Ginny hurried along the corridor after her last class of the day. She was immensely relieved to be done, but a staggering amount of homework loomed over her that weekend. She wanted to snag the common room’s large table for her study group. She had to make a dent in this homework if she wanted to have any peace at Quidditch try-outs the next day.
Being back at school, Hermione was in her element, but Ginny couldn’t help feeling somewhat blasé about the whole academic setting.
Hogwarts could never be the same.
She was moving too fast around a corner and ploughed into a bunch of first-year girls, upending their books and papers all over the corridor, and even knocking one little Ravenclaw to the floor.
“Oh! Pardon, I’m so sorry,” she said, pulling the little girl to her feet and dusting her robes.
The wide-eyed first year just stared at her, seeming at a loss for words. Ginny was afraid the girl might be concussed. “Are you all right? Did you bang your head?”
The girl shook her head meekly, her dark fringe bobbing to and fro. The other girls began tittering as they picked up their bits and bobs.
Ginny shook her head, giving it up as a lost cause. “Well, if you’re all right then, I really have to dash.”
As she hurried around the corner, she heard one of the girls squeal, “That was Ginny Weasley. She’s the one who’s dating Harry Potter!”
“Can you imagine?” another one said dreamily. “I bet he’s soooo romantic.”
Ginny didn’t hear the rest as she hurried toward the common room. She’d been getting that all week, not only from the younger students, but some of the older ones as well. Even Gryffindors had been not-so-subtly trying to wheedle private information out of her about the saviour of the wizarding world. Harry had been at school with most of them, but he’d always been so private, and their curiosity was at a fever pitch once again.
It amused Ginny, but she knew how much Harry would hate all the attention. Still, it wouldn’t stop her from teasing him relentlessly when she finally saw him again.
When she arrived at the portrait hole, she hurried through and was relieved to see the big table was still empty. She quickly dropped her bag and began spreading out her History of Magic homework.
Professor Nutcombe was an improvement over Professor Binns in some ways, but not so much in others. He gave a lot of homework and was meticulous about details. Hermione-level meticulous. They weren’t covering a lot of the goblin rebellions, which made everyone happy, but they spent a lot of time talking about the first rise of Voldemort.
The new professor tended to ask a lot of questions about everyone’s roles during the war, and Ginny suspected he was compiling his own book about Voldemort’s second rise. She was very wary of sharing much information, although she didn’t know why. He was obviously an avid historian, but she found him rather obsessive.
Of course, most of her classmates only wanted to talk about was how handsome he was. Although he wasn’t vain, in some ways he reminded Ginny of Professor Lockhart. He was less flamboyant and definitely smarter, but Ginny really didn’t have a favourable opinion of Professor Lockhart, so Nutcombe was already starting at a disadvantage. She supposed there would be a lot of people writing books about the war, and at least Professor Nutcombe appeared to be searching for the historical side rather than just gossip. Still, she wasn’t ready to let her guard down.
The portrait hole opened, and Hermione, Parvati, Siobhan and Liz all climbed through. Hermione led the way towards Ginny’s table.
“Why did you leave in such a hurry?” she asked, brushing her unruly hair from her face. After a long day of classes, the neat plait Hermione had created that morning seemed to have exploded.
“I wanted to get this table. Did you notice how much work we have to do?” Ginny asked, feeling overwhelmed.
“I know,” Liz said grumpily, dropping her heavy bag, and sinking into a chair. “We’re not going to get any free time this weekend.”
“Well, I have to,” Ginny said firmly. “Try-outs are tomorrow.”
“So what are we starting with?” Siobhan asked resignedly.
“History of Magic,” Ginny replied. “We have that essay on the origins of the Unforgivables. I think that will take the most time.”
The fact it would be the most difficult for a lot of them went unsaid.
“Boo yah, just what I want to spend my weekend thinking about,” Siobhan said, sighing.
“Oh, must we?” Liz asked harshly. “What is that man thinking, assigning an essay like this right off the bat? Does he really think we all need to be reminded of how many Unforgivables were cast in this castle all last year?”
