Harry woke this morning feeling different. Not particularly something you could put your finger on. Just different like the ending of one chapter and the starting of a new one. He had cleaned and shaved this morning and felt pretty sharp as he made his made toward Headmistress McGonagall's office. He walked like a man with a purpose. The castle was generally quiet in the mornings and this morning was no exception. A few were casually making their way toward the Great Hall for breakfast. Harry continued on and walked up the steps leading to McGonagall's office. He could see the door was cracked open. He knocked lightly and waited for a response.
"Yes... come in."
Harry pushed the door open and walked toward the large oak desk. McGonagall was lifting her head and adjusted her glasses to take further notice.
"Morning Professor, " Harry said in good spirits.
"Hello Potter, what brings you to my door this morning."
"Could we talk for a bit?"
"Sure, have a seat. What's on your mind?"
Harry settled into the comfortable leather wingback and paused a moment before speaking.
"Well, you know Kingsley Shacklebolt has me reading Muggle Studies and Arithmancy for a job with the Ministry?"
"Yes, I derived as much Potter," she said.
"As badly as I wanted to think the war is over and everything would go back to normal – I can see now that is isn't," he said.
"Oh I see, and what brought you to this conclusion, if I may ask?"
"A couple of things. Before I came here there was an incident in Knockturn alley with me and my house-elf. The same men may have been involved in an attack on Ginny Weasley just the other day," he explained slowly.
"Was that Ginny you were flying with at the Quidditch pitch the other day," she asked inquisitively.
"Aw... no that was a friend from the Ministry."
"Oh, I see," McGonagall said as she paused for a moment. "What you say is true of course. The war has left our side very weak."
"There's not enough Aurors," he said shaking his head. "Kingsley wanted me to take a job immediately, but I explained how important it was to repair the castle, and felt the Auror job could wait. Well – I feel like I've waited long enough."
"So you're ready to train for an Auror position are you?" McGonagall said with scratching her ear.
"Yes, I think that's about it Professor," Harry said.
"Well, I think they've got themselves a good man Potter," she said with a smile, "and, I want to thank you for your efforts here at the castle."
"Well, I can honestly say I've enjoyed every bit of it Professor."
"How are things with Myrtle – did we get any other names?" she asked.
"She never showed up on my last visit – maybe we can recruit Neville for this job," Harry said with a smile.
McGonagall laughed and said, "Don't know if Neville is game for this, but I suppose we can ask. You're leaving today then?"
"Yes, I thought so, I'll arrange for my trunk this weekend."
"Well, I have some things you may be interested in," she said as she rose from the desk and went over to a cabinet drawer. She pulled a large flat box from the drawer and carried it back to the desk. "He didn't have relatives that we could find, and I thought you might be as good as any."
She pulled some papers and a wand from the box. Harry recognized the wand immediately.
"That's Snape's wand," he said.
"Yes these are personal items of his. We thought about contacting you earlier. I don't know if the wand will work for you, but it's yours now. There's also some items of clothing and personal papers as well," she said as she replaced the items in the box and handed it to Harry.
"Thank you professor – this is quite a surprise."
Harry took the box back up to his room and examined Snape's wand. It was a dark and ominous looking wand. It almost gave him goosebumps just to hold it. There were some old letters addressed to Snape from his mother. He replaced the wand and letters, and hurried down to the Great Hall. He would need to speak to Neville before he left. Neville and Anthony were finishing up a bit of breakfast when Harry spotted them.
"Neville," Harry said waving, "could I have a word?" Neville paused and Harry quickly made up the distance.
"Harry... sure, what's on your mind?" Harry motioned to take a seat.
"Well... Neville I'll be leaving the castle. I'm going to take an Auror job that was offered before I started here," Harry explained. Neville nodded as paused for a moment.
"Sorry to hear about that business with Ginny. We'll hate to see you go, but I understand how you feel, " Neville said with a serious tone.
"Thanks Neville – pass this on to Anthony and Michael. Maybe I can get back out here before the summer is gone. One more thing – how do feel about bubble baths?"
Neville looked as though Harry was completely mental.
