Chapter 16 : Winter Into Spring
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Harry chose to be a shaggy, wolf-like dog, it seemed to suit him the best. Ron decided on a cross between two purebreds, Irish setter and Doberman. Hermione had already settled on the long-haired tabby, and Graínne ended on Ragdoll Persian.
"It’s this awful hair," she complained, still admiring the image of a sleek black cat she had wanted to become. "I can’t manage a shorthair, I know I can’t."
"You’ll be gorgeous," Harry soothed. "But why a Ragdoll?"
“Well, I wanted to be a mixed breed, you know. Purebred cats on the loose tend to attract more attention than mixed breeds. But I can’t, because I’m not."
"But at least a Ragdoll doesn’t have that terrible turned-up nose. And it’s not conspicuously purebred. You have to be a real cat freak to know them when you see them."
Harry kissed her nose, interrupting her train of thought.
Life in the castle settled into a comfortable rhythm again. Quidditch practice, homework, extra lessons with Transfiguration, the usual round of classes, and creative dating filled their hours. The Gryffindor-Hufflepuff match was next, and it wasn’t until the third week of February. Harry was feeling confident about keeping the Quidditch Cup, but at the same time he felt quite anxious about keeping it. What if they lost it somehow? And he was confident about Graínne: she adored him, her eyes lit up only for him, but she was so beautiful and smart and funny and talented-- but what if she noticed that he wasn’t good-looking, intelligent, amusing, skillful? Especially when there were other boys all over the school who were at least a few of those things together.
Graínne’s parents finished their business in the second week of January, and had another dinner party to say goodbye. Rory had been wounded slightly, and was not doing the cooking at this gathering, and he was in a much more somber mood. He questioned Harry rather sensitively on the event of Priori Incantatem that he had experienced against Voldemort. He was particularly interested in the smoky versions of Voldemort’s victims.
"That’s rather amazing," he said quietly, almost to himself. "And the last figures to appear were as corporeal as the first? Statistically, one would expect such a phenomenon to diminish over time. It must be subject to different laws other than time."
"What I find amazing is that they interacted with the two people present, as if they were living things instead of shadows." Morag brought cups of tea to them where they were sitting in the little parlor of the apartment. "Harry, if you don’t want to talk about this--"
"It’s all right, but thanks, Mrs. Cameron." He was much more capable of talking about the night Cedric died than he was talking about the night Sirius died. That would have been a train wreck.
"Anyway," said Graínne, changing the subject, well aware of the train-wreck potential, "Are there plans for Easter? Do I have to come to London, and if I do, can Harry come with me?"
"Well, actually, we’ve been assigned to a different housing unit, and we’ll be moving during spring break," said Morag calmly. "If you could stay up here, or maybe go visiting to the Weasleys, it would be better for us." She glanced furtively at her daughter, expecting a strong reaction.
"Great. Is it a better place?" Graínne seemed completely satisfied with this arrangement.
"It’s larger," said Rory, noncommittally.
"Well, that’s a plus. Any Muggles around?"
"Many Muggles, not many wizarding families. We don’t know that much about it at the moment, but we’ll pick you up off the train at the end of the summer term, and you’ll see it firsthand." Morag poured more tea for Hermione. She was fully aware that Graínne was happy to stay for only one reason: Harry Potter was staying. "I hope you’ll all come to see us," she added.
"I’d love to, Mrs. Cameron, but they don’t let me out for much during the summer." Harry was almost surprised at the bitterness in his voice.
"Well, perhaps Albus will make an exception for us," said Rory, almost absently.
Graínne nodded happily. "After all, Harry, three Aurors in the house, you’ll be as safe as can be expected."
"Not as safe as in the home of his mother’s people," Rory contradicted, more attentive this time. "You know that a large percentage of the casualties of the last war--and indeed the present war-- have been Aurors. We represent a special target for the Death Eaters, trophies, if you don’t mind the metaphor. We’ll ask Dumbledore, but don’t get your hopes up too far."
"Who is the third Auror?" Ron asked curiously.
