Ginny arrived with Harry at the Burrow early Wednesday morning. They would be playing the last games before the winter break in a few days. More importantly, Hermione and Ron’s wedding was only two weeks away. The sun shone and despite the cold air it remained a nice winter's day. Ron and Hermione sat outside on the porch talking, hands intertwined.
The pair failed to notice Harry and Ginny’s arrival. "Morning," Ginny greeted as soon as she was within earshot. The couples head shot up and Ron dropped Hermione’s hand, his ears growing red.
"Hi," they greeted together. Harry shook hands with Ron and gave Hermione an awkward hug. The friendship between Harry and Ron had not been unexpected. Ginny had guessed they would get along well, but she had not expected the slowly developing friendship between Harry and Hermione.
"So what’s this all about? I mean dragging a bloke out of bed so early on his day off is cruel." Ron bounced about, hands deep in his pockets, as he spoke.
"Well," Ginny began slowly as she glanced up at Harry with arms folded across her chest to ward against the winter air.
Harry coughed in an adorably shy manner. His face was still a bit pale from the game a few days ago and his back had yet to heal completely. She did, however, feel rather smug at her healing abilities. None of the cuts looked like they would be leaving any scars. He already had too many.
He did manage to speak though. "We would like to give you a wedding present, but it's not really something we can choose for you."
Hermione's face lit up. "What is it? Plates? We really need a good set? Wait no... A decent set of knives and forks, we should have something good when guests come over for dinner.
"Hermione," Ron groaned. "The flat we were looking at getting is way too small for guests. We could fit what... two people in there besides ourselves."
Her face fell. "I suppose, but we should be getting some decent things for the future."
Harry shuffled closer to Ginny and slipped an arm around her waist. She welcomed the heat.
"So?" Hermione said facing Harry and Ginny. "What do you need our help for?"
"I'll take Ron and you can take Hermione," Harry said with a bright smile to Ginny.
"Wait?" Hermione held up a hand. "Where are we going?"
"That's part of the surprise," Ginny giggled. She took hold of her friend’s hand and waited for Harry. "Ready?"
Harry nodded and all four of them vanished only to reappear on a soft green lawn. Ginny let go of Hermione and walked back to Harry, she really needed the warmth of his hold.
"Where are we?" Ron asked loudly.
"Option one," Harry said as he lifted his arms. "This is a great little property. It has enough space, as you can see, for a small Quidditch pitch and the place has four rooms that could easily be expanded if needed..."
"Wait!" Ron and Hermione shouted together. "You're giving us a house?" Hermione finished.
"I've got a few that I'm not doing anything with. So yes, Ginny and I are giving you a house."
"But..." Hermione's eyes were wide and Ron looked like he had swallowed something large. "You... this..."
"Why?" Ron managed to get the lump out his throat.
Harry glanced down shyly and nudged gently at a pebble near his feet. "I would like to help you. I mean a property is one of the most expensive things a young couple would want to buy one day. If you add the expense of raising a family... I... We."
"We just want you to be happy." Ginny finished for Harry. "This is something we want to do for the two of you."
Hermione took a step closer to Harry. Her face a mixture of emotions. To Ginny’s surprise Hermione threw her arms around Harry. Ron edged closer to Ginny.
"You sure about this?" he asked. "I mean, blimey, Ginny. A house?"
Ginny shrugged. "Harry inherited some money and as professional Quidditch players we both earn enough." He began to protest but she cut him off. "This is not some attempt at trying to show off, Ron." Her voice was firm and level. "We are doing this because we care and because we can. Wouldn't you help someone if you had the means?"
Ron grumbled a bit, but he did not meet her gaze. "Oh alright, but if you give us a Christmas present I'll hex you."
Ginny shrieked and jumped up and down. "It's settled! Now can we please get to looking around? I'm so excited!"
Harry took her hand, which was difficult due to her constant bouncing about, and led the group across the lawn towards the small two story Victorian manor house.
"So what do you think so far?" Harry nervously asked as they approached.
"Merlin, it's big," Ron said in awe.
"I'm not sure, Harry," Hermione began. "It is nice, but we'll never be able to furnish a place this large. I mean we don't even have plates."
Ginny laughed. "Relax, Harry tells me that all the houses are furnished."
"They are,” Harry agreed. “So you can replace things as you go along."
