Chapter 8 : As You Were
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Harry and Ginny arrived late at breakfast the following morning. As they walked into the Great Hall, Harry spotted Hermione talking soothingly to a very agitated Ron. Hermione caught Harry’s eye and frowned, giving him a little shake of the head. Guessing that Ron had indeed noticed his absence after the feast, he steered Ginny to a seat some distance away. The annoyance that flared in Ginny’s eyes when he explained why only served to confirm that this had been a wise decision.
After breakfast, Ron seemed determined to stay away from Harry. He had already packed and left the dormitory by the time Harry returned there to collect his belongings, and continued to avoid him all morning. He wasn’t sure whether to be relieved or annoyed. He hated fighting with Ron, but couldn’t help feeling it was just delaying the inevitable.
Ron and Hermione were already in Professor McGonagall’s office when Harry and Ginny arrived just after lunch to take the pre-arranged portkey home. Ron shot him such a venomous look when they entered holding hands that he instinctively let go, earning him an equally sharp glance from his girlfriend. She looked rather pointedly at Hermione’s hand, which was gripping Ron’s very tightly, but said nothing.
“Well, gentlemen,” said Professor McGonagall, “it’s been a pleasure to have you back here this month. I look forward to seeing you again in the New Year.” She tapped her wand on an ugly brown teapot that was standing on her desk and said “Portus!” in her crisp, clear voice. The teapot briefly glowed blue and trembled slightly. “You have one minute before it leaves.”
Harry pulled Hermione into a bear hug. “It’s been so good to see you,” he said. “Don’t study too hard.”
“No such thing, Harry,” she smiled, kissing him on the cheek. “I’ll see you at Christmas.” Then she turned to Ron and threw her arms around him, drawing him into a tight embrace. When she let go, her eyes were bright with tears.
For his part, Harry wasn’t sure how to say his final goodbye to Ginny, worried about embarrassing himself in front of the Headmistress. Ginny made the decision for him, briefly brushing her lips against his. Harry was relieved when he realised that Professor McGonagall was tactfully looking the other way. Several of the portraits, Dumbledore’s included, had no such scruples. Dumbledore’s blue eyes twinkled as Harry looked up at him with a sheepish grin.
Ginny smiled at him as she stepped back, whispering, “We’ll talk soon.” Harry knew she was thinking about the mirrors.
Finally, Ron and Harry picked up their bags and grabbed the teapot. Harry felt the familiar pulling, rushing sensation before being deposited rather rudely on the kitchen floor at Grimmauld Place. He stood up and rubbed his elbow where he had banged it against the hard tiles.
“I don’t think I’ll ever get the hang of that,” he remarked, ruefully. Ron looked at him disdainfully, picked up his bag, and stalked out of the room without saying a word. He stayed in his room for the rest of the day.
That evening, after enduring a very painful dinner in complete silence, Harry decided he had better tackle the problem head on. He tracked Ron down in his bedroom, sitting on his bed reading a newspaper. Harry leaned against the door frame, waiting to be invited in, but Ron studiously ignored him.
“Come on, Ron; out with it,” said Harry, with a sigh.
“Out with what? I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Ron hadn’t even looked up from his copy of the Daily Prophet, despite the fact that it was upside down.
“You’ve been giving me the silent treatment all day. What’s the matter?” asked Harry, privately dreading the answer he knew must come eventually.
Ron didn’t say anything for several moments. Harry fought the urge to fill the silence, determined to force the issue out into the open. Deciding that the need to get Ron talking trumped good manners, he walked into the room and sat down on a chair opposite his friend.
Finally, Ron spoke. “You didn’t come back to the dormitory last night.” His voice was ominously low.
“No. I didn’t.” Harry looked squarely at Ron, but his friend wouldn’t meet his eyes.
“You were with Ginny.” It wasn’t a question, it was a statement.
“All night?” Ron’s voice was oddly strangled, as though he was battling to keep some powerful emotions in check.
“Yes.” Harry stood his ground, determined not to make any excuses for something he didn’t feel was wrong.
Finally Ron looked directly at Harry, eyes cold and hard. “You’re unbelievable; completely shameless. You corrupt my sister and then you stand there like you expect me to think that it’s absolutely fine.”
Harry felt that perhaps it wasn’t wise to point out that Ginny had done just as much of the corrupting as he had. “I’ve done absolutely nothing wrong here, and you know it, Ron,” he shot back.