His business with the Ministry was finished and Harry was feeling a trip to the Leaky Cauldron was in order. He felt a butterbeer and sandwich would be about right. He didn't run into anyone he knew on his way out of the Ministry. He quickly walked to the alley behind the building and concentrated on the yard behind the Cauldron. A coalescence of food smells immediately filled the nose as he popped into the yard. There were only a few customers today, as the lunch group had not arrived in full swing. About half way into the butterbeer and sandwich the door opened and Dedalus with a couple of others entered from the Muggle street-side. Dedalus was looking a little more dapper than normal today. The dusty jacket and worn top hat and trousers were replaced with items that looked almost new. Allowing a few moments to adjust to the dim light, he panned around the room and spotted Harry. He made a straight-line to the table where Harry was sitting.
"Harry... I thought you were working at the castle?" he asked.
"Decided to take a job at the Ministry Dedalus," Harry said after swallowing a bit of the sandwich.
"Well, when did this all come about?" Dedalus asked skeptically.
"Talked to Shacklebolt this morning, and I'm starting first thing tomorrow," Harry said proudly.
"Well," Dedalus said scratching his head. "That seems natural I guess – what will you be doing for the Ministry Harry, if I may be so bold?" Dedalus said as he scrunched his eyes.
"Taking an Auror job, it looks like."
"An Auror job no less – well that's great Harry! Hey, sorry to hear about that bit of bad luck with Ginny Weasley."
"Yeah, that was bad. It may have been the same guys we saw in Knockturn alley. I know you warned me about them. Maybe now I can keep a better watch out," Harry said reaching for his mug.
"That you should be able to do Harry – let me get a butterbeer," he said motioning to Hannah.
The next morning came all too early. He had a quick cup of coffee and a couple of crumpets before rushing out. Most of his clothes were still in his trunk at the castle, and he had to scrounge for something suitable to wear. Hopefully the magical transport service would have it back in a couple of days. Using the visitor entrance to the Ministry, through the call-box, he hoped it would be the last. After today he would receive instruction for the employee entrance. Stopping at the security station, he had his wand and identity confirmed before making his way to the lift. He got off at the second level where the Auror office and cubicles were located. With trepid hesitation he poked his head into the doorway to the cubicles. All seemed quiet as he browsed around for a cubicle that might be his own. He passed by a cubicle that was occupied. Peering into entrance he could see Lance Goodloe looking through a copy the Daily Prophet.
"Hello Lance," Harry said in a low voice. Lance quickly shot around in his chair.
"Harry – fancy meeting you here today. How can I help you?" he said inquisitively.
"I'm trying to find my cubicle," Harry said.
"Your cubicle – you're working here... as an Auror then?" Lance said scrunching his brows.
"My first day," Harry said, feeling a touch of pride.
"Well, that's great – it should be around here somewhere!" he said getting up to help look. "I saw them cleaning a place over here just the other day – had been used for storage I think," Lance said as the two walked around a corner. "Ah... yes this may be it. Yes... Harry Potter, it says here."
There was a folded name tag standing on the desk. Next to it was a Ministry of Magic employee handbook. Next to that was a book labeled Guidelines for Auror Service. Harry added his rucksack of books on the desk.
"Thanks Lance, how have things been?"
"Just fine I suppose. I thought you were working the castle project?"
"Exactly right – I was. But from what I hear, the castle may be in better shape than the Ministry." Harry added quickly.
"Well, Hermione should be back from training – maybe we can all meet up in the Canteen for lunch!" Lance said.
"Yes, that's sounds like a good idea – I'll be glad to!"
Harry read over the employee handbook and the guide of the Auror service. Things were quiet so he got up and walked around some of the other cubes. Most were dressed with pictures and clippings. It looked like many were making excellent use of Quixwood's magical sticking post-it-notes. When he got back to his cube a typewritten memo was waiting for him.
Training Schedule for Harry Potter
Mondays, Wednesday, and Friday 9:00 am
Dueling and Self Defense
Tuesdays an Thursdays 10:00 am
Covert Activities in Muggle environments
Friday 10:00 am
Airports, Subways and methods of Muggle travel
Start with your classes tomorrow.
The note wasn't signed, but he thought Sparkelyn or Kingsley by Sparkelyn. He would be interested in what the dueling and self defense course consisted of. He opened the advanced Muggle Studies book and shook his head a little before starting the third chapter.