“Did it happen a lot?” Hermione asked, looking startled. She held her breath as she looked at the bitter faces of her classmates. Hermione bit her lip, and Ginny knew she’d been dying to ask but was still afraid of the answers.
“Ask Ginny — she was the first,” Liz snapped, her eyes blazing. “The Carrows burst into our common room on the first night back looking for Harry. Ginny sassed them, and they hit her with the Cruciatus before we even knew what was going on. It was right there on that rug behind you. We were all too stunned to move.”
“Ginny?” Hermione asked, her eyes wide. Ginny hadn’t given anyone all the details of what had happened at Hogwarts the previous year. Harry knew most of it, but she’d been most reticent to share with Hermione or the rest of her family.
“I don’t know what would’ve happened if McGonagall hadn’t come in when she did. They didn’t want to curse students in front of her — at least at that point,” Siobhan said bitterly.
Ginny shuddered, remembering the horror of that first night back a year ago. She’d been sitting in this very room catching up with her roommates when Amycus and Alecto Carrow had stormed in. They’d zeroed in on her, demanding to know Harry’s whereabouts. She’d played her role and told them she wouldn’t know since he’d dumped her. She had heard he was chasing after some Veela harlot, but they were welcome to give him her best.
The curse came suddenly and without warning, slamming into her and knocking her back against the chair in which she’d been sitting. There had been no way to contain her scream. It felt as if her blood were boiling, as if a herd of raging hippogriffs were trampling her, spilling her insides all over the common room floor.
At that point, she knew Harry had suffered under this curse several times, but she’d never truly appreciated the utter agony until that day. Thank Merlin Professor McGonagall intervened. She didn’t think she could’ve lasted much longer and remained sane.
None of her friends — or any of the older Gryffindors — had bought her lie, but they’d all backed her up with her break up story after that. Romilda Vane seemed to have convinced herself it was true and had tormented Ginny with Veela stories repeatedly.
Liz continued with the story, “It was quiet for a few weeks after that, but everyone knew what happened, you know how rumours spread here. The Carrows liked the fear, seemed to relish it, honestly. There was a lot of threats and intimidation, a bit of physical shoving, but…”
“I think it was Simon Teevens who was the next victim,” Parvati said, picking up the story, her voice distant, her eyes far away. “They cursed him for defending a younger student who was being berated. Padma told me it happened really fast, just like with Ginny. That weekend was a Hogsmeade weekend, so my parents showed up in these wonky disguises and whisked us away. We hid with relatives until Padma noticed our DA coins flaring the night of the Battle.”
“The Carrows went ballistic once you’d disappeared. Luna told me they put nearly half of the Ravenclaws under the Imperius to find out where you’d gone, but no one knew,” Ginny said. “All Hogsmeade visits were cancelled after that. That’s when they started making us use the Cruciatus against each other in class.”
“They were already unhinged when they arrived, but this sent them over the edge. We all thought Snape allowed it, but now… I think maybe he tried to reign them in and things settled down for a bit,” Liz said thoughtfully. “The curses from fellow students were tentative, not as harsh or painful as when the Carrows did it themselves.”
“That’s when the DA re-formed, and we started fighting back,” Ginny said.
“What do you mean?” Hermione asked shrilly. Her eyes were wide and she kept tossing her head between the speakers. She was really struggling to reconcile all this with her beloved Hogwarts. Ginny supposed it would be hard for anyone who hadn’t actually been there.
“It was epic. The DA gave everyone such hope by standing up to them, like Harry did to Umbridge back in fourth year,” Siobhan said.
“We removed the Undesirable Number One wanted posters, or put graffiti over them. It drove the Carrows spare because they couldn’t work out who was doing it,” Liz said, smiling fondly.
“But you weren’t in the DA,” Hermione said, apparently still having trouble wrapping her mind around all the changes.
“Not the original, but it grew,” Siobhan said absently. “Dumbledore’s Army was still recruiting. Everyone needed to do something, and the DA gave us all some of our power back.”
Hermione looked shocked, and it angered Ginny. She knew there was no way the other girl could’ve known since Ginny herself hadn’t shared, but she didn’t feel like being reasonable. She wanted to lash out.
