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Introduction:

harry potter
Chapter 1 The Approaching Storm

The sun dropped in the sky over the castle, mottling the horizon with swirl of muted pink and gold. The air held the crisp feel of the approach of cooler nights and the smell of fall was in the air.

The new school term had begun at Hogwarts again. If it hadn’t been for the sheer weight of things to come, it would have been a very pleasant evening indeed.

A boy with dark, untamable hair and an unmistakable lighting bolt scar sat quietly looking out of a castle window from his dormitory four-poster.

Harry had been recounting the events of the past few years over and over in his mind. He was trying to think of something, anything that he could have done differently to change the course of events.

Again, he came up empty.

The world around him seemed to be spiraling out of control. Voldemort was gaining strength and recruiting followers to his devoted group of minions, the Death Eaters.

When they finally attacked, the Order suspected it would be swift and brutal.

Albus Dumbledore and the Order of the Phoenix had been expecting this for some time. They had also grown in number, but it would make the actual fighting no less intense or deadly.

The older students of Hogwarts and Beaubaxton Academy, as well as a few from Durmstrang, were also to join the fight. Harry, Ron, and Hermione had just entered their 7th year at Hogwarts and knew that when it came down to it, their place would be in battle with the others.

The students spent many long nights practicing curses and defensive spells in the Room of Requirement, away from the prying eyes of possible spies. They all worked very hard.

Hermione, in particular, was faced with the challenge of conquering one of her greatest fears…flying. She absolutely hated to go flying in any way other than within the safety of a Muggle airplane. They had told her that there would be plenty to do on the ground, but Ron and Harry would be in the air, and she refused to be left behind.

Upon consideration of her phobia of broom transport, Ron was utterly perplexed. He really couldn’t understand her trust in Muggle machines. Having not grown up in a Muggle household as Hermione had done, he thought of them as a whole… a bit dodgy.

Ron’s dad had always been fascinated by all things Muggle. You’d think a bit of his obsession would rub off, but to the contrary, Ron was of the opinion that anyone who trusted a metal box run by a motor to fly them around was bordering on insanity.

This belief was only reinforced by his experience once with a Muggle car that had been bewitched to fly. It had let him and Harry down at a critical time.

Ron had apparently filed that away and applied it to all motorized machinery. His vocalization of his opinion on this particular subject led him and Hermione straight into another one of their arguments.

“Well, what if the motor is faulty? Then what? It’s not as if the Muggle driver of the…. arrow thingy could do anything to fix it, is there?” Ron had sarcastically inquired.

“First of all, it’s ‘airplane’ Ronald, and…well, actually…if there is a problem with the plane’s engine, well…then…it may be prone to…well…crash.” Hermione ended in a somewhat defeated tone.

“CRASH?! You mean fall?…all the way to the ground?” When Hermione didn’t respond, he took her silence as a yes. “Well, that’s exactly my point isn’t it? It’s just as I said then, you’d have to be daft to ride in one of those.” And feeling quite triumphant, Ron looked to Harry and added “Right Harry?”

Harry, for his part, actually agreed with Ron. He'd never flown by airplane because any time the Dursley’s had flown anywhere they certainly didn’t invite him to join them. He would be left behind with their cat loving, batty, old neighbor, Mrs. Figg.

Of course there was also the fact that Harry was never happier than when he was soaring through the air on his Firebolt, a fact that Ron knew all too well. To him there was really no comparison, but Harry was not about to admit that now. Taking his side would only lead Ron to gloat and Hermione would then be angry with Harry too.

Trying to be the diplomat and desperately wanting to stay out of it, Harry said, “I suppose it really comes down to… personal preference, doesn’t it.” Then he quickly added, “The point of the matter today though is that Hermione needs to learn to fly on a broom safely. So, if you’re finished…we’ll get on with it.”

They both looked at each other with a grimace and a huff, and then decided to move along.

They began by having her ride with them so she could get the feel for taking off and landing without having to go it alone. Then they moved onto solo flights.

She worked tirelessly with Ron, Harry, and Ginny at getting comfortable on a broom and eventually she seemed to be mastering the art of flying.

Part of Harry secretly thought that one of the only reasons she did it was to prove to Ron that she could do it…even if she did prefer planes to brooms.

That was not the only necessary preparation. They also sat up late on several nights talking about the inevitable challenge that they all faced and what they would need to do if they were to win the day.

The trio usually reserved their quiet Common room discussions for just the three of them, but under the circumstances, Neville, Ginny, Dean, Seamus, and several others had joined them on a few occasions. After all, it concerned each and every one of them.

The entire wizarding world was in extremely dark times. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley said that it brought back horrible memories of the last time Voldemort had been in full power.

The Dark Mark would appear over a family member or friend’s home and what lay inside was horrific. Muggles and wizard folk alike were being slaughtered at Voldemort’s whim. It seemed the Death Eaters looked at Muggle killing especially as some sort of sadistic sport.

The prophecy about Harry and Voldemort was nearing reality. Harry could almost feel it in his soul. He knew when it came down to it, the prophecy would come to life and one would die at the other’s hand.

The moment the Death Eaters entered Hogsmeade, Harry would know exactly what he had to do.

Of course, his devoted friends Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Neville, and many of the other original members of Dumbledore’s Army would go to back him up, but in the end it would all come down to good against evil…love versus hatred.

Harry had long since accepted this fact and he was resolute. He was no longer afraid of dying.

What he was fearful about was the safety and survival of his friends and fellow wizards if he did not succeed. He even thought of the poor Muggles, who wouldn’t know what hit them if Voldemort truly got the upper hand.

It was certainly a lot of pressure for one young wizard, barely of age, but he could not allow himself to dwell on the immensity of the task. There was really no other way and Harry knew it was his responsibility. Dumbledore had made that fact quite clear.

Professor Dumbledore never intended to become so emotionally involved with the Potter’s son.

True, he had known and respected Lily and James a great deal. He had even offered to be their secret keeper years ago when they went into hiding.

Considering the circumstances, he thought it best for him to remain detached from young Harry… to keep his objectivity. As time passed, however, Dumbledore could not help but grow to admire and care for him, just as he had Harry’s parents.

It was true. Harry was very much like his father James in appearance and spirit. He also seemed to not only have his mother’s eyes, but her heart as well. He was the best of both of them and he seemed to grow more and more like them with each passing year.

This fact was repeatedly pointed out to Harry over the years, but he didn’t mind. He liked the fact that he was like his parents, although he never really knew them. It somehow made him feel closer to them.

Dumbledore, intervening when possible, watched Harry as he faced adventures that not even adult wizards had dealt with before and he was repeatedly victorious.

He had the true heart of a Gryffindor and Dumbledore grew to love and respect him as if he were family. He knew that Harry had grown strong and he had faith in him. He only hoped it would be enough.

Over the years Harry’s feelings for Dumbledore had been somewhat tumultuous to say the least. There were times that Harry completely admired and trusted the headmaster and other times where he felt abandoned by him.

As of late though, Harry and Dumbledore had begun to have frequent talks in the headmaster’s office.

During one such talk, Dumbledore offered, “Harry, you have become a great wizard and a great young man. Make no mistake. We all wish there were another way.

Anyone of the Order, myself included, would gladly die to save you from… your destiny. You need to know, however, that we have great faith in you.

Your father would be proud of you…as am I.”

Dumbledore crossed his office and stood in front of the window looking out over the grounds, then continued.

“Over the years, I know that I have not always… handled things properly where you were concerned, but I want you to know that I always did… what I thought was right.

Perhaps it was the fault of an old man’s ignorance, but I think I was trying to spare you for as long as possible from what you may face at anytime now.”

Harry moved to stand next to the headmaster.

Professor Dumbledore peered over his half moon spectacles at Harry. He then turned back towards the grounds and added, “Never allow yourself to believe for even one moment that I had forgotten about you or didn’t care about what you went through over the course of your time at the Dursley’s or your time here in my care.

I believe perhaps it was my affection for you that may have caused my poor judgment at times… and I apologize to you now.

I hope you can forgive me and begin to fully trust me again, for we need to be truly united now, more than ever. No matter what happens I want you to know how I feel. I consider myself fortunate to have gotten to know you Harry.”

Dumbledore paused and placed his hand on Harry’s shoulder as they stood looking out of the tower window of Dumbledore’s office.

Harry looked up at his headmaster. He was more than that. However angry Harry had been over the last couple of years with Dumbledore for not telling him everything, the anger was gone now.

This was his mentor, his friend, the greatest wizard Harry had ever known… and probably… the closest thing Harry had to a father since Sirius’ death.

He looked at the professor affording him a smile then said, “I think I needed to do a bit of growing up professor.

I may have been a bit thick, over the last couple of years. I didn’t understand the reasons behind your efforts and the need for secrecy, but now I know that you have always done what you have felt was best. For that, I will always be grateful.”

With that they stood in silence, for there are some moments in life that come, where words simply are no longer necessary.

It had been nearly two weeks now since the last conversation in Dumbledore’s office.

Harry knew the time was drawing nearer. He no longer took notice of the whispers and sideways glances in the school corridors. He knew what they were talking about…

Could Harry really do it? Was he capable of defeating the darkest wizard of their time? And the one that plagued Harry the most …What if he can’t?

Ron and Hermione always told him to just ignore it. They were always reassuring him that they had faith in him with Ron adding, “Besides…we’ve got your back Harry.”

Harry had a tremendous faith in his friends. They were taking their preparation for the upcoming fight very seriously and working very hard in their Defense Against the Darks Arts lessons. They also worked fervently in their D.A. sessions.

After the downfall of Professor Umbridge, ‘Dumbledore’s Army’ had consequently resumed their meetings with a renewed vigor.

Unfortunately, not everyone at Hogwarts was supportive of Harry in regard to his upcoming challenge, which was hard to understand considering how much was at stake.

Nonetheless, Harry had grown rather accustomed to hearing jeers from Draco Malfoy and his gang of devoted Slytherins.

Passing in the corridors, in the Great Hall, out on the grounds…anytime that Malfoy was sure that a professor wasn’t in ear shot, he was quick to offer his own brand of encouraging words and advice.

For instance, once he bellowed, “Hey! Scarhead! Why don’t you just drown yourself in the lake? The giant squid would probably just swallow you whole. That’s much kinder than what I know is in store for you… and probably much more than you deserve, Potty,” he had added with a sneer, while his cronies, Crabbe and Goyle, sniggered stupidly beside him.

Malfoy, although quite intolerable, was not however, stupid. He never traveled alone, but was endlessly flanked instead by two mountainous idiots that were his housemates.

They also shared a family secret. Their fathers all belonged to the league of Death Eaters. Harry, himself, had seen them at it, standing hooded in the inner circle, the very night that Voldemort returned to power.

Lucius Malfoy and his own adult versions of Crabbe and Goyle thugs had been in hiding for over a year now. They only appeared briefly to do their master’s bidding and then they were gone again… untraceable.

When they did show their faces, they made no attempts at hiding their identities. Harry guessed that now that their allegiance had been discovered, they felt it useless to try to move in secret anymore. All pretenses were abandoned.

Lucius had certainly fallen out of favor with the Ministry. No amount of generous donations to the Ministry and its causes could buy his way out of this one, so, it appeared that he had ceased to care.

In addition to the terror that Lucius was inflicting throughout Britain, whatever Lucius told Crabbe and Goyle, Sr. to do, they were only too happy to oblige.

This was a characteristic that seemed to be repeating itself through the generations Harry noted grimly.

While Malfoy, Jr. was apparently, biding his time, carrying on with the part of the “good student”, Malfoy, Sr. and the other Death Eaters were openly attacking wizards and Muggles alike.

It was rumored that the Death Eaters also had an unplottable hideaway as the Order did. It only made sense, but to date, no solid intelligence about its possible whereabouts had been gathered.

Harry suspected that that was Professor Snape’s moonlighting job, his unspeakable mission for the Order. Harry felt certain that Snape was given the task of infiltrating Voldemort’s inner realm by convincing him he was just staying at Hogwarts so he could gather valuable information and keep an eye on Dumbledore.

A plan that Harry was sure Voldemort would relish.

Snape was by far Harry’s least favorite teacher at Hogwarts. That included spacey Professor Trelawney, who was always predicting Harry’s gruesome and painful death.

His hatred of Snape was undoubtedly only matched by Snape’s mutually foul feelings for Harry. Snape never missed an opportunity to make Harry’s life miserable whenever possible.

Given all the professor’s obviously negative qualities, Harry still had to admit he was probably the best man for the job.

Snape was a gifted Legilimens and Occlumens. Harry had also been forced to master the art of Occlumency after the death of his godfather.

In reality, if Harry had been more diligent in practicing before Sirius’ death, he may not have been so easily lured to the Ministry of Magic that night and Sirius may still be alive…the guilt of which Harry had lived with everyday for nearly a year and a half. Snape was asked to train Harry, but their mutual dislike for each other had made their attempts far less than successful.

The truth was though, that Snape himself was very good at it. Snape could ward off Voldemort’s attempts to pry into his mind and discover the true nature of his allegiance. He was also able to enter Voldemort’s follower’s minds undetected.

Harry often wondered if Snape had been using his talents to penetrate the young Slytherin student’s minds for information as well.

Those students whose parents where in league with the Death Eaters had the potential to be very useful and would be the least likely to fight him out of their minds, and for that matter, the most likely to be completely unable to detect his neurological invasion.

It was no longer a question it seemed of whether there were indeed spies about the castle, but who were they and how many.

Harry and the others definitely believed that not all, but at least some of the Slytherin students were either secretly gathering information for the Death Eaters or had actually already joined their foul ranks.

The dark side was growing. Some informants were obvious, like Malfoy, but they were quite sure there were others, possibly ones they would never suspect.

This made Snape’s talent for blocking others out of his mind while at the same time penetrating theirs, an even more powerful and valuable gift.

Regardless, of Snape’s talent for psychological warfare, Dumbledore’s wishes, the Orders plans, or even his friend’s loyalty, facts were facts.

The reality of it was it was no longer possible for Dumbledore or anyone else to intervene on Harry’s behalf.

He knew they would assist them where they could, but ultimately they would have to allow this teenage boy, whom they had watched grow as a wizard and a young man, meet his fate head on, and ultimately, alone.

________________________________________
Chapter 2 The Rage of Battle

It was a little over half way through September when the attacks began.

One of the Order’s contacts stationed in Hogsmeade sent word when it started, but there was really no need. They could see wand sparks and here blasts all the way at the castle.

The plan had been set long ago, so when it all began, everyone literally flew into action without hesitation.

Harry, Ron, and Hermione exchanged quick, but meaningful looks when they got the news. They left the common room and headed down to the castle entrance in front of the Great Hall.

Malfoy saw them enter as they were gathering with the others. He took that brief opportunity to get in a final dig while Dumbledore and McGonagall were in conference.

“Well, if it isn’t Potty, Weasel, and their Mudblood wench,” he said with a smirk. “Ready to die Potter?”

Harry just glared at him and Malfoy continued, “If you aren’t now…you soon will be. I’ll wager you’ll be begging for the dark lord to end it all for you by nightfall. I for one can’t wait to see it when you do.”

Harry and Hermione had to hold Ron back from tearing Malfoy apart right there in the hall. For a brief second, they entertained the thought of just letting him do it.

Hermione came to her senses though and realized that they would need to have Ron in top form. He couldn’t duel or even fight Malfoy hand to hand if he was to be of any help to Harry in the air.

Harry continued to glare at Malfoy. He was through favoring his comments with replies.

Hermione however, quickly shot at Malfoy “You’ll see who’s begging for mercy…you filthy, git of a ferret! …that is if you even have the guts to join the battle!”

Malfoy just sneered at her and shot back, “I’m going to enjoy torturing you mudblood…probably almost as much as I’m going to enjoy listening to Potter’s screams to just let him die!” Looking directly at Hermione he added, “Now that I think about it, I may just keep you around for awhile Granger, you know…for kicks.” He was looking her up and down, which was implication enough.

Again, they had to restrain Ron. As Dumbledore and McGonagall finished their whispered conversation, Malfoy lost his nerve and moved on through the crowd.

“Don’t listen to him," Hermione said. "You can do it, Harry. I know you can. You’re ready,” she told him before quickly hugging him.

Ron shook his hand and growled, “Let’s finish this.”

As they entered Hogsmeade, Harry could feel the adrenaline pumping through him. It wasn’t so much fear that he felt though, it was more like the feeling he had before a particularly important Quidditch match…tense, anxious, ready to go.

Harry and the other members of the D.A. were to mount their attack on brooms as the Order and the ministry members fought from the ground.

The plan was to distract or eliminate as many Death Eaters, Dementors, and giants as they possibly could, to give Harry a clear path to Voldemort.

This had proven to be no easy task, but finally the scales seemed to be tipping in the direction of the Order.

Many of the D.A. could now produce highly effective Patronuses, so surprisingly the Dementors had actually turned out to be the easiest of their enemies to erase from the equation.

The scene was amazing. The sheer numbers of Patronuses and the various forms that they took gave the battlefield an almost ethereal glow.

It wasn’t long before most of the Dementors had retreated. A few glided their way back into the fray periodically, for it seemed they were unable to resist mass of emotion emanating from the field. To them it was probably like sitting at a banquet and they were being repeatedly drawn to the table.

Fortunately, when they did return, they were readily dispatched again by the D.A.

The giant’s were proving to be a bit more formidable of a foe. Fortunately, although many giants remained on the side of Voldemort, Hagrid’s little brother, Grawp, had been able to persuade a handful of giants to join Dumbledore. Hagrid and Grawp had been actively trying to sway the giant’s allegiance where possible.

In some respects, Voldemort had unwittingly aided them. He wasn’t always consistent in the treatment of his servants except for one aspect. Voldemort preferred to use cruelty to keep his charges under submission. The giants were treated no differently.

As it turned out though, giants apparently tend to be less than submissive charges. They didn’t take kindly to Voldemort’s tendency at all. In fact, the giants detested it.

In the end, it seemed they either didn’t care about the reactions of the dark lord or weren’t intelligent enough to be afraid of the consequences.

To that end, they had a habit of changing sides as they saw fit. By the time the battle began, Hagrid, Madame Maxime and Grawp had recruited nearly a score of giants to fight for the Order.

The scales were certainly still not even where the giants were concerned, but those in league with Grawp had served as somewhat of an equalizer and had drawn the Voldemort’s giants away from the heart of the battle.

When giants go into battle, by any standard, it is a brutal sight to behold. They are able to give and receive painful blows that would kill most wizards instantaneously. Due to the fact that Hagrid was only half-giant, he was certainly at a disadvantage. He, like Hermione however, refused to be left behind.

He simply insisted on entering the battle alongside his brother. Hagrid felt that he had brought Grawp into this war and he was going to die by his side if it came to that.

That very pledge very nearly became reality. Hagrid came very close on several occasions to receiving mortal blows. If it weren’t for Grawp’s protection, he surely would have died on the battlefield that very day.

Grawp was guarding Hagrid ferociously. If Hagrid was in a tight spot, Grawp served as his shield, receiving the worst blows himself while deflected them from Hagrid. He had on more than one occasion fought off on-coming attackers while Hagrid positioned himself to better defend himself.

With the Dementors dispersed and the giants distracted, that left the Death Eaters and the Order to duel it out on the ground while Harry and the D.A. went after Voldemort in an aerial assault.

The members of the Order, led by Dumbledore, were an astonishing sight. Harry had never realized that there were so many of them. Obviously, from the variety of robes they wore, they had traveled from all over the world to join the cause.

As Harry and the D.A. took to the skies, a battle, the likes of which they never been seen before, had begun on the ground.

Wand blasts were flaring in every direction as Dumbledore ordered Harry to go. Harry was to be flanked on all sides by Ron, Hermione, and most of the D.A. They were to provide a flying brigade of protection for him.

While Harry dueled with Voldemort, he could hear curses and counter curses coming from the members of the D.A. to assist him throughout the battle. Unfortunately, these attempts usually resulted with the D.A. member either being hit by a counter curse thrown at them by a Death Eater, or worse, from Voldemort.

They held their own as long as possible, fighting bravely and fiercely, but the fact remained that they were still only students. They seemed to be serving as only a temporary deterrent for their enemies and were beginning to falter in their attempts.

In the end, it was surreal.

The battlefield lay strewn with members of the D.A. and Order, as well as a scattering of defeated Death Eaters. Harry glanced around quickly and saw that most of the D.A. members in fact had been eliminated from the battle at this point.

He peered toward the ground, but was unable to make out the faces of the robed figures waging war below him. His entire body was aching.

He was quite sure he'd broken a rib. The weightlessness of flying was the only thing that allowed his body to keep going. He was certain that if he were on the ground, he would be of little use on his feet.

He knew he had to do something fast or it would not be Voldemort, who died, but Harry and all of his friends… all of the people he loved.

Harry struggled to regain his concentration. He needed to remain focused on the here and now. He didn't have the luxury of contemplating the future or even what was happening right below him.

He needed to place all of his strength and will into the task at hand…kill or be killed. There were no options now.

The battle raged on and Harry had just dodged yet another blast from Voldemort’s wand. As Harry had learned, Voldemort’s wand was the brother of his very own beloved wand. Just as he and Voldemort were joined by a curse, in a strange twist of fate, so it seemed, were their wands. Put into simple terms, this made fighting very difficult.

Voldemort had returned as strong as he had ever been, but now, Harry wasn’t merely a baby, or barely a year old, as he was the last time Voldemort came after him in full power. In fact, Harry had become a very powerful wizard himself.

Harry also had one thing that Voldemort didn’t …a desire to save the ones he loved.

Voldemort thought love was a wasted and useless emotion. He couldn’t understand it and this made it difficult for him to guard against its advantages.

Voldemort on the other hand, had hatred and revenge to fuel him, which also proved to be a formidable power.

So, it seemed to come down to the wands. The wands were apparently resisting the task of battling one another. The wand’s brotherhood was preventing them from landing any solid curses.

It seemed that this could go on forever as the fighting continued for hours. Harry robes were drenched in sweat and they clung uncomfortably to his body. He was tiring. Fortunately, Harry could tell that he was also beginning to wear down his enemy as well.

Harry looked around at his friends again as they flanked him. They were rotating positions in turn, swooping all around him. Together, they formed a funnel-like configuration with Harry at its center.

The D.A. was given the task as serving as his guard. They were, at all costs, to protect Harry. They were to shield him long enough to allow him to attack and, if successful, defeat Voldemort. They were to ward off Dementors, Death Eaters, and anything else that endangered the mission.

It had to be successful. If they failed, all would be lost. Harry saw that at least Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Luna, and Neville had managed to continue the fight. Seeing his friends had bolstered his energy.

He also saw that Fred and George Weasley had mounted their brooms as reinforcements for the D.A. Ron’s twin brothers were full-fledged Order members now, but Harry believed that no doubt Dumbledore had directed them to the skies. Given their experience as fliers, and their undeniable gift for curses, they would be welcome additions to the brigade.

Suddenly, Harry and the others heard three loud cracking noises. It gave them all quite a start.

Of course, they had been hearing blasts and other battle noises from the beginning, but this was different. It was much too close, as if it came from the sky.

It sounded a little like wizards Apparating, but the sounds were so loud, it couldn’t have been…could it?

Ron, spotting Fred and George, circled them and shouted, “What the bloody hell was that?”

George swooped over closer to Ron, “Not to worry little brother, Charlie and his mates have just arrived from Romania.” George had a bit of a sly grin on his face and one eyebrow raised.

Ron’s other twin brother, Fred, came swooping past in turn and added with a smirk, “Yeah, I expect that will be…let’s just say… a bit of a shock for you-know-who’s lot.”

Ron’s eyes were as big as crumpets and his mouth was gaping.

Seeing his brother’s shock, and enjoying the moment, George matter-of-factly added, “He’s a bit late though. I guess he wanted to make a bit of an entrance. Do you think he succeeded?”

With that, they rejoined formation and began throwing curses in every direction.

Harry, having seen the exchange between Ron and the twins yelled to Ron, “What’s happened? What was all that noise?”

Without a word, but grinning from ear to ear, Ron directed Harry to look over his shoulder.”

Glancing around quickly, he then stopped dead in the air and took a second look. Then returning his attention to Ron with a huge grin on his face as well, Harry simply responded, “Bloody hell!”

“Yeah, I know. Wicked, isn’t it!” Ron shot back.

What they had seen was Ron’s older brother Charlie and two of his friends from Romania. They had just apparated into the air over the battle raging below, but they weren’t exactly alone.

Charlie and his mates were soaring through the air but they weren’t on brooms, they were mounted on three rather testy-looking Norwegian Ridgeback dragons.

As they boys scanned the ground below them, they could just make out small figures running in every direction as Charlie’s lot began making fiery passes over the Death Eaters.

Hermione flew in closer almost laughing and simply said, “Beautiful night for a fire, don’t you think?”

“Oh definitely…very pleasant indeed,” Ron responded with a playful wink and then added, “Well, back to work I suppose.” and with that they were off again.

Harry was left with a smile on his face and a renewed sense of strength. He was beginning to really believe…they could do this. They could really end it all…today.

He felt a deep sense of pride in the bravery of all of his friends and in the fact that they had each become very powerful wizards in their own right. Never, in their wildest dreams, could any of them have imagined on that first train ride to Hogwarts, where they would be on this night. None of them had asked for this. None of them deserved to live it, but here they all were…united in a cause…ready to die for each other.

All of this had raced through his mind in seconds. He knew he could not let them down.

Harry willed himself to press on, flying faster and more erratically to try to throw off Voldemort’s aim and concentration. Harry was a great flier, there was no question. That fact explained why Dumbledore had devised this aerial assault. The hope was that being airborne, where Harry was at home would give him an edge.

Harry turned toward Voldemort once again for yet another pass on his Firebolt to try to somehow gain the upper hand. However, his thoughts of the love of his friends distracted Harry enough to allow a blast from a wand on the ground to hit.

Harry swerved at the last second and the broom took the brunt of the blast, but it did serve to throw him off balance. In that small window of opportunity, Voldemort had struck.

Harry veered to the left just in time to avoid the majority of the latest curse, but Voldemort had succeeded in knocking Harry’s wand from his hand and it was now falling freely to the ground.

Harry was just about to yell Accio wand to recover it when Ron came plummeting out of nowhere to shield him with his own body.

Voldemort laughed at the stupid sacrifice of the teenage boy. He thought it preposterous that Ron would do something that was, in Voldemort’s mind, so thick. He laughed even more when Hermione, in Voldemort’s approximation… a mere girl, shot over and flew directly in front of them both at the last second.

Both Hermione and Ron were blasted off their brooms by the curse. Harry was stunned. It had all happened so fast. Harry shouted to the others for help. His pleas for help were unnecessary because Ginny was already there.

Ginny, Harry thought, next to Ron and Hermione, had grown the most in his eyes.

She had matured both as a wizard and a person. She was independent, confident, and strong. From observing her with her brothers and various boys she dated, Harry also knew she was not one to be crossed. After all, she seemed to take after her twin brothers Fred and George, who were known for their talent for curses.

Having been possessed by Voldemort in her first year at Hogwarts, she was probably the only other person that could come close to truly imagining what Harry had lived through all these years. Harry felt connected to her because of it.

He had developed a deep admiration for her over the last couple of years. They had formed a bond of sorts through their experiences fighting Voldemort. He had saved her from the Chamber of Secrets and Voldemort’s possession in his second year.

She had also accompanied him to the Ministry of Magic in his 5th year without a second thought to help him find Sirius. Harry had talked to her later about why she had gone when it had been so utterly dangerous.

She had told him that “I believed you needed to go Harry, and I believe in you. I know you were doing what you had to do.” then she added, “Besides, I owe you not only my life, but also the life of my father. For that matter, Ron may not be here either if it weren’t for you. I’d go anywhere with you if I could repay even a portion of that debt.”

Even when times were calmer, they still spent more time than usual together. After all, she was his best friends little sister.

The fact that Harry had no family to speak of, at least family that wanted to speak of him, meant that he not only saw her at school, but also at the Burrow during summers and holidays. Harry felt they definitely had a connection on several levels.

Now, at that very moment, she was again fighting bravely from his flank. Ginny had been watching the movements of her brother and Hermione. She saw their dire situation and had swooped in from the left to defend them.

She'd deflected the majority of the blast with a counter curse, but it was too strong for her to stop completely.

Ron and Hermione were both falling to the ground lifeless.

Ginny had managed to slow them down before they hit the ground, much as Dumbledore had done at a Quidditch game in Harry’s 3rd year.

The Dementors had entered the grounds of the school and had caused Harry to fall some 50 feet to the surface of the pitch below. Now, seeing Ron and Hermione disappearing from view, Harry felt an intense anger swell in him, the likes of which he had never felt. That was really saying something considering what he had been through and all that he had lost in his lifetime at Voldemort’s hand.

Voldemort had taken his parents, his godfather, and many of his friends now lay below on the ground… some of which Harry knew would not survive. This was too much…not Ron and Hermione…it just couldn’t be.

As much as he wanted to, he had no time to go to them now. His love for them, and his coursing anger, fueled his strength. He had even forgotten about his wand.

Suddenly, he realized he didn’t need it.

This had happened to Harry on a few occasions before in his life. Once as a young child on a visit to the zoo, he released a snake that seemed to go after his cousin Dudley before slithering away. Harry had done this very much by accident and hadn’t even realized at that point that he was in fact a wizard and not just Harry.

On another occasion, he had blown up his Aunt Marge by simply thinking about it. In that instant, it was the love of his parents, whom she had been verbally degrading, that caused his anger, and in turn, his power to swell. It appeared that this was something similar to those times, but he felt very much in control this time over what he was doing.

He attacked swiftly and directly at Voldemort’s heart. The dark lord was taken aback at the power that lay in Harry’s hands, in Harry’s heart.

“This is not possible!’ Voldemort bellowed as he winced.

His expression told Harry that he was actually beginning to fear Harry, as he watched the life begin to leak out of his opponent. The end did not come easily.

Voldemort continued to fight. At this point though, his magic seemed to be significantly less powerful than Harry’s, for Harry’s magic was no longer coming from his wand, but from his heart and the very soul of his being.

This was something Voldemort could not understand or defend against. Harry was not fighting for himself, but for the lives of his friends and family who had suffered and died at the hands of the dark lord.

In the end, Harry’s last blast was the killing curse.

It was the same curse that Voldemort used on Harry’s parents, on Cedric and countless others. It hit home on a weakened Voldemort whose body glowed green. The glow began to erupt from his very heart.

Death didn’t seem to just wash over him the way it had Cedric when Voldemort abducted he and Harry from the Tri-Wizard tournament by Portkey. This was different. He began shaking uncontrollably and then he violently exploded from the inside out.

Voldemort completely disintegrated in a blaze of green fire. Harry was blasted backward from the intensity of the explosion.

He slowly regained his bearings and looked around for any sign that Voldemort had tricked him, but when none came he turned on his Firebolt and headed for the ground at full speed, eyes stinging against the rush of wind.

Harry flew down to Ron and Hermione.

The pain that Harry had ceased to feel when his anger had taken over was now returning with a vengeance. Harry was not only totally exhausted, but also completely overcome by emotions concerning the lives of his best friends.

It was too much. His body and mind would allow no more.

Harry collapsed on the ground and lay unconscious at their sides. Whatever happened in battle after that went on without Harry.

________________________________________
Chapter 3: The Aftermath

Harry awoke in hospital nearly a week later. He discovered to his great relief that the war was in fact over. Voldemort was gone forever.

Sadly, before Voldemort’s defeat, he and his Death Eaters had managed to take down several members of the Order, as well as some members of the Ministry of Magic, who finally believed the worst to be true.

They all knew from the start, that this battle would not come without losses, and it had come to pass, as they feared it would, it had been a swift and brutal attack.

Voldemort’s downfall was a fact, but Harry was having difficulty fathoming how different his life could be now that Voldemort was gone.

No more Voldemort, no more Dursleys, no more living in fear of the next attempt on his life or the lives of his loved ones…at least not by Voldemort himself.

He had lived with that hanging over him for the better part of seven years and it was taking awhile for it to really sink in that that horrible part of his life was truly behind him.

Unfortunately, this did not mean that all evil wizards were eliminated from their world, but for now they were without a lord to guide them and without a plan. Many of the remaining Death Eaters had fled at the defeat of their leader.

It appeared that when Harry defeated Voldemort, many of them ran in fear. Some had been left dumbstruck that “that boy” had actually killed, in their opinion, the most powerful wizard of all time.

In their disbelief they were caught off guard. Some had been captured and there were also those whom had not survived the battle.

Many members of the Order were also among the casualties. Harry knew at least two of the fallen Order members personally.

Tonks and Shacklebolt had on more than one occasion come to Harry’s side in his defense. They died bravely in battle, but not without taking several death eaters with them first.

Harry felt some pangs of guilt at his relief that it had not been Remus Lupin, his only real remaining tie to his parents.

Draco Malfoy and some of his gang had openly supported Voldemort in battle. He had disappeared somewhere during the fight and hadn’t been seen since.

Harry suspected that no doubt things had gotten too intense for Malfoy, Crabb and Goyle. At that point, Malfoy did what he always did...abandoned the others to save his own skin… for he left behind several other Slytherin students to face capture or perhaps even death.

That was not to say that he wasn’t out there biding his time with his father and the other surviving Death Eaters, but he too had tipped his hand and was just as much a fugitive now as his dad.

Hagrid had been aiding the giants that were fighting for Dumbledore. He and his half-brother, Grawp, had fought side by side. Grawp was a full-blooded giant. In spite of the fact that giants tend not to form strong relationships with others, they had definitely bonded and were truly brothers.

In the end, it was Grawp who died defending Hagrid. Hagrid was badly injured, but was now recovering, at least from his physical injuries. Aiding Hagrid’s recovery was none other than Madame Maxime of Beaubaxton’s and it was progressing rather well. Incidentally, she was no longer renouncing her giantess bloodline.

Most of the professors had survived, with the exception of Professors’ Flitwick and Sinistra. Harry had never felt very close the Professor Sinistra, but Professor Flitwick had openly supported them in their 5th year as they tried to undermine Professor Umbridge’s attempts to dominate the school.

He even gave the swamp that Fred and George Weasley had conjured a museum-like place of honor when Umbridge was gone.

He had simply stated that, “it was just a very good bit of magic”, but they all knew it was to pay homage to two of Hogwarts biggest mischief-makers in their finest hour.

Harry had always held a special admiration for Flitwick after that. In battle, the professors both died defending Dumbledore himself.

Dumbledore looked older and weaker than Harry had ever seen him, but nonetheless, he had survived.

The entire Weasley family had joined the fight. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, along with Bill and Percy had dueled from the ground with the Order.

Ron, Ginny, Charlie, and the twins had been part of the air assault team. They were all somewhat battered and bruised.

Percy, incidentally, had acquired a rather nasty burn and had most of the hair singed off the back of his head. Bill had of course apologized profusely for the near miss with the dragon fire, but Harry had a sneaky suspicion that it hadn’t been a total accident. After all, Percy had complained that he hadn’t been standing anywhere near a Death Eater at the time.

Harry suspected that the stray dragon fire was in fact Charlie’s attempt at a bit of payback, for Percy’s turncoat behavior prior to returning to the Weasley fold.

Mrs. Weasley must have shared Harry’s suspicions, because he had overheard her telling Charlie off in the hospital corridor. All he could make out was “dragon” and “could have been killed”, but he figured he didn’t need to hear the rest.

All in all the Weasley family had come away with various levels of injuries, but much to Harry’s relief, they were basically unscathed.

That was of course, with the exception of Ron. Ron had dove in front of Harry to protect him and took a rather nasty blast of a curse.

The Weasley’s hadn’t blamed Harry for Ron’s injuries. In fact, they commended him for taking the opportunity that Ron, Hermione, and Ginny had given him to defeat the dark lord, once and for all.

They were proud of Ron. Even Fred and George admitted he had come through in the clutch. They had always enjoyed picking on Ron. Next to Quidditch and picking on Percy, it was a favorite sport for them growing up. Now it seemed they viewed Ron as an equal. It was as much as any one of them would have done, if they had been in Ron or Hermione’s place, and they told Harry as much.

Ron didn’t wake up for another full week after Harry. Harry had been so worried that he sat day and night at his bedside at St. Mungo’s after he, himself, was strong enough to do so.

The only time he left Ron’s side was to sit with his other best friend. Hermione, who had taken the worst of Voldemort’s curse, had shown very little, if any change, since her arrival at the hospital. Harry ached with guilt at the sacrifice Ron and Hermione had made on his behalf, although he knew he’d have done the same for them without a single second of hesitation.

They had willingly offered their lives in exchange for Harry’s.

When Ron finally came ‘round Harry was beside himself with relief and joy. So much so that he openly hugged his best friend as his tears welled up.

“I’m alright mate…,” Ron had awkwardly said as Harry hugged him.

Harry’s happiness began to ebb away when he realized that only part of his waiting had ended. It was then that he remembered and realized that he had to tell Ron about Hermione.

Ron sat and listened and was speechless for a full minute. To Harry’s surprise, he then grew angry. At first Harry thought Ron was upset with him for letting Hermione shield him, but as it turned out, he was actually angry with Hermione… and Harry suspected… himself.

“What the bloody hell was she thinking!” Ron yelled. “She never should have blocked Voldemort for me! I was to be you’re barrier! She and I had agreed beforehand…if it came to that. She was not to interfere, unless, of course… I was already dead.” Ron had said matter of factly.

Harry was in a stunned silence for a minute before he asked, “Hang on …you mean, you planned to die shielding me?” Ron just looked at him with a ‘what did you think I’d do’ look on his face and finally said ”well… yeah.”

“And Hermione and you had agreed you’d die first, and then, and only then, she’d step in?”

Again Ron responded ratherly lamely…”Yeah.”

“Why didn’t I know about this… agreement?” Harry demanded, getting a little angry himself.

“Well, we knew you’d never agree to it would you, and it had to be done. We were fighting for more than just ourselves weren’t we? You had to succeed! Let’s face it Harry, our survival wasn’t really… necessary… or at least it wasn’t as important as yours was.”

As upset and Harry was, he realized that what Ron was saying was actually true.

They had been fighting for all wizards and muggles alike.

Dumbledore had told his friends to defend him at all costs, and they took that responsibility very, very seriously.

Harry began “Ron…I don’t know what to say. I can never repay you and Hermione for what you …."

Ron cut him off “Repay?!? Hell Harry…you saved the world !! I think that’s thanks enough for any act…don’t you? …especially between mates. What would you have done in our situation?”

Harry just looked at his friend thinking to himself that he’d have definitely done the same.

Then eventually they both began to smile and Ron said, “It’s over Harry. It’s really over!”

The two friends sat in silence grinning for a few more seconds until, having been alerted of Ron’s change in condition, the entire Weasley clan entered Ron’s hospital ward and began to smother him with hugs and kisses.

Mrs. Weasley began to cry on Mr. Weasley’s shoulder. Ginny went over to Ron’s bedside, quickly hugged him and left the ward.

Harry had stepped back with a broad grin on his face to let all of Ron’s brothers in to slap Ron on the back or punch him in the arm…as only brothers would.

Even Percy had realized his mistakes in the end and had been allied with the Order. The whole Weasley family was united, and now that Ron was awake and recovering, the family was again complete.

Harry was beginning to feel a little like an intruder, although he knew they looked on him as part of their family too. He had overheard Mrs. Weasley once say he was as good as a son to her. Her words had made him swell with gratitude and it only deepened his love for spending time at the Burrow with his “family.”

Nonetheless, he thought they might like a little time alone. Harry saw Ginny leave the room and decided to follow her. He wanted to make sure she was ok. Besides, Professor Dumbledore had told him that Ginny had in fact spent a good bit of time at Harry’s bedside while he was unconscious.

What with worrying about Ron and Hermione, he had never taken the time over the last week to thank her. He thought this would be a good time to do that.

He found Ginny just outside Ron’s room. She was leaning against the wall and she was trembling. There were tears in her eyes, but she seemed to be willing them not to fall.

Harry looked at her for a few seconds.

“Ginny?”

He spoke her name, about to ask if she was alright.

At that moment, she threw herself onto Harry and wrapped her arms around him burying her face in his chest. She was sobbing uncontrollably.

He held her for a few minutes, softly rubbing her back, letting her pour out her pent up emotions. Then he said soothingly.

“It’s going to be ok now, Ginny…it’s over now. Ron is awake and he is going to be fine.”

Ginny slowly drew back from him and spoke through her choked tears…”I’ve… been… so worried… Harry. I haven’t… slept… properly for weeks. Between Ron… and you… I didn’t know what to do with myself. “

Suddenly her expression changed from desperation to what appeared to be anger. He'd seen this emotional shift in a Weasley before…Ron tended to suddenly change tracks under stress as well.

She was fighting to steady her breathing and continued, “ Why wasn’t I…stronger? I should have done better at blocking… that curse! My brother almost died because I was too… weak! Poor Hermione is still… still fighting to come back to us! All because… of me!”

Harry was astonished at Ginny’s confession of guilty feelings. After he collected himself he responded, not meaning to, but raising his voice a little too, “Ginny! Is that what you really think ?! You saved all of our lives with your quick reaction time. You were on it before I could even call for your help! Voldemort had knocked my wand away. I felt helpless. You saved us all! Don’t you ever think this is your fault…not ever! Do you hear me Ginerva Weasley?”

They stood frozen for a few seconds looking at each other. His words seemed to be sinking in and they calmed her a little.

“Now, come here,” he said in a more soothing voice, as he gently drew her back into his arms and then in a whisper, he breathed in her ear. “We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you, Gin, and that’s the honest truth. I’m really proud of you. You’re strong…. and independent… and quite a powerful wizard yourself. “ Then looking at her he added, “ I actually came out here to thank you.”

Ginny responded with an odd quizzical look, so Harry continued.

“I wanted to thank you for your help in battle and for staying by my side in the hospital.”

It seemed to Harry that Ginny was beginning to flush pink in the face and it wasn’t from crying.

“How did you know about that?” she asked quickly. “Well…Dumbledore told me…”was Harry’s response.

He was a little surprised that she appeared to be embarrassed that he had found out, as though it had been her secret.

“Well….I was really worried about you…and Ron,” she added as almost an afterthought.

“Well,” Harry said with a small grin on his face, “I’m glad I had you in my corner.”

She smiled at his words and seemed to relax a bit. Harry was looking into her eyes. He still had his arms around her and was absentmindedly, softly stroking her back and shoulders.

It was like he was just seeing her properly for the very first time.

Even though she was his best friends little sister, it was easy to see that she wasn’t really little anymore. In fact she had grown quite beautiful he had thought.

He was having quite an internal struggle at the moment and becoming all too aware of how close they were standing to each other.

Beginning to feel a little nervous at the thoughts running through his mind about his mate’s younger sister, he said “So…shall we go back in and see Ron then?”

Ginny looked slightly disappointed then sighed “Yeah, …ok…”

Although it didn’t really sound to Harry like she wanted to end what seemed to be happening between the two of them at that moment.

In actuality, neither did Harry.

His problem was that he’d run out of things to say and their silence was starting to feel extremely intimate. Like each was waiting for the other to say or do something more.

Harry had had a strong urge to lean down and kiss her. He mastered the impulse when he remembered the last time he had kissed a girl. It had been nearly two years since the kiss in the Room of Requirement.

It wasn’t that Harry hadn’t had an interested in dating other girls in the meantime, but unfortunately his circumstances didn’t allow much time for romantic pursuits.

Then, there was also the fact that, frankly some girls were too afraid. They believed that dating him placed them in the direct path of unnecessary danger.

Now, as he remembered kissing Cho after the D.A. meeting that night, he thought of the fact that she’d been crying too, and that certainly didn’t end well. He didn’t want a repeat of that disaster.

He decided that if anything were to happen between he and Ginny, the right moment would come.

He’d know it when it did...right? …at least he hoped he would.

So, Harry opened the door instead and made a motion for Ginny to go first adding “After you.” with a bit of a smile.

She'd collected herself by then and returned his smile then led the way. They returned to the room to the sound of laughter and happy chatter.

________________________________________
Chapter 4 The Return to Hogwarts

Their feelings of happiness were rather short lived because one fact had remained. Hermione was still lost to them.

Drifting in what appeared to be a dreamless state of sleep, she was to be transferred from St. Mungo’s to the hospital wing at Hogwart’s.

Madame Pomfrey said the reason she was being transferred was that, honestly, there was no real medical reason for her continued comatose state.

It was like her mind hadn’t caught up with the fact that her body had healed and it just simply refused to let her wake up.

This was both encouraging and discouraging at the same time because the doctors had said she could wake up at any time or sleep endlessly…only time would tell.

Ron’s doctor, with Mrs. Weasley’s support, insisted that Ron stay another day or two at St. Mungo’s Hospital and rest.

It was decided that Harry would return to Hogwarts immediately to be with Hermione. They didn’t want her to be alone.

Her parents visited her as much as they could, but it was hard for them to get away for long periods of time from their dentistry practice. They had been alternating visits every two or three days and were being kept informed daily by owl post of her condition.

They had requested that she be allowed to remain in London, but it had been virtually out of the question. Due to the fact that she was not really in need of any specialized healing, that only St. Mungo’s could provide, and the fact that there were many other injured wizards from the battle that were, frankly they needed the bed.

The Grangers had only made the request in the first place because they knew it would be even harder for them to visit her now that she would no longer be in London.

The trip to Hogwarts muggle-style was long and rather treacherous. They’d also have to be given special permission because of all of the anti-muggle wards on the castle and the village nearby.

If they went on their own, they’d never find it…even if they were standing right outside the main gates.

When Hermione was transferred to the castle’s hospital wing Harry accompanied her to her new bed. The first two days were long, but Ginny stopped by a few times to keep him company and this helped the time to go by faster. She and Harry were always able to talk easily, at least since Ginny had given up her crush on him in her third year.

Ginny developed a crush on Harry the first time she saw him, but according to Hermione, she had moved on…a fact that Harry secretly was not so grateful for now perhaps.

Nonetheless, talking to Ginny wasn’t like talking with other girls. When Harry was with Ginny he was comfortable. He didn’t get tongue-tied or search for silly small talk to fill the gaps of silence.

They were friends. They had spent lots of time together playing Quidditch and spending holidays together…They had lots of material to pull from so very few silences dotted their conversations. Harry really enjoyed her company, but this was the one subject he was having trouble broaching with her it seemed.

Just spending time with her made him feel happy. That was enough for Harry…at least for now.

________________________________________
Chapter 5 The New Guard

When Ron was finally released from St. Mungo’s, he and Harry began taking shifts at Hermione’s bedside.

Madame Pomfrey had long since given up any hopes of trying to usher them out at the end of visiting hours. They simply refused to leave her.

Eventually, Professor Dumbledore gave them special permission to enter the hospital wing and stay with Hermione at any time of the day or night. It was useless to try to restrict their visitations anyway. He knew that they wouldn’t stay away. Even if it meant they had to go under the cover of Harry’s invisibility cloak, they would stay by her side.

He respected their loyalty and knew how they felt about Hermione. The fact was Dumbledore had thought it would be rather cruel to try to force them out. He decided it wasn’t a cause he could get behind. He chose to help them instead.

Now that the war had ended, Professor Dumbledore and the members of the Order, as well as the Ministry of Magic, felt it was important to return to normalcy as much as possible.

They needed to begin to pick up the pieces and start to heal. So, unbelievingly to the students, classes were to resume at Hogwarts.

They reopened the school year with the annual Halloween Feast.

Professor Dumbledore gave a moving speech to honor all those individuals who had fallen and commend all those who helped bring their victory.

Classes were to resume the first week of November. He announced that lessons were to be abridged to fit the remaining time in the terms.

Surprisingly, Professor McGonagall actually followed this order. When the term began, her classes became much less stressful and much more enjoyable. She said they would hit the highlights and then spend the remainder of the year practicing for their NEWTS transfiguration practical exam.

Professor Binns, however, didn’t seem to understand Dumbledore’s instructions because he picked up right where he left off with his History of Magic lectures. I guess, to a ghost, what had transpired was merely a brief interlude between his retelling of Goblin Rebellions and the Witch Burnings of the 18th century.

Defense Against the Dark Arts lessons had been taken over again by none other than Remus Lupin. He told them that the year would basically be spent on a discussion of the recent war and it’s strategic strengths and flaws.

He had said that they would work on some frequently tested blocking spells and curses, but they had pretty much already gone well beyond 7th year level in preparation for the attack.

In fact, they had even learned some spells that were usually only taught in Auror training. Given that fact, some of the lessons usually taught in 7th year seemed laughable at this point, at least compared to what they had already lived.

Professor Snape, it seemed, took Dumbledore’s instructions to it to mean that he should work them harder than ever before, so they would complete 10 months work in 8 months time. This turn of events wasn’t unexpected, but nor was it welcomed by the students as a whole.

There was a ray of light though…In Dumbledore’s support of Harry and Ron’s dedication to Hermione, their professors had been ordered to allow special exceptions for them in attending classes and turning in assignments.

They were required to attend every other class, which worked well because they had identical schedules. They just took it in turns to take notes for the other and actually missed very little of the material. They had also begun bringing their books and resources from the library to the hospital wing to do their homework.

During their study sessions, they were continually upsetting a variety of medical potions and equipment in their attempts to practice spells from their Charms and Defense Against the Dark Arts lessons.

Madame Pomfrey would bristle with each and every crash and yell “Mr. Potter! Mr. Weasley! This is a hospital…not a study hall or a dueling club!”

But to Harry and Ron, her anger really only seemed half-hearted. The boys kind of had the feeling that she admired their dedication to their friend and their unwillingness to leave her alone. They were determined she’d wake up, and when she did it would be one of their faces that she would see first. They would make sure of it.

So, to that end, there was never a minute that either one or both of them were not there. When they did take breaks for fresh air and exercise, it was one at a time.

They had also begun to take their classes much more seriously than ever before in their school careers. It wasn’t that they had been poor students before, but they had to admit, they never quite applied themselves. This was a fact that Hermione had on countless occasions reminded them of.

They used to get annoyed with Hermione’s nagging. This was especially true of Ron. Her nagging had led to plenty of rows between the two of them over the years.

If truth be told, at times it seemed to Harry that they were only truly happy when they were arguing… or making up and being unnaturally nice to each other after having just finished arguing. They fought like siblings he thought…or perhaps an old married couple… he wasn’t sure which.

Now Harry and Ron would give anything to hear her berate them. They could imagine her yelling at them or rolling her eyes over how she had to take notes for them or help them finish their essays they had left until the last minute again. She always insisted that she was fed up and wasn’t going to help them anymore if they didn’t start trying harder to keep up on their own, but when it came down to it, she always gave in to their pleading faces. She couldn’t resist her two best friends.

Now, they would look at Hermione and say “She wouldn’t believe the way we’re working…and without the help of her notes, too” and they’d smile at the thought of Hermione’s approval and surprise at their efforts.

Their newfound scholarly pursuits were crucial and they knew it. It was important that they not only finish their work, but do it well.

They had discussed it after Ron’s recovery. They had both decided that they would join the League of Aurors after leaving Hogwarts and they needed top marks on their NEWTS to get into the program.

They both wanted to help track down the remaining Death Eaters still at large. The Malfoys were definitely at the top of Harry and Ron’s list, but first things first.

They had to finish school before they could become aurors, and they were determined to do it. The order that Dumbledore had given the professors on their behalf was allowing them to stay by Hermione’s side and still complete their coursework effectively.

The only professor that had really protested at these exceptions was of course… Snape.

It appeared that Harry’s saving the world was not sufficient enough reason for Snape to detest Harry any less. He had always felt Harry was coddled and given special privileges and it grated at him endlessly.

As Snape was not given a request, but an order from Dumbledore, however, he was forced to comply.

So it went…on and on…

________________________________________
Chapter 6 Ron’s Confession

A couple weeks into the new term, somewhere in the small hours of the morning, the glow from a single light was visible in the castle.

Two boys were stationed on either side of a small bed, one with unruly black hair and one with flaming ginger hair. This is where they could be found most nights.

Once in awhile they would take turns sleeping in the dormitory when they really needed a good night’s sleep, but not very often. Most nights they sat perched on a chair beside her or slept on the hospital beds next to her.

Harry and Ron had kept a vigil at Hermione’s bedside for weeks now. They had been hoping for some small sign that their best friend would show any indication of improvement, but there had been none.

It was Ron who awoke first on this particular morning. It was actually Harry’s turn to attend classes that day, and Ron really didn’t need to be awake yet, but he had had another nightmare. Both he and Harry were often plagued by bad dreams about Hermione diving in front of them at the last second, shielding them from Voldemort’s curse.

Ron had awoken with a start to find himself in the warm hospital wing, almost falling off his chair.

He quietly moved his chair closer to the bed then glanced over at Harry who was sleeping. He watched him stir slightly at the movement of the chair and then roll over on the hospital cot he had claimed the night before as his bed.

Ron figured Harry had at least another hour before he needed to be up, so he was glad he hadn’t jarred him out of sleeping with his movements.

Dobby, the house elf, had been bringing all their meals to the hospital wing, and he wouldn’t arrive for another hour and a half or so.

Ron sat looking at Hermione. He reached over and brushed a wisp of hair out of her face. He then performed a spell that basically served as a magical bath for her without moving or disturbing her.

Harry and Ron had discovered this spell after discussing how mortified Hermione would be at not having bathed in so long. They had searched the library and found a simple charm that could take care of the problem. They began to take turns freshening her up on a daily basis. It was a small gesture, but it made them feel as though they were helping her stay comfortable.

Ron sat staring at her for several minutes then reached over and gingerly took her hand in both of his. Her hand felt warm but limp in his. He began to talk to her softly as he was gently gliding his thumbs over the back of her hand.

“Hermione, you need to fight. You need to come back. We all miss you very much.”

He looked down at the foot of her bed at the ginger cushion that was her cat and added.

“Even Crookshanks misses you. I know you’re tired, but you’ve got to wake up.”

Ron was quiet for a few minutes, gazing at her. He was feeling so hopeless. To Ron it seemed that the longer she slept, the less likely it became that she’d ever wake.

As he tried to banish that though from his mind he began to speak to her again quietly, “Please Hermione…we’re lost without you, Harry and I. Actually… I’m lost without you.”

Knowing his questions were useless he still felt compelled to ask, “Why did you have to fly in front of me? I should have known that you wouldn’t really keep our bargain…I mean about only interfering if I couldn’t… do it myself. That’s how you’ve always been isn’t it?

You are always looking out for Harry and I. But, Hermione, what you don’t know is…if I’ve lost you, I’ll never be able to forgive myself. I should have reacted quicker and moved you out the path of that blast.

It should be me, not you. We agreed.”

Ron went on for several minutes telling her how much he missed her and that he was sorry that it was her lying there in that bed and not him. He then lifted her hand to his lips and kissed it tenderly.

“I need you so much, Hermione…I even miss arguing with you. Nobody has your fire you know. There is simply no one quite like you. I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to notice.”

Harry stirred at hearing a muted voice somewhere around him. Ron froze momentarily as he watched to see if Harry would settle again.

Harry had now begun to wake up and rolled over to see Ron holding Hermione’s hand. They just looked at each other for a minute as the sleep cleared from Harry’s head. It wasn’t unusual for Ron to be holding Hermione’s hand. They both had done it on several occasions.

The part that struck Harry was the expression on Ron’s face. It was truly desperate, so much so, that Harry was sure something had happened and he sat bolt upright in the bed.

“What’s wrong…what’s the matter?”

Ron was speechless for a few seconds. He looked from Hermione to Harry and back again.

Harry sat frozen, waiting for what he was sure was going to be terrible news.

Finally Ron spoke and said only four quiet words, “I love her, Harry.”

Harry breathed a sigh of relief. Not catching Ron’s full meaning, he answered honestly, “I know Ron… I love her, too. You and Hermione are… my family. I couldn’t bare to loose either one of you. You two are like a brother and sister to me. You’re all I’ve got.”

Ron appreciated Harry’s words. The three of them had been through so much together over the years. There couldn’t be stronger friendships than theirs and Ron knew it. That’s when Ron decided he needed to tell Harry his secret. He felt the time had come.

He had to tell someone what had been eating him up…what he had known for some time, but hadn’t admitted…even to himself.

“You know Hermione and I feel the same way about you. You are part of my family, but that’s not exactly what I meant. I don’t just love Hermione… I think I’m… in love with her."

Harry looked at Ron with raised eyebrows. He had never heard Ron talk about his feelings this way before but he wasn’t as shocked as Ron had apparently expected him to be at the news.

He just sat there and let Ron go on confessing his feelings.

Ron continued “I think I’ve actually fancied her for awhile. You probably didn’t notice, but I kind of get a little jealous any time she mentions that she is still writing to Krum.”

Fighting back a grin Harry said, “Well, maybe just a bit.”

Then Ron went on “It drives me just about mad! I even think back to when they went to the Yule Ball together. Imagining them saying good night just about drives me crazy. Do you remember that fight she and I had after the Yule Ball?”

Harry nodded but didn’t comment. Harry most definitely remembered entering the common room and walking in on that explosion. Hermione had been telling Ron that if he didn’t like her going with Victor, he should ask her to the next ball himself, before someone else did.

At the time, Ron had been too stubborn to admit that she had the better measure of him and had shrugged her off.

Harry, however, had thought Hermione had hit the nail right on the head…Ron had definitely been jealous. Ron continued and brought Harry back from his memories.

“That’s why I…you know… gave her such a hard time that night. Besides…did you see how beautiful she looked?”

Harry had in fact been watching Cho most of the evening, but it wasn’t hard to spot that Hermione looked radiant. Again Harry nodded and added, “Yeah, she had never looked prettier.”

“That’s right!” Ron said, as if her beauty had been some sort of evil plot, then softening a bit Ron added,“I couldn’t stand to think of someone kissing her goodnight. Especially someone like Krum, who had everything going for him.

How could I compete with the likes of him?.. You know older… and a World Class Quidditch player to boot?… The funny thing is, I don’t even know if he kissed her…. just imagining it is really about all I can handle. I’m not sure I really want to know if they had.”

Ron was now gazing at Hermione again, and “Then there have been all these times that she and I were…well… alone. Like during Quidditch matches while you were playing before I joined the team or when you couldn’t go into Hogsmeade that year. She and I would walk through the streets and shops and talk. Really talk. Do you know what I mean?”

“Yeah, I think so,” Harry nodded.

He was thinking of his talks with Ginny and was pretty sure that he knew exactly what Ron had meant.

“There were times where I felt something between us," Ron added, "but as usual, I was either too thick to do anything about it at the time or I’d start an argument with her and the moment would vanish. Now, I may never get the chance to tell her how I really feel about her…all because she tried to sacrifice herself to save us. What if she never wakes up Harry?”

Harry saw his chance to reply “Don’t even think it Ron. Hermione is strong. She won’t let this be the end. I’m sure of it.”

