Harry woke up early on September first. Fog lay over the forest, but the day promised to be bright. The air was still. Charming his dressing gown to keep him warm in the early morning chill, he wandered outside onto the small terrace with a cup of tea hoping to watch the sun come up over the trees. It was a beautiful sight; trees full of summery green leaves, a blue fog bank laying on top and the early morning sun turning the clouds a delicate pink.
His reverie was broken by the sight of a large, hairy man with a black dog strolling toward the small hut near the woods. Harry smiled widely. Hagrid had returned to Hogwarts. Neither he nor Fang looked up when Harry called so he figured that he was too high up to be heard.
Deciding to have breakfast with Hagrid, Harry hurried into the bedroom. He put on Muggle jeans and a plain white tee shirt, throwing his Hogwarts robe over the top. School didn't start until the feast this evening so he didn't worry about being out of uniform. He grabbed his Firebolt and flew off the terrace of his tower, landing right outside Hagrid's door.
Suddenly worried about being too early in the morning, Harry hesitated a moment. Before he had a chance to knock, the door opened and a large black dog had him lying on the ground. He could hear laughter only it wasn't just Hagrid. "Moody?" he said, looking up at Hagrid and trying to see inside the hut.
"How do you do that, Potter? I'm wearing an Invisibility Cloak," said Mad-Eye Moody, his head emerging as if from thin air.
"It was your cruel laughter that gave you away, Professor. My being attacked by a vicious dog amuses you?" Harry was laughing, too. No one who knew Hagrid's dog Fang would really think he was vicious. He was busy drooling affectionately on Harry's shoulder even as he spoke.
Hagrid pulled Harry to his feet, "All righ' there, ‘Arry?" he asked. "We were jus' lettin' Fang out for some fresh air."
"All right, Hagrid, Moody," Harry said, nodding at each man as he spoke their names. "I thought I'd come see how you are. How was your summer?"
"Come have a cuppa, Harry. Mad-Eye and I were jus' sittin' down ter some rock cakes and tea." Hagrid's rock cakes were legendary for being extremely rock like.
"Have you been out flying, Potter? Isn't it kind of early? Does anyone know you went out?" asked Mad-Eye.
Harry smiled although he knew the Professor was completely serious. "Constant vigilance, I know," he reassured Mad-Eye, holding up his wand.
As they ate their rock cakes and drank their tea, Harry filled them in on the events since the attack at the Burrow. He told Hagrid about his new sword. Mad-Eye had already seen it that day in Dumbledore's office. "What brings you to Hogwarts today, Professor? If it's Order business, I understand. Maybe you can't tell me."
His words disguised his feelings. Harry tried to curb the anger that sprung up at the thought that Order business was off limits to him. He was supposed to just face Voldemort and kill him without ever knowing the whole plan.
Mad-Eye answered, "It will be your business soon enough, Harry. I'm to be the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher as a favor to Albus."
Harry grinned. "For real this time? Maybe we should make you sit under our watchful eye for a couple of hours and make sure this is really you," he joked. Two years before they had thought their Defense professor was Mad-Eye Moody, but it turned out to be a Death Eater named Barty Crouch, Jr. "Or maybe we should just search your luggage for Polyjuice ingredients."
"Very funny, Potter. As your professor, you'll have to show me more respect. You'll have to start calling me Professor Moody."
"I've always called you Professor. Anyway, it's a small price to pay for finally having a Defense teacher who knows about defense. Last year, we formed a club so we could practice. We weren't allowed to use our wands in Defense class. I'll look forward to your teaching, Professor Moody. Does this mean you're going to keep sneaking up on me like you did this summer at Privet Drive?" When it was his turn to keep watch over Harry, Mad-Eye had been giving him defense lessons and testing his reflexes by sneaking up on him. Harry thought it was kind of a fun game. He'd become fairly skilled at detecting the Auror. Of course, it didn't hurt that he walked with the aid of a wooden leg.
"I heard about your club, Potter. Everyone who was in the D.A. passed their Defense O.W.L. test. You made the highest score Hogwarts has ever seen. I understand they gave you extra credit points for your Patronus," Mad-Eye said. "Do you want to keep your D.A. club going? We should talk later after we've both had a chance to speak with the Headmaster."
