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Free Life Posted on 8/16/2014 1:03:46 AM
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Disclaimer: Harry Potter is the property of JK Rowling and Warner Bros. I in no way claim ownership of any rights to the Harry Potter Universe.

Author's Note:

Chapter 10: Quidditch Woes
“Thank you, Minerva,” Dumbledore told his trusted colleague before him. “Do you wish to view the memory with me?”

The Transfiguration professor considered the offer for a long moment. “Yes, I think I shall. We owe this boy quite a bit, and frankly I find myself quite curious about him.”

“Indeed,” the Headmaster agreed. “Shall we enter together?” he only half asked. After a short nod, both professors touched their wands into the pensieve and were quickly sucked into McGonagall’s memory of Halloween night.

The memory began a couple minutes before the stranger had made his presence known. Professor McGonagall seemed drawn to her past self’s plight, while Dumbledore was taking in the entire scene as best he could.

“Moody gets caught with a curse here,” she input from his side, drawing the Headmaster’s attention to the three Order members barricaded against the wall of the Three Broomsticks. Sure enough, Moody was struck by not one, but two flashes of light at roughly the same time. “We didn’t know what hit him, so we activated his portkey.”

Dumbledore nodded gravely and looked down the street. “There,” he called emphatically, pointing off in the distance. “He is just taking down two Death Eaters in the distance.” It was tough to see that far with the darkness around them, but he could just make out the two flashes of light connecting with their targets. The stranger was shrouded in shadow, but he could make out some movement heading into an alleyway.

It was about a minute later that two spells erupted from the alley beside the bar. With a flick of his wrist, Dumbledore rewound the memory several seconds and walked toward the entrance to the alley. Again, two spells exited the alley almost simultaneously. He rewound again, and by now he was directly in front of the alley peering in, but the stranger was hidden in shadow, and McGonagall’s memory would not allow him to pursue further. Again twin beams of light were shot out, catching the Death Eaters unawares.

Dumbledore’s mind was churning rapidly. The two spells were too close together to have been cast by the same person. Which could only mean one thing: the stranger was not alone. But only one person walked out of the alleyway, calling out and drawing attention away from the Order members, allowing them to quickly subdue a couple more Death Eaters. Both professors watched with rapt attention as the stranger dueled with ten Death Eaters.

“You’ll notice that several spells have been blocked, though he hasn’t yet used a shielding charm,” Dumbledore commented to his colleague.

“What do you make of it, Albus?” she asked him, knowing that the wise Headmaster was already drawing conclusions.

“His first shots on the Death Eaters were too close together to have been cast by him alone. He has a friend with him, hidden, who is shielding him while he duels. He is careful to avoid anything resembling the Unforgivables, and he tries to avoid other dangerous looking hexes, but he is not shy about stepping into some spells when necessary. He knows he’s being shielded from them.”

McGonagall nodded beside him, though the Headmaster’s gaze was locked firmly on the battle before him. The stranger was not making any headway against his foes, though he was certainly holding his own rather admirably, especially for one so young. That’s when the boy did something that was both incredibly reckless and brilliant. He charged the Death Eaters and engaged them in close range combat.

Dumbledore could spot the moment when the boy could seemingly tell that the shield had given out and began to dodge all spells that he could. Did they have some way to communicate to each other? McGonagall stiffened noticeably when the boy was struck with each of the cutting curses. Dumbledore’s only noticeable reaction was in his eyes. His body did not shift in the slightest.

A short time later, the two professors were back in the Headmaster’s office each pondering over what they had just scene. “So you think that there were two of them?” McGonagall finally asked, breaking the silence.

“I’m sure of it,” the Headmaster replied. “And both must be rather powerful by the looks of it. The boy’s companion was able to hold up a shield continuously for several minutes. A difficult feat. And the boy showed himself to be excellent in a duel. He was a bit reckless, but his strategy proved to be sound. He wasn’t making any progress with all the Death Eaters in front of him, so he rushed them and made them wary of their own crossfire. It was a dangerous maneuver, sure, but without it he would not have won that duel.”

Silence descended over the pair as Dumbledore’s mind was racing rapidly. They could make for excellent allies, whoever they were, but he was not sure where their loyalties lay. They were obviously against the Death Eaters and for that he was thankful. But he was wary of having two such powerful unknowns entering the equation. He hoped to get a chance to meet with them to find out just where they stood.

Dumbledore finally broke the silence between them. “Thank you again for sharing your memory of the battle with me.”

“Don’t mention it, Albus,” McGonagall replied easily. “I only hope I get the chance to thank them once again.” Dumbledore only nodded solemnly in agreement.

OoOoO

As Quidditch practice came to an end Harry, as was becoming custom, helped Ron get the balls all packed away before the two headed into the changing rooms. He didn’t get to spend nearly as much time with Ron as he had in the past, and despite whatever problems or issues going on between them, Harry wouldn’t trade his friendship with Ron away for anything.

He began making it a point to hang out after practices. It gave them a chance to hang out just the two of them and talk Quidditch or whatever else might come up, kind of like old times. When they were finally walking into the changing rooms, the rest of the team was just clearing out. They all bid their goodbyes as Ron and Harry were walking in.

“Pretty good practice,” Harry commented as he bunched up his robes and threw them over his head.

“Yeah,” Ron agreed with a broad smile. “Slytherin won’t know what hit them.”

“You’re not kidding,” Harry returned. “Katie is better than ever, maybe even better than Angelina, Ginny is right on form with where Katie was last year, and Stephanie’s not far behind. By the end of the year, they’ll be unstoppable.”

“Don’t I know it,” Ron grumbled good-naturedly. “I can hardly stop them even when I know exactly what play they’re running.”

“Don’t sell yourself short,” Harry told his friend. “You’ve been on form since day one. You play like you have been come game day, and we may end up with a shutout on our hands.”

“I don’t know about that,” Ron mumbled shyly.

“Just don’t let the Slytherins or anyone else get into your head,” Harry told him honestly. “That was your biggest problem last year. You’ve got it down physically. You just have to keep your head in the game and you’ll be unbeatable.”

“Thanks, Harry,” Ron told him earnestly.

“Nothing to thank me for; it’s just the truth.” Harry paused to pull on his black school robe. “You going to schedule more practices now that the game is coming up?”

“Yeah, I need to talk to Hooch about that,” Ron replied, his voice muffled by the robes he was trying to pull over his head. “Should start up with the extras at the end of the week or the weekend.”

“Were you planning on sticking around to work on strategies or were you going to head back?” Harry asked.

“Nah, I’ll head back,” Ron replied with a dismissive wave of his hand. “Doesn’t make much sense to come up with new strategies now when the team won’t have time to learn it properly by game time. Let’s head back in. You up for a game of chess?”

“Sure mate,” Harry returned as he walked out the door, holding it open for Ron. “Sounds like a plan.”

By the next day, Harry’s battle scars were practically nonexistent. He still applied a concealing glamour to them just in case, but someone would have had to be looking really hard to even be able to spot the blemishes.

He did eventually get his hands on a copy of the Daily Prophet, which covered the attacks that had occurred on Halloween night. It focused on the attack at Diagon Alley, and only briefly mentioned that smaller attacks had occurred in a couple other towns like Hogsmeade. Harry wished he had more information to go on than that, but he didn’t have any way to find out more. He resolved to ask Professor Dumbledore about it later that week during their Occlumency practice, but he doubted that the old man would be very forthcoming with information.

The week passed by terribly slowly, mostly due to the appearance of the Daily Prophet every morning. It seemed like every night there was another attack, and the following morning breakfast only served to dish up more bad news. Harry was thankful for the fact that he’d had no more visions. Of course, all that really meant to Harry was that Voldemort probably wasn’t personally involved in the attacks. And as they weren’t really targeting anybody of importance, Voldemort didn’t react too much to the nightly attacks. He did feel occasional pangs of pain in his scar, but it was definitely bearable. His friends didn’t even notice.

Spirits were down throughout the castle, save for a selection of Slytherins. Ginny brought the subject up during one of their Animagus training sessions, surprising Harry slightly with her insight. “You can’t expect to be able to save everyone, you know,” Ginny commented as Harry was sneaking a furtive glance at the Daily Prophet lying open on his desk.

Harry was broken out of his internal reverie and eloquently responded with, “Huh?”

“It’s just a guess,” Ginny amended, “But I imagine you feel kind of helpless right now. You wish there was more you could do to stop these attacks and save people, but you can’t. Even if you weren’t stuck at school, you have no idea where the Death Eaters will attack next. We all feel helpless about it.”

Harry, who had been leaning against his desk, rose up to his full height and began pacing back and forth. “I know that, I just wish there was something I could be doing. I hate just being stuck here with no way to help. I just feel like I should be doing something….”

“You are doing something,” Ginny interrupted, shooting up from her perch on the arm of a chair. “More than anyone else I know. You’re training, preparing. By the time you graduate, hell by the time summer rolls around, you’ll probably be ready to go out and join the fight, stop some attacks, rescue some people. I don’t think anyone in the Order is preparing as much as you. Sure they all have their jobs that they do, but are they really preparing to go to battle?

“And you’re sure as hell doing more than any other student here. I admire you for what you’re doing, Harry. You already almost single-handedly stopped a big attack on Hogsmeade. That’s more than anyone else can say. From what you said, practically the entire Order was in Diagon Alley on Halloween and the Death Eaters still managed to do quite a bit of damage. And that’s not even taking into account any aurors that might have entered into the fray.

