Harry lay on his bed at Grimmauld Place, staring at the ceiling. He had barely moved for hours, his mind churning endlessly. He had been in his room since arriving home the night before, but he hadn’t slept. He hadn’t even bothered to undress. Outside the window, the sun sank slowly below the rooftops of the houses across the square, but Harry paid no attention to the gathering dusk, just lay, motionless. One day ago, Hermione had tracked him down, huddled in the ruins of his parents house. Two days ago, he had brought his whole world crashing down around him. Three days ago, Ginny Weasley had still been the centre of his universe. The knowledge was paralysing.
Hermione hadn’t brought him straight home from Holyhead. Instead, she took him to St Mungo’s, and insisted that someone look at his wrist. The Healer had poked and prodded at it, drawing his breath back across his teeth in the way of horrified tradesmen the world over. Harry supposed it had probably hurt, but he hadn’t really been aware of any pain. It didn’t seem to matter. It was mended now, but it was a bad break and the treatment was made considerably more complicated by the delay. As a result, Harry’s wrist was still held immobile in a splint, to protect the soft new bone. The Healer made it very plain that he thought Harry was a fool for not coming to the hospital sooner. Harry couldn’t have cared less, and simply submitted listlessly to the familiar treatment. As soon as it was completed, he trudged towards the doorway, with Hermione flapping by his side. He barely spoke, just answered her questions as briefly as possible, his voice subdued.
Once in his room, he lay still on the bed, thinking of nothing but Ginny, and how badly he had hurt her. Sleep eluded him. His brain simply would not switch off, replaying the events of the preceding forty-eight hours on a constant loop, watching as though he was a detached observer. He saw himself screaming at Ginny, felt the white heat of his anger as he left her. Then he watched the hours spent huddled in what had once been his nursery in the house at Godric’s Hollow, torturing himself with visions of Ginny wrapped tightly around Draco Malfoy. It was so vivid he could almost taste the whisky, and the pain threatened to overwhelm him. It wasn’t just that it hurt, it was that everything hurt. It hurt to move. It hurt to breathe. It hurt simply to be.
Occasionally, the sounds of the house intruded into his vigil. At some point during the night, there had been muffled voices as Ron arrived home. Then, silence as the rest of the household slept, until the dawn broke and once again the other occupants came to life. There was the distant clanking of Kreacher’s huge iron frying pan on the hob, the thump-thump-thump of Ron’s heavy footsteps on the floor, and the creaking and groaning of the ancient plumbing, protesting at providing morning showers. Then, silence again. Harry just lay there through it all, unmoving. Kreacher had brought him a tray at lunchtime, probably Hermione’s doing. It lay untouched on his chest of drawers, alongside his breakfast, two slices of toast topped with long-since congealed butter and a stone cold mug of tea.
Now, as the sun set outside, the house began to stir once more as Ron and Hermione returned from work. Their voices were muffled at first, but gradually became clearer as they climbed the stairs, arguing loudly enough to penetrate the walls of the old house.
“Leave him, Ron. He’s in a dreadful state,” he heard Hermione plead.
“I don’t give a shit. He needs to hear this,” hissed Ron in reply. There was no mistaking the anger in his voice.
“I really don’t think he does.”
There was a long pause. Harry could almost hear Ron glowering at her on the other side of the door. “Then maybe I need to say it. Just... Keep out of it, Hermione.”
A moment later, Harry’s door opened. Ron didn’t bother to knock. Harry stayed still on the bed, staring upwards. He’d been expecting this.
“Well?” snarled Ron. That one word was charged with so much anger, Harry physically winced.
“Well what?” asked Harry quietly. He knew what must be coming, but he simply couldn’t rise to it. The misery seemed to cripple him.
“You damn well know what! You don’t get to pull crap like that on my sister and just pretend it didn’t happen! I’ve never seen her that devastated! I should beat you to pulp for what you said to her!”
Harry turned his head towards Ron. He knew Ron was spoiling for a fight, and he simply didn’t have any defense. How could he? Ron was absolutely right. “Yes. You probably should,” he said quietly.
