Ginny’s head snapped up as she heard his voice. “Oh, yes. I’m just writing to my… to my parents. I didn’t feel…” here she halted for effect and cast her face down.
Theodore sat down next to her and patted her hand reassuringly. “I understand. It is hard to break ties with your family, even if you don’t agree with what they are doing.”
“At least your dad hasn’t kicked you out,” Ginny muttered darkly, hoping to get some sort of reaction from him.
Instead he just chuckled. “He can’t chuck me out. I’m his only heir and that gives me a bit of leeway to disagree with him, although not much. I’m the last in the Nott line, after all.”
“Yes, well there are a bunch of us so I can’t really be missed, but I still want to write.” She glanced at him, looking extra pitiful. “You don’t think it is a bad idea, do you?”
He shrugged, reclining back into the couch. “I suppose it depends on what you’re saying.”
Ginny read her letter to him and watched him nod approvingly. “Should I send it then?”
“Yes,” he agreed and stood, holding out a hand for the letter. “I’ll post it straight away.”
“Harry, Neville is awake,” Hermione said happily as she read the morning post. Harry and Ron both grinned as they looked up from their breakfast. “Your mum says he’s talking and seems to be all right, although he doesn’t remember much. I’m not sure if that’s from what happened or just his natural forgetfulness. She said she’s going to spend most of the morning with him before coming back to start on the preparations for Christmas Eve.” She sat down and flipped over the other letter that had come from a strange owl. “Oh,” she whispered. “It’s from Ginny.”
Harry choked on his cold cereal and Ron dropped his spoon. “What does she have to say?” Ron asked as he reached down for his spoon.
Hermione slowly opened the letter and scanned it before sighing heavily. “Not much, I’m afraid. I can tell that she expected this to be read by someone other than us.”
“Well?” Harry pushed impatiently. He was longing to know what she was up to, especially since his dreams about their future were getting more and more vivid as each night passed.
“She says,” Hermione began to read, “Dear Weasleys. It is Christmas and I didn’t want you to think that you are not in my thoughts. It is the season for forgiveness so I’m choosing to forgive you for all of your mistakes, although I won’t be returning. I don’t agree with what you are doing and I won’t pretend any longer. Please understand that I’m doing what is best for all of us. I am well here and safe. I’m being cared for and no one is making me feel like I am unwanted. That is more than I could have asked for after how I was treated in your home. My best over the holidays, Ginny.”
Harry just shook his head. What was she playing at? She could have not written at all and saved them a load of-
“Oh, of course,” Hermione breathed out softly, a smile lighting her face. “That’s exactly why she wrote it. Things must be getting rough there and she needs to convince them that she’s on their side.”
Ron grumbled darkly as Harry’s heart began to pound. He didn’t want her to be in trouble… he didn’t want her there at all, to be frank. “At least there hasn’t been any further mention of her and Nott getting married.”
“Oh, honestly,” Hermione snorted derisively. “That’s all the Daily Prophet’s tosh anyway. Ginny wouldn’t be able to pretend to love him. Even she’s not that good of an actress. Also,” here she glanced pointedly at Harry, “she isn’t about to crush you while she’s trying to help you. I think she knows how much you care about her and she’s not going to risk damaging that by going out with Nott.”
Harry hoped she was right although part of him doubted it. He hadn’t ever told her how he felt, so how could she know? He studied Hermione for a moment and shook his head. Hermione seemed to know all of these things, even without being told, so maybe Ginny did know and it was a secret that girls kept from blokes. Yes, Harry decided, that sounded just about right.
“Anyway, your Mum said to get the decorations out and make the place festive looking,” Hermione said, clearly trying to distract them from Ginny’s letter. “We should get started.”
It took them several hours to have the house decorated and they only finished it after Mrs. Weasley had returned home and started on supper. “Neville is fine,” she assured the three worried friends. “His great uncle is with him right now.”
After dinner, which Mr. Weasley did not make it home for, they went to sit by the large tree and wait for the family to arrive. Fred and George got there first, bringing in heaps of presents, which they placed beneath the tree before kissing their mother. “Hullo, Mum,” George said in greeting. “Sorry we’re late but last-minute shoppers kept pouring in.”