Harry, by this time, had stopped his pacing and was just staring at his fiery friend before him. “But you have to understand one thing. You can’t save everyone, and you can’t fight this war all on your own. Keep training and keeping teaching the rest of us how to fight, how to defend ourselves. If you teach us half of what you can do, it’ll probably save our lives. I’ve never seen anybody fight like you do. You’re giving the rest of the students hope. You’re doing everything you can right now, so don’t worry too much about what you can’t control.”

They were silent for a long time after that as Harry processed everything Ginny had just said. She had him pegged. He had been feeling guilty and helpless. He felt like he should be out searching for Death Eaters trying to stop the attacks instead of sitting around safe and sound in the castle walls. After all, that’s what he had been training for. When the attacks started, he wanted to be able to help put a stop to them.

But what could he do? He had no information. He didn’t know where the next attack would be. He couldn’t just wander the lands hoping to just wander across some rampaging Death Eaters. He also couldn’t be out every single night hunting them down. He needed to get at least some sleep. When he had some information to go off of, he would act, but until then, there was little he could do but continue to train and teach others to defend themselves.

He finally gave her a small smile as he sunk down onto the sofa. “You’re right, of course. I wish I could do more, and I feel guilty just sitting here in the safety of the castle. But without any information about where the next attack might occur, there’s nothing I can do except continue to prepare. At least I was able to help out in Hogsmeade. If I saved even just one life that night, then all the work I’ve done thus far will have been worth it.”

“Well your training already saved my life,” Ginny added impishly, “So I know I’m eternally grateful for all the work you’ve been putting into it.” She was rewarded with a grin, then promptly instructed to get back to work. She wouldn’t become an animagus if she kept distracting them from her lessons.

Thursday evening finally arrived, and Harry found himself riding the circular staircase up to the Headmaster’s office again. Before he could knock at the door, he was already being called in. The man always did have a bit of a flair for the dramatic. Harry opened the door and strode into the increasingly familiar office. As was becoming customary, Harry bid his Headmaster hello as he made his way to Fawkes’s perch to greet the red and gold phoenix.

After exchanging pleasantries with the Headmaster as he stroked the brilliant avian plumage for a couple minutes, they jumped into their lesson. Harry was continuing to improve in his Occlumency skills. He was now able to hold his shield up against his Headmaster’s piercing attacks for a period of time. Each lesson he was able to hold out longer and longer. Today he managed to fend off the mental probe for a solid three minutes before cracking. He was again able to throw the Headmaster out of his mind immediately afterwards.

Dumbledore gave him a tired smile. “You are getting quite good at this, Harry,” he said genially. “It’s been a long time since I’ve had to exert myself so much. I imagine you’ll be an Occlumency master by the end of the term.”

“Really?” Harry inquired curiously.

“Oh yes,” the Headmaster replied, giving him a bemused smile. “You’re already quite advanced. There are probably only a handful of true Occlumency masters in Great Britain. You’re at a level that few have ever reached.”

Harry couldn’t help the smile that tugged on his lips. He still had a lot of unresolved issues with the man, but at the same time, Harry couldn’t help but respect him. And to have such lavish praise heaped upon him by the Headmaster, he couldn’t help but be pleased with himself. Add to that the fact that he was going against the man while right under his nose, and Harry was very smug.

But at the same time, it also made him pause. If his Occlumency was already so advanced, why did he still get the occasional vision? And why did he still feel Voldemort’s emotions when they were strong enough? Not to mention his scar pains. Unable to answer his own questions, he posed them to the Headmaster.

“To be honest, I don’t know,” Dumbledore told him honestly. The old man gave a deep sigh before continuing. “So little is actually known about your connection and your scar, that we don’t truly know the nature of it. We had assumed that your connection was similar enough to Legilimency that Occlumency would shield you from it, but apparently we were mistaken. Not that these lessons will have been a waste,” Dumbledore quickly added. “Even if Voldemort manages to enter your thoughts, the skills you learn here should be helpful in hiding certain things from him and in being able to expel him from your mind.”

“That makes some sense,” Harry reluctantly admitted. “I just wish there was some way to control it. It hasn’t been very bad so far because he hasn’t been participating in the attacks and besides Halloween night the Death Eaters haven’t really encountered much resistance. But if he ever does decide to participate…” Harry was at a bit of a loss of how to continue.

“I understand,” Dumbledore assured the boy in front of him. “I will look into any other possible avenues you can take to try to block the connection. Until then, Occlumency is our best bet.”

Harry nodded his acceptance. “I was wondering, sir,” Harry began tentatively, “if you had any additional information you could give me about the attacks on Halloween and since then. They only really talked about Diagon Alley in the papers. They mentioned Hogsmeade and other towns were attacked as well, but they didn’t give any details really. And the stories about the attacks since then have been lacking in details.”

The Headmaster sighed wearily. “I suppose asking you not to worry about the war for now wouldn’t do any good at this point?” he asked half rhetorically, with just a hint of hope in his voice. But it only took one glance at the teen in front of him to confirm his thoughts. “There were indeed several other attacks on Halloween. It was, as you had guessed, his coming out party, so to speak. The damage done to Hogsmeade was minimal at best, with no casualties. There were some smaller raids that each had a few casualties. But the big attack, as the paper suggested, was Diagon Alley. I’m afraid that is all I can really tell you.”

“I figured as much,” Harry grumbled dejectedly, wishing that his pseudo-mentor would find it to place some trust in him. He made sure to maintain a good-natured countenance, however, as he didn’t want Dumbledore to see how much the lack of information bothered him. “But it didn’t hurt to ask. I suppose I should be leaving, as I have some essays to take care of.”

“Indeed. A good night to you, Harry,” Dumbledore called out to him as Harry rose.

“Goodnight Professor,” Harry responded. He ducked out of the door and down the spiral staircase back into the hollowed halls of Hogwarts. He efficiently navigated the various passages on his way to the portrait of the Fat Lady on the seventh floor, leading him into the Gryffindor Common Room. The only interruption in his trek was Mrs. Norris, who crossed his path and looked at him crossly as if daring him to break a rule in front of her. But Harry just ignored the feline beast and continued on his way.

“Good evening Professor Potter,” the portrait called out as Harry approached.

“Good evening milady,” he replied cheerfully. “May I?” he asked with a wave of his hand.

“Oh of course,” she told him as she swung forward, granting him entrance into the home of the Gryffindors.

OoOoO

Ron Weasley was not having the best term to speak of. And this was following a less than stellar summer as well. He had spent the majority of the summer at odds with his sister, the only other person around in his age range, besides the occasional visits of his twin brothers. But as they greatly enjoyed pranking Ron, they hardly made matters any better. What was worse, Ron had been at odds with both of his two best friends, for entirely different reasons, neither one entirely clear to Ron.

Hermione had gotten furious when Ron brought up one Viktor Krum. Ron didn’t see why she was so interested in him. Sure he was a famous Quidditch star, but who cares about that, really? Why did she need to look outside the country when there were plenty of perfectly good blokes at home? Even in Gryffindor Tower there were plenty of decent blokes around. Harry, for one, and Neville too, and even himself…. Besides who knew if they could really trust Krum? Didn’t she understand that he was only looking out for her?

Needless to say, they eventually put that argument, though not necessarily resolved, behind them, as they had all of their numerous arguments before. The main problem with Ron’s summer and the school year thus far was his best mate, Harry Potter. It’s not that the two weren’t getting along, though they did seem to be getting into arguments more often than usual.

It began over the summer. First he hadn’t responded to Ron’s letters right away, but that wasn’t unexpected considering the state Harry had been in after the death of Sirius. What was unexpected was the letter he sent to Ginny, his baby sister. Harry had written to Ginny before writing to him, and Ron could not figure out why. Add to that the fact that Harry was getting on his case for being concerned about his sister and Ron was very confused and frustrated with his best friend. But they eventually put that behind them and exchanged letters more normally later in the summer. Things were most definitely not normal when the school year started back up.

After they had first met on the Hogwarts Express five years ago, the two had been inseparable. Several months later Hermione had invariably joined their little group, but she was always the odd one out. She was the only girl, for one, and she was also obsessed with her studies. She spent a lot of time behind a book while Harry and Ron spent the time goofing off and having fun together.

Things had followed that pattern for their first five years at Hogwarts with only a few periods where things deviated from the norm. Their fourth year being a prime example, though Ron didn’t like to think about his part in that particular episode. Much to Ron’s consternation, this year just wasn’t proceeding in the normal pattern. Harry just simply wasn’t around much any more. And when he was, he more often than not had his head in a book. He was turning into a miniature Hermione, not as obsessive but certainly too interested in reading and learning for Ron’s tastes.

They still played the occasional game of chess or exploding snap and had some classes together, but it was nowhere near what it used to be. Thus far, the only thing Harry had always made time for that they shared together outside of classes was Quidditch. Harry almost always hung around in the changing room after practice to talk Quidditch with him. It was for this reason, among others that Ron was looking forward to the upcoming match against the Slytherins. Not only did it give them more to discuss, but it was also giving Ron an excuse to add some extra practices into the schedule.

Perhaps the extra time spent together and on Quidditch would be just what they needed to finally pick up where they had left off the year before. Ron was thinking about just that when he looked up from the book that was sitting open but unread in his lap to find his best mate and subject of his thoughts enter the common room. Ron couldn’t wait to tell Harry about the extra practices, not to mention actually having the practices and the additional time with his best friend that they provided.