Trying to lighten to mood a little, he added, “besides, Hermione would never allow herself to miss sitting for her NEWT exams.”

Ron smiled and said “Yeah” but on a more serious note added, “She just has to wake up Harry. When she does, I’m going to tell her everything. Even if she doesn’t have the same feelings for me, I need her to know what’s in my heart. I owe her that much.”

Harry nodded and began to think that Ron had the right idea.

________________________________________
Chapter 7 The Dilemma

Harry and Ron sat for awhile longer talking and then Harry began to get ready for class.

Dobby came trotting into the hospital wing just shortly before Harry needed to leave for class.

“Good morning, Harry Potter sir,” the elf said brightly, then turning to Ron added, “Good morning Harry Potter’s Weazly sir. Dobby has brought you delicious food.” Dobby had come with their breakfast trays.

“Thanks Dobby can you put it on the table for us.” Said Harry.

Dobby was acting very silly doing acrobatic tricks with the trays. He hated to see the boys so down and was always trying in his house elf way to cheer them.

It usually resulted in another crash and a bellowing Madame Pomfrey entering the ward as eggs and sausages vaulted through the air. Most mornings this served as a pleasantly humorous start to the day, but today they just magicked their food back onto the trays and began to eat in silence.

A disappointed Dobby retreated back to the castle kitchens.

When it was time to leave for class Harry kissed Hermione on the top of the head and patted Ron on the shoulder.

“She’s strong you know. She’ll come back to us. You’ll have your chance. I’m sure of it.”

Ron nodded and told Harry he’d see him later.

The truth was, Hermione had been asleep a very long time. Harry didn’t like to admit it, but the thought that it may be possible that she never wake up had also crossed his mind.

Hearing Ron say it out loud, had somehow made it seem like more of a reality and Harry didn’t like it, not one little bit.

Harry had been thinking about Ron’s words all the way to his first class. After all, although Voldemort was gone, all of his followers weren’t. Was it only a matter of time before one of them stepped into his master’s role and took up the cause again?

They had also added the younger Slytherin’s to their ranks after the war ended. How long would it take for them to regain their strength and their numbers and have another go he wondered.

He started to think about the prospect of never exploring the feelings he was beginning to have for Ginny. He really wasn’t sure he could put a word to it, but he did know that he liked being with her and he thought about her a lot when he was away from her. He actually had been having dreams about that day in the hall at St. Mungo’s Hospital.

In his dreams, he had given in to his impulse to kiss her. He almost felt guilty about the dreams. He’d wake up and see Ron and think, “If he only knew what I had just done in my sleep, he’d probably slug me.”

It wasn’t that he liked keeping this secret from Ron, but he just really couldn’t come up with a smooth way of bringing it up. Everything that he rehearsed in his head sounded quite lame.

“Hey Ron, I think that I fancy your sister…what do you think?” Or “Would you mind if I asked your baby sister out? Or worst of all. “Last night I dreamt that I was snogging a girl…by the way…it was Ginny.”

Until all the stupid ways of telling Ron cleared his mind, he decided that telling Ron was definitely out of the question. This was a job for Hermione.

She was always so wise about feelings and things. He was sure she’d know exactly what to say and when it should be said. For now, it would have to remain secret.

Harry knew that the one thing that all of the Weasley brothers had in common was that they were very protective of their only sister, Ginny… and Ron perhaps more than the rest.

He had always scrutinized boys that she dated…and never liked any of them. Even when she dated Dean Thomas it was still more of the same. Dean was a roommate of theirs and they had all gotten on quite well together since their first year at Hogwarts. When Dean started dating Ginny however, Ron began glaring at him at every opportunity and pointing out all sorts of dodgy qualities about Dean that he had never bothered to mention, or Harry doubted, even notice before then.

Strangely, those qualities seemed to vanish when Ginny broke up with him and started dating, apparently in Ron’s approximation, a shifty looking 6th year from Hufflepuff that was simply… not to be trusted.

Once, just to get Ron, Ginny actually went out with a Slytherin from her year. Harry thought Ron would actually, physically explode. And so it went. It seemed that no one was good enough for Ginny.

A fact that Ginny herself had argued with Ron about on numerous occasions.

No…telling Ron was definitely out…at least for now.

Harry didn’t want to be under Ron’s critical microscope too. Would he suddenly find Harry was less than suitable too? He hoped not, but Ron was in a pretty tenuous state right now with his emotions and confessions about Hermione. He thought it best not to make things worse.

Yes, he would have to keep his feelings for Ginny, whatever they were a secret for now.

“It was for Ron’s own good.” Harry had told himself.

Harry turned his thoughts from images of Ron berating him about what he was he going to do with his sister on their dates to wondering what he should actually do now.

Should he do anything at all? Maybe he misread the tension between he and Ginny. Maybe she wasn’t the least bit interested in him romantically.

What if she just thought of him as Ron’s best friend or worse… family…like Harry did Hermione. After all…she had moved on …right?

She had dated several other boys after all. None of them seemed to be very serious relationships, but Ginny had become more and more attractive as the years progressed. She was fun and… a natural beauty. She wasn’t like some of the high maintenance girls at Hogwarts like Parvarti and Lavender.

It wasn’t that she didn’t wear make up or do girlie things, but in Harry’s opinion, she really looked great with or without those efforts.

Harry knew this because he had seen her just after waking up on several occasions at the Burrow. A guy would have to be blind not to notice her Harry thought.

He was sure that there were probably those who had designs on her at that very moment. She was never in short supply of offers it seemed. In fact, he wasn’t even truly certain that she wasn’t seeing someone now.

Given the current circumstances, it would be easy for her to go out with someone and Harry would never know. That thought began to eat at him.

What if she is seeing someone already?

Several thoughts were running in quick succession through his mind about it then suddenly said out loud, “What am I thinking? I’ve got to stop or I’ll drive myself mad.”

Regardless, he knew he wanted to see her. They hadn’t talked in a few days and he was missing her. He decided that today between classes he would find Ginny.

If Ron really had missed his opportunity with Hermione, he didn’t want the same thing to happen to Ginny and him. He at least needed to tell her how he felt…but how was he going to do it?

At midday Harry returned to the hospital wing to check on Hermione. As he suspected, there had been no change. Ron looked extremely tired and Harry suggested he take a little nap on the cot.

He promised that after class that afternoon he’d come back and let Ron have a break. He told Ron he had to get to the library between classes so instead of waiting for Dobby, he’d eat lunch in the Great Hall today. Ron nodded and Harry left.

The truth of the matter was, Harry was off to find Ginny. He only hoped he could find her quickly and alone.

He had considered the possibilities of where to start looking. After searching the library and the common room he finally entered the Great Hall and discovered she was sitting between some particularly giggly girls.

This was Harry’s idea of his worst nightmare in relation to females. Why in world did they always travel in packs and why were they always giggling?

Harry didn’t want to attempt to wisk Ginny off for a talk with the entire Great Hall looking on, so he decided to wait until later in the day.

After class he’d definitely find her, hopefully not so well guarded…and then they’d talk.

He decided while he was there he might as well have a bite to eat. He proceeded to sit down a few places away from her next to Neville.

She spotted him and with a smile brightly yelled, “Hi Harry!” down the table to him.

Harry smiled and then responded with an innocent wave as she returned her attention to her giggling friends.

________________________________________
Chapter 8: A New Miracle

Back in the hospital wing, Ron was in fact feeling quite tired.

He hadn’t slept well the night before and had awoken early. It also seemed that pouring out his feelings to Harry that morning had rather taken it out of him. Saying the words out loud only seemed to make the feelings stronger.

Ron was right next to Hermione’s bed now in his chair. He felt himself nodding periodically then jolting awake. He decided that he’d take Harry’s advice and rest a bit. If she woke up, he’d still be right there.

Holding her hand he leaned over and kissed her forehead and whispered, “Night luv. I’ll be right here.”

Ron didn’t remember actually falling asleep. He knew he had rested his head on the side of the bed and he must have drifted off rather quickly. He had been sleeping soundly and deeply.

Being close to Hermione comforted him and he had truly relaxed for the first time in days. Apparently, he had laid his head on Hermione’s stomach in his sleep and was cuddled up to her with one arm draped across her and the other holding her hand.

He was having a particularly nice dream and didn’t want to wake, but he felt something tickling him. He stirred slightly and when he realized the tickling wasn’t part of his dream, he made a haphazard motion as if he was swatting a fly in his sleep.

Hermione smiled and froze for a minute. When he seemed to relax, she started stroking his hair again gently.

Ron began to feel himself waking up. It took a minute for it to sink in that the tickling was actually a hand running across his head. The realization had not yet reached Ron’s sleepy mind that it was in fact, Hermione.

When Hermione had awoken earlier, she had felt a weight pressing down on her body and wondered what it was. When her eyes came into focus, she saw that it was Ron.

She was so touched that he was there sleeping beside her, that she couldn’t help but reach out to him with her free hand. She was gently stroking his hair and watching him sleep.

She really hadn’t meant to disturb him, but she had been unable to resist. He had looked so peaceful and sweet lying there resting against her. Her soft touch, however, had been enough to wake Ron up.

He slowly opened his eyes and saw two beautiful brown eyes looking back at him. Blinking against the light streaming in from the castle window, he quickly came to his senses.

“Hermione…you’re awake!”

She slowly nodded and a weak smile spread across her face. Ron sat up and moved to sit on the bed next to her. He was grinning from ear to ear.

She was trying to sit up and he began helping her. He had both of her hands in his now and was looking in her eyes. He felt tears welling up in his.

She quietly whispered “It’s ok now, Ron.”

He leaned into her and wrapped his arms around her. He didn’t want to ever let go. They just sat in silence holding each other for a few minutes.

When they finally broke apart he asked, “Are you ok? Do you hurt anywhere? What do you need?”

She replied in a whisper, “I think I’m ok, I just feel a bit groggy. What happened?”

She looked down and saw that Ron was still holding her hands. Before she could say anything else, Madame Pomfrey had come bustling out of her office.

Upon seeing Hermione sitting up she exclaimed, “Oh Miss Granger! You know you’ve given us all quite a scare young lady! Slept a bit long for my liking…but nonetheless…time for a checkup.

Out you go Mr. Weasley…” and seeing Ron’s expression she added…”and no arguments. I have to examine my patient. You’ll have to give us a little privacy.

Why don’t you go send an owl to Mr. and Mrs. Granger. I’m sure they’ll want to be informed straight away.

While you’re at it, tell Professor Dumbledore and Professor McGonagall. The headmaster and your head of house will want to be kept in the know too…and you’d better find Mr. Potter. I’m sure he’ll be angry if he’s the last to hear."

With that she unceremoniously ushered him out into the corridor without so much as a chance to say goodbye to Hermione.

________________________________________
Chapter 9 Spreading the News

Ron just stood there for a few seconds staring at the back of the hospital wing door with his mouth gaping.

He didn’t like Madame Pomfrey very much at the moment and mumbled some…not so flattering words about her to himself. He momentarily entertained an impulse to barge right back in there again and tell her as much, but upon reflection, he thought that might not be the best tack to take in this situation.

After all, now that Hermione was actually awake, he didn’t want to be banned from the hospital wing or sent to detention for rudeness to a staff member.

He decided he would follow Madame Pomfrey’s orders, however grudgingly, and go and spread the word. He decided that he would go and owl the Grangers first then find Harry and they would tell Dumbledore and McGonagall together.

The corridors were basically deserted as he made his way to the owlery. The final class of the day was still in session, so with the exception of Sir Nearly Headless Nick, Ron didn’t encounter anyone else along the way.

He arrived at the owlery and quickly found his owl, Pig. After all, he was rather hard not to spot. Ron thought him a bit of a prat really. He was always flying around wildly and twittering whenever Ron went in to post a letter.

“What a show off!”, he thought. “Get down here you ruddy bird!” Ron snatched the feathered ball from the air on it latest pass and tied the letter he had written to the Grangers onto his leg.

“Now take this to Mr. and Mrs. Granger…and be quick about it. Hermione is awake!”

The bird seemed to understand and became even more excited, so much so that it flew right into a rafter before collecting himself and flying out the window with a slight wobble.

Ron couldn’t help but laugh. His owl was a bit annoying, but Pig was his, and deep down he thought he had a great deal of personality for such a small bird.

Having completed his first task, he set off in search of Harry. He figured that he should just be coming out of History of Magic and he went to head him off.

When he arrived at Professor Binns classroom, the door was just opening and students began to funnel out into the hallway.

Harry came out about midway through the crowd with the usual look of stupor that accompanied all of Professor Binns lectures. It took Harry a second to notice that Ron was standing there beaming.

He hadn’t been expecting him and had actually been anticipating finding Ginny with a virtual flock of butterflies fluttering in his stomach. He almost ran right into Ron before he spotted him. Ron didn’t even need to speak.

The uncontrollable grin spreading across his face was all the explanation that Harry needed. He began firing questions in quick succession at Ron.

"When did it happen? How is she? Can we see her? Why did you leave the hospital when she was finally awake?”

When Harry stopped to take a breath, Ron began to tell him what had happened, leaving out of course the part about him waking up cuddling her, and then added how Madame Pomfrey had shunted him into the hall and basically slammed the door in his face.

“What is she playing at?” Harry yelled. “After all this time, after all that waiting…she’s not even going to let us see her?! She can’t do that! We’ll go to Dumbledore!”

Ron tried to calm Harry a bit. “I don’t think we’ve been evicted permanently. She said she had to examine her. She wants me to inform Dumbledore and McGonagall.

I’ve just sent an owl to the Grangers and I’m sure they’ll be here later today. I bet they really wish they could use floo powder or apparate now. It’ll be hours before they’ll get here in the muggle way.”

Calming down slightly Harry said, “Well, then I guess we might as well find Professors Dumbledore and McGonagall. We’d had better go tell Hagrid, too. He’ll be furious if we don’t.”

Ron didn’t want to spend anymore time than necessary on spreading the news, but he knew Harry was probably right about Hagrid. Ron hadn’t even thought of him.

Honestly, they hadn’t seen Hagrid very much over the last few weeks besides in Care of Magical Creatures lessons or when Hagrid came to the hospital to visit Hermione. It really wasn’t the case that Harry and Ron didn’t want to see Hagrid, but things being as they were presently…

Well, first there was their commitment to stay by Hermione…and besides, Hagrid was somewhat busy as of late himself with Madame Maxime.

They were frequently seen leaving the grounds in the direction of Hogsmeade together. Harry had even spotted them going into the Forbidden Forest on a few occasions.

“Hagrid’s idea of a romantic stroll no doubt.” Harry had told Ron one day with a smile on his face. “Only Hagrid would consider a jaunt through a dangerously deadly forest a good idea for an outing or even a date.”

They had both laughed at the thought of it. Hagrid was definitely one of Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s favorite people, but they didn’t always agree with Hagrid when it came to what was cute and cuddly, especially when the cuddly creature had claws, jaws, stingers, or in most cases with Hagrid’s pets…all three.

Nonetheless, Hagrid was as gentle as could be for being a half-giant. They knew they’d never find a more loyal friend than they had in Hagrid, with the exception of each other of course.

Ron decided Harry was right. Yes, they’d have to make at least one more stop before returning to the hospital. Hopefully by then, Madame Pomfrey would be finished with her examination and they could see Hermione.

They found Professor McGonagall first. She was cleaning up from an apparently challenging transfiguration class with the first years.

There were feathers, and what appeared to formerly have been teacups, spread all over the tables.

As they looked around “Don’t ask!” she said with a snort.

They both grinned remembering their first attempts at transfiguring. Poor results sometimes were the most humorous, at least until Professor McGonagall assigned extra work to improve their substandard performance.

As if a light went on in McGonagall’s brain, she suddenly realized that they were both standing in front of her.

“She’s awake?!”, she shot quickly at them.

“Yes professor, only just. Madame Pomfrey is examining her now, but before she… asked me to step out,” Ron said struggling for words that wouldn’t get him into trouble. “Hermione sat up and we were talking. She’s a bit weak, but she looked pretty good considering.”

“Well, that is good news. Have you informed the Grangers yet?” McGonagall asked.

“Yes professor, Ron has just sent them an owl.” Harry interjected and then added. “Now we’ve got to go and tell Professor Dumbledore and Hagrid.”

It was now the start of the dinner hour and Professor McGonagall offered to go to the Great Hall and inform the students at the Gryffindor table of the good news.

This thought hadn’t occurred to Harry and Ron before now and Ron said, “Yeah, that’s right…Neville, Seamus, Ginny and the others will definitely want to know as soon and possible.”

“Ginny!!” Harry thought out loud, quite by accident. Ron shot a quick look at him. “What about Ginny?” Ron asked looking around, half expecting her to be standing right behind him they way Harry had said her name.

Grasping around quickly for a reason for his outburst he lamely said, “Er…well…um… she’s been pretty worried, you know. Maybe we should…er…find her too.”

Ron just looked at him then said in a she’s only my sister manner, “She’ll be fine. Don’t worry, she’ll find us after she’s heard and then we can tell her what we know.”

Harry tried to appear in agreement, but he wasn’t sure if he was really pulling it off. He noticed Professor McGonagall was sizing him up with one eyebrow raised and a bit of what appeared to be a knowing grin on her face. Harry looked away from her quickly.

Harry gave a sigh of relief when Ron asked, “Shall we go then?”

He had apparently missed the whole silent exchange that had just occurred and was ready to go find Dumbledore and Hagrid and then get back to the hospital.

Harry was suddenly quite grateful for Ron’s ability to miss the point, as Hermione would have most undoubtedly said at that moment. The fact remained though, Harry would have liked to tell Ginny himself, but couldn’t think of an acceptable argument to support his action.

He pictured her hearing the happy news and getting excited. She might even be inclined to hug him in her excitement.

Harry daydreamed about telling her the good news for a few minutes as they walked along to Dumbledore’s office. He had completely forgotten his mission to find her when Ron met him outside of his last lesson.

Well, there was no time for them to go off and talk alone now. It would have to wait.

“But if I could talk to her now….” Harry had thought… “Harry! …Harry?… I’m talking to you!” Ron’s voice invaded his daydream and brought him thudding back to earth.

“Oh…sorry. What were you saying?”

Ron just looked at his friend with an odd questioning expression, but when Harry didn’t offer an explanation he just shrugged his shoulders and continued.

“Well…I was saying that I bet that Hermione would like to have some fresh clothes to put on before she starts getting flooded with visitors. I know we’ve been performing the Freshening Charm, but I’m sure she’d still prefer a new outfit to what she’s been wearing for almost 2 months. For her it will…you know… be the principal of the thing, not how clean we’ve kept her. Don’t you think?”

“Yeah, you’re probably right, but how will we get into her dormitory to get them. You know the castle won’t allow boys to enter the girl’s dormitory.” Harry reminded him.

Then Ron went on, “It’s not fair really is it?… I mean, Hermione can come to our room any time, but we can’t go to hers.” Ron grumbled.

Harry responded, “Well, I guess it’s like Hermione said. I guess the Headmasters through the years have found girls to be more…trustworthy than boys…at least in that respect.”

“Yeah, I guess so.” Ron said, allowing his mind to wonder Ron began thinking of what might happen if boys could have free access to the girls’ rooms.

It seemed a bit of a mischievous grin was rounding the corners of his mouth.

Harry noticed and said, “What’s on your mind Ron?” he too was grinning and thinking the same thing.

“Oh…nothing.” said Ron with a smirk.

“Yeah…and there’s nothing on my mind either,” Harry added with a grin.

They broke into laughter and turned the corner to the passageway that led to Professor Dumbledore’s office with smiles on their faces and a bit more spring in their step than they’d had in nearly two months.

________________________________________
Chapter 10 Dumbledore’s Informant

As they approached the stone gargoyle that marked the entrance to Dumbledore’s office, it suddenly began to move. Harry and Ron looked up and saw Dumbledore himself descending the spiral stone staircase. He had a knowing grin on his face.

Harry spoke first, “Professor, we were just coming to find you.”

“I thought I might be seeing you, however, I thought it best that I save you the trouble.” he said.

“So… you know already?” Ron asked.

“Oh yes, I was just visited by a somewhat disoriented, little, tawny owl. It seemed he was thrown a bit off course.” Dumbledore added and Ron blushed.

“Oh no, Pig! That bloody bird, oh sorry professor.”

“Yes, well, I hope you don’t mind Mr. Weasley, but I sent Fawkes on in his place. Young Pigwidgeon didn’t appear to be up to the trip today.” Dumbledore exclaimed.

Ron responded, “Thanks professor, that bird’s a menace,” but then softening a little, he added, “but I guess he’s ok most of the time.”

Dumbledore then said, “I was just on my way to visit Miss Granger. If you’re not otherwise engaged, would you two care to join me?”

Together they said “Yes!!”, but then remembering about Hagrid, Harry said with a note of disappointment in his voice, “but, we have to go to Hagrid’s and tell him first. He’ll skin us if we don’t let him know Hermione’s awake.”

Dumbledore let them stew for a few seconds then said looking over his half-moon spectacles at them with a bit of a smile, “Well, if you’d rather tell him in person, that would be very nice…

However, I took it upon myself to give Faux instructions to stop by Hagrid’s on his way to inform the Grangers. I hope I haven’t overstepped my bounds.”

Ron practically shouted, “Oh no! That would be just fine…don’t you think Harry?”

Harry was smiling at Dumbledore, who seemed to be enjoying this little exchange. Then Harry exclaimed, “Yeah, come on then, let’s get to the hospital wing. Surely Madame Pomfrey is finished with her now.”

Suddenly remembering how Ron had been practically thrown out of there earlier he added a bit nervously, “She will let us in, won’t she professor?”

With a wink and a smile, Professor Dumbledore said, “Don’t concern yourselves with such things my young wizards. You just leave Poppy to me.”

With renewed confidence off they went, striding toward the hospital wing and back to Hermione.

As they entered the wing Ron’s heart was racing.

Harry too was excited. He couldn’t believe that she was finally awake.

Hermione was sitting up in bed and looked much stronger than when Ron had left earlier. When she saw the boys, she beamed at them and held out her arms.

She hugged them both in turn and began, “Madame Pomfrey has been telling me how you to stayed with me morning, noon, and night.”

Harry answered, “We just couldn’t let you wake up alone.”

They both were beaming back at her.

Gazing at Ron, she responded, “Well, I definitely wasn’t alone.”

Ron flushed and seemed to squirm a bit under her smiling gaze. He quickly changed the subject, “So, um…tell us. How are you? What did Madame Pomfrey say?”

“Well, I’m in perfect health. I’m just a little weak from lying here for so long. She’s given me a strengthening potion that I have to take for the next couple of days, but I’ll be fine. She says I can probably return to the dormitory in a couple of days.” Hermione answered.

Then spotting the headmaster, she added, “Professor, it’s so good to see you.”

“Miss Granger, it’s very good to see you, too. We’ve all been a bit worried, but the body does what it must I suppose.”

“Yes, I suppose it does.” she said with a smile then continued. “Professor, since I woke up I’ve been wondering what happened, you know, after I fell. How are Hagrid and the others?”

Dumbledore had no time to respond for at that moment a booming voice came from behind him.

Hagrid had just arrived and was striding toward the group of visitors huddled around her bed with Professor McGonagall following closely behind.

“Hagrid!! Professor McGonagall!! I’m so glad you’re both ok! How’s Grawp and Madame Maxime?”

Everyone went silent for a moment, then Hagrid broke the silence. He walked over next to Hermione and took her relatively small hand in his. Then he told her what had transpired and the fate of his brother.

“He was a hero. Saved my life, he did. Wouldn’t be here otherwise.”

Hagrid was beginning to get a little choked up. He told Hermione how glad he was she was awake and recovering then he said that he’d visit again later. After Hagrid left Hermione felt awful for making him relive the events again.

“I didn’t know. There is so much I don’t know. What I do know, is that I’ve lost nearly two months of my life.”

She was beginning to get tears in her eyes. Ron and Harry tried to comfort her.

Harry took her hand and said, “It’ll be alright now Hermione, we promise.”

Ron sat down at the end of the bed opposite Harry. He started gently patting her leg through the blanket and added, “We’re all together now, that’s what’s important. Harry and I will tell you everything, but you need to get your strength back.”

Hermione looked at Harry’s hand and then held the other out to Ron. He moved closer to the head of the bed and took it. Harry sat down on the other side of her bed and there they sat.

Professor Dumbledore said his farewells and excused himself.

McGonagall also bid Hermione goodnight and left the ward shortly after the headmaster. They both knew they needed time to catch up.

Harry overheard the professor telling Madame Pomfrey that he would limit her other visitors to Hagrid and her parents, but that Ron and Harry were to be admitted freely. With a bit of a grumble about ‘needing rest’ she reluctantly agreed.

The three talked for hours.

The ward was filled with laughter mostly, but there were of course moments of sadness as they relayed the fate of fallen members of the Order and school staff.

They tried to fill her in on everything that had been going on while she was asleep. She was temporarily mortified when they told her that classes had begun again a few weeks prior.

She went into a sudden panic over how much she had missed and that she would fail her NEWTS horribly.

It wasn’t until Harry pulled out some of the rather copious notes he and Ron’s had taken and laid them in her lap that she calmed down a bit.

“You two did all of this? I don’t believe it!” She said with a smile. “That’s not all you’ll be surprised about.”

They went on to tell her how they had really applied themselves and that she would definitely be proud of their efforts. They also told her about the abridged course schedule for the year and their plans for auror training following the end of the summer term.

The time had flown by that evening. It wasn’t until Mr. and Mrs. Granger entered the ward that they had realized how long they had been talking.

They were beside themselves as Mrs. Granger ran over to Hermione’s bed with tears streaming down her face.

Mr. Granger was rather tired and worn looking as though he had just run a very long race.

Harry and Ron greeted them and decided they should give them some privacy with their daughter. They promised to return later and left the ward.

They thought this would be a good time to visit with the others in the common room. They were sure that they were desperate for news, having been kept from visiting Hermione in person.

________________________________________
Chapter 11 Common Room Court

As Harry and Ron entered the common room, they were nearly bowled over by the wave of people coming at them firing questions.

When the initial attack was over, they all made their way over to their favorite chairs by the fireplace.

Ron and Harry sat in the oversized chairs nearest the fire while the rest sat on squashy poufs on the floor. As Harry and Ron sat talking to the audience on the floor, they had the appearance of holding court.

It had been a long time since the last evening they spent sitting together in that room and it felt good to be together again.

It would even be better when Hermione was released from hospital, completing the group once again. They began answering a barrage of questions as best they could.

Everyone was ecstatic that Hermione was back, no one more so than Ginny. She had still been feeling a bit guilty about the condition of her friend.

Regardless of Harry’s admonitions, she still felt responsible for not being able to completely guard against Voldemort’s curse that struck them.

She and Hermione had become quite close over the past few years. Hermione, after all was her brother’s best friend and she had spent vacations and holidays with the Weasley’s at the Burrow.

Ginny sort of looked at Hermione as an older sister and a very good friend. Being the only girl in a family of seven children, Ginny really appreciated Hermione’s visits. It gave her an ally in the den of Weasley males.

Dean and Seamus had gone to the kitchens to knick some late night snacks and a regular party had ensued.

The only thing missing, other than Hermione, was Fred and George Weasley’s Wizarding Weazes.

Neville had thought though that it was somewhat of an improvement due to the fact that he was the most likely candidate to have been the victim of the twins’ inventions.

They celebrated until around 11:00 when Professor McGonagall came in and told them off for keeping her awake.

People began to slowly clear the room. At the end of the night Ron, Harry, and Ginny were the last to remain. Ginny yawned, but didn’t seem to want to go to bed yet. Ron started talking of getting back to the hospital and Harry agreed that it was probably time to head back. As they were preparing to leave, Ginny continued to stare into the fire sleepily.

“Aren’t you going to bed Ginny?” Ron asked.

“Well, I am a little sleepy, but I’m not ready to go straight to bed just yet. I’ll turn in soon. Tell Hermione hello for me and that I’ll visit as soon as Professor Dumbledore will allow it.”

“Okay. Well, see you later Gin. Are you ready Harry?”

Harry paused for a moment then responded, “Yeah, okay.”

He glanced back at Ginny quickly as they were exiting the portrait hole. Her ginger hair seemed to be glowing in the firelight. Harry suddenly had an idea to buy himself a few minutes alone with Ginny.

“Ron?”

“Yeah?” Ron asked. “Well remember we were planning to get Hermione some fresh clothes before all of the visitors began descending upon her?” Harry asked.

“Yeah, I know, but we still can’t get into the girl’s dormitory.” Ron said. “Well, no, we can’t, but Ginny can. Why don’t you go ahead to the hospital and see Hermione and I’ll go back in and ask Ginny to go up and get her a fresh change of clothes.” Harry said crossing his fingers in his robe pockets.

Ron thought for a second and then said, “That’s a good idea, but you don’t mind do you? I mean I know you’d like to see Hermione too.”

Harry responded trying not to sound too anxious, “No, it’s fine. There will plenty of time for me to see her. Besides, this would give you a little time alone with Hermione. You are still planning to tell her, you know, how you feel?”

Liking the idea of spending quiet alone time with Hermione, Ron considered his answer then said, “I do want to tell her, but now that she’s awake, I’m not sure it will be as easy as I’d like. It was no problem telling her I fancy her when she was completely unconscious, but now…well, it’s a bit harder looking her in the eyes and saying the same things.

What if she doesn’t feel the same or worse…laughs at the prospect of the whole thing?”

Harry felt sympathy for his friend, he knew exactly what he was feeling.

“I don’t know Ron. Hermione is the best person to ask about relationships, but obviously that’s not really an option is it? All I know is that while she slept you really regretted not telling her sooner.

What if something else happens and you still haven’t told her? I know it’s hard, but why don’t you go spend some time with her and just see if it feels right. Maybe you’ll know when it’s time, if it happens.”

Not looking completely convinced Ron answered, “Well, I guess that’s as good as a plan as any. I’ll see you a little later okay.”

As Harry turned to reenter the portrait hole he quickly added, “Listen, I’ll take my time so you can spend more time alone alright.”

“Yeah, thanks, Harry…you’re a great mate.”

With that Ron headed down the corridor and disappeared from sight.

Harry turned and gave the password to the Fat Lady, who annoyingly swung open again adding, “Make up your mind won’t you.”

When he stepped into the common room it was still empty except for the rather small ball curled up in the chair by the fire that was Ginny.

He walked quietly to her and looked down at her. In the few minutes that he was talking to Ron in the hall, she had fallen asleep in the chair that Harry had vacated. He wasn’t sure what he should do. Should he wake her or let her sleep?

She looked beautiful sleeping in the glow of the dying fire. He was beginning to have the urge to lean over and kiss her again. He stood gazing at her for probably a full minute then decided he’d wake her.

After all, he had told Ron that he’d return with a change of clothes for Hermione. Ginny was the only one who could help him with that at the moment. He didn’t think she would mind. It was for Hermione after all.

He slowly reached down and placed his hand on her shoulder and quietly spoke.

“Ginny? Ginny wake up.”

She slowly opened her eyes and gave a cat-like stretch as she began to focus on Harry’s face.

“Oh, Harry. Have I been sleeping long? How come your not at the hospital with Ron and Hermione?”

“I’m sorry to wake you Ginny, but I wanted to ask you a favor.”

arry explained about the fresh robes for Hermione and then asked, “So, can you help me?”

“Sure, I’d be happy to Harry. I’ll be right back.” She rose and walked to the stairs and disappeared into the dormitory to the left.

Harry’s mind began to reel. What was he going to say when she came back? What if she’s just too sleepy and wants to go straight to bed?

He decided he’d take his own advice and wait for his moment. If it felt right he’d talk to her, if not, he’d wait.

With a plan in mind he felt a little calmer. After about ten minutes Ginny reappeared at the bottom of the stairs with what appeared to be an overnight bag in tow.

“Here, Harry. I think this will work.”

“Thanks Ginny, I know Hermione will appreciate this.”

“Oh it’s no trouble, as I said I’m happy to help.”

Noticing Harry wasn’t leaving she asked, “Is there anything else?”

Harry wasn’t sure how to approach this then a thought came to him.

“Well, I thought I’d hang around here for a little while, you know before I go back to the hospital. Ron kind of wanted to go on ahead…alone.”

Ginny seemed to have a look of dawning comprehension on her face and said excitedly, “So, has he told her then?”

Not meaning to tell Ginny the whole story, without Ron’s permission, he said, “Er…told her what?”

“Well, that he’s in love with her silly. It’s been very obvious hasn’t it, especially since Hermione’s accident.” Then seeing the look of surprise on Harry’s face she added, “Didn’t you know? Surely you had suspicions.”

At this point Harry could see no reason to keep the secret any longer, she already knew without being told. He began to tell her the whole story of Ron’s confession to him at Hermione’s bedside. Then asked, “You and Hermione talk about, you know… girl things… right?”

“Yeah…Why?” She asked with a curious look on her face.

“Well, I was just wondering…what are his chances? Does she ever say anything… about Ron I mean?”

Ginny considered the question for a few seconds, which had begun to make Harry quite nervous for Ron as he thought of him pouring out his heart to Hermione.

“I really shouldn’t say… but honestly, she had kind of given up that he’d ever come to his senses. I’m not sure where she is right now on that subject. She has had feelings for Ron… in the past I mean, but…they fight so much and stuff. She just wasn’t sure if it was a good idea or not. If Ron’s gone to talk to her tonight, I guess we’ll find out soon enough won’t we.” Ginny added matter-of-factly.

At this Harry replied, “Well, it’s not definite really. He was going to kind of see how things went and only talk to her if it felt…you know…like the right moment. You absolutely cannot tell Hermione about this or say anything to Ron, or heaven forbid, you can’t say anything your brothers. Ron would have my hide.” Harry pleaded.

“Not to worry Harry, your secret, and Ron’s of course, is safe with me.” She added with a grin.

She was now thinking about all the torture she could inflict upon Ron. That is if she hadn’t just promised Harry that she wouldn’t.

Harry seemed to become a little nervous and suspicious at her smirk and quickly interjected, “Please Ginny, promise me you won’t make Ron’s life miserable over this.”

Smiling and enjoying her bit of power she said, “Okay, okay, I swear I won’t use my knowledge for evil, but you have to admit, it’s a bit of a sacrifice for me. Especially after all the grief he’s given me over boys that I’ve dated.”

At this point Ginny realized that they were still standing in the middle of the common room and she asked, “Well, since you appear to be sticking around for a bit, would you like to sit down? I could stay with you if you like, you know, to help keep you awake she said with a small yawn.

“Well, if you’d like to…and you’re not too tired, that would be great. I’d love some company,” Harry answered.

“No, I’ll be fine, I’m actually starting to get my second wind now. After that news, who could sleep.”

With that they sat down in the chairs near the fire together and talked for some time about nothing in particular, but at the same time everything. They laughed and teased each other for nearly an hour.

They were both feeling a bit sleepy now and there was a small lull in the conversation. Ginny was sitting closest to the fire and was looking into the flames.

Harry was looking at her.

She looked sweet and beautiful. He wanted to tell her what he was thinking. They had spent the last hour doing what they always do, comfortably talking and laughing.

He wanted so badly to reach out and take her hand.

When Ginny turned, she saw he had been looking at her. He held his gaze for a few seconds before his face began to flush a bit and he looked at the floor.

Feeling a bit surprised at Harry’s expression and his reaction to her catching him looking at her she asked, “What is it Harry? What’s wrong? You know you can talk to me, right?”

Harry looked at her once again and before he could stop the words, they came tumbling out, “Yeah, that’s just it. I can talk to you so easily, Ginny. I like it… maybe too much.”

Then he just froze. His mind was racing. Why had he said that now?

Maybe he was sleepy and he had let his guard down, regardless it was too late now.

Ginny just sat there looking at Harry, not saying anything mouth gaping and eyes wide open.

Harry figured he had past the point of no return and he might as well lay everything out on the table now.

Before he could lose his nerve he plunged on, “The truth is Ginny, I think I have…feelings for you. Real feelings I mean, not just ‘you’re my best friend’s sister feelings’, but real feelings.”

Without pausing to let her respond he continued, “I know this is probably coming as a bit of a shock for you, and I’m sorry about that. Hermione has told me that you had kind of had given up your crush on me years ago and had …moved on.”

She blushed a bit at those comments and made a mental note to talk to Hermione, but was still silently just staring at Harry in disbelief.

“Well, er…I guess that’s… that’s it then.

Um…I fancy you a bit… and have for awhile, but since you don’t feel the same…that’s okay.

You er… probably are already seeing someone else anyway. It’s okay; um…well…We can still be friends can’t we? And…could we keep this between us? Please? I’d rather not have to endure your brother’s ribbing any more than Ron would. Well, good night Ginny.”

With that he made a hasty retreat towards the portrait hole, unfortunately he had forgotten Hermione’s bag on his first get-away attempt and had to back track.

Ginny was still sitting in her chair speechless.

“Er…forgot Hermione’s bag…well…good night then.” Harry said blushing scarlet and with a bit of cracking in his voice that he’d hoped she hadn’t noticed.

Again he turned to leave and got as far as the portrait hole exit before he heard, “Harry!… Wait... Where are you going? You can’t just…just say all those things… and …and go off without so much as letting me say a single word!”

Uh-oh, here it comes Harry thought. He’d seen Ginny telling off boys before and he didn’t fancy being on the receiving end of it. However, he had started this and he thought it only fair to let her finish it.

Better now, in the empty common room, than later in some other populated part of the castle he thought. So, he stopped dead where he was and just stood there with his eyes closed tight and his face screwed up, gritting his teeth.

He was still facing the door and he was waiting for the explosion.

About thirty seconds passed and nothing happened. He began to ease the tension in his face and slowly turned around.

Ginny was standing now on the other side of the room. When Harry turned to face her she simply said two small words, “How long?”

He stood there thinking that this could be worse. At least she wasn’t throwing curses at him.

Cautiously he responded, “Well, I’m not exactly sure, but for awhile. I think it first really hit me at St. Mungo’s outside of Ron’s room the day he woke up. I had wanted to…”

“To what?” Ginny demanded.

“Well, to…to kiss you.”

Harry’s heart was pounding somewhere in the vicinity of his Adam’s apple now and his stomach had been inhabited by the flock of butterflies once again.

He couldn’t believe he was actually saying these things out loud. Ginny was slowly moving towards Harry now. He wasn’t sure what to do. He wasn’t sure what she was about to do. He felt like running, but for some reason he was frozen to the spot.

Ginny continued to advance silently on Harry. She was very close now, only a foot or so away. She was looking directly into his eyes. He was melting under her gaze.

Then she broke her silence, “You said you wanted to kiss me, so why didn’t you?”

Harry’s mind was spinning. What did she want? What did she expect from him? He wasn’t sure what was happening.

He then answered again, in a somewhat crackling but quiet voice, “Well, it didn’t seem like the right time. You were crying and upset and I didn’t want to make it worse.”

She answered quietly, “I’m not crying now, Harry.”

And she moved even closer to him. Their bodies were literally inches apart. She was looking up at him as he was looking down.

She just stood there waiting for him to respond.

“No… you’re not.”

Harry’s mind was racing. He couldn’t help himself. She looked so incredible. He leaned down slowly toward her keeping his eyes on hers.

He took both of her hands in his. Her hands were trembling.

She didn’t pull away, he thought. That’s a good sign.

He leaned even closer and whispered, “Ginny…”

Then he slowly closed the remaining gap between them. He kissed her softly and tenderly. He felt her shudder against him.

Feeling her body respond to him that way only urged him on, and with that he totally let go.

He eased his hands up her sides and then slowly slid his them around her pulling her tightly against him. When his lips met hers again, he kissed her more deeply than he had ever kissed anyone before in his life.

He had imagined this so many times, even dreamed about it, but this was so much better than his imagination. He couldn’t believe he was there and this was happening.

After a few minutes they drew apart.

A few seconds of breathless silence passed then Harry whispered, “I guess this means, you aren’t angry with me?” Harry said with a mischievous grin.

Ginny smiled back at him and asked, “Do you want to go back and sit down then?”

As Harry slid his hand down her arm and took hold of her hand again he responded, “Yeah, I’d really like that.”

They walked hand in hand over to the fireside again and sat down in Harry’s favorite chair together. He put his arms around her and pulled her close.

They sat quietly, content to just be close to each other, staring into the fire. After a few minutes Harry broke the silence. He had questions. He wanted to know if she had been feeling the same way. Had she wanted him to kiss her too before now?

Ginny began blushing a little, “Well… it’s always been you, Harry. I know I started going out with other guys, but that was because I didn’t think I’d ever have a chance with to be with you. I think the reason that none of my other boyfriends worked out was because I was always comparing them to you…and they seemed to fail miserably.”

Harry smiled and raised one eyebrow at this and said, “Miserably, huh?”

“Don’t get cocky, Mr. Potter.” She responded with a smirk. “Anyway, it worked didn’t it. Letting go of the idea of you ever having feelings for me, is actually what allowed us to get to know each other better wasn’t it. When I decided to ‘move on’, as Hermione had put it, I wasn’t nervous around you anymore and we became friends.”

Harry leaned over and kissed her temple, “Yeah, it definitely worked alright.”

Ginny smiled and touched his face with the palm of her hand. They kissed again playfully for a few minutes.

When they broke apart this time Harry asked, “Ginny, what do you think that Ron and the rest of your family are going to think about this? I mean obviously, I want to see you again.”

She smiled at his nervousness about her family’s approval. “Harry, they all love you.” Then in a slightly teasing voice she added, “Besides, how could they argue that I could find anyone better than the wizard who saved the world?”

Harry gave her a sheepish look and said, “I’m serious Ginny. What if Ron suddenly thinks of me as less than worthy of his only sister like he has the rest of your boyfriends?”

She could tell he was really worried about this and she thought it rather sweet.

Then she said, “Listen Harry. They all know how I’ve felt about you in the past. They really do love you and they know what type of person you are, especially Ron. They may be a little surprised at first, but I really think they’ll be happy for us.”

Looking at Harry she could tell he wasn’t completely convinced.

“If you’d like, we could just keep it our little secret for awhile. You know, see how things go. It might be kind of fun keeping it to ourselves, at least for now.”

Harry looked at her for a few seconds then with a feigned look of astonishment he said, “Why Ginerva Weasley… us?… sneaking around?…sounds fun.” He finished with a laugh.

He didn’t want to go, but he started thinking about the fact that it had been a couple hours since Ron had gone back to the hospital and it was nearly one in the morning. Ron was probably beginning to wonder what happened to him.

“Ginny, I really don’t want to leave you right now, but if we are going to keep this quiet for awhile, I’d better get going.”

She signed then said, “I know, I’m just really comfortable here in this chair. When will we be able to see each other again?”

Harry thought for a second then said, “Well, it’s Ron’s turn to attend lessons tomorrow, so it would probably be a little suspicious if I didn’t spend the day in the hospital. I will be in classes again on Friday. I could probably make an excuse about not stopping by at lunch on Friday and we could meet somewhere. Where do you think would be good?”

Ginny thought for a second, “What about the library? We could… kind of sneak off between the stacks.”

With a little bit of true surprise Harry’s eyes popped wide open, then recovering he said, “I like the way you think, Gin. So…it’s a date then?”

He leaned down and kissed her gently and said, “Goodnight Ginny. I had a great time tonight.”

With a smile she answered, “So did I, Harry. Sleep well.”

Harry walked backwards a few steps looking back at waving to her then he turned and left through the portrait hole feeling happier than he had in a very long time.

________________________________________
Chapter 12: Ron’s New Dilemma

Several minutes later Harry walked into the hospital wing. He saw Ron sitting in his usual chair beside Hermione’s bed and approached him quietly.

He wasn’t sure if he was awake or asleep.

When he arrived at the bed Ron jumped a little and said, “Hi. I was beginning to think you decided to sleep in the dormitory tonight or something.”

Harry suddenly feeling a bit guilty said, “Well, Ginny got some clothes for Hermione and then we just kind of sat up talking for awhile.”

It was after all, the truth, just not the whole truth.

Obviously Ron didn’t find this odd because he simply replied, “Oh.”

Grateful for his acceptance of his explanation Harry looked down at Hermione who was sleeping peacefully then asked, “So? How did it go here?”

Ron got up from his chair and motioned for Harry to follow him.

They walked away from Hermione’s bed and towards the window.

Harry again said, “Well?”

Ron looked a bit down. Harry was beginning to worry that things had not gone well at all.

Then Ron began, “Well, when I got back her parents had just left. She seemed glad to see me and we talked for awhile. She asked about you actually and I told her about the clothes. Then we talked more about what has been happening while she was asleep.”

“So you never really felt like the time was right then?” Harry asked.

“Well, actually there was a point where she started thanking me for staying with her and that it meant a lot to her that I was here when she woke up. I was sitting on her bed at the time with her and things seemed to be getting…you know…a little tense.” Ron said.

“So you did tell her then?” Harry asked.

“Not exactly, I kind of lost my nerve.” He ended lamely “What if I never get up enough nerve to actually tell her? I’m just not good with romance stuff. I’m afraid I’ll foul it up and then she’ll never speak to me again. I couldn’t stand it if we weren’t friends anymore.” Ron ended in a rather desperate tone.

Harry stood there looking sympathetically at his friend for a minute, then said, “What you need is a plan Ron. We’ll think of something. Maybe there is a way that you could tell her, without actually saying anything.”

Ron looked mortified, “You mean, just kiss her right out of the blue and see what happens?”

Laughing a little Harry responded, “No, no of course not. We have to come up with a way you can surprise her. You know, do something nice for her. Hermione’s a very smart girl. She won’t need words if you do the right things.”

Ron looked at Harry and then over at Hermione before continuing, “Well, that sounds good in theory, but what exactly do you have in mind?”

“I don’t know just yet. Give me some time to think about it and try to relax.”

Harry wanted to tell Ron that Hermione really had considered him before as boyfriend material, but not knowing how she felt now, he didn’t want to get his hopes up too much yet.

“For now, let’s sleep on it. You have class tomorrow and I’ll be here with Hermione. Maybe the two of us can come up with something. We have a little time because she won’t be out of the hospital until the beginning of next week. I’m sure you can be ready by then.” Harry reassured him.

“I’m glad one of us is sure,” Ron said.

After that they sat and considered a few ideas that didn’t sound that great out loud. It was really late now, nearly 3:00 in the morning in fact.

They decided they’d better get to bed especially Ron who needed to be able to focus in lessons in the morning.

________________________________________
Chapter 13: Catching Up

When they hit the cots that night next to Hermione, they fell immediately asleep and didn’t wake until Dobby came in with the breakfast trays the next morning. They were both groggy and not very hungry.

Hermione seemed much stronger and less tired than the day before and was chattering cheerily along to them as the three ate. She was carrying the conversation, a fact for which they were grateful at the moment, because they were having trouble with cohesive thought going on their mere four hours of sleep.

Ron got ready to leave for his first class shortly after eating. He said good bye to Harry and out of habit he went over and touched Hermione on the cheek as he gently leaned down and kissed Hermione on the forehead.

“Bye Hermione, I’ll be back.”

He and Harry had both been doing that for weeks when they left her each day. He hadn’t considered that it might come as a bit of a shock to her until he did it that particular morning.

He was flushing pink as he straightened himself again. Hermione was looking up at him with a slightly surprised face. Harry was just standing there looking back and forth between them, not offering any assistance whatsoever.

Ron began to ramble on with an apology as he stood there blushing wanting to disappear. If you could only apparate inside Hogwarts, he thought, I’d get the hell out of here.

“Um…oh…sorry, Hermione. It’s just… well, you see…we’ve been kind of been saying good bye to you that way, haven’t we Harry?”

Looking to his mate for support, Harry nodded and added, “We thought maybe you’d feel us near you more than hear us.”

Ron went on, “Yeah, that’s right.” Looking at Harry gratefully is if he suddenly had taken on the role of his loyal defense attorney, then added “Of course, you don’t want me to keep doing it…well, now that you’re awake. Just habit I guess. Well… sorry.”

She could tell he was embarrassed and she decided to let him off the hook.

“Don’t be silly Ron. I think it’s sweet that you and Harry were so protective of me and took such good care of me… I don’t mind at all.”

She gave him a slightly shy smile then she reached her hand out and squeezed his gently.

“It’s really okay Ron.”

Ron’s voice was faltering a bit and he stuttered on, “Oh… well… okay… good then. Well, see you later then. Bye Harry.”

As Ron left the hospital he was still a bit flushed, but his heart was a little lighter. He was thinking of how she reached for his hand.

She certainly didn’t have to do that. What did it mean?

He was having a bit of a one-sided conversation in his head about not getting himself too excited, after all, it could have been just a friend thanking a another friend.

Back in the hospital Harry and Hermione exchanged somewhat awkward smiles and then Hermione said, “That Ron, he can be so…so,”

She was grasping for the right words, but Harry helped her along by adding, “so, Ron-like?”

With a bit of a chuckle she responded, “Yeah, exactly.”

Sitting down by the bed Harry remembered the overnight bag that Ginny had packed for Hermione and asked her if she would like to change. Hermione thought that it was a great idea and thanked Harry for thinking of her.

“Well actually,” Harry began, “it was Ron’s idea. I just asked Ginny to get them for you.”

With a bit of surprise on her face, she responded, “Oh, I just thought, well…that’s not very ‘Ron-like’ is it? Things really have changed while I’ve been sleeping.”

Harry said he’d step out and give her some privacy while she got dressed and come back in a few minutes. He stepped around the side of her privacy screen and turned his back.

Hermione quickly changed and then called to Harry, “Okay, I’m decent now. You can come back.”

Harry reappeared from behind the screen and moved back to his chair by the bed. He told her how good it was to have her back and that he and Ron had really missed her.

They began talking about all the things the three of them would do together after she was out of the hospital in a couple of days. He was actually trying to fish around for something that would help Ron.

He ask her things like, “If you could do one thing this week after you’re released, what would it be?” or “What do you think you’ll feel up to doing?”

All she offered though was that with all of the classes she missed, she would definitely be heading to the library with their surprisingly, but very thorough, notes.

That wasn’t exactly what Harry was looking for, but it was typical Hermione and he smiled as she went on about getting caught up on her studies.

Next they turned their conversations to how everyone else was doing. When she finally hit upon Ginny, Harry didn’t mean for it to be, but his face must have been a bit revealing, because Hermione definitely noticed something was up.

“What’s wrong? What’s going on with Ginny? She’s okay isn’t she? Harry Potter…What is it that you aren’t telling me? Spill it!”

Harry wasn’t sure if wanted to share his secret yet. First of all, even though it was a bit devious, the idea of sneaking around was kind of exciting. He also wasn’t sure if he should tell Hermione if he hadn’t told Ron.

He was about to say nothing was up, but unfortunately, she was persistent, “Well? Come on, I know you’re up to something, Mr. Potter. You can’t lie to me.”

Looking at Hermione, he knew he’d never convince her.

Before he knew what he was doing, he was looking down at the floor and he was most definitely ‘spilling it.’

He was telling her everything from the moments outside of Ron’s hospital room to the meeting the night before in the common room and all of his thoughts in between, well maybe not all of his thoughts. Of course he left out some of the more intimate details, but she got the gist of it all.

When he finished he looked up at her, not knowing what to expect. To his relief, she was beaming at him.

“I knew it! I just knew it was only really a matter of time. You two have so much in common. I realize not everything that you and Ginny have shared has been pleasant, but it has certainly bonded you two for life. After all Harry, you’ve saved her life! What girl wouldn’t be attracted to a guy who’s done that?”

Harry interrupted her for a moment, “Well, I can think of at least one. I’ve saved your life before, too.” He said with a teasing grin.

“Well, that’s different. We’re different aren’t we?” She said stumbling a bit, but regaining her previous tack she continued, “Anyway, I think she’s perfect for you Harry. Not at all weak or whiny like…oh, sorry.”

Harry just raised his eyebrows at Hermione. He had no idea she felt that way about Cho. Hermione continued as if he had had no reaction to the comment she just let slip and he decided to let it go.

He did have to admit that she was right about Cho. That was the one thing he didn’t like…all the crying. He never knew quite how to handle it because it was always about Cedric.

“I bet Ginny is just beside herself with disbelief that it finally actually happened. I can’t wait to see her.”

Harry suddenly felt mortified. He wasn’t sure he liked the idea of his best friend talking about him with his new…what should he call her? Was she his girlfriend? They hadn’t actually gone on a date, but she certainly had gone well beyond being a friend at this point.

“Hermione please,” he begged. “Please don’t say anything. We haven’t even told Ron yet. You’re the first and only person to know actually. We don’t really know how to tell Ron. Now that we’re on the subject, what do you think Ron will do?”

He began telling her about his worries that he would soon be joining the ranks of the other boys in Ginny’s life on Ron’s hit list.

Hermione giggled, but seeing that Harry was serious she said, “Harry are you kidding? I think Ron will love the idea. You know, he may bristle at first because after all, he is Ron, and it is Ginny, but I think he’ll be thrilled after it has a chance to sink in. Please try not to worry. Oh Harry, it’s simply wonderful.”

He had to smile in spite of himself. He had to admit he felt happier than he could ever remember feeling in very long time.

“I do think that you should tell Ron soon though. He may not appreciate being kept in the dark about this, and you wouldn’t want him to find out accidentally. He might be a bit hurt if that happens you know.”

Harry knew she was right. He decided he’d have to talk to Ginny and they’d decide how to tell Ron together.

________________________________________
Chapter 14: The Summons

Just then, as if his ears had been burning, Ron entered the hospital wing. It apparently was already lunchtime. The morning had flown by as Harry and Hermione had talked the day away.

They thought Ron was must have been coming to join them for lunch but he was carrying a piece of parchment in his hand and was wearing a scowl on his face.

He softened a bit when he greeted them, but then began to tell Harry that they were expected in the Headmasters office immediately after lunch.

Harry just looked at Ron waiting for some explanation, but when none came he asked, “What’s up?”

His mind was racing. What had they done? Did Dumbledore know about what happened between he and Ginny the night before? Was he going to be reprimanded for it right in front of Ron? Ron didn’t seem to know anything more than Harry, but he tossed the note to Harry to read for himself.


Dear Mr. Potter and Mr. Weasley,

Given recent events, I would appreciate the courtesy of your presence in my office this afternoon following the noon meal for a brief meeting.

There are some things we need to discuss concerning the remainder of the school term. I feel it best that this discussion take place away from the student body at large, so I felt my office would be best. By the way, the new password is Choke Cherries.

Thank you for your prompt attendance of this meeting. Oh, and please give my fondest regards to Miss Granger. It is so good to have her back.

Yours truly,
Professor Dumbledore

Harry looked up just as Dobby was entering with the lunch trays with a puzzled look on his face.

As they ate they talked over possible reasons for being summoned to the headmaster’s office, but really couldn’t come up with anything plausible. They finished their meals and decided they’d better get going.

They said goodbye to Hermione and said they’d see her later. This time Ron didn’t kiss her, but awkwardly waved like he didn’t quite know what to do with himself.

Hermione just smiled to herself as they left. Ron really was hopeless, but that didn’t make his flustered behavior any less adorable she thought to herself.

All the way to the office they talked about what was going on but never could settle to an explanation. They considered everything from war injuries to the possibility of Malfoy’s return.

Before they knew it, they were standing at the base of the entrance in front of the stone gargoyle.

“Choke Cherries” they said together and the stairway came to life as they stepped on board.

It carried them up like a spiral escalator. Harry had seen a real muggle escalator once in a department store. Aunt Petunia had been forced begrudgingly to take him along on a shopping trip one day because Mrs. Figg was unavailable.

They reached the top stair and knocked on the door. They heard the familiar voice of Professor Dumbledore beckoning them inside.

As they entered Harry looked around. He had always marveled at the instruments that decorated the inside of the headmaster’s office. Some he recognized and some were unknown to him.

Professor Dumbledore was seated behind his desk with Fawkes resting on his shoulder. He was stroking the beautiful scarlet bird and she appeared to be cooing something into his ear.

“Thank you, Fawkes, you can return to your post now.”

The bird soared around the boys then rested quietly on her perch.

Before they could ask, the professor began, “How is Miss Granger? I trust she’s recovering nicely?”

Ron and Harry both nodded but they knew that wasn’t why they were there and didn’t have much interest in small talk at the moment.

Dumbledore continued, “So, I’m quite certain you’re no doubt wondering why I have called the two of you here today. I felt considering the circumstances, that it was time that we had a little talk about the remainder of the term.”

Still not sure what he meant they just looked at each other and then at Dumbledore.

“Now that Miss Granger is awake, I feel that we should discuss among other things, you’re sleeping arrangements. I know I gave you… certain allowances… while she was unconscious, but now that that is no longer the case, I feel it may be viewed by others as inappropriate for you to continue with your coed sleeping quarters.”

The boys began to protest, “Surely, you don’t think that we would ever try to take advantage of Hermione professor!”

The old man held up his hand to quiet them then and went on.

“It’s not that I don’t trust you two, I trust you to always conduct yourselves as gentlemen, but circumstances being what they are” He paused and looked at Ron briefly with a somewhat knowing grin, as Ron squirmed a bit uncomfortably under his gaze. “I feel it best if you both return to the dormitory to sleep now.”

Ron felt a bit embarrassed. How did Dumbledore know about his feelings for Hermione? How could he? Then on second thought, what was he thinking? Dumbledore knew just about everything that went on in the castle, sometimes before it happened.

“In addition to your sleeping quarters, there is the matter of your lessons. Professor Snape has been to see me just this morning.” Dumbledore continued.

“Snape!” Harry and Ron said together.

“Yes, Professor Snape pointed out the fact that now that Miss Granger is awake and will soon be returning to lessons herself, that it is no longer appropriate for the two of you to have a modified course schedule.

I have to say I rather agree. I am proud of the way you two have truly applied yourselves so far this year, but there really isn’t any reason to continue attending alternating classes, as you have been doing up until now. It would tend to cause the other students begin to… talk, I suspect.

Therefore, beginning with Monday morning lessons, you shall both return to your full course schedules.”

Ron and Harry hadn’t thought of any of this. They had been so thankful that Hermione was awake, that they never stopped to consider what changes the new course of events would make in their daily routines.

They had no choice, but to agree to the headmaster’s wishes and with that he thanked them for coming and told to have a good day.

As they were entering the corridor at the bottom of the spiral staircase, Ron began, “Damn him, that sleazy, slimy git! Leave it to Snape to try to screw things up for us at the first possible opportunity! He probably had trouble sleeping last night just waiting for the chance to talk to Dumbledore this morning.”

Harry definitely agreed that Snape was probably happily gloating in his office at that very moment. They both took turns coming up with less than flattering names for Snape and how good it would feel if they could just curse him senseless.

Then Harry asked, “Do you think he knows?”

