It was a big rush in the morning. A pair of silver mid-sized cars stood on the road outside the gate. The luggage was loaded in, and then the Camerons got into one with Hermione and Graínne, Tonks, Sturgis, and Bill Weasley, and the Weasleys got into the other with Harry and Ron, Ginny, Moody, Emmaline Vance, and Remus. Enlargement spells made the interiors quite comfortable.
It would take most of the day to drive, even though they were half way there. The train could go more directly and faster, but Moody’s route was designed to reveal would-be followers. Harry doubted there would be— who would expect them to drive? He hated being split up from Graínne, and Ron complained, too, but all of the Order members were firm: It was simply safer this way, it was too dangerous to have Harry and Graínne in the same vehicle.
They stopped to have tea at a busy place north of Inverness, and Rory got snacks for both cars, as well. At last Moody yielded to Harry’s pleas, and Hermione and Harry switched places. It was the last busy place on the route. After this, the next stop would be Hogsmeade.
"I wonder how it is on the train," sighed Hermione. As Head Girl, her first real assignment was to brief the prefects, and she could not be there. Dumbledore had assured her that there would be adequate preparation for the prefects, that she was to travel with Harry and do exactly as Moody instructed. Harry, who did not really want to be Head Boy, was happy to be in the car, rather than the train, and said so.
"How can you say that? It’s such an honor, and it looks so good on your resume."
"It’s a pain in the neck, as far as I can tell, always having to nark on other students, having to attend extra meetings, having to boss people around in the case of an emergency, and face it, Hermione, we are the emergencies most of the time," Harry answered coolly, spreading butter on his scone. He had already told Graínne it wasn’t as good as her fresh-made scones.
"I’ll do my job, and I’ll be a good boy, because Dumbledore has asked me to, and because I don’t want to ruin it for you, for that matter, but I don’t have to like it," he interrupted, still calm, but with something in his tone that warned her he wouldn’t be calm much longer.
Because of all the precautions that Moody took, they arrived in Hogsmeade without any trouble. They were slightly ahead of the train, which allowed them to load their luggage onto the platform and get settled into one of the coaches as the train pulled in. The escort was spending the night at the Three Broomsticks, but they said their goodbyes at the station and were gone before the train arrived. Moody and Remus called upon Dumbledore briefly, and then they too were gone. Harry wondered how the residents would treat the advent of automobiles in Hogsmeade, and whether the students or the Death Eaters would hear about it.
"You came back, did you," sneered Pansy Parkinson in the entry hall, and Harry turned around to see her and Graínne circling each other like dogs preparing to fight.
"I was thinking that of you," Graínne answered, with just as big a sneer.
"Good evening, ladies," said Professor Ferguson, with an exaggerated emphasis on the last word. "Move along, this isn’t a good place to linger, with all these students coming in."
Graínne bowed, not taking her eyes off Pansy. "After you," she said sweetly.
"Humph," said Pansy, sweeping off toward the Great Hall.
"Bitch," she added distinctly, and when Parkinson whirled around, Graínne was engaged in conversation with Ginny, as if she had not said a word out loud.
"Her family is fascinated with the Dark Arts, Dad says," murmured Ron, "but too cowardly to join up with anyone or disobey the law too greatly."
"She’d be a great daughter-in-law to Lucius and Narcissa," said Harry thoughtfully.
"Ah, Potter, there you are," said Professor McGonagall. "Hello, Graínne," she added with an absentminded smile. "Good trip?"
"Yes, auntie," said Graínne quietly, with a grin.
"Good. Potter, Madam Hooch gave me another copy of last-year’s flying grades, and I thought you might like a look at the Gryffindors, see how they might stack up. There are no transfers this year, and tryouts for our House are scheduled for Wednesday evening."
"Thanks, Professor. Hey, Ginny Weasley got us new robes and brooms."
"She sent me a letter," said McGonagall with a rare smile. "I look forward to seeing them. I’ll make a trip up to the common room tonight, you can show me the robes."
"Right," he grinned, and she hurried away.
"Have I ever told you," Graínne said softly, "just what your smile does to me?"
He turned and looked at her, and caught a hint of scent that was tantalizing. "You haven’t, and I don’t think this is the place to tell me, either."
She laughed. "Right you are. Hermione told me about the rule that students caught fornicating will be suspended. It would be really bad for the Head Boy to get suspended." They continued into the Great Hall with the flood of students, all anxious for supper.
"Fornicating. Funny, I never used that word in my life until I met you."
"Likewise, I’m sure," she laughed. "Where I come from, it’s a very old fashioned word for a subject which has become common as dirt."
"I prefer to think of it as -- never mind, this isn’t the time or place. Looks like everyone is back, for a change," he added, looking toward the head table.
"Aunt Agatha kept her head down very well," Graínne agreed quietly. It still wasn’t known that she was related to two of the teachers. "Let’s look at the broom scores, while we’re waiting."
