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Free Life Posted on 5/21/2012 4:49:38 AM
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Disclaimer: Harry Potter is the property of JK Rowling and Warner Bros. I in no way claim ownership of any rights to the Harry Potter Universe.

Author's Note:

Chapter 19: Show Me Your Secrets
The next morning when Ron again asked Harry about trying out his new broom, Harry was so excited at the prospect that he quickly agreed to go test it out after DADA that afternoon. As luck would have it, Ginny would finish her last class at that time as well, so she would be joining them with her own new broom.

When the time arrived, Harry could barely contain his excitement. He had been dreading flying and Quidditch all week long, but now he would be able to enjoy it as he always had. When Ginny met them in the common room, she informed them that Luna would be joining them. Harry was unaware that Luna enjoyed flying, but then he realised that there was probably a lot he did not know about Luna. Given the fact that she was in both another year and another house altogether, he hardly ever saw her.

Once he, Ron, Ginny, and Neville were ready in the common room, Harry turned towards Hermione. “You sure you don’t want to come?” he asked her one last time. She was already engrossed in her studies at a nearby table and took a moment to finish writing something before putting down her quill and looking up.

“No, it’s too cold to read outside,” Hermione answered.

“You could always join us in the air, you know,” Ginny responded.

Hermione looked up from her books and said, “I know; I just don’t like flying. Thank you for the offer, though.”

Harry could just barely hear Ron mutter, “Barking mad.” But he thought it best to ignore the remark.

“Suit yourself,” Neville said. “But if you change your mind, you know where to find us.”

Her only response was a smile. The four set off and met up with Luna in the entrance hall. Harry was surprised to find that Luna had brought a broom of her own. That meant none of them would need to use a school broom as Ginny had lent Neville her old broom.

It was quite chilly for some casual flying, but Harry could care less. The fact that he could easily apply warming charms if the cold got to him certainly encouraged his indifference. He wasted little time jumping onto his broom once they had reached the grounds of the pitch. He rocketed up into the air, letting out a whoop of joy as he did so. It had been much too long since he had done this – fly for pure pleasure.

He cut around the field, making sharp turns and putting on bursts of speed, testing the limits of the broom. As he had been promised, he could feel the improvements both in manoeuvrability and acceleration over the Firebolt. He leaned forward, pressing his chest to the shaft and pushed the broom for all it was worth. He was sensitive to the air currents around him and used them to his advantage as he strived to push the broom as fast as it could go.

It had been a while since he had flown his Firebolt, but he did not think there was much difference in their maximum speeds. The new Nimbus might be a little faster but not by much. Harry barely gave the matter much thought as he was just thrilled to be back up in the air. He noticed that the others had risen up into the air now, so he flew back towards them. Ron was holding a Quaffle, tossing it back and forth from hand to hand. As Harry drew in closer, Ron threw the ball in his direction. Harry put on a burst of speed and deftly plucked the Quaffle out of the air and immediately threw to Ginny.

She caught the ball and let it roll off her fingers towards Neville. Her aim was true, and Neville did not need to move to catch the ball. Neville had come a long way since their first flying lesson six years ago, but he was still not natural in the air. He had trouble managing the broom with just one hand, and his taking both hands off the shaft for a moment to catch the ball was asking for trouble.

Luna, surprisingly, had very little trouble controlling her broom while handling the Quaffle. She was not as adept as the Quidditch players, but Harry was pleasantly surprised to see her holding her own. Her passes, on the other hand, were not always the most accurate, but Harry found that he enjoyed having to chase down the ball. Besides, his own throws were not always on target. Neville was the only one who seemed fazed by the inaccurate throws, though he never said a word about it.

They tossed the Quaffle around for a bit before Harry took another turn around the pitch and performed a couple dives. He let Ron have a shot at the broom next, and he played catch with the others as Ron tested out the broom. When each of his friends had taken a ride on the new broom, Harry reclaimed it. As the afternoon waned, they played around a bit longer before finally heading in to wash up for supper.

Later that night, Harry was reading in the common room when Hermione approached him asking if he had a moment to talk. When Harry replied affirmatively, she asked if they could take a walk. She was acting a bit peculiar, so Harry, curiosity piqued, agreed. He quickly packed up his things and ran them up to his room. Coming back down the stairs, Harry escorted Hermione through the portrait hole. He had no particular direction in mind, so he let Hermione set the pace and course of their wanderings.

After a minute of silence, Harry finally let his curiosity get the better of him as he asked, “What is it you wanted to talk to me about?”

Hermione looked to him for a moment before turning her attention to the floor in front of her. She seemed nervous and unsure of herself, making Harry wonder just what was going on with her. He kept his silence as she seemed to be mulling over how to broach the subject at hand – whatever that subject might be.

After another minute she stopped walking and turned to him. She hesitated a moment as she looked into his eyes before a steely look suffused her face, and she asked, “Did you mean everything you said to me on Boxing Day?” Harry wracked his brain to figure out what she was talking about. She must have noticed his confusion for she added, “About Ron.”

“Oh,” Harry said in surprise. He had not been expecting her to bring that up again. “Umm – Yeah, I did mean what I said,” he stated.

“So you think I’m being unfair to Ron?” she prodded.

“If it makes you feel any better, I think Ron’s being unreasonable as well,” Harry stated with a lopsided smile.

The corner of her lips twitched into a small smile. “Maybe a little bit.”

Harry chuckled lightly at her admission. His laughter died quickly, though, and a silence fell over the pair. “So what is this really about?” Harry finally asked.

Hermione took a deep breath and started walking again. Harry matched her pace as she began to speak. “I’ve been thinking a lot about what you said and about Ron and everything. I like Ron,” she admitted. “I cannot tell you exactly why I like him, but I do.” She was quiet for a short moment before continuing, “I think I want to give things a chance with him.”

Harry felt a smirk tug at his lips. “You think?” When she turned to look at him, he cocked an eyebrow at her and added, “I will fully support you whichever route you choose. Just make sure this is what you want.”

She nodded at him. “I do want it. I just worry about how things will work out. And what will happen if things don’t work?”

Harry could almost have laughed at the irony of the situation – he, Remus, and now Hermione all sharing similar thoughts, afraid to begin a new relationship. So he gave her the same advice he gave Remus, the same advice he received from both Remus and Sirius. “If you let your worries and fears dictate your decision, you might spend the rest of your life wondering what could have been. If you truly want this, then go for it.”

“You think I should?” she asked him unsurely.

“If the only thing that’s holding you back is your fear of what will happen to your relationship if things don’t work, then yes, I think you should,” Harry replied. “If things don’t work out, you’ll cross that bridge when you get there.”

She stopped walking again and was quiet for a short moment before finally turning towards him and saying, “Thanks, Harry.” She paused briefly then warmly asked, “When did you get to be so good at this?”

“Remus needed a bit of a push too,” Harry replied with a smirk.

“Professor Lupin?” she queried. “Who?”

Harry’s smile widened. “Tonks.”

“Tonks?” she asked in surprise. “They seem like a bit of an odd match.”

“Don’t forget he used to be a Marauder,” Harry stated. “I expect we’ll see more of his mischievous nature shining through with her influencing him.”

“Oh bother,” she grumbled, though a smile tugged at her lips.

Harry chuckled as, by unspoken agreement, the two began making their way back to the common room.

******

Harry was awoken early Tuesday morning with his scar throbbing in pain. He had just borne witness to a Death Eater raid on a Muggle village. It had been a brutal evening, filled with pain, torture, and murder. The Muggles had been defenceless and terrified, which had only served to fuel the enjoyment of the Death Eaters.

Voldemort had been there, giving Harry his eye-witness account of the proceedings. It had been a horrible experience for Harry, but he had learned something quite valuable that evening. Voldemort was not nearly as in control of their link as he suspected. Harry had been inside Voldemort’s head for a good ten or fifteen minutes before he was noticed, and even then, Harry suspected he was only found out because of his reactions to the events he was forced to witness. He could not be sure, but Harry now believed that if he was able to temper his emotional reactions, he might be able to completely escape Voldemort’s notice!

Since Harry had virtually no control over the link, he could not use this knowledge to actively spy on Voldemort, but it would prove useful on the occasions that he did find himself in the throes of a vision. With Voldemort unaware of his presence, he might give away information that could help Harry put a stop to future attacks.

At the moment the information was of very little consolation for having to bear through the experience of the vision, but he clung to even a small ray of light visible in the darkness that enveloped him. Dreading the experience but not wanting to put it off, Harry retreated into his mind to sort the memory of the vision into its proper place.

A short time later, though it had felt interminable to Harry, he had finished the task. Considering his options, he chose to dress for his morning workout before heading down to the common room to read; that way he would be prepared when Ginny appeared. Several minutes later, Harry was curling up in one of the overstuffed armchairs as he tucked into his latest topic of study: healing.

Ever since he had returned from the last battle with the cursed burn, Harry had focused his studies on healing. He knew now that there was little he could have done to help with that particular injury, but the experience had taught him that a wide knowledge of different healing methods would likely prove invaluable to him.

It was still quite early in the morning – well before the sun would rise into the horizon. It was hardly surprising that, as Harry read through the text, his eyelids began to droop, and his head bobbed down every so often as he alternately dozed off and jerked back into wakefulness. Exhaustion finally caught up with him, and he managed to fall off into the land of dreams.

******

Ginny walked down into the common room after throwing on her morning workout clothes. She pulled her hair back into a pony tail and tied it off with an elastic as she stepped off the stairs. As soon as she entered into the room, she knew something was not right. Harry was conspicuous only in his absence. It was unusual for her to beat him to the common room. She could also sense there was someone else in the room. She could not see them, but she could hear movement. She hoped she was not about interrupt a private moment that she did not wish to see.

She tentatively walked into the room and headed in the direction of the noise. The armchair the sound was emanating from was facing away from her, so it was not until she had come upon it that she found the source of the noise: Harry. He was thrashing about in the chair, occasionally letting out a grunt or groan.

“Harry,” she spoke softly, hoping to wake him without startling him. He did not show any response. She tried again, louder this time, but still to no avail. She tried again, only this time she also reached out to shake his arm. The moment she touched his arm, Harry sprang into action. His left arm grabbed her wrist and yanked her towards the chair while he sprang away from it. She was spun around in his grip to face him as they basically changed positions, and she watched as Harry’s right arm extended sharply towards her. Her eyes went wide and flicked up to meet Harry’s.