Ron looked at him for a second and then with dawning comprehension said, “You mean about my feelings for Hermione? That’s what I was wondering. It certainly seemed he was trying to send me a silent…behave…message didn’t it?”

“Yeah, it kind of did.”

Harry was worried that if Dumbledore knew about Ron’s feelings, did he also know about he and Ginny steaming up the common room last night? At least he didn’t let on in front of Ron if he had.

Then Harry said “Well, I suppose you had better get to class. You don’t want to be late for Potions, or that will give Snape more reason to gloat as his gives you detention.”

Ron agreed and they turned and headed their separate ways, Ron heading for the dungeons and Harry back to the hospital wing.

He suspected that Hermione was very curious to know what the big meeting had been about in Dumbledore’s office.

________________________________________
Chapter 15 The Plan

Harry arrived back at the hospital and filled Hermione in on what had transpired in Dumbledore’s office.

She, of course, agreed with the professor that they should return to their normal course schedule. She felt it could only, in her estimation, improve their already much improved school performances.

Leave it to Hermione to make it about schoolwork. She seemed to miss the point that it was really Snape trying to make their lives miserable again as much as possible.

With a sigh Harry decided to change the subject. He asked when she thought she’d be released and she said that Madame Pomfrey had examined her after Ron and he had left. The nurse had told her that due to the fact that she was recovering so quickly, she would be permitted to return to the dormitory tomorrow and only come to the hospital for her potions and periodic check ups for a few days.

“That’s great Hermione! We should let Hagrid know. Has he been back to visit today?”

She said that she had received an owl from him and that he said that he was thinking about her, but a little busy at the moment.

Yeah, busy with Madame Maxime, Harry thought with a smile.

It seemed romance was popping up all other the castle grounds.

They continued visiting for another hour or so. Classes had nearly ended and Ron would be returning to the hospital soon. Just as they were talking about what they would do that evening, Hermione’s parents entered the ward.

She was thrilled to see them again. It appeared that they had spent the night in Hogsmeade under the permission of Dumbledore and were going to visit with her again this evening before returning to London. They were feeling much better about leaving her knowing that she would be released the next day.

Harry stayed to visit for a little while with the Grangers then he excused himself so they could have some time alone with their daughter.

He told Hermione goodnight, since he would no longer be sleeping in the hospital with her and left for the night. He figured that lessons should just about be over now and he wanted to find Ron.

He thought he should to let him know that the Granger’s were there with Hermione. He also thought this was a good opportunity for them to work more on the plan to help Ron tell Hermione what was on his mind.

When he found Ron he was on his way to the hospital just as Harry had suspected he would be. He headed him off and let him know about her visitors.

“It’s going to be a little strange isn’t it, I mean sleeping in our own beds every night again.” Ron said. “I’m so used to being able to see her all the time. I’m not sure I like this. I always knew she was safe.”

Harry answered, “Yeah, it will be odd, but she’s being released tomorrow, so she’ll only be there alone one night and Dumbledore will be sure she is safe.” He paused for a moment then asked, “Have you given anymore thought to your ‘plan’ to tell her? This early release date kind of speeds things up a bit doesn’t it?”

Ron had a sheepish look on his face.

“What?” Harry asked.

“Well, I kind of did come up with an idea, but I’m not sure about it. Maybe it’s too corny.” Ron replied.

“Well, tell me about it, don’t keep me in suspense.” Harry was looking at him in disbelief that Ron could possibly come up with a plan to win Hermione this quickly, especially something that he would deem corny.

Ron began by saying that Harry had to promise not to laugh at him. Then he pulled him into an empty classroom and shut the door behind him so they could talk privately.

Harry was looking at Ron rather expectantly, “Well?” he said.

“Well, you know how Hermione slept through her birthday right?” Ron asked.

“Yeah? What do you have in mind?” Ron went on to tell him that he thought he’d plan a quiet little birthday party for the two of them.

When Harry asked where he would be able to do that without everyone else knowing, Ron looked at the floor, and mumbled, “I thought maybe I could ask Dobby to help me make up the Room of Requirement. After all it can be whatever you need at the time, right?”

Harry had never considered the other possible uses of the room before now. The idea definitely had merit.

He began to wonder if other couples had gone there to be alone over the years. Surely they weren’t the first generation of students to figure out it’s secret.

He made a mental note to himself to take advantage of Ron’s idea with Ginny at a later date.

“Well, what do you think? Do you think she’d like it? Would it get the message across?”

Harry was smiling now, for more than one reason. “I think it’s a smashing idea Ron! When are you going to do it?"

"Well, I just talked to Dobby a minute ago. He’s just waiting for the go ahead. I guess since tomorrow is Friday and she’s being released tomorrow morning…well, no time like the present I guess. Besides, if I don’t get this off my chest soon, I think I’ll explode.”

Ron told Harry then that since Harry agreed it might work, he’d go down to the kitchens and talk to Dobby again. Harry offered to go with him, but Ron was a little embarrassed about Harry being in on the preparation of his special night.

Harry understood and agreed that he’d probably feel the same way if it were him planning a romantic gesture for a girl he was smitten with.

In truth, Harry was also glad because it gave him a chance to go and find Ginny and surprise her. He didn’t think he’d see her until tomorrow at lunch.

________________________________________
Chapter 16 The Secret of the Library

Harry considered all the possible places that she may be.

He walked out on the grounds and checked the Quidditch pitch and the lake, no Ginny. He went back into the castle and looked in the common room, still no Ginny.

Surely, she isn’t in the library he thought to himself. Ginny was a good student, but she didn’t spend the number of hours that Hermione liked to spend in there. However, he decided it was worth a look.

He walked into the library and began scanning the stacks for a sign of the ginger haired girl. After walking almost through the whole library he spotted her over by the restricted section.

She was leafing through a rather large scaly looking book and looking very intent on what she was doing. A mischievous grin spread across Harry’s face as he looked around to see if anyone else was in the vicinity.

When he noticed no one he began to quietly creep between the shelves until he was behind the one next to her.

He watched her for another minute through the dusty volumes and thought about what he should do next. She turned her back to replace the book on the shelf and look at another.

This was his chance, he slowly moved around the shelf that had hidden him and crept up behind her. He slowly placed one hand over her eyes and the other over her mouth and whispered in her ear, “Guess who?”

Ginny had jumped and let out a muffled scream when he grabbed her, but upon hearing his voice she immediately relaxed and turned to look at him.

She put her finger to her lips to silence him, grabbed his hand and led him to a part of the library he’d never been in before. It was rather dark and off the beaten path.

When she stopped and turned to look at him he was smiling rather devilishly.

“You’ve done this before haven’t you, Miss Weasley?”

He was a little surprised but didn’t let on that it bothered him. He knew he wasn’t the first boy she’d seen, but he didn’t like to think about it.

After all, he chuckled to himself, she had said that they all failed miserably compared to him.

When she answered her response was in a whisper, “I’ve missed you, Harry.”

She moved closer to him and slid her hands slowly up his chest and around his neck.

Then she added, “Knowing Fred and George does have its advantages. I’ve never been here with a boy before, but I’ve heard the two of them talking about it.”

A little relieved that she didn’t have first hand experience with this secluded spot Harry began to feel a little playful. His face had a small grin and he slid one hand around her waist and rested the other on her thigh.

He made a mental note to thank who ever invented schoolgirls uniforms. The little skirts were definitely a plus. He was softly moving his hand up her bare leg and leaning in to kiss her. Then seeing the look on her face, he changed tack and slid his other hand up around her waist too.

“Manners, Mr. Potter.” She said with one eyebrow raised and a seductive smile on her face.

Harry didn’t want to push but she had just looked and felt so good that he kind of lost control for a moment. It really wasn’t like Harry to do something like that.

She seemed to bring a bit of something new out in him, “Sorry, I just got carried away there for a minute. It won’t happen again, I promise.”

Ginny looked at him with a sly gaze and said, “Never? That doesn’t sound like much fun.” She was teasing him and totally enjoying it.

“Oh really?” With that he playfully pulled her over to the wall and pinned her to it.

“What are you going to do Mr. Potter?” He had a hold of both of her wrists and was looking into her eyes.

Harry wasn’t sure what he was going to do. This was definitely new territory for him. His heart was pounding and he could feel her pulse throbbing in her wrists.

Apparently years of pent up tension that Ginny had felt for Harry had made her somewhat more anxious than she would normally be.

He was looking deeply into her eyes and his thoughts tumbled out of his mouth, “God, you are so beautiful, Ginny.”

Harry leaned down and released her hands as he began to kiss her neck.

She slid her hands up and around his neck and then onto the back of his head. She was pulling him in closer to her body and moaning softly.

This was more than Harry could stand. He pulled away briefly and ran his hand down the outline of her face. He was looking in her eyes as she shuddered at his touch.

He felt like his whole body was tingling and he pressed himself against her and began kissing her passionately. They were totally lost in each other until they heard voices nearby.

They pulled apart and just stared at each other silently for a few seconds. They were both a little breathless.

Still gazing at her he quietly slid his hand down her arm and took her hand. He began leading her to another area of the library, away from the voices.

Unfortunately, they couldn’t find anywhere they could be alone. A bit disappointed, they sat down at a table across from each other pretending to look at books. They kept looking over the tops at each other and smiling.

After a few minutes of silent flirting, Harry whispered for lack of other words, “Wow Gin, that was… intense.”

Harry had been sitting there thinking how passionate things had gotten between them and how quickly it had happened.

Ginny responded a bit pink in the face, “Yeah… I know. Listen Harry…I don’t know what came over me. I want you to know that… I’m not usually like that. I don’t want you to think that I’ve been… that way… with other boys. I’m not, well, you know what I mean don’t you?”

Harry was grinning at the fact that she was getting so flustered and that he had brought something new out in her too.

Trying to calm her he answered, “Ginny, it’s ok. I’m definitely not disappointed in you. I thought it was pretty obvious that I liked it.” He grinned. “I got carried away too.”

He paused for a moment looking at her and she continued, “I just don’t want you to think that I’m like that with… everyone I go out with. I’ve never… got that ‘heated’ with anyone… ever.”

Harry appreciated that she cared about what he thought of her. He was thinking that they definitely had a physical attraction for each other on top of the great friendship that had developed over the last couple of years.

If they had kept going like that much longer Harry thought that he may not have wanted to stop.

At that thought he wondered to himself, ‘What am I thinking? This is Ginny.’

He had only just admitted that he had feelings for her the night before. He made a conscious decision to slow things down. He didn’t want to move too fast and ruin what they had or what they could have in the future.

He then said, “Ginny, please don’t worry. I really like you and I respect our friendship. I would never want to jeopardize that. You mean too much to me. You can trust me, just like I trust you. I don’t care about what happened before we were together, but I appreciate that you want me to know that I’m the first person that you’ve felt this way about. It’s the same for me. I think it’s safe to say that there is something really strong between us. Let’s just slow down a bit and take some time to explore it. Okay?”

She smiled shyly, still blushing a bit and nodded her agreement.

Harry wanted a way to make their relationship more official.

He was casting around for something to say then he asked, “Ginny, would you go out with me? There is a Hogsmeade weekend coming up soon. I would really like it if you’d go with me.”

Ginny smiled and then answered, “I’d love to.”

Then Harry added, “I think we need to tell Ron. It’s not that sneaking around with you isn’t…well pretty damned exciting. In fact, I think it’s pretty obvious that,” he raised one eyebrow, “I kind of like it… but I don’t like lying to Ron. The longer we wait to tell him, the more chance there will be that he’ll be angry when we do.”

She agreed he was right. They decided they’d tell him later in the common room that night.

Until they told Ron, they decided they should act like nothing had happened.

Ginny left first as Harry watched her and Harry followed a few minutes later. They agreed to meet in the common room and wait for it to clear then they’d tell Ron everything, well almost everything.

Some details they felt would better for Ron not to hear, after all they wanted him to be happy for them, not hit the roof.



________________________________________
Chapter 17 The Conference by the Lake

A few minutes later Harry arrived at the Great Hall for dinner. He saw Ron was already sitting at the end of the Gryffindor table.

Ron looked up from his already full plate. He grinned through a mouthful of food when he saw Harry walking across the hall and then motioned for him to come over.

Harry soon spotted Ginny further down the table. Apparently, not wanting to draw attention to anything unusual, Ginny had gone to sit with the other 6th years as she normally would.

He had hoped she would be sitting with Ron, giving him a good excuse to sit next to her. When Harry sat down, he quickly glanced down the table at her giving her a sly, but meaningful smile.

She smiled back and gave him a quick wink.

Ron, being Ron, continued to dwell in his own world, not noticing the silent exchange that just took place.

Bless him, Harry thought smiling to himself.

Harry almost hated to burst that bubble for him, but he knew it had to be done. It really wasn’t that Ron wasn’t intelligent. When it came to classes, he was just as good as Harry, but it was relationships and their subtleties that seemed to escape him at times.

It was actually one of the qualities that made Ron…well, Ron. All of the recent developments with his revelations of feelings for Hermione and how he could win her were truly groundbreaking moves for Ron.

It was the beginning of the dinner hour and students were just starting to file into the Great Hall. Ron was relatively alone at the table except for a few 2nd years sitting nearby deep in their own excited conversation about their latest Defense Against the Dark Arts lesson.

Apparently they were thinking that they would have liked to test the new spells that Professor Lupin had taught them today on some Death Eaters, or so they thought.

They were young and felt invincible. Harry remembered thinking that when he was their age.

Turning his attention back to Ron and filling his plate with beef casserole he asked, “So, is everything set for the birthday surprise? How did it go?”

Ron, looking very pleased with himself, told Harry that he and Dobby had just finished in the Room of Requirement and that he thought, or at least he hoped that Hermione would be pleased. The only thing he hadn’t taken care of yet was the present.

“Dobby said he could go to Hogsmeade for me, but I don’t know what to get. I’ve been saving my pocket money for awhile now. Let’s face it, since the war, we really haven’t gone anywhere except to the hospital. So I’ve got a good bit saved. I really want the present to send her a message.”

Ron said in a whisper as more students were beginning to file into the benches closer to them. Ron and Harry decided they would stop their conversation for now. They finished eating and left the hall.

They decided to go outside where they could talk without being heard, so they walked down to the lake and began skipping rocks while they talked.

Ron had told Harry how he was really nervous and that part of him couldn’t believe what he was about to do. If it didn’t go well, he would be risking his friendship with Hermione.

Harry wanted to ease his friend’s mind, but didn’t know what to say. If there was a way to tell him he had recently been in his same situation and that everything turned out fine, he thought it might help.

Harry kept biding his time. He was looking for an opening.

Ron soon after gave him that opening. He had been telling Harry how much he just wanted to lean down and kiss Hermione, but was afraid of what might happen if he did then ended by asking, “Do you know what I mean?”

Finally, it seemed like the right time. He didn’t think Ginny would mind if he told Ron alone. In a way, he felt that he owed it to Ron to tell him himself.

Harry cleared his throat and said, “Well, actually Ron, I do. There’s something we need to talk about. Something important.”

Ron looked back at him with a curious expression and said, “What’s up?”

Harry was looking for the right words. He didn’t want to mess this up.

“Ron, something has happened that you need to know about. I’ve wanted to tell you about this before now, but since nothing had really happened, I didn’t think I should.”

Ron again asked, “What are you talking about?”

He seemed to be getting a little nervous. What Ron was actually wondering is who Harry was talking about.

Did Harry also have feelings for Hermione and something happened between them today while he was in class? No, surely not.

Harry would never do that to him. Especially now that he knew Ron’s true feelings for Hermione. It had to something else, but what?

Harry was watching Ron and wondering what was going through his mind. He decided he’d just say it.

“Ron there is someone that I have feelings for too. It’s someone that is actually very close to you… In fact, that person has feelings for me too.”

He paused for a second and waited for it to dawn on Ron, but when it didn’t, he continued, “The person that I have been having feelings for Ron… is Ginny. I have felt this way now for weeks.”

Harry stood facing Ron, waiting for the explosion. Ron stood stalk still and just looked shocked, “Ginny?… My Ginny?… When did this happen?”

This wasn’t as bad as he thought it would be Harry thought to himself. Ron wasn’t yelling or threatening to curse him or anything. They were just calmly talking about it.

Harry told him how he first realized that she was much more than a friend to him back when Ron was still in St. Mungo’s, but since nothing had happened, he had kept it to himself.

“I know she’s your only sister Ron, and I know how much you love her. I also know that you and the rest of your brothers are very protective of her when it comes to dating, but I promise, if you give me your blessing, I will never, ever do anything to hurt her.”

It slowly dawned on Ron that this was serious, “Harry…you and Ginny?”

Harry feeling a little more confident said, “Um…yeah… I… kissed her for the first time… last night. When I went back to get the clothes for Hermione, one thing kind of lead to another and well, apparently she feels the same way about me. There is something really strong between us, Ron. I’ve never felt this way about a girl before. It goes well beyond a crush…Are you okay with this?”

Harry couldn’t stand it anymore, he needed Ron to do something, even if it meant he slugged him one. Waiting for his reaction was torture.

He suddenly remembered something and said, “There’s something else too, Ron.”

Ron turned and looked at him with a look like “there’s more?”

Harry continued, “I wanted you to know that Hermione already knows about Ginny and I. I told her today. It’s hard to keep a secret from her you know. She can read faces really well. Plus she’s so good with relationships and I needed advice… about how to tell you. I wanted you to know though that you are the only other person I’ve told.”

Ron was quiet for a few more minutes then looked at Harry with a small smile on his face.

“Harry, how could you ever think that I wouldn’t approve of you?"

"Well..." Harry began, "You've never really approved of... any of Ginny's other boyfriends. In fact, you hated all of them." Harry offered. "You even had problems with Dean."

Ron considered this then said, "Well, I guess Dean was okay, but I don't know, he just wasn't right for Ginny. This is different though. This is you we are talking about Harry. If you want to know the truth, my whole family has kind of been… hoping that maybe you two would sometime… end up together. You know, make you an official member of the family some day – no pressure mate.”

He added with a laugh then continued “We all know Ginny has always kind of been a little smitten with you. I do love my little sister, and I want her to be happy. What better way to ensure that, than to have my best mate watching out for her? I can’t think of one single person that I trust more than I do you, other than Hermione, of course.”

Harry was now grinning too, relieved to have put that to rest. It felt so good to have it out in the open.

Ron then continued with a smirk on his face, “You know Harry, I can’t guarantee that Fred and George won’t give you a hard time… Oh, and Mum will probably cry, so be ready for that.”

They decided they’d better head back to the castle to let Ginny know that Harry had shared their secret.

“Oh and Harry, one more thing. Not that I think you ever would hurt Ginny, but if you ever do… just a fair warning…

There’s nothing that my five brothers or I could do to you that Ginny couldn’t top, so keep that in mind. She’s a regular female version of Fred and George, but with a bit of a twist, you know. You’d better watch your back Harry.” He added with a laugh patting Harry on the shoulder.

With that they returned to castle to go and find Ginny.

________________________________________
Chapter 18: Love at Last

As they walked back to the castle they could feel a definite chill in the air. It was nearly December and although they hadn’t had the first snow yet, they knew it was coming soon.

Harry and Ron entered the large front doors shivering a bit. Having gone right outside after dinner, they hadn’t thought to get their cloaks at the time.

They decided to head back to the common room, warm up in their favorite chairs by the fire and wait for Ginny. Harry had told Ron the original plan was to tell him later that night in the common room.

It was a Friday night and several people had apparently had plans for the evening because other than a few first years, the room was practically deserted.

Harry and Ron crossed the room to their usual spots by the fire and began to enjoy the radiant heat from the crackling fire. They sat talking for a while about what Ron should give Hermione for her ‘birthday’.

They hadn’t even noticed that the room had begun to clear. In fact the room was empty except for the two of them when Ginny entered from the dormitory stairs.

She smiled a little as she observed the now empty common room. It was in fact, Ginny who had “cleared” the room.

She had earlier bewitched the common room chairs, with the exception of Ron and Harry’s favorite chairs, to make the students sitting in them realize suddenly that they desperately needed to be somewhere else at 10:00

Quietly, she walked over to the figures sitting by the fire. She had seen this picture in her mind repeatedly. She had been running this moment over and over in her mind up in her room for the last several hours.

How were they going to actually tell Ron? Was he going to be okay about this? She thought he’d be happy for them, but part of her wasn’t sure.

It took a minute for the boys to notice her.

When they did, Ron smiled and said, “Hey Gin. What are you doing down here?”

He then glanced at Harry who was grinning at him wide-eyed. He didn’t really want Ron to torture Ginny, but he decided he would leave this between Ginny and her brother.

Harry sat back to watch the show. He sent Ginny a little wave and a smile with, “Hi Ginny. How’s it going?” Ginny looked a little puzzled, but she figured that Harry surely had a plan.

“I’m…fine. Thanks Harry.” She answered continuing to carry a puzzled expression.

She walked over and sat down on one of the poufs near the fire looking back and forth between the two of them.

There was a few seconds of silent grinning between Harry and Ron then Ron continued a little more seriously, “So Ginny, what’s new? I hear you might have a new… interest in your life. What do you think I’ll think of…er…your new interest?”

She just stared at Ron, then looked at Harry who was grinning from ear to ear. He simply nodded to her and a smile spread over her face too.

“You mean, you don’t mind then?” she asked looking expectantly at her brother.

“Mind? No, of course not. I’m happy for you and Neville!” Ron added with a mischievous grin.

He wasn’t quite through with his sister yet. This was more fun than Ron had imagined it would be.

Harry still just sat there enjoying the exchange going on between the two of them.

“So when did the two of you, get together. Neville is usually so busy with his herbology projects, I didn’t know he had time for romance.”

Ginny just sat there stunned, thinking to herself…what is going on?

As she stared at Ron, he suddenly burst out laughing. He couldn’t hold it anymore.

“Gin, you are too easy. Harry and I had a little talk down by the lake. He told me everything. Congratulations, I think it’s great!”

She jumped from her seat and ran to her brother to hug him, “You are lucky I don’t hex you for that Ronald Weasley.” She whispered in his ear.

“Yeah, I know, but it was worth the risk to watch you squirm Gin.”

She released her brother and looked over at Harry. This was a bit awkward. They had never shown each other affection in public before at least not when they knew someone else was watching.

She slowly looked from Ron to Harry and back again with a small smile on her face.

Ron seemed to note her hesitation to move toward Harry with him sitting there. Upon consideration, he decided that if he teased her anymore, he might just be on the receiving end of one of her bat-bogey curses.

He reached out and squeezed his little sister’s hand and said, “It’s really okay Gin. Go on now.”

With that she slowly walked over to where Harry was sitting and sat down on the arm of his chair. Harry reached up and took her hand in his. It felt warm and comfortable, like he had done it a thousand times.

They both looked back at Ron who was beaming. Ron couldn’t help but be reminded of a picture from Harry’s photo album.

Harry looking so much like his father, and well honestly, Ginny very much resembled Harry’s mother with her shining red hair.

Ron decided to give them some privacy and made an excuse about having a lot to do tomorrow and bid them goodnight. As he walked past the newly joined couple he bent down and kissed Ginny on the top of the head.

“You two be good to each other now. Good night.”

After Ron had ascended the dormitory stairs Harry looked up at Ginny who was beaming at him.

“How could you let him do that to me? Why didn’t you say something? What happened to waiting to tell him together?”

Harry just grinned at her exasperation. “Well, the time just seemed right to tell him. I hoped it would be okay with you. You’re not angry with me are you?”

She looked back at his sheepish face and answered, “Of course not, but did you have to let him torture me like that?”

Harry suddenly grabbed her around the waist and slid her off the arm of the chair and into his lap.

“Awe Gin, please don’t be angry. How can I make it up to you?” he asked with a bit of mischief in his eyes.

She returned his smile and wrapped her arms around his neck and hugged him. “I think you already have.” She answered.

When she released him from the hug she looked into his warm green eyes and sighed.

“This is perfect Harry.”

He placed his hand softly on her cheek returning her deep gaze. He then kissed her, gently brushing her lips with his.

He whispered, “It is perfect, isn’t it.”

He kissed her again with several feathery kisses that caused her to tremble and her breath caught in her throat. He stopped for a minute just enjoying knowing she wanted more.

He was still gazing into her eyes with an expression of complete and utter desire on his face.

It was Ginny who moved first. She stood up and reached for his hand. She led him over to the pillows situated on the rug by the fire. They sat together looking into the fire. He turned his eyes back to Ginny who was already looking at him.

He placed his hand gently on her cheek and slid it down to her soft jaw line stroking her cheek with his thumb. He leaned in and kissed her again, gently at first then more deeply.

She lay back on the pillows and he slowly joined her. He was lying on top of her and began kissing her neck tenderly. He could feel her heart pounding and moved to kiss her shoulder for a few moments, wanting to explore her body more thoroughly. Then closing his eyes he moved slowly back to her soft parted lips.

Their kisses were deeply intense now and Harry was moving his hands slowly and gently over her body. She was shuddering and gasping softly at his touch.

They continued kissing and exploring. They were completely lost in each other. Harry thought he was going to burst he wanted her so badly. Then suddenly, he pulled away and looked at her breathlessly.

It's too soon he told himself, this is crazy. I can't rush this. I can't ruin this. He forced himself to stop.

Except for their breathing, they were silent for a few seconds, then Ginny whispered, “Harry, what’s wrong?”

She had fantasized about this with Harry for so long, she didn't really want him to stop. She continued to look at him, waiting.

He didn’t answer for a few more seconds and his eyes were filling with tears. He was still lying on top of her and their faces were about 10 inches apart.

“Harry, you’re scaring me, what’s wrong?” Ginny asked again.

Harry’s heart was so full. He was torn between wanting her now and needing it to be perfect when they gave themselves to each other. He was so utterly happy looking at this beautiful girl with whom he had shared so much with over the years.

Harry finally spoke quietly, “You’re everything I have ever wanted Ginny… and more than I probably deserve. I don’t know what the future holds, but there is something I have to say to you. Something that I that I know is real.

“I love you, Ginny.”

He paused, but continued before she could respond.

“It’s okay if you’re not sure of your feelings for me yet. I know things have moved pretty fast with us, but you’re in my heart... I needed you to know that.”

Ginny was gazing at his serious expression then she reached up and gently moved her fingers through his black tussled hair smiling sweetly at him.

She then answered him, “You have been in my thoughts for so long Harry. I keep expecting that I’m going to wake up and find this has all been some wonderful dream… I don’t need time to consider my feelings Harry. ..I’ve had 6 years of hoping, to do that.”

She smiled sweetly at him. Then said, “I love you too Harry, I always have.”

He leaned down and kissed her tenderly again. "I love you, and that's why we have to stop. We have to stop before I can't stop."

Harry kissed her again then slowly rolled off of her and on to the floor. He reached for her and pulled her body next to him.

As she cuddled up to him by the fire they felt complete and utter bliss. Ginny knew at that moment that this was going to be everything that she had dreamed it would be and more.

They lay there in each other’s arms for a long time, not speaking, not really needing words. It was getting very late now and they were beginning to get sleepy. Harry was afraid that they might fall asleep there lying together.

They decided that even though they didn’t want to, that they should say goodnight. Reluctantly, Harry stood up and offered her his hand to help her up.

They slowly walked to the stairs with their arms around each other. When they reached the landing at the top of the stairs, Harry turned and looked at her, then leaned down and kissed her again.

“Goodnight luv. See you soon.”

“Night Harry, I love you.” Ginny answered softly.

Harry responded with another kiss and “I love you, too.”

With that they parted and began to climb the stairs to their dormitories, both feeling completely happy.

________________________________________
Chapter 19 Friendships and Snowflakes

The next morning Harry awoke to beautiful streaks of sunlight glistening off of newly fallen snow. The flakes were still falling gently and they had nearly covered the grounds overnight.

As he stood looking out of the window he was thinking about the night before and how incredible the last couple of days had been. As visions of Ginny by firelight swam through his mind he couldn’t wait to see her again.

Things had been happening so fast for them, but in some ways he felt like these last few days had been years in the making. After all, there friendship had been very important to him and he knew they had a connection on a level that he could never have with any other girl. The only other girl who had shared the experiences of Harry’s life the way Ginny had, was Hermione.

Harry considered his feelings for Hermione. He loved her. She was one of the most important people in his life, no question. They had a deep friendship that went well beyond… just about anything.

Somehow though, he never thought of her in that way. She was his family. It was as simple as that.

For whatever reasons, he was drawn to Ginny in a much different way. He wasn’t going to question why, because it just felt right.

He heard some shuffling behind him and saw that Ron was beginning to wake up. As he pulled back his four poster hangings he saw Harry was already awake.

“Today’s the big day, huh?” asked Harry.

“Yeah, I hope so anyway. I’ve been going over the details in my mind and trying to work everything out.”

There were a couple of things that Ron needed a little help with, if things were going to go smoothly.

“I was wondering if I could borrow a few things from you tonight, Harry.”

Harry nodded his head and answered, “Sure. What kind of things do you need?”

Ron was turning a bit flushed and said, “Well, your invisibility cloak for one…and Hedwig if it’s ok. I would use Pig, except I need a fast response… and he’s not always the most…reliable bird.”

Ron began to fill Harry in on his plan to get Hermione’s present and the details of how he planned to pull it all off. As much as Ron had shared there was a lot that he said he wanted to keep secret.

Harry was in awe of Ron’s ability to scheme. Where had he been hiding this new secret weapon all of these years.

With a bit of a teasing grin on his face Harry said, “I think you’ve thought of everything. I’m proud of you Ron. You should give me lessons. I don’t think Hermione has a chance… really, I mean it.”

With a satisfied grin Ron responded, “Let’s hope you’re right. You ready to go to breakfast? I’m starving.”

Not everything about Ron had changed. He still liked to eat.

Harry nodded and they headed down to the common room. Ginny was sitting with some other 6th years when she saw them come down. She went to meet them and silently slipped her hand into Harry’s. She smiled at Harry as she said good morning to the both of them.

Harry loved how her small hand felt in his. He lifted it to his lips and kissed the back of her hand, saying good morning back. Ron was looking at them grinning.

“It’s going to take me a little while to get used to that,” he admitted.

Ron felt a small surge of jealousy for their happiness. He wasn’t jealous of them, but of what they obviously shared. It was easy to see that when they were looking at each other, they had a little silent communication between them.

He wanted that too. He wanted that with Hermione.

Tonight had to be perfect… it just had to be. He’d make sure it was. If things didn’t go the way he’d hoped tonight, it would not be for a lack of trying on his part.

The three of them entered the Great Hall and made their way to the Gryffindor table. As they dug in to sausages and porridge Ron kept looking towards the door.

Harry and Ginny were talking to him about the day and what his total plans were, but he was still being a little secretive about exactly what he had planned.

They knew it would be in the Room of Requirement. They also knew that it would involve a special present and the invisibility cloak, but that’s about all they could get out of him.

He just kept saying he didn’t want to jinx it.

After staring a hole through the door for the tenth time of the morning, he sighed and asked, “When do you think they’ll release her from hospital? Surely she’s awake now and ready to get out of there. Maybe something happened last night and she’s had a relapse…

Damn that Madame Pomfrey.

I’m sure it was her who suggested to Dumbledore that people would ‘talk’ if we continued to sleep in the same room with her. We should have stayed last night. It was only one more night. Who cares what other people think?”

They were nearing the end of their breakfast now and Ron had apparently worn out his patience for waiting.

“Maybe we should go to the hospital to check on her this morning and find out what’s up.”

Ginny and Harry agreed it was a good idea. What choice did they have? Ron was determined to go and they saw no reason not to follow him.

Harry wasn’t really worried about Hermione. He felt sure that Dumbledore would have sent for them if something had gone wrong, but since Ron needed to see for himself, they finished eating and left the Great Hall.

Ron stopped by the owlery for a minute on the way to send Hedwig on an ‘errand’. Then they headed straight for the hospital.

When they arrived, Hermione’s bed was empty. They all felt a streak of panic until Madame Pomfrey told them that she had left for the dormitory just a few minutes before.

They had apparently just missed her, but the nurse assured them that she was in amazingly perfect health. Her parents had escorted her back to her room and then they would be leaving by portkey from Dumbledore’s office.

Ron felt a rush of excitement as they headed for the common room. When they entered the portrait hole they heard a burst of noise coming from inside. A small celebration had broken out upon Hermione’s arrival.

When they saw her, she was surrounded by several other Gryffindor students of various years hugging her and chatting away.

When she spotted Harry, Ron, and Ginny she broke away from them and ran over to hug each of them. She hugged Harry and Ginny and then turned to hug Ron.

She knew that he was sometimes uncomfortable with he hugging but he just held his arms out and she launched herself towards him without a second thought.

She liked this new side of Ron. Approachable, sweet, not to mention rather adorable. They moved to their usual spot and began talking away. Well, mostly Ginny and Hermione talked while Ron and Harry sat quietly waiting for a small window to interject a comment or two here and there.

Harry couldn’t help but think how much fun it would be if they could double date. He was definitely hoping things would work out for Ron tonight.

If they didn’t, what would happen to Ron and Hermione’s friendship? How would it effect all of their friendships?

Harry tried not to worry and focused his gaze on Ginny. He was enjoying watching her talk animatedly to Hermione. It was obvious that Ginny and Hermione had become very close. They were talking in some sort of girl code, finishing each other’s sentences and giggling.

For some reason, this brand of giggling wasn’t bothersome to Harry. It rather warmed his heart to see the two most important girls in his life getting along so well.

He continued to watch Ginny. She seemed to feel him looking at her and she smiled and winked at him from her chair beside Hermione before continuing her conversation. They spent the better part of the morning talking and catching up in the common room.

After lunch Seamus invited everyone to join he and Dean outside for a snowball fight. It had stopped snowing finally, but not before Hogwarts had been transformed into a virtual winter wonderland. Everything was frost covered and glistening in the sunshine.

Ron asked Hermione if she felt up to it and she just smiled and said, “Ron, I’m really okay now, seriously. The fresh air will be good for me.”

When Ron still didn’t look convinced she added, “Oh please don’t fight me on this. I’ve been cooped up for so long, I need to get out. I promise that if I start to get tired or cold I’ll come straight back in…deal?”

Ron answered, “It’s a deal.”

With that they went back to get their cloaks and gloves in the common room and then headed out.

It was amazing outside. Although snow was everywhere, it hadn’t gotten bitterly cold yet. The sun was shining and everyone was enjoying the day.

Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny had gotten separated in the snowball battle and were lobbing snowy orbs at each other from every direction.

The girls had eventually gotten backed up towards the edge of the forest and Harry and Ron were using Hagrid’s hut as a makeshift fort to attack them from. Harry saw a chance to sneak around and attack from behind, as the girls were busy making more ammunition.

He motioned to Ron who knew right away what he meant. They split up and headed in different directions flanking the girls. They came up right behind them as they screamed and ran.

Harry went after Ginny and caught up to her as they went tumbling down in the snow.

Hermione had run the other way and Ron had pursued her with a rather large snowball in tow. He cornered her with a mischievous grin spreading across his face holding the snowball high in the air.

She was giggling and begging, “Please Ron, don’t do it. Remember I just got out of the hospital.” She teased, as she tried to dodge around him.

He caught her around the waist as she tried to run past him and playfully held her against a tree threatening to release the snowball at any second.

“What will you give me for your safe passage back to the castle, Miss Granger?”

She was giggling and Ron was smiling back at her with one eyebrow raised and the snowball still aloft.

“Well, what do you want, Mr. Weasley?”

They were having such a good time together.

Is she flirting with me? he thought to himself.

What he wanted was to wrap his arms around her and kiss her, but not yet. Tonight was to be their night. He didn’t want to ruin what he had planned.

Instead of kissing her he said, “If I let you go now, you have to promise me that you’ll go somewhere with me later tonight, no questions asked. Do you promise?”

Hermione looked back at him with her deep brown eyes and answered, “Just where are you going to take me?”

“Tut, tut, tut, Miss Granger the offer is ‘No questions asked,’ Do you accept my terms?”

She paused for a minute eyeing him suspiciously, “Okay…I think so.” She finally said with a curious smile on her face.

She was thinking how much fun they were having and how they hadn’t argued, not even once.

Several minutes had passed and Harry and Ginny had not returned. They were getting a little chilly now and decided that they probably weren’t going to see the new couple for a little while. They figured that they had probably sneaked off to spend some time alone.

Ron and Hermione began to walk back to the castle together, laughing and teasing each other the whole way.

It was dinnertime now, so they went into the Great Hall together. They had a very pleasant meal visiting with everyone at the table. Harry and Ginny never did show up for dinner. Ron guessed food wasn’t really on Harry’s mind when they disappeared earlier.

Strangely enough, the thought of Harry being off alone with his sister didn’t bother him like it had with her other boyfriends. He knew he could trust Harry to take care of her and respect her. That’s all that mattered to him.

When they had finished eating Ron walked Hermione back to the common room, but he didn’t enter.

She turned and said, “Aren’t you coming?”

Ron just answered cryptically, “No I have some business to attend to. You are going to keep your promise right? No questions asked?”

Hermione curiously smiled, and nodded with one hand on her heart and the other raised in a mock pledge.

“No questions asked, I promise.”

Ron grinned, “Good. Meet me outside the portrait hole at 8:00. See you later.”

With that he turned and headed off to attend to some unfinished business and feeling very hopeful about the evening.

________________________________________
Chapter 20 A Night to Remember

Hermione had spent the last couple of hours up in her dorm room. She kept running the day through her mind. She was thinking about the time she had spent with Ron and how much she had enjoyed their playful sparring.

He was still the same old, hopeless Ron she thought, but in some ways, he seemed to be surer of himself, more confident…and she liked it.

What am I thinking?… she asked herself, this is Ron. He's my best friend and I’m sure tonight is nothing. Just friends hanging out together. But if it’s nothing, she thought on the other hand, then why all the secrecy? she wondered.

And why aren’t Harry and Ginny joining us? What if it isn’t nothing? Am I ready for more than friendship? Is that what I want… from Ron? If it isn’t, why did I spend so much time primping up here tonight? This is Ron you’re talking about girl. Just settle down. She said to herself. You don’t even know what he’s up to yet. It’s probably… nothing.

She checked her timepiece for the 3rd time. It was almost 8:00. She decided that she’d go down to the portrait hole entrance to wait.

She was getting a little anxious about the big secret, as she descended the dormitory stairs and she began running possibilities through her head. She half expected some kind of welcome back party to be set up in the common room when she entered it, but it was almost entirely empty.

Well, it’s not a surprise party, she thought to herself. The students there were playing a game of wizard’s chess and they weren’t even students that she knew well.

She continued across the common room and out through the portrait hole. The hall was deserted. She looked up and down and saw no one except the portraits gossiping to each other from frame to frame.

The portrait’s occupants actually quit talking when they spotted Hermione, which gave her a bit of a weird feeling. It was, as if they knew something she didn’t.

I’m just being paranoid, she thought. I guess I’m a little early too, so I guess I’ll just wait.

As several minutes ticked by, she began to wonder if Ron was only teasing her. Maybe there was no big secret after all. Maybe he was just goofing around earlier.

She decided she’d wait a few more minutes then return to the dormitory, thinking that she’d have to get Ron back for this one.

She checked her timepiece once again. 8:08.

Hmm... she thought to herself, good one, Ron.

She turned and began to walk back to the portrait hole when she suddenly heard footsteps behind her.

She turned quickly and began, “Well, its about time Weasley!” but there was no one there.

She glanced nervously around in the direction of the footsteps, but the hall was deserted. She started to back up towards the portrait hole when suddenly with a woosh and a rustling sound she found herself covered in some type of silvery material and looking straight at Ron.

She gasped as he startled her, but he quickly put a finger to her lips and said in a whisper, “Sshhh…it’s me. I’m sorry I was late, I just finished… my errands.”

She was just looking at him wide-eyed.

What in the world was going on? Why were they hidden under what she now recognized as Harry’s invisibility cloak? Why was he whispering?

Shortly after those thoughts ran through her mind, Ron then performed a Silencing charm over them both, so that only they could hear their conversation from that point on.

Hermione then began firing questions at full speed, “Ron, what are we doing? What it this all about? Where’s Harry and why do we have his cloak over us right now? Are you in trouble or something?”

Ron just smiled as he watched her little mind working away. “No, it’s nothing like that…Hermione…do you trust me?”

She had a skeptical look on her face, but slowly answered, “Yes…Why?”

“Then come with me now. There’s something I want to show you.”

He was looking at her expectantly and seemed a little nervous as well.

“Okay, but then will you tell me what’s going on?”

Ron just answered, “Remember our deal? NO questions.”

He shot her a mischievous grin and she couldn’t help but say yes. They began walking slowly so as not to cause the cloak to fall. She stumbled once on the hem and Ron caught her by the arm just in time to help her catch her balance again.

They continued walking through the corridors and up several flights of stairs. When they reached the right floor, Ron took her by the arm and led her to the side of the hallway.

Again he asked the question, “Do you still trust me?”

She looked at him curiously, getting a little nervous now.

“Yeah… I think so, why?” She watched Ron as he pulled another piece of material from the pocket of his jeans. It was a sash as black as night.

“What is that for?” she gasped.

“Well, what I’m showing you is… kind of a surprise.” With that he lifted it in front of her and asked, “May I?”

She was reluctantly to agree to this. She didn’t know if she liked him having so much control, but her curiosity was getting the better of her and she finally agreed.

He carefully tied the sash over her eyes as a blindfold and took her by the arm. He led her down the corridor and back and forth in front of the Room of Requirement door 3 times.

“Where are we going, Ron? It’s feels like we’re walking in circles.”

“Well, actually… we’re here. Just a second.”

He opened the door and led her carefully inside then shut and locked the door behind them.

Her heart skipped a beat as she heard the door locking behind her. Her nerves were getting the better of her and she was trembling a little.

Ron had locked the door because he didn’t want someone happening by in search of a bathroom or something and break the spell on the room. He walked around to stand in front of her and noticed her shaking slightly.

“It’s okay, Hermione. Please don’t be nervous. Here,” he gently reached up and removed the cloak from them both. Then he asked, “are you ready?”

Hermione sighed at him, “Ron, stop torturing me! What's going on? What do you want to show me?”

Smiling a bit at her aggravation he slowly untied the sash from her eyes. He gazed at her big brown eyes blinking up at him as they came into view.

“Happy Birthday, Hermione,” he said with a sweet smile and a bit of pink flushing his cheeks.

He stepped to the side where he could watch her reaction as she looked around the room.

She gasped and whispered, “Oh my….”

As she scanned the room she took it all in slowly. There were live flowery bushes with twinkling lights all over them lining the walls of the room. Upon closer inspection she realized that the lights were real live fairies, just as she had seen in the grotto outside the castle at the Yule Ball.

Above them, the ceiling was charmed to have the appearance of a perfect starry night. In the air was the sweet smell of flowers and what she thought was Swiss Chocolate.

On the far wall was a crackling fire with a very comfortable looking squashy sofa in front of it and in the center of the room was a beautiful little table set for two. It had what appeared to be a small, silver, simmering cauldron in its center with fruit and tiny cakes surrounding it.

“Where are we? Are we still in the castle? …This is amazing.”

Ron grinned and quietly said, “Where in the Room of Requirement. It looks a little different than it does during D.A. meetings doesn’t it? It seems that the room provides whatever the occupants need or desire.”

Ron thought to himself that Hermione looked so sweet, just like a little girl on Christmas morning. She was wide-eyed and her lips were slightly parted in amazement.

Ron was enjoying watching her, “So…do you like it?” he asked.

She turned and looked at him, “Ron…its…its the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen! You did this all…for me?”

Turning even more pink, he looked down at the floor and quietly answered, “Um…yeah… Dobby and I actually…but before you get angry, I paid Dobby for his help… with socks that is. He seemed delighted...Anyway, I thought, you know, you slept through your real birthday in September… I didn’t want you to miss it…I know it’s a little late, but…”

She cut him off as she ran over throwing her arms around him and catching him in a huge hug.

“I love it Ron, I really love it…No one’s ever done anything like this for me before… I’m a little… overwhelmed.”

He was enjoying her arms around him and he had been gratefully returning her embrace. He slowly pulled back from her and asked if she’d like to sit down as he motioned to the table.

They walked over and he helped her with her chair as she sat down. Hermione was stunned.

Have I crossed into a different realm or something? When did Ron become a gentleman?

She smiled at him across the table then looked down at the cauldron.

“Ron, is this…”

Ron finished her sentence by answering, “It’s called Fundoe. I read that Muggles eat it, and I thought you might like it.”

She smiled, then being Hermione she said, “It’s actually called fondue, and I love it, Ron! Have you ever had it?”

Ron looking a little sheepish, he replied, “Well, no actually, I was hoping you could show me how we are supposed to do this. I know we use these tiny pitchforks somehow, but exactly what is supposed to happen, I’m not quite sure.”

Hermione giggled at his lack of muggle knowledge.

“You know Ron, you really should have taken Muggle studies while you were here, but seeing as you’ve gone to so much trouble, I think I can help you out…just this once.”

Ron smiled at the fact that she was teasing him and the tension was beginning to subside, “Oh that would be simply lovely if you would.” He said a little sarcastically.

Ignoring his sarcasm she went on, “Well, you see, you take a strawberry and dip it in the chocolate. Then let it cool a second and you eat it.” She held it up for him to taste.

“That’s really good!” he said through a mouthful of strawberry. “Is all muggle food this good?”

Laughing she said, “Well, I guess it’s like wizard food. Some things are good and some not so good. This just happens to be one of the really good things.”

They continued eating chocolate fondue for a while. They were having a great time talking and laughing. Hermione noticed Ron had a drop of chocolate beside the corner of his mouth. She motioned for him to wipe it, but he kept missing so she picked up a napkin and walked around the table laughing, to help him.

She put one hand on his shoulder as she gently wiped away the chocolate with the other. She paused as she finished feeling his gaze on her. Her giggling had stopped and she was gazing warmly back at him.

“Thank you for tonight, Ron. This is truly the best birthday I’ve ever had.”

He slowly moved his hands up and placed them on her hips. He then stood to meet her, never taking his eyes away from hers.

In almost a whisper he said, “Hermione, there’s something you need to know…”

She silently reached up and put her fingers to his lips, “Ssshhhhh…no words now.”

With that he slowly leaned down, stopping inches from her lips for a few seconds, then closing the gap between them, he kissed her for the very first time.

His kiss felt soft and tender and her heart began to pound as she returned his kiss. After a few minutes they broke apart and he saw tears welling up in her eyes.

“Hermione? I’m sorry… I shouldn’t have done that.”

She just smiled and pulled him back to her as she said, “I never thought we’d get here. I'd almost given up hope.”

With that she kissed him again, this time their tenderness turned to passion as she parted her lips to willingly receive his tongue.

Ron sat back down on his chair and pulled her into his lap as they continued kissing. After several more minutes Hermione settled her head on his shoulder as she wrapped her arms around his neck.

He could feel her breathing against his skin. He asked her if she wanted to move over by the fire.

“I haven’t given you your present yet. Would you like it now?”

She looked at him with that same little girl smile and said, “You mean…there’s more? Ron, you shouldn’t have. This is already such an incredible night.”

Ron smiled at her happiness and said, “I couldn’t let you turn 18 without giving you a birthday present.”

With that he stood up and led her to the sofa in front of the fire. He sat next to her, but turned a little so he was facing her. He pulled a small, ancient looking box from his pocket and held it out to her.

“Happy Birthday” he said.

Hermione opened the box revealing a glistening charm on a gold chain. It looked very old indeed and it had beautiful blue gems forming the shape of wand sparks. The gems appeared to come from a dainty gold wand that was connected to the chain.

“It’s beautiful Ron, but this must have been very expensive, you shouldn’t have…”

Ron smiled and said, “Let’s just say that, I’ll be donating a lot of hours to Fred and George’s Joke Shop this summer to pay them back. Do you know what it is… exactly?”

Hermione looked at it more closely. Suddenly a dawning comprehension came over her.

“I think I’ve seen one of these before in a wizard artifact book once. If it’s what I think it is, it contains a very old magical power. They call it a…”

Ron was looking into her eyes as she spoke and he quietly finished her sentence, “it’s a Lover’s Link Charm”.

She was looking at him smiling. Hermione knew the story of the Lover’s Link as Ron had hoped she would, but he explained it anyway.

The necklace did in fact contain very old magic. The legend was that whomever presented the charm as a gift would have a powerful connection with that person. As long as the person wore the charm, the giver would be able to sense the other person’s emotions and even where they were if they needed them.

In happiness, sadness, or even danger the sparks would magically come to life and call the gift giver to them.

As the couple became closer, the magic would only become stronger, allowing the couple to communicate with each over great distances or simply across the room.

She held it up to him and turned her back to him. She then lifted her hair so he could put it on her.

Her neck is so perfect, he thought as he fumbled slightly to place the necklace around her neck and fasten the clasp.

He paused for a second after fastening it, leaned in and gently kissed her soft neck.

As she turned back holding the charm in her hand, she said, “It’s beautiful, Ron. I love it.”

He was gazing at her intently now, the time was right he thought.

I need to tell her everything, “You’re beautiful Hermione… and I’m glad you like it.”

Looking at her, all of the fears and feelings that he had had over the last several weeks came bubbling to the surface.

He took her hands in his and began telling her how he waited by her side while she slept, fearing that she may never wake. He told her how much he had missed her and how it was in that time that he realized his true feelings for her. He wanted her to know that he had ached for even a chance to argue with her again, and he had been afraid that he’d never have a chance to be sitting with her the way he was now.

Then he said, “This night has been more that I ever expected. I needed to tell you how I feel about you, even if you don’t feel the same way. If you haven’t guessed by now, you’re very important to me Hermione. I was having trouble telling you how I felt after you woke up, so this evening was planned so that I could…show you how I feel. I was afraid that if I tried to just tell you, I would say something stupid and screw it up.”

She had been looking in his eyes as he spoke and was quietly listening.

Ron was getting a little nervous at her silence. Had he said too much too soon.

Clearing his throat, he said, “Um…maybe I already have…um…screwed it up I mean. This is too much isn’t it? I should have known it would be too much… You must be surprised at all of this and you probably need a little time…”

Feeling a bit crestfallen and wishing he had stopped talking after he gave her the present he said, “I’ll take you back to the common room if you like now.”

He stood up to leave, but Hermione grabbed his hand. “I don’t want to go back Ron. I want to stay here, with you.”

He sat back down next to her, relieved and smiling as she continued.

“This has been the single most romantic night of my life. It has been absolutely… perfect. Every girl dreams of someday having the perfect night… with the perfect person. This has been even better than my dreams Ron. There’s only one thing that would make this night more memorable.”

Getting a little nervous now, he asked swallowing hard, “Wha-What’s that?”

Ron heard noise behind him against the wall and he jumped. A beautifully carved wooden four poster with white linen hangings had suddenly appeared amongst the fairy lights and flowers.

He turned back to look at Hermione who was beginning to unbutton her blouse.

“Her… Hermione? I didn’t plan this night thinking it would lead to...expecting us to…You don’t have to do this. I can wait for you… forever.”

As he spoke he was following the progression of her fingers down the front of her blouse with his eyes. His head was spinning and he felt like he had just had the wind knocked out of him.

When she spoke it was in soft even tones, he felt like he was in a trance.

“Do you love me, Ron?”

He was looking in her eyes now, “Yes, Hermione…I love you…so much it hurts.”

“I have loved you for a long time Ron, I just never thought that we ever get to this place. I didn’t want to push you. I wanted you to come to me, because then I’d know it was real. I know I don’t have to do this, but I want to…I’m ready. Do you want me?”

Ron’s mind was still reeling at what she was proposing, again swallowing hard and trying to remain calm he answered, “Yes…I want you more than anything…”

She leaned forward and kissed him then whispered as she began to peel his sweater up and over his head…

“Make love to me, Ron.”

He closed his eyes and slowly exhaled as he struggled with what he wanted and what was right. As he opened his eyes to her beautiful brown eyes gazing back at him, she looked incredible.

In one smooth motion he leaned in to kiss her as he swept her up into his arms and carried her to the bed.

He carefully layed her down and as he joined her he mumble something that sounded like a spell. They then shared the most incredible night of their lives. One they would never forget.

________________________________________
Chapter 21 The One

Ron lay awake, softly stroking Hermione’s arm. She was snuggled next to him and sleeping peacefully in their wooden four-poster. Her skin felt so good next to his.

He lay there thinking about the unbelievable night they had together. He never wanted it to end. He felt so truly happy, like he’d never felt before.

As he lay there listening to her breathing, he thought to himself, Someday, if she’ll have me… I’m going to marry this girl. She’s the one… I’m sure of it.

Hermione stirred a little and lifted her sleepy head to look at him.

“Hi there. I’m sorry…I guess I dozed off.” she said with a loving smile.

“Hi there yourself love…it’s okay, I was enjoying listening to you sleep.”

They kissed again, and then began to talk quietly, as lovers do. They talked about their night together and everything that led them to that point. She then remembered something. She asked him about the spell he had said earlier.

“Oh, um…it’s something that I’d heard about from my brothers. Not that I’ve ever used it before…but it was a contraceptive charm. You know, to protect us from…having a baby.”

He couldn’t believe he was saying these words. He couldn’t believe that he had a reason to say these words and he blushed a little.

She just looked at him quizzically, then asked, “You’re brothers told you about this spell, huh?”

Seeming a little unsure of how to proceed he said, “Well, when there are six boys in a family, they kind of tend to talk, you know… about…stuff.” He ended lamely.

Then as if reading her mind by the look on her face, he added, “Don’t worry…I won’t be telling them about this. This is our special night and it will stay that way.”

She began to get a devilish grin on her face as she raised her eyebrows.

“Well, what exactly was that spell again?”

He looked at her as a smile spread over his face, “Really? Why, Miss Granger, are you suggesting what I think you’re suggesting?”

As she smiled, his heart was melting, “I just might be, Mr. Weasley. Who knows when we’ll have another chance like this one again.”

Sighing deeply Ron breathed, “I love you, Hermione.”

With that he performed the spell again and pulled her in close…all the while he was thinking… she is definitely the one.

Afterward, they lay quietly, just enjoying being close. Then it suddenly occurred to them that it must be extremely late.

Actually it was extremely early. It was 5:00 in the morning. They had spent almost the entire night together.

Reluctantly, Ron said, “I think we’d better go. I don’t want people to wake up and realize that we haven’t slept in our beds all night. For your sake, I think we should go. It’s seems to be okay for a guy to spend the night out, but I don’t want people talking about you. I’m not saying I agree with common opinions on what’s okay for boys isn’t okay for girls, but nonetheless, it tends to go that way.”

Hermione sighed at not wanting to go back and sleep alone, but agreed that he was right. They dressed and shared one last kiss before returning to the Gryffindor common room by way of the invisibility cloak.

“See you in a couple of hours. I love you, Hermione.” Ron said as he kissed her on the landing leading to their separate rooms.

“I love you too, Ron. Thank you for tonight. I’ll never forget it.”

Ron smiled, as he thought to himself, neither will I.

Ron quietly crept into the dormitory and slid into his bed. As he pulled the hangings down around him, he didn’t think he’d be able to sleep.

He lay there for a long time just reliving the night in his mind. As sleep began to overtake him, he thought of how horrible the year had begun with the war, Hermione in a coma, and all those people who had died.

Now, it seemed as though the world was new and it was going to be a wonderful new beginning, for all of them. He thought of Harry and Ginny and wondered if they could possibly be anywhere as happy as he and Hermione. Then thinking about what he and Hermione had shared, he suddenly thought, I hope they aren’t quite that happy. If they are, I don’t want to know about it.

Putting that thought out of his mind, he rolled over and let sleep take him, falling into the best dream of his life.

Across the way in the girl’s dormitory, Hermione was gently drifting off to sleep and slipping into a wonderful dream herself.

Somewhere in the distance she heard church bells and she knew she was happier than she’d ever been.

________________________________________
Chapter 22 Early Visitors

It was a beautiful winter morning. The rising sun shone brightly off of the snow-covered windowsills of the Gryffindor tower dormitory.

Harry awoke to an amber glow shining in on him. Having been so tired when he fell into bed the night before, he had forgotten to close the hangings around his bed.

He thought about the previous night and had to smile to himself. He still was having trouble believing how wonderful he felt when he was with Ginny. They had spent another night in the common room waiting for it to clear so they could be alone.

It seemed that it was to become somewhat of a ritual for them. They’d sit quietly together doing homework or talking until the other students went up to bed.

Periodically, Harry would peek over his notes or book and wink at her or raise his eyebrows. Sometimes she’d throw him a silent kiss. It was as though they enjoyed the anticipation of being in each others arms, almost as much as when their lips would finally meet. It was almost as though they were playing a game.

When they were alone, it wasn’t long before one of them would cast a glance at the other, and before they knew it, they were completely wrapped up in each other again.

They had been a little out of control the night before again. Harry had to keep reminding himself that they had only been officially together for less than a week. They needed to slow down, but neither of them really wanted to do that in the heat of the moment. They were definitely as physically compatible as they were emotionally.

This time, it was Ginny who had put the brakes on first. When pieces of clothing started to come off, she had gotten nervous and stopped.

Harry thought he’d die, but he really wanted to be understanding and tried to compose himself. He wanted her. There was no doubt about that, but he cared so much for her and was willing to wait until she was ready.

Harry had never had this kind of physical or emotional relationship before with a girl. Its intensity was somewhat intoxicating and it was so easy to lose himself in it. Taking in a deep breath, he tried to clear his mind of the image of Ginny lying by the fire.

He got up to shower and dress. As he stood in the shower letting the water rush over him, he thought to himself, We’ve got to stop doing this to ourselves, I think its going to kill me.

However, the thought of discontinuing their “study sessions” was not at all an attractive alternative to the nightly “torture” that he was enduring.

Harry had finished his shower and dressed. He left the bathroom and returned to his dorm room. He started thinking about Ron’s plan.

He looked over at Ron’s four-poster and wondered how things went with Hermione the night before. Ron had been pretty secretive about the particulars. He didn’t even know what Ron had ended up getting her for her birthday. He wasn’t sure, but he was guessing that the night itself must have gone okay, because when he drug himself away from Ginny in the common room around 2:00 a.m., Ron’s bed was still empty.

He was trying to be quiet as he moved around the dormitory. It was around 7:30 now and it was Saturday after all. He didn’t want to wake the others.

Ron seemed to be sleeping a bit fitfully. He kept mumbling in his sleep. Harry couldn’t make out what he was saying and he wasn’t sure if it was good or bad.

Then suddenly Ron awoke with a start. He sat bolt upright in bed. He then saw Harry, who was smiling at him.

With a bit of a laugh he asked, “Are the spiders wanting you to tap dance again for them, Ron?”

Ron’s eyes began to focus in the morning sunlight. “No…no it was nothing like that. Um…it was nothing.”

