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Free Life Posted on 5/21/2012 4:49:38 AM
Chapter 7: 2000 words and counting
Hero Posted on 3/25/2012 7:32:33 PM
Chapter 6 Chance and Choice: 3,600 words and counting
Long Lost Brother Posted on 4/21/2010 2:57:30 PM
Chapter 5: 0 words and counting.

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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 17: Playing With Fire
“Of course it’s bloody-well worth the risk, you dolt!” Sirius shouted. He paced back and forth for a moment before calming himself and turning to face his godson. “Harry, I’m serious.”

A wicked grin lit up Harry’s face, and he held his hand out to his godfather. “Sirius, I’m Harry,” he said, as if introducing himself for the first time.

He was surprised when Sirius batted his hand away and pulled him in for a rough embrace. “You really are your father’s son,” he whispered into Harry’s ear. “He used to make that same stupid joke all the time.” Sirius released Harry from the hug but caught him by the shoulders to force Harry to look him straight in the eyes. “You want to know the difference between you and your dad?” He did not give Harry a chance to respond. “James had the courage to ask Lily out. He wasn’t too much of a coward to put himself out there and take the risk.”

Harry felt like he had just taken a blow to the stomach. Was he being cowardly? And what would his father say? Sirius was not done yet, however. He began pacing again as he ranted, “And when Lily turned him down, he had the stones to keep asking. He pursued her relentlessly, and when Lily told James he needed to grow up if he ever wanted a chance with her, that’s exactly what he did. Your father knew Lily was the one for him, and he wasn’t about to let anything or anyone get in his way. I used to think he was barmy. That was until Lily finally gave in and the two of them got together. That was when I realised that James was the smartest of us all.”

Sirius stopped his pacing and turned to fully face Harry. When he spoke again, his voice was soft yet passionate. “I never saw James so happy as when he was with Lily, and we had some really great times together before that. I thought your dad was crazy for pursuing Lily so much. I didn’t think life could get any better than what we had. I was wrong. If there’s one thing you should learn from your father, let it be this: Love is and always will be worth the risk.”

“Yes, and if I knew it was love this would be a whole lot easier,” Harry groaned in frustration. “I mean, I like Ginny; I fancy her. I enjoy spending time with her, and I’m attracted to her. But does that mean I love her?”

“You’ll never know that until you give it a chance,” Sirius replied evenly. “Your father was sure that Lily was the one for him. How he was so certain, I will never know, but he would never have forgiven himself if he didn’t at least take the chance. I don’t know if Ginny is really the one for you, but don’t let your chance pass you by. You may regret it for the rest of your life.”

******

Harry awoke Friday morning with Sirius’s words ringing in his head. As he got dressed for his morning workout, he replayed the conversation over and over. He could not dispute his godfather’s words, nor could he deny how much he fancied Ginny. As he waited in the common room, he resolved to give the matter some serious thought.

Watching as Ginny descended her dormitory steps, a tired smile on her face, his resolve almost crumbled right then and there. She was still adjusting to the early mornings, and Harry thought she looked downright cute when she was grumpy. Despite the desire he felt for her, he held back, knowing that this was not something to enter into lightly. He had to be sure this was what he wanted before he made a move.

“Good morning, Gin,” he greeted her brightly.

She stuck her tongue out at him. “You’re entirely too chipper for this early in the morning,” she half-heartedly complained.

“It’s good to see you too,” he responded, ignoring her comment entirely. “Did you sleep well?”

“I slept just fine until my alarm woke me up at this ungodly hour,” she fired back.

Harry just smiled back at her. “You ready to head out?”

She nodded drowsily. “I still don’t see why we have to wake up so early for this.”

“Oh quit grumbling. The fresh air will wake you right up.”

"I've got something that'll wake you up," Ginny muttered barely loud enough for Harry to hear.

"What was that?" he asked.

"Nothing," Ginny replied.

"Darn right, nothing," Harry tried to scold, though his smile gave him away. "Now come on, or we'll be short on time." He held his arm out to her, and she obligingly slid her hand into the crook of his elbow. He smiled as they set off for the grounds and their morning workout.

Nearly two hours later, Harry found himself sitting in the Room of Requirement waiting for Ginny to finish getting ready for the day. She always took a little bit longer to get ready than he did, but he did not mind it. He would rather wait a couple minutes for her than leave her waiting on him. Ginny walked out of her changing room with a smile on her face.

"Whatcha doing tomorrow?" she asked him.

Harry rose from his seat and shrugged. "Training. Why?"

"I was wondering if I could still take you up on that offer you made me yesterday."

"Oh," Harry replied, caught slightly off guard. "Yes, of course. When did you have in mind?"

She shrugged. "After breakfast?"

"Okay, after breakfast it is," he amicably agreed.

"Thanks."

******

As promised, Harry accompanied Ginny up to his office after breakfast the next morning. He was not entirely sure if she was just looking for company or if she wanted to share some of her memories with him, so he came prepared with a book to read just in case. As it turned out, Ginny wanted both. There were long stretches of time where she was quiet, but then she would all of a sudden start telling him about her first time on a broom or the time Fred and George filled Ron's bed with spiders after Ron had made her cry. Here was yet another incident of the twins contributing to Ron's arachnophobia.

She shared several memories of life at the Burrow with her family, playing with her brothers or even just spending time together in the family room sharing the details of their days. She talked about how it felt to be the youngest as each of her brothers started Hogwarts until she was finally the only one left at the Burrow during his first year. She told him about how she and Ron had become very close in the years leading up to his first year at Hogwarts and how he had wanted absolutely nothing to do with her when he came back that next summer.

Harry could feel the anxiety pouring off of her in waves. He knew what she was approaching, and now he could guess why she had been so easily taken in by the diary. She was lonely. She had been all alone for almost a year with only the hope that when Ron came home she would have her best friend back, but Ron dashed that hope rather effectively. When she found the diary, she must have been happy just to have someone to talk to, and the fact that the diary would not be able to make new friends and leave her behind must have appealed to her all the more.

She fell silent after she had related the summer before her first year. Harry reached out and grasped her hand, which had been clutching the sofa cushion. He gave it a comforting squeeze wishing he could do more for her, but he knew that this was one battle Ginny would have to fight for herself. He had let his past control him for far too long, and while facing it had been a gruelling process, it needed to be done. It was time Ginny laid her own demons to rest.

He stared forward as he contemplated what Ginny must be facing. He wondered what she remembered of the ordeal. He knew that she had some blank spots in her memory after being possessed, but he wondered exactly what she was cognizant of. He also could not help but wonder what Tom had said to her or even shown her in the diary.

He was broken out of his thoughts by a soft sniffle. He turned his head and saw tear tracks streaking down Ginny's cheeks. Without conscious thought, he turned toward her and, still holding her hand in his left, he reached his right hand out to gently wipe her tears away with the pad of his thumb. Ginny's eyes flew open at the contact, wide with panic, and he felt her body stiffen. Her eyes immediately sought his own, and Harry felt his heart ache at her pain. She was breathing heavily but seemed to be calming down now that she had identified the source of contact. He belatedly realised that she might have mistaken him for Tom Riddle.

It would make sense, after all, to connect the contact to him when Tom had been the focus of her thoughts. Add to that the fact that the 16 year old Tom Riddle resembled Harry, and Ginny's reaction was completely understandable. Her eyes travelled down his face to his right shoulder, then down his arm to the hand that was still cupping her cheek. Harry sat frozen in place, unsure what to do. Should he pull his hand away? Was he making her uncomfortable? Or would that just make things worse?

In the end, it was Ginny who guided him. He remembered being in a similar situation not too long ago where he had been in need of comfort and she had been there for him. At the time he probably would have claimed he did not need it, but he now knew that was not the case. Whether she would admit it or not, she needed comfort, and she was going to get it. He brushed away the last tear on her far cheek, then lifted his hand to do the same for her near cheek. Harry watched as Ginny's eyes followed every movement his hand made. He was unable to determine what she was thinking or feeling, but he took the fact that she was not pushing him away as a good sign.

When he brushed the last of her tears away, he pulled his hand away, but not before lightly brushing against her cheek one last time. As he was just pulling his hand away, Ginny’s hand trapped his against her cheek, holding it against her skin for a long moment as she closed her eyes. After a moment she let go, and Harry’s hand dropped into his lap. Ginny's eyes opened and found their way back to his. Harry swallowed thickly before asking, "Do you want to talk about it?"

"Not really," she replied after heaving a heavy sigh.

He gave her hand a squeeze before letting it go and patting his lap and saying, "Lie down."

Her eyes searched his for a moment before she relented. She scooted away from him then swung her legs up over the arm of the sofa as she dropped back with her head resting in his lap.

Harry's right hand immediately moved to the weight now resting in his lap. He rested the hand behind her head and ran his fingers through her hair, lightly touching her scalp. His other hand sought hers out, lying at her side. He sat there looking down at her as he played with her hair for a minute before he looked up and stared blankly across the room. There was a long minute of silence as Harry’s thoughts swirled around his brain as he attempted to find some way to help her. An idea began to form in his head, and before he could rethink his plan, he spoke up. "I had another vision last night."

He looked down to find her staring up at him with wide eyes.

After a moment he turned his gaze back up across the room before continuing, "He attacked a wizarding family last night. The only people there were a married couple, though I saw some pictures of kids on their mantle." He broke off for a moment as he imagined those kids learning of their parents' fate. He shook his head clear of those thoughts and continued. "My guess is they are grown and had already moved out. When Voldemort and the Death Eaters broke in, the couple panicked. They didn't grab their wands and try to fight back; they didn't even try to run."

He paused, still staring out into nothingness before dropping his gaze back down to Ginny. She was still staring up at him, concern evident in her eyes. He gave her a small, sad smile as he continued his narrative. "Instead of fighting, they tried to bargain for their lives. They offered money, their home, all their possessions, and even offered to join the Death Eaters. They begged and pleaded for their lives until Voldemort got bored and killed them. Even as Voldemort killed his wife, the husband just stood idle and watched. He made no move to stop them or intercept the curse. All he did was beg and plead and cry."

He twirled a lock of her hair around his finger for a moment as he reflected on the vision. It was not a pleasant thing to witness, nor was it easy to share. He forced his thoughts back to the matter at hand as he steeled himself to continue on. He was not sure how Ginny would react to his next question. After a minute of silence, he asked, "Why did you steal the diary back from me?" Her eyes widened, but she made no move to speak. "I've wondered about that. He thought you were afraid he'd tell me all your secrets, but that's not the real reason, is it?"

Her mouth fell open, but no sound came out.

He resumed his earlier action of running his fingers through her hair as he continued, "I believed him at first, but the more I thought about it, the more I doubted it. Protecting your secrets may have been part of the reason, but I think there was much more to it."

"I - I was afraid," Ginny choked out in a whisper.

"What were you afraid of?" Harry asked softly, gazing down into her face. He squeezed her hand a little tighter in comfort.

"I was scared," she broke off and turned her head away from him. "I was scared he'd fool you too." She sighed and turned her head back so that she was gazing up at him again. Her eyes met his for a brief moment before she averted her gaze to the side. "He already had a strong enough hold on me by then that he could tell I had the diary back without me ever writing in it. I opened it hoping to find out what he'd written to you or you to him, and he started writing to me. He told me he'd been talking to you and that he told you that I was the one responsible for all the attacks. He said you'd get me kicked out of Hogwarts for sure. Then he went into how much you trusted him and that it would only be a matter of time before he took control of you too."

"I knew I couldn't try to throw the diary away again or else you might find it. He had enough control by then that he could make me open the diary up and read whatever he had to write.” A shudder ran down her spine as she continued. “Every day it felt like I lost a little bit more of myself, and there was nothing I could do to stop it. I wanted to tell somebody, but I was scared. The few times I tried, either something happened to interrupt or Tom managed to get control and stop me."

They were both quiet for a long moment before he spoke again. "Do you see the difference?" Her eyes flicked back to his, her question evident. "You could have left the diary with me and left me to my fate. You could have rolled over and died, accepting your own fate. That whole time you never stopped fighting. That's not something to be ashamed of. Yes, you made some mistakes, but you were eleven years old. Don't let yourself get caught up in that.” His voice was thick and heavy with emotion as he continued. “At eleven years, you stood up and fought where grown adults would have lain down and died. Besides, your past has shaped you into who you are today, and I wouldn't trade you for anything."

His hand had slid from the back of her head to cup her cheek as he looked down on her with affection. She gave him a watery smile as tears pooled in the corners of her eyes. "Do you really mean that?" she asked in barely a whisper.

"I do," he responded. "I think that's the way you need to think about things in order to be okay with them. You can't let yourself get caught up in the bad things, but look at it from the bigger picture. Like, if Dumbledore hadn't left me at the Dursleys, I'd be an entirely different person today. It doesn't make it okay, but it helps me to accept it and move past it. I like who I am now. And as much as I'd like to change my past, you can't change it without also changing yourself."

Harry fell silent after that, watching Ginny as she digested what he had said. "I've never thought of it that way," she said after a short period of silence.

"You actually helped me to see it that way," Harry admitted.

Ginny's eyebrows rose into her hairline at that statement. "How did I help you come to that conclusion?"

Harry smiled indulgently. "Remember last Christmas when I thought I might have been possessed by Voldemort?" he asked rhetorically. She nodded. "You were the only one who was able to break through to me - made me feel awful about myself too, by the way. The only reason you were able to do that was because of your past. I thought about that a lot this summer, what you had gone through and how you had turned out in spite of it. I realised the experience had only made you stronger."

She shook her head in his lap. "I'm not strong. Look at me; I can't even face what happened to me. I don't want to face it. I've hidden from it for so long, but I've never forgotten about it. I couldn't forget even if I wanted to. I can still feel him inside of me," she finished off in barely a whisper.

Harry felt his body tense at her last admission. "What do you mean?" he asked with not a little dread.

She did not answer immediately but stared straight up at the ceiling. After a moment, she turned her gaze to meet his and spoke. "You don't get touched by that kind of evil without it leaving its mark." Harry's hand unconsciously rose to his scar at that pronouncement as he looked at her with wide eyes. She gave him a haunted smile. "I don't have any physical marks, thankfully, but I can feel a faint trace of him.” She gulped heavily, and as she continued, there was a slight quiver to her voice. “It's like a small piece of me will always be dirty or tainted. I'm lucky that's all that's left of him, but that small bit is a constant reminder of what I let happen.” Her voice was beginning to take on a steely, determined quality. “It's also a reminder of why I cannot allow anything like that to happen ever again."

******

The next day Harry could not stop thinking about Ginny and what she had admitted about her encounter with the Diary. He wondered if that lingering feeling was just a figment of her imagination, something she had imposed upon herself, or if it was something more. Could Tom have left some small part of himself inside of her? Was it in any way similar to the connection he shared with Voldemort? Regardless, the knowledge that she felt as if she would be forever tainted by her experiences was a haunting reality – one that made Harry feel all the worse for never having talked to Ginny about her experience before this year. If there was anyone who know what that felt like, it was he.

He had been uncertain how to react to her admission and settled for squeezing her hand and returning his other hand to its earlier task of running through her hair. They had remained together in that position until lunch time. They had not really talked at all after that, and Harry did not even know whether or not she had resumed the task of sorting through her memories. It had not seemed right to ask at the time as he did not want her to feel as if he was pressuring her. He wanted her to take the time she needed to process her emotions.

She had been somewhat subdued and pensive for the rest of the evening but by the following morning was back to her normal, lively self. He felt that the subject was far from over but knew better than to force the issue. Not only was she more than capable of taking care of herself, but she had been dealing with the trauma for years. If and when she ever needed to revisit it again, he would be there to help. Until then, he was glad to have the normal Ginny back.

Professor McGonagall had briefly interrupted their breakfast that morning to tell Harry of her intent to visit his classes that day. Harry was a bit surprised - not that she would be watching his classes, but that she decided to tell him beforehand. He supposed she was just being polite so that he was not startled by her appearance. While eating his breakfast he pondered over his head of house. She had astonished him a lot this year. Her acceptance of him as something of an equal had shocked him, but she had stuck to the promise she made to him at the beginning of the school year.

A nudge in his side interrupted his thoughts. "You're being quiet; what're you thinking about?" Ginny asked him.

"Nothing," he replied. When Ginny raised an eyebrow in challenge, Harry said, "Professor McGonagall." Ginny's expression did not change, causing Harry to chuckle. "She's surprised me a lot over the past year."

"Probably not half as much as you've surprised her," Ginny interjected, reaching across his body to kip some bangers from his plate.

Harry laughed some more as he watched her chew then swallow part of his meal. "True," he admitted, nudging her leg with his knee.

"How has she surprised you?" Ginny inquired, pushing back against his leg with her own as she plucked a strip of bacon off his plate.

Harry switched her empty plate with his and began filling it up with more food. "She's treated me normally - not like a kid. Did you know she even asked me to call her Minerva in private?"

