18. The first challenge.
Sunday, November the first. All Saints Day in the Muggle calendar, though few actually celebrated it. For one household in Godric’s Hollow it would be a day to celebrate. A celebration of life in the face of death. The beginning of a great healing.
For most of his life, Harry Potter had been informed that every little thing that went wrong was his fault by his uncle and aunt. His cousin had partially apologised for his behaviour on the night they went into hiding. The main instigators of the abuse had acted strangely on that night, as though they were about to show some form of remorse, but in the end did nothing.
Now, he lay in bed, the girl… no, woman, she had long ago grown up too quickly… he was in love with, and was loved by, wrapped in his arms. He marvelled at how, after everything that had happened in his past before Hogwarts, he could still manage that emotion. Power the dark lord knows not. He could so easily have gone down the same path and become the next Voldemort, if not for his spirit, his friends, his adoptive family.
He owed so much to the Weasleys. Too much to list. A small smile crept over his lips and was mirrored in his eyes. He thought back to the letters from his mother, once dead, but now apparently very much alive. How long had he wished to know his parents? How many times over the years had he wondered what they would have said about his many escapades? What would they have said about the decisions he made? Would they have stood by his decision to go to the Ministry in his fifth year? Would Fleur and Bill have gotten together if they had attended the Tri-Wizard Tournament in his fourth, instead of the Weasleys? Would Lily have berated him on breaking up with Ginny at the funeral? Would James have backed him up in his argument with Remus at Grimmauld Place?
So many questions that, thankfully, would not be answered. ‘It does not do to dwell on such things.’ Wise words from a wise man. Harry had dwelt too much on some things, often at the expense of others. He had looked around him and ideas and persons far away had caught his eye, and he had not noticed the small things closer to him, often related to the woman before him.
He had never, never realised that she had helped him so often through the years. Sure he remembered the Department of Mysteries fiasco, the fight at Hogwarts the night Dumbledore died and the final battle when she had nearly been killed herself. For him, the revelations came with the instances she had mentioned. He owed her for his fathers map. He owed her for Rons friendship. He owed her his life. The words he had spoken to Mr Granger dropped on him as though from on high. ‘We’ve saved each others lives that often… the links have reinforced themselves…’
He had saved each of their lives – Ginny, Hermione, Ron – and they had each saved his in their own way. Ron and Hermione had physically saved him many times. Ginny had saved him on an emotional level. ‘Size is no indication of power, just look at Ginny.’ If George Weasley had understood the depth of his words all of those years ago, and their significance over that time, he might have gone into philosophy rather than comedy. The youngest, smallest member of the family was showing herself to be by far the most powerful. Magically, she was a match for Harry. Intellectually, she could give Hermione a run for her money, and did so regularly in class. She was physically strong, despite her small frame, and she was more than capable of countering Harrys mood swings.
Using their love-link, Harry tried to convey his thoughts and emotions to his love. He felt her tense as he began, then relax as she realised what he was doing. A sense of peace filled her facial features, and her eyes fluttered open.
“Hey,” Harry breathed as he drank in her appearance.
“Hey,” she replied, twisting around to look into his eyes.
His breathe caught in his throat as he watched her twist around. Her red hair trailed over her right shoulder. Her left leg slid further across his stomach, and her left arm found its way down his right side and onto the pillow.
“Better?” He finally got out.
“Much.” She kissed him hard on the lips, gauging his reaction to her shift.
Fully awakened by her, Harry flipped Ginny onto her back, hungrily kissing her and roaming his hands over her body.
They heard the knock on the door, just as they were about to give themselves to each other. A crooked smile forming on his lips, Harry pulled away slightly.
“Who is it?”
“It’s your mum.” A voice chuckled uncertainly, unused to performing the simple reply.
“Just a minute.” Harry summoned a pair of dressing gowns, so that he and Ginny could quickly cover up.
“You can come in now,” Ginny confirmed, still releasing her hair from the folds.
Freshly clothed in blue jeans and a green t-shirt, Lily slowly opened the door into the room. Her hair hung loose around her shoulders. On her ring-finger, she wore her wedding and engagement bands. The stones were a large diamond, surrounded by two rubies and two emeralds.
“No wonder the guy in the shop knew which rings to produce,” Harry gazed at his mothers trinkets. “I bet he just took the designs for yours and repeated them.”
“I don’t think so, somehow.” Lily smiled and took a seat on the end of the bed, as though she had done it for years. “You’ve got phoenix feathers in yours, ours haven’t.”
“Umm, Gin. Just what did you open up about last night?”
“Well before I felt you going off the deep end,” Ginny blushed as that scene replayed in her minds eyes. “We – Lily, Hermione and I – had been going over how I fell for you in the first place.”
“Okay,” Harry let out a slow breath. “You already told me about your childhood stories about me and how enthralled you were when you finally saw me and how normal I was. Is there anything else I should, perhaps, know about?”
“Only that I approve,” Lily snorted. “A bit annoyed that it took you so long to notice. The Tri-Wizard Yule Ball was a missed opportunity if ever I saw one.”
“Oh, no.” Harry tried to bury his face in the head of hair next to him. “Anything else?”
“I’ll let you know as the day goes on.” Lily playfully slapped his arm. “Come on, time to get up. It’s nearly eleven. Your friends are downstairs with your father. We need to start making arrangements with Minerva about staying at Hogwarts with you,” she chuckled at the thought of the old teacher suddenly being faced with people she thought to be dead. “Then you can tell us about your third and fourth years of school.”
As she stood and turned to leave, Lily began humming. To Harry the tune seemed rather familiar. Only when he saw the shade of red Ginny had turned did he realise what it was.
“‘His eyes are as green as a fresh pickled toad’? Mum!” Harrys own blush mirrored his fiancées as Lily ducked out of the door in time to avoid the pillow he’d thrown at her. “Honestly, Gin. Some secrets are best left as that.”
“You told them about it when we were talking last night, so this one is your fault,” Ginny glared, then realising what she had said wrapped her arms around him. “In a good way that is. We should look back on daft things that embarrassed us, if only to laugh at them.”
“You’re right. You always are.” He kissed her on the lips, moving down her chin and onto her neck. “I’ll leave the planning upto you for today. I’m having too much fun right here.”
“Harry, stop.” She grinned as he pulled away, pouting. “There’ll be time enough for that later, but for right now, we need to get showered and dressed.”
“Mind if I join you in the shower?” He teasingly enquired, certain of her answer.
“Only if you behave,” she slapped his arm as he picked her up, and carried her out of bed.