His hand stopped abruptly just short of her face as recognition dawned in Harry’s eyes. An intense look of focus and concentration overtook his features as she saw a light envelop his hand for a moment before slowly diminishing and seemingly sinking back into his skin. The only sound in the room was their harsh breathing as each dealt with the rush of adrenaline of the moment.

After a very short silence, she demanded, “What just happened?”

“Sorry,” Harry murmured, his head downcast.

Her mind was churning to make sense of the events. He must have been having a bad dream or a vision; that much was obvious. When she had shaken him awake, he had gone on the offensive as if to attack her. If she was not mistaken, he had come dangerously close to hexing her. Almost against her will she asked, “What spell was that?”

Harry mumbled something, but she could not make it out.

“Harry,” she said a bit impatiently. With a sigh, he finally looked up to meet her gaze. “What spell was it?”

“I don’t know,” he cried, running a hand through his hair in obvious frustration and agitation. “By the time I realised what was going on, I was only concentrating on stopping it. I have no idea what it was.”

Her mind tried to struggle with this knowledge, or lack of knowledge. If he had taken her as a threat, it was likely the spell was meant to incapacitate if not outright hurt her. There was no sense worrying about it now. What mattered was that he had been able to stop it. Next time she would just need to be more careful in how she approached him. She focused her eyes on Harry, noticing for the first time the vacant expression in his eyes.

“Was it a vision?” she asked softly.

“No,” he answered, then shifted his gaze onto her face. “Well, I had one earlier. That – that was just a bad dream.”

“Just a bad dream?” she asked him. When his only response was to shrug, her eyes narrowed momentarily as she steeled her resolve.

“Listen,” Harry interrupted softly before she had a chance to speak. “I’m not trying to shut you out; I’d just rather not dwell on it. It was just Voldemort doing what he does. If we stopped to talk about it every time I had a bad dream or a vision, we’d never talk about anything else.”

She felt her face soften with her resolve. She reached up her hand to cup his cheek, and he laid his hand on top of hers as he leaned his cheek into the contact. “You know I’m always here. If you want to talk about it or just need someone to sit with you.”

He smiled at her tremulously, and it warmed her heart. “Thank you.”

She leaned up to give him a peck on the corner of his lips. “Any time,” she whispered in reply.

Without another word spoken between them, she interlaced her fingers with his, and they headed out to the grounds for their morning jog.

******

The morning exercise served to loosen Harry up both physically and emotionally. His chest had only briefly hindered his body, but it still felt wonderful to be able to move freely. It had been odd to have his morning routine interrupted; he had not been aware how accustomed he had become to his morning jog and workout. His days did not feel right without them.

And so, jogging around the lake at his quick pace, Harry felt his anxiety wash away. The activity eventually became rather laborious, but there was some comfort to be taken in that as well. It was normal for him at this point, and it felt good to once again push his limits to improve himself.

By the time he emerged from his shower in the Room of Requirement, he felt wholly refreshed and ready to tackle the day. Ginny was only a couple minutes behind him, and he greeted her with a smile and a kiss. It still delighted him to no end to be able to just kiss Ginny whenever the mood should strike him, and the bright smile it always brought to her face made it all the more wonderful in his eyes.

Breakfast was a lively affair as Harry and Ginny were joined by Neville, Ron, and Hermione. The sixth years had a test in Defence right after the meal. Far from stressing over the impending examination or, in Hermione’s case, burrowing into the textbook for some last bits of studying, they were discussing the topics to be covered. Even Ginny was getting in on the conversation. Harry had covered a lot of the topics in his HA classes, so she had no problems keeping up with their discussion.

Sure enough, the exam proved to be fairly easy for Harry and his friends and did not require the entire class period to complete. They were allowed to leave as soon as they were finished, giving them some extra time before the next period began. For Ron and Neville this proved beneficial as they had the period off. For Harry and Hermione, however, there was not enough time to head back up to Gryffindor Tower and still make it down to the dungeons in time for Potions.

Harry let Hermione steer the conversation as they slowly made their way to the dungeons. She always wanted to discuss their answers after sitting an exam. Normally, he and especially Ron would be opposed to the idea. Once the test was behind them, they wanted to relax and get it off their minds. This time, however, Harry did not feel his usual anxiety over his performance, so he did not mind discussing his answers with her.

They passed their time that way until Potions class began. Snape was his usual horrid self. After the confrontation with Dumbledore in the beginning of term, Harry had hoped the man would have toned down some of his animosity. Unfortunately, civility seemed to be beyond Snape’s grasp. He did not try to pull his wand on Harry again, but he was no less hostile towards him than he ever was.

Harry ignored the man while doing his best to keep an eye on him and the Slytherins to prevent them from tampering with his potion. The class eventually ended, and Harry split ways with Hermione as she headed off for Ancient Runes. He had an appointment with Ginny in his office.

As he contemplated being alone in his office with Ginny, he regretted that their meeting did have an agenda, but he knew her Occlumency lesson was much more important than the other activities he had in mind. She was waiting for him inside. He greeted her with a kiss, and they set off to work in short order.

They had had a couple lessons since their first, which had admittedly ended up focusing very little on Occlumency. Ginny had proven much more adept at the art after that first lesson. It was a constant battle of wills between the two of them as Harry improved his Legilimency alongside Ginny’s own advancements in Occlumency. Harry had managed to break into Ginny’s mind several more times, but never as easily as that first time. When he did break in, Harry found that Ginny had a much better handle on keeping her important memories to herself, and he soon gained the control to exit on his own without seeing anything he did not intend to see.

They saw similar results for the day’s session as well. Harry was able to break into Ginny’s mind on two occasions but was not witness to any more of Ginny’s memories. Other than those two times, Ginny was able to block all his other assaults. They left his office for the Great Hall and lunch each feeling pleased with the progress they had made. They decided to sit separately with their own classmates for the meal, staggering the time when they would arrive in the Great Hall. They spent so much time together that it was bound to draw attention if they were not careful.

While not in a hurry to announce it to the school, Harry was not particularly worried about news of their relationship leaking out. It was their other activities that must be kept secret. He would do his best to avoid questions about where they were or what they were getting up to. Besides, he really did not wish to have that conversation with Ron.

As the week passed, Harry grew anxious for their first Quidditch practice, scheduled for that Thursday. Unfortunately, a wicked storm caused the practice to be postponed until the following Monday. Ron was especially glum at the announcement, but Harry quickly put any disappointment behind him. It was only a few days, after all, and there was still plenty of time until their next match.

The next morning, Harry received a letter in the morning post. Noticing who it was from, he quickly tucked the envelope into his robes without opening it. When he glanced up, he noticed Hermione eyeing him curiously, but she did not comment. When he later read the post, he found a short note from his business partners informing him to meet them in the Shrieking Shack the next evening. That was how he found himself the next evening crouched down at a particularly low-ceilinged section of the tunnel that led to the purportedly haunted house.

Behind him, Ginny did not need to stoop to walk through the passage. She was the only one he had informed of the letter. He may have told the others about his proposal to the twins, but he was not ready to include them in everything. He also thought Hermione would have objected to sneaking off school grounds for the demonstration.

It was a short time later that Harry emerged out of the trap door and into the ragged house. He spotted the twins as soon as his head popped above ground and offered his greetings, “Gred, Forge.” As soon as he had hefted himself out of the hole, he reached down and offered Ginny his hand. He glanced over in time to see the eyebrows of both boys rise into their hairline as Ginny came into view.

When neither of the duo made any sort of move, Ginny demanded, “Are you going to stand their looking like idiots all day, or are you going to say hello to your favourite sister?”

Fred was the first to recover. He shook his head and said, “You’re our only sister.”

“A win by default is still a win,” she commented airily. Harry chuckled at her lofty attitude.

“Well, Ickle-Harrykins, Gin-Gin, you have us at a bit of a loss,” George stated.

“We were expecting Harry, of course,” his twin picked up.

“And maybe Ron and Hermione.”

“If she could be convinced to go along with it.”

“We were not expecting to be treated with the company of our darling sister.”

“Not that we mind, of course.”

“It is lovely to see you, Gin-Gin.”

“We were just wondering…”

“- if perhaps there was something the two of you would like to share with us?”

“Oh, like what?” Ginny asked with an arched brow. Harry just smirked at the byplay. He was going to let Ginny take the lead since they were her brothers. He was not sure what she would want them to know. She looked over her shoulder at him, and he just cocked an eyebrow and nodded his head at her, trying to convey that it was her call.

“Like why Harrykins chose to bring you along.”

“And not Ron or Hermione.”

“I think you know enough of the answer to suit yourselves,” Ginny stated.

“Because Ron kicked Harry off the Quidditch team?”

“And Hermione wouldn’t have agreed to come?”

“Or because you two came straight over from snogging in a broom cupboard?”

“I’ll have you know,” Ginny started hotly before continuing in a teasing manner, “that Harry has an office that we much prefer to snog in.”

Fred and George gaped at her for a moment, then looked at each other before turning back to her and simultaneously breaking out in hearty guffaws. When they had calmed down after a minute they asked, “Is that true?”

“Or were you just having us on?”

Ginny turned and gave him a mischievous smile. Harry thought he had an idea of what she had in mind and felt a smirk stretching across his own lips. Ginny then turned back to her brothers and sweetly asked, “Would you like us to put on a demonstration for you?” As she said this, Harry took a step towards Ginny, who turned toward him, and he wrapped his arms around her waist. Her arms lifted onto his shoulders, her hands clasping behind his neck.

As Harry lowered his head he heard the twins shouting, “No, no we believe you.”

“We do not need to see that.”

Harry paused briefly, but Ginny pulled his head down and captured his lips in her own. It was not an obscene kiss, but when they broke apart both Fred and George had turned their backs to them. Harry smiled down at Ginny, who was smirking right back at him. Still in their embrace, Ginny called, “You can turn around now.”

They looked over their shoulders first to ensure that it was in fact safe. Satisfied, they turned back to face the two of them.

“So when did this development take place?”