He responded, but he seemed to be turning a little red in the face. He had actually been dreaming about the night before and he dreamed that he and Hermione had accidentally rolled off the bed together in the Room of Requirement. When he hit the floor in his dream, he woke up in his own four-poster in the dormitory.

Harry was now looking at him intently with a grin on his face. As he sat silently staring at him, Ron began to get a bit nervous.

“What?” Ron asked.

“Well?…” Harry asked.

When Ron didn’t respond Harry asked, “What do you mean what? How did it go?…with Hermione last night?”

Ron was torn. He wanted so badly to burst the floodgates and spill out everything that had happened. Upon quick consideration of the ramifications of that though, he decided that some parts of the evening would definitely be kept between he and Hermione.

What had happened was private and special and he knew it needed to stay that way.

He was looking for a place to start when Harry, who was growing anxious for his response again asked, “Was it that bad or …just that good?”

Ron took a deep breath and then began to tell him how he had taken her to the Room of Requirement and about the fondue and fairy lights and the crackling fire. He told him how she had loved it and that they had shared their feelings for each other.

Harry just sat wide-eyed listening to Ron tell him about the evening. Harry was thinking, “Wow, Ron…I didn’t know you had that romantic streak in you. No wonder she loved it.”

He was impressed with his mate’s transformation in the area of relationships. He told Harry about the necklace, but left out the part about it being a Lover’s Link Charm.

Just as Harry was about to respond, he and Ron heard the dormitory door creaking slowly open. Without thinking, Harry and Ron both grabbed for their wands.

Holding them straight out, Harry called out, “Who’s there?”

There came a small voice in response, “It’s us, Harry…Hermione and me.”

Lowering his wand he called, “Ginny?”

The girls quietly crept into the boy’s dorm room. Ginny walked over and sat down on Harry’s bed and Hermione slid into Ron’s as she wrapped her arms around him and whispered, “Morning.”

Harry just kind of looked at them stunned. He knew what Ron had just said, but it was still strange seeing his two best friends together like that.

It didn’t bother him, but it would definitely take some getting used to. He had guessed that it was probably the same way that Ron felt when he saw he and Ginny kissing and hugging.

He walked over and joined Ginny kissing her sweetly on the nose and wishing her good morning. He then looked over at Ron and Hermione and smiled.

“Congratulations, you two, I think it’s wonderful.”

“We both do!” Ginny interjected as she snuggled into Harry’s chest intertwining her fingers around his waist.

Ron was relieved that telling Harry about he and Hermione was out of the way. For some reason it felt a bit awkward because they had been the 3 Musketeers for so long, now it was different. They were coupled off. He wondered if this would change things, and if so how much.

There was few seconds of silence then Harry asked looking at Ginny, “Not that I’m not happy to see you so early in the morning, but what’s up you two?”

He was now glancing from Ginny to Hermione.

“We just wanted to see if you two wanted to go down to breakfast and then maybe… take a walk or something."

Harry looked at Ron who was looking back at him. Ron was still sitting up in his bed wearing nothing but his boxers. He seemed a bit nervous about the new displays of public affection, but not nervous enough to ward off Hermione.

In fact, she had snuggled up with her back to his chest and was resting her head comfortably on his shoulder. Her arms lay gently on his as they wrapped around her from behind.

Ron spoke first, “Well, what do you think, Harry?”

“Yeah, sure.”

Ron added, “Okay, it sounds great, but I need to get showered and dressed first. How about we meet you downstairs in 15 minutes or so.”

“Okay.” the girls said together.

With that Hermione gave Ron a quick kiss and slid off the bed, following Ginny out of the dormitory.

Harry watched them go then returned to staring at Ron with eyebrows raised, “Things went very well indeed between you two, it seems.”

And Ron, returning to his usual Ron demeanor simply responded, “Um…yeah…I think that… things did. Well, shall we get dressed then.”

He said wanting to change the subject and avoid any specific questions.

Harry just shrugged his shoulders and decided that he had heard all the details that he was going to hear at least for now.

With that Ron got dressed and he and Harry headed down to meet the girls… their girls, Ron was thinking… and it is going to be a great day.





________________________________________
Chapter 23 Hagrid’s Hut

The foursome spent the day together in and out of the castle, playing in the snow and resting by the fire. They even went down to visit Hagrid, which was something they hadn’t done in a long time.

When they arrived at the small house by the edge of the forest, Fang, his large boarhound, had answered the door first. He almost knocked Harry, and subsequently Ginny, who had been holding Harry’s hand, over with his excitement.

As they visited with Hagrid, snacking on rock hard cakes followed by large mugs of tea, it seemed like old times again. Good old Hagrid, they thought. He he'd come to terms with Grawp’s death and was actually cheerful again. In fact, he said that he was glad they had stopped by, because he had some news that he had wanted to share with them.

“Well, I’m going on a little trip over the holidays this year. After I bring in the Christmas trees that is… I’ll um…be headin’ to France.”

They were looking at Hagrid with puzzled expressions as he continued. He seemed to be turning a pale shade of pink.

“Me and ‘lympia, that is, will be travelin’ to her mum’s house. She…er…kind of wanted me to meet her family. I won’t be meetin’ her dad o’ course, bein’ as he was killed in the giant wars 20 years b’fore, but her mum and brothers will be there.”

Hagrid was turning an even darker shade of pink and acting a very sheepishly.

Hermione spoke first, to break the curious silence that followed this announcement.

“Hagrid, is there a…reason for this trip?”

Hagrid looked at the floor and seemed to begin to well up a little, then he plunged on quickly.

“Olympia is…well...er… I asked her to marry me…she’s accepted.”

Hagrid began quietly but proudly finished his announcement as shouts of congratulations spread through the hut.

Fang began bounding around, catching the excitement, and nearly knocked Ron right off his chair.

Hermione moved first, as she ran to Hagrid and threw her arms around his huge neck, “Oh Hagrid! That’s absolutely wonderful. We’re all so happy for you.”

Harry and Ron got up to congratulate Hagrid shaking his hand and patting him on the shoulder as they did.

Ginny also hugged Hagrid and then they continued their visit getting some details of the happy couple’s plans.

They sat for hours laughing and catching up. It began getting late and Hagrid said that he needed to go into Hogsmeade to meet his future bride.

As they began to say their good byes, Hagrid asked if he could speak to Harry alone for a moment. The others said they’d wait outside and went on without him.

Harry was carrying a curious expression and said, “What’s up Hagrid? If this is about Ginny and me, I’m sorry I hadn’t told you sooner, but it’s only been a little over a week and we haven’t seen you much lately.”

Hagrid smiled and said, “No, it ain’t that, but it is good ter see ya so happy. All four o’ ya seem right blissful. It warms my heart. I kind of always knew that Ron and Hermione had a soft spot fer each other. They argued way too much not to have feelings for each other.”

This seemed rather insightful of Hagrid Harry thought, then returning his thoughts to the private conversation, he asked, “If it’s not that, then what can I do for you Hagrid?”

Hagrid motioned for Harry to sit down, which made him a little nervous. Whenever Hagrid got serious, it usually led to a favor of some sort. More often than not, it involved taking care of some creature or other.

This was always a risky proposition with Hagrid’s charges and Harry wasn’t keen on taking on a new batch of skrewts. However, with Hagrid going away, this seemed like a good bet.

Harry sat looking at his friend as Hagrid began nervously, “Harry, I’ve known ya since you was a baby. Since the day I took ya from your parent’s house, I’ve always thought of ya as…ya know…kind o’ part o’ my family.

Us both bein’ orphans an all, I kind a have felt like we had a bit o’ a connection. Well, the thing is, bein’ as Grawp…well…he can’t be here. I’ll be needin’ someone to stand up fer me. I mean…at me wedding. I was wonderin’ if you’d consider fillin’ in as my best man? … I’d be right proud if you’d do the honors fer me Harry.”

Harry was stunned and tears started to well up in his eyes as he fought them off.

“It would be me, who would be honored Hagrid. Of course, I’ll be your best man.”

Hagrid smiled getting a little teary eyed too and breaking the emotional moment he said, “Thanks Harry, I knew I could count on ya. Now you run along now with that little girl o’ yours. Oh and, send in Ron if ya would, please.”

Harry turned toward the door then turned back towards Hagrid giving him a hug. “Congratulations Hagrid, I’m really happy for you.”

Harry left and told Ron that Hagrid needed to speak to him as well. Ron hadn’t heard what the conversation had been about between Harry and Hagrid, but from the expression on Harry’s face, he could tell it had been something serious.

Ron entered the hut and called out, “Um…Hagrid? Did you need something?”

As visions of stingers and giant spiders began to crawl creepily through Ron’s mind.

“Oh, Ron… yeah… come on in and have a seat if ya would. I’m sorry ‘bout sending ya out earlier, but I had to talk to Harry first, um… Well, I asked him be my best man…ya know… since Grawp… well anyhow…” Hagrid paused getting a little choked up.

Not wanting Hagrid to get upset about Grawp, Ron quickly responded, “That’s great Hagrid! I’m sure Harry was pleased.”

Hagrid went on, “Yeah he seemed to be, the thing is Ron, you and Harry have kind a been special to me over the last several years. You two, and ‘ermione o’ course, have helped me through some pretty rough spots. Always stood by me. It’s sure meant a lot to me. Well, thing is…’Lympia has two brothers, but she was wantin’ 3 groomsmen at the wedding… I was wondering if you’d be the third for me?”

Ron was looking at Hagrid blinking and breathing a sigh of relief, “Hagrid, I’d love to be a part of your wedding. Thanks for asking me. Just let me know what I need to do. Okay?”

Hagrid was beaming at him as responded, “I’d hoped you’d feel that way. There was something else too, Ron…”

Ron paused getting a sudden sinking feeling as the creatures began scuttling through his mind again, “Yeah… what else can I do for you Hagrid?”

“Well, it’s not so much what you can do, but I wanted to tell you that I think it’s great…’bout you and ‘ermione. I kind a thought you two was sweet on each other. Kind o’ figured it was only a matter a time. You two have been through a lot over the years. Those hard times are the ones that make you stronger and closer. You take care of that girl. She’s right special ya know.”

Before Ron knew what he was saying, he was telling Hagrid how happy he was and added, “I love her Hagrid, someday…just between you and me…I’m going to marry her.”

Hagrid continued to beam at him patting him on the back, almost knocking him over again. “I believe you will, Ron…I believe you will.”

After that Ron left the cabin and rejoined the others. They headed back to the castle feeling happier than before if that was possible.

Then Ron asked, “I’m starving…does anyone else want to go eat?”

They all laughed and Harry thought, “same old Ron”…it felt good to have his friends around him.

So this is what a normal life is like, he thought.

This was still new to Harry, not having to worry about any final duels or attacks or even going back to the Dursleys.

Life was good and as he kissed Ginny on the top of the head pulling her into a hug, he began to finally really feel relaxed.

________________________________________
Chapter 24 Hogsmeade and Portkeys

Weeks had passed and the Christmas holidays were quickly approaching.

The awkwardness of the new relationships between friends had passed and everyone was very much at ease with each other. The newly paired couples openly sat and cuddled in their favorite chairs by the fire.

There was one small period of tension when Dean Thomas had learned that Ginny and Harry were dating. First of all, Dean used to date Ginny and then there was the fact that Harry and Ron had been roommates with Dean since their first year. They had always gotten on quite well, but when Ginny had ended it with Dean, he had been a bit heartbroken.

Harry suspected that Dean had kind of wanted her back, but it had never worked out. Dean was cordial when he spotted them in the common room one night, but later he had been a bit cold to Harry up in their dormitory.

Finally, it was Harry who broke the ice and talked to him about it. After that, slowly Dean seemed to accept it and had warmed up a bit again.

December was flying by, as classes for the 7th years became increasingly intense. With NEWTS approaching at the end of the year, everyone was a bit on edge with the extra workload.

“Can you imagine what it would be like if the terms weren’t abridged this year?” Ron asked one day as he rubbed his eyes and opened yet another book on Potions of the Middle Ages and Their Practical Uses.

“I bet Snape is simply beside himself with all of the work he’s getting to pile on us. I know he enjoys making us suffer.”

Harry had a bit of a headache and had to agree that Snape in particular seemed to have gone ‘round the twist, so to speak, with assignments. Harry had been trying to get as much done as quickly as possible so that he’d have free time to spend with Ginny.

Ron and Hermione were spending a great deal of time together, but not leisure time. Hermione seemed to be slowly going insane over getting everything done to her self-imposed and exceedingly high standard of quality.

Ron had taken to speaking to her in gingerly, soft tones to avoid upsetting her with an interruption. They were all hoping to make the final Hogsmeade weekend before the Christmas holidays, but Hermione insisted on everyone being "up to scratch…" or the trip was off.

Ron and Harry had worked tirelessly to meet her requirements. They could have used some time off, but Ron had discontinued trying to reason with her.

It wasn’t that he was afraid that it would effect their relationship. In fact, they continued to be Ron and Hermione, arguing from time to time when it suited them, but that didn’t stop them from having secret rendezvous in the Room of Requirement when they could get away.

They would arrange to meet and sneak out of the dormitories late at night after everyone was asleep, spending a few intimate hours together before returning to their own four-posters in the early hours of the morning.

Ron knew their relationship was solid and he loved her more deeply with every passing day. He loved every part of her, including her obsession about lessons. Her brilliance was part of what made her Hermione after all.

Truth be told, he didn’t fight her about studying, because deep down, he knew she was right. He and Harry wanted to enter the Auror’s training program after Hogwarts. Studying was truly the only way.

Harry reluctantly agreed as they plowed on through dusty volumes on spells, potions, and the like.

Finally, when they thought their heads would surely explode if they read one more book, the last weekend before the holidays was upon them. With Hermione satisfied that they had done better than usual, plans were made and excitement was high.

None of them could wait to get out of the castle and have some real time to enjoy themselves. Harry and Ron made Hermione vow not to mention lessons once during the day. They had kept their end of the bargain and she was going to let them really have a day off.

They had no trouble convincing her because she was also completely tapped out. Ron and Harry couldn’t remember a time that Hermione had actually wanted to leave books alone for an entire day in several weeks. In fact, much to their surprise, she had said that they should take the whole weekend off because, after all, it was the holidays.

When it was time to go, Hermione remembered that she needed to send an owl to her parents.

Mrs. Weasley had invited her to spend part of the Christmas holidays at the Burrow before joining her parents for the remainder of the holiday break. Harry had also been invited to stay for the entire vacation, but of course, there was no one for him to send word by owl to, at least no one that would care.

Harry and Ginny decided to go on ahead and meet Hermione and Ron in the Three Broomsticks later that day.

As Ron accompanied Hermione to the owlery, Harry and Ginny began the walk into the village. This was the first real chance that they had to be alone for what felt like ages and they were both looking forward to it. Actually, it was there first real date away from the castle.

They loved spending time with Ron and Hermione, in fact the foursome had been quite inseparable over the last month or so, but they missed those quiet stolen moments where they could simply become lost in each other.

They talked in whispers and smiled at each other warmly. Harry had wrapped his arms around her to block out the chilly breeze and snowflakes billowing around them on the path into Hogsmeade.

As they entered the village, they discussed where to go first when Harry realized they were walking past an alley that Harry remembered from his 5th year.

He thought of the teashop that he had gone to once with Cho. At the time, he felt quite uncomfortable, as if under a microscope. Come to think of it, that didn’t go very well at all.

Cho had been going on about Cedric again and by the end of their date she had stormed out because Harry had said he needed to meet up with Hermione.

Now though, he felt a little differently. It wasn’t that he really liked the idea of going in there and snogging away amongst the other couples, but snogging away anywhere with Ginny was sounding quite compelling at the moment.

He thought if Ginny wanted to go there, he guessed it would be okay.

“Gin, there’s a quiet little tea shop just up the alley. Would you like to go there?”

Ginny stopped dead in her tracks and looked at Harry in disbelief. “Are you mad?! I’ve been in that ‘quiet little tea shop’ with Dean before. All those couples trying to swallow each other’s faces in public… Then there was that horrible tea and perfumy smell… It was stifling hot and steamy in there, and it reminded me of Professor Trelawney’s tower! I hated it!! I made him take me somewhere else! Who wants that kind of pressure, especially on a first date! I really don’t know what he was thinking at the time, well… maybe I do… but it wasn’t going to happen!”

Harry was gazing at her as she finished her little tirade, grinning and fighting hard to keep from laughing.

He then quietly inquired, “Then that would be a no, my sweet? Or perhaps, you’re still on the fence about your decision and would like a little more time to decide.”

Actually, he loved that she completely hated the teashop. Just one more thing we have in common he thought.

Composing herself, as the obviously unhappy memory of her first date with Dean had dissipated, she then said, “Well, if you want to…”

Harry was laughing now, “I love you, Ginny Weasley.”

He pulled her into his arms and leaned down to kiss her tenderly. She smiled and returned his kiss warmly, not seeming to care strangely enough, that they were at that very moment standing in the middle of the street, snogging in public.

Harry then added, “Honestly Ginny, I’m glad you don’t want to go there. I only suggested it because I thought you might like it. I absolutely hated that place the one and only time I’ve gone in there. What you said about it, pretty much sums up my opinion of that place as well.”

She smiled and looked like she had a feeling of relief wash over. Knowing that Harry shared her dislike of gaudy, overly sweet tea rooms, seemed somehow important.

Harry then asked, “Well, where would you like to go then?”

“How about Honeydukes?” She asked.

“I love the way your mind works, Gin.”

They walked up the street and went into to the sweet shop to browse around. Finding their favorites, they walked outside again and began walking along, window-shopping as they ate. It had turned much colder and the wind was definitely kicking into high gear.

They decided to head to The Three Broomsticks to warm up with a butterbeer and to wait for Hermione and Ron. They entered the pub and found a quiet corner table.

Harry went to the bar and got them a couple of drinks. They sat sipping and talking quietly together stealing kisses here and there.

Harry was enjoying their time together so much, but a rather naughty thought had just occurred to him, and he suddenly wished that they were back at the castle instead.

Everyone else was out. He hadn’t thought about it before that moment, but if they had stayed at Hogwarts, they would have his dorm room completely to themselves right now.

“How stupid am I?” He thought to himself.

He was about to suggest they head back to the castle when Ron and Hermione walked in looking windswept and pink in the cheeks from the cold.

They were weaving their way through the crowded pub, stopping at the bar to pick up some drinks. When they spotted Harry and Ginny, they continued through the jumbling of tables to the corner where the two were sitting. They sat down next to each other opposite Ginny and Harry.

As they peeled off their wrappings Ron greeted them happily. “Hi ya Harry! Hey Ginny! It’s cold out there! Have you two been here all day? We thought we might see you out and about before we met you here.”

Ginny answered, “Hey you two. Harry and I went to Honeydukes and looked in the shop windows until it started to get cold, then we decided to come in here to warm up. What have you two been up to?”

Hermione continued as she snuggled into Ron’s outstretched arm, pulling her chair closer to him.

“Well, we looked around a bit too, until we found a cute little tea shop just off the main street. It was quiet and a bit… romantic.”

She giggled to Ginny as girls do. Ginny was squeezing Harry’s thigh hard under the table to stop him from bursting out laughing.

She sent him a look that said, “Don’t you dare, Harry!”

Then she continued, “Oh well, that’s nice isn’t it.”

Trying to sound as though this was a new and unheard of shop to her. Ron was rolling his eyes a bit out of Hermione’s view and Harry got the distinct impression that Ron didn’t share Hermione’s opinion of the shop.

He gave Ron a quick wink and a knowing grin of sympathy, then returned his attention to Hermione.

Harry thought to himself, I can’t give Ron a hard time. I would have gone in too if Ginny had wanted to. I was just the lucky one.

They spent the rest of the evening talking and laughing and truly enjoying their break from homework. It was now beginning to get late and they decided that they’d better be getting back to the castle.

When they walked outside the draft of cold shot straight through them. Harry and Ron offered to go and find carriage transport for them back to the castle. It would certainly be warmer than walking.

They left the girls waiting by the pub and promised to return with a ride home for them.

Hermione and Ginny waited talking for a few minutes when Harry suddenly appeared again.

“Where’s Ron?” Ginny and Hermione had asked together.

“Oh well, he’s waiting just up there around the corner from here. I told him I’d come and get you.”

The three started walking towards where Harry had suggested, however, as they reached the corner Harry roughly grabbed them both around the waists and pulled them into the alleyway.

“Harry! What are you doing? What’s going on?”

A strange and unfriendly grin was slowly spreading over his face.

“Potter can’t help you two now,” came a voice that was strangely familiar to them both, but the girls couldn’t place it yet.

The person who appeared to be Harry had taken out his wand and placed Silencing charms and body binds on both of them.

They stood in horror as they watched the person transform back to his original appearance revealing that he was none other than Draco Malfoy.

He picked up a nearby rock and was walking over to the girls with it. Hermione was trying to reach her wand, but the spell he had placed on her was preventing her from doing so.

The girls opened their mouths to scream, but nothing came out. They were trapped and no one would hear their cries for help. Malfoy was walking back in forth in front of them holding the stone, looking incredibly full of himself.

“Well, if it isn’t the mudblood and the little Weazlette. Fancy meeting you here. Of course, it isn’t exactly a coincidence. It’s been planned for weeks.

Actually, it took about a month to make the Polyjuice Potion. Pretty ingenious of me to hang onto that ‘essense’ of Potter all this time, don’t you think?

Got a little blood on me once when old Scarhead and I fought. Gave him a bloody lip and I saved a couple drops from my fist in a vial. Father was rather pleased with my foresight. Called me a true Malfoy."

Hermione remembered the fight that Malfoy was referring to and knew that Draco had definitely come off for the worse, but he had gotten in one good blow before Harry knew what was happening and drew his wand.

Draco continued as if he was savoring the moment, then he checked his watch and walked over and wrapped his arms around both girls, still holding the stone. They both squirmed under his touch, but were unable to break free.

“Time to go girl’s. We have an appointment at the Death Eater’s headquarters. I know you wouldn’t want to be late. That would be rude. There’s a new master now. Bet you’re wondering who. I think I’ll leave that little surprise for later.”

With that he checked his watch and counted back from three. When he got to one, the girls felt themselves being pulled violently from somewhere behind the navel. They were being propelled through a portal banging into Malfoy and each other the along the way.

At this point, Ginny and Hermione realized that the rock had been a portkey and they suddenly came thudding down with a thump landing on the hard ground.

They were both immediately hit with a wand blast and everything went black.

Back at Hogsmeade, Harry and Ron were pulling up in front of the pub in the carriage and looking around for Hermione and Ginny. They had no idea that the girls had just been abducted by, none other than, Draco Malfoy.

Their happy, worry-free world was about to come crashing down around them.

________________________________________
Chapter 25 The Order Returns

From the window of the carriage, Hermione and Ginny were no where in sight. As he looked around for the girls, Ron began to worry.

Ron told Harry that he had had a brief, but strange sensation a few minutes earlier that something was wrong. It was strong but unexplainable.

When it disappeared he had decided to ignored it, but now he wasn’t so sure. Harry considered the possibilities, but dismissed them immediately.

“The war is over Ron. It’s safe now. The girl’s are fine.”

Harry’s next thought was that they had gotten too cold and decided to wait inside the pub. This seemed pretty reasonable, so without giving it a second thought, Harry and Ron jumped down from the carriage and walked back into The Three Broomsticks.

They had been expecting to find the girls just inside the door. When they weren’t there, they made their way over to the bar to ask Madame Rosmerta if she had seen them.

When they questioned her, a rather strange look spread across her face. Then she told them that she had been coming back in from the shop next door a few minutes earlier and that she had in fact seen them.

"They were walking up the street," then she added looking at Harry, “but you’d know that, wouldn’t you, love?”

Harry just stared at her, “What do you mean, I’d know that?”

Again looking perplexed she continued, “Well, I saw you. I saw you meet the girls and walk up the street with them…in that direction.” She added motioning with her hand in the direction they had gone.

Harry and Ron were looking at each other and a feeling of panic was beginning to fill them. Harry looked back at Madame Rosmerta expecting her thoughts to clear and for her to change her story.

Without meaning to, he was raising his voice a bit, “No! You didn’t see me! You couldn’t have! I’ve been with Ron. We told the girls to wait here for us!”

Looking a bit alarmed now herself she responded, “Well, I’m sorry, dears, but if it wasn’t you, it was someone doing a spot on impersonation of you. The person looked exactly like you, Mr. Potter.”

Before she could say anything else, Harry and Ron tore out of the pub. They ran at full speed down the street in the direction that the barmaid had pointed.

As they came to the first corner, there was an alley to the right. They stopped and gave each other knowing looks and went in side by side to check it out, wands at the ready.

Sure enough, there was evidence of a struggle in the snow and a single glove was lying on the ground. Ron bent over and picked it up.

“This is mum’s handiwork alright. It’s Ginny’s, Harry. I’m sure of it. What the bloody hell is going on?”

Harry’s mind was reeling.

This can’t be happening! Voldemort is dead. I know he is. Where could the girls have gone? Who took them and why, he wondered?

Before Harry could collect his thoughts and say anything to Ron, they suddenly heard a pop right behind them. It was the unmistakable sound of a wizard apparating. They both turned as one, wands drawn, ready to attack.

Standing before them was their worst nightmare. It was a hooded wizard dressed in the same robes that Death Eaters wore. Before they could react, he spoke quickly as he pulled off his hood revealing his face.

He had drawn his wand as well for good measure. “Put those away and come with me. Miss Granger and Miss Weasley have been taken.”

They couldn’t believe who was speaking to them. It was Snape and he had a look of urgency on his face that convinced Harry and Ron that this was serious. With fear and rage surging within him, Harry yelled in defiance at Snape.

“How did you know they’ve been taken? Where are we going? We need to stay here and find them!”

Without missing a beat Snape shot back, “You stupid, foolish boy! You defeat the Dark Lord and yet you still haven’t an ounce of common sense. Do you really think the Death Eaters are holding them just up the alley or browsing through Honeydukes with them in tow? We need to get to Headquarters, now! It’s not safe here for either of you! The Order is assembling as we speak. Now, unless you want to waist more precious time, we need to go immediately.”

Ron and Harry exchanged looks of disbelief at what was happening, but without any further arguments from Ron and Harry, Snape grabbed them by the arm and pulled them further up the alley.

Then he asked, “Can you both apparate?”

Ron answered first as Harry nodded his head in agreement, “Yeah we both took our tests over the summer. I took mine in June and Harry…”

“Yes or No will do Mr. Weasley. Let’s go then, NOW!”

The three disapparated and suddenly apparated in front of Number 12 Grimwald Place.

They entered the familiar old house and found several wizards heading toward the kitchen, many of whom they had recognized. Some of them had even served as Harry’s guard in his 5th year as he was escorted from Number 4 Privet Drive after having survived an unexpected dementor attack right there in Little Whinging.

Ron and Harry started to head for the meeting behind Snape and the others, when they were stopped dead in their tracks.

Mrs.Weasley was blocking their entrance to the meeting, and from the expression on her face, it didn’t look as though she was going to move.

Ron spoke first, “Out of the way woman, you’re not barring us from the meeting this time! You can’t!”

Mrs. Weasley was bristling as she looked up into her youngest son’s face, “I can, Ronald Weasley, and that’s exactly what I’m doing! You two are not in the Order! I’ll NOT have you and Harry running around working for the Order at your ages! I simply won’t have it!”

Tears were beginning to well up in her eyes as she fought to keep her youngest son from entering, as if his life depended on it, which in some ways, it did. Order business was dangerous business.

They were all aware of the risks, but somehow keeping her youngest son out of it, made her feel like she hadn’t lost total control over her family’s safety.

Ron stood there just gawking at her. He realized why she was doing it, but enough was enough!

He tried again, “Mum, this is Ginny and Hermione we’re talking about! I can’t just sit here doing nothing!”

She didn’t respond, but just stood glancing from Ron to Harry and back again. She looked as though the floodgates would break at any second.

Finally, Harry spoke, “Please, Mrs. Weasley. I know this must be hard for you, but you need to listen to me now. You have been like a mother to me, and I’ll always be grateful to you and Mr. Weasley for opening your home to me. I don’t want to be disrespectful to you, but I love your daughter and Hermione is my best friend.

You know Ron and I are capable. We were old enough to fight in the war, and we’re old enough to handle this. You should know that if you don’t let us in right now, Ron and I will go and start looking for them ourselves. We’re either in on the plan or we’ll make our own. It’s your choice.”

She was a bit taken a back at Harry speaking to her that way, frankly so was Ron, but he stood firm with his friend and added.

“Mum, Harry’s right! If we aren’t part of the plan, then we’re going to start looking right now, on our own. Ginny is my only sister and …I plan to marry Hermione someday! That makes her… your future daughter-in-law. This is too important to leave us out when we can help.”

Mrs. Weasley looked at Ron with an expression of surprise at his intentions for Hermione.

Frankly, so did Harry. They had only been dating officially for about a month and a half.

Ron had never voiced his plans to marry her someday, but upon reflection Harry knew that it would only make sense. They had seven years to get to know each other and they were perfect together.

Trying to regain the upper hand in the confrontation, Mrs. Weasley was desperately searching for words that would convince the boys to wait outside, but before she could speak, two shadows began seeping out from under the kitchen door.

It appeared that the members within had heard the entire exchange and felt it was time to intervene. The first person to exit the kitchen was Mr. Weasley. He was looking very grave as he gently rested his hands on her shoulders to comfort her.

Speaking quietly and soothingly he said, “Molly dear, it’s time. The boys are right. They’re of age. They need to take their place in the Order.”

Mrs. Weasley began sobbing into Mr. Weasley’s shoulder as the second shadow revealed itself to be Professor Dumbledore.

“Arthur is right, Molly. These two have seen more than some adult wizards ever will. I’m not saying that those circumstances are good, but it is the unfortunate truth. They are valuable to us and to the safe return of your daughter… and…possibly the mother of your grandchildren.”

He added, looking at Ron over his half-moon spectacles… who didn’t even flush at the suggestion.

Dumbledore continued, “We must go now, the others are waiting. We can’t afford to lose anymore time, Molly. He held his arm out to wave the boys into the kitchen and opened the door to allow them entrance.

“Thank you, professor.” They said together as they walked past, a now sobbing, Mrs. Weasley.

They heard her cries begin to subside a little as they entered the kitchen and stepped into the bright light and the watching eyes of more than a dozen wizards. They walked to the table and took their places as the door to the kitchen closed behind Mr. and Mrs. Weasley.

Harry quickly scanned the kitchen. In addition to Professor Dumbledore and Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, Harry saw several wizards that he knew. He spotted Professor McGonagall, Remus Lupin, Mad-Eye Moody, Bill, Fred, George, and Percy Weasley. He also recognized Charlie Weasley, who Harry assumed upon hearing the news, must have returned from Romania immediately.

Leaning against various pieces of furniture throughout the kitchen he also saw Mundungus Fletcher amongst several other wizards that Harry didn’t recognize.

There was a rumbling of voices moving in waves throughout the room.

The voices quieted quickly as Professor Dumbledore stood at the head of the table to speak, “It appears that we have an unexpected crisis on our hands. Severus had the fortunate circumstance of being on… Order business… when the abduction plans were discovered. As I understand it, he went immediately to Hogsmeade, but found that the kidnapping had unfortunately already taken place.

After sounding the alarm to assemble the Order, he again returned to Hogsmeade where he collected Harry and Ron and brought them back to the safety of Headquarters.

There is much that we don’t know. Severus, perhaps you could now tell us what we do know.

Dumbledore took his seat, giving his undivided attention to Snape as the others followed suit. Professor Snape rose to address the group.

“As the Headmaster has said, I was on Order business. As most of you know, I have been trying to ascertain the whereabouts of the Death Eaters Headquarters. One of my more useful informants was privy to knowledge of the kidnapping plan.

As I was searching his mind for the location of their Headquarters, I inadvertently found plans for today’s abduction also lodged in his memories. I was also able to discover what their…intentions are… in regard to Miss Weasley and Miss Granger.

They do not appear to be in immediate mortal danger. They have…plans…for Miss Weasley to be used as a pawn in the larger scheme of things. The part that she is to play will provide her an element of protection.

It seems Miss Granger was an unfortunate bystander and was taken simply because she was there. Due to her lack of importance to their plan, Miss Granger’s time I feel… is limited."

"Limited?" Ron snapped. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Simply that her time is limited to… to their tolerance for her… I suspect. Nonetheless, I believe her to be safe for the time being. If nothing else, I suspect they will enjoy keeping her to simply torment young Mr. Potter and his friend Mr. Weasley…

However, having had her in my class for the last 7 years, I know that she can be rather… annoying. I only hope she’ll hold her tongue. She may be her own worst enemy under the circumstances.”

Ron and Harry jumped from their seats in anger. Ron was turning bright red in the face with rage at Snape’s callous comments.

“What the bloody hell do you mean, you hope she’ll hold her tongue? She’s been kidnapped! What would you say under her circumstances? What are they planning to do with Ginny? And by the way, YOU can be rather annoying….”

Harry grabbed Ron by the arm and pulled him back to his chair trying to calm him down.

Snape stood glaring at Ron. There was definitely no love lost there. He detested Ron almost as much as he did Harry.

Dumbledore broke the shocked silence that had spread through the room at Ron’s outburst.

“Ron, I know you are upset and very worried, as we all are, but if you are to remain in these proceedings, I must insist you control your temper.” Then looking at Snape he added, “Severus, perhaps less personal candor would be appropriate at this juncture. If you would, please continue.”

Snape nodded in agreement still glaring at Ron, then he proceeded to share what knowledge he had of the Death Eater’s plans for Ginny. He also told them why they chose her.

Everyone was outraged, especially Harry and the Weasley brothers. Mrs. Weasley had begun to cry again and was being comforted by Professor McGonagall. It was Harry who stood this time to speak. His voice was calm, level, but decisive.

“I promise you Mrs. Weasley… if they do, what they intend to do…I’ll see to it that every last remaining Malfoy will wish they’d never been born… ”

There was a great deal of chatter at Harry’s declaration and words of ascension were erupting from every corner of the room.

Professor McGonagall was looking at Professor Dumbledore and asked, “but Albus, certainly it isn’t possible… is it?”

He considered her for a moment before answering, “I’m afraid Minerva… it is. It’s quite possible… under properly controlled conditions. Things would have to be precise, but after all, they did orchestrate the portkey abduction at the end of the Tri-Wizard tournament and brought Voldemort back to physical power. Yes… I’m afraid anything is possible… and we must prepare for it.”

Mad-Eye, who had been strangely quiet up until this point, now rose to speak.

“That’s exactly what we are going to do! We will prepare for it. We need to keep our wits about us! CONSTANT VIGILANCE!” He bellowed as everyone jumped. “There’s no time for emotion now, Molly! You’ll need a clear head to think... Now, Professor… what’s the plan?”

________________________________________
Chapter 26 Dark Plans Revealed

Far away, in a dark lonely house, Hermione was beginning to wake up. She had a powerful headache and was blinking back tears.

As she looked around trying to take in her surroundings, she found they were in a dark and virtually empty room with a stone floor and no windows. The only light present was coming from a fire in the far corner of the room.

She saw Ginny crumpled in a small ball on the floor a few feet from her. She began to slowly crawl to her side.

When she reached her she began whispering as she tried to wake her, “Ginny? Ginny are you okay?”

Ginny stirred with a moan. She slowly began to regain consciousness and rolled over to look at Hermione.

“Where are we? Wha…What happened?”

Hermione had gradually started to remember the events from earlier that night and tried to convey them to Ginny.

“Well, we followed who we thought was Harry, but it was actually Malfoy. Don’t you remember, Gin? He used the Polyjuice Potion. He’s kidnapped us and brought us here by portkey. He said there is a new dark lord. I’m not sure what happened next, but I think someone stunned us just after we arrived.”

Ginny’s memory was beginning to clear.

“That’s right, I remember now. What about Harry and Ron, do you think they were taken too?”

Hermione hadn’t considered this. Were Harry and Ron being held somewhere in the house against their will as well? She couldn’t be sure.

“First things first, let’s see if we can get out of here. Can you stand?”

Holding her hand out for Ginny, Hermione helped her to her feet. She was a little unsteady at first, but seemed to be catching her balance.

Ginny reached into her jean’s pocket then looked back at Hermione with a dawning comprehension.

“Yeah, our wands are gone… I’ve already checked. The door on the other hand, for some reason isn’t locked. Either they didn’t expect us to wake up this soon, or there is someone out there guarding the door. I say we give it a try. Are you game?”

Ginny nodded and they crept slowly to the door and opened it. It led to a long and deserted corridor lit with rather gothic looking torches.

“Which way?" Ginny asked in a barely audible whisper.

Motioning with her hand, Hermione directed her to go to the right. She didn’t know where she was headed, but neither way seemed any less ominous so she had just picked one.

The corridor led to a dimly lit large room. It was decorated with various silvery serpents and oversized antique furniture. It looked like someone with money had invested a great deal into the furnishings.

There were twin chandeliers hanging from the ceiling and the walls were lined with volumes of leather bound books and what looked like dark magic detectors.

There was a fire burning in a huge stone fireplace on one wall. The windows were practically from floor to ceiling and hung with velvet looking draperies. The room appeared deserted and the girls cautiously entered.

Not believing their good fortune, they began to cross the room towards the door. They were almost there when the door suddenly opened.

They began to retreat, but there was no time to hide as the door flung open and revealed the person entering. It was Draco Malfoy and he was wearing a satisfied smile.

“Hello my sleepy little tarts. I wondered how long it would take for that rather nasty stunning spell to wear off. So sorry about that.” He added sarcastically. “I’m sure you’re wondering why you are here. I’ve been given the job of informing you of your purpose here, after all, I’m the one who is going to get to…do the honors.”

Hermione was finding her voice now, “What do you mean, do the honors? Why are we here? You caught us, why didn’t you just kill us?”

He was laughing at her anger, but was strangely attracted to her lack of fear.

“Well, I’ll tell you my feisty, little mudblood. There is a new master leading the Death Eaters now. Care to wager a bet on who it might be?”

When the girls refused to answer and continued to glare at him he continued, “No, well… I suppose not. Not surprisingly, it’s my father. He’s the reigning King of Darkness now.”

Chuckling a bit to himself he added, “I guess that makes me a prince, doesn’t it… Anyway… I digress. The reason that you have been cordially invited to stay here, is to provide a service to me… and to the League of Death Eaters of course.”

He was looking Ginny up and down now as if he was sizing her up.

For the first time Ginny spoke, “What do you mean, provide a service? We’ll never work for your lot!” She added defiantly. “You’re as fiery as your ginger hair aren’t you?…I like that.” He added licking his lips. “You see, father has devised a bit of a plan to regain power in the wizarding world. Now that the dark lord is gone, he feels we need to… propagate the line of purebloods… to strengthen our power. An heir of pure descent, raised under the proper conditions… could be a very powerful weapon for us.”

He paused to watch their reactions to his words. He was enjoying dangling the facts in front of them and making them wait for more.

“Father felt that the sire needed to be young and strong. Of course, he chose me. I’m only too happy to make the sacrifice… for the good of the cause. You, Miss Weasley, will provide me with a son.”

Ginny and Hermione gasped together, then Ginny answered, “I’ll do nothing of the sort! I’d rather die!”

Malfoy just smiled and said, “Tut, tut, tut, my dear, that will never do. You see…you were hand picked for the job. You are of pure blood descent and possess as I had said earlier, a bit of a fiery spirit. Most importantly, we needed someone completely pure. You know… a girl who’s never been tapped…a virgin. The fact that you’re dating Potter only makes this more enjoyable for me. Imagine his surprise when he finds out that I beat him to it. Oh yeah, I’m going to enjoy this immensely… for more reasons than one.”

He closed the gap between he and Ginny and grabbed her. He whispered into her ear before releasing her, “If you’re a good girl, you may find out that you might just enjoy it too. I’ve never failed to satisfy a woman yet.”

Hermione lunged at him and tried to strike him across the face. He quickly caught her wrist in his hand and clenched it tightly as a wicked grin spread across his face again.

“Don’t worry mudblood, you won’t be lonely. You see…Crabb and Goyle and I have been locked up here for quite some time. We’ve been lonely…and bored. I expect that you’ll provide rather satisfying entertainment for one or possible all three of us if we like. I have to admit you’ve grown rather attractive over the years. Not that I’d…want to plant my seed in you…no, having a half blooded, bastard child would never do… but you certainly could serve as a useful plaything I imagine. I’d bet your boyfriend thinks so.”

Ginny spoke up defiantly, “How do you know that Harry and I haven’t already…”

But he interrupted her, “I know because there are spells to check for these things. While you were sleeping my father performed a spell, a test of purity of sorts, and you definitely passed with flying colors. If you hadn’t, there wouldn’t have been a reason to proceed.”

Remembering about Harry and Ron, Hermione suddenly shot at him, “Where are they? Where are Ron and Harry?”

Malfoy just smiled and responded, “How should I know? I left them in Hogsmeade, just around the corner… looking for you I believe.”

At this, he took out his wand and placed her in a body bind, but didn’t silence her. He then did the same to Ginny. He walked up to Ginny again and kissed her gently on the lips.

He began pulling her hard against his body and pressing his tongue into her unwilling mouth.

She bit him on the lip and he quickly pulled away. His lip was bleeding a bit and he began laughing as he dabbed the blood away with his sleeve.

Then he raised his eyebrows and said, “Oh little Ginny, that will cost you I’m afraid, my love. You know, it can be rough or it can be gentle… I like it both ways, so you decide. I think you’ll find though that you just may grow to enjoy it, if you give it a fair chance. I could even teach you some things you know… Potter will probably thank me in the end.”

He added laughing again. With that he walked over to Hermione and grabbed her around the waist.

“As for you, I’m so going to enjoy this mudblood. You do remember don’t you? Before the war…I promised you that I’d torture you, and I intend to do just that. I always keep my promises. You know, you really don’t need to be here, don’t you? You aren’t really… part of the plan, but father let me keep you anyway.” He said as if she were a stray cat. “You’re only safe as long as I’m happy with you. When I grow bored of you, I’m afraid you’ll have outlived your usefulness. Ginny here though, she has a long term spot in our plan, well, at least nine months worth.”

He was now pressing his body against Hermione’s and kissing her neck. She was helpless to stop him. Tears began to well up in her eyes and she began to think of Ron. Please help me, she thought, willing him to feel her fear. I’m so scared… and I need you. I need you now. Please, find me and come for me. Ginny and I need you to bring help!”

________________________________________
Chapter 27 The Lover’s Link

Back at Number 12 Grimwald Place, Ron had a horrible rush of feelings spill over him.

He grabbed Harry’s arm as he gasped.

“Ron! What’s wrong?” Harry asked with terror filling his face.

Ron looked quickly around the room as everyone stared at him. Professor McGonagall spoke next, “What is it Mr. Weasley, what’s going on?”

Ron just froze for a second then he whispered, “I can feel her… I can feel her fear. She’s alive, but she needs me. She’s calling for me to come to her.”

Everyone was stunned and completely silent for a minute, everyone but Fred and George.

Fred spoke first, “So, you gave it to her then? She must be wearing it right now, that’s the only logical explanation.”

Ron looked at his twin brother and answered, “Yeah, she never takes it off.”

George chimed in “This could help us Ron. This could be the advantage we need to find them.”

Mrs. Weasley had been listening to her sons but didn’t understand what on earth they had been talking about.

“What are you three on about? Who is she and what is she wearing?”

Ron looked at the twins and then at Harry. Harry had just as much of a curious expression as the rest. Ron looked back at the twins, as if looking for a way out.

George seemed to be reading his little brother’s mind, and said, “I think you’d better tell them, Ron. It’s the only way.”

Ron took a deep breath and began to speak “It’s Hermione. I gave her a necklace for her birthday…a special necklace that contains very old magic. It was a…”

Looking again to the twins for support, Fred added, “Its a Lover’s Link Charm. We helped him with the money to get it.”

Mrs. Weasley was looking back and forth between her sons trying to gather what this all meant as Ron continued.

“I gave it to her on her birthday and she’s worn it ever since. It gives us a…connection.”

Ron paused for a few seconds but then continued, trying to avoid making eye contact with anyone in the room other than Fred and George.

“You see, the stronger our relationship becomes, the stronger the link will be. I felt her fear earlier in the village, but it had never happened before… and I didn’t know exactly what it was. I’ve only felt happiness flow from her up until today. Now I’m sure though…She and Ginny are scared… and they need our help.”

Mrs. Weasley gasped at his words, but finally collected herself, and said, “Well, the connection can’t be very strong I’m afraid, dear. I remember reading about Lover’s Links. The connection grows stronger as the couple become...”

Ron stopped her, and plowed on before losing his nerve, “Trust me, Mum…the link is as strong as it can get…at least as strong as it can get without… having fathered her child that is.”

Mrs. Weasley rose from her seat and bellowed, “What?! What are you thinking Ronald Weasley! You are still at school for heaven’s sake!”

George was catching onto what Ron was saying, and feeling strangely impressed by his little brother as he jumped to his defense, “Mum, you can ground him later, but for right now, this may just help us find Ginny and Hermione.”

Fred taking up the cause as well he added, “Besides mum, he loves her, you know he does! Getting Ginny and Hermione home safely is more important right now, so leave it alone.”

At that, Ron looked truly thankful for his twin brothers, for one of the very few times in his life.

For Harry, this was one of those times that growing up outside of the wizarding world left him at somewhat of a disadvantage.

What in the world was a lover’s link and why was Mrs. Weasley so upset that their connection was strong? That was a good thing wasn’t it?

In fact, he was wishing at the moment that he had given a charm like that to Ginny, so he could feel more useful. This was obviously not the time to ask about what it all meant though, so he sat quietly watching the others that all seemed to know exactly what was going on.

Bill and Charlie and the rest of Ron’s brother’s were all raising their eyebrows with various expressions of surprise and what Harry thought looked strangely like… pride.

Fred even winked at him until Ron mumbled, “Not now Fred… this isn’t the time. Mum’s mad enough already.”

Mrs. Weasley got up and stormed out of the room. Mr. Weasley followed her. They closed the door, but their muffled voices could be heard from the kitchen.

Mrs. Weasley was fit to be tied and Mr. Weasley was trying to calm her.

He began rather gently, “Now Molly, they are both of age… He loves her …and this very well may help us get the girls back before they can carry out their plan. Besides you didn’t expect all of your son’s to wait for marriage did you? Surely you don’t believe that none of the others ever did anything while they were at school.”

The next part was in a whisper that no one could hear in the kitchen, “After all, we didn’t wait, did we?”

She knew he was right, but the shock hadn’t worn off just yet. She wasn’t ready to just accept it and move on she wanted to angry.

Back in the kitchen, Harry was beginning to catch on as well. He was looking at Ron with his eyebrows raised and mouthed, “We’ll talk later.”

Ron was now looking as red as his hair in the face and wishing he could just apparate out of there.

Here he was… in the middle of a room full of family members, teachers, and people he didn’t know… admitting he had been sleeping with his girlfriend. It had to be a guy’s worst nightmare.

The only thing that could have made it any worse was if Mr. and Mrs. Granger had been there to witness it as well. That thought gave him an idea though, a way to change the subject.

“Has anyone contacted the Granger’s by the way?” He asked as though it were now a casual conversation.

Professor Dumbledore responded, “Um…actually yes, they are awaiting for any further news as it becomes available…however, I think some details are probably better left unsaid.”

Ron looked gratefully at Dumbledore and responded, “Er…Yeah, right…thanks professor.” Dumbledore continued as Mr. and Mrs. Weasley reentered the kitchen once again.

Mrs. Weasley was calmer, but still continued to glare at Ron, Fred and George. It seemed that the twin’s assistance in the purchase of the Link had made them partially to blame for Ron’s actions in their mother’s eyes.

That was okay with them though, it wasn’t the first time that they were blamed by association. They were sure it wouldn’t be the last.

Seeing a gap in the tension, Dumbledore continued as if nothing extraordinary had happened.

“Now, let’s get to work on how we can use this to our advantage. What we need is a way to get closer to where they’re being held, so Ron can use his…connection… to locate the girls. This could really be the break we need Molly.”

Mrs. Weasley was thinking of Ginny and Hermione. Her only daughter… and a girl, whom she had to admit, she would definitely choose for her son… were both in mortal danger.

She knew that she had grown to love Hermione over the years. After all, Hermione had risked her own life to save Ron and Harry in the battle earlier that year.

She was brilliant, loyal, and loving. She had known for quite some time that her youngest son had held… a certain affection for Hermione.

She and Mr.Weasley had even discussed on a few occasions how they felt it was really only a matter of time until they ended up more than friends. Hermione knew all about Ron’s insecurities and she still loved him.

What more could she want for her son. It was time to put her feelings of protective motherhood away, at least for now, and concentrate on getting those girls home.

________________________________________
Chapter 28 The Heir of Power

Miles from Number 12 Grimwald Place Malfoy finally released Hermione from his tight grasp.

She wasn’t sure why he stopped, but she was grateful just the same. She was sick to her stomach at the thought of what the Death Eaters were planning to do with her and Ginny.

Malfoy just stood frozen in front of Hermione after he pulled away from her. His lips were still inches from hers and he was staring deeply into her eyes. He couldn’t believe how he wanted her.

Contrary to what he let the others to believe, it wasn’t just for sport either. He'd been attracted to her ever since he saw her enter the Yule Ball in their fourth year, but he’d never admitted it out loud because of the fact that she wasn’t a pureblood.

Hermione was looking back at him and starting to feel a bit dizzy under the intensity of his gaze. It was like he was trying to see into her soul.

It was quite unsettling and she couldn’t help but think that she would rather he return to his usual demeanor and be rude to her instead.

She wasn’t sure if he was sizing up her reaction to his advances or if he was trying to decide what to do next. Before she could determine his intentions, the door opened again.

This time it was Crabb and Goyle. Malfoy turned and shot angrily at them, “What do you want? Didn’t I tell you I wanted some privacy with them tonight?”

Crabb spoke first, “Well, we’re sorry Draco, but your father told us to bring them something to eat. Ginny especially, needs to stay healthy… There’s also a meeting starting soon… He wants you in there.”

Then smirking at Hermione, Goyle added, “We’ll keep them company for you… just until you get back, of course.”

Draco looked at him and smacked him on the side of the head. “You’ll have her when I’m finished! Not before! Do you understand me? Don’t touch them… or you’ll answer to me!”

Goyle looked a little sullen like he’d just lost his favorite toy, but obediently answered, “No, of course Draco. Anything you say.”

With that Malfoy turned back to face Hermione. He had regained a playful demeanor and he winked at Hermione. It was as if his display of power over Crabb and Goyle was supposed to impress them. Then he released them from their body binds and left with his cronies, blowing Ginny a kiss on his way out.

“Enjoy your dinner my sweets. I’ll see you later.”

Hermione rushed over to Ginny after the door closed behind the three boys.

“Are you okay Ginny? Did he hurt you?”

Ginny was welling up, but refusing to cry, “No, other than disgusting me with that slimy tongue of his, I’m fine. We have got to get out of here though Hermione! There is no way that I’m going to have that pig’s child! I’d rather die first! I can’t even imagine having to let him touch me like that!”

She shivered a bit as the image raced through her mind. Hermione was now looking around the room trying to spy something that might give them an idea of how to get away.

As she continued to scan their surroundings, it hit her that the walls were totally filled with old spell books. It was a veritable dark wizard’s treasure trove of knowledge. Thinking it wasn’t very smart of them to lock HER, of all people, in a room full of books, she turned her attention back to Ginny.

“What we need to do is find out more about what they are planning. I say we start tackling these books to see if we can find anything about this ‘Heir of Power’ spell they are planning to use. Maybe if we find out how it’s done…”

Ginny raised her eyebrows at Hermione, “Well, I don’t mean that…I mean the specific conditions under which the spell must be performed, then maybe we can use it to help us in some way. It was agreed. Ginny’s stomach growled as they headed for the first stack of books.

“Are you hungry, Hermione?”

She hadn’t really noticed, but now that the food was here she realized that other than a few Honeydukes sweets, they hadn’t eaten properly since breakfast the day before.

They decided they’d better eat something to keep their strength up then they got to work. They were careful to only go through one book at a time, so that if someone came in it would be easy to hide what they were doing.

Normally this would have been a painfully slow process without the use of their wands, but Hermione had once taken a muggle course on speed-reading and it was definitely helping them to rapidly cover more territory. They also were given a bit of a reprieve because for some reason, Malfoy never returned that evening.

At one point, two beds simply materialized in the room for the girls without explanation. Other than that, their evening was quiet and completely undisturbed.

They worked way into the night until Ginny called to Hermione, “I think I found something!”

She was rubbing her eyes from reading for so long by firelight. She drew nearer to the flames to illuminate the page better.

“Listen to this… The “Heir of Power” charm is a powerful conception spell that must be performed under specific and carefully controlled conditions. The child at conception is dedicated to a purpose by the one performing the spell. The heir will grow towards meeting that purpose with the passage of time. The child at birth is physically marked and trained beginning on the child’s third day of life. The sire…Malfoy in this case… must purify himself for one full lunar cycle prior to performing the spell… That means he doesn’t have to be a virgin, but he can’t have sexual relations for the month leading up to the spell… Right?”

Hermione looked at it and reread the passage to herself, “Yeah, that’s what it sounds like to me. That might actually protect both of us for a little while.”

Hermione was now at Ginny’s side and reading over her shoulder.

“The witch must be of true purity in blood and body. In other words, you have to be of pure blood descent and a virgin…Pansy Parkinson certainly wouldn’t work in this case, would she? I bet she’s disappointed that she can’t carry his heir… Anyway, the mother of the Heir must willingly give herself to the sire…”

At this point, Ginny interrupted, “Well, that’s NEVER going to happen! I’ll kick and fight and scream the whole time! It will never work!”

Hermione looked at her and gingerly said, “Well, Ginny I wish it were that easy. You see, they could prepare a Love Potion draught for you. After that, I’m afraid you’d probably do whatever you were asked. You’d probably even believe you were enjoying it.”

Ginny just looked blinking at Hermione, “Do those really work? Love Potions, I mean?”

Hermione considered the question, then answered, “Well, I’ve never used one, but in theory, they can be very powerful spells.”

Ginny looked disappointed, but then asked, “Okay, what else does it say?”

Hermione continued, “It states that the conception must take place at midnight on the eve of a full moon New Year. They are planning to do this on New Year’s Eve, that’s got to be it. According to this, he can’t touch either one of us until midnight or the magic won’t work. They’d have to wait until the next full moon New Year’s Eve, which that could be years and years until they’d have the right conditions again.

You have to be a virgin up until the spell is performed and Malfoy doesn’t seem like he wants to let Crabb and Goyle near me, at least not until after he’s had his chance, so I think we’re both safe until New Year’s Eve.

We may have to endure him touching us and kissing us, but that’s all that he can do… Let’s see, tomorrow is Christmas Eve, which gives us just about a week to come up with a plan. It’ll at least buy us some time.

In the mean time, I know that Harry and Ron… and probably the Order are searching for us as we speak. Maybe we won’t even be here that long.”

Hermione was now thinking out loud and was absentmindedly rubbing her charm necklace between her thumb and forefinger.

Ginny spotted it and asked, “Hermione? What is that? Where did you get it?”

Hermione realized what she was doing and a dawning comprehension hit her as a huge smile spread over her face.

“Ginny, there’s something I have to tell you. It just might help our rescuers to find us more quickly.”

Hermione began to tell Ginny about the Lover’s Link charm. Then, turning a bit pink, she told her how strong the link was because she and Ron had been intimate.

Ginny was just looking at her wide-eyed. “You’re kidding?”

Hermione shyly answered, “Actually no, I’m not… We love each other Ginny, and it just felt…right. But my point is… this can help us. Ron can actually feel my emotions. It might even help him locate us. It depends on the wards that have been placed on this house I suspect but, I doubt very much that they would have expected this, so they may not have planned for it. I’ve got to keep this hidden from Malfoy. I can’t ever take it off. If I do, the link will be broken."

“Can you send him a message now?” Ginny asked hopefully.

“I can try, but I don’t really know how to tell him where we are. I’m not sure of that myself. For now, I’ll let him know we’re not hurt and that we’ll try to find out more if we can.”

She went over to the bed and motioned Ginny to hers.

“We’ve got to get some sleep now. We have no idea what tomorrow will bring and we can’t afford to let our guard down.”

Climbing into her bed, she wished Ginny goodnight. She began thinking of Ron and trying to communicate with him through their link in the quiet of the room.

Ginny climbed into her bed as well, wishing that Harry were there with her. If he were, she’d solve the problem immediately.

If she weren’t a virgin, she’d be of no use to them. Their plan would be ruined.

________________________________________
Chapter 29 The Bonds of Brotherhood

Back at Headquarters, Harry and Ron were finally crawling into their beds. It was decided that they should stay there for safety reasons until more information could be gathered on the whereabouts of Ginny and Hermione.

They were actually glad to stay. If anything new was discovered, they knew the Order would assemble and then they would immediately know exactly what was happening.

Their first meeting as members of the Order had been far from what they had expected. Oh, they were definitely now privy to more information, but with all the discussing and debating… nothing actually seemed to be settled, which was very frustrating for Ron and Harry.

The Order had taken a ‘wait and see’ approach to formulating a plan to extract the girls from their captors… an approach not at all like the ones that Harry and Ron were accustomed to… and not at all what they had expected from the Order.

Harry and Ron were never ones to wait for the Calvary in the past, but instead charged head on into the unknown on several occasions. Being part of the Order meant they were now under Order rules as well. It was almost causing them to regret their decision to join the Order of the Phoenix at all.

As the meeting was coming to a close a few hours earlier, Harry had asked what he could do to help, but he and Ron were told to stay put for now. Harry now knew how his godfather, Sirius, must have felt when he had been cooped up there all those months and he hated it already.

At meeting’s end, Dumbledore had decided, with the consensus of the other Order members, that more information was needed to formulate a rescue plan.

Snape was sent to see if he could find out more of the details. Most of the other’s were sent out on various patrol missions.

Dumbledore and McGonagall had returned to Hogwarts to close the school for the Christmas holidays which left Harry and Ron as the only ones left at Grimwald place other than Mrs. Weasley.

Ron was giving his mum a wide berth and trying to avoid her at all costs. In fact, Ron had suggested a hasty retreat to their room shortly after the meeting had ended, in the hopes of escaping any further embarrassing rows with Mrs. Weasley.

She could still be heard downstairs banging around in the kitchen and it was quite obvious that she had not gotten over her son’s indiscretion yet.

Harry and Ron had been going over the meeting in their room when Fred and George popped in to pat Ron on the back for his ‘prowess’.

“Way to go, lover boy!” they teased.

