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Harry Potter and The Twelve Gates by General Schemer
Chapter 13 : An Early Departure
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 1


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 13. An Early Departure

Harry's return flight had left New York Tuesday night. They flew all night until the sun began to creep through the window shades over London Wednesday morning. Harry had tried to sleep on the plane, but just as he was about to drift solidly off, the lights came back on for breakfast. Nevertheless he had made it in to work to deliver a report of all his finding on the trip. He and Flint had spent most of Tuesday driving around the ports looking at the the big container ships, but there had been no sign of the Carpathia. He had finally used the mobile to call the Ministry switchboard. He left a message saying his flight was back, and he would need the driver to come and pick him up at Heathrow. The driver used a special garage entrance to the Ministry to accommodate his luggage and the staff. Harry was glad he didn't have to struggle with the staff through the toilet bowl entrance. Being an hour late, the Atrium was almost deserted except for the security agent. He quickly checked in the staff and made his way to the Auror cubicles. Leaving his garment bag at the cubicle, he quickly got out the report and looked over a pile of memos. There was no sign of Lance, and Ron was still laboring over a pile of books. He quietly got into his cube and glanced over the report to check his statements. He had written most of it while waiting for the plane at the boarding gate. Correcting a sentence or two he put the report in a manila folder and grabbed the staff. He would drop these things off with Sandy and catch up with Ron later.

Sandy was behind her desk and immediately glanced up to see Harry dragging in the staff.

"Good morning – how was the trip?"

"Very good! Although I didn't get much sleep on the plane," he said as he handed the report to Sandy. Sandy was stunning this morning in her Lavender custom cut robes. The red hair was not gathered behind her, but resting nicely on her shoulders. The ends of the red fringe cut appeared to be battling gently with the tips of her eyelashes. She smiled warmly.

"Kingsley said for you to take off early. Nobody ever sleeps on an overnight flight the first time."

"Okay. I think I will. Oh, by the way, there's a reference to the Carpathia in the report."

She furrowed her brows slightly before speaking up.

"Oh yeah... the ship named in the message strips," she said as she recognized the name. "I'll get it immediately to Kingsley."

"Where you want me put this thing?"

"Oh – I'll take it," she said jumping up from the desk to take the staff. "These things are heavier than I remembered."

He took the lift back to his own level and then down the long hall that led to Hermione's office. The door was open and Hermione was reading a thick report in a brown paper A4 binding. She paused and placed an index finger in the air to plead for a moment's more time. She finally looked up with a smile.

"Harry! Good to see you. How was your trip?"

Already her hair was getting longer, but it was not bushy as before, and much straighter. It looked like he could see a bit of makeup and a tint of rouge.

"Hey it was great – glad to get out of the office."

"Yeah, you've only been here a week," she said laughing.

"Well... it was good to get out anyway."

"So what's up?"

He took the chair beside her desk and adjusted his glasses with the thumb and forefinger before speaking.

"The American fellow, Flint – he and I went to the shop where the staff turned up. The shopkeeper said a couple of guys came by looking for the staff. She said one of them looked like a dock worker and was wearing a cap with 'Carpathia' on it."

"Oh yeah, I read about that in a report on the message strips," she said with a peaked interest.

"Yeah well, she recognized one of them from the sketch drawings we made of the three men in Knockturn Alley," He said nodding slightly.

"Harry, that's great. That's a lead you know?"

"Well yeah, if we can ever find them. Can you do some research on the Carpathia?"

"Sure. Hopefully we can find when she's coming back to port," she said with a smile.

"Thanks Hermione. So have you found anything more?"

"Still looking at the Gringotts records of course. Not much new on that front. But still – I hate to say it, but the Malfoys are definitely a suspicious lot."

"Why do you say that?" Harry asked.

"Well, financial investigations may be new to the Gringotts Goblins – I realize that. They no doubt hold the Malfoy's account dear – it's one of their largest, but I'm convinced they're protecting them. I don't think they're giving out all their information on the Malfoy account."