“You’re pathetic” sneered Ron. “You don’t have any right to lie there wallowing after what you did to Ginny.”
Again, Harry knew that Ron wanted him to fight back, but how could he, when he agreed with every word? “You don’t think I know that? Nothing you do could possibly make me feel any worse,” he replied, in a small, defeated voice.
“Good! You bloody well deserve it!” Ron shook his head in disgust. “Are you going to bother dragging yourself into work next week? I’m not going to lie about where you are anymore, you know.”
Work. Harry had barely given it a second thought. He certainly hadn’t considered explaining his absence. “Thanks for covering for me.”
Ron snorted. “I only did it because Hermione asked me to. They think you’re ill, and you can imagine how well that went down. I think Jeremy’s exact words were ‘If he’s not dying of Scrofungulus, he bloody well ought to be here’.” Ron fixed him with a hard stare, blue eyes glittering dangerously. “He’s right, too. While you’ve just been lounging around feeling sorry for yourself, everyone else is running about like blue-arsed flies trying to take up the slack. And it isn’t just that either!” Ron’s voice was rising now as he warmed to his theme. “It’s pretty bloody obvious that you don’t care about Ginny any more than you do about work, so I’ve been been out making sure she doesn’t have any more rubbish to deal with; doing what you should have done if you’d been half the man I thought you were!”
Harry frowned. “Meaning?”
“Meaning I dealt with Malfoy.”
Malfoy. No matter how hard he tried, Harry couldn’t blame Malfoy for all this. Deep down, he knew damn well that it was his fault, his mess. Still, Ron was right. He had let Ginny down yet again, because Malfoy’s invasion of Ginny’s home, Ginny’s privacy, couldn’t be ignored. “Dealt with him? What did you do?”
“I threw him off Beachy Head.”
Whatever Harry had expected to hear, it wasn’t that. He sat up and looked straight at Ron. “Seriously?”
“Yeah. Like I said. It’s taken care of.”
“Bloody hell, Ron - is he... did you kill him?”
Ron regarded Harry disdainfully. “Of course I didn’t kill him! I just made sure he won’t be bothering Ginny again. And so we’re absolutely clear about that - I didn’t do it because of you. I did it because of her.” He gave Harry another hostile stare. “I’m going to The Burrow this weekend. You stay away. You’re not welcome there.”
“No, she’s staying here. To babysit you.” The distaste in Ron’s voice was unmistakable.
“I don’t need babysitting!”
“No. But apparently you get it anyway.” Ron turned to leave, but before he left the room he looked back. “Harry? I am not okay about this. We are not okay. What I said to Malfoy goes for you too. Mess with my sister again, and I will kill you.”
For the rest of the week, Ron remained cold and distant. Harry overheard more than one whispered debate between him and Hermione. Though he couldn’t be certain, he got the impression that Ron was suggesting they look for somewhere else to live. Apparently, Ron hadn’t won the argument, because for the time being at least, there was no sign of them leaving. In contrast, Hermione was doing her best to be supportive, but Harry found the constant sympathetic glances and gestures intrusive and irritating. While he was at home, he tended to keep to his room in order to avoid her, with the bonus that it also allowed him to evade Ron’s iciness too.
It was equally easy for Ron and Harry to avoid each other work, since they were rarely in the office at the same time. Even when they were there together, there was so much work to do that none of the Aurors seemed to have time to draw breath, let alone start a fight. Ben’s death, as well as Justin’s injury, had left the team stretched very thin once more. Harry couldn’t have been more grateful for that, as he could find at least some distraction in the sheer volume of work.
That wasn’t to say that being at work was quite the oasis of sanity that it might have been. There were aspects of being at the Ministry that Harry found very hard to deal with indeed. He dreaded running into either Percy or Mr Weasley somewhere in the depths of the building, yet more reminders of the dreadful thing that he had done. He took to scanning every public space for even the slightest hint of red hair, in an attempt to avoid a confrontation. Thankfully, there was never any sign of Percy, and he only saw Arthur once in those first weeks, as their paths crossed in the Atrium. They didn’t speak. Arthur looked as though he might have been about to call out to him, but seemed to think better of it, and only gave Harry a sad smile before he hurried on his way. Harry wasn’t sure whether to feel hurt or relieved.