“Yes, lazy blokes who forgot to get anything for their children until tonight,” Fred added casually as he sat next to Hermione and put his arm around her.
She stared at him dumbly while Ron leapt to his feet. “Get your arm off of her!”
“Ron!” Hermione said reprovingly before rounding on Fred and shaking his arm off. “What do you want?”
Fred pretended to be wounded by her accusation before winking at her cheekily. “Can you show me how to do a Protean Charm correctly? I can’t seem to get it right.”
“All right,” Hermione agreed warily. “Just ask next time; no need to butter me up.”
“Right you are then,” Fred nodded and got up, sitting down next to his twin. They both crossed their arms in the same way and Harry had to hold back his laughter. “So will Bill and Fleur be joining us?”
“Yes,” Mrs. Weasley answered distractedly. She was staring at her clock, which she had set on the mantle. “I had an owl from them. They said they would be here tonight, after they got back from France.”
“Ah, well it’s a good thing that Ginny isn’t here then,” George replied. “I doubt she’d want to see our dear sister-in-law.”
Mrs. Weasley burst into tears and instantly Hermione was at her side, putting a comforting arm around her. “We had a letter from Ginny and it wasn’t all that nice.”
Harry, who’d stuck it in his pocket after they had showed it to Mrs. Weasley at dinner, handed it to the twins. They both read through it and handed it back to Harry.
“She’s under the Imperius Curse, Mum,” George assured her. “She’d never say that of her own free will.”
“Do…” Mrs. Weasley sniffed, “Do you really think so?”
“Oh yeah,” Fred agreed. “Ginny’s obviously been cursed and that’s why she was acting the way that she was before she left.
Instead of making her feel better, Mrs. Weasley only began to wail louder. “I should have known! She’s my baby girl!”
“You couldn’t know,” Hermione soothed, looking to Harry and Ron for help. “The Imperius Curse can be very difficult to detect if the caster is gifted.”
Harry could see that she was lying through her teeth but Mrs. Weasley seemed to lap it up. She hugged her and thanked them for keeping the house running before getting up to make cocoa.
Fred rounded on Hermione as soon as his mother was safely ensconced in the kitchen. “What a load of rubbish!”
“You’re a terrible liar, Hermione,” George agreed. “So that means you know what Ginny’s up to.”
Harry jumped to her aid before Ron could even get a word out of his mouth. “Back off, you two.”
Both twins turned to look at him in surprise. “I can’t believe it,” Fred whistled. “You don’t want to get her away from those Death Eaters?”
“‘Course I do!” Harry assured them instantly. “But whatever Hermione does or does not know is none of your business.”
Harry couldn’t believe his daring. Apparently neither could they. George, his face a healthy shade of puce, launched to his feet and strode over to Harry who involuntarily sank back into his seat. “She’s our sister!”
“Yeah?” Ron’s voice was cold as steel. “Well Harry’s in love with her so back off!”
George’s face, which was so close to Harry’s that he could smell his dinner, went slack in surprise. “Seriously?”
Fred marched over and pushed his brother to the side. “You’re in love with her?”
Harry looked between them and quickly made up his mind. “Yes and I’m telling you to leave it alone. I don’t like it either but unless you know how to find her-” A slight shift in Fred’s expression halted Harry from saying more. “Now who’s hiding something?”
Fred shrugged innocently and went back to his seat. George turned and marched over to the fireplace. “We know nothing, and if we did know something Ginny would be home.”
Harry glanced at Ron and Hermione and knew they were all thinking the same thing. They have their secrets and we have ours.
“Who wants some cocoa?” Mrs. Weasley asked as she bustled in. Moments later Mr. Weasley came through the door. “Arthur!” She quickly told him about Ginny’s letter which he asked to read.
He read through it several times and performed a few spells on it before handing it back to Harry with a ragged sigh. “Let’s turn on the wireless.”
“But Arthur!” Mrs. Weasley wrung her hands and looked imploringly up at him. “What if she’s under the Imperius Curse?”
He put a comforting arm around his wife and led her to the couch, pulling her down with him. “We can’t do anything without knowing where she is. We just have to hope that we can get her back soon. Ron, please turn on the wireless.”
