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Chapter 18 : Whispers and Mutters
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Ginny Potter waited down at the end of the hall from the Dark Arts tower. She did not want to look like she was waiting, so she found things to find fault with some of the housekeeping about the nearby corridors.
It wasn't egregious. Mostly some cloaks and books left lying about on window sills or in alcoves that kids found convenient to 'hang out' or loiter with their friends. But it did look sloppy and no matter how many times they were told to pick up their things, belongings were left in nooks like this all over the castle.
The House Elves had even taken to setting aside unused store rooms. For things left about, identifiable to at least the individuals school house. Most were quietly reclaimed. But a few never moved, some being truly ancient clothes and school materials, a layer of ever thickening dust on things as old or older than her parents
For seriously forbidden lost objects, Ginny had discovered there was even a new 'Room of Requirement'. Not in the old place, that old magically hidden room for items lost or badly needing secretive hiding had been destroyed in the Fiend Fire in the final Battle against Voldemort. A new Room – one she that was in an innocuous place she found by accident – walking along, lost in thought, thinking of twenty years before.
Ginny told no one. Maybe it had been just happenstance. Or the castle showing her something, because she was the Deputy Headmistress now. Whatever it was, it was important to Ginny something like this place existed. For people with something terrible or precious to hide. It was personal.
It must not have been open long. The pile in the room was small, when she finally succeeded in getting through the magically hidden door. Not the massive, eclectic collection she had seen in the old one, but certainly not 'allowed' stuff.
There was even a box of old 'Weasley Wizarding Wheezes' joke supplies. It couldn't have been placed there by Fred and George in their time here. It most probably being one of many hidden about the castle that some other trouble-maker had found and secreted.
Ginny had left it. Untouched. And told none of the others – not even Hermione – of her discovery. It was a needed thing - in Ginny's opinion – for a place like this. For some to hide their mistakes. Or just to hide themselves. The old one had sheltered her and her friends, often enough.
This was the start of the third week of revamped classes. Ten days – not including this one - in which both the new headmistress and her deputy had carefully avoided coming too close to Harry's classroom. To keep from seeming anxious, which they were.
But rumors had already reached both women. Harry's teaching career was not an instant success.
The school's great clock chimed, softly distant yet always audible anywhere within the 'normal' levels of the castle. It sounded the hour – not always accurately – but generally acceptable for most teachers to use as the beginning or end of class time.
All over the school, there was a sudden rustle of movement and sound came to Ginny of others down the hall. She moved more into the shadow of a statue, more to be out of the way of the hall than any real concealment. Ginny wanted to seem to have some reason for really being there, so had allowed herself to catch the attention of Aldis the Clepto. The Dark Arts hallway ghost, who could bore the ears off anyone foolishly stupid to stay within proximity to the statue of Gnome of Misfortune.
All the while the ghost futilely tried to pick her pocket.
That should look like a burden the Deputy would have to endure, Ginny thought. So she nodded dully, losing track of Aldis' cloying Ginny wanted only to appear to be listening in seeming engrossed fascination to the resident ghost's long-winded recounting of his doings, when he had been a student in 1830.
This was a 'scheduled' meeting place for her informant. It wouldn't 'do' to be seen publicly getting or giving reports to the school's disciplinarian.
Not for this student!
First Years in normal excited chatter hurried past, most seeing the Deputy Headmistress and smiling back. These were still too new to be more leery of Ginny than any other witch or wizard teaching at Hogwarts.
That phenomenon was already apparent among the older students. Ginny had already noticed that those that had something to hide seemed to practically radiate 'don't-look-at-me' or 'don't-notice-that-I-am-not-looking-you-in-the-eyes' attitudes. It was enough to make Ginny laugh, and cause Luna and Hermione to laugh in return at their quick evening 'impromptu' evening meetings in her new office. Her friends had been teaching or back at the school for years and found Ginny's observations 'old hat'.
Luckily, so far it had not been awful things Ginny needed to deal with. Mostly getting the adults to cooperate and do the wretched minimum the veteran teachers could expect to find when they got back.
In a few days. A week, more? This had been the longest three weeks in Ginny's life.
Today, she was snooping on her husband. Something she had sworn she would avoid unless disaster seemed immanent. Rumor had filtered to Hermione's tower – via the portraits, ghost and other magical means – that all was not well in Dark Arts.
In fact, all was not well in most of the other 'temporary' teachers classrooms. Those didn't matter worth a gnome's shit! In Ginny's opinion. The most important was the Dark Arts teacher. His stubborn, relentless self-centered mental self-flagellation, when maybe all their lived depended upon him uncovering what the dead former teacher had been up to.
When most were gone, Ginny backed further into the shadowed alcove behind the statue and most of the trailing bunch of First Years never saw that she'd been there. Ginny didn't bother Dissillusioning herself. Eventually, the boy she arranged to met, in this silly manner, came out with several of his friends.