But fear of running into the various members of the Weasley family wasn’t the only reason why Harry tried to avoid the Ministry’s public areas, preferring instead the peace of the Auror office, or the isolation of a fieldwork assignment. All those other witches and wizards scurrying about their business, smiling and happy, provided a constant reminder of just what he had lost. How dare their worlds keep on turning when his had stopped on its axis? How dare they carry on living their lives as though everything was normal, everything was okay? Nothing was normal, or okay, or ever would be again. He felt permanently off balance, as though his grief had somehow deprived him of a limb that he never knew he had.
Suddenly, from out of nowhere, Harry experienced a blinding moment of clarity. There was no need to feel like this! He could be rid of the misery in an instant! All he had to do was see Ginny! He just had to explain to her how sorry he was, how desperately he regretted what had happened and how much he still loved her, and surely she would see sense? But how to do that? He began by spending every hour he had to spare in Holyhead, just wandering up and down the road where he knew that Ginny’s cottage stood, hidden from view. He hoped desperately that he might catch a glimpse of her entering or leaving, that he might be able to snatch just a few minutes to talk to her and tell her how sorry he was, but he never saw her. She must be disapparating from inside the Fidelius charm, just as he had done from Grimmauld Place while he, Ron and Hermione had done while they were on the run.
Undeterred, the next place he tried was the Harpies Stadium. He was more hopeful of success here, but once again he was thwarted. Outside of game times, the gates were firmly locked, and the doddery old man on that greeted him at the players entrance proved to be a great deal sharper than Harry expected.
“Not that it isn’t a pleasure to meet you, Mr Potter,” he said, with a friendly smile, “but I’m afraid Miss Weasley’s friends were quite definite that you weren’t to be admitted. I’ll have to ask you to move on.”
Harry pretended to leave, making his way along the side of the building until he was sure that the old gent had gone. But when he retraced his steps, he found nothing but solid wall at the point where he was certain the gate had been. The Harpies meant to exclude him, and they were doing an excellent job of it.
As a result, Harry was extremely dejected when he got home, slumping into an armchair in the drawing room.
“No luck?” Harry jumped. He had been so lost in his own morose thoughts that he hadn’t even noticed Hermione curled up on the sofa opposite him.
“What do you mean?”
“I assume you’ve been back to Holyhead, haven’t you?” she asked, her voice sympathetic.
Harry had to admit that he appreciated her concern. With Ginny determined to avoid him, and Ron still glowering at him whenever they saw one another, Hermione seemed like the only person he cared about who was still able to so much as tolerate his company. Harry wondered how she knew where he had been, but then thought better of it. She had always been so much cleverer than him with things like this. Actually, that was a good point. He looked up at her excitedly.
“Hermione, you have to help me. I just need to work out how to see Ginny. You can think of something, can’t you?”
Hermione’s eyebrows wrinkled in concern. “I don’t know, Harry. I’m worried that you’re just setting yourself up for another battering. You need to find a way to move on, not to go back.”
He brushed her worries away. “I know you’re only trying to look out for me Hermione, but I can fix this. I know I can. I have to. I just need to talk to her, that’s all.”
“That’s easier said than done, though. She isn’t really speaking to anyone at the moment. Ron said she wouldn’t talk about it at The Burrow, and she hasn’t replied to any of my letters...”
Letters! Of course! He could just write to her! It was so simple that he was stunned he hadn’t thought of it sooner, though he supposed it was because he had always relied on the mirror to talk to Ginny before. He bounded across the room, and gave his friend a big hug and a manic smile “Thanks, Hermione, you’re brilliant!”
Hermione just looked confused. “Erm... You’re welcome?”
But Harry didn’t wait to explain, just dashed upstairs to find some parchment and a quill. It took him a long time to complete his letter to Ginny, and by the time he had finished his room was littered with screwed up pieces of parchment, words that he knew simply would not touch her. When finally he was satisfied, he headed to the attic to find Pigwidgeon, then settled back to wait, and to hope.