“A couple weeks ago,” Ginny replied. They relinquished their hold on each other and now stood side by side with Harry’s arm around her shoulders, and Ginny’s arm around his waist.

“And how come we haven’t heard about it?”

“Yeah, I figure Mum would have had kittens in her excitement.”

“Plus we’d’ve heard her planning the wedding by now.”

Harry rolled his eyes at them as Ginny replied. “We haven’t told anyone yet - which means you two will be keeping your mouths shut about it as well.”

They looked at each other for a short moment before both released long suffering sighs as they gave their agreement. Apparently Ginny’s tone was enough to tell them not to press the matter.

“Well, now we’ve got that out of the way,” Harry piped in. “Don’t you two have a demonstration of your own?”

“Well we’re not snogging for your amusement if that’s what you’re thinking,” George answered back heatedly.

It took half a second for his comment to register, but when it did Harry snorted in laughter. He heard Ginny chuckling lightly as well. “I’d rather not see that, thanks,” she said a moment later.

“I think, my dear twin, that he means these,” Fred interjected as he pulled out a bag.

“Ah yes, how silly of me to forget.”

“You may want to pull up a seat.”

“Because you’re about to get knocked out of your socks.”

“And that’s a dangerous proposition while you’re standing.”

Harry had spent enough time in the room to know that there was only one chair, and it was pretty worn down. He reached into his robes and conjured a stick of wood baring an uncanny resemblance to his wand. After a moment’s indecision, he conjured one over-sized armchair that would comfortably seat the two of them. Ginny smiled at his choice and happily took a seat. He sunk down next to her, slipping an arm around her shoulder in the process. Harry smiled at her and gave her a quick peck on the lips before turning back to the twins.

They were watching the two of them. “Well that’s a neat trick,” Fred commented.

Harry quirked his eyebrow in lieu of asking the obvious question.

“The chair,” George answered.

“It’s called magic,” Harry explained.

“You perform it with a magic wand,” Ginny helpfully inserted.

“Now, the wand may just look like a stick of wood, but there is actually a magical core inside,” Harry continued.

“It helps to focus the magic,” Ginny once again interjected.

“Har har,” Fred interrupted.

“What we mean is…”

“Where did you learn to conjure like that?”

Harry rolled his eyes. “You’d be surprised what you could learn if you only paid attention.”

“I’m pretty sure McGonagall never covered anything like that in our class,” George responded.

“Perhaps had you shown the skill for it, she would have pushed you to bigger and better things,” Harry commented.

“Are you going to give us a show? Or did you come to sign up for lessons with Harry?” Ginny interjected. “He has a pretty busy schedule, you know. The life of an Assistant Professor is not an easy one. You’ll probably have to wait at least until the summer before he’ll be able to fit you in.”

“If he didn’t spend so much time snogging our lovely sister,” Fred retorted.

“He might have a bit of time for some extra lessons.”

“Sorry guys,” Harry put in. “The snogging time stays.”

They simultaneously shrugged while Fred input, “It was worth a shot.”

Harry rolled his eyes but refrained from commenting further.

George reached his hand into the bag and seemed to pull something out, though Harry could not see what. “Now,” he said. “Feast your eyes on this…”

******

After the twins’ demonstration, they made it back to the common room well before curfew. Ron and Hermione left for a prefect meeting just as Harry and Ginny arrived. Harry bid them a good time, and Ron groused sourly. Hermione insisted that it would be interesting as the two of them stepped out of the portrait hole. Hermione glanced over her shoulder one last time and connected eyes with Harry for just a moment before the portrait shut. He found himself perplexed at the look she had given him but quickly shook the matter out of his mind.

“Hey, Neville, how about a game of Exploding Snap?” Harry asked as he sat in a chair across from the boy. Neville lowered the textbook he had been reading and nodded his head agreeably.

“Sounds great. This stuff was putting me to sleep.”

Harry smiled then turned to Ginny who was only a metre away. “What about you, Gin? Interested?”

She hesitated a second before shaking her head. “No thanks, I think I’m going to go over and see what’s going on with my dorm mates. They look like they’re up to something.”

“Suit yourself,” Harry said as he turned back to Neville. He followed Ginny’s progress with his eyes as she walked over to her friends.

“You two have been spending an awful lot of time together,” Neville commented offhandedly.

Harry’s eyes snapped away from Ginny’s backside and landed on Neville. He shrugged his shoulders. “She’s good company.”

Neville smiled a bit devilishly. “I’ll bet,” he said with a suggestive lilt to his voice. Then, abruptly, he dropped the tone, “You want to go first or should I?”

“Go ahead,” Harry said, feeling a bit disoriented. After Neville placed his card, Harry followed up with his own. As Neville was considering his next move, Harry asked, “So do you have any big plans for next weekend?”

“Not really,” Neville answered a bit distractedly as he made his move. “I – well, I – that is –“

“You’d like to spend the day with Hannah, but you haven’t found the nerve to ask her yet?” Harry offered as he played his own card.

“Is it that obvious?” Neville asked a bit glumly.

“What other reason could there be for your indecision or nervousness?” Harry queried. “It’s the only thing that makes sense.”

Neville nodded his head and played another card without responding. “You should just ask her, you know,” Harry stated.

“But what if she says no? What if she’d rather just be friends?” Neville asked, flustered.

“You’ll never know until you ask,” Harry responded. “If you don’t ask, you’ll be miserable wondering what could have been. At least if you ask you’ll have a chance at being happy.” Harry smirked at his friend as he placed another card. It was funny how similar the situations were. First Remus and Tonks, then he and Ginny, he had just given the same advice to Hermione, and now he was feeding it to Neville. It made Harry feel distinctly normal, and he rather liked the feeling.

“What about you?” Neville retorted. “What are your plans for next weekend?”

“Good question,” Harry answered ponderingly. “I guess I just assumed I’d be spending the day with Ginny, but I never actually asked her. I’ll ask her later tonight.”

“What’s going on with you two?” Neville asked. “It’s clear you like each other, but I can’t tell if you’ve done anything about it. You act the same as you always have, yet something about you seems different.” It was Neville’s turn to play, but he had paused his actions as he waited for Harry’s answer.

Harry took a moment to ponder over his response. He and Ginny had not really talked about what they would tell their friends. Neither one made a move to tell others except in the case of Remus and Fred and George, and in those cases they had sought the other’s permission first. Ginny was not around to ask this time, and he could not just pretend he had not heard the question. In the end, he decided that Neville deserved an honest answer. He would let Ginny know about it later and just hope that she agreed with him, and he would ask Neville to keep it a secret until they were ready to let their relationship be known.

“We’ve been dating for a couple weeks now,” Harry informed his friend. “We just didn’t want to make a big deal out of it. We’ll probably tell everyone eventually, but for now can you not let on that you know anything?”

Neville smirked at him. “Sure; no problem. I’m glad you two are together; you just seem like you belong together.”

Harry smiled widely. “Yeah,” he agreed. “Thanks.” They each played a couple turns in silence before Harry spoke up again. “You know, I think if you asked, she’d say yes.”

Neville paused his move as he looked up at Harry. “Why do you say that?”

“When we danced at the ball,” Harry said. “She didn’t come right out and say it, but I got the impression that she was interested.”

“Really? You think so?” Neville asked hopefully.

“Yeah,” Harry said. “Give it a shot, mate. Trust me when I say that it is worth the risk.”

“Thanks, Harry,” Neville said after playing his next turn. “I think maybe I’ll ask her tomorrow.”

“That’s great,” Harry encouraged, placing his own card. As soon as his fingers let go of the card it exploded. Luckily, he was already pulling back and avoided most of the explosion. “Well, that’s game to you. Want to go again?”

“Sure,” Neville replied.

When they were well into their third game – they could not stop with the score split between them – Ron and Hermione came back through the portrait hole, each wearing a wide grin. Neville was the first to notice them and had to point Harry towards them as his back was to the exit. Given the fact that he already had Valentine’s Day and next weekend’s Hogsmeade trip on the brain, Harry quickly made the connection to his conversation with Hermione the previous weekend. If he was not mistaken, she had finally worked up the nerve to ask Ron to go with her.

“Merlin, it’s finally happened,” Harry muttered.

“You don’t think…?” Neville began. “No, it couldn’t be. Could it?”

“Hermione came to me about a week ago to talk about Ron,” Harry explained, turning back to Neville. “I think she finally made up her mind and asked him.”

Neville’s gaze alternated between the couple and Harry for a long moment before he shook his head. “I guess I always figured it would happen eventually,” he said. “Yet I never thought it would happen, you know?”

Harry chuckled. “Yeah, I know. It was inevitable, yet they’re both so stubborn it felt like they’d never get there.”

“Exactly,” Neville agreed with a smile. “Well, if Hermione can do it, so can I.”

“That’s the spirit,” Harry encouraged.

They returned to their game after that. Neville ended up pulling away with the deciding victory. Though he put up a show of being disgruntled over the loss, Harry really did not mind. He would have preferred to win, of course – there was no point playing if you were not at least trying to win – but he had fun all the same.

Harry managed to ask Ginny about the Hogsmeade trip later that evening. She told him that of course she would spend the day with him and that he was silly for thinking he had to ask. After all, if he was planning on spending Valentine’s Day with anyone but her, he would be in for a world of pain.

She also agreed to the lunch date with Neville and Hannah, so Harry made sure to inform his friend when they retired for the night. Ron came strolling into the room with a stupid grin still attached to his face shortly thereafter where he informed them all that he would be spending his time in Hogsmeade with Hermione – alone. He did not inquire as to any of their plans, and neither he nor Neville chose to speak up.

As Harry changed into his night clothes, he wondered what Ron’s reaction would be when he found out. He felt a little bad about hiding their relationship from Ron, but he was not ready to share it with him yet. But Ron would have to be told eventually. Harry put the matter out of his mind, not wanting to worry about what could happen. No matter Ron’s reaction, it would not change his relationship with Ginny, and in the end, that was all that truly mattered.

******

Harry called the training dummies to a halt and wiped the sweat from his brow. He took a moment to catch his breath and glanced over at Ginny. She was working diligently on her wandless magic. She was not catching on quite as quickly as he had, but she was making progress. Harry was convinced that she had the talent to use wandless magic as effortlessly as he now did, so long as she kept at it. Ginny had told him all about the incendiary spell she had unconsciously cast while he was off battling Death Eaters. She clearly had the ability since that had not been uncontrolled, accidental magic. Even if she had not cast the spell consciously, she was still able to control the spell.