"You're kidding," Ginny sputtered. She completely ignored the plate of food Harry had placed before her and was scooping up a forkful of scrambled eggs off Harry’s new plate.

Harry just looked at her for a moment before he stonily answered, "No, I'm not." Harry shook his head at her and scooted over to bump her hip just as she was bringing his eggs to her mouth, causing the eggs to shake off her fork and onto her robes. He smirked mischievously as he continued, "She's treated me almost like an equal. If she wasn't so close to Dumbledore, I'd probably try to go to her for some additional help with my training, but I can't risk showing her anything that she might later relate to him."

Ginny turned her head to him, narrowing her eyes frigidly for a moment before she brushed the egg off her robes. She began to reach for another forkful of his eggs as she asked, "Don’t you think you’re being a bit…” she trailed off for a moment as she dumped her eggs on his robes before finishing, “paranoid?"

He glared at her and admitted, "Maybe," as he brushed the egg from his robes. "But I'd rather not take any chances. You know Dumbledore would never let me do half the things I've done since June - neither would McGonagall if she knew. The only difference is that I think she'd leave the final decision up to me after giving me a piece of her mind; Dumbledore would take the decision out of my hands. Until I'm prepared for it, he cannot know what I can do; otherwise I get locked up in the castle and sent off to live with the Dursleys until he deems me ready, so maybe in about ten or twenty years."

"What are you two plotting now?" Neville's voice broke into their conversation.

Harry turned to find Neville seating himself across from him as Ginny answered in feigned innocence, "Us? Plotting?"

"You two can be worse than the twins," Neville stated factually. "Though I have to say I appreciate your tastes in both pranks and targets better than theirs."

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Harry said with a wide smile on his face.

"I'm sure," Neville replied with a roll of his eyes as he filled up his plate. He paused with a spoon in the air as he turned his head towards them. "Hermione's onto the two of you, you know. I heard her muttering about it after your run-in with Snape. She's sure it was you; she just doesn't have any idea how you got away with it."

"If Hermione was smart, she'd let it lie," Ginny muttered.

Neville laughed. "Good luck with that. I'm curious myself, but I know better than to pry. I'm not that great at magic, but if you ever need another accomplice, I wouldn't mind getting back at a few Slytherins."

"We'll be sure to keep that in mind. And thanks for the heads up," Harry said.

"No problem," Neville replied as he lifted a bite of eggs to his mouth. After swallowing, he put his fork down. "So what were you really talking about, if you don't mind my asking?"

Harry turned to Ginny as she answered, "Professor McGonagall."

Neville's eyebrows rose to his hairline as he looked back and forth between them. "You're serious?"

"She's visiting my classes today," Harry inserted.

"Who's visiting your classes today?" Hermione asked as she seated herself beside Neville and across from Ginny.

"Professor McGonagall," Neville replied for him.

Hermione's eyebrows rose. "Oh? Is she going to be evaluating you or...?" she trailed off looking at Harry expectantly.

"I wouldn't say evaluating, no," Harry replied. He tried to search for a way to describe what he saw it as. "She's decided to take a more active role in things. She's going to attend one of each class every month and meet with me afterwards to discuss the classes and relay any information pertinent to my role as an Assistant Professor."

Hermione let out a distinct and short "Hm," at Harry's explanation.

"What?" Harry asked, knowing she had something on her mind.

"Oh, it's nothing. I just think they should have been doing that from the start," she said carefully. "It just seemed a bit irresponsible to leave you to your own devices, never checking up on you or anything." She paused for a second, then hastily added, "Not that I think you need to be supervised or anything. You're a wonderful teacher; it just always struck me as odd that they didn't supervise you in any way."

"It's okay," Harry replied. "I felt the exact same way. That's why I brought it up with her in the first place."

"You brought it up?" Hermione asked with both surprise and, if Harry was not mistaken, a bit of pride in her voice.

"Yeah," Harry answered, unsure what to make of Hermione's tone. "I felt the same way you did. It was odd that they just let me have free reign. Dumbledore encouraged the other professors to visit my classes but never set up any sort of system of it. Unless Dumbledore knows some way to fool my contract, he's never actually visited a class himself."

"Do you think he has?" Neville asked.

Harry shrugged. "I don't think so, but I don't know. He knows the charms I used on it, and if anyone could find a way around them, it would be him. I just don't see why he would go to the trouble."

"You don't see why who would go through what trouble?" Ron asked as he sat next to Harry and immediately began filling his plate.

Harry sighed and was about to answer when Ginny piped up from his other side, giving a quick synopsis of all that had been said thus far. The rest of breakfast passed by smoothly with idle conversation as they all ate their fill. After the meal, Harry headed straight to the Room of Requirement, while the others returned to Gryffindor Tower. He liked to set up the entire room before any of the students arrived, and the extra time gave him the opportunity to review his plans for the class. Today was a big day for the class as they were beginning his dodging exercises. They were just finishing up Patronuses. Like the IHA, most of the students were unable to manage a corporeal Patronus. The majority could produce a strong mist, however, which would hopefully be enough to buy them some time in the event of a Dementor attack.

He immediately began setting up the room, creating all the different duelling circles for the dodging exercises. He spent his time casting the spells as he mentally reviewed his plans of introducing the activity to the class. He remained in solitude until a quarter of the hour, when Professor McGonagall entered the room.

******

Professor McGonagall strode into the Room of Requirement to find a large, mostly empty room with circular patterns painted across the floor, which she recognised from her previous visit to Harry's classes. The only occupant of the room, Harry, was pacing back and forth seemingly lost in thought. Without outwardly showing any indication that he was even aware of her presence, Harry called out, "Good morning, Minerva."

"Good morning, Harry," she replied in kind, walking leisurely towards him. "All set for your class?"

"Yes, I always come here straight from breakfast," he answered, turning towards her. "I don't need a full hour to prepare, but it's nice to have some quiet time before class starts to get all my thoughts in order."

"I think I can understand that," she replied smilingly. "Though it took me a lot longer than you to realise it."

"Well you don't have as much of an opportunity, with classes beginning immediately after breakfast," he commented. "Although I suppose that's why several of the professors always leave before the meal is through."

"Yes, you've figured us out," she responded. Knowing how she felt when her own quiet pre-class time was interrupted, she decided to let him have his silence. "Well, I'll let you return to your thoughts. As before, I will simply observe the class. Unless you ask for my involvement, I will let you handle everything, except in the case of an emergency."

"Thanks," Harry said with a smile as he returned to his earlier pacing.

She wandered over to a corner of the room and pulled out her wand to conjure herself a chair. Before she could even begin the incantation, a straight-backed wooden chair materialized before her eyes. Old habits died hard, she thought to herself as she replaced her wand within her robes and lowered herself onto the chair. She knew of the room's capabilities, of course, but was unused to having them at her disposal. She contented herself with watching Harry pace as she waited for the class to begin.

She pondered over the young man before her. She had paid extra attention to him in Transfiguration class that week but could neither confirm nor deny her suspicions over his true abilities. He remained a mystery to her. She wondered what his motivation could be for holding back, assuming that was actually the case. Did he wish to stay out of the spotlight? That would certainly fit in with his personality, but she doubted that was the reason. It seemed too trivial.

Her thoughts were interrupted as the door to the room opened, and a few students entered. She watched as Harry greeted each of the students by name, asking them how their first week back in class had gone. More students followed in shortly thereafter, and all received a greeting of some sort from Harry. He spoke to some, waved to others, and nodded his greeting to a few. It was not long before Harry made his way to the front of the room to begin his lesson. Before addressing the students, he pulled out a roll of parchment and mumbled a few words. His eyes scanned the crowd, and Minerva looked down at herself to find that she was glowing a faint red. She had almost forgotten about the contract he had asked all his students to sign. She had been rather curious about it in the beginning but let it slip her mind. Perhaps she would ask him about it later.

When she looked back up, Harry had already tucked the parchment back into his robes. He announced that they would start off the class by practising their Patronuses some more, followed by a new activity that he would explain when the time came. She watched as Harry stepped off the small stage and approached a group of seven students who had not immediately set off to work. Curious, she rose from her chair and walked around the edge of the room towards them to hear what was being said.

"How are your Patronuses coming?" Harry asked the group at large.

Mary-Jo Clark, a Slytherin fifth year, exuberantly responded, "I did it! I conjured a corporeal Patronus!"

Minerva felt her eyebrows rise in surprise at the extraordinary feat of the fifth year. She looked from the girl's excited face to Harry's, only to find his expression mirroring his student's.

"That's fantastic," Harry exclaimed, his eyes practically twinkling. "What form did it take?"

"A fox," she answered unhesitantly.

"A sly one, huh?" Harry ribbed smilingly. Mary-Jo blushed and ducked her head down. "Congratulations. I'm proud of you."

"Thanks," she mumbled shyly.

Harry turned his head to take in the rest of the group. "I know you three already can do it," he said, addressing the three students standing furthest to his left. "How about the rest of you?"

"Still just mist," Nicholas, a Gryffindor fourth year supplied; the other two nodded their agreement.

"Hey, it took me longer than three weeks to learn it, and I had our Defence Professor that year teaching me. Besides, I saw the mist you were creating last class, and it was strong. All of you. It's only a matter of time before your Patronuses take form." He smiled encouragingly at the four, and Minerva noticed them stand up a bit straighter at Harry's words. "Now, I want you all to join the others and practice your Patronuses for ten minutes, then I want Nicholas and Mary-Jo to team up against the rest of you."

Their two jaws nearly hit the ground before Harry continued. "You'll be barricaded behind a metre-high wall. Your job will just be to hold the others at bay. The rest of you will be trying to incapacitate the two of them and take their position. Anything goes, but no counters. As soon as you're hit with a curse, you're stuck with it. If you have time, switch it up to Lindsey and Jack and do it again. Any questions?"

Seven heads shook no.

"Alright then; get to it," Harry commanded. The seven joined the rest of their classmates and began working on their Patronuses as Harry began to wander amongst the students, making comments and giving encouragements as he went. Minerva found herself standing off to the side of the room wondering what exactly was happening. Why were they receiving separate instructions? And what exactly were they in reference to? She resolved to keep an eye on those seven students. She would know what was going on in about ten minutes, she presumed.

She passed the time watching the large group of students as they struggled with the advanced spell. The fact that every single student was able to produce a decently strong mist spoke either of the calibre of the students or the teacher. She was inclined to believe it was largely the latter.

The ten minutes passed quickly, and Minerva positioned herself unobtrusively along the wall just outside the designated perimeter. The students all walked over together. There was some good natured ribbing going on among them as the other five taunted the two students to be holed up behind the wall. After a minute, the two teams split up. Nicholas and Mary-Jo disappeared from her sight behind the wall.

The other five students all huddled together and spoke in hushed voices as they presumably discussed strategy. After a couple minutes their huddle broke up and Jack Trowers, a Hufflepuff Fifth year, called out, “Ready?” A hand reached up above the rock with its thumb up. “Here we come then,” Jack announced.

In a flash two bodies rolled out on each side of the wall. Two Stunners left each wand before the students rolled back behind the cover of their wall. By the time their five attackers realised what was going on, one of their number had fallen, and the rest were sending spells into empty space.

As soon as they rolled back under cover, both students popped to their feet from behind the wall, firing hexes from the moment they emerged. Another student went down from a Stunner, while a second was hit with a minor hex. By the time the attackers had thought to return fire, Nicholas and Mary-Jo had both dropped back behind the cover of their wall.

Before they had a chance to regroup, both Nicholas and Mary-Jo popped out on the same side of the wall. They both directed a stream of curses at Jack. The Hufflepuff was prepared to block the spells this time, but the concentrated attack was too much. He blocked the first two hexes, but a Petrificus Totalus slipped through, rendering him immobile.

Mary-Jo and Nicholas barely ducked back behind their wall in time to avoid the barrage of spells the other two sent. A moment later they attempted the same tactic on the other end, but their attackers were prepared for it this time. The instant the two appeared, hexes were already flying their way.

Nicholas and Mary-Jo each got off their initial hex but no more. Seeing the hexes flying at them and having no time to react, Nicholas pushed Mary-Jo behind him and shielded her from the spells with his own body. He was knocked out with a stunner as was another of their attackers.

All that was left of the attackers was Ryan Jenkins, Mary-Jo’s housemate. It was a one-on-one battle now, and Mary-Jo had the advantage of her cover. Using the wall to shield herself from Ryan’s attack, she was able to defend the wall and eventually subdue the Slytherin boy.

With her opponents all out of commission, Mary-Jo bent over with her hands on her knees as she attempted to recover from the ordeal; meanwhile the rest were all still incapacitated in one form or another. After a moment Mary-Jo walked over to Nicholas and revived him. She gave him a shy smile as she thanked him for saving her. The boy smiled as he ducked his head and muttered something Minerva did not catch.

Harry appeared seemingly out of nowhere and began reviving all the students. When everyone was awake and hex-free, he stood before the assembled group. “Well, I hope you all learned something from that. First of all, never underestimate your opponent, no matter the odds. Those same odds can quickly turn against you, as you all no doubt noticed. Also, position is critical in any battle. Gaining the superior position and using it wisely can be the key to your victory. Third, always be on your guard. You attackers called for the battle to begin, but you were unprepared for the assault you received.”

He paused and looked from one student to the next as they thought over his words. After his eyes had passed over each student, he spoke again. “I think that’s enough for today. We’re starting a new activity today which will take some time to get organised. Go on back over with the rest of your classmates.”

While the students all returned to the rest of the class and Harry made his way back up to the stage, Minerva reflected over everything she had just seen. There was obviously more occurring in these classes than she had known. She wondered at Harry’s decision to single those seven students out amongst all their peers.

She could not help but be impressed with not only Mary-Jo and Nicholas for their ingenuity, but the others as well for the way they recovered and refused to give in, not to mention the skill with which they all cast their spells.

Her musings were cut short as Harry whistled to gain the class’s attention. He proceeded to explain about the new dodging exercises. He did more than just explain what the task, however. He also told them exactly why it was so integral that they take the drill seriously. To prove his point, he said, he would offer a demonstration.

He picked out Patrick Klempsey, a fifth year chaser on the Ravenclaw Quidditch team, to help him demonstrate and instructed the boy where to stand and what to do. He explained how the exercise would work, then called for Patrick to start. Harry began a relentless torrent of Stinging Hexes on the Ravenclaw, until he finally took pity on the boy and ended the demonstration.

Harry immediately removed any lingering effects from the Stinging Hexes and informed Patrick that it was his turn. A feral grin spread across the boy’s face at his anticipated revenge, but it was not to be. If she had been impressed with Harry’s speed of spell casting, that was nothing compared to the awe she felt at the speed at which Harry moved on his feet.

He ran, jumped, spun, dove, rolled, pivoted, and jerked his body all around. It was almost like he was dancing in some awkward fashion, but it was at the same time much more impressive than even the most accomplished dancers putting on an exhibition. As Harry twisted around every which way avoiding the Stinging Hexes that Patrick was firing off as rapidly as he could manage, she could not help but feel like the scene was all too familiar. She had the strange feeling of déjà vu, but she could not place it.

When all was said and done, it was unclear if any of the hexes had even connected with Harry. She did not see him cancel the hex, so he was either unhexed or simply unfazed by the effects. Patrick was not altogether happy at the outcome of events. Harry nodded his head in thanks, and Patrick returned the gesture with a tight smile.

“As you can see, you don’t need a wand to defend yourself against an attack,” Harry proclaimed to the class. “It will take a lot of practice and hard work to get your body conditioned to the exercise, but the ability could one day save your life.” He then had the students all pair off and begin the exercise, giving a stern warning to those who decided not to take the drill seriously. “If I see anybody slacking off, you’ll have the privilege of teaming up with me, and I can guarantee it won’t be a pleasant experience.”

“He’s not kidding,” Patrick announced ruefully, generating a small chuckle amongst the crowd of students.

The students split up after a few more words from Harry and found partners. The drills began, and Harry began his circuit through the room. He called out suggestions and reprimanded a few students who did not appear to be putting forth all their effort into stinging their partners, but all in all the new exercise went off with nary a hitch.

It was not long before the class was called to a halt, and the students went on their way. Harry let them go a bit early to allow the students to clean up before lunch. The seven remained behind after the rest of the class.

“I hope you all realise just how much of an advantage being able to avoid spells can give you.” Seven heads nodded yes. “Good,” Harry continued, “because I expect to see you use that skill in your battles from now on. In the future we may talk about ways to improve your agility and endurance, but for now go take a shower or something; you guys stink.”

They laughed as they protested but dutifully left to do just that. She could hear the group talking and joking out in the hall as they began to split up, calling out their goodbyes to their friends. She could not help but notice that the group of seven students from all four houses got along wonderfully. She had never in her many years at Hogwarts seen such a close-knit group of students from all four houses.

She walked over to where Harry was standing. He had stared after the group, watching them fondly until they were out of sight. At that time his gaze turned to her as he waited expectantly for her to comment. She did not intend to disappoint him.