"Really," Harry said as he squinted an eye.

"Yes, and after speaking to Kingsley I found a little more about the break-ins. All the victims had moved out for vacation, Sabbatical and the like. Some were gone just a week and one family was gone for the weekend. But, none of the break-ins occurred when the family was still in town. Most had used a protection charm, but they were all defeated, and still in place when the families returned."

"I don't see how that implicates the Malfoys," Harry said.

"No, but it doesn't exactly rule them out either. It does appear that someone with a local knowledge of the community may have been involved. The Malfoys have lot of contacts with the types that might commit this sort of crime," she said stopping to take deep breath.

"I suppose your right about that. We should keep an eye on them."

"That's what I'm doing Harry," she said smiling contentedly.

After telling Hermione all about Chumbley's and the American counterpart to Diagon Alley, Harry asked how things were going with her and Ron. Her response was, "better but chilly". He would get Ron's take on things. After leaving Hermione to study more reports he turned the corner to the Auror cubicles. Ron was still desperately trying to read his way out of a small mountain of text books.

"Hello mate!"

"Harry – you just get back?"

"Not long ago. How's work – too much reading?"

"I'll never get through all this Harry."

"Just keep trudging away and you'll make it."

"So how was your trip? Did you enjoy the flight?"

"Yeah it was cool. A little more comfortable than the dragon ride out of Gringotts."

"I would hope so – don't plan on doing that again soon," Ron said shaking his head.

"How's your classes – have you met Beollan yet?"

"He's the dueling instructor, right?" Ron asked with a curious look.

"Oh that's right, you haven't had your dueling class yet have you?"

"No, didn't go on my first day. Speaking of – it should start in about thirty minutes."

"You will take it easy on Lance won't you," Harry said with a big grin.

"Sure," Ron said as if to shrug off the question, "if he doesn't get in my way."

"How are things with you and Hermione?"

"A little better I guess. She's come by every day."

"Well that's great Ron. Do you think it's possible for us to get out with Ginny and Hermione?"

"Oh, I don't know... maybe. If you want to see Ginny before school, you better do it pretty soon," Ron said sternly.

"What are you talking about Ron?"

"Some volunteers are starting school early – to get things cleaned up before term. I don't think she wanted to, but Mum was pretty firm on her going."

"So when does she leave?" Harry asked with a gutted expression.

"I think they're taking the train Sunday afternoon," Ron said with a little nod. Harry just sat there shaking his head.

"We'll have to go out somewhere. The four of us I mean. Do you think Hermione would be up to it?" Harry pleaded.

"I can ask her, but I can't promise it Harry," Ron said scratching his head.

"I knew she would be leaving pretty soon, but I thought we had three more weeks. If you and Hermione don't go out with us, we'll have to wait till next year Ron."

"Okay, I'll speak with Hermione," Ron said nodding slowly.

"Well, tell Ginny the Weird Sisters are playing in Hogsmeade this weekend, and why's your Mum so strict lately?" Harry asked scrunching his brows.

"She's old fashion Harry," Ron said smiling. "Old customs you know."

"Yeah, I guess so."

The effects of jet lag and the trip were now weighing heavily. Staying at work a little longer than planned, he attended the Dueling and Defense class with Ron. They sparred together for most of the class. Hopefully, to spare Ron further embarrassment, he could get in extra practice with Harry before going up against Lance on the dueling piste. Lance was so very smooth and quick in his actions. His parries appeared to occur effortlessly, and Harry was fairly certain Ron would need a little more practice to have a chance with him. Harry was still intrigued by the large star pattern in the corner of the practice room. Thinking of Beollan's comment about the extra wand also interest peaked.

