Harry wanted to say that watching her sleep was like watching a baby; a rather beautiful baby of course, but someone who seemed innocent and unmarred by the turmoil that surrounded their lives. He wanted to be sleeping right now, rocked to sleep by the clacking of the train on its tracks. Her hair fanned out around her as she sprawled along the seat of the Hogwarts Express, oblivious to the swirling, jarring thoughts that filled Harry’s brain as they sped away from Hogwarts.
Ginny’s beauty mocked him… for she was no longer his. Her angelic face would wake up and give him the same mask of impassive tolerance that it had worn since they had left Hogwarts; since Dumbledore’s funeral when he’d broken up with her.
Luna shifted in her seat and turned the page of The Quibbler as she read on. Neville had been silent since their departure as well but Harry had not pressed him to speak. In truth he wanted to lose himself in the monotony of the journey and its inexorable conclusion. Nothing ever changed for Harry. He left Hogwarts after having been through an emotionally draining end of term, only to be greeted by the Dursley’s who ignored him on a good year. He had no illusions that showing up with Ron and Hermione would change anything for him.
A gasp from the girl across from him dragged his eyes upwards from his twiddling fingers to see Ginny sitting straight up in her seat and patting herself down.
"Ginny?" Luna looked up from her paper at her in concern. "Are you all right?"
"I had a nightmare that I was wandering the halls starkers!" Ginny got up and paced the cramped compartment, rubbing at her sleep filled eyes.
Neville let out a choking noise like a drowning dog while Harry pushed the thought of what she’d said from his mind. He had to focus and not on his ex-girlfriend. "You okay?"
"Yeah," she told him with a small smile. "Just made me feel uncomfortable. It was an odd dream because after I realized I was naked, I saw Malfoy and he…" her voice faded off as Harry watched her eyes glitter momentary.
"He what?" Neville questioned and then blushed scarlet.
"I don’t know," Ginny said and moved resolutely to the door. "I need a bit of a stretch." With that, she was gone from their circle as the door slammed resolutely shut.
"That was odd," Luna mused quietly and went back to her paper.
It was indeed… Harry did not get a chance to think on it further because the compartment door swung open again to admit Ron and Hermione, both of whom looked extremely put out.
"What’s up with you two?" Harry asked as they both sat down across from him with Luna.
"Ruddy git Nott is what," Ron told him as he dug into a chocolate frog that Harry passed over to him. "He tried to hex us as we walked past his door."
Hermione cleared her throat but did not comment on Ron’s language. "Fortunately we had both been on alert and were able to block his one curse."
Harry sat forward, studying the faces of his best friends. "What was the curse?"
"Oh, just a Jelly Legs Jinx," Hermione informed him, pulling out a book from her bag that she had left with them in the compartment. "It wasn’t anything to be concerned over. Where’s Ginny?"
"You didn’t see her leave?" Neville asked, saying the exact thing that Harry had been thinking.
"No," Ron said, licking the chocolate off of his fingers and managing to smear some on his upper lip. "Why?"
"Ron, you have chocolate all over your face," Hermione muttered as she pulled a handkerchief from her pocket and dabbed at his face.
Harry braced himself for Ron to tell her to leave off but instead Ron sat still, smiling at her in an odd way. This had been happening more and more often over the last few days. While Harry was happy that his friends were finally expressing some of their budding emotions, he was fervently hoping that nothing went wrong between them.
"So what did you do with Nott?" Harry asked, trying to steer the conversation back to a safe topic.
Hermione made a tisking sound while Ron laughed, "Tied him up and left him in his compartment, of course. He ranted on about getting revenge but I’m not bothered. He’s small potatoes compared to You-Know-Who."
"Voldemort," Harry and Hermione said together instantly. Both of them had been trying to get him to say his name, but so far Ron had not budged. Even Ginny had only said it once….
Stop it! You can’t keep thinking about her… obsessing over her. You have to remove her from your mind or Voldemort will know.
