetch Poppy,” she said briskly.
Turning towards the Fat Lady, she said, “Sanctuary.”

The Fat Lady swung open, admitting them inside Gryffindor tower. The
fire was blazing in the hearth and despite the tense circumstances,
Harry felt as if he’d come home. Mrs. Weasley sat by the fire, a well-
worn lace handkerchief clutched in her hand. Her head rested on Mr.
Weasley’s shoulder as he absently ran his hand along her back, staring
into the flames. The group of Slytherins sat huddled by the window,
staring at the Gryffindor common room with open curiosity.

“Mum,” Ginny whispered, sounding very young as she limped toward her

Mrs. Weasley turned, startled. “Oh, Ginny,” she cried, a flood of tears
filling her eyes. She jumped up from the couch and ran to her daughter,
enfolding her in her arms.

Harry stood back awkwardly, uncertain what he should do.
Mr. Weasley walked over to his sons, embracing each of them in turn
before clapping Harry on the back. “You had trouble,” he said, glancing
at the various injuries.

“We’re all okay,” Bill said. “Death Eaters got inside Headquarters, but
we all got out with only minor injuries. One of them followed Harry and
Ron through the Floo, but we got him.”

Shannon helped Hermione to a chair and sank down beside her. Harry
moved to sit with them, hoping to give the Weasleys some privacy.

“Hagrid said you’ve all heard the news,” Mrs. Weasley said, wiping her
nose as she helped Ginny to the couch. Ginny kept her head on her
mother’s shoulder, tears streaming silently down her cheeks.

“The Death Eater told us that Percy was…that Percy was dead,” she
whispered, huddling closer to her mother.

Mrs. Weasley’s face broke, and she buried it in Ginny’s hair.

Fred and George each laid hands on their fathers’ shoulders and led him
to a chair while Fleur wrapped her arms around Bill. Ron moved towards
Hermione, and although he silently took her hand tightly in his own,
his face remained impassive. He stared straight ahead, but Harry didn’t
think he was really paying attention to any of them.

“I’m certain we’ll have some more substantial information when Tonks
arrives,” Moody said, gruffly clearing his throat. He’d remained in the
shadows by the portrait hole, speaking with Professor McGonagall in
hushed whispers.

“You!” Mrs. Weasley shrieked, startling them all. She let go of Ginny
and stood, pointing a shaky finger toward Moody. “I knew that
Unbreakable Vow was a mistake, but you insisted. You made my little boy
make that promise.”

“Molly,” Mr. Weasley said, moving to take her in his arms, but she
jerked free.

“Don’t you dare ‘Molly’ me,” she snarled, her face crumpling. “He made
Percy take that horrible Vow, and look what’s happened to my baby. They
probably tortured him to get their information.”

Moody shifted on his feet and appeared as if he would respond, but
Professor McGonagall placed a restraining hand on his arm.

“We don’t know that, Mum,” George said, although he couldn’t meet her
eyes. “Don’t think about it now. For all we know, it could have just
been an accidental slip.”

“Unless he gave it to them willingly,” Ron said darkly, his face
turning scarlet.

Several of the Weasleys shouted in protest, but Ron stared back
defiantly. “Don’t tell me the thought hasn’t crossed any of your minds.
Percy hasn’t exactly been the most reliable bloke, lately.”
The others shifted uncomfortably without meeting anyone’s eyes. The
suspicion in the room – although unspoken – was palpable.

Mrs. Weasley collapsed in a puddle on the floor, sobbing hysterically.

Ron winced. His lower lip beginning to tremble, before he jumped from
his chair and fled up the stairs towards the boys’ dormitory. Hermione
stood shakily, as if to follow him, but Bill stopped her.

“I’ll go, Hermione; you need to see Madam Pomfrey,” he said quietly.

Hermione sniffled and leaned her head onto Harry’s shoulder, bursting
into tears. Harry awkwardly wrapped his arm around her and patted her
on the back, feeling extremely uncomfortable.

When Madam Pomfrey arrived in the tower, she walked straight toward
Hermione, pushing Harry out of the way with her no-nonsense attitude.
He moved to the couch where Ginny was seated, clutching her uninjured
knee to her chest and looking so forlorn that it broke his heart.
Wanting desperately to comfort her, but uncertain how, he spotted her
rucksack lying on the floor where she’d dropped it.

He knelt beside it and unzipped the top, rummaging inside until he’d
found what he was seeking. Ginny, he discovered, packed just like Ron
with no order whatsoever. Moving back to Ginny, he sat down beside her
and pulled her close, handing Snot to her with a sad smile.