Harry left work early and made his way straight home. He pulled out the old trunk he had taken to Hogwarts. The personal items that had belonged to Snape were still in the trunk. The letters his mother had written Snape were bundled and tied with a faded blue ribbon. He had tried to read some of them but found it painful and difficult to do so. He could only bear to look at the handwriting. It was not unlike his own. He found one of the oldest letters, which appeared to be written during the first summer break. His mother was telling Snape, she was sorry the sorting hat had not put her in Slytherin house, but hoped they would continue to be best friends. It was silly, but Harry felt that to read further would be an intrusion. Gently re-tying the blue ribbon and putting the letters back in the trunk, he grabbed Snape's wand. The wand looked to be about the same length as his own. The wood which looked like Birch was almost black in color. He had no idea what the core was made of and would have it scanned at the Ministry the following morning. Gently he waved the wand in his right hand and thought of a simple spell.

"Lumos." he said as the wand tip glowed white light.

"Nox."

The wand felt weak, but since he wouldn't be using it in his right hand, he shifted it to the left. Immediately he could feel the energy resonate. It feel like a long hum then slowly faded. He didn't know why, but somehow the wand must have realized it's destiny. He felt now, that it was almost certain, he would be able to wield a second wand. Beollan would have to go along with the plan of course. He was sure it would take a good bit of training to acclimate to dueling with two wands. Placing the wand on the table beside his own, he lay down on the bed looking at the ceiling and thinking of the trip and Ginny. He didn't have time to think long.

The next morning came right on time. He had slept through the afternoon and well into the night. The house was deathly quiet when he went downstairs for a drink of water, well before daylight. Returning to bed he drifted back off again and was wiping the sleep from his eyes when Kreacher made the call for breakfast. Washing and dressing for work he hurried down the steps for the kitchen. Kreacher already had the table laid out with coffee, buttered toast, ham, and eggs. Pouring a cup of coffee he looked through the Daily Prophet. Nothing much on the way of news today – still printing articles about the Ministry being short handed. He wondered if this was the thing to do and hoped the criminal element was not reading the Daily Prophet. There was another ad for the Weird Sisters concert. It looked like a pretty good show from all the ads running. Hopefully they could all get together for the weekend, but he wasn't wishing too hard. That would hex it for sure.

"Will master take some more eggs and ham?" Kreacher asked with his croaky voice.

"No thanks Kreacher. Better be getting off." He felt he owed the little house-elf something more. "Hopefully Saturday we can find that wallpaper for the sitting room."

"Yes, that would be good sir. The walls are looking very poor without it."

Checking to make sure both wands were there, he walked out the kitchen to the hidden yard behind Grimmauld Place. Concentrating on the the small alley behind the Ministry building, he felt snapped up into a small tube and rocketing toward his destination. His body parts felt like they were flying in formation until he settled back down in one piece. He walked around the side of the building and took the lavatory entrance to the Atrium. The small wizard that checked for new magical devices was just a few paces down the huge entrance hall.

"I'm registering a second wand," Harry announced as he handed end-first the wand to the small wizard. The scanning device was waved over the wand several times and a small receipt popped out of a nearby box.

"Eleven inches, Birch, and Unicorn hair core. This wand was registered to Severus Snape," the security agent said.

"It has been recently bequeathed to me."

"Oh, I see sir, and in addition to your own then?"

"Yes, I may be carrying two wands in the future."

"Very good, and have a nice day sir."

"Thank you," Harry said leaving the inspection station and making his way through the morning crowd to the Auror cubicles. Ron was sitting at his cubicle sipping a paper cup of black coffee. It looked like he was drumming the courage to tackle the pile of books still stacked on his cubicle desk.

"Morning Ron."

"Harry... good morning."

Harry tossed his copy of the Daily Prophet on Ron's desk.

"You might start with this, before getting started on the Muggle studies."

Ron Laughed.

"Yeah you might be right," he said picking up the paper and stretching out the front page.

"Talked to Ginny and Mum last night by the way. Ginny loved the idea of the Weird Sisters concert, but Mum had other plans, I'm afraid."

"What kind of plans," Harry said through a frown.

"Well, it's not all bad. Mum is planning to have dinner Saturday night – you're invited of course," Ron said with a grin. "I know you wanted to get away a bit, so I asked Mum if Ginny could come with us for butterbeers after work Friday. She didn't care for the idea too much, but she and Ginny agreed."