"Yeah, yeah," Ron muttered dismissively and Harry watched him shift closer to Hermione, leaning back in the seat so that his legs spanned the breadth of the floor and crossing his arms. "Wake me when we get there or if Death Eaters attack."
"Do your aunt and uncle know we’re coming?" Hermione asked him anxiously.
Harry shrugged, "It wouldn’t matter if they did so I didn’t bother to write them. They have to accept you in or they’ll be afraid that Dumbledore will come back to get them." He laughed at the memory although it still stung excruciatingly to remember his departed mentor. "I expect that my aunt will accept it silently while my uncle rants on through the entire car ride home. Oh, hang on," he just remembered something. "You’ll have to Apparate to their house, Hermione. They won’t have enough room in the car."
"I suppose I can do that," Hermione agreed slowly. "Although I think I will have to go to your neighbor’s house instead because yours is so heavily guarded. Her name is Mrs. Figg, right?"
"Right," Harry murmured. In truth he had forgotten about the wards around his aunt and uncle’s house that stopped anyone from getting too close to him.
"This is going to be a long summer," Neville said morosely, his face showing his apprehension. "I think Gran will be putting me through extra tutoring since I didn’t take Transfiguration."
"Oh but that will be-" Hermione’s voice halted mid-sentence as Ron, apparently not sleeping, moved swiftly to clamp a hand over her mouth.
"You are the only one who would ask to do work during the summer, Hermione. For the rest of us, that is punishment." Ron let go of her mouth and resumed his former position, closing his eyes again. "I want to spend the next few weeks doing nothing other than existing."
Hermione gaped indignantly at him. "But you can’t do that! We’ve got loads to do!"
"Not until we get to my parent’s house for Bill’s wedding," Ron said darkly. "I just hope I don’t have to wear those stupid dress robes again."
"Wouldn’t matter, you’re too tall for them now," Hermione told him. "Oh that reminds me that I need to alter my dress robes!"
"Didn’t you get them last summer?" Harry asked as he reached over to tilt the paper in Luna’s hands a bit so that he could read the front cover. Luna didn’t even move, simply kept reading. The headline read, ‘Death Eaters Spotted at Night Club in Derbyshire’.
"Yes, of course but I’m afraid they are a bit snug now and need to be let out and I can’t risk another trip to Diagon Alley," she admitted with a blush.
Harry frowned, unsure of what to say so instead, blurting out, "How do you alter them?"
"Mrs. Weasley taught me how to do the alterations last year by hand. I tried to learn through magic but I don’t think it is something you can learn from a book."
"I suppose," Harry replied quietly, not wanting to comment on the fact that Hermione was admitting that books had failed her.
Ron didn’t seem to have the same compunction, "Does that mean that we won’t always run to the library when a problem arises?"
Still blushing, Hermione shook her head but grinned, "I still think that the library is our best source but no, some skills can only be learned by doing them."
A bang in the corridor made them all jump but Ginny swaggered in, obviously pleased with something. "I just got Zabini."
"Why?" Hermione asked breathlessly.
Harry was halfway to his feet when she crossed to him and sat between him and Neville, "He exists which is enough reason for me."
Hermione looked as though she wanted to reprimand her but instead said, "I hope we get there soon."
"I don’t," Ginny grumbled. "I don’t fancy being stuck in that house with those two as they finish preparing for the wedding. Now that they’re chummy, it will be wretched."
The conversation continued without Harry who was too wrapped up in the girl sitting beside him to concentrate on more than the heat that radiated off of Ginny. It was a comforting feeling, one that he would miss but a small picture had begun to form in his mind of what it would be like if he survived killing Voldemort and Ginny featured prominently in those fantasies.
Before long they had reached the station. Harry and Ron pulled all of the trunks down from the overhead bin for the others while they gathered their things. They left the train for what they all knew might be the last time and met their families. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley were waiting, along with Tonks who explained in a hushed tone to Harry that Remus was back with the other werewolves. Her bright pink hair stood out against the crowd and her smile, which had been disturbingly absent in the past year, was now back on her face.