Ginny sniffed but smiled tremulously as she took the bear in her arms.
“He really is a stupid-looking bear, isn’t he?” she asked with a small

“Er…just a bit,” Harry replied, tugging on one of Snot’s lumpy ears.

“Oh, Harry. I don’t know what to think. Percy could be a prat, but he
was our prat. Poor Mum. I don’t know what this is going to do to her,”
she said, putting her head on Harry’s shoulder.

Harry remembered Mrs. Weasley’s Boggart and shuddered, knowing she was
living through her worst fear. He hoped she’d find a way to survive it,
too. He hoped they all would.


The next several days passed in a blur for Harry. Tonks had finally
arrived at Hogwarts, informing them all of the sketchy details
surrounding Percy’s death. According to her source, Severus Snape was
seen at the Ministry that night, and Percy had been called to a private
meeting. No one knew exactly what went on behind the closed doors, but
the meeting had ended with Percy’s dead body and an enraged Severus

An examination of Percy’s body had revealed that he had indeed been
tortured, but from Snape’s angry demeanor, it was suspected that Percy
hadn’t given up the information that the former Potions master was
This was both a relief and a new source of misery to the Weasley
family. Percy hadn’t betrayed them, after all. In fact, he’d apparently
given his own life while trying to protect them, but he’d died before
they’d ever truly had the chance to mend their row. Mrs. Weasley was
taking it the hardest, and Madam Pomfrey had been regularly giving her
a Calming Draught. The rest of the family was also struggling in their
own way.

Charlie had arrived from Romania and attempted to get the Ministry to
release Percy’s body to him, but the Ministry had refused. They wanted
to speak with Arthur and Molly and demanded to know their whereabouts.
Charlie had insisted he didn’t know and had barely escaped before a
warrant was issued for his arrest, as well.

While Bill, Fred, George and Ginny appeared to be coming to terms with
it, Ron was expressing his grief in anger. His temper boiled over
quickly, and he constantly snapped at everyone. Fred and George were
far less boisterous than usual, and Harry had spotted each of them
blankly staring off into space on numerous occasions.

The one thing that had struck him most about the Weasley grieving
process was the way they all clung together, apparently gaining support
from one another’s company. Even Ron, with his foul mood, chose to stay
in the room and argue with his siblings rather than seek the solace of
his room. Harry remembered how he had felt after Sirius died – he’d
want company, but as soon as he had it, he’d feel the need to be alone.
None of the Weasleys wanted to be alone at all.

Harry, Ron, Charlie, Fred and George were all sharing a single room in
the boys’ dormitory. Bill and Fleur were on another floor, with Mr. and
Mrs. Weasley taking a third. Ginny had told him she was bunking in the
girls’ dormitory with Hermione and Shannon. Harry still hadn’t figured
out exactly where Moody was staying. The Slytherin women were all
sharing one of the girls’ dormitories, but Draco had refused to room
with any of the Gryffindor boys. Instead, he’d taken the first-year
boys’ dorm all on his own.

One afternoon, after another row among the Weasleys over the Ministry’s
refusal to release Percy’s body, Harry discovered the flying carpet
that he’d found amidst Dung’s belongings rolled up at the bottom of his
rucksack. Pulling it out with a delighted grin, he gathered Ron,
Hermione and Ginny and told them to follow him out to the Quidditch

“Honestly, Harry,” Hermione said, grumpily blowing a stray lock of hair
from her mouth. “I don’t want to go to the Quidditch pitch. Whatever it
is you want to show us, I’m certain we’ve seen you do it a hundred
times already. We all know you can fly. I want to make use of our time
here and do some research in the library.”

“You haven’t seen this,” Harry said, continuing to smile as he marched
toward the pitch. “We’ve been holed up in the library since we got
here, Hermione. I think we all need some stress relief.”

He could see that he’d piqued Ginny’s curiosity, and Ron was always up
for a trip to the pitch. It was only the fact that he hadn’t brought his broom that kept Hermione moving, however. He had the carpet wrapped
in the Invisibility Cloak and tucked firmly underneath his arm.

“Of course I’ve been there a lot,” Hermione said crossly. “The Hogwarts
library is extensive, and now that I’m of age, I can get anything I
want out of the Restricted Section.”

