All the groups had Saturday off from construction duties and were free to entertain themselves in any way within reason. Some were enjoying a picnic around the Black Lake and watching the Giant Squid floating along the surface. Others were simply enjoying a lazy summer day taking it easy. A few had gone home for the weekend, and things around the castle were relaxed and quiet. Harry was counting down the minutes to meet Ron and Hermione at the Three Broomsticks. He had decided to take a walk around the grounds of the old Quidditch pitch. The pitch and stands had been burned to the ground by Voldemort's followers. New timbers had been delivered and were sitting next to the grounds in huge stacks. By the looks of the mess, it would take a several wands and a lot of magic to get the goals and stands back up. The towers would be a little tricky but should be back in place by the start of next year's Quidditch season. With his extra efforts with Myrtle, it was possible McGonagall might let him get started on the pitch early. With the fine summer weather they were having, it felt like a waste being stuck in the Slytherin rooms which had the features of a dungeon.
Neville had asked to come along with Harry to Hogsmeade. Like Harry, Neville had no family to visit over the weekend, and the castle and things around it, were his home. Looking from the Quidditch pitch and up to the castle grounds, Harry could see Neville pause to wave as he walked towards the Broomsticks. Waving back, he glanced at the clock tower and started back up to the school. It wouldn't hurt for them to get an early start. If Ron and Hermione were not there early they could take in a couple of shops before lunch. Some of the shops were already getting in new products for the start of term. They walked toward Hogsmeade with a good pace and had time to take in a shop or two before meeting up with Hermione and Ron. Neville desperately wanted to take in Dogweed and Deathcap, the Herbology shop. Harry thought he would take a look in Zonko's gag shop. He wouldn't buy anything of course, but would check out the competition for George's shop. That would make a great excuse to stop by the store and talk to Ginny. Making a mental note to ask Ron for her work schedule, he was nearly at Zonko's.
Taking in Zonko's was always fun, even if he had outgrown most of the gags. There was a colorful lineup of new products for the next school year. They didn't have anything to compete with George's new cordless extendable ear, which he thought would be a good seller for George. Browsing through most all of the new merchandise, it was nearly time to meet Ron and Hermione. Saying goodbye to Zonko's, he impatiently made his way to the Three Broomsticks. There was no sign of Neville. He must have found something appealing in the Herbology shop.
Opening the door to the Three Broomsticks, Harry could see the dining area was a little lighter today. Scanning around the room, he could make out the back of Ron's head and also that of a girl with short hair sitting next to him. The guy sitting across from them and talking was also unrecognizable. He approached the table from the side and canted his head into their angle of view. The head of the short haired girl shot around.
"HARRY!" she said, immediately jumping up from the table.
"Hermione!" Harry said as he recognized the face immediately.
Harry gave her a big hug, then stepped back a bit and panned his head up and down, taking in all the changes since he had last seen her. The hair was cut short with no resemblance to big bushy hair she had always worn. She was wearing a light summer dress that was above the knees and sandals with a short heel. She had gotten quite tanned and Harry didn't think he had ever seen her quite this dark.
"How are things Harry?", said Ron.
Harry looked toward the guy that must be a friend and nodded and said, "Hello."
"Oh Harry – Let me introduce Lance – Harry this is Lance Goodloe!"
"Hello Lance – Harry Potter," Harry said as he leaned over the table to shake his hand.
"Heard a lot about you Harry!"
Lance stood up to take Harry's hand. He was taller than Ron, with light brown hair – the outer layer of which was almost blonde from the sun. Overall, he had a solid outdoor look about him.
"Lance works for the Australian Ministry Harry – he helped me find Mum and Dad."
"Well that's great. Are you up here to take a bit of Holiday?" asked Harry.
"It's a long story actually, but through correspondence with the Ministry while trying to help Hermione locate her folks – well, one thing led to another and I'm here on assignment. For a little extra training you might say."
"Lance is an Auror for the Australian Ministry, Harry," Hermione added.
Harry noticed that Ron could only manage to nod or add a sheepish grin.
"Hope you enjoy your stay," Harry said smiling, "so – how long are you here for Lance?"
"Hard for me to say Harry. I'll know a lot more after Monday."
"Oh I see, " Harry said.
"Harry tell us, How's work on the castle coming along – Ron's tells me you've had some trouble in Knockturn alley," Hermione asked excitedly.
"Well one – the castle is coming along just fine. We've got the Great Hall and kitchens back in working order. Gryffindor common room and dorms are in good shape – I know you're happy to hear that. The Ravenclaw tower was hit pretty bad, but it's livable again. All in all it's shaping up."
"It is a lovely castle," Lance added nodding.
"Two – not sure what to make of this business in Knockturn alley, but I'd say I definitely stumbled onto something. Ministry is still working on it," Harry said.