They stopped in the doorway of the bathroom long enough to share a public kiss, before closing the door and engaging in quite a few more private ones, both out of, and in, the shower itself.
Hermione was busy in the study when the couple descended the stairs an hour later. She was in the middle of writing an update to her letter to Fleur, asking her and Bill to head for Potter Cottage, instead of Hogwarts, to discuss what had happened and to decide what needed to be done. Other letters surrounded her. Some completed, others not. A handful were meant to be sent, the rest were first drafts that were not intended to be seen.
The original plan was up in smoke. As former champions, Harry and Fleur could have taught Gabrielle and Michel everything they knew about the Tournament. Now that Harry was officially dead in the eyes of one of the judges, as well as by the hand of, the idea to help was lying in ruins. Hermione had been up since the small hours of the morning, trying to figure out the next step.
Her mind simply would not allow her to think of an alternative to Harry and Ginny turning up for dinner with the rest of them that night, no matter how hard she tried. She thought about trying to put off their ‘miraculous’ appearance until the morning of the first task, but dismissed it due to the possibility of increased interest from the students in general as to why the Head Boy was nowhere to be found. Add to that the possibility of Umbridge throwing her unique brand of information into the mix, and the situation would get very messy, very quickly.
And then there was the ‘rebirth’ of James and Lily Potter to consider. Hermione sat back in the old chair, pressing her palms into her eyes. The very idea that two people, hit with the killing curse, buried for seventeen years, were now walking around, looking just the way they did moments before they died… It unnerved her immeasurably. The books said it could not happen. There were no spells known that could explain what had occurred. All they had to go on was the description and visual example of what Harry and Ginnys rings had done in ‘Kings Cross’ and back in the cottage.
Whatever had happened that night, had happened for a reason. Nothing else would fit in the pattern of Harrys life. And yet, in spite of that conclusion, Hermione began to wonder about herself. Was her part in Harrys existence part of some predetermined path? Or a matter of coincidence? Either course had easy answers for her question, if not easy reasoning.
Ginny contemplated her friend as she leant back. She could see the tell-tale signs of mental exhaustion. She casually wondered as to whether Hermione had gotten any sleep the previous night. It had not been unknown for her to try and pull three day stints without sleep when revising for exams. This was not a time to be attempting this kind of behaviour.
Taking carefully noisy strides so as to not frighten her friend, Ginny entered the study, bending every so often to pick up stray rolls of parchment. She rapidly glanced at the writings on them, taking note of what had been written. Her best guess put Hermione as having been awake since around two, maybe even one, in the morning. She knelt down on the chairs right side, looking up at the tired woman and waited.
“I’ve been awake since three, just so you know,” Hermione managed to surprise her. Taking her hands away from her eyes, she revealed tracks of tears. Looking down at Ginny, she betrayed the wealth of emotions colliding in her, but one overriding one shone over all others. Guilt. “Ginny… you and Harry… mean the world to me… I… failed you… both.”
“Merlin, Hermione,” Ginny instinctively reached up, wrapping the vulnerable witch in a soothing hug. “There was nothing anyone could have done. We were outnumbered, outgunned, outflanked.
“Don’t do what Harry used to do,” she managed to smile in spite of herself. “You can’t go shouldering that kind of guilt. It’s not healthy, for anyone, least of all you.”
Lily Potter had been passing the door on her way to answer natures call when she heard the exchange. The comment about her son troubled her, but she did not know him, not really. Despite a calendar age of thirty-eight, she appeared to all intents and purposes to be no more than twenty-one. To a stranger in the street, she would have been mistaken for either Ginnys, or Harrys, older sister. An unmistakeable fact not lost on James either, to all intents and purposes he too looked like an older sibling.
They had missed so much. Days, months, years. Time that could not be recaptured. They had been there for his first stumbling steps. They’d heard his first words; his first broom ride. They had missed his first day of school; the first ride of the Hogwarts Express. They had missed his first true friendships; his first kiss. Lily chuckled at that particular thought. That would be one tale that no matter the timing, Harry would receive a ribbing over.
Fighting the sudden impulse to intrude on the younger women in the study, Lily turned back into the living room, searching. Within minutes, she found what she was looking for. Ginnys photo album. Sitting back into one of the comfortable, chintz chairs, Lily held the book for a moment. Running her hands along the spine of the object, she noted it was dragon-skin-backed. It had been faultlessly red all over, but someone, probably Ginny, or Harry, had had the initials H.P. and G.W. embossed in the front cover.
Turning the cover over slowly, Lily choked as she registered the first couple of photographs. On the back of the cover was a copy of the picture Mr and Mrs Weasley had given him on his birthday. James and Lily standing tall, if not stressed, with Remus and Sirius. Facing it was a family gathering. Family holiday to be more precise. The Weasleys trip to Egypt. Most of the family appeared to be enjoying themselves, the youngest member was trying, but not quite managing. A smile on her lips that was not matched by her eyes, Ginny was constantly snatching glances at her brothers, and seemed afraid to be more than a few feet from Ron.
Oblivious to her surroundings, Lily did not hear either Ron, or her husband, enter the living room with Harry. They stopped and watched the witch gaze at the pictures. They noted how her eyes were drinking in the scenes as they were captured. Finally, after several minutes, Lily noticed their presence.
“When was this taken?” She held the album for Harry to see the picture she was referring to.
“After the last events we told you about last night,” Harry sat on the arm of the chair. “Ron would be able to tell you about it better, he honestly would not be quiet about it when they got back.”
“Hey, I told you the great bits…” Ron cut himself off.
“There was more?” Harry looked at his friend with interest. He was about to continue, but Hermione chose that moment to leave the study with Ginny in tow, heading for the living room, also.
“Oh, glad to catch you, Harry. Mind if I use Fawkes to send a couple of letters?” Hermione caught the exchange of looks. “Or maybe it can wait.”
“What’s up?” Ginny stepped around her friend, stopping dead when she saw the album, open. “I suppose I’ve got to face this eventually.” Was all she said next.
“Face what?” James looked bemused. “Ginny, what’s going on?”
Unwilling to see her emotions spill out uncontrollably, Harry got off of the chair arm and pulled Ginny into a soothing hug, whispering quietly into her left ear. After a couple of minutes, she stepped back, composing herself.
“I need to get this out before Bill and Fleur get here. They don’t need to see me like this.” She sighed.
“Like what?” Harry took her hands and led her over to the sofa. When he found a comfortable position to sit in, he pulled Ginny into his lap, wrapping his hands and arms around her.