It was almost lunch time when Harry finished the third chapter. At five to twelve, Harry got up and walked out of the cube to stretch a bit. He remembered Lance's remark about Hermione's training and guessed it must be some type of off-site classes. This had come as a surprise, and he wondered if Ron knew anything about it. He wondered if Hermione and Lance weren't becoming regular pals. There were quite a few Ministry employees now streaming toward the canteen. When he got there he could see Hermione and Lance in the lunch line. He looked around but didn't see anything of Sandy. Hermione looked and gave him a big smile and wave. Harry waved back and settled into the lunch line. It looked like the steak and kidney pudding they served when he and Sandy ate here. Lance and Hermione had finished the line and moved on to a table. In a few minutes he was able to make it through the line and join them. Hermione was beaming.
"Harry, I'm just so excited for you," Hermione said as Harry was pulling up chair.
"When did you decide to do this? I thought you would finish at the castle?" she said.
"The castle was coming along very well and the Ministry seemed to need the help a little more."
"Really – well, glad you noticed. Have you talked to Ron lately?" she asked.
"A couple of days after Ginny was ambushed," he added.
"I was wondering if she's planning to return to the shop?"
"I'm sure she will – she's a tough girl," Harry said while reaching for a drink of iced tea. Lance was quietly munching away on a roll. Harry felt like drawing him out.
"So, Lance how does our program compare to yours back home?" Lance chuckled at this question.
"Doesn't compare at all Harry. Things are different back home and what we need out of the Auror service is very different as well. We have almost half a million of indigenous Australians in our country - what you would call 'Aborigine'. We don't know their full magical capabilities to this day. We have to understand and be able to deal with their culture – as well as our own, which can be pretty rough sometimes," he said with a laugh.
"Oh, I see," Harry said, "and you're here for a little extra training then?"
"Yes, that about it – to round things out you might say. We'll probably be in a lot of training classes together."
As much as Harry wanted to take a disliking to Lance, he found it difficult to do so. He knew Ron didn't care for him too much, so he'd try not to get too palsy with him for now.
"So, Hermione... you've been away awhile for training?" Harry asked.
"Yes, you might call it training – about two weeks actually."
"Oh I see – here in London?" asked Harry again.
"Well," Hermione looked around, "Gringotts actually – for a bit of training on financial investigations."
"Oh really – not the kind of thing you see every day I suppose."
Hermione didn't answer and went back to her lunch. The steak and kidney puddings were quickly vanishing before their eyes.
"Well, better get back to it," Lance said as he began to pull himself up from the chair.
"Yes – time to go. Harry, you've got tons of reading I imagine?" Hermione said.
Harry glimpsed through his reading material, but his thoughts kept drifting back to Ginny. The summer was quickly melting away, and the autumn weather and another school year would be coming around before you knew it. Maybe it was just as well. The wizarding world seemed steeped in tradition, and there was an old custom in the wizarding world that resembled a rite of passage for young women. When they had finished school, completed training in apparition, and were licensed to do so, they were by custom considered adults. It was really a custom that catered to practicality. The family would no longer be able to keep up with them and police their activities anyway. It was a custom of bygone years and many wizarding mothers had dispensed with it; unfortunately, Ms. Weasley was not one of them. Harry had been dating Ginny hot and heavy until the last school year, when he along with Ron and Hermione had left school to go hunting for Horcruxes. After that year, Harry and Ginny had never really a chance to get things back together again. He was convinced that if there was such a thing as destiny, then they surely would date regularly again. Only now, it looked like he would have to wait until she finished school. Once she went back to Hogwarts it would be forbidden to visit her at school, except for short formal affairs. They might be able to sneak into Hogsmeade during the school year, but that would be the extent of it.
Clearing his mind of these thoughts, he refocused on his reading before class. A few moments later a little memo in the form of a paper airplane landed on his desk. He opened and read the memo.
Meet with Iris Rosemarkie for a briefing at two o'clock.
Hope all is going well. If you need anything, let me know.
"Uhmm," he mumbled to himself as he wondered what this briefing business was about. Finishing the class on Covert Movements in Muggle Environments, he took the lift down to the Atrium to look up Iris Rosemarkie in the employee directory. It would have saved him some time if Sandy had mentioned it in the note. Turned out, she was on the second level in an office around the corner from his. Taking the lift back, he was just about to her door by two o'clock. There was a middle-aged witch working behind a desk as he entered the doorway.
"Ms. Rosemarkie, this is Harry Potter."