"Well sure Ron, that's fine. Have you talked to Hermione?"

"Not yet. I'll try and catch her this morning."

"Sounds good."

Harry couldn't make himself sit in the cube. He wondered about using the two wands. Quietly he slipped out of the cube and made his way down the long hall to the dueling piste and practice room. Beollan had an office on the end of the practice room. The door to his office in the far corner was open. Beollan was seated at the desk and reading with a large mug in the other hand. Harry's footsteps were easily heard in the wooden floor. Beollan looked up immediately.

"Hello Mr. Potter. "

"Good morning Sir."

"What's on your mind?" he said while laying the book and coffee down. The walls of Beollan's office were covered with old pictures of dueling wizards. One such picture had a wizard firing a green jet and being overcome by an opposing dueler's red wave. There were several matched set wand cases displayed on the dark wood paneled walls.

"Well, it's this sir," Harry said extracting from his pocket the extra wand. "It's a second wand sir. It belonged to a friend of the family. It was was given to me only a few weeks ago."

"Oh, I see. So you're saying you would like to practice with two wands?"

"Thought I might have a go at it sir," he said as Beollan stifled a chuckle.

"And I bet you would Potter," he said twirling the end of his handlebar mustache. After just enough twirling he abruptly rose from the chair and grabbed two wands from the wand case on his desk.

"The second wand you have Potter, is it close to you? Any significance at all?"

"Quite a bit of significance sir."

"Oh I see. Very good," he said as they approached the far corner of the practice room. The entire corner and more was taken by the eight pointed star painted on the floor. There was a circle around the star that went through the points and another circle inside of the points and about one third toward the center. It was worn away in many places where the floor boards were not quite even. Once white, the star was beginning to yellow in color. They stopped to put on what looked like quilted vests. The vests had a shield charm cast on them for protection, in case the dueler failed to cast his own in time.

"What actually is the significance of the star sir," Harry asked.

"Nothing mystical really. Dueling with two weapons doesn't naturally contain itself to a line or a piste; as is the case with single wand dueling," Beollan said, picking a far point on the star to stand. Pointing to an opposite position on the star Beollan was directing Harry to stand opposite from him.

"Now, you want to use the wand in the left hand to cast a shield charm Harry," Beollan said while demonstrating.

"You can see you're strongest when facing the opponent and bringing both weapons to bear," he added.

"Try out the wand and cast a shield charm Harry."

Harry extended the left arm but the wand cast a weak and ineffective shield charm.

"You'll have to work on that Harry," Beollan said shaking his head.

"Yes sir, It's a good thing we have the vests."

"Yes, well – you start things off Harry. Attack and I'll block with a shield charm from the left hand."

"OK," Harry said nodding. He muttered a little curse that went tearing toward Beollan. Instantly his shield charm went up to block the attack. He signaled Harry with a nod and a moment later his attack came sizzling on it's way. Then an odd thing occurred. Snape's old wand seemed to have a mind of its own. The wand was casting a strong shield charm before Harry could complete the thought. Beollan's attack was completely thwarted.

"Wow!" was all Harry could say.

"That was good Harry. Let's try that again." Once again the wand issued a strong shield charm that completely blocked Beollan's spell. They went through the whole scenario several times and the wand cast a strong shield each time.

"Harry, that's enough for today. That's a damn good wand for you – I'd hold on to it."

"Yes sir. I intend to," Harry said with a smile.

"We'll try again in tomorrow's class," Beollan said with a warm smile. "Harry, if you don't mind me asking? Whose wand was that?"

"It belonged to Severius Snape sir."

"Well, it certainly works for you."

Just minutes after Harry had returned to his cubicle, he heard footsteps behind him.

"Hello Harry." He turned to see Lance standing there.

"Good morning Lance," Harry said trying to be polite, "You all right?"

"Just read your report," he said.

"Oh yeah."

"I was thinking about the staff and thought to look it up in an outdated copy of Bathilda Bagshot's Encyclopedia of Magical Artifacts," he said with a touch of pride.