"Listen Tonks, if you have a few minutes to spare, can you take Hermione to my aunt and uncle’s house? She and Ron are spending the summer there with me." Harry cringed as he heard Mrs. Weasley’s screech of protest.
"You can’t go there!"
"It is the safest place for them," Mr. Weasley said, trying to sooth her as he placed an arm around her shoulders.
"Mum, we don’t want Harry there by himself!" Ron argued back fiercely.
Hermione interrupted quietly, "We don’t want everyone knowing where we are."
"But I… oh, all right! But I expect letters every week young man, do you hear me?" Mrs. Weasley pulled him into a crushing embrace before doing the same for Harry and Hermione. "I will see you three in a few weeks."
It was not meant to go that smoothly with the Dursley’s, not that Harry expected it to. They all tromped out to meet the pair that had raised Harry and face the onslaught together.
"I will not have those freaks in my house!" Vernon Dursley roared, walrus mustache twitching violently.
"It is out of the question!" Petunia agreed instantly. "What will the neighbors think?"
"They will think that we are foreign exchange students, Mrs. Dursley," Hermione answered instantly.
"No! We are not-"
Harry cut her off, not really caring what she had to say. "They are coming with me and you will accept that. After that I will be out of your lives for good."
Vernon went to argue again but Petunia forestalled him with a question, "Do you swear never to speak to us again if we do this for you?"
"Nothing would make me happier," Harry replied.
"Why you ungrateful little-"
Ron had stepped up, along with Tonks, to rebuff him but Ginny beat them to it. She sidestepped her brother and got straight into the huge man’s face. "If you don’t want to start peeing out your nose, I suggest you shut your fat mouth!"
Vernon wasn’t buying it, "You’re just a child! You can’t do anything to me!"
"Want to bet?" Ginny growled as Arthur grabbed his daughter’s arm, pulling her back.
"No need, Ginny. They have agreed," Arthur told her but Harry noted that he didn’t release her arm. He smiled at her, appreciating that she stuck up for him.
"We haven’t agreed to-" Vernon began but once again, Petunia interrupted.
"We’ll do it, if you stick to your end of the deal."
"I promise," Harry assured her, never more certain that this was one promise he could keep.
"Eyes off, tubby," Ginny bit out and Harry followed her line of sight to see that Dudley was gazing at her leeringly.
Harry balled up his fists, feeling anger swell in him as Dudley said, "I think you’d like me," trying to sound macho.
"No, Dudley! She’s one of them!" Petunia cautioned her son and Dudley’s face slackened.
"Besides," Ginny wrenched her arm from her dad’s grasp. "You aren’t my type," and with that she marched over, pulling Harry’s head down to her level and snogging him senseless.
Mrs. Weasley’s admonitions, Ron’s moans of disgust and Tonks’ congratulations all fell flat around the feelings that soared through Harry’s chest. He knew that he was going to miss Ginny more than anything but another part of his mind was screaming for him to end the kiss. He didn’t have to though; Ginny did as she threw her arms more securely around him and whispered into his ear, "I did that for Dudley and I know it changes nothing." She kissed his cheek and let go, walking away without looking back.
Dudley gaped at him stupidly while the others shuffled off to the car, Ron toting his heavy trunk in his wake. Somehow they would have to get the two trunks into the Muggle car but Harry couldn’t concentrate enough to ponder how that would be accomplished.
"Can you keep Crookshanks, Mrs. Weasley?" Hermione asked anxiously. "I don’t think he would do well where we’re going."
"Of course, dear," Mrs. Weasley replied kindly as she took the cat’s basket. "Be safe, you three! Stay out of trouble!"
"We will," they called as Hermione wandered off with Tonks to Apparate, while Ron and Harry crammed themselves into the back seat of the car with Dudley.
The trip to Privet Drive was made in silence. Ron coughed once, most likely out of nerves, but Harry didn’t bother to say anything. He knew his relatives were angry, but he didn’t care. They didn’t matter to him and he was only going to their house to fulfill his promise to Dumbledore. After that he was free of them.