“I told you it was no picnic here last year. You think because they were in a school they wouldn’t do the same kinds of things they were doing out there?” she snapped.
“I’m sorry,” Hermione said tearfully.
“It was after Ginny didn’t return from Easter hols that it got really bad,” Liz whispered.
“Neville said they’d insisted you practice Unforgivables on first years,” Ginny said, her chest tight.
“Yeah, as a result,” Liz said bitterly.
“Liz—” Siobhan said warningly.
Ginny knew she was missing something. “What?” she asked, frowning. “What don’t I know?”
“It doesn’t matter—” Siobhan said, placating.
“They came looking for you on the night you didn’t return. They thought we knew something,” Liz said softly, a hard edge to her voice.
“You two?” Ginny asked in dread, knowing where this was going. Bill had arrived at The Burrow in a panic, evacuating them all to Auntie Muriel’s in a whirlwind. There hadn’t been time to send an owl to warn anyone, and Ginny’s DA coin had been packed away in her haste to flee The Burrow.
“And Anna. They dragged us all out of bed,” Liz said shortly.
Ginny’s thoughts strayed to sweet Anna who never hurt anyone, and she thought the guilt would choke her. The Weasleys had to go into hiding because Ron had been spotted. The game was up, and the Death Eaters knew he wasn’t hidden away sick in the attic like they’d pretended all year long.
“It’s not your fault, Ginny,” Siobhan said firmly. “It was a good thing you didn’t come back. Harry had escaped their clutches again, and they were desperate. They wanted you for a reason, and I don’t think McGonagall would’ve been able to do anything about it this time.”
“I never meant to get you Cursed,” Ginny whispered.
“You didn’t. The Carrows did that, and if they caught you to use as bait, I think Harry would’ve come, and all would’ve been lost,” Siobhan said earnestly.
“He would’ve,” Hermione agreed solemnly. “It would’ve been the Department of Mysteries all over again.”
Ginny swallowed hard. She’d never wanted to be Harry’s weakness, but she knew it was true. Despite all the loss and devastation, things had worked out in the end. Voldemort was gone, and they all had a chance for a brighter future. She had to remember that when she felt the bitterness taking hold.
“That’s when we started sleeping in the Room of Requirement, so they couldn’t get us at night again,” Liz said.
“So, yeah, any essay on the Unforgivables isn’t going to go well. What d’you think he’s up to?” Siobhan asked, her sarcasm returning.
“Well, they were a great part of the war, and he is emphasizing the history, not how to cast one,” Hermione said diplomatically.
“I don’t like him,” Ginny replied bluntly.
“Oh, but he’s soo handsome,” Parvati said, sighing.
Ginny rolled her eyes. “I don’t think he’s a Death Eater in disguise. I think he’s just so enthralled with the history aspect, he forgets he’s standing amidst the real people who went through it all.”
“Academic versus emotional. He is rather cold when he isn’t discussing something that happened two hundred years ago,” Liz said.
Hermione shifted, looking uncomfortable. Ginny supposed Hermione could get the same way sometimes — so focused on understanding the question that she’d forget about the feelings involved. Hermione did feel it, however, but sometimes her brain got ahead of her.
“Let’s just get started. I want to have some time off this weekend,” Parvati said grumpily, and they all pulled out their history books.
The next morning dawned cool and clear — perfect weather for Quidditch try-outs. This far north, the afternoons were sunny and pleasant, but a distinct chill was seeping into the air that spoke of winter’s coming. Ginny had risen early, grabbed some toast, and hurried out to the pitch to await the candidates. She’d wanted some time alone to clear her head. Her entire future could depend on the choices she made today. She had to put sentimentality aside and choose the right team.
Ginny placed her Firebolt on the bench and took a deep breath, fingering the letter in her pocket. Harry had been a faithful — if less than verbose — correspondent. His owl, Zeus, faithfully delivered a missive each morning, letting her know what he’d practiced at training each day. He sounded pleased — if a bit frustrated — with Auror classes, but positively flummoxed by his Demon Decorator (his exact phrasing).