"William is an Auror," answered Morag. "Don’t know that he’ll be in the house much, but he’ll likely be there sometimes. That, by the way, is very secret. William is on leave of absence from the MRA, and is working directly for the Order of the Phoenix, not for the Ministry. We are trying to keep his identity a secret."
"Is it working?" Graínne asked, a hint of worry around her eyes.
"He has not been connected to us, as far as we can tell. He is living here under an assumed name, you understand." Morag was very serious. "He’ll only be with us occasionally, unless the situation changes somehow."
"I wish it was all over," said Graínne suddenly, not looking at anyone. Then, as if ashamed of herself, she shrugged and straightened. "Well, we can’t hide our heads, can we? More pie, Ron?"
Schoolwork and Quidditch and the Animagi practice kept everyone too busy to get into much trouble. Dates consisted of going to the library or sitting together at meals or walking to class together. It was sometimes all the time together that they could manage. Harry pointed out that this was helping to keep them from progressing much in the way of physical intimacy, and Ron said that wasn’t what he was looking for help with, thanks. They were on their way to the boys’ baths after Quidditch practice one evening early in February.
"Would you sleep together?" Harry asked, surprised.
"Well, I don’t really think so," Ron conceded. "The thought’s crossed my mind— pretty regularly, in fact, but it doesn’t seem right, just now. I keep seeing us married before we sleep together, you know? And I hear rumors, you do too, about certain girls, and I don’t want her talked about like that. And I sure don’t want her to think I’m one of those guys who would."
Harry followed this oblique conversation remarkably well. "Yeah. I just don’t want to complicate anything until I’m ready to get married. If I live that long, I want to be -- I sound like a prat, even to myself -- I want to be pure, if that makes any sense."
"What do you mean, if you live that long? Didn’t Trelawney say you were going to be Minister of Magic and have twelve kids?"
Harry had to laugh. "And we’ve always said she’s a right old fraud. She’s only had two real predictions in her life. But all the same, it’s like you said, I don’t want people talking about her like that, nor me, for that matter. I’d much rather I go on being rather asexual in the papers."
Now Ron laughed. "I’m betting you’re in the top ten of Witch Weekly’s smile contest, in the spring, or whenever they do that stuff. Gladys Gudgeon will be writing you, next."
Harry laughed again, but it worried him a little. He didn’t want any more attention. He just wanted to be a normal person.
The fact that Ron was thinking of Hermione in terms of marriage wasn’t nearly so alarming as the realization that he was already thinking that way of Graínne. He had no hint from her that she was thinking along those lines, she never spoke of what might happen after school ended, of going back to the United States, and only spoke of career in the vaguest terms. He wondered if he should find out what her plans were, her dreams, because for the life of him he couldn’t imagine a future without her. If she wasn’t thinking along those lines, it would be good for him to start squelching those hopes now.
This depressing line of thought hung onto him for almost a week.
"Harry," she said in a tone of voice that he recognized instantly as preceding something important and personal. "Can we talk?"
"Sure." Alarm was rising in his stomach.
They were walking toward Care of Magical Creatures. Most people were hurrying through a cold wind that threatened snow, but he and Graínne stepped aside from the main body of students, out of earshot.
"What’s going on with you?"
"What do you mean?" He wasn’t aware that anything was going on.
"I am sensing this overarching sadness and impending loss from you."
"I have lost a lot of people--"
"But that’s not what I’m sensing. This is new. And it has to do with me."
"Oh." He blushed, looked around, and then met her eyes again. "I just -- Graín, it’s hard for me not to think about the future, and I’m trying to cope with that by just planning on our relationship ending after school is over."
Her expression became a blend of conflicting emotions. "You want to break up?" she said low, pain becoming foremost on her face.
"No! No, not at all, not ever! That’s the point! I don’t see any possibility ahead of me that you aren’t in, except that you never talk about it, and I just sort of assumed that you were planning to leave after school, and that would be the end."
Annoyance was superseding pain. "Never assume, Harry," she growled. "Why didn’t you just ask me? Why would you make such an assumption unless it was what you were hoping?"
"Because I don’t make assumptions on hope, I make them -- I make them based on the worst-case scenario," he answered hotly.