Now, however, she was back to performing simple spells and had to struggle for control. She also wore a rather determined look on her face as she extended her arm and summoned a thick tome. The book started to move slowly and shakily but picked up speed suddenly. She yelped and ducked as the book continued on in its momentum, falling to the ground a good 10 or 15 metres past her. She cursed loudly as she turned and closed the distance to the book, kicking it across the floor in frustration.

“You really shouldn’t blame the book,” Harry commented as he walked towards her.

“Why not?” Ginny demanded as she whirled around to face him.

“Because it’s not the book’s fault. It was your magic that made it nearly take your head off,” he answered stoically.

“Yeah, well,” Ginny huffed in annoyance. “It’s easier to blame the book,” she finished in a mutter.

“Easier, yes,” Harry said with a chuckle. “But that doesn’t make it right.”

“I just don’t understand how I could cast such a powerful spell one night, and now I’m struggling with this simple stuff,” she edged out in frustration.

“Think of your magic like a muscle,” Harry explained. “Your muscle has a certain limit to what it can do, but with training you can strengthen the muscle so that it can handle more on a regular basis.”

“I understand that,” Ginny interrupted, “but that’s totally different…”

Harry held up his hand to quell Ginny’s outburst. “If you let me finish, perhaps you would see what I’m talking about.” He waited until she nodded her head before continuing. “When a person is under duress, sometimes a jolt of adrenaline can allow that person to perform extraordinary feats they would not ordinarily be able to accomplish.”

“Wait, what’s adrenaline?” Ginny asked.

Harry was brought up short by the question. Truth be told, he did not know all that much on the topic, but he thought he could explain it well enough. “It’s a chemical produced by the body when you are either especially physically active or when you are in a moment of duress or panic. There have been reports of people doing amazing things thanks to the adrenaline their body has produced in a crisis, like lifting up something really heavy to save a child or loved one or something. Normally they would not have been strong enough to do it, but thanks to the adrenaline, they could. If they went back the next day outside of that stressful situation, they’d find that they could not perform the same feat.”

Harry stopped his explanation to gauge how Ginny was taking it. He hoped he had explained it sufficiently and wanted to see what she made of his explanation. She bit her lip with her head slightly downcast as she thought it over, and Harry found the action rather distracting. Finally, she looked up at him and tentatively reasoned out, “So you’re saying that because I was worried about you, I had adrenaline pumping through me, which allowed me to do something I wouldn’t normally be able to do?”

“Yes, I think so,” Harry said, happy that the message had been relayed clearly. Ginny, however, did not look so pleased.

“So you’re saying I won’t be able to cast magic like that except in those types of circumstances?” she asked him.

“No,” Harry backpedalled. “No, what I’m saying is that you did something your body is not currently conditioned to handle. It’s something your body is capable of, obviously, since you managed to do it, but if you want to be able to do it regularly, you have to keep training to build up your magic muscle or whatever you want to call it.”

She nodded her head in acceptance of his explanation. “I guess that’s my cue to get back to work,” she said.

“Actually,” Harry responded, “I want you to switch over to the dummies for a while.” For several minutes Harry just watched Ginny get put through her paces before he shook himself to attention and went back to his own training. Having a partner could be very distracting, especially when all he really wanted to do was take her aside and snog her senseless, but he refused to allow his hormones to get in the way of his training. There would be time for snogging later.

After their training, they had time to grab a quick, light meal before heading out to the Quidditch pitch for practice. Even despite his limited interaction with his teammates during the practice, Harry could tell that things were not going too well. He could hear Ron’s voice growing more frustrated and exasperated as the time went on. When the practice was over, Harry inconspicuously let Ginny know not to wait for him and took his time getting cleaned up and dressed back in his normal clothes. He and Ron had made a habit of talking after practices last term, and Harry figured it would be a good idea to start the custom up again.

The changing room eventually cleared of everyone but the two of them, and it was a short minute after the last person had left when Ron asked him, “So what did you think?”

Harry glanced up from tying his shoes to see Ron pulling his normal robes over his head and mulled over the question over for a moment. “I think it went okay. It could have been much better, but they were bound to be rusty. It was our first practice of the term after all; some of them probably haven’t been on a broom in two months.”

“That’s true,” Ron conceded.

“Besides, we have plenty of time to get back into rhythm before our first game. Give it a week or two before you start worrying about it. If you get on them too soon, it may put them off a bit,” Harry continued.

“I don’t want them to get complacent,” Ron answered, shutting the door of his locker.

“Well, you don’t have to blow smoke up their arses,” Harry responded. “Let them know exactly what you think, that they’re rusty. We’ll tell them that while we understand that it’s unavoidable, we expect them to be back on form in a week; otherwise we will crack down on them.”

“You think that will work?” Ron asked doubtfully as he sank down onto the opposite bench.

Harry finished tying his shoe before looking back up and answering. “It’s all about balance. They have to want to play for you, so you can’t be too hard on them. But you need them to respect you, so you can’t just let them do whatever they want either.”

“But how do you know which one is the right way to handle the situation?” Ron inquired. He was leaning forward with his hands on his knees, and Harry could tell he was very interested in the conversation. That was not an odd occurrence when the conversation revolved around Quidditch, but in this case it was only loosely so.

“It’s not always easy to tell,” Harry responded thoughtfully. In truth he had never really thought about it. He tended to just follow his instincts. “You have to try to understand where they’re coming from. In this case, it wasn’t that they were goofing off or dogging it. They were trying but were just too rusty to play on top of their games, and I’m sure they know that without being told. That’s when you need to offer encouragement to try to help them get better. If you think that they’re playing poorly because they aren’t concentrating or are just goofing off or whatever, that’s when you need to get on their cases.”

Ron was silent for a long moment following his statement, so Harry used the time to hang his Quidditch robe in the locker and shut the door.

“It’s not easy for you, is it?” Ron’s voice permeated through the quiet. Harry turned around to look at his friend, wondering what he was talking about. “Being a professor and a student,” Ron clarified.

“No, not really,” Harry answered, a bit surprised at the question. “It’s not so bad usually, but there are times when it gets tough. It’s hard to be a friend one minute and an authority the next, and I always have to second guess myself. Am I being too lenient because I’m their friend? Or am I being too hard on them? I usually don’t have the time to really think about in that moment, but afterwards I often question myself.”

“I suppose we don’t always make it easy on you,” Ron sheepishly admitted.

“Not always, no,” Harry said. He found himself at a loss. It was unlike Ron to dwell on something like this. You were lucky to get even a weak apology out of him, and afterwards he seemed to forget the matter ever happened. When Ron had acted out in class, he had been angry and upset at Harry for putting a stop to him. He had eventually got over his anger and went on to pretend like nothing was wrong – never actually considering the position he had put Harry in.

When Harry had brought the matter back up in his confrontation with Ron following the Quidditch match last fall, he had not known exactly what he expected, but he certainly did not expect the matter to still be on Ron’s mind several months down the line. Perhaps he had made more of an impact than he knew.

“I’m glad you’re back on the team,” Ron said as he stood up.

Harry followed suit, rising from the bench. “Me too, mate. Me too.” It was not quite an apology, but he found he did not really need to hear the words. After all, he could not expect Ron to completely change overnight. For now it was enough to know that Ron recognised the tough position he had put Harry in.

The next few days crawled by at a flobberworm’s pace as anticipation for Valentine’s Day and the Hogsmeade trip escalated. Harry took advantage of the preoccupation of his friends to sneak out of the castle. He wanted to get Ginny a gift, but he had no idea where to even start. Even if he wanted to, he could not go to Hermione or any of the other girls in Hogwarts because it would be too difficult to explain how he would get the gift.

He briefly thought of contacting Jessica for help but quickly thought better of it. It would be a little weird to go to her for help buying a gift for another woman. And besides, it would be rather difficult to explain why he was back in London. He did remember seeing a couple shops that he thought might work while walking with Jessica near her department store, so that is where he set off to find Ginny’s gift.

After a quick stop to change some galleons into pounds, Harry wandered into a Muggle jewellery store, thinking over what he wanted to buy. He was wary of getting a ring as he did not want her to get the wrong idea, so he had decided on a bracelet, a necklace, or earrings. After looking through all the display counters, Harry felt his head spinning at the wide selection. Luckily, a friendly old man behind the counter approached him asking if he needed some assistance.

Harry explained his predicament to the man who smiled back in a kindly way. He showed Harry several selections that he said were popular with the younger generation, and from there Harry was able to pick out a pair of gold earrings.

He made the purchase, thanked the man for his help, and quickly made his way back to the castle. He had little fear of getting caught by anyone except Ginny, but he wanted to keep his gift a surprise from her until Valentine’s Day. The rest of the week was practically torture with how slowly the days seemed to pass by.

When the weekend finally arrived, Harry was filled with a sense of both relief and excitement as he was finally making his way into the Wizarding village. It had felt as though the weekend would never come, yet here it was. As a chilly breeze sent a shiver down his spine, Harry called up his magic to warm himself. He let the magic flow into Ginny, and she sent an appreciative smile over her shoulder in thanks.

As they walked Harry reflected on this time last year. He had been walking down the same beaten path to the town of Hogsmeade beside a girl he thought he had fallen head over heels for. At the time he had found himself feeling awkward and uncomfortable, struggling to find some common ground with a girl he hardly knew. A year ago Harry was walking down the path to disaster.

That was the great thing about this year and this Valentine’s Day. At his side was a girl he was quite certain he had fallen - was still falling - head over heels for. Thinking back on it, Harry found his behaviour the previous year rather silly. He had not even known Cho, so what exactly was it that he had fallen for? Ginny, however, he knew quite well, and it seemed like the more he learned about her, the more he liked her. As they walked along the trodden path, there was no struggle to find common ground or a topic of conversation, and the silences were not at all awkward or uncomfortable. The fact that they did not need to keep a constant stream of conversation going was testament to how comfortable they were with each other. Their relationship was easy and natural.

They made it into the town amidst the crowd of students without a real destination in mind. Harry turned to Ginny and asked what she wanted to do.