Hermione relaxed visibly. "Oh, in that case, it's lovely." The brunette took a deep breath. "The garden requires some extensive work. The roses are too far away and the pond is a bit overgrown. The grass seems to be in good condition, but Merlin knows where Ron is going to be able to put his Quidditch hoops. The veranda seems pleasant enough and it will provide some good shade during the summer. I'm not sure if it will be warm enough to use during the winter as it seems a bit cool now. The sun has barely begun to reach the steps and... What?" she asked loudly.
Harry was trying hard to contain his sniggers, Ron was looking wide eyed at his bride and Ginny tried her best to not laugh out loud.
"Grow up!" Hermione huffed, but her cheeks grew slightly red, but a grin formed on her face. "Let’s go inside!"
"Much better idea," Harry agreed.
The inside was spacious with high ceilings. A large fireplace dominated the living room and a door led through into the sun room. The kitchen was off to the side and a large staircase led up to the second floor.
Ginny took hold of Hermione's hand and led her to a closed door. "This is especially for you. I doubt Ron would think much of this one." Hermione reached out and pushed the door open. She gasped.
"Ginny," her friend barely managed to say.
"All these come with the house. Harry says many of the books are older than the house itself."
"But where..." Hermione floated across to the first bookshelf. It went all the way to the ceiling and a ladder rested against it. Each wall was covered with shelves and each one was full. Ginny leaned against the doorframe and watched her friend trying to take it all in.
Harry brushed past Ginny and entered the room. "This is the smallest library of the houses..."
"Smallest!" Hermione cried out almost dropping a book. Harry looked slightly taken aback.
"I forgot to mention that Hermione is fanatically fanatical about her books."
"Oh," Harry said. “I only thought she was obsessed.” His eyes were wide and bright. "Then I really must show you some of my families more vast libraries."
"V... vast," Hermione stuttered. "This is already massive."
Harry smiled. "The Potter family has come a long way in the Magical community, Hermione. I'm the sole heir." Hermione glanced down at the book in her hand; fingers stroked the cover longingly. "No matter which house you chose, all the libraries will be open to you. The house elfs have catalogued each book and they're all magically indexed and linked."
Her eyes narrowed. "You have house elfs?"
Ginny froze. She had never spoken to Harry about Hermione's little passion. Her sole mission in life had been to free them.
Harry continued without missing a beat. "They have served us for years, but I've already freed them all according the SPEW legislation, which is currently in draft form at the Ministry. I don't know if you've heard of the legislation, but it is rather remarkable."
"You adopted the SPEW legislation already?" Hermione said in surprise. "I didn't even know the public knew about it."
"As the heir to the Black and Potter household I have two seats in the Wizengamot and I've been pushing for the passing of the..." Harry's eyes went wide. "Of course, Granger. I... small world," Harry laughed. "A pleasure to finally meet you Miss Granger. I've been wanting to talk with you but Quidditch and... um Ginny has kept me too busy. But Quidditch is really what kept me away from your presentation. The notes of which I must say are quite extensive.”
"The honour is mine." Hermione blushed. "I knew someone was pushing for it, but I never realised that it was you."
"You wouldn't, few people know that I have two seats and those that do are wise enough to keep quiet about it."
Ginny closed the door as the two began an in-depth discussion about politics and legislation and went to find Ron. She found him standing outside in the garden and staring up into the sky. "Would you like to fly around a bit?" Ginny asked when she reached him.
"Didn't bring a broom.” He let out a longing sigh.
"There's a broom shed just around the side. I'll go get us two."
She came back with two brooms. "Here." She handed one to Ron.
"Thanks," he whispered before shooting up into the air. Ginny followed.
From above she could see the property in all its wonder. The small pond, like Hermione noticed, required some work. A bit of magic and it would be perfect. A small stream flowed along the one side of the property and into the pond.
"It's like home," Ron said coming alongside her. "I never thought I'd find a place like it, but this feels like it could really be a home, Ginny."
She nodded. To some degree it did feel like the home she’d grown up in, but in that lay the problem. She wanted a home where she could raise a family, but she needed her future home to be something different.
"It's perfect for you. I told Harry as much when he took me to the properties."
"You just need to convince, Hermione," Ron said. "She might not like it as much."
"Oh, I think she loves this even more than you."
"You think?" Ron asked with a glint in his eyes.