“Well I must say, Harry, your class is quite the spectacle to behold,” she began.

“Oh?” Harry asked with humour in his voice.

“Did Patrick hit you at all?”

A smile stretched across his face as he answered, “Once, but I wanted to let everyone think I escaped unscathed. It has a greater impact that way, I think.”

“It does,” she agreed. “You rather effectively burned that point in, I would say. Where did you learn to move like that?”

“Well I’ve been practising,” Harry said a bit uncomfortably.

“I know you’ve been exercising in the mornings,” she said, “but it would take far longer than a term to learn to move like that.”

He crossed his arms over his chest as he answered, “When I was younger I didn’t have any spells to protect me. I got used to dodging things.”

A part of her wanted to pursue the subject, but she could tell Harry was uncomfortable talking about it. And besides, she had been down that road with the Headmaster many times in the past. She doubted she would learn anything from Harry that the man did not already know, though it did serve to further cement her opinion on the matter – as if that was needed.

“Well,” she responded after a short, awkward silence. “I think we better be off before we miss lunch.”

After lunch, she returned to the Room of Requirement and attended Harry’s IHA class. He was teaching them the Disillusionment Charm, which caused her some worry. She did not relish having a school full of invisible troublemakers, but she could not deny the usefulness of the charm.

Half the class was spent practising the charm, and most students were performing it adequately by the time he called the activity to a halt. The other half of the class was spent doing dodging drills and duelling exercises. It was a bit anarchic having so many students all duelling in different sections of the room at once, but Harry handled the chaos remarkably well. He was seemingly always around to offer tips and suggestions, but he never lingered on one pair for very long. She could tell that he strived to pay equal attention to all his students.

She noticed that the overt animosity between some of the students she had witnessed last term was absent; though she was not convinced the problem had been resolved. Where in his BHA class she was witness to a group wholly integrated, In the IHA, there were many students who were polite and courteous, if still a little cautious, with the Slytherins, but most students simply ignored the pair. .She supposed it was unreasonable to expect them to like each other, but at least they were willing to work together in peace.

Harry called the class to a close, offering a few last words commending his students on the hard work they had put into their exercises that day. As the students began to file out of the class, she mentally reviewed what she had seen that day and what she intended to discuss with Harry. She did not have much in the way of staff information to share with him, so her thoughts were focused exclusively on his teaching.

When the last of the students had filed out, Harry turned towards her expectantly. She took her time walking towards him, giving her mind the time it needed to organise her thoughts. When she was about a metre away from him, she stopped and looked into his eyes. He met her gaze unflinchingly.

“When did you split those seven students off from the rest of your first class?” she asked. She found herself quite curious about that group.

He hesitated a moment with his eyes going out of focus before answering, “A few weeks ago.”

“May I ask why?”

“Sure,” Harry replied as he reached his hand around to rub the back of his neck. “They’re more advanced than the rest of the class. They are always among the first to master every spell and spend a large amount of time helping the others who are struggling.”

“Why not advance them to your other class then?” she inquired curiously.

“A couple reasons, actually. First of all, with how big the class is, I need them around to help me. When learning a new spell, I need them to catch on quickly and help a few of their classmates. It keeps things moving much more quickly because with a class this big, it would take me too long to do it all by myself,” Harry explained.

“Secondly,” he continued, “They would have needed private lessons to catch them up to the intermediate class, and it would have taken quite some time to get them up to speed with the others. Thirdly, this gives them an opportunity to not only help me in class, but also have a different kind of training than the others are receiving. The intermediate class gets a little bit of the battle-type training, but not as much as those seven are getting now.”

She nodded her head with each point as she considered what he was telling her. It did make sense from his perspective to keep them in their current class. The seven seemed to be handling the responsibility of working semi-autonomously as well. She just had one concern left. “What about the rest of the class? What do they think of having those seven singled out?”

Harry shrugged. “I talked to the whole class about it. It’s not exactly a secret that some students were progressing more quickly than others. They accepted what I had to say. I haven’t noticed any sort of fallout as a result, so I assume they are okay with it.”

She nodded her acceptance. “You always need to be careful when singling students out in that manner. You never know how the class as a whole or as individuals will react. It’s important to always keep your students in mind because if they are to learn anything from you, they need to be willing.”

She paused as she pondered over how to approach her next topic. “Do you know what the biggest problem is that most people encounter while teaching peers or students close to their own age?”

She watched as Harry’s head shook in the negative before his voice echoed, “No.”

“Respect,” she answered simply. “In order to teach effectively, you have to hold the respect of your students. It is difficult to earn that kind of respect, especially from your peers.” Harry’s head nodded, and she continued, “Do you respect me, Harry?”

His head bobbed affirmative as he answered, “Yes, of course.”

“And what about Professor Snape,” she asked. When Harry hesitated, a smile tugged at the corner of her lips. “You can answer truthfully,” she assured him.

“No,” he said languorously.

“And which of us do you find to be a more effective teacher?” she asked. She then added, “Please be completely honest.”

“You are,” he answered firmly. “Sn – Professor Snape would sooner ridicule a student than offer his help.”

She stifled a sigh as she nodded her head. “Severus thinks that he can earn respect through bullying. Instead, he earns only resentment. He is effective in keeping his classes in order, but when it comes to teaching, his methods are sorely lacking.” A moment later she added, “You are not to repeat that to anyone.”

Harry once again shook his head. “I won’t.”

“The point I am trying to convey is that respect is important for any professor to be able to teach effectively. It is difficult to earn the level of respect required because your pupils must willingly recognise you not as their equal but as their superior. To earn that level of respect amongst your peers – and at such a young age – is exceedingly difficult.” She paused for a moment before continuing. “It is not as simple as being able to outperform your peers. Your students do not respect you simply for the fact that you are more skilled and knowledgeable than they; rather, they respect you as a person. If you have your students’ respect, they will do the work you ask them to do, and they will learn from you.” She let out a breath before continuing, “I believe you have the respect of every last one of your students, Harry.”

Harry had ducked his head. She could tell he was uncomfortable with what she was saying, but she also knew it needed to be said. Someday he would have to learn how to take a compliment. “Every once in a while, a teacher will come along who connects with his students on a deeper level. His students don’t merely respect him; they look up to him, admire him, and are inspired by him. He motivates his students to work harder than he ever asks of them and to push themselves beyond their limits.” She blew out a long breath before continuing, “I think you have the potential to be that teacher, Harry.”

His head snapped up at her pronouncement, and his eyes met hers for a long moment before he glanced away. She could not glean what he was thinking.

“If not the rest of your students,” she persisted, “the seven students from your first class may already be starting to view you in that way. I’m telling you this for a reason.” His eyes refocused on her own, but he said nothing. “It is a great responsibility to be held to such esteem. I trust that you will be able to handle it spectacularly, but you should keep it in mind when considering your actions. You are responsible, in some way, for how your students grow and mature into young adults.”

******

Minerva had left Harry with a lot to think about as he lay in bed later that night. He had never considered the influence he held over his students. He had never really thought of it outside of the fact that his students did the work he asked them to do. He resolved to pay more attention both to the way he acted in front of others, particularly his students, and to the way his students responded to him in class. He finished sorting his memories from the day and allowed himself to drift off to sleep.

Sirius was waiting as usual and proceeded to regale Harry with more stories, only he had switched from recounting tales of the Marauders to telling Harry about the romance of James and Lily Potter. He never specifically pushed at Harry to act on his feelings for Ginny, for which Harry was grateful, but the message was clear enough. The truth of the matter was that Harry was finding it hard to continue coming up with reasons not to tell Ginny how he felt. He appreciated that despite the way his relationship with Cho ended, he really need not worry about history repeating itself. He and Cho had never had any relationship to speak of apart from their brief, fleeting romance, so it was no wonder things fell apart so easily. He had faith that things would work out with Ginny one way or another, as friends or as something more.

Sirius's stories certainly played their part in that. Nearly every night, Harry heard about how happy James had been when he was able to first garner Lily's friendship, - not a light feat given his mum's resistance - and then the pure ecstasy he experienced when their relationship had deepened into much more. Harry wished he could have been more confident of what he was feeling, like his father had been, but he remained uncertain of the depth of his affection for Ginny. He knew he fancied her but was not sure it was love, nor did he know beyond a doubt that Ginny was the only girl for him. He knew his situation was entirely different from his father's, yet he could not help but want that same thing for himself.

The week crept by with Harry’s thoughts battling one another, but each day he could feel his reluctance fading. He was still worried about the fallout from a failed romance, but he did not want to let himself be ruled by his fears. He wanted Ginny. He could spend all day listing all the qualities he liked in her, and it was a daily struggle to keep himself from just blurting his feelings out to her or from attempting to steal a kiss from her.

It was Tuesday evening as he lay in bed pondering his situation with Ginny that a thought struck him. Careful not to wake anyone, he enlarged his trunk on his bed inside of his curtains. He quietly dug through his possessions until he found what he was looking for: an envelope with his name on it. He shrunk his trunk back down and tucked it away as he lifted the envelope back into his hands, turning it over as he stared down at it.

He carefully extracted the two pieces of parchment. He placed one in his lap along with the envelope as he unfolded the other parchment. His mother’s flowery script flowed through the page. He read through the entire contents of the letter, but it was at the end where he found what he was looking for.

Always stick up for what you believe in and follow your dreams through to the end. Don’t let others dictate how to live your life. Your life is your own to live as you see fit. And if you find love, hold onto it with everything you have. Believe me when I say that it is worth it.

Wiping away the tears that had pooled in the corner of his eyes, Harry carefully refolded the parchment and lifted the other from his lap. It was his father’s letter that had spurred him to dig the letters out of his trunk, and it was the advice of his father that Harry was searching for. He found it.

One day you’re going to find a woman who is everything you could ever hope for in a partner. When you find the one, never let go. Fight to the end of the Earth for her if you have to. There will never be a more important battle than the one you wage for the love of your life.

He had no idea if Ginny was the love of his life, and he knew that his situation was entirely different than his father’s had been when pursuing his mother. But his father’s words echoed in his mind as he lay in bed that night, leaving little doubt of the advice his father would give him if given the opportunity. He did not share that revelation with Sirius that night even as his godfather continued to regale Harry with stories of his parents. Harry needed the time to think it over on his own without the added pressure.

The next morning he found his breakfast interrupted by the arrival of an owl at breakfast. Fred and George had sent him a letter.

To Our Propitiously Prolific Partner,

Included in this post is our standard progress report on the shop. As you can no doubt see, things are going very well. You may also be interested to know that our little side project has been progressing quite well. We hope to meet with D sometime in February to give a demonstration and make our offer. As the mastermind, we thought you might like your own demonstration. Let us know when and where.

Cordially yours,
F&G


The letter was so absurd in its seeming formality that Harry was left mildly disoriented by it. Either the twins had found a new brand of comedy, or the business world was bringing out a more serious side to the pranksters. Looking at the greeting, Harry was inclined to believe it was the former. Regardless, he was quite anxious to find out what the twins had devised. He had time to get back to them as they were only now in mid-January, but he resolved to think over where and when might be the best time to arrange a ‘demonstration’ as they had called it.

He showed Ginny the letter later that day, and her reaction mirrored his own. She was entirely unsure what to make of the affability of it, but she too was curious to find out what her brothers had come up with. She even asked Harry if she could go along for this demonstration, to which he immediately agreed.

******

Ginny lay in her bed that Friday night, curled under the warmth of her blankets. She had made a habit of heading to bed early over the past week to give herself some private time to continue sorting through her memories. It was about a week ago that she had begun this daunting task. What had at one time seemed over-whelming was now winding down. She had done things mostly chronologically and was now working through the previous term.

It was impossible not to notice, as she relived her numerous memories from last fall, that one person had quickly taken up a prominent role in her life. He went from an acquaintance, to a friend, and now to something so much more. What that something more was, she could not yet put a label on. She knew what she wanted it to be but was not yet sure whether or not she would get her wish. The more memories of Harry she sorted, the more she pondered over her relationship with him. She wished Harry would just give her some sign as to what he was thinking, but she could not read anything of his behaviour since the ball. It was almost like he just wanted to forget that they had almost kissed.

At least, that was how she had been thinking up until the beginning of that week. Now she was not even sure what she thought. It all started over the weekend when she had asked Harry to keep her company while sorting through her memories. She had not actually planned on sharing much of anything with him, but as she was reviewing some of her early memories, she felt compelled to share them with Harry. She realised that he would not have had any fond childhood memories, and she hoped that maybe he could enjoy some vicariously through her.

It had been pleasant to share those early memories with Harry. They were not all happy, but life was never perfect. What mattered was that she had a family that loved her. As she began drawing closer to her time at Hogwarts, however, the memories became more difficult to talk about. She knew she would have to face the diary and Tom again – Harry had warned her of that explicitly – but actually doing it was more difficult than she could have imagined.

Then Harry stepped in. It was still a gruelling process, but being able to draw comfort and reassurance from Harry made all the difference in the world. It was not just in his words but also the physical comfort he provided her. He helped keep her grounded and anchored as she forced herself through all the memories.

Since then there had been a few moments where Harry seemed to be flirting with her, but she was never quite sure if she was just looking too hard and fabricating things. She felt slightly shameful for wishing Harry would get a move on and let her know how he felt. She knew that this was not an easy time for him. Granted, no time ever seemed easy for Harry, but with the visions he had been experiencing lately, she could understand if he had just not been able to rouse himself to action. But she had no guarantee that was even the case. For all she knew, he had misgivings and decided not to pursue a relationship with her. If so, she doubted he would ever actually address the issue with her and simply continue being her friend, like he had been the last couple weeks.

It was a frustrating circle of thought. Waiting would be so much easier if she just had some indication of whether or not he was even still thinking about it. If he wanted to remain friends, she would be hurt, of course, but she could handle it. She just needed to know definitively where their relationship stood. She could not decide whether or not she should broach the subject with him. She did not want him to think she was trying to rush his decision. The last thing she intended was to put any additional pressure on him. She resolved to wait it out a bit longer. She would continue to look for signs when she was with Harry and avoid thinking too much about him when they were apart - or try, at any rate.

She had told Harry she would finish sorting her memories that night, so they had scheduled their first Occlumency lesson for the following day directly after lunch. Dragging her thoughts away from Harry, she forced herself to resume the task of sorting her remaining memories. An hour later, she finished sorting that day's memories. With a smile on her face at the accomplishment, she allowed herself to finally drift off to sleep.

Ginny was anxious all the next morning knowing that she would begin a new stage of her training that afternoon. By lunchtime, her anxiety turned to nervousness. She knew that she had nothing to worry about; she trusted Harry. Even so, she was unable to shake the thought that in less than an hour somebody would be attempting to break into her mind. She could not help but worry that her thoughts would be read, though she knew Harry would never intentionally violate her privacy in such a way.

Harry had admitted, however, that he had never performed Legilimency and that there might be a bit of a learning curve involved. She was uncertain how exactly that problem might manifest itself. Perhaps it would take him a while just to get the spell to work. Or perhaps he would initially be unable to control it - meaning he might break into her mind and not know how to get out without seeing something private.

She knew that sorting her memories was supposed to counteract that, but she was not sure if she had even done that correctly. Would her memories remain locked up and out of sight if Harry broke into her mind? She hoped so.

The meal was over too quickly, and she made her excuses to her friends. It was a rare meal that Harry and Ginny did not sit together, but today they had arranged it so that they sat separately with their friends. Not only did this afford them both the opportunity to spend some quality time with their respective friends, it also allowed them to leave at different times while meeting up in his office without anyone being any the wiser.

She left first, travelling toward the library. When she reached the fourth floor, however, she continued up to the fifth and made her way down the corridor to Harry's office. She let herself in and seated herself in one of the armchairs as she waited for Harry to arrive. The wait was not long, as Harry strode into the office just a few short minutes later. He smiled at her when he saw her seated in the armchair. With a wave of his hand, a fire sprang up in the grate to her left. He chose the armchair across from her and greeted, "Hey."

"Hey," she parroted back. "How was lunch?"

"It was alright," he replied easily. "Same old, really. Ron and Hermione are arguing again - though it does beat the awkward silence, so I guess I shouldn't complain. Neville kept things bearable."

"That's good," she said a bit distractedly. Her mind was again wandering to their impending lesson.

"I missed you at lunch today," he said, unprompted.

That was enough to catch her attention. Her eyes shot to his, and she straightened in her chair. "Oh?" she said noncommittally.

His cheeks turned a very faint pink, almost unnoticeably so, as he continued, “We always have lunch together. It just didn’t quite feel right without you.”

She smiled widely at his admission. He had been making comments like that for the past couple days. She was not sure, but she thought he might be trying to tell her how he felt about her, in his own unique little way. It was kind of cute, she was forced to admit to herself but still a might bit frustrating. She wanted him to kiss her already, but she could not exactly be upset with him for taking his time when he kept making comments like that.

"I missed you too," she replied. "The girls discussed this drama on the Wizarding Wireless, and I, unfortunately, did not have a Neville to help keep me sane."