"Well, I believe that's been done already Lance," Harry said politely.

"Yes, well this time I found the original owner Harry."

"Yeah, she's been very helpful from what Kingsley has said."

"We'll have to take them to her. She's to old too stop by and pick them up. So we'll have to get a courier to run it up there – to Godric's Hollow," he said shrugging his shoulders.

"If she was younger and good looking, you'd probably volunteer yourself wouldn't you," Harry said and chuckled.

"Yeah, I guess you got me there Harry," he answered grinning.

"Seriously, you seem to be very comfortable around women," Harry said seriously.

Lance was still grinning and nodded slowly. He paused for a second before speaking.

"Well... I grew up on the outskirts of Perth, in a resort area. It's the kind of place women come on Holiday to blow off steam. Lot's of pubs and beach bars where the young men learn to chat-up women at an early age," he said furrowing his brows.

"Is that where you learned so much about sailing?"

"It's one of the many things you learn in a place like that."

"I'm beginning to get the picture. Well, about the staffs – I had some family in Godric's Hollow, so I'd be glad to return the staffs to Ms. Tilliedaff," Harry said.

"Be my guest mate – be my guest."

Harry hurried through breakfast Friday morning. Kreacher was a little slower than normal it seemed. He appeared to be aimless in his actions and Harry thought he needed a little mission of some sort to relieve boredom.

"Kreacher, I may not be able to go for wallpaper this Saturday. I thought you might go into Diagon Alley today and find some samples."

"It would be my pleasure sir – be glad to do it," he croaked.

Quickly scanning the Daily Prophet for any news, he wolfed down breakfast, and finished the second cup of coffee. There was a pecking noise at the window and looking up, there was Pigwidgeon on the window ledge with a small note. He opened the window and Pigwidgeon dropped the note. With no interest in breakfast this morning, he immediately turned and took off over the tops of the building toward the Burrow. The envelope had a faint trace of Ginny's perfume, and he tore it open quickly.




Harry,

Ron said he told you about tea at the Burrow Saturday.

Plan on getting there about four if you can.

Hopefully George will let me leave early Friday evening. Maybe

if you, Ron, and Hermione show up at the shop that will

persuade him.

Till then,

Ginny




Harry took another deep whiff of the envelope before turning for the door. He said so long to Kreacher and made his way to the toilet entrance to the Ministry. The lines were especially long this morning as the toilets didn't seem to be flushing as they normally did. He prayed he wouldn't get hung in the pipes somewhere short of the Ministry Atrium. He opened his eyes to see the welcome sight of the Atrium, bustling with the morning traffic. Jumping into a stream that headed toward the lifts, Harry was at the Auror office a few minutes later. He did a quick pocket check to make sure he had both wands. Ron was not here yet but appeared to have made a considerable dent in the pile of book on his desk. Lance was reading a memo as another came sailing through the aisle and landed on his desk. It was note from Hermione to stop by when he had the time. About this time Ron was walking in with a paper coffee from the canteen.

"Morning Harry."

"Good Morning... You and Hermione still on for this evening?"

"Yeah, I think so Harry."

"We need to stop by the shop and persuade George to let Ginny go," Harry said with a pleading expression.

"I think we can do that!" Ron said.

"Great!" Harry said settling into the chair to get the morning reading assignments started.

After a couple of hours, which seemed much longer, Harry could make out Beollan's voice. He was talking to Sandy about something that Harry couldn't make out. Glancing at his watch, Harry realized it was time for the Dueling and Defense class. Beollan was poking his head into the Auror cubicles to assemble his coterie together for the mornings activities. Ron was getting up to follow with a look of uncertainty. Lance was smiling from ear to ear. Harry checked one more time to make sure he had both wands. Entering the practice room from the end of the long hall, Beollan was pairing up students.

"Ron, you and Lance get started over here," he said pointing to a piste by the far wall. Harry hoped Ron would kick Lance's arse, but wasn't sure he was up to the task. Beollan instructed each to wear the vests with the built-in protection charm. Ron was having a little trouble with the buckle and Harry walked over to help him.