Ginny’s note, agreeing to meet him, was short and to the point. Try as he might, Harry was unable to read any particular meaning into the few words printed neatly on the parchment. Thursday and Friday dragged by interminably slowly, and with every second, Harry became more and more jittery. By the time Saturday arrived, he was a wreck; nervous, excited and terrified all at the same time.
Still, he left the house that day so utterly convinced that he and Ginny would end the day reconciled that the car crash that was their meeting in that dismal little cafe took him completely by surprise. He went to meet her full of hope and expectation, and returned clutching only a crumpled supermarket carrier bag containing a toothbrush and a couple of t-shirts.
To begin with, he was simply in shock. It took a while for the enormity of it to really sink in. This time, Ginny’s rejection was no heat-of-the-moment act of pain and hurt, it was a calm, considered decision. There was no way back. She was gone forever.
Everywhere he turned, there were little reminders that Ginny was no longer a part of his life. He spotted articles in the Daily Prophet that he knew would interest her, then realised he would never get to show them to her. He opened the bathroom cabinet and found a half empty bottle of her shampoo there, forgotten. He knew he should just throw it away, but the familiar apple scent was too intoxicating. Far worse, though, was the mirror. It seemed to taunt him. Every time he glanced at it, instead of Ginny’s beautiful, smiling face, he saw only his own reflection gazing back. If he’d cared enough to notice, he would have seen how terrible he looked - face thin and drawn, green eyes sunken into sallow skin that sported several day’s stubble and hair that was even longer and even messier than usual. He wasn’t sleeping well, either. Night was the worst time, alone with his thoughts and nothing with which to distract himself. The tiredness was crippling, and it compounded his haggard appearance.
The first inkling that Harry got about just how dreadful he looked came at the breakfast table one morning. Ron was shovelling eggs and bacon down his throat as though they were going out of fashion, while Harry’s sat untouched and cooling on his plate as Harry simply took a few sips of black coffee.
“Not eating that?” grunted Ron.
“No. I’m not hungry. Have it if you want it.”
As Ron reached greedily for the plate, Hermione pulled up a chair at the table. A greeting died on her lips as she stared for a moment at Harry, and even he didn’t miss the shocked expression on her face.
“When was the last time you ate a proper meal, Harry?” she asked. She was trying to sound casual, but Harry knew her far too well to miss the concern in her voice.
Harry drew his eyebrows together and tried to think. “I had a sandwich yesterday, I think,” he mumbled.
“Well, at least have some toast,” insisted Hermione, pushing the toast rack and marmalade pot towards him.
Harry thought about protesting. He really wasn’t hungry, and didn’t feel like eating anything. Food felt dry and unpleasantly gritty in his mouth, but he forced it himself to swallow a couple of slices, just for an easy life. He was conscious that Hermione was watching him like a hawk as he ate, and that for all his frostiness, Ron was shooting him some concerned glances too. Harry ignored it. The last thing he wanted or needed right now was anyone’s sympathy. Instead, he washed down the toast with another swig of coffee and then stood up from the table.
However, Hermione had not finished attempting to mother him. “You know, Harry, I’m not sure I can remember when you last took a day off. You must have worked every day for at least three weeks. Surely you don’t have to go in today as well?”
Harry shrugged. “It’s because we’re really short-handed.
“But Ron’s been getting days off,” pointed out Hermione.
“I just thought I’d go in and see if I can help out.” Harry knew he sounded defensive, but the truth was he had been spending as much time working as possible. Every spare minute was spent at his desk or out in the field and he volunteered for all the extra shifts that were on offer. He felt better in the office, where work provided a comforting preoccupation.
Hermione gave him a stern look. “You aren’t overdoing it, are you Harry? You look... Well, you don’t look your best. I’m worried about you.”
Harry knew she meant well, but work had become his lifeline, and he wasn’t about to give that up. “I’d rather be doing something useful than sitting around here on my own. It’s not like I’ve got anything better to do anymore, is it?” He breathed out a hint of hollow laughter.