"Oh, Mr. Potter – nice to see you. Close the door and have a seat, if you will please." Harry closed the door and took a seat in a not too comfortable looking wooden chair. "Mr. Potter, by now I assume you've had a chance to read over the employee material we left you," she said glaring over the rim of the half moon spectacles. Iris Rosemarkie was a very efficient and stern woman. Her hair was grey to almost white and pulled into a bun, resting too far forward atop her head. She were a dull looking black robes that were fading from too many washings. She had a rather old-fashioned pair of black lace-up shoes and thick flesh colored hosiery with a thick seam running down the back. Harry was afraid to smile or show any levity in her presence.
"Yes Ms. Rosemarkie I have," Harry said solidly.
"And in particular, the booklet titled Guidelines for Auror Service?" she asked.
"Yes, that too."
"Very well then, we're where we need to be. This briefing Mr. Potter is about very sensitive issues and material not included in the manual. This printed material will never leave this room." She handed Harry three typewritten pages from a folder on her desk. Harry took the pages and glanced at the material. "Please read carefully every paragraph, and initial on the blanks provided. Sign each sheet at the bottom when you're finished." She leaned over and handed Harry a clipboard and quill. "Harry, please note carefully those sections that describe information labeled as 'secret' and 'need to know'. Now please read carefully the penalties for disclosing this information carelessly," she said with patience and deliberation. Harry initialed the sections labeled and signed each sheet at the bottom. He handed the sheets back to Ms. Rosemarkie.
"Okay I believe that's it," Harry said.
"Very good Harry. If at any time you are not completely clear on the rules and regulations, or security matters as a whole, please feel free to stop by and discuss these things with me. It's my job to help you understand these things and to help keep you out of trouble," she said as she raised up from her desk to shake his hand. "And welcome aboard Mr. Potter."
"Thank you Ms. Rosemarkie."
Harry nodded and left Ms. Rosemarkie's office. There was one paragraph that outlined the use of unforgivable curses, which was kind of scary. The form explained he had a license to use those curses in the line of duty, or when his life, or when the lives of others were in danger. It explained that the use of the curses might lead to an investigation as to their necessity. Harry hoped he'd never have to use them, but with his background and history, it might be a matter of when rather than if. Harry knew the moment he left Ms. Rosemarkie's office, that the days of fun and games at the castle were over.
The rest of the day went by rather quiet. Mostly reading the books he brought in on his first day. Still no trace of Lance, and the cubicles were empty with only the faint creaking sounds that a building makes from time to time. He was starting a chapter on 'Muggle Activities in Airports and Terminals' when he heard soft footsteps behind him. He heard a butterscotch feminine voice.
"Hello Harry..." He recognized it immediately.
"Hello Sandy," he said as he swiveled backwards.
"How's your day?" she said with an inquisitive look.
"Oh, okay I guess... I went to see Ms. Rosemarkie."
"You don't seem too thrilled about it," she said smiling.
"No I guess not," he said shaking his head slightly.
"Iris is a little too damn business as usual for my tastes, but don't let her tone bother you." She grabbed another roll chair from an empty cubicle. Her dark blue robes were a little more bulky than normal, but Harry could see she had crossed her leg and was sitting comfortably. "So how are things?" she asked scrunching a brow, "Did you get things finished at the castle?"
"Aw yeah, the castle was in good shape – much better than we arrived."
"Good – they'll be able to get school started on time you think?"
"Oh yeah – all the houses and common rooms are back in order."
"That's good to hear," she said wiping her brow as if to dismiss the subject. "Harry, we've found the owner of the staff you discovered and also the one that turned up in the U.S.," she said.
"Yes, Bathilda Bagshot kept excellent records of magical artifacts. The staffs were never registered with the Ministry because they were very old, but thanks to Bathilda's records we found the owner," she said nodding.
"Imagine that – you have both of them then?" asked Harry.
"No we don't," Sandy said with a slight smile, "but perhaps next week, as a bit of training – how would you like to go to America to the get the other?" she asked inquisitively.
"That would be great – never been to America!"
"There won't be a lot of time to look around. You'll go directly to the the American Department of Magic," she said.
"The American Department of Magic?"
"Yes, that's what they call it. It's like our Ministry," she said with a chuckle. "We'll have to get you a quick passport and get the paperwork done to get you through airport security," she said.
"Airport security – is that a problem?" he asked.
"Yeah, you can't be expected to put your wand in a plastic tray for scanning. With the proper badge and credentials, you'll bypass airport security as a special agent of the U.K.," she explained.
"Cool – I like it!"
"How's your classes coming along – boring?"
"A little," he said.