"Thanks, Professor. Defense is my best subject, but I will have Quidditch practice soon," Harry answered. "I'm looking forward to Care of Magical Creatures, too, Hagrid. What do you have lined up for the sixth years? Any nine-headed dragons being held in a special place in the Forbidden Forest?"
"Ha..." answered Hagrid loudly. "Wouldn' that be a wonder. Nothin' so rare as that, ‘Arry. Six' years help with many animals the younger ‘uns study, like unicorns. A course, boys aren't much help with ‘em. They like girls."
"When you say ‘help,' do you mean feed them?" Harry asked, remembering that they had already learned about feeding unicorns.
"No, the younger ‘uns feed ‘em. Yeh get ter help me catch ‘em, Harry," answered Hagrid.
Harry couldn't wait. The year promised to be so much better than the year before. He thanked them both and took off on his Firebolt for a turn flying around the lake before trying to return to his terrace. The sun was up in earnest by now, still no breeze. It was going to be a hot day.
He flew over the top of where his terrace should be a couple of times before he realized that he couldn't find it. There was no terrace. In fact there didn't seem to be anywhere to land at all above Hagrid's hut. He gave up and landed at the entrance.
He found Ginny in the main hall, apparently playing tag with Peeves. As he drew closer, he realized they were throwing a small pink ball of some sort at each other. Ginny would throw it at the poltergeist and then run away. Then Peeves would follow her and throw it back. They stopped when they saw him. She gave Harry a bright smile and tucked the pink object in a pocket. Peeves floated over his head making a loud raspberry sound.
"I was just going to come up and see if you were ready for some breakfast," she said. He told her all the news he'd learned eating breakfast with Hagrid as they climbed up to his tower room.
Fawkes was sitting on the terrace when Harry arrived. He was rewarded with a sweet song as he stroked the beautiful phoenix's head. Fawkes had brought a note from Professor Dumbledore. He sent his answer back and turned to Ginny. "I have to meet Dumbledore in his office this morning. After that maybe we could have another picnic at the lake? Do you think Madam Pomfrey would let Ron, Hermione and Cho come with us? They could use some fresh air."
Ginny watched as Harry sent the note. He seemed to be talking to Fawkes who was perched on the stone wall of the terrace. He was so comfortable with the phoenix. They looked so striking together, standing in the sunlight, the large red and gold bird and the tall, handsome young man with his messy black hair and green eyes. ‘They're both rare,' she thought.
Harry seemed so relaxed this morning. Her heart swelled as she noticed how happy he looked. He was laughing as the phoenix took flight, then he turned to her and spoke. "What did you say, Harry? I was thinking about something," Ginny said.
‘Probably Dean,' thought Harry as he could see that her eyes were glazed over and her expression was sort of dreamy. He repeated his picnic suggestion hoping that Madam Pomfrey wouldn't let the patients go so that he could spend this last day alone with Ginny.
"Is that your box, Harry? The one with the carving?" she asked. He had left the box open on the desk, trying to unlock the mystery of its contents by staring at each object in slow deliberation. "Is it safe to touch these things?" Ginny remembered her father's warning when Harry had first opened the box.
"Dumbledore checked them over for spells. He wasn't very specific. He just said they do have magical energy, but that I can handle them all I want. I've no idea what they are, really, or why they have been handed down over the years."
As he spoke, she touched the cold black stone shaped like a phoenix. Then she held the large ruby up to the light. The gold, thick circular band was sitting on top of its purple pouch. When Ginny ran her finger gingerly over its polished surface, it disappeared from her sight and reappeared around her neck. She could feel the cold metal against her skin.
Gasping in surprise, she asked, "What happened? What did I do?"
Harry gave a low, quiet laugh. "You didn't do anything. I'm sorry to shock you. I just wanted to see what it looked like around your neck." The two teens moved to the mirror in Harry's bedroom.
"I look like a Viking," she said with a laugh. "I'm not so sure this is meant to be a necklace, or maybe it's a necklace for a warrior, not a woman. It is so thick and heavy. It's too big for me. Why don't you try it on?" Harry was standing by her side with an odd, unreadable expression on his face as he stared at her smiling reflection. The gold band was too big for her slim neck. Without a word, the necklace disappeared from her neck and reappeared around Harry's.