OoOoO

Harry hopped through the entryway, the portrait swinging shut behind him. He noticed Hermione and Ron sitting across from each other in front of the fire. Ron, ignoring the book in his lap, spotted him and waved him over. “Hey mate,” Harry greeted his friend.

“Harry, we’ve got our first match coming up, so I’ve scheduled some extra practices. We have one tomorrow at 5:00 and Sunday at 10:00 and Tuesday…”

“Whoa, mate,” Harry interrupted. “I’ve got my class to teach on Sunday at that time, you know that.”

“It was the only time that would work on Sunday,” Ron told him. “It’s just the younger class. You can cancel it this week or just move it or something. No problem.”

“I can’t just move the class, Ron. What would you do if your professors just randomly started moving their classes around to suit themselves? Moving it around would disrupt everybody’s schedules. You can just do the practice without me. It’s not as if you really need the seeker there, right?” Harry said reasonably.

“Well if you can’t move it then just cancel it,” Ron ordered, rising from his seat.

“I’m not canceling my class, Ron,” Harry stated calmly, looking intently into Ron’s eyes. “These classes are important; you know that.”

“And Quidditch isn’t?” the fiery redhead demanded.

“You know I love Quidditch Ron,” Harry reassured him, trying to hold his own rising temper in check.

“We don’t have much time left before our first match. Two weeks, Harry. We need to be ready. I will not start out the season with a loss to the Slytherins.” Ron shivered as though the mere thought of such a thing happening disgusted him. “And I expect you to be at that practice. You have to decide what’s more important to you: Quidditch or your class.”

“It’s an easy choice to make, mate,” Harry replied in a subdued tone of voice, dreading what he was sure was about to happen. The last thing he wanted right now was another row with Ron. They had been at odds off and on ever since the start of summer, and Harry really wished that they could move past all that and just be best friends again. This was not going to help with that at all.

“I knew you’d come around,” Ron beamed smugly. He turned around and moved to sit back down when Harry’s voice stopped him.

“You misunderstood me, Ron,” Harry told him.

“Whassat?” Ron asked distractedly, turning back towards him.

“I’m not canceling my class for practice,” Harry stoically told his longtime best friend. “These classes are the most important things I’ll do all year.”

“What about your classes?” Hermione finally chipped in unhelpfully at the same time Ron yelled “What about Quidditch?”

“This is more important to me than either,” Harry told his friends truthfully. “I won’t be at practice on Sunday,” he said looking directly into Ron’s face.

“Then you won’t be playing for my team any more,” Ron retorted hotly.

“Ronald Weasley!” Hermione erupted from beside him. Her eyes were wide and mouth was open, ready to start screaming, but Harry held up a hand to forestall her.

“If that’s the way it’s got to be,” Harry said resignedly, wondering how his supposed best friend could do something like that to him. Last year Umbridge banned him from Quidditch, but at least Harry knew where he stood with her. She hated his guts and wanted him to suffer. But Ron was supposed to be his best friend. How could his best friend just take away something he loved like that?

“Yeah, it is. Maybe I’ll let you back on when you learn a little loyalty to your team,” Ron half screamed as he stalked away and up the stairs to the boys’ dormitories. Harry sunk into the seat that Ron had vacated during their exchange and stared into the fire.

Harry’s emotions were a mangled combination of pain, betrayal and anger. He wanted to either take off for the Room of Requirement to pound a punching bag, or even better to run up the stairs and pound some sense into Ron. More than once Harry rose as if to storm out of the room, only to droop back down in his seat a moment later. He just couldn’t believe that Ron had actually thrown him off the team. It was a bad case of déjà vu, but the second time around hurt much more.

He was interrupted from his introspection by a hand on his shoulder. He looked up to find his bushy haired friend looking down at him with compassion. “I’m sure he didn’t mean it, Harry. He was just upset and lost his temper as usual. He’ll calm down and see reason eventually.”

Harry shrugged up at her. “ At least he can’t take my broom away like Umbridge, right?” Harry asked, mentally adding to himself,

Hermione gave him a smile. “You’re right. I had forgotten that Umbridge confiscated your broom last year.”

Harry returned her smile, though it was somewhat forced. The fact that Hermione could forget what Umbridge had done to him the year before really bothered him. That wasn’t something he would soon forget. Flying was one of the few things in life that could truly bring him a sense of peace. Anyone who had spent any time around in him in the last five years would know that. He didn’t understand how she could pass it off so lightly. And to top it all off the one time he would have liked to talk about something that was bothering him, something Hermione was always after him to do, she wandered off like it wasn’t really all that big a deal.

He was beginning to realize just how far he was growing apart from Ron and Hermione. They used to be solid, joined at the hip, nearly inseparable, at least that’s how he’d always thought of them. But he knew that that wasn’t entirely true. They had encountered their problems over the years. Ron had dealt with jealousy issues in fourth year. Ron and Hermione were at each other’s throats most of third year. And he had spent a lot of time angry at Hermione third year over his Firebolt.

Last year had been tense for all of them as well. Although most of that was probably his fault, he was willing to admit. He still thought of them as his best friends, but he couldn’t help but feel the distance building between them. But luckily, where some bridges seemed to be lengthening, others were shortening. He was closer to Neville than he’d ever been. He made a point of talking to Luna occasionally; he still owed her for talking to him last year while everyone else was at the leaving feast. And Ginny, well she was a godsend. She was quickly becoming his best friend.

He was actually somewhat amazed at the whole thing. He had gone into the term expecting to be somewhat lonely, keeping everything from all of his friends, training in secret without anyone knowing. Then Ginny caught him red-handed and turned out to be just what he needed: someone he could talk to that he could trust not to tell anybody or do anything about what he told her without his approval. He didn’t have to worry about what he told her like he often did with most everyone else. She was unassuming and trusted him completely, which made it easy to trust her in turn.

Ron and Hermione would never have just let him go on Halloween night the way she did. They would either have insisted on coming with or threatened to tell a professor what he was planning in order to keep him in the castle, most likely with Ron pushing for the former and Hermione the latter.

But Ginny wasn’t like that. Sure she was reluctant to let him go, and she was worried about him. He had seen that quite clearly that night when she broke down on him on the couch. But he couldn’t really blame her for that. After all, he used to worry about Sirius before he was confined to Grimmauld Place, afraid he’d be caught by either the ministry or Death Eaters. And even now he worried about what Remus might be doing for the Order. He could understand that.

But the point was that she’d trusted him, and she’d let him go. She had trusted his judgment and took him at his word when he’d promised he would come back in one piece. And even after that, she didn’t really demand anything from him. She had a few questions, sure, but nothing too probing. There was plenty more she could have asked, but she didn’t. She was always careful not to push him for more than he was ready to give, and for that he was eternally grateful.

His musings were once again interrupted as a figure pulled an ottoman in front of his chair and plunked down in front of him. He was only mildly surprised to find the object of his thoughts sitting before him with a slightly worried expression on her face. “You alright, Harry? You look like you’ve got something on your mind.”

Harry smiled at her a little sadly but appreciatively. “Yeah, I’ll be fine, but I’m fairly sure I just got kicked off the Quidditch team.”

“You what?” Ginny shrieked.

Several heads shot their way at hearing Ginny’s loud exclamation. “Could you draw a little more attention please? I don’t think Ron was loud enough earlier,” He snapped.

Ginny cringed. “Sorry,” she said contritely.

“No, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to take it out on you,” Harry told her, looking earnestly into her eyes.

“It’s alright. So what happened?” she asked anxiously.

Harry sighed into his hands as he rubbed them down his face. “Well I came in here after my lesson with Dumbledore, and Ron said that he scheduled some additional Quidditch practices. One of those is for this Sunday at 10.”

“But you teach at that time,” Ginny interrupted. “He knows that.”

“Yes he does,” Harry agreed.

“And he expected you to cancel your class for Quidditch practice?” Ginny guessed.

“Right in one,” Harry said with a small smile.

“Well I’m also guessing that you weren’t inclined to go along with that,” she said impishly.

“Clever one, aren’t you?” Harry responded cheekily.

“The cleverest,” she retorted with a laugh. “So then what happened?”

“He told me to choose what was more important to me,” Harry explained. “And I told him there was no choice for me.”

“Oh wait, wait, let me guess,” Ginny butted in. “He got all smug and assumed you were choosing Quidditch, right?”

Harry smiled sincerely at her. “Well you do know your brother quite well. I’ll give you that.”

“So then he threw you off the team?” she asked him.

“Pretty much,” Harry said. “He said that nobody with that attitude would be playing on his team, or something like that. Then he stormed off and went up to our dorm room.”

“I’m sorry, Harry,” Ginny told him genuinely, looking straight into his eyes searchingly.

“It’s not that big a deal,” Harry shrugged noncommittally. “At least no one is taking my broom this year. I can still fly one way or another,” he added the last part in a whisper.

“That’s not what’s really bothering you, is it?” she asked him seriously. “Quidditch, I mean,” she clarified, still searching his eyes.

Harry met her gaze steadily and gave her a rough grin. “You really are good, you know that?”

“Yes, I do hear as much from time to time,” she responded haughtily as she flicked some imaginary lint off the shoulders of her robes.

Harry responded with a small laugh and a light punch on the shoulder that was really more like a tap. “Don’t let it go to your head.”

“Who me?” she retorted cheekily.

“Mmhmm,” he replied throatily.

“So what were you thinking about when I came over?” she asked him seriously, all signs of playfulness forgotten on her features.

But Harry wasn’t done playing quite yet. “You,” he responded simply.

“Very funny, Potter,” she returned, cuffing him on the shoulder. “What were you really thinking about?”