They sat, listening to Celestina Warbeck’s annual Christmas concert in silence. Not even Mrs. Weasley had to the heart to sing along, but at least when Bill and Fleur showed up a few minutes before it ended, Fleur had to sense to sit quietly.
Arthur told them all to go to bed after it ended and they’d sat in silence for a few minutes. As they walked up the stairs Harry heard Mrs. Weasley start to cry. He heard her say, “Percy… Ginny…” but nothing else. He felt his own fears begin to claw to the surface as he climbed up to Ron’s room. Fred and George had claimed their old room for the night but Harry didn’t mind. He wasn’t sure he wanted to be alone just then anyway.
He and Ron got ready for bed and Harry got into the camp bed to stare up at the ceiling. He didn’t know what Ginny was doing right at that moment but all he could think about was how just a year ago they were in the same room at Christmas… of course then she had been with Dean. Now she was with Nott and he was reasonably certain that it was mostly his fault.
“Go to sleep, Harry,” Ron growled. “No sense in worrying about it now.”
“Night,” he muttered and turned onto his side, closing his eyes.
“Don’t Ginny!” Harry yelled, feeling his hand tremble as he aimed his wand at her. “Fight it!”
“Kill him!” Nott bellowed forcefully at her. “Kill him, now!”
Ginny’s mouth opened and he knew he couldn’t wait any longer. “Expelliarmus!” Her wand flew out of her fingers and Harry caught it just before ducking a Banishing Charm. He wasn’t fast enough to protect himself from losing the wands though.
“Expelliarmus!” Nott yelled and the two wands slipped from Harry’s fingers. Harry just stared in horror as the old man pointed his wand at Ginny. “Now, Potter, you will see what real pain is. Crucio!”
Harry screamed, fighting to his feet and running for the man, but he was Petrified before he’d even gone more than a few feet. He wanted to shout at the man to stop as Ginny writhed in agony on the floor, but his voice wouldn’t work.
Nott kept his wand on her for several more minutes and then lifted it and walked over to him. “Pain,” he instructed, “is watching the person you love slowly lose their mind.” He went to Ginny and flicked his wand at her so that she was on her feet once more but her entire body was twitching now. “Crucio!”
Harry roared in anguish as he saw her face contort in pain.
“Harry!” Ron’s voice shook him and Harry sat up in bed, feeling his stomach roll ominously. Ron seemed to be ready for this, as he held out a rubbish bin for him to vomit into. Harry took several breaths and pushed away the bin. “You all right, mate?”
He rubbed a hand over his scar, which was prickling. “Bad dream,” he croaked out. “That’s all.”
“It’s almost seven,” Ron informed him as he put on his robe. “Presents or breakfast?”
Harry saw that there was a stack of gifts at the end of his bed and felt a sad smile grace his lips. “Presents.”
Breakfast was an unusually somber affair. Not even Fred and George had the heart to take the mickey out of Ron for eating four helpings of sausages. After the large family breakfast two visitors arrived that brought a more festive mood to the gathering.
Remus knocked on the door, holding the gloved hand of Tonks who appeared to be blushing. “Thank you for inviting us, Molly,” Remus said as he hung up his tattered cloak.
He took Tonks’ cloak as she came to join them at the table, cradling a teacup between her frozen fingers. “It’s really cold out there, today.”
“Yes, I’ve heard we’re in for more snow,” Mrs. Weasley commented absently as she pulled back the curtain at the window over the kitchen sink.
“Excellent,” Fred piped up. “It means we can have a snowball fight.”
Fleur tutted disapprovingly but Bill ignored her. “I haven’t been in one of those in years.”
“Sorry boys,” Mr. Weasley said in a quelling voice. He barely glanced at Harry but suddenly he knew where this was going. “It isn’t safe to be outside of the house. I’m afraid the snowball fight will have to wait for another year.”
“You’re right,” Bill agreed instantly but Harry knew what they were all thinking. They weren’t going outside because of him.
He wanted to get up and leave but Remus cleared his throat. “Tonks and I have something we’d like to tell everyone.” Everyone watched them expectantly as Remus took a deep breath. “We’ve set a date for the wedding.”
There was instant pandemonium throughout the kitchen as Mrs. Weasley, Hermione and Fleur all squealed in delight and jumped on Tonks for details. Mr. Weasley, Bill and the twins all pumped Remus’ hand in congratulations while Harry sat frozen, completely stunned. He’d known for awhile that the two were engaged but it hadn’t really sunk in yet.