"There are dramas on the Wizarding Wireless?" Harry asked thickly.

"Yeah, and they're horrible. You know the type of story where there are these characters who are in love but different circumstances always spring forward at the most inopportune moments to keep them apart," she explained. "And then there is rampant cheating and affairs going on between all the characters at every turn as well."

"Oh, you mean like a Soap Opera?" Harry asked.

Ginny scrunched her face in thought as she tried to place what he was talking about when it hit her. "No. There's no singing or fat ladies or anything like that."

Harry let out a hearty guffaw, leaving Ginny confused. She could have sworn that was what an opera was; she had learned it in Muggle Studies. "No," Harry managed to say in-between bellows of laughter. "Not an opera; a soap opera. It's a type of show that appears on the telly in the Muggle world. It's the same kind of basic story line."

"Oh," she replied, embarrassed at her mistake. "Well why's it called a soap opera then if it's not anything like an opera?"

Harry shrugged. "I dunno," he replied. "That's just what it's called."

"Well they could make things a bit easier on me if they'd stick to giving things names that make sense," she grumbled good-naturedly.

"I'll be sure to let them know," he teased.

"Well good then," she said, following it up a moment later with, “Prat”.

Harry just smirked his reply. There was a moment of silence as the conversation died away, and she found her mind wandering back to the almost kiss she had shared with Harry at the end of the ball.

"Well," Harry spoke into the silence, interrupting her thoughts. "Should we get started?"

She blew out a breath. "I suppose so," she replied dully.

"You don't have to do this, you know," he said. "If you don't want to we can..."

"No," she interrupted. "It's not that. I'm just nervous about it."

"That's understandable," Harry soothed. "I don't really know what to tell you. When I first started my lessons with Snape, they were far from pleasant, and by the time I began with Dumbledore, I was already pretty good at it. I think Dumbledore's approach would have been far less unpleasant from the start, but I cannot say so with any certainty. All I can say is that I'll try to be gentle. If I hurt you or you're bothered in any way, we can stop at any time."

"Thank you, Harry," Ginny responded gratefully. He had not by any means completely allayed her worries, but it was reassuring to know that he would do his best to make it as comfortable for her as possible. To know that all she needed to do was ask and he would stop was rather reassuring as well.

She gathered up her nerves and sat up straight in her chair. "Alright, I'm ready."

Harry smiled encouragingly, and she had to concentrate to keep her mind on the task at hand. "Okay. Close your eyes and imagine the inside of your mind. Right now there are no walls, just open space. Now I want you to imagine that you've built a wall around it, a strong wall, impenetrable."

Ginny did as she was told. She conjured up a physical representation of her mind and imagined a wall springing up around it, keeping her safe and protecting her from attacks.

"Do you have your wall in place?" Harry asked after a pause. She nodded. "Okay, keep the wall locked around your mind, and open your eyes." She did and found Harry across from her, looking at her intently. Had she found anyone else looking at her in such a way upon opening her eyes, she probably would have been unnerved and more than a little scared. "Now, I need you to keep eye contact with me. It should help as far as getting the Legilimency to work properly."

She nodded, meeting his eyes straight on. "Okay."

"Are you ready?" he asked her softly.

She inclined her head slightly, never losing contact with Harry's eyes. She heard a whispered "Legilimens" escape Harry's lips just before she felt a foreign presence in her mind. She could feel the presence just outside the walls she had just recently constructed. She wondered if the walls would hold up. What would he see if the walls came down? She was about to find out.

She felt Harry suddenly burst through the wall and enter into her mind proper. She could see memories playing in the back of her mind. She was at lunch earlier that day. As her friends chatted on about their cheesy drama, she glanced over at Harry to find him sharing a laugh with Neville over Ron and Hermione. The scene faded away, only to be replaced by one she had been thinking about quite a bit lately, one she had been thinking about not ten minutes ago.

She was lying under the stars in the cold night air. She was warm despite the fact that she was clad only in her dress robes. Harry was leaning forward, and she could feel her heart flutter as she closed her eyes and leaned forward to meet him. She felt as if her heart would burst in that moment, when she heard Harry's cry of agony and her eyes shot back open.

She felt Harry's presence leave abruptly and came back to her senses to find her eyes were closed; only she did not remember ever closing them. She sat frozen in her chair, afraid to open her eyes and find Harry staring at her once again. Had he seen the memory? Of course he had. That was what Legilimency did, allowed you to read someone's mind. She wanted to scream out in frustration. Why did it have to be that memory? It was supposed to be locked up.

Even with her eyes closed, she could feel Harry's eyes on her. What would he say? Would he go on as if nothing had happened? Just when she had resolved to give him more time to make up his own mind, this had to go and happen and ruin everything. She felt like she was eleven years old all over again and had just dipped her elbow in the butter dish. She had long ago promised never to let herself feel that way again, and she had worked hard to get over her feelings for Harry to avoid another situation like it. Then she had to fall for him again and let this happen. She wished the ground would just open up and swallow her whole.

******

Harry was more than a bit surprised. He had been able to perform Legilimency on his first attempt. He had broken into Ginny's mind and had witnessed two of Ginny's memories - not only witnessed them but felt an echo of her feelings during the moments. He had unknowingly made her smile at lunch; she had been happy to see him laughing.

Then the same memory he had been dwelling on for weeks took its place. Experiencing it from her perspective, he could feel Ginny's emotions as he leaned in to kiss her. There was joy, but beyond that was desire. It was both surreal and flattering to feel her desire directed at him. He could not entirely hold off the red tint in his cheeks. Ginny Weasley wanted him.

Just before extracting himself from her mind, however, he had felt her mortification at what he was seeing and her uncertainty over where things lie between them. She was afraid that he had changed his mind. He could see that he was not the only one to have given the matter a lot of thought. While he had been debating what to do about his feelings, she was wondering what his feelings really were since he had been acting as if the near-kiss had never occurred. Had he continued to act in such a manner, she would have likely assumed that he had changed his mind or decided that it was a mistake.

He could not allow her doubts continue. If nothing else, he owed it to her to be honest and upfront about his feelings. He did not want her to feel for even a second that she was unwanted or unworthy. He focused on her, sitting in front of him. She had yet to open her eyes, and he sat there waiting for her to do so before he began. When, after a minute, her eyes remained clamped shut with her head downcast, he chose another course of action. "Ginny?" he asked tentatively.

He hated himself in that moment as he watched her. He could feel his heart constricting as she sat there in mortification, unsure of herself and of his feelings. He could not watch her suffer another moment, so he rose from his seat and kneeled down at her feet. Reaching a hand out, he lifted her chin up level to his own. “Ginny,” he said again.

With an audible sigh, she opened her eyes, but they were still downcast. Harry hesitated for half a moment, with his hand still under her chin; he wanted to say something to alleviate her fears and to let her know how he felt about her, but he could not find the words. He felt frozen in place as his mind churned away searching for some way to tell her. Ever so slowly, Ginny’s eyes finally began to rise until they met his gaze.

In that moment when their eyes met, Harry’s thoughts ended abruptly. The room faded away, and all that was left was Ginny. He slid his hand down her jaw and rubbed the pad of his thumb against her cheek as he gently tilted her face and leaned in. The next fraction of a second seemed agonizingly slow as he closed the distance between them.

He could suddenly feel her warm, moist lips upon his, slightly parted. For a brief moment neither moved as their lips rested against each other. He felt Ginny sigh contentedly into his mouth, and the moment was broken. He began to move his lips and could feel hers moving in tandem. Her hand brushed across his cheek and settled at the back of his jaw with her fingers playing with the hair at the nape of his neck.

Harry could not begin to describe what he was feeling as he was kissing Ginny. He poured everything he was feeling into that kiss – all the uncertainty and fear, and the desire and passion that he felt for her – and he could feel the same emotions radiating from Ginny.

The kiss did not last long. It was only several brief seconds later that they pulled back from each other. Their eyes met. No words were spoken nor were they necessary. Harry caressed the soft skin of her cheek with the pad of his thumb before leaning back in to give her a brief, lingering kiss on her lips.

As his lips pulled away from hers, he inclined his head forward slightly so that his forehead rested against hers. With his hand still lingering on her cheek and hers at the back of his neck, the two smiled into each other’s eyes.

Just as Harry was about to open his mouth to try to explain his actions over the past couple weeks, Ginny pulled his head in for another kiss. Whereas their last kiss had been languid and sweet, this one was more needy and passionate. He could feel Ginny’s lips moving against his with force and desire, and he was only too happy to match it. Her one hand gripped the hair on the back of his head as her other travelled around to his back. Harry slid one of his own hands into Ginny’s hair, running the hair through his fingers as his lips continued to move against hers.

They broke apart after a minute, both breathing heavily. Harry leaned forward to rest his head in her lap, wrapping his arms around her back, as he regained his breath. Ginny’s hand returned to his head, gently running her fingers through his hair as they sat there. Harry could have remained that way for the rest of the evening, but he had some things to get off his chest. Ginny deserved an explanation, first and foremost, for his behaviour over the last few weeks, but she also needed to know exactly what she was getting into in becoming involved with Harry.

And so, Harry forced himself up off her lap and sat on the back of his heels as he continued to kneel before her. “I think we need to talk,” he told her with a slight, goofy smile still on his face.

She nodded her head in agreement.

“I’m sorry I’ve been such an inconsiderate prat these past few weeks,” he told her sincerely.

“It’s okay, Harry,” she interjected. “I understand.”

“No, it’s not okay,” he answered back. “I didn’t once stop to think about how you were feeling or what you must be thinking. I was confused and scared and didn’t know what to do about it.” He blew out a deep breath before continuing. “I like you, Ginny. That doesn't even begin to cover it. You're my best friend, but you're also more. You're the most important person in my life. I think about you all the time. I've thought about the night of the ball constantly over the past few weeks. I can't stop thinking about it, or you. You have no idea how many times I've wanted to just pick up where we left off and kiss you."

He scratched the back of his neck nervously as he felt heat rush to his cheeks at his admission. "But at the same time I've been hesitant to do anything about it - for several reasons, really. The first and most obvious is the danger it would put you in if it became known that we were together." He held up his hand to pre-empt the interruption that was about to fly from her mouth. "I know it's stupid; you don't have to tell me. I was able to figure that one out myself. What I've really been worried about is what would happen to us if things didn't work out. I mean, you're my best friend. You're the only one who knows what I'm capable of and what I've really been doing since June. We spend so much time together, working out in the morning, training, and just eating meals together or hanging out either in my office or the common room. Our friendship is still so new, and yet I can't imagine my life without you in it. If things didn't work out and I lost you as a friend...I..."

He drifted off, unable to put to words exactly what that would do to him.

"Shh," Ginny said, sliding off her chair onto her knees in front of him. She reached forward and grasped both of his hands in hers. "Don't you think I've been worried about those same things? It's okay to have fears, Harry. But you can't let those fears control you, and I won't let mine control me. I want this, Harry, and if you want it too, then don't let your fears hold you back. We'll just take things slowly, so we don't get in over our heads. If we decide we were better off just as friends, then at least we'll know. If we don't at least give this a shot, we'll always wonder what could have been."

“You’re right,” Harry said, squeezing her hands. “I know you’re right, but there’s so much you don’t know about, things I need to do. Is it fair to you to drag you through all that with me?”

“Why don’t you let me decide that?” she replied, squeezing his hands a little more firmly than was necessary.

“Because there are things I can’t tell you – not yet,” he retorted, pulling his hands from hers to run them through his hair in frustration. “Not until you’ve learned...”

“Occlumency,” she finished for him. She was quiet for a brief moment, her eyes unfocused. Her hands moved to rest on his knees and her eyes locked onto his as she calmly continued, “So we take it slow. I’ll continue training, and you can tell me when you think I’m ready.”

He smiled then. All his fears and all his worries had been laid aside. She did not know all of what he had to do, but she had an idea and knew that there were many things he could not tell her. Yet she wanted him anyway. He felt lighter, as if a huge weight had just been lifted off his chest.

Some things were well worth the risk.

******

It was by unspoken agreement that the two did not share the news of the change in their relationship. When they returned to the Gryffindor common room later that afternoon, they acted as normal. The only indication that anything had changed between them were the secretive smiles they shared when no one else was looking. They were already accustomed to spending a large amount of time together, so sitting next to one another on a sofa in front of the fire was in no way out of the ordinary.

Ginny pulled out her Transfiguration textbook to get started on an essay, while Harry began reading the book Hermione had given him for Christmas. Ginny had turned her back against the armrest with her knees pulled up to write against. Her toes burrowed their way underneath Harry’s robes. When he turned to look at her she simply said, “My toes are cold.”

Harry smiled in reply and turned back to his book. He was very interested to find out if the book would provide him with anything he might be able to add into his training or even his HA classes. The book did not focus on any martial art styles in particular but rather covered the over-arching concepts behind most martial arts.

The book talked about such simple things as the proper way to walk, keeping your centre of gravity in a position so as not to hinder your movement at any given moment and minimizing the amount of energy used in just the simple action. It outlined techniques to improve flexibility and agility. It also detailed the proper way to fall so as to minimize the impact on the body.

Harry found himself captivated by the book, and yet at the same time he found it difficult to keep his mind and, more importantly, his eyes on the book. Instead, he found both frequently wondering to the beautiful witch beside him. They shared many small smiles as they whiled away the time until dinner, and he hardly realised any time had passed when Ginny nudged his shoulder, breaking his fragile concentration completely. “Good book?” Ginny asked softly.

“Yeah, it’s interesting,” he replied, mentally marking down the page number he was on as he shut the book. “Did you finish your essay?”

“Almost,” she answered. “It’s time for dinner.”

“Oh.” He had not realised so much time had past. “Shall we head down then?”

She smiled her reply, and the two headed down to the Great Hall for the meal. The rest of the evening passed by without fanfare. When it was time to say goodnight, both Harry and Ginny were a bit reluctant. They had not let each other out of their sights since the kisses in Harry’s office, save for trips to the bathroom, and neither was eager to leave the other.

They eventually managed to drag themselves up to the stairs leading to their respective dormitories. Mindful of the eyes of the others in the room, they kept their goodbyes brief. Harry longed to kiss Ginny goodnight but was unwilling to give up the secret of their relationship. What he could not say with his lips, he said with his eyes and his hand as he reached out to squeeze hers lightly. “Goodnight, Ginny,” he said softly, his voice thick with emotion.

“Goodnight, Harry,” Ginny parroted back. She smiled then as she turned and walked up her stairs. Harry watched her back for just a second before turning and ascending his own staircase. After sorting his memories of the day – another one ending up among his other Patronus memories – he lay in bed thinking over the day and, more specifically, Ginny. He was unsure why he wanted to keep their relationship secret. A part of him wanted to announce it to the whole world, yet he was reluctant.

After repeatedly baring the scrutiny of the Wizarding World, Harry was loathe to do anything that would put him in the centre of attention, even for something that made him happy. Their relationship was something the two of them shared together. It was not anyone else’s business, and he preferred to keep it that way, at least for the time being. He would be lying to himself if he did not admit that there was a small part of him that wanted to keep it secret for Ginny’s sake. He would never forgive himself if she were targeted because of him.

He shook those thoughts from his mind; it would not do to dwell on fears. His worries would not prevent him from being happy. A smile stretched across his lips as his thoughts wandered back to Ginny, and he found he could not wait until morning when he would see her again. It was with those thoughts that he drifted off to a blissful sleep.

******

Harry could not help the smirk that was affixed across his lips as Sirius came into view. Now he could finally tell somebody about Ginny.

“Alright, what’s got you grinning like an idiot?” Sirius greeted inquisitively.

Harry’s smile widened in response.

“Wait a minute,” Sirius said rather seriously. “I know that smile. You bloody-well did it, didn’t you?” A broad grin suffused his face. “I’d bet anything on it. You snogged Ginny, didn’t you? Prongs wore that same stupid grin the first time he kissed Lils.”

He could feel the skin of his face stretching in ways it never had before as he kept his silence.

“Well don’t leave me hanging here,” Sirius said. “What happened? How was it?”

“Brilliant,” Harry replied with a touch of awe in his voice. “It was brilliant. We were just starting her first Occlumency lesson, and I managed to break into her mind. I saw a memory of lunch that day, but then it shifted to her memory of the time we almost kissed on Christmas. I realised then what I was putting her through by not acting on my feelings. She was left wondering whether or not I had changed my mind. She was unsure of how I felt for her. I knew I had to tell her.”

“Hurry up and get to the good part,” Sirius whinged good-naturedly.

“I’m getting there,” Harry retorted with a roll of his eyes. “Now where was I before I was so rudely interrupted?” Harry caught Sirius rolling his eyes right back at him. “I was trying to think of the words to say to let her know how I felt, but my mind went blank. And then her eyes met mine, and I just kissed her,” Harry said, his voice containing a touch of wonder.

Sirius’s grin returned in full force. “That’s my boy,” he said, clubbing Harry on the shoulder.