“No?” Ron sneered at him. “I don’t know why I’m even surprised! I should have known that you wouldn’t be able to keep your hands to yourself!”
“I don’t have to, Ron. She’s my girlfriend! And it’s as much her choice as mine.”
“Don’t you dare blame her!” said Ron, hotly.
“There’s no-one to blame, Ron. It doesn’t work like that. Please - you don’t need to be like this!”
“Like what? Like caring about my little sister? Like not wanting to see her taken advantage of?” Ron was warming to his theme, his voice rising in both pitch and volume.
“I’m not taking advantage of Ginny! I wouldn’t dare! I’d get myself hexed into next week and you know it!” Harry was trying hard to remain calm, but he was getting near to his limit. “This is ridiculous! We’re both adults, and as bizarre as it might seem to you, that means we get to make our own choices about the things we do and who we do them with. This isn’t anywhere near as big a deal as you’re making it out to be.”
“It bloody well should be a big deal! That’s my sister you’re talking about!”
“Ron, Ginny is the most amazing girl I have ever met. I love her more than I thought I could possibly love anyone, and Merlin knows why but she seems to feel the same way about me. You should be happy for us!”
Ron’s fixed Harry with a questioning gaze. “You really love her?” he asked. Harry nodded.
Ron sat quietly for a moment, considering. “Look, I get it. I get that I can’t make Ginny’s decisions for her, but I’m still her brother and it’s my job to protect her.”
“Mate, I’d think less of you if you didn’t feel that way. But I promise you – you don’t have to worry. She means the world to me. You’re not the only one that would do anything to look after her.”
Ron took a deep breath. “OK. This is how things are going to work. I am going to pretend that I don’t know about this. We are never going to discuss it ever again. And you and Ginny are going to make it easy to ignore.”
Harry relaxed. “I promise we’ll be discreet, mate.”
“But Harry?” Ron looked up, his blue eyes suddenly flinty. “Don’t hurt her. Whatever you do, don’t hurt her.”
Harry returned his stare, unflinching. “I promise. Now, can we please agree that this conversation is over?”
Ron nodded, much to Harry’s relief. “Kreacher?” he called. The house-elf appeared with a ‘pop’.
“Yes, Master Harry?” he croaked.
“Can you please bring us some firewhiskey? I think we could both do with a drink.”
When Kreacher returned with two glasses and a bottle of amber liquid, Harry poured out two generous shots and handed Ron a glass. Calm was once again restored to Grimmauld Place.
With Ron and Harry back in London, Ginny and Hermione had to find other diversions to occupy their spare time. Predictably, Hermione doubled the time she spent in the library, feeling that Ron’s presence had seriously distracted her from her studies. Meanwhile, Ginny turned her efforts back into marshalling the Quidditch pitch volunteers. She was delighted that their swift progress meant it would be available for trials and practice by the end November.
Apart from the impending return of Quidditch, school provided very little in the way of excitement until mid-way through the month. Then, quite suddenly, the Hogwarts rumour mill went into over-drive. Whispers of drama in the Slytherin common room spread like wildfire throughout the school. It seemed that Draco Malfoy had dumped Pansy Parkinson, following a loud, vicious and very public row.
One unfortunate result was that when Hermione and Ginny arrived at the Potions classroom later in the week, they had found Malfoy sitting in the empty place at the four-person bench they shared with Ernie McMillan.
Malfoy looked at them apologetically. “I hope you don’t mind if I join you?” he asked.
Ginny looked like she was considering sending him packing, so Hermione stepped in rather hastily. “Not at all. Of course you’re welcome.”
Just then, Professor Tomkins bustled into the dungeon, and called everyone to attention.
“Good morning, class!” she boomed, in her surprisingly deep voice. Ginny winced. For such a small person, Professor Tomkins was inordinately loud. “This morning, we will continue to explore the fascinating world of healing potions. Please take out your books, and turn to page 254.” She paused, waiting for the rustling of pages to die down. “Today, your task is to brew a full vial of Blood-Replenishing Potion. It’s a tricky one, requiring a deft touch. Can anyone tell me what particular hazards await the unwary potioneer? Yes, Miss Granger?”
Hermione lowered her hand. “Blood-Replenishing Potion combines the yolks of ashwinder eggs with salamander blood. Both are highly combustible.”