"Well, you'll like Dueling and Self Defense. Beollan is a trip."
"Beollan," Harry said curiously.
"Yeah, Beollan Swordslipper, he's your teacher for that class – quite an interesting character. A little eccentric maybe," she said grinning, "but then most dueling masters are horribly eccentric."
"A dueling master no less," Harry said with a wry smile.
"Oh, and Kingsley will want to talk you – now that you've been briefed. We've told you only a little. There's much more to this business with the staff and racketeering of artifacts. He'll probably get in touch with you in a couple of days. So don't think you're being ignored down here – okay?" she said slapping her knee before getting out the chair.
"Well thanks for coming down," Harry said. Sandy paused just before rounding the corner and glanced back.
"Oh, and holler if you need anything," she said with a wry smile. Harry nodded and smiled back. He reached for the book resting on the desk. Looking at the book, the thought of reading now seemed terribly insipid.
Harry had started a habit of going to the canteen to get a cup of coffee each morning. This morning would be no different and he would need the coffee to get him through the last chapters of the Muggle Studies book. He wondered what the reading topic would be next week and hoped there wasn't a third volume of the Muggle Studies. About half way into the third page of the last chapter a little airplane memo stalled and made a crash landing on his desk. He unfolded the paper plane with a little difficulty around the crumpled nose gear.
Hope all is going well.
Shacklebolt would like to see you this morning. When you get some free time
please stop by.
There wasn't anything stopping him from going now. Anything to get away from the book, he thought. Besides, he might get there early and chat-up Sandy. With that thought in mind he headed straight to Shacklebolt's office. Passing through the gilded archway, he heard footsteps and saw Sandy leaving Shacklebolt's office and headed toward her desk. Harry paused and just enjoyed watching her walk to the desk. The custom cut violet robes were swishing with a little rhythm of their own. She had medium height heels on today, and was taller, but not towering. She wasn't self conscious, but looked as if she realized she was being carefully watched.
"Well, it didn't take you long," she said.
"Ah, you rescued me from Muggle Studies – glad to leave."
"Well, it's looks like you're a bit early. Kingsley's had an unexpected visitor. Can you come back in thirty minutes... Sorry!" she said apologetically.
"Uhmm... I suppose I could go for coffee. Would you fancy a cup?" he asked.
"Oh Harry, I can't just leave like that," she said squinting, "but, I suppose I could run an errand. Hang on a second." Sandy walked over to Kingsley's door and mumbled something about an errand. Harry could hear the door being pushed shut until the latch clicked like a bank vault closing.
"Okay, just a quick cup then," she said.
The morning breakfast crowd was long gone, and the canteen was nearly deserted. Harry got a cup for the both of them, and they settled in on a little table not too far from the door.
"I believe your paperwork is almost completed," she said.
"Then I should be about ready for travel?"
"Well, almost. Has anyone talked to you about getting a mobile?" Harry knew all about the importance of cell or mobile phones from his Muggle Studies.
"No – no one has talked to me about a mobile. I'll need one for this trip?"
"It's all really a part of the training. If you go into Muggle areas, then you need to blend in. With nine out ten Muggles using a mobile, you'd look a little odd without one," she said smiling.
"Yeah, right, 'observe and not be observed' is the motto most used in the textbook I believe."
"Yes that's right. Also have you gotten the Muggle newspapers? The Ministry should be delivering by Owl."
"Got one yesterday – the Times I think."
"London or New York? The Americans refer to The Times from London as The London Times to distinguish from their New York Times."
"The London Times then," he said.
"Okay, we'll need to get you reading the New York Times as well – sorry," she said with an apologetic tone.
"Seems like a lot of trouble, but I guess it's necessary," he said shaking his head.
"It's very necessary. Remember, the dark wizard you're trying to catch could notice a Muggle noticing you. You must blend in to your surroundings," she said with sincerity.
"Well of course you're right." Harry was thinking he would much rather talking about the weather.
"Maybe it will be clear when you talk to Shacklebolt about this recent business," she said looking at a watch. "Speaking of which, it's time for us to get back," she said rising from the table. Harry got up as well, but a little puzzled.
"You seem to know an awful lot about this business of being an International Auror?"
"Well, I received full training in 'this business' as you called it," she said with a smile.
"We'll have to save that for another conversation Harry. It's time for you to meet Shacklebolt," she said as a little light was blinking on her desk.