"And quit assuming that I’m going to just pack up and go at the end of school, because what kind of cold-hearted bitch would I be to do that?" Annoyance was more pronounced than ever. "Why would I invest so much time, not to mention emotion, if I was planning on just leaving?"
"I have no idea what you’re planning, Graínne, and you’ve just told me not to assume." This was the closest they had come to having a row for a long time.
"So just ask! I don’t expect you to read my mind, Harry, but I do expect you to speak to me."
"Fine! Are you leaving or not?"
"Not. But I can only stay here tentatively. I don’t know how employable I’ll be--"
"Never mind that, I’m talking about us."
"That’s not my call alone, Harry." Annoyance was suddenly gone, but she was very somber.
"There’s only two choices for us, after school. We break up or we get married. And the guy proposes marriage, not the girl. There’s no shacking up for me, and you should know that after I get married, it’s murder before divorce."
"That’s not funny."
"It’s not meant to be funny. I marry for life, and I don’t sleep with my boyfriend. And I’m not issuing an ultimatum or proposing marriage or anything like that. But I am saying that those are the only two outcomes that I am going to have in this relationship. And when we’re done with school, we can explore those options and see which one is right."
"Right now, could you explore the option of getting to class?" Ron said clearly, and laughed when they both startled in surprise. "Hagrid asked me to come see what was keeping you."
"Oh geez!" gasped Graínne, looking around to see the whole class watching them from the paddock fence by Hagrid’s hut. "I forgot about class completely."
"I gathered that. I was glad he didn’t send Malfoy or someone. You two were going on almost loud enough to be heard on an Extendable."
Harry felt a little sick. "Sorry, Graínne."
They hurried on to class, and ignored the knowing glances from the others. When it came time to pair up for class work, Harry turned to Ron, and Graínne turned to Hermione.
"I can’t concentrate if I’m paired up with him," she explained.
"Oh. We thought you were fighting."
"Well, it was a little rough there for a minute, but I don’t think it’s going to amount to anything."
While Ron was collecting the moke specimen for their study, Harry, who was at the table just behind her, put a hand on her shoulder and a kiss on her cheek. "I know we were supposed to practice Occlumency tonight, but I think it would be good if we talked, first," he said softly.
"I agree," she answered, smiling up at him.
Hermione held back her giggle until Harry had returned to his workstation with Ron.
Their conversation was far from comfortable. At the end of it, though, they had reached an understanding. Talk of the future was unproductive, in the main. They were too young to be making life-long decisions. They would be content with the present. However, as with their decisions about physical intimacy, tests came immediately, and only by reminding themselves and one another to be content and communicative were they able to avoid big misunderstandings.
The Hogsmeade weekend came, and Valentine’s Day was the next day. Harry and Graínne wandered the streets and shops with Ron and Hermione, and it was quite romantic enough for them all without having to resort to Madam Puddifoote’s cupids. Isadora’s was more comfortable, and had better food anyway. Harry was amazed at how comfortable it was to walk along, his arm around her shoulder, her arm around his waist, or holding hands. She was bright and funny, and she fit in with the rest of them so perfectly, it was hard to remember a time when she wasn’t there.
By the next Quidditch match, against Hufflepuff, there was a rumor that several professional clubs were scouting the Gryffindor team. This made Ron extremely nervous, and so the point-spread on the win was not what it could have been. Hufflepuff had a good side this year, but Gryffindor was so very much stronger. There was going to have to be a playoff game with Slytherin, and that would be brutal, but it wasn’t until the end of May.
Oliver Wood had come to visit, and congratulated Harry roundly. He was very interested in Graínne, it was evident, but she barely remembered who he was by the end of supper. Oliver hinted that he would like to visit Graínne again, or that he could get her tickets to the Puddlemere United game next Saturday, if she could get permission to go, but she said she couldn’t possibly get free, and her boyfriend wouldn’t like it much if he came to see her.
"Oh." He gave her a charming, puppy-look. "Even as just friends?"
"Oliver," she said in a frank tone, "You don’t want to be just friends. And I don’t want to lose him. So the answer is no. Have a nice trip back." She turned and walked into the team room.
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