Ron was not exactly in a joking mood on the subject and shot back, “Shut up and get out before mum hears you! Oh… and if you do ANYTHING to embarrass Hermione about this after she’s found, I’ll make sure you regret it! That was personal… and now it’s public knowledge. I’m sure that’s going to be embarrassment enough for her.”

George acting hurt said, “Don’t worry little brother. We’ve been there before… not quite as publicly as you I guess, but mum’s caught us both at different times… It wasn’t pretty… Why do you think we knew the contraceptive charm we taught you in the first place?”

Ron and Harry just stared at them absorbing their admissions, then Ron asked, “Both of you?… With who?… And why didn’t I ever hear about any of this?”

George answered with a mischievous grin, “Well, a gentleman never kisses and tells, does one?”

Then, considering the events that had just taken place in the kitchen, he added, “At least, not unless they have to that is. You know, you’d think mum would be a bit more receptive. After all, she and dad did have 7 of us…”

Turning to Fred he asked, “Do you remember when Bill got caught the first time?”

Fred gazed off into space as if remembering a horrible flash from the past, “Yeah… I think that was the most devastating revelation of all for her… being as he was her first born and all… Well… the most devastating until now that is… you’re her baby boy after all.”

He said returning his attention to Ron, “I’m sure that has to sting a bit… At least mum knows Ginny is still a virgin…obviously…”

He added looking at Harry with a wink of approval, causing Harry to flush.

“Anyway, we’re on your side Ron. You know we like Hermione. She’s a great girl and we’re happy for you. We promise not to make it worse.”

Then, seeing Ron’s disbelieving expression, George added, “No, really… we mean it…consider it off limits…Besides, we’re family aren’t we? We’ll always have your back… you know bonds of brotherhood and all. Well, anyway, we’re off to check Hogsmeade for evidence of other kidnappings.

We need to make sure that there’s no one else involved. See you in the morning.”

With that they disapparated with two loud cracks.

After the twins popped back out, Harry and Ron began discussing the meeting again and how they couldn’t believe that nothing had been settled.

Ron had continued to feel Hermione’s presence, but it didn’t feel quite as desperate, which comforted him. He was sure that if Hermione or Ginny were in immediate danger, he’d know it. He said he could feel her at that moment, trying to let him know she was okay… at least for now.

Then Ron suddenly sat up in bed at practically yelled at Harry, “It has something to do with New Year’s Eve… and the full moon!”

Harry jumped and looked at Ron, “What do you mean?”

Ron answered, “I keep getting images of a New Year’s Ball and a full moon overhead. She’s trying to tell me something… but what? We’ve got to tell Dumbledore in the morning when he returns. Maybe he’ll know what it means. At least this will give a little time to figure things out if it’s not happening until New Year’s.”

Ron then began trying to send her his love and let her know that they were trying to find her and Ginny. He hoped that feeling his presence would give her some comfort too. The emotional exchange between Ron and Hermione also gave Harry a little bit of peace that Ginny was safe for now.

Ginny and Hermione were two of the most important people in Harry’s life and he couldn’t stand the thought of losing either one of them. He and Ron were definitely united in their love of those two girls.

After an hour or so of talking, they finally got ‘round to the subject that Ron knew he couldn’t avoid forever.

After a bit of a silence, Harry began, “So, um…you and Hermione, huh?” flushing a bit again.



He answered with a sigh, “Yes Harry, I think that fact has been well established now.”

Harry was sitting up on his bed looking over at Ron and continued, “For how long? When did this happen?”

Ron decided Harry wasn’t going to let this go until he told him the whole story, not specific details of course, but how it all started at least.

He began by telling him more about their first date in the Room of Requirement and how the four-poster had materialized there… and the rest was pretty obvious he thought.

“We’ve been sneaking out of the dorms ever since… a couple of times a week… She’s amazing Harry, I’m so lucky.”

Harry was stunned a little…a couple of times a week? he thought.
Then Harry remembered something else that the twins had said earlier and he asked, “What’s this contraceptive charm that Fred and George were talking about?”

Ron answered, “Well, it’s a spell that my brother’s have passed down to one another over the years, and apparently, it’s been rather well used as well. I guess it’s only fitting that I pass it on to you now, too.”

He taught Harry the words to the spell and when it needed to be performed.

Harry starting thinking about Ron’s fight with his mum. There was something that Ron said that had surprised him at the time, but when he heard it, it wasn’t exactly a good time to ask about it.

Now that they were alone, his curiosity was getting the better of him.

“Ron, can I ask you something?”

Ron just looked over at him giving Harry the okay to go ahead, “Um…have you asked Hermione to…to marry you? It’s just that you said something about marriage earlier, I was just wondering…”

Ron rolled on his side to look directly at Harry, “Of course I haven’t asked her…not yet. If I did, you’d be the first to know mate. You should know that. What I meant was, I love her… and someday… I’m hoping she’ll agree to be my wife. I really can’t imagine spending my life with anyone else. We’ve known each other for years… and we pretty much know everything there is to know about each other.

We can be ourselves with each other. You know, we’re completely at ease with each other, at least now that our feelings are out in the open.

Actually, I think our friendship is what allowed us to become so…so close, so quickly. When I told her how I really felt about her that night, I had never expected anything like that to happen, but it just seemed like a natural step when it came down to it.

We just… knew it felt right.”

Harry was looking at Ron somewhat surprised, “I had no idea that you two had gotten that close. It’s great Ron and I’m really happy for you two.”

Then looking up at the ceiling again, Ron asked, “I guess this means that you and Ginny… haven’t… well, not yet anyway.”

Harry answered quietly, “No, I wouldn’t have…we didn’t because…Well, it’s not as though I haven’t wanted to, but she just wasn’t ready.”

Forgetting that Ron was actually Ginny’s big brother, he plowed on speaking to him as a best mate would, “We’ve actually come close on several occasions… but when she wanted to stop, I stopped. Ron, there’s something you should know... I think I’ve fallen in love with your sister… I love her strength and her independence… and the fact that she can be a bit unpredictable.

She makes me happier than I’ve ever been and I feel like there’s this deep bond that I have with her. A bond that I don’t think that I could ever have with anyone else… because of everything we’ve been through together.

The fact is, I would never try to make her do something that I wanted… that she wasn’t sure that she was ready for… I just wouldn’t.”

Ron continued to look at the ceiling, but was smiling at Harry’s answer, “Yeah…you’ve definitely got it bad mate…and I knew I could trust you with my baby sister. Not every guy would care about what she wanted… and it’s no less than I’d expect from my best mate. After a short silence Ron added, “Thanks Harry... Thanks for taking such good care of her.”

He considered Ron’s comments then said, “Well, I didn’t do such a smashing job of taking care of her after all, did I? She’s been kidnapped hasn’t she?… and it sounds as though if I hadn’t been… such a gentleman, she wouldn’t have been a target at all.”

Ron was looking at Harry again who was quickly becoming angry at the thought of what could happen to Ginny.

Harry continued through gritted teeth, “They need a virgin remember. If she and I had given in to each other… even once…none of this would be happening right now.”

Ron was quiet for a second then said, “I guess I hadn’t thought of it that way before…but I still think that you did the right thing… and I’m sure Ginny loves you for it… We’ll get them back Harry… I’m sure of it.

There’s no bloody way that you and I will let Malfoy win after all these years…no way in hell.”

With that they both fell quiet. They lay there thinking about their girls’ until sleep finally claimed them.

________________________________________
Chapter 30 Joining the Search

Professor Dumbledore did not return the following morning or the day after that. When he briefly showed his face at headquarters on the third day, Ron and Harry practically knocked him over trying to tell him about what Ron had sensed about New Year’s and the full moon.

In response, Dumbledore simply gazed over his half-moon spectacles contemplatively at them and said.

“Full moon you say…Interesting…Anything else?”

When Ron could add nothing more, Dumbledore turned on his heels and was gone again making a hasty retreat through the front door.

Harry and Ron were left with their mouths gaping and more angry and frustrated than ever.

Over the next several days Harry and Ron were continually left to their own devices at Order headquarters. Even Mrs. Weasley had been strangely absent, a fact that Ron had to admit, he wasn’t necessary ungrateful for at this point.

The only person that they did see on a regular basis was Dobby. He had arrived somewhere in the night and was there to greet them happily one morning with a hot breakfast.

Dobby had told them that he was sent to cook and clean for them, but they had the distinct impression he was actually there to baby-sit and to keep them out of trouble.

Their patience was wearing thin and their emotions concerning Hermione and Ginny were beginning to get the better of them.

Ron had continued to feel Hermione’s roller coaster of emotions and he felt more and more helpless with each successive episode.

He could tell when she was calm or when she was distraught and it was beginning to slowly drive he and Harry mad. So much so that they had taken to cornering anyone who came through the front door and pumping them relentlessly for further news of what was happening in the outside world… a world they hadn’t been permitted to see since the night the girls were kidnapped.

Harry and Ron had even taken to rapidly firing unexpected questions on Dobby in the hopes that he would allow something to slip that they could use to their advantage.

Christmas day had come and gone. No one felt like celebrating and the day had passed virtually unnoticed. After being left alone for the 5th day in a row, they had had enough. They had decided that if nothing was going to be done immediately to rescue the girls, it was time that they took matters into their own hands.

They went to their room, in an attempt to avoid Dobby’s rather bat-like ears from hearing what they were planning, and set to work. Harry was pacing the room and Ron was staring out the window as they tried to formulate a plan.

Harry began, “This has to be done by stealth Ron… I think that I can perform a charm that Moody once used on me. It will provide us with cover much like a chameleon would use. We’d be camouflaged by our surroundings.”

Ron looked impressed, “That’s brilliant Harry! That should help us to get past Dobby as well. Our school things have been brought to headquarters for the holidays. We can use our brooms to patrol… at least until I sense Hermione close by. Then we can apparate to their specific location.”

Harry was looking at him, but didn’t seem convinced, “That sounds good in theory, but Britain is a large place, Ron. For that matter, we don’t even know if they’re being held in this country. It could take us weeks to cover all that ground. If only we had a clue as to where to start…”

Ron looked somewhat crestfallen at realizing Harry was right. Just then there was a knock at the bedroom door.

“Go away Dobby… we aren’t hungry, we don’t need anything washed, and our room doesn’t need cleaned!” Ron spat rather abruptly.

“Well, I was sent by Dumbledore to retrieve you, but if you’d rather stay here…then I’d be only too happy to oblige.”

The voice they heard was familiar, but it wasn’t the voice of the house elf that had been stalking them over the last few days. None other that Professor Snape had slowly opened the door and was glaring down his rather long nose at them.

Harry and Ron were temporarily stunned. Snape was one of the Order members who had been strangely absent during their imprisonment at Grimwald Place.

Finally collecting himself, Harry asked several questions in quick succesion, “What’s happened? Where are we going? Do you have information about Ginny and Hermione?…Where they are?”

As Harry stopped to take a breath, Snape just continued to sneer at them. Obviously, this had not been his idea.

After several tense seconds Snape began, “I have received rather promising information that has narrowed our field of possibilities to search. The headmaster feels that… Mr. Weasley… can be of some assistance now. He seemed to feel that you, Mr. Potter, would be unwilling to stay here, if Mr. Weasley were to accompany me. He seemed to think that left behind you would be inclined to do something… rash… if you can imagine. So unfortunately, the three of us have been given a mission to complete for the Order…together.”

Harry and Ron were dumbstruck. After what felt like endless days of waiting, they were finally going to get to help… but with Snape?

Surely this couldn’t go well. How did Dumbledore expect them to get along well enough to accomplish anything? Seemingly, Snape was noticing their shocked expressions at what he had just said and interpreting their silent thoughts.

“Believe me, this was not my doing…I’d much prefer to proceed without the two of you in tow. However, since Mr. Weasley does apparently have a connection with Miss Granger…”

He looked reproachfully at Ron, then added, “I suppose there is no other way to find them, at least not in time.”

Harry looked at Snape, then said, “What do you mean, find them in time?… in time for what? Do you know more specifically what’s going on then?”

Snape continued to glare at them but decided that he would have no peace at all until they had the full details, “Actually, it was Mr. Weasley’s tip about the New Year and the full moon that filled in the missing piece of the puzzle behind the Death Eater’s motives.”

Snape proceeded to tell the boys about the Heir of Power spell and how and when it must be performed. He told them that that was how the Order knew that the girls were temporarily safe from harm, but now with New Year’s Eve only two days away, time was beginning to run short.

He had gathered some new intelligence about the general area where they were being held, but up to this point, specifics had eluded them. Snape had recently been able to invade the memories of one particularly daft Death Eater and found images of a house on the outskirts of London. It was that area that they were about to search together.

“We will be using a combination of broom transport and apparation. We will also need to disguise ourselves to prevent our discovery.”

Harry and Ron just looked at each other smiling then Harry said with a bit of a laugh, “That’s exactly what we were just about to do before you came. We couldn’t stand waiting anymore.”

Snape watched them as Harry performed the chameleon charm on he and Ron.

As the warm sensation of liquid trickling down their backs ended, Harry asked “Will that do?” with a bit of a flip tone, while blending into the wallpaper behind him.

Snape grudgingly had to admit to himself… they were gifted young wizards. They had managed to do things over their years at Hogwarts that most adult wizards would never dream of attempting, nor would they have the courage… or stupidity more like in Snape’s opinion…to do them if they did.

Refusing to let on that he was even mildly impressed, however, he sighed at them rolling his eyes and performed the same spell on himself saying, “Very well then, shall we go?”

They grabbed their brooms and started down the stairs, close on Snape’s heels and heading for the front door. As they mounted their brooms and lifted off into the air, Harry’s heart began to soar.

“We’re coming…just hang on”, he thought to himself.

Finally he and Ron felt useful as the dark, dank neighborhood of Grimwald Place was quickly disappearing from view and they headed for London. Using hand signals to direct them, Snape led the way as they flew past village after village.

When they finally saw London below, Snape flew in close and stopped, hovering in midair. Ron and Harry joined him flanking his sides.

“We’re going to head north of London. It’s important that you two DON’T do anything…unwise. This must be done carefully and we MUST not be seen. If they are alerted to our presence, I’m afraid that Miss Weasley and Miss Granger may be put at further risk, especially Miss Granger who doesn’t appear to be crucial to their plan.”

Harry and Ron nodded their agreement.

Ron had begun to feel a much stronger sense of Hermione. He could tell she was much closer and he told Snape and Harry.

“That’s good. It’s sounds as though my information may have been accurate then. If you have any further indications Mr. Weasley, motion us immediately. By the way, this is NOT a rescue mission, at least not yet, anyway.

We are only here to determine the whereabouts of your classmates, then the Order will send a guard to help us extract them. Are you perfectly clear on that point? We will NOT have any of your ridiculous heroics I trust?…No charging in before things are in place?”

Nodding their agreement reluctantly, Harry and Ron glanced at each other.

Snape continued, “Very well then, we are going to move in a sweeping pattern to cover more ground. Are you ready?”

They both nodded as Harry said, “Let’s go.”

They began swerving back and forth over the countryside in alternating passes. They continued like that for what seemed like hours until Ron suddenly felt a tremendous outcry from Hermione.

He stopped and motioned them to come to him. He looked horrified and he felt as though he might drown in her emotions because the feelings were so intense.

“She’s close…I can feel her. She’s hurt… and crying! Pain! She’s in unbelievable pain! We’ve got to help them! Something is very wrong! We’ve got to help Ginny and Hermione now!”

Snape looked at him with little or no emotion in his face. Then he began surveying the area below getting his barings. He needed to establish where they were exactly.

Harry shot at him, “What are you waiting for? Let’s go! You heard Ron! There isn’t time to wait for the Order, they need us now!”

Snape asked, “Can you tell which house she’s in Mr. Weasley?”

Ron looked down and went perfectly still for a moment as he closed his eyes. When he opened them he pointed down at a spot that seemed completely empty.

There was no visible structure to be seen.

Ron looked back at them and said, “She and Ginny are there! I know it! But it doesn’t make sense…there’s nothing there.”

Snape answered, “Actually, it makes perfect sense. It’s unplottable isn’t it? You wouldn’t be able to see it, now would you? We’ve got to get back to headquarters and assemble the Order. I think I know where they’re being held, but we’ve got to find out for sure.”

Ron and Harry just looked at him and refused to go.

“You heard, Ron! They’re hurting them! There’s no way in bloody hell that we’re leaving them now! They are right down there!” Harry shot back, yelling now himself.

Without missing a single beat Snape spat, “Mr. Potter! You cannot help them if you cannot get to them. Until we know the exact address, we can’t enter the premises. Now if you don’t cooperate, I’ll have to take you back by force!”

With that he grabbed Harry and Ron by the arms and they disapparated.

In an instant, they had apparated and were standing back in front of Grimwald Place. Snape looked at them with that same expression of urgency he had held back in the alley at Hogsmeade.

Harry and Ron were stunned at their abrupt removal from the search and rescue operation.

Snape growled at them, “What are you two waiting for! We’ve got to raise the alarm. Get in there…we’ve got work to do! You’re not at school anymore! The Order is your duty now by your own choosing. Remember? You asked for this, so either follow orders or get out of the way!”

That seemed to jolt them out of their daze and they ran at full speed into the house. They had to get back to them and they knew now that it would have to be on the Order’s terms.

As they entered the kitchen, somehow as if by telepathy, wizards began apparating everywhere and entering headquarters. Harry and Ron just looked at each other in awe of the blur of action that had ensued in an instant.

After all this silence and solitude, it was now Grand Central Station at the Order.

Finally, Harry thought, then looking to Dumbledore who had just appeared at the door behind Fred and George. “What do we do? What’s the plan?”

With the Order assembled, they sat down and Professor Dumbledore began to lay it out for them. Then, with a reassuring wink at Ron and Harry he said...

“Let’s go to work.”

________________________________________
Chapter 31 An Unexpected Heart

The sunrise could be seen reflected in the window of his grandmother’s home just north of London. Draco Malfoy was returning from a Christmas celebration with his mother.

His father had sent him to serve as head of house in his place. The holiday had actually past rather quietly with very few guests compared to the usual display at Malfoy Manor.

Narcissa, his mother, had been very nervous indeed about Draco’s visit due to the fact that he was just as much of an outlaw as his father now. Mr. Malfoy, to the contrary, had shown little or no concern for his son’s safety, as he reassured her that he had placed wards on the manor that would protect Draco from discovery.

As he followed the front garden path up to the ornate front entryway, Draco couldn’t help but feel anxious. He was about to see her again.

She had been haunting his dreams for the last couple of nights. He couldn’t understand why, but he couldn’t get her out of his head.

“She’s a muggle born… my family’s of a pure blood line, centuries old. She’s nothing more than a possession to me.” He reasoned with himself.

However, try as he might to put those thoughts out of his head and calm his anticipation, he was much more excited at the thought of being close to her again than he wished to admit… even to himself.

Malfoy senior had spent the entire holiday at the Death Eater’s headquarters… on watch for approaching intruders he had said.

Now as Draco entered the home, he was looking forward to finding his father and getting an update on how things had gone in his absence. He never expected to hear what he did as he swung open the door.

Blood curdling screams were coming from the library upstairs. It was the very room in which Ginny and Hermione were being held. He took off at a run taking the steps two and three at a time.

When he arrived at the door of their room he found Crabb and Goyle’s fathers standing guard outside. Mr. Goyle welcomed him as if it was a bright and cheery morning with nothing out of sorts to report.

As Draco pushed passed them and entered the library, his father turned with an expression of pure pleasure on his face. The screams had stopped suddenly and for a few seconds an eerie silence had fallen over the room.

Ginny it seemed had been hit with a silencing charm and was apparently being held with a body bind to a chair. There were silent tears steadily streaming down her cheeks.

At first glance, he didn’t see Hermione at all. As he moved towards his father though, he spotted her.

She was crumpled in a heap on the floor in front of the fireplace. Her knees were pulled up to her chest and she was writhing in obvious pain.

After a few seconds of catching her breath she was now sobbing freely and moaning with every small movement she made.

Draco looked from Hermione and then accusingly at his father and asked, “What’s going on Father? What did you do to her?”

His father stared at him evaluating his reaction to the scene.

“Good morning, Draco. How was the holiday? I trust your mother is well?”

He just looked back at his father with an expression of disbelief.

“Father, you said you’d leave her to me. I want to know what you did to her.” Then fearing his father’s reaction at his demand he hastily added, “please?”

Lucious looked at his son with an ugly smirk crossing over his face, “Oh dear, my son. Do we have a problem here? Surely, you don’t care for this little, mudblood trollop?”

Draco looked at Hermione then changing his expression to match his father’s he responded, “No, of course not! That’s disgusting! You know that my interest in her is purely…one of pleasure. I’d rather not have her… unable to move… at the time though. If you’ve decided that she’s not a suitable…plaything… we could simply be rid of her now.”

Regaining a bit of confidence in his son’s words, Lucious laughed and said, “That’s more like it Draco. I was beginning to wonder there for a moment if perhaps she had worked some magic of her own on you. Don’t worry Draco…there’s no lasting damage. You shall have your little…playdate. Miss Granger and I were simply having… a bit of a chat. Isn’t that right Miss Weasley?”

Ginny was still unable to speak and continued to allow her tears to fall freely.

“Ah well, cat got your tongue dear? Perhaps she’s just a bit nervous… You know, thinking of tomorrow night. It’s a very big night for her after all, and for us too.

By the way, I believe you’ll find your suite has been altered to accommodate two and we’ll be bringing her in as the clock approaches midnight. We wouldn’t want you to…jump the gun… so to speak. After all, she is rather attractive… for a blood traitor that is…Well, it appears that you have regained your composure now Draco, so I’ll leave you to it.

I have some business to attend to, but I trust you’ll be able to keep our charges…entertained… while I’m away?”

Draco nodded obediently to his father as Lucious crossed the room and was gone.

Draco immediately removed the body bind and silencing charm from Ginny and quickly asked her, “What’s happened? What did he do to her?”

Ginny was gasping and crying as she ran to Hermione and fell on the floor next to her.

“Hermione? Hermione, are you okay? You’ve got to help me Malfoy! Help me get her to the bed!”

Draco followed Ginny’s order without a single challenge or note of hesitation. He moved to where the girls were and knelt down beside Hermione opposite of Ginny.

“Ginny, what did he do? You’ve got to tell me.”

Ginny just looked at him. She was stunned at being called by her first name instead of Miss Weasley or one of the disgusting nicknames he had been calling her.

After staring at him in silence for a few brief seconds she began through her choked tears, “Your father… has been here… the last two nights.

He said he wanted to ‘question us’ about…about Dumbledore and the other members of… of the Order. When we wouldn’t tell him anything, he bound and silenced me and he…he”

Malfoy asked in an unexpectedly soothing voice, “Take your time, what exactly did he do?”

Then as she struggled to control her breathing it suddenly came pouring out of her “He used the…the cruciatus curse on her…It was horrible to watch! Last night he only quit when she passed out. He said, he’d let me ‘play’… but he didn’t want to damage his chances… for a healthy grandson.”

Malfoy gaped at her and then he looked down at Hermione. Very gently he slid his arm under her to help her sit up.

“Can you stand?” he asked.

As she tried her knees buckled and she fell back to the floor. There were bruises on her face and arms and her lip was bleeding.

Those injuries weren’t actually from the curse, but had happened when she had banged herself against the floor as she had collapsed uncontrollably in pain.

Malfoy wrapped her arm around his neck and slid his other arm under her knees. He gently lifted her to anguished moans and slowly carried her to the bed as Ginny followed behind them.

“Shhh, it’s okay now Hermione. He won’t hurt you again. I won’t let him, I promise.”

With that he took out his wand and performed a charm that gave her some immediate relief from her pain. She was still achy but the worst of it was gone. Then he healed the bruises and cuts and conjured a goblet of water for her to drink.

Hermione and Ginny were both staring at Malfoy now.

Why was he being so nice to them? He wasn’t mocking them or trying to force himself upon them. What was he up to?
Ginny spoke first “I don’t know why you’re doing this…but thank you… thank you for helping her. I never thought I’d actually… be glad to see you... I’m afraid another night of that… would have killed her.”

Hermione had been lying very still trying to calm her sobs. She too was stunned, almost alarmed at Malfoy’s sudden presence of heart.

She looked up at him through tear soaked eyes and tried to thank him, but she choked on her words.

“It’s alright now.” He said softly as he looked down sympathetically at her. “You and Ginny get some sleep. I’m going to stay right here and make sure no one disturbs you.”

With that he stood and crossed the room to the chair that had previously held Ginny. With no other choice than to trust him, Ginny went and fell into her bed as well.

It wasn’t long before both girls, physically and emotionally exhausted, drifted off to sleep.

Draco sat silently watched over them for several hours while they slept. He only rose once as Hermione thrashed violently in her bed. He gently rested his hand on her cheek.

His touch seemed to calm her a bit, even though she had no idea he had done it.

After that he began pacing the room and thinking. All the while his anger at his father was growing, and he was beginning to regret the part he was to play in his father’s plan.

That day, as he watched their fitful sleep, he realized that he could not do what was expected of him. He knew that his father would sooner eliminate him as well if need be, rather than risk failure.

At that very moment, Draco began to formulate a plan of his own.

They had to escape, and soon… all three of them. It was the only way.

By tomorrow the house would be swarming with Death Eaters in anticipation of the Heir of Power spell’s completion.

But how would he do it? How could he pull it off alone? He couldn’t ask even Crabb and Goyle for help. He knew they’d turn on him in a second, if it meant putting themselves in danger.

For the first time in his life, as he looked at the girls lying nearby, Draco felt truly alone.

Deciding what must be done, he quietly got up and headed for the door. As he left he put a locking charm on that no one other than himself could disengage, and crept off to gather what he needed.

________________________________________
Chapter 32 Number 47 Hampstead Court

As it turned out, Snape’s suspicions had been correct. They had discovered the location of the Death Eater’s headquarters, and it was none other than Narcissa Black Malfoy’s family home.

They found it to be in the exact location that Ron had pinpointed the evening before as he, Snape, and Harry had patrolled northern London.

This added a whole new dimension to what the Order was hoping to achieve. Not only did they intend to recover the girls, but now they also hoped to bring in the remaining Death Eaters en masse, as they gathered for the Heir of Power spell.

Professor Dumbledore and the Order were finalizing their plans and preparing to depart on December 31st.

Waiting until New Year’s Eve was making Harry and Ron extremely nervous along with Mr. and Mrs. Weasley in particular. They knew it was the deadline. Game Over.

What if something went wrong and they ran out of time. Harry and Ron didn’t like the idea, but Dumbledore felt that it was necessary. He explained that if they waited until New Year’s Eve day, then there would be a greater number of Death Eaters present at headquarters than at any other time.

This fact would make their goals more attainable, but also make the level of danger in the mission increase exponentially.

To say that tensions were running high at Order headquarters would be a gross understatement. Mrs. Weasley in particular, had been so beside herself with anxiety, that at one point Mr. Weasley had forced her to sit and drink some tea as he added a healthy portion of fire whiskey to it in an attempt to settle her down.

She had been causing everyone else’s nerves to fray as well as she abandoned her most recent activity of choice, glaring at Ron. In its place she had taken to hugging each of her sons and Harry in turn.

When she wasn’t welling up in tears or hugging one of the boys, she was berating Moody, Lupin, Dumbledore, or anyone else who may have an impact on her family’s safety.

Upon being smothered for the 3rd time, Ron almost wished his mother would return to glaring at him and telling him off for his ‘irresponsible and destructive indiscretions’ as they had been labeled.

Harry secretly shared that wish, as did the other Weasley and Order members in general. Harry tried to sympathetically considered Mrs. Weasley’s position as he attempted to escape suffocation for the 2nd time in an hour.

Once again, her entire family would be in the line of fire, just as it was when the war had begun. This time however, she was much more distraught than the last if you can imagine.

This time she had had hours and hours to mull things over while they waited instead of immediately charging into battle. The lull was not at all kind to Mrs. Weasley. It gave her too much time to consider the likelihood of them all surviving a second encounter with a horde of Death Eaters.

She knew that the Weasley’s had truly been blessed the first go ‘round to all come out alive and as a member of the Order herself, she knew the risks that they were taking by temping fate a second time.

If it weren’t for the fact that it was Ginny that they were going after, she may have been tempted to try to convince at least some of her children to stay behind.

Knowing however, the chances of them actually agreeing to her request would have been slim to none. She and Mr. Weasley had raised a family of brave and loyal wizards.

She was proud of her brood. They were completely dedicated to the mission of the Order and realized that all of their futures depended on it… they were committed to doing they’re part.

Even Fred and George, who throughout they’re school years tended to shirk responsibility at every possible opportunity, had become strong, confident leaders… in ways that for once, didn’t involve bucking the system.

Her pride in them didn’t stop her from fearing for her children though, so Mr. Weasley was spending a great deal of time trying to distract her from the others so that the rest of the household could focus and relax.

Due to her level of stress, as the day went on, Dumbledore decided it would be best that she stay behind at headquarters to take care of the girls when they were returned to Grimwald Place. He then mumbled a quick spell over Mrs. Weasley that seemed to calm her.

Ron and Harry saw him do this and when he was alone, they questioned him about it.

Dumbledore said, “Well, I felt considering the circumstances… that it was best for everyone involved, if Molly…simply forgot about the… ‘strength’… of the connection that you and Miss Granger share.

I performed a mild memory charm to… relieve her of those thoughts. That way there will be no uncomfortable confrontations between Miss Granger and your mum when she arrives.

They’ve both been through enough I dare say. I trust that you… agree with my assessment?”

Harry looked at Ron who appeared as though he could kiss Professor Dumbledore, but instead he responded, “Thank you professor. You’ve saved my life!”

Dumbledore smiled briefly and added, “Yes, well…I too was young and foolish once myself you know.”

With that he went back to the kitchen and informed Mr. Weasley of what he had done, who seemed almost as grateful as Ron. She had apparently been blaming him as well for his son’s exploits due to the fact that he was his father and should have intervened in some way.

It appeared that the memory charm was getting them both of the hook with Molly. By no means did they want anyone to slip up in front of her now that her memory had been modified…which would undoubtedly start the whole horrible scene once again.

To that end, the word spread rapidly aided by Ron, not to say ANYTHING in front of his mum about it… ever again.

Mrs. Weasley was not to be left alone at headquarters. Professor Snape was also to remain behind for this phase of the mission to avoid being discovered as a spy.

Harry couldn’t help but think that Professor Snape having to remain at headquarters, while Harry and the others went into battle would have amused his godfather, Sirius.

Almost a bit of a payback for all of his sarcastic comments to Sirius in Harry’s fifth year when Sirius was forced to stay at Grimwald Place to prevent capture by the Ministry of Magic.

With Mrs. Weasley now slightly subdued, they were able to relax a bit. It did not however change the fact that what they were about to do was extremely dangerous. They would not have the advantage of an open-air assault this time and this battle would be fought on Death Eater turf in the very heart of their midst.

The mission’s dangers were real and everyone was taking it quite seriously. Some of the Order had even in fact been practicing various curses and shielding spells to fill the time.

They did have one thing that they hoped would give them an unexpected advantage. Dumbledore could perform the Shadow Shroud Charm.

It was a particularly difficult piece of magic and Dumbledore himself was the only wizard in the Order who was able to properly perform the spell.

The Shadow Shroud Charm not only made the wizards virtually invisible, but it also gave their bodies unusual properties. They could pass through solid objects or shape shift to fit into very tight spaces if necessary, completely undetected.

The charm would not last forever, but would hopefully give them the element of surprise in their initial attack.

With that charm in place, the plan would actually be very simple, but it required patience and composure, a point that Snape seemed to relish emphasizing to Ron and Harry repeatedly.

Basically the Order members were to apparate to a secure location nearby and then they would wait. They would wait until the stream of Death Eaters entering their headquarters seemed to taper off. When they got the signal, Dumbledore would perform the Shadow Charm.

As each member concentrated on the address that they had memorized as Narcissa’s family home, the unplottable charm would temporarily disengage and give them access to the home. They would then enter the front door by literally passing directly through it.

Opening doors, after all, would draw attention to their arrival. Upon entering Death Eater headquarters, they would split into teams of 3 or 4 and begin to slowly secure the home, stunning and body binding any Death Eaters they encountered.

The team to locate Ginny and Hermione first were to immediately signal the others and remove them to Grimwald Place. They were also each given a portkey that could immediately transport the girls to St. Mungo’s Hospital if needed.

With everyone rather busy, Harry had quietly retreated to his room, leaving Ron with his brothers in the back yard.

As he lay down on his bed he was trying to will himself to focus on the mission. Mrs. Weasley’s understandable, but relentless worrying, up to this point had made that rather difficult.

Although he tried to calm himself, his anger was building and he repeatedly envisioned himself destroying Lucious and Draco Malfoy. His hands were physically clenched into fists as the images ran through his mind time after time.

The day seemed to be dragging on second by second then suddenly Ron came in and said, “They’re gathering in the lounge. It’s nearly time Harry.”

Ron’s face was tense but resolute.

Harry sat bolt upright and said, “I’m ready. Let’s go.”

After over a week of waiting and planning, this was it. They went downstairs and stood next to Fred and George as Dumbledore gave some last minute instructions and divided them into search teams.

Ron and Harry were to be with Remus Lupin and Bill Weasley. As they moved to leave, Mrs. Weasley caught Dumbledore by the arm and said with newly forming tears in her eyes.

“You bring my family home Albus.”

He smiled down at her and patted her arm to comfort her before turning to go. With that they moved to the front lawn and waited for the all-clear sign from Mad-Eye, who had been surveying the area for signs of anything suspicious.

When they received the sign, they would be off. It was only a matter of minutes until they saw the unmistakable flash of green wand sparks go up into the air.

With that they apparated in unison to the predetermined location adjacent to the Narcissa’s family home.

From their vantage point they witnessed several men enter the home, as it appeared temporarily then disappeared again from view.

Some of the Death Eaters were men, but Harry and Ron had recognized others as former Hogwarts Slytherin students who had disappeared after the battle earlier that year. It was now early evening and darkness had fallen over the countryside.

As the Death Eaters continued to arrive, Harry and Ron were beginning to become impatient. How much time did they have they wondered?

Unbeknownst to them, time was indeed growing shorter and shorter for at that very moment inside the house Draco Malfoy was leading the girls out of the library and down a back set of stairs under cover of an invisibility cloak.

Draco had told Ginny and Hermione that he realized that he was in over his head with the Death Eaters. He told them that he would help them escape, but that he would need to go with them. He added a warning that if they were discovered, he feared that his father wouldn’t think twice about killing them…or killing him for that matter.

As with many of Lucious’ other servants, when they outlived their usefulness, they were unceremoniously disposed of. Malfoy felt sure that if they were discovered, he and Hermione would undoubtedly meet that same fate.

Ginny he said would probably be allowed to live, but only long enough to carry out the plan.

His father was a callous man indeed. He had also been very suspicious of Draco after their encounter the day before. He had been having him watched ever since and so before they could reach the bottom of the stairs, their worst fears had come to fruition and they had been caught and brought before Mr. Malfoy.

Lucious was furious with his son. He said he was a disgrace to the name of wizard and that he would never acknowledge a muggle lover as his son.

Then Lucious said with disgust and disappointment on his face, “Your mother has done this to you with all of her endless coddling! Yes, I believe she need to answer for this as well when I’m finished here. Although I do suppose some of this is my misjudgement.”

With a raised eyebrow and a grin spreading over his face, he turned to look directly at Ginny. He slowly looked up and down her young, attractive body.

“I never should have never sent a boy… to do the job of a man. Lucky for you Miss Weasley, I’ll be taking his place as sire to your heir. I think you’ll find that age… can bring a wealth of experience in some areas that are rather enjoyable.”

As Hermione screamed at him and tried to break free, he stunned her and Draco without even flinching or changing expressions. He told Crabb and Avery to take them back to the library and lock them inside.

After that he ordered Goyle to prepare a draught of Love Potion and bring it to him as soon as it was ready.

“After all, we want a willing little mother don’t we.”

He had been restraining Ginny with her arms behind her back. Ginny was crying as he moved to take her by the arm and lead her off to another part of the home. She began to kick and scream as she tried to fight him off.

“Oh my dear, this will never due. What if you accidently hurt yourself? No…you must rest. After all, we do have a rather long…and dare I say, pleasurable…night ahead of us.”

With that he moved to kiss her as he stunned her and she collapsed in his arms. He gazed at her for a moment then lifted her and carried her away to the suite.

When Hermione came to, she realized that she was back in the library and that she had been bound. She looked across from her and saws Malfoy sitting in the chair opposite her, bound as well and still unconscious.

Ginny was nowhere to be seen and Hermione was frantic. She felt powerless and hopeless.

Ron could feel her anguish and he told Dumbledore and the others that something had gone terribly wrong inside, and not to the advantage of the Order.

It was decided that they could wait no longer. Dumbledore performed the Shadow Charm on the lot, and slowly they began apparating to the front entryway and saying the address to themselves.

As they concentrated on the address, Number 47 Hampstead Court, the home seemed to burst from nothingness and they each passed seamlessly through the front door to assemble in the front hall.

At that point they split up as planned, and with hearts pounding, they began combing the house for signs of life.

________________________________________
Chapter 33 The Secret Passage

As the teams dispersed, Ron and Harry’s team made their way through the parlor and into the kitchen.

They encountered a few Death Eaters along the way but avoided engaging them to keep the element of surprise on their side as long as possible.

Their first priority was to find Hermione and Ginny… then they’d take down their captors.

They slowly moved up the back stairway to a landing lined with large wrought iron torches in the shape of gothic looking serpents. As they proceeded onto the landing, they saw a hallway that led away from it housing several doors.

They began moving in and out of rooms trying to find any signs that the girls had been there.

As they turned a corner they spotted Avery and Crabbe posted outside a door. They glanced at each other with a look of comprehension and slowly began to move towards their goal.

One by one they entered the room passing silently through the locked door. As they gained entrance to the room they found themselves in a large and ancient looking library.

At the far end of the room, Harry saw her first. Hermione sat slumped in her chair. He began to run to her.

At first she was frightened. She could hear him, but could not see anyone. It was then as he approached her that the Shadow Charm had begun to wear off.

Harry was barely visible and seemed almost to have a ghostly look about him. It startled her until he lifted his finger to his lips to quiet her.

As she realized he was real, she tried to hug him, but was completely immobilized by the Body Bind Charm holding her hostage in her chair. She whispered to Harry to free her.

By this point Ron and the others had arrived at Hermione’s side and as Harry freed her she quickly hugged him and then threw herself into Ron’s waiting arms.

Lupin cast a Silencing charm over them so they could speak freely without arousing interest from the thugs waiting outside the door.

Ron and Hermione were holding each other tightly as he buried his face in her hair. She was crying and they both dropped to their knees as they clung to each other.

“I was afraid… I would never see you again,” she said as she began to cry.

Trying to comfort her and calm her Ron kissed her cheek as he whispered to her, “Shh…it’s okay now, love. We’re going to get you and Ginny out of here.”

Then looking quickly around Harry asked, “Hang on…Where is Ginny? Why isn’t she here with you? It’s another hour before midnight. They couldn’t have…already…”

Then noticing the hump that was Malfoy, Bill asked, “and what’s with him? Is Daddy displeased with the prodigal son?”

Hermione then began to quickly explain everything that had happened to she and Ginny over the last week. They wore gaping expressions on their faces as she told them how Draco Malfoy had taken care of her after Lucious had tortured her with the cruciatus curse and how he had tried to help them escape.

She ended by telling them that Lucious had taken Ginny and that he was planning to perform the Heir of Power spell himself.

“We have to save her! We can’t let him do it, we just can’t.” She cried.

Harry’s anger was beginning to surge once again, “Don’t worry Hermione, we won’t. He won’t get away with this! Ron and I’ll kill him before that happens. He’ll pay for torturing you and if he so much as touches her…. Well, I promised Ron’s mum that Malfoy would wish he’d never been born. I intend to keep that promise.”

Ginny’s brothers growled their agreement as Bill added, “You’ll have to wait your turn Harry, you know, big brother’s prerogative and all.”

Harry and Ron looked at Bill and Lupin, “Together it is then, but first things first. We need to get Hermione out of here.” Ron said.

He turned to Hermione and gently held her face in his hands drawing her attention completely to him. He looked deeply into her eyes and she felt his love surging over her body through their link.

It was so intense that she shuddered slightly at under his gaze.

Then Hermione seemed to relax and quietly said, “I love you too.”

Ron kissed her again then leaned his forehead against hers as he sighed with relief that she was safe. The others were watching them, but they didn’t seem to care.

It was completely obvious to Harry, Bill, and Lupin that they loved each other deeply. They were in their own world and that was all that mattered for that brief moment.

Then regaining his focus Ron explained, “Hermione we’re going to send you back to headquarters. You need to wait there where it’s safe. We can’t risk them recapturing you and using you as a bargaining tool. We have to take their power away. Snape and mum are there to take care of you. I’ll be there as soon as I can. You do understand don’t you?… I can’t leave here without Ginny.”

At first she refused to leave them. She had gone on several of these types of missions herself, but seeing the look on the faces of the four before her, she knew they were giving her no choice.

Before they could send her back she asked, “What about him?”

As she motioned to Draco.

“His father will kill him for this… He tried to save us, we can’t just leave him here.”

Harry and Ron tried to argue with her that he’d be getting what he deserved, but Lupin agreed that his life as a Death Eater was over. He told Harry and Ron to keep him bound and blindfolded, but to return him to Order headquarters with Hermione and explain the situation to Mrs. Weasley when they arrived.

Harry then shot, “What do you mean, when we arrive? I’m not going anywhere until we have Ginny. You’re not sending me away…not this time!”

Lupin considered arguing for a second, but realized it would be fruitless and would waste precious time, so he grudgingly agreed they could stay.

With that Ron led Hermione to the fireplace and handed her some floo powder. He blindfolded and levitated the still unconscious Draco onto a vertical stretcher of sorts.

Hermione pulled him into the fire with her as she shouted “Number 12 Grimmauld Place.” In a sudden surge of green flames they had vanished.

Now that the Shadow Charm had worn off, their job would become much more difficult. They could hear other wizards shouting and wand blasts going off throughout the house.

They would have to battle their way from now on to find Ginny. Lupin and Bill blasted the two guards waiting outside through the wall, before they tore off in the direction of the battle ensuing somewhere below them.

When they reached the first floor the scene was reminiscent of the battle in September. There were Order members and Death Eaters dueling in almost every room.

Harry and Ron gave each other a knowing glance as Lupin and Bill proceeded before them. Ron and Harry turned and made their way back upstairs. They figured that with everyone distracted, this would be a good time to find Ginny and get her out of there before it was too late.

They searched countless rooms to no avail.

Midnight was approaching as the noise of fighting continued on the lower level of the home. They stopped to think for a moment. They had searched every room but still they couldn’t find any sign of her. Ginny seemed to have vanished.

They began to consider the possibility that Lucious had taken her somewhere else. Desperately racking his brain for an idea, Harry leaned against a statue in the hall.

As he did so, it suddenly gave way and revealed a dark, hidden passageway behind the wall.

“Brilliant Harry! This has to be it. Wands at the ready then?” Ron exclaimed.

Harry nodded his agreement and led the way into the passage. They proceeded cautiously inside as the gateway sealed itself behind them. Illuminating their path with wand light, they followed the corridor for what seemed like several minutes until they saw the dim light of a fire up ahead.

As they extinguished their wands they looked at each other with a nod then slowly proceeded to the open door at the end of the path. Harry’s heart sank into his stomach as he saw the scene before him.

There was a large room that looked like a bedroom with what looked like rows of benches from a sporting event leading away from a large four poster bed.

Torches were burning on every wall. In the middle of the room was a bed, where a seemingly unconscious Ginny, dressed only in a thin silvery robe lay lifeless.

He and Ron rushed to her and began to try to revive her. When she finally awoke she didn’t seem to recognize them at all and began to scream for help.

Harry tried to comfort her “Ginny it’s us…it’s okay now. We’re here to take you home!”

She pulled away from his grasp appearing terrified. Then looking at Ron Harry asked, “What’s wrong with her?”

Ron looked around and found an empty vial on the bedside table. Holding it up he said, “Love Potion…she’s not herself, Harry. We have to get her away from here so it can wear off.”

By this point Ginny was running across the room to get away from them and had backed herself into a dark corner. Before they could get to her they heard a slow, drawl of a voice coming from the shadows.

“It’s alright, my love, I won’t let them hurt you. Be a good girl now and go and wait for me in our bed.”

With that Ginny obediently crossed the room skirting Harry and Ron and slid back into the bed. They were both stunned as Lucious Malfoy slithered out of the darkness with a triumphant smirk on his face.

“Strange isn’t it, Mr. Potter? All this work to save her and she doesn’t even want to go. She’s anxious to let me have her you know. I even had to stun her because I couldn’t keep her off of me earlier. Not that it wasn’t tempting, but the timing was all wrong. However…yes it’s nearly midnight now… would you like to watch?”

His words only served to enraged Ron and Harry even further. This was what he had wanted. Cause their emotions to run wild…distract them.

In an attempt to catch them off guard Lucious tried to hit them with stunning curses. They were too experienced and too quick for that though.

Fighting Voldemort had taught them both never to let their guard down. They sent their own curses flying back in return as Ginny screamed at them to leave Lucious alone.

Harry tried to block out her protective cries for him. He knew she didn’t know what she was saying and that he had drugged her with a potion.

As fire broke out from wand blasts in the secret room Ron and Harry continued to battle in tandem. Lucious had definitely grown in strength and he managed to knock Ron’s wand away at which point Ginny scrambled to get it and raised it in attack at Ron and Harry.

She spoke in a voice that was unlike her own and ordered them to get to their knees.

“What shall I do, my master?”

Lucious began to laugh a hollow mirthless laugh as he watched, “Well, well, well… you ARE going to be quite useful indeed my beautiful little witch. Finish them my dear, then I promise you will have your reward. We shall be together… tonight! …You do want me, now don’t you?”

She gazed at him glassy eyed and responded, “Oh yes…more than anything, sire.”

Harry was sickened at the way he was controlling her. He felt helpless and he scanned the room for an idea. He still had his wand, but he didn’t want to hurt her and Lucious’ wand was pointed directly at his back.

In the next second, she quickly disarmed Harry catching his wand in mid-air as he looked on completely in shock at what had transpired. She continued to hold them at bay with the wand she had confiscated from the floor as she tossed Harry’s wand onto the bed.

As a grin spread across her face, suddenly she turned on Lucious and shot a curse straight at his heart.

Harry and Ron threw themselves to the floor to get out of the way in time. Lucious hit the stone flooring hard with a thud. Harry wasted no time in retrieving his wand and binding Lucious for good measure, but Ginny was good at curses and he wasn’t moving.

After that, Harry slowly walked over to the bed where Ginny was still kneeling with Ron’s wand held at the ready. Harry gently took it from her and wrapped his arms around her waist and he knelt beside the bed where she sat.

He drew her to him and rested his head against her stomach.

“You’re incredible, Ginny. I’m so glad you’re okay. I don’t think I could survive it if I lost you.”

As she looked down at him she stroked his head gently with her hand as she held his body close to hers. Then she looked at Ron as she tossed his wand back to him and smiled a weak and tired smile.

“It’s good to see you two. I was beginning to worry a bit.”

Harry drew away from her. He stood and taking both of her hands he pulled her into a standing embrace and kissed her gently.

“God, Ginny…I love you.”

After a few seconds silence, he pulled back from her looking at her beautiful face.

He had to ask, “How did you do that? I mean… what about the potion? You are still…okay…aren’t you? I mean he didn’t DO anything to you did he?” He asked with a worried look on his face.

She touched his cheek and answered, “I am now, Harry. I waited until he left me then spit out the potion. When he returned, I played it up a bit…desperation for him…sorry, Harry…I had to kiss him, it was the only way. I was so relieved when he stunned me…I thought I’d be sick.”

Harry was raising his eyebrows at her, not really liking what he was hearing.

Smiling at him, she kissed him tenderly and said, “I love you, Harry. I hated what I had to do, but I promise…nothing really happened. I would rather die first. As it turns out though, that wasn’t necessary…once again… you’re my hero. You and Ron that is.”

Harry was looking back at her. He had to admire her bravery and inner strength.

After consideration though Harry added with a grin, “Actually, I think it was you who actually saved us Gin…for the second time this year.”

He added with a smile. With that he removed his wizard robes and wrapped her in them. Then she walked over and kissed Ron on the cheek saying, “I love you big brother.”

Ron kissed her on the top of the head as he gave her a brotherly one armed hug and a bit of a grin, “Yeah, well…I kind of like you too, but don’t let it go to your head. Okay? …Now, let’s get you out of here. Hermione is already back at headquarters.”

They levitated Lucious and began to retrace their steps through the passageway. As they reentered the hallway, they could hear wand blasts continuing to issue from downstairs, but they were fewer and far between at this point.

They weren’t sure if that was good or bad for a second, but then upon seeing Fred and George enter the landing with their wands at their sides, they took it as a good sign that the battle was coming to a close.

When they saw Ginny they ran to them and scooped up their little sister together in a hug.

“We’ve got to get you home Gin…mum’s in a right state! Things are under control downstairs now. I see you’ve found Malfoy.”

Fred sneered as George began raising him in the air and repeatedly banging his head off the ceiling.

Ron answered, “Yeah, as it turns out, little Ginny here is a bit of an actress when she wants to be. She didn’t really need much help from us…No wonder she’s got dad wrapped around her little finger.”

Harry looked down at Ginny with a proud smile. “It works on me too.” Said Harry with a grin.

As he looked down at her all he could think about was getting her home and being alone with her. For a week, he worried that he may never see her again, now he was never going to let her out of his sight…at least not for awhile.

She looked back at him and seemed to read his mind.

She kissed him and quietly whispered in his ear, “I do believe you’re a naughty boy, aren’t you, Mr. Potter?”

Harry only grinned and winked at her.

“Let’s go home Gin.”

With that they went to join the others. They turned Lucious over to Mad-Eye who seemed to have his own methods of rehabilitation in mind.

The rest of the Death Eaters that survived were returned to Azkaban. Miraculously, the Order came out of it virtually unscathed.

The Shadow Shroud Charm had given them an upper hand in a tenuous situation to say the least. As they left the home Dumbledore turned to face it.

When the last member was out, he raised his arms and the entire house was suddenly engulfed in flames. They spread rapidly and the house quickly collapsed in on itself, completely disintegrating before their eyes.

Dumbledore turned to the on-looking Order members and said with an expression of complete calm, “Our work is done.”

It had a tone of finality that the others could only stand and contemplate.

Was it finally really over? Only time would tell.

________________________________________
Chapter 34 Love Without Words

As they arrived back at headquarters, Mrs. Weasley came running down the stairs. She was beside herself with happiness… almost as much as she had been earlier with fear.

“Oh Ginny dear! Are you alright? I’ve been so worried!” She said gathering her daughter into her arms and holding on as if her life depended on it.

Harry and Ron and the handful of Order members that had returned to headquarter edged around them and entered the kitchen to give them a few moments alone.

Mrs. Weasley held her daughter at arm’s length looking her over. When she was finally satisfied that she was completely intact she sent her straight upstairs to shower and get into bed. She told her that Madame Pomfrey would be coming up to give her a potion for dreamless sleep, so she could rest tonight.

As Ginny slowly climbed the stairs her mum called after her, “Are you hungry dear? Would you like me to bring you up a tray?” Ginny answered as she yawned, “No thanks mum, I’m just tired…see you in the morning.”

As Ginny got to the top of the stairs she peeked in Hermione’s room. Sure enough, she was fast asleep. She also found Draco two doors down also in a deep sleep.

It still seemed unbelievable to her that he had tried to help them. After all, he had spent the last 7 years trying his best to make them all miserable. How could he have changed so much so fast?

She quietly pulled his door shut again and proceeded to the bathroom. As she stepped into the shower and the hot water rushed over her body, she let all of her fear and emotions take over her as she finally broke down in tears.

She stood there crying for a long time, as the past week’s events seemed to slowly wash away. It was a relaxing her, as if her tears were a valve…slowly releasing all of her stress.

After she showered, she went to her room and got into her nightgown. She and Hermione would normally share a room, but it was decided that after everything they had been through, they needed the peace and quiet that only a room to themselves could provide.

Professor Dumbledore had used a charm to add extra rooms to the house to allow for Hermione, Ginny and Draco to have just that. As she slid into her bed she began to feel sleepy.

Ginny didn’t think she really needed the potion, but she knew her mother wouldn’t agree, so she lay propped up against the pillows of her four-poster and waited for Madame Pomfrey to arrive.

Downstairs in the kitchen, the group that had gathered was going over the night’s events.

Harry and Ron left out a few details of Ginny’s experience with Lucious…they thought it would be kinder to Mrs. Weasley if they did.

At one point, Ron mentioned something about checking on Hermione, but his mother put the breaks to that idea.

“Leave her be Ron. She’s been through a terrible ordeal and what she needs right now is sleep. You can see her in the morning.”

Reluctantly he agreed. He knew that his mother was probably right, but he was disappointed that Madame Pomfrey had given her the sleeping potion before he could return home and say goodnight.

It was now after one o’clock in the morning and everyone was looking worn out. Most of the Order members said their farewells and had left for the night. It was down to basically the Weasley’s, Madame Pomfrey and Harry at that point.

Mrs. Weasley told her children and Harry to go up to bed. She said that Madame Pomfrey was going to bring a sleeping draught up for Ginny, but she would need to go to Hogwarts to get more.

They hadn’t expected Draco to show up at headquarters with Hermione and they only had enough prepared for two. Mrs. Weasley was going to wait up for her, then send her up when she arrived before going to bed herself.

As Harry and the others climbed the stairs Harry could think of nothing but Ginny. He considered what Mrs. Weasley had said to Ron. He knew he probably shouldn’t disturb her, but he just had to see her before he went to sleep.

He told himself that he wouldn’t stay long, he just wanted to say goodnight. Actually, what he needed was to see for himself that she was really okay.

As the rest of the Weasley family dispersed to their rooms, Harry told Ron to go on and that he’d be there in a minute, as he opened the door to the bathroom.

Ron sleepily nodded and went into the room that he and Harry shared and fell onto his bed without bothering to undress. Harry waited quietly for a few minutes in the bathroom, then when the all fell silent he slowly opened the door and peered into the hall.

It was clear and he began quietly making his way down the hallway.

As Ginny was lying there waiting for the nurse, she heard a small knock at the door.

“Come in, Madame Pomfrey.”

As the door opened she saw that it wasn’t Madame Pomfrey at all. It was Harry… and he looked pale and exhausted. They didn’t speak as he closed the door behind him.

She smiled sleepily and held her hand out to him as he crossed the room towards her. He took her hand and sat on the edge of her bed as he lifted her hand to kiss her palm.

He then laid her hand against his cheek, drinking in the warmth of her touch as he gazed silently at her. Unable to wait any longer, he reached for her… sliding his arms around her waist and pulling her gently to him.

Silently they held each other, as Harry felt her heartbeat quicken with his. He pulled back from their embrace and slowly moved his lips within inches of hers.

His focus was locked on her as he looked longingly into her eyes. He slowly closed the gap between them as he leaned into her with a gentle kiss. More rapidly than expected, their kisses became deep and desperate.

She quietly moaned with pleasure as she parted her lips, accepting his probing tongue. In an instant, they were completely lost in each other as their passion pushed all thoughts of reason or consequences out of their minds.

Harry’s hands were moving freely over her body…this time she made no attempt to slow his progression as she had in the past.

Instead she moved her hands around to his back and slid them hungrily up under his shirt. Her hands against his warm skin felt incredible as she pulled him on top of her. She could feel the muscles of his back moving as they continued to enjoy each other’s bodies.

He had slipped the strap of her nightgown off her shoulder and was kissing her body. She shuddered as he slowly progressed to her breast.

He stopped briefly and looked at her as if asking if it was okay. In a silent response, she gently placed her hands on the back of his head and pulled him back to her body.

Things were progressing rapidly. It wasn’t until they heard footsteps on the stairs, that they suddenly fell crashing back to reality and broke apart with a start.

They still hadn’t said a word to each other. They didn’t need words. Looking towards the door, Harry quickly kissed her one last time and with a pop, he was gone.

Ginny was left breathless, disheveled, and flushed.

Harry apparated to his room. Looking around he saw that Ron was already in his bed sleeping. He was a bit relieved because he felt sure that if anyone saw him at that moment, they’d know where he’d been and why.

As he stood leaning against the door, Harry closed his eyes and exhaled slowly trying to calm his breathing and his body. His heart was pounding.

That had been one of the most intense experiences that he and Ginny had ever shared and he hadn’t wanted it to end. The intensity of it all had made him even more excited and it was taking him a minute to recover.

He ached for her…It felt as though he was somehow reclaiming her from her kidnappers. He began to think of how much he loved Ginny…and as he stood there… he wanted desperately to have her.

He moved quietly to his bed and undressed. Sliding into the sheets he lay awake thinking of what they had almost done.

He thought of Ginny’s body, and how it had reacted to his touch. She had wanted him too…he was sure of it.

As he heard the nurse enter Ginny’s room, he knew that they would have to wait. This was not the place for something that intimate.

They needed to be alone…truly alone…and soon.

As he finally drifted off to sleep, dreams of Ginny filled his night until he could see her once again in the morning.

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Chapter 35 The Draco Malfoy Defense League

Morning arrived to a chilly New Year’s Day. Snow had begun to fall again during the night and the windows were frosted and glistening in the sunlight.

Ron and Harry had awoken early in hopes of seeing Ginny and Hermione, but due to the sleeping potion, the girl’s had been noticeably absent from the morning activities.

At one point Ron asked his mum, “Do you think Madame Pomfrey gave Ginny and Hermione too much?” as he looked expectantly toward the staircase for the 5th time that day.

Mrs. Weasley, having had her memory modified, no longer held Ron in contempt whenever Hermione’s name was mentioned and seeing the worry in her son’s eyes she responded with a sympathetic and patient smile.

“They’re fine dear. They just need some rest. I’m sure they’ll wake soon. Try not to worry… I’ve checked on them and they are both sleeping peacefully… So is Draco. ” She added quietly.

Ron and Harry had temporarily forgotten about Malfoy.

Forgetting himself he yelled back at his mother, “Malfoy? Who the bloody hell cares about Malfoy? When he’s up, Harry and I will make him wish he was still sleeping!”

Mrs. Weasley bristled at her son’s tone. “Ronald Weasley! You’ll do nothing of the sort…and…You best watch your tone… or you’ll be wishing you had a sleeping draught! That boy may not be your favorite person, but he’s been through a horrible ordeal. He has no where to go…and what’s more, his father has disowned him. We should be grateful for the help he gave the girls. He tried to save your sister and Hermione. Hermione was in tremendous pain from what I understand and he gave her relief. What he needs… is our gratitude and, in my estimation,…our sympathy.”