James came by the statue and bent to look at his feet. Her son, seeming to innocently stop to retie his shoes. He was always good at improvised playacting. James was one of her sole reliable 'snitches'. Her niece Rose was another, but already Ginny had noticed a – zealous, faintly judgmental tone in the eleven-year old girls reports. Too much like her mother, Ginny felt. Too smart, combined with a single-minded Weasley temper from her father, made Rose a lot like the younger Hermione.
Not soft and cute and sweet. Like most of the other girls in her age group.
Volatile. Combative. Too editorial for her years.
Sanctimonious! And thinking her Uncle Harry should stop whinging and get on with being the man and the leader he naturally should be.
Well not her son, James. James put his books on the stone floor, bending over his sloppily slipped on shoe, and looked up to his waiting friends. “Go on ahead, guys. Got to run to my room, anyway, to get my notebook for Charms.”
When they had moved on, and all but a few stragglers from class had passed by, James pressed himself backwards till his backside was fitted into the space between the castle wall and alcove that was occupied.
“Mum?” James muttered out one side of his mouth.
“Here, James. This is so ridiculous.” Ginny turned to the frustrated ghost. “Bugger off! Aldis, I am back to work.”
The ghost looked affronted. But couldn't deny the castle Deputy's commands, so it evaporated with an audible snort.
“Don't want Dad to catch us. He's almost certain to get mad at us whispering about him, in dark corners.” James looked around either side of the statue, to be sure there were no other listeners.
“We are! Whispering about him, in the shadows. Let's get on with this.” Ginny fought from growling. “Any better, today?”
Her boy sighed. Her heart sank.
James finally said, “Not really, Mum.”
Ginny sighed in return. With her back to the cold stone wall, she weakly thumped the back of her head against the wall. “Come on, Harry. What is the matter with you?”
James fumblingly miss-tied his shoe and undid the knot to appear to try again. He shook his head, though his mother could not see that. “Dunno, Mum. Think he is …....hoping he doesn't have to try too hard. Bores the pants off of us, reading …..word-for-word from this stupid text book....”
James rapped his knuckles on his Dark Arts tome. Written – in his newly twelve-year old wizardly opinion – at a six-year old's reading level. “This thing rots. What's worse. Dad knows it, and confusingly then tries to explain, using terms only somebody like Mr. Xeno or Professor Filius would understand.”
“Well …...” Ginny mumbled, dissembling. “Maybe, that's the only way he sees …...”
James again shook his head. “No. He just doesn't want to get involved in the whole school-thing. You know.......... like he does when he pretends he hasn't dressed up for company or doing something like chores about the house you want him to do.”
“Oh, you mean, like you do?” Ginny couldn't keep the humor out of her whisper.
“Ah, well …..no. Not at all.” James muttered. Ginny could only see his head and shoulders, but he did that same 'stiffening-up- his neck and back, just like his father.
Fruit doesn't fall far from the tree!
She smiled, anyway. All alike, her lovely boys. “Never mind. The book is something I can work on. Anything else?”
“He gets bogged down in minutia...”
“Classroom details …....where we left off in the stupid book in the last class. Who he didn't call on, last time, that sort of thing.” James clarified. “We aren't the issue, though Second Years are getting restless. I hear things in the older kids' classes are a little more chaotic.”
“What you mean?” Ginny quietly asked.
“Third Years argue back with him. The older ones apparently are ignoring him and using his class as study time or just to doodle in their notes. I've seen some of them. And the Third Years …..well, I've got my own reasons to keep tabs on what goes on with them.”
“So I've heard. And I've met Misters DeZitterrini and McGloughie on my own, already. On other matters. That girl and the big ox-like boy, I haven't had the pleasure.”
“I'd keep my hand on my wallet, my magic wand and my back to the wall, when I see any of them. In the halls.”
“Have they done anything?” His mother's voice was getting louder and fiercer. Any second she would barrel over him and start demanding – loudly – fuller reportage out of him.
And that wouldn't do!
“No!” He whispered back over his shoulder. “Got it all figured out, Mum. Don't have kittens or baby dragons, about this. Sheesh!”
“You are not too old for me to spank, young man ….....”
“Mum! Dad, remember?” Sometimes you had to talk back – quickly – to Mother or things degenerated quickly. She had her brothers' explosive temper, when one let it boil up, too long.
Ginny rolled her eyes, completely wasted on the back of her black-haired boy's thick skull. But got it.
“Okay. Sorry. What do I do about the older kids in his class? I can't sit there in back? Except yell at them when they walk past me going out.”
James fortunately enough had his back to his mom, so she couldn't get angry at the expression on his face. But he was smart enough not to express his first thought. “Dad needs help, in there. Where is his class assistants? Twittingham's haven't shown up, all three weeks!”
“Your father claimed he didn't need them.” Ginny knew this was a problem. “Ordered them off, first thing. Your aunt and I argued with him. The other new teachers all have them …..”