Sandy hurried to the door to Shacklebolt's office and pressed the switch to unlock the latch. The sound of the door creaking open was followed with the sound of Shacklebolt's voice. The voice picked up a bit as the door swung fully open. The conversation sounded like chitchat. Shacklebolt's comment was followed by a voice Harry recognized immediately. It was Ron, and coming around the corner he looked a little surprised to see Harry standing there with a smile.
"Hello Ron," greeted Harry.
"Hello mate, wondered if I would run into you," Ron said extending his hand. Shacklebolt had a satisfied and comfortable smile on his face. Looking back toward Sandy, Harry could see she was grinning from ear to ear. The two stood there for a few seconds. Shacklebolt finally broke the silence.
"Ron has decided to join us Harry. Maybe now the Auror cubicles won't appear so desolate," he said smiling.
"Oh, that's great. Welcome aboard Ron!"
"Sandy – you take care of Ron, and Harry and I will have that little talk." Shacklebolt put his hand on Harry's shoulder and motioned toward the office.
"Have a seat Harry." Shacklebolt motioned toward the comfortable leather chair. Shacklebolt took a seat at the desk and pushed the green bankers lamp aside. He took the pipe off his desk and began to tamp a new bowlful of tobacco.
"So – I understand you've had your security briefing with Ms. Rosemarkie?" He said still tamping the bowl.
"Yes sir, we met the other day and I read and signed all the forms."
"Very good then," Kingsley said nodding, "mostly a formality – but still necessary. We can speak a little more freely about things now. This conversation is 'need to know', but Hermione and Sandy can assist you with issues dealing with the case."
"Yes sir." Harry was now all ears as Shacklebolt was reaching for a match.
It was getting close to the starting time for the Dueling and Defense class. He had warned Sandy about Lance and Ron's little issue. He quickly caught up with Lance who apparently knew the way. This must be the class Lance mentioned they would be sharing. He suddenly wondered how Lance knew this. They walked down a long hall that had a door at the end with a sign marked 'Dueling Pistes'. They entered a long room with several long pistes running lengthwise in a staggered configuration. In one corner of the room there was a large star shaped figure painted on the floor. Along the walls were paintings of wizards dueling one another. There were a few more students in the room that he didn't recognize, but Beollan was an easy standout. He was a middle-aged wizard with long hair tied behind him. He wore a handlebar mustache, which was streaked with grey. Beollan noticed Lance and said hello. He turned toward Harry and cracked a smile.
"You must be Harry Potter – I'm Beollan Swordslipper," he said as he extended his hand.
"Glad to meet you sir – I've heard a lot about you," Harry said.
"All good I hope," he said grinning, "and we've heard about you as well. Glad you're on our side." Lance raised a brow at this remark from Beollan.
"Lance, do you have any idea what this star is for?"
"Not exactly – better let Beollan explain that," he said looking toward Beollan. "Beollan, can you explain the star again?" Beollan smiled and walked toward the star pointing to various points with his wand.
"This device is used for practicing circular tactics with more than one wand."
"More than one wand?" Harry asked with a puzzled look.
"Yes, It's similar to the sword and dagger tactics. It's an older method, pretty much out of use of use now. Most wizards don't take to using two wands."
"Of course sir – I understand. It just looks to be an interesting proposition."
"It can be interesting, as you put it Mr. Potter. Maybe we can try it sometime, if you have another wand?" Beollan said with a curious smile.
"Yes sir, I think I just might have one."
The remainder of the week felt like it would drag on forever. He had tinkered with the mobile for a while before putting it all back in the box, and wondered how he would manage to keep it charged up. Quixwood had suggested he consider having Grimmauld Place wired for electricity. Having finished up the day with everything packed in the rucksack, he headed toward the exits. Quickly, he decided he would drop in on George. Ron or Ginny should be there and he could make his case for a celebration get together. As soon as the crowd outside diminished he slipped into the alley behind the building and disapparated to the yard behind George's store. Some days the backdoor was open, but not today. Entering by the front, there was no sign of Ron, but the long red tresses of Ginny were visible around a stack of shelves. This was better anyway he thought. Perhaps being a little more nervous after the incident, her head jerked up immediately to see him coming her way.
"Harry," she said with a wry grin, "what brings you our way?"
"You know where I saw Ron today?" he asked slyly.
"I really couldn't say, where?"
"At the Ministry – talking to Shacklebolt, he's starting an Auror job!" Ginny tried to stifle a laugh.