"Ah…that's better. It does look better on you. Maybe it's meant to be around a man's neck," she said. Then an odd thing happened. The three small rubies embedded in the thick metal began to glow. "Uh, Harry…what is going on? Are you making those stones light up?" Ginny asked. She was beginning to worry.
Harry felt a surge of strength as the rubies lit up. "I'm not doing anything, Gin. But I can feel something…it's not a bad feeling." He smiled, looking at himself in the mirror. Looking at Ginny, who was staring at him inquisitively, he decided to change the subject. "Well, I'm not walking around all day looking like a Viking either. Let's put all this away. I'll bet you're hungry." Harry went back to his desk and put away the mysterious items, closing the box with a thump.
When they walked back to the terrace, they saw that breakfast had appeared on the table. ‘Either Harry has Conjured the food or Dobby was sneaky about it,' Ginny thought.
They ate at a leisurely pace, talking and laughing about nothing in particular. "I'm going to miss this," Harry said.
"What?" Ginny asked, surprised that Harry would remark on their time together. Maybe she misunderstood.
Harry could see the confusion crossing her face. He hadn't meant to make her uncomfortable. "Ah…these rooms. I'm going to miss having these rooms," he said, trying to cover his embarrassment.
"I'm looking forward to all my friends arriving today. In a way, it's too bad that we'll miss the Hogwarts Express trip this year, but I'm glad school is starting. If you stayed in these rooms, wouldn't you miss your roommates?" Ginny asked, not thinking about how that might sound to him.
Harry didn't say anything. He knew she was thinking about one roommate in particular. He wasn't sure what to say. Now that the time had come, he wasn't sure he could stand to watch Ginny with Dean Thomas. It was one thing to keep telling himself that it was enough to be her friend, but he wasn't sure how he felt about facing the reality of her boyfriend.
It suddenly hit him hard thinking of Ginny smiling her beautiful smile, laughing her beautiful laugh, biting her lower lip...with someone else. But she was here now, alone with him where she belonged. He reached over and offered her a small white lily that he'd Conjured, as he had so many times in the last month.
Ginny took the flower and looked into Harry's face as he grew silent. He seemed to pull into himself. What was he worried about? Last year had been so difficult for him. Half the students at Hogwarts had treated Harry like he was a lunatic. They believed Cornelius Fudge and the Ministry of Magic's version of events, that Harry was a liar who invented Voldemort's return to the wizarding world to seek attention for himself. Some even believed that Harry was somehow responsible for Cedric Diggory's death. No wonder he was worried, thinking about all of that.
"It's going to be a good year, Harry," Ginny tried to reassure him. "We are safe here at school. And everyone knows the truth about You-Know-Who now. No one will think any of that weird stuff that they thought last year. They all believe you now." She reached over the table and rubbed the back of his hand.
She could see the longing in his eyes as they searched her own without blinking. ‘He wants to believe that what I'm saying is true,' thought Ginny. She said, "You have to believe me, Harry. Even at the end of last year, everyone had come around to the truth."
Her face was full of sincerity as she looked deep into his eyes. Trance like, Harry reached up and tucked a stray strand of Ginny's hair behind her ear. He sighed and broke away from her gaze. Turning back to the breakfast, he said, "I guess we'll find out tonight." Keeping away from Ginny was going to take all the will power he could find.
When Harry met with Dumbledore in the morning before the picnic, the headmaster began by asking, "Have you enjoyed your private quarters, Harry? Has everything been satisfactory?"
"I've enjoyed them very much, Professor. The view from the window makes it seem to be near Gryffindor and yet…Professor Dumbledore, I flew on my broomstick to visit Hagrid this morning and when I tried to fly back, I couldn't find the terrace? Is that particular tower invisible?"
Dumbledore gave a small smile, his eyes twinkling. "You have discovered another of Hogwarts defenses, Harry. All of the exterior towers are unapproachable by broomstick. Even the towers that are visible have wards in place to prevent anyone from landing on the battlements or flying through an open window." He seemed proud that Harry had figured that out.
"I asked you to come see me for a reason, Harry. I want to discuss the coming year. You signed up for six classes which is fine. N.E.W.T. level classes all meet for extended periods of time. I understand your reluctance to continue studying Divination, but I've given some thought to how you might best fill out your day. I have a proposition. Of course, this is your decision to make." He stressed this last comment carefully, remembering how angry Harry was last year when all his choices were being made for him.