"Just relax and focus Ron," Harry whispered before walking off, and Ron nodded. Beollan was standing by the piste and watching closely.

"Now just simple attacks and parries," Beollan instructed and both nodded.

"Be my guest Ron," Lance nobly invited Ron to attack first. Both saluted and settled into a firm defensive stance. Ron muttered something and a white jet sizzled across the strip toward Lance. With fluid efficiency, Lance waved his wand inward to produce a shield charm to block the spell. Immediately his counter curse came tearing across the room toward Ron. Ron parried it, bust just barely. His movements appeared wooden and not quite as fast as Lance's wand. His counter was easily parried and followed by a riposte that was faster than the last. This time Ron was saved only by the protective vest as his shield charm parry was much too slow. Harry pretended not to notice Ron's difficulties and sauntered over to the eight point star. Harry could hear Beollan carefully explaining something to Ron.

A few moments later Beollan joined Harry in the corner. Beollan explained a fore and back traversal of the star by following the letters of each point. They traversed the points of the star in a circular motion and Harry could see Ron was still having trouble each time he moved into position to see their piste. Finally, their class was over and Beollan congratulated Harry with his efforts on the star. He quickly went over to Ron and pulled him into his office. Harry could see Ron was a little dejected as Beollan patiently spoke to him.

"I'm sure he'll get it no time," Lance said cheerfully.

"Yeah, I'm sure," was all Harry could manage as they left together.

The rest of the day felt as though it would drag on forever. Ron didn't say too much and kept quietly to his reading for most of the afternoon. Harry looked at the time with about twenty minutes left of the work day. He went to Ron's cube and poked his head in.

"What do you say to getting out of here a little early mate?"

"Oh, hey Harry. What time is it?"

"It's about twenty till. Why don't we check with Hermione and cut out at fifteen till?"

"Yeah, that'll work!"

Hermione was talking to Shacklebolt and couldn't leave early. They motioned for her attention and waited for a few minutes while talking to Sandy. Most of the Ministry employees appeared to be in a light mood, now that that the end the week was almost near. Ron had suggested going for a beer at the Leaky Cauldron, but Harry was thinking of other possibilities. He thought Sandy might be a good one to ask.

"We're looking for a good pub – other than the Porcupine and the Leaky Cauldron. Don't mind a bit of a walk?" Harry asked. Sandy studied on this for a few moments.

"And you don't mind a walk?" she reaffirmed.

"No, not really."

"Well, there's Freud's on Holborn and Shaftebury – not too bad... but crowded on weekends. You might try The Angel. They're back a little toward Charing Cross on Holborn. They have a quiet room upstairs – a bit slow sometimes, but overall very nice."

"That sounds good Sandy, cheers."

"Keep your eyes open in those Muggling pubs Harry," she said with a playful smile.

Hermione was backing out of Shacklebolt's doorway, but couldn't seem to get away. At about five till the hour she finally slipped away and they all hurried to exits in the Atrium. Harry led them to the little alley behind the Ministry building and they disapparated together. Popping up behind Weasley's Wizard Wheezes they collected themselves and entered through the back door, which Ron had the key for. Ginny was talking to George about something as George could be seen shaking his head. Finally George left and Ginny walked up.

"George is having trouble with his extendable ear," Ginny said.

"His new cordless ear?"

"Yeah that's the one. He working frantically to get it ready for the school season."

Harry walked over to George and took a look at the ear.

"What's the problem George?"

"It's the range. This thing will never sell if I can't get the range more than a few feet," He said with a look of hopelessness.

"I bet Quixwood could find your problem."

"Who?"

"Bradford Quixwood – he works at the Ministry. He's a genius with this sort of thing."

"Really."

"Yeah... why don't I take one to him. That way you can relax and Ginny can go with us," Harry said smiling.

George scrunched his brows, looking very suspicious of Harry's offer, "Well... Okay. I guess it won't hurt to try," George said shaking his head.