She didn’t seem to have any response to that, so he made good his escape and headed to the front door.
If anyone other than Ron realised that Harry wasn’t meant to be in the office that day, they didn’t say anything; an extra pair of hands, even one that was exceptionally short of sleep, was very welcome indeed. The office was busy that morning, with most of the Aurors at their desks. Ron arrived shortly after Harry, and nodded a greeting as he sat down. The gesture wasn’t lost on Harry, considering the cold-shouldering he had been getting over the previous weeks. Harry wondered if it represented enough of a thaw to risk striking up a conversation, but decided against it, and the two of them worked in silence for the rest of the morning.
Gradually, the the office emptied. Hestia and Marcus went to Azkaban to interview a convict who was hoping to barter information for a reduced sentence. Terry decamped to Magical Records, muttering something about research. Just before lunch, Tarquin and Susan left for an observation assignment in Kent.
Eventually, it was just Harry and Ron, sitting at neighbouring desks, each behaving like the other wasn’t there. Sighing inwardly at the prospect of yet another day of awkward silence, Harry immersed himself in the stack of paperwork on his desk and tried to forget about how his entire world seemed to be caving in.
“You look like shit, you know.” Harry looked up, startled by Ron’s voice. He turned to find his friend leaning back in his chair, looking at him appraisingly. “I mean, you could at least have had a shave or something.”
Harry was so surprised that Ron had actually spoken to him, it took him a moment to respond. He reached up to touch his chin, and was startled to realise that his stubble was in real danger of becoming a full-on beard. “Yeah. I suppose.”
Ron pressed his lips together thoughtfully, then stood up and headed for the office door. He paused on the threshold, as though trying to make a decision. The he turned back towards Harry. “I’m going to get a coffee,” he said, with a studied casualness. “Do you fancy one?”
“Umm - sure. Thanks.” Harry supposed that was Ron’s idea of an olive branch, and he thought that he really ought to acknowledge it. “Ron...” But he was speaking to a closed door. Ron had already left.
When he returned some minutes later, Ron was carrying two large takeaway coffees. He dumped one unceremoniously on Harry’s desk without looking at him, before slumping down into his own chair. Harry had been been expecting the usual sludge from the Ministry cafe but recognised the insignia on the side of the cups as being from the expensive Muggle place just around the corner. Though it wasn’t much, Harry couldn’t help but think that it represented a major shift in Ron’s attitude towards him. He sipped his drink in silence, wondering what, if anything, to say now.
Abruptly, the peace was shattered as Gawan barrelled out of his office with such speed that the door clattered against the neighbouring filing cabinet with a loud ‘clang’. The sudden noise made both Ron and Harry jump. Harry slopped coffee down the front of his shirt, and dabbed at it ineffectually as he tried to remember some cleaning spells.
Gawain stood still in the middle of the office, staring around in disbelief. “Where the hell is everybody?” he asked, incredulously.
“Well...” began Ron, but Gawain immediately cut him short.
“Never mind - there isn’t time. Come on, both of you!” He hustled from the office. Ron and Harry exchanged a puzzled look, and then hurried after him.
“Erm, Gawain?” asked Harry. “Where are we going?”
“Apparition point,” he replied, over his shoulder. “I’ve just heard from Dave Tudor that Constantino Papadakis has been released on bail, pending his trial for the fencing charge he was originally arrested on.”
“Weren’t the Muggles meant to be keeping him in prison?” Ron pointed out, sounding surprised.
Gawain shook his head regretfully. “Apparently, Dave’s influence doesn’t stretch quite as far as he thought. There should have been more than enough evidence to keep Papadakis in custody, but it seems he has a very persuasive lawyer.”
“What security do they have on him?” asked Harry
“I doubt there’s any at all - what could Dave possibly have told them that wouldn’t have raised all sorts of suspicions? But it doesn’t matter. No amount of Muggle police could possibly protect him from Jugson. We need to find him and ensure his safety until I can make arrangements to conceal him more permanently. Or at least until we have Jugson locked up tight in Azkaban. The more quickly we can find Papadakis, the more likely it is we can keep him alive.”