He held out a piece of parchment that appeared to be Harry's timetable for the coming term. "Our new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher has requested an assistant. He's a busy wizard with some other important commitments."
"He's Mad-Eye Moody," said Harry. Dumbledore's raised his eyebrows as if to ask for a better explanation. "I had tea and rock cakes with him this morning at Hagrid's."
"Ah...in any case, Professor Moody thinks you would make an able assistant which would free up his time when necessary. In return, he will continue to tutor you in Defense Against the Dark Arts as he did last summer. An assistant is more like an apprentice than a teacher. If you agree, this is what your timetable will look like."
He looked over his schedule. Defense Against the Dark Arts was listed every morning from nine to noon. Afternoons, he had N.E.W.T. level Potions, Charms, Transfiguration, Care of Magical Creatures and Herbology. On Monday, Tuesday and Thursday at 4:00 in the afternoon, he had fencing. At the same time on Wednesday and Friday, he had Transfiguration Tutorial with Dumbledore. "When will I meet with Moody for Defense tutoring?" he asked.
"When you least expect it," said Moody. "Ha! You didn't even know I was here, did you?" He seemed delighted with himself for sneaking up on Harry. "So what do you think, lad? Do you want to help teach Defense?"
Dumbledore could see Harry wasn't sure. "It would be much like your Defense group last year which you can continue this year if you like. Professor Moody would be teaching the classes and designing the lessons. You would be his assistant. It will give you an opportunity to step up your studies. Blocking out every morning for Defense will allow you to use that time flexibly. Sometimes you would be assisting in classes, sometimes working on your own Advanced Defense training."
Moody added, "You may be good at Defense, but I can still teach you a thing or two."
Harry smirked and said, "I'll look forward to it, Professor."
"I have one other motive in wanting you step up your Defense studies, Harry. Things are heating up in the war against Voldemort. While we have been successful recruiting new members to the Order of the Phoenix, we are also aware that Voldemort is gaining new recruits in his Death Eater ranks." He paused to see what effect this information had on Harry.
The younger wizard was pleased that Dumbledore was willing to be honest with him this year. Maybe taking the Defense Assistant job would help him to become a bigger part of the fight.
Dumbledore continued, "I want to bring you into the Order, Harry. I can't let you join officially until next summer when you turn seventeen, but it's quite possible that you'll become involved in Order business."
Harry smiled at the thought that Dumbledore had enough confidence in him to include him in Order business, maybe even send him on a mission. It felt good to have Dumbledore act like he could be trusted. He was trustworthy. He'd proved it time and again.
"So that's settled. As you can see, Harry, you have a very full schedule planned," Dumbledore said.
"Plus Quidditch," Harry said. "I think I should thank you for the opportunity - both of you. Defense has always been my favorite class - except for last year. Then the D.A. really kept me going. Now I'll be able to play Quidditch and focus on Defense." The year was looking up. He couldn't wait to tell his friends.
A knock on the door interrupted their conversation. Snape entered the room looking surprised to see Moody and Harry. "Ah, Severus, so glad you have returned. You're just in time to greet our new Defense Against the Dark Arts department. Alastor has agreed to take the post of Professor and Harry has agreed to be his assistant." Dumbledore had that trademark twinkle in his eye. Snape looked like he might be ill.
Since his friends were waiting, Harry excused himself and left the older wizards alone. "You don't seem too happy to see me, Sevvie!" said Moody, his magical eye spinning slightly mischievously. "Or is it Potter that has made you turn green."
Dumbledore tilted his head back speculatively and looked at the two men through the little glasses on the end of his nose.
Snape tried to look dignified as he took the chair that Harry had vacated. With a sniff he said, "I have to wonder what possessed you to make Potter an assistant. He's a poor student at best and walks the halls as arrogantly as his father. More special treatment for him will just make him that much more insufferable."
"Are we talking about the same person? Harry, arrogant?" Moody growled his questions incredulously. "More like the noble, self sacrificing type, don't you think? Maybe you better take a closer look at the boy, Sevvie."