“If you want to go back in an hour, I won’t stop you,” Harry said,
rolling his eyes. “This is something that might interest you, Hermione.
It’s something I inherited from Sirius. I found it at Dung’s place, and
I nicked it back.”

“You didn’t nick it if it’s yours,” Hermione said, furrowing her brow.
“You didn’t mention taking anything but the locket.”

Ron’s eyes opened wide, suddenly alight. “Blimey, Harry…I forgot. Can I
have a go after you?”

“A go with what?” Ginny asked, her head moving back and forth between

Harry stopped when they reached the pitch. “With this,” he said,
removing the Invisibility Cloak and revealing the flying carpet hidden

“Wicked,” Ron said, eyeing it appreciatively.

“Wow, Harry!” Ginny said, “How could you have forgot to mention this?”

“Those are illegal,” Hermione said, but Harry could tell it was simply
an automatic response. She ran her hands along the fabric
inquisitively, examining each side.

“I know, but I can’t imagine Sirius’s family paid much attention to the
laws, anyway. I think they were kind of like the Malfoys and thought
they were above them,” Harry replied.

“Sirius wouldn’t have cared anyway,” Ron said, sniggering. “Didn’t you
tell me he also charmed a motorbike to fly?”

“Yeah,” Harry said, grinning. “That’s how Hagrid first brought me to
Privet Drive. I used to have dreams about flying motorbikes as a child,
never imagining it might have actually been a real memory. The Dursleys
forbade me to mention it.”

“How does it work?” Hermione asked.

“No clue,” Harry replied, grinning. “Should be fun to find out,
though.” He placed the carpet on the ground, laying it out flat. “I
think we can all fit.”

“I’m not getting on that thing! You don’t even know how to fly it,”
Hermione said, exasperated.

“Never stopped me before,” Harry said, dropping to his knees. It
couldn’t be that hard. When he’d learned to fly a broomstick, he’d
simply had to say ‘up’ and the rest had come naturally.
“Up,” he said.

Nothing happened, although he thought he detected ripple of power
course through the fabric.

Ron sniggered while both Ginny and Hermione tried to suppress giggles.

“Give me a minute,” he said. Remaining on his knees, he leaned over so
his hands rested on the edge of the carpet. He shut his eyes, allowing
his body to relax.

“Up,” he repeated, and this time it worked.

The carpet rose in the air rather shakily, creasing and folding and
causing him to almost lose his balance as he shifted his weight. It
took him a few minutes, but he caught on rather quickly. Leaning from
side to side controlled the movement and pulling the front up or down
controlled the height. It wasn’t nearly as streamlined as a broomstick,
and it didn’t react to his lightest touch the way his Firebolt did, but
it was enjoyable nonetheless.

He whooped as he gathered speed, looping around and through the
Quidditch hoops. Once he was certain he could control it, he sped down
and pulled up short in front of his friends, grinning madly.

“How is it?” Ginny asked, her eyes glowing.

“It looked brilliant,” Ron said, smiling in a way Harry hadn’t seen
since he’d been informed of Percy’s death.

“It’s not as good as a broomstick, but it certainly beats a Portkey,”
Harry said, grinning. “Climb on.”

Ginny needed no further encouragement. She sat down next to him,
resting her hand on his thigh and sending jolts of electricity down his

Ron sat behind him and held his hand out to a reluctant Hermione.

“I don’t know about this,” she said, sitting down gingerly. “I’m really
not very fond of heights.”

“I remember,” Harry laughed. “It’s easier than Buckb…er…Witherwings,
Hermione. At least the carpet won’t bite your hand off.”

“That’s not very encouraging,” Hermione said, yelping as Harry pulled
on the edge of the carpet, causing it to rise sharply in the air.

She shrieked as Harry continued to increase the speed, soaring high
above the pitch and zooming out over the lake. Ginny’s laughter only
encouraged Harry to climb higher.

Hermione shrieked again, burying her face in Ron’s jacket. Ron wrapped
his arms around her, pulling her close, grinning from ear to ear.

“Just relax and enjoy it, Hermione,” Ron shouted over the wind.
“Enjoy it!” Hermione screamed, her voice only slightly muffled as she
clung to Ron’s chest. “Enjoy it! I hate flying!”

Harry aimed the carpet at the top of the Astronomy tower, whooping with
glee as they caught a strong wind that pushed them along. It wasn’t
nearly as fast as his Firebolt, but being able to share the experience
with the others was new and exciting.