"But really Hermione – how's your folks? Everyone's been worried you know – especially Ron," he said with a wry grin.
"Harry, that too is a long story... let's just say for now – they're doing much better," she said with a slight smile.
"Say – Harry how's the Quidditch pitch?" asked Ron.
"Still burned to the ground. The new timbers are waiting to be put up. Hopefully McGonagall will give the go-ahead very soon."
Everyone was so excited to catch up on what had been going on, and didn't notice the waitress standing behind the table.
"Oh excuse us... Everyone feel like a butterbeer?" Hermione said panning around the table to see everyone nod.
"Make it four butterbeers, and a little ginger in mine please," she added.
"So... Hermione – how come the short hair?" Harry asked smiling.
"Well, Mum and Dad found a house in Perth. Dad got a sailboat and with a little help from Lance we've been doing our best to learn... and with the weather being the way it is there, it seemed like the right thing to do," she said with a huge grin, "I know it's so unlike me," Hermione said bowing and shaking her head, and still laughing.
"Hey – I think it looks great. What do you think Ron?" Harry asked.
"Yeah – really good – I like it," Ron said unconvincingly.
"Hermione – is that you?"
They all turned to see Neville standing in amazement, and a round of laughter followed.
The waitress returned with the butterbeers and everyone ordered lunch. Madam Rosmerta, the owner of the Three Broomsticks wandered by the table to check on things. She paused and took a double-take at Hermione but smiled a broad smile.
"Well – I like it, the short hair Hermione!"
"Oh thank you, it was appropriate for the weather there," Hermione said, not wanting to get into the whole story.
"Well then, you've found you've parents dear?"
"Oh yes, and hopefully I'll be able to pry them away before too long. They've found a beautiful place in Perth."
"Very nice indeed," Lance added, as Hermione ignored the comment.
"Well I hope the food is to your liking – good to see you all," she said and walked away.
They continued to talk through lunch and couldn't easily get caught up on what had been going on with each others lives since the battle had ended the war. It was obvious that Hermione was very happy to be back, and Ron was happy to have her back, but he was struggling for a tactful way to handle Lance. Lance appeared to be one who had didn't have to struggle a lot in life – he finished his Auror training in six months, which normally took a year in his country. Statements he made that obviously impressed Hermione would cause Ron to roll his eyes. As Lance would speak, pushing the straw colored forelocks away from his brow, Hermione would seem to get lost for a moment in the aqua blue eyes. Lance was a pleasant enough guy, so his comments didn't grate on the nerves – not yet.
After a full lunch, everyone felt a walk around the castle would be the thing to do. Harry and Neville played the part of guides and explained the details of all the work that had been taking place. They strolled around the Quidditch pitch and Lance was asked a few questions.
"Do they play a lot of Quidditch in Australia Lance?" asked Harry.
"A bit, but not on a large scale Harry. We don't have enough players to have inter-school teams."
"Oh I see," said Harry.
"Australia plays New Zealand and that's about it," he added.
"Do you play Lance?" Harry asked.
"Yes a little bit, got a late start, but played in my last three years of school."
"He being modest – everyone at the Australian Ministry said he was a great Quidditch player," Hermione added.
As the afternoon wore on, Lance excused himself to get ready for work on Monday. He explained that he would be would be staying at the Leaky Cauldron until the Ministry could find him some regular housing. He waved goodbye and disappeared toward the castle as they continued to walk toward the Black Lake.
"Hermione, what kind of work is Lance doing for the Ministry?" asked Harry.
"I'm not really sure – he wasn't very talkative about it."
"But he is an Auror – right?"
"Oh definitely – fairly fresh in the business I think, but doing quite well from what I hear."
Ron gave Harry a repugnant look when Hermione wasn't looking.
The group sat around the lake for awhile while Neville left for the castle and the Gryffindor common room. He wanted to read a new copy 'Herbology Times' he had gotten at Dogweed and Deathcap. It was edging toward nightfall and Harry wasn't sure if he needed to stick around or give Ron and Hermione a little time to themselves.
"It's a shame Ginny couldn't come today," Hermione said.
"Yeah, I guess she's still helping George – hey Ron?"
"Yeah – well George should be closing shop in an hour so. We could probably catch Ginny and go for a butterbeer?" Ron said in an upbeat voice.
Hermione sat silently gazing off at the lake. Harry was feeling like an intrusion, and sensed Hermione needed time to catch up with Ron.
"That sounds great – but – maybe another time would be better."
Harry shook Ron's hand and gave Hermione another hug.
"I'm glad you're back Hermione."
"It's so good to see you Harry!"