Ron and Harry looked at each other in disbelief. Did Mrs. Weasley actually expect them to forgive Malfoy for the last seven years of snide comments and threats… overnight?

Ron responded, “Well…he’ll get no sympathy from Harry and I. He was the one who kidnapped them in the first place! He’s just as guilty as his father!”

Just as Ron had finished his comments they heard footsteps on the stairs. All three of them spun around to see Malfoy descending towards them.

There was an uncomfortable silence as he froze on the steps and looked at them staring back at him.

Finally to break the silence, Mrs. Weasley asked, “Draco, how are you feeling? Would you like something to eat?”

Looking unsure at the scene before him, he slowly moved down the remainder of the staircase and nodded to Mrs. Weasley and answered in an almost inaudible voice, “Yes…thank you.”

Ron and Harry glared at him, but for some reason they lost their zest for it as he passed them without speaking and followed Mrs. Weasley into the kitchen. He seemed weak and defeated as he kept his eyes to the floor…nothing like the Malfoy they loved to hate.

Ron rounded on Harry as the kitchen door closed behind them.

“Can you believe her? She wants us to make nice… with him?” he said gesturing to the now closed kitchen door in amazement. “Now I know she’s lost it…too much stress I guess.”

Harry looked back at Ron in agreement. “Yeah…surely she doesn’t expect us to be…friends with him…does she?”

Ron just sat shaking his head as if his mother had surely gone mad.

As they considered Mrs. Weasley’s sanity, in the kitchen she was trying to soothe Draco, as only a mother of 6 sons would.

“Now, you don’t mind them…they’ll come ‘round. How ‘bout a spot of breakfast?”

Draco looked up at her gratefully and nodded. While she busied herself with eggs and sausages, he glanced back at the door leading to the lounge.

What am I doing here? he thought to himself. I left one place where my own father wished me dead… only to end up with the people I have spent most of my school years hating.

He decided he needed to go…but where?

Was Malfoy Manor safe?

He didn’t even know if his mother would accept him or throw him out for betraying his father? He looked down at the table lost in his thoughts.

Suddenly, he felt the warmth of a hand on his shoulder. He jumped and looked up into Mrs. Weasley’s sympathetic smiling face.

As she spoke it calmed him a bit, “I know it probably feels hopeless right now…but you did a very brave thing last night. You did the right thing, which is not always an easy thing to do. You tried to return my daughter to me…and Mr. Weasley and I will always be grateful for the sacrifice you made in doing that...

You'll always be welcome in our home. It may take the others time to realize that what you tried to do was genuine…but eventually… they will.

You must understand that those two boys love Ginny and Hermione. Harry especially… has lost a tremendous number of people he’s loved in his lifetime. It’s only natural that he’d be skeptical.

And Ron… well you did help to take his sister and his girlfriend. They need time to forgive. But let’s not talk anymore of it now. Eat up dear. You need to keep up your strength.”

As he ate, Draco followed Mrs. Weasley’s progress around the kitchen with his eyes. He had never had someone care so much about how he was feeling.

Oh, he knew his mother loved him, but she was never what you could call…warm to him. His father always frowned on open displays of affection and emotion.

He considered it coddling and that made men weak he had always said. As he considered Mrs. Weasley’s generous forgiveness of him, he was beginning to think that Ron hadn’t grown up as poor as he had always thought.

Back in the lounge, Harry and Ron had taken up a game of Wizard’s Chess to pass the time and to take their mind off the fact that Mrs. Weasley had suddenly joined the Draco Malfoy Defense League.

Ron’s mind wasn’t on the game though and for once, Harry was actually beating him. As they were finishing the second game they heard footsteps once again from the stairs.

They both spun around in unison to see Hermione finally descending towards them. She looked a little tired but otherwise fine.

Ron jumped from his seat, knocking the chessboard over to grumbles from the upturned chess pieces. He crossed the room and met her as she reached the bottom stair.

“Good morning, sleepy head. I was beginning to think you may never wake up today.” He said smiling at her as he took her hand and led her over to the sofa where Harry was still sitting.

“Good morning.” She answered as she kissed Ron on the cheek. “Hi Harry.”

Harry was smiling at his friend and answered, “It’s great to see you, Hermione. How are you?”

She seemed to consider his question briefly, then answered, “I think I’m okay. That was actually the first good night’s sleep I’ve had since Mr. Malfoy…”

Her voice trailed off as her gaze dropped to the floor. They could tell the memory of the cruciatus curse was flooding back. Harry understood what she had gone through.

Voldemort had used the curse on him in their fourth year and it was not something one simply forgets. The pain seems unfathomable and you just simply… wish for death.

From the recount of her story, Hermione had been forced to endure it much longer than Harry had in fact.

Ron had pulled her close and put his arm around her as Harry had reached out and took her hand.

Harry spoke first glancing at Ron’s worried expression, “Hermione, I know what you went through. I’ve been there myself…with Voldemort, but Ron and I are going to help you through this. We promise. I know it doesn’t seem possible now, but it does get easier to put out of your mind.”

Then having an idea he added “Perhaps Professor Dumbledore could allow you to use his pensieve when we return to school in a few days.”

Ron looked hopeful as the kissed her on the temple, “Yeah, good idea Harry…I’m sure he will.”

She looked gratefully back at Ron and Harry. They always took such good care of her. She would need them both now, more than ever.

As her stomach growled she remembered how little she had eaten over the last week.

Ron heard it too and said, “Let’s get you something to eat. I’m sure mum is anxious to get some food into you. You know… that’s how she relieves stress…feeding anything that moves.”

He grinned at her and stood to help her from her seat as he offered her his hand.

“Are you coming, Harry?”

Taking one last look at the stairs in the hopes that he’d see Ginny there, he reluctantly decided to join them. It was nearly one o’clock now and he and Ron decided they’d have lunch while Hermione had her breakfast.

As they entered the kitchen they spotted Malfoy still sitting at the table and finishing his meal. They stopped dead as Malfoy looked at Hermione.

Feeling as though he may at least have an ally in her, Draco quietly said good morning. Hermione began to respond when Ron moved to stand in front of her as if he felt he needed to shield her from his gaze.

“How dare you speak to her?”

Hermione becoming alarmed at the escalating tension in the room she said, “Ron, it’s okay. I’m fine, really.”

At that Draco quickly rose from his seat, nodded to Hermione and thanked Mrs. Weasley for breakfast. He told her he was going to go out back for awhile as he grabbed a cloak off the hook near the back garden door.

As the door closed behind him Harry and Ron were about to go into another tirade when Hermione spoke first, “Poor Draco…He must be beside himself.”

Both Ron and Harry rounded on her together, “What?!”

Ron continued, “Not you too? You’re not going to jump to defense with my mum are you?”

Hermione just looked at Ron in silence, so he continued, “After everything that’s happened…how can you feel sorry for him? He’s the reason that you were kidnapped in the first place…not to mention he’s been simply a horrid prat for years!”

Hermione persisted, “Yes, I know…but I got to know a different side of him over the last few days. He’s really just a scared boy, whose father made him who he was. I think he needs us to support him. He wants to change. He doesn’t want to be… his father.”

Looking utterly perplexed Ron again responded, “What? Support him? Support Draco Malfoy? You’re as mad as my mum!”

Mrs. Weasley intervened at that point, “Hermione’s right.” Then crossing the room she hugged Hermione tightly. “Hello dear. How are you feeling today?”

Hermione returned her hug and answered, “I think I’m okay, just a little hungry.”

Mrs. Weasley responded, “Well, we can certainly fix that love. Have a seat and I’ll get you something straight away.”

Mrs. Weasley smiled at her warmly, then changing expressions rapidly she returned her attention to Ron and Harry with a glare. “That’s a very smart girl you know. You two should listen to her.”

With that she placed plates before them filled to the edges. They began to eat although Harry didn’t have much of an appetite. His mind was on Ginny.

As the scene in Ginny’s bedroom played over and over in his mind, he blushed as Mrs. Weasley spoke to him and woke him from his daydreams.

“Is everything alright Harry dear?” She asked having noticed his daze.

“Um…yeah…everything’s fine Mrs. Weasley, thanks.” He responded feeling suddenly very guilty for trying to sleep with her only daughter as she waited for Madame Pomfrey downstairs.

As they finished their meal, Ron and Hermione were beginning to talk in giggly whispers and get rather cuddly. They excused themselves as they said they were going to go into the lounge for a bit. They opened the kitchen door to find Ginny just preparing to come through.

“Oh Ginny!” Hermione cried as she closed the gap between them pulling her into the kitchen.

They hadn’t gotten to speak to each other since they had been separated at Hampstead Court. Each other’s safety finally sunk in now and Ginny and Hermione hugged each other as tears began to fall from both of their eyes.

They had survived an experience over the past week that they weren’t sure they would. They would be forever bonded by it and as close as any sisters could be.

Harry was rising from his chair and watching the girls as they let their emotions go. Ron stood by, not quite sure of what to do. Mrs. Weasley went over and hugged them both together.

When she released them, the girls drew back from each other and were smiling through there teary eyes. It was as though they had had a silent celebration.

Mrs. Weasley then beckoned Ginny to the table and sat her down across from where Harry had just been sitting. Harry eyes were fixed on her as a nervous, but relieved smile spread across his face.

“Hi Gin. You’re awake. How are you?”

She told everyone that she felt fine but hungry as a plate landed quickly in front of her. Harry stayed to sit with her while she ate. They talked about small talk stuff…for the first time ever their conversation felt a bit strained.

Harry kept thinking that something was wrong. He must have pushed too hard last night. He lost all self-control and after what she had just gone through it was very thoughtless of him. He kept looking at her and quietly wondering how she felt about the night before.

Last night he was sure she wanted him too, but now in the light of day and away from the actual event…he wasn’t so sure.

As she finished eating she asked Harry if he could help her with something. She kissed her mum and thanked her for lunch, then grabbing Harry by the hand they left the kitchen.

As they went through the lounge Ron and Hermione were no where to be seen. Harry proceeded to the couch only to be redirected by Ginny to the stairs.

Quickly she led him to her room and locked the door behind them. Harry stood there stunned.

He just managed to ask, “What’s up Gin?” before she threw herself onto him almost knocking him down.

After her initial attack she pulled back and said with a devilish grin, “Hello, Harry. I don’t think I greeted you properly downstairs... I didn’t want mum to get suspicious and start watching our every move.”

He laughed and said, “You’re more like Fred and George than I thought, aren’t you?”

With that she began kissing him speaking in whispery tones between each kiss.

“I’ve missed you… I thought I’d die when you left me last night.”

Harry smiled at her, “Die? Huh? I must have done something right then, I guess.”

As she continued in a playful teasing voice, “Oh I think definitely…but don’t be too hasty, we may need more practice… to get it exactly right. Don’t you agree?”

Harry kissed her neck then answered in her ear, “They do say practice makes perfect.” as the world once again began to disappear.

After they pulled away, he said with a raised eyebrow and a mischievous grin.

“Do you think it’s wise though, Miss Weasley?…Your mother is right downstairs.”

Ginny grinned back at him, “Yes I know…you didn’t seem to mind last night though did you?”

Harry actually blushed, which Ginny thought was adorable. Then in a serious and breathy whisper he told her, “I want to be alone with you Gin…soon.”

She looked back into his eyes and he thought he would melt.

Then she answered, “So do I Harry…you’ve been so patient with me. It’s time…you had your reward.”

Harry raised his eyebrows once again, “What kind of a reward? Will I like it?”

She gave him a smirk and said, “I guess you’ll just have to wait and see. Now we best get back before mum notices we’re gone.”

She took his hand to leave, but he stopped her and pulled her to him again. He gave her one last sweet, gentle kiss.

As he gazed into her beautiful eyes he whispered “I love you Ginny…you’re my heart.”

She felt her knees weaken as his words went through her. She leaned on the door as his gaze almost made her dizzy. He brushed his hand softly against her jaw line then leaned in and kissed her eyelids… then her nose… then touched his lips softly to the corners of her mouth.

He stopped briefly reconnecting their gaze, then engulfed her in a passionate long kiss.

As he broke their touch, he breathed “Something to think about… until later.” He said with a sweet smile.

Ginny felt lightheaded as she opened the door and headed back to reality again with Harry in tow by the hand.

________________________________________
Chapter 36 A Universe Upturned

Over the next few days, the atmosphere at Grimwald Place was rather bizarre, to say the least.

Having Malfoy there with them seemed to have somehow thrown off the normal balance of their universe and it made for some very tense moments in the house.

Mrs. Weasley had continued with her mission to make Draco feel welcome, but Ron and Harry were simply not willing to follow the program. If truth were told, they were having a very difficult time believing that the ‘new and improved Malfoy’ was genuine and simply chose not to trust him.

They were quite suspicious of his motives given his past and frankly, didn’t particularly care for the way he continually dared to speak to Ginny and Hermione.

For their part, the girls felt rather sympathetic towards him and were beginning to accuse Ron and Harry of unnecessarily bullying Draco into solitude.

Ron… being Ron…asked at one point “Do you think he’s slipping them some sort of potion? You know… to make them feel sorry for him?” as he glared reproachfully at the back of a quickly exiting Malfoy.

Harry didn’t think it likely, but had to admit, their sympathetic support of Malfoy was a bit unsettling. Whenever they tried to ‘talk sense’ to the girls about it though, they were told they were being thick and totally insensitive.

It had quickly become a point of contention between the couples. Harry and Ron could make no more progress with Ginny and Hermione in their arguments than they could with Mrs. Weasley, so it was decided.

In an attempt to maintain “certain privileges” with the girls… Ron and Harry had decided they would need to abandon their attempts to sway them…at least for now… and began diligently avoiding the subject whenever they were together.

Malfoy, by in large, had remained in his bedroom as much as possible. Anytime he ventured into another part of the house, he felt uncomfortable and unwelcome as Harry and Ron walked into the room. Harry and Ron hadn’t actually said anything to him under threat from Mrs. Weasley, but that didn’t stop them from staring daggers through him at him at every given opportunity.

They did have good reason after all. Malfoy himself could even see their point… but that was not a fact that he was about to disclose to them. Harry and Ron felt that having him there posed somewhat of a risk to the safety of the girls and to the security of the Order of the Phoenix.

To them, it was a bit like Dumbledore trusting Snape…they just simply didn’t understand it. They had tried to argue their case to the headmaster once when he arrived to discuss something privately with Malfoy.

They caught Professor Dumbledore on his way out and pulled him aside to talk. As Dumbledore gazed warmly at Ron and Harry over his half-moon spectacles, he patiently asked what he could do for them as Harry began.

“Professor are you sure it’s wise?… to trust Malfoy that is?” He inquired with Ron looking on and nodding his agreement. “It’s just that… it’s been less than two weeks since he kidnapped Hermione and Ginny from Hogsmeade. Before that… he WAS in league with the Death Eaters… for at least four months that we’re sure of.”

Harry paused for a reaction to come from Dumbledore, but when he didn’t receive one, Ron quickly took up the cause.

“Professor, we also believe he was spying for them while he was still at Hogwarts. How do we know that he’s not still spying now…to get back into daddy’s good graces?”

Then Ron looked off in the distance contemplatively, as if he had just been hit by a revelation.

“In fact…do you think it possible that… that was their plan all along? You know…for you to take Malfoy in…to give him access to this place?”

Harry hadn’t considered this before now, but he had to admit…the idea did have merit. Could one of their goals have been a to discover the location of the Order’s headquarters all along?

Harry snapped back from his own thoughts as Ron continued, “Besides that professor…he’s never shown any remorse for…for being such a…such an insufferable prat at school!” He ended matter-of-factly, as if that settled the matter.

Professor Dumbledore considered them quietly for a few minutes with a small, but tolerant grin filling his face. Then he spoke in firm, but even tones.

“I have talked to Draco several times since he arrival here at headquarters. I do not believe this was part of the plan, Mr. Weasley as you suggest.” he said continuing to grin then added, “To the matter of spying for his father, I have not disclosed the location of headquarters to him. He was brought here blindfolded and unconscious. As secret keeper for the Order, unless I directly reveal this location to him, he’ll never be able to return once he’s left... Nor will he be able to share its whereabouts with any other party. Young Mr. Malfoy was brought here for his own protection. I believe that’s a fact he is quite grateful for at the moment. It appears… returning to his own home…would be rather… unsafe.”

With that Dumbledore ended their conversation and excused himself to return to Hogwarts.

Harry and Ron watched him go, still unconvinced of the wisdom of having a Jr. Death Eater in their midst, but had no choice but to accept Dumbledore’s decision to allow it.

As it turned out, Malfoy’s situation was just as Professor Dumbledore had stated. In an attempt to extricate himself from his current situation, he had tried to contact his mother with Dumbledore’s help.

Mrs. had met with Dumbledore at Hogwarts to discuss possible solutions. It was the outcome of that particular meeting that Dumbledore had come to discuss with Malfoy that day. Because of security, Dumbledore was unable to disclose Draco’s whereabouts to his mother, so visiting him was out of the question. She had also told the headmaster that she felt it unsafe for him to come to Malfoy Manor because Lucious still had a few supporters outside of Azkaban who had not been at Death Eater headquarters on New Year’s Eve.

Mrs. Malfoy feared for her son’s life after talking with her husband in prison, and feared for her own life, if she openly supported him. For the first time in their lives, Harry and Draco actually had something in common.

Harry was an orphan and Draco was as good as orphaned. He could never return home again as long as his father was still alive.

To add to the tension building at Order headquarters, there was also the issue of Dobby. He had remained at Grimwald Place during the holidays to help Mrs. Weasley, but since Malfoy had arrived, Dobby had taken to dropping things and jumping in fear every time Malfoy entered the room.

It was obvious that Dobby didn’t trust him any more that Ron or Harry…and with good reason. Dobby had served as house elf for the Malfoy family for many years. He had been treated terribly as their servant, as had his family before him.

Due to the laws of enslavement of house elves though, he was helpless to better his situation. It was Harry who finally freed Dobby in his second year at Hogwarts when he tricked Lucious Malfoy into handing Dobby a sock concealed in a diary.

Dobby had been overjoyed at his new freedom… however Mr. Malfoy was not.

Even though the Malfoy family no longer held power over him, Dobby never quite felt safe when anyone with the name of Malfoy was nearby… and chances were good that he never would.

So, with the piercing glares, strained silences, and Dobby breaking everything he touched practically, no one could say they were disappointed when the day to return to Hogwarts finally arrived.

Early that morning, six members of the Order had arrived to escort them back to Hogwarts. Much to the chagrin of the students, they were to travel by bus.

The Knight bus, with its breakneck speeds, reckless maneuvers and its rather dodgy driver, was no one’s favorite mode of transportation. In an attempt to avoid it, Ron asked if they could go by broom instead, but with the weather and five school trunks in tow, it was decided that taking the bus was much ‘better’.

When he hopefully suggested apparition, he was told by Hermione for the hundredth time in a patient but tired tone, “You can’t apparate onto Hogwarts grounds, Ron.”

Crestfallen, he responded quietly, “Oh yeah, …right.”

So, out of suggestions Ron, Harry, and the others had prepared themselves for a rather unpleasant journey and packed their things to go.

As they left Grimwald Place Mrs. Weasley hugged Ginny and Ron then moved onto Harry and Hermione. Draco left last followed carefully by Mad-Eye Moody’s magical eye. It appeared Moody was quite suspicious of Malfoy himself, but of course Moody was suspicious of everyone, so no real surprise there.

As Draco turned to exit the door, Mrs. Weasley stopped him and pulled him into a motherly hug as well. It temporarily shocked him, but as the shock wore off, he returned her hug and thanked her for her kindness as he left to join the others.

As Draco climbed onto the bus, he felt a surge of butterflies in his stomach. This would be the first time he would step on Hogwarts grounds since the battle at Hogsmeade in September. He wasn’t quite sure how the other Slytherin students, or even the teachers for that matter, would receive him.

He had betrayed them all, but now he was seeking forgiveness and acceptance…neither of which he had much hope of attaining.

He had considered not returning at all, but Dumbledore had insisted. Professor Dumbledore had offered him protection and a chance for a new life.

He would have to work extra hard to catch up in his studies, and he would no longer be a prefect, but given the fact the he had no other prospects, his only choice was to accept the offer.

In contrast to Malfoy, Harry was relieved to be going back to Hogwarts. It was the only place he truly ever felt at home. Staying at Grimmauld Place held painful memories of his godfather and he was happy to finally be getting away.

Their world seemed to come back into balance later that day as Ron, Hermione, Ginny and Harry returned to Gryffindor Tower and Malfoy went back to the dungeons of Slytherin house.

The four quickly settled into their favorite spots by the common room fire and the new term began relatively uneventful…that is until a couple weeks into the new term.

Fawkes delivered an official looking letter to Harry, summoning him to appear in Professor Dumbledore’s office for a matter of utmost importance.

It was to be a private matter and the Harry and the others couldn’t help but wonder what could possibly be up now. Harry wasn’t sure he really wanted to know, but he had no choice but to go directly to the headmaster’s office and find out.

He leaned down and kissed Ginny goodbye as she smiled supportively at him. “

It will be okay Harry.” She had said. “We’ll be here waiting for you when you get back.”

He smiled back at her appreciatively, feeling very grateful to have her in his life. He then said goodbye to Ron and Hermione and headed for the portrait hole.

As Harry walked the corridor that led to the stone gargoyle entrance, he continued to worry about what he was about to hear. As he stepped onto the moving spiral staircase however, his curiosity began to get the better of him and his nerves turned to a feeling of anxious expectation.

He had no idea that what he was about to hear would require him to make some important and lasting decisions. Ones that could quite possible change his life forever.

________________________________________
Chapter 37 Dumbledore’s Unfinished Task

As Harry reached the top of the staircase, he stood for a few seconds just looking at the door that led to Dumbledore’s office.

After taking a deep breath, he reached out to grab the gold, phoenix-adorned knocker as the large wooden door suddenly opened before him. From across the room he heard the voice of Professor Dumbledore beckoning him to come in.

Slowly Harry walked through the door and began making his way across the familiar office to the headmaster’s desk.

“Please Harry, sit down if you would. I apologize for all of the secrecy, but I felt it better if we talked in private before sharing what I’m about to tell you with Miss Weasley or the others.”

Now Harry was really curious. What was he going to say that involved all of them? And if it did involve them, why weren’t they invited to be there too.

Harry was beginning to grow restless with the waiting and asked, “Professor, what’s this all about? Has something happened?”

In response, Professor Dumbledore quietly raised his arm into the air. Fawkes appeared in a flash of red flames and flew to him, gently resting upon his arm. In his beak he bore a very ancient looking piece of parchment. In his talons, he held two small boxes.

“Thank you, my friend.” Dumbledore said as he stroked the beautiful crimson bird.

After Dumbledore relieved the phoenix of his parcels the bird flew silently across the room and lit softly on his perch.

Dumbledore had placed the objects on his desk and began to tell Harry the purpose of their meeting.

“Harry, I know you must be wondering why I have called you here today… so I’ll try to get straight to the point. There are…important things… that I must tell you. Information that I dare say… may change the way you make decisions that affect your future. Actually… more to the point, it involves items that I have been designated to pass along to you.”

“You see, when you turned 17 last July, you came of age in the wizarding world. There are certain things that you are now entitled to…things that until now…I felt it best not to trouble you with.

After all…you needed to focus on preparation for Voldemort, then Miss Granger was ill, and now most recently…the kidnappings. However, now I believe we have been granted… a break of sorts… and I feel compelled to complete my obligation at this time.”

Harry just stared at him without a clue as to what was going on, “Your obligation? What obligation sir?” he asked wishing that Dumbledore would actually ‘get straight to the point’… as he had promised.

Dumbledore sensed his impatience and plunged on, “You see Harry, there is the matter of… your inheritance.”

Harry again looked back at his mentor with a quizzical look and asked, “My…My what professor? I thought I’d already received my inheritance from my parents... Isn’t that what I’ve been using to pay for my books and stuff… from my vault at Gringotts?”

Dumbledore answered, “Well, yes Harry…that trust was set up to provide for your school years, but as it turns out…there’s more…much more in fact.”

He picked up one of the small boxes and slid it over to Harry who opened it slowly. Inside lay two very old looking gold keys.

“Those keys are to two separate vaults at Gringotts. The first belonged to your grandfather, Harry. It was passed down to your father and now I pass it on to you. You are the last of the Potter line. Your may be unaware of it, but your family was quite wealthy… although they never really held much passion for flashing their fortune.”

Dumbledore smiled, as if he was remembering them fondly, “Quite modest and generous people…just as you are today.”

“The other key is from the vault that Sirius held. Being on the run for so long, he never was able to spend any of the money held there…couldn’t get into the bank to claim it very easily. I believe the only withdrawal made in recent years was to purchase a broom… for a belated birthday present of sorts.

Between those vaults… and the trust you already had access to, I dare say that you will be very well taken care of… as will your children…even if you never work a day in your life.”

Harry’s mouth was gaping. He had always had more than enough money for himself, he couldn’t believe there was more.

As Harry contemplated this revelation, Dumbledore slid the second box over to Harry. A bit uncertain, Harry opened it as well. Inside lay a pair of beautiful rings. They were platinum bands encrusted with a single ring of diamonds and fiery green emeralds that matched the color in Harry’s eyes.

As he carefully lifted them out of the box and held them in his hand, he felt a strange warmth coming from them. It was soothing and somehow comforting to him.

“Those rings belonged to your parents Harry. As you may have guessed, they contain a strong and ancient magic. They also have been passed down through the Potter generations for years. They were your parents’ wedding rings. When you choose to give your mother’s ring to a woman someday, it will bind you to her for eternity.

Even in death you will be together, as your parents are now. Such a gift should be given only if you are willing to give your life to that person, for that bond…once made…can never be broken.” Again Harry was left speechless as the rings shone brightly in the sunlight.

Finally, taking the folded piece of parchment in his hands, he sighed quietly as he began running his fingers over it’s edges.

“Now…there’s the matter of Sirius’ will… You may be aware that he considered you to be his only living family. Therefore, you are the rightful heir to not only his remaining funds, but also his other possessions.”

Harry was stunned. It had never occurred to him that Sirius would leave anything to him. He just simply had wanted his godfather back. Dumbledore slowly slid the parchment across the desk to Harry… leaving it in front of his expectant eyes.

“This, Harry… is the legal deed to Number 12 Grimmauld Place. Sirius has left it too you. You may do with it as you please, but there is something you must understand…in accepting this, you are agreeing to continue the magical… and I’m afraid binding promise… that Sirius had made to the Order when he agreed to allow his home to become its’ headquarters.”

Without a single hesitation, Harry hastily agreed, “Of course professor, I will fulfill any agreements that Sirius has made. It would be a privilege to carry them out in his place.”

Dumbledore smiled then continued, “I suspected you would have this reaction, but you must understand Harry, it’s not that simple. If you choose to claim this home as your permanent residence it will mean several things in your life will change. First of all, you will never return to the Dursley’s.”

Seeing the surprise and excitement rise in Harry’s face, Dumbledore continued, “I know you may think that is something to celebrate… but you will be giving up the safety that your mother’s sacrifice has provided for you all of these years. It is not a decision you should make lightly.

Having ownership of the Order of the Phoenix headquarters… for Sirius was easy… He knew by sheltering the Order, he would ultimately be helping you…and he didn’t have any other real attachments. In other words, he was not endangering the lives of…say a wife and children by doing so.

At this time, we are blessed with a time of peace, but if darkness should ever befall our wizarding world again, anyone living in the house would be placed in the direct path of terrible risks. The lives of your family would also be quite different from those of others.

They could never disclose the location of their home to anyone in the outside world. They would be permitted to leave of course, but they would need to be closely guarded, just as you have been your entire life.

You must be sure that you could accept those circumstances and their possible ramifications before you agree to this. If you marry, your future wife and any children that you conceive will also bare your promise. It is an eternal and binding contract so you must consider your choice carefully.

I can give you some time to think. You will have until the year’s end to decide. While you have been under my care at this school, I could provide you with special protections.

After you finish you 7th year and leave this school, those protections will no longer be effective. Consider it thoroughly.

Harry, I know you and Miss Weasley have become close…she should also be informed of what may lie ahead. Whomever you choose to spend your life with… would need to understand the risks.”

Harry sat in silence as he looked from Dumbledore to the parchment that lay before him. He had never really thought beyond what he and Ginny shared in the present.

He knew that he loved her like he had never loved anyone before, but they had never discussed marriage and children…

Now, at the age of 17, he was being asked to decide not only his own future, but also the fate of his unborn children. He had thought that with Voldemort gone… the danger that he used to impose on the loved ones around him… had vanished with the Death Eater’s headquarters that night.

Now he realized… his life would be forever cursed by his past. How could he ever ask someone he loved to accept his fate and join him in it… let alone bring a helpless child into it as well someday. If he walked away from Sirius’ request for him to fulfill this promise, he would be free from those dangers…or would he?

He briefly considered the notion of just refusing the deed. Quickly however a feeling of guilt washed over him, as he thought of Sirius. It felt as though denying his request to fulfill this obligation would be a gross betrayal of a man Harry had… grown to love and respect in their brief time together.

Dumbledore noted the dilemma running through Harry’s mind.

“Remember Harry, you don’t have to decide now…you have some time. Take that time and consider your options. Remember, you certainly have enough money to provide a home for yourself, if you choose not to live at Grimmauld Place. No one will think ill of you if you choose a different path than the one Sirius has set before you.

Search your heart Harry… when you are ready… come to me and we’ll… make your decision final.”

Harry rose and turned to leave. He had a great deal to consider and didn’t really know where to begin. Just as he reached the door, Dumbledore called to him, “Wait Harry, there’s one more thing.”

Noticing his face fall a bit, Dumbledore quickly added “don’t worry, this item isn’t quite as… life altering as the others.”

With that, Dumbledore tossed him another key. This one was different though. It was smaller and hung from a ring baring the Gryffindor Seal.

He looked down at the key and then back at Dumbledore, “What’s this?” Dumbledore smiled a bit of a mischievous grin and said, “That, young Harry… is the key to your motorcycle. I believe Sirius would be very… disappointed… if it was never used again…Enjoy it.

Perhaps a ride over the countryside… may help to clear your head. You’ll find it parked near Hagrid’s hut. It is yours to use as you please.”

Then for the first time since entering the headmaster’s office, a grin spread over Harry’s face too.

________________________________________
Chapter 38 A Lifting of Spirits

Harry did not return directly to the common room. He knew that Ron, Hermione, and Ginny would be there waiting for him and he wasn’t quite ready to talk.

Somehow he felt like saying it out loud… would make it all seem much worse.

As he walked aimlessly through the castle, trying to buy some time to think, he found himself in the front hall.

He took out the motorcycle key and looked at it, turning it over in his hand. As his fingers closed around it he began to make his way down to Hagrid’s hut.

It felt rather refreshing to be out in the evening air. The temperatures were unseasonable warm for the end of January. The snow was slowly melting, creating glistening icicle on the castle and trees of the grounds.

As he walked he thought, perhaps Dumbledore was right. Maybe taking a ride would help him clear his head. Flying on his broom had always lightened his spirits… maybe the motorcycle would do the same.

When he arrived at the little house by the edge of the wood, he spotted Hagrid working outside. He appeared to have acquired some new type of beast for Care of Magical Creatures.

Typically, Harry would want to know ahead of time what they would face in that class. It was usually all the better to prepare for what injuries they may expect incur, but at that point, he had only one thing on his mind, getting on the motorcycle and flying away from there for awhile.

Hagrid waved his welcome as he saw Harry approach.

“Hi ya Harry! It’s good ter see ya! Is everyone okay…I couldn’t believe what happened while Olympia and me were in France. Filthy git that Lucious Malfoy! Girls alright?”

Harry answered, trying to smile and appear like today was a perfectly normal day.

“Hi Hagrid! It’s good to see you too. Everyone is fine now. It’s good to be back to school. It was pretty odd having Malfoy living with us at Grimmauld Place.

The girls are doing better. Hermione still has nightmares sometimes, but Professor Dumbledore has been allowing her to use his pensieve and that seems to be helping her. I've also taught her how to clear her mind before going to sleep at night…teaching her a bit of Occlumency. It seems to be working.”

Then looking around he saw the motorcycle parked near a tree.

Trying to sound nonchalant he began, “Um…Hagrid, I had just been talking to Professor Dumbledore…and he mentioned that…you may have Sirius’ motorcycle here…He gave me the key.” Harry said as he pulled it out and opened his fingers to reveal it.

Hagrid looked a bit worried now, “So…he’s told you… about your inheritance then?”

Harry dropping all false pretenses now looked worried too as he nodded at Hagrid.

“Yeah, it’s a lot to be getting on with isn’t it? I’m right sorry Harry…you’re a bit young to have to make such decisions now ‘bout your future an’ all, but I guess it’s the only way. I know you’ll do what’s right for you. I got confidence in ya Harry…always have… If I can help ya in any way…ya know ya can count on me, right?”

Harry forced a small smile and thanked Hagrid for his support. Somehow it felt better having someone else know what faced him…but Harry was relieved that he hadn’t questioned him about what he planned to do. Harry didn’t truly know yet.

Trying to move onto a new subject Harry asked, “So, how are the wedding plans going? Have you chosen a date for the ceremony yet?”

Hagrid smiled and seemed to blush a bit at the question as he answered, “Yeah, me and ‘lympia thought Valentine’s Day might be nice. Dumbledore said I could take a week off…ya know…for me honeymoon. I think Professor Grubbly-Plank will be filling in again.”

Harry smiled…the thought of two half-giants choosing such a romantic date for their wedding kind of made him chuckle quietly to himself.

“That’s great Hagrid. What can I do to help?” he asked.

“Well, ‘lympia will be picking out our suits and stuff…I’ll let you and Ron know when he have to pick ‘em up. Then o’ course you’ll be givin’ the toast at the banquet.”

Give a toast? Harry thought to himself. Of course being the best man that would be expected, but up until now that hadn’t even occurred to him. He was glad to have time to plan now. He wanted to make it special for Hagrid as Harry told him he’d be glad to do whatever he needed.

With his eyes wondering over to the motorcycle again he asked, “Um…Hagrid, do you think that I could… um… take a ride? I kind of need to clear my head…I have a lot to think about I guess.”

Hagrid considered his young friend thoughtfully, “I’d say that was a bit of an understatement, Harry. You can take a ride anytime you want…after all…it’s yours now, isn’t it?…Let me just show you how to start it and how it works.”

They walked over and Hagrid explained the features of the bike… how it took off and landed… as he regarding the bike almost reverently, adding, “She’s a beauty this one Harry. She maneuvers real nice once your in the air…You can use it on muggle roads too, but I was never much for that. Well…I guess that’s it…want to have a go?”

Harry smiled and said, “Yeah…that would be great.”

Harry climbed on to the motorcycle and sat getting a feel for it and becoming familiar with the instruments.

As he started it up he felt a surge of excitement run through him. The rumbling motor gave Harry a feeling of power as be slowly began to roll away from Hagrid.

Gaining speed as he crossed the grounds, he suddenly lifted into the air as the wind rushed around him.

The feeling was amazing. It was different than flying on a broom, but equally as freeing. He noticed the turning was not a precise, but as Harry leaned into the bike and he sped up into the clouds his worries left him. He was now where he belonged…soaring through the air. He had to admit that what the bike lacked in hairpin turning capabilities, it more than made up for in comfort and power.

He flew out over the lake and into the countryside as the sun was beginning to set. It was relaxing and peaceful zooming across the endless skyway.

Harry began to think about the decisions that lay before him and somehow, things didn’t seem quite as dire now. He decided that what he needed to do was talk to Ron and Hermione. His best friends had always had good advice in the past.

There was also the matter of Ginny. He needed to tell her too. Whether or not they would have a future together depended upon how she felt about what Harry would undoubtedly face.

When he tried to think of his future without Ginny, he simply couldn’t imagine it. He knew they were young…at 16 and 17 they were probably much to young to plan their futures, but yet here he was… forced into doing just that, all the same.

How could he ask Ginny to decide her future now too?

After deliberating that question, it hit him. She doesn’t really need to decide now.

As long as there’s no marriage commitment and no child between us, she has all the time in the world to decide.

Even he had time,

Dumbledore had said that he’d have a few months to do so…maybe it would be alright after all. He decided to return to the grounds and find his friends.

It occurred to him how late it was getting now and he knew they were probably worried about him by now…besides feeling newly encouraged, he wanted to see Ginny.

________________________________________
Chapter 39 Choices of the Heart

Harry headed back, landing the motorcycle behind Hagrid’s. As he walked into the castle he realized that he had missed dinner, so he began to head to Gryffindor tower.

Entering the portrait hole, he looked over by the fire and saw three familiar outlines sitting there.

Hermione saw Harry first and yelled, “Harry! Where have you been? We’ve been worried sick! We thought you were coming straight back from Professor Dumbledore’s office.”

Then Ron added, “Yeah when we saw him at dinner and you never showed up, we didn’t know what happened.”

Ginny hadn’t spoken yet. She just sat staring into the fire. Harry sat down beside her and looked at Ron and Hermione.

“Sorry I made you wait…all of you. I had a lot to think about. I needed a little time to clear my head before I came back here. I’m really sorry I worried you.”

Then Harry began to tell them everything that he had learned in the headmaster’s office…the money, the house, and the rings. As an afterthought he remembered the motorcycle.

At this point Ron interupted, “Wicked! I’ve seen that bike…it’s bloody cool. Can I have a go tomorrow?”

Smiling a bit Harry responded, “It is wicked… and yeah, you can ride it anytime.”

Then Harry asked if they wouldn’t mind he wanted to talk to Ginny alone for a bit. She had still not spoken and had only briefly looked at Harry from time to time.

“Ginny, would you come with me…for a walk? There’s some things that… that you and I need to talk about now.”

She finally spoke, but only to say okay and she got up and followed Harry towards the portrait hole.

Harry smiled as he listened to Ron telling Hermione all about the motorcycle. He thought he heard her question it’s safety sarcastically, after all, didn’t it fit into the category of motor driven muggle machines?

“What if the motor is faulty Ron?” she asked with a smirk “Then what?”

Ron stammered at her questions as the portrait hole closed behind Harry and Ginny.

Harry looked down at Ginny and gave her a smile as he took her small hand in his. “Hey, I’m sorry Gin. I shouldn’t have worried you like that. Forgive me?”

She looked up at him but couldn’t maintain her anger as she gazed into his pleading eyes.

Then with one eyebrow raised she said, “Well, I’ll hold my forgiveness until I hear what you have to say. Where are we going anyway.”

Harry hadn’t thought about that, he just knew he needed to talk with her in private.

Then it occurred to him, “We could go to the Room of Requirement. That’s private enough.”

When they arrived and entered the room, Harry was a bit curious to see what it would look like for two people who needed to have a serious and private talk.

It was lit by candlelight and seemed small and cozy. It had a fire blazing in the grate and a large comfortable sofa in front of it. He looked at her and noticed the fire was reflected in her eyes.

God she looked beautiful in that light.

No… Harry he thought to himself…focus…we are here to talk. Those are the kind of thoughts that can get us both into trouble.

He led her to the sofa and they sat down facing each other.

Ginny began, “This all seems rather serious Harry. I heard what you said in the common room. What else is there?”

Harry looked at her for a minute searching for a way to start. Then he said, “I love you Ginny... I know we’re young, but I can’t imagine my future without you.”

She smiled at him and moved closer to kiss him.

“No Gin, wait… we need to talk. I don’t think you really understood what all of this means.”

She looked back at him with an expression mixed with disappointment and worry.

“It’s just that…well, you are only 16, Ginny… You still have another year of school after I’m gone. If we were older, this might be…a bit easier.”

Ginny was really beginning to worry now, “Harry, are you trying to… to break up with me?” she asked as her eyes began to fill.

He quickly responded, “No! Oh God… no Ginny! It’s not that… I promise.” He said taking both of her hands in his. “It has to do with my inheriting the Order of the Phoenix headquarters from Sirius.”

Calming down a bit she then said, “Well, I know that. You already told us that in the common room.”

Harry went on to explain that anyone he loved would also be affected by his decision to live in the house. He explained that it was a permanent commitment and that it would affect the people in his future too.

Then he said, “Whomever I…marry…or have children with…would also be bound by my promise. There is a chance that I’d be putting my wife and children at risk if the dark wizards ever arise again. Even though were young… I can’t imagine that person being anyone… but you.

Tonight, I brought you here to ask you. Do you think you could keep that promise with me? Knowing that if we someday have a child…our child may be placed in danger… some of the same types of dangers in fact, that I’ve dealt with all my life. I don’t have much of a choice Ginny. I suspect my life will always be somewhat unpredictable no matter what I decide… but you do. I need you to be sure.

Could you live with whatever may come… knowing you had a choice to have avoided it?”

Ginny just sat their stunned then slowly asked, “You want me to decide that…now?”

Harry explained that he had until the end of the school year to give Dumbledore his answer. That meant she had the same amount of time.

He also explained that although he hadn’t made any formal decisions, he felt compelled to seriously consider the wishes of his late godfather, which would bind him as keeper of headquarters for the Order.

Ginny smiled, “So then…we have time?”

Harry nodded and smiled back at her.

“Good” she whispered as she moved in and they began to kiss.

She felt so close to Harry at that moment. He was including her in one of the most important decisions of his life…and he had mentioned ‘their children.’

She began to think of the night at Grimmauld Place in her room and the next day when Harry had said he wanted to be alone…soon.

With a bit of a glint in her eye, she looked up at him playfully. “Did you notice?…We’re completely alone Harry.”

Harry looked at her intently and swallowed hard as she continued quietly, “You’ve waited for me…you’ve been so patient. …I love you and I’m ready now…show me your heart, Harry…show me how much you love me… make love to me… now.”

Harry froze as she began to remove her jumper, and then moved to pull off his shirt.

“Gin, wait…God I can’t believe I’m saying this… I can’t…”

Ginny looked stunned and confused, “I thought you wanted me too.”

She said looking like she may cry.

Harry went on quickly, “You have NO idea how much I’ve wanted to hear you say those words to me. So many nights I’ve dreamt about it, but now…I don’t think we can.”

She stopped dead and looked at him in disbelief, “Are you saying you…you don’t want to anymore?”

Harry sighed, “Are you joking? I’m a 17 year old virgin, who’s sitting in front of a half naked, beautiful girl who is asking me to take her. I’d have to be dead, not to want to. No…it’s not that… believe me. It’s just that, no form of…prevention…is 100%. I don’t think we should risk it, at least not until you’re sure that you could live with the good and the bad.”

She began to smile and resumed undressing him as she said “Well then… consider this my answer,” as she slid her hands down to his belt and began unfastening it slowly as she warmly kissed his neck.

Harry was battling himself hard at this point, his body wanted to let it all go…his head was telling him…not now.

His heart was pounding and his body was tingling. He almost yelled as he stopped her from unzipping his jeans.

Shuddering with each breath between words he said “Ginny… if I don’t stop right now… I’m not going to… and I couldn’t forgive myself… if you regretted this decision later. As incredibly ironic as it may seem… I’m going to have to say no… for both of us…at least for now.”

She was stunned and a bit breathless with the anticipation of giving herself completely to him. She couldn’t believe that he was turning her down.

Part of her respected his concern for her, but another part of her was feeling very disappointed. She now had a taste of what Harry had been going through for the last 6 months or so. It was horrible.

He reached out to hold her and reluctantly she let him envelop her in his arms. Quietly she asked, “How have you handled this for so long.” Harry asked quietly, “What do you mean?”

Ginny continued with a new level of respect for his will power, “I mean, having to stop when it was the last thing you really wanted to do?”

He pulled away smiling and looked down at her, “Honestly… there where some nights when I didn’t think I’d survive. Like the night at Grimmauld Place…”

He shuddered as he pictured the scene then continued, “but I love you, Gin. Waiting for it to be right for BOTH of us… was more important to me…Well, there was that…and I also took a lot of cold showers.”

He finished with a bit of a truthful grin.

Then looking at her mischievously he said, “You know, Miss Weasley…there are… other things… we could do…”

She looked back at him with an uncertain look, “Oh really? What sort of things?”

As he laid her back on the sofa he softly breathed into ear, “I could show you…if you like…”

For more than an hour they lay together lost in each other until Harry couldn’t stand it any longer.

“Ginny, I think we’d better go…my will to resist ripping off what little clothes you’re still wearing is disappearing fast and…well we’d better go.”

She smiled at the power she had over him. She liked knowing how much he wanted her.

The trouble was, she now wanted him too, just as much…it wasn’t as easy being the one who was told to stop.

This was going to be interesting.

________________________________________
Chapter 40 Mr. and Mrs. Rubeus Hagrid

The next few weeks seemed to sail by as Valentine’s Day quickly approached. The wedding plans had been thrown into high gear by the future Mrs. Hagrid with trips to Diagon Alley for measurements and other necessary arrangements.

Hermione and Ginny were enjoying accompanying them on these wedding outings as they fanaticized about what they would do if it was their own wedding being planned.

Harry had been working on his best man’s toast and it was almost ready.

They only thing Harry regretted about the upcoming day was that he wouldn’t be able to be alone with Ginny on Valentine’s Day.

However there was an upside he thought…it did take the pressure off he and Ron to come up with something romantic to do for the girls…after all, what was more romantic than a wedding?

Upon further reflection of that thought, Harry reconsidered and decided that it at least saved him from trying to be more romantic. Harry suspected that Ron didn’t really need to be too much more romantic…not when he was sneaking out almost every night and returning early in the morning as if he never left.

Lucky bastard, Harry thought to himself as he heard Ron fall into his four-poster for the third time that week.

He and Ginny were still sticking to their vow to wait…but it wasn’t easy… especially since she insisted on temping him mercilessly at every possible opportunity.

When the night of the wedding arrived Harry and Ron got dressed in their room then went down and joined Madame Maxime’s brothers in a small room to await the start of the ceremony.

The wedding was to be in the castle’s Great Hall, with the reception directly following. Professor Dumbledore would be officiating during the ceremony. The professor entered the groom’s room followed closely by a very shaken looking Hagrid.

Dumbledore spoke quietly to Hagrid placing his hand on his arm supportively then turned to leave with a smile and a nod to Ron and Harry. Hagrid lumbered over to them.

“All right there Harry? Ron?” Harry answered, “Yeah, we’re fine Hagrid…um… how are you?”

Hagrid smiled a sickly smile as sweat beads formed at his temples. “Oh I’m grand…just a bit nervous I think.”

Ron and Harry looked at each other with slightly unnerved expressions, if this was ‘a bit nervous’…they were definitely in trouble. What were they to do if a man the size of Hagrid got the wedding jitters and decided to bolt?

A dead quiet settled over the small room as Hagrid began pacing and checking his watch every few passes.

Finally he announced, “It’s time to go.” As everyone jumped at the sudden break in silence.

They filed in and stood at the front of the hall where the teachers usually sat for meals. As Harry looked out over the scene it was unbelievable.

The Great Hall had been transformed into a beautiful garden. There were magical flower petals floating down from the ceiling that had been bewitched to look like a beautiful spring sunset.

The tables that usually filled the hall were gone and pews like ones you’d see in a muggle chapel had appeared with ribbons and candles adorning each row.

Down the center was a silky looking walkway that ran the length of the Hall.

As Harry scanned the crowd, he saw several familiar faces. For a start he saw some of the Order members seated with Professor McGonagall. Next to Lupin Moody who’s magical eye was continually racing at lightning speed all around the room…Even at a wedding… in the midst of all those wizards… he never let down his guard.

Harry thought momentarily how tiring Moody’s life must be before continuing to glance around the hall. Next he spotted some people that Harry guessed…due to their rather bold stature… must have been relatives of Madame Maxime.

Then in the very front row his eyes were almost glued to two beautiful blond girls. He noticed Fleur sitting quietly with another younger blond girl. He recognized the girl sitting next to her as her sister, Gabriel, the young girl he had brought back from the merpeople’s village during the Tri-wizard tournament.

Gabriel spotted his gaze and waved warmly at him.

Harry didn’t know why at first, but it made him smile and blush as she held his eyes on her…Then he thought to himself…snap out of it Harry…Veela blood…remember.

Then turning to see Ron looking like he could spring from his spot at any second, Harry elbowed him hard…”Remember Hermione?”

For a brief second Ron didn’t seem to comprehend Harry’s question, the he also ‘snapped out of it’ vowing to himself not to look at the blond girls sitting in the front again.

Finally Harry looked down the… virtual row of Weasley’s… to find Ginny and Hermione. They both looked very pretty he thought to himself, as he nodded and smiled at them.

Ginny doesn’t need Veela blood to be beautiful.

Before they knew it, the wedding music began and Madame Maxime entered from the back of the hall. Even Ron had to admit later,… for a woman of such large ‘bones’, she looked beautiful that day.

Hagrid beamed as she approached the front of the hall that had now become an altar. To Harry’s relief…Hagrid made it through the ceremony without a hitch. He did get a bit teary eyed during the vows, but after all…Hagrid was just a big old softy.

At the start of the reception Dumbledore said a few words about the couple then deferred the floor to the best man…Harry sat quietly waiting until he realized…that’s me!

It was time to give the toast. Harry had completely forgotten what he had planned to say, but somehow what he said came straight from the heart…ending by raising his glass and cheering “To the Hagrids” as everyone echoed the sentiment “To the Hagrids”.

That out of the way, Harry felt he could begin to relax. Food filled the plates and the banquet began. The only other tense moments came during the reception when Ron and Harry had to dance with Madame Maxime’s cousins. They had served as bridesmaids and were just as ‘big boned’ as Maxime was.

Harry and Ron feared that if there was a misstep, they may very well come out of it with broken bones or worse as they were shunted around the floor.

At one point during his spin around the dance floor, Harry caught Ginny standing with Fred, George, and Hermione…completely laughing their heads off. He made a mental note to ‘thank’ them later for they’re generous support.

Finally, when the official portion of the reception ended, Harry and Ron made their way over to the others.

Fred and George were waiting to give them a hard time about their dance partners, but to their disappointment, Hermione wasted no time in pulling Ron on to the dance floor.

In an attempt to save Harry from that fate as well, Ginny had done the same.

Now on the dance floor, as they moved together slowly Harry said, “Happy Valentine’s Day Gin.”

She smiled and snuggled in closer resting her head on his chest. He wrapped his arms around her locking his fingers behind the small of her back.

Having her close to him like this left gave him a feeling contentment and happiness that he had rarely felt in his life before she became a part of it. He glanced around watching the others pair off and enter the floor.

Bill Weasley was dancing with Fleur. George and Fred had apparently drawn straws to see who got to dance with Gabriel. As George led her to the floor, Fred sat examining the straws…it appeared he suspected that their game of chance had been rigged.

Harry had to smile to himself. He couldn’t believe the year they had had so far. Now everyone was dancing, laughing and having fun.

As he looked down at Ginny and kissed her gently, he suddenly felt as though this had been a very good day for a wedding indeed.

________________________________________
Chapter 41 Quidditch Returns to Hogwarts

Over the next few weeks following the wedding, things began to change at Hogwarts. The castle grounds were evolving with the approach of a new season.

The icy facade was beginning to melt away as it was replaced with small trickles of water running freely toward the lake. The sun glimmered brightly, warming the ground as bits of green were beginning to break through the patchy plots of snow.

Inside the castle, OWLS and NEWTS were rapidly approaching. Study groups were popping up all over.

People…at least those who knew what was good for them… had returned to talking in hushed voices or even more wisely…completely running away whenever Hermione was in the common room. With the wedding behind them, Hermione had nothing else to focus her attention on except her studies.

Even Ron, Harry and Ginny had gone somewhat on the defensive. As Head Girl, and a virtually obsessed academic, Hermione had taken to giving detentions to anyone speaking above a whisper. They had a sneaking suspicion that even they wouldn’t be exempt from her wrath if they pushed her too far.

Ron, in a desperate attempt to stay on her good side, began writing short notes and quietly passing them to her when he had a question… instead of speaking and interrupting her train of thought.

He knew she was completely obsessed… but he loved her anyway. He couldn’t help but smile as he quietly watched her over his notes. He couldn’t help but think of how cute she looked as she ran her fingers through her hair scanning volume after volume.

Even at her scariest, to him she was amazing. He marveled at her dedication and determination to receive top marks on everything she did.

Harry and Ginny, on the other hand, had taken to the refuge of the library. They felt a bit guilty about leaving Ron behind to manage Hermione’s outbursts of rage and tears, but after all… he was her boyfriend, it went with the territory…or so they told themselves… as they retreated to the respite of the library for the second time that week. Harry studied for NEWTS, while Ginny studied for end of the year exams.

Every once in a while she’d rub her foot along his leg, just to remind him she was there as they sat across from each other to work. He’d glance up from his book and wink or smile or blow her a kiss. These little exchanges served as a nice break from studying periodically.

After pouring over his third pile of notes, Harry quietly looked up at her as she concentrated on a rather large book on trolls. As she felt his gaze she looked up to see him raise his eyebrows suggestively.

She watched his eyes as they darted to a remote but familiar corner of the library.

With nothing but a wink, Harry got up and starting walking off towards the restricted section.

Ginny waited a few minutes then followed with an expectant grin on her face. As she walked around the stacks Harry caught her by the arm and pulled her gently into the dark, deserted area of the library where Ginny had taken him months ago.

As he drew her to him he spoke softly, “I was just thinking we could use a bit of a break… We’ve been hard at it all day and we deserve a little reward… Besides, I couldn’t stand not touching you for one more minute.”

He kissed her softly as she smiled and wrapped her arms around his neck.

“Good idea Mr. Potter…you know what they say about all work and no play don’t you?”

Harry grinned as he leaned in to kiss her more deeply this time. As they slowly broke apart Ginny asked, “Do you think Hermione lets Ron take a break? Maybe we should rescue him for awhile.”

Harry considered it for a moment, but knowing the perks Ron was privy to at night, he had a hard time feeling too sorry for him.

Harry then responded, “Tell you what…How about we spend a little time alone… then we’ll go and save him…”

Ginny smiled, “O.K. What did you have in mind…I’m mean the rescue part of the plan that is?”

Harry smiled back then began kissing her neck softly.

Between kisses he responded, “Does Hermione still eat these days… or has she gone off food already?… I was thinking maybe we could invite him to come to dinner with us this evening.”

Ginny smiled and said that she thought that would be nice for him to have a little break. She was beginning to think that the stress of keeping Hermione under control, for the good of the rest of the school, was slowly getting to her brother.

After spending a little more ‘quality time’ together, Ginny and Harry retrieved their books and headed back to the common room. They found Ron sitting by the fire with a pained look on his face. Hermione was no where to be found.

Harry asked, “What’s wrong Ron? Where’s Hermione gotten too?”

Ron turning a bit pink answered, “Well, she decided she wanted to study in her room for a bit…. Apparently… I breathe rather loudly.”

Ginny and Harry looked at each other then back at Ron. They couldn’t help themselves as they began to giggle.

Harry grinned as he said “Ron, I have to hand it to you…you certainly are taking one for the team on this one, mate. You make it safe for the rest of us to move freely about the castle.”

Ron just rolled his eyes. “Oh shut up, Harry. This isn’t funny! She’s going to drive one of us… or possibly, both of us mad by the time exams get here.”

Harry tried to replace his grin with a sympathetic expression, but he wasn’t sure Ron was buying it completely. In fact, Ron was not at all amused by the humor they seemed to find in his lot.

Ginny, now trying to remove the grin from her face as well, then continued, “Well, Ron, that’s actually why we’re here. We thought you could use a little break. We’re going down to dinner. Do you want to come?”

Ron glanced towards the girl’s dormitory staircase then back at Harry and Ginny.

“I don’t think she’s thought of food since breakfast…Can you believe we completely missed lunch today? I’m starving!”

Harry looked rather surprised that Ron, who never skips meals, let that go. He asked, “Well… why didn’t you just remind her what time it was?”

Ron just looked at Harry as if he had suddenly gone mad, “Oh, just remind her…now why hadn’t I thought of that? …Oh, that’s right…I didn’t want a detention!”

Harry and Ginny were feeling very guilty at this point for abandoning him so much.

They had no idea that it had gotten that bad and they told him so, “We’re sorry Ron, we promise to stick around more to help you deal from now on. Okay?”

Then Ginny added, “Well, how about it? Do you want to come down to dinner?”

Ron glanced nervously towards the stairs for a second time. “Are you joking? If I don’t eat soon, I’m going to pass out. I don’t know how she’s doing it…I doubt she’s going to notice if I’m gone a little while…Come on, let’s get going.”

Then, as if he was afraid she might come down and foil his plan to eat at any second, he turned on his heels and began walking at full speed toward the portrait hole, with Harry and Ginny rushing to catch up.

As they entered the Great Hall and took their seats, they noticed a great deal of discussion going on at the teacher’s table. They all seemed to be in a very animated and excited conversation.

As Ron filled his plate with a generous helping of everything he could reach, he leaned over to ask Seamus, “What’s going on with them?”

Seamus and Dean looked at each other shrugging their shoulder’s then Dean answered, “Well, there’s a rumor flying about that there is going to be some sort of announcement, but no one knows what it’s really about yet. Some people think it has to do with the House Cup.”

As if on cue, Dumbledore stood at his seat and tapped his fork against his glass to draw the attention of the, now gossiping, dinner crowd. In seconds the room had come down to complete silence.

As a grin of anticipation spread over Professor Dumbledore’s face, he began to address the students.

“Good evening to you all. As some of you may have heard…I have a rather exciting announcement to make.”

He paused briefly as he glanced at a 6th year student over his spectacles sitting at the front of the Ravenclaw table. Harry was sure he saw what looked like Extendable Ears from Fred and George’s shop being quickly reeled into the student’s robes.

Returning his attention to the entire student body, Dumbledore continued “This year has been…tumultuous…to say the least. Now, with exams approaching, tensions have been a bit on the high side in the castle. I have consulted with the teachers and we felt a bit of a stress reliever…was in order.”

Everyone began to rumble their guesses as to what was going on, as Dumbledore raised his hand to quiet them once again.

“Unfortunately, due to unavoidable circumstances, the regular Quidditch season never began …We have decided in lieu of that, we will hold a weekend Quidditch tournament.”

Shouts of excitement began to erupt throughout the hall as Dumbledore continued, “The winner of the tournament will receive the Quidditch Cup for their house and will also receive points to go towards the awarding of the House Cup.

Practice schedules will be arranged to give each team a fair amount of practice before the tournament begins. I trust… you will not let your studies go in anticipation of this much needed reward. Each team will have 6 weeks to prepare for the tournament, which will take place at the end of April. Good luck to you all, and enjoy the rest of your dinner.”

The students broke into applause as Dumbledore reclaimed his seat at the teacher’s table.

Harry and Ron couldn’t believe their ears. Quidditch was back!

They had gone out several times to play by themselves or in pick up games throughout the year, but this was different…the race for The Cup was on!