James interrupted, “Last thing - Dad needs – is to be compared with Dunderhead Dunston, or the others.”
Ginny smiled, knowing she shouldn't. “Don't call the Under-secretary for Bluster and Codswallop that, please. Leave the names to me and your father, alright?” Her nails beat a light tattoo on the stone at her back. “Okay, I got work to do. Merlin, I hope this all ends soon!”
James shrugged his shoulders. “Seems to be limping along okay, Mum. Actually, some of the old teachers were just as bad.”
Ginny blew out a breath. “Don't need to know, more. Leave that to Flitwick, when he is back. Your aunt and I are just trying to keep this shipwreck afloat. And I love you, by the way.”
“Mum!” James stopped pretending to tie his shoe. It hadn't been tied, in the first place. He liked his shoes loose! James got up and put a few more inches from the statue, It was time to get going to his next class.
And he was afraid she was going to reach out and hug him or kiss him on the cheek.
Like a little kid!
She just lightly patted his shoulder, her hand innocuously visible, out from the dark shadows. If anyone else had been present to see. “Well done, my little sneak. Kisses to Rose and 'Tori, for me.”
“Mum! Yuck! Like I'm going to do that.” James whipped his head back and forth, briefly worried his mom had 'blown' her concealment. Overly paranoid! No one was about. His twelve-year old face screwed up with disgust.
Ginny slipped out and walked past him, and quickly kissed him on the back of the neck. Getting him to squirm quickly out of the way, out of her reach for more.
So much for concealment!
“Get going then, And thank you.” Ginny walked away with a thoughtful look on face. And she added, “And tie your shoes, young man.”
Her son wisely kept his words mumbled, for his own benefit, as he tossed his book back down and returned to tying his shoes.
[All Hallows eve feast, end of three weeks]
The 'new' teachers table was stuffed full of all the normal delicious treats, as were the full and raucously loud students' tables. No one was going hungry tonight – that wanted or needed – within the castle. Despite new Headmistress Weasley's vocal desire to keep some restraint on public spectacles, the castle's elves seemingly completely ignored any restraint on the normal 'first' big school meal.
Whether that was to comfort the worried about Hogwart's continued isolation, or something the elves were trying to say who really ran things. Hermione chose not to argue but sit and with as much quiet dignity she could muster.
Maybe the elves were right, she thought. The kids didn't seem too chuffed by the sealing off from the rest of the world. Beyond the castle. The adults were more affected by it, certainly. Most had gotten used to being able to leave, at night or on weekends. Something no ordinary student did for about eleven months in the year, except for Winter Holiday and Spring break.
Perhaps morale will be more affected come Christmas, Hermione reflected! Not a pleasant prospect.
Nearby, Deputy Headmistress Potter was fighting her own inner demons. One of them was pie.
The Hogwarts pumpkin pie was delicious. As always, dammit!
Ginny guiltily tasted a second piece and then pushed it away from her. Hallow's eve was always a difficult time of the year because she so desperately craved Hogwart's Castle Pumpkin Pie.
And more than a few bites of that and she could say goodbye to fitting in those pants she liked.
But glancing at her companions at the Teachers Table, she saw she wasn't alone. Mrs. Waistcoate, who probably should have refused some of the pies years ago, also primly pushed hers back after seeing Ginny so so.
“I love the school's pie, too much,” Nicky Waistcoate weakly explained.
“Me, too.” Ginny said with some regretful looks.
“Wish I was sixteen again and could eat anything I want.” Sub-secretary Ennui on the other side of Waistcoate, also said with deep sadness.
“Don't we all.” Waistcoate agreed. “Well, make that about year fifteen for me. Really.”
All listening politely refrained from saying aloud that was probably 'year eight' for the large Mrs. Waistcoate, but it was holiday so the adults were making great efforts to be nice.
That's when the ravenous sounds of slavering and crumbs faintly tinkling off the scattered dishes caught their attention. Harry Potter, on Ginny's left hand seat, was shoveling in the last remnants, and he looked up now aware the three were watching him tip the last bits of the tart he had just consumed past his lips.
Harry noticed his wife was staring at him. “Wha?”
“That's the third treacle tart.” Ginny whispered. “Enough!”
Harry indignantly finished swallowing his dessert, “Haven't …..um, had any from here in quite some time.”
“It's mostly sugar. I can hear your heart straining from my seat. And your teeth falling from your skull.”
“Once a year ….... I'm a grown man.” Harry muttered. He tried a defense he just thought of. “Don't be a scold. I had a salad!
“Your colon thanks you. I would like your heart to last long enough we can graduate our third child.”
“Okay. Fine. I won't have any pie either.” He pushed his empty plate away and folded his arms across his chest, like an unhappy child.
Ginny winced, stopping herself from returning back at him some of his 'attitude'. The day had been long and neither she nor Harry seemed to be in the best of moods. She'd have to be the strong one here. “Yes, I know its hard.”