“I hate feeling vulnerable, you know that, Harry.” Ginnys eyes sported fresh tears. “When we went on that holiday after my first year at Hogwarts, I was just about ready to face the world again. I knew that everything that had happened was down to Tom controlling me. In my mind, I had convinced myself that maybe things would not be too bad.
“On one of the tours we went on, we visited a huge underground temple. The antechamber was the size of the Great Hall, or at least it seemed like it to an eleven-year-old.” Taking a deep breath, Ginny crashed on through her memory. “When we got to the main chamber, I had a relapse, as memories I had fought so hard to lock down broke through my mental barriers.
“The statues to the sides of the place might have been jackals, and the altar may have stood before a huge statue of the Egyptian god Osiris, but to me, I was back in the Chamber of Secrets.” Tears coursed down her cheeks. “My memories of the events I had been forced to be a part of came crashing over me.”
“You should have seen her, mate,” Ron continued for his sister. “She was a wreck. I got her out of there, feigning a dizzy spell to keep mum happy. That night is when her own nightmares started in earnest.
“I was sharing the room with her, and I knew enough to keep the noise down so as not to disturb the rest of the family.” Taking a deep breath, he looked right at Harry. “At one point it got so bad she was thrashing around, screaming for him not to hurt her. Then she screamed for him not to hurt you. She loved you.
“So you see, my crack about taking Ginny to the Yule Ball wasn’t entirely without motive.” Ron chuckled. “I digress. When Ginny came out of it, she was ashen. She realised I’d heard everything, but I promised not to say anything, or act in a way to draw attention to what I knew.”
“So you what? Became her ‘sleep guardian’?” Harrys brows twitched.
“Until she started confiding in Hermione, yes.” Ron wrapped his arms around his fiancée. “That was a part of why I was so annoyed with you last year. I knew what her dreams for the future were, and I thought you were toying with her emotions, in spite of all that you had said.
“I was an idiot, and I’m still sorry for it,” Ron hung his head into Hermiones bushy hair.
“I forgave you once, and I will again.” Harry grinned at his best friend. “So you wanted to borrow Fawkes? He’s all yours.” The conversation was dragged back to the present.
“Just the two to send. Both to Hogwarts.” The phoenix appeared in a ball of fire, accepted the letters and vanished in another fireball.
“Now then, I believe we were up to your third year now, son.” James sat on the opposite arm of Lilys chair to the one Harry had occupied earlier.
“Ron, you have the stage.” Harry laughed as the red-headed man blushed slightly.
* * * * *
Fleur Weasley stepped out of the bathroom for the fifth time in nearly as many minutes. Her head spinning as she tried to steady herself, she reached gratefully for the glass of water Ginny was holding ready for her. Smiling appreciatively, she slowly sipped the cool contents.
“I’m so sorry, ‘Arry, Geeny. I ‘ave been feeling terrible for weeks now.” Her features pale but strikingly strong, she tried to gather herself up, but rushed back to the toilet bowl. “Merde.”
“I got your hair,” Ginny threw the glass to Harry as she collected the older womans locks out of the firing line. “Bill, how long has she been like this?”
“A few weeks really, why?” Her older brother looked non-plussed by the question.
“You’re an idiot,” Ginny calmly stated, before turning her attention back to the retching form.
“Hey, I resent that,” Bills face flushed crimson, but was cut off by Lily.
“Come with me young man,” she led him down the stairs. “I think it is wonderful, congratulations.”
“What…?” The eldest Weasley child opened his mouth, thought about what has just been said, added it to the events of the past weeks and broke into the biggest grin he could manage. “I’m going to be a dad.”
“You are?” It was Rons turn to look confused. Both James and Hermione shook their heads at him.
“Idiot.” Hermione swiped him around the back of the head, laughing. “When did the sickness start?”
“Not sure. Around the time you left for school.” Bill was still grinning. “So maybe I’ll be a father around the end of April, maybe even the start of May.”
“Papa Bill,” Ron had finally caught up. “Who’d have thought it, eh?”
“You know what? I think Uncle Ron has a better sound to it,” Bill slapped his younger brother on the back. “The first of the next line of Weasleys. Mum’s gonna flip!”
“Yeah, a couple of strangers and four kids found out before her!” Ron joked.
“I’d hardly call Harrys parents ‘strangers’.” James gave him a quizzical look. “I’m not going to ask ‘how’ you are back.” Lily gave his arm an appreciative squeeze. “You four grew out of being ‘kids’ years ago. We need to concentrate on this debacle.
“Which brings me to Friday night. Fleur flew right off the handle when we got your letter,” Bill tipped his head to Hermione. “I’m pretty sure Ginny is putting on a brave front, but has anyone spoken to Gabrielle?”
“We left her and her partner with Luna and Neville in the Room of Requirement yesterday evening, practising summoning charms,” Hermione stated. “Considering how young she is, I have to say, I have never seen a gifted little witch. Her partner on the other hand,” She shook her head sorrowfully. “If he goes up against anything bigger than a flubberworm, he’s toast.”
“Just great.” James grimaced. “Five days to train up a fresh face.”
“‘Train up’. I don’t recall you taking a hand in this.” Lily glared at him. “We haven’t even tried our magic, nor do we have wands.”
“Minor details, love.” James smirked. “Accio Harrys wand.”
“Hey.” Harrys cry sounded down the stairway. Seconds later, his wand flew into the room.
“Accio Harrys wand.” Lily held her hand out as her sons wand changed direction.
“Well that is settled,” Bill, still grinning, headed for the drinks cabinet behind the sofa. “Now, to the other concerns. Number one: Gabrielles training. Number two: James and Lilys comeback…”
“Number three: Harry and Ginny returning from the dead.” Hermiones statement caused the grin to be wiped off Bills face, the bottle fall from his hand.
Very slowly, and with deliberate movements, Bill Weasley turned to face Hermione Granger. Being engaged to his brother might have allowed some leeway, but that was one bombshell too many. His face turning white with anger, he arched his eyebrows at her.
“Bill, sit down,” Ron stepped in between the pair, his face set, his posture leaving no possibility that he was not ready to fight his brother. “Why do you think we sent for you to meet us here rather than at school? We should have been in either Hermiones, or Harrys, apartments, or McGonagalls office at best.
“But no, we’re here. You need to hear everything, starting with the week before the announcement of the Champions, right up to last night.” Still standing firm, Ron searched the eyes of his brother for understanding. “It’s best if Fleur hears this, too, but I don’t want to upset the baby too much, either.”
“Best if I hear what?” Fleur surprised the moment. Her radiant beauty apparent, despite the paleness of her skin. “Beel, what is going on?”