“You,” he said seriously.

She studied him carefully for several moments before accepting the sincerity of his reply. “Why me?” she asked flabbergasted.

“Well I started off thinking about how I seem to be growing apart from Ron and Hermione this year,” Harry told her a little sadly. But his voice picked up a little as he continued. “But then I began thinking about how I’m closer to other people this year, like Neville and Luna and especially you.”

“Why me especially?” she asked him in a whisper.

“You should know the answer to that. You must be losing your touch,” he teased lightly, which earned him another slug on his arm. “Well I feel like we’ve become pretty close lately, like you’re very quickly becoming my best friend.”

“And that’s what you were so deep in thought about when I came over?” she asked him.

“Yep,” he told her. “I honestly was thinking about you at the time.”

“Well I can’t say I blame you for thinking about me,” she replied, regaining her snooty tone.

“Oh yeah? And why is that?” he demanded.

“Well I am quite beautiful and intelligent and could give any one of my brothers a run for their money in a duel,” she said as if it were the most logical thing in the world.

“You forgot loyal and trustworthy and kind,” Harry inserted.

“Of course, and all of those too, and many more. So it’s quite natural that you’d be thinking about me,” she stated.

“Well that’s a relief,” Harry blew out a breath and wiped his brow. “It’s nice to know that I’m normal for once.”

She giggled at his comment. “I am sorry about Ron and the whole Quidditch thing, Harry,” she told him at length. “I’ll try hexing some sense into him next time I see him.”

“Thanks,” Harry said with a laugh.

They were quiet for a short time. “It’s just so frustrating, feeling your best friends slipping away from you. I just keep wondering what went wrong. Why are things falling apart between us? Why now?”

“I don’t know if there are any real answers to those questions, Harry,” Ginny told him apologetically. “We’re all growing up, and not everyone is growing in the same direction. And in some cases only growing physically. The fact is that you’ve grown and matured a lot over the past several months, at least I think so. And while Ron and Hermione are getting older they haven’t necessarily gotten any more mature”

Harry was about to speak up when Ginny guessed what he was about to say. “I’m not trying to say it’s your fault. We’re at war, after all. It’s only natural that you especially would be forced to grow up a lot in a short amount of time, given the fact that you’re right smack dab in the middle of everything. Maybe in time they’ll do some growing up and you’ll be able to regain some of that closeness, but there is no way to guarantee it.”

“So basically there’s nothing I can really do about it except keep on and hope for the best?” Harry asked her.

“That’s all any of us can do,” Ginny replied earnestly.

Harry held her gaze for a long time before he finally responded, “I guess I just never really thought I’d lose Ron, but after this I’m not sure if our friendship will ever be the same again. I knew we had been growing apart but I never would have expected this.”

Ginny reached out and gently squeezed his knee before she got her book bag and settled near him to work on her homework.

The rest of the night passed by uneventfully. Harry spent most of his time reading, not feeling up to anything else. He didn’t see Ron at all until he headed up to bed. His friend was already in his bed with the curtains drawn. Harry sighed and climbed into his own bed. After finishing his workout routine the next morning, Harry headed down to breakfast. He sat by his friends as usual, but Ron was stubbornly refusing to acknowledge Harry’s presence, and it made for a very uncomfortable atmosphere that was felt by all in the area. Hermione and Neville were doing their best to just ignore Ron and his attitude, but it was a pretty difficult feat to accomplish.

When lunch rolled around, Harry walked past his usual spot at the table waving to Hermione and Neville as he passed. He sidled up to the longer haired of his two red haired best friends and asked, “Mind if I sit with you, Gin?”

Ginny looked up at him warmly. “Not at all, Harry.” She budged over a bit and patted the empty spot on the bench next to her. “Do you know all my friends?” she asked him.

“I think so,” Harry told her as he nodded to all the fifth years around him. “Hello all.”

They greeted him in turn, and the rest of the meal went by normally. Or as normally as it could without sitting by Ron and Hermione, with whom he had spent nearly every meal he had ever eaten at Hogwarts. The fact was he missed his friends. Not just Ron, but Hermione too. Granted they were still on speaking terms, but they were nowhere near as close as they had been in the past, and Harry would have given anything to be sitting with the two of them chatting about anything at all.

But he enjoyed spending time with Ginny and her friends. Some of the female lot were a little giggly, but he took comfort in the fact that they didn’t seem to be nearly as bad as Lavender Brown and Parvati Patil. Colin Creevey was around as well, but his fanaticism was more subdued than it had been in the past, so the boy didn’t really grate on Harry’s nerves all the time any more. All in all it was a pleasant experience, and he resolved to eat with Ginny and her friends every so often from now on. It was good to change things up every once in awhile and talk to different people.

He beat his friends to DADA after lunch and took his customary seat. When Ron and Hermione walked in, Ron immediately chose a seat on the opposite side of the room. Hermione was torn between her two friends, not for the first time. She looked about ready to head in Harry’s direction when Harry took pity on her situation. He gave her a grim smile and a nod in Ron’s direction. She looked at him questioningly as if to ask, ‘Are you sure?’ He nodded to her.

She gave him a warm smile and mouthed, “Thank you,” to him as she took the seat next to Ron. Neville, in the meantime, strolled up and took the seat beside Harry. “Hey Harry,” Neville greeted him.

“Good to see you Neville,” Harry responded sincerely.

“Sorry about Ron,” Neville told him.

“Thanks, Neville. I appreciate it,” Harry told him. “It’s just frustrating to see how quickly he can just throw away five years of friendship. But at least it shows me who my real friends are, right?” Harry said the last bit with a meaningful look at the boy, which did not go unnoticed.

Neville smiled at him gratefully. “Yeah,” he agreed. “I guess you do.”

The rest of the day went by similarly. Harry sat with Ginny at dinner again. Professor McGonagall descended upon the Gryffindors’ table at the end of the meal. She only paused briefly to speak to Ron and stalked off with him in tow, shooting Harry a not-entirely-kind look.

After the meal, he challenged Neville to a game of chess, which turned out to be a pretty evenly matched game. Neville just barely managed to beat him in the end, but Harry couldn’t remember ever coming so close to winning before. He was used to playing against Ron or on a rare occasion Hermione, and they were both loads better than he was.

While playing, Neville told Harry about some Herbology project he was working on with Professor Sprout. Much of it was lost on him, but he was excited for his friend. It sounded like it was a pretty big deal, and Neville was practically beaming the entire time he was talking about it. They also talked a bit about the HA and how they thought the class was going. Neville admitted that he had been really skeptical when Harry first introduced the dodging exercises to the class, but after several weeks of practice, his mind was completely changed.

He spent a little more time talking with Neville and Hermione before retiring to his office to work on some things. Truth was, he really needed to get out of the tower for awhile. He was given some more essays to grade from Professor Caldwell that he probably should be working on, but he really wanted to read up on Metamorphmagi in private. Ever since Ginny’s comments earlier in the week, he’d been dying to know more about the ability and whether or not he actually was one. He scoured the shelves of the library looking for books on the subject. And now he was satisfying his curiosity by reading up on the topic.

He found a couple good reference points to start with. He quickly learned that there were many different levels of metamorphmagi. Some, like Tonks, had full control over their appearances. Others had varying degrees of control. Some were unable to change their overall body structure, but could otherwise change anything. Still others were only able to change their coloring, whether skin or hair, or their hair length, as in Harry’s case. There was even one reported case of someone who was only able to control the growth of his nails. That would be an odd ability.

There was no real way to tell what level you were, as far as Harry could tell, except to try changing different parts of your body until you find your limits. Harry started off small. He knew he could change the length of the hair on his head, so he tried concentrating on other hair. His first target was facial hair. He knew that some of his friends had to shave their faces regularly, but he never did. He had never really thought about it before, much the same way he hadn’t thought about his hair before the previous summer.

But now he wondered if maybe he was unconsciously controlling that as well. So that evening found Harry sitting in his office, staring into a conjured mirror, focusing on growing a beard. When he didn’t experience any results after several minutes, he played with the length of the hair on his head to get a feel of how he was controlling the process. Then he did his best to adapt that to his face.

The approach worked brilliantly, and he was soon sprouting a thick, full beard. He let it keep growing and growing until he reminded himself of Hagrid and his bushy beard. He couldn’t help but laugh at himself as he stared into the mirror. He willed the hair to retreat back into his face until he had a respectable looking beard in place. He wiped the slate clean once he was satisfied and concentrated on just growing a beard on his chin, not on his cheeks. It took a couple tries to get it right, but he eventually managed to grow the hair exactly where he wanted it.

Harry had to squash the urge to keep going. It was getting late, and given how Hermione had acted in the past with regard to the curfew, he knew that if he didn’t pack up soon, he’d have a formidable witch to face when he made it back to the Common Room. So he reluctantly shuffled his way back to the tower to join his housemates.

The tenseness did not abate over the weekend, as Harry had hoped it would. Ron still adamantly ignored his presence, not that Harry was terribly inclined to talk to Ron with the way he was acting. And he probably wouldn’t be for some time. But at the same time, Harry felt bad for the strain it put on the rest of their friends. Plus he just enjoyed life more when he wasn’t at odds with one of his friends. But there was not much he could do about it.