Harry unfolded the parchment McGonagall had given him. "They are a year old, of course, so there’s been some improvement. I hope. I told Archer and Rickover to practice, they looked promising. And if Joe Welles worked over the summer to improve, he could be our man." He glanced up the table, but didn’t see Welles. "Is everyone here?"
"Not yet. Well, maybe." She looked toward the entrance hall, which was now empty. "Hey, Lyn, do you know if Joe came back this year?" she called up the table.
Lynford Ross looked around from where he and Parvati were murmuring to each other. "Huh? Oh, I had an owl from him a few weeks ago, he’s gone back to Northern WW. His dad got transferred back to Wisconsin."
"That limits the field," sighed Harry.
"There’ll be someone." She nudged him and nodded at the line of first years coming in. "They’re so little."
"We were so little once."
"Nah, I was born old. Had to be, to survive my brothers."
"Your older brothers are all quite decent."
"They are now, but they were monsters like every other boy. I bet you were monstrous too."
"Only to Dudley."
She grinned. "Well, that hardly counts. It was self-defense."
He leaned close to speak softly to her. "Have I ever told you just what your smile does to me?"
"You can show me later," she chuckled.
Later, however, Head Boy and Girl had to meet with the teachers, and Graínne and Ron played no less than five games of chess while waiting for them. Chess was not Graínne’s favorite, and although she could play well when she wanted to, she did not want to play chess at the moment. Ron won all five games easily. "You’re not concentrating," he grumbled as he moved to checkmate again.
"No, I’m sorry. This is too slow for me. Practice sword?"
"I can’t, G, I’m beat," he answered with a yawn and a stretch. "If I hadn’t promised Hermione I’d wait up for her to say goodnight, I’d go to bed now."
"I know, me too. I don’t wait well. And I actually finished all the summer work. Who do you think the new Chaser will be?"
"Have to have a look at them to tell, I can’t remember. Who do you fancy?"
"Well, Archer has the best score, if she practiced, and she’s still pretty young, so it will give the team life after we go. But we won’t know until Tuesday night’s riding grades come out how anyone’s improved. So all this speculation is pointless," she added, dejected. "I’m going to write a letter."
"Okay. Wake me when they come in," he answered, leaning back and closing his eyes.
It was nearly midnight when they came in, looking tired.
"What happened?" Graínne demanded, nudging Ron.
"Nothing, we just had a lot of things to go over because we couldn’t be on the train." Harry put his arms around her and slumped tiredly. "I’m sorry, love, I didn’t know it would be this long."
"Forget it. Just kiss me good night, we’ve got the rest of our lives."
He kissed her, and murmured, "I love you, Graínne," and dragged himself up the stairs.
Graínne dragged herself to bed as well, wondering whether she really disbelieved omens.
The year did not get off to an auspicious start. Snape reprimanded Graínne for being out of uniform (she had worn a black silk robe over her regular school uniform clothes that looked in every aspect like a regular uniform robe, except it was silk), Ron yelled at Ginny for flirting with a Slytherin sixth year, and several third-year students lost a total of a hundred fifty points for being out of the tower in the middle of the night Tuesday. Harry wasn’t too fussed about it, recalling a time when he and Hermione and Neville had done similarly, but Hermione, who also remembered that, chastised the students rather severely. Hagrid had them studying jarveys, which were highly insulting to the students.
Tryouts for Quidditch were abysmal. None of the twelve Gryffindors who showed up on Wednesday afternoon were of the same quality as the rest of the team, but third-year Gwyneth Archer performed less badly than the rest. At thirteen she was already five-foot seven, and she had more nerve and flew faster than others who had better brooms. She did not shrink from a collision with Lynford when he tried to block her shot.
"She may not have seen it," said Harry to Graínne, who was watching with him.
"Maybe. But she’s not crying, either. She took it, whether she was surprised or not. The question remains, can she be trained?"
"Let’s have them learn that Sloth Roll, see who’s teachable," Harry suggested. "Can you instruct them, or do you want me to?"
"Sure, I’ll go. You can watch."
While Graínne organized the candidates, the others gathered with Harry to watch them learn.
"Dahlgren is all talk after all," said Bran, of a fourth-year who had been bragging. "He’s got a decent broom, but he hasn’t a clue what to do with it."
"And heaven forbid that Maude Cheney should do more than carry the Quaffle while she rides at a pace that would make my grandmother impatient," said Ginny in disgust. "The world will end if she has to throw the ruddy thing."
"I see we all had our favorites," said Harry wryly, never taking his eyes off the group down on the pitch. "Wasn’t Colin going to try out?"
"Academic probation," said Ginny. "I think he only said that to make me happy, as if it would. Hmm, will you look at that."
"Yeah," said Ron thoughtfully. "Archer did it. Oops, there goes Rickover, I’ll bet he has to go to the hospital."
"Nah, he’s up again. Just embarrassed. What do you think? Archer?" Harry asked the others.
"She’s the only talent out there," Lyn agreed, a trifle grim. " And I use the term loosely. We gotta take what’s offered. Of course, with Ginny and Graínne, will she ever touch the Quaffle?"