“I could go for a cup of tea, I think,” she replied. “Can we go to Madame Puddifoot’s?”

Harry stared at her in abject horror at the very notion. He had never been there at any time of the year beside Valentine’s Day. He was aware that the place may not always be as horrible as it had been on his one visit with Cho, but since it was Valentine’s Day again, the shop was likely to be set up similarly if not identically to last year. He could not believe Ginny would even want to go there. Then it hit him. Ginny would not want to go there; she was only having him on.

“Ha ha,” he said. “Very funny.”

She smiled winningly at him in return. “The look on your face was priceless.”

“Yeah, yeah. Laugh it up,” Harry replied. “You think it’s funny, but I don’t think I could even kiss you now, not with that scene playing in my head the way it is now.”

“Oh, don’t be so melodramatic,” Ginny scoffed.

He stuck his tongue out at her in mock anger.

“Careful, Mr. Potter,” Ginny warned. “I’ve been known to bite.” Her voice had taken on a suggestive lilt, and she winked at him as she finished.

“Just don’t bite too hard, and I think we’ll be okay. In fact,” Harry quipped, “I think I might just enjoy that.”

“Keep dreaming Potter,” Ginny said, giving him a playful shove.

Harry moved as if to shove her right back but instead pulled her in for a quick peck on her lips. Pulling back, he slipped his arm around her shoulders, and the two wandered through the main street of town. They mostly just looked into the windows but entered a couple shops as well. Neither one of them had any purchases they needed to make, so they were content just to enjoy the stroll through town until it was time for lunch.

As lunch-time approached, they entered the Three Broomsticks to find Neville and Hannah already sitting in a booth along the wall. Harry waved as they approached the table and slid into the seat after Ginny. As they exchanged greetings, Ginny pulled his hand off his lap and interlaced her fingers with his. He turned and smiled at the same time as Ginny.

“Ginny, I love your earrings,” Hannah commented excitedly.

Harry spun towards her in surprise wondering how she could have spotted Ginny’s earrings so easily. He glanced at Ginny who gave him a smug, ‘I told you so’ look. And she had told him so. Unable to wait any longer, Harry had given her the earrings that morning. After thanking him profusely, she had warned him that if she wore the jewellery someone was bound to notice and comment on them. Harry had shrugged his shoulders deciding it was not worth worrying over. People were bound to find out eventually.

“Thanks; Harry gave them to me,” she replied.

As both heads across the table turned to look at him, Harry felt heat creeping up his neck and into his cheeks.

“They’re beautiful,” Hannah continued. “I must say you have good taste.”

“Err – uh – thanks,” Harry responded uncomfortably.

Ginny nudged him in the side with her elbow. “Oh quit acting all shy,” she teasingly reprimanded.

He looked up at her and smiled, realising that he was being a bit silly about the whole thing. He was just unused to everything about the situation. His relationship with Ginny was still so new, and so few people knew about it that the topic never came up. It would just take him a bit to grow accustomed to people knowing how he felt, he supposed.

“So, how are you two enjoying your date?” Harry asked, trying to get the spotlight off of himself.

Sure enough, a blush spread across Neville’s cheeks, and Hannah ducked her head shyly as she mumbled something he could not quite catch.

“Okay, so you’re not the only shy one here,” Ginny input with levity. “Feel better about yourself now?”

“Yes, actually,” Harry retorted. “Much better.”

Madame Rosmerta interrupted to take their orders, and they settled into an easy conversation once she had wandered off. Harry refrained from falling back into the flirtatious routine he and Rosmerta had established in the previous term. He thought it would be disrespectful to Ginny to flirt with another woman while on a date with her – even if it was only in jest. Harry was a bit surprised when Rosmerta made no move to flirt with him or Neville, but then, maybe she realised that they were on dates and did not want to risk upsetting the girls.

The conversation turned to the HA and eventually to the war. Hannah was interested in hearing what Harry, in particular, thought about everything. He supposed it made sense that she would look to him since he was the only one in a position of authority who openly talked about it and who was trying to give them tools to deal with the situation. Harry chose for bluntness in his response.

“Basically, the Ministry was and is woefully unprepared to deal with the situation. Fudge not only wasted a full year of preparation, he allowed Voldemort to have free reign to build up his strength. The only people who actively worked against Voldemort in that time were Dumbledore and his supporters, and they did little more than gather information and work to impede and slow Voldemort down. As far as I can tell, they never actually worked to capture any Death Eaters or do anything openly constructive to put a dent in Voldemort’s forces.”

“Now granted,” Harry continued after pausing to take a sip of butterbeer, “if they had caught any Death Eaters, Fudge would have just let them go as soon as they were turned over to the Ministry. From what I’ve seen, the Ministry Aurors seem under-trained for this sort of conflict and too few in numbers to pose any real threat to Voldemort’s forces. Dumbledore’s group is not any better off. Right now, all anyone seems to be trying to do is minimise the damage being done, and they’re doing a pretty shoddy job of even that.”

The table was silent for a long moment following his statement. The prospects did not look good, and it was a hard truth to swallow. Hannah finally broke the silence saying, “I heard they were able to stop an attack on Madame Bones a little while back. It was never in the papers, but Susan Bones got a letter from her aunt about it.”

Harry shared a quick look with Ginny before turning his attention back to Hannah. “Did she mention any specifics about the attack or who it was that stopped it?”

“No,” Hannah replied, shaking her head. “No, just that there was an attack at her home, but they caught word of it beforehand and were able to put a stop to it. So that’s promising, right? I mean, if they not only learned of the attack but were also able to stop it, they’re at least doing something right.”

Harry was not sure how to respond to her. He glanced over at Neville to see his elbows on the table, hands clasped under his chin as he waited for Harry’s reply. Hannah bore a hopeful expression on her face as if seeking some comfort from his response. He felt Ginny’s hand rub comfortingly on his leg as he mulled things over. He wanted to give them some comfort, but at the same time he did not want to lie or give them false hope.

“Well, I reckon that’s true,” Harry finally answered. “It’s only one small victory, but it shows that there are at least some who are capable of stopping the Death Eaters. If they can continue to win those small battles, we may be able to wear down their forces.”

Madame Rosmerta arrived with their orders, and the conversation turned back to lighter topics as they all enjoyed the meal. After they had finished and paid, Neville asked if they would like to get some dessert at a new ice cream parlour that was having its grand opening that weekend. Harry glanced at Ginny, and, after exchanging a quick look, she quickly agreed.

Harry and Ginny decided to split a relatively simple sundae with vanilla ice cream, strawberries, and hot fudge. The only thing magical about the dish was that the hot fudge was charmed to stay hot and yet not cause the ice cream to melt any more quickly than it normally would. Harry did not pay particular attention to what Neville and Hannah ordered except to note that they each got their own separate dish, although he did notice them sharing.

After the delicious desserts, Harry and Ginny parted ways with Neville and Hannah. As they exited the ice cream parlour, Harry noticed Ron and Hermione entering the Three Broomsticks hand-in-hand. The sight brought a smirk to his lips even if it was also a bit disconcerting. Their new relationship would take some getting used to.

He took Ginny’s hand and led her away from the main town, past a couple blocks of houses to the outskirts of the town near where he always Apparated in and out of the town. Nearby was a knoll partially secluded by a row of trees. Harry retrieved his wand from his holster for show and conjured a large blanket on the grass. “If you don’t mind, I thought we’d just lie down together for a bit.”

She smiled warmly at him and rose onto her toes to give him a peck on the lips. “That sounds lovely.”

******

Ginny lowered herself down onto the blanket, followed closely by Harry. She stretched out on her side facing Harry. When he did the same, she asked him, “So what are we doing here?”

He smiled coyly as he replied, “Oh I don’t know, enjoying the view.”

“The view, huh?” she asked. Ginny turned her head to take a good look at the scenery. It was pretty enough, she supposed. The grass was a lush green. The clearing held a few scattered trees, and the forest was thin enough here that it was much more inviting than the line of trees lining Hogwarts’ grounds. As she turned back, she found Harry still facing her. His were cast slightly downward and lingered for a moment before rising to meet her gaze. “Are you enjoying the view?” she asked boldly.

His eyes lazily flicked down again before slowly rising to her face. Ginny could feel heat rush to her cheeks at his scrutiny. He smirked at her coyly as he responded, “Very much.” His hand reached out to cup her cheek; Ginny needed no further invitation. She leaned in and captured his lips with her own. Harry’s hand lingered on her cheek for several moments before moving into her hair and finally to her back. He pulled her body into his, closing what little space lay between them. It was almost intoxicating – the kiss, the feel of his body pressed against hers – she could very easily lose herself.

Eventually she broke the kiss and rested her forehead against his, the tips of their noses just barely touching. Harry’s eyes twinkled at her as he began to rub his nose back and forth across hers. She could not help a small giggle at the sensation. As her eyes met his, it was suddenly driven home just how far he had come. She could remember when he was uncomfortable with just small acts of affection, yet now here he was acting overtly affectionate with her. Kissing was one thing as it was largely fuelled by desire and lust, but the simple act of rubbing his nose against hers or just holding her there meant much more, in its own way. It was not driven by desire or hormones but genuine affection. The knowledge caused a warm feeling of comfort to spread throughout her body.

She slid her head down to rest in the crook of his neck as they lay there together. His hand was gently stroking her hair; it was such a calm and soothing action. She had no idea how long they laid there like that as the action was so relaxing that she soon felt her eyes drifting shut of their own accord. What felt like mere moments later, she was jarred to awareness when Harry stiffened beneath her. His hand left her hair abruptly, and she was suddenly wide awake.

She lifted her head to look up at him and found his face scrunched up in pain, his eyes clamped shut, and his hand pressed against his scar. She wrapped her arm around his shoulder and held him tightly, tucking her head down to the side of his. She began whispering into his ear, telling him that it would be okay, that she had him. Her other hand wound its way into his hair as she continued to whisper soothingly. She had no idea whether or not he could hear her, but if it afforded him even some small comfort it was worth the effort.

It was several minutes later that Harry jerked back into awareness. He was breathing heavily but did not have the drastic reaction he had had the last time she was with him during the throes of a vision. She just held him tightly and was relieved when he immediately squeezed her back. They stayed that way for a couple minutes, locked in a tight embrace before Harry whispered into her ears, “We need to go. I have to talk to Dumbledore.”