Harry put the extendable ear set in his coat pocket.

"Harry. Give me a minute to get dressed," Ginny said with a smile.

"You look fine Ginny," Harry quickly came back.

"Just a minute... please."

"It's hard enough to get any work out of her without you guys coming around," George grumbled.

"Oh dry up George, you can't keep her every night," Ron retorted quickly.

"How's business George," Harry asked.

"Things are definitely picking up – the school season is just around the corner, you know."

Ginny was coming out of the back room rolling her eyes at George.

"I'm ready," she said.

She certainly appeared to be from Harry's perspective. She had changed into a pair of rather snug fitting skinny jeans that worked well with her athletic legs. They were cut long enough to partially cover the heels of her sandals. She was wearing a faded yellow tunic top sprinkled with small abstract patches of blue. A dark blue elastic belt with a hook type fastener was working overtime as an attractive accessory. The sleeves were three quarter length and the top was unbuttoned in the front by a button more than her mother would have allowed. Her red hair was worn straight and a little past the shoulders while gathered in the back. The ends were cut straight across. They all walked out the front door together. Harry couldn't take his eyes off Ginny, and Hermione and Ron both seemed to take notice of her striking appearance.

"Maybe I should have gone home first to change," Hermione said.

"You look great," Ron said without emotion.

"Can you give me a few minutes?" she pleaded.

"Sure," Ron added. With a little pop Hermione vanished. Ginny moved closer to Harry and being a little shorter, raised up on the ball of one sandalled foot while balancing with the toe of the other and kissed Harry fully in front of Ron. Ron made no expression, but stood there stoney faced and quiet.

"So how was your day Ginny?" Harry asked as he couldn't help but slip his hand around her waist.

"Very good... and also my last, I might add," she said with a smirk.

"So you're not working tomorrow then?"

"No, I have to shop tomorrow for school things, and then I'm on the train Sunday," she said.

Being as good as her word, Hermione popped back within a couple of minutes. She was dressed to the nines in a very light and comfortable looking summer frock that was modest in the front, but largely open in the back. She was wearing heeled sandals to top it off.

"Hey - that does look better," Ron said through a dazed expression.

Hermione smiled and said, "Where are we going?"

"To a Muggle pub," Ron said. "We have a couple in mind – just past Charing Cross."

"We better get going then. Don't have all night," Ginny said.

They quickly walked to the entrance to the Leaky Cauldron. Entering they immediately heard the crowd. Nodding and saying quick hellos they pushed their way through the crowd to the front door. Ron and Hermione were leading the way along Charing Cross road with Harry and Ginny tagging a little behind. When they were barely out of earshot Harry leaned over to Ginny.

"Where do you hide a wand in that outfit?"

Ginny paused as if to speak, but smiled instead.

The sun was settling softly below the rooftops and the city was changing it's face for the evening. As the glare of daylight disappeared, street lamps began to glow and bright colors began to take on a warmer hue. All along the streets conversation and laughter began to replace the sounds of automobile noises. The day's breeze was slowing to a still and the evening air was beginning to fall. So many restaurants and grills were working to produce distinctly different cuisines and the scents they produced were coalescing in the streets as a single aroma of cooking food. Harry could make out a trace of perfume Hermione was fond of wearing when the air moved his way. Ginny too was wearing a delicate scent that he was chasing with his nose. It was a lovely evening and they were only a few paces from the pub Sandy had suggested. They looked into Freud first and it turned out too crowded, but The Angel had an upstairs room that was very nice and not too congested. They found a comfortable table and ordered a round of drinks.

"You have to come to our Quidditch matches Harry," Ginny said while carefully nursing a bottled beer.

"I plan to... and I expect you to win," Harry said.

"Hopefully we can all make it Ginny," Hermione said after taking a swig of the pint she ordered.

Ron was nodding with a smile. He was watching Hermione hit the pint again.

"Should we order something to eat?" Ron asked.

"They have free hors d'oeuvres," Ginny said motioning to a waiter.