“So what’s the plan?” enquired Harry, still trotting to keep up.
“I’m going to the jail. Dave says that the release procedure can be lengthy, so there’s a good chance I can intercept him. I want you to go to his flat and wait for him there, in case I miss him.”
“Do you really think he’d be stupid enough to go home?” wondered Ron. “That’s the first place Jugson will look.”
“I know,” replied Gawain, as they swept past the wizard on security and into the apparition point. “But he’s scared and vulnerable, and I think he’ll bolt for somewhere he feels safe.” He rummaged in his pocket and pulled out a scrap of parchment, handing it to Ron. “This is the address of Papdakis’s flat. Send me a message if you find him. And be careful; Jugson will almost certainly be thinking exactly the same thing, so keep your wands drawn and your wits about you.” With that, Gawain disapparated with the loud crack of a wizard in a hurry.
“Where are we going?” asked Harry.
“Somewhere called Catford.” Ron handed over the parchment. “Know it?”
Harry shook his head. “No.”
There was a momentary, awkward pause, broken by Ron. “Well then. I suppose we better check it out. Sidealong?” He held out his arm, with only the slightest hint of hesitation.
“It’s probably easier,” agreed Harry. He took hold of Ron’s arm, and felt the familiar rushing, squeezing sensation. A moment later, they appeared together behind a row of garages.
It was Harry’s first visit to Catford, and based on the estate where Constantino Papadakis lived, he doubted he would be in a rush to return. He turned up his collar against the persistent drizzle that did nothing to enhance the dismal appearance of the cluster of ugly, concrete tower blocks. It didn’t take long to locate the correct block, and as they hurried inside, Harry was hit by the stench of stale urine that pervaded the lobby. It was enough to make him wish he was still outside in the rain.
Ron poked hopefully at the buttons by the lift in front of them, but nothing seemed to happen. “Bugger. What floor is the flat on?” he asked, as he started climbing the stairs.
Harry checked the parchment as he followed close behind. “Eighth floor.”
The stairwell was just as fragrant as the lobby, the walls liberally decorated with graffiti. Harry paid it no attention as he bounded up the stairs after Ron. They were both out of breath by the time they reached the eighth floor, but Ron showed no sign of slowing down as he hurried along the corridor, checking the door numbers. He stopped abruptly in front of number 812. Harry’s stomach clenched when he saw what remained of the door, hanging uselessly to one side, blackened and splintered. Both he and Ron immediately drew their wands.
Ron took a deep breath. “I guess we ought to take a look inside,” he said, sounding distinctly unenthusiastic.
Harry nodded in response. As they stepped over the threshold, he could see that the flat was comprised of several doorways off a central corridor. “You take the right, I’ll take the left,” he told Ron, peeling off into the first of his rooms. It turned out to be a kitchen in dire need of a good clean, while the next room was a sparsely furnished bedroom. Harry muttered revealing spells under his breath as he entered each room, but could find no hint of anyone. The flat was tiny, and his search only took a couple minutes.
When he had finished with the bedroom, he moved into the room at the end of the hall. As he pushed the door open, he could see it was the sitting room. Unfortunately, he was not alone. Constantino Papadakis was sitting in an armchair facing him, his face contorted with pain and terror, eyes open and staring lifelessly in front of him. Both Papadakis and the chair that he was sitting in were peppered with curse burns, as was much of the rest of the furniture, the carpet, and the curtains that fluttered in the breeze by the open balcony door.
Harry’s shoulders slumped. He shook his head sadly and crouched down in front of the body. He stuck his wand in his pocket and reached to close Papadakis’s eyes, intending to give him that tiny bit of dignity in death. Papadakis’s skin was warm beneath his fingers; he must have been alive only moments before Ron and Harry arrived. It took a second longer than it should have for the implications of that fact to permeate Harry’s sleep deprived brain. He reached for the wand in his pocket, but just as he did so, there was a flicker of movement at the balcony door.