"Why don't we go ask?" Ginny shot down to the ground as Harry and Hermione emerged from the house. She landed much more gracefully than her brother and walked straight into Harry's waiting arms and gave him a kiss.
"So?" Harry asked the pair.
"Perfect." Hermione looked eager. Ron voiced the same thought.
"Ok, but let's just take a look at the other two just so that you are sure you want this one."
They all agreed. The day passed quickly as they showed Ron and Hermione the other two houses, but the first remained their favourite. It was neither too large nor too small. It had a cosy library for Hermione and a nice sized garden for flying. The two couples sat outside the first house as the afternoon neared an end. Each had a drink in hand as they toasted on Ron and Hermione's new home.
"So when do you two get to choose a house?" Ron asked.
Ginny glanced expectantly at Harry who tried hard not to smile. "I might have a nice property that might be perfect for us and I might be waiting for the perfect time to go show you."
She stood and walked across to him and promptly sat down on his lap nearly spilling his drink. "So you think you have me all figured out, Mr Potter?" she said with a mischievous glimmer in her eyes.
"No," he shook his head before taking a sip from his drink. "But I do believe you'll love the place and if you don't then we can always find another."
She snuggled up closer to him and rested her head on his chest beneath his chin. "So when are you going to show me this place?"
"Soon." He placed his lips against her forehead. "Ginny, I was thinking, rather hoping, that if you liked it enough to make it our home then we could have the family Christmas dinner there," Harry whispered.
Ginny nodded in agreement. It was warm and comfortable against him. The steady rise and fall of his chest and the gentle sound of his breathing had her falling under his spell. "Love you," she murmured.
She barely heard his reply before promptly falling asleep.
"Well listeners, the final game of the round has come and gone. Though we celebrate the Christmas break, we mourn the weeks with no Quidditch."
"It's a pity to be having a break now, Bobby. The top teams are looking good in the air."
"Indeed the coaches have really been pushing their teams hard. The Cannons, Arrows, Harpies and the Kestrels are all looking strong."
"It's become a four centaur race for the cup as the season begins to draw nearer to the pointy end of the wand."
"Perhaps our listeners would like a quick summary up of the fourth round before we say goodnight, Peter."
"The Harpies, dangerous as ever took another comfortable win. This time they took full points home again as they squashed the Falcons, 390-180. Weasley took another outstanding catch.
"The Magpies struggled against the Catapults. Both teams came from a loss in the previous round, but the Catapults wanted the win more. They played like demons to stretch their lead by two hundred. The game ended when the Magpies caught the Snitch. They lost, but managed to maintain some dignity.
"A disappointed Arrows team walks away with only a single point when their Chasers failed to do much. The Arrows Seeker ended the game to save some pride, but the Bats won the game 370-300.
"The Harpies take the outright lead in Group A for the first time, they still have maximum points and lie comfortably on twelve. The Arrows with their upset lie second on ten points. None of the other teams come close so the Arrows and the Harpies will be fighting next round for the top position. The Bats and Falcons lie joint third with a miserable four points. The Catapults and Magpies lie last with only three points apiece.
"In Group B the Kestrels are still going strong. Like the Harpies they have maximum points and lead the log with twelve points. The Cannons lie second on eleven. The Cannons and Kestrels will be fighting it out in January to see who ends up at the top of the log. It will be a tough game for both teams, but the Kestrels are the favourites. In a respectable third lie the Wasps on seven. They can be pleased with the season so far. Fourth is Puddlemere with three. Portree lie fifth with two and a disappointed Tornadoes are lying last with only a single point."
"Thank you, Peter. Makes me want to skip Christmas and Apparate straight to January. This season is heating up nicely. And none of us can predict what will happen next."
"Until next month, Merry Christmas."
Harry arrived at the Burrow after a very busy morning. The house was finally ready to show Ginny. Now all he needed was to get her there. His hands clapped together eagerly as he walked briskly towards the kitchen door. The Weasleys would all be sitting in there this time of the morning.
He took an excited breath and entered the house. Everyone sat in deathly silence. The grin on Harry's face dropped instantly.
"Oh, hello, dear," Mrs. Weasley greeted absently.
"Morning, Molly," Harry replied mechanically. His eyes drifted towards a very silent Ginny, she looked even more distracted.
"What happened?" Harry asked the room.