She nodded to Harry and stood up beside him. She was just about to collect the blanket when she remembered that Harry had conjured it. She reminded him to vanish it, and they set off at a brisk walk back towards the castle. They were both quiet as they were each lost in their thoughts. Ginny could only assume he was thinking about his vision. She was curious as to what he had seen but thought better of asking him about it now. She would wait until they were in private.

Instead, she found her thoughts focusing on Voldemort and the war that was brewing in the Wizarding World. She was always aware that it was going on, of course, but within the safety of Hogwarts, it was easy to forget just how real it all was – even with all the training she was doing. It was Harry’s involvement that brought it all bearing down on her, as it was now. When it was just she and Harry together in a private moment like that, it was easy to forget everything else, yet she knew that would not be the last time Voldemort came between them. She knew they could not truly have normal lives, be a normal couple, until Voldemort was defeated.

As they were walking into the entrance hall, Harry grabbed and squeezed her hand lightly. “I should probably talk to Dumbledore alone,” he said, looking into her eyes.

“Yeah, I was thinking the same,” she responded softly. She leaned up to give him a peck on the cheek. “I’ll wait for you in your office.”

He smiled down at her softly. “Thanks, Gin.” And then he turned and walked away. Ginny watched him go before turning and making her way to his office.

******

Harry grew uncomfortable under the old wizard’s speculative stare. Just when he was about to interrupt the silence, the Headmaster asked, “Are you certain this was not a false vision implanted in your mind?”

Harry had to repress a frustrated sigh. “Yes, sir, I’m positive.”

“How can you be sure?” he was asked. There was not doubt in the tone, only interest and curiosity.

“I’ve been having a lot of visions lately,” Harry admitted. He had avoided mentioning the visions to anyone but Ginny. There was nothing that could be done for them, and he hardly felt like concentrating on them any more than necessary. And he really did not want to deal with any unnecessary questions. “He’s been participating in attacks more often lately,” he offered by way of explanation.

“I see,” Dumbledore replied, steepling his fingers underneath his chin. “And you have come to some understanding of the visions as a result?”

“You could say that, I guess,” Harry stated. He paused as he formulated his response. “Voldemort doesn’t seem to have as much control over our link as he thinks. I noticed that he only became aware of my presence when I had strong reactions to what was happening at the time.”

“Indeed?” the Headmaster asked with obvious interest.

“Since I made that discovery, I’ve learned to temper my reactions to avoid notice. I was hoping that he might give away information while I was there that could help put stop to future attacks,” Harry continued. “Before today, I had not been made privy to anything useful. I only caught him during attacks.”

“Have you considered the fact that if you can spy on him unnoticed, he may be able to do the same to you?” the Headmaster questioned.

Harry’s previous thoughts derailed. Truth be told, he had never given any consideration to that thought. Something in his gut told him that it could not be true, but he could not deny the validity of the thought. “I hadn’t thought of that,” he stated neutrally. “Though I would think that my scar would give me some indication of his presence,” he added as the thought formed in his mind. “It always hurts when he’s near, whether physically or – erm – mentally.”

“Did your scar bother you during your dreams of the Department of Mysteries last year?” Dumbledore inquired.

“No,” Harry answered uneasily as he thought back on it. “I suppose it didn’t.” He paused for a moment before another thought jumped into his mind. “But then, Voldemort didn’t have to be in my head for that, did he? He just had to send along a vision or dream or whatever you want to call it.”

The Headmaster nodded his head. “Yes, I see your point. We shall just have to hope you are correct on that point – at least for now. In the meantime, let us assume, for the moment, that your vision was, in fact, legitimate. Can you remember anything that would give indication as to what exactly they were referring to?”

Harry shook his head hopelessly. “No, sir, that’s just the thing. They never said anything specific – at least not while I was there. They only said that they had a person in place, and when Voldemort asked if they ran into any trouble getting inside, the Death Eater responded that nobody had suspected a thing. They had been able to make it inside without any trouble or undue notice. Voldemort was pleased and said that they only need wait for a signal that the wards had been breached. Then they could…” Harry paused as he struggled to remember the exact wording, “cripple their enemies in such a way that they could not recover.”

They were both quiet for a long moment as they each thought over the information. Harry found himself frustrated that he had not been witness to more than just those brief couple minutes. At the same time he realised the ridiculousness of that thought as he wanted nothing more than for the vision to end as soon as it began. But still, if the information could help him save lives, he would have gladly borne the additional agony.

“Unfortunately, they could be referring to virtually anything,” Dumbledore finally said with a short sigh. “The Ministry, the Order…” he left the statement hanging there for a moment. “All we can do is be extra vigilant until we determine the exact nature of the threat.”

Harry nodded his head in defeat. In truth, the conclusion was not at all unexpected. He had hoped that the Headmaster might have some other information that, tied with his, would give them some answers. Then again, there was no guarantee he would even share that information with Harry if he did have it.

“Please let me know if you have any more visions that might have any connection to this.”

Harry nodded his head. “I will, sir.”

“Good,” Dumbledore said with a smile. “Now, I want you to forget all about Voldemort for the rest of the day. It is Valentine’s Day after all, and if I’m not mistaken, the young Miss Weasley is likely to be eagerly awaiting your return.”

Harry felt his mouth drop open as he looked at the Headmaster.

“Come now,” Dumbledore continued with a light chuckle. “You did not expect something like a new girlfriend to escape detection for long, did you?”

Harry shook his head. “No. I’m just surprised you noticed, is all. Most of our friends don’t even know yet.”

“We often find ourselves too caught up in our own affairs to perceive the things that don’t directly concern us,” Dumbledore responded. “Especially in ones so young, and especially when they have their thoughts focused on other things.”

Harry smiled in response. “I guess you’re probably right. I’ll just be getting back to Ginny then.”

Dumbledore smiled warmly at him. “I hope you are able to enjoy the rest of your date in peace.”

“Thank you, sir,” Harry replied as he waved goodbye to the Headmaster. He wasted little time exiting the office and making his way up to his office. After all, he did have a date to finish, and he had one last surprise in store for her.

******

The next morning, Harry was just dropping from his pull-up bar when Ginny’s voice asked, “Is there anything you can’t do?”

Harry had to think about the abrupt question for a moment just to make sense of it. Even then he had no idea what she was talking about. “What?”

“I just can’t get over the fact that you can cook too,” she responded. “I was thinking about it last night, and, I mean, it wasn’t one of Mum’s dinners, but it was still really good. So I got to thinking about it, and I was wondering if there was anything you’re not good at.”

Harry ducked his head down at the compliment. He did not think he was that good at a lot of things. He was pretty good at Quidditch, he reckoned. And over the past year he had become rather adept in several different branches of magic. He thought his cooking was okay – nothing to get worked up over. He had bought himself a couple cook books over the summer and had experimented with some meals in his trunk, but he did not imagine himself to be that much of a chef.

“I’m not –“ Harry started to respond.

“Harry,” Ginny interrupted a bit impatiently. “Don’t even try to tell me you’re not good at that many things. Name me one thing you’re bad at because I can’t think of anything.”

“Cricket,” Harry said, naming the first thing that came to mind. Back in Muggle primary school they had played the game in their physical education classes, and he had been absolutely horrible at it.

“What the hell is cricket?” she blurted back.

“Muggle sport,” he explained succinctly.

“Well that doesn’t count then,” Ginny determined.

“Why not?”

“Because I have no idea what that even is,” she insisted.

“Alright,” Harry replied. “How about Arithmancy.”

“You don’t even take Arithmancy,” she responded back with annoyance in her voice.

“Exactly why I wouldn’t be any good at it,” Harry shot back triumphantly.

She just shook her head at him. “Doesn’t count.”

“Fine,” he said as he wracked his brain for something else. He finally locked onto one that he knew she could not disagree with. “Okay, how about this then? I can’t take a compliment.”

She looked at him blankly for a second before her eyes narrowed. He just smirked at her. “It’s true,” he insisted. “You tell me so all the time.”

“That doesn’t count either,” she declared.

“Well of course I’m going to be good at everything if nothing I’m bad at counts,” Harry said.

“Whatever,” she harrumphed, crossing her arms over her chest. When he continued to smirk at her, she stuck her tongue out at him.

He motioned as if to try to bite her tongue and ended up kissing her instead.

As they broke apart, she smirked at him mischievously. “That’s okay. I just found something you’re not good at,” she teased.

“Hey!” Harry protested in mock outrage. He knew she was joking, but a part of him wondered if there could be a kernel of truth to her statement. After all, before Ginny he had only had one proper kiss – he did not count the one with Cho – and it was a short one at that. “If I’m no good at it, why do you want to kiss me all the time?” he demanded.

Ginny smirked at him. “Because practice makes perfect.”

A sly smirk formed on his lips as he replied, “Well if I’m so horrible, we might need to practice more often.”

“I think that can be arranged,” Ginny replied in a sultry tone as her arms snaked behind Harry’s neck.

When they finally broke apart several minutes later, it took Harry a long moment to regain his bearings. When he glanced down at his watch, he shook off his disorientation. “We should head into the shower.” Looking back at Ginny he added, “I think I better make it a cold one.”

“Whatever for?” Ginny asked seductively as she slid her hands up his chest and along to the back of his neck. Her fingers played with the hair at the nape of his neck as she pressed her body against his and pulled him down for a lingering kiss that left Harry reeling.

Harry groaned as she pulled away. “That.”

Ginny smiled at him over her shoulder as she walked into her shower room. He trailed her with his eyes, admiring the sway of her hips until she was out of sight. He then shook himself and headed off for his shower.

The cold water did the trick and allowed both Harry’s mind and body to relax and function a little more normally. It was a good thing too because the last thing Harry needed was to be distracted during his BHA class later that morning. The class was settling into the new routine with the addition of the dodging exercises into every class, but, as large as the class was, he needed to be on his toes at all times just in case anything happened.

His seven advanced members of the BHA were experiencing some difficulty adjusting to the concept in their mock duels. It was one thing to have a separate exercise where dodging was the only thing they had to think about, but, when Harry put them in a real duelling scenario, they tended to revert back to old form. They would seemingly switch in and out of a dodging mentality, focusing entirely on dodging one minute then remaining static as they got back into the spell-casting mode. It was difficult for them to become accustomed to casting spells while on the move.