“Please, let’s sit and hear what they have to say,” Bills shoulders sagged, the scars on his face filled with angry red streaks, as though they were threatening to burst open any second.
And so it began. Ron and Hermione filled in what they knew, followed by Ginny, while Harry sat quietly. James and Lily busied themselves in the kitchen, ensuring a steady supply of hot drinks after they had heard about the events before Halloween.
Bills face had turned a stonier shade of white, his scars blazed angrily against the whiteness. Fleur looked positively terrifying as the Veela side of her heritage came to the fore.
“First my zister, then my zister-in-law.” Her features contorted. “Ooh, if only I ‘ad been zere…” She started mumbling in French, with the odd smattering of English profanities thrown in for good measure. The room was shocked into silence. Bill seemed to physically shy away from her as her anger grew.
Harry knelt down in front of her, reaching for her hands. He locked his eyes on hers. Slowly, he rubbed the backs of her hands with his thumbs.
“Fleur, look at me,” he repeated soothingly over and over until she locked her eyes on his also. “I will not pretend to know who entered Gabrielles name into the Goblet. I have no idea who entered ours. I promise you this, though. We, as a group, will try to prepare her for what she may face. Ginny and I will try to keep her safe while she is on the grounds.
“Fleur, you are my fiancées sister-in-law, which practically makes you family to me…” Harry glanced at Ginny for help.
“And this family fights best when it works together. Not pushing people away, or trying to keep its members safe by pushing them away.” The last comment raised a smile from Harry and Fleur as they remembered the funeral and the night of the battle.
“So what are we going to do then, boss?” Harry grinned.
“Floo the Headmistress. Arrange for her to have Madame Maxime meet us and we’ll sort out what needs doing then.” Ginny stood slowly to survey the group. “If we enter you in as last-minute students, we might be able to get away with this.” She looked between James and Lily. “James and Lily Evans, alright with you? It’s a bit obvious I know, but not if you don’t know what to look for.”
“Sounds good to me,” Lily answered for her husband. “Let’s do this.”
Within an hour all of the necessary arrangements had been made. As the group stepped out of the fireplace into the Headmistresses Office, Professor McGonagall sat behind the desk, Madame Maxime stood before it, her arms folded across her chest.
“Well, what is this surprise?” Minerva looked around as the teenagers exited the fire.
“Calm yourself, my dear,” Albus Dumbledore spoke from his portrait.
“Are they the last ones?” Harry nervously enquired as Bill stepped out after Fleur. When Bill nodded slightly he visibly relaxed.
“Mr Potter, what is going on?” Olympe Maxime drew herself up to her fullest height.
As James and Lily exited the Floo network, Harry beamed widely. “May I present, James and Lily. My parents.”
The dramatic effect was worth it. Olympe braced herself against the desk, while Minerva McGonagall, in a rare show of emotion, leapt from the chair and embraced the couple, tears rolling down her cheeks. Albus’ portrait positively glowed with affection.
“What? How?” The old Transfiguration teacher gushed.
“Wish I knew, Minerva, but enough about us already, we need to talk.” James wore the mischievous grin he wore so often for photographs of himself and the Marauders.
“I should say that we do,” the Headmistress stepped back slightly, taking in the gathering. “Olympe and I were discussing the implications of tonights report in the Sunday Prophet.”
“Nothing too good, I hope?” Harry adopted his fathers grin, wrapping his arms around Ginnys shoulders at the same time.
“If you call reports of your demise ‘good’, then this is the best,” Minerva nodded at the newspaper copy in the Beauxbatons’ Headmistress’ hands.
Hermione reached out for it, smiling her request. She glanced at the headline, her eyes betraying her displeasure at the title and author of the piece. Reading on, she snorted twice before throwing the rag to Ginny.
Death of the Chosen One. By Rita Skeeter.
We all thought that after his defeat of You-know-who in May, that young Harry Potter would be invincible, that he would be able to stand alone in the face of any adversary. It has come to my attention that reports from the West Country village of Godric’s Hollow, former home of Bathilda Bagshot, show the Boy-who-lived as nothing more than a weakling who hides behind others. In this case, he hid behind the graves of his parents and then behind the girl who was his fiancée before being hit with a killing curse. I’m sure my readers would agree that this action shows him for what he truly is. A coward.
My most heart-felt condolences go out to the parents of Ginevra Weasley and her brothers, as another person associated with Harry Potter is snuffed out before their time. (For more details turn to page 5).
In related news, the Tri-Wizard Tournament being held at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry will now be one team short. One can only hope that whoever is called in to replace the couple are up to the challenge.
The accompanying picture showed Harry and Ginny walking through a corridor of Hogwarts, oblivious to the photographer. The paper began to smoulder as Ginnys grip on it tightened. Harry ripped it out of her grasp and threw it onto the fire before it properly caught alight.
“Harry.” Ginny sounded into the quiet, her voice dangerously low and even. “Next time I see that woman, I’m going to hex her into oblivion.”
“I pray it never comes to that.” Harry pulled her into a soothing hug. “Sorry, mum, dad. Once more I’ve screwed up.”
“HARRY JAMES POTTER!” Ginny took hold of the side of his head, pulling it down so she could pierce his gaze. “I HEAR THOSE WORDS AGAIN, I SWEAR I’LL MAKE YOU REGRET THEM!”
“Yes, boss.” Harry gulped before kissing Ginnys cheek.
“Smart boy.” Ginny turned her blazing look onto the crowd. “Right. If this is how they want to play, so be it.
“Madame Maxime,” Ginny addressed Olympe, “would you be agreeable to your Champions taking up residence in Gryffindor Tower? Not only for safety reasons, but it is up to you.”
“Of course,” the half-giantess smiled at the fiery young woman. “Will you be training them up as well?”
“We’ll have time to talk about that later.” Ginny looked at her brothers. “Would you two head off mum and dad? I know they’ll be distraught if they’ve read the Prophet, but we need time.” She glanced at Lily and James.
“I’ll deal with it.” Bill stepped forwards. “I’ll tell them our news as well.”
“Understood.” Ginny turned her attention to her sister-in-law. “Fleur.” She broke away from Harry and knelt in front of the part-Veela. “I know this is hardest on you. You’ve been in this before, and you know what was happening behind the scenes then. I know you’ll want to be with Gabrielle all of the time, and help her every step of the way.
“I would be exactly the same if it was only Harry in this.” Ginny blushed through her blazing expression. “But right now, all we know for sure, is that whoever set this in motion, thinks that we are dead. When they see us walk through those doors later into the Great Hall, they may either panic and target us again, this is the best that we can hope for, or they may try and go after someone else. In your condition, you have to stay safe, for your childs life as well as your own.”