Just then, four owls entered the hall. It was unusual because owl post usually came at breakfast. One owl went to each of the house tables and landed in front of a student.

At the Slytherin table it was Malfoy, at Hufflepuff it was Amelia, the seeker of their team, and at Ravenclaw it was the 6th year boy who had been reeling in the flesh-colored string earlier during Dumbledore’s announcement.

The last owl was twittering around near the ceiling of the hall. Ron realized at once that it was Pig.

“Get down here you ruddy bird!” As the tiny hyperactive owl swooped past, Harry caught it. He removed the note from his leg and opened it to read as the entire table seemed to lean in to listen.

Dear Mr. Potter,

I wish to inform you that you have been selected as Griffyndor Quidditch captain. You will need to hold try outs to fill any vacancies and attend a captain’s meeting to go over the tournament rules.

Due to the nature of the approaching exams, we felt it best that each captain choose a co-captain to share in these responsibilities. Good luck and best wishes for an exciting tournament. May the best House win.

Yours Truly,

Madame Hooch


Harry sat staring at the parchment for a second then he looked at Ron who was smiling and congratulating him.

Seamus asked, “Who are you going to choose as your co-captain Harry?”

Harry looked from Ron to Ginny…who both played on the team. Ginny however quickly let him off the hook with a smile and a wink.

Harry kissed her on the cheek then said, “Well, with Ron’s eye for strategy on the Chess board, we could sure use your help creating some new plays…What do you say, Ron?”

Ron just gaped at him, then as a broad grin spread rapidly over his face, “Are you kidding? That would be bloody brilliant!”

They wasted no time launching into an extensive discussion of moves they had recently seen or read about in Quidditch Quarterly.

After about an hour, the hall began to clear. Ron, Harry, and Ginny began to head back to the tower still talking about the upcoming tournament.

As they reached the fat lady, Ron turned to Harry and stopped him from following Ginny inside.

“Um…Thanks Harry…this means a lot to me. You are a great friend!”

Harry smiled, then said honestly, “Really Ron, you’re the best man for the job. I wouldn’t want anyone else…even if we weren’t best mates.”

Ron smiled even more broadly slapping Harry on the back before entering the common room. Hermione was standing by the table sorting through some notes as he strode over to her and picked her up in his arms, swinging her around.

Ron had caught her off guard and she didn’t have a chance to get angry as he kissed her and hugged her.

When he finally let her down, she asked “What was that all about Ron? Not that I’m not happy to see you, but I was just searching for…”

He cut her off and took her by the hands as he looked into her eyes… “Hermione, honey… I think you need a break.”

With that, he turned and started heading across the room with her in tow by the hand. She was completely speechless as they disappeared through the portrait hole.

Ginny turned to Harry, “Where do you think they’re off to all of a sudden?”

Harry shrugged his shoulders with a grin on his face, but he suspected they were heading to the Room of Requirement. Apparently all that talk of Quidditch, did a great deal more for Ron than just get his strategies flowing.

Harry couldn’t help but chuckle to himself as the thought of the look on Hermione’s face as she was shunted away from her studies so abruptly went through his mind…he didn’t expect to see them for awhile.

________________________________________
Chapter 42 Let the Games Begin

With the addition of Quidditch practices to their already rigorous schedule of lessons and exam studies, the weeks began to fly by at an alarming rate.

Harry and Ron felt that they had managed to put together a pretty strong team for Gryffindor at try-outs. Ron would hold his position as Keeper, Ginny and two other 6th year girls would serve as Chasers, Dean and Seamus were chosen as Beaters, and Harry of course, was to be Seeker.

Harry was beginning to like their chances more and more, as Ron concocted some rather unusual new plays.

As Harry pored over them he remarked, “Ron… these are fantastic! I don’t know if I’d thought of trying that!”

He said as he pointed to one of the magically moving illustrations of Ron’s new defensive moves. He was sure that a couple of those new ideas were sure to catch their opponents off guard.

They set the team to work, practicing each new move until they had them down perfectly. Ron, as chief strategist, had taken over the direction of practices. He was actually a really good team leader.

It wasn’t until he began to take on the obsessive qualities of Oliver Wood that Harry began to gently step in here and there to brings things back to an acceptable range of expectations for the team. Together, the two of them were a perfect complement of styles and the team was thriving.

By the middle of April, Hermione had either felt she knew enough… or she grew tired of driving herself and everyone else mad…Ron didn’t really care which, because she finally began to calm down a bit again.

Much to Ron’s relief, she had also resumed eating regularly and was actually pleasant to be around. Perhaps most surprisingly though was as the weather improved, she had begun joining them twice a week to watch practices.

They found that now that she was over her fear of broom flight, she could put her intellect to work on some strategic plays of her own. She quickly became Ron’s right hand in devising plays and defensive moves.

Her new interest in Quidditch only served to solidify Ron’s belief that… she was absolutely perfect for him. He could enjoy his two greatest loves simultaneously…Hermione and Quidditch.

Harry sat quietly watching them one day as they worked together at the common room table. They were talking over an idea that Hermione had had for a trick that the Chasers could try. The idea was simply brilliant.

Harry thought Ron would jump across the table and kiss her as he looked at her with something close to reverence.

All he said was “I love you, Hermione Granger!”

She responded with a pleased smile and a rather humble tone “Well… it seems like it will work to me. And…. I love you too Ronald.”

It was plain to see that what they shared together… was real. Nothing lay hidden underneath. They knew the real person inside each other and they loved the good and the bad… no questions asked.

Harry loved seeing his best friends so happy together. He had to smile as he pictured the two of them growing old together…still bickering… still making up…still loving each other to the end.

In some ways, Harry was a bit jealous of the simplicity of Ron and Hermione’s relationship. They enjoyed a normal teenage romance. There were no threats of mortal danger being made on THEIR future children.

Harry thought of Ginny and the decision that lay between them. Soon Harry would be forced to make that decision. What would happen when he did? Would they go their separate ways when he left Hogwarts?

He hoped not…If he could help it that wouldn’t happen, but after all, it really wasn’t his call. Ginny would need to choose to join him in the life he would lead after Hogwarts and everything that went with it.

Truthfully, he couldn’t say what he would do if he were in her position. His life was not exactly the easy road, but Ginny wasn’t the type of girl who demanded everything to be easy either.

She was tough and independent…growing up with 6 brothers does that to a girl. He smiled as he thought of the reasons that he had fallen in love with her. They were the same reasons he still loved her now, and he couldn’t imagine ever loving any other woman more.

He tried to force the thoughts of that defining moment out of his mind and return to Quidditch strategies when Ginny walked into the common room through the portrait hole. With a smile he got up to meet her and kissed her hello. No matter what the future held, he was going to enjoy the here and now.

However much time they had together, Harry vowed to make the most of every minute as he stood there looking into her sweet eyes that day.

Before they knew it, the week of the tournament was upon them. That Wednesday evening at dinner, Professor Dumbledore rose from his seat to gain the attention of the students in the Great Hall. As everyone quieted he began.

“As I’m sure you are all well aware, the Quidditch Tournament with take place this weekend. There will be three matches. The outcomes of Friday and Saturday’s games will decide who will play in the final on Sunday. The winner of the game on Sunday will win the tournament and the Quidditch Cup for the year. We have randomly drawn the names of the Houses that will face off on Friday and Saturday. Now without further ado, Friday’s match will be between Hufflepuff and Slytherin.”

Cheers went up between the houses. As Harry looked over at the Slytherin table, he saw Malfoy holding court. It seemed that the remaining Slytherin’s were accepting the new Malfoy and even seemed to see it as an improvement.

Ron and Harry still weren’t buying into it, but Harry had to admit there hadn’t been any confrontations or snide remarks since their return in January. It was rather odd. Even Potions class had been less painful since Malfoy’s new attitude had emerged.

Harry’s thoughts were quickly returned to Quidditch as Dumbledore continued, “Saturday’s match will of course be between Ravenclaw and Gryffindor.” More cheers filled the hall. “The winners of those games will play each other in the final on Sunday.

I have observed all four houses as they have worked diligently to prepare for this event. I believe we can expect nothing less than an exciting and entertaining weekend ahead. Good luck to you all and… let the games begin.”

Over the next couple of days leading up to the first match, a bit of trash talking broke out in the castle as the old rivalries began to emerge between students and even teacher’s who supported their individual houses. It had reached a fevered pitch by the time Friday night arrived.

The game between Hufflepuff and Slytherin was unusually tough. Quite unexpectedly, Hufflepuff was giving Slytherin a run for their money.

Malfoy just barely caught the snitch before the Hufflepuff Seeker attempted to snatch it out of the air at his side. Slytherin won the game, but only narrowly. Nevertheless, that was enough to advance them to the final on Sunday.

Knowing Malfoy was in the final made it all that much more important to Harry and Ron to make sure they got there too. They couldn’t let Slytherin have the Cup without a proper fight.

The game between Ravenclaw and Gryffindor was also quite evenly matched. It was a long and hard fought battle. It lasted for hours until finally Harry spotted a flash of flickering gold near the ground.

Diving dangerously fast towards the ground, he closed his fingers around the snitch as he quickly pulled out of his dive just in time to end the game.

Now the field was set. It would be Gryffindor versus Slytherin for the Cup. That night at dinner the strangest thing happened. As Harry, Ron, and the girls walked past the Slytherin table Malfoy called to them.

“Potter! Weasley! Come here for a minute.”

They looked at each other curiously. They had no choice but to follow their curiosity and go see what he wanted.

“What do you want Malfoy?” Ron asked with a tone of annoyance in his voice.

Malfoy just considered them silently for a few seconds then got up from his table and walked several steps away from the other Slytherins as Harry and Ron followed.

“I just wanted to say… may the best team win.”

He stared at them for a few minutes as their eyes shot open wide and their mouths gaped. Then he returned to his table without another word and resumed his conversations as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.

Harry and Ron were shell-shocked!

Had Draco Malfoy just wished them good luck in the game against his team? Surely he was up to something they thought, but what?

When they tried to tell Ginny and Hermione they suspected foul play, the girls were no help whatsoever. Hermione and Ginny insisted he was being sincere and that they had told them over and over that he had changed. They insisted that this was proof that what they had been saying was true and they should believe it without question now.

Harry and Ron were not inclined to agree. They continued to hold their suspicions the next morning as they waited for the time of final game to arrive.

Both teams were pumped in anticipation of facing each other. They had no way of knowing that at that moment, a plan was being hatched that would bring about a result that neither the Gryffindor’s nor the Slytherin’s could ever have predicted.

________________________________________
Chapter 43 Fallen Allegiances and New Alliances

Game time was drawing near. The Gryffindor team had gathered in the Great Hall for dinnertime, but Harry wasn’t really eating very much. His mind was racing a bit as the usual tension and excitement filled him before an important match.

When Ron finally told the team that it was time to head down to the pitch, he had to shake Harry out of his thoughts to get him to go. Hermione wished them good luck as Ron kissed her goodbye.

“See you after the game.” He said.

With that, Ron, Harry, and Ginny headed down the locker rooms to change into their Quidditch Robes and join the others.

When everyone was ready Harry and Ron looked at each other. Harry quietly stood before the team and cleared his throat.

“Tonight is our chance to prove what we’re made of…We’ve worked hard… and I think we have a few things up our sleeves that they won’t be expecting.” The team nodded and rumbled their agreement. “For most of us, this is our last game here at Hogwarts… and our last chance to bring the cup home for Gryffindor. Ron and I know you’re up to it…you’ve earned this…Now, let’s go get it!”

They all cheered as they walked out onto the pitch and took their positions around Madame Hooch. As the balls were released and the whistle blew everyone lifted off into the air.

The game proved to be just as rough as had been expected. Malfoy and Harry were shadowing each other as they scanned the pitch for signs of the elusive snitch.

Bludgers were being battered in every direction as one of the Gryffindor Chasers took a rather nasty blow to the shoulder.

Ginny was leading the team in scoring with three goals as the game rolled into its second hour.

Ron had been solid at Keeper and had only allowed 1 goal so far in the game.

As Harry maneuvered to evade an incoming bludger, he saw Malfoy turn and dart off in the direction of the Gryffindor goal posts. He knew Malfoy had seen the snitch, but where?

Quickly he spotted it…a tiny speck of gold was hovering just over Ron’s head. Harry lay almost flat to his broom as he sped after Malfoy, rapidly closing the gap between them.

Just as it looked as though they may collide directly into Ron, the snitch changed tracks and was shot towards the ground. Harry and Malfoy swerved at the last second avoiding the goal post and narrowly missing Ron, as they plummeted after their target.

Just feet from the ground and racing across the pitch side by side, they began ramming into each other as they flew after the tiny winged ball.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, Harry felt a surge of pain in his chest. At first he thought he had taken a direct hit from a bludger, but as he fell from his broom he realized something else must have happened.

His body felt strange and his vision was blurring. He was powerless to reach for his wand or even move. They were only about 10 feet from the ground when it happened but Harry still hit hard as he felt his leg break beneath him and everything faded to black.

Malfoy was just about to catch the snitch, but lost sight of it as he saw Harry falling. He had flown down to his side as he heard a familiar voice and a mirthless laugh coming from behind him.

Malfoy turned quickly to see his father pulling an invisibility cloak from his body.

“Get out of the way boy! I’ve been waiting to repay Potter for his interference in my plans for months.”

As other wizards began running from the stands towards them, Lucious placed a magical dome around them to hold the others at bay. The teachers were sending wand blasts from every direction but it was futile. People, spells and even the noise from the crowd seemed unable to penetrate the shield.

Malfoy stood in front of his father, “How did you get here? You were in prison!”

Lucious looked at his son with distaste.

“Surely, you didn’t really believe that the dementors could hold me? There are some that are still loyal to our cause… even with the Dark Lord gone. Tsk, tsk, tsk my son… you have been such a disappointment to me Draco. I don’t know how you could have come from my pureblood line…

You have proven yourself to be so…weak. Perhaps I should ‘question’ your mother about your…paternity when I’m through here. Perhaps you aren’t a Malfoy at all…Nonetheless…I’ll deal with you after I take care of Mr. Potter, here… He doesn’t look so confident now, does he?”

Lucious regarded the unconscious heap lying on the ground. Draco looked quickly from Harry to his father.

“Just leave him father! I mean it!”

Lucious began to laugh again, “Are you threatening me boy?” he asked as he raised his wand and threw the crutiatus curse off-handedly at Harry, as if he was somewhat bored by their conversation.

Although he was unconscious Harry’s body jolted with the impact of the curse and he writhed on the ground.

After a few seconds he broke the curse and he then returned his attention to Draco and asked, “Just what do you think you can do to stop me?”

Draco then drew his wand and pointed it at his father.

“Stop…I won’t stand for it anymore… I mean it father! …I’ve had enough!”

Draco’s voice was trembling but his wand was steady.

Lucious obviously didn’t think his son had the guts to challenge him and he told him as much. Before Lucious knew what hit him Draco had thrown the first of many curses as he stepped between Harry and his father.

Lucious turned on his son and they began to duel. Curse after curse flew through the air. Draco was holding his own as he used many of the shielding charms he had practiced for the battle in the fall.

He had never expected to need them to fight his own father. Now, here he was, fighting for his life and his mother’s safety, as well as Harry’s.

As they continued, Lucious shot a particularly painful curse at Draco and he fell to the ground. His mind was racing as his father stood over him with a loathsome grin spreading across his face.

Lucious spoke in a tone of pure annoyance, “Now…if you don’t mind, I have work to do boy. I’ve grown tired of your little game… and I believe that I have… entertained you long enough.”

Draco knew in that moment there was no other way…it would never end. He and his mother would never be free… In a split second, as Lucious turned his attention away from his son and back to Harry, Draco grabbed his wand from beside him on the ground. H

e shot directly at his father’s heart, “AVADA KADARVA!”

A look of surprise and shock spread across Lucious Malfoy’s face as he slowly fell back and collapsed onto the ground.

At that moment, the dome disappeared. It was as if the volume around them had been suddenly turned back up to full blast as the shouts and screams from the students and teachers alike filled his head and folded in on him.

It appeared that although Draco could not hear what had been happening outside the dome, they could see and hear everything going on inside. He crawled over to Harry and lifted him to his feet as he revived him.

Dumbledore took hold of Draco’s arm as Ron, Ginny and Hermione rushed to Harry’s side. The pain in Harry leg and the rest of his body now hit him full force and he crumbled under his own weight.

Ron caught him under the arm just in time to keep him from falling. Seamus had now grabbed Harry’s other arm and they stood there staring in shock at Malfoy as they supported Harry.

Ginny was crying as she held Harry’s face in her hands trying to get him to speak to her.

Dumbledore, seeing their shock and fear, said, “Hagrid, perhaps your assistance may be in order.”

Hagrid quickly strode over and lifted Harry from their grasp and began striding off towards the castle with the other Gryffindor’s close on his heals.

Dumbledore looked down at Draco with a look of sadness covering his face and said, “I think you’d better come with me now.”

Looking up, Dumbledore saw Professor Snape nearby. He was taking in the scene with a look of shock washing over him equal to that of the students. His gaze moved from Draco to Lucious and back again.

Shaking him from his stunned silence, Dumbledore suggested, “Perhaps as his head of house Severus, you should take care of…Mr. Malfoy…then join us in my office.”

Snape nodded then quietly, elevated Lucious onto a floating stretcher and strode away towards the castle.

Dumbledore placed his hand on Draco’s shoulder. Draco’s eyes were beginning to fill with tears now as the realization of what he’d done was beginning to sink in.

Dumbledore spoke in a soothing and gentle tone.

“It’s over now Draco…you and your mother are free. Today…in the most unfortunate of circumstances imaginable… you became a man.”

In silence Dumbledore began leading Draco to the castle…leaving the crowd behind in a state of disbelief. At that moment, the first tears that Draco could ever remember being allowed to shed, began to silently run down his cheeks as he walked on in silence with the headmaster.

From there on, it was a blur for them all.

In the early hours of the morning, Harry woke up in the hospital wing. He had been given a potion for pain and Madame Pomfrey had repaired his broken leg.

The first faces he saw were that of his best friends. Ginny, Ron and Hermione hadn’t left his side for the better part of the night. As he awoke, Ginny jumped from her chair and threw herself upon him breaking down in tears.

“Harry…Are you okay? I was so scared. You could have been killed!”

Harry had no idea what had gone on earlier. He had spent most of the time after he hit the ground unconscious.

“What happened?” he asked as he tried to comfort Ginny.

In response to his question, she slowly pulled back and looked at her brother.

Ron quietly spoke, “Um…It was Malfoy, Harry.”

Harry looked in disbelief, “You mean the little ferret cursed me… during the Quidditch game?”

Hermione continued, “Not that Malfoy, Harry…it was Lucious.”

Again with an expression of disbelief, Harry asked “Lucious Malfoy? How’s that possible?”

Ron then began to fill in the details of what had happened. He told him how Lucious had escaped from Azkaban with the dementors help…and how he came looking for revenge.

Ron stopped as he got to the part where Draco used the killing curse. He looked to Hermione for help… he was still having a hard time believing what had happened himself… even though he had witnessed it with his own eyes.

Hermione took his cue and slowly continued. “I don’t quite now how to say this. Er…Draco… protected you Harry. He used an unforgivable curse… to save you. He…he killed his own father.”

Harry couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He owed his life… to Malfoy? It didn’t seem possible.

Later that morning Madame Pomfrey released Harry from the hospital. As he returned to the common room, students, most of which hadn’t slept, were recounting the events of the end of the game over and over.

Malfoy had saved his life.

As Harry gradually began to absorb what had happened, he decided he needed to see him. He needed to know why. Why had someone who had been his enemy as long as he had known him, suddenly sacrificed everything for him?

The thought of it haunted him…he had to speak to Malfoy…now.

Harry pulled Ginny aside in the Gryffindor common room. “There’s something that I have to do Gin. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

Seeing the worry in her face her told Ginny he’d be all right and he promised to find her as soon as he returned. With that he headed out of the portrait hole alone. He was heading for Professor Dumbledore’s office he didn’t know where else to start.

When he arrived at the stone staircase he entered the office unannounced. The headmaster’s expression told Harry that he wasn’t surprised to see him.

As he spoke, Harry’s suspicions were confirmed. “I wondered when I’d be seeing you this morning, Harry. Please…come and sit down.”

Harry silently obeyed Dumbledore’s request, but after sitting across from the professor for only a couple of seconds, Harry began, “Professor, I need to see Malfoy. I need to talk to him.”

Dumbledore regarded his student with respect. “I knew you would, but he’s not here just now. Last night he was sent home to his mother. They have been unable to see each other since before the Christmas abductions of Miss Granger and Miss Weasley. He is to return with her this morning.”

Harry looked curious now, “What do you mean, unable?”

Dumbledore continued, “Well, Draco feared for his life… and the life of his mother… if they attempted to meet. Lucious had made it quite clear to Mrs. Malfoy that…his patience with his ‘traitorous son’ had worn out.”

Harry just stared back at Dumbledore then spoke, “So, he tried to save Ginny and Hermione and now he’s saved me.”

Harry dropped his eyes to the floor as he spoke in almost a whisper.

“He crossed a line and couldn’t return… He had no choice, just as I didn’t…kill or be killed.”

Dumbledore looked at Harry quietly, then responded, “Yes, ironic isn’t it? His life unfortunately has taken a turn that, you my young friend, are all too familiar with I fear. He killed his father, so that he and his mother… might have life. Now, he has to live with that for the rest of his days.”

Just then, there was a knock at the door. It was Mrs. Malfoy and Draco. Narcissa Malfoy’s hand was on Draco’s shoulder and her eyes were red and puffy.

Harry could tell she had been crying and hadn’t gotten much, if any sleep. Draco didn’t look much better. He begun to look even worse as he saw Harry sitting in front of Dumbledore’s desk. Everyone froze momentarily as the two teenage boys stared at each other.

Harry slowly rose from his chair. Without a word, he started to walk over to where the Malfoys were, stopping only a few feet from Draco. It seemed as though they were staring right through each other.

As if in slow motion, Harry held out his right hand.

Malfoy just looked from Harry’s face to his outstretched hand, then he reached out to offer his hand in return. In that single act… an innocent handshake… a thousand unspoken words of understanding were flowing between them.

They had found common ground.

Harry knew all too well what Malfoy was going through. He was probably the only other person who truly did. In that moment, they forged an unspoken alliance…

In that instance, Malfoy truly turned his allegiance away from the dark wizards… forever. Quietly they released their grasp and Harry turned to leave. He had done what he needed to do. As he reached the door, he suddenly stopped and turned back to face them again.

When he spoke, he only said three solemn and sincere words, “Thank you, Draco.”

With that, he turned to leave feeling truly sorry for Draco and his mother, and utterly grateful to be alive.

________________________________________
Chapter 44 Queen Among Women

From that point on the weeks began to fly by in a whir of activity. Harry and Draco’s new alliance hadn’t gone unnoticed by the Slytherins or the Gryffindors.

At first, they drew gawking stares from passing students as they talked in corridors before classes. Ron had been slow to accept the new circumstances, but given the sacrifice Malfoy had made for Harry, there was no denying…he was definitely a changed person.

When Hermione and Ginny first saw Draco after the incident, they both went up and hugged him for what he had done, and for what he had lost.

Ginny even gave him a kiss on the cheek as she thanked him for keeping Harry safe.

For the first time in his life, Draco felt as though he might have friends. Real friends.

Not ‘friends’ that only followed him out of fear or out of pretentious envy of his money or position, but people that he knew he could count on. People who knew they could count on him too.

Not everyone was thrilled with the ‘new’ Malfoy however. Pansy Parkinson for one, wasn’t the least bit happy about the new life he was leading. She had lost some of her own power and control with his decision to become, of all things… human.

In the past, Draco had allowed her to drape herself over him because she came from a well-bred, pureblood, wealthy line of wizards. Their fathers were friends and Lucious encouraged an ‘alliance’ between the families.

Had he lived, he probably would have suggested marriage for them in the future. Now that his father was gone, so was the reason to keep up the charade that he was attracted to her.

In truth, Pansy annoyed Draco to no end. She was shallow, clingy and air headed. Physically, she was okay to look at, but he felt no sparks as he had earlier in the year with Hermione.

Pansy, on the other hand, had been deeply attracted to Draco and had anticipated a future with him. In her mind he had everything…looks, money and the right family connections. To her, all of those things were equated with power and a life of leisure. Now, she was left out in the cold with no real prospects to speak of.

As for Hermione, Draco had not been able to erase his feelings for her from his mind. He still had a strong attraction to her and his heart would race anytime she stood too close.

This attraction to her was something that he decided he would have to forever keep secret. Part of him wanted to tell her, but that wouldn’t be right. He owed her.

He would always be grateful to her for making him see how much better it was to love than hate. He knew that she and Ron were happy together and for the first time in his life…someone else’s happiness was more important to Draco than his own.

He decided he would just have to move on…find someone new. There were other girls in the castle who had caught his eye… Up until now though, were like the proverbial forbidden fruit. He could look… but never touch.

Now he could see anyone he fancied… if they’d have him. The tough part was actually finding someone.

Some of the girls in the castle were still uncertain of his sincerity. He had a reputation for being a bit of a cad.

The fact that Harry had accepted him was starting to spread though and it was improving his lot tremendously. As of late, he’d begun to notice a few sideways glances from girls from other houses in the corridors.

Somehow, Hermione got wind of the fact that Draco was looking for a new girl. Hermoine and Ginny had offered to fix him up, but no one they suggested really interested him. The ones that did interest him he’d already burned those bridges with his previous ‘ungentlemanly behavior’.

“Surely there’s someone. We’ll just have to keep at it.”

Ginny said one day. Ron and Harry rolled their eyes sympathetically as the girls made it their mission to find him a girl.

One day as Hermione and Ginny went off to class, Harry said, “Listen, Draco, I’m sorry about their matchmaking. They can be painfully persistent when they want to be. They mean well, but I’m sure it’s getting a bit annoying.”

Draco smiled, “That’s okay. If it makes them happy, they can keep looking. I don’t mind really. Besides… it’s takes Hermione’s mind off of NEWTS doesn’t it?”

He added looking at Ron with a smile.

Ron smiled back appreciatively, “Yeah, you have no idea what it’s like in that common room at night. Down right scary she is… but…I still wouldn’t trade her for anything.”

Draco was glad to see that Ron truly appreciated Hermione, even with her little obsessive streak. If he hadn’t…he knew someone who would.

Truthfully, Draco’s biggest problem with the girl’s that Ginny and Hermione were trying to set him up with was that… they weren’t Hermione. He kept comparing them all to her, which made it very hard to find someone new.

One day however, someone new… sort of found him. Draco was coming out of the library and walking back to the Slytherin common room.

As he turned the corner to head down the corridor he ran smack into the most beautiful, almond eyed, dark haired girl he’d ever seen.

She had been reading a book as she walked and didn’t see him coming. As he took her hand to help her up their eyes met. It was electric.

They held each other’s gaze for much longer than necessary until Draco realized he was still holding her hand.

They both flushed a little as he spoke, “Um…sorry. I didn’t see you…um…Are you okay?”

She answered quietly still blushing, “Yeah, sorry…I get kind of involved when I read and sometimes I don’t notice what’s going on around me.”

They began talking and Draco found her to be quite intelligent as well as beautiful. One of the things that had attracted him to Hermione was her brilliance.

Pansy was somewhat of a twit and it had always bothered Draco. As Draco and this mystery girl began running out of small talk he said he had to get going.

He was half way down the corridor when he realized he didn’t even know her name.

He shouted to her, “Wait! …What’s your name? Which house are you in?”

She turned and said with a smile, “Sorry, my name is Premila… Premila Patil. My friends call me Mila. You may know my older sisters, Padma and Parvarti. I’m a 6th year in Ravenclaw.”

He smiled as he realized she had known who he was all along and he wondered how she knew.

“Nice to meet you Miss Premila Patil. That’s a beautiful name.”

She began to blush again as she told him it was an Indian name that meant ‘queen among women.’ Draco smiled as he considered this then said, “It suits you… Well, I guess I should get going now. Maybe we’ll…bump into each other again sometime.”

She smiled and blushed a little more, “Yeah, I’d like that.”

As he turned to go, he began thinking that her mother must be very beautiful. Padma and Parvarti were two of the prettiest girls in his year and Mila was just as beautiful as her sisters were.

The only difference was that Padma and Parvarti were very pretentious. In a lot of ways, they had similar personalities to Pansy, but they were not near as daft.

Mila on the other hand, seemed down to earth and quite bright. As he walked back to the dungeons, he thought about this chance meeting with her.

The attraction between them had been immediate…he thought that perhaps she felt it too. He had to see her again, but when? How would he arrange it?

He arrived at his dormitory and got ready for bed. As he pulled the hangings down around his four-poster, he couldn’t get her out of his mind.

He imagined what it would be like to touch her beautiful lips. It gave him chills to think of her dark, almond-shaped eyes. They were enchanting…and in Draco’s mind, incredibly sexy.

Tonight, for the first time in months, he might not dream of Hermione. As he lay back on his pillows, tonight he’d dream about someone new…someone who wasn’t already in love with someone else.

Then tomorrow he’d find a way to see her again. He’d find a way to ask her for a date. He simply couldn’t stop thinking of her…as sleep washed over him, he entered his dreams and Mila was waiting for him, just as he had hoped she would be.

________________________________________
Chapter 45 Hopes and Fears

Over the next couple of weeks, Draco continued to see Mila throughout the castle. Unfortunately, she never seemed to be alone.

He wanted to ask her out, but felt uncomfortable approaching her with her group of Ravenclaw friends standing by. Instead, they would steal glances at each other and exchange silent smiles across the Great Hall or in corridors.

To date, that had been the extent of their ‘relationship’much to Draco’s disappointment.

i>What the bloody hell is wrong with me? I’ve never been this nervous around a girl before, he thought one day as she passed with a quietly alluring smile.

Every time he saw her, he felt a chemistry between them that seemed to boil over whenever their eyes met. What he really wanted, was to walk up to pull her into his arms and begin kissing her.

The image of him doing just that kept running through his mind. With each day that went by, the tension between them seemed to build with every glance, every smile…He thought he’d die if he didn’t spend time with her soon.

This was definitely new ground for him. In the past, he was used to taking certain privileges with the girls he dated. He never really worried about what they wanted…or didn’t want.

Honestly…up ‘til now…he’d never been turned down by anyone and was accustomed to having his way with whomever he had chosen for the week. For some reason this was different.

He was really worried that he might say or do the wrong thing. Although he had rehearsed what he’d say many times, he was still nervous.

Girls he had dated in the past were usually impressed by his status and position at school…school prefect, Quidditch Seeker, wealthy family, athletic body…

The Slytherin girls had fallen all over themselves for a chance to spend a night or two with him.

Why is this so hard? I’ve never had to put so much effort into dating before…this is exhausting.

He finally realized that it was hard because for the first time, he cared about what this girl thought of him. He knew one thing for sure, if he wanted a chance to get to know her better before the end of the year, he would have to find a way... and soon.

He decided that if he couldn’t find her alone, he’d just have to ask her for a private talk. With his study schedule for NEWTS, he didn’t know when he’d be able to see her, but he knew he’d have to come up with something.

With exams only days away, study sessions in the castle among the 7th years had taken on a new sense of urgency. They had resumed with intensity that even Hermione found alarming.

She had gone off food again and Ron was suffering in silence for the love of his life. Harry finally had the idea to ask Dobby to bring Hermione and Ron their dinner.

Ron was overjoyed to see the little house elf tottering in with a tray full of delicious smelling food. Even Hermione ate a little more now that she didn’t have to leave her books to do it.

The week of NEWTS there was a mixture of panic and relief spreading like wildfire as one exam was completed and another would commence. When they were finally done with all of their exams Harry, Ron, and Hermione collapsed into their chairs by the fire.

Ginny came down and found Harry, who for the first time in days wasn’t hidden behind a book. She had missed him and asked if they could take a walk.

They asked if Hermione and Ron wanted to join them, but they declined, opting for the quiet of the common room. Most of the students who were finished were off outside celebrating. There seemed to be an inordinate number of Weasley’s Wizarding Weazes about the castle.

It appeared as though Fred and George had either made deliveries or perhaps even a house call. As Head Girl and Gryffindor Prefect, Hermione and Ron had decided to steer clear of that mess.

Truthfully, they felt the students deserved to celebrate and didn’t want to spoil their fun by giving the detention for setting off fireworks in the corridors.

When Harry and Ginny had disappeared through the portrait hole Hermione looked over at Ron and then climbed into his lap. She quietly slid her fingers into his hand and intertwining them with his. With a sweet smile adorning her face she sighed as she settled her head against his chest.

He looked down at her with a feeling of contentment as he kissed her on the top of the head.

As they snuggled he asked, “We’re actually done, Hermione. Can you believe it?”

Hermione was looking into the fire. She seemed to be contemplating his words and suddenly she didn’t look so happy.

He noticed her change in demeanor and asked, “What’s wrong, Hermione…I thought you’d be relieved that exams over. I’m sure you were brilliant. I bet you got top marks. All that stress of school is behind us now. Isn’t it great?”

She looked at him and smiled but not convincingly. “Yeah…it’s great.”

Quizzically Ron returned her gaze. Before he could question her any further, she began speaking quietly. Ron was beginning to become concerned when she continued to avoid making eye contact with him.

As she looked off into the fire she went on, “Well…It’s jus that… your right. It IS over. I mean…we won’t be coming back to Hogwarts next year will we. We won’t… get to see each other everyday…what if…what if we don’t have time to see each other anymore.”

Her voice was quivering now as she went on quietly, “You’re applying for Auror’s training... I’m hoping to start my Healers Internship. What if we… drift apart?”

Ron was stunned.

The thought of them not being together anymore hadn’t even crossed his mind. He put his hand on her cheek lifting her face to his and gazed into her warm brown eyes.

After holding her gaze for a few seconds he answered in a quiet comforting voice, “Hermione, I love you… That’s not going to change just because we’ve finished school… You know that don’t you?” She nodded slowly, but didn’t look completely convinced that things wouldn’t change between them. He leaned down and kissed her tenderly. He felt awful that she was feeling insecure.

“Honey, I promise…we won’t drift apart. I won’t let that happen. You won’t get rid of me that easy.”

He said trying to make her smile. She seemed a little better, but still definitely feeling down.

Ron decided that he’d need to find a way to make her feel better. He was about to ask her to go with him for a walk by the lake when she began kissing him softly… before he knew it, she was teasing him a bit with her tongue and he was getting excited.

As they broke apart she buried her face in his shoulder and she whispered into his ear, “Ron… I want you… Let’s go…you know where…please? I need to be close to you… now.”

He looked into her eyes as they were beginning to fill. He didn’t understand why she was so sad. He had no intentions of leaving her.

No matter how busy the next year was. He thought she knew that. He pulled her into his arms and held her tightly letting her tears come.

Then he quietly whispered, “Hermione…we’ll be okay… I promise. Don’t you still trust me?”

She nodded against his chest.

“Okay then, you know that I won’t let something like… finishing school… come between us. And…If you still want to… I’d love nothing more that to take you right now and show you how much you mean to me… You’re everything to me, honey… Without you, nothing else would matter.”

She pulled from his embrace and stood in front of him holding out both of her hands for him.

“Please, let’s… go.”

This was serious. She was serious.

When they arrived at ‘their room’ it was as though he could feel her emotions bursting from her as they slowly made love.

Afterwards, there were tears in Hermione’s eyes. It was as though she felt like they were saying goodbye. He tried to comfort her as he held her body close to his, stroking her hair softly with his fingers, but silent tears continued to flow down her cheeks and onto his bare chest.

Ron decided then and there that he needed to find a way to make her feel secure. He needed her to know that he wouldn’t leave her. What he needed was a new plan. At that moment he began to formulate one that would put her mind at ease for good.

At the same time out on the grounds, Harry and Ginny were sitting together on a large rock as they watched the water lap up onto the shore. The sound of the water was almost hypnotic as they sat quietly enjoying their time alone.

Harry had his arms around her and she was snuggled warmly into his body as she rested with her back and head against his chest. For quite some time, they simply enjoyed the peace of the afternoon and she didn’t want to spoil it.

Ginny knew that their quiet time needed to end though. When she invited him on the walk, she had something on her mind. After an hour or so, she knew she had to ask.

“Harry?”

In response he almost sleepily asked “Hmm?” as he absentmindedly lifted her hand to his lips and kissed it.

She hesitantly continued, “Um…There’s something we need to talk about?”

As the peaceful bliss that he had settled in continued he asked quietly, “About what Gin?”

She was suddenly fighting a tremendous fit of nerves for some reason. When she continued her voice was a little shaky.

“Well, it’s…it’s time isn’t it? …To…to make your decision I mean…about Grimmauld Place…”

Harry turned and sat so he could face her now. He had pushed that out of his mind weeks ago and hadn’t brought it up again. Now as he looked at her, he knew it was time that he told her what he had decided.

“Well… I’ve really thought a lot about it over the last few months... I’ve really considered what it would mean to leave it all behind and what it would mean for me to move to Grimmauld Place….”

Ginny looked at him expectantly, “So, have you made your decision then?”

Harry looked at her trying to read her mind…he wished he could know how she would react. Not seeing any way out of this he continued, “I feel like… the right thing for me… is to carry out Sirius’ wishes… The only thing I’m worried about is, …is it the right thing for you?”

Ginny’s eyes dropped back to the water again as she spoke quietly, “Oh.”

Harry caught her tone of disappointment and quickly added, “Well, I haven’t given Dumbledore my decision yet. I wanted to talk to you first… How do you feel about this?”

Ginny didn’t know what to say. Part of her always knew that would be his choice, but another part of her hoped that she would be wrong.

“Harry, I want you to do what you feel is right, but…I’m scared. I’m not really scared for myself…I know you’d take on the world for me…but, if something happened to…a child because of it… I’m not sure I could ever forgive myself.”

They sat in silence absorbing the depth of what she was saying. She was thinking into the future and was frightened of the unknown. Harry had hoped she wouldn’t feel that way, but he totally understood why she did.

Actually, deep down she kept thinking of Harry’s childhood and how his parents had been taken from him as a baby. Her fear was that history would repeat itself.

She didn’t want her child to grow up without parents the way Harry had, but she was afraid to tell him this. Her eyes were beginning to fill with tears, but she wanted to be strong as she tried to fight them back.

Harry broke their silence as he quietly responded, “The reason that I haven’t given my answer to Dumbledore yet… is that…I’m scared too. I do want children someday. I would need assurances that every possible safety precaution will be taken…”

He placed his finger under her chin gently lifting her face toward his.

“Ginny, I love you… I don’t want to lose you…I know this is a lot to ask of you… Please…please don’t give up on us. Please, just say you’ll think about it… If you trust me, I promise I’ll keep you safe…you… and our babies someday…or I’ll die trying.”

She quietly mumbled “That’s what I’m afraid of.”

Harry hadn’t heard her comment and continued trying to buy some time, “Unless we’re married and have children of our own, I don’t think you need to decide. There’s no reason that anything has to change between us…not yet at least. You still have another year at Hogwarts.”

She sighed at hearing him talk about the children he wanted to share with her. She couldn’t imagine having a baby with anyone else. He was kind and strong and loyal. Everything that she would want in the father of her children.

She was so torn… she didn’t want to lose Harry either.

Part of her was actually a little worried about the fact that she did have another year at Hogwarts.

What if he got tired of waiting? What if he found someone else in the mean time? He’d be away at Auror training. How often would they even see each other over the next year?

She decided to keep those fears to herself for now as she looked into his deep, green, pleading eyes.

Quietly she answered “I don’t want to lose you Harry…I love you too. I promise I’ll give it some more thought.”

He smiled and kissed her softly. Slowly their touch grew from tender to intense.

As they broke apart several minutes later a bit breathless she quietly asked, “I guess this means… we’re still waiting then?”

He breathed deeply closing his eyes. He exhaled slowly as he looked back into her eyes again, “Yeah…I guess it does.”

Then teasing her he added, “Are you sure… you couldn’t just say yes… now? I’d make it worth your while.”

Grinning mischievously at her and beginning to kiss her neck and shoulder. She sighed in agony with the desire between them.

“I wish it were that simple Harry…I really do.”

________________________________________
Chapter 46 Anticipation

With exams behind them, the 7th years had the final week of the term free from classes. The week would be filled with festivities for them, including a graduation ceremony on Friday afternoon followed by a banquet and then a Graduate’s Ball on Saturday night.

Families and close friends would be invited to the ceremony and banquet, but the Ball was only for students and their dates. No one under 7th year was permitted to attend unless they were an invited guest of a graduate.

Harry would be bringing Ginny, of course and she was very excited. She became even more excited when Harry offered to as an end of year present to buy her some new dress robes for the occasion.

She and Hermione were chattering back and forth excitedly about what they would wear and how they would fix their hair and various other girlie things. Harry couldn’t help but smile as he watched them talking so excitedly and happy.

Draco, by a favorable turn of events, spotted Mila leaving the Great Hall unattended one day after breakfast. He left his plate untouched and sitting on the Slytherin table as followed her out into the corridor.

“Mila…wait.” He called as he hurried to catch up to her.

She stopped and waited for him as she grasped around for something to talk about.

“Oh…Hi Draco. Um…congratulations on finishing exams. You must be thrilled!”

As he came level with her she asked if he could walk with her because she was on her way to class. As they made small talk, she could tell something was up and she began to grow a little nervous.

She had had a crush on him ever since they had run in to each other, but didn’t think he’d ever really speak to her again. Now she was growing increasingly flustered as she walked along beside him… close enough to touch him.

Finally, they entered the hall where her lesson was held, running out of time, he got to the point.

“Um… Mila, there’s something I wanted to ask you.”

She stopped and was gazing into his eyes expectantly as he continued.

“Well, there’s a ball this weekend for 7th years…but you probably know that because of your sisters…Well, anyway…we’re allowed to invite someone…a guest. I was wondering…would you like to go?…with me I mean.”

She was very quiet…too quiet Draco thought. He began to flush in their silence as he prepared for her refusal.

Then she answered turning a bit pink, “Oh…I’d really like that… It sounds like fun. I was only a third year when they held the Yule Ball, so… I’ve never been to one before.”

There was a beautiful, shy smile spreading across her face and he could tell she was pleased that he asked.

Relieved he said, “Great! Um…Well, shall I meet you then…outside of the Ravenclaw common room? Let’s say about 8:00… and we’ll walk down together. Okay?”

She was really blushing now, but she managed to say, “That would be wonderful…Well… I’d better get to class…I’ll see you Saturday at 8:00 then….Bye.”

He watched her head towards the classroom. She turned once to see him still watching her and smiled as she waved goodbye. Walking away he felt incredible! Saturday couldn’t get here quick enough.

Three days he thought…only three more days.

Ron had been thinking about his plan to make Hermione feel better and had struck upon what he thought was the perfect way to ensure she’d never feel insecure again.

He just had to figure out the best way to do it. He would need to get away from Hermione and leave the castle for a bit, but she couldn’t know what was happening…that would ruin it.

That night in the dormitory he talked to Harry. He told him that he wanted to do something really special for Hermione, but he needed to get away from her to do it. It was decided that the next day Harry and Ginny would distract her to give him time to run his ‘errands’.

The next morning Ron and Hermione were walking through the castle together and they ran into Draco. They couldn’t help but notice how pleased he looked.

He had ‘accidentally’ run into Mila outside of her common room and had walked her to class. He looked like he could burst.

When Hermione asked what he was up to, he told her that she could quit looking for a date for him…because he already found one. Quietly he told them about Mila and Hermione squealed as she hugged him.

“Oh, she’s wonderful, Draco! I’ve met her before. She’s in Ginny’s year isn’t she?”

Ron grinned and raised his eyebrows as he mumbled so as only Draco could hear, “Not too hard on the eyes either… is she?”

Draco smirked back at him as Hermione continued unaware of Ron’s comment.

“Mila’s very bright… and a prefect, too!” as if that settled the matter.

And in a way… it did. If she was good enough in Hermione’s eyes, he knew he hadn’t been wrong about her.

As they stood talking, Harry and Ginny came over. Seeing his chance, Ron, quietly pulled Harry aside while Hermione was distracted with Ginny as she told her about Mila Patil and Draco’s date.

“I’m going to see Dumbledore now. Can you cover for me?”

Harry nodded and waved him away quickly. When Hermione turned back around, Ron was no where to be found.

Harry looked at Draco and winked then said “Oh…um… he said he’d be right back, Hermione.” Quickly he asked, “Er…You guys want to go for a walk… or… something?”

Again he looked at Draco, trying to give him a clue to help him out. Draco wasn’t sure what was going on, but he played along.

Before they knew it, they ended up at the Quidditch pitch. They started talking about the fact that because they hadn’t finished the game, no one had been given the Quidditch Cup this year.

Draco joked, “Yeah… I should have caught the snitch first…what was I thinking?”

They all laughed but then Harry noticed that Draco was looking reflective. He knew he must have been thinking about his father. Harry quickly changed the subject to Mila.

“So… tell me about this Ravenclaw girl. It sounds like you didn’t need our little matchmakers here after all...isn’t she Parvarti’s sister?”

He said pulling Ginny and Hermione into one-armed hugs on either side of him. Draco began to blush a bit as he filled them in about how they met and the last few weeks of admiring each other from afar.

Meanwhile, in the castle Ron was ascending the staircase to the headmaster’s office. He needed a favor and Dumbledore was the only one who could help him. He knocked on the door and Dumbledore called to him to enter. He went in and crossed the room to the professor’s desk.

“Mr. Weasley, to what do I owe this surprise?” Ron looked at the floor sheepishly, then began to tell him that he wanted special permission to leave school for a few hours.

He needed to see his mother. There was something important that he needed to discuss with her… and it simply couldn’t wait until the banquet and graduation ceremony on Friday.

The headmaster quietly observed Ron as he paced a few times in front of him. Deciding to put him out of his misery he said, “Well, if it’s that important, I feel it’s best that you go straight away. Would floo powder due?”

Ron looked up gratefully at Dumbledore for giving him permission…and for not asking questions. Before he knew it, he was sliding out of the fireplace at the Burrow.

Mrs. Weasley had been bustling around the kitchen when he suddenly popped in. She jumped as he startled her and dropped a stack of plates she had been levitating to the cupboard.

“Um…sorry mum…Let me help.” He took out his wand and repaired the dishes then stacked them neatly in the cupboard for her.

“Ronald…What on earth are you doing here? What’s happened?”

He looked at her and didn’t quite know where to begin.

“Um…maybe you should sit down mum. There’s something that I need to talk to you about… Dumbledore sent me so I could see you now.”

Mrs. Weasley looked even more worried now as she walked over to the table and took a seat beside Ron. He looked extremely nervous and cleared his throat loudly before he continued.

“Um…mum. It’s about Hermione.”

With fear filling her voice she quickly asked, “What’s happened? Is she okay?”

Ron quickly answered, “Yeah, mum…she’s fine. It’s not that… Well, it’s just that…er…”

Mrs. Weasley was getting curious now as she watched her son squirm, “Ronald, I’m your mother. You can talk to me... What’s going on?”

He sighed and then plunged ahead, “Well…I love her, mum…more than anything in the world…. I want to marry her…I want to ask her to be my wife at the graduation ball… Would you help me?”

For a few seconds Mrs. Weasley just froze. She didn’t speak or even move. Then a warm smile spread over her face and her eyes began to fill with tears.

Ron gasped, “Oh! Don’t cry, Mum… please…” She was now pulling him into her arms.

“Oh Ron… she’s a wonderful girl! I would be so pleased to have her join our family… but what about Auror’s training?”

Ron pulled back from his mum escaping her smothering grasp and said, “Well, I’ve thought about that… We’ll be engaged for awhile and we can get married right after training. After all, I’ll need a job first… right?”

She smiled even more broadly at him and answered, “Right!…Well, then… how can I help?”

Ron was looking a little apprehensive again and looked down at the floor. He mumbled something then looked back at her expectantly.

Mrs. Weasley looked confused, “What was that dear?”

Ron repeated his words more loudly this time. “May I…May I have great-gran’s ring?… I thought…it would make a nice engagement ring. I don’t really have the money to buy her a new one…at least not a proper one… and I was wondering how to manage it when I thought of great-gran’s. I know it means a lot to you… if you don’t want me to give it to Hermione, I’ll understand. I just thought…being as it was so special…and she’s so special to me…”

His mum’s silence was deafening and he began to panic.

“Well, um…never mind. I’ll find another way… Maybe George and Fred would help me again…’course, I still owe them for the money for the charm I gave her for her birthday.”

Looking desperate, Ron’s mind began racing trying to think of how to get the money for an engagement ring by Saturday night. Mrs. Weasley looked proudly at her youngest son.

She could tell he had not gone into this hastily. He had obviously put a lot of thought into what he wanted to do.

“You really love her… don’t you son?”

He looked right into his mother’s eyes and answered, “Yes…so much it hurts to think about being away from her next year. I want her to know what’s in my heart… and that I don’t ever intend to leave her.” She smiled at her son’s admission to her.

“Well then…wait here.”

She disapparated and returned a few seconds later. She was holding a small purple velvet bag with a gold cord as a drawstring. This was his mother’s most prized possession. She rubbed her thumb across the velvet and then lifted it to her lips. She kissed it and then took Ron’s hand and laid it in his palm.

As she closed his fingers around it she said, “I love you, Ronald. I think that Hermione is a very lucky girl… It would mean so much to me… if you would give it to her.”

Ron thought he would burst as he jumped from his chair and hugged his mum.

“I don’t know how to thank you!”

As he let go he asked, “um…could we keep this between us for a bit? I’d like to tell everyone else together, afterward…that is…if she says yes.”

She smiled and said, “Whatever you want dear. And Ron…good luck.”

In the next second he was grabbing a handful of floo powder and disappeared as quickly as he had appeared. Mrs. Weasley stood looking into the empty grate with a feeling of mixed emotions.

There were tears in her eyes, but a smile on her face. Her youngest son had grown up.

She felt an overwhelming sense of mother’s pride at the thought that her son… was now a man.

________________________________________
Chapter 47 Celebrations and Surprises

Ron reappeared instantly in Dumbledore’s office. The headmaster, seeming quite calm, greeted him warmly.

“Hello again, Mr. Weasley. I trust that your visit with Molly went well.”

Ron answered with a much more excited tone in his voice than the last time he spoke to him.

“Yes! Thank you for allowing me to go professor! I’ve got some other things to do, now…I’ll see you later…”

He was already on his way out. The headmaster had never asked what was going on, but somehow he didn’t think he needed to ask. He had a sneaking suspicion it had something to do with a beautiful, young witch he knew.

As his office door closed Dumbledore sighed with a smile, “Ah…Young love…”

Ron went straight to his dormitory and stashed the ring safely in his trunk. Then he went to find the others. Hermione was sure to be getting suspicious by now and he didn’t want a lot of questions. He wasn’t sure he could contain his excitement or nerves if she drilled him too much.

Thankfully when he found them she was busy looking through “Wizarding Wardrobes” with Ginny out on the grounds.

It was their favorite fashion magazine and they were deep in discussion about Saturday’s ball. When she spotted him she simply blew him a kiss and kept chattering on.

He settled on the grass beside Harry and Draco. It was a pleasantly warm day with a gentle breeze blowing off of the lake. Harry looked curiously at him as he sat down.

“Well? How did it go?” Harry asked quietly, as he glanced over to be sure the girls weren’t listening. Ron simply beamed, “It couldn’t have gone any better. I can’t wait for Saturday!”

Harry just looked at him again thinking of what he had planned back in the fall for Hermione’s birthday and asked, “It’s going to be hard to top her ‘birthday party’. Do you think you can manage it?”

Ron began to smile as he looked lovingly at Hermione. “Oh…I think she’ll think this is even better…at least I hope so…I wish I could tell you what I’m planning, but…”

Harry cut him off, “Yeah, I know…you don’t want to jinx it, right?”

Ron smiled a bit sheepishly, “Yeah, actually…that’s exactly right…It has to be perfect, it just has to be.”

Just then the girls came over and plopped down with them telling them all about their plans for Saturday. Draco watched them and wondered if Mila was plotting just as they had been. He wished she were there with them too.

Only two days left now…I can’t wait. He decided he’d go and see if he could catch her coming out of class and walk her back to her common room. He began to think how nice it must be for Ron and Harry to share a common room with the girls.

It was much harder to see someone from a different house. He told them he’d see them later and left the couples sitting happily together as he went off to find Mila.

The next day seemed to go by quickly as they prepared for the graduation ceremony and banquet. Ginny had class, but had gotten special permission to leave lessons early and join her family for the festivities. After all, her brother was graduating too.

That afternoon, the 7th years were seated at the front of the great hall with their houses. They wore their house colors, but on their chest they wore a Hogwarts crest.

Their families and friends were seated at tables that had been situated throughout the hall behind the graduates. There was a quiet rumble of conversations moving through the room until Dumbledore rose to speak. The crowd quieted as he began.

His speech was heart felt and moving. It was clear that this particular group of students held a special place in his heart. He went on for several minutes about the special attributes of this particular group of graduates.

He shared his pride in the way they risked their lives in the fall and how they had pulled the houses together for the good of the wizarding world. He also paused for a moment of silence for those who lost their lives in the attempt to defeat Voldemort.

It was a solemn moment and the room was perfectly silent as tears began to fall throughout the hall.

After a minute he asked the Heads of House to join him as they called each student individually by house to receive their diplomas. There was a great deal of cheering and applause.

After the students had returned to their seats, Professor Dumbledore, cleared his throat and the room quieted once again. As he spoke he talked about how unification was one of the things that enabled them to be victorious.

New alliances had been forged and would possibly change the way the Houses would work together from that day forth.

Truthfully he said, “We will never have another year like this one…. There are so many students who have been uncommonly brave, loyal, and dedicated. Many of you have sacrificed a great deal so that we could all be here today.”

Then quite surprisingly he called two students to the front.

“Though I am sure I could list each of you and offer some way that you have shone brightly this year…time constraints and…dare I say hunger pains…would prevent me from doing so.”

The crowd laughed as Ron shouted, “Here, here!” I would like to acknowledge two individuals in particular. Would Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy please join me?”

They looked at each other from across the rows. Draco slowly rose from his seat with the other Slytherins as Harry made his way to the front through the row of Gryffindors.

Harry was feeling very self-conscious as he stood to one side of Dumbledore. Draco had taken his spot on the other side and they stood quietly looking up at the headmaster. Dumbledore looked down at both of them with a sense of unending pride.

Harry thought he saw tears forming in Dumbledore’s eyes and he quickly looked away, for fear he too may begin to well up.

Dumbledore’s voice was quiet and a bit shaky as he spoke.

“These two young men… have made perhaps some of the biggest sacrifices…next to those who actually gave their lives to our cause… Sadly, Harry’s entire life has been one sacrifice… after another…From this day forth, I wish you nothing but happiness in your future.”

He held out his hand to Harry who shook it with a feeling a love and respect growing in his heart for this man who had looked after him for so long. Next he turned to Draco.

“Draco, you have made such a transformation…The pride I feel in the way you have changed is hard to put into words. You have learned that love must win…You made an impossible decision…for the betterment of our world. I wish you luck in the future. May your sacrifice… breed new hope… for all those who’s minds are still… uncertain.”

Again he reached out to shake his hand.

“Now…” Dumbledore said with a much brighter tone, “There is the matter of the Quidditch Cup… I daresay that if I don’t award it… the heads of house may very well…call for my resignation I fear.”

There was a much-needed burst of laughter briefly spreading through the hall.

“The Quidditch Tournament, like the rest of the year…was…unusual to say the least. I’m afraid that no one was able to catch the snitch before we ended the final game…Upon consulting with the Heads of House and Madame Hooch, we’ve struck a compromise that we feel should be satisfactory to all those concerned.”

Professor Dumbledore took out his wand and used it to materialize the Quidditch Cup into his hands.

“It seems that when the match ended, the score between Gryffindor and Slytherin was… a tie. We felt that considering the unusual circumstances… an unusual outcome was also in order. For the first time in Hogwart’s history, I declare a joint title as Quidditch Champions between Slytherin and Gryffindor House… Congratulations to you both!”

With that he took Harry and Draco’s hands and placed them each on one side of the cup. They looked at each other for a second, then smiling broading they lifted it into the air together in victory.”

The audience rose to its feet as they cheered. Dumbledore made one more swoop of his wand and the colors of the room turned half green and silver and half red and gold.

With the ceremony over, the Great Hall was once again transformed. It took on a look similar to the end of year feast as tables were suddenly laden with golden dishes and goblets. Dumbledore only offered two words as the food began appearing up and down the tables.

“Tuck in!”

With that the students joined their families. Harry went and sat with Ginny and the Weasleys. When he arrived at the table, he found Remus Lupin sitting at their table where a placecard that read “Potter Family” was placed. He rose and offered his hand to Harry.

“I hope you don’t mind me joining you Harry…As the last of the Marauder’s, I felt it my duty to be here for James and Sirius.”

Harry looked at his hand then instead hugged Lupin as he thanked him for coming.

Lupin patted him on the back and added, “I’ll always be here when you need me Harry…count on it…and congratulations.” They took their seats as Harry sat between Ginny and Lupin. Ginny took his hand and looked up at him smiling. He looked down at her with tears in his eyes and kissed her on the hand.

As for the others, Hermione and her parents were seated across the table from them with Ron to her left. Draco had gone to sit with his mother and a few other people that Harry didn’t know. He found out later that they were family from abroad that had come to help Narcissa and Draco adjust to their new lives.

Although they were Malfoy’s they had never joined Voldemort and were happy to be reunited with them after so many years of forced separation by Lucious.

Everyone enjoyed the food and the conversation immensely as they celebrated way into the night. Fred and George, holding true to form, had smuggled in some of their ‘merchandise’ much to Mrs. Weasley’s dismay and everyone else’s delight.

They were now filling the hall with blasts and colorful pops of sparks. Dumbledore only smiled at them and winked, as a particularly large firework exploded just overhead. As Harry looked around at his ‘family’ he felt truly happy.

Around midnight everyone began to clear the hall. Families were saying goodbye to their graduates and students were returning to their common rooms for the night.

Harry excused himself after hugging Mrs. Weasley goodbye and told Ron he’d see him in a bit. He asked him to tell Ginny to please wait for him by the fire and he’d see her there.

He quietly made his way to the Headmasters office. He hoped it wasn’t too late, but he needed to speak to him. As he entered, Dumbledore was stroking Fawkes as he turned to see Harry.

“Come in Harry. I wondered when we’d be having this talk.”

Harry was only slightly surprised that Dumbledore had been expecting him. He went over and began stroking Fawkes as well, not making eye contact with Dumbledore.

“Well, professor…I’ve made my decision…at least I think I have. There are some questions I have first.”