“I think we should have a Christmas Ball.” Librarian Luna jarringly announced sitting at the other side of Hermione.
Her statement was greeted by silence. As far as Hermione Weasley was concerned, Luna's idea – not carried to extremes – was the first positive thing uttered by any of the adults, all week.
There was faint clinking of utensils and a tap of a glass. As sullen initial response to Luna.
But Hermione was conscious that her well known personal friendship with the sometimes bizarre Luna was the cause of jealousy.
No matter how good an idea it might be, somebody else needed to endorse Luna.
Hermione waited for her supportive in-laws to leap in with cheerful blather in support of Mrs. Longbottom.
And was disappointed. Harry stolidly munched away on a bread stick and Ginny sat next to him in burning silence. Apparently they were on each others nerves. Or Harry was being untypically male instead of his usual understanding patience. Maybe in a jealous snit over the attentions of Malcolm Ennui over his wife.
The Potters were on the other side, along with Hagrid, Sybil Trelawnyee and the others of the old guard. The other temporary teachers were beside Luna, Vector and the other end of the table. The non-magical couple, the Jones were together with Robinson and having a rather grand conversation about
Something Hermione knew little about.
The Smythes and Dunston sat in unhappy exile at the far end. They did not like the Muggles being present.
Fortunately, that was counter-balanced with almost no one liking any of them.
People had sat as they chose and the internal divisions that naturally occurred sorted them into these groups. She had never forced it. Hermione didn't have much patience with the old tradition of fixed places for certain teaching positions at something as basic as a dining table. Filius could reconstitute that and more ancient relics from the old stuffy days of private school Hogwarts.
When he came back. Hermione prayed that would be tomorrow.
Luna's comment about wanting a Christmas party wasn't loud, but there wasn't a lot of cross table chat. Hermione had found that a bit ominous. She wanted collective unity in making a confident 'face' to the students, who were bound to be uneasy at this prolonged isolation of the castle. There seemed a natural gravitation, of one camp and the other.
Not to mention Harry and Dunston's completely transparent loathing of one another. That didn't worry Hermione or Ginny so much, as no one else seemed to like 'the Ministry Man', either!
What she didn't want - most of all - is a 'temple of gloom' atmosphere.
To keep conversation going, Hermione forced herself to smile and nod encouragingly that Luna should continue. The headmistress wanted it to seem she was being arm-twisted into a big party.
“We've all got the pouties. By December - at this rate – we will be crying in our crumpets and not talking to each other.” Luna seemed blissfully unaware that the Potters were already at that stage, tonight.
Or maybe she did. And this just her method of counter-intuitive psychological motivation?
Being here till Christmas was a sore subject for some of the parents. Now that she thought on it, maybe it was too much to ask. Maybe if Hermione was seen as the obstacle, that might stir some to support the hopeful librarian.
Hermione said, “Honestly, Luna. Don't you think we have enough on our plates. Nice and quiet would be how I would like the holidays.” She did her best to sound hesitant, not wanting to sound like this was rehearsed.
Luna seemed to have forgotten. Not expecting Hermione to be an opponent. “No, not really. I am imagining an eleven-year Hermione Granger, being told Christmas is canceled.”
“I am not canceling anything!” Hermione suddenly found herself defensive. “I just think we need some restraint.”
Now Ginny piled on. “If December should roll around and we can't step out from the castle, we simply can't just continue on with classes. Please, 'Mione.”
“I hate it when you use the 'little girl Hermione' thing on me.”
Surprising them all, Mr. Smythe quietly said, “That'd be nice. Christmas time party.” He hopefully gave his domineering wife a glance and cringed when she frowned back at him.
Mrs. Smythe did not want to spend another minute longer here than necessary.
But that unleashed the floodgates. Bless Tim Smythe, the indecisive worm, thought Hermione.
And the contagion spread.
“I always liked the songs. People singing.” Sybil turned her incredibly thick glasses back and forth along the table, the light from the students tables curving to form an unintentional prism rainbow on her old cheek. “Being nice. At least on that one day of the year.”
The strange woman had few close friends, despite her legion of devoted followers. To Hermione, the wackiness that seem to draw parents to insist Trelawnee's Divination classes continue, also served to keep Sybil alone. Probably, Christmas with more than just the usual tiny handful that usually remained at the school was an event Trelawnee had never experienced.
“Of course. That would be good for morale.” Hermione said in a carefully neutral voice. Come on, people!
Surprising support came from Hermione's chief doubter among the group. “I think a Christmas 'do' would be expected, by the Ministry.” Dunston in a low voice, as if hoping no one heard it was actually him endorsing the idea.
“I predict you will allow it.” Sybil said in a low voice.
Every adult turned their head to look at the self-described 'seer' and then back at the famously skeptical Weasley.