Ron had to come to terms with it on his own and realize that there was more to life than Quidditch. Not only that, but Ron needed to learn that his actions have consequences. He too easily lost his temper and lashed out at his friends. And he just kept repeating the same mistakes over and over. Harry had forgiven him easily for it in the past, but he wasn’t as inclined to do so now. They weren’t kids any more, and Ron needed to grow up. If Ron really thought about it and realized what he’d done and came to talk to Harry about it and apologized for everything he had done, not just saying “Sorry for kicking you off the team,” maybe then Harry would be able to consider forgiving him. There was no way he was just going to let Ron apologize and pretend it never happened.

One thing he did notice through the whole ordeal was a change in the way Ron acted around Hermione. They had always been close, of course. Harry, Ron, and Hermione had been the best of friends for several years. But Ron and Hermione had always bickered with each other, most of the time over the most trivial of things. But they always argued, and rather vehemently sometimes. That didn’t seem to be the case as much now. Ron seemed like he was going out of his way to keep the peace with Hermione.

Harry couldn’t tell if it was because Ron was upset at Harry that he didn’t feel the need to argue with Hermione, or if perhaps Ron was just finally coming around and realizing what it was he felt for Hermione. With the Yule Ball coming up, it would be an opportune time to act on his feelings. They hadn’t really talked about the ball much after the day it was announced. Ron seemed to avoid the topic like the plague, whether it was about the fact that Harry was going with his little sister or the speculation about which witch he was going to ask.

Not that anyone really had to ask that question. It was obvious to all the way Ron felt about Hermione, to all but Ron and Hermione that is. At least something good was coming out of all this mess, Harry mused, and he said as much to Ginny that Sunday night.

“What do you mean?” she asked him in return, glancing over at her friend and brother who were sharing a sofa revising in front of the fire.

“Don’t tell me you don’t see it?” he retorted unbelievingly. “And here I thought I was supposed to be the thick one.”

“What am I supposed to be seeing?” she inquired, shifting her gaze from Harry to the duo and back again.

“Ever since Ron threw me off the team, they haven’t argued once that I’ve seen,” Harry told her. He cocked an eyebrow at her and added, “That has to be some sort of record for them. I think Ron may finally be coming around. All he needs to do is ask her to the ball to seal the deal.”

“Oh? So is that what you were doing then? Sealing the deal by asking me to the ball?” she teased.

“But of course,” he returned self-importantly. He waggled his eyebrows at her for a moment before becoming serious again. “It would be about time, really. Those two have been dancing around each other for years.”

“No kidding.”

Things continued more or less on par the following week. Harry continued practicing his metamorphmagus abilities in addition to his usual training, but so far he did not have any luck changing anything besides his hair length, though he did get a good laugh at himself when he managed to grow out the hair on his arms and legs. He wasn’t going to give up easily. He was used to controlling hair length, so of course that would come easiest to him. He didn’t know if he had any additional abilities, but he was going to make sure that he tried as hard as he could before he discounted the possibility.

Harry was glad to see that Ron still showed up to his HA classes, though he suspected Hermione might have had to coax him. Ron wasn’t acting friendly by any means, but he was at least being a little more civil in that he wasn’t completely ignoring Harry. Harry, for his part, was trying not to act like it bothered him. Ron’s behavior only served to reinforce Harry’s reasoning for hiding things from his friends. If this is how Ron was going to react over Quidditch, Harry couldn’t afford to share any of his secrets with him. He couldn’t be trusted with them.

Harry continued to spend lots of time with Ginny and her friends. He started helping them revise for their ever-looming OWLS. Ginny found a wellspring of knowledge for her Muggle Studies class in Harry. Not that she didn’t have other muggle-born friends to ask for help but they were often busy with their own assignments.

Harry continued to stay ahead of his classes without putting too much effort into it. The fact that he was only taking five courses combined with his increasing abilities and growing affinity for reading were really making a difference in his studies.

He still had to hold back in class so as not to draw too much attention to his ever-increasing abilities. He was confident that he could do most spells in class on the first try, but he deliberately made some mistakes in the beginning. Sometimes he would still be the first one to successfully cast the spell, other times he would let a couple people beat him to it. Even with all he was holding back, his teachers couldn’t praise him enough, much to Hermione’s consternation.

Hermione was still spending an inordinate amount of time studying, trying to stay well ahead of Harry. The fact that she was taking several additional classes didn’t seem to make a difference in her mind. She was determined to be the best in every subject. At first he was a little amused at Hermione’s reaction to his improvements in class, but as time went on he began to feel a little hurt by it as well. Rather than just be happy for him, Hermione just got more and more frustrated and focused. Harry tried not to think on it much as he didn’t exactly need any more depressing thoughts at the moment.

If not for all the personal reading and training that he was doing, Harry imagined that he would be quite bored this term. In the past his classes had been much tougher due in part to his lack of effort and also his rather busy schedule. This year was completely different. His classes were easy. The HA was well under his control. His personal training was progressing nicely. And without Quidditch practice he had even more free time to study types of magic that caught his fancy.

Hermione was still somewhat torn over Ron and Harry’s estrangement, but Harry just told her that there wasn’t anything she could really do to improve the situation. Of course, that didn’t stop her from continually trying to get the two of them to talk about it. Harry had no intention of doing so at the moment, not before Ron gave him one good apology. This only served to put further strain on his relationship with Hermione. While he felt that they were constantly growing apart, he didn’t want to lose her friendship either. So Harry made a point of spending time with Hermione while Ron was off at Quidditch practice.

Hermione spent most of her time with Ron, mostly because Ron seemed to flock to her nowadays, and she felt bad about leaving Harry out. Harry knew the way she felt about Ron, so he understood why she would side with him. Nonetheless it still hurt that she continued to side with Ron.

There were almost daily reportings of attacks in the Daily Prophet, which created a tense atmosphere, but the normalcy of school and their every day lives combated that adequately. Life in Gryffindor Tower was relatively peaceful for most occupants. That did not extend to Ron, however, who bore the brunt of more than one prank and faced open hostility from many members of the house. None of them were thrilled at the way Ron was treating Harry, nor the loss of their star seeker. About the only person still talking to him on a regular basis was Hermione, and they were actually getting along for a change.

The Quidditch team was practicing furiously now that they had to train a replacement seeker. The honor ended up falling to Ginny, much to her chagrin, since she had done such an admirable job at the position the previous year. When Ron talked to her about it, she’d been tempted to tell her brother to shove it and find himself someone else to do the job. Practice on Friday was incredibly tense, Ginny told Harry. While Ron was putting the balls away, they had apparently been talking in the changing rooms and were considering telling Ron exactly where he could shove his Captain’s badge.

When Harry heard about this, he met with the team minus Ron, and without Ron’s knowledge. He told them that he wanted them to play and to win, even if it was without him. They were reluctant but eventually relented to his wishes. Practices were still tense and the team less than friendly to Ron, but things calmed down considerably. It was a good thing that they had decided to train reserves as well, or else they would have been training a brand new chaser on top of everything else. As it was, the team was nowhere near as strong as it could’ve been with Harry at seeker and Ginny at chaser, but it was still pretty solid overall.

Harry was worried though. He really didn’t want to lose against Slytherin. They were sure to fight dirty as well. He never worried much about himself up there. He knew he could handle anything Malfoy and his goons dished out. And they always focused on him since he was the seeker, so he didn’t really have to worry much about anyone else. But now Ginny was going to be seeker, and Malfoy was sure to throw everything he had at her.

So that was why, after the Ravenclaws bested the Hufflepuffs 240-100 on Saturday, Harry was leading Ginny back out to the Quidditch pitch. Ginny was bubbling with curiosity since Harry refused to tell her what it was about. When they finally reached the pitch and he stopped her, she immediately burst out, “So what’d you bring me out here for?”

“I have a surprise for you,” he replied mysteriously. “I would have done this last year as well, but circumstances as they were, I couldn’t.”

“Do what?” she asked excitedly. She was having trouble standing still and ended up rocking on the balls of her heels.

“You’ll see in a second,” he told her as he dug his trunk out of his pocket. He enlarged it and reached inside to extract one of his most prized possessions. “Here,” he told her, handing it to her.

“What?” she asked breathlessly, spreading her hands out wide and shaking her head disbelievingly.

“I want you to use it,” he told her as he grabbed one of her hands and forced it around the shaft of his Firebolt. “I want to see you fly circles around Slytherin next week.”

“Harry, I couldn’t,” she insisted, trying to give the broomstick back to him.

Harry shrunk his trunk and quickly pocketed it. “You can, and you will. You’ve hardly had any practice at seeker, and I know Malfoy is going to pull out every dirty trick in the book to get to you. Nobody will be able to touch you on the Firebolt. You’re a great flier, Ginny. It’s a shame that you’ve been stuck out there on the broom you’ve got. Now go on, you need to get used to flying it.”

Ginny was still shaking her head insistently. “But I can’t. I can’t take this. Sirius gave this to you. What if something happened to it? You’d never forgive me. I’d never forgive myself.”

“Why don’t you leave it to me to decide what I would or wouldn’t forgive?” he asked her. “Sirius did give that to me. And I love it. But he wouldn’t have wanted me to treat it as some sacred artifact to be kept under lock and key. He would want that broom out in the air helping Gryffindor trounce Slytherin. You know that’s true. So if you won’t fly it for me, then fly it for Sirius.”

She finally stopped shaking her head and gazed deeply into his eyes as he spoke. When he brought up Sirius, her eyes began to sparkle with tears. As soon as he’d finished talking, she flung her arms around his neck and hugged him tightly. “Oh Harry,” she cried to him, the tears beginning to slide down her cheeks.