“Excellent! And how can they be stabilised?”
“The yolk must first be blended with powdered bicorn horn, and the salamander blood added drop by drop at the end.”
“Very good, very good! Take 5 points for Gryffindor.” Professor Tomkins beamed at Hermione, and then addressed the rest of the class. “Take heed of Miss Granger’s advice, if you want to escape this classroom with both eyebrows intact.” She stopped, and looked puzzled. “Well go on then. What are you all waiting for?”
As the class began to collect ingredients and set up their cauldrons, Hermione turned to Malfoy. “Are you OK? I mean, about Pansy?” she asked.
He shrugged his shoulders. “Me? Oh yes, I’m fine. To be honest, it had been coming for a while. I’m just not the same person I was a year ago. Sadly, the same can’t be said of Pansy. The whole thing was very unpleasant, but at least it’s over now. I just wish I wasn’t such a persona non grata,” he sighed. “All our friends seemed to feel the need to pick sides, and unfortunately most of them chose Pansy’s.”
Hermione glanced across at the bench where the three other Slytherins in the class were sitting, all glaring malevolently at Malfoy. “I see what you mean. Why are they all so bothered? It seems a bit extreme.”
“Does it? Personally, I’m not surprised,” he replied. “The girls were always going to close ranks, and the boys are all just hoping if they provide a shoulder to cry on now, they might be able to get into her knickers later.”
“Draco!” said Hermione, looking over her shoulder to see whether Professor Tomkins was near enough to overhear.
Ginny laughed. “He’s probably right, Hermione. No offence, Draco, but your ex-girlfriend does have a bit of a reputation.”
“A gentleman never comments,” said Malfoy, attempting to look innocent but failing to stop his lips twitching. Ginny was surprised to realise that he had a sense of humour.
By the time the lesson was over, Ginny had to admit that Malfoy had been entertaining company. In fact, his rather cruel impersonation of Professor Tomkins’ waddling walk had made her laugh so much she had dropped a whole murtlap tentacle into her cauldron instead of dicing it up first. As a result, when the Professor tested Ginny’s potion by adding it to a dish of rat’s blood, it immediately bubbled away to a fine, grey powder, earning her a disappointed look from the teacher. Hermione’s, of course, made the rat’s blood quadruple in volume. Professor Tomkins promptly gave her another 5 points.
There was more evidence of the fall-out from Pansy and Malfoy’s break-up in the Great Hall at lunch time. Pansy sat at the Slytherin table, crying into her bowl of soup, surrounded by a large group of girls who were keeping her well supplied with tissues. As Ginny and Hermione walked in, her quiet sobs seemed to increase considerably in volume.
Ginny pursed her lips as Pansy let out a particularly piercing wail. “Please tell me she isn’t going to carry on like that all day. Between her and Professor Tomkins, I’m seriously worried about my ear-drums.”
“Oh sweet Merlin! She’s worse than moaning Myrtle!” agreed Hermione. Apparently, she wasn’t the only one who felt that way; Pansy was suddenly completely quiet, as though someone in in the hall had hit her with a silencing charm. Up on the staff table, Professor Peabody was returning Professor McGonagall’s hard stare with a particularly innocent smile.
“What a relief,” muttered Ginny, as she helped herself to a cheese and tomato sandwich and a cup of tea. “I really couldn’t have coped with that for much longer.”
“Still, it’s hard not to feel at least a bit sorry for her,” Hermione conceded. “It seems to have hit her very hard. I’m sure I’d be just as bad if I split up with Ron.”
“Just as well there’s no chance of that, then,” said Ginny.
“Yes,” replied Hermione, rather shortly. “Just as well.”
Ginny picked up on the tone in her friend’s voice immediately. “Hermione? You’re not worried about you and Ron, are you?”
Hermione seemed to be much more interested in pulling her sandwich to pieces than looking at Ginny. Ginny took that to mean ‘yes’.
“Really? Why?” she asked. “He’s obviously besotted with you.”
“Maybe for now. I just can’t help but worry about… stuff.”
“What stuff?” Ginny smiled inwardly as she asked the question. Hermione was so bright and so capable. She seemed to be able to analyse and dissect other people’s relationships with ease, and Ginny would be forever grateful for her advice about Harry all those years ago. But when it came to her own love life, she was utterly hopeless.