Mr. Weasley stood and unfolded a well-read copy of the Daily Prophet. Harry frowned; he'd forgotten to skim through his copy as he’d been too busy making preparations.
Harry took the paper nervously and turned it over to the front page. He blanched and took a step back, only to collide with the door he'd just come through.
"He escaped?" Harry managed to say.
"A Death Eater named, Lucius Malfoy." Mr. Weasley explained. "They say he was only captured a few months ago. Apparently he had someone on the inside."
Ginny looked up at him worryingly. The question in her eyes clear. "It won't affect the wedding, Ginny," Harry said.
"Of course it won't," Mrs. Weasley laughed. "Don't know why Ginny is so worked up about a single Death Eater who’s escaped. It’s terrible but it's not like he's hunting you." She stood grumbling. “She’s making us all miserable this morning.”
Harry chuckled nervously. Ginny on the other hand did manage to relax slightly. "Good, because we sent the invites out yesterday." She stood slowly and embraced Harry. "Hermione put this brutally effective charm on the cards that forces people into keeping it secret. Only those whose names are on the invite can read it."
He whistled softly. "Remind me not to cross her."
They sat down by the table and his future mother-in-law began to pile food onto his plate. "You looked quite chipper this morning, Harry."
"I did?" he said in surprise. "Must be the holiday spirit. It's nice going into the Christmas season with a family around." He kissed Ginny on the cheek, who beamed back at him.
"So what do you have planned for us today?" Ginny asked before taking a bite out of her toast.
"I was planning on a nice peaceful day wandering around aimlessly." He sighed regretfully. "But I suppose I'll be getting a summons to the Ministry within the hour."
Arthur perked up at Harry's words. "The Ministry? Why would they be calling you during the holidays?"
Harry glanced down at his fingers. "I... I talked to Hermione about it. So I suppose." He laughed. "I have a seat on the Wizengamot. So I guess they'll be meeting to discuss the escape."
Mrs. Weasley dropped a plate and Arthur inhaled deeply. "I guess that might be something one forgets to mention." He spoke softly. "I mean being part of the ruling body of the Ministry is not really something major."
"Dad!" Ginny said loudly. "There was no need to talk about it until now. It's not known to the public because of him playing Quidditch and other factors." She huffed. "Besides he has two seats."
"Two!" her mother gasped, the broken fragments she retrieved crashed to the floor again.
Harry just stared blankly ahead. "The Potter and Black seats."
"Bl.. Black?" Arthur questioned nervously.
"My godfather, Sirius, happened to be the only surviving heir."
"Sirius from the Order?" Mrs. Weasley asked.
Harry nodded. "He raised me after my parents’ death."
"Oh, he was a nice man." She turned back to her cleaning. "Troubled, but always very close to Dumbledore."
Arthur's eyes narrowed as he studied Harry. "Yes, he was very close to Dumbledore and they worked on special assignments." Harry could see the wheels turning in the man's mind. "You rescued Ginny from the Chamber, why you?"
Harry looked at Ginny and then at her parents. "I can speak Parseltongue," he said shyly. Twin gasps echoed around the kitchen. "I wasn't born with ability, just like Ginny wasn't. Voldemort cursed me as a baby and boom, I speak snake."
Arthur nodded in understanding. "I can see why a Parseltongue was needed." He still did not look away from Harry. "But it did not end there, did it?"
"No," Harry agreed. He folded his arms across his chest and waited.
The seconds ticking by felt like an eternity. "You fought at the Battle of Hogwarts." It was not a question, merely a stated fact. "For the Order." Harry nodded. "But yet I don't know you."
The man's eyes went wide. "You were him." It came out barely above a whisper.
Harry managed a nod.
Harry left the house in a poor mood. He'd been so full of life when he stepped into the kitchen. With the news of Lucius' escape he’d grown steadily quieter.
The knowledge that his stalker was free made him feel exposed. The single wand strapped to his right forearm seemed inadequate. Before he reached the Aparration point at the Burrow he’d already decided what needed to be done. The world compressed and spun as the Burrow and picturesque countryside disappeared from view only to be replaced by the filthy buildings of Diagon Alley.
He began to march towards the bank. Harry, however, never made it to his vault. A silent spell struck him firmly between the shoulder blades, his legs buckled and if not for the arms around his middle he would have fallen to the ground. When Harry woke he found himself strapped to a chair. Lucius, pale and gaunt from the few months in Azkaban, sat studying him.