“You are correct, Geeny.” Fleur looked down into her eyes. “But I refuse to stand by and allow my little zister to become a victim of this madman.”
“I know.” Ginny forced a smile. “Believe me, when I say that I will not allow that to happen either.”
“I’ll hold you to that, you know that don’t you.” Fleur gave Ginny such a hardened look, it seemed to go straight through her. “Now, Professor McGonagall,” she turned to face the Headmistress. “Would it be possible to have an apartment within the castle for a few weeks? Just so I know that my zister is settling in alright?”
“Of course, my dear,” Minervas face softened. “Indeed, you and your husband are most welcome to stay in the castle for as long as you wish.”
“Merci.” Fleur thanked the old professor before making her way over to her own old headmistress and starting conversing in French.
“You know, if I didn’t know any better,” Harry whispered to Ginny, “I’d say you just got overruled on one side of your argument.”
Ginny silenced Harry with a quick jab to his ribs. “Reverse psychology.” She turned to face her fiancé. “I got reading a couple of Hermiones books that she left behind while you weren’t here. I also read up on Veelas, too.” She flashed a smile. “I pity the person who pisses her off while she is pregnant.”
“Why, Miss Weasley, I do believe you have been picking up Rons bad habits.” Harry smirked.
“As long as you don’t do the same, you’ll be fine,” Ginny flashed a mischievous one back. “I don’t intend looking as sore as Hermione, after certain occasions.”
“Ouch. Point taken.” Harry laughed quietly before grimacing to remove that particular image of his two best friends. “You know, some things, a bloke can live without knowing.”
“I know, but I enjoyed the look on your face.” Playfully, Ginny turned and walked away, swinging her hips exaggeratedly. Harry just gawked at her, failing to hear his mother calling to him.
“… Harry. Harry.” Lily tapped him on the arm. “Just like your father. What is it with you Potters and your red-headed women infatuation?”
“I would say upbringing, but that is rather a moot point,” Harry quipped, earning a slap on the wrist. “Mum, we… myself, Ron and Arthur Weasley… need to fill you in with the fine details about my lack of a childhood, but that can wait.
“Professor McGonagall,” Harry called the Headmistress over politely. “I would like my parents to attend the school, say as mature students under slightly different names, and for them to attend the same classes as ourselves, if possible?”
“I’m sure that an impromptu sorting can be arranged,” Minerva sat back into her chair. “I’m sure they’ll be in Gryffindor again, but nothing is guaranteed. I’ll ask the house-elves to prepare extra quarters for our guests, when we are done here.”
“Fair enough,” Hermione replied for Harry. “Have you seen your Champions today?” This directed at Madame Maxime.
“The last time I saw them, there were with Monsieur Longbottom and Mademoiselle Lovegood.” She looked curiously at the group. “You’ve already started training them haven’t you?”
“Hope you don’t mind?” Hermione winced slightly. “Gabrielle is rather quite good. Outstanding I’d say. Michel, is another story.”
“No confidence. Thinks himself a squib.” Professor McGonagall injected. “Reminds me of a student I know.” She chuckled at the early memories of Neville.
“Yeah, well…” Harry broke up the reverie. “We’ve got about an hour before dinner. Let’s get back to the Tower. Ginny, if you and Hermione want to find some robes for mum, I’d much appreciate it. Dad, me and Ron will sort you out.
“Bill, if you can head to the Burrow and give your mum and dad a head-start on what is going on, thank you,” Harry hit his stride. “Fleur, see your sister and her partner, let her know this is under as much control as possible for now.” His brow furrowed as he thought about what he might have missed out. “We’ll meet in the courtyard, in say… forty minutes? Good. Thank you, professors, for everything.”
Harry turned and led the group out of the office as Bill flooed to the Burrow. He missed Professor McGonagall addressing the portrait of Dumbledore.
“Will that boy ever relax?” she asked.
“He has known more suffering than most ever encounter in entire lifetimes in his short time,” the portraits eyes twinkled. “However, I believe that Mrs Potter is helping him to cope.”
“Lily always did have that effect on James.” Minerva scoffed.
“I was not referring to Lily, Minerva.” The old Headmaster bowed his head to look over his glasses. “When they left here just now, did you not notice their hands?”
“No, not really.” McGonagall squinted at her predecessor. “Why?”
“My dear, remember who we are dealing with here,” Albus tried to be patient. “I may be a mere representation of my former self, but I can see in their hearts what young Ginny has initiated, and Harry has concluded. They are bonded. Mind, body and soul. When they left here, I could see the final threads of the bonding taking place. Together, they will be significantly stronger than they will be separated.”
* * * * *
Hermione led her small group into her apartment at the base of the Gryffindor dormitory stairs. They entered a room similar in size and shape to the Head Boys, the main difference being the feminine touch to the décor, except where Ron had left his mark.
“Ugh, I’ve told him hundreds of times to leave his dirty clothes next to the sink, not in the middle of the room,” Hermione banished the offending articles. “Let’s see. Spare robes in the wardrobe, fresh towels in the bathroom. I think we’re all set.”
“Are you sure about this, I mean…” Lily looked most unsure.
“Here’s a deal. We sort you out with these robes, and fill you in on your sons more distressing character flaws,” Hermiones look rivalled Ginnys blazer now.
“Okay,” Lily followed the younger women over to the wardrobe. “I heard you mention something about guilt this morning. What was that all about?”
“Well, that is as good a place to start as any.” Ginny broke into a grin. “I don’t know what happened at his aunts before he started at Hogwarts, but he used to blame himself for every little thing that went wrong…”
“Don’t get us wrong, some of the things that have happened have been his own doing,” Hermione cut in. “Like locking a mountain troll in the girls bathroom, with me inside, for one.”
“But it was the major things he blamed himself for too.” Ginny continued. “My being taken into the Chamber of Secrets. The fiasco in the Department of Mysteries. Dumbledores death, and his noble act of breaking up with me,” Lily caught her eye. “I’ll tell you later.” She gave a look to say, much later. “This year was the worst. He blamed himself for each and every one of the deaths at the hands of Riddle and his regime.”
“Remus did fill us in with some of the details when he passed over,” Lily noticed Hermione flinch when she mentioned this. “Sirius did hope that you’d help him overcome that flaw.”
“It has… no, is, taking a lot of hard work.” Ginny sat at the desk as Hermione pulled out some robes. “My brothers remark back at the cottage was on the money, though. He spent a full five days in the Room of Requirement, just moping. It was as though the rest of us could not help him. Some hurts, however, need someone other than family to help heal.”