Waving back at Ron and Hermione Harry trudged up toward the castle. The crickets could be heard in full swing and the evening air was sweet with the smells of summer. Damn, maybe he should have gone along with Ron's plan to find Ginny.
Sunday morning was starting late. Michael and Anthony had turned up Saturday night, and Neville joined in the group for a round of conversation that went on until the morning. Neville admitted he had the hots for Luna Lovegood and had sent her several Owls. She apparently had gone on a trip to the Ural mountains looking for evidence of Blibbering Humdingers and wouldn't be back until fall. Harry was making his way to the Great Hall looking for a bit of late breakfast.
Harry turned to see Mr. Filch with Mrs. Norris at his side.
"What do you want Filch?" Harry said casually and in a tone Filch didn't like.
"Headmistress wants to see you Potter," he growled, "after breakfast that is."
"Ta," Harry said as he hurried to the only table left with breakfast servings.
Grabbing a few sweet rolls and coffee Harry read over a copy of the Daily Prophet that was laying on the table. He had a small serving of eggs and a rasher before deciding to forget the paper. It was the same old news about how desperately the Ministry needed help. Thinking of Sandy Sparkelyn, he wondered if he might be hearing from her again shortly. He was wondering if the message strips had revealed any further insight into the case the Ministry was working on.
Finishing breakfast, he made his way to McGonagall's office. He had made this trip so many times to see Professor Dumbledore. It felt strange taking this path to see someone other than Dumbledore. As soon as approached the stairwell, the Phoenix began to turn it's way to the landing for the Headmistress' door. Apparently there was no need of a password. So many things were different, with school out of session. He knocked on the door.
"Come in," he could hear McGonagall's reply.
"Good morning Professor."
"Good morning Potter. Have a seat."
"Is there anything wrong Professor?"
"No – not really, just wanted to have a word," she said unconvincingly.
Harry made himself comfortable in a leather padded wingback.
"Got an Owl from Kingsley Shacklebolt the other day. You haven't forgot your supplemental studies I hope?" Professor McGonagall said peeping over her bifocals.
"Uh... no Professor I haven't forgot – just haven't got started yet," he said.
"Well, I've been looking over your records and they're not too bad. A little brushing on a few subjects and you should qualify for an Auror position without having to complete your N.E.W.T.'s."
"What areas do I need to work on Professor?"
"You're a little behind on Potions – but considering your instructor – I think we can let that one slide. You definitely need improvement with Arithmancy, and Kingsley was very specific that you get all the help you can get with Muggle Studies."
"Muggle Studies?" Harry said with astonishment.
"Yes indeed – as I said, very specific. So first thing Monday – before you set our for work – stop by Professor Vector's office for your Arithmancy book, and I believe Professor Snickle is in today – she'll have an advanced book for Muggle Studies," she said nodding curtly.
"Sure Professor, is there anything else?"
"Potter, about this other business, we've had some troubling news. Peeves has heard another name mentioned by the Bloody Baron," she said then paused with a troubled look.
"Who Professor?" Harry said pleading.
"Well... I'm afraid it's the Brown girl."
"Yes – Lavender Brown. Of course we'll have to verify this before a single word gets out of the castle. Are you and Myrtle still talking?"
"Well... yes Professor, I'm supposed to check back next week. "
"The sooner the better Potter. We need to know how many and the names. We need to know if there's anything we can do to reduce their interaction with the students next fall," she said in a wavering tone.
Harry left McGonagall's office wondering how he was going to get all these things done. He would have to work on the castle all day, takes bubble baths, and study Arithmancy and Muggle Studies at night. He hoped the story about Lavender wasn't true but had a nagging suspicion that the story was accurate. Lavender deserved to be remembered as she was – not as a ghost, he thought. He stopped by Professor Snickle's office and got the Advanced book on Muggle Studies. She had taken over the position after Professor Burbage was killed by Voldemort. For the rest of the afternoon he poured over the book, often stopping to laugh at the strange habits of Muggles. He guessed Shacklebolt was still serious about getting him involved in the training for International Aurors. Neville and the others in his group were becoming suspicions about all the baths he was taking. He might have to let Neville in on some of the story. He had told Myrtle to meet him Monday, but thought McGonagall would prefer him to talk with Myrtle immediately. He would head up to the fifth floor after dinner.
Harry and Neville were leaving the common room for dinner.
"Neville, there's a reason I've been taking loads of bubble baths lately," Harry said in a confiding tone.
"Yeah – I've been wondering about that Harry."
"I've been talking to Moaning Myrtle. Some of the students lost in the battle – well we think we may have a ghost problem."
"A ghost problem?" Neville asked with a puzzled expression.
"Yeah – too many student ghosts could delay opening the school. We're trying to come up some kind of solution."
"Solution – what can you do with a ghost Harry?"
"Not sure Neville."
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