His letters made her laugh, and she hoped this decorator could fulfil her promises. Harry would be happier with some space of his own — not to mention it would give them the previously impossible opportunity for some privacy.
Ginny still wasn’t positive what she wanted to do with that privacy, but she knew she wanted to discover her limitations. A small, secret grin splayed across her face as she thought of the expression on Harry’s face if he could read what was on her mind.
“Ginny!” a voice called, interrupting her improper thoughts.
She turned to see Demelza Robbins hurrying towards her, her own broom tossed haphazardly over her shoulder.
“Are you ready for this?” Demelza asked enthusiastically. Demelza loved Quidditch as much as Ginny did. Ginny suspected it was the reason she adored playing with her so much.
“I’m ready, are you?” Ginny asked, knowing the answer.
“I was born ready,” Demelza replied, grinning. Her dark eyes roamed the pitch, squinting up at the hoops. “Good weather for it. I saw Ritchie and Jimmy stuffing their faces in the Great Hall. They should be here shortly.”
“I’ve been here for about a half hour, and no sign of any rogue Bludgers. Remember how many times Harry was hit at practice the last time we had a proper team?” Ginny asked, laughing.
“That’s because he was too busy trying to slyly stare at you. We all knew what he was doing,” Demelza said, rolling her eyes. “How are we ever going to replace him? Even obsessing over you he could still catch the Snitch.”
“He wasn’t obsessing,” Ginny mumbled, her face colouring. She’d suspected Harry had been staring, but she didn’t know everyone else had noticed it.
“Don’t fool yourself, Ginny. He was smitten. From what I’ve seen, he still is,” Demelza said, teasing.
Ginny blushed to the roots of her hair. She hoped he’d stay smitten with this long distance between them.
“Do you remember what happened that last year we had Quidditch? At try-outs, I mean, when he was captain?” Demelza asked, biting her bottom lip.
Ginny thought back. “A lot of people showed up — some of them weren’t even from Gryffindor,” she said.
Demelza nodded. “They came to see him. I think we might be in for more of the same.”
“But… he’s not here,” Ginny said, blinking.
“But you are, and with all the reports in the Prophet, you’re the only connection some of them can get. I think we’re going to have a lot of non-serious Quidditch players here today,” Demelza warned.
Ginny grinned evilly, “Then we’ll have to show them our expectations. Tell Jimmy and Ritchie to whack a Bludger at anyone who doesn’t seem to be paying real attention.”
Demelza’s eyes widened in surprise before her gleaming white teeth brightened her whole face. “I can do that.”
The stands were beginning to fill with prospective players. Ginny put on her game face, and glanced at her sign-up sheet. Jimmy and Ritchie crossed the pitch towards them, Jimmy still chewing the remains of his breakfast.
“We’re starting with Keepers and Chasers. We can do them together. Demelza, you line up the Chasers, Ritchie, you can handle the Keepers,” Ginny said, frowning as she noticed Hermione crossing the pitch.
“What are you doing here?” she asked, perplexed. Hermione was never a fan of Quidditch.
“Erm… I thought I could help,” Hermione said timidly. “I’ve made you a chart of all your players so far and their strengths and weaknesses. I thought it might help in narrowing down where you might need help.”
Ginny’s eyes roamed over the detailed spreadsheet Hermione had compiled. “Hermione, this is brilliant,” she said. “Thank you!”
Hermione beamed at her.
“I tell you what, sit up in the stands and I’ll come talk with you before my final decisions,” Ginny said, smiling. It was her team, but she wasn’t foolish enough to turn down help. Hermione might be rubbish at playing Quidditch, but she had an eye for detail and the mundane side of things that Ginny couldn’t be bothered with. Hermione’s lack of passion might be just what Ginny needed to put together this team.
As the trials began, she was dismayed to realize that Demelza had been right — there were far more candidates than there ought to be, and a majority of them were from other Houses. Even more daunting, she could see Brynn Dempsey and her pack of snooty Ravenclaws sitting in the stands. Ginny would bet they were there to watch her fail. She wasn’t going to give them the satisfaction.