"At every turn, he thinks the rules don't apply to him. He breaks them whenever he feels like it. There's a rumor in my house that he roams the castle at night with an Invisibility Cloak. I assure you, he should be watched. And then given detent…"
Snape was warming to his subject when Dumbledore interrupted him. "At every turn, Harry shows himself to be someone who can overcome the obstacles in his life. He looks for ways to try to make things right, like running the D.A. last year."
Snape scoffed at the idea. "Potter just enjoyed breaking the rules by having a secret club and the other students blindly followed him. Then he took some of them into danger. Stealing the school thestrals, leaving the school grounds, breaking into the Ministry? All examples of more Potter rule breaking."
"Severus, I am aware that your history with the boy hasn't been smooth, but surely you are more mature and generous in your opinions than to hold a grudge for mistakes the boy has made. We all make mistakes in life. Where would any of us be without being forgiven at some point?" He looked meaningfully at Snape. Without Dumbledore's forgiveness, he never would have had the opportunity to make up for the mistakes of his youth which were grave indeed.
While the two wizards stared at each other, Moody said, "Ha...I've paid for the mistakes of my past and I'm here to help Potter learn from them. We don't know when he'll have to face your ‘Dark Lord' again, but I want him to be ready."
Looking at his hands which were clasped in his lap, Snape's jaw visibly clenched before he answered. "He's not my Dark Lord. I'll never serve him again. You shouldn't worry about getting Harry ready to face him. Harry should stay as far away from him as he can. He's no match for the powers of darkness."
"Sadly, we may not have that choice, Severus. If we don't help Harry now, we'll lose the chance." Dumbledore said.
"And you think the answer is to burden him with all sorts of responsibilities. Quidditch Captain, Defense Assistant, these are big jobs. Aren't you worried he'll crack under the pressure? He looked like he was about to lose it last spring, even before the incident at the Department of Mysteries," Snape said, sounding smug.
Dumbledore didn't answer at first. He was thinking about the mistakes he'd made with Harry the year before. Aloud he said, "I have faith in Harry. Entrusting these responsibilities to him will build his confidence. He may have a certain disregard for the rules. He may act rashly sometimes, but that's because he's young. Instead of antagonizing Harry, it's time to help him prepare."
Ginny and Harry did take the patients from the infirmary out to the lake for a picnic that day. Cho's brother Charles tagged along. Hermione and Ron were fit enough to return to the Gryffindor dormitory after the feast. Cho needed another week of intensive potions and rest so they all promised to arrange for her to get the work she needed, except Harry who promised Charles once again that he would keep his distance from Cho.
Everyone was having such a good time at the picnic, just relaxing and having fun, Harry didn't get a chance to tell his friends about the Defense Assistant job. With Charles Chang there, giving him dark looks when Cho wasn't looking, he didn't know how to bring it up.
The skies clouded over in the afternoon. By nightfall, the storm had progressed to a downpour. Regardless of the weather, everyone seemed in good spirits at the Welcoming Feast that evening. Harry and Ron sat together across from Ginny and Hermione as people began to filter in, dripping wet and shouting greetings to their friends. People looked so different. Two months apart had changed their appearances. Harry wasn't the only one who'd had a growth spurt. Many of them had new hairstyles. Seamus Finnegan had grown a scruffy looking beard.
Harry received lots of double takes from passing students. They were used to his scar, but not his new look. Taller, more broad shouldered and wearing contact lenses instead of glasses, he also looked more relaxed and at ease than he had at the end of the last school year.
Neville arrived with Luna. He said, "Hello, everyone! Why weren't any of you on the train?"
For a moment, Luna looked like she'd wandered in accidentally. Then she noticed Ron talking quietly to Hermione. She smiled and said, "Did you hear? We found a Red-Feathered Bungbird's nest when we were trying to sneak up on a herd of Snorkacks! You do remember me telling you about that last June. Don't you, Ron?"
"Er…sure, I remember. How was your trip?" Ron asked politely, looking embarrassed. Hermione didn't look happy. After a few more comments, Luna gave a brief wave and moved off toward the Ravenclaw table.
Harry and Ginny stifled their amusement and began a quiet conversation about the summer with Neville. He had a new wand.
More and more people were filling the hall. Dean Thomas slid into the seat next to Ginny with a big smile. She smiled shyly back at him while Harry stared at his empty plate, suddenly really uncomfortable.