They snacked on the hors d'oeuvres and finished up one drink and then decided to walk back to the Leaky Cauldron. The evening air had definitely settled in, but Harry found it refreshing and took a deep lungful. Again they followed Ron and Hermione, who both seemed to be having a good time. Hermione was feeling no pain. Their plan was to possibly meet up with other schools friends celebrating their last night before leaving for Hogwarts.

The crowd noise in The Leaky Cauldron could be heard in the street before they opened the front door. Seamus was there and a few other school kids Harry didn't recognize. They all ordered a butterbeer. Butterbeers were weaker than the Muggle beer and tasted better Harry thought. The conversation was no longer light and airy. They were nearly yelling to be heard over the crowd. Harry and Ginny had been exchanging amorous glances all evening. Ron was not aware there was anyone but Hermione in the room. To top it all off, Dedalus came in and bought everyone at the table a Firewhiskey. Ginny insisted she couldn't drink it and Harry tried to stop it but Dedalus bought the rounds anyway. To his and everyone's amazement Hermione turned up the whiskey and finished it in two drinks. Ron and Harry sipped the Firewhiskey and all tried to have a conversation with Seamus and Dedalus.

"So you're leaving for school tomorrow – kind of early huh?" Dedalus asked Ginny.

"Some of us are leaving early to help clean up."

"She's ready to get out of the house," Ron piped in.

"So how's work Harry – you enjoy your trip?"

"Yeah, I really liked that," Harry said, continuing the chitchat.

"Isn't that Lance?" Ginny said looking toward the door.

"Sure is – should we leave now?" Ron said sullenly.

"Ron that's awful," said Hermione, as Ron started to shake his head. Ron had not said a word about the whipping Lance had given him earlier today in the defense class. Harry was ready to get out, but didn't think they should deliberately try to avoid Lance.

"We'll say hello and then leave Ron." Lance had seen them and was making his way through the crowd toward the table.

"Have a Firewhiskey Lance," Harry said while pointed to Ginny's untouched glass.

"It's not exactly how I wanted to start, but it'll have to do," Lance said with a smile and took a sip of the Firewhiskey. Everyone laughed at this.

"That's fair dinkum," Lance said wiping his lips with a finger. It took longer than Harry had hoped, to get away from the table and out of the Cauldron – as it always did. Ron had been in a good mood and he didn't want to spoil it by staying any longer, and besides they were instructed to get Ginny back by ten and the hour was close. They apparated together to the Burrow. Ron and Hermione went inside immediately as Hermione desperately need to visit the loo. Ginny took Harry by the hand and the two walked to the outdoor table facing the Orchard. They stood by the side of the table in darkness.

"You're coming tomorrow then," she said finally breaking the silence.

"Yes, of course," Harry said while reaching for her hand. "So... you're shopping tomorrow?"

"Yes," Ginny said softly into Harry's ear.

"Should I keep the coffee ready then?" he said with a grin. Ginny backed away slightly and laughed.

"I'd love to, but Mum is going with me. It's kind of a tradition by now."

"We could disapparate now and be back before anyone knows we're gone."

Ginny paused as if to roll the thought around in her head.

"We'll get caught. Mum has detectable charms about the place... and I'll lose my Hogsmeade privileges. I was hoping we could meet there – later in the school year." she said squeezing Harry by the hand.

"Yeah, I guess you're right," Harry said looking at the ground and shaking his head. "Do we need to go inside then?"

"Why would we want to do that?" Ginny asked nibbling at Harry's ear.

"Ron and Hermione must be wondering where we are – and your Mum?"

"I'm sure Mum's nearly asleep by now – we kept her up late last night," she said with a chuckle. "Don't think Hermione and Ron are wondering at all," she said, now breathing heavily in Harry's ear.

"How would you know that?"

"Because that's how Hermione and I planned it in the loo, back at The Angel." she said and then whispered something in Harry's ear that only he could hear.


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Harry Potter and The Twelve Gates: An Early Departure

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