Oh, alright. Dunston or Trelawnee weren't what she wanted. But to get this over with! “You are right, Sybil.” Hermione paused, and added, “And Professor Dunston. I am in fact leaning for the idea.”
Dunston smirked, as if somehow taking credit for it all. Ginny smirked, too, laughing with her eyes.
And an unlikely supporter came from the secret smile she caught flash across Harry Potter's face. So, the 'pouty Grump' was an act.
Oh, well. Small victories! “Are there any obstacles to making something self-contained within the castle. I am uncomfortable with the idea of any outside activities, with all of the students.”
“No danger apparent, Headmistress.” Hagrid stoutly asserted.
“That we can …...find.” Mr. Waistecoate pointed out.
Vector, happily at maybe the end of the second or third goblet of brandy, “My lovely dear, we just had one …..no, two years before!”
“That shouldna' be an problem. We are in an emergency, after all!” Grandpa Crocker made a surprisingly sober sounding endorsement. He emphasized that with a burp.
He'd been overjoyed at Vector's 'discovery' of the Halloween pumpkin brandy and now he and Vector were best friends.
Luna smiled, happy to have take Vector's idea and run with it. “I know Septimus, but it's just the feeling I'm getting from the kids in the library, the past few days. We need to boost up spirits, a little. The youngest are homesick anyway. There is an undercurrent of worry, among the older ones. The mid-age Years don't care. Glad to be free of home and parents …..”
“Possibly might not feel that way, come spring ...”
“It's been three weeks, now! Do you mean to say this is going to last that long?” Vivian Goodhands worriedly said. A trifle too loud. She wasn't a solid rock of reassurance to anyone. And overly worried about the small herd of corgies she bred at her estate.
As if the dogs couldn't exist without her.
One or two of the prefects, sitting nearby, gave the Teacher's table a concerned glance. Hermione said, smilingly, “Please, let's keep our voices down, or take this into the 'break room'. Or the Master's Tower.” The adults obligingly all pasted on false happy faces and the low rumble of contented chaos that usually came from the student tables more or less resumed as they polished up dessert.
Probably fooling no one.
“Okay, I've got to admit a 'Big Party' might a good idea, Luna. Though, I am …..... was not entirely happy about asking the House Elves to knock themselves out for an enormously extravagant pageant or feast. A limited resources kind of thing, like this tonight, would be what I have in mind. ….”
Luna immediately turned ten- years old again. Clapping gleefully, “Eeeeee!, we could hide presents in the suits of armor....”
Vector said wistfully, “Three feet of snow in the hallways ….”
“Bonfire in the central keep....!” Hagrid rumbled.
“Snow? Inside?” The non-magical Mrs. Jones whispered, in a worried voice to her husband.
It was like a pulling a light switch. And the stupid gas let out in the room!
To the Jones, she muttered, “Don't worry. Won't be extreme. I'll explain …...later.” Hermione fought to keep herself from shouting. So more loudly, for every adult's benefit. “People! I think we should show a little restraint. We should be acting like travelers stranded on an island. And absolutely no fires. I don't care what the elves tell us about not running out of air.”
“Magical. Isn't it all ….really?” Thelonius Dunston not too carefully said in a low voice to no one in particular. As if always prodding if he detected an argument he could stoke.
Harry did try not to fling his goblet in his hand at Dunston's snide nose. “It's not inexhaustible, in all things, you …....” His eye caught the warning lift of Hermione's eyebrow, “….Professor Dunston.” Harry corrected. “And there is a concern that whatever is causing the shield to stay up is having some effect within.”
“Well, that's a bit obvious. Isn't it.”
“Patience.” Ginny whispered at Harry between gritted teeth. He returned the goblet to the table with a loud thunk.
“This Hallow's Eve thing seems to be going swimmingly.” Ennui said oily. There simply wasn't enough seats to spare for just the old teachers on one side and the 'replacements' on the other. But he sat to the other side of Trelawnee, next to Hagrid. With Harry pointedly placed between him and Ginny.
The cocksure Ennui seemed unaffected by that. If he thought that interfered in anyway with his seductive charm, he made no outward sign of being discomfited by that. It certainly wasn't for the lack of companionship. Hermione had already heard whispers of rumors that Ennui and one of the temporarily trapped mothers of a student were 'getting along' better than just normal congeniality.
It took all types, to get the old world spinning around. Hermione ruefully reflected. As long as the adults kept it quiet and not flagrantly obvious. Certainly not to the poor Fourth Years son of the possibly way-ward mother. Hermione wouldn't tolerate that.
Maybe she'd better have a discussion with the suspects.
“It is a lot reduced, tonight. No blazing bonfires and the menu kept to a minimum.” Luna defended her Halloween party, tonight. As for the big holidays ….... “Christmas should be the same, but just that I think we might need something to brighten our time. Just more. Want the students thinking about the event and not the daily grind and possibly all that continuing into January.”
“May we be delivered well before then!”
“Amen.” Hermione heartily agreed.