“Shh,” he whispered into her ear as his arms slid around her back to return the gesture. “He always did like you. He told me how you two had talked over the summer and Christmas break. He said you reminded him a lot of my mum and dad back when they were at Hogwarts together. Said you had a Marauder’s spirit in you.” He rubbed his hand across her back in an effort to comfort her. “I think he’d be glad to see you flying that out there. I think he’d want to see you fly circles around Malfoy next week.”

She choked out a sob as he told her all that Sirius had said about her. She was wondering when he ever had the time to tell Harry all of that about her and was astounded that they actually talked about her in what little time they did have together. She had always thought that Harry never really noticed her before this past summer. Of course, she was right to wonder about that, since this conversation didn’t actually occur between Harry and his godfather until the summer after Sirius died. But she had no way of knowing that.

She held onto him tightly for another couple of minutes before she finally managed some semblance of control over herself. She rubbed her eyes on the arm of her robes to try to erase the evidence of her crying jag. This was the second time this term she’d broken down and cried on Harry’s shoulder, and she was a bit embarrassed about it. She didn’t normally cry so much. But she was also secretly impressed with him. He was two for two as far as she was concerned as far as comforting her in those times. She didn’t know what Hermione was talking about when she said that Harry couldn’t deal with a crying girl.

After wiping her face to the best of her ability, she pulled back and drew her arms back to her sides. He loosened his grip, but instead of letting go completely, he slid his arms up her back until he was gripping her shoulders, holding her at arms length. “You ok?” he asked her softly.

She nodded and wiped at her eyes again lest she begin crying all over again. After a moment she gained enough composure to reply verbally. “Yeah, thank you. I just, I still miss him, you know?” Harry nodded here. “I can’t tell you how much it means to me that you trust me to fly your Firebolt.” She just realized that she was still holding it as she gestured to the broom for emphasis. “And I can’t believe Sirius said all that,” she continued in wonderment.

“Well believe it,” Harry said cheerfully. “He thought you were great. Even told me that he wouldn’t have minded you as a goddaughter some day,” he added hoping to lighten the situation.

Ginny’s hand flew to her mouth as her eyes threatened to pop out of their sockets. “He didn’t,” she exclaimed.

Harry shot her a quirky grin. “He did.”

Ginny stared at him wide eyed for another moment before her the corner of her lips twitched upward. In another moment she let out a snort of laughter, which Harry echoed. And soon the two were laughing openly, Ginny bent over in her hysterics.

After a moment she managed to say, “I can’t believe he said that.”

“I know,” Harry agreed. “Took me a little off guard at the time. Not that the idea is entirely unpleasant or anything,” he quickly added, suddenly afraid that he might insult her. “But it just came out of nowhere and I’m still young and all. Never really thought about marriage before.”

“Well if we’re trying to honor Sirius’s wishes,” she said suggestively as she sidled up to him, rubbing her shoulder on his side. She looked up at him from underneath her eyelashes sweetly for a moment before continuing. “Then I guess I’ll fly your Firebolt.” She chuckled heartily as she dashed away and jumped on the broom. She flew in a circle around him, laughing at his gobsmacked expression. “Shut your mouth, Harry. You didn’t think I’d just give myself over to you that easily now, did you?” she teased.

Harry just shook his head as he looked up at her flying form and finally laughed along with her. She had definitely put a number over him; he’d give her that. She flew around the pitch a few times as he plopped down in the grass to watch. After about ten minutes or so of flying around, she descended right near Harry. “You just planning on sitting there watching me fly all day?” she asked him.

“Why not?” he returned. “You’re a magnificent flier.”

“Nah,” she shook her head.

”I mean it. You look like that Firebolt was built for you,” he insisted.

She blushed at his praise, though it wasn’t terribly noticeable since her face was already flushed from flying. “Seriously though, aren’t you bored just sitting there?” she asked him.

Harry shook his head. “I don’t mind, really. Fly as long as you like.”

She flew around the pitch for ten more minutes before landing next to Harry. She didn’t dismount from the broom. Harry stood up and asked her, “Done already? I figured you’d be out here at least another half an hour.”

She shook her head. “I’m not done yet. But I’m not going to just let you sit there with nothing to do but watch me....”

“I’m fine, really,” Harry interrupted. “Besides, I don’t think it’s the best idea for you to be out here alone, especially since it’ll be getting dark soon.”

Ginny held up a hand to stop Harry. “You misunderstood me. I’m not going to just let you sit there with nothing to do when there’s plenty of room on this thing for two.” She patted the length of broom shaft in front of her for emphasis. “What do you say, Harry? You up for a little flying?”

Harry looked at her as if she had just sprouted an additional head for a second. “Are you serious?”

“Why not?” she asked him sweetly. “That is, unless you’d rather not share a broom with little ol’ me,” she mock pouted.

“Oh suck your lip back in, Weasley,” Harry teased. “I’ve never ridden on a broom with anyone else before. Are you sure it’s safe?”

Ginny nodded. “Bill once took me out when I was like six or seven.”

“Yeah, but we’re both grown now. Are you sure it’s safe for two adults?” Harry insisted.

“Yes, Harry. I’ve never shared a broom since then, but I know of others who have. And the broom is perfectly capable of carrying two fully grown adults. We’re both pretty small, so we should be more than safe,” she explained to him.

“Who you calling small, I’m at least 5 inches taller than you?” Harry joked. He knew that he was a little on the small side for a guy his age. But he didn’t consider himself to be that short, the way he figured it he was just a little below average and still growing. Though when he was around any of the six Weasley brothers, he was sure he came off a bit on the small side, as they were all either quite tall like Ron or more muscular like the twins. In that light he could see why she might call him small.

She leaned back away from him a bit and thoroughly looked him over, “I believe I’m calling you small,” she teased him. “Now are you going to get on this thing or not?”

“As you command,” Harry said with a mock bow, doing his best to ignore the look she’d given him. His reaction to the way she’d looked at him was something he’d have to think about later, sorting his memories tonight was going to be an interesting experience. “How do you want to do this?”

She thought about it for a second. “Why don’t you sit in front, and I’ll just hold you around the waist?”

Harry nodded and took a step towards her before changing his mind. “Wait. You’re supposed to be the one practicing flying the Firebolt. You’re not going to get any practice if I’m flying it.”

Ginny waved his concern away. “It’s not a problem. I’ll still get a feel for what it can do with you flying. If anything, I’ll get a better feel, since you’re used to flying it. You know what it can handle. Besides, I have a whole week of practices to get acclimated. Did you know that we have practice every single day this week?”

Harry laughed. “That sounds like Ron alright. I’d be surprised if he gets any of his homework done this week.”

“You know it,” she agreed. “Now hop on. I can’t wait to get back in the air.”

“As you wish,” Harry replied. He threw one leg over the broomstick in front of Ginny and gripped the handle in both hands.

“Scoot back,” she commanded him. “You’re not going to be able to fly it all the way up there.” Harry began to slowly move back, careful not to crowd her space. “Oh honestly,” Ginny cried out in frustration as she reached for his hips and pulled him back sharply until there bodies were pressed together. “I’m not going to bite you, Harry. Well unless you ask of course. You aren’t going to ask are you?”

He looked sharply over his shoulder at her, “Sorry to disappoint you but there will be no biting requests made today,” he said a bit pompously before he winked . “Anyway I didn’t want to crowd you or make you uncomfortable.”

“No big deal. But we need to be pressed together for this to work.”

Harry nodded, looking ahead. “You ready then?”

She slipped her hands around his middle and wrapped them about his waist. “Whenever you are,” she told him once she was snugly secured.

“Here we go then,” Harry called over his shoulder. A moment later, he kicked off of the ground and rose into the air. He flew tentatively and slowly at first to get used to the added weight on the broom.

“Come on, Harry,” she cried out. “I know you can fly better than this. Show me what you got.”

“You asked for it,” Harry shouted over his shoulder. And with that, he took off as though he was shot out of a cannon. He began making sharp turns and was soon zigzagging across the pitch. He loosened up as he began to fly more naturally. He allowed the Firebolt to reach maximum speed and started to use the wind currents to his advantage as he had learned to do in practice.

Soon he was completely relaxed and flying as if he was the only one on the broom. He did some loops and barrel rolls, eliciting shrieks of excitement from his passenger. He flew up high into the sky, and plunged down into one of his trademark, reckless dives. Ginny screamed the entire way down. As they drew nearer to the ground, her grip around his waist tightened. She was pressed tightly against him, chest to back, with her head on his shoulder pressed against his neck.

He noticed that she was pressed very close to him, and he couldn’t help but notice all the parts that were pressed up against his body. Sharing a broomstick certainly had its advantages. He couldn’t help, nor did he try to fight off, the warm feeling that suffused his body as he thought about it. He had to break his thoughts off though, as the ground was quickly approaching.

He pulled up at the last possible second, as he always did, and if she hadn’t been wearing shoes, she would have felt the blades of grass running through her toes. They flew around happily for the rest of the afternoon. They ended up staying there far later than Harry had originally planned for. By the time they touched down and began heading toward the castle, the grounds were completely dark and they had missed dinner.

They headed straight to the kitchens. Dobby greeted them in his customary fashion, overly excited to see the greatest wizard in the world and his Miss Wheezy. They were treated to a feast fit for kings and spent the entire time talking and laughing and eating their fill of the delicious food.

When Harry looked back on it, he couldn’t remember ever enjoying himself more fully than he had that day. He got to watch a Quidditch match, which was pretty well played. It had been a close game, 90-100 Hufflepuff until Cho managed to catch the snitch, sealing the victory for Ravenclaw. After that he had taken Ginny out to lend her his Firebolt, and ended up sharing a broom ride with her. There was nothing Harry enjoyed more than flying, and he found that flying with someone else only served to boost the experience.