His IHA classes were likewise heading in new and interesting directions. He had been focusing lately on what he deemed Creative Duelling. After his last battle, Harry came to appreciate that sometimes creative thinking was the best way to handle a duel where you were either outmatched or out-positioned. You cannot defend against what you cannot predict. Come up with creative ways to dispatch an opponent that cannot be blocked by a conventional shield and you have a distinct advantage in battle.

The results of those exercises were rather startling in their variety. Harry only had a few pairs working on these duels at any given time. For one, he thought it might benefit the whole class if they could see what others were coming up with. It might serve to spark their own creativity. Also, he feared the danger that such unpredictable duels could unleash, and he wanted to be on hand should anything go awry. Beyond that, though, he wanted to be able to see what his students would come up with. He might just be able to use some of it himself.

Later that day Harry was heading down to supper with his friends. Just as they were entering into the entrance hall, a nasally voice interrupted their progress.

“As much as I hate to admit this, even you can do better than that Potter. I mean, a Weasley? Really? Is she just that easy?”

Turning slowly, Harry had to temper his anger. He knew Draco was only trying to get a rise out of him, and he could not afford to let his emotions get the better of him. It would be just the thing Snape would use to land him in detention or, even worse, to strip him of his Professorship.

“What the hell are you talking about?” Ron demanded hotly as he took a step towards Malfoy.

“I always knew you were stupid, Weasley, but even you can’t be this dense,” Malfoy remarked, locking his disbelieving gaze on Ron. After a short pause he continued, “You really have no idea, do you?” he asked with a malevolent smirk. “So Potter’s trying to keep it secret. If only you’d do the same. I almost lost my lunch yesterday when I saw you with your mudblooded whore.”

Harry was unable to catch hold of Ron before he reacted.

“Ron, no!” Hermione yelled as he rushed forward. Harry had to stop himself from wandlessly petrifying Ron which gave the boy just enough time to get a punch in on Malfoy before Harry was able to immobilise the two of them with his wand.

“Detention with Filch for the both of you,” Harry stated as he stepped forward between them. “Ron, you’ll serve tomorrow at 8:00, and Draco the same time the day after.”

“What?” Malfoy yelled, his hand frozen on his face where he had been struck. Harry could just see the skin darkening into a bruise. “You can’t give me detention!”

At the same time Ron demanded, “What are you giving me detention for? He started it.” He was slightly hunched over as he had not completely reset himself from the follow through of his punch.

Turning towards Malfoy, Harry said, “I think you’ll find that I have given you detention. If you choose not to show up, I’ll make it a week. As for you, Ron,” he continued, turning towards his friend, “While Malfoy did provoke you, you are still responsible for your own actions.”

“What is going on here?” a harsh voice demanded, talking over the end of Harry’s statement. Harry did not need to look over his shoulder to verify the source of the voice. Perfect.

“Weasley punched me, and Potter hexed me then gave me detention for it,” Malfoy claimed with a triumphant smirk.

“Is that so?” Snape asked with a sneer.

“Actually, no, it is not so,” Harry stated, turning to face the Slytherin Head of House. “Draco provoked Ron into attacking, and I immobilised them both to diffuse the situation. I gave both of them detention: Ron for attacking and Draco for instigating the confrontation.”

“Mr. Malfoy is my student,” Snape stated with a malevolent glare fixed firmly on his face. “I will decide if punishment is necessary.”

“I don’t think so,” Harry stated as calmly as possible. He wanted nothing more than to put Snape in his place but knew he needed to keep a tight rein on his emotions. He picked his words carefully as he continued, “As you were not here to witness what occurred, I think my judgment will have to suffice.”

“So you think you can just go around abusing your power, handing out detentions to members of my house as you please?” Snape demanded, taking a step closer to Harry. Snape was only a couple inches taller than Harry, so they were nearly eye to eye. “I think not. Despite what you may think, Potter, you are still just a student. And Mr. Malfoy will not be serving any detentions you assign, nor will any of my students.”

“If anyone is guilty of abusing their power here, it is you,” Harry fired back vehemently. He took a calming breath before continuing, “If you have a problem with the punishments I assigned, talk to the Headmaster. I would be more than happy to submit a memory of the events into his Pensieve for him to decide,” Harry stated. “In the meantime, I will be informing Mister Filch to expect Draco at 8:00 tomorrow evening.”

With that stated, Harry lifted the immobilisation spells he had cast and abruptly began to turn on his heel. He stopped when he saw Snape reach into his robes as he uttered, “Why you little…”

“I would be careful if I were you, Professor,” Harry interrupted as he turned to face Snape. “You wouldn’t want to cause a scene,” he paused as he shifted his gaze back and forth. “There are far too many witnesses.” He locked eyes with Snape, doing his best to ignore the vein standing out on the man’s forehead. “Besides,” Harry continued in a quieter voice, “I think you remember well what happened the last time you pulled your wand on me.”

Snape’s face twisted into an ugly visage of pure hatred as they stared each other down. They remained that way for nearly a full minute before Snape finally pulled his hand out of his robes sans wand.

“This isn’t over, Potter,” Snape spat as he turned and stormed out the doors of the Great Hall.

Harry wasted little time entering into the Great Hall and striding over to the Gryffindor table. He ignored the whispered conversations from the crowd of students that had gathered around them. His friends settled in around him a minute later. Ron seemed subdued but not overtly angry over the encounter. It was Hermione who bore a look bordering on outrage.

“I can’t believe you talked to a Professor that way, Harry,” she admonished as she sat across from him.

“I think you’re forgetting that Harry is a Professor,” Neville interjected from Harry’s side.

Hermione continued on as if Neville had not even spoken, “You just completely undermined his authority in front of half the school,” she continued her rebuke. “And not only that, you threatened him.”

Harry slammed his hand down onto the table in frustration. “Are you really that blind?” Harry asked incredulously. “Are you really going to sit there and accuse me of undermining his authority?” He paused a moment and looked expectantly at Hermione. “Well?” he demanded when she did not speak up.

“I will admit he may have been a little out of line…” she started.

“A little?” Ginny queried from his side, disbelief evident in her tone.

Again Hermione ignored the interruption as she continued, “But he is still a Professor and deserves to be treated with respect.”

“Respect is not something freely given,” Harry stated, thinking back to his conversation with Professor McGonagall on the subject. “It is earned.”

“And as a Professor he has earned your respect,” Hermione interjected triumphantly.

“You think everyone in a position of authority deserves your respect?” Harry questioned hotly as his eyes bore into Hermione’s. “Next you’re going to tell me that I should respect Fudge because he holds the office of Minister, never mind the fact that he spent the better part of a year dragging my name through the mud because he was too cowardly to admit that Voldemort was back. Oh, and let’s not forget the respect I should show my aunt and uncle because they are my guardians, after all; therefore, they must have earned my respect.”

Hermione flinched at the mention of his relatives, and he felt a twisted sort of pleasure at her reaction. She had a real knack for getting on his nerves lately. Ginny grasped his hand under the table and gave it a comforting squeeze. No one spoke for a long minute. Only the general noise of the crowded Great Hall kept the silence from becoming unbearable. Finally, Harry continued in a much calmer tone, “Just because a person holds a position of authority does not entitle them to your respect. They have to earn your respect by proving to you they will not abuse that power.”

Silence again descended over the group. Harry studied Hermione for a long moment and was satisfied to see she would at least consider what he had said before coming to her own conclusions.

“What happened the last time he pulled his wand on you?” Ron asked from beside Hermione, breaking the spell over the group.

Harry turned his head to survey his friend for a second. It was hard to read Ron’s emotions. He still did not seem happy over the situation, but it looked as though he would not be holding it against Harry. “I disarmed him,” Harry stated succinctly.

“You attacked a Professor?” Hermione nearly shrieked.

Several heads turned their way and listened intently for his response. Harry turned and glared at Hermione to find her staring at him in abject horror that he would do such a thing.

“Shut up, Hermione,” Neville and Ginny scolded simultaneously. The two leaned forward to look at each other around Harry, then turned their gazes almost in perfect synchronisation to Hermione, who at least had the decency to appear sheepish following her outburst. Harry released a chuckle as he shook his head, deciding to ignore the question entirely. He had just laid a lot at her feet and did not need to be adding to it right away. You cannot expect someone to change overnight.

“So how did you disarm him?” Ron prodded a moment later, an excited gleam in his eyes.

Harry laughed again as he looked up. Shaking his head, he replied, “Another time, Ron.”

Luckily, Ron accepted his temporary avoidance of the question and let the matter drop. The meal progressed a bit more peacefully after that. Harry retired to the common room after supper to relax and play games with his friends. Hermione had declined the invitation to play and sat nearby with a book in her lap, though Harry did not think she was actually doing any reading. He was only marginally surprised when, after about an hour, Hermione stood up and interrupted their game.

“I just wanted to say that I’m sorry for what I said earlier,” she said with her eyes locked on Harry. “I was thinking about it, and I agree that the title of professor alone does not earn someone respect. While I respect Professor Snape for his potions ability, you were right when you said he had not earned our respect as a figure of authority. That does not mean that we should show him disrespect, but I understand that you were only trying to stop him from undermining your own authority. So I’m sorry for jumping to the wrong conclusions.”

“Apology accepted,” Harry responded with a quirky smile. Then he added, “On one condition.” Hermione’s brow furrowed as Harry continued, “You put down your books and join us for a game of exploding snap.”

She smiled oddly at his request and gave in after only a perfunctory struggle. Hermione ended up playing with them until she and Ron had to leave for a prefect meeting.

******

As Ron and Hermione walked back to Gryffindor Tower from their meeting, Ron found his mind drifting back Malfoy’s comments. The insinuation about Harry and his sister had not sunk in at the time, but now he could not keep from wondering about it. Finally, as they were just about to round the last turn leading to the portrait of the Fat Lady, Ron tugged on Hermione’s arm.

She stopped walking and looked at him questioningly as he tried to vocalise his question. “What do you think Malfoy meant earlier?” He searched her face for the answer, and she seemed almost reluctant to respond. “You don’t think that Ginny and Harry are…together, do you?”