Harry could not help but smile in reply. As single-minded as Sirius was being at the moment, he had kissed Ginny. And he anticipated being able to kiss her again in the future. That was plenty reason to celebrate.

“It’s about bloody time, too,” Sirius continued, slightly exasperated. “I was starting to think I wouldn’t be around to see the day.”

That comment caught Harry’s attention.

“You were really worried about that, weren’t you?” Harry asked his godfather, the grin falling from his face. He knew Sirius felt his time was running out . Harry had not forgotten, but he hoped that since Sirius had not brought it up that he might have more time than he had originally thought. He felt his stomach tighten as he waited for Sirius to reply.

“Yes,” Sirius admitted, his voice tired and strained. “Every day I feel the pull grow stronger. I worried that my leaving you would only delay things with Ginny, and I didn’t want to see that happen. You’ll need her more than ever once I’m gone.”

Harry felt a lump form in his throat. He tried to swallow, but it was too thick to manage. He closed his eyes tightly for a moment to stem the tears he could feel accumulating in the corners of his eyes.

“Now that I know you’re well taken care of,” Sirius continued, his eyes growing the slightest bit misty, “I can go in peace.”

“I don’t want you to go,” Harry blurted out, his voice cracking with emotion. He felt stupid for saying it; he knew that there was nothing that could be done to stop it. Sirius was dead, but no matter how many times he told himself that, it made no difference. He was closer to Sirius now than he had ever been while his godfather was alive, and now Sirius would be passing on to the other side for good.

“I know, Harry,” Sirius responded, reaching out and gripping Harry’s shoulders. “If I could, I would see you through the trials that face you. I wish I could be there with you every step of the way, but my time has passed. It’s time for others to fill that role for you. Let them, Harry. Let Ginny. Let your friends and Remus. No matter how strong you are, you’ll always be stronger with your friends.”

Harry stepped forward and threw his arms around his godfather. He recognised the gravity of what was being said and what it truly meant. Sirius knew his time was up and that he could be passing on to the other side any day now, and he was preparing for it.

******

Harry woke up early the next morning. The sun was just beginning to peak over the horizon, creating a dazzling array of colours in the sky. He sat peering out the window in his dormitory for some time, thinking. There was a lot to think about. On the one hand, he was thrilled with what was happening with Ginny. He could not wait to see her that morning. On the other hand, however, he was devastated at the thought of losing Sirius again. He had no idea it was even possible to feel so elated and dismal at the same time. It was a horrible feeling, not knowing whether or not he would see Sirius again that night. All he could do was hope for at least another night with his godfather, and if he got it, he would just make sure he made the most of it.

As the sun began to rise into view, he threw on his workout clothes and descended the stairs to the common room to wait for Ginny. It was about five minutes later when he heard footsteps descending the stairs.

Ginny slowly trudged her way down the stairs. She was dressed in her baggy sweats, hair tied up in a pony tail. She was still rubbing the sleep out of her eyes as she entered the room. “I still don’t see why we have to get up so early every morning,” she grumbled sleepily.

Harry could not help but smile at her. He met her at the bottom of the stairs, leaned in, and gave her a swift kiss on her lips. “You’re cute when you’re grumpy in the mornings.”

Ginny lost her tired frown as a smile tugged at the corner of her lips. “I must look cute every morning then,” she teased.

Harry’s smile widened. “You do. Now come on,” he said, grabbing her hand and tugging her towards the portrait hole.

******

Ginny was sitting on the sofa in Harry’s office with her back against the armrest and her knees pulled up. On her knees was an open book that was failing to capture her attention. Instead, she stared over the book at Harry. He was sitting at the opposite end of the sofa, staring out at nothing – and he had been since about a minute after they had sat down. She felt her heart clutching as she watched him. All day he had been so closed off, and she could not figure out what was wrong. She had woken up feeling so wonderful, looking forward to the day and to seeing Harry again – to kissing Harry again. She did not know exactly what she expected of Harry, but she thought he would have at least been happy. Instead, he looked miserable, and he seemed to avoid going anywhere near the topic of whatever it was that was bothering him.

Finally, she decided she had had enough of her guessing game. “Harry, what’s wrong?” Ginny asked, her voice soft and comforting.

Harry sighed; he sounded tired and withdrawn as he replied, “Nothing.”

“Not nothing,” Ginny persisted. “You’re not..." she blew out a breath. “You’re not having second thoughts about…us, are you?” There; she had said it – the thought that had been niggling at her brain the entire day. It terrified her to think that he might reject her. It had been like a dream come true to find out that he felt the same way as she. It would be a cruel trick to have that torn from her after only a day.

Harry’s head spun towards her, his eyes wide and meeting hers for probably the first time that day. “What? No! How could you think that?”

“Well what am I supposed to think?” Ginny asked, struggling to keep her voice steady and calm.

“It’s got nothing to do with you. I’m happy with us; happier than I’ve ever been,” Harry told her, reaching out and grabbing her hand, squeezing it comfortingly.

“You don’t look happy,” she insisted, her lips slightly pouting.

Harry smiled at her and leaned forward to capture her lips in a soft kiss. “Trust me; I am,” he whispered with their lips just a centimetre apart, causing them to lightly brush together as he spoke. She sighed in relief, her fears dispelled. She was still worried about Harry, but at least she knew he was not having second thoughts. He leaned back then, pausing for a moment. “You remember when I said there was a lot I couldn’t tell you yet?”

“This is one of them,” Ginny replied sullenly.

“I want to tell you,” Harry said. “I just can’t – not yet.”

“It’s okay, Harry,” Ginny said, reaching forward to grab Harry’s hand and interlacing their fingers. She brought their hands up to her lips and kissed the back of Harry’s hand.

“It’s not,” Harry spoke after a moment. “But thank you for lying to me.”

Ginny smiled at him. “Any time,” she teased. She held the back of his hand up against her cheek and looked deep into his eyes. “I know there are things you have to keep secret from me, but it is okay to let me help you. I hate seeing you like this, Harry. And I hate feeling closed off from you.”

“I’m sorry,” he said, and she could hear the sincerity in his voice. “I didn’t mean to make you worry or to push you away, but I don’t know what to do about it.”

Ginny closed the book and put it on the ground as she dropped one of her legs off the side of the sofa and onto the floor and stretched the other one across the back of the sofa. “Come here,” she said softly, padding the cushion in front of her. His eyes looked into hers for a moment before he complied. He sat in front of her with his back to the back of the couch. Ginny sighed, and then grabbed his shoulders and turned him so that his back was to her. She wrapped her arms around his middle and pulled him back against her. His head came to rest in the crook of her neck, and she looked down into his face, his eyes staring up at her. She brought one hand up to caress his cheek. “How’s that?” she asked.

He smiled then – a true, genuine smile – and it warmed her heart. He inhaled deeply before responding, “Much better.” They were quiet for a moment. Ginny’s hand slid down to his chest, while her other hand was now holding one of Harry’s. After a couple minutes, Harry squeezed her hand gently and said, “Ginny?”

“Hmm?” she asked, looking down into his face.

“I – thank you,” he said, his voice thick.

She smiled down on him. “You’re welcome, Harry.”

******

Sirius felt his heart lurch; Harry had just been pulled forcefully away from him, and that could only mean one thing. What made matters worse was that he had just finished telling Harry that he was fairly certain this would be their last night together. As if Voldemort had not done enough to Harry, he had just stolen away their chance to say goodbye and spend their last moments together for hopefully a very long time.

Now Sirius was alone, wondering what to do with his last night connected to the world of the living. He worried about Harry, of course, but knew there was nothing he could do to comfort him now. He trusted Ginny to take care of Harry.

Making the decision to visit Harry had not been a terribly difficult one. It was clear that Harry needed him, and after not being there for Harry while he was growing up, Sirius was not about to fail Harry yet again – not when he could do something to help it.

Harry was not the only person he had considered visiting, however. There was one other he had thought of many times but had never been able to bring himself to follow through with it. He was afraid doing so would bring more harm than good, only making it harder to move past his death. But passing up the chance to say goodbye was asking a lot – too much.

******

Ginny was awoken by her alarm and groggily rolled out of bed. She threw on her sweats, tied her hair back, and blearily walked down the stairs into the common room. As she descended the last step, she let her eyes rake across the room. It was an odd occurrence not to have Harry ready and waiting for her. In fact, only once before had he not been ready with a greeting the moment she entered the room.

Her eyes swept the room once again, more alert this time, and she noticed a still form sitting in front of a window off to her left. She walked over and stood beside the chair, slightly behind him. She reached out and placed her hand lightly on his shoulder. Harry’s head turned to look at her hand, and then his eyes travelled up her arm until he met her eyes.

What she saw in those eyes did nothing to comfort her. They were swirling with pain and loss and emptiness; she was nearly overcome with the intensity of it. After a long moment, Harry dropped his eyes and tilted his head to rest his cheek on her hand. That he was actively seeking comfort from her did not bode well, though she could not fight the rush of pleasure she felt that it was she he sought it from.

“What’s wrong, Harry?” she asked.

He did not answer but lifted his head back up to stare out the window again. She set herself on the arm of the chair and reached her hand out to rub against his cheek. He leaned into her touch, but his gaze remained fixed on the landscape beyond the window – his mouth closed.

Ginny let her hand wander from his cheek to his hair where she proceeded to run her fingers as she pondered over what to do. A vision seemed the most likely cause of his behaviour. It must have been a bad one since the last had not had a very noticeable effect on him.

Deciding for boldness, she let herself slide off the arm of the chair and into Harry’s lap. His hands immediately flew to her hips, and his attention finally diverted away from the window. She looked up into his face from in his lap and said, “Hi.”

"Hi," he responded, his eyes affixed to hers.

Ginny smiled softly at him as her hand resumed its previous action running through his hair.

After a minute, Harry asked, "What are you doing?"

"Playing with your hair," Ginny replied matter-of-factly, smiling impishly into Harry's eyes. She was daring him to react, to call her on her actions - daring him to do anything, really. As long as it got him out of his morose thoughts, she would be satisfied.

"And sitting in my lap," Harry added.

"And sitting in your lap," she agreed, keeping her voice cheerful.

"Why?" His voice sounded neutral, as if he was simply curious about her reasoning.

"Looked comfortable," she answered simply. Harry's lips formed an "Oh", causing Ginny's smile to widen.

“Is it?”

“Very,” she whispered silkily. Her eyes were drawn downward as she caught the bob in Harry’s Adam’s apple. She revelled in the effect she had on him as his cheeks began to burn a light shade of red. “Are you comfortable?” she asked sweetly, looking up at him from underneath her eyelashes.

She watched as he swallowed thickly. His eyes met hers for a brief second, but he was unable to meet her gaze. He settled for looking at the top of her head as he answered, “Er – yeah.”

“I’m glad,” she responded smilingly. “I’ll just stay right here then – since we’re both quite comfortable.”

“R – right,” Harry eloquently replied.

She tucked her head into his shoulder and leaned in to give him a soft, lingering kiss on the pulse point of his neck. She smiled to herself as she both heard and felt Harry’s sharp intake of breath. His hands had also jerked slightly from where they rested on her hips. She rested her forehead against his neck and felt Harry’s hand leave her hips and wrap around her waist. She closed her eyes as she enjoyed the closeness she felt to Harry in that moment.

******

Harry looked down at the sleeping girl in his lap wondering just how he had gotten into this situation – not that he was complaining. Under different circumstances he knew having Ginny in his lap would have a much more pronounced effect on him, but right now he was quite comfortable. He was content merely sitting there with her, even if she was asleep. Just having her warm presence there comforted him in a way he could not even begin to fathom, let alone explain.

But they were rather exposed in the Gryffindor common room. It was still early, but he did not want to give anyone the opportunity to catch the two of them in such a position. He managed to crane his neck around to see the staircases and twisted his right hand in their direction. It would have been easier to manage with his left, but Ginny was currently using his left shoulder as a pillow.

He cast a low-level privacy charm at each staircase that would alert him if somebody was approaching. He cast another one on the portrait hole. Satisfied, he settled back into the chair. His left hand was resting at Ginny’s waist, and he let his right hand fall to her knee. He turned his face down to give her a kiss on the top of her head.

He was lucky, he knew, to have Ginny in his life. She was exactly what he needed, and he never even knew it. Without her, he would likely have been utterly miserable by this point; instead, he considered himself to be quite lucky. He had not expected to have anyone with whom he could share his secrets this term - no one to whom he could turn for comfort. He had planned on being very much alone – in a castle full of students. Making the decision not to tell Ron and Hermione about his training had not been easy. As hard as it was for him to sit idly and watch the two of them drift away from him, he knew he had only done what was necessary.

It had never even entered his mind to tell Ginny. Even if it had, he would not have even considered it. At the time, he did not know Ginny all that well. He had only recently looked past her role as Ron’s little sister to see her for the person she was, and their friendship was still rather new and tentative at that point.

And now here he sat with Ginny asleep in his lap – lucky, indeed. He knew she was worried about him; he was worried about himself. Sirius had been the one constant in Harry’s life since his training began last summer, but he was gone for good now. Just admitting that caused Harry’s stomach to tighten. He was not sure how he would handle it. If he was completely honest with himself, he knew a lot of it would come down to the woman slumbering in his lap.

That was another thing. She knew something was seriously wrong with him, and it was not fair to her to keep her in the dark about it. Besides, how could he expect her to help him if she did not even know what was wrong? When he thought about it, he realised that it was not something that really needed to be kept secret. People might question his sanity over it, but it would do nothing to endanger any of his plans if others were to find out about it. Ginny was already privy to far more dangerous information.

He looked back down to her and gave her another kiss on her head. He would tell her later. For now he would let her sleep.

Later came soon enough. Ginny woke up after about another half an hour – still a good hour before breakfast would be served. He felt her eyelashes flutter against the skin of his neck and could not help the shiver that went down his spine. Ginny made a tired whimper as she attempted to burrow further into him. Harry laughed softly.

Ginny grumbled, “Sh’tup.”

“Good morning to you too, Gin,” Harry greeted.

“Mmm,” Ginny groaned. “I fell asleep?”

“Yes, you fell asleep,” Harry chuckled.

“How long?”

Harry paused as he considered, “Maybe forty-five minutes.”

“Why didn’t you wake me?” she asked into his neck.

“You looked comfortable,” he cheekily replied.

“I was – am,” Ginny confessed. “You still should have woken me.”

Harry shifted a bit – as much as he could without upsetting or upending Ginny. “I kind of liked it,” he admitted. “It was nice just having you here with me, even asleep.” He gave her another kiss on the top of her head, earning himself a kiss on his neck. “And besides,” he added almost as an afterthought, “you were much too cute to disturb.”

“Prat,” she said grouchily, though the effect fell short as he could feel and hear her smiling, even if he could not see it.

“Come on, Sleepy,” Harry said after a moment. “Let’s go down to my office. I have something I want to tell you.”

Ginny practically popped out of his lap at his pronouncement. Harry shook his head at her as he rose onto his feet. Ginny grabbed his hand and yanked him towards the portrait hole. “Easy,” he lightly scolded.

She only smiled at him as she continued to tug. Harry dug his heels in and walked at a leisurely pace, just to spite her. She turned and glared at him. “Move it, Potter,” she demanded.

Harry cocked his brow and looked at her expectantly, enjoying the little game.

“I’m not carrying you, if that’s what you’re asking,” she said saucily.

Harry laughed as he finally relented and began moving at his normal pace. It was not long before they were sitting together on the sofa in his office, Harry’s arm around Ginny’s shoulder. Harry blew out a breath as he considered how to broach the subject.

“What is it you wanted to tell me?” Ginny asked, all signs of her earlier playfulness gone.

He swallowed thickly as he steeled himself to talk about it. “Did you ever wonder how I was able to get over Sirius’s death last summer?” he asked. He could feel Ginny shift as she turned to look up into his face, but he continued staring straight ahead.

“I did wonder,” she admitted. “But the how wasn’t as important as the fact that you were okay and even happy.”

Harry nodded. “Yeah.” He paused. “I know this is going to sound strange, but I never fully came to terms with his death; I didn’t really have to.”

“What do you mean?” Ginny asked, her voice laced with both concern and curiosity.

“The way Sirius died,” Harry tried to explain, struggling to maintain his grip on his emotions, “was different than a normal death. The arch is a gateway to the afterlife. Once a soul passes through the arch, it can never come back out, but it’s not a true death. Sirius’s body was still intact, still alive. He was still loosely tied to this world.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Sirius visited me in my dreams,” Harry finally blurted out. He did not dare look down at Ginny, unsure of what her reaction would be. Would she think he was crazy?

He felt a hand caress his cheek, and he finally lowered his head to meet Ginny’s gaze. There was no accusation in her eyes, only compassion. “You’re sure…?” she began to ask.

“Yes,” Harry answered, his voice pleading with her to believe him, “I’m sure it was him. He taught me the Animagus potion and transformation, and he taught me how to Apparate. He trained with me every night over the summer.”