Harry's heart was pounding so loud that he couldn't hear anyone talking. Why had he thought he could handle this? Right across the table from him…this was going to be a terrible year if he had to face them together every day. His mind was racing as he struggled to regain control of his emotions. ‘This is what she wants,' he reminded himself. ‘She should have anything that makes her happy. She deserves it.' He was still scowling at his plate. Apparently his internal monologue wasn't very convincing.
"Harry, are you feeling all right? You don't look well." Hermione looked concerned.
"I just need dinner. I'm fine," he answered.
"I hear that. The Sorting always takes forever. They should feed us first," agreed Ron, even though he knew that his best friend's queasiness had more to do with watching Ginny and Dean conversing. Harry continued to stare at his empty plate. The conversation moved on to the topic of Dean Thomas' trip to France with his family over the summer. Harry was relieved not to be the focus of attention.
The students were in their seats as Professor McGonagall, carrying a three-legged stool and the Sorting Hat, brought in the first year students. All conversation stopped during the Sorting. When the new students had joined their various houses, Dumbledore gave the signal for the feast to magically appear. Everyone was too busy eating for much conversation.
Eventually, Professor Dumbledore stood up and began the usual announcements. The Forbidden Forest is forbidden and so on. He introduced Professor Moody as the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher and added, "...and Harry Potter will be Professor Moody's Assistant."
Harry looked surprised. He hadn't expected the Headmaster to make an announcement although now he could see that he should have expected it. Again the center of unwanted attention, Harry smiled modestly at his friends and faced his plate once more, ignoring the murmuring that was going on around them.
"Why didn't you tell us?" asked Ron, obviously delighted for his friend. He'd grown up a lot since his days of being jealous of Harry for being a Triwizard contestant. "It will be just like the D.A. all year long!"
Harry was relieved that Ron was taking it so well and said enthusiastically, "I'm not teaching. I'll be his assistant. We have a real Defense teacher this year. I'm looking forward to extra time working with Professor Moody. Defense is finally going to be a good class."
"Are we going to continue the D.A. this year, Harry?" asked Dean Thomas.
Harry looked at him thinking that it was good that Dean had no idea how he felt about him at this moment. His eyes narrowed as he answered, "We probably won't start the D.A. until next month. We'll continue if enough people are interested."
Without skipping a beat, Dean turned to Hermione and asked, "Hermione, would you still want to be in the D.A.? How about you, Ron?"
They both nodded their heads, yes. Ron started to answer, "Offfkk eekk..." then stopped as Hermione looked disgusted at him for talking with his mouth completely full of food.
Looking across the table at Dean, Hermione said, "We'll all have to prepare for our N.E.W.T.'s. I, for one, am not taking these advanced classes lightly. Last year was difficult, but this year is going to be a real challenge. With Professor Moody and Harry teaching the Defense classes, we'll be able to practice some good skills in the D.A." She smiled at Harry proudly.
Katie Bell came by. "Congratulations, Harry, Quidditch Captain and Defense Assistant. You're going to have a busy year." They talked about Quidditch for a while.
Seamus said, "Puddlemere is having a good season. Did you get to any Cannons games, Ron?" Ron pointed to his mouth full of food and nodded his head at Hermione. Seamus turned to Dean and asked, "What's that team you're always talking about?"
"West Ham United, Seamus. You know perfectly well." Dean didn't look happy at his friend bringing up his favorite football team.
"How is their season going?" asked Seamus, knowing the answer because Dean had been moaning about it on the train ride. "Didn't you say they had been regulated?"
"That's relegated, Seamus. Even though they have some great players, they were dropped to the lower league. Football is still a better sport than Quidditch," Dean said. Harry shook his head. No matter how many years they'd been friends, Seamus and Dean would never agree on this subject.
Harry said to Katie, "Anyway, will you help me with the Quidditch tryouts in a couple of weeks? Ginny will make a good Chaser, but we still need to find another one. I am hoping the whole team will come to tryouts so we can see how the new people fit. Plus I think we'll take on some extra reserves this year so next year's team will be in good form. What do you say, Katie? Will you have the time to help? How 'bout you, Ron, Ginny?"
They all agreed to help. As everyone rose to leave, Harry was struck by the idea that now that they were leaving the Great Hall, Dean and Ginny would be going off alone, probably for a quiet snog somewhere. Suddenly desperate at the thought, Harry blurted out, "Ginny, I need to talk to you about something. It's terribly important."
Ginny looked confused. Dean, Ron and Hermione looked at him like he was losing his mind. "Why can't you tell me as we head up to Gryffindor, Harry?"
He was stumped with that one. Ron jumped in, "Is this about the team, Harry?"
"Of course it is, Ron. I need to talk to you, too - about Quidditch. We need to work out the practice schedule so I can book the pitch as soon as possible." Harry said, thinking that Ron was a genius. To the others, he said, "We won't be too long. We'll catch up to you later."
"Except Hermione needs to know the practice schedule because she's a prefect, Harry," Ron said, thinking, ‘I do think faster on my feet than I used to.'
Hermione didn't look convinced, but she smiled and said, "See you later, Dean."
When Dean was out of hearing distance, Ginny spoke, "What's going on, Harry? Since when do you need to consult us about the practice schedule? You know you already booked the pitch. You told us all about it during our picnic today."
Harry's face was blushing bright red. He was silent. Then it came to him and he said, "There is something I couldn't tell you at the picnic because Charles Chang was there scowling at me. I may be able to work with the Order this year. Dumbledore told me he would like to bring me in on things. I just wanted you all to know. Of course we should keep it to ourselves." Ginny looked unconvinced. She had a nagging feeling that Harry had held her back for another reason.
"What's the whole story, Harry? Why would Dumbledore let you in on the Order's business? You're only sixteen. Do you mean that you will go out on missions or something? When did you find out about this Defense assistant position?" Hermione started to fire off her questions in rapid succession.
Ron realized that the real reason Harry had held them back from the Gryffindor crowd was to keep Ginny and Dean apart. He answered for Harry, "All will be revealed in good time. I'm sure Harry has lots of secrets he'd like to share. Let's get up to the dormitory and settle in."
As Ron and Harry moved toward the staircase, Ginny grabbed Hermione's arm. "Could I talk to you for a minute?" she asked. "We'll catch up to you guys. Go ahead."
The two girls stayed in the Great Hall talking quietly. Ginny asked Hermione what she should do about Dean. While she was sympathetic to Ginny's dilemma, she didn't offer a solution. Ginny was torn. Harry just wanted to be friends and Dean was so sweet. She just didn't return his feelings.
To be fair to him, she decided to tell him how she felt right away. As soon as she returned to the common room, she asked to speak with Dean alone.
Watching her go through the portrait hole with Dean in tow, Harry felt his heart plummet. Nothing would be the same now that school had started. He would never be alone with Ginny. She would always be pulling Dean off somewhere private so they could…it didn't bear thinking about. Remembering that she'd promised to use the mirror at 11:00, he excused himself and went to bed early so he'd be alone if she called.
Ginny pulled Dean outside the portrait hole, but no further. They were alone in the empty corridor. He reached for her, but she stepped away. Gathering all her courage, she said, "We're like good friends more than anything else, Dean. We mainly talk about artwork and sketching. I do want to be your friend. I like you, but I just don't see us as a romantic couple." In her heart she'd always belong to Harry, whether he wanted her or not.
Dean was upset. "I know I haven't been around much this summer. I could have written you more from France. I thought about you all the time. They had beautiful paintings there…" His voice trailed off, realizing that he was beginning to discuss art with her again, sort of proving her point. "Give me a chance, Ginny. I really like you," he pleaded, taking her hand.
She pulled her hand away and shook her head. "Goodnight, Dean." Ginny felt nothing but relief as she walked away. She wouldn't have to worry about hurting his feelings any more. Being honest felt good. If only she could be completely honest with Harry. But that would only spoil their friendship.
As he watched her go, Dean vowed not to give up. He would show her he could be romantic. He'd start tomorrow morning.
To be continued...
A/N: Hollow Godric deserves extra thanks for beta reading this chapter. I love Hagrid, but when he speaks – ARGH! So thanks, once again for all your help.
I had to include the comment about West Ham United for my son who explains to me that the team's been relegated anytime I talk about writing this story. He's a big fan of the English Premiere League in general and Manchester United in particular. Seamus may not be sympathetic, Dean, but my son feels your pain.