Hermione took a long time to answer. “It’s not that I don’t want to tell you, Ginny. It’s just a bit embarrassing. Especially since it all seems so easy for you and Harry.”
Ginny almost choked on her mouthful of tea. “Easy? You think it’s been easy for me and Harry?” she asked, incredulously.
Hermione looked up, startled. “Oh no – not like that. Obviously I know how difficult it all was for you last year.” She blushed a little, conscious of their surroundings, and cast a Muffliato charm so no-one could overhear them before continuing. “No, what I meant was the… erm… physical side of your relationship.”
“Oh,” said Ginny, making the sound very long and drawn out. “Well I really wouldn’t worry about that. It can take a while to work out what you’re doing.”
“No, it’s worse than that.” Hermione’s cheeks were flaming now. “We haven’t done it at all.”
“Really?” said Ginny, surprised. “I just assumed. I mean, you’re already so close to one another.”
“I think that’s part of the problem,” explained Hermione. “We were so close as friends for such a long time, and it’s really difficult to go from one kind of relationship to another. Plus it hasn’t helped that we haven’t actually had much time together. First I was in Australia for the nearly a month, and then when we were together over the summer, it was too soon for me. I just wasn’t ready.”
“What about while he was here last month?” prompted Ginny
“Let’s just say that we didn’t make quite as much of it as you and Harry did. I mean, it isn’t as though we just sit there and hold hands, chastely gazing into one another’s eyes. It’s just that I could never relax. We’d get so far and then I’d panic. I was convinced we’d get caught, and all I could think of was the disgrace of being the Head Girl that got expelled from Hogwarts for gross indecency. I really wish I’d thought of your trick with the Room of Requirement,” Hermione added, bitterly.
“OK, but I still don’t see why you would be worried. Has Ron been putting pressure on you about it?” Ginny’s eyes narrowed at the thought.
“Oh no, absolutely not,” said Hermione, “but in a way that’s even worse. Now I’m scared he doesn’t want to at all.”
Ginny raised her eyebrows. “Well that’s clearly not true. I’ve never known Ron so happy. To be honest with you Hermione, it sounds like you’re thinking the whole thing through far too much.”
Hermione wasn’t convinced. “I can’t help it. I waited for this for such a long time, and I’m terrified I might have wasted my chance.”
“Really and truly, you’re worrying about this way too much,” said Ginny, confidently. “All you need is a little time together, away from school, away from the Burrow. Absolutely no pressure. Under the right circumstances, I’m sure it will be fine.”
“Sounds like heaven. And equally unlikely to happen any time soon.”
“Don’t be so defeatist!” cajoled Ginny. “You know, Hermione, I’m pretty sure I owe you a favour. After all, you helped me out the with Room of Requirement, so I think it’s time I paid you back. You leave it to me. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, and all that.”
“What do you have in mind?” asked Hermione
“I have absolutely no idea,” admitted Ginny. “But as soon as I do, you’ll be the first to know.”
Through most of early November, there was an atmosphere of hilarity on the second floor of the Ministry of Magic. The senior Aurors were entertaining themselves by torturing the trainees, under the guise of ‘practical training’. Or at least, that was what it felt like to Harry. He absolutely hated Ben’s newest exercise, designed to test the concealment skills he and Ron had learned at Hogwarts.
Whenever any member of the Auror team called out a particular code-word, Harry had to conceal himself, immediately, using any means of his choosing. So far, so easy. Unfortunately, he wasn’t allowed to repeat any given spell more than once a week, and the consequence of doing so (or indeed, of failing to conceal himself at all) was another file winging it’s way on to his already groaning desk.
It seemed so simple when Ben had first described the task, but Harry had failed to account for the fact that having an evil sense of humour seemed to be part of the standard job description for becoming an Auror. Harry’s code-word had been used so often during his first day back that he was already in danger of recycling spells by the beginning of day two. Four days in, and ideas were very thin on the ground indeed. He’d already had to resort to summoning his invisibility cloak from Grimmauld Place. Then he then got into a debate with Hestia about whether the cupboard he had conjured to hide in was really sufficiently different to the wardrobe he had used earlier in the day. As a result, the files started to stack up on his desk at an alarming rate.