“What else happened to you last year?” Hermione asked quickly while Lily tried on the robes.
“You know everything I can remember,” Ginnys face set like stone.
“How did you reach him in the end?” The older womans voice sounded through the material.
“I got Kreacher, his house-elf, to Apparate me into the room,” Ginny smirked. “Once he was through fighting off bat-bogeys, I yelled a lot of sense into him. Between helping to fix up the castle in time for the mass funeral, and the usual eating and sleeping, I yelled myself hoarse.
“After the funeral, we went to our tree… an oak down by the lake… and we talked about the past year.” Ginny walked over to the window and gazed over the grounds. “All of the hurt. All of the pain. All of it seemed to wash off a little while we talked.
“I fully realised the depths of Harrys feelings for me, and I for him.” Ginny turned to face the other two. Lily and Hermione were both now in full school uniform. “I knew, that no matter what life threw at us, we’d never be parted again.” She snorted a laugh. “And as we saw yesterday, death has no power over us. There are far worse things than death. Like living without your soulmate. You might exist, but it would be an empty existence.”
“Okay, which books have you been reading?” Hermione threw the question, but Lily smiled in recognition.
“You knew, didn’t you? The first time you saw him at the station,” the answer was clear for anyone to see, if they knew where to look. “When you stole back the diary. When he saved you from the Chamber. That is when it started to show itself, isn’t it?”
“At first, I didn’t know how to deal with it.” A sheepish grin spread over her lips. “I thought it was just a kids crush and acted accordingly.”
“I helped you get on with your life though,” Hermione calmly walked over and hugged her friend. “I helped you get over your shyness in front of him. The full effect of that was evident that Christmas your dad was in hospital and Harry was hiding.”
“He was hiding?” Lilys eyebrows raised.
“He thought he was possessed, and thought that by hiding away, he would spare us any danger. He had forgotten about my own experiences, so I let him have it.” The grin became wider. “The shy, littlest Weasley took on the infamous mood of the Boy-who-lived, and threw it back at him. One hell of a way to come out of the shell, but I have no regrets about that.
“When Ron hinted that he wanted Harry to be my boyfriend after Michael and I had split up, I could have jumped at the chance, but Dean had already asked me, and Harry still did not seem interested. So, when we spent the summer after the Ministry fiasco together, healing our wounds, I was dumbfounded that Harry was spending rather longer than normal looking at me, or holding onto something as he passed it to me.” Ginnys grin spread all over her face as she opened up. “I had a boyfriend, and my blind-as-a-bat soulmate was finally working up the courage to make a move.
“I’ll always remember that year. For the good and the bad.” Ginny held out a hand for Lily to join the hug. “I wanted to thank you. Not only for the letter to me specifically, but also for the one addressed to the woman who captures Harrys heart. You kind of put into words your own hopes for your sons future. Almost prophetic.”
“Hey, I just put down all the things you would need to be able to put up with a Potter. I didn’t know that would be taken care of already. If anything, I should ask, have you shown it to Harry, yet?”
“Not yet.” Ginny blushed, she had come close on many occasions.
“Then, my advice, is don’t. At least, not until after you are officially married, not just bonded.” Lily shocked Hermione with that, but she shook her head to keep her from asking the inevitable question. “Well, it’s nearly time to go shock the world, how do I look?”
“Exactly as you do in those old photographs,” Hermione smiled widely. “We should find Dennis and get him to record moments like this to put in your albums.”
“Yeah, we will, eventually.” Ginny broke away and headed for the door. “So, Lily, ready?”
“Let’s do it.”
Harry Potter paced across the Entrance Hall like a caged tiger, every so often glancing up the marble staircase. His father and Ron were leaning against the wall next to the House point hourglasses, hands firmly in their pockets.
“You know… Harry, that never helps, trust me.” James smiled. “I did exactly the same thing at our Graduation Ball, afraid that Lily wouldn’t show up, and do you know what?”
“No, what?” Harry stopped pacing long enough to face the pair.
“She showed up, on time, and looking as beautiful as ever.” James was pulled from his reverie by a bush of red hair, slightly greying, and the feeling that his life was measured in seconds if he could not get air into his lungs, soon.
“Molly, dear. Let him breathe.” Arthur Weasley beamed at the crowd from the top of the stairs, Minerva McGonagall, and Bill and Fleur behind him.
“I know, I know. You’d think after all this time… I just don’t…” Molly spluttered.
“It’s alright, mum.” Ron pushed off of the wall. “Questions can wait. We have work to do.” He nodded at Harry.
Harry glanced up the stairs once more, and found who he was looking for. A dazzling image of red hair filled his vision. How he had missed her, even though it had been mere minutes. Launching himself up the steps, he swept her off of her feet into a crushing embrace. Her kisses were hungry and passionate. His reply was equally as emotional.
“I love you.” Ginny breathlessly uttered when they pulled apart for air.
“I love you, too.” Harrys lips brushed hers as he gently dropped her feet back onto the ground. “You ready?”
“As I’ll ever be.” Ginny turned to the Headmistress. “Let’s see who is the most shocked.”
The group turned as one at the bottom of the stairs, and headed into the Great Hall. All sounds of conversation and eating died as the student body noticed the newcomers. The occupants of the staff table at the end gaped as the group broke apart and made towards their places.
Ginnys eyes were on Umbridge the entire time, noting her particular response. Or rather, the lack thereof. The Salem Academy Headmistress simply glanced at them before returning her head to her hands, nursing what appeared to be the mother-of-all headaches. The lack of alarm, or indeed intrigue, surprised the rest of the group when Ginny pointed this out to them.
“She always was good at acting, though,” Hermione stated plainly.
“Yes, but even if she hadn’t cast the curse, she would surely have read the paper.” Ron, eyeing the rest of the Hall and plainly seeing the sea of looks, threw an unnerving possibility into the mix.
“Back up a minute, son,” Arthur peered at his youngest son. “When was the last time, you saw her here?”
“We saw her about seven last night, before we took Gabrielle and Michel up to the seventh floor.” Hermione began chewing her bottom lip.
“Then, it looks like…” Lily leaned forwards over the table, turning her head to look at the staff table. “You may have an apology to make, and a bit of a problem.”
“Maybe, but not too soon. I’m not sorry for what happened to her during her tenure here.” Ginny scowled. “As for the new problem, I haven’t noticed anything out of the ordinary, yet.”
The truth of the matter was that no-one had made any form of facial expression apart from shock and intrigue. Most of the crowd knew about Harrys strange luck, and the first years were intrigued as to how the Prophet could have got the story so wrong.