“Bloody, ditto!” both Madames Smythe and Waistecoate both muttered in near unison.
“And that would be a time a lot of the students would be going home.” said Robinson. “We'd be home. I should be home. I find being stuck here rather claustrophobic.”
“We all do, Mr. Robinson.” Luna agreed. “That's kind of my idea. Counter that new winter bla's with some party anticipation. We can even still carry it out, if the Ministry gets through to us. Nothing says we can't have a Christmas party, this year, too.”
“No, I suppose not.” Hermione agreed.
“All of us should attempt to do unusual things, to keep minds active...”
“Luna!” Hermione whispered warningly, while attempting to send her mentally loud directives to shut the hell up!
But Luna had found fertile ground. Several of the parent-teachers were nodding in sickening agreement.
“Redecorate some small areas. Curtains, “
Sybil, too, saw this as an opening. “I was thinking of rather a group tea party, and divining the leaves afterward.”
“Ohhhhhh!” Mrs Smythe breathed out in dreamy anticipation. One of her personal hobbies, apparently.
That turned Hermione's stomach. But she wanted a 'group' project to unite the adults as well.
Be careful what you wish for, Hermione! Old girl!
Hermione made a not-so-silent gagging sound, which she covered up with a polite cough into her napkin.
Goodhands timidly ventured, “Even change little things about ourselves. Some of the older girls miss going to Hogsmeade to have their hair done.”
“Why not!” Luna pounded a palm, nodding excitedly. “Harry can grow a pretty mustache! Why not a barbershop-hair salon, for the elders. Make our own fashions.”
Ginny had to fight hard to keep from snorting out the mouthful of water she had just drunk. Harry rubbed his nose, eyes closed, with his hand covering up most of his 'pretty' facial hair.
Ennui startled her, speaking out, “And Quidditch. We should restart the games, too.” Something he and Dunston had campaigned for, almost as hard as the Quidditch faithful among the students. Of course, both of them had the strongest two teams at Hogwarts.
It was hard for Hermione not to roll her eyes.
“Only problem, Master Ennui,” Hagrid said lazily, “Is that there is a wee bit of lack of headroom above the Quidditch pitch out there.”
Ginny quietly affirmed that. “I've let the teams fly about, only within the stands. But there is no possible way we could let them fly unrestricted above at any altitude.”
Which had been completely on hold the past weeks. Due to obvious flying problems and the danger to all. And growing restlessness amongst the frustrated players.
“Perhaps if we make our own dome overhead, something innocuous over the auditorium ….”
“Stadium!” Ginny whispered.
Luna continued on, smoothly. “ ….the stadium, itself. Like flowers or leaves or something.” Luna brightly suggested. “That would be the ceiling limit, for everyone. And far prettier than the usual gray blahness out there.
Deputy Potter carefully watched Hermione for reaction and was gratified at the temporary Headmistress's lilting head wobble of approval. Ginny happened to love the countryside hues of fall about Hogwarts, especially this time of year. And Luna's idea had value and she didn't want to let her own prejudice interfere. Ginny had to just answer with a shrug – to feign some reluctance - and a glance back and forth between Ennui, Luna and Dunston, the other Heads of Houses who also were the temporary co-chairs of the Quidditch competition.
The other grown-ups all nodded – some more luke-warm than others - that it wasn't a bad idea.
“I'd need to have to some help. And I'm not a Quidditch fan. Not really.” Luna stated. It was very true. She relied completely on the blindingly overconfident substitute Ravenclaw captain of their Quidditch team. Who – at his first opportunity, last week - had been fool enough to fly full tilt against the nearly invisible silver-gray barrier that sealed off the sky.
Harry, in fact, had had to sit with the Ravenclaw team, and even went out with one of their practices, in the limited way they had found to just fly low within the stadium. And to tamp down some of that Ravenclaw enthusiasm for high speed formation flying. “I guess I can help Luna with her House duties, as far as Quidditch. Be a coach, at least for their practices.”
“As long as there is no Gryffindor – Ravenclaw collaboration.” Dunston just had to insert that. Implying that was going to happen unless he was there to detect it.
Potter had to simulate cooperation. At least as far as this dinner conversation was going.
He had his orders!
Harry's grasp on his fork was bending it's handle.
“Might be doable.” Ginny agreed, taking the injured fork out of her husband's grip. “Give the kids a sense things are going on, back to normal, as much as we can.”
The 'crazy' caravan was obviously going full tilt down the hill, Hermione reasoned. Might as well jump on board. “I still want the volleyball and football to continue.” Hermione pointed out, nodding to Phillip Jones and Joe Robinson, who'd taken over the sports department with some success. “Especially the latter, as they have to share the pitch. I know the three of you are nuts for the brooms, but Flitwick will be back in this chair - so help me God! - and Hogwarts is not returning back to the insular Quidditch only days.” She leaned forward to look down at Hagrid. “Do you think we can set up the stadium as normal, Hagrid?”