The private feast afterwards was just the icing on the cake. He didn’t really realize how open he became when he was around Ginny, how all his cares and troubles just seemed to be wiped away, leaving him with just the moment to enjoy. All he knew was that she was becoming increasingly more important to him, and he was glad for it. He enjoyed spending time with her more than he could have imagined. She was just fun to be around. They talked about a lot of serious things, but she always found a way to keep things light and in perspective. She could always make him laugh. And that wasn’t even taking into account the times when they were just hanging out and having fun.

That night, as always, Harry sorted through his new memories to store in the various trunks in his mind. When he was putting the memory in its proper place, he did something that he had only done with a select few of his other memories. He duplicated the memory and stored it once in its proper place and the other in a special trunk. A trunk that only had a couple memories stored within. A trunk where he stored the thoughts he used when conjuring a Patronus.

The next week passed by quickly enough. Harry spent most of his time either reading or training. He gave up his metamorphmagus training for the time being because he wasn’t making any progress on anything beyond hair growth. He went back to his usual subjects of study: wards (he was reading a book on the Fidelius charm), healing charms (dealing with broken bones was next), and defense.

Saturday morning arrived before he knew it, and he was feeling a bit melancholic about the day. He wished that he were playing in the game today, but he knew that it wasn’t the end of the world. He made an effort to put on a brave face as he wished the team good luck at breakfast. The team marched out to head down to the pitch early halfway through the meal, and Harry was gazing longingly at their backs.

“You really miss it, don’t you?” Hermione said from the seat next to his, laying a hand on his arm.

“I do love to play, but it really isn’t the end of the world,” Harry told her, turning to look her in the face. “I wish I could be going out there today, but it’s more than just that. I mean, last year I was banned from Quidditch by Umbridge. It was terrible but not entirely unexpected. She hates me. What’s Ron’s excuse? We’re supposed to be friends, and he just chucked me off the team without good reason. How am I supposed to feel about that?”

“I’m sure he’ll come around soon, Harry,” she said comfortingly. “He’s just been under a lot of stress with this game. I’ll bet he apologizes to you by the end of the night.” She paused a moment then added, “Assuming they win, of course.”

“Yeah,” Harry agreed. “If we lose he’ll probably blame it on me and get even angrier.”

Hermione just patted his arm in a comforting gesture but didn’t disagree with him. “Well nobody else will blame you, Harry.”

“I certainly hope not,” Harry returned.

“No worries there, Harry,” Neville piped in from across the table. “We all know that you’d be out there if you could. Ron’s just a stubborn git sometimes.”

“Well said, Neville,” Harry said with a straight face. “It’s great to have such good friends by my side.”

They left for the pitch shortly after that to get good seats. It was still a weird and depressing experience for Harry, walking into the stands rather than the changing rooms at the pitch on the day of a Gryffindor match. This was the third match in a row with him acting as spectator rather than player. It was also the third time ever, since he had been named the seeker before the first game in his first year.

At least for the last two games he could direct his enmity at Umbridge whom he absolutely detested. Now he only had his supposed best friend to thank for his current situation. The thought only brought on a renewed bout of anger at Ron. Harry wanted to be out on the field with them, and it was only Ron’s stupidity that was keeping him on the sidelines.

After a short time, the announcer’s voice drifted across the pitch. “Good afternoon everybody. This is Adam Cleary, taking over the announcing job from Lee Jordan who graduated last year. This is shaping up to be a great game, much like the one we saw last week between Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff. The most shocking news going into the game is the absence of Harry Potter from Gryffindor’s ranks.

“Potter was just recently reinstated on the team after missing the final two games last year because he was banned by Umbridge.” A chorus of boos followed her name. “Yes, yes, I think it’s safe to say that we were all happy to see her gone. Potter was put back on the team in his seeker spot at the beginning of the term, but team captain Ron Weasley kicked him off after refusing to show up to one of the practices two weeks ago. I’ve heard from sources in Gryffindor that Weasley scheduled the practice during one of the classes that Potter is teaching this year and demanded that Potter cancel the class or be kicked off the team.

“Needless to say Potter chose his class over Quidditch. I’m not sure of the wisdom of Weasley’s decision. Potter has only ever lost one game that he’s played in, and in all fairness he was attacked by Dementors during that game. One has to wonder whether the power of the captaincy has gone to Weasley’s head. If Gryffindor loses this game, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s asked to resign from the captain’s spot.

“Gryffindor and Slytherin share a legendary rivalry, so this game promises to be heated and hard fought. Here comes the Slytherin team now with Nott, Crabbe, Goyle, Harper, Baddock, Triers, and captain Draco Malfoy.” The announcement was met with boos from three-fourths of the stadium. Loud cheers rang out from the green and silver clad members of Slytherin.

“And now we have the starting Gryffindor team with Weasley, Kirke, Sloper, Bell, Owens, Torrent, and captain Ron Weasley.” The Slytherins’ boos were drowned out by the cheering ringing throughout the rest of the stadium. “And the teams are stationed in the center of the pitch. Captains Weasley and Malfoy are shaking hands. Madame Hooch has released the snitch, and she is about to toss the quaffle up. We are underway!”

“Katie Bell of Gryffindor has snatched the quaffle and is streaking towards the Slytherin goalposts. She ducks a bludger shot at her by Crabbe and passes off to Owens. Owens grabs the quaffle and ducks under an opposing chaser. She is approaching Nott in the goal. She makes a move to the left, Nott moves to intercept, but Owens fires a rocket to teammate Bell who easily puts the ball through the right hoop. Ten-nothing to Gryffindor.”

The game started off in Gryffindor’s favor. Katie and Stephanie were working great as a team. Nate was noticeably nervous and was taking awhile to get into the swing of the game. The Slytherins’ taunts were not helping his nerves any, nor were the repeated attempts by Crabbe and Goyle to unseat him off his broom. Ron managed to stop the first couple shots on goal, and soon enough Gryffindor was leading 30-0.

The good fortune was not meant to last, however. As expected, Malfoy was pulling out all the stops in an effort to defeat Gryffindor. Their beaters and chasers were often taking cheap shots at Gryffindor’s chasers and seeker when Madame Hooch was not looking. Malfoy hung around Ron as Harper streaked toward the goal with the quaffle. Harry could only imagine what Malfoy was saying to Ron in order to distract him, but he couldn’t fault the strategy, aside from the fact that it was unsportsmanlike. Ron took himself out of the play as he dove and over committed himself on Harper’s fake. The score was now 30-10.

Whether it was the first miss or whatever it was that Malfoy said to him, Ron’s confidence suffered after that, allowing Slytherin to quickly gain the advantage. Gryffindor’s chasers were still fighting hard, but all the cheap shots were eventually adding up. And Nate’s nerves and lack of experience effectively made him more of a liability than anything. He had trouble holding onto the quaffle any time a bludger or a Slytherin player drew close. Katie was playing her heart out, completely used to the dirty play of the Slytherin team, and Stephanie was also playing admirably for her first real game experience. But they were at a distinct advantage.

Ron still managed to bock a good chunk of the shots on goal, but the score quickly climbed to 110-60 in favor of Slytherin. The snitch had yet to make an appearance, but that didn’t mean that the seekers were bored. Malfoy never let an opportunity go by to shout taunts at any nearby Gryffindor players, and he seemed quite find of brushing brooms with Ginny. Ginny, for her part, was busy dodging bludgers and throwing elbows at Malfoy any time he drew in close. Harry was immensely glad he leant her his Firebolt as he saw her using its acceleration to avoid injury.

Play continued on in that vein, and the score was 180-80 Slytherin when the snitch made its first appearance. Ginny spotted it high in the sky not far from her current location. She took off without warning, and quickly closed in on the golden ball. The snitch shot off as Ginny approached, but it was no match for the speed of the Firebolt. After about 30 seconds of chase, Ginny’s fingers closed around the winged ball and the match was over.

As Ginny pumped her fist in the air in triumph holding up the snitch for all to see, Harry grinned widely. His smile was interrupted, however, when moments later a green and silver blur barreled directly into Ginny from behind. Harry could see her look of surprise as she slid right off the broom, which she had only been gripping with her legs during her celebration. She was a good 50 meters off the ground when she fell, but the distance was rapidly closing.

Harry sprung into action before he even had a conscious thought about it. He was already casting the spell as his wand was sliding out of its holster. Since the wand was more of a formality and to avoid awkward questions, it didn’t really matter to him. He didn’t really think about what he was casting, only that he needed to stop Ginny’s descent and bring her to safety. His magic apparently interpreted safety to mean in his arms, for her downward fall stopped when she was halfway to the ground, and she began floating towards the Gryffindor stands as Harry was jumping down the stairs to the edge.

She flew right into his arms, and he held onto her tightly as her own arms snaked around his neck and clutched his back in a death grip. She was shaking uncontrollably as the realization set in of what could have been. And she held onto Harry for dear life. Harry, for his part, didn’t seem to mind that at all, for he was content to hold onto her for the rest of the day. His heart was still pounding wildly in his chest as the adrenaline of the last minute still coursed through his veins.

As he stood there holding Ginny to his chest, he couldn’t help but think of those he had already lost, his mother and father, Cedric, and Sirius. He didn’t think he could take another loss, especially not one so close to home. And the thought just made him clutch her even tighter.