“May I have your attention please,” Professor McGonagall stepped up to the lectern. “It may have come to your notice, through one of the less-reputable mediums, that an incident took place in the village of Godric’s Hollow. As you can see from looking at the benches of Gryffindor house, the conclusion of this is far from the truth.
“I would like to impress on you, not to question the individuals concerned. They are tired of the attention being focused on them during what should have been a private time for them.” The hard, steely gaze swept the area. “You all know the story, so I will not repeat it.” The gaze softened. “I would like to introduce a couple of returning, mature students, who recently married. Mr James Evans, will be taking over from Professor Flitwick as Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher.” The combined Potter and Weasley clan shot their heads up towards the Headmistress. “Mrs Lily Evans, will be taking over from me as Transfiguration teacher.” The clan shook their heads and tried to look normal. The old teacher had changed the plan drastically. “I hope you will join me in welcoming them, and wishing them the best of luck.”
* * * * *
For the first night in nearly a week, Harry Potter had had pleasant dreams. Filled with the same images of hope and longing that had kept him going through his darkest days on the run, he had enjoyed the images for what they now were; the life he chose to lead, not dictated by prophecy, but by his heart.
He shifted slightly in his bed. His face burying itself in the flame-red hair of his wife-in-all-but-name. Wrapping his left arm around her small frame, his thoughts drifted back to a conversation between his mother and Hermione after the meal.
Hermione once more noticed the sparking of the rings on her friends fingers. Each time the sparks were emitted, the stones of her own ring pulsed with light. She looked at the ring on Lilys finger, noticing the same reaction. Her interest piqued, she approached Harrys mother.
“What is with those two?” She whispered.
“Apart from them being young and in love?” Lily laughed. “You’ve heard of soulmates? Right?”
Hermione shook her head. Not strictly true, as she had heard about the connection in the Muggle-world many times, but was unsure about how it would translate into the Wizarding one. Lily gave her a quizzical look before continuing.
“Wizards and Muggles,” she snorted a laugh at the term,” can become soulmates in much the same way. No-one knows why it happens, or how. It, however, takes a conscious decision to unlock the potential.” She smiled crookedly, betraying where her son got that trait from. “Harry and Ginny both vowed themselves to each other. They took the decision to do this alone.
“And since they were alone when they performed the vow, the magic associated with it was not diluted the way it is during the marriage ceremony.” She looked at her son, both happy and sad at the same time. “The link they created not only strengthens them, physically and magically, but if one of them was to receive mortal wounds, or a killing blow, the other would soon join them when they pass over.”
“Which is entirely possible given the Tournament they are entered into.” Hermione paled at her words, not noticing Harry drawing close with Ginny. “Why would they do this?”
“Because despite passing over once before, death does still frighten them both,” Lilys expression saddened. “They are not frightened by their own demise, that has been accepted and faced. No, they are frightened by the possibility of having to continue on without the other.”
“That was why I broke up with Ginny at the funeral, Hermione.” Harry broke in. “I’d felt like I’d lost so much, I couldn’t allow my greatest source of comfort to become another victim…”
“You had me and Ron.”
“No offence, but you guys already offered me comfort, as friends. Ginny, she showed me the comfort of more than that. The way in which Ron does for you, when you aren’t arguing.” Harry gave his customary grin. “No, if she’d become another victim, either directly, or otherwise, because of me, I would have died. I knew it then, and I know it now. Besides, it was Ginnys idea to bond properly.”
Ginnys idea. Harry smiled at the thought. It might have been her idea. She might have given a childhoods time to prepare for the moment when she married Harry Potter, but in the end, it was down to the two of them. The bond required the two of them to be consenting, and to understand the full implications of the process, and the effects on the both of them.
He better understood what she had meant when they returned to the Burrow at the end of the holidays. The talk about his power over her. The unconditional love she had felt for him the moment she laid eyes on him at Kings Cross. The pain of her betrayal to Riddle through the power of the diary. He knew it all. He felt it all.
And, as he understood her, so she understood him, fully. He had no secrets at all from her now. His memories were an open book, that, if she so desired, could be read in their entirety, or piece-by-piece. His memory of the attack on his parents and the effect of Dementors on him to relive it. His forsaken childhood at the hands of his living relatives. The deep joy he felt around her family and his friends. The hurt caused by Ron and Hermione over the years, only served to strengthen their friendships.
Nuzzling her neck and tightening his grip on her, Harry poured his emotional love into Ginny. He felt her tense as he began, then, as she realised who was sending the intense feelings into her, she relaxed, accepting him with her mind as she would her body.
After ten minutes of accepting Harrys feelings, Ginny turned the tables back on him, pouring her own emotions into him, along with a few of her more risqué thoughts.
“You know we’ll have to have a very cold shower before we go down for breakfast, don’t you?” Harry smirked as he spun her around to face him.
“You should have thought about that before you woke me up,” she stuck her tongue and tried to pull away.
“I think that it is time I started to follow a piece of mums advice,” Harry pulled her back in close, locking his lips on hers. “I love you, so much.”
“I love you, too.” The reply was honest and true.
Nearly an hour later, they barely made the last few minutes of breakfast. Grabbing a quick bowl of cereal, they sat alongside Ron and Hermione. On the opposite side of them sat Fleur and Bill with the Beauxbatons Champions.
“You’ve got five minutes, Harry, then we need to leg it up to your d… I mean Professor Evans’ first lesson,” Hermione blanched at the near slip of her tongue.
“We’ll make it, we always do,” Harry smirked at his friends. “Besides, he’s still here, so we should make the lesson in plenty of time.”
“Never mind, Harry.” Ginny stepped away from her bowl, an unusual move for her to leave food. “Come on, you can show me that passage you were talking about the other day.” She winked at him before dragging him out of the Hall, leaving a very confused Ron and a highly amused Hermione gaping at their retreating forms.
“Ah, young love,” Fleur giggled as she caught the look on her sisters face. “Do not even think about trying to get between them, Gabrielle. Ginny would be rather upset, if you do.”
“I was not thinking about, that. Honest.”
Harry and Ginny arrived outside the DADA classroom two minutes after the class had started, looking rather red-faced and mussed. Trying to be discreet, they slipped into the room and made for the nearest free tables.
“Ah, you’ve decided to join us then, very good.” They cringed as they registered the berating tone. “Now you are here, perhaps you can join me in a demonstration.”
Slowly, Ginny dropped her bag on the desk and headed towards the front of the group followed by Harry. They stopped and faced an oddly familiar chest.