"Are you calling me a ball-hog?" demanded Ginny, but she was grinning. Lyn grinned back.
Harry blew his whistle and flew down to the ground, where everyone joined him. "Thank you," he said to the twelve candidates. "This was a great turn out for just one spot. I want you all to keep training, because next year four of us will be gone, and one never knows what’s in store. We’ve lost players mid-year more often than I care to recall. The new Chaser will be Gwyneth Archer."
After the other candidates had left the field, Harry scheduled a practice for early Saturday afternoon.
"We’ll use our old robes for practice, remember; Gwyneth, Katie Bell’s old robes go to you. It will be full armor, no holds barred. It’s a secret that we’ve got new robes, by the way. I know looks can’t make up for skill, but we have skill, and I’m not above using our looks to cow Slytherin if I can. Ginny, when are the other things coming?"
"30 September, according to their letter. Plenty of time to get used to them before the match."
"Great. New brooms, mates. They are team brooms, not personal brooms, and we’ll have to get used to them, they’re Thors from America. We’ll have to pose for publicity shots, it’s part of the deal for getting them so cheap, because they’re the official World Cup broom as of last week. So don’t go getting into barroom brawls, and don’t get a weird new haircut or a hickey from your sweetheart or anything like that--" Harry waited for the laughter and cat-calls to stop, smiling benevolently. "And if the robes are secret, the brooms are top secret, so not a word, not even home to your mum. It’ll leak fast enough. I think there’s going to be a presentation ceremony."
Graínne waited for him as he locked up the captain’s room and picked up his Firebolt.
"Are these brooms the same model as yours?" Harry asked, taking her free hand.
"Nope. Newest model. They go faster, if you can tolerate the Gs; slightly better turning. Different color," she added with a snort.
"Works for us, doesn’t it," he smiled, for the new Thors were scarlet. "I didn’t get a chance to ask, but you would have picked Archer, wouldn’t you?"
"Yeah, she’s the best of the lot. She’s no Sweeps prize, yet, but she’ll learn. My ambition is to teach her how to steal passes. She’s got a long reach."
"Good, I depend on you for it. Going running in the morning?"
"I am going to run as far as I can, but I don’t think I’m up to five miles anymore. Haven’t run all summer. I guess I could swim in the lake, but it’s pretty cold."
"I’ll run with you. Hermione said she jogged at home, and Ron said he wants to start again."
"What, no Ginny?"
"I’m betting, love, that you could get the whole team out to jog, and they’d do it. Maybe I should let you be team captain, take some of the load off me."
"No way. Ron or no one."
"Nah. I’ll follow a good leader, but I don’t have that ambition." She looked toward the brilliant purple and orange sky to the west and sighed. "Pretty."
Harry looked, and nodded as he stopped walking, and she turned to face him. "Graínne, I’m looking at this year ahead of us, with N.E.W.T.s and Quidditch and Head Boy and whatever Voldemort decides to do, and I just want you to know, more than any of that stuff, I love you and would rather be just your boyfriend. So if I fail to leave enough time for us, would you remind me?"
"Gently, right? Not shrewishly?" She smiled up at him. "Harry, we live lives not of our own choosing at the moment. Me, I’d like to quit school and make babies and keep house. But I’d see much less of you than I’ve seen this week. At least I get to sit with you in class, play Quidditch with you, study with you. Granted there isn’t as much snogging as there was last week--"
"That’s what I mean."
"Honey, look," she said gently. "That’s great, really great, and it’ll be even better, but what we have isn’t about sex and making out. That’s just frou-frou. It’s about better or worse, rich or poor, good days and bad, sickness and health. So let me know if it’s all about getting to grab my boobs, because if that’s all it is, I know this Hufflepuff girl who’s got a great rack, and you should go chase her."
"It isn’t about that for me," he growled, offended. "I’d love you, I’d choose you, even if I never touched you."
"Then we understand one another admirably."
"Then why do I feel like we’re rowing?"
"Because I just told you that the most important way you show your love for me isn’t the most important to me. And them’s fightin’ words."
"What am I supposed to do?"
"Only this, honey," she said, taking a step closer. "Stop worrying that we can’t roll around together as much as we have all summer. Keep picking fights and apologizing and telling me you’re sorry you can’t spend as much time rolling around with me as we have all summer. Keep talking to me. And understand that there’s only a couple things that would drive me away."
"Only a couple?" He smiled wryly. "That gives me a lot of latitude."
"Well, I love you a lot." She was very serious, although she seemed glad that he wasn’t frowning at her anymore.
"What would those things be? Just so I don’t overstep the bounds." He slipped his arm around her, pulling her even closer.
"Well, telling me to leave would be one, and the other would be cheating on me."
He chuckled, but she did not respond in kind. "Who would I cheat on you with? There isn’t anyone who comes close to you."
"Strange things happen all the time."
"That’s a strange thing that will never happen. Is a rack the same thing as boobs?”
“Oh. I thought so. Can I kiss you now, can we make up?"