"What's so funny?" Harry asked curiously.
"Oh nothing really, I'm glad for him," she said straightening her face.
"Also, I may be going to America next week for a bit of training. I was thinking we should have a celebration of some kind. You know, you, Ron, Hermione, and me. I was thinking we might go to Hogsmeade Saturday. That way I could stop by the castle." Ginny gave Harry a funny look then chuckled a bit.
"That's sounds cool Harry, but I don't think you're going to get Ron and Hermione together for a little while – they've had an argy-bargy," she said smiling.
"Well, Ron stopped by Hermione's place a few days ago. He said she hasn't been too friendly lately. Well, to make a long story short, Lance was there. Nothing was going on – but he was there."
"Oh I see," Harry said as he shook his head.
"Anyway, Hermione said there was nothing wrong with his being there, and she and Ron got into a row. So, it's not too likely we'll be getting the four of us together for a while." Harry thought about this a few moments before speaking.
"Well Hell, why don't we just go out and forget them? I'll have a beer with Ron later," he said.
"What, Saturday to Hogsmeade?" she asked squinting.
"Or something," he said with desperation trickling into his voice." Ginny narrowed her lips and began to get that far off look.
"Oh, I don't know Harry. I mean I'd like to sure – but you know what I said the other night about Mum. She's been acting kind of strange lately."
"Well okay, maybe some other time," Harry said with optimism that wasn't genuine.
"Sure, some other time Harry," she said apologetically. Harry nodded and then turned toward the door. Just before he was out of earshot, Ginny called back.
"Then you're off all day Saturday?"
"Sure," Harry said, completely puzzled by the question.
A disappointing way to end a week was what Harry was thinking as he headed down the Alley toward the Leaky Cauldron. A butterbeer would help douse the blues that had a grip on him. At least for a while. The Friday evening crowd might would be getting started soon and things might be a little rambunctious. Tapping the wall in an anticlockwise pattern, the entryway began to form in a steady rhythm of clicking bricks. It sounded like the party had started without him.
The Leaky Cauldron crowd was still going strong when Harry decided he'd had enough. He had a sandwich and couple more butterbeers before Dedalus bought the table a round of Firewhiskeys. He ignored the shouts of encouragement and offers of more drinks and disapparated to Grimmauld Place while the hour was still decent.
He woke up with a terrible thirst. Throwing on a robe and slippers he went downstairs to get a glass of water and a piece of bread or something like that. His stomach was doing flips. There was no sign of Kreacher about. He may have disapparated to Diagon Alley for groceries. He had gotten a drink of water and was coming out of the kitchen for the stairs when he heard a rapping on the door. Who the hell could that be, he thought. His wand was still upstairs and he ran back up to get it. He was holding the wand in the right hand and hiding it behind the door frame as he cracked the door open with his left hand. Looking through the crack, he could make out a glimpse of red, then long red hair, then Ginny. He quickly opened the door and was standing there with a stupid look on his face and his wand in his hand.
"Ginny?" He finally managed. She smiled and began to walk in while stifling a chuckle at his morning appearance. His hair was ruffled and he was trying to wipe the sleep out of his left eye.
"Morning sleepy head," she said.
"You'll have to excuse my dress. I wasn't exactly expecting company," he said while stuffing his wand into the pocket of his robe and closing the door.
"Were you expecting trouble then," she said noticing the wand.
"Wasn't sure what to expect."
"Well, anyway – happy birthday Harry," she said smiling.
"Oh yeah, you know, I almost forgot."
"We missed your birthday last year – I still feel bad about that."
"Almost forgot that too," he said shrugging.
"Hermione and I worked so hard on the cake," she said with a mock frown.
"Must have been a lesson in all that."
"I'm sure there was," she said smiling curtly. "Look, about Hogsmeade, I'm really sorry I can't go. You know that – right?" she said.
"I understand – really I do."
"You have time for coffee then?" she asked.
"Sure, I'll get started on the coffee," he said while turning toward the kitchen. Ginny reached out and grabbed his sleeve. Harry stopped to look back.
"No wait," she said, and leaned forward grabbing his hand and kissing him solidly.
"That was nice," he said as they parted ever so slowly.
"I'm running a little short of time. Can you get me back to behind the store in ten minutes?"
"Sure," Harry said and nodded a series of short nods. She stepped forward and began to press tightly against him. The lingering kiss was warm and wet.
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