It was a long minute before either one of them even became aware of anything that was going on around them. They both had closed their eyes as they held each other tightly. Harry finally opened his eyes and noticed the crowd around them, all looking rather unsure of how to approach them. A deep blush suffused his cheeks, but he shook off his embarrassment as best he could as he returned his focus to the red haired girl in his arms. “Are you alright?” he asked her softly.

She nodded into his shoulder before uttering, “Uh huh.” But she didn’t loosen her grip.

“You’re not hurt or anything? You took a pretty big hit at the end, and you had a couple hits during the game as well,” Harry said, concern bleeding through his voice.

“I’m okay,” she said into his shoulder. “I just need a minute.”

“Take your time,” he told her honestly. “That was a great catch, by the way. Malfoy didn’t stand a chance. You were brilliant out there today. Couldn’t have done much better myself.” He was hoping that getting her to think about something other than her fall would help ease her fears.

“Thanks,” she replied. She held on for another moment before finally easing up her grip and backing up a step. Her hand flew up to her mouth as another realization dawned on her. “Oh no, your Firebolt. Is it alright? It’s not broken is it? Oh, I just knew something like this would happen. I’m so sorry, Harry. I’ll find some way to make it up to you.”

“Shh,” Harry said, holding a finger to her lips. “I don’t know what happened to the broom. I could care less about the broom right now. My only concern is you. Are you sure you’re alright?”

“I’m fine,” she told him.

“Now see, any time I tell people I’m fine, I just get yelled at for lying,” Harry pouted playfully, which earned him a giggle.

“That’s because your definition of fine is ‘not dead,’” she retorted with something akin to her usual cheekiness.

Harry just huffed in mock indignation. But any further conversation was halted as the crowd around them finally descended upon them. They were all intent on congratulating both of them for their catches, Ginny for her catch of the snitch, and Harry for his catch of Ginny. Ginny told him that she was heading for the changing rooms as they began to get separated, and he called back that he’d see her in the Common Room.

With that, Harry did his best to break away from the crowd to get back to the castle. He really needed a moment alone to calm down from the emotions of the day, plus he had a party to attend to. Not only did he have three kegs of butterbeer to serve, but he had also talked to Dobby earlier in the week about arranging some refreshments to be served after the game. Harry wanted to duck into the kitchens really quickly to make sure everything was okay, then get up to the Common Room to get everything set up.

Two pairs of eyes followed him as he made his exit, the minds behind them pondering the same thing. How did he do it? Dumbledore knew from experience how hard it was to catch someone in mid-fall. There had been more than one time throughout his years as Headmaster where a student had fallen or been knocked off a broom. He had always been quick enough to slow their descent before impact, and once he had managed to completely stop the student’s fall, but in all fairness he had been much higher up in the air giving Dumbledore a few extra seconds to react, and even then it had been no easy task.

When Miss Weasley had been knocked off her broom, Dumbledore sprung into action, but by the time he got to casting a spell, she was already saved. It didn’t take him long to spot Harry amidst the crowd, wand outstretched, rushing out to meet young Ginevra. He couldn’t help but wonder how Harry was so quick to respond, nor could he help marveling at the power and control the boy displayed of his magic. That he managed to stop her descent and, for lack of a better term, summon her to him without causing her any harm was a remarkable feat, especially for one so young.

Perhaps Harry was beginning to come into his own. He had been hearing from his professors, save for Severus, about Harry’s vast improvement this year. The Headmaster couldn’t help but find himself interested in just how far Harry had come along, and just how far he would go.

Hermione was thinking along a similar vein. She had been sitting right next to Harry during the game, and she had watched from beside him as Ginny fell towards the Earth, momentarily paralyzed from shock and fear along with the rest of her classmates. When Ginny began to slow down, she came back to herself and noticed that Harry was no longer beside her. She had never even seen him move.

When Ginny finally made it safely into his arms, she watched with the rest of the house as the two held onto each other for dear life. She couldn’t fault them for their reaction given the nature of the situation, but she, like everyone else, began to grow uncomfortable as the two continued to embrace, lost to the rest of the world. As she continued to watch the pair, she wondered how he had managed it. She couldn’t say from personal experience, but she had read enough to know how difficult it was to completely stop somebody in a freefall. She had even watched three years ago when Dumbledore had only been able to slow Harry down when Dementors had attacked him in the air.

If Dumbledore couldn’t stop Harry completely, then how did Harry manage to stop Ginny? He had been doing a lot of incredible things lately in classes, catching onto spells with ease and showing great skill without too much effort, whereas in past years he had always struggled before mastering a spell. He had shown a complete turnaround, and Hermione could not explain it. But without any leads to go off of, there was little she could do. Her brain continued to churn as Harry and Ginny stood there completely oblivious to their audience.

She was looking into Harry’s face when he finally opened his eyes and realized the spectacle they were making. She watched as recognition dawned and the blush crept up his face. But she saw him squash it down and tune out everyone around him as he began whispering to Ginny. Hermione couldn’t hear what he was saying; she could only guess that he was trying to make sure she was all right. She could see the concern and the fear on his face, but she also saw something else she hadn’t expected to see. Affection. She knew that the two of them had grown closer lately, but Hermione hadn’t noticed the extent of it.

She had never seen that look on Harry’s face before, but she couldn’t say she was entirely surprised. She had seen this coming, after all, and had tried to warn Ginny off. Harry was clinging to her. He’d lost the person who meant the most to him in this world, and he needed someone to transfer the title to, someone to put all his hopes and dreams onto, and Ginny fit the bill perfectly. She was great: beautiful, funny, intelligent, a great friend, but most of all, she was willing to put up with Harry’s charade, and unwilling to confront him about what was bothering him.

She wished she could be happy for her two friends, but she knew it was doomed to fail. It was sad, really, because she always thought that they could have been great together under the right circumstances. She resolved to have another talk with Ginny about that some time, before things went too far.

OoOoO

Rather than celebrate with the rest of his team and his entire house, Ron hung back and watched. His team had just won the first game of the season under his leadership. He was the captain of the team. He designed all of their plays and strategies, though he had Harry’s help a lot of the time. But nobody noticed his absence; he tried not to be bothered by that. Their attention was all riveted on two people: his sister, Ginny, and his best friend, Harry.

For once in his life, Ron didn’t begrudge either of them their limelight. Ron was the leader of the team, and they won under his leadership, but it wasn’t his leadership that won them this game. Ginny won them the game. Had she not caught the snitch when she did, the score would have continued to favor Slytherin, and it wouldn’t have been long before a victory was outside of their reach. It was his leadership that put them in a position that could have easily led to their defeat.

He had let in eighteen goals. And his chasers had only managed to score eight. He couldn’t blame them, though. He had taken away part of their team and ruined the rhythm that the three girls had been building up over the past couple months. He had underestimated Slytherin and should have lost the game. And he would have if his sister hadn’t bailed him out on his best friend’s broom.

The first practice after he’d kicked Harry off the team had been horrendous. After that the team had worked hard to adjust to the change he’d forced on them. Not that they’d had much of anything to say to him. He didn’t know why they started trying in practice again, but he thanked his lucky stars that they had.

One evening this past week he’d been in the captain’s office supposedly working on plays but in reality he was missing Harry, when he’d overheard some of the reserve players talking. The guy they’d been talking about had sounded like a bloody prat, it had taken a few minutes for him to figure out they were talking about him and how he’d treated Harry.

Ron was willing to confess that he probably shouldn’t have thrown Harry off the team. He had already admitted as much. Not out loud, of course, but in his head. He knew he had made a mistake. He should have crawled on his hands and knees when he realized this and begged Harry to forgive him and rejoin the team, yet he hadn’t. No, he’d decided it could wait until things blew over a bit, then admit that he might have been out of line, and everything could go back to the way it was. He’d made some pretty big mistakes before in his friendship with Harry and Harry had always forgiven him, so he wasn’t that worried about it.

That’s what he had been thinking for the past week. They would win the game despite Harry’s absence, everyone would be in high spirits, it would be a perfect time to get it over with. It had sounded like a good plan at the time, but then again, anything that put it off until later probably would’ve sounded good at the time. Now that he was facing the prospect of actually having to go through with it, he was having second thoughts.

It didn’t help that Harry had just saved his sister’s life, and not for the first time. He was incredibly happy that Harry had saved Ginny, but it certainly made him feel worse about the situation. Now that the game was over and the pressure lifted, Ron couldn’t help reflecting back on the argument that had led to his and Harry’s estrangement. Harry had told him that he had to realize that some things were more important than Quidditch.

His sister’s close call was a forceful reminder of what Hermione had been trying to tell him for two weeks now and what was at stake in the world right now. People were dying. There were attacks reported every morning in the Daily Prophet, and the entire castle was restless and feeling helpless. Ron knew, once again thanks to Hermione, that Harry’s classes were a way for him to feel useful in the war, to feel like he was actually doing something. And if all the effort managed to save just one life, he knew that Harry would think it all worth the effort. Ron couldn’t say he disagreed with that viewpoint.

Ron left the pitch and entered the changing rooms with mixed emotions. He was still a bit bothered by how he’d failed the team, and he also couldn’t help but notice how much he missed a rousing chorus of “Weasley is Our King” being sung in his honor by the Gryffindor fans. But on the bright side they had won, he’d seen Malfoy being chewed out by Madam Hooch for what he’d done to Ginny, and after a quick apology he’d have his best friend back. With that thought in mind he decided he couldn’t wait to get back to the tower, surely someone would see to making sure they had a bloody great party to celebrate the victory.

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