“HARRY!” bellowed Ron, hurtling into the room. He launched himself at Harry, bowling him over. Together they rolled away from the chair, just as a streak of green light flashed right through the spot where Harry had been crouching. Harry felt a crack of pain through his side where Ron had landed on him, but there was no time to check for broken ribs, as he and Ron both scuttled behind a sofa. Harry was still fumbling for his wand as Ron exchanged curses with the wizard on the balcony. As the wind carried the curtain away from the balcony, Harry caught a glimpse of their opponent. Pinched face, dark blonde hair - it was Mortitius Jugson! As Harry finally managed to level his wand at his attacker, Jugson made a quarter turn on the spot, and disapparated with a crack. The whole thing must have taken less than a minute.
For a moment, Ron and Harry just stared at each other in shock. Then, Ron’s face changed from sheet white to bright pink.
“What the fuck do you think you’re playing at!” he screamed. “Just sauntering into a room with the country’s most wanted wizard? What the hell is the matter with you? Have you actually got a death wish or something?”
“I didn’t know he was there!” spluttered Harry.
“Why the hell not? You heard Gawain! Be careful, keep your wand drawn! Did you even do a revealing spell before you wandered in here? No, of course you didn’t, or he wouldn’t have got a jump on you like that!”
“I... I just saw Papadakis, and I thought... I mean, I assumed Jugson would be long gone! Why on earth would he hang around?”
“Does it matter? That isn’t the point, Harry! Do you have any idea how many times I’ve saved your skin over the years? I thought you might actually be able to look after yourself by now, but clearly not! What were you thinking?”
“I don’t think I was,” admitted Harry. “I haven’t been sleeping very well. I suppose I got a bit distracted.”
“I’d say that was bloody obvious!” Ron’s words were harsh, but he had lowered his voice, and his tone much softer now. He slumped to the floor and leaned against the sofa, and when he looked at Harry again, his expression was concerned rather than angry. “You’re really not doing very well at the moment, are you?”
Harry wanted to deny it, but given what had just happened - his failure to complete his revealing spells, or to search the room, or notice the open door, or keep his wand drawn, or react to the warmth of the body - there wasn’t much he could say apart from, “No. Not really.”
Ron was quiet again for a few heartbeats, just looking at Harry very carefully. “I’d have to be thicker than a mountain troll not to work out why,” he said, then sighed loudly. “Here’s the thing, Harry. You hurt Ginny, and I’m still not alright with that. But I reckon you’ve beaten yourself up enough for both of us. We still need to let Gawain know what happened, and process the crime scene, but when we’re done, let’s head to the Leaky Cauldron and get a few beers.”
“You’re sure?” Harry wasn’t certain whether it was the euphoria that followed such a close brush with death, but he suddenly felt better than he had in days. For a time, it had seemed inconceivable that Ron could forgive him. Perhaps there was a way back from this after all? Perhaps, eventually, he and Ginny could start again too? He resolved to give her time and space, keep his distance for a while, and pick his moment to approach her. As long as he didn’t give up hope, there was still a chance. There had to be.
“Yeah. In fact, I reckon it’s well overdue.” Ron chuckled softly to himself. “I’ve got to help you sort your head out, mate, otherwise you’re going to get yourself killed. How the hell would I explain that to Hermione? I would never hear the end of it!”
A/N - Congratulations to all of you that correctly guessed what the title of this chapter would be! I hope you enjoy it. even though I know you're all really hoping that Harry and Ginny will get back together soon. While I refuse to give away any of the twists and turns still to come, I promise that Evolution will have a happy ending - although that shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that's read the Epilogue-)
Thanks as ever go to CambAngst for being my beta-reader and helping Evolution to be as good as it can be - I know lots of you follow his awesome story, Harry Potter and the Conspiracy of Blood, and I'm delighted it's getting the love it deserves. I beta read for him too, and he's been really patient with me while I've been away from writing, so I want to thank him for being so amazing and supportive. There are some brilliant people on this site, and he's definitely one of them:-)