Ron was faring no better. He had an early success when his now-perfected hover-sticking charm seemed to impress Gawain, but sadly, it was all downhill from there. Eventually, it got so bad that in a fit of blind panic and clean out of spells, he resorted to throwing himself under his desk. Ben almost cried laughing.
To top it all off, Gawain seemed to take enormous pleasure in demonstrating just how easy he thought the whole thing was. He concealed himself almost constantly and just seemed to loom from nowhere without any effort at all. Harry found it thoroughly irritating. On one particular occasion he was walking through the Atrium, minding his own business, when suddenly Gawain was standing right next to him.
“I bet it’s years before the Wizengamot manages to agree on a replacement for that bloody monument,” he remarked, nodding at the still-empty space.
Harry almost jumped out of his skin, and couldn’t hide his frustration. “How do you do that? I swear it isn’t a charm or anything!”
Gawain just laughed. “Years of practice, Harry. Being able to simply fade into the background is a very handy skill in an Auror.” He regarded Harry steadily, his head cocked to one side, before continuing. “You don’t like this practical, do you?”
“No,” admitted Harry, “It feels a bit... childish.”
“I can see why you might think that, but there’s a very good reason for doing it,” he explained. “I know you’re already an excellent fighter, and we need you to be able to throw curses with the best of them. Nevertheless, it’s always better if we can avoid getting into a scrap in the first place, so you need to have other strings to your bow.
“No matter how carefully we plan each operation, none of us can ever know how it will pan out until we’re actually there, in the thick of things. You have to be able to think on your feet and adapt quickly, without revealing yourself or your strategy. Despite how juvenile this exercise might feel sometimes, that’s exactly what you’re learning.
“Out in the field, you’ll find that everything is a lot easier if the target can’t see you in the first place. You might want to have a think about that, if you’re running out of ideas.”
Harry wasn’t sure, but he thought that maybe Gawain had winked at him. Either way, he took the hint. He might not be as practiced as his boss, but had some decent concealment magic up his sleeve now, so before he returned to his desk, he cast his favourite disillusionment charm and spent the next few hours reviewing the latest batch of Admissions reports from St Mungos in peace.
The state of calm persisted in the office until mid afternoon, when suddenly, a ball of blue light dropped right into the middle of the room. Harry recognised it immediately as a Patronus message. It took the form of a squirrel, and it delivered its brief and slightly garbled missive in a distinct Welsh accent.
“Nexus! Big fireplace! We’ve got a lead on Jugson!”
Suddenly the room was in uproar. Every Auror in the office, Harry and Ron included, scrambled towards the (thankfully blue) door of the Nexus. The commotion drew Gawain from his office, too. Harry wasn’t surprised; Mortitius Jugson was their number one most wanted dark wizard, and his mug-shot took centre stage on Gawain’s wall. One of the few high-ranking Death Eaters still at large, he had been in the Department of Mysteries on the night Sirius had died, and witnesses also placed him at the Battle of Hogwarts. Unfortunately, he had not been amongst those Death Eaters rounded up in the aftermath and there had been no hint of his whereabouts since, so a potential lead was big news for the entire team.
As Harry joined his colleagues gathered around the enormous wooden fireplace, three heads appeared there. Harry didn’t recognise any of them. When the man on the far left began to speak, his voice identified him as the originator of the squirrel Patronus.
“I saw him! In Cardiff! He was right in front of me!” The Welshman was clearly still agitated, speaking urgently and rapidly.
Gawain immediately took control. “Are you sure it was him, Bryn?” The disembodied head nodded. “OK, what happened?” he asked.
The Head Auror’s collected tone and authoritative manner seemed to calm Bryn, and he was more composed when he continued. “It just pure dumb luck. I was meeting a source this afternoon, at a pub near the castle.”
“The Green Dragon?” asked Hestia, naming a well known wizard’s pub.
“No, it was a Muggle place. We thought it would be more anonymous. Jugson must have had the same idea. I couldn’t believe it when he walked in! He sat with two other men, but I didn’t recognise either of them. I watched for as long I dared without breaking cover, then I disapparated to the office to get the others for back-up, but by the time we got back, they had already gone.” Bryn started to get worked up again. “I’m so sorry Gawain! He was right there, and I didn’t even try to take him down!”
The head Auror waved away his concern. “Bryn, you did exactly the right thing. Confronting three of them, on your own, in a pub full of Muggles would have been madness. It’s just incredibly fortunate you saw him at all.”