“Right then. Today we’ll be dealing with Dementors.” The looks of shock spread through the class. For those who had been in the battle in May these looks rapidly turned into rather large grins. “The Dementors used to be the main guards of Azkaban. Can anyone tell me what they do? Aside from Miss Granger.”
The look of disappointment on Hermiones face was plain to see as her hand relinquished its usual spot above her head.
“They are used to keep the inmates under control, by sucking out every happy memory and feeding off of their despair.” The more notable students turned their heads to see who had spoken. With his hand still raised in the air, Draco Malfoys face turned a shade of red a Weasley would have been proud of. “They… ah, they are also used to perform a fate worse than death. The kiss. Where they suck out a persons soul. There is no reversal for this, though.”
“Fifteen points to Slytherin, and a further five for correctly pointing out the last part.” James Potter/Evans turned his head from the young man and surveyed the group. “There is no reversal of the Dementors kiss. What is left is nothing more than a shell. Living, but not alive.
“There is a way to counter them though…”
“The Patronus Charm.” Seamus Finnigan announced. “Sorry, we learnt about it several years ago from your man there.” He nodded at Harry.
“Really?” James tilted his head close to his sons. “You never told me about that.” He whispered.
“Thought you got most of your news from the dead?” Harry narrowed his eyes.
“Right. So for those who don’t know. The incantation is Expecto Patronum.” Professor Potter/Evans walked around to the side of the chest, pulling his wand out. “Now you need to be thinking about something incredibly happy for the spell to work. It is usual for the charm to take the form of a shield, though the more powerful forms are corporeal, and the animal produced is linked to your form as an Animagus,” James smiled inwardly. “I believe that my wife will be teaching you about that at some point.”
“Indeed. Now, you two,” James concentrated his gaze upon Harry and Ginny. “What we have in here is a Boggart, not a Dementor, but its effects will be felt just the same. On the count of three. One… Two… Three.”
James waved his wand over the chest. The lid flew backwards and the great black, cloaked mass of a Dementor rose out of the depths.
Ginny paled instantly, but remained on her feet, her mind flooding with images of her possession by Tom Riddle.
“EXPECTO PATRONUM!” She yelled, and a silvery animal burst from the tip of her wand, forcing the Boggart to shift its attention away from her.
Harrys silvery stag burst into life and finally forced the black mass to abandon its approach and seek refuge back in the chest.
“Well done.” James clapped his hands. “Well done indeed. Highly impressive. If you don’t mind my asking, what were you thinking? Harry?”
“When I asked Ginny to marry me.” He beamed as the memory filled both of their minds eyes.
“And you Ginny? And please don’t say what you were doing five minutes ago, please, I have just eaten.” A peel of laughter broke out.
“No, it wasn’t that,” Ginny blushed suddenly, her own happy memory flooding over the bond into Harrys mind. “I was ten, at Kings Cross with my brothers and mum. It was Rons first time on the Express, and this scrawny, lost little boy asked how to get onto the platform. I knew who it was, I tried to get closer to him. In fact I chased the train out of the station trying to see him again. When they came back in the summer after school, I went with mum to the station again. Not to see my brothers, but to see HIM.” Ginny finished with a whisper, blushing furiously, but keeping her head high.
“That certainly explains your patronus form…”
“But, sir. It used to be a mare, as tall as Harrys stag.” Ginny eyed her fully formed silvery doe.
“Love is a powerful thing, none of you forget that,” the professor spoke to the entire class, but mainly to Ginny. “What you have been through, the challenges faced and overcome. You have been changed as a result of those. When you come up here and face the challenge I present you with, some of you will find your own forms may have changed, others may find that they are able to produce something you have never managed before. I expect to see a few shield forms, they are nothing to be ashamed of.
“Those of you who came together last year, I don’t fully expect you to have male and female equivalents of the same animal. If you do, great.” James took another breath. “Before I call you up here, let’s practice shall we? Harry and Ginny. A word in private if you please.”
“Yes, sir.” Ginny swallowed. “I think this is the part where we get it in the neck for being late.”
“Maybe.” Harry looked at his father as he led them up into the teachers office at the back of the classroom. He could already here the whoops of glee as his classmates produced their patronuses.
“Harry, I may not know you as well as I should,” James closed the door behind the teens. “But I would have expected you of all people to have been here early.” The hurt was there for anyone to see. “My first day, and my own son can’t be bothered to wish me luck before class.”
“Sorry, dad, it won’t happen again.” Harry hung his head.
“Now, back to the matter in hand.” James sat behinds his desk. “You are aware, I believe, that only two other people in this building have been able to produce your forms?”
“Three, dad. You and mum, and Professor Snape.” Harry exhaled slowly, waiting.
“I know,” the reply hung in the air. “I won’t pretend to be happy about that, but he did right in the end. No, I meant living, right now.” He chuckled to himself in a way that made Ginny realise where that trait came from. “The Potters have been producing those forms throughout time. I shall have a word with Minerva and Lily, and see if we can’t squeeze in a program for actual Animagus training, this term, before the Christmas break?”
“But what about Quidditch? With the Tournament and lessons, I won’t have time to prepare a half-decent team,” Ginny moaned.
“You have an ex-captain for a husband-to-be-officially, your brother is one of the best strategists I’ve been told about and seen, and you have a friend who makes Lilys organisational skills seem positively mediocre,” James beamed. “I’d say that you’ll do just fine.”
Ginny burst at the seams with the compliments about her family and friends. Blushing furiously, she forgot about protocol and grabbed her future father-in-law and gave him a huge hug.
“Okay, you can squeeze the life out of me some other time,” James quipped. “I do still have classes to teach. By the way, you may want to seek out Hagrid tonight. Mentioned something about packages from Romania? Ah, I see from your faces you understand all too well what it means.”
* * * * *
Once the news about the opposition for the first challenge had made the rounds of the Hogwarts grapevine, the dragons had turned into giants, centaurs, Dementors and Chimaeras. Unknown to the gossipers, though, the last creatures had been brought in as well.
When the Champions met for the pre-task round-up, the situation was explained fully.
“Each of the teams must locate and retrieve a replica of the Sword of Gryffindor,” Professor McGonagall waved at a plan of the arena. “You will face one Chimaera and one Hungarian Horntail dragon.
“While some of you may remember the tournament from several years ago, do not think for one moment that you can be complacent.” Her Scottish accent rose to the fore. “The dragons are out-of-season, but hungry. The Chimaeras will devour anything. So, be on your guard. We will see you tomorrow at three sharp outside of the gamekeepers hut. Until then, you are to research and come up with your own plans of attack.”