“No, problem, Headmistress.”
That made both Ennui and Ginny smile. And Dunston even made a ghost of one in his sour silence at the other end of the table.
Miracle of the evening. Something that made all three smile.
“We should commence planning out, then, Madame Longbottom, what your ideas are for the Christmas Ball, as well. If some of our other parent volunteers …....” Hermione leaned to look the other direction down the table, and got some happy nods and murmurs from the more 'party-minded' individuals.
And when dinner was over, and the adults were getting up to retire for the evening, Hermione couldn't help the feeling like the caravan had run over her, several times.
“See!” Whispered Luna, happily beaming next to Hermione, still eating at one more piece of pumpkin pie. “A little boost to the morale for us, too. Works on big kids, as well as the little ones.”
“Broom crazies and dances!” The Headmistress Hermione gave her friend a sardonic grimace. “Fine. Eat your pie.”
[Herbology grounds, Hogwarts castle]
The open fields of grassy lawn between the Herbology classrooms of the castle and the Quidditch pitch were usually full of older students, taking their breaks between classes out there when the weather was nice, or dutifully trooping to and from the Quidditch training rooms for those devoted to the sport.
Almost completely tumbled walls and barely glimpsed foundations lined in the mossy peat, showed all that remained of the former village that once clustered close to the Castle in ancient times. Now just a large enclosed lawn, out to a distant low curtain wall of the old fortification.
But now with the perpetual gray overcast, there wasn't as many students sunning themselves or skylarking. There were still kids out and the Quidditch fliers and football teams still were out playing, but everyone else still felt uncomfortable out in the open. Waiting for an appearance of the sun that never happened.
Why the grass remained green and not a leaf fallen from the trees within the Hogwarts perimeter, none could explain.
Jennifer came out from the castle doors, looking around the lawn for a familiar face and found one by a half-fallen stone wall. Her aunt waved back to her, and Jen came up to sit of the wall beside Ginny Potter.
“How's the day?” Ginny asked.
Jen glanced about, noting there were other kids within ear shot. So she answered in a formal tone. “Fine, Professor Potter. Busy. The usual.” Jen gestured to the broom. “All safe then?”
“For the moment.” Ginny tapped the handle on a flying broom, propped against the stone wall she was sitting atop of. “I have the Slytherins out on the field, in a moment, so can't take too long.” In a more confidential tone, Ginny quietly said, “I have to ask you a kind of a favor.”
Jen's olive-skinned face looked expectantly around, smiling vaguely. Nervous.
Ginny frowned but waved her hands about. “No, nothing going to leap out at you here. I was kind of wondering if you were interested in helping me.”
“Of course. I'm afraid I left the wedding dress with Aunt Madelene, if that's what ….”
“No. No, of course not. I couldn't fit in that again, if my life depended on it and it had a giant elasticism spell on it.” Ginny shook her head, patting her hip with one hand. “I actually meant giving up something of your free time.”
“What free time?” Jen couldn't help blurting out.
“Well, that's part of it. Hermione has you helping in all of the classes …..”
“Sort of have to. Mrs Smythe is absolutely terrible, at Charms.”
“Why Hermione put her there.” Ginny smiled.
Jen snorted an appreciative sound of understanding and went on, “Well, her husband is no help, either. If it wasn't for me and Tom Gogh, nothing would get done and the 'Fifth Years' would be an absolute mess come exam time.”
“That's great of you. Truly! Hermione is thinking maybe we might just forgo some of the time spent in our ….err, confinement. When it comes test time, those parts of the O.W.L.S. Might just be kind of written off.”
“Merlin, that would be a relief!”
“Not for general consumption, mind you. Some of these people are annoyingly important to the School Board and the Ministry. Even if they are idiots.” Ginny watched some students on the far side of the lawn, tossing small, soft object between them. Some game with all their hands and feet and a beanbag, she'd never seen or heard of. Looked fun. She made a face of tired resignation, “I keep hoping this ends tomorrow, and I can go home. But been hoping that for a few weeks now, and beginning to think we have to plan for maybe this going on till Christmas ...”
“Don't spread that around. In fact, say nothing of this to even Victoire. Not until we say something more to the school at large. We are going to let the fliers recommence the season, you see ...” Ginny pointed to the distant wood framework of the tall Quidditch viewing towers, still bare of their usual tapestry coverings. And sort of a vaguely half dome of distantly tumbling leaves or flowers sketching out limits for flying under.
Jen made a non-committal grunt of acknowledgment. “Guess that's good. Explains the kind of umbrella of leaves. No flier, myself.”
“No. I know. Mostly, I have just the boys in the family, for company during the season. Long since given up on Victoire. Though she can fly if she wants to. Rose on the other hand …..” Ginny wiggled her fingers and gave an actual cackle of mirth. “......shows great promise!”