"You really have been a bother, Harry." The man drawled slowly. The tip of his wand moved across Harry's cheek. A small trail of blood followed. It wasn't deep, but the skin burned from the contact. "Two months in Azkaban is not something I'd like to repeat."
Harry made no reply as he waited to hear Ginny’s voice. Thankfully it never came. She was not here, so instead he sat waiting for his captor to mention her name. Harry knew he should've stayed away from her. Her eyes, bright smile, cute freckles and loving personality had drawn him in against his better judgement.
"I've been searching long and hard for you, Potter." The man laughed eventually. "But I'm a patient man. I can play a long game." His eyes darkened and Harry felt a chill run up his spine. "Crucio!" Malfoy screamed with unusual passion.
Pain shot through Harry's body. Every nerve, every fibre of his being, screamed for the pain to end; but it did not. Time held no meaning during those moments; it never did and never will. To some degree it almost proved a blessing. The pain, however, always came back. This time the full force hit as his body slumped against the chair. The bindings, which had cut into the skin around his ankles and wrists, kept him upright.
"You do scream a lot," Malfoy grinned. "Imagine if I sold a recording of this to the Witch Weekly. You might lose a few fan girls."
Harry wanted to argue, but he had learned early on that holding back only increased the pain. His throat was sore and dry like always. "What now?" Harry croaked. "You going to kill me?"
Malfoy laughed again. "Kill you? Merlin no, my friend. That would take the fun out of all my plans." Harry blinked, trying hard to focus. "I've put so much in place to get to you, Harry. Spent so many of my precious Galleons." Malfoy stood and rummaged inside a bag lying on the table. "And I do like my entertainment. I even thought about going after this mystery girl of yours." Lucius sighed. “But alas, I’ve got my plans and you are all I need.”
"So why bother with all of this?" Harry coughed loudly. It would take days to recover from the prolonged exposure to the curse.
Malfoy shrugged. "Happenstance, really. You hide yourself well, but you really should stay away from Diagon Alley."
The man sat down on a leather chair. Harry blinked and tried to focus on the item Lucius had removed from the bag. "You being such a lonely recluse does make it difficult for men like me."
"You could end this now," Harry said angrily through clenched teeth. He finally managed to focus on Malfoy's hand. Harry tried hard not to panic; the man was playing with Harry’s wand. "Two small words, a puff of green, and your troubles are over." Harry closed his eyes, the man had still not made any mention of Ginny or her family. What was his game? Did he really not know or care who she was? If he was going to let Harry live then he would have made sure to torment his very soul. This whole evening seemed to be about getting Harry to fear what was awaiting him. "I'm dead, and you can go live your life happily somewhere else."
Malfoy smiled cruelly. "It's not about your demise; it's about watching you fall." He stood and waved his arms dramatically. "It's a show, Harry. And believe me, Harry, it will be memorable when the world watches you die."
He slowly raised Harry’s wand. “It’ll be like you watching this.” The sound of wood creaking and then snapping hurt more than any Cruciatus.
“No!” Harry screamed over and over as he fought against the cords holding him in place. The pain did not matter, the blood dripping to the floor held no meaning. His wand, the wand that had been through it all was gone.
Malfoy laughed over Harry’s cries. “I do hope your wandless abilities are better than you showed at the Harpies game.” Lucius laughed loudly. “Relax, Harry. I’ve heard that letting go of this world is easy.” He raised a wand and darkness came after another burst of red.
"Harry," Ginny called out once she'd appeared in his flat. "Are you alright, you've been quiet since you left the Burrow." Silence was the only reply.
She walked into the bedroom. The bed was made and everything seemed to be in order. "Kreacher!" Ginny called out.
A small pop announced the house elf's arrival. "You called, Miss."
"Where's Harry?" she asked curtly. She did not feel up to the elf's usual dry comments.
"He went to the Burrow," Kreacher replied. "He's been gone since."
"But he left earlier this afternoon!" she exclaimed loudly. "Did he go and hunt Malfoy?"
Kreacher looked bewildered. "Kreacher doesn't know, Miss. Harry said nothing to Kreacher."
She felt for her wand and then Apparated to the Harpies stadium. Gwenog would still be working.
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