Honestly, after everything they’d all gone through last year, shouldn’t the cattiness be a distant memory? Apparently not.
She also noticed her group of first years were up there — her and Harry’s fan club, she thought with a snort. She wondered what he’d make of it all, although he was probably used to it by now. To her, it was a novelty.
“All right, you lot,” she shouted, stomping to the centre of the pitch, and casting a Sonorous Charm so her voice would carry. “I thought coming to Hogwarts meant we were bright, but see, the Gryffindor Quidditch try-outs means you actually have to be part of Gryffindor House, not just want to be. Anyone from the other Houses, clear off.”
There were some grumblings and sneers about not wanting to be Gryffindor, but the lot of candidates shrank considerably as the others went to sit in the stands. Ginny noticed that Brynn’s pack grew even larger. She cast her eyes around who was left, and felt a flash of irritation as she noticed Romilda Vane’s curly dark locks amongst them. She wasn’t with the groups of Chasers or Keepers, so Ginny surmised that Romilda was trying out for Seeker.
There were only four candidates trying out for the Seeker position — not nearly as many as she’d hoped. Apparently, brave Gryffindors or not, nobody wanted to be the first to try and fill Harry’s shoes.
As the trials wore on, Ginny narrowed down her picks. She grabbed Demelza and dragged her up into the stands to where Hermione was sitting.
“Muffliato,” she said quickly.
Hermione frowned. “I really don’t like that spell.”
Ginny rolled her eyes. “My patience is thin, and there are way too many people here. I don’t want other Houses to know what I’m doing before I work it out,” she said testily.
Demelza smirked, accustomed to Ginny’s temper. “I think the only definite is the Keeper.”
Ginny pursed her lips, knowing she was right but still not liking it.
“Well, he was obviously better than all the others,” Hermione said hesitantly.
“All right. Bailey McLaggen is Keeper,” Ginny said. “He just better play his position and leave everyone else to theirs.”
“You have to give him a chance. He’s not Cormac,” Hermione said fairly.
“And if he acts up, you can easily curse him. He’s only a fourth year,” Demelza said, grinning. “Since we’re making uncomfortable choices — Dean was the best Chaser. He knows what he’s doing, and the experience will help.”
Ginny frowned. She knew it was true. She was being ridiculous. She had to let go of the past if she expected everyone else to do it. “Okay, so Bailey and Dean. What about a Seeker? I didn’t think any of them were bad — but none of them really stood out, either.”
“You didn’t think Romilda was bad? She fell off her broom twice,” Demelza said, horrified.
“Oh, I wasn’t including Romilda seriously. She’s only here to get news on Harry. No, I meant between the other three candidates. Did your spreadsheet show us anything, Hermione?” Ginny asked.
“Not really. The littlest one was quickest, but the girl with two braids wasn’t much slower, and she seemed to anticipate the Snitch’s movement better,” Hermione said, pulling out the spreadsheet and indicating the Seeker notes she’d made.
“The girl with the braids is Wendy Chambers. Her older brother played for Ravenclaw a few years ago, apparently,” Demelza said.
“So, it’s in her blood, anyway,” Ginny said slowly. “Let’s give her a shot. What year is she?”
“She’s a third year,” Demelza said.
“That’s good, plenty of time to train her up,” Ginny said.
“And how about me? Are you keeping me?” Demelza asked, grinning.
“Don’t be ridiculous. You’re my best player, and more likely than not captain of next year’s team. Of course I’m keeping you,” Ginny said, scoffing.
Demelza grinned widely. “I know. I just like hearing you say it.”
“Let’s call ‘em in and give them the news. I hope Romilda doesn’t throw a fit. I’m hungry, and it’s past lunch,” Ginny said, cancelling her Muffliato and moving back onto the pitch.
Harry sighed, watching his classmates file out of the cramped room for a lunch break. He had begged off and stayed behind to gain a little more revising time before his Potions quiz that afternoon. He wasn’t certain it would help, it seemed he bombed them no matter what he did. Much the same as it had been at Hogwarts, Harry and Potions just didn’t get on. He’d been half-tempted to pop up to Hogwarts to check if his old Potions book had survived the Fiendfyre.