“I don’t know,” Hermione answered after a moment’s pause. Her voice was tentative. “They could be, and if not, I imagine it will happen sooner or later.”

He was afraid of that answer. He could not exactly explain it, but just the thought of Ginny snogging a guy was enough to make him want to both retch and pound the bollocks off the offending bloke. The fact that the bloke was Harry just made the whole situation much more complicated. Harry was a decent bloke, so he knew he should not have to worry about it. But he also considered himself to be a pretty decent bloke, and, given the things that he would like to be doing with Hermione, could he really be blamed for wanting to put a stop to any guy who might be thinking along similar lines with Ginny?

“You know,” Hermione interrupted his thoughts. “You’ll have to get used to her dating sooner or later, and can you honestly think of anyone else you can trust with her more than Harry?”

“No,” Ron grudgingly admitted, and it was true. He could not think of a guy he trusted more than Harry to be with his sister, but it was hardly consolation. The point was that he did not trust any guy with his sister.

“What are you so worried about?” Hermione questioned.

“Every guy wants the same thing, Hermione,” Ron blurted out. After he had said it he wished he had not and looked down at his trainers to avoid seeing Hermione’s reaction.

“Oh? And what might that be?” she queried with a distinct edge to her voice.

Ron sighed as he looked up to meet her gaze. He knew he was standing on thin ice and must tread carefully. “Guys think about girls in ways that I don’t want anybody thinking about Ginny. And just thinking about any bloke trying to do that with Ginny…” Ron’s voice progressively rose before he cut off, unwilling to finish that thought.

“Ginny’s not a defenceless little girl,” Hermione stated. Ron was tempted to roll his eyes but thought better of it. “She is more than capable of making her own decisions and looking after herself, and the more you try to interfere, the more she’ll come to resent you for it.”

“I know Ginny can take care of herself,” Ron replied. “It’s the things she might want to do with the blokes that I’m worried about.”

“That’s not for you to decide,” Hermione reprimanded.

“I know that!” Ron exclaimed, running his hands through his hair in frustration. “I just can’t help it. She’s my little sister, and I do not want to see or even think of her with anyone.”

“You are such a misguided hypocrite,” Hermione bit out in frustration. “Ginny’s virtue must be protected, yet you could care less about the virtue of any other girl. What you seem to be forgetting,” she lectured, “is that Ginny is a person. She’s not just your sister. She’s just like any of those other girls. She has her own mind - her own wants and needs. You need to stop thinking about her in terms of your sister and think of her as the young woman she is.” Hermione paused for a long moment before continuing. “How would you feel in her position? What if she or one of your brothers opposed the thought of you getting together with me? How would you feel to have them butting into your life like that?”

Ron felt his thoughts derail as he considered her questions. If he was completely honest with himself, he knew he would hate it if any of his siblings interfered in his life in such a manner. It did not change the way he felt about Ginny and any boy she might be seeing, but he resolved to try to let it go – at least for now. As long as he did not have to actually see or hear about her with another guy, he reckoned he could handle it.

******

Harry was summoned to Dumbledore’s office the following morning to discuss the punishment he had levelled to Malfoy. All it took was a calm explanation of the events on his part, followed by Snape’s long-winded treatise on how spoiled and just like his father Harry was, for Dumbledore to declare that the detention would be served as Harry had assigned it. When the Headmaster thanked him for his time, Harry bid him a polite, “You’re welcome,” and left the office.

With that small bit of excitement out of the way, the week crawled by for Harry as he could not keep his thoughts from returning to Voldemort and his latest vision. It was frustrating to have the truth so close yet eluding his grasp. No matter how much thought he gave to the matter, he never drew closer to any conclusions. There were too many places to which Voldemort could have been referring to even attempt to account for them all, and the fact that he had no idea when the attack would even take place only compounded matters.

He spoke to Dumbledore about it during his weekly Occlumency lesson, but the old man merely advised Harry to put the matter out of his mind for now. “There is no sense worrying over that which we have no control,” he had said. Harry could not fault Dumbledore’s logic, but no matter his agreement, he found it difficult to let the matter rest.

At Ginny’s urging he finally locked the subject away in his mind to prevent himself from dwelling on it any longer. He was getting absolutely nowhere with it, and all it served to do was distract him and put him in a foul mood, something Ginny was very effective in pointing out. She used her own brand of therapy to help him relax after he relented to her request. By the weekend, Harry was back to his normal self and made sure to thank Ginny properly for it. Afterwards, he decided he might need to find more excuses to thank her in the future.

Saturday brought with it a full moon. Harry was feeling slightly apprehensive about seeing Remus. The last time he had seen the man it had been as ‘Jim,’ the incredibly original name he had given his alternate persona. He felt bad about the way he had treated Remus as Jim and wished there was some way he could make it up to him, but he knew that there was nothing he could do – at least not as Harry. Perhaps if Jim ever ran into Remus again he would be a bit friendlier.

******

Remus paced back and forth over the worn wooden floor. He would not have a lot of time before the transformation, so he would have to work quickly. He had not worked out the exact logistics of how he was going to test Harry’s chest, and he regretted his lack of planning. It only served to add to his anxiety. He needed to know the truth, but at the same time, he could not help but wonder what he would do with the truth when he found it.

What if Harry really was the stranger? How should he proceed? Should he tell someone? Should he confront Harry? Back in the field of battle, he had little trouble taking direction from the young man who had not only saved their lives but who had also proven himself to be more than capable on the battlefield. It was difficult to try to reconcile the two. Could he do the same with Harry? Could he look past Harry’s age and see him in the same light he had seen Jim that night?

There was only one way to find out. Remus paused his pacing as he heard footsteps approaching beneath him. Muffled voices followed, and, soon enough, the trap door opened to reveal Harry and then Ginny before his eyes.

“Evening, Remus,” Harry greeted with a smile.

“Hello Harry, Ginny,” he answered, nodding to the latter.

“Hi Pro-Remus,” Ginny said. “How are you?”

“Not bad, all things considered,” he replied with a small smile. “How are things going with you two?”

“Very good,” Ginny answered as she intertwined her fingers with Harry’s.

“Did you enjoy the Valentine’s Day weekend?” he prodded. Identical grins stretched across both teenagers’ faces as they shared a short glance before turning their attention back to him. He noticed that their cheeks were both a light shade of pink, causing his own smirk to widen.

“Yes,” Harry responded a bit uncomfortably. “It was – erm – very enjoyable.” His voice regained its composure as he asked, “What about you? Do anything special with Tonks?”

“We did enjoy the evening together, yes,” he supplied, not feeling the need to go into any more detail than that. He was not quite sure he liked the smirk on Harry’s face that followed his statement, so he decided to switch topics before Harry had a chance to pry further. “So how is life at Hogwarts treating you? Quidditch must have started up again by now; are you excited about that?”

“Oh yeah,” Harry immediately responded. “Did I tell you I got a new broom?” Remus shook his head. “It’s the newest Nimbus model, the 2050. It’s only marginally faster than the Firebolt, but its acceleration and handling are noticeably better.”

“What spurred you to make that purchase?” Remus prodded. He was curious why anyone with a Firebolt would feel the need to buy a new broom.

“That would be my fault,” Ginny inserted with a sheepish look on her face.

“It was not your fault,” Harry interrupted.

“Well I was flying the broom at the time,” Ginny answered back. Remus’s eyes flicked back and forth between them as they bantered, finally resting on Ginny as she continued. “At any rate, when I was knocked off Harry’s Firebolt in our match against Slytherin, the broom was cracked.”

“Ah,” Remus responded. “I suppose that makes sense then.” A quiet settled over the trio as Remus struggled to come up with an idea of how to test Harry’s chest without being obvious about it. He could feel the transformation coming on him soon, and he feared he would miss his opportunity. His thoughts were berating him when an idea suddenly struck. It was so simple, and he was all but guaranteed his answers.

Remus soon warned his companions to transform as he could feel that there was little time left. Sure enough, not a minute later he began to feel the changes taking place - the pain as varying parts of his body were either stretched or compacted. He felt the wolf inside him rear to life and struggle for control of his mind. The Wolfsbane potion, however, helped keep the beast subdued and allowed Remus to remain in possession of his mental faculties.

Shortly after the transformation was completed, the three animals began playing and wrestling around. It was at this time that Remus set his plan in motion. He had learned back in his own time at Hogwarts that when performing the animagus transformation injuries carried over between animal and human form and vice versa. So any injuries Harry had sustained while in human form would show up on the panther in roughly the same area.

As they wrestled around, Remus managed to flip Harry onto his back and pin the panther down. Harry did not react well to being pinned on his back, but Remus could not say he had reacted in pain. He had also received a clear view of his chest and did not see anything other than smooth black fur. He let Harry up after a couple seconds, or, rather, a pouncing Ginny forced him off of Harry.

They eventually settled down, and he watched as Harry and Ginny nuzzled each other as they curled up together on the worn hearthrug. As his two companions drifted off to sleep, Remus thought over the night’s events. Well short of being happy at his findings, he actually found himself slightly disappointed. Was he so desperate for the truth that he actually wanted Harry to be Jim if only so the mystery could finally be solved? He had been so certain it would be Harry. Even after learning about the possible bird animagus, he had somehow managed to convince himself it was Harry. He shook his head, wondering where his mind was. How could he let a few coincidences and a simple dream cloud his better judgment?

Because it was more than just a few coincidences,’ a voice in his mind reminded him. There was no use denying that it was quite a stretch to chalk everything up to coincidence. Then again, it was just as much of a stretch to believe that Harry was Jim. He had debated the topic with himself far too much over the weeks since the battle. He knew deep down that he did not want Jim to be Harry, and as much as he wished otherwise, Remus also knew that he had not proven anything that night. All he had managed to prove was that Harry’s chest was unmarred. So what? It was only Jim’s second-hand account of the curse that led him to believe it was the Devil’s Fire. It could easily have been another, less severe curse.

He was not disappointed that Harry was not Jim. His disappointment lay in the cold fact that he would not be finding any of his answers so easily. As he surveyed the peacefully sleeping couple, he could not help but wonder what secrets they could be holding. There was one small consolation he could draw from the scene. At least, whatever he might be going through, Harry was not alone.

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