They pulled into the drive and spilled out of the car while Uncle Vernon opened the boot for them. "I wonder where Hermione is?"
As if hearing Ron’s question, she called to them from down the street, "I’m here."
She and Tonks were ambling down the road towards them with Hermione’s trunk. "Come in quickly," Aunt Petunia hissed at them.
"If you need something, someone will be around," Tonks assured them as they walked up to the house.
"Thanks," Harry said over his shoulder, knowing that the Order would be watching them again this summer. McGonagall had told him as much that morning.
They walked into the front hall and Aunt Petunia rounded on them, "She can stay in the guest room. You two will have to share your room."
"Her name is Hermione," Ron uttered darkly, but his aunt had already moved off to the kitchen.
"Come on, I’ll show you where you’re sleeping," Harry told her, helping Ron to heft her trunk up.
"I can levitate it," Hermione interjected but Harry shook his head.
"I don’t think we should use magic around them much." He didn’t want to tell her that it would likely send them into hysterics. That might just encourage Ron.
He showed Hermione to the guest room that Aunt Marge always slept in. "Here you are," he said as he pushed the door open.
They set the trunk down and Hermione walked around, examining everything. "It’s all very… clean."
"Yeah, you’ll find that it stays that way." Harry picked up the end of his trunk again and walked back out, Hermione following them.
Harry watched Dudley slink into his own room as they went into Harry’s. "By the way, Hermione, lock your door magically at night."
Hermione looked startled and Ron stunned, "Why?"
"Just don’t want to risk anything," Harry told her. "You can have the bed, mate."
"Nah, I’m too tall for that bed. I’ll kip on the floor." Ron shoved his trunk into the corner as Harry released Hedwig from her cage. "I’m glad I sent Pig home with Ginny," Ron said, watching him.
"Let me see if I can conjure a cot for you," Hermione said as she waved her wand and pointed it at a book, transforming it into a large cot. She gave them both a satisfied smile.
"Great! Thanks Hermione!" Ron stretched out on it and folded his arms underneath his head. "Not too bad."
"We should see if we can find something to eat," Harry said as he skirted around the cot and dodged Ron’s large feet.
Ron was up instantly, "Good, I’m starving!"
"At least some things never change," Hermione muttered as she followed them out the door.
After a hurried dinner in which Dudley kept staring at him in an odd, calculating way, they retired to Harry’s room to discuss their plan for the summer.
"We have to figure out what that last Horcrux could be," Hermione began as she handed a heavy tome to each of them. "I borrowed these from Professor Binns for the summer so that we could research the four founders."
"For the summer?" Ron blurted out incredulously as he weighed the thick book in his right hand. "We aren’t going back next year!"
"I know that, but Professor Binns doesn’t. In any case, I intend to send these back to him with Ginny." Hermione sat down on Ron’s camp bed and opened one of the books.
Harry sat on his bed, Ron next to him, and opened his own dusty book, trying to read but it was dull work. Helga Hufflepuff, the Woman, the Teacher, the Saint must have been written by her house elf, although he wasn’t sure that was possible. He looked up at Hermione to ask her if house elves were allowed to publish when her exclamation of frustration stopped him.
"Honestly! Who would possibly call Slytherin the ‘greatest misunderstood wizard of his time’? What rot!" She turned the page with more force than was necessary only to have the book squeak in protest. "Oh, I give up!" and with a slam, along with another noisy complaint from the book, she stood and pushed her hair from her face. "I’m going to bed."
Harry and Ron watched her march from the room in silence. "What was that about?" Ron asked him, obviously as shocked as Harry was.
"Dunno mate, but best not question our good luck. She’ll have us reading these," here Harry chucked the heavy book onto his desk, "all day tomorrow."
"Too true," Ron moaned and crawled into his camp bed. "Best to turn in then."
Harry turned off the lights and lay down as well. Sleep did not come easily to him; his mind raced with all the things that had happened that day. When it did come, he slept fitfully, consumed by dreams.