Gawain thought for a few moments, and then addressed the entire room. “Even so, this is worrying. It suggests that Jugson might be up to his old tricks again. I want that pub staked out twenty four hours a day for the next week. If he comes back, I want to know about it before his backside even has chance to hit a bar stool.” He turned to the three heads in the fireplace to give them instructions. “Bryn, You have the lead. Get this thing planned out properly, and pull in whoever you need to help. In the meantime, Aled and Martha, get back to the pub and take up advance positions. We need eyes on it straight away.”
As the meeting broke up, Ron asked the same question that Harry had on his lips. “Ben, what exactly are Jugson’s old tricks?”
Ben looked troubled. “You know that Jugson was on our radar well before he became a Death Eater?” Harry and Ron both nodded. Jugson was career criminal rather than a pureblood idealist, although his particular brand of cruelty had seen him rise quickly up the ranks of Death Eaters under Voldemort. “He built up quite a resume before the war – multiple counts of robbery, extortion and murder - but he never operated alone; he was always part of a gang. Gawain is worried that the meeting Bryn stumbled upon is an indication that he might be recruiting again.”
Bryn (who Harry discovered was the Auror in charge of the Pembroke field office) spent the afternoon in the Nexus, planning the stake-out. When he distributed the surveillance teams and shift assignments, Ron and Harry were delighted to find their names included, along with all the other London Aurors.
Ben was very clear with their instructions. “You’ve both done well with your concealment training, and Bryn needs as much manpower on this as possible, so I’ve stuck my neck out with Gawain to get you included. If you get the slightest whiff of Jugson, you clear out and send a Patronus message to me, instantly. Do not show yourselves. Do not get involved. You’re there to watch, and nothing more.”
And watch they did – Ron in his animagus form, and Harry under the cover of a disillusionment charm. But there was no further sign of Jugson, on their shifts or anyone else’s. Finally Gawain was forced to admit that the trail had gone cold once again. Jugson had evaded them, this time at least.
By the time Ginny finally left the Quidditch pitch, she was horribly late. She raced through the main door of the castle and across the floor of the entrance hall, towards the staircase. She took the steps two at a time, and peeled off along the fifth floor corridor, skidding around corners in her haste to get to the Gryffindor common room. Two more staircases and a couple of corridors later and finally she was there.
“Venomous Tentacula!” she panted, as she screeched to a halt in front of the Fat Lady.
“In a hurry, dear?” asked the portrait. Ginny nodded furiously. “Then don’t let me keep you waiting!” The portrait swung open, and Ginny climbed through into the common room. She dashed up the stairs to the dormitory, knocking a couple of unfortunate second years out of the way as she went, and threw herself onto her bed. Reaching under her pillow, she pulled out her mirror, and looked into it. Harry was already smiling back at her, and looking pointedly at his watch.
“Sorry I’m late,” she said, still out of breath. “Trials took longer than I expected. But you are now looking at a Quidditch captain with an actual team!”
Harry grinned. “That’s brilliant, Ginny!” He knew how much she had been looking forward to today. Ginny’s efforts on the pitch project meant that she had snagged the first slot for the Gryffindor trials. Being back on her broom clearly agreed with her; Harry thought she looked more beautiful than ever. Her eyes sparkled with excitement, and tendrils of hair had escaped from her ponytail to frame her face, which was flushed from her exertion.
“So how does the team look?” he asked. “Was the turnout as good as you were hoping?”
“Yes, even better, actually. I had so many keepers to choose from I was spoiled for choice. In the end, I went for Vicky Frobisher. Remember her?”
Harry screwed up his face, trying to bring the girl to mind. “Isn’t she the one that refused to miss Charms Club for Quidditch practise a few years ago?” Ginny nodded. “That sounds a bit risky.”
Ginny wrinkled her nose. “I hope not. She says she’s had a change of heart. Something about life being too short not to try new things. She was easily the best that trialled, even better than she was before, so I decided to give her a shot. If she doesn’t pull her weight, I can always replace her.”
“Ginevra Weasley! I like this ruthless streak,” teased Harry.
Ginny refused to take the bait. “Oh come on, Potter – it’s not like you wouldn’t do the same.”
“True,” acknowledged Harry. “Did both Peakes and Cootes trial again?”