Almost, but not quite.
Ginny wrote that she hadn’t been up to check on the Room of Requirement yet, either. Some memories from the war were still very raw.
An added bonus to staying behind in his classroom meant there was no chance of running into Owen Savage. Since their night at the Leaky Cauldron, Owen had been taking immense pleasure in needling Harry about his lack of experience. Mercifully, there had been nothing in the papers, and Owen hadn’t shared the sordid details with Harry’s entire class. Still, Harry feared it was only a matter of time.
It didn’t help that Ron found the whole situation hilarious. Ron’s teasing rankled Harry more than it should. He’d grown up learning to tune out all sorts of taunts, but this was different. Ron knew, and Harry didn’t, and it left him wrong-footed. He wasn’t proud of it, but he didn’t like Ron having the upper hand.
Of course, besides Ron, the one other classmate who had heard all about it was Violet Benson. She somehow found out everything that was going on at the Ministry on a regular basis. She was a bit like the twi… George that way.
Harry turned his head back to his work when a group of trainees stopped on their way past the open classroom door. He thought they might be part of the new Auror class who’d just begun. Neville was part of that class, but this group was made up entirely of witches.
“Hi, Harry,” they all chorused. He had no idea who they were, but they obviously knew him. Story of his life.
“We’re going over to the Leaky Cauldron for lunch if you’d like to join,” one of the witches said, smiling widely.
“It would do you good to have some fun. You’re always so busy,” another said.
Harry politely declined, shifting uncomfortably, and put his head back to his notes.
“You’re going to have to learn to handle the witches,” a caustic voice said behind him.
He whirled around to find Violet sitting at an empty desk, twirling one dark lock of curly hair around her quill with an amused smirk. He’d been unaware she’d also stayed behind, and his heart thundered in his chest at being caught unawares. He struggled to control the slight tremor in his hands.
“Violet,” he said, gasping.
“They’re right about one thing, you do work too hard,” she said.
Harry grunted noncommittedly.
“Are you not hungry, or is it just the witches you try to avoid?” she asked, persisting despite his obvious lack of enthusiasm for the subject.
“We have a Potions quiz this afternoon,” he replied, hoping she’d get the hint that he was trying to revise.
“Seriously, Harry. You’ve got to get it together when they pounce. There isn’t a witch alive today that wouldn’t like to try and get her claws into you.”
“You haven’t,” Harry countered, giving up on getting any work done.
“That’s because I like all the attention in a relationship to be on me,” Violet said primly.
Harry smiled grudgingly. Was that why he liked Violet? Because he knew she had no real interest in him or any ulterior motives.
“You need to have confidence in you, and not worry about what they want from you. They can believe what they like, you know what you want — and I don’t think it’s them. You’re allowed to go out with friends, regardless of what the papers say — or if it leads one of those witches to think they stand a chance with the Chosen One,” she said, as if the title left a sour taste.
That particular title always left Harry with a sour taste, as well.
“But isn’t letting them believe I’m interested the same as leading them on?” Harry asked. He knew his heart belonged to Ginny, but he was completely flummoxed by what these witches expected, and he hoped she could offer some insight. Her advice for his date with Ginny over the summer had been brilliant.
Violet shook her head pityingly. “Oh, they’re going to eat you alive.”
Harry frowned, not enjoying the scrutiny. “Is there something you wanted, Violet?” he asked. If she was just going to poke fun at him, he could get that at The Burrow.
“Harry!” George Weasley said, poking his head into the classroom. His shirt was rumpled, and his eyes appeared bloodshot. George had been doing better lately, but Harry suspected his sobriety might have slipped.
“What are you doing here, George?” he asked without any bite to his words.
“Stopped in to catch up with Dad, but I think he’s at lunch. Didn’t realize the time. Why are you here?” George asked.
“Because he’s avoiding his adoring fans,” Violet said, amused.
George smiled devilishly and strolled into the classroom. “I don’t believe we’ve met. George Weasley, at your service.” He stuck out his hand, which Violet took with amusement shining in her eyes. Harry just knew getting these two together would mean trouble for him.