“Hey Harry,” Ron leaned in, breaking his stupor, “Do you reckon this means we’re going to have to dress up again?”
It was so ludicrous that Harry burst out laughing. He bent over, holding his sides as he laughed away all of the tensions of the day. When he finally managed to rein it in, it was to find that everyone was staring at him curiously. He grinned happily and slapped Ron on the back. “Just wait till you get married.”
Ron grumbled, Hermione blushed and Mrs. Weasley distracted them all by saying that the occasion called for a bottle of wine to celebrate.
She got out large goblets and Mr. Weasley dug out several bottles that were liberally coated in dust. “Here,” he said as he poured each of them a glass. For a minute Harry was surprised but Mr. Weasley just smiled and patted his shoulder. “You’re an adult now, Harry. You can join us for a toast.”
“To the future Mrs. Lupin,” Fred offered up first. “Not only will you have to change your last name but we’ll all have to call you Nymphadora and get hexed for our efforts.”
Tonks scowled at him but his bad joke was enough to get her smiling. “I’ll stick to Tonks, thanks.”
“You have to tell us about-” That was as far as Mrs. Weasley got before someone was pulling Harry to his feet and dragging him into the living room.
“Come on, oh and bring the wine,” Bill said pleasantly. “This is talk that will amuse the girls for hours.”
Harry had abandoned his half finished glass to listen to Bill tell stories about a tomb in Egypt. The wine was good but not exactly to his liking. “Are you going to finish that?” George had asked at one point and when Harry shook his head, he’d drained it. “Too good to waste.”
“Think they’re about done?” Ron fidgeted in his seat as he looked towards the kitchen.
Harry shrugged. Like Bill said, it could take awhile.
It ended up being almost an hour before the girls immerged form the kitchen, all smiling happily. Fleur went to sit with Bill, whispering sweet nothings in his ear. Hermione sat next to Ron, holding his hand and Tonks joined Remus on the couch next to Harry.
“Congratulations,” Harry told her sincerely. “So when are you getting married?”
Tonks looked to Remus who beamed at her. “This summer, in June, as long as things don’t get a lot worse.”
Harry nodded, understanding him completely. All the more reason to finish this as soon as I can… that and getting Ginny back. “So you decided on the day today, then?”
Remus chuckled softly. “Yes, I took a leaf out of your father’s book on that one actually.”
“What do you mean?” Harry glanced between them, confused.
“Your dad proposed to your mum on Christmas the first time,” he explained and then at Harry’s shocked face, he went on. “She said ‘no’ the first time, as they were still in school but then she changed her mind and said ‘yes’. They were married that following summer.”
“We’d been dithering about dates,” Tonks filled in as she gazed at Remus. The love in her eyes was so startlingly clear that a pang of envy hit Harry straight in the gut. He wanted Ginny looking at him like that. “So he said to me today that if we were going to do it, then we just should and I agreed.”
Harry grinned. “I’m really happy for you two. Are you going to have a kid right away, just like my parents did?”
“No!” They both shouted together, startling everyone. It was so perfectly together that it was comical.
Fleur excused herself to use the loo as Remus began to tell him another story but something out of the corner of his eye caught his attention. Bill walked over to his father and said something to him. Mr. Weasley shook his head. Bill’s next words were clear, “But the traitor-”
“No,” Mr. Weasley said as sternly as Harry had ever seen him. He checked to make sure that Mrs. Weasley was occupied in scolding the twins before adding, “Not on Christmas.”
Harry turned his attention fully back to Remus but his mind was buzzing. Bill had looked worried and so had Mr. Weasley. Had they found out about Ginny or were they worried about the one that the Order might have? Remus had suspected it, Ginny obviously thought there was one or she wouldn’t have risked her life to go live with Nott.
Before he could even register another thought, Mrs. Weasley’s voice rang out through the room. “Bed time!”
PLEASE NOTE! There is another missing moment, where Ginny arrives at the Nott's house, that can be located through my yahoo group. The link is in my profile and when you go to the group, click on Files to the left and the Final Flame folder. It's in there. Enjoy!!