“I had wondered…” Ginny trailed off for a moment. “Your story about how Sirius began teaching you the Animagus process last Christmas never really seemed to add up, and I always wondered where you had learned to Apparate.”

“We didn’t start the Animagus training until this summer. Apparation came after I started having success with wandless magic,” he explained, his eyes searching her face to ascertain what she was thinking.

“And that explains how you were able to do so much in such a short span of time,” Ginny continued. “You were given several extra hours a night to train.”

“Yes,” Harry said sadly, “and I got a chance to really get to know Sirius. We spent nearly every night together from that moment on. A couple months back we stopped training every night because I was getting too good for him. He was only a couple years out of Hogwarts when he was sent to Azkaban, so he is not as advanced as you’d expect of someone his age.”

Ginny nodded her head in understanding and was quiet for a moment. Harry just watched her face as she took everything in. He could see the moment when it dawned on her what was wrong and why he had been so withdrawn. “He’s gone now?” she asked him in a tentative whisper.

Harry could only nod, unable to give voice to the words. He clamped his eyes shut as he could feel tears welling up in the corners of his eyes.

“I’m so sorry, Harry,” Ginny said to him, and he could hear the emotion bleeding out in her voice.

He squeezed her close to him, and her arms wrapped around his middle in return. She rubbed her hands comfortingly along his sides as they sat that way for a few minutes before Harry spoke again. “I know I should be grateful for the time we got to spend together, and I am. But it’s still so hard to accept that he’s really gone.”

“It’s okay to miss him, Harry,” Ginny said soothingly. “It’s normal and healthy. It would be unhealthy if you didn’t grieve him.”

“But he’s been dead since June,” Harry insisted, pain and frustration laced in every word. “I’ve known he was dead all this time. I just feel so stupid for not facing it sooner, for pretending like nothing was wrong.”

“It’s not stupid,” Ginny consoled, squeezing him gently. “How are you supposed to let someone go if you see them every night? Knowledge and acceptance are separate issues. Seeing Sirius every night, it would be impossible to accept that he was gone forever because he wasn’t gone yet, not entirely at any rate.”

“It would be like if someone you knew came down with an illness that you knew would kill them in six months,” Ginny continued. “You’d spend that six months knowing the friend was going to die soon, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t still hurt when he finally passed away.”

Harry nodded his head though she could not see it. “I never thought of it that way.”

“Well you’ve been a bit preoccupied,” she replied as if that should be obvious. “It’s understandable. That’s why it helps to talk about it. It can help you to gain perspective.”

“So I should talk to you about things like this more often, is that what you’re saying?” he asked as he finally began to relax his grip around her.

Her hands retreated from around his back as she backed up to look up into his face. One of her hands sought out his own while the other rose to wipe away the few stray tears clinging to his cheek. A gentle smile stretched across her lips as she answered, “Something like that, yeah.”

“Good advice,” he admitted with a small smile, turning his head to kiss her hand.

“I thought so,” she impishly replied.

******

That Thursday night was another full moon. Harry and Ginny snuck out of the castle again, Harry in his owl form and Ginny underneath his invisibility cloak. Harry was a little nervous as he walked in front of Ginny. He and Ginny had talked earlier in the week about their Marauder names, knowing that Remus would once again ask about them. The truth of the matter was, neither one of them could think of a decent name, nor was either inclined to keep trying. As much as Harry wanted to feel closer to his parents and Sirius, deep down he knew that was not the way.

He was too different from them; his life was too different. The Marauders were all about having fun and playing pranks, and while Harry enjoyed the occasional prank as well, he was focused on something entirely different: war. He spent the vast majority of his time training and did not have the time to devote to devising more than just the occasional devious and elaborate prank. Now that Ginny was also training for the war, she did not have much in the way of free time either.

In a small way, Harry was rather glad he would not have to break the news to Sirius. Now there was only one who they would need to break it to. Realistically, Harry knew that Remus would understand, but he still could not shake the feeling that he was somehow letting Remus – along with his dad and Sirius – down.

They arrived at the trap door leading up into the Shrieking Shack and, sure enough, were asked about their Marauder names not too long after. Taking a deep breath, Harry began his explanation of their decision, with Ginny at his side interjecting her support here and there. Remus remained silent throughout their diatribe, and Harry wondered what the man was thinking.

The room was silent for a long moment after Harry finished his explanation before Remus finally opened his mouth to respond. “I had wondered if you would come to that conclusion,” he said with a small smile. “As happy as it would make me to see you following in our footsteps, you have to be your own person. As great a Marauder as you would make, Harry – and you too, Ginny,” he said looking to each of them, “you would only be trying to be something you are not. Honestly, I’m proud of you for making this decision; it just goes to show how mature you are. Much too mature to be a true Marauder, I’m afraid,” he teased with a smirk.

Harry snorted his laughter, letting out a breath he had no idea he had been holding in the first place. He heard Ginny giggle beside him and looked over at her when he felt her hand squeeze his lightly.

“There now, what’s this?” Remus asked boisterously with his eyes locked on their joined hands. “Is there something else you two would like to share with me?”

Harry followed Remus’s gaze to their hands and slid his eyes up Ginny’s arm to her face, silently asking her permission. She nodded slightly, so Harry squeezed her hand as he turned back to Remus and said. “Let’s just say I followed my own advice,” Harry said around a wide smile.

Remus positively beamed at the two of them as he engulfed them both in a hug. “I’m so happy for you.” He let go of them after a moment, and as he took a step back asked, “How long has this been going on?”

“Since Saturday,” Ginny responded before Harry got the chance.

“Took your time following your own advice, I see,” Remus commented to Harry with one brow raised.

Harry narrowed his eyes at the werewolf. “You’re one to talk. How long did it take you to tell Tonks how you felt? Never mind the fact that you needed me to shove you in the right direction.”

“Touché.”

After a moment Harry spoke up again. “We haven’t exactly announced it to the world yet.”

“Or to anyone, for that matter,” Ginny interjected helpfully.

“So we’d appreciate it if you kept that bit of news to yourself for the time being,” Harry finished seamlessly.

“Please don’t tell me you two are turning into another Fred and George,” Remus gasped.

Harry and Ginny looked at each other, then back at Remus before all three burst out laughing. When they all calmed down, Remus stared off into space above their heads for a moment before refocusing on them. “It’s about time,” he informed them. “You two had better change.”

******

The rest of the night progressed normally for the trio of animals with some horseplay before they all settled down to sleep. Remus woke them early in the morning, and they were able to sneak back into the castle without fanfare. Rather than risk the oddity of sleeping in in their beds in Gryffindor Tower, Harry and Ginny retired to Harry’s office upon their return. Harry showed Ginny into his trunk and keyed her into it while he was at it. He gave her a very brief tour before he ushered Ginny into the bedroom with a goodnight kiss. Meanwhile he retired on the sofa and quickly fell into a light sleep.

They made it to breakfast on time, and no one was the wiser of their nocturnal activities. The day passed by as normal, leading into the weekend. Saturday evening found Harry enjoying his steak and kidney pie at dinner, his eyes wandering around the Great Hall. He was sitting with Ginny and her friends, who were all talking about rather girly things that he quickly found to be quite boring. This is how he found his attention wandering. He glanced down the Gryffindor table and could see Ron and Hermione heatedly arguing over something or another. Neville turned his head just then and Harry caught his eye. Neville rolled his eyes at their two friends to which Harry replied with a smile and a shrug.

His eyes continued to wander across the hall. They raked over the head table, and he noticed that one seat appeared conspicuously empty. His own head of house, Professor McGonagall, was absent. It was rare for most professors to miss a meal – save for the likes of Professor Trelawney or Professor Binns, but for Professor McGonagall to miss a meal was nearly unheard of. He wondered what could possibly be keeping the Deputy Headmistress from the meal.

A faint sound drew his attention to the ceiling of the Great Hall where he could see a single barnyard owl slowly descending in a circular pattern. The owl, which Harry recognised as being a school owl, directed itself towards the centre of the Head Table. It was odd for an owl to appear during the evening meal. All owl post was supposed to be delivered in the morning. On top of that, it was exceedingly abnormal to see a school owl delivering post to the Headmaster.

He stared at the Headmaster as the man relieved the owl of its burden and offered it some meat off his plate. The Headmaster then slit the envelope with his knife and read the contents of the post.

If he had been hoping to glean any information on the contents from Dumbledore’s facial reactions, he was to be disappointed. Harry did not expect to gain any information that way, however. Instead, he turned his attention to the owl that was preening itself in front of the Headmaster.

“Hello,” Harry mentally called out to the owl.

The owl craned its neck around to locate Harry. Its eyes locked onto him. “Greetings.”

“It’s a strange sight to see an owl delivering post during the evening meal,” Harry commented airily.

“This was a very special post,” the owl responded smugly.

“The Headmaster must have great faith in you to trust you with something so important,” Harry extolled. “You must be an exceptional owl.”

Harry could practically feel the pride and the smug smile the owl held.

“I was wondering if you might do me a favour,” Harry requested carefully.

The owl did not respond, but Harry could tell he had its attention.

“Do you know the contents of the post you just delivered?”

The owl’s eyes once again locked onto his, and Harry got the distinct impression that it was trying to read his intentions through his eyes. He met its gaze head on, never once blinking or wavering in any manner.

“I wish to help the Headmaster, though he would not allow it, so I must do it in secret,” Harry explained. “If it is something regarding the Death Eaters or Voldemort, I could be a great asset to the Headmaster and the Order.”

“You value this information highly,” the owl stated.

“Yes,” Harry replied.

“What would you be willing to give up for it?” the owl asked.

Harry was a bit unnerved by the question, but what could an owl possibly ask for. Treats? “Ask anything of me,” he responded.

“Your familiar, Hedwig, is a beautiful owl,” the owl stated reverentially.

“No,” Harry interrupted. “She is not mine to give.”

“But you own her, do you not?” the owl insisted.

“Technically,” Harry admitted. “But I would never hold her against her will, nor would I ask such a thing of her. She is free to do as she pleases.”

“Very good,” the owl replied. “I will help you.”

The owl proceeded to tell Harry all he knew about the situation. Professor McGonagall had been waiting in the Headmaster’s office for a floo call. The call came a short time ago, and she hastily penned the post that the owl had just delivered to the Headmaster. Professor Snape had reported that there was to be a small group of Death Eaters set to raid the home of Amelia Bones that night. She was the highest ranking Ministry official with an actual backbone and innate sense of justice. She was the main obstacle to Fudge’s corruption and incompetence.

The raid was to consist of five Death Eaters, all of them among Voldemort’s inner circle. According to the owl, Harry had about an hour and a half before the raid was to commence which would not give him much time to locate her house.

The meal was ending about that time. Harry thanked the owl for all its help as he finally turned back to his present company. The girls were all still chattering amongst themselves except Ginny. She was watching him, curiosity evident in her gaze. He smiled at her and mouthed the word “office” to her. She nodded her understanding, and the two quickly exited the Great Hall after Ginny bid goodbye to her friends. Harry waved his goodbyes as well, and the two were off.

They did not speak at all on their trek. Harry spent the time thinking about how he would find Amelia Bones’s house before the battle began and what to tell Ginny. He was aware of Ginny’s gaze upon him intermittently throughout the walk, but it was not until the door to his office closed behind him that Ginny turned and asked, “What’s going on?”

“There is going to be an attack tonight,” Harry stated calmly.

“How do you know that?” Ginny asked sharply.

“I learned about it at dinner.”

“How? And why were you staring at the Headmaster for so long?” Ginny inquired.

“I wasn’t staring at the Headmaster,” Harry responded.

“I was watching you, Harry,” Ginny replied impatiently. “You were staring right at him for several minutes. It was like you were lost in your mind.”

“I actually was not staring at him for very long, but something else,” Harry explained unhelpfully.

“If not him, what were you staring at?” Ginny demanded.

“The owl that delivered his post,” Harry responded, his voice still calm.

“What post? They don’t deliver post at dinner.”

“Not normally,” Harry conceded. “But this was a very important letter.”

“How do you know that?” Ginny asked again, visibly deflating before him.

“The owl told me.”

“Ha ha,” Ginny said, sarcasm dripping from her voice.

“I can talk to owls,” Harry maintained. “I learned that this summer shortly after I managed the transformation. I talked with Hedwig.”

She looked at him sharply, her eyes boring into his. “You’re serious.”

“Yes,” he replied simply. “I eventually learned how to speak to them even in human form. I was able to convince the owl to share the contents of the letter with me.”

“What did it say?”

“Basically that there would be a Death Eater raid at Amelia Bones’s home tonight,” Harry explained. “I have less than an hour to figure out where she lives.”

“You’re going.” Ginny stated with dread.

“Yes,” Harry responded softly.

Her fear and worry flicked plainly across her face before she nodded her acceptance, though it was clear she was not happy with the situation. “Be careful.”

“I will,” Harry said tenderly as he reached forward to cup her cheek. “I’ll come back to you.”

“Promise?”

“I promise,” Harry said. He leaned forward and pressed his lips against hers. She threw her arms around him and opened her mouth to him hungrily. Their lips moved together. Her arms roamed around his back, pulling his body against hers, and his arms wrapped around her reflexively. One hand buried itself in her hair, while the other traced lines down her back. Harry had never in all his life felt the passion that was pouring out of Ginny in that one kiss. It was overpowering, intoxicating. He lost himself in that moment. When their lips finally broke apart, he rested his forehead against hers, breathing deeply, raggedly, as he struggled to regain his bearings.

“Wow,” he whispered, his eyes flicking up to meet hers.

“There’s plenty more where that came from,” Ginny stated in a husky whisper. “So long as you keep that promise.”

As he leaned his head back to look into her face more clearly, Harry could only nod his head in agreement, unable to think of the words to form a proper response.

Ginny took a step back from him, her arms leaving his back. He was loathe to let her go, but he dropped his arms from her as well. She adjusted her robes for a moment, and Harry simply watched her. Once she was satisfied, she looked back up at him and asked, “So how do you plan to find out where she lives?”

Harry shook his head to clear it and wake his mind back up. “I’m not sure,” he answered after a moment. “Is there an address book for the wizarding world? Would they have something like that in the library?”

“I’ve never heard of anything like that,” Ginny responded, shaking her head. “They probably have something like that at the Ministry, but…”

“Bugger!” Harry exclaimed. “I was counting on that.” He began pacing back and forth as he racked his brain for another solution.

“Well, you could always ask Susan,” Ginny suggested as she perched on the arm of the sofa. “I think Amelia Bones is her aunt. She should know where her aunt lives.”

Harry stopped his pacing and spun around to face her. “I’d rather not let anyone else in on what I know if I can help it,” he said. “But if push comes to shove, that will probably work.” Just then an idea struck him. “I’ve got it!”

“What?” Ginny asked.

“My owl form.”

“What?” Ginny repeated in confusion, rising back to her feet.

Harry turned towards her and found her confusion written as clearly on her face as it was in her voice, and he realised he had never shared that bit of information with her. “You know how owls can sense where people are when delivering a letter?”

She nodded.

“Well, when I change into an owl, I can do that too,” he explained. “I first figured it out when delivering your birthday present. I used that when delivering your letter to your mum as well.”

“Oh,” she said, her mouth remaining agape for several seconds. “Wait, she probably lives in England; are you going to fly all the way across Scotland?”

“Good point,” Harry conceded. “I’ll just Apparate into England and hope that I’m not too far away.”

“I guess so,” she agreed.

“Which means I should probably get out of here right away,” Harry stated.

“Yeah,” she nodded, her eyes downcast.

A heavy silence stretched between them as they both knew it was time to say goodbye. Harry was unsure what to say. What comforts could he possibly give her? What could he say to allay her worries?

“You had better get going,” Ginny told him softly.

“Yeah,” Harry replied thickly.

She slowly walked towards him. “Be careful out there.”

Harry opened his arms to her, and as she stepped into his embrace, his arms wrapped around her back, holding her tightly against him, tucking his head into her shoulder. He inhaled deeply, taking in the scent of her hair. After a long moment, he relaxed his grip slightly and leaned back to take a good look at her. Her eyes were glistening. As a solitary tear escaped her control and travelled down her cheek, Harry removed his right hand from her back and wiped the tear away with the pad of his thumb – at the same time cupping her cheek.

She leaned into his touch and turned her head to kiss the palm of his hand. Harry wondered how such a simple gesture could have such an effect on him. He turned her head back towards him and leaned in to capture her lips with his. The kiss was slow, completely different from the hungry, passion-filled kiss they had shared earlier, and yet there was just as much emotion exchanged. This was not lustful or hungry; this was something more – something much better.

She broke the kiss after a long minute, and rested her head against his chest. No words were exchanged. They just stood there for a moment in their embrace. Finally, Ginny pulled her head back. “You should go.”

Harry nodded and gave her one last squeeze before letting go. “Thank you, Ginny.”

She nodded but did not respond verbally. Harry gave her a sad smile as he turned and walked to the door. “You should go out first. I’ll follow in my invisibility cloak,” he said.