This was the best three months to happen to the Weasley girls, in a decade! In Ginny's opinion.
“If you say so.” Jen wobbled her head, not really caring. But knew the silly game was like life or death to some people, so she didn't want to offend her aunt.
Aunt Ginny smiled craftily. As if reading Jen's mind, she said, “Don't worry. Half the family hates the game as much as you do. You'll have plenty of company.”
“I don't hate it.” Jen mumbled with some faint irritation. “Just, not the end of the world, frankly if I don't see the scores in the newspaper or meet some tedious bore, waffling on about how high and/or fast they flew themselves into the ground to get one point from a quibble ….”
“Quaffle.” Ginny gently corrected. “Don't worry. We'll leave you alone, about half the year. Just don't plan on any of us 'fliers' showing up at your wedding, if a league game is on.”
Jen's face was carefully wooden.
Ginny gave the young witch a secret smile, no doubt guessing that would be extremely attractive an idea. “Don't worry about wedding. Just you, Robert and an animated book, in a tree stand, if necessary.
Be as tiny and personal as you and the one you are planning a home and family. That is what's important.” Mrs. Potter nodded to herself, but gently poked Jen in the arm with a gloved finger. “Have a hellashious party afterward, however. That somebody calls the aurors to stop. We will find someplace.”
“Thank you. That's kind of a relief.”
“Not what this little conversation is about. I want you to help my husband by being his class assistant.”
Jen's face returned to the wooden mask. But her lips nervously moved as she gently chewed upon them. “You've got to be kidding, Aunt Ginny. I am the absolute worst human being alive at the 'Dark Arts'.”
“So I've been informed.”
“He doesn't want help in his class. He's turned down all of ones in our student assistants tower that have asked.”
“Yes, I know that, too. He can't stand 'boot-lickers', and our lives are constantly compromised by my having to fend off people that just want something from him. He used to be polite about it, but these weeks in the castle have somewhat …....... weakened his politeness.”
“He supposedly threatened Alex Jameson with pixies.”
Ginny laughed. She hadn't heard that one! “He is a dear. I love him. And my husband is an ungrateful pain-in-the-ass, and more stubborn than this old stone I am parking my fanny on.”
“Ahhhh, yeah?” Jen held out her hands in supplication.
“Harry is doing terrible in class. He want's to get it perfect, and he's boring and just plainly sucks. All the past month, he has been beating himself up about it. He has got such deep anxieties about Hogwarts, what went on here when we were your age, about being a disaster now to the kids…..that he's making it come true.”
“Well, ….....its just been a few weeks. And I can't possibly help. Maybe drive him to finally bonkers ….”
“I doubt that would be the problem. In fact, I think you'd give him something he needs.”
“An insoluble problem. Something that seems unfixable. That's what he's a genius at.”
Jen shook her head. “I'm hopeless. I really am.”
Ginny wouldn't accept no. Wagging her finger, she said, “And he got Neville Longbottom to make a Patronus. And to apparate. How incredible is that?”
“Please, Aunt Ginny. Don't ask me this.”
Ginny patted her hand. “Maybe, you are bad, Jennifer. I'm not asking this of you, because I have so many other alternatives. I love him …...so, so much and want to beat him with this broom.” She made a face, and muttered, “Marriage is a complicated thing. For everybody, but ….well, I can't really explain. I didn't want to sound like I am begging.....”
Jen sighed and limply said, “Okay, I'll give it a try. I'm honest when I tell you I suck! And he ordered out 'Al' Jameson, not actually attacking him. Honest! Just because Alex wants to be able to say he was Harry Potter's student. Even if it was just holding the door open for him.”
“Lord, that is what he hates.” Ginny nodded, hopping down to her feet, and looking back up a Jen still sitting on the half ruined wall. “But he won't say no to you. I just know it.” Ginny looked soulfully up at young Cortez.
Jen shook her head in disbelief. “Now I know where 'Tori gets her 'sad-puppy-dog' eyes.”
“From your grandmother. It worked on Daddy from day One.” Ginny smiled, and got her broom. “You got it, too, Sunshine. Part of our magic.”
“How lucky.” Jen said, looking down from her perch.
“Maybe that, also.” Ginny said vaguely. “Don't know why, but seems ….this is important. The headmistress already approved. Your other classes will be on hold, for this. Or we'll reschedule around Dark Arts, if we have to. We need Harry to find a way out of this. I doubt any outside help is coming and Potter-be-damned-his-anxieties is the surest way out of a trap that I know of. I've bet my life on it, several times. I am asking this as good witch Ginny, just a scared mother wanting to see her kids. And a place completely free of teenagers!”
“Thank you. We'll talk later about a good time for him.” Ginny waved goodbye and began to march away. “Preferably when he is most vulnerable.”
Jen just felt she'd been run over by a lorry and convinced afterword she should be grateful. “I really am beastly!” Jen called.
“Even better.” Ginny called from the path to the athletic field.
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