He soared around the castle, diving in and out of the turrets. He
skimmed over the forest and waved to Grawp when they spotted the young
giant pulling some trees out by their roots. Finally, conceding to
Hermione’s screams, Harry landed on the Quidditch pitch, feeling
happier than he had in days.

“That was brilliant,” Ginny said, her nose and cheeks pink from the
cold. Her eyes were sparkling, and Harry felt pleased he could give
that to her. When he’d been sad after losing both Sirius and
Dumbledore, flying had always helped him feel better, too.

Hermione, on the other hand, appeared more than happy to be back on the
ground. She’d scrambled off the carpet after they’d landed,
straightening her wig. Harry half expected her to lean over and kiss
the ground.

“Didn’t you enjoy it at all, Hermione?” Harry asked, feeling a little

Hermione took a deep breath. “Well,” she said, shrugging. “I really
don’t like to be up so high, but it was nice to spend the time with all
of you.”

“But now you want to go back to the library,” Ron said, finishing her

Hermione crinkled her nose. “Well…”

“It’s all right. I want to give it a go myself, then I’ll meet you for
supper,” Ron said.

Hermione frowned, creasing her brow. “I suppose…” she said, trailing
her words.

“Suppose what?” Ron asked, clearly confused.

“Well, it’s a long walk back to the castle, and I am rather cold. Do
you suppose you could give me a lift?”

Ron’s face beamed with happiness. “You want me to give you a ride? On
the carpet?” he asked, delighted.

Hermione nodded warily. “Only don’t go as high as Harry did.”

Harry took Ginny’s hand and moved back. “It’s all yours. We’ll wait
here,” he said, grinning.
Ron and Hermione climbed on and began floating slowly toward the
castle. Harry created a small fireball to keep Ginny and him warm while
they awaited Ron’s return. Ginny’s smile slowly faded, and she grew
quiet as she warmed her hands over it.

“All right, Ginny?” Harry asked quietly, gently nudging her with his

“I’m okay,” she said. “It’s strange. Sometimes, I get so involved in
whatever I’m doing that I forget. Then when I remember, I feel guilty
for forgetting. Does that make any sense?”

Harry smiled tightly. “Perfectly.”

Ginny nodded. “I suppose you would know.”

“Yeah,” Harry said. “Try not to feel guilty, Ginny. I know what that
must sound like coming from me, but I also know the guilt can eat you
alive, and there’s still absolutely nothing you can do to change what’s

“I know that,” Ginny said, throwing her hands in the air. “But I still
wish I’d said something more to him before it was too late. We talked
at Christmas, but just barely. He was my brother, and I was so angry
with him. Now he’s gone, and I’ll never have the chance to set things
to rights.”

Harry watched, dismayed, as a single tear fell slowly down Ginny’s
cheek. Reaching out a finger, he gently wiped it away.

“I know,” he said, his throat aching. “But you know what? No matter
how much time you had, or how much you could have said, the ache would
still be there now. I don’t think there’s ever enough time.”

Ginny leaned her head on Harry’s shoulder. “Thanks, Harry. I love my
family to bits, but sometimes it’s hard to get away from them.”

Harry nodded. “Yeah, I’ve noticed.” A thought occurred to him, and he
abruptly stood, holding out his hand to her. “Come with me. I’ve
someplace I want to show you.”

Ginny glanced at him curiously, but she took his hand and followed him,
nonetheless. As they walked along the edge of the lake, they could see
Ron soaring above. Harry chuckled watching as Ron’s long legs dangled
off either side of the carpet.

“He’s having fun,” Ginny said, smiling. “Thanks for doing that for him,
Harry. I think Ron is having the hardest time of all, since he never
really even spoke to Percy after he came back.”

“I know,” Harry said quietly. “Part of that is my fault.”

“Your fault?” Ginny said, startled. “How could it be your fault?”

“Percy sent Ron a letter at the beginning of our fifth year, warning
him away from me. He said Ron would do better to cut his ties. Ron never hesitated and destroyed the letter,” Harry said, smiling fondly.
“He chose me,” he whispered, blinking the sudden moisture from his

“Well, of course he did. It’s not your fault Percy was being a prat,”
Ginny said, firing up at once. “Even Percy saw that at the end. That’s
what upsets me the most – that he did realize his mistake, but he
wasted all that time that we could have had him in the family. It
shouldn’t have been that way.”

“No, it shouldn’t. Voldemort has a knack for destroying families.
Here,” he said, pointing to a spot by the lake that was well secluded
with brush. It was a small, peaceful clearing with a nice view of the

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