She nodded again. Harry dug the cloak out and put it on. He watched as Ginny schooled her features and proceeded out the door. He followed closely after her and moved out of the way so she could close the door. He stood and watched her walk away in the direction of the common room until she had turned the corner and was out of sight.

He crept up to the Owlery hidden from sight. When he got there, he transformed into an owl and took off out the window. He flew to his usual spot outside of Hogsmeade. When he landed, he reverted to human form. He stuck the invisibility cloak and his robes into his trunk. His slacks were already a dark colour. He stripped out of his shirt and chose a form-fitting black t-shirt instead. It was a bit cold for it, but a simple warming charm alleviated him of that bother. By the time he dug his contacts out, he had already changed his hair colour and length and hidden his scar. He put in his brown contacts and then stored his trunk back into his pocket.

He Apparated first to Diagon Alley and ducked into an alley to transform into an owl. He could immediately tell that she was far away. He changed back and Apparated to King’s Cross station – still too far. He racked his brain for other options before Apparating as far off the Burrow property as he could remember being. Frustrated again, he chose a place he had once promised himself he would never return to. He appeared a moment later in his bedroom in Number Four Privet Drive. She was closer here than she had been at any other location, and Harry was running out of ideas, so he decided to set off from there.

He did not linger but immediately launched himself out the window. He flew high into the air and regained his bearings. He began flying westward, soaring high above the cookie-cutter houses of his former neighbourhood. With any luck he would never have to return there.

As he followed his owl sense, Harry began mulling over strategy. Should he make contact with the Order members and hope they would accept his help? Would they trust him? He was pretty sure he could get Kingsley or Minerva to agree to his help, if they were there, but the others had never seen him in this form before. Would they even have heard about him? Would they know he was on their side?

He could wait until the battle began to get involved which would remove the choice from their hands. But there was always the possibility they would attack first and ask questions later. If he chose that route, he would have to quickly prove he was on their side.

He pondered over what his best option would be, but as he drew near his destination, Harry found that the decision was not his to make. The Death Eaters were early, and they brought friends. From his vantage there looked to be approximately twenty Death Eaters surrounding the building. The Order members were camped around the house and hidden from plain sight, but Harry was able to catch glimpses of them. He estimated there were only five or six total.

Harry circled the house once to get a better look. Remus and Tonks were behind the house, separated by a good ten or fifteen metres. Dedalus Diggle was in the bushes on one side of the house. Hestia Jones claimed the other side. In front of the house were two wizards Harry did not recognise.

Tonks and Remus were the only ones he really knew. They would be the easiest to convince to cooperate with him. First, he would give them a show of good faith. He circled back behind their attackers. They were well positioned on top of a small hill with several large rocks for cover. None of the spells Remus or Tonks were sending stood any chance against them.

On the other hand, Remus and Tonks both found themselves in precarious positions. There were eight Death Eaters with wands trained on the two of them, and they lacked the cover of their opponents. Taking out their attackers would be difficult. They were spread out enough that he would only be able to eliminate two at most before the others were alerted of his presence. That still left six Death Eaters to dispatch. It was more than he preferred to have to deal with at one time, but he had handled worse.

He circled over the Death Eaters once more, deciding the best targets for his initial strike. He could not distinguish between their skill levels based on their actions. There was no clear leader or superior among them. There were two cloaked figures relatively close to each other, which would make it easier on him to eliminate the two foes at once.

Deciding on this course of action, Harry began his descent behind the line of Death Eaters. He landed well behind the two of them as quietly as he could. He hesitated a moment to make sure they were not alerted to his presence. When they made no reaction, he reverted to human form and immediately conjured his fake wand into hand. Wary of being seen, he resolved to avoid using his second hand if possible.

He very quickly sent out two silent Everberos with his right hand. The two targets fell but not before they had made sufficient noise to alert their comrades. Harry was just gearing up to charge his next target when he felt something. He instinctually ducked and rolled out of the way. A green spell flew through the space he had occupied only moments before. Harry’s eyes scanned the area behind him but saw nothing.

His attention was diverted as two Death Eaters attempted to flank him on each side. He turned and fired off a Stunner at one of the figures, but before he could send a second spell, the earlier feeling overtook him, and Harry rolled away. Another spell zoomed past where he had just been standing – again from behind. There was somebody there. They were either Disillusioned and standing perfectly still, or they were under an invisibility cloak. Either way, this did not bode well for Harry.

Knowing that he was in danger in the position he was in, Harry decided his best course of action would be to stay mobile. If he stood still, it would give his attackers, both visible and invisible, a chance to strike him. He also knew that his invisible attacker would find it difficult to move quickly without revealing his position.

So as Harry sprang out of his roll, he sprinted to his right. The action caught the Death Eater on that side by surprise, and the man was unprepared for the Blasting Hex Harry shot at him. He was lifted bodily off the ground and flung several metres through the air. Harry glanced over after he had impacted the ground and noted that the man was not moving. Another one down.

He came upon another Death Eater who had been firing hexes at Remus which kept the werewolf pinned down. Harry had made too much noise, however, and the cloaked figure rose and fired a hex in his direction. Harry dove forward underneath the spell and rolled into a somersault. He sprang up less than a metre in front of the Death Eater and dropped his fake wand as his fist shot up in an uppercut under the man’s jaw. Harry felt a jolt of magic shoot through his arm just as his fist made contact, and the Death Eater was thrown back a metre and rolled over face down. He did not move again, but Harry paid him no attention as he dove behind the nearby rock the recently downed Death Eater had been using for cover.

Three green lights shot past him, and Harry knew he had to do something to even out the odds. He had been lucky so far. He should have been killed more than once already. He had charged in overestimating his own abilities and underestimating his enemies. He needed to find a way to dispatch his invisible foe first and foremost. He remembered his HA class when Snape had tried to sneak in undetected. A simple Accio had done the trick that time. Could it possibly work again here?

Harry conjured another fake wand in his hand and concentrated on the silvery material of his own invisibility cloak. He imagined the cloak wrapped around a figure cloaked in Death Eater garb. When he had the image firmly locked in his mind, he peeked his head above the rock and thrust his wand hand forward, casting Accio in his mind.

He heard a voice shout and saw his target. The figure was holding onto the cloak to prevent it from being Summoned, but as he struggled with it, part of his body was showing. Harry vaulted the rock and charged the man. He cast the Summoning Charm again with his left hand as he used his right to hurl three Stunners at his target.

The man swore as he ceased his attempts to hold onto the cloak and hastily put up a shield. He managed to get the shield up just in time. Harry cursed inwardly, but at least his target was no longer hidden from sight. The invisibility cloak flew towards Harry, and he caught it in his left hand. Thinking quickly, Harry performed a Banishing Charm on it, sending the cloak towards Remus. He hoped it would reach his friend and that he would put it to good use.

“You’ll give back that cloak if you know what’s good for you,” the harsh voice of the man cut through the cool, night air.

Not looking to mince words with a Death Eater and not wanting to waste any time, Harry ignored the lame threat and prepared for the coming duel. He saw two Death Eaters edging around his right side, attempting to flank him. Harry considered his options for a moment. He did not like how exposed he was at the moment. He had revealed his invisible foe, but there could be others as well. He needed to dispatch his opponents quickly so he could resume his guerrilla tactics.

Harry wanted to dispose of his formerly invisible foe first. The man had already proven himself apt in his abilities, blocking all three of Harry’s Stunners on a hastily constructed shield. And it was likely that the superior Death Eater would be given the privilege of the invisibility cloak. He let his two other foes continue to edge around him as in doing so they were putting further distance between themselves and their other comrade.

After a moment Harry sprang into action, sprinting towards the solitary foe. The man began throwing curses at Harry, which he skilfully dodged. The only curse he identified of the bunch was Lacerus, the Cutting Curse. He thought he recognised the purple haze of one of the spells, but he could not place it, nor did he have the time to give it any thought.

He rapidly closed the distance between them until they were only a few metres apart. He cast Stupefy twice and Fragosus, the Blasting Hex, as he dove aside to avoid the green light of the Killing Curse. The man was quick with his shields and once again had no trouble blocking all three spells. Out of the corner of his eye, Harry could see the other two Death Eaters begin to trot towards them, and he knew that if he wanted to maintain his advantage, he would need to act quickly.

He cast an Incinerating Hex at the bottom of the man’s cloak, catching the fabric on fire. Before he had any chance to respond, Harry shot to his feet, rapidly casting low powered hexes at the man to hold his attention and prevent him from putting the fire out. The man danced on his feet as the heat of the fire began to burn his legs. He attempted to stamp the cloak out as he held his shield in place, but the fire was spreading up his robes too quickly.

Harry edged around the man to put him between himself and his other two enemies. Unable to take the heat any longer, the man dropped his shield to douse the flames. Harry quickly put him out of commission with an Everbero. Harry stepped over the man’s prone form to face his other two foes. He erected a shield to block a Stunner sent from one of the men as he side-stepped an unfamiliar curse from the other.

Another feeling overtook Harry, and he instinctively rolled to the side, turning himself around in the process. A green light passed through the space he had formerly filled and struck one of the two Death Eaters he had been facing. The man crumpled to the earth, dead. Unfortunately for Harry, he had rolled directly into the path of another curse. This one was a very deep red with a sickly orange tint to it. Unable to get out of the way in time, he threw up the strongest shield he could manage, hoping it would be enough.

The spell impacted at his chest just as he felt the shield spreading across his body. The shield was able to mute the effects of the curse, but the curse was too powerful to be blocked. Harry felt his breath leave him, and his chest seared in scalding pain. He looked down at his front and saw that his shirt had been torn asunder by the curse, and the skin beneath looked raw. Worse than the sight of his chest was the stench of charred flesh that filled his nostrils. Unable to do anything about it at the moment, Harry continued his roll and re-emerged on his feet, wincing from the pain.

As he rose, he cast a Blasting Hex at his other foe, who, having gone over to check on his fallen comrade, was unprepared for the spell. Harry turned back towards the direction of the spell that had struck him in the chest and scanned the area for any attackers. Unable to see anything, Harry tried casting the Summoning Charm again, hoping it would work again. Nothing happened.

Harry slowly spun around in a circle to fully take in his surroundings. As he came around full circle, he found two hexes flying in his direction. He dropped to the ground on top of his chest to let both spells fly over his head and winced at the pain as his raw skin impacted the cold, hard earth. He still could not see his attackers, but now he knew there were two, both likely invisible.

An idea quickly formed in his head. The grass was a bit long where he was lying, so he cast a Disillusionment Charm on himself as he created an illusion of himself just directly in front of him. He was counting on the dark of the night to aid him. In broad daylight, the Death Eaters would most likely be able to see right through the illusion, but since it was so dark, they might just fall for the trick. He directed the illusion to stand as he continued to lie on the ground. He had the illusion turn his back to his attackers and walk several paces away. He smirked as two, then four spells flew at the illusion.

He had the illusion duck behind a rock and out of sight before having the head pop back up to hold the attention of his invisible foes. Now that he knew the rough location of each attacker, he needed to devise a plan to dispose of them. He needed to act quickly before they had a chance to reposition themselves.

Unable to come up with a better plan, Harry sprang to his feet and charged the nearest target, firing curses as he sprinted. His aim was true, and his foe was forced to erect a shield to block the hexes. Harry was able to keep the Death Eater in his sights with each spell that impacted the shield. He was unable to cast the spells with the rapidity he would have liked due to the fact that he was running full speed at the time. This gave his target the chance to cast a couple spells in between Harry’s barrage.

Harry was forced into evasive manoeuvring by those spells and the ones coming from his other invisible foe. When Harry was close enough, he positioned himself such that it made it difficult for the second attacker to get a shot off without hitting the other Death Eater. He and his target traded spells from a few metres away. Every time the second attacker repositioned himself to get a better shot at him, Harry would just edge around his target to once again put him between himself and the second attacker.

It was quickly becoming clear to Harry that he would not be able to win this duel by fighting straight-forwardly. No matter how much power he put behind his spells, they were unable to penetrate the shield of his target. Meanwhile, he was beginning to tire, and the pain in his chest was slowing down his movements. Every way his body turned seemed to stretch the raw skin, causing it to burn painfully. The pain was making it difficult for Harry to get a full breath of air.

Harry eyed a fist sized rock on the ground a bit beyond his target. He made a show of casting several, rapid low-level hexes at his target to keep his attention as he levitated the rock with his left hand and hurled it into the back of where he imagined the man’s head to be. The rock seemed to just skim the man’s head, but it was enough to distract his attention and allow Harry to hit him with an Everbero.

He ducked out of the way just in time to avoid a deep red curse that looked suspiciously like the one he had been hit with earlier. He spun around to locate the second attacker when he saw a light erupt from nowhere before his eyes. Harry had to catch his instinctual reaction as the spell was not directed at him, but at a spot some fifteen metres away. He saw the spell connect with an invisible obstacle and heard the thump as a body fell to the ground.

Remus’s head appeared suddenly from the source of the light. “I’m a friend,” he called out to Harry.

Harry nodded at Remus and walked over to his fallen foe, collecting the man’s invisibility cloak. When he turned, Remus had already uncovered the other Death Eater and had presumably pocketed the man’s cloak. “Thanks,” Harry said in a raspy voice, careful to alter his voice enough so that Remus would not recognise it. He knew he had to be careful in how he dealt with Remus. Harry could not let on that he knew him or was in any way familiar with him or anyone else in the Order.

“There’s no need to thank me; it’s I who should be thanking you,” Remus replied in a kindly whisper, his nose twitching slightly as he drew closer to Harry.

Now that there was a moment of calm, the pain in his chest seemed to momentarily overwhelm him. Harry went down to one knee and took a deep, shaky breath.

“Are you alright?” Remus asked in concern.

“I’ll…be fine,” Harry responded.

Remus knelt down beside him. “Your chest looks pretty bad,” he commented. “Did you catch what the spell was?”

Harry shook his head. “No.” He tried to take a deep breath but was unable and winced at the action. “No, I just barely saw it. It was a deep red, with an orange tint to it.”

“Hmm,” the man pondered. “If I had to guess, I’d say that’s the Devil’s Fire, but it doesn’t look as serious.”

“I got a shield up…just before it hit me,” Harry supplied.

“Ah,” Remus said. “You’re lucky, then. Had the full curse hit you, we probably wouldn’t be speaking right now.”

“What’s going on with the others?” Harry asked, trying to block out the pain.

“I don’t know,” Remus said. “My partner and I saw the commotion you made up on the hill, but we couldn’t get out of our position to help you. That is, until an invisibility cloak landed right in my lap. You wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?”

Harry smiled, but it turned into a wince as he tried to stand up.

“Easy,” Remus said, springing onto his feet and giving Harry a hand up. “I have a portkey that can take you to a hospital.”

“Portkey!” Harry exclaimed. “I almost forgot. Accio portkeys,” he intoned, holding his fake wand aloft. Harry watched the body in front of him, but nothing happened. “That’s strange,” Harry said. Harry turned towards the body Remus had knocked out, wincing as he did so, and tried the spell again. Again, nothing happened.

“We really ought to get your chest looked at,” Remus said.

“I’ll be fine,” Harry insisted. “We can go as soon as we check on the others.”

Remus seemed to consider this for a moment. “All right. Come on then.”

“Flip your hood up,” Harry told him. “Listen for me and stay close. Let’s not give ourselves away until we need to.”

Remus nodded before he slipped the hood back over his head. Harry began to slowly creep back towards the house. After several paces he whispered, “You still with me.”

“Yes,” Remus whispered back. “I have sensitive hearing; I can hear you breathing just fine.”

Harry almost wanted to smirk. Of course, Remus also gained some benefits from his monthly transformation, though they were a far cry from outweighing the bad. He continued his slow trek until he came up to the crest of the hill where he had first appeared.

Tonks was still being held against the house. There were two Death Eaters relatively close together to their left, and one lone Death Eater to their right all firing curses at Tonks, preventing her from making any sort of progress.

“You take the one on the right,” Harry whispered. “I’ll handle the two on the left.”

“No,” Remus whispered back fervently. “You’re injured. Take the one on the right. I can handle the two on the left.”

Harry rolled his eyes beneath his cloak, but he did not feel like standing there arguing with the man. “Fine. We’ll meet back by your friend.”

“Right,” Remus replied.

The two split up. Harry rounded out his path to come up behind his foe. He knew he was invisible, but did not want to risk being detected beforehand. When he drew close to the man, he concentrated on his breathing to avoid making any unnecessary noise. When he was just over five metres away, he stunned the man. Remembering one of his first rules – and cursing himself for forgetting to do this with his other victims – Harry summoned the man’s wand and snapped it in two.

With that done, he turned back towards the house. He saw two lights flash on a far hill and then nothing. He assumed Remus had accomplished his task and began walking towards Tonks. Remus arrived first, his disembodied head seeming to float in midair. The two embraced for a moment, then Remus turned in Harry’s direction expectantly.