“Yes, they did, and no-one came close to matching either of them as beaters, so that one was easy. Picking Chasers was simple too, since Demelza, Dean and I already work so well together.”
As Ginny spoke Dean’s name, Harry felt a pang of jealousy. It took him by surprise – Dean and Ginny had been at Hogwarts without him since September, and it had never worried him before. He tried very hard to keep his face even, but Ginny knew him far too well to miss the way his expression darkened. “Oh come on, Harry! You’re not worried about me spending time with Dean, are you?”
“No, of course not,” said Harry, trying to conceal the lie.
Ginny spoke sharply. “Good. Because you don’t need to be. You know what a good flyer he is, that’s the only reason I picked him and to think anything else would be ridiculous.” Then her face softened. “Besides, I love you. I wouldn’t look twice at Dean, or anyone else for that matter.”
“Yeah, I know.” His qualms suddenly faded away, though he couldn’t say for certain whether it was because of what Ginny had said, or the way she looked at him when he said it. Still, Harry couldn’t honestly say he was thrilled about Ginny spending so much time outside lessons with her ex-boyfriend.
“I’m glad to hear it,” said Ginny, briskly. “Now. Don’t you want to know who’s taken your place as seeker?”
“Do I have a choice?” said Harry, wryly. However, seeing Ginny’s eye’s narrow, he quickly added “Joke! I just wish it was still me, that’s all.”
“Yeah, you’re not the only one. I was worried about seekers before we even started. You were always so good that nobody else really bothered to trial for it while you were playing. I really had no idea what I might have to pick from.” Ginny pulled a face. “Let’s just say that is wasn’t the highlight of trials.”
“Really? That bad?”
Ginny nodded. “In the end, I picked a third year called Elfie Etteridge.”
“Exactly. I swear I’ve never even seen her before. She looked so terrified, I thought she was going to throw up just walking on to the pitch, but she held it together in the air. She was really fast, and she made the most catches when I let the snitch out,” Ginny signed. “Oh well, it’s done now. Hopefully it will be fine. I’ve got a few weeks to whip them all into shape, anyway.”
Harry spent a moment enjoying that particular thought. “Hmm. Lucky them. You know, I really can’t wait to see you at Christmas. How many days do we have left?”
“Twenty-three. Not that I’ve been counting.”
“That long? That feels like forever!”
“Trust me; the time will fly past! Just remember, it isn’t twenty-three days you have to wait. It’s twenty-three days to plan exactly what you’re going to do with me when you finally get your hands on me.”
Harry was suddenly at the mercy of a thousand interesting mental images, each one more distracting than the last. “Ginny!” he groaned. “That isn’t fair! We’ll be at your mum and dad’s by then, and I dread to think what they might say if they caught us.”
Ginny sighed. “Good point. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could spend some time on our own together too? You know, without Mum constantly prowling around and turning up at unfortunate moments.”
“Well that’s easily solved. I’ve got some holiday to take, so why don’t you come and stay here for a few days before we go to the Burrow?”
“Harry, that’s brilliant! What a lovely way to start the Christmas holidays.” Ginny was thrilled by the suggestion. Then, suddenly, she saw how she could provide Hermione with the help that she had promised. “Ooh! I’ve just had a great idea! Let’s have a Christmas party!” It was perfect; a relaxed atmosphere, low lighting, and a little firewhiskey to help proceedings. Ginny knew she was on to a winner.
Unfortunately, Harry wasn’t so sure. “Really? What happened to ‘just the two of us?”
“Oh come on!” cajoled Ginny. “There’s nearly a week between the end of school and Christmas Eve, so we’ll still have lots of time alone. Hermione and I will organise everything, you and Ron won’t even have to lift a finger. And besides, don’t you think a party will be fun?”
Yeah, I suppose so.” Actually, now he thought about it, Ginny had a point. It would be good to see his friends, and he would appreciate the opportunity to let his hair down. He was sure Ron would too. “OK, let’s do it. I bet there hasn’t been a party here for years. Maybe not ever. It’s time we brought some fun and games back to Grimmauld Place.”
“Fantastic! I’m really looking forward to this,” exclaimed Ginny. “It’s going to be the best Christmas ever.”
A/N - Once again, massive thanks to the totally fabulous CambsAngst, my amazing beta reader. His help continous to make this story better, and makes writing it a pleasure:-)
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