Dumbledore smiled warmly at him then invited him to sit in a chair by the fire. As they sat across from each other Harry began, “I need to know…how safe will it be? I’m not concerned for myself…it’s just…well, when I marry and…” blushing a little, he added, “have children some day, how will we protect them?”

Dumbledore was silently regarding him now with an expression of sympathy on his face.

“Harry, we will do everything in our power to ensure your safety… and the safety of your family…As you know, however, there can be no guarantees…I wish that were not true, but unfortunately…it is the reality of your situation.”

Harry looked into the fire, then back at Dumbledore.

“I’ve decided to leave Privet Drive. I’m going to live in Sirius’ house and carry out his wishes…under one condition…”

Dumbledore asked, “and what is your condition?”

Harry looked straight at the professor and said, “The only way I’ll agree to this is if you agree to be my secret keeper.”

Dumbledore smiled at his words and said, “I’d be honored Harry…I’m more proud of you than you can ever imagine…and I know your mother and father would be proud of you too if they were here today. Even after you leave this place, my office door will always be open to you… and your family…”

He said with a smile. Harry and Dumbledore rose from their seats and he hugged Harry as a father would. Finally, being overcome by his emotions, Harry allowed his tears to flow as he stood there hugging the greatest wizard he’d ever known.

He now believed, somehow… it would all be okay… Now if he could only convince Ginny of the same.

As they drew back from each other, Dumbledore seemed to read Harry’s mind as he then said; “Now…I believe there is a certain ginger-haired girl waiting for you. Enjoy your evening and good luck.”

Harry returned to find Ginny sleeping in a chair by the common room fire as she waited for him. He looked down at her with love almost bursting from his heart.

He gently woke her and said “Hey sleepy head. Sorry I took so long, but I’m glad you waited.” He slid in beside her and pulled her into his lap wrapping his arms tightly around her.

She smiled sleepily and kissed him gently as she snuggled up warmly to him. “I missed you, Harry. Where did you go?”

He pulled her closer and then whispered, “I went to see Dumbledore…I…I gave him my decision.... When I leave Hogwarts…I’ll be moving to Grimmauld Place.”

Ginny looked up at him. She didn’t seem surprised, but she did seem worried.

He kissed her again tenderly and said, “Ginny…if you believe in me…please, don’t leave me. I can’t do this alone. I need you to trust me…to trust us… Can you do that?”

She looked into his warm eyes as she felt his love wash over her. Her lips trembled as she considered what he was asking her to do, then she quietly answered, “I’ll try Harry…I promise I’ll try.”

He kissed her again and thanked her. “I promise I’ll do everything in my power to make sure you don’t regret this, Gin… I love you.”

They continued to sit cuddled together in the chair and fell asleep in each other’s arms. They didn’t awake until Dobby came in to attend to the fires in the wee hours of the morning.

He woke Harry and they went up to their rooms sleepily. Ginny went to sleep dreaming of the ball and Harry climbed into bed hoping he could keep his promise.

________________________________________
Chapter 48 The Graduation Ball

The next day went by in a whoosh of activity. Before they knew it, it was time to go down for the ball.

Harry and Ron waited in the common room while Ginny and Hermione seemed to be taking their time…at least for two girls who had been having a hard time waiting for this night to arrive.

They had been ‘getting ready’ for hours and Ron and Harry couldn’t imagine what they were doing to fill the time. Now, as they watched them slowly descend the dormitory staircase towards them, their breath caught in their throats as they looked in awe at how beautiful they both looked.

The girls joined them simply beaming at their reactions as Hermione and Ginny gently took Ron and Harry’s arms pairing off. Harry couldn’t take his eyes off of Ginny.

She was simply radiant and he told her so. Suddenly he didn’t want to go to the ball at all. That would mean that he’d have to share her with everyone else. He knew that wouldn’t go over with her though because she’d really been looking forward to this and Harry didn’t want to disappoint her. Besides, she deserved this night and he hoped to make it the most wonderful night they’d ever had.

Hermione equally mesmerized Ron as he leaned down smiling with pride to kiss her on the cheek.

“Hermione, honey…you look… unbelievable.”

She smiled warmly back at him with a pleased glow about her. Ron was suddenly very nervous as he reached his hand into the pocket of his robes checking to be sure the small velvet satchel was still in place.

This was to be the most important night of his life…he only hoped she’d say yes.

The four of them walked down to the Great Hall’s entrance and queued up with the others entering the ball. When it was their turn to go in they walked over and found a table near Seamus, Dean, Neville and their dates.

As the music began to play, they saw Draco and Mila enter arm in arm. They made a striking couple in his silver and her garnet dress robes. They looked nervous but happy together as they spoke in whispers.

At first they went and joined another couple that Mila knew. After talking for awhile, Draco steered her over to Harry and the others. Hermione smiled at them and invited them to join them. The girls were all chatting happily as Draco sat grinning.

He looked over and saw Harry and Ron looking the same way…So… this is what this feels like, he said to himself.

After a little while the music slowed a bit and couples began pairing off on the dance floor. Harry and Ginny went first, then Ron and Hermione.

Draco swallowed hard as he looked at Mila and asked her if she’d like to dance. As they rose from the table, she quietly slipped her hand into his and followed him to the dance floor. His heart had skipped a beat as she took his hand and was now it was racing as he took her in his arms and they began to slowly revolve around their spot on the floor.

Their bodies were incredibly close… but not touching. It was as though an electric current was flowing through the gap between them and Draco could feel the tension building as his stomach squirmed horribly with butterflies.

They continued to dance for several more songs, then as the music sped up again Draco asked if she’d like to get something to drink. She nodded shyly as he offered his hand to her.

They walked over to the refreshments and got some punch. Mila was remarking how warm it was in the Great Hall. Draco hoped he wasn’t misinterpreting her cue, but asked her if she’d like to go outside and cool off a bit. She looked up at him blushing slightly.

All she could think about was how amazingly handsome he was with his blond hair and sapphire blue eyes. As they had danced she could tell that Quidditch hadn’t been an enemy to his body either, as she could feel his muscles move as they danced.

Not only was she physically attracted to him, but he had also been such a gentleman. He was nothing like what her sisters had said he would be.

They weren’t all that thrilled that Mila had agreed to go out with Draco, but she had ignored their warnings. There was just something about him that made her want to know more…something that made her want to know him better.

They took their drinks and slowly made their way across the room to the door. When they entered the entryway again he took her hand and led her down the front stone steps and out into the starry night. It was a warm, comfortable night and there were torches burning brightly along the walkway.

They walked in silence hand in hand until they eventually ended up down by the lake. He led her to a bench and asked if she’d like to sit down.

After sitting quietly for a few minutes, he reached over and touched her hand. She looked at him smiling nervously as she slid her fingers into his hand. His heart was racing and he wanted so much to just kiss her.

In the past, he would have tried more than that at this point, but he vowed to take it slow. He made a promise to himself not to ruin the moment as he smiled back at her warmly.

Looking into her beautiful dark brown eyes, he spoke softly, “Mila…There’s something I want to tell you. Something that you should know really… Well, I’m not…a perfect person…There’s many things in my past that…I wish I’d never done.

The thing is…being near you… makes me want to be better…to somehow change who I used to be, and find a way to start over…I know you’ve probably …heard things. I’d like to say they’re not true, but…they probably are. I just want to say thank you…for giving me the chance to get to know you better…Thanks for taking a chance… on me.”

She was looking into his blue eyes and her heart was melting at his words. She knew that had to be difficult to open up like that to her and she wanted so badly just to throw her arms around him and hug him.

She quietly moved closer and their arms brushed against each other as she turned to face him and spoke softly as she responded, “There’s also something… you should know about me Draco… I never judge someone… by what others say or think... I’m not sure why you’ve chosen me, but I feel lucky to be here with you tonight.

Knowing that I touch something in you…. makes me feel special. And you should know something else…no matter what was in your past…I’m here with you tonight…and that was one of sweetest things anyone has ever said to me…Thank you …for sharing your heart with me.”

After saying those words she began to slowly move even closer as she leaned towards him. He was feeling so nervous that he thought he would die.

She was inches from him now and looking deeply into his eyes.

As he said, “You are so beautiful, Mila…”

Responding to her body movements he too began to move closer. He slid his arm around her waist and moved within an inch of her lips.

They were so close he could feel her breath… the anticipation of touching her lips was incredible. When he could wait no longer he finally closed the space between them and their lips met.

The kiss was warm and tender as he moved to pull her gently into his arms. After a few minutes they slowly and reluctantly drew apart.

The old Draco would have asked her to go back to him room at this point, but he resisted the temptation. Instead they sat quietly as he held her in his arms…It was the single most romantic moment of either of their lives.

They spent the rest of the ball out by the lake lost in each other talking and stealing gentle kisses. At the end of the night he walked her back to the Ravenclaw common room.

The hall was clear when they arrived and they lingered there for several minutes as they kissed and smiled and talked.

Before she went inside he said, “It’s not fair really…is it?”

She looked curiously back at him and asked, “What’s not fair Draco?” He smiled then said, “I’ve only just met you…I can’t believe we’ll be leaving school in a few days. I won’t be coming back next year, but you will. Would you mind…if we kept in touch over the summer? I’d really love to see you again.”

She smiled as kissed him goodnight and said, “I’d love that…Goodnight, Draco.”

As she turned to go she looked back at him feeling like she was the luckiest girl in the world.

As Mila and Draco were saying goodnight, Harry and Ginny were leaving the ball and heading outside.

They had looked for Ron and Hermione, but somewhere during the night they had slipped away and Harry had a sneaking suspicion where they had gone.

Harry and Ginny didn’t want their night to end. They had had such a wonderful time and as they walked arm in arm Harry felt so lucky to have Ginny.

They found a quiet little spot and sat down. Harry had been waiting all night to have some time alone with her. They talked about the night and how much fun the week had been.

After talking for a few minutes he looked over at her. He was watching her as she smiled and giggled as she spoke. She was amazing. Just listening to her could make his heart stop. Feeling his gaze upon her she met his eyes.

Slowly she stopped giggling and grew silent. He was looking at her with an expression of complete desire. She shuddered under his gaze as he pulled her to him.

Before she knew what was happening they were lying together on the soft grass “Ginny…I love you sooo much…” he breathed into her ear.

It was an incredibly passionate moment. The intensity and impulsiveness of it equaled their night together at Grimmauld Place. She wanted so badly to let it all go.

“Harry…this is killing me…I need you…I want you…pleeeease…”

She breathed, as he did things to her he’d never done before. He was on top of her now and their robes were mostly undone.

“I want you so badly, Gin…”

He was losing control…he was giving into their bodies…it felt so unbelievable…there were no words for his urgent need to have her.

Harry was just about to perform the contraceptive charm and risk it… when they heard voices nearby. They froze…how could someone be interrupting them now?! Not only were they interrupting, but… they were coming right towards them!

“Damn! I can’t believe this…”

Harry said in a frustrated voice as he looked off in the direction of the approaching voices. It was Seamus and his date.

Quickly Harry and Ginny got up and fixed their robes. Harry looked and Ginny and was pulling some grass out of her hair when Seamus and Lavender walked up.

“Hi ya, Harry…Ginny. Having a nice…time?” Seamus asked with a smirk and a raised eyebrow.

It was obvious to him that ‘something’ had been going on, and they had barged in right in the middle.

Ginny immediately flushed a shade of magenta to rival Harry’s Uncle Vernon’s and said, “We were just leaving. See you later.”

With that she grabbed Harry’s hand and started marching off toward the castle dragging him behind with a wave of humiliation washing over her.

As they reached the common room, she continued to march right up the stairs. Only a few moments ago their night had been promising to be a night to remember. Now it had suddenly come to an abrupt and unpleasant ending.

Harry stopped her as they reached the landing.

“Ginny wait, please…I’m sorry…I just lost control. You were just so beautiful… and I’ve wanted you for so long…it just felt like... Well, I never should have done that out there. I should have known there was a chance someone could…well, happen by. I’m so sorry…Please say you’ll forgive me.”

She looked at his pleading face and her heart melted. After all, she had wanted nothing more than to be with him too. Slowly her anger and embarrassment ebbed away to allow her love for Harry to take over.

“Oh Harry…I know…I’m sorry… I…kind of lost it back there. I probably made it worse. It’s just that, everyone will know by tomorrow…I don’t want to share ‘that’… with the whole castle.”

Harry looked at her quietly then a grin began spreading across his face, “Don’t worry, Gin…we don’t have to…When Seamus comes back, I’ll take care of it. No one will ever know about ‘that’…Your ‘honor’ is safe with me, sweets.”

Ginny just looked at him in disbelief then answered, “You’re teasing me?…This isn’t funny Harry! I have to come back here next year you know!”

Harry’s face grew more serious now and he said, “No…really, Gin. I think I can perform a mild memory charm on Seamus and Lavender when they come in tonight…They won’t even remember that they saw us at all.”

Ginny was grinning now, “So… that’s why I love you.”

Harry smiled back at her as he pulled her into his arms, “Oh… that’s just one of the many reasons you ‘should’ love me…I think I gave you… a few more reasons down by the lake… if I’m not mistaken.”

He was raising his eyebrows suggestively and she was blushing.

“Harry Potter!” She gasped as she playfully tried to escape his grasp. She didn’t try too hard though…

She had to admit as she kissed him goodnight and turned to leave, he was right.

After seeing Ginny to her room, Harry went momentarily into his dorm and decided to wait until he heard Seamus and Lavender saying goodnight on the landing.

An hour later as he was about to drift off, he heard them. He crept over to the dorm door opening it a crack. Through that small space he was able to perform the spell. It seemed to work because suddenly they seemed a bit dazed. They had remembered the dance but not how they got from there to here.

Harry smiled as he crept back to his four-poster and pulled the hangings down around him.

As he did settled in under the bedclothes, it suddenly occurred to him how quiet it was in their dorm. Pulling back his hangings, he realized that he was the ONLY one actually ‘in bed.’

Not unexpectedly, Ron’s bed was empty…again.

With Ron’s special surprise planned, he had kind of assumed that Ron wouldn’t be returning any time soon. Dean was also missing from his bed…still out with Anna from Hufflepuff he assumed.

He had started dating her after Ginny had started dating Harry and they had been together ever since. That wasn’t what got to Harry especially…

What did bother him was the fact that Neville’s bed was empty as well…

He and Susan Bones had been dating since Christmas and apparently they were having… a very good night as well.

Harry sat there thinking… “I can’t believe this! Everyone? …Everyone is out?…Even Neville?…This is bloody hell! It sucks to be me! …I can’t even have sex when I want because of…because of this bloody scar!

Everyone else is having sex! Ron has it 3 or 4 times a week! Damn! …

This curse will never end.”

Thinking of Ron and Hermione he began to wonder what surprise he had planned for Hermione. His propensity for romantic gestures had taken all of them by surprise this year and he wondered what he had come up with this time that would top her birthday party.

Rolling over and trying to put their love life out of his mind, he went to sleep feeling very irritated, but as he slipped into his dreams he found Ginny. As it always did, her gentle touch and voice soothed him and he slept peacefully for the rest of the night.

Earlier that night…Ron had asked Hermione to go with him somewhere special. They had spent about half of the night dancing and laughing, but Ron’s nerves were beginning to get the better of him and he couldn’t wait any longer.

When they started to leave the Great Hall, Hermione started to head towards the Room of Requirement.

Quietly Ron redirected her, “No…that’s not where I’m taking you tonight…at least not yet.” He added with a mischievous grin.

She looked up at him curiously and asked, “So this is one of your ‘Do you trust me?’ missions then?”

He laughed and said, “Well, do you?”

She laughed too and said, “You know I do, Ron. Where are we off to?”

He took her hand and said, “You’ll see.”

They walked up flight after flight of stairs, when they finally arrived at their destination they were in the Astronomy Tower. Ron had placed a locking charm on it earlier so that none of the other couples could get there first.

After they were inside, he replaced the charm on the door just in case. He took her hand and they walked over to the observation window. They were talking and cuddling together.

It was a beautiful night. The stars were unbelievably bright. They stood in each other’s arms for several minutes before Ron began to get his nerve up.

He quietly turned to face her. There were tears forming in the corner of his eyes as he looked down at her. As he reached to take both of her hands she could feel them trembling.

“Ron…What’s wrong? You’re scaring me.”

He continued to gaze at her with a serious expression. “I’m sorry…that was not my intention…I brought you up here because I know that you’ve been worried…about us.”

She looked down at the floor and those insecurities began flooding back to her. She started to say that there were no guarantees in a long distance relationship that things would work and that she didn’t want to lose him.

“I love you, Ron…more than I could ever love anyone…I am scared…I’m scared things will change.”

He swallowed hard and then answered, “Yes, they will change between us… but not in the way that you think. I love you more than anything in this world…I can’t stand to think of you feeling sad or lonely or frightened.”

With that he raised her hands to his lips and kissed them. He slowly nuzzled her hands to his face and with a deep breath he went down on one knee.

“Ron, what are you…Oh my…” Hermione whispered as he pulled the velvet satchel from his pocket.

He opened the gold cord and slowly pulled the ring out holding it between his thumb and forefinger for her to see. It was a gorgeous ring. It was a single band of gold with a large oval diamond in the center. Two beautiful clear stones that seemed unusual flanked the oval diamond.

Ron spoke in a soft, shaky voice as tears were now beginning to slowly fall from his eyes. Her eyes were quickly filling to as comprehension was slowly setting in.

“Hermione, I don’t want you to ever doubt my love for you. You are my present and my future. If you’ll have me…I would love to spend the rest of my life proving that to you. Honey… would you marry me?”

Hermione dropped to her knees in front of him and threw her arms around him.

Tears were flooding from her eyes as she drew back and said, “Oh Ron…Of course…Of course I’ll marry you!”

He kissed her and held her tightly. Then he pulled away again smiling and feeling happier than he’d ever felt in his life. He gently took her left hand in his and slipped the ring onto her finger.

Hermione gasped once again as the unusual stones suddenly changed colors. They turned a deep, rich color of blue and resembled the brilliance of sapphires. She looked up at him in astonishment.

“Ron…how? This ring is so unbelievable…You must owe your life to Fred and George now…not just your summer.”

He smiled and then began to explain the story of the ring.

“This ring has been passed down through many generations of my mum’s family. It was my great-gran’s then my gran’s…then most recently…my mum’s. It was her most valuable treasure. Really…it was her only treasure…Now… with her blessing, I’m giving it to you… Someday, I hope we can pass it down to our own child.”

Hermione was smiling and gazing at the ring simply mesmerized.

“It’s beautiful Ron…why did it change colors when you slipped it on my finger?”

Still smiling and feeling proud that she was so pleased he said, “Well… like most old wizard jewels… it contains magic. It’s not like the Lover’s Link Charm I gave you…but it changes to fit the one who wears it. I suspect it’s transformed those stones into sapphires because of your September birthday…and now it matches your charm.”

She hugged him again tightly then said, “I love you Ron…it’s absolutely perfect.”

There on the floor of the tower with her still in his arms, he began kissing her. Slowly their passion began to well in them. She spoke softly and playfully between kisses, “Can we go… to ‘our room’… now?”

With a suggestive smile she said, “I know a boy who deserves… a reward.”

Ron smiled and pulled her against his body again, “Oh really? Do tell?”

Smirking she added, “I’d rather show you…”

With that, Ron stood and helped her to her feet. They left the Tower and spent their first night together engaged in a beautifully carved wooden four-poster with white linen hangings.

They decided to spend the entire night…Hermione didn’t care about her reputation at that point. She wanted to spend the night with her fiance.

Tonight would be for them, then tomorrow… they would tell everyone else together.

________________________________________
Chapter 49 No More Privet Drive

Being too excited to sleep, Ron and Hermione had actually ended up getting back to Gryffindor Tower before everyone else was awake. They showered and changed before heading back down to the common room and then they waited for everyone to start appearing.

The first two people they told were Harry and Ginny. Harry shook Ron’s hand and hugged Hermione as he congratulated them. He knew that Ron had been planning something big, but he hadn’t imagined this. He was amazed at the transformation that Ron had made over the past year and he felt a sense of pride as he looked at his two best friends nestled together…simply glowing with happiness.

For a moment, Ron was a bit apprehensive about how Ginny would take the fact that Hermione was wearing their great-gran’s ring. He didn’t know if she had anticipated wearing it someday, but she was actually very happy that Ron had given it to Hermione.

She said that Hermione was special and she deserved to have a ring that was meaningful and unique. This one was both.

Ginny hugged Hermione as she said, “I knew it! I’ve never seen Ron so happy! You are perfect for each other!”

Ginny welcomed Hermione to the family. In reality, they had already become like sisters, and she was thrilled that Ron and she would be making it official.

After they shared their news with Harry and Ginny, they made their announcement to the others in the common room. Everyone was thrilled for them. Now the couple had to tell their families.

Of course, Mrs. Weasley already knew. Ron had to tell the rest of the family, but he wasn’t the least bit nervous about it. Although his mum’s memory had been modified after Christmas, his dad and brother’s hadn’t been.

He didn’t think it would come as a huge shock to any of them that he had asked her to marry him. He had told them that he intended to marry her someday in fact when the Lover’s Link revelation had occurred in December.

He figured that they probably didn’t expect his proposal to have come this soon though, and he was anxious to surprise them all.

Hermione, on the other hand, was a little nervous about telling her parents. Her anxiety subsided though when Ron told her that he had already asked her father permission to marry her.

At the graduation banquet he had pulled Mr. Granger aside under the rouse of showing him the Quidditch cup. When he had him alone, he cleared his throat and began to tell him how much he loved his daughter.

He told him of his intention to make her his wife with his blessing. He then promised that he would work as hard as it took to give her a good life. When he finally guaranteed that they would both finish their post-Hogwarts training first, Mr. Granger had warmed to the idea.

He actually liked Ron very much and he knew that his daughter loved him. If it made her happy, then he said that he was happy to have him become his son-in-law. In some ways it seemed that Mr. Granger had seen this coming.

He only paused for a few seconds before he smiled and shook his hand warmly, wishing him good luck. After finding that out, Hermione’s stress level dropped 100%. Her mum loved Ron and she knew that she’d be thrilled…especially that they were going to wed after they finished their training.

The final days at Hogwarts had passed quickly and the school term had come to a close. Draco and Mila had spent every day together leading up to the last. They rode back together on the Hogwart’s Express to King’s Cross trying to squeeze every moment they could into their time together.

When they arrived at the station, they found their parents and brought them together. She introduced him to her parents and he introduced her to his mother. Mrs. Malfoy was a bit curious and shocked at this turn of events.

Her son had never thought enough of a girl to have his mum meet her before and she wondered what Mila had done to make such an obviously lasting impression on her son.

As he kissed her goodbye at the station, they promised each other that they would write and try to visit over the summer. Draco had actually made this same promise to other girls in the past, only to ignore them all summer and return for the next year on the prowl for a new conquest.

For the first time in his life, he intended to keep his promise. As he watched her walk away with her family, he was already thinking of how he could manage to visit her and when.

As Harry packed to leave Hogwart’s that last morning, his feelings had been mixed. He was sad about leaving the castle that for the past seven years he had thought of as his home.

It was the first real home he had ever known. He was also thinking of the fact that Ginny would be coming back and he wouldn’t. However, as the train had pulled into the station that year, Harry entered the platform without the normal sense of dread that usually plagued him at the thought of the impending summer holidays.

There was no Uncle Vernon or Aunt Petunia to meet him grumpily. No Dudley waiting to badger and torture him. Due to this turn of events, he had a much lighter heart than usual.

Harry would not be forced to return to Privet Drive this year… or any other year for that matter… and he was enjoying that thought immensely.

Harry had arranged for Hagrid to leave his motorcycle in the lot for him. He met the Weasley’s with Ron, Hermione and Ginny.

Hermione’s parents were there and they greeted the Weasley’s warmly as they chattered on about the upcoming wedding. Hermione was to go home with her parents for a few weeks and get things arranged for her Healer training. Then she would come to the Burrow so they could begin planning the wedding.

As the group said their farewells, the Weasleys all left together and the Grangers and Harry went in another direction toward the parking lot. Harry knew their separation wouldn’t be for long this summer.

He had been invited to spend the summer at the Burrow as well…and this year he could go whenever he liked. He didn’t have to wait to be summoned or rescued from Privet Drive. He could leave his own home at will.

After saying farewell to everyone else, and kissing Ginny goodbye, he made his way to his motorcycle and took off for Grimwald Place.

His first decision in his new home was to put some of his inheritance to good use and have the house completely revamped inside and out. He would have any remaining evidence of the dark wizards that once lived there completely removed.

He knew it’s what Sirius would have wanted. His godfather had detested that home and what it had stood for while he was growing up. As a tribute to him, Harry wanted it to become something that Sirius could be proud of. He also wanted to make it a suitable home for himself… and for the family that he one-day hoped to share it with.

The house however, was being quite stubborn as it resisted Harry’s attempts to ‘decontaminate’ it of dark magic. They had already removed many of the magical pests that had dwelled there over the years while they were ‘cleaning’ for the Order so that was a start. However, there was still the matter of Sirius’ mum’s portrait, the family tree tapestry, and various other items that Mrs. Black had placed permanent sticking charms on…

They simply refused to go no matter what Harry tried. In a last ditch effort, Harry had to have those walls completely removed and replaced. The walls were burned as Sirius’ mother screamed at him…

“Filthy half breed! You get out of my house! This is the noble house of...”

Harry breathed a sigh of relief as the screaming stopped and he thought of what Sirius would say if he could be there to see it. As for Kreacher, he had simply up and died soon after Harry moved in permanently. Harry didn’t know if it was from old age or sheer dread of watching the house being systematically... in his words… ‘destroyed.’

Now Harry had a huge house and no help to care for it…not that Kreacher was much help to begin with, but at least he hadn’t been completely alone with him there.

It was a lot of house for one person. Harry could cook and clean…Aunt Petunia had made sure of that…but he felt lonesome.

Fortunately, Harry’s problem would not last for long. Dobby had been very sad to see Harry leave Hogwarts. He sobbed and hung onto Harry’s pant leg at the end of the year graduation celebration.

Harry felt sorry for the little house elf. As annoying as he was, and on some occasions… as dangerous as Dobby had proven to be, Harry still held a certain… affection for him. He knew the little elf’s heart was always in the right place and he thought he might even miss Dobby a bit.

In the end, it was Dumbledore who had come up with the solution for both of them. It was under his suggestion that Dobby had eventually came to be a permanent fixture at Grimmauld Place.

He had sent for the elf one afternoon and was talking about Harry. He told Dobby how Harry would need someone to oversee the renovations of his new home and look after the place while he was away at Auror training.

He casually asked if Dobby knew of any elves that would be willing to leave Hogwarts and go and help out young Mr. Potter. Dobby practically did back flips with happiness as he enthusiastically volunteered to help.

Dumbledore sent an owl to Harry to ask if he’d care to hire on Dobby. Harry agreed to take him on for the only wages that he’d accept… 1 galleon a week and a new pair of socks for every month of the year. Dobby was thrilled!

After welcoming Dobby to his new post and making arrangements for the redecorating to continue in his absence, Harry went on to the Burrow to spend the rest of the summer with the only real family he ever had, the Weasleys.

Harry couldn’t wait to see Ginny. They had been separated for nearly three weeks. They had been writing to each other daily, but it simply wasn’t the same. He ached to hold her in his arms and hear her voice…her eyes, he thought…that’s what I’ve missed the most.

As he apparated onto the front garden walk, his heart was pounding with excitement. He walked up to the door and knocked.

Mrs. Weasley answered the door, “Oh… Harry dear, so wonderful to see you! Ginny has been simply beside herself. She’ll be so pleased that you’re here. Ron and Hermione are here as well…they’ve been planning away. Isn’t it wonderful?”

She then grabbed him and pulled him into a hug.

The Weasley’s had always treated him as one of the family and he would be forever grateful to Mr. and Mr. Weasley for that.

As he was dropping the end of his trunk, he was suddenly smothered in a large abundance of bushy brown hair that nearly knocked him off his feet.

“Hel…Hello Hermione. It’s wonderful to see you!”

She beamed at him as Ron appeared from behind, “Hi ya Harry! Great to see you.”

Ron managed before Hermione plunged on with excitement, “Oh it’s good to see you too Harry! We have soooo much to tell you…about the wedding plans! It’s very exciting!”

Harry was beaming back at them both “I can’t wait to hear it. I’m sure with you planning it Hermione, it will be absolutely fantastic.”

Harry was now looking around… searching for the one face he didn’t see, but wanted to more than anything. He was just about to ask about Ginny when the kitchen door slowly swung open. There she was… standing there looking more beautiful that ever.

For a few seconds they just stood there frozen…. just staring at one another. As her eyes began to well up, he moved towards her and held out his arms.

He only managed to say, “Its okay Gin.” as she fell into his arms giving into her emotions.

Mrs. Weasley looked at Ron and Hermione and motioned for them to leave them alone.

Harry just stood holding Ginny and stroking her hair as she said, “I’ve missed you so much.”

He told her in a whisper. “I’ve missed you too, I didn’t think I could stand it anymore.”

Harry pulled back so he could look in her eyes. “I’m here now love… and we have the rest of the summer to spend just like this.”

Then he leaned in and kissed her with tenderness that came straight from his heart.

Their reunion had been wonderful. They had even managed to steal some private time together.

Hermione and Ron seemed absolutely blissful and it warmed Harry’s heart to see his two best friends so happy together. They spent most of their time making shopping trips to muggle London and Diagon Alley in preparation for the wedding.

They weren’t to be married until the following June, but because Ron would be away at Auror training and Hermione was going to begin her training for becoming a healer, the next year would be much too busy for planning their nuptials. To that end, they were trying desperately to finalize most of the details over the summer.

It was turning out to be an exciting and amazing time and they loved every minute of it.

________________________________________
Chapter 50 Letting Go

Their summer was off to a wonderful start. They often talked about Hogwarts and how it felt weird not to be going back the next year. They had had so many adventures there.

Ginny didn’t like this topic of conversation, because of course, she would be going back for another year. Hermione, Ron, and Harry were grateful to have NEWTS behind them, which they admitted actually lived up to their name.

When the scores arrived by owl a couple weeks into the summer, not surprisingly, Hermione had apparently set some sort of school record for NEWTS received.

Harry and Ron did very well themselves. Their scores were high enough in fact, to be accepted into the Auror training program in the fall.

Hermione applied for an exclusive Healer Program. It would allow her to finish in one year…the same amount of time that it would take Ron to finish Auror’s training.

They would keep their promise to finish their training before their wedding. The night they received their scores they had a wonderful party to celebrate.

The entire Weasley family was there as well as Professor Dumbledore and some other members of the Order. Mrs. Weasley had even invited Narcissa and Draco Malfoy. He brought Mila along. It was like old times with everyone together… but thankfully this time…without the need for a rescue party.

Needless to say, with such a busy household, the summer went by very quickly. Before they knew it, the last week of the holiday was upon them.

Hermione had taken to fits of crying due to the fact that she and Ron would be separated for nearly 4 months until the Christmas holidays.

Ron had tried to comfort her by telling her that they’d have weekends together, but in fact… that really wasn’t true.

Ron would be free on weekends, but Hermione would have a very strict schedule of classes and hospital rotations that would leave very little time to spare.

They were spending every waking minute together and most of the sleeping ones as well, unbeknownst to Mrs. Weasley. Ron would wait until everyone was asleep then quietly he would slip into Hermione’s room and crawl into bed to hold her.

They both just slept better that way. Out of respect for Mrs. Weasley though he would wake up early and return to his own bed before dawn.

Ginny had become rather distant as the summer was coming to a close. She wasn’t breaking down constantly like Hermione, but her lack of emotion was just as unsettling for Harry.

Ginny would be entering her 7th year at Hogwarts and Harry was scheduled to leave with Ron for Auror training in just a few days. He didn’t want to spend the last few days they had together this way, but no matter what Harry tried to improve her spirits, nothing seemed to help.

Then one afternoon it happened. Harry and Ron were playing Wizard’s Chess in the lounge. The girls were sitting nearby looking on as Ron trounced Harry’s king for the third game in a row.

As they finished their game Harry looked around to find that Ginny had gone. He looked to Hermione and asked if she knew where she was, but Hermione hadn’t notice her leave either.

He finally found her out back leaning on the porch railing and looking off into the distance. He moved in behind her and slid his arms around her waist, locking his fingers in front of her.

He spoke quietly into hear ear, “Hey you, I wondered where you had gone... I missed you.”

As she leaned back into him and rested her head against his chest, he could feel her softly shudder with each slow breath she took.

“Ginny? Gin, what’s wrong?” he asked as he moved his hands to her hips and turned her to face him.

She was now leaning with her back against the porch railing and he was looking down into her red, but still beautiful eyes, with an expression of genuine concern.

“Ginny, you’ve been crying. What’s up?” She just looked back into his deep, green eyes and asked, “I came out here because I needed a little time alone… to think…Would you take a walk with me?”

Harry was getting a little worried now, “Yeah… of course I will.”

He slid one hand down her arm and took her hand as he leaned in and kissed her on the forehead. Then he quietly asked where she wanted to go.

Without another word, she led him off the porch and across the back garden. There was a small wooded area behind the Burrow with a dirt path weaving it’s way between the trees.

They began to follow the narrow path until the trees began to thin out they came to a small lake. There was a nice grassy area nearby and she led him over there to sit with her. As they sat down, she continued her silence.

Harry sat looking at her, waiting for her to begin. When she didn’t, he reached out and placed his hand on her cheek turning her towards him.

“Ginny, you have to tell me what’s wrong. This is beginning to…to scare me. Have I done something wrong? Have I done something… to hurt you?”

She just looked at him as she began to well up again. Then she leaned in and kissed him softly. Their kisses slowly turned passionate as Harry gently laid her back on the grass.

He had missed her so much over the last week. She had kept her distance with only polite kisses and hugs.

“I love you, Ginny.” He said as he moved on top of her and began kissing down her neck.

She suddenly stopped him and held his face in both of her hands looking deeply into his eyes.

“Now Harry… I want to be with you… now.”

With that she began taking off his shirt and for a few moments…he became lost in what was happening between them. Regaining comprehension he spoke between her kisses...

“Wait… Ginny…”

She had rolled on top of him now and was beginning to slowly work her way down his chest, as he persisted, “Gin, wait… I thought we decided that…that this couldn’t happen… not until we’ve made a permanent decision…about what’s right for you.”

She stopped and looked back at him as he waited for an answer but only her tears came in response.

Sitting up he asked, “Ginny, what’s going on? I told you… I can wait…we’ve talked about this… It’s not that I don’t want you… God, you know I do… but when we finally make love, I want it to be with clear minds. I don’t want either of us to have any doubts that it’s… the right time.”

She too sat up as the tears began to fall more freely. He moved to sit next to her and put his arm around her. Again asked her what this was all about.

With a trembling voice she began, “I just…I just wanted to be with you… just once… before…” she broke off and sat in silence.

Harry’s stomach was beginning to churn now with nerves. He didn’t like the way this seemed to be heading…what was going on he thought as he asked, “before what?”

As if letting her feelings finally flow out of her she plowed on “Before we end this.”

Harry gasped almost choking on his breath, “Before we… we what?!”

Ginny refused to make eye contact now as she looked out at the water and continued to pour out her heart, “You’re going away… I’m going back to school. You’ll meet new people while you’re away. I don’t want you to have to worry about me… if you…if you meet someone new. Its just that…I just wanted us to share…well… you’re the only man I’ve ever felt close enough to…to give myself to completely.

I don’t know when I’ll ever feel that strongly about a man again after you’re gone. I wanted my first time… to be with you.” She ended and sat in silence.

Harry was stunned as a feeling of panic was beginning to rise in him.

“Ginny… what on earth are you talking about? I don’t want to go off and…Well, I’m simply not going to go off and find someone new! …Is that what this is about? Listen…I love YOU, Gin…ONLY you. I don’t want anyone else… and I never will.”

She continued to look straight ahead, silent tears still running down her face.

“Harry… it’s for the best…you may not think so now… but you will. I think it’s best that we… break up now… so you can be free to… to…” Harry was gawking at her and his eyes we’re beginning to fill now too.

“Gin, you can’t be serious! Please say you don’t mean this! Just a minute ago, you wanted to make love…and now you’re…you’re telling me you want to put an end to everything we’ve had together for nearly a year…and everything we could have together in the future? You can’t do this…I won’t let you.”

Her response came quickly, “You said yourself that your future was too uncertain…you don’t want to put me at risk. What kind of future could we possibly have if… if you won’t trust I can handle it?”

She turned and kissed him one last time then got up and ran back to the house calling behind her, “I’m sorry Harry… it’s over.”

Harry sat frozen in disbelief of what had just happened. When he collected himself he jumped up and ran after Ginny, but he couldn’t catch up before she ran into the house and up the stairs.

Harry came running into the lounge and stopped dead when he saw Ron and Hermione. He stood battling back the tears in his own eyes and was desperately attempting to not let them win.

Ron spoke first with a look of shock on his face, “What happened? She’s in a right state…” and noticing the look on Harry’s face he added, “and so apparently, are you.”

Harry slowly answered, “She’s just…she’s just broken up with me! I have no idea what happened…no idea what I’ve done wrong.”

Hermione sighed sadly and responded, “I was afraid this might happen.”

Harry turned on her and shot, “YOU KNEW!? You knew that she was considering this… and you didn’t warn me?”

Hermione looked a little apprehensive, but continued, “Well, I didn’t actually know…but she’s been talking about things lately…you know… when she and I were alone. It had kind of given me some suspicions.”

He walked over and slumped down on the chair opposite Hermione and asked, “What kind of things?”

Hermione could hear Mrs. Weasley in the next room. She looked from Harry to Ron and then said, “Maybe we should go outside to talk.”

The three of them got up and headed out back. They walked down to the picnic tables and sat down. Harry was looking at Hermione expectantly as she began.

“Well, it’s nothing you’ve really done Harry. She loves you and you’ve been wonderful to her. It’s just that…the two of you never…well” glancing uncomfortably at Ron then the ground, “you two have never…been together. She knows you’re trying to protect her, but she’s afraid that… that you will at some point lose… your patience for waiting…and find someone who you could be with…someone you won’t be as worried about. I expect that this is a…preemptive strike… to protect herself from being hurt later.”

Harry glared at her for a brief silence then exploded, “A preemptive…WHAT?! How can she think that! We’ve talked about this sooo many times! I’ve told her that I’d wait for her… and I’m happy to do that because I love her. She’s the only one I want to be with… If all I wanted was to…to just have sex with someone…well, hasn’t it occurred to her that I could have found any number of willing girls at Hogwarts?

For that matter… I could have gone into muggle London… and simply paid for it!”

Ron looked curious at this comment, making a mental note to ask Harry about it later, but he realized this was obviously not the time.

Hermione had gasped at Harry’s anger and was trying to calm him down a bit, “I’m sorry Harry… I know that she isn’t thinking straight and I tried to tell her, but she’s upset that you’re leaving. She’s afraid that once you’re out in the real world and away from school…that there will be lots of…temptations for you. She doesn’t want you to regret being tied down to her.”

Harry just sat gaping at them both, “So that’s what that was all about just now down at the lake. She tried to…well I stopped her from going any further. I thought I was doing the right thing for her, but she apparently didn’t agree. That’s when she broke up with me!”

Then trying to make sense of everything he rounded on his other best friend, “Ron… surely you can convince her I’d never do that to her. She’s your sister after all. You’ve got to make her believe that it’s simply just not going to happen…you know I’d never do that!”

Ron looked desperately back at Harry “Yeah, I know you wouldn’t Harry, but I’m sorry mate… I’m afraid when Ginny puts her mind to something… it can be a bit difficult to change it. She’s got a pretty stubborn streak. I think in a way… she thinks she’s doing what’s best for you.” He ended quietly.

Harry stammered back, “What’s best for me? What’s best? Well, she’s not going to do THIS!… I won’t let her!”

He got up and started heading toward house then stopped dead. He turned and looked back at them and said, “I have to go somewhere. If she asks, tell her I’ll be back later…I WON’T let her do this. I’ve got to prove to her she’s wrong.”

With that he disapparated into thin air leaving both Ron and Hermione stunned and a bit breathless.

Hermione turned to Ron and asked “What do you think he’s going to do?”

He only stared at the spot where Harry had been and answered, “I don’t know, but it had better be good. Ginny can be down right difficult when she sets her mind to it.”

________________________________________
Chapter 51 Final Promises

Harry apparated in front of his home. He quickly went inside and called to Dobby.

“Oh… Harry Potter sir…you is home!” The little elf squealed with happiness.

Harry greeted him, but then added, “Dobby, there is something I need you to do for me.”
Dobby smiled with glee, “Oh anything sir…what is Harry Potter sir needing Dobby to do. I is happy to serve you sir.”

Harry regarded the elf momentarily with appreciation of his pure dedication to him. He was glad to have him there with him.

“I need you to do me a favor Dobby. I need you to go to Diagon Alley…to go to Gringotts for me. There’s something I need from one of my vaults. Here’s the key…Please hurry. Oh and Dobby… I’ll need some help back here when you return.”

He told the elf exactly what he needed and then Dobby smiled with delight at finally getting to help Harry in some way, “Dobby is hurrying sir.” In an instant he was gone.

Harry then bounded up the stairs heading for the room that he had claimed for himself, but he stopped midway and began looking around. He had to admit that Dobby had done a wonderful job.

The house had definitely lost its fight to maintain its sense of evil. It had in fact, turned out better than he had ever thought possible. The house now had the appearance of a warm and welcoming home.

Harry thought of his godfather and spoke to him out loud, “This is for you Sirius.”

You’d never have known that dark wizards had inhabited those halls before… He reached the landing and entered his room. He went straight for his trunk and began digging into it deeply. He was searching for something special.

When he found it, he carefully tucked it into his robes and then set about preparing the house. Everything had to be perfect…it just had to be. He wasn’t going to let Ginny push him away…at least not without a fight.

By the time he had finished upstairs Dobby was back with a small package. He gave it to Harry who then gave him some other instructions.

Dobby was happy to have something important to do for Harry. With everything in place at Number 12, Harry next went out to his motorcycle and headed to Diagon Alley. There was one more thing he needed, but he needed to do this himself.

Having completed all of his tasks, he headed straight back to the Burrow. When he stormed in the front door he found a startled Ron and Hermione looking at him as he strode right past them.

He stopped momentarily and almost yelled as he asked, “Where is she?!” Ron just simply pointed up the stairs with a look of shock and almost a bit of fear on his face. He turned to face Hermione as Harry began bounding up the stairs.

“He doesn’t seem happy at all. I hope he calms down before he talks to her, or this could be…all out war.”

Harry marched right up to her door and moved to open it. It was locked. He began pounding on the door and demanding that she let him in…

As Ron had feared this was not at all well received by his little sister. She yelled back and an all out battled ensued through the door. It wasn’t until Mrs. Weasley came to see what all the yelling was about that he finally made progress.

Mrs. Weasley was apparently on Harry’s side because she basically used a charm to simply unlock the door and let Harry in…much to the frustration of her only daughter.

Over the years Harry guessed… with all those boys to check up on…especially Fred and George…Mrs. Weasley must have learned to override locking charms on bedroom doors… to keep abreast of what was happening in her home.

Harry looked like he could kiss her as he thanked Mrs. Weasley for helping him. Then without another word he barged into Ginny’s room unannounced catching her completely off guard.

When he saw her, she had obviously been crying and his anger quickly disappeared as he stood watching her bustle about the room. She was actually doing nothing of importance… except avoiding looking Harry in the eye.

After a few minutes of being ignored, Harry began to speak. This time his voice was calmer and more soothing.

“Ginny, please…just talk to me about this.” His voice was trembling now and tears were quickly forming in his eyes as he struggled to maintain himself. “You have to give me a chance...Honey…please, look at me… I love you, Gin.”

At those final words she stopped her random reorganization of her room. Her back was to him but he could see that her body was beginning to shake and he knew she was crying. He slowly walked over behind her and gently placed his hands on her shoulders as he leaned down and kissed the top of her head.

At the moment of his touch, she quickly turned and buried her face in his chest as she sobbed uncontrollably. He held her tightly with tears rolling down his cheeks as well.

“Shh…it will be okay…I promise.” She began to regain her composure and quietly said, “No Harry…it won’t. I love you but… I don’t think we can be together…I’m scared for so many reasons and on so many levels.”

Harry looked down into her tear soaked face as he spoke, “Ginny, you have to give me a chance to prove to you that I’m serious about us… I do trust you… and I know that you’re strong enough to handle anything that may happen…Please, you owe it to me…to us… to at least hear me out. Then if you still want to leave me…I’ll respect your wishes.”

He froze on that spot waiting for her answer.

She was silent for several minutes as she looked into his eyes. It was as if she was trying to see their future in those deep green pools.

Finally she answered, “Okay… I’ll listen…but I don’t think there’s anything you can say that will change my mind.”

Harry’s confidence was now bolstered as he took hold of her hand and started leading her out the door and down the stairs. He went straight to Mrs. Weasley.

“Mrs. Weasley, with your permission, I’d like to take Ginny out for awhile. I promise it won’t be for long and I promise to take good care of her.”

She looked at her daughter and then at Harry “I trust you dear. Take your time…and Ginny dear… do listen carefully…you don’t want to make a decision that you may someday… regret.”

Ginny and Harry headed outside to where Harry’s motorcycle was parked. Ginny couldn’t apparate yet. She hadn’t taken her test yet although she had come of age when she turned 17 late in the spring. It just seemed like there was always too much going on and she just simply hadn’t gotten around to it.

He led her over to the bike and guided her to climb on behind him. As they took off, she threw her arms around his waist holding on tightly. They soared over the countryside and before they knew it they were at Grimwald Place.

As they landed she asked, “What are we doing here?”

Harry got off the bike and offered her his hand to help her get off as well. His only answer was, “You’ll see. Come on, there’s something I want to show you.”

He led her up the garden path to the house and opened the door. He directed her to go in first. When she walked in she couldn’t believe the way the home had been transformed.

It was beautiful and brightly decorated. The serpents and the dark wizard décor had been replaced with comfortable and tasteful furnishings. The house was warm and cozy.

Harry allowed her time to take it all in as she walked through the house with her mouth gaping. After touring his home, they returned to the lounge where a comfortable fire was crackling in the grate.

There were candles suspended in the air and soft music was playing in the background. He led her over to a comfortable leather sofa that was positioned in front of the fire and asked her to sit down. He watched her face as the fire light danced off her features. Her beauty had only grown over the last year along with Harry’s affection for her.

“Do you like it?” he asked.

She was still amazed as she responded, “It’s beautiful Harry…How did you manage it?”

He smiled and said, “Well, the house put up a good fight, but in the end Dobby and I won.”

She giggled a bit which encouraged Harry. “I think it feels like a home now. One that I would… want to raise a family in…our family… someday.”

She just looked at him in silence, her mind was racing as he continued, “Ginny, you know I love you, but …you seem to think that it’s not enough. If you think this is about sex…your wrong. I mean…I do want you, but it’s because I am so desperately… in love with you and incredibly attracted to you.

I can’t imagine sharing that part of myself with anyone else…so please put your fears of me…finding someone else out of your mind. I don’t want anyone, but you. You have to believe that… I know you are also sad that we’ll be separated next year a good bit and that we won’t see each other. I think I can help with that too.”

“First of all, I can visit you at Hogwarts on the weekends. I’ll have those days off from training most of the time. Secondly, I have something for you that will help in between visits.”

With that he pulled something from his robes and held it out to her. She quietly picked it up and unwrapped it. It was an ancient looking, small hand mirror.

She looked questioningly at it then Harry and asked, “What does it do?” Harry began to tell her, “Sirius gave me that mirror in my 5th year. Truthfully I never used it… because I didn’t understand what it was exactly…until it was too late… Now I am giving it to you. I will keep its twin. The mirrors will allow us to see each other and talk anytime we want. You just look into it and call my name and I’ll be there.”

She was looking curiously at the mirror when Harry pulled out two more packages.

The first he opened and held up for her. It was a beautiful chain made of an unusual shimmering metal. It almost seemed fluid as it moved through Harry’s fingers.

She reached out to touch it as it slid smoothly over her hand. He explained that the chain was made from a special goblin wrought metal…incredibly strong and eternally unbreakable.

Then he opened the last package. Inside was a ring…his mother’s ring. He took it out of the box carefully. He could feel the familiar warmth emanating from it and it seemed to give him strength to continue. He carefully placed the ring on the chain and held it up for Ginny.

“Do you know what this is?” He asked.

She nodded her head as she answered, “Yes, I think so, it was your mother’s…right? You told us about it when you learned about your inheritance… It’s beautiful.”

He was looking directly into her eyes now and said, “Yes, it was hers but there’s more to it than that. He opened her hand and placed the ring in her palm.”

As she felt the power and heat from the ring surging through her hand, he began to explain the history of the ring and it’s magical powers. He told her that whoever he gave the ring to would be bonded to him not only in life, but also in death. He explained that in giving this to her, he would be committing himself to her for all eternity.

He explained further that by placing it on the chain he was giving her time to make it her decision.

As long as it was on the chain, she had no commitment to him, but he warned her that if she chose to place the ring on her finger, her decision would be final and unbreakable.

“So don’t put it on, if you’re not absolutely sure that you want a life with me. If you decide… you can’t be with me, then return the chain and ring to me. I’ll respect your wishes and accept that it’s…really over.”

Ginny just sat stunned staring at the beautiful gem encrusted ring dangling from the silvery chain in front of her.

Harry shook her out of her daze by asking “Please Ginny…please say you’ll take it and just think it over? I know you aren’t ready to marry me, but I hope you will be someday.”

Then suddenly having a thought he added, “You know…there is a muggle tradition that sometimes before a couple formally becomes engaged, they are ‘promised’ to each other.”

She looked into his eyes and asked, “What does that mean?”

As he moved to fasten the clasp around her neck he said, “It means that they promise to keep themselves for that person…until the day they are ready for marriage. This ring is my promise to you. If you decide to wear this ring, that will be your promise to me… and our future.”

She looked at the beautiful ring and then at the person sitting in front of her. She had fallen so in love with Harry…she had to give it a chance. Slowly she nodded. Harry was so happy that she agreed to think about it that he reached out to hold her.

As he moved to wrap his arms around her, she pulled away from his touch. His heart dropped into his stomach. He wanted so badly just to hold her in his arms.

He needed to feel some hope that she would say yes. Her resistance to his touch only served to send fear through his mind and heart.

She rose quietly from the couch and said, “I have a lot to think about Harry…I think it’s best if I go now.”

Harry rose and offered to fly her back, but she refused. She left by floo powder, leaving Harry at Grimmauld Place feeling very alone.

Several days passed and there had been no word from Ginny. Auror training had begun for Ron and Harry. Hermione had left for her Healer Internship and Ginny had returned to Hogwart’s.

One day, after one of Ron and Harry’s Friday training sessions, Ron asked to accompany Harry back to Grimmauld Place for the weekend. He said that he wanted to see the new renovations but Harry suspected that he had been worried about him.

He had good reason after all, Harry looked terrible and it didn’t seem like he was sleeping or eating very much. With every passing day that Ginny didn’t come back…Harry became more and more sullen as his hopes being reunited with her started to fade.

Dobby was very worried too and he had begun trying to force Harry to eat with little success. He would even come into Harry’s room at night to check on him, apparently frightened that Harry would become ill or worse in his condition.

This was a practice that was growing annoying for Harry… who simply wanted to be left alone.

“Why doesn’t she just decide and put me out of my misery?” He asked Ron one day as they sat in the back garden of Grimmauld Place. For Ron’s part, he could offer no insight into what his sister was thinking which was even more frustrating for them both.

Ron spent his weekends off from Auror training, trying to keep Harry busy. This was no small task because it was hard to peak his interest in anything.

More weeks passed as Ron continued to try to help his mate through this difficult time. It was approaching Halloween and Hermione was actually to have a weekend off. They invited Harry to join them, but he refused. He said it was because they needed time alone.

That was part of it, but he also didn’t think that he could stand Hermione mothering him. She wouldn’t be very happy about the way he looked right now…and truthfully he loved Hermione dearly…he couldn’t stand the thought of worrying her anymore than he knew she already was.

That weekend he spent alone in his house. Randomly walking from room to room with no apparent purpose. Late in the afternoon he went to his room and lay on his bed staring into space. He didn’t get up for dinner or even to turn on the light as evening came and darkness fell over the room.

Dobby had come in at one point with a tray of food that Harry picked at, but left mostly untouched. The little elf was getting very worried.

He considered contacting Dumbledore…in fact he decided that he would do just that the next day. He’d know what to do to help Harry Potter. Professor Dumbledore always knew what to do Dobby thought.

Harry returned to his four-poster leaving the tray at his bedside and lay there dazed in the dark. It was very late at night now and he could feel himself finally beginning to drift off to sleep when he heard a noise.

“Not now Dobby…please just leave me alone.” He said.

Suddenly he snapped out of his drowsiness and grabbed for his glasses. Because he had been laying in the dark for so long, his eyes were well adjusted and he could see a dark robed, hooded figure standing silently at the foot of his bed.

Recognizing those dark robes, a wave of fear washed over him as he sat bolt upright in bed grabbing for his wand. Any sleepiness that had come over him was now instantaneously gone. As he was about to point his wand at the shadowy figure, it suddenly flew from his hand and was caught in mid-air by the intruder.

Harry felt desperate…he made to tackle the figure. It seemed it was his only option, but before he could do so the wizard reached up and removed their hood.

“Harry…it’s me.”

Harry froze…he couldn’t have heard right, but as the intruder returned his wand to him and he lit the end, he found he was right.

“Ginny? Ginny…wha…what are you doing here…in the middle of the night…I could have cursed you.”

She stood there staring at him. Obviously his gaunt appearance was a shock to her.

Ron and Hermione had told her that he wasn’t taking care of himself, but she had no idea it would be this bad. He looked thin and pale as he sat there bare-chested wearing only his boxers and sitting in his bed.

“Harry…what’s happened to you?”

He just looked at her, still in disbelief that suddenly after absolutely no word whatsoever, she was standing there before him. He realized how bad he must look and he quickly performed a charm to revitalize himself.

He had to admit, he should have done it sooner…he felt much better and much stronger.

Her expression cleared a bit after that and she began to speak quietly, “I got special permission to leave school. Harry… I came to see you because… I’ve made my decision…I felt it best that I settled this now…tonight. I’m sorry if I startled you.”

Harry stared back at her trying to read some meaning into her words. ‘best if I settled this now’ was that good or bad? He wasn’t sure but he didn’t have to wait long to find out.

Ginny was now holding out her hand with the chain flowing from between her fingers.

“Please Harry, take it…I don’t need it…I’ve made my decision and it’s final.”

Harry looked at the chain and then at Ginny. His eyes were tearing, but she looked resolute and serious.

“Why Ginny? ….Don’t you love me anymore?” He asked desperately.

“Just take it Harry…you don’t understand.”

He reached out slowly and took the chain from her grasp. It slid freely through his hand as he looked up at her. He looked back at the chain in his hand, but something was missing.

The ring was gone.

He looked hopefully back at her and asked, “Where…where is it?”

There were tears streaking down her cheeks silently as she raised her left hand into the light for him to see. There it was, beautifully situated on her fourth finger.

A look of dawning comprehension spread across his face as he realized what this meant.

“Oh my God…Ginny.” was all he could say.

He was frozen to his spot…he couldn’t move…he didn’t even feel like he could breathe. As he sat staring at her she slowly removed her robes. Underneath she was wearing an incredibly beautiful ivory silk and lace nightgown that stopped at her mid-thigh.

Every bit of breath in his chest was knocked out of him as she climbed onto the end of his four-poster and began to slowly crawl across the bed toward him.

As she reached him, she straddled his lap with her thighs as she faced him. Harry wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close against his skin.

“You have no idea how happy you’ve made me Ginny…I was dying without you.” Harry whispered.

“I was too, Harry…No matter what happens, I don’t want to face any of it…if I don’t have you in my life.”

They sat holding each other tightly then after a few minutes Ginny pulled back from him and said, “Harry…there’s no need to wait anymore…I want us to...share everything. I know we can face whatever happens…as long as we’re together… I’m sorry it took me so long to realized that.”

Harry answered, “None of that matters now Ginny…you’re here.”

Harry looked into her eyes and slowly closed the gap between their lips. They continued to kiss as he lay back lowering her on top of him gently as her long ginger hair fell all around him.

Things were escalating quickly…after all that waiting… they were completely overwhelmed with their desire for each other. Harry pulled back his covers and welcomed her inside as their clothes dropped to the floor.

When their bodies touched completely for the first time, Harry thought his heart would stop for how hard it was pounding. At that point he fought himself hard to slow things down a bit…he wanted them to enjoy every inch of each other.

He began at her neck and worked his way down slowly with a trail of warm, wet kisses. As he came to her breast he taunted her with his tongue momentarily before cover her nipple with his mouth. It felt incredible.

They were finally able to experience everything... and he wanted to make sure that they both did. Never had giving her pleasure... been so exciting before for him.

Before he was always reserved to some extent for fear he'd go to far and not be able to stop himself. Tonight...there would be no stopping...With every moan and gasp she uttered, he was even more aroused.

When their passion had peaked and he could wait no longer he slowly moved on top of her. As their bodies finally became one, Ginny’s breath caught in her throat as she gasped.

Harry froze for a second, “Gin…are you okay?” He asked in a whisper.

Her only response was to slide her hands that had been wrapped around him up to the back of his head. She intertwined her fingers in his tousled black hair and pulled his lips to hers.

Their rhythm seemed perfect as they slowly began to move together. From there they shared the most incredible night of their lives…

They didn’t sleep that night. They seemed to be making up for lost time as they made love again and again.

They didn’t want their perfect night to end. In the morning, they lay wrapped together in each other’s arms. Complete and utter bliss surrounded them. Harry lay stroking Ginny’s ginger hair that was draped over his chest.

She had finally drifted off to sleep shortly after the sun came up. He leaned over and kissed her temple and she stirred from her sleep.

Smiling sweetly she said, “Morning…I like waking up next to you.” Harry smiled back and said happily “So do I, Gin.”

She moved to snuggle into his shoulder with her head and began tracing the muscles on his chest with her finger.

Then Harry whispered, “Ginny?” “Hmmm?” she answered contentedly.

“Last night was…unbelievable. It was even better than I could have ever imagined…it was sooo worth the wait.”

She looked up at him and kissed him softly with a smile, “Yes…it was… wasn’t it.”

Then he said, “Ginny... I want you in my life…I want you in my bed…When you finish at Hogwarts…will you marry me?”

She smiled warmly looking down at the ring on her finger and answered, “Yes Harry…This ring is my promise to you now…My life is yours. You are my future…my forever…I love you.”

The End






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