“Violet Benson. You must be Ron’s brother.”
“Certainly I don’t resemble that oaf in any way,” George said in mock horror.
“The freckles are a bit of a giveaway,” she said, smiling. “Ron’s gone to lunch.”
“Harry and I are just about to head out now. Why don’t you join us?” George asked gallantly.
“I’m not going to lunch. I need to prepare for this quiz,” Harry said, frowning.
Violet rolled her eyes. “Oh, if you don’t have it now, Potter, just give it up as a lost cause.”
“Easy for you to say — you’re scoring very well in Potions.”
“I can quiz you during lunch then,” she replied breezily.
“I’m not going to lunch,” Harry insisted.
George placed a hand over his heart dramatically. “I would be derelict in my duty to my poor, overwrought mother if I allowed you to miss a meal, Harrikins. She’s under the impression you’re about to fade away from malnourishment. She’ll be devastated when I tell her you’re skipping.”
“Then don’t tell her,” Harry said, snapping and unimpressed with George’s melodrama.
Violet, on the other hand, was cackling unabashedly.
“Are you suggesting I lie to my saintly mum?” George asked, horrified.
Throwing his hands up in frustration, Harry finally slammed his book shut. “Where are we going?” he asked, resigned
“The cafeteria is quick and easy, and your lovely classmate can still quiz you on your material. Win-win for everyone,” George said, standing by the door and sweeping his arm in an ‘after you’ gesture.
“Definitely doesn’t feel like a win,” Harry said, grumbling.
George and Violet both grinned as he picked up his books and followed them from the room. The three walked down to the cafeteria, garnering strange looks from several Ministry employees due to Harry’s sullen expression and the loud laughter of his two companions.
The cafeteria wasn’t overly full, and the three managed to get sandwiches and crisps without delay. Harry settled on a toasted cheese and tomato with a steaming mug of soup. Violet had either found an empty table or scared its former occupants off, because she was alone when he and George arrived with their food.
As promised, Violet attempted to help Harry prepare for his quiz, but even with her useful hints, he felt dismal about his chances of passing.
“Harry, I’m saddened you didn’t automatically think of me if you needed guidance on the fine art of potion-making. With the absence of your wise and all-knowing bushy-haired friend, I should have been your next thought,” George said, sighing.
Harry wasn’t taking that bait. “George, you barely scraped three OWLs.”
“Ahh, but one of those was in Potions. I would think the brilliance of my product line would’ve clued you in to the fact I’m a steady hand at Potions.”
Harry paused for a moment, considering. He’d never really given it much thought, but even Hermione had admitted that the level of spellwork involved in many of their products was brilliant. Of course he and Fred both would’ve had to be good at Potions.
“And you said you knew I was doing okay with it. You could have just asked for some help,” Violet said.
Harry shrugged. He didn’t know why he’d never thought to ask — it simply hadn’t occurred to him.
“You helped me with my Patronus, why shouldn’t I help you with this?” Violet asked, and Harry had the distinct impression she wanted to call him a daft idiot. Perhaps when it came to Potions he was, and Snape had been right all along.
“Harry — it’s okay to need a little help from your friends now and then,” George said, surprisingly gentle.
Harry shifted uncomfortably. It wasn’t that he didn’t want the help. He knew he needed it. Truthfully, he just hadn’t thought to ask, but he didn’t want to say that, either. He sat munching on his toasted cheese while George and Violet pointed out relevant bits, and as he was finishing his sandwich, he felt marginally better. He still might bomb this quiz, but with their help, he’d be in better shape for the next one. His peaceful musings were shattered by a loud voice entering the cafeteria swearing up a storm. He looked up in time to see Owen Savage making a beeline for his small group.
“George, ya bloody lunatic. What are you doing with the trainees?” Owen asked loudly, slamming his lunch tray on the table. “You spend enough time with this effing lot, maybe you ought to join the class.”
“And deny the world my prankster genius? Ah, that would be truly devastating,” George replied easily.
“What are you doing here, Owen? I thought there was some big meeting going on this afternoon?” Violet asked.