When Harry was about fifteen metres away, he removed the hood of the cloak and revealed his head to the two of them.

“Who’s that?” Tonks asked.

“He’s the one who saved our arses,” Remus replied. “And took a nasty curse doing it.”

“Pleasure,” Harry said, a bit sarcastically.

“At any rate,” Remus continued. “He’s a friend, or an ally at the very least.”

“We haven’t got time for pleasantries right now,” Harry said. “When I arrived, I spotted around twenty Death Eaters scattered around the house. I also managed to discover there are some Death Eaters roaming around in invisibility cloaks as well. I managed to take out seven of the original twenty I saw.” He turned to Remus, “Did you get any besides the two you just downed?”

“Just one,” Remus replied. “Plus the one under the invisibility cloak.”

Harry nodded his head. “Right, that makes ten of the twenty I saw. But there may have been more I didn’t see. And we dispatched three invisible ones total.” Harry thought over the situation for a moment. “There are supposed to be five members of the inner circle here. My guess is those are the ones in the cloaks, which would leave us with two more cloaked, plus at least ten more besides.”

Tonks was staring at him wide eyed as he relayed the statistics of the battle thus far. “You took down nine Death Eaters by yourself?” she asked.

Harry looked at her with an intense gaze, but he did not respond.

“Who are you?” she demanded.

“A friend,” was all Harry replied.

When Tonks looked ready to demand more, Remus reached out and gripped her shoulder. When she turned, Remus shook his head. “Not now,” the man said. “I trust him, and besides, we need his help.”

Her shoulders sagged in defeat, but she hardly seemed pleased with the situation.

“If you’re finished,” Harry spoke again, “we need to come up with a plan before your friends are overpowered.”

“Do you have that third cloak?” Harry asked Remus.

The man nodded and dug the silvery fabric out of his robes.

“Right, give that to the lady then,” Harry directed. “I think we should split up and try to eliminate as many as we can without being spotted. The two invisible Death Eaters are still out there, so be on your guard. If we can take enough of them out of the fight quickly, your friends should be freed up to actually help us out.”

Tonks shook her head vehemently. “I think we should stick together. It’s the first thing they teach us in Auror training, to stick with your team in an unknown situation. There is power in numbers.”

“We can get more accomplished if we split up,” Harry insisted, shaking his head. “We stick together and we’re liable to give away our position away after taking down only one Death Eater.” He paused as he took a shaky breath. “If we split up, we’ll cause more confusion and can get more accomplished in a short amount of time.”

“Or we’ll get picked off one by one,” Tonks interjected.

“He’s right, Tonks,” Remus said soothingly. “With our invisibility cloaks, we have an advantage. We waste that advantage by sticking together. Three small invisible targets will be more effective than one large invisible target.”

“Fine,” Tonks bit out. She grabbed the cloak out of Remus’s hand and threw it over her shoulders. “But if you get yourself hurt, old man…”

Remus pulled Tonks into a rough embrace and kissed the top of her head. Harry turned away, feeling like he was intruding on a very private moment that he should not be privy to. After a moment, Remus cleared his throat, and Harry turned back around.

“Ready?” Remus asked.

Harry nodded. “I’ll go around this way,” Harry said, indicating the direction he had come from. “You two go around the other way. Pick different initial targets, and don’t stay too close.”

“But you’re…”

“I’m fine,” Harry interrupted. “It’s just a little burn. It’s nothing. Now go.” He flipped the hood back over his head and began his trek around the house. He felt bad for being so cold to the two of them, but he had to maintain his façade. They were strangers. He had no reason to go out of his way to be nice to them. And besides, this was hardly the time for making friendly.

When he reached the edge of the house, he slowed down and was careful not to make too much noise. There were no hills to aid the Death Eaters on the side or front of the house, but there were scattered trees and rocks they could use for cover. The closest Death Eater he could make out was still about thirty or forty metres from his position. Harry did not know what happened to Diggle, who had been on this side of the house when he had arrived, but he hoped the man had regrouped in front of the house with his comrades because the side of the house was vacant.

Harry walked quickly across the lawn, putting some distance between himself and the house to allow him to approach his target from behind.

Careful not to make too much noise, Harry snuck up behind his first target and stopped a few metres away. As he sent a stunner at the Death Eater, he turned around and ducked down. He turned around in a circle looking for any reaction to the spell he had just cast, but he could not see anything. Turning back to his target, he once again checked for portkeys with no results, then destroyed the Death Eater’s wand.

He cautiously moved to his next target. He again stunned the man and immediately ducked down, scanning the area. There was again no reaction. He began to grow a little worried. He looked across to the other side of the front yard and saw one of the Death Eaters get struck down from behind. There was no reaction on that end either. Harry had a bad feeling. If Snape had really been correct about the five Death Eaters from the inner circle, which was no guarantee considering all that he had been wrong about, then that left two other most likely invisible foes who were unaccounted for.

He kept a wary eye as he continued to make his way around the lawn, incapacitating two more Death Eaters. As he looked up to his next target, he saw that one of the others had beaten him to the punch. There was no way the other two invisible foes could be oblivious to their presence now. They had to be up to something, but what he was not sure.

Remus’s head appeared fifteen metres in front of the front door, followed shortly by Tonks. The other Order members all came forward to meet him. Harry kept his invisibility cloak on as he cautiously walked towards the group. From a distance he realised there was one missing from their ranks, and he determined that Diggle was not among them.

Harry was slowly walking towards the group of Order members when he saw what appeared to be an argument being waged among them. Remus was arguing heatedly with the two men stationed in front of the house. Harry could not make out what was being said until Remus finally blurted out, “Then let it be on your heads!”

The two men looked to each other after that before turning as one to the house and waving their wands in intricate patterns. Harry could feel a rush wash over him as the wards were dropped.

Not a moment later, the front door burst open and Amelia Bones stormed out ranting, “I demand to know what is going on. Why did you lock me in the house? Why…”

And then it hit Harry – why the other two invisible Death Eaters had not shown themselves prior to now. His hands were already rising as he saw two shots of green light emerge from either side of the woman. Without consciously thinking about it, Harry sent a burst of magic at Amelia, pushing her back into the house. With his left hand he sent a Blasting Hex towards the source of one of the spells.

He followed that spell up with a Stunner to ensure the man was incapacitated. He heard Remus’s voice shout something but was unable to make out the words. As he saw the first of his spells connect with an invisible barrier, he turned his attention towards where the second killing curse had originated. He saw a red spell connect with the Death Eater and watched as the figure fell, causing the invisibility cloak to slip partially off his body.

“Shit,” he yelled in frustration, whipping the hood off his head as he turned to face the Order members.

Three wands were trained on him before Remus stepped in front of him. “He’s a friend,” Remus stated.

The three cast him dubious looks but dutifully lowered their wands.

“What the hell were you thinking?” Harry shouted as he stepped past Remus, wincing at the pain in his chest as he did so. “Why would you pull down the wards? You didn’t even check the perimeter.”

The two men responsible for taking down the wards shared another look before one of them answered in an even voice. “No more Death Eaters were attacking, so we assumed…”

“Your assumption almost got her killed!” Harry interrupted, gesturing towards the open door where Amelia Bones was once again emerging, though more cautiously this time around. “Just how incompetent are you?”

“Easy,” Remus said in a calm voice from his side. “They made a mistake, and we will be covering that later.” He glared in their direction as he said this, his voice hardening, before turning back to Harry and continuing in his soft tone. “Thank you, again, for all your help. Without you, we’d probably all be dead.”

Harry’s anger deflated as he turned towards Remus. “You’re welcome,” he said. He turned around and scanned for any signs of the fallen Death Eaters, but they were all gone. He tugged off the invisibility cloak and bundled it up in his hands as he began jogging towards the location of the last Death Eater he had dispatched. He was forced to halt after only a few strides as the pain in his chest flared.

“Slow down there,” Remus said approaching him from behind. “Where are you running off to?”

“They’re gone,” Harry said looking over his shoulder at Remus. “All of them.” He turned back around and continued his trek at a slower pace. As he had suspected, there was no sign of the Death Eater save for the snapped wand several metres away. “I checked them all for portkeys. How did they…?” He trailed off, staring at the depressed grass where the Death Eater had been lying.

“I don’t know,” Remus said beside him.

“What are you two chatting about?” Tonks asked as she approached the two of them.

“The Death Eaters are all gone,” Remus replied, turning to face her.

Harry turned as well and saw her face fall. “All of them?”

The two men nodded their heads.

“Bugger.”

“Well, I thank you for the lovely evening and all,” Harry said, though his voice lacked the humour it was meant with. “But I think it’s time I got going.”

“Wait,” Remus said. “What about your chest?”

Harry winced at the thought, doubly so when he imagined what Ginny’s reaction would be. “I’ll be okay,” he said.

“Nonsense,” Remus insisted. “That needs to be treated - the sooner the better. You saved all our lives; the least we can do is help get you patched up.”

As much as Harry wanted the relief he knew they would be able to offer, it also meant going with them and possibly running into Dumbledore. He could not take that risk. Remus had given him an idea of what curse he had been hit with. He’d just have to look it up and search for any salves that might help.

“Thank you for the offer,” Harry said sincerely. “But I’m afraid I must decline.”

“Excuse me,” an authoritative voice rang out from several metres away. Madame Bones was striding towards the three of them. “Auror Tonks, Remus,” she greeted. “And…” she trailed off expectantly.

Harry’s brain scrambled quickly to reply, “You can call me Jim.” He could have almost smacked himself for using a name so similar to his father’s.

The woman cocked one eyebrow at him but nodded her head in acceptance. “Very well. I was told that I have you to thank for saving my life, so I thank you.”

Harry nodded as he replied, “You’re welcome.”

“Now I was also told that you are the senior member of your group,” she continued, turning towards Remus. “And I think I deserve an explanation.”

“Yes, you do,” Remus agreed.

“Well, this is where I take my leave,” Harry said. Turning to Remus and Tonks he continued, “I imagine we’ll meet again sometime.” He turned and nodded his head, “Madame Bones.”

With that, Harry Apparated back to his usual spot outside of Hogwarts and reluctantly returned to the castle. Ginny was going to skin him alive as soon as she saw his chest.

******

Remus was exhausted after the long and strenuous evening. He found out that an injured Diggle used his emergency portkey to escape the battle but passed away shortly after arriving. The one casualty hit him hard, though he knew they were lucky they escaped with just the one. He was sitting at the kitchen table of Number 12 Grimmauld Place with Tonks at his side. His left hand was intertwined with her right and resting atop her knee. They were listening as Snape finished giving his report, claiming that only the five members of the inner circle had been mentioned about the raid. He had been unaware that they were bringing others with them.

After Snape sat down, Dumbledore looked down the table and asked Remus for his report. Too tired, he opted to remain seated as he spoke. He recounted the events of the evening, starting with their arrival. They had set up the wards around Amelia’s home, locking her in and everyone else out. They had barely had time to finish the wards and assume their positions around the house when the Death Eaters had appeared. They had been completely surrounded and unable to make any headway against their foes’ superior positions and numbers.

Several minutes into the battle, he had seen two of the Death Eaters firing at him struck down from behind. He had been unable to see much, but he had been aware that a battle was taking place just beyond the hill. There had been a few Death Eaters holding him in position, preventing him from investigating or helping. He told of how the invisibility cloak had been dropped in his lap and how he had gone to help their mystery ally.

He then covered the rest of the events of the evening, including the mystery about the portkeys and how some rash decisions had nearly cost Amelia her life. Concluding his debrief, he slumped back in his chair and closed his eyes. Tonks squeezed his hand comfortingly, and he turned his head and opened his eyes to find her gazing at him in concern. He offered her a tired smile.

“You say he was alone?” Dumbledore questioned him.

Remus shifted his attention to his former Headmaster. “Yes.”

“Was there any indication that he may have had an accomplice nearby?”

Remus that for a moment before shaking his head. “No, I don’t think – unless…” he trailed off as a thought occurred to him.

“Yes?” Dumbledore prodded eagerly.

“Well, he did seem like he was in a big hurry to leave after the battle was over, repeatedly refusing my offer to help treat the burn on his chest. He seemed anxious about something. I suppose it’s possible he may have had a friend with him in the beginning. I think he was taken by surprise by the invisible Death Eaters. The friend may have been hurt early on, which would explain why he was so eager to leave.”

Dumbledore placed his elbows on the table and steepled his fingers underneath his chin as he pondered the situation. “That does seem plausible,” he said at length. “Have we made any headway in determining their identities?” he asked, turning to Minerva.

“No,” she said, shaking her head. “We have not found record of anyone age 17-30 who fits the description.”

Dumbledore nodded his head reservedly. “Let us review what we know about them. Minerva, if you would?”

His former Head of House nodded her head and stood to deliver her information. She started with a physical description of the young man she had seen. She asked for confirmation from those who had come face to face with him, and all agreed. She nodded her head in acceptance before continuing. “We think it likely that he works with another, though we have yet to see physical evidence of this. It is also a possibility we could be dealing with identical twins.”

There was a gasp several seats down the table, and Remus turned his gaze to see Mrs. Weasley holding a hand over her mouth.

“I think it unlikely to be Messrs. Fred and George,” Dumbledore told her comfortingly. “Their demeanour is entirely different, and if they were indeed acting in disguise, it is unlikely they would disguise themselves as identical twins.”

“I agree,” Remus input. “I only taught your boys for a year, but the man I met tonight was much too serious to be either Fred or George. And besides, he was the wrong build entirely.”

She seemed mollified for at least the moment, so Minerva continued on. “We think it likely that this is the same young man who aided us during the attack in Hogsmeade and was responsible for Miss Weasley’s rescue in Diagon Alley over the summer. The descriptions match except for the hair, which Miss Weasley described as being the same colour but much longer. Assuming they are one in the same, he is an Animagus with the form of a black panther.”

Remus felt his heart stop in that instant. A black panther? Why did it have to be a black panther? Could it be a coincidence? His mind played back his interaction with the young man from earlier that evening looking for some sort of sign – anything that might point to Harry.

They were of a similar height and build. The most glaring differences were the hair, eyes, and lack of a scar, but with the appropriate glamour charms it was entirely possible. He had not acted like Harry. The Harry he knew was quiet, reserved and respectful. The young man had been forceful, bordering on impudent. He had handed out orders expecting them to be followed and berated the Order members for their nearly costly error.

But the panther Animagus form could not be ignored. There were not many known Animagi in the country. To have two people with identical forms in such proximity was stretching the odds to the limit. It was beyond highly unlikely. But Harry was still underage, and the young man he had met today had used a lot of magic. Unless Harry managed to get his hands on another wand…

He was interrupted out of his musings by the hand squeezing his own. He turned his head to find Tonks watching him with concerned curiosity. He shook his head at her to stem off any questions. He needed to think about this long and hard. There was a lot at stake here: Harry’s trust in him along with his concern for Harry’s safety at the forefront.

His mind wandered back to a dream he had had exactly one week prior. It had been strangely realistic and had stuck with him quite vividly even after waking. It was not every night your dreams were visited by your deceased best friend, but what really struck Remus had been what Sirius had said to him.

“Hello Moony,” a familiar voice greeted.

“Padfoot?” Remus asked incredulously. “Is that you?”

Sirius transformed into his Animagus form and back in a matter of a second. “What do you think?” he asked as if talking to a particularly dim-witted child.

Rather than answer, Remus stepped forward to embrace his friend.

“It’s good to see you, Remus,” Sirius said as he returned the hug. He released the embrace a few seconds later, brushing his robes down as if they were full of wrinkles. “I wanted to visit you sooner, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to it.”

“What do you mean?” Remus asked.

“That is a long story,” Sirius replied. “Suffice it to say, I’ve been connected to this world since my death last June. Unfortunately, my time here is up.”

“I don’t understand,” Remus protested in confusion.

“It’s alright; that’s not important,” Sirius replied, waving away his concerns. “I’ve come to talk to you about Harry.”

“Harry?” Remus asked in confusion.

“Yes, Harry,” Sirius responded, rolling his eyes. “You know, black hair, green eyes, used to wear glasses.”

“I know who Harry is,” he scoffed. “I just don’t understand what you mean.”

“That’s because I haven’t explained what I mean yet,” Sirius said, speaking slowly and enunciating each syllable with painful clarity.

Remus remained silent in anticipation.

“Better,” Sirius said. “I can’t tell you much, or Harry would hate me for it,” he stated. “Harry’s been training since June. Training hard, Remus. He’s incredible. I’ve never seen someone accomplish what he has in such a short span of time. His drive and determination are unmatched, and, by Merlin, is he powerful.”

“When the time comes, you have to trust him, Remus,” Sirius continued. “I know he is still so young, but don’t let his age cloud your vision the way it has Dumbledore’s and so many others’. He will be a part of this war whether you like it or not and trying to shield him from it will only serve to alienate you from his life. You can’t let that happen. Trust him, Remus…”


He shook his head to clear the apparition from his vision. Could that have been real? Could it be Harry?

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