Harry frowned. He hadn’t heard anything about a meeting.
“Yeah, I have just long enough to wolf this down. I’m not going into a meeting to discuss the Dementor problem on an empty stomach. They last forever with all the bickering,” Owen replied, taking a large bite of his sandwich.
“I thought they were ready to start rounding them up,” Harry said.
“The higher ups are still arguing about what to do with them once they get ‘em. They can’t be trusted back at Azkaban; there’s no way to destroy them unless you starve them, and some are arguing that’s inhumane, so we’re stuck. In the meantime, their ambushes are becoming organized attacks. Something has to be done,” Owen replied grimly.
“Inhumane? So, what do they think is the point in keeping them around?” George asked incredulously.
“Dunno. An activist for every cause, I suppose. Just means lots of red tape, we all run around in circles and nothing gets done.”
“While innocents have their souls sucked out,” Harry said, disgusted. “I thought we were changing the Ministry with this new regime.”
“Change is a slow process. There are still plenty who benefitted under the old regime trying to throw cogs in the wheel,” Owen said, sighing.
“The old regime were Death Eaters,” Harry said indignantly, causing several heads to turn and stare in their direction.
“Not all of them. There are still many old politicians who are used to a little grease in getting things moving. The Minister is working on changing the process, but it won’t happen overnight. Besides, I don’t think anyone is making gold off Dementors, although they’re not opposed to looking for ways to try. Some are just daft and want to give rights to all creatures, dangerous or otherwise,” Owen replied, finishing up his sandwich.
Harry was uncomfortably reminded of S.P.E.W. Something else was tugging at the corner of his brain, and he paused, going back over the conversation. “Hang on… you said the attacks were becoming organized. Who’s organizing them?”
A cold trickle of dread dropped into his stomach, turning what he’d eaten of his sandwich into ash.
Owen looked up, staring directly at Harry and nodding appreciatively. “That’s the million Galleon question, innit?”
Harrys mind raced. Even Voldemort had never fully controlled the Dementors, and he didn’t think any of his missing followers had that kind of power, so that would mean… “Do you think they’re organizing themselves? Evolving somehow?”
Owen grimaced. “Some do, and therein lies the problem. If they’re evolving, some of the activists want to study them.”
“But… what about the people being attacked now?” George asked, troubled. “They can’t just be allowed to feast at will.”
“Something will probably change with this afternoon’s meeting. The attacks are getting closer and closer to London. Keep practicing your Patronus,” Owen said.
“Maybe we could get our group together to practice over the weekend,” Violet said, turning toward Harry.
“Practicing sounds good, but it’ll have to be Sunday. I’m moving on Saturday,” Harry said, feeling a thrill of excitement.
“The decorator is actually finished?” George asked incredulously.
Harry’s demon decorator had been promising Grimmauld Place would be finished ‘in two weeks’ for over a month now.
“Well, not all of it, but the living space we need is ready, so Ron and I are moving,” Harry said.
“I’ll be there,” George said quickly.
“Thanks!” Harry said, gratefully. He really didn’t own much, but Ron could use the help.
“Oh, I’m not helping you move. I just want to see the guilt trip Mum lays on both of you,” George said, grinning.
Author’s Note:Hello,everyone, and thanks for the welcome back. I had a few people push me along the way to finish this one up, and I wanted to give them a shout out. I used to call them pre-beta's, but I've recently heard the term alphas — someone who reads ahead and shares thoughts and helps work out plot points when you're stuck. That's exactly what Arnel and Ryan have done for me. Sometimes just talking things out gets the creative muse flowing again, and their influence is a big part of this story. I think Arnel knows more about canon and even the way words and spells are used in canon than anyone I know. She's also a great cook and helped me with making sure my foods were British enough. Ryan graciously accepts texts at midnight that go something like…“Hmm, I really haven't had Harry unconscious in a while, have I?”… and he just goes with it. And, of course, there is my long-time beta and partner in crime — Sherylyn— who adds laughter into the middle of her notes and works her magic to get the site back up and working. She's endlessly patient and kind and makes sure